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

Posted: 2:03 am EDT


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

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

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

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

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

The Fear Department is on it:

Here’s more:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo of the Day: Have you tested your gas masks yet?

Posted: 3:01 am EDT


Via US Embassy Oslo/FB, October 15, 2015:

“Embassy behind the scenes: We just had a Weapon of Mass Destruction exercise at the Embassy, where everyone got to test their gas masks. Security is something we take seriously, but there’s no reason not to smile while practicing our routines.”

Screen Shot


#BrusselsLockdown Response: Keep Calm and Tweet a Cat; Also No Consular Services on 11/23

Posted: 3:32 pm PDT


During an ongoing police operations in Belgium on Sunday, Brussels Police requested the public to observe radio silence on social media.  Crisis Center Belgium also asked the people to remain calm and to strictly follow all the instructions of the security forces.



The Belgians and Twitter responded by tweeting cat photos.  We recently lost our cat companion of 18 years, so don’t blame us too much if we get enamored with these cats.












Also on November 22, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels announced the closure of the Consular Section on Monday, November 23 as well as the continued elevated threat in the capital city and the rest of Belgium:

The U.S. Embassy in Brussels informs U.S. citizens that the current threat level remains at Level 4 (serious threat of imminent attack) for Brussels, and Level 3 (high) for the rest of the country.

All public schools in Brussels will be closed on Monday, November 23. The International School of Brussels, Brussels American School, and St. John’s International School will also be closed. For other schools please consult their administrations.

All Metro stations will be closed on Monday. Other public transportation options, like trams, are operating on a limited basis. Regional trains and airports are operating but authorities urge vigilance.

The Belgian government continues to caution citizens to avoid public places such as major pedestrian walkways and shopping centers. The Belgian government will again reassess the threat level on Monday. We will provide further information as available.

The U.S. Embassy Consular Section will be offering emergency services only. All scheduled appointments are cancelled. Information on rescheduling these appointments will be available on our website.

In this time of elevated threat, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels reminds U.S. citizens to exercise caution in public transportation systems, sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations. U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.

Read in full here.





US Embassy Bamako Lifts Shelter in Place Advisory After Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 2:40 pm EDT


The AP reports that armed men  stormed into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital Friday morning and seized 170 hostages.  The U.S. Embassy in Mali asked citizens to shelter in place amid reports of an “ongoing active shooter operation” at the hotel in Bamako.  Reports indicate that the hostages have been released but over two dozens people have reportedly been killed.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Just now, Embassy Bamako released the following update:

Malian authorities report the security incident at the Radisson Hotel has concluded.  The U.S. Embassy is lifting its recommendation for U.S. citizens to shelter in place.  However, the Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to minimize movement around Bamako and be vigilant of their surroundings.  Continue monitoring local media for updates and adhere to the instructions of local authorities.

Here’s what happened earlier:



Here’s some tricky part:


Snapshot: Ops Center, the State Department’s 911 Help Line

Posted: 3:09 am EDT


Below is a snapshot of the Ops Center extracted from State Mag:

In 1961, Ops started 24/7 operations as the Department’s communications and crisis management center. The Watch runs 3 shifts per day (24/7). It has 45 Watchstanders (34 Foreign Service, 11 Civil Service officers) CMS: 14 Person Team (5 FS, 9 CS officers). The Ops Center also includes a military advisor, two Diplomatic Security Watch liaison officers, a management officer, an innovation officer and a staff assistant.

On a typical day, officers facilitate communication between Department officers, posts overseas and interagency partners, track and alert Department officers and interagency partners on breaking developments, build four daily briefs for Seventh-floor leadership, distribute senior leaders’ briefing material in advance of high-level interagency meetings and manage and prepare posts for crises wherever they may occur.

Watch officers must be prepared to brief the Secretary, Department principals and other officials on current world events at a moment’s notice and do so succinctly and accurately. They also prepare written products for the Secretary and other Department principals, including breaking news alerts, daily overnight and afternoon briefs, and situation and spot reports on world events.
“It’s not surprising that when the fighting in Tripoli began in July 2014 and the embassy came under indirect fire, my first call was to the Ops Center,” said U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones, a former Watch officer and senior Watch officer. “We maintained an open line (literally) during our 19-hour trek across the desert, mountains and oases of western Libya into Tunis, until we arrived at the C-17 awaiting us at Gabès Air Force Base.”



