State Dept Spouse Employment: “Let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised”

Posted: 12:07 EST

 

One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse.  Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service.  We excerpted the following with her permission.  We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.

Excerpt from Who Are You Calling Eligible?

Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).

So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.

A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.

Read in full here.

Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)

I went and look at the FLO website just now.  Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on!  That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!

 

Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST

 

Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

.

Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

.

Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

* * *

Welcome Reception for Randy Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Posted: 18:05 EST

 

On February 23, 2015, the State Department  announced the appointment of FSO Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. Today, Secretary Kerry hosted a welcome reception at the State Department to commemorate the announcement. Click on the image below to view the video of the welcome remarks by Secretary Kerry, Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (State/DRL) and Special Envoy Randy Berry:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27

Randy Berry, LGBT Special Envoy at Welcome Reception on February 27, 2015 (click image to view video)

I am well aware how lucky I am to be standing here before you today with such amazing and comprehensive support networks, not only professionally but also personally. I’m joined here today not only by my sisters, Rita and Rhonda from Colorado, but also by my husband and my fellow global traveler, Pravesh Singh. Pravesh left his native South Africa nearly a decade ago not only to join me, but I think he really didn’t realize he was also joining a larger family, and that is the Foreign Service, a family bound together in service to the United States. He’s as much a member of the United States Foreign Service as I am, and I am very pleased to say that post-DOMA, when we move here from Amsterdam in early April, he will move home as an American citizen. (Applause.)

Pravesh and I do not share a common culture, nor do we share a common religion, nor do we share a common race. As much as it pains me to say this, we don’t even share a common decade – (laughter) – really. What we do share, however, is love, and that love has built a good and happy life and a family that now includes our exceptional – (laughter) – our exceptional young children who are normally so well behaved – (laughter) – Arya and Xander. Yet as I say that, I think all of us in this room recognize just how unbelievably fortunate we are, for in far too many places around the world not only is this type of story impossible, but additionally, great and terrible injustices are visited on people like us.

This love still stands ground for imprisonment, harassment, torture, and far worse in too many places around the world. That is a violation of human rights. It is a violation of human rights by the standards set forth by many of our allies and partners around the world, and it is a violation of human rights by the standard of the universal declaration. We can and we must do better. Lives, futures, hopes and dreams depend on that, and that is why we’re here today. That’s also why this type of role is needed.

Read the full remarks here.

* * *

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Top Diplomatic Pooch of All?

Posted: 00:08 EST

 

Several years ago, two Alsatian guard dogs owned by the Russian Embassy in the UK, were reportedly accused of savaging sheep in rural Kent. The dogs claimed diplomatic immunity to stave off farmers who want them destroyed according to the Independent.  In 2013, Australian Bennett Miller used 36 wiener dogs and their volunteer owners to create a replica of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a performance art installation. See more here. So we had dogs that invoked diplomatic immunity, and dogs that were art muses!

In 2012, the pooches and all U.S. diplomatic pets were at the center of a very public campaign against United Airlines for its pet travel policy. (See here, here and here). That’s probably when the pets moved over to YouTube, FB and the blogs (also see The Pets of the US Foreign Service). A related trend — these days, we’ve got diplomatic pooches with varying degrees of official presence, from an occasional snapshot or two to a more persistent online presence. Here are few high ranking pooches:

 

SkipJack Armbruster, U.S. Embassy Marshall Islands

dogs_armbruster

Ambassador Thomas Armbruster and SkipJack enjoying their new ride in Majuro (Photo from US Embassy Majuro/FB)

Bernie Mitchell, U.S. Embassy Burma

DOGS_Burma

A thank you note from Ambassador Mitchell, Min, and Bernie to the people of Myanmar for their warm hospitality in 2014.

Deckard Oreck, U.S. Embassy Finland

Ambassador Bruce Oreck’s dog, Deckard, is named after — you guess it — Rick Deckard, the protagonist of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner to Hollywood). Apologies, we don’t have the text for this interview.

