Category Archives: FCO

US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  The levels of risk vary throughout the country. This replaces the Travel Warning of April 4, 2014, to update information about the current security situation.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani.  Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.
[...]
Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots throughout the country.  On March 17, 2014, police discovered a large and sophisticated car bomb in the Mombasa area, as reported in the local media.  The intended target remains unclear. 
[...]
On April 23, 2014, gunmen ambushed a convoy vehicle and attempted to kidnap an international humanitarian staff member at the Dadaab refugee complex.  While the kidnapping attempt was unsuccessful, one national staff member was injured in the attack.
[...]
As a result of these recent events and threats, the U.S. Embassy has restricted travel for U.S. government personnel to the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh and to the coastal areas of Mombasa and Diani. Travel for personnel is limited to only mission-essential trips and must be pre-approved by appropriate Embassy offices. U.S. Embassy personnel are also prohibited from traveling to northeastern Kenya, including the cities of El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Liboi. U.S. Embassy personnel are also restricted from traveling to the coastal area north of Pate Island, including Kiwavu and north to Kiunga on the Kenya-Somalia border. The Embassy has also instituted a policy of restricting U.S. government-sponsored regional conferences and trainings in Nairobi and reviewing the numbers of TDY personnel coming to the country for official purposes.

Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens in Kenya should take these restrictions into account when planning travel. The Embassy regularly reviews the security of these areas for possible modification.

There are no restrictions on U.S. embassy employee travel to Kenya’s most popular tourist destinations such as Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo, Lamu Island, Hell’s Gate, Samburu, Mount Kenya, and Malindi. However, as with the prohibited travel destinations listed above, the Embassy regularly reviews the security of these unrestricted areas for possible modification.

Read in full here.

Via UKFCO

Via UKFCO

On Friday, May 16, there have been reported explosions at Gikomba Market on the edges of the Eastleigh district in Nairobi. Casualties have been reported. On the same day the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to the following areas:

  • areas within 60km of the Kenya-Somali border
  • Kiwayu and coastal areas north of Pate Island
  • Garissa District
  • the Eastleigh area of Nairobi
  • low income areas of Nairobi, including all township or slum areas
  • Mombasa island and within 5km of the coast from Mtwapa creek in the north down to and including Tiwi in the south (this area does not include Diani or Moi international airport)

If currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, travelers are also advised to “consider whether you have an essential reason to remain.”

Media reports that hundreds of British tourists are being evacuated on chartered flights from Kenya’s coast after the Foreign Office warning.

* * *

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Consular Work, FCO, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

US Embassy Bangkok Issues Security Message on Thailand Protests

– Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Bangkok issued a security message to U.S. citizens in the country concerning the mass protests  in the capital city. BBC News Bangkok reports that today is the eighth day of protests aimed at unseating Yingluck Shinawatra, who became Prime Minister of Thailand following the 2011 general election.  Four people have reportedly died and dozens have been injured in the civil unrest that shows no sign of abating.

Domestic political activists in Thailand are holding large demonstrations at several sites throughout Bangkok. These demonstrations may continue in the coming days, including at several Thai government facilities in areas within and outside of Central Bangkok.

Violence, including gunshots, was reported on the night of November 30/morning of December 1st in the area of Ramkhamhaeng University in the Bang Kapi district northeast of Central Bangkok. At least two persons have been reported killed and several dozen have been reported injured. Police have used tear gas and other measures to protect government facilities at several locations in Bangkok.

Although the Thai government has not implemented a curfew, senior officials have recommended that residents remain at home from 10:00 p.m. Dec 1 through 5:00 a.m. Dec 2.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok will be open on Monday as usual. Please check the Embassy’s web page and Twitter feed for updates.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports.

The UKFCO’s current Travel Advice on Thailand notes that “on 25 November the authorities in Thailand implemented the Internal Security Act in all districts of Bangkok and Nonthaburi as well as the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan and the Lat Lum Kaeo district of Pathum Thani, which will lead to an increased security presence and possible disruption to traffic.”

