FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?

Posted: 1:21 am EDT


Charles William Thomas. You may not remember that name. He was a Foreign Service Officer. In April 1971 he shot and killed himself.  The Thomas case led to changes in the promotion and personnel system and helped usher in a grievance program at the Department.  Below excerpted from ADST:

Charles William Thomas was a bright mid-career Foreign Service officer who was selected out because his efficiency report was mixed with a poorer officer of the same name. After his lifelong dream of serving in the State Department came crashing down, Thomas committed suicide and his case became a cause celebre. His wife Cynthia held the Foreign Service and the State Department responsible.
In 1973, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell rendered a decision in Lindsey v. Kissinger declaring the lack of procedural safeguards in State’s selection-out system unconstitutional. A Foreign Service Grievance Board with public members was established in 1976, and procedural safeguards were created through consultations with AFSA.


In April this year, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) dismissed FSGB Case No. 2014-042 after the State Department sought a preliminary ruling on the grievance, contending that “the grievance was untimely filed and not covered under the Board’s jurisdiction.”

This case is notable not only because officials of the State Department of old ignored the Board’s original ruling in 1972, but also because ignoring the grievance has stretched into the current leadership of the State Department.  The unnamed grievant in this case apparently wrote to Secretary John Kerry on May 14, 2014, and again on May 28, asking that he implement the 1972 recommendations of the Grievance Committee. Apparently, the grievant did not even received a response. The current FSGB accepted the grievant’s appeal with an effective filing date of October 22, 2014 but then dismissed it  for untimely appeal.

Grievant is a former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who was appointed as an FSO Class 6 on November 26, 1954. He had been in grade for eight years as a FSO Class 4 when the 1968 Selection Boards did not recommend him for promotion to Class 3. On January 17, 1969, the Department of State (agency, Department) officially notified him that he would be separated for expiration of time in class (TIC) effective April 30, 1969. Having already learned informally of his proposed termination, grievant met personally with the then Secretary of State on January 2, 1969, and gave him a paper, “Notes for the Secretary.” The notes detailed policy clashes grievant had with his superiors, which he believed had prevented his promotion. The Secretary appointed two senior inspectors to conduct an investigation. The inspectors made grievant’s “Notes” available to his supervisors and on January 8, 1969, the supervisors gave their comments on the “Notes” to the Secretary. The inspectors furnished their report1 to the Secretary on January 15. The submissions led the Secretary not to take any action to stop the separation.

On September 26, 1969, after receiving several extensions of his employment, grievant requested a hearing under 3 FAM 1820 (“Grievances”), becoming the first Foreign Service employee to do so. He charged that his supervisors’ comments introduced untrue, slanderous and misleading statements into the agency’s records.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969. He was not eligible to retire and collect an annuity because he did not meet the age requirement.2 The Department helped him secure an immediate civil service position on October 5, 1969 with the Department of Defense.

Following a period during which grievant sought information to support his case, a three-member Grievance Committee commenced hearings on March 3, 1971. On September 27, 1972, the Committee found generally in grievant’s favor. With one member voicing exceptions to some of its eleven recommendations, the Committee recommended, inter alia, that the agency appoint grievant to FSO Class 3, credit the time he spent in government service since his separation towards Foreign Service retirement, and pay his legal expenses. The Committee submitted its report to the Director General instead of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Personnel, because the latter had appeared as a witness and disqualified himself. The Committee suggested that the Deputy Secretary be the final reviewing officer.

The reviewing officers decided not to accept the recommendations. In 1977, grievant filed an appeal3 with the Foreign Service Grievance Board requesting reinstatement, which request was denied because the Board found the appeal untimely.4 On October 13, 1993, two Senators wrote to the Secretary of State on grievant’s behalf.

Noting that grievant’s claim was adjudicated in his favor by the Grievance Committee but never implemented, they suggested that grievant may not have been notified of his eligibility to pursue administrative and judicial remedies provided in legislation. They asked how their committee could be assured that the Department would implement the recommendations in grievant’s case. There is no evidence of the Secretary’s response in the record of proceedings (ROP).

Apparently, the grievant also seek confirmation that his hearing be held “completely within State Department regulations at the time, so that he would not be required to argue before a court that the Department is improperly failing to recognize the legitimacy of its past responsibility for implementing the recommendations which resulted from his hearing.”