DOGS_Finland_Deckard

Deckard Oreck (Photo from US Embassy Finland)

Hapa Berry, U.S. Embassy Australia

 

 Fenway Hackett, U.S. Embassy The Vatican

 

Not all diplomatic pooches are created equal when it comes to their online presence, of course.  We’ve searched for the top dogs on social media and came up with the following:

Colt Wilczynski aka @diplomat_dog

Ambodog of Artur Wilczynski @Arturmaks, Canada’s Ambassador to Norway

“A dog excited to be going on posting to Norway with his two daddies.” Although this labrador retriever has a small number of followers on Twitter as of this writing, he has lots of pics and is marvelously entertaining. How can you not love a pooch who writes, “As a Canadian diplomat, I don’t think I’m supposed to enjoy tonight’s episode of “? Or “I don’t want to get up. It’s too dark! And what does daddy mean- “Get used to it!”?

.

.

Benjamin F. Kerry aka  @DiploMutt

(Secretary John F. Kerry’s best friend in WashDC)

In November 2013, Secretary Kerry flew to Maine to pick up his new yellow Labrador puppy, Ben from Frances Plessner of Puddleduck Boarding Kennel who spent two months training the dog. According to the Boston Globe, Ben is named in honor of Ben Franklin, also known as the “Father of the American Foreign Service.” (Also see Secretary Kerry Gets a New Dog, Now a State Dept. Dog is Tweeting, Who Needs the NSA?) Ben, whose Twitter handle says @Diplomutt has 1,943 followers but is not terribly social online. He has only tweeted four times, and followed only six people, all State Department folks.  He does not appear to entertain request for retweets even for a good cause.

 

 

If you’re looking at @Diplomutt to come to the rescue after a hashtag diplomacy debacle, you’re out of luck.  It looks like Ben F. Kerry is on a very, very short leash with no other larger purpose than being the Secretary of State’s most devoted friend and most reserved sidekick in Washington, D.C.

.

Grigsby Lippert aka @GrigsbyBasset

(Ambodog of Mark Lippert @mwlippert, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea)

This Basset Hound is an upcoming star among diplomatic pooches. Although he only has over 500 followers, @GrigsbyBasset has tweeted over twenty times more than the more popular top dog from Foggy Bottom. He tweets lots of pictures and even made it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal:

.

.

Scruffy Nellie aka @DiplomaticDog
(@GregQuinnFCO FCO High Commissioner designate to Guyana)

Our most favorite pooch among the lot is Scruffy Nellie, a feisty little terrier found on the street of Astana, Kazakhstan by a British diplomatic family. Her manservant is @GregQuinn, now the FCO High Commissioner designate to Guyana.  Nellie has her own blog at Diplomatic Dog, followed by over 4200 subscribers. You may subscribe to follow her blog here and get your “regular sniffs.”  She is on Facebook with regular updates on “hairy pudding adventures and occasional words of scruffy wisdom.” She’s also on Twitter (@DiplomaticDog) with 2,797 followers.

Here she is when she was newly found:

Here she is in February 2014:

 

Scruffy Nellie, herself, is available for interviews. See the one she did here with BlogExpat.com.  By the way, when her manservant gave an interview on behalf of the British Embassy in Astana (@UKinKZ with 2,196 followers),  @DiplomaticDog was there to retweet, and amplify.

.

@GregQuinnFCO confirmed to us that Scruffy Nellie is moving with him to Guyana this month and her family have arrived safely in Guyana. We’re looking forward to her Caribbean adventure; maybe she’ll get to see Kaieteur Falls!

 * * *

 

 

Have Brawn, Endurance and Wanna See the World? Uncle Ben Wants You!

Posted: 14:06 EST

 

The Department of State is developing a rank-order Register to fill a limited number of Foreign Service Diplomatic Courier vacancies.  Couriers are responsible for the security of the Department of State’s Courier-accompanied diplomatic pouch operations worldwide. The job is physically exacting and couriers spend a substantial portion of their careers living and working overseas in a nearly constant travel status using conveyances to include passenger and cargo aircraft, trucks, trains, and ships.

It is important that a Diplomatic Courier has the physical endurance to withstand the challenging physical stresses from working long hours, lack of sleep, extremes of heat or cold, and other discomforts. A Diplomatic Courier must have the physical strength to lift and move heavy items such as diplomatic pouches and crates that may be oversized and weigh as much as 70 lbs or carry heavy equipment.