Previous anti-government protests in Thailand occurred in March, April, and May 2010 which resulted in the occupation of  Bangkok’s business district. The government’s operation to clear the protesters led to multiple deaths and injuries, property destruction, and a closure of the embassy for over a week.  According to a 2010 report, the unrest also resulted in the  relocation of embassy personnel from residences close to the protest zone, issuance of a travel warning, and granting of authorized departure for family members.

The embassy estimates that regional services-related work occupies 51 percent of its personnel. The 2010 inspection report of US Embassy Bangkok notes that the country team at Embassy Bangkok is composed of representatives from 40 U.S. Government executive branch agencies and departments, plus one legislative branch agency.   The US Embassy in Bangkok has also doubled in size in the last 10 years largely due to the concentration of regional services in Bangkok.  At the time of the inspection there were almost 2,000 employees with US Mission Thailand, including local nationals and U.S. local hire.  The report cautioned that “The trend toward regionalization in Bangkok may have reached its limit, as its advantage as a politically stable location for regional operations is diminishing with Thailand’s rapidly evolving political situation.”

Prolonged protests have the potential to impact regional support on finance, payroll (for as many as 67 embassies), human resources,  regional training, customer services, as well as courier services and engineering services.  No State Department Travel Warning or Travel Alert has been issued as of this writing.

* * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, FCO, Protests, Realities of the FS, Trends, U.S. Missions

Interim Win For Diplomats Slows Down March To Another War. For Now.

– Domani Spero

(L to R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and US Secretary of State John Kerry,, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister

(L to R) British Foreign Secretary William Hague, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, EU’s Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister (Photo via US Mission Geneva)

Here is the Fact Sheet: First Step Understandings Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program released by the WH on November 23.  You might also want to read Jeffrey Lewis’ piece on FP asking, if we can’t ease sanctions in exchange for concessions, what was the point of pressuring Iran. He is the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Lots of articles coming out right now on the Geneva deal, but there are a couple you don’t want to miss.  The Associated Press reported on the cloak and dagger diplomacy that happened behind the klieg lights with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, and National Security Council aide Puneet Talwar. See Secret talks between U.S., Iran set stage for historic nuclear deal.  As well, see Al-Monitor’s Exclusive: Burns led secret US back channel to Iran.

Of course, now folks will start wondering what’s real in the public schedule posted on state.gov.

But please — a toast to the diplomats and the support staff!  For every foreign minister present in the photo above, there were numerous nameless individuals who made the work in Geneva possible. Bravissimo for a win that did not involved a drone, a gun, or a deadly karate chop! Diplomacy still works and it did not wear combat boots this time.

Also, yesterday, Reuters reported that former hostage Bruce Laingen, the US chargé d’affaires in Tehran in 1979 favors diplomacy, “despite humiliation, solitary confinement and having a gun held to his head during the U.S. Embassy crisis in Iran three decades ago.” The report notes that “Former hostages who were diplomats appear more in favor of rebuilding a relationship with Iran than those who were military personnel at the time.” See  Former Iran hostages: amid rapprochement they still want apologies.   

Apparently, some pols are livid about this Iran deal, lining up before microphones, furiously writing op-eds, plotting the next moves and …..

Oh, hey, accuweather says the East Coast winter storm will snark Thanksgiving travel.  Safe travel peeps!

* * *

Leave a comment

Filed under 68, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, EU, FCO, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Iran, John F. Kerry, Politics, Secretary of State, State Department

There’s UK’s Naked Diplomat, Now Japan’s Barefoot Diplomat, Ball’s In Your Media, American Diplomats

– Domani Spero

First, there was the Naked Diplomat. Remember him?  See Are You Ready for The Naked Diplomat? FCO’s Man In Beirut Strips Down. That’s Tom Fletcher, the British Ambassador to Lebanon who writes:

“The Naked Diplomat has a smartphone to protect his modesty. But also the skills that have always been essential to the role: an open mind, political savvy, and a thick skin. He or she will learn the language of this new terrain in the way he or she has learnt Chinese or Arabic.”

Enter Japanese diplomat Yasuhiro Murotatsu, also called The Barefoot Diplomat.  He’s seeking his first wrestling win in Sudan.  He apparently is the first foreigner, and the first diplomat to fight in Sudan’s wrestling arena.  He has had about four matches but he’s not giving up. Below is Murotatsu’s Return Match Preview. Watch, you’ll love this! (Translation maybe added later, our translator is in school).

