A Look at the DOS Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County

Posted: 12:50 am EDT

 

Below is excerpted from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County.

In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed at a reduced scope of requirements. The project would proceed as a hard skills only facility, including driving tracks, mock urban environment, explosives training, and firearms training. The reduced scope included the elimination of the dormitories and dining facilities, reducing the size of certain training venues, and the removal of soft skills training. According to the EIS, an extensive site search process evaluated more than 70 potential sites in proximity to the Washington, D.C. area including federal facilities, military bases and private properties.

Fort Pickett was established in 1942 as a World War II training camp. Fort Pickett has been primarily used to provide training facilities, maneuver training areas including live fire artillery ranges, installation operations, and mobilization support for U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units, as well as all branches of the U.S. military. Fort Pickett encompasses approximately 45,148 acres, of which 45,008 were identified as no longer required by the U.S. Army by the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The remaining 140 acres were identified as a U.S. Army Reserve enclave. VaARNG has operational control over approximately 42,000 acres of Fort Pickett through a 1997 facility land use agreement. Fort Pickett is currently used as a Maneuver Training Center. Approximately 2,950 acres were not needed for military uses and were deeded to Nottoway County in 2000 for use in the economic development activities of the LRA (Schnabel Engineering 2010).

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As recently as several days ago, the hill.com covered this project’s struggle in Congress, Two years after Benghazi, State battles lawmakers over training site for agents.

According to the State Department, the FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress and re-affirmed by two independent panels in 2013, for a consolidated security training facility.

Below is a quick chronology of the project:

  • July 2011 -Selected Fort Pickett and began Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Master Planning efforts
  • October 2012 –Released Draft EIS for full scope FASTC
  • December 2012 –Completed Master Plan for full scope FASTC
  • February 2013 –DOS decision to reduce scope of FASTC to hard skills only
  • Early 2013 –Project activities placed on hold while additional due diligence conducted
  • April 2014 –Administration decision to move forward at Fort Pickett

Here are the components of the FASTC as excerpted from the Final EIS:

High Speed Driving Track Area

The High Speed Driving Track Area would be used for driver training in various conditions including normal driving, emergency driving, and flooded conditions. Training would consist of 810 drive track operations per day with cars traveling up to 100 miles per hour and would include approximately 600 simulator (flash bang pyrotechnics) operations annually. The following facilities along with associated surface parking would comprise this area:

D02 High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course – 550-acre facility consisting of three separate tracks, two lanes wide, ranging in length from 1.6 to 2 miles long. The tracks would be closed loops with a variety of turns and elevation changes to replicate different driving conditions. The course would include skid pads and ram pads.

D02a, b, c Classroom Buildings – Each of the three High Speed Driving Tracks would include a 30- person classroom building, support facilities, and a 15-space parking area for staff. Classrooms would be located close to the tracks and include covered bleacher seating.

Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area

The off-road/unimproved driving tracks would be used for training drivers in off-road and unimproved road conditions. Driver training would consist of 24 operations per day (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) plus 8 operations during the nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area would consist of unpaved tracks through forested areas and classroom buildings, including: an Unimproved Road Driving Course, an Off-Road Driving Course and two classrooms.

Mock Urban Training Environment

The Mock Urban Training Environment area would consist of three distinct, but interrelated, simulated urban training environments that would provide scenarios for students training for protecting humans transitioning between vehicles and buildings in a setting similar to a typical high-density urban environment. The three areas, Mock Urban Driving Course (D03), Explosives Simulation Alley (E04), and Mock Urban Tactical Training Area (T02), would be designed to function separately or together for maximum flexibility with the courses.

This will include a Mock Embassy, a compound of buildings that would be modeled on the U.S. Army’s Military Operations on Urban Terrain facilities. Buildings would model banks, restaurants, theaters, and residences. Also included is a Smoke House, a three-story, fabricated building configured as a training facility specifically fabricated and configured for training non-firefighting personnel on procedures for safe escape and evacuation of a building, as well as limited entry, search, and rescue training for law enforcement and rescue personnel. Students will practice different exercises to gain confidence in methods of escapement from a burning building.

Explosives Training Environment

The Explosives Training Environment would consist of an Explosives Demonstration Range (E02), Post-Blast Training Range (E03), and Explosives Breaching Range (E05).

Firearms Training Environment

Students would train in the Firearms Training Environment in the use of firearms including pistols, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. Total estimated activity at all the firing ranges would be more than 6 million rounds annually, normally between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Firing range buildings would be designed to ensure acceptable noise levels in adjacent areas inside and outside of the buildings.