Grievant wrote to the current Secretary of State twice and when he did not get a response, he wrote to the FSGB on September 12 and October 16, 2014. He explained that he sought a negotiated settlement of retirement pay in lieu of enforcement of the remedies granted to him in 1972. The Board accepted his appeal with an effective filing date of October 22. On December 12, 2014, the agency asked the Board to make a preliminary determination that grievant’s appeal should be dismissed, on the grounds that the Board lacked jurisdiction.

The FSGB ruling:

We recognize grievant’s unusual position in the history of this Board as well as his enduring dissatisfaction with the outcome of the hearing process. As noted earlier, our analysis today is limited to jurisdiction and does not address the merits of grievant’s case. In accordance with 22 CFR § 904.2, the Board makes the following preliminary determination on jurisdiction: because grievant has not shown that his appeal was made “not later than two years after the occurrence giving rise to the grievance,” nor is there evidence that grievant was “unaware of the grounds for the grievance,” we find grievant’s appeal untimely.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969 under the rules deemed unconstitutional in 1973 after the Lindsey v. Kissinger ruling.  The Grievance Committee recommended that grievant be reappointed to a higher position, a recommendation ignored by senior officials in the State Department.  Last year, the FSGB took the case then says this case was filed late, and the Board lacks jurisdiction. But the members recognize the grievant’s “enduring dissatisfaction.”  Yeah, there’s that. And the State Department lumped this case with the trash with no effort to fix or mitigate the alleged wrongs it did to one individual some four decades ago.

Read the 40 year old grievance case below:



Senate Pit Bull Digs Up Old Bone About State Dept’s Alleged Prostitution Case

Posted: 12:50 am EDT


We’ve written previously about Senator Chuck Grassley’s pursuit for answers related to a State/OIG report on Trafficking in Persons (see Senator Grassley Eyes Linda Howard Case, Seeks Answers on TIP Policy and @StateDept Employees).   On November 23, Senator Grassley threw a larger net and has now included questions about the State Department’s response to an old allegation related to prostitution and a U.S. ambassador. Excerpt from the letter from Senator Grassley to Secretary Kerry:

[T]he Belgium case raises questions as to whether the Department takes allegations of TIP-related misconduct seriously and investigates them thoroughly, free from undue influence and favoritism. With the foregoing in mind, I respectfully request on behalf of this Committee that you submit responses to the following questions by December 11, 2015:

1. Why did the Department halt DS’s preliminary inquiry of the Belgium case and treat this matter as a “management issue”?

2. Why did Under Secretary Kennedy, DS, and L provide OIG with three different explanations of the decisions referenced in Question 1?

3. Was Secretary Clinton informed of the decision to halt DS’s investigation of the Belgium case or to treat it as a “management issue”? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If not, please explain why not.

4. In how many other cases involving allegations of employee misconduct was Ms. Mills designated as the individual to conduct the investigation?

5. Under Secretary Kennedy told OIG that he had relied on Section 4322.2 of the FAM to address misconduct allegations involving other Chiefs of Mission. The Under Secretary acknowledged that such misconduct issues can arise several times each year. During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure as Under Secretary, how many misconduct allegations involving Chiefs of Mission have been treated as a “management issue”?

6. OIG states that it searched for and found no contemporaneous evidence of the Under Secretary’s determinations in this case, or of Ms. Mill’s investigation.31 OIG made this finding before public revelations that Secretary Clinton and her senior aides conducted official Department business through a private email server. Does the Department currently have access to any of the records OIG was unable to find? If not, will you commit to notifying this Committee as soon as such access is obtained?

7. In September, I wrote you about Linda Howard, who was found liable in federal district court for human trafficking offenses committed against her Ethiopian housekeeper, while Howard was stationed as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Japan in 2008 and 2009.32 Reportedly, however, two years after DS interviewed the victim housekeeper about those offenses, Howard not only remained employed at the Department, but even received an honor award and a cash bonus.33 Was the Linda Howard case also treated as a “management issue”?

Full letter is here:

According to that 2014 report, the OIG “discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

Senator Grassley has been doggedly asking questions about various State Department issues the last few years.  We seriously doubt that the senator can be persuaded to drop this old bone. He’s up for reelection in 2016 so unless he is unable to multi-task, he probably will continue looking for answers on this  matter.  And of course, some folks will probably scream partisan witch hunt, and we can understand that, but …  we also think these are actually questions that need some real answers.