Some essential functions of the job have a physically demanding component. For instance, a Diplomatic Courier is required to perform work that requires regular and recurring periods of prolonged sitting, standing, bending, and stretching. A Diplomatic Courier is often required to physically move and transport heavy diplomatic pouches. That could involve climbing ladders and working in and around aircraft, trucks, trains, aboard ships, etc. Other essential duties of the job may involve assisting with the recurring lifting of heavy diplomatic pouches and boxes. Related activities include crawling, maneuvering, and working in cramped spaces as well as the occasional moving and transporting of diplomatic pouches that may weigh as much as 70 lbs.

In addition, candidates must have vision that is correctable to 20/20 in one eye and 20/40 in the other, no color blindness, adequate night vision and good peripheral vision. Candidates must have good hearing with no loss of greater than 30 decibels at 500, 1000, 2000 Hz level. The musculoskeletal system should have no deformities, diseases or limiting conditions that would interfere with the performance of duties.

The Office of Medical Services will conduct or arrange for a physical examination of each applicant offered a position to ensure that the candidate meets the physical and medical requirements necessary to perform the essential functions of the job and can meet the standards required for a worldwide medical clearance.

Applicants must be available for worldwide service, and be able to tolerate intensive world travel, living away from family, and working and living in difficult and / or isolated conditions.

 

According to State Department statistics, the agency has 102 full time, permanent couriers as of March 2013.  The largest population of couriers is in the FS-04 level, a couple is in the Senior Foreign Service.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 20 and 59 and posses a valid U.S. driver’s license. Education and experience qualifications must be met. Male candidates must also be in compliance with the Selective Service Act.  This is an FP-06 job with an annual salary of $39,166-$57,517.  Application deadline coming up. See more at careers.state.gov.

* * *

State Dept’s Counterterrorism Official Arrested For Allegedly Soliciting Minor Online

Posted: 13:45 EST
Updated: February 27, 2015, 20:45 PST

 

This is not the kind of news you want to read with your latte. Via CBS News:

A senior State Department official who oversees counter terrorism programs was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of soliciting sex from a minor, reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan.

The department’s director of counterterrorism was charged with one count of attempting to solicit sex from a juvenile, and spent the night in Washington, D.C. jail.

According to police, Daniel Rosen, 44, was taken into custody at home after exchanging multiple online messages with an undercover detective from their child exploitation unit. The detective was operating a sting operation to bust online predators.

Court documents do not appear to be publicly available online as of this writing. However, the Fairfax County Police Department says that the charge was for “one count of use of a communications device to solicit a juvenile” and that Rosen will be extradited to the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center at some point within the next 10 days.   He will have a status hearing at the D.C. Superior Court in the afternoon of March 3.  Click here for  @wusa9 video coverage.

Below is a recap via Twitter.  There was a DC man:

 

Who turned out to be some official working in a high profile bureau:

 

Local news covered the arraignment, see Peggy Fox’s timeline on Twitter:

 

Also covered by CNN after bail denial.  The larger problem cited by Dr. Lori Handrahan, the author of forthcoming book Child Porn Nation: America’s Hidden National Security Risk which details America’s child sex abuse epidemic:

 

 

The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports that at the State Department on Wednesday, “there was no official communication to staff about Rosen’s arrest, just an awkward silence.” He writes:

Those who know Rosen pushed back on initial reports that he was a senior-level official in charge of all counterterrorism programs at the State Department. His job was largely budgetary and bureaucratic, they said. Rosen had mastered the byzantine rules imposed on how a federal agency can spend money.
[…]
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told The Daily Beast in a statement: “We are aware that a State Department employee has been arrested and charges have been issued. For issues related to Department personnel and for privacy reasons, we are not able to confirm the identity of the individual or specific charges.”

Psaki said the employee would be placed on administrative leave during the judicial process. “We are following standard procedure in this case,” she said.