BBC News covered one of his wrestling matches.

They call him the barefoot diplomat: Yasuhiro Murotatsu, the political officer at the Japanese embassy in Sudan, also carries out an unusual form of physical diplomacy.

He takes on the best Sudanese wrestlers in the ring.

Mr Murotatsu hopes his fights can even bring the Sudanese closer together.

“I will be very happy if all Sudanese, from different parts of Sudan, from different tribes of Sudan, come together to support Sudanese wrestlers against a foreigner, a Japanese diplomat,” he told the BBC.

Go, Muro, Go!

Mr. Murotatsu has his own YouTube channel here. The BBC News video clip is here.

Okay, folks, your turn.

* * *

1 Comment

Filed under Ambassadors, Digital Diplomacy, Diplomacy, FCO, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Public Diplomacy

Snapshot: Highest Level of Youth Unemployment in the World – Middle East & North Africa

Via The Arab Spring and economic transition: two years on by Harry Quilter-Pinner (FCO) and Graham Symons (DFID):

“The Arab Spring, which led to a series of political changes in North Africa and the Middle East, was in part caused by economic underperformance and exclusion. The region has historically been marred by high levels of inequality and unemployment. MENA has the highest level of youth unemployment in the world (figure 1), whilst female labour participation (at 25%) is also the world’s worst. Significant state (and in some cases military) involvement in the economy has constrained private sector financing and growth (figure 2), and created large fiscal deficits.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under FCO, Foreign Affairs, Govt Reports/Documents, Snapshots

Blast From the Past: US Embassy Benghazi (June 1967) — “The mob battered its way in”

— By Domani Spero

Almost nine months since the attack, Benghazi continue to make news.  Three days ago, CBS News reported that U.S. officials gave instructions for Benghazi Medical Center to use a “John Doe” pseudonym on the death certificate of Ambassador Christopher Stevens after he died of asphyxiation in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Frankly, we don’t think that was an unreasonable request. Who wants to imagine the body of a deceased ambassador held hostage or used for propaganda or other purposes by the militants who killed him?

We missed this May 17 piece by Christopher Dickey saying, “The CIA misjudged the security threat in Benghazi and contributed mightily to the confusion afterwards. The ass-covering of then-CIA Director David Petraeus, particularly, muddled the question of what could and should be told to the public.” It’s good reading.

To our last count, there’s a subpoena for emails and documents from ten top State Department officials that Congress wants to look at (see House Oversight Committee Subpoenas Benghazi-Related Documents To/From Ten State Dept Officials). There’s also congressional request asking what happened to the four employees “fired” by the State Department last December (see Congress Seeks Details on Status of Four State Dept Employees ‘Fired’ Over Benghazi. Then there’s the appearance by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen before the Oversight Committee, which to-date does not have a confirmed date.  Oh, and the RNC filed an FOIA for more Benghazi-related emails.

Then Ambassador Ryan Crocker made news when he told the Marine Corps Times that people should come before paper, and why he doesn’t think it makes sense any longer that the primary duty of the Marine Security Guards is protecting classified documents. “I really do think it’s time that the Marine Corps and the State Department re-look at the memorandum of agreement and rules of engagement because that was written effectively in the pre-terror days,” Ambassador Crocker said.

The attack on the temporary mission in Benghazi in 2012 was not a first.  In 1967, we did not have a temporary mission in Benghazi, we actually had an embassy there that was attacked by a mob, and set on fire by the attackers. With our diplomats inside. Below is a first-hand account of what happened that harrowing day.