Should be interesting to see what he digs up.



Related items:

— July 16, 2015: The ambassador’s tale: Lessons I learned about success and scandal by Former U.S. Ambassador  to Belgium Howard Gutman (WaPo Magazine).

— 09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

— May 10, 2012 | ROP Case No. 2011-064 | FSGB grievance case (read online) that may or may not be related to the Howard case (names have been redacted) but the timeframe and circumstances appears similar, and it looks like DOJ declined to prosecute the case in 2011.


Related posts:



Photo of the Day: Ambassador Verma at the Golden Temple

Posted: 12:15 am EDT


Via US Embassy New Delhi/FB:

“ਗੁਰਪੁਰਬ ਦੀਆਂ ਲੱਖ-ਲੱਖ ਵਧਾਈਆਂ I Gurupurab diyaan lakh-lakh wdaayiaan! A very happy #GuruNanakJayanti.”


Screen Shot

That’s US Ambassador to India Richard Verma paying his respects at the Golden Temple back in May during his Punjab visit.    Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. It is the biggest festival among Sikhs all over the world and usually falls in October or November. This year, the Indian holiday was celebrated on November 25.


Tweet of the Day: Lighting Up the Christmas Tree in Seoul

Posted: 12:52 am EDT



US Embassy Thailand: Ambassador Glyn Davies’ Talk Sparks Protest in Bangkok

Posted: 1:22 am EDT


The US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies was nominated by President Obama on April 14, 2015, confirmed by the Senate on August 5, and sworn in on September 14, 2015.  A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Davies also served as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Office in Vienna from June 2009 until November 2011.  He previously served as the Special Representative of the U.S. Secretary of State for North Korea Policy from January 2012 to November 2014.  Since his arrival in Thailand in September, he has traveled and acquainted himself with his host country.  Here’s Ambassador Davies during a local celebration:

Screen Shot

On November 23 Ambassador and Mrs. Davies celebrated their first Loy Krathong with Thai and American staff. The festival featured traditional Thai dances, Thai games, krathong making contests, in addition, to Ambassador and Mrs. Davies participating in a “ram wong” with other members of the Embassy community.

On Nov. 24, Ambassador Davies gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club ofThailand. As of this writing, we have been unable to locate the transcript of Ambassador Davies’ talk at the FCCT.


Ambassador Davies quickly became a target of a protest for his recent comments on the lese majeste law:

The BBC News explained Thailand’s lese majeste laws here. Al Jazeera notes that since taking power in May 2014, Thailand’s military government has come under scrutiny for their heavy-handed application of a decades-old law written to protect the Thai royal family.

The Asian Observer has posted a lengthy list of the lese majeste charges filed since 2007.  An Asia One report  in late 2014 says that the Thai Police have dealt with more than 10,000 cases of lese majeste in recent years.


Saudi Arabia Gave Some Serious Bling to Federal Officials, the Most Expensive to the Spouses

Posted: 2:29 pm EDT

Remember that scene in Kevin Costner’s No Way Out where the protagonist was searching computer records for evidence that the Secretary of Defense gave the dead girlfriend a government-registered gift he received from the Moroccan foreign minister? It’s this list.

The State Department has released its 2014 list of Gifts to Federal Employees from Foreign Government Sources Reported to Employing Agencies. The annual compilation includes reports of both tangible gifts and gifts of travel or travel expenses of more than minimal value, as defined by the statute. Also included are gifts received in previous years including one gift in 1985, one gift in 1995, one gift in 1997, one gift in 2001, two gifts in 2009, one gift in 2010, six gifts in 2011, five gifts in 2012, forty-nine gifts in 2013, and one gift with an unknown date. The announcement in the Federal Register says that “these latter gifts are being reported in 2014 as the Office of the Chief of Protocol, Department of State, did not receive the relevant information to include them in earlier reports.”

Among the gifts just reported in the latest list are two that came from His Majesty Qaboos bin Said bin al Said, Sultan of Oman. One was a “Framed 18k gold military-style medals” given to David Dunford, then the US Ambassador to Oman. The gift was received on 6/21/1995 with an estimated value of $8,500.00. The report notes in the disposition that it is “Pending transfer to General Services Administration.” Another gift from the Sultan of Oman went to John B. Craig, also a US Ambassador to Oman. It is a “Framed military-style medals on a yellow background. Rec’d – 9/26/2001 Est. Value – $8,500.00. It is also “Pending transfer to General Services Administration.”

