U.S. Embassy Caracas Issues Security Message on Recent Detention of Several U.S. Citizens in Venezuela

Posted: 00:53 EST

 

We saw this the other night:

 

On March 4, the US Embassy in Caracas issued the following security message on the recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to call to the attention of U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Venezuela the Government of Venezuela’s recent detention of several U.S. citizens in Venezuela. Under the Vienna Convention, if you are arrested overseas, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy. In practice, the Venezuelan government frequently fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested or detained, and/or delays or denies to U.S. detainees. Please ask friends or family to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately on your behalf should you be detained by government authorities.

This announcement is available on the U.S. embassy website, but is not/not available on the embassy’s Facebook or Twitter feed.  When we inquired from the embassy’s Public Affairs Office, we were told to direct our inquiry to the Consular Section. Like whaaat?

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This can’t possibly be an easy time for what is already a challenging environment, so let that slide for now.  The American Citizen Service at Embassy Caracas did not respond to our inquiry.  A related note, the Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety report on Venezuela in 2014 says:

Harassment of U.S. citizens by airport authorities and some segments of the police are limited but do occur. Any incident should be reported to American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy. The ACS Unit can be reached by telephone at +58 (212) 907-8365 or by e-mail at ACSVenezuela@state.gov.

The recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela is clearly an escalation beyond simple harassment.

The United States does not appear to have a bilateral agreement with Venezuela concerning mandatory notification when it comes to the arrest of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.

However, Venezuela is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), a multilateral treaty to which the United States and more than 170 other countries are party. This is the same treaty that President Maduro cited in announcing the reduction of U.S. Embassy staff in Caracas (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!).

Venezuela is also a party to Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Navigation and Commerce with the United States of America, Jan. 20, 1836, 12 Bevans 1038 (entered into force May 31, 1836), a bilateral agreement addressing consular issues with the U.S. since 1836 (see Consular Notification and Access-pdf).

Let’s stop here for a moment and look at Texas. As in Medellin v. Texas. The United States has been cited for failing to provide consular notification in cases brought by Paraguay in 1998, by Germany in 1999,and by Mexico in 2003 before the International Court of Justice.

State Department officials have travelled since 1997 but more extensively since 2003, throughout the United States to give classes and seminars about consular notification and access to federal, state, and local law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice officials.

The obligations of consular notification and access apply to U.S. citizens in foreign countries just as they apply to foreign nationals in the United States. The State Department’s guidance to the arrest of foreigners in the United States is to “treat a foreign national as you would want a U.S. citizen to be treated in a similar situation in a foreign country.”

Because when we don’t, it’s hard to make a  case that other countries should abide by their obligation for consular notification and access when U.S. citizens are arrested overseas.

And as if things are not strange enough in the U.S.-Venezuela relations, take this one:
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Arms Traffickers Extradited for Conspiring to Kill U.S. Officials in Colombia and Providing Support to the FARC

Posted: 00:37 EST

 

The Justice Department announced on February 26, the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro and were arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams last week.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro yesterday and will be arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams later today.

“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “It is further alleged that they conspired to sell the weaponry with the understanding that it would be used to shoot down American aircraft and kill American officers.  We once again laud the efforts of the DEA to stem the flow of lethal weapons that could be aimed at U.S. officers and to deter weapons traffickers who mean harm to the United States.”

According to the Indictment, which was unsealed in December 2014:

Since at least May 2014, Vintila has been a Romania-based weapons trafficker, Romagnoli has been a Europe-based weapons trafficker, who is able to procure fraudulent end-user certificates (EUCs) for military-grade weaponry, and Georgescu has been a Romania-based weapons broker.  Between May and October 2014, Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by FARC against the United States.  During a series of recorded telephone calls and in-person meetings, Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA (the CSs), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC.  Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to provide these weapons to the CSs with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill officers and employees of the United States and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes.  Romagnoli further agreed to provide fraudulent EUCs in order to make the illegal sale of weapons look legitimate.

During their recorded meetings, Vintila and Romagnoli provided the CSs with catalogues of military-grade weapons they were prepared to provide the FARC.  Vintila gave the CSs a catalogue of weapons that included pistols, machine guns and other high-powered weaponry, and Romagnoli showed the CSs a catalogue that included automatic weapons and shoulder-fired rocket launchers.  Romagnoli additionally showed one of the CSs a sample fraudulent EUC.  Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu also discussed the logistics of receiving payment for the weapons from the CSs and delivering the weapons to the FARC.

The indictment charges Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu, with two separate terrorism offenses:

Count one charges all three defendants with conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees.  If convicted of count one, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Count two charges all three defendants with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the FARC.  If convicted of count two, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

The allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Read the full announcement here.

 

 

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%.

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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.

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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.”

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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

 

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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.

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US Embassy Tunis September 2012 Attackers Get Prison Terms of Two to Four Years

Posted: 02:12 EST

 

On February 18, France 24 reported that Tunisia’s appeals court sentenced 20 men convicted of participating in a 2012 attack on the US embassy to prison terms after an initial ruling was deemed too lenient.

In May 2013, all 20 men were all given two-year suspended sentences for ransacking the diplomatic mission, as well as the American school, alongside hundreds of protesters enraged at an online US-made film trailer they deemed critical of Islam.

Read more:

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The State Department was asked about the verdicts and here is its official response:

“The verdicts issued by the Appellate Court reflect a serious response to the September 2012 attack on U.S. Embassy Tunis. That said, we remain disappointed that justice in this case has been delayed so long and remains incomplete with several key suspects still at large. We hope that all those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis will be brought to justice without further delay.”

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Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay

 Posted: 15:15 EST

 

No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.

A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language”  which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.

The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation.  The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”

Uh-oh!

Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).

Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)

An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925 (b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it.  [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].

In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.

In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”

We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:

Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.

The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.

Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)

 

Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous.

 

Continue reading

Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)

 Posted: 11:53 EST

 

Danger pay allowance is authorized for service in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions that threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of an employee. To establish danger pay, a post must submit the danger pay factors form (DS578, see pdf) that enumerates specific conditions that justify danger pay. Allowances specialists who prepare assessments that assign points using a standard methodology then review the forms. A Danger Pay Working Group is responsible for reviewing danger pay factors forms to ascertain whether conditions exist to justify payment of the danger pay allowance.

As of this month, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts are eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. We only have a virtual presence post in Somalia, and embassy operations in Damascus, Tripoli and Sana’a have all been temporarily suspended as of this writing.  Note that “other” indicate locations within specific countries not specifically identified, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. (Learn more, see DSSR 650).

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

 

 

US Embassy Hungary: DCM M. André Goodfriend to Depart Post After Only 18 Months

 Posted: 13:10 EST

 

M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:

 

 

On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:

 

Politics.hu notes that  the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:

No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.

Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years.  Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay.   It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made  the following statement available to the media upon request:

“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons.  Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations.  Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private.  We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.” 

 

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