Extracted file available as pdf to read/download here: https://cldup.com/r-7BJR-pgh.pdf



State Dept Advises POTUS to Plastic Wrap His Luggage During Philippine Visit! #bulletscam

Posted: 4:18 pm EDT


President Obama is traveling to Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia from November 14-22, 2015. He arrived in the Philippines last night where he will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.  It looks like the last several weeks, the Philippines has also been roiled with allegations of a bullet planting scheme at its international airport to extort money from  travelers.  It has even spawned a highly-popular mobile app game, in which users play as a “victim” at the Manila airport who has to navigate carefully to avoid bullets from being dropped onto the traveler’s luggage. Oy!

The BBC reports that the scam called locally as “tanim bala” (planting bullets) meant that passengers have been faced with fines, charged with the illegal possession of ammunition or had to cancel their flights. Just last week, Philippine media reported that airport cops allegedly asked P30K (about $600) from an American missionary who entered the Philippines and was alleged to have a bullet in his luggage.

8List Philippines notes that anyone can fall victim to this scam including Japanese touristsforeign missionaries65 year old grandmothers and Philippine overseas workers returning/departing the Philippines.

Over 30 cases of unlawful possession of ammunition have been reported from January to early November of this year, a spike from last year’s low of only 12 cases. The scandal took off when the media picked up the story of a 56 year old OFW travelling back to Hong Kong being detained for two days after being apprehended by the Office for Transport Security (OTS), which is directly under the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).


Today, we found this report from The AdoboChronicles:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Adobo Chronicles) –  U.S. President Barack Obama is just one of the many dignitaries confirmed to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held this month in Manila, Philippines.

Recent  developments at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have sent chills to the international community and has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory to Americans traveling to the Philippines, including Obama.

NAIA has been in the headlines recently because of a scheme called laglag bala  or tanim bala in which incoming and outgoing passengers at NAIA are being detained for bullets found in their luggage as they pass through airport security.  It is alleged that the bullets are being planted by airport personnel with the intent of extorting money from the unsuspecting passengers.

Obama is known to want to carry his own overnight bag and briefcase whenever he travels to other countries.


President Obama carrying his own luggage that still needs plastic-wrapping service.

The State Department has therefore advised Obama to wrap his briefcase with plastic when he arrives in and departs from Manila so that he is not victimized by the laglag bala schemers.

Many passengers flying in and out of NAIA have resorted to wrapping their luggage and carry-on bags with plastic to prevent the schemers from planting bullets without their knowledge.


Although based in the Bay area, The Adobo Chronicles appears to be the Philippine version of The Onion, America’s finest news source.

Now that you’re done laughing, Embassy Manila apparently did warn about carrying bullets through the Manila airport but that warning is not posted anywhere on its website or its social media arms. We’ve asked about it but have not heard anything back.



Meanwhile, the Filipinos are busy online:










EU Evac From Burundi On, a Fresh Round of Ordered Departure For US Embassy Bujumbura?

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT


On May 15, 2015, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on Ordered Departure status (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On November 3, 2015, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Burundi, informing U.S. citizens that it has terminated the Ordered Departure status, allowing eligible family members and non-emergency personnel who departed Burundi to return. The Department continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Burundi and recommends U.S. citizens avoid non-essential travel.  The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.

Just several days after the lifting of the Ordered Departure status, africaleader.com is reporting that Belgium and the European Union are warning of escalating violence in the country.  The EU has now reportedly withdrawn its non-essential personnel and families from violence-hit Burundi.

Note that the initial cable ordering a post evacuation declares the evacuation for a specified period of time (normally 30 days). At the end of that period, the State Department, working with post, reviews the evacuation status to determine whether it should be continued, whether employees should be reassigned, or whether to terminate the evacuation. If the evacuation is not terminated, the status must continue to be reviewed every 30 days up to 180 days. Today is exactly 180 days from the date Bujumbura was declared on Ordered Departure, and 12 days after the termination of its evac status, but by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days. If things in Burundi get worse, the newly returned non-emegerency personnel and family members may be subjected to a fresh round of evacuation order.


Meanwhile —








@StateDept Terminates US Embassy Chad’s Authorized Departure Status

Posted: 1:18 pm EDT


The State Department issued an updated Travel Warning for Chad. The  warning dated November 10 informs U.S. citizens that the Department of State has terminated the Authorized Departure status for non-emergency personnel and dependents, who had previously departed Chad. These individuals may now return to the Embassy. The State Department nevertheless continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Chad.