Note that these gifts are accepted on behalf of the United States and are disposed by the General Services Administration. These gifts are typically accepted because its “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to the donor and U.S. Government.”  If the recipient desires to retain the gift for personal use, he/she would have to purchase it at the estimated market value from the U.S. Government through the General Services Administration and  it is so noted on the list.

For instance, the Minister of Interior of the Kingdom of Bahrain gave US Embassy Bahrain DCM Stephanie T. Williams some pearl earrings in January 2013 with an estimated value of $1,000. The 2014 report listed the disposition of this gift as “Purchased by the recipient from General Services Administration.”

The Minister of Defense of the Republic of Yemen gave  Thomas Kelly, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, a “Traditional sword with belt; Rec’d – 3/31/2014; Est. Value – $580.00. The gift is marked “Purchased by recipient from General Services Administration.”

According to the list, the most expensive gifts from Foreign Government Sources in 2014 came from Saudi Arabia.

Some of the gifts Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al- Saud, the King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave to Federal employees, including President Obama and family members, Secretary and Mrs. Kerry and other members of the executive branch are below. These gifts are marked for disposition by the National Archives and Records Administration or the General Services Administration.

President Obama:

48” gold-plated brass replica of the Makkah Clock Tower on marble base; Est. Value – $57,000.00

White gold men’s wristwatch with leather band; Est. Value – $67,000.00

First Lady and First Daughters:

Diamond and emerald jewelry set including necklace, earrings, ring, and bracelet Rec’d – 1/14/2014; Est. Value – $560,000.00

Diamond and pearl jewelry set including necklace, earrings, ring, and bracelet Rec’d – 4/15/2014; Est. Value – $570,000.00

(For daughters) Diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch. Diamond and ruby jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch Rec’d – 1/14/2014; Est. Value – $80,000.00

Secretary Kerry:

Palm tree statue encrusted with various gemstones. Rolex men’s Yacht Master II watch; Rec’d –1/5/2014; Est. Value – $36,900.00

Large gold and silver desert scene with palm trees and a camel caravan; Rec’d – 6/27/2014; Est. Value – $34,000.00

(Mrs. Kerry) Emerald and diamond jewelry set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace; Rec’d – 1/5/2014; Est. Value – $780,000.00

(Mrs. Kerry) Sapphire and diamond 18k white gold jewelry set containing earrings and a ring; Rec’d – 6/27/2014; Est. Value – $84,000.00

(Mrs. Kerry) Bvlgari ladies’ watch with a black satin band and a mother of pearl face; Rec’d –9/11/2014; Est. Value – $71,000.00

John O. Brennan, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency received a Decorative Rug on 5/31/2014 with  an estimated value of $7,500.00. The source of the gift is publicly undeclared per 5 U.S.C. 7342(f)(4). The rug has been “retained for official use in the Director’s office.”

An Agency employee received a Chopard Mille Miglia men’s watch valued at $5,600.00 from a publicly undeclared source. That has also been “retained for official use.”

Among other notable gifts from foreign sources:

The Attorney General of the State of Qatar gave Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States, a “Cartier platinum bracelet engraved with “Jeh Charles Johnson” on the interior and an exterior engraved decoration in circles with a line through each circle center.” It’s estimated value is $15,700.00; Disposition – Currently stored in NAC05-01-111-F.”

The Attorney General of the State of Qatar gave Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, a “Rug with case. Gold and silver ship depicting United States and the State of Qatar flags in case. Cartier bracelet with engraving. The gifts estimated value is $24,150.00.”Disposition – Accepted on behalf of the Department of Justice and forwarded to JMD/Property.”

The Attorney General of the State of Qatar also gave Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham each a “Silk rug; Rec’d – 5/13/2014; Est. Value – $4,000.00; Disposition – Deposited with the Secretary of the Senate.”

Paul Biya, the President of the Republic of Cameroon gave Linda Thomas- Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of the State for Africa,  a “3” commemorative gold coin. Framed bronze art depicting a mother and child; Est. Value – $15,245.00 Disposition – Coin pending transfer to General Services Administration. Artwork retained for official use.”

Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha of Brunei Darussalam have Mrs. Sangeeta Shields, the wife of US Ambassador of the United States to Brunei Darussalam Daniel L. Shields III, a “Sari purple and gold material. Heart shaped pendant. Floral brooch; Est. Value – $13,225.00 Disposition – Pending transfer to General Services Administration.”

