Laureen Stephens-Rice went from working at a local law firm to protecting the 64th United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1998, providing 24/7 security across the world.
Diplomatic Security (DS) special agent training prepared her for a wide range of security situations and threat environments to support the U.S. Secretary of State’s global travel and visiting foreign dignitaries in the conduct of foreign policy. Stephens-Rice says, “It was a whirlwind right from the start.” Her first overseas security deployment was just days after DS graduation when al-Qaida terrorists conducted near-simultaneous truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar-es-Saleem, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya on August 18, 1998. Stephens-Rice and other protective detail agents developed comprehensive security and contingency plans in preparation for U.S. Secretary Albright’s travel following the bombings. The high-risk situation required increased security, as al-Qaida could have targeted other posts.
During the two years of protecting former Secretary Albright, Stephens-Rice traveled the world, working with regional security officers, in-country security experts and foreign officials overseas. “Think physical security, technical security, procedural security — it was two years of detailed planning in the overseas environment to support her travel and be an immediate security force in often precarious locations and under unique circumstances.”
She had opportunities to also observe high-level meetings and listen to foreign policy discussions at the Wye River Conference, ASEAN Conference, NATO Summit and more, which is something Stephens-Rice holds dear to her heart. “Prearranging security for the Secretary of State, prepared to react in an emergency, and out of the camera’s view, I participated in a little bit of history,” she says. This experience widened her lens to the world of security and the importance of going beyond the call of duty.
After completing her service in Secretary Albright’s protective detail in May 2000, Stephens-Rice held several roles as DS Supervisory Special Agent, including Office and Regional Director positions, Interagency Liaison, Deputy Regional Security Officer, Branch and Unit Supervisor, Site Security Manager, and others, wearing many hats. She has been a beacon of leadership, selflessly serving the Department of State and its mission — safeguarding personnel, diplomatic missions and information worldwide.
She has also led top-performing teams and global security programs, implementing procedures to align crisis response, cyber, countermeasures, intelligence and counterterrorism for a more dedicated, whole-of-government approach. The impact she has had on the Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of State, her colleagues, and the broader U.S. national security realm is immeasurable.
Among a myriad of her accomplishments, a few initiatives stand out. After the January 2011 armed attack against U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Stephens-Rice developed a new Federal Law Enforcement Officer Training Program. In 2012, she created and implemented the first-ever Inclement Weather Training Policy to bolster safety measures, procedures, practices and professional standards. In 2014, she effectively helped institute new policies and increase field operational and training requirements needed due to unrest caused by ISIS. From 2015 to 2018, she launched a DS Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) analyst exchange program with European Commands’ Fusion Center to counter transnational threats and promote security cooperation through public-private partnerships.
Now, as the Site Security Administrator and Advisor within the Department of State’s Overseas Buildings Operations, her role is multi-faceted. She guides strategies to improve and establish high-end security services and initiatives worldwide for operations that support building new diplomatic facilities overseas, and concentrates on professional development and training for construction security professionals.
“Within the State Department, we support complex missions and our ability to lead, optimize resources, and make informed decisions is critically important. Going above and beyond, certainly, is important, but it’s not enough. You must have vision.” When you bring teams together and industriously influence a shared vision, you better support the mission, Stephens-Rice says.
It’s one of her passions to advance law enforcement and security with vision and commitment. Leveraging all resources to educate and develop teams, she developed a blueprint that sets out a strategy for professional development for Department of State construction security officers over the past year. It has specific milestones, with emphasis on leadership training, tabletop exercises and integration of best practices and lessons learned in the field.
Stephens-Rice explains, “It is about making sure we offer security experts an all-encompassing and hands-on learning experience to set teams up for success. That matters.”
Another passion she has is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). She has not only set the example for and mentored other agents and overseas security staff, many of whom were women and minorities, but she has served as a member of the DS Diversity in the Workplace Advisory Committee, contributed to the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security to help identify benchmarks for gender analysis, inclusion, resources and accountability, and was selected as a DS representative to the Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) organization.
In particular, during her work as Assistant Regional Security Officer in Pretoria, South Africa, Stephens-Rice fostered diversity awareness by creating the Women in Security Enforcement (WISE) program. The initiative helped address the sexual harassment of female guards and also encouraged a reluctant workforce to recognize systemic diversity and equity issues. The program opened up a new level of trust among security officers and inspired other colleagues, the South African Police Service and guard force contractor, to replicate the program across the world. For her work in Pretoria, she was the first DS agent to receive the Department of State’s Equal Opportunity Award.
One of her goals in the future is to continue to support the State Department’s goal of DEI. Stephens-Rice says significant progress has been made and there is finally a marked cultural shift, but there is still work to be done. “It’s been part of my ethos for 24 years, so I will continue to lead, mentor and counsel to promote the organization’s diverse workforce. It’s about coming together to break down existing barriers, cultivate trust and encourage collaboration,” she says.
After 24 years of cementing herself among her colleagues as a highly accomplished leader in the security profession, her work, ethics and compassion have taken her far in her career and helped her genuinely make a difference. “The outcomes matter, and so do leadership decisions. And at the senior ranks, it is important not to lose sight of those operating in the trenches and on the front lines doing important work that give us those positive outcomes,” Stephens-Rice says. “Ask yourself, what is the outcome we need to achieve to advance the mission, does the staff have the resources needed, and did I set SMART goals — markers that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound?”