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Little Falls shooting: Smith protected U.S. embassies abroad

The Little Falls man charged with two counts of second-degree murder for the shooting deaths of two teens was likely a highly skilled security engineer with the U.S. Department of State.

Byron Smith, who admitted to shooting and killing teenagers, Nicholas Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, in his basement Thanksgiving Day would have had to have obtained top security clearance in order to serve with the Department of State, according to a former U.S. State Department official. William Davnie, a retired U.S. State Department officer, said Smith’s basic responsibilities as a security engineer would have been focused on maintaining security for classified areas of U.S. embassies abroad.

“These are sharp, smart people,” said Davnie, who does not know Smith. “They are technical people — Americans with the highest security clearance.”

Davnie speculated the State Department has fewer than 100 foreign service diplomatic security engineers serving abroad. According to the State Department’s website a security engineer’s duties include identifying security risks, maintaining a level of security that deters terrorism or technical espionage and using measures of surveillance that would detect any outside attempt to penetrate technical information belonging to the Department of State.

Davnie said working as a security engineer would typically mean having a background in engineering or an extensive background in construction and management.

Security engineering is more of a technical job as opposed to other security positions with the Department of State that would be more diplomatic. “They are responsible for keeping information safe,” Davnie said.

Davnie said a security officer such as Smith would be very skilled at watching people and recognizing possible threats that may compromise classified information or areas of a U.S. embassy.

“They are very security conscious,” Davnie said.

Working as a security engineer requires an extensive background check and medical review, but Davnie said the process does not necessarily include a psychological exam.

“They just want to make sure these are competent people and responsible employees,” Davnie said. “You know, is there any reason to question their ability to do the job well?”

Davnie said he has loosely followed the Smith case in Little Falls. “It’s a tragic case,” Davnie said.

Smith remains in custody in Morrison County. The Morrison County Sheriff’s Department has said the investigation is still open and ongoing.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.