Service Area

The Service Area would consist of support facilities for centralized delivery, storage, and maintenance needs related to internal infrastructure and operations throughout FASTC.

Driver Training Maintenance Area

The Driver Training Maintenance Area would provide centralized vehicle storage and maintenance facilities supporting all of the driver training activities for FASTC.

Ammunition Supply Point

The Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) would provide storage for ammunition and explosives used at the Explosives Training Environment, Firearms Training Environment, High Speed Driving Tracks, and Mock Urban Training Environment.

Proposed Timeframe for Development of FASTC

Due to the substantial size of the entire project, FASTC would be designed in five separate packages and constructed in three to five phases, depending on funding, over a five-year period. Package 1 would include venues essential to commence operation of the FASTC training program and construction would begin in the summer of 2015, prior to the expiration of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding in September 2015. Package 1 would consist of construction activities that completely avoid impacts to regulated wetland areas and could be constructed prior to completion of the ongoing wetland permitting process. Training venues would begin to operate in 2016 with approximately 10% of training operations underway. Construction of Packages 2 and 3 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2015/2016 and Packages 4 and 5 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2016/2017. By 2018, all training venues fundamental to the FASTC training program would be in place, and 90% of the training program would be operational. By 2020, 100% of training would be operational. Phasing schedules continue to evolve and would ultimately depend on timeframes for design and appropriated funding from Congress, but they are estimated in this Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for purposes of analysis.

Proposed FASTC Student and Staff

During the first year of training operations in 2016, average attendance at the facility would be approximately 60 students daily, and approximately 1,000 students would be trained annually. Sixty percent of the training would occur between May and September. The number of students would increase as FASTC becomes fully operational. Between 2018 and 2020, at full operation, average daily attendance would increase to 600 students, and approximately 9,200 students would be trained annually. The average training duration would be approximately 14 days.

Concurrent with the increase in the number of students, the number of staff would also be anticipated to increase over the five-year construction period. Beginning in 2016, the transfer of the Security and Law Enforcement Training Division with limited administrative support and tactical training support from other facilities would occur. With anticipated movement attrition in present staff levels, plus the need for additional facility support staff, DOS estimates that approximately 21 already filled positions would be relocated in 2016. Approximately 12 positions, including information technology specialists, contract  and finance specialists, budget officers, program officers, and security would be filled locally. Service contractors would provide buildings, roads and grounds maintenance, housekeeping, and repair.

Between 2017 and 2020, an additional 191 staff would relocate and 115 employees would be hired for a total staff of 339. Some transferred employees would include administrative and technical support, and instructional systems management staff. Other employees, such as physical fitness, information technology, instructors, and maintenance would be hired locally.

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Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) For Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (Fort Pickett) Now Available

Posted: 11:05 am EDT

 

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center(FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia is now available.

As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, GSA has prepared and filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed development of a U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia. GSA is the lead agency; cooperating agencies are DOS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and National Guard Bureau. The Final EIS also documents compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

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Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) – Fort Pickett

The purpose of the proposed FASTC site in Nottoway County is to consolidate existing dispersed “hard skills” security training functions to provide effective, efficient training specifically designed to enable foreign affairs personnel to operate in today’s perilous and dangerous overseas environment. Hard skills training is practical, hands-on training in firearms, explosives, anti- terrorism driving techniques, defensive tactics, and security operations. Such training improves security and life safety for the protection of U.S. personnel operating abroad. The proposed FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress, for a consolidated training facility. A central facility would improve training efficiency and provide priority access to training venues from which DS may effectively conduct hard skills training to meet the increased demand for well-trained personnel. The proposed FASTC would train 8,000 to 10,000 students annually.

The Final EIS was prepared to evaluate the environmental consequences of site acquisition and development of FASTC on three adjacent land parcels at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett (Fort Pickett) and Nottoway County’s Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) area in Nottoway County, Virginia.

The proposed site is 1,350 acres with an additional 12 acres for relocation of an existing tank trail and scheduled use of a 19 acre Fort Pickett range. The site is surrounded by compatible land uses within Fort Pickett. The total area of disturbance for construction of driving tracks, mock urban environments, explosives and firearms ranges, and administrative and service areas would be 407 acres. Utilities would be installed or relocated along existing roadways or within areas planned for development.

According to the Federal Register announcement, all efforts and work on the proposed site at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County’s LRA area were put on hold in early 2013 pending additional due diligence and reviews at an existing federal training site in Georgia. As part of this due diligence effort, DOS conducted site visits to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

During this time period, DOS also assessed the scope and size of the FASTC project and determined a smaller platform was more fiscally prudent. In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed by the Administration. A Master Plan Update was prepared in 2014 to incorporate the adjustments in the FASTC program.