His Royal Highness Prince Robert Louis François Marie of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg gave the US Embassy Luxembourg “Six bottles of 2009 Château Haut Brion wine; Rec’d –1/7/2014; Est. Value – $3,600.00. The entry is marked “Disposition – Perishable items handled pursuant to the guidelines set forth by General Services Administration.”

His Majesty Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan gave Senator John McCain a           “Rotisserie grill. Prime rib beef; Rec’d – 12/30/2014; Est. Value – $650.00; Disposition – Deposited with the Secretary of the Senate. Perishable items handled pursuant to guidelines set forth by General Services Administration

Also His Royal Highness Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge gave President Obama his own portrait with an estimated value of $888.00 — a “Framed, matted, and signed photographic portrait of Prince William.”

Here is the complete list:


Burn Bag: If Pfizer becomes Irish Pfizer, will @StateDept kick it out of OSAC?

Via Burn Bag:

“If Pfizer becomes Irish to lower its taxes, will the State Department kick Pfizer out of Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)?  Let Irish Pfizer contact the nearest Irish Embassy in case there’s a problem.”

Via Gifdumpster/Tumblr

Via Gifdumpster/Tumblr

Note: The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) was created in 1985 under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to promote security cooperation between American private sector interests worldwide and the U.S. Department of State.  The office is led by an Executive Council of private sector organizations and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, under the U.S. Department of State.  News report says that Pfizer, an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation headquartered in New York City, with its research headquarters in Groton, Connecticut, will shift its global headquarters to Ireland, for tax purposes, following a deal to merge with smaller Dublin-based rival Allergan in a transaction that is expected to close next year.  If the move is successful, Pfizer’s global profits will potentially be liable for tax at 12.5% rate in Ireland instead of the 35% in the United States.


American Embassies and Consulates Around the World Celebrate Thanksgiving Day

Posted: 2:35 pm EDT


 🍗 Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone!   Thank you for your continued support this year. I am grateful for your making this blog a part of your day. To our champions, I am here because you were there for me. I am grateful for your unending encouragement. Thank you all for making this year possible!

Below is a round-up of Thanksgiving Day celebrations around the Foreign Service. Giving thanks to the men and women representing America at our diplomatic missions around the world. They have in the past, served meals at community centers, served meals to local embassy and consulate staffers, hosted Peace Corps volunteers away from their homes, and more than a few have cooked/brought meals to Americans incarcerated overseas during the Thanksgiving holidays.  — D


US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

Ambassador Mark Gilbert and staff hosted the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Downtown Community Ministry in Wellington.


US Consulate General Mumbai


US Embassy Madrid, Spain


US Embassy Panama, Panama


US Embassy Singapore

Ambassador Kirk Wagar with embassy staffers served dinner to more than a hundred elderly guests at the AWWA Senior Community Home in the city.


US Embassy Prague, Czech Republic


US Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

American diplomats served typical Thanksgiving dishes to their media colleagues in Jakarta.


US Embassy Berlin, Germany

US Embassy Muscat, Oman

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US Embassy Ankara, Turkey

DCM and Mrs. Larry Mandel served the traditional Thanksgiving meal to embassy employees at the cafeteria in Ankara.


US Consulate General Istanbul, Turkey

Consul General Chuck Hunter and American colleagues cooked and served a Thanksgiving luncheon to the staff at the Consulate cafeteria in Istanbul.

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

Ambassador Glyn T. Davies hosted 41 Peace Corps volunteers for Thanksgiving.  Bravo!




Related posts:

Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

Thanksgiving Day 2012: Foreign Service Roundup

Thanksgiving Day 2011: Foreign Service Roundup

Thanksgiving Roundup: Around the Foreign Service

@StateDept Issues Worldwide Travel Alert on Top of Worldwide Caution, Message Fatigue Next?

Posted: 2:03 am EDT


On November 23rd, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert:

Here is part of the Worldwide Caution it issued in July:

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. In August 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

What’s the difference between a Worldwide Alert and Worldwide Caution?

Alerts are time-bound, true, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. Worldwide Caution is updated at least every six months.