Via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), an excerpt from John Kormann’s entry in the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project:

John Kormann fought in World War II as a paratrooper and went behind enemy lines to apprehend Nazi war criminals and uncover a mass grave.  As an Army Counter Intelligence Corps field office commander in Berlin from 1945 to 47, he helped search for Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and describes his experience as officer-in-charge at Embassy Benghazi, when it was attacked and burned in June 1967. At that time, the Libyan capital rotated every two years between Benghazi and Tripoli. The Ambassador David Newsom was posted in Tripoli and John Kormann was the principal officer and consul in Benghazi.  The Arab-Israeli War was fought on June 5–10, 1967.  John Kormann is also author of his memoirs, Echoes of a Distant Clarion. Below is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Moncrieff J. Spear on February 7, 1996

“The mob battered its way in”

The most harrowing experience of my Foreign Service career occurred in Benghazi at the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Convinced by propaganda broadcasts that U.S. Navy planes were attacking Cairo, Libyan mobs, spurred on by 2000 Egyptian workers building a pan- Arab Olympic stadium in Benghazi, attacked the Embassy. The streets were being repaired and there were piles of rocks everywhere, which the mob put to use. A detachment of soldiers provided by the Libyan Government to protect us was overwhelmed. The embassy file room was full of highly classified material, which we desperately tried to burn. The embassy had been a former bank building, with a heavy safe-type front door and barred windows. The mob finally battered its way in. They pushed themselves in through broken windows and came at us cut and bleeding.

We were well armed, but I gave orders that there be no shooting, so we met them with axe handles and rifle butts. Dropping tear gas grenades, we fought our way up the stairs and locked ourselves in the second floor communications vault. We were able to continue burning files in 50-gallon drums on an inner courtyard balcony using Thermite grenades. There were 10 of us in the vault, including two women. The mobs set fire to the building. The heat, smoke and tear gas were intense, which while terrible for us, blessedly forced the mob from the building. We only had five gas masks for 10 people and shared them while we worked. We came out of the vault several times during the day to use fire extinguishers to control blazes and spray down walls.

Our own destruction of files using Thermite sent up huge clouds of black smoke from the center of the building, probably adding to the impression that those of us inside were dying. With no power, we managed to send sporadic messages throughout the day using an emergency generator. Efforts by British troops to come to our aid were called off several times. A British armored car was destroyed by the mob in the vicinity of the Embassy by pouring gasoline down the hatch and setting it afire with an officer and four soldiers inside. The British Embassy and British Council offices had been attacked and set afire, as were the USIS [U.S. Information Service] center and my former residence.

I might mention something here because many people asked me about it afterward. At one point the mob used a ladder to drop from an adjoining building on to our roof, catching us trying to burn files there. After a struggle they drove us back into the Embassy. They cut the ropes on the tall roof flag pole, leaving the flag itself hanging down the front of the building. An Army MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] captain who was with us requested permission to go up on the roof and raise the flag. I dismissed his request, saying it would be counterproductive. Later when things looked very bleak and our spirits were waning, he came to me again in front of the others. I told him I would think about it. I had been a combat paratrooper in WW II and had seen what defiance and a bit of bravura could do for soldiers under mortal stress.

Afterward I said, “Go ahead, raise the flag!” He did so with considerable daring, the mob going crazy below and the rocks flying. The reaction among my people was profound. I could see it in their eyes, as they worked on with grim determination under those conditions to burn files and render cryptographic equipment inoperable.

The British Come to the Rescue

When late in the day (remember the attack began in the morning), we received word that a British rescue attempt had again been postponed for fear that lives might be lost, I took a photograph of President and Mrs. Johnson off the wall, broke it out of the frame and wrote a message on the back to the President saying something to the effect that we have tried our best to do our duty. Everyone signed it. When an inspector subsequently asked me about that, I could tell him that people will respond to the call of duty given the chance.

We sent our last message at about 6:00 p.m. I learned later from a friend who was in the Operations Center in Washington that it came in garbled, leading to the impression that we were burning alive. At that Secretary Rusk called the British Foreign Secretary with a further plea to get us out. At 8:00 p.m. a British armored column arrived and took us by truck to D’Aosta Barracks, their base on the outskirts of town. Libya had been a British protectorate after WW II and they still maintained a small military contingent outside of Benghazi under an agreement with King Idriss. The British were magnificent, rescuing us and then helping us bring hundreds of Americans to their camp, where they fed us and gave us shelter.

