A special agent

After completing an overseas posting in Africa, Tanya Larson '94 was starting her third day of training at the U.S. Department of State's twenty-four-hour operations center in Washington, D.C., when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. Government buildings across the capital were being evacuated, but Larson stayed behind with a crew that kept the center up and running.

"It was just very busy. It was very hectic. The phone never stopped ringing," remembers Larson, who is a special agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) within the State Department. "We could see the smoke from the Pentagon from here. It was really strange because you had F14s and helicopters on patrol."

Although less well-known than the U.S. Secret Service, which protects the president and other heads of state, Diplomatic Security has a broad range of global responsibilities, with protection of people, information, and property as its top priority. Overseas, DS develops and implements security programs to protect workers in every U.S. diplomatic mission around the world. In the United States, the bureau protects the Secretary of State, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and foreign dignitaries below the head-of-state level who visit the country. The bureau also assists foreign embassies and consulates in the United States with security for their missions and personnel, not to mention investigating passport and visa fraud.

Larson, who studied political science at Kenyon, joined the bureau in 1998. After six months of training in everything from weapons use to investigative techniques, Larson received her first overseas assignment -- the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after a series of bombings there and elsewhere in Africa.

"We hoped the same place wouldn't get bombed twice," she says. "Everyone either chose or volunteered to be there after the bombing, so it was a very good atmosphere. By the time I left, the embassy had been rebuilt and all the programs were up and running. It was very rewarding."

The variety is one of the things that Larson loves about her work at DS. She is currently analyzing intelligence information from the Middle East. Other agents are helping to protect President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. In the past, the bureau helped ensure the safety of everyone from members of the British royal family to the Dalai Lama. This often requires collaboration with other U.S. agencies like the FBI and the Secret Service, not to mention foreign security forces.

The interaction that agents have with the people they protect can vary. "It really depends on the individual whether they want to be social with you," Larson explains. "President Carter is amazing. He takes time to talk to you, sign books, even pose for photos when the work is finished. Other people are there to work and you're just there to help them."

Larson's husband, Troy, is also a DS special agent. They were stationed together in Nairobi and now work together at the State Department in Washington, but the nature of their work means they spend a lot of time apart. Larson, for example, picked out and closed the sale on their home in Falls Church, Virginia, because Troy was away on assignment.

"We're both lucky in the sense that we understand what each other is going through," she says. "We're able to talk about things better because we both have the same background. But it doesn't mean it's easy."

She adds, "E-mail is a godsend."

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