The Fear Department is on it:

Here’s more:


The Worldwide Travel Alerts and Worldwide Caution are parts of the State Department’s Consular Information Program (CIP). Below from the FAM:

The CIP “is not mandated by statute, but several statutes are relevant to the Department’s performance of this function: Section 505 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 requires the Secretary to notify Congress whenever the Department issues a Travel Warning because of a terrorist threat or other security concern (22 U.S.C. 2656e). Section 321(f) of the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, Public Law 101-604 (49 U.S.C. 44905), prohibits the notification of a civil aviation threat to “only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” See 7 FAM 052, No Double Standard Policy. See also 22 CFR 71.1, 22 U.S.C. 2671 (b)(2)(A), 22 U.S.C. 4802, and 22 U.S.C. 211a.”

Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. government sources. The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there. By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations. Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, nor how that information is to be presented.

Who is responsible for the issuance of the travel information program?

Within the State Department, that would be the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele T. Bond who is responsible for supervising and managing the travel information program.  But the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services has primary day-to-day supervisory responsibility for the program. That’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services Karen L. Christensen.

Within OCS, Michelle Bernier-Toth, the Managing Director in the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) is responsible for the day-to-day management and issuance of travel information, including coordinating the preparation of all Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Worldwide Cautions, Messages, and Fact Sheets before their release.

Here are a few things to know about the Travel Alerts:

  • If a threat evaluated as credible, specific, and non-counterable is aimed at a broad group (e.g., U.S. citizens/nationals and/or U.S. interests generally), the Department will authorize the relevant post(s) to issue a Message, and may also issue or update a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or Worldwide Caution.
  • The Department issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens/nationals. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations/violence, and high profile events such as an international conference or regional sports event are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
  • Travel Alerts are issued for a specific period, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. If conditions warrant, the Department may cancel a Travel Alert before the end of the prescribed period via All Diplomatic and Consular Posts (ALDAC) cable and press release.

According to regs, CA/OCS reviews the Worldwide Caution continually and updates it at least every six months to ensure the most current general and regional safety and security information is shared with the U.S. citizen public.

The State Department admitted that it’s not offering a different advice from what it has been been saying for over 10 years in Worldwide Caution.  And folks have certainly wondered if the threats evaluated in this current Travel Alert are “credible, specific, and non-counterable” as directed by its rules book, or just one more CYA exercise; that is, if CA doesn’t issue a warning/alert and something happens, you already know where the fingers will be pointed, but …

The Worldwide Caution already cites the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Worldwide Alert says that “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.” That’s not a short-term condition. And yet, the alert is only good until February 24, 2016.  If the State Department issues an alert not based on credible and specific threats but simply on a belief that attacks could happen during a specific timeframe, how useful is that really?

The other concern, of course, is message fatigue. How long before folks stop taking this seriously?


Once More, @State Dept Strongly Recommends Against Travel to North Korea

Posted: 3:01 am EDT

The State Department has once more, issued a warning against travel to North Korea. Not sure this will dissuade folks intent on seeing the hermit kingdom.

The Department of State strongly recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK). This replaces the Travel Warning for North Korea of April 15, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and long-term detention due to the DPRK’s inconsistent application of its criminal laws.

Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens have been subject to arrest and long-term detention for actions that would not be cause for arrest in the United States or other countries.  North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally or intentionally crossed into DPRK territory without valid visas. The Department of State has received reports of DPRK authorities detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country.  North Korea has even detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.  Do not assume that joining a group tour or using a tour guide will prevent North Korean authorities from detaining you or arresting you.  Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.

The Government of North Korea has detained, arrested, and imposed extremely heavy fines on persons who violated DPRK laws, such as entering the country illegally. Travelers to North Korea must enter the DPRK with a valid passport and valid DPRK visa.  Foreign visitors to North Korea may be arrested, detained, or expelled for activities that would not be considered criminal outside North Korea, including involvement in unsanctioned religious and/or political activities (whether those activities took place inside or outside North Korea), unauthorized travel, or unauthorized interaction with the local population.

Read in full here.

There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea. In the case of a detention, arrest, or death of a U.S. citizen in North Korea, the United States can provide only limited consular services through our Protecting Power, the Embassy of Sweden.

Swedish Embassy  (U.S. Protecting Power in North Korea)
Munsu-Dong District
Pyongyang, DPRK
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 485 (reception)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 904, (850-2) 3817 907 (Deputy)
Telephone: (850-2) 3817 908, (850-2) 3817 905 (Ambassador)
Facsimile: (850-2) 3817 663