“U.S. citizens already in Chad should continue to avoid all travel to border regions, particularly those areas adjacent to Chad’s eastern border and the Lake Chad region. The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services is limited in remote and rural areas. All U.S. citizens should review their personal security and have evacuation plans that can be carried out quickly. Do not rely solely on U.S. government assistance. All U.S. citizens affiliated with humanitarian relief efforts in eastern Chad should have an evacuation plan developed with the United Nations agency coordinating their work.”

Read in full here.


Multiple Terrorist Attacks Rock Central Paris, State of Emergency and Border Closures On

Posted: 8:51 pm PDT


Paris has been rocked by a string of deadly attacks today, leaving reportedly 120 people dead in six or seven locations around the city. President François Hollande has declared a state of emergency, and has ordered all borders closed.


The U.S. Embassy in Paris issued the following message concerning the multiple terrorist attacks in France:

November 13, 2015: The U.S. Embassy in Paris advises official U.S. personnel and U.S. citizens to shelter in place due to the terrorist attacks in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (districts) and the ongoing hostage situation at the Bataclan Theatre located at 50 Voltaire Boulevard in the 11th arrondissement.  U.S. citizens should heed local authorities and maintain security awareness.  France has declared a state of emergency which includes mobilization of security forces and closing its borders. People in France who are safe should be contacting family members. Anyone with travel plans should be contacting their airlines directly.


1-888-407-4747 (From the United States and Canada)

+1-202-501-4444 (From all other countries)

@USAmbFrance is the official Twitter account of Jane D. Hartley, the U.S. Ambassador to France.
@USEmbassyFrance is the official Twitter account of US Embassy Paris.










Ops Center Watch Logs From Night of Benghazi – Say, Who Was Running @StateDept?

Posted: 12:24 am EDT
Updated: 10:14 pm EDT



[N]ewly disclosed documents, obtained by Veterans for a Strong America through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, include 24 pages of watch logs from the State Department operations center recording the logistics of the back-and-forth over the deadly assault in a sterile, just-the-facts manner.


The watch logs do not show all the calls Clinton made that night, but a State spokesman said many calls are not routed through the operations center. The logs also do not appear to reflect an interagency secure video teleconference in which Clinton took part that evening.

A spokesman for the House Benghazi Committee said the panel had access to other State Department chronologies and call records but received copies of the watch logs only on Friday. That’s a week after they were released to the veterans group on Oct. 30.

Read the logs: Ops Center Watch Logs, Sept 11- 12, 2012.

While the logs may not present the complete chronology of events (if somebody made calls or sent emails outside the Watch, it would not be listed in the logs), this is probably the closest tick tock we could see on what occurred at HQ  on the night Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi.

— At 5:38 p.m. , Sept 11, the Watch patched HRC with CIA Petraeus

— At 7:05 p.m., Sept 11, at the request of HRC, the Watched convened a conference call participated  by D/S Nides, U/S Kennedy (M), U/S Sherman (P), Counselor Mills, S/P Sullivan, PA Nuland, ExecSec Mull, NEA A/S Jones, Tripoli DCM Hicks with HRC

— At 10:27 p.m., Sept 11, the Watch patched President Obama with HRC

— Ambassador Stevens’ death appears to have been reported to the Ops Center at 2:55 a.m. on September 12.

— Secretary Clinton made no visit to the Watch, but called the Watch at 7:15 a.m. with a request, on September 12.

— At 7:31 a.m. the Watch patched WH Chief of Staff Jack Lew to HRC

— At 9:20 a.m., the Watch patched HRC to Embassy Tripoli

— D/S Burns was in Baghdad

— Counselor Mills makes multiple appearances on these logs, more than the Secretary.

— Ambassador T. Pickering makes a couple of appearances.

— Senators Kerry and Graham appears on the logs

— — Except for the mass alert from the Watch directed at multiple bureaus of the State Department, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell does not appear to make any appearance in these logs. Which is odd considering that DS A/S is apparently the main guy on State Department security. One exception is at 0320 (further to item 0255, concerning the death of Amb. Stevens, the Watch called multiple individuals in State’s top ranks, as well as OBO, FLO, MED, DGHR, PA. The name of the individual called on behalf of Diplomatic Security was REDACTED. There is a separate call where the Watch patched U/S Kennedy and Diplomatic Security’s Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary in charge of international programs.

We do not think that there was a conspiracy not to save our people under attack in Benghazi but we are curious on who was running the State Department as events unfolded in Benghazi.  And why was the main official handling diplomatic security not shown in these logs? Is that indicative of just how little influence diplomatic security professionals actually have in a crisis like this? No? What’s that? Yes, I do know that DS has its own command center.