The night of our escape from the vault, I asked for a volunteer to go with me into the center of Benghazi at 2:00 a.m. to bring out Americans most in danger. The city was in flames, Jewish and foreign shops and properties having been set to the torch. Driving through the city, we were repeatedly stopped by roadblocks manned by nervous, trigger-happy Libyan soldiers. The streets were full of debris.

I remember pulling up to an apartment house lit only by fires from nearby burning shops. Going up the darkened stairs, knocking on doors, I asked for an American family. On the fourth floor, I heard a small voice say, “Who’s there?” In English, I answered, “It’s the American Consul.” An American woman cautiously opened the door. She must have known me, because she called me by name and said, “We knew you’d come, we are all packed.” What a wonderful tribute, I thought, to our Foreign Service. During that night and the next day we brought out other Americans under very trying circumstances.

Victory Street, Benghazi, Libya (1967)
Photo from ADST

We had problems in evacuating Americans from Benghazi. Arrangements were made for U.S. Air Force planes to pick up about 250 of them at the airport. At the last moment I received word that Russian-built Algerian troop transports with paratroopers and Egyptian MiG fighters had landed at the airport. I didn’t want our planes shot at. I didn’t want a serious incident. Calling Tripoli, I talked with Ambassador Newsom. After listening to me, he said, “Well, John, you’re the man on the spot. This is your decision to make.” I made the decision to bring the planes in all right, but I must say really I wished that I hadn’t had to, for I was truly worried. My wife and children were going to be aboard those planes, as well as a lot of other Americans, who could pay with their lives should my decision be a bad one.

The British provided trucks and a bus for the evacuees. They were taken on to the airport through an opening away from the terminal and driven right past the parked MiGs and Algerian transports. With the connivance of an English civilian air controller in the tower, contact was made with the incoming Air Force planes using a British Army field radio. They were instructed to land on the grass along the fence at the most distant part of the field away from the terminal. Three planes, two C-130′s and a C-124, came in and made a fast turnaround. They were loaded and back in the air in minutes. The operation was carried out with such speed and audacity that there was no reaction from anyone until much later. All of us will be forever grateful to Colonel Alistair Martin and his British troops for their role in all of these actions; without them none of that would have been possible.

Read the full oral history here.

(‘_’)

Leave a comment

Filed under Ambassadors, CIA, Congress, Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic History, FCO, Hearings, Leaks|Controversies, Politics

British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More

In 2012, Brits overseas asked their Foreign Office help in erecting a new chicken coop at a garden in Greece, help in finding false teeth, where to look for a dog-minder, help checking on livestock, help with plastic surgery unhappiness, and so on and so forth.

See our post:  UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On May 16th, the UKFCO released some more unusual requests for 2012/2013:

Via the UKFCO:

Silencing a noisy cockerel, supplying Olympic tickets and providing contact details for Sir Paul McCartney’s wife were among the most unusual requests to British posts abroad in 2012/13, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). These are often good natured but can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress.

Over the last year, the FCO handled more than a million consular enquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad.* However, our consular staff overseas continue to receive a number of enquiries that they simply cannot provide assistance for.
[...]
Head of the Contact Centre, Steve Jones, said:

Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important but some of the enquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least – for example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.

Other inquiries received by FCO staff include:

  • A man who required hospital treatment in Cambodia when a monkey dislodged a stone that hit him demanded help getting compensation and wanted assurance that it would not happen again
  • A man asked FCO staff in Rome to translate a phrase for a tattoo that he wanted
  • Consular staff in Beijing were asked to help a woman who had bought a pair of football boots that were ‘Made in China’ but were poor quality
  • A woman requested that consular staff in Tel Aviv order her husband to get fit and eat healthily so that they could have children
  • Consular staff in Kuala Lumpur were asked if the FCO could help pay to send their children to an International School
  • A man asked consular staff in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman whom he had met online
  • A man asked the Consulate in Montreal for information to settle a £1,000 wager on the colour of the British passport
  • A number of our staff across the world have been asked for the best place to watch the football
  • A number of British Consulates have been asked to book hotels or to advise on where to watch the football

The examples listed above indicate that some people do not know how the FCO can (and cannot) help Brits abroad. Recent research shows that 78% of people wrongly think the FCO could get them out of jail if arrested, and nearly half of 16-24 year-olds do not know what an Embassy or Consulate does.