Rosen’s publicly available LinkedIn profile says that he is the Director of Counterterrorism Plans, Programs and Policy at the U.S. Department of State  from August 2008 to present (6 years 7 months). Among the experience he listed is oversight of $300 million per year in CT programs related to Countering Violent Extremism, Antiterrorism Assistance, Counterterrorism Financing, Counterterrorism Engagement and Regional Initiatives and management of an office with over 20 personnel.

This case is serious and creepy but we should also note that the charge in the complaint is an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in the court of law.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s telephone directory had been scrubbed.  The updated directory dated February 25 lists the Bureau of Counterterrorism’s Director for the Office of Programs and Policy located at 2509 as currently “vacant.”

* * *

 

US Embassy Jordan Warns of a Potential Threat Against High-End Malls in Amman

Posted: 15:04 PST

 

On February 25, the U.S. Embassy in Amman issued a message to U.S. citizens in Jordan concerning a potential threat against high-end malls in the capital city:

The U.S. Embassy has received information of a potential threat against high-end malls in Amman.  The threat is judged to be credible, although the possible timeframe and type of threat are unknown.  The Government of Jordan has taken steps to increase security at these locations.  U.S. Embassy employees and family members have been instructed to avoid these locations as a precaution in the coming days, and private U.S. citizens are advised to do the same.

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Extremist groups have repeatedly expressed interest in attacking so-called soft targets, such as malls and restaurants, in Jordan. U.S. citizens should expect to see an increased security presence at such establishments throughout Jordan, and especially in Amman.  We encourage U.S. citizens to cooperate with all vehicle and personal searches by police and private security.  U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Jordan should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments.

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report issued by Diplomatic Security notes that the threat of terrorism remains a major concern as regional and transnational terrorist groups, as well as local extremists, have demonstrated the willingness and ability to mount attacks.

In late September 2012, the General Intelligence Department uncovered and foiled a major terrorist plot that targeted several Amman shopping centers and cafes, known to be frequented by diplomats and Westerners, and the U.S. Embassy. The highly sophisticated plot, orchestrated by members of al-Qai’da in Iraq (AQI) who had operated in Syria, was designed to take place in several phases — first targeting commercial locations to draw the attention of security forces and culminating in a complex attack on the Embassy involving vehicle borne explosive devices, suicide bombers, and mortars. The plot was disrupted prior to the group moving to the operational phase. Jordanian authorities arrested all 11 members (all Jordanian citizens) believed to be involved in the plot.

AQI has a storied past in Jordan, to include claiming responsibility for the November 2005 bombings of three international hotels in Amman that killed 60 people and the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley.
[…]
In August 2010, a roadside IED detonated near the passing vehicle of three State Department contractors in Sahab. The attack caused minor damage to the vehicle but resulted in no injuries.

The report also notes that due to cross border security concerns as a result of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. Embassy has issued a travel policy for all personnel under Chief of Mission authority, mandating specific restrictions and requirements for official travel to the Jordanian/Syrian border and locations in close proximity to the border, including the Za’atri refugee camp. Travel to these locations by Embassy personnel must be conducted in armored vehicles equipped with RSO monitored tracking devices. Additionally, prior to travel commencing, the Regional Security Office routinely consults with the Jordanian PSD to determine the suitability of the journey and, if necessary, to arrange for additional security measures.

 

Related item:

Jordan 2014 Crime and Safety Report

 

* * *

State Dept Issues Travel Warnings For Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; Warns of “Imminent Attacks” in Kabul

Posted: 11:17 EST

 

On February 24, the State Department issued Travel Warnings for Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia:

Algeria Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria, as noted in the Department of State’s latest Worldwide Caution. Although the major cities are heavily policed, attacks are still possible. The majority of terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes occur in the mountainous areas to the east of Algiers (Kabylie region and eastern wilayas) and in the expansive Saharan desert regions of the south and southeast. In September, the ISIL-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) abducted and beheaded a French citizen, in the Kabylie region.
[…]
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. Embassy personnel assigned to Algiers sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under security restrictions. The U.S. Department of State permits U.S. diplomats in Algeria to be accompanied only by adult family members, and children under age 12. Embassy travel restrictions limit and occasionally prevent the movement of U.S. Embassy officials and the provision of consular services in certain areas of the country. Likewise, the Government of Algeria requires U.S. Embassy personnel to seek permission to travel outside the wilaya of Algiers and provides police escorts. Travel to the military zone established around the Hassi Messaoud oil center requires Government of Algeria authorization.

state.gov/nea map

state.gov/nea map

Pakistan Travel Warning:

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi continue to provide consular services for all U.S. citizens in Pakistan. The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar no longer offers consular services and the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remains temporarily closed for public services.
[…]
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.
[…]
U.S. government personnel travel within Pakistan is often restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles. Embassy staff is permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.