The Final EIS designates Build Alternative 3 as the Preferred Alternative. Build Alternative 3 would have direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts, but the impacts are reduced as compared with the 2012 build alternatives. Changes between the Supplemental Draft EIS and Final EIS include the results of consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer as required by Section 106 of the NHPA, and updates on consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pertaining to effects on northern long-eared bats under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Section 7 consultation will be concluded prior to the Record of Decision. The Final EIS also updates the proposed action to support emerging advanced tactical training needs and a change in the availability of existing facilities. The proposed action includes limited use of helicopters in training to approximately one or two days per month and the addition of an Ammunition Supply Point on the proposed site. The Final EIS addresses and responds to agency and public comments on the Supplemental Draft EIS.

Hopefully this means that the Fort Pickett project is on and taxpayers won’t be spending millions of dollars sending thousands of State Department trainees from VA-MD-DC all the way to Georgia as some in Congress would like to do.

-04/24/15   Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  [13842 Kb]

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Stranded in Yemen: Americans left to find own way out, but exactly how many more AmCits are left there?

Posted: 7:01 pm EDT

 

Via CNN:

“My son served in the army for four years. In Iraq. He served because we love our country. As we should. Now look at us?”
[…]
Muna is from Buffalo in upstate New York. Her family is among the dozens of Americans caught in the crossfire of warring parties in Yemen. And although many other countries evacuated their citizens, India most notably ferrying out around 5,000, the United States has said it is too dangerous for them to directly evacuate American nationals.

screenshot of CNN video

screenshot of CNN video

For Muna, her ordeal ended at Djibouti Port where Christina Higgins, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, was among the embassy staff waiting to meet them. I asked Higgins about the sense of abandonment Muna and many of the other Americans trapped in Yemen said they felt.

“We have one of the branches of al Qaeda that’s especially active. There’s the Houthis — neither of these two groups friendly to U.S. citizens. We’ve had to weigh very, very carefully what is the safest way, the best way for us to help them.”

Higgins said ultimately each U.S. citizen is going to have to judge what is best for themselves and their families.

“For many U.S. citizens, that’s going to mean sheltering in place. For other U.S. citizens, we’re actively working at getting information to them on different avenues for travel out of Yemen.”

Read in full here.

Also read: After hours at sea, chaos and desperation at Yemeni city

 

IOM announced today that it has temporarily suspended is evacuation operations in Yemen. It also says, “To date, operations continue to be hampered by unacceptable demands in regard to the identity of passengers to be evacuated by IOM. Security conditions within and around Sana’a airport have also worsened, affecting the ability of IOM staff to operate on airport grounds.”

 

Meanwhile in Djibouti:

 

Also this one on the DPB on April 20, we’re not sure which email is this referring to:

QUESTION: — between a Yemen – or a U.S. citizen stuck in Yemen.

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: I know you can’t comment on the specific case —

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — but just the language of that email that she had the exchange with, is that the kind of language that Americans still stuck in Yemen can expect?

MS HARF: Yes, I saw that email exchange. I think a couple points on that. The first is if you look at a majority of that email, it’s really the same messages I’ve been giving from the podium about the fact that we have been warning for some time, that we are trying to do things to assist. And we have a number of people – we’ve actually increased our consular staff in Djibouti to help consular services to Americans who have been able to leave Yemen. But we have consular officers who are working around the clock in Djibouti and elsewhere doing so.

I think, look, that language is probably not typical of the services we’re providing to Americans, candidly. I probably wouldn’t have used it. But I think looking at our broader efforts in terms of the consular support we’re giving to Americans, even in a very difficult operating environment where we don’t have an embassy, where we have been warning, we – our consular officers really are working very hard to get them what they need even, again, under very difficult circumstances.

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The State Department to date has refused to give an estimate a guesstimate on the American citizen population in Yemen. The OIG report back in 2010 estimated that the Yemeni-American community was about 55,000. Our source from Consular Affairs who is not authorized to speak for the bureau indicates that the most recent estimate is actually much higher than that OIG number.

Odd thing about this? There was a congressional hearing on Yemen several days ago. The congressional reps did not ask about this. The NEA principal deputy assistance secretary of state on that hearing did not talk about this.  And so far, we haven’t heard from the angry old men in the Senate chamber screaming over the abandonment of U.S. citizens in foreign country.

In related news, last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filedlawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of dozens of Yemeni-Americans trapped in Yemen for failure to evacuate them.  Today, a San Francisco man has sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case is just the latest in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

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State/IRM blocked this blog’s evil shadow diplopundit.com, and it’s a good thing!