Read in full FCO: “No sir, we cannot translate your tattoo for you”.

Since we started paying attention, this is the second year that the FCO has released such a list.  The list is bizarre and funny but at least once a year, the FCO tries to educate the British public about consular work, and what the consular staff can/cannot do for its citizens overseas.   We’re still waiting for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to release its own list.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Consular Work, FCO, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service

US Embassy Algiers: Hostages Taken at In Amenas Gas Complex in Algeria

The notice below is not showing on US Embassy Algiers website as of this writing, but is available on the DS-run OSAC website. The embassy issued the following emergency message for U.S. Citizens in Algeria following the attacks on the BP Facilities in In Amenas, some 60 miles from the Libyan border:

1/16/2013 |

The U.S. Embassy in Algiers has received information that there was an attack on BP personnel and facilities in the city of In Amenas, Algeria this morning.  We condemn this terrorist attack in the strongest terms.  We are keeping close watch of the situation.  We are in contact with Algerian authorities and our colleagues at the British Embassy in Algiers, as well as with BP’s security office in London and the Diplomatic Security office in Washington.

At this time, we are not aware of any US Citizen casualties.  We stand ready to assist any US Citizens.

U.S. citizens should review their personal security plans, remain aware of their surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities.   Regardless of where you are, keep your security and situational awareness levels high.  U.S. citizens are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly.

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

USNews has reported that a group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities.  On early Wednesday, Islamist militants have reportedly attacked and occupied a natural gas field partly operated by BP in southern Algeria.  Two people have reportedly been killed and the facility has reportedly been surrounded by Algerian forces.

Nigeria Online adds that the location of the attack is 800 miles from the capital in Algeria’s vast southern desert.  BP, together with Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company, Sonatrach, operate the gas field. Statoil is said to have about 20 employees in the facility. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, also reportedly provides services for the facility.

The UK Foreign Office released the following statement:

“There is in an ongoing terrorist incident near the town of Ain Amenas at an oil installation near the Algerian border with Libya.

“We can confirm that British nationals are caught up in this incident.

“The FCO has political and consular crisis teams working on this incident. The British Embassy in Algiers is liaising with the local authorities.”

We will not be confirming further details at this time.

ITV News is reporting that the militant group has claimed it is holding seven Americans among the 41 Algeria hostages.  More about the developing news here.

The State Department had since confirmed that Americans were among the hostages but released no further details:

“Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

The Telegraph has the following additional details about a 2012 report forecasting the likelihood of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacking energy facilities in the Sahara within two years:

In a 2012 report, risk consultants Exclusive Analysis – recently acquired by IHS – warned that “The greatest expansion of terrorist activity [in Algeria] is occurring in the south and the border areas, where AQIM factions based in northern Mali, such as Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), can penetrate the provinces of Illizi, Adrar, Tindouf and Tamanrasset to conduct kidnap for ransom and attacks on Algerian security forces,” Firas Abi Ali, Deputy Head of MENA Forecasting wrote.

“AQIM’s southern factions, based near the borders with Mali and Niger, are growing stronger. They have kidnapped a number of Westerners and possess a proven vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) capability.

Danger Room already has tomorrow’s news as the war in Mali spills over into Algeria:

“U.S. citizens have been taken hostage by an extremist group out to avenge the French offensive against Islamist fighters in Mali, an unforeseen consequence of the operation that could get the U.S. involved directly in the conflict.”

And has this reminder:

“It may be worth noting that the Defense Department has faced criticism for not being able to deploy special operations forces and other military assets in time to prevent the deadly September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Africa Command had an unarmed surveillance drone over the site of the battle, but the incident ended too quickly for a mobilization. Amongst the explanations offered by the Pentagon is that Panetta, Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham and other senior leaders did not have sufficient time or visibility into what specifically was taking place in Benghazi to carry out a response.”

“It might also be worth noting that U.S. special operations forces have extensive experience in hostage rescue.”

Image via Online Nigeria

Image via Online Nigeria

In this report (see Al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali), the AP notes that AQIM operates not just in Mali, but in a corridor along much of the northern Sahel and that this “7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) long ribbon of land runs across the widest part of Africa, and includes sections of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Chad.”