U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel. U.S. officials are not authorized to use public transportation.

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. There have been recent attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates, an attack on Shi’ite Muslims outside a community center in the Eastern Province on November 3, 2014, and continuing reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners in the Kingdom.
[…]
Security threats are increasing and terrorist groups, some affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom.

On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). The U.S. Embassy has instructed U.S. government personnel and their families to avoid all travel to Al Hasa Governorate, and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

In related news — yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued an Emergency Message concerning threats to American citizens in what is still a war zone.

“As of late February 2015, militants planned to conduct multiple imminent attacks against an unspecified target or targets in Kabul City, Afghanistan. There was no further information regarding the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the first overseas destination of the new defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter. According to the NYT, he arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend and opened up the possibility of “slowing the withdrawal of the last American troops in the country to help keep the Taliban at bay.”  Most of the remaining troops in the country are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2016.

* * *

President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991

Posted: 18:17 EST

 

We have not seen the official announcement from the WH yet, but on February 24, Secretary Kerry released the following statement on the nomination of FSO Katherine S. Dhanani to serve as the first United States Ambassador to Somalia since 1991:

President Obama, today, nominated Katherine S. Dhanani to serve as the first United States Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. This historic nomination signals the deepening relationship between the United States and Somalia. It also allows us to mark the progress of the Somali people toward emerging from decades of conflict. Somalia has considerable work ahead to complete its transition to a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation. The United States is committed to supporting Somalia on this journey as a steadfast partner. If confirmed, the Ambassador will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia, currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. As security conditions permit, we look forward to increasing our diplomatic presence in Somalia and eventually reopening the .

Traditional Hyderabadi marfa drum beaters await the arrival of Consul General Katherine Dhanani at the Pista House, Charminar. (Photo by USCG Hyderabad)

Traditional Hyderabadi marfa drum beaters await the arrival of Consul General Katherine Dhanani at the Pista House, Charminar.
(Photo by USCG Hyderabad)

According to her online bio, Ms. Dhanani succeeded Cornelis M. Keur as U.S. Consul General in Hyderabad and assumed charge of post in  September 2010. She has been a foreign service officer since 1990 and has previously served at US embassies in Georgetown, Guyana, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Mexico City, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lusaka,Zambia and Libreville,Gabon. She was also deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Harare.  She is a trained economist from the Kenyon College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She taught economics at the Grinnel College before joining the U.S. Foreign Service. During her tenure in Hyderabad, she blogged at A Diplomat in the Deccan.

Via state.gov

Via state.gov

Except for a Virtual Presence Post, the United States has no formal diplomatic presence in Somalia.  The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia last updated in October 2014,  recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all travel to Somalia.

Kidnapping, bombings, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals can occur in any region of Somalia. 
[…]
While some parts of south/central Somalia are now under Somali government control with the military support of African Union forces, al-Shabaab has demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks in government-controlled territory with particular emphasis on targeting government facilities, foreign delegations’ facilities and movements, and commercial establishments frequented by government officials, foreign nationals, and the Somali diaspora.  In February 2012, al-Shabaab announced that it had merged with Al-Qaida.

The current Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, James C. Swan previously served as the United States Special Representative for Somalia from August 2011 to July 2013, leading U.S. diplomatic, security, and stabilization initiatives that culminated in U.S. recognition of a Somali government for the first time in more than two decades.  In August 2013, James P. McAnulty was appointed his successor as Special Representative for Somalia.

The last Senate-confirmed ambassador to Somalia according to history.state.gov was James Keough Bishop (1938-) who was appointed on June 27, 1990. The appointment was terminated when the Embassy closed on January 5, 1991.

* * *