Posted: 7:24 pm EDT
Updated: 4:06 pm EDT

 

Last week we blogged about some reported issues with accessing this blog from the State Department. There were reports of this blog displaying as a blank page, and another of this blog being categorized as “suspicious.”

Two things to remember — first, if you’re connecting to this blog from a State Department network and you get a blank screen, check if you’re using Internet Explorer 8. If you are, you need to switch to Chrome if you want to read this blog.

Second, if you get the “suspicious” prompt or a block that prevents you from connecting to Diplopundit, make sure you are connecting to the correct URL – the one that sounds rhymy — diplopundit.NET, and not/not its evil shadow diplopundit.COM.

Here is the back story.  We thought it was a question of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it wasn’t that. Nothing to do with the tigers either. So our apologies for thinking that.  The firewall did bite but it was not done out of any wicked reason. It was merely a coincidence of two unrelated issues that occurred around the same time.

After we’ve blogged about issues with access from State, Ann from State/IRM’s Information Assurance office reached out to us to help see what’s going on.

“Suspicious” Category

So folks who attempted to access Diplopundit but typed .COM instead of .NET were blocked by state.gov, and will continue to be blocked access. And that’s a good thing.

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IRM/IA’s Ann did some sleuthing and discovered that somebody is domain camping on diplopundit.com, a domain registered out of Australia under protected status, so it’s not clear who owns it. Apparently, it is a very common attack to buy up domain names that are similar to a popular one, with different endings, common typos, etc, and then camp malware on them. She notes that “It’s especially awesome to do this to sites that have a high likelihood for targeted visitors, like, oh, maybe Department of State and other governments.” Running the domain through some site reputation lookups came back “suspicious.”

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

http://www.isithacked.com/check/www.diplopundit.com : Suspicious returns

IRM/IA tried to access diplopundit.com and the site is redirecting to another site that tells users their computers are infected and to click on “ok” to begin the repair process. DEFINITELY malicious.  IRM/IA’s IT ninja concludes that not only did the State Department’s security systems work as needed, someone is using the reputation of Diplopundit to try to infect users who type the wrong URL.

Ugh!  So watch what you type.  She’s not sure if this is targeted or just criminal botnet activity but whatever it is, stay away from diplopundit.COM.  Also, make sure you’re not sending any email to diplopundit.COM, as that email would end up with whoever owns that shadowy domain.

The Blank Screens

Internet Explorer  (IE) is the browser compatible with the Department of State’s IT system. A couple of years ago, Chrome became an optional browser. IE8 and other old browsers are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, and other security issues. It also doesn’t support a lot of things including HTML5 and CSS codes used in WordPress. In fact, we’re told that WP’s support for this browser version was dropped a while back.  Microsoft has also reported that they will end support for it themselves. So it’s not about what script is in this blog, it’s more about the IE8 browser not playing nice with the blogs. This blog displays properly on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and on Internet Explorer 9. Our tech folks suggested that IE8 users upgrade to IE9 if at all possible.

Our readers from State can’t just do that on their own, so we asked IRM. The word is that the State Department will probably skip IE9 due to resource constraints on testing each incremental version. The good news is, it will move everyone directly to Internet Explorer 11 in December. That may sound a long way off but we’re told that the move forces everyone from 32-bit to 64-bit servers, which is not an insignificant jump for all the developers (including those for Consular Affairs and the financial services). So there is that to look forward to at the end of the year.

Our most sincere thanks to State/IRM especially to IA’s Ann who pursued this issue to the end and also WP’s Grace and her team for helping us understand what’s going on. Merci.

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Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated)

Posted: 9:24 am PDT
Updated: 10:41 am PDT

 

Media reports say that a car bomb went off at 5:40 pm local time in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Irbil, in northern Iraq today.  An unnamed senior State Department official told ABC News it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Other reports say the target was the local cafe near the consulate. The AP reports that no consulate personnel or local guards were wounded. There are local casualties but the number has not been officially released. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Iraq reports that “the entrance to the consulate appeared to have been struck by a bomber on foot.”

U.S. Consulate Erbil (Irbil) is headed by FSO Joseph Pennington who assumed his duties as Consul General in northern Iraq in July 2013.

 

 

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Burn Bag: On security clearance … leave it alone or the process will become “more” problematic?

