Little Falls shooter protected U.S. embassies from terrorists and spies

Byron David Smith
This Nov. 23, 2012, photograph provided by the Morrison County Sheriff's Office shows Byron David Smith. The Morrison County man has been arrested after he told police he shot and killed two teenagers who he said were breaking into his home on Thanksgiving Day.
AP Photo/Morrison County Sheriff's Office

Byron Smith, the Little Falls man who authorities say admitted killing two teenagers because they broke into his home, was a highly trained State Department security engineer responsible for protecting U.S. embassies from terrorism and espionage.

Few people, it could be argued, have more training in how to protect a building from threats than security engineers like Smith, who worked for the State Department as recently as 2006 and served in Bangkok, Cairo, Beijing and other foreign cities.

A spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that Smith retired from his job as a security engineer six years ago. The spokesperson declined to provide any additional information.

Smith, 64, remains in custody on second-degree murder charges for the Thanksgiving Day shooting that killed Haile Kifer, 18, and Nicholas Brady, 17. The former federal employee said he intentionally killed the teenagers after they broke into his home, according to the criminal complaint. Smith left the bodies in his basement overnight. When authorities arrived the next day in response to a neighbor's call, Smith did not mince words. "I want him dead," he said, when explaining why he shot Brady in the face after he had already been wounded. Smith said he also shot Kifer several times and described the final shot fired through her skull as "a good clean finishing shot."

Security engineers oversee construction and repair work in U.S. embassies and consulates to prevent spies and terrorists from breaking into State Department buildings or installing secret recording devices, said retired U.S. State Department political officer William Davnie. Unlike security officers, who patrol embassy grounds and offer advice about personal safety to Americans living abroad, security engineers are focused on technical issues, such as building layout, wireless networks, locks and alarms.

"These are people who are very security conscious," said Davnie, who does not know Smith.

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The job also requires an extensive background check, medical review and a top secret security clearance. Davnie, who now chairs the Upper Midwest Chapter of the American Foreign Service Association, said the background check includes interviews with family, friends and neighbors to assess the candidate's mental fitness.

Another goal of the interviews, Davnie said, is to avoid hiring anyone with problems that could make a person vulnerable to foreign spies looking for classified information.

"They want to make sure you don't have an alcohol or drug problem that could be used," he said. "And there's the classic, 'Are you running around on your wife and could be blackmailed?'"

Davnie estimates there are only a few dozen security engineers around the world working for the State Department.

The official job description, as posted on the State Department's website, makes it clear that the job requires both a high level of technical knowledge and the ability to detect possible threats.

For example, the specific job duties include, "Plan and conduct technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) surveys to detect and nullify technical penetrations of the Department of States facilities" and "Conduct technical security assessment and recommend security upgrades to deter terrorism and technical espionage."

Employees are routinely reassessed to ensure they are capable of handling stressful and sometimes dangerous work and to detect any new security risks, Davnie said.

"It's a significant check-up, and this guy seemed to be, I'm sure, stable and responsible and technically competent at the time," he said.

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