A related item — the USG policy on hostage taking and kidnappings is on the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (see 7 FAM 1820) which covers private Americans as well as official Americans. The regs was most recently updated in June 2012. Is spells out USG policy:

“The U.S. Government will make no concessions to individuals or groups holding official or private U.S. citizens hostage. The United States will use every appropriate resource to gain the safe return of U.S. citizens who are held hostage. At the same time, it is U.S. Government policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession. See 7 FAM 1821 e regarding U.S. Government policy and limitations on the role of Foreign Service posts and the Department of State should private citizens, organizations or companies elect to negotiate with hostage takers or pay ransom.”

Flashing red on Africa. We will continue to keep tabs of the emergency messages coming out of Algeria, Mali and neighboring outposts.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Countries 'n Regions, FCO, Foreign Affairs, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

Are You Ready for the Naked Diplomat? FCO’s Man in Beirut Strips Down

… to 140 characters, that is. Sorry, cannot pass up on The World Today’s title :-).

Tom Fletcher CMG, the British Ambassador in Beirut since August 2011 has an interesting piece in the Dec/Jan issue of The Today’s World. An iPad rather than letters of credence? A digital demarche? The need to  interact, not just transmit? Are you ready to abandon the banquet in favor of the smart phone? Excerpt below:

via Chatham House’s The World Today, Volume 68, Number 11 (pdf):

When people ask me whether at 37 I am too young to be an ambassador, I sometimes wonder if perhaps I am too old. I worked in No 10 for the last ‘pen’ PM, Tony Blair; for the first ‘email’ PM, Gordon Brown; and for the first ‘iPad’ PM, David Cameron. Delivery of government services by social media is being transformed.
[...]
Diplomacy has always been Darwinian: we have to evolve or die, just as diplomats did when sea routes opened up or the telephone was invented. Someone once said that you could replace the Foreign Office with a fax. We saw off the fax, and – only this year  – the telegram. Now we have to show that you cannot replace us with Wikipedia and Skype.

Social media are now indispensable to our core tasks: information harvesting; analysis; influence; promotion of English as the code for cyberspace; crisis management; commercial work. Imagine a reception at which all your key contacts were interacting. You would not stand in the corner silently or shouting platitudes, nor delegate the event.

In this brave new digital world, the most effective diplomats will carry an iPad rather than letters of credence; a digital demarche will be more powerful than a diplomatic one; and the setpiece international conference of the 20th century will be replaced by more fluid, open interaction with the people whose interests we represent. For the first time ever, diplomats can engage directly on a meaningful scale with the countries we live in. We no longer have to focus solely on elites to make our case.

This is exciting, challenging and subversive. Getting it wrong could start a war: imagine if a diplomat misguidedly tweeted a link to the offensive anti-Islam  film which provoked riots across the Muslim world. Getting it right has the potential to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook.
[...]
The digital revolution has opened up a new frontier. Equipped with the right kit and the right courage, diplomats should – as ever – be among its pioneers. Diplomacy not just for diplomats; but not diplomacy without diplomats. Jamie Oliver pioneered the idea of ‘The Naked Chef’ – pared back, simplified, focused on the essential essence of the job. The Naked Diplomat needs a smartphone and those oldest of diplomatic attributes – thick skin and an open mind.

Continue reading, Our man in Beirut strips down to 140 characters.

He also blogged about the naked diplomat here.  Follow Ambassador Tom Fletcher on Twitter @hmatomfletcher.

The State Department has Alex Ross upfront on the digital frontier.  There is also career diplomat, Richard Boly of eDiplomacy.  And we have several American ambassadors populating Twitter.  But we don’t know that we have any of the our credentialed ambassadors openly talk about their thoughts and their work on how they bridge the digital world in diplomacy.  If anyone has talked about this inside the building and we missed it, zap me a note.

domani spero sig

 

Related articles

Leave a comment

Filed under Ambassadors, FCO, Social Media, Trends

UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On April 4, 2012, William Hague, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave a speech where he talked about the role of the British consular services:

Excerpts:

[...] I want to describe what we are doing in a vital area of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but one which rarely receives so much attention: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy.
[...]
[L]ast year in Bangladesh, Foreign Office staff rescued four girls from forced marriage in a single day and returned them safely to Britain, including one girl who had been kept chained to her bed.