Via Burn Bag:

“We have many EFM clearances – and interim clearances were requested by HR and rejected by DS for all of them – which are still pending. The oldest one is 15 months, the next is 13 months, etc. etc. (we have many). These people will PCS [permanent change of station] and still not have their clearance completed. The only statements from DS – other than implying to leave them alone or the process will become “more” problematic are that USDH [U.S. direct hire] clearances are first in line. Some missions depend on EFMs.”

image via imgur

image via imgur

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Related post:
Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

State Dept Awards $2.8M “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” IT Contract to VMware

Posted: 12:53 am EDT

 

On March 31, 2015, the State Department awarded a $2.8 million “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” contract to VMware.  The contract awarded on behalf of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations, Systems Integration Office, Enterprise Server Operations Center or IRM/OPS/SIO/ESOC is for 12 months, and appears to be a modification of a prior task order.  The J&A document posted online justifying “other than full competition” indicates “only one source capable” in handwritten notation. “Persistent security concerns,” “changing strategic landscape” and  “heightened vulnerability” all appear in the limited source justification for the award.  VMware is located in Palo Alto, CA and Reston, VA.

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click for larger view

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For U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen

Posted: 5:27 pm EDT

 

The State Department suspended embassy operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and American staff were relocated out of the country on February 11, 2015.    This followed  the previously announced suspension of all consular services  on February 8 (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Yemen Operations, Relocates Staff Until Further Notice).  There was no USG-sponsored evacuation for U.S. citizens residing in the country. At that time, and many times previously, the State Department urged U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens living in Yemen to depart the country (see here, here, here, here, and here).

On March 25, Saudi Arabia launched military operations in Yemen in a coalition with reportedly 10 other countries. (see New Front in Regional Chaos: Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes Against Houthis in Yemen).  As the situation deteriorated, the following countries have evacuated their citizens from Yemen:

India

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China

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Pakistan

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Russia

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Turkey

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Guys, Somalia!

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Foreigners Evacuated

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26 Countries Requested Evacuation Assistance from India

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Whatabout the Amcits in Yemen?

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On April 3, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning for Yemen that says in part:

The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain severe.  There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should do so via commercial transportation options when they become available.

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Somebody noticed

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Meanwhile, a new website and a new hashtag just showed up online for U.S. citizens in Yemen:

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Today, April, 6, the US Embassy Sana’a issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens in Yemen that the Indian Government has offered to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen to Djibouti:

The Indian government has offered to assist U.S. citizens who want to depart Yemen for Djibouti.  This potentially includes flights out of Sana’a and ships from Aden.  U.S. citizens wishing to take advantage of this opportunity should contact First Secretary Raj Kopal at the Indian Embassy in Sana’a at 00967 734 000 657; you may be required to present a valid U.S. passport for boarding.  The next flights from Sana’a are scheduled to depart early on April 7.  The Department of State cautions that U.S. citizens should consider carefully the risks of traveling to or within Sana’a and Aden in order to board evacuation transport given security conditions in both cities.

On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff were relocated out of the country.  All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice.  The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.

The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain extremely concerning. There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time.  If you wish to depart Yemen, you should stay alert for other opportunities to leave the country.  U.S. citizens who are able to depart Yemen for another country and are in need of emergency assistance upon arrival may contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in that country.

Read more: Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens – Updated Departure Options (April 6, 2015)

U.S. Embassy Djibouti is a small post with a low consular workload. At least, until 2010, the consular section there consisted of one entry-level officer (who occupied an FS-03 position) assisted by three local employees  (source-pdf).

We don’t know what is the current US citizen population in Yemen. A State/OIG report from June 2010 estimated that the U.S.-Yemeni community there numbered at least 55,000.  The report also noted that the serious threat of terrorism in Yemen has put “Sanaa’s visa and passport services in the homeland security cross-hairs.”

We have reached out to Consular Affairs but have not heard anything back.

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Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days.   We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.

So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.

We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:

“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”

Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not.    We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail.  But seriously, a straight forward  inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.

So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.

The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com.  And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.

Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.

We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them.  That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.

So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.

Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances.  Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait.  So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.

We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.

In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.

We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.”  We were cited an example where an  eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies.  Again, that same information is also accessible to the  Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.

Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance.  We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members.  Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system.  Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job.  The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.  So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.

And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.

There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.

Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):

We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide.  Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.

So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post.  I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.

Here’s our related post on this topic: No Longer Grandma’s Foreign Service. You’re welcome to post this on the leadership site behind the State Department firewall. Hey, the somebodies already post our burn bag entries there, so why not this one?

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U.S. Embassy Uganda Warns of Possible Terrorist Threats to Western Interests

Posted: 9:15 pm PDT

 

Via U.S. Embassy Kampala, March 25, 2015

The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon.  Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days.  U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.

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