As these stories show, consular work is a very personal business.

It touches the lives of British citizens in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances.

It is the only way most people come into contact with the Foreign Office, and it is one of our main responsibilities as a Department.
[...]
Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year, and at least 6 million of our nationals live abroad for some of or all of the time. In the space of a year, approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested, and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world. At least 10% of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas, and on average more than one hundred British nationals die abroad each week.

As you can imagine, this produces an immense demand for our services. In fact, just under two million people contact the Foreign Office for some form of consular assistance each year: that is more than 37,000 people a week.

When you are aware of these vast numbers, you can understand why it is that Embassies cannot pay your bills, give you money or make travel arrangements for you, and why we cannot arrange funerals or repatriate bodies. We try to look after everybody in the same way, and to be consistent in how we help people whether they are rich or poor, famous or unknown.

We also have to observe the law. That means we cannot help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visa. We cannot get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, and we cannot get you out of prison. We cannot resolve your property or other legal disputes for you. We cannot override the local authorities, such as police investigating crimes. And we cannot give you legal advice: consular staff are not lawyers.

There are also cases where members of the public waste time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests.

It is not our job, for example, to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious, you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.

If like a man in Florida last year, you find ants in your holiday rental, we are not the people to ask for pest control advice.

If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was, I am afraid that we cannot help you.

Equally, I have to say that we are not the people to turn to

  • if you can’t find your false teeth,
  • if your sat nav is broken and you need directions,
  • if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery,
  • if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday,
  • if your livestock need checking on,
  • if you would like advice about the weather,
  • or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed.
  • And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

These are a just a few examples of bizarre demands that get put to our staff overseas.

Criticism that is sometimes levelled against us should be viewed in that light. An effective consular service does not mean a nanny state.

So we ask British nationals to be responsible, to be self-reliant and to take sensible precautions.

Bullets and italics added above for emphasis.  Read the full text here.

Sounds like a reasonable request, unless you’re the one who has to erect the chicken coop. Tee-hee!

We think Secretary Hague did a good job explaining the consular work of his FCO staff.  That’s important as it helps the public manage their expectations of the Service. We can’t ever remember a U.S. Secretary of State trying to school the American public on what the embassy can/cannot do for them overseas. No wonder, they mostly think our folks are in perpetual happy hour when in fact, a lot of our consular folks around the world do not get home at 5 o’clock. We have over 260 posts overseas, and we can assure you that somewhere in the world, at any given night, a consular officer is awake assisting an American in distress. Sometimes, like clock work, our compatriots overseas need assistance at 4:45 pm on Friday afternoons. Or a few might decide to leave abusive foreign spouses or partners at midnight on a weekend, several weekends a year. Many times, they have to hold the hands of duty officers who have never assisted an American in distress before, or get their ears burn when a duty officer give their home phone numbers to an irate American on the phone. They have to deal not just with visa applicants, but also victims of crimes, death, and notification of next of kin, morgue visit, and things like that.

We think that the consular career track is probably the most under appreciated cone in the Foreign Service.  The members of the American public who have the misfortune to need their assistance are often unhappy about what services are afforded them. “You will hear from my congressman!” is a common enough threat within embassy walls ranging in reasons from bad prison food, crowded jail cell, some gentleman’s inability to take his/her spouse back to the United States asap, etc. Those whose problems overseas are happily resolved, are too happy to leave and be back in the United States that they often times do not bother to tell their congressional representatives how our embassy helped them overseas.

Of course, we often hear high level officials talk about the protection of Americans overseas as one of the most important function of the State Department when they go before Congress for budget hearings. But when we look at the annual promotion statistics of the Foreign Service, we’re still seeing officers who do one of the most important function of the agency being beaten promotion wise and in ambassadorial appointments by the jaw-jaw guys. Which is curious and all given that it is an important function ….

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, FCO, Foreign Service, People