Category Archives: Security

U.S. Embassy Bangui Resumes Operations With Chargé d’Affaires David Brown

– Domani Spero

 

On September 11, President Obama notifiesd Congress of the deployment of troops to the Central African Republic in preparation of the resumption of operations at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui (see U.S. Troops Deploy to C.A.R. For Resumption of Operations at U.S. Embassy Bangui).

On September 15, Secretary Kerry announced the resumption of embassy operations in the Central African Republic and the appointment of David Brown as Chargé d’Affaires. Below is an excerpt of the announcement:

I am pleased to announce that we are resuming operations at our embassy in Bangui. The people and leaders of the Central African Republic have made progress in ending the violence and putting their nation on a path toward peace and stability. But we all know that much work remains to be done.

That’s why I asked David Brown to serve as Chargé d’Affaires and to work closely with the transitional government, as well as our international friends and partners, to advance a peaceful, democratic and inclusive political transition. And that’s why, on his arrival in Bangui, we announced an additional $28 million in U.S. humanitarian funding, bringing the U.S. total to $145.7 million this year alone.

With the September 15 transition to the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, we extend our profound thanks to the African Union, its force-contributing countries, as well as the French and European forces, for their important contributions to peace and stability in the Central African Republic. We call on all parties to fully support the UN mission in its vital task ahead as it takes over from the African Union mission. And as we reopen our embassy, I want to thank our dedicated Central African colleagues for their service during these difficult 21 months.

Full statement here.

David Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and became Senior Advisor for the Central African Republic on August 1, 2013 succeeding Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers.   Mr. Brown was Diplomatic Advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, D.C. from August 2011 to July 2013. His prior Africa experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) Director of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart (Germany); three times as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Cotonou (Benin), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso); and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Americans Abroad, Appointments, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Service, FSOs, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

U.S. Troops Deploy to C.A.R. For Resumption of Operations at U.S. Embassy Bangui

– Domani Spero

 

On September 11, 2014, President Obama sent the following congressional notification concerning the deployment of U.S. troops to the Central African Republic:

On September 10, 2014, approximately 20 U.S. Armed Forces personnel deployed to the Central African Republic to support the resumption of the activities of the U.S. Embassy in Bangui.

This force was deployed along with U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security personnel for the purpose of protecting U.S. Embassy personnel and property.  This force is expected to remain in the Central African Republic until it is replaced by an augmented U.S. Marine Security Guard Detachment and additional U.S. Department of State civilian security personnel as the security situation allows.

This action has been directed consistent with my responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148).  I appreciate the support of the Congress in these actions.

 

Map via cia.gov

Map via cia.gov

On December 27, 2012,  the State Department announced the temporary suspension of U.S. Embassy Bangui operations.  At the time, Embassy Bangui was staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represented the only other agency at the mission.  At the embassy’s departure, the Government of the Republic of France, acting through its Embassy in Bangui, served as Protecting Power for U.S. interests in CAR.

via State Magazine

via State Magazine (click on image for larger view)

Here is a brief history of the U.S. presence in Bangui via state.gov:

The United States established diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in 1960, following its independence from France. The C.A.R. is one of the world’s least developed nations, and has experienced several periods of political instability since independence. The Central African Republic is located in a volatile and poor region and has a long history of development, governance, and human rights problems. The U.S. Embassy in C.A.R. was briefly closed as a result of 1996-97 military mutinies. It reopened in 1998 with limited staff, but U.S. Agency for International Development and Peace Corps missions previously operating there did not return. The Embassy again temporarily suspended operations in November 2002 in response to security concerns raised by the October 2002 launch of a 2003 military coup. The Embassy reopened in 2005. Restrictions on U.S. aid that were imposed after the 2003 military coup were lifted in 2005. Due to insecurity and the eventual overthrow of the C.A.R. Government, the U.S. Embassy in Bangui has been closed since December 2012. The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to the C.A.R.

Via diplomacy.state.gov:

On August 13, 1960, the Central African Republic gained its independence from France, and on the same day, the United States recognized it as a nation. Six months later, the embassy was established at the capital in Bangui. Since that time, the Central African Republic has had a rocky political history and a struggling social situation. The embassy has had to deal with a number of issues despite its limited influence in the country, including combating local and foreign militant groups, encouraging proper rule of law, and assisting in humanitarian aid.

 

According to Embassy Bangui’s website (which might be outdated), David Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and became Senior Advisor for the Central African Republic on August 1, 2013 succeeding Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers.   Mr. Brown was Diplomatic Advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, D.C. from August 2011 to July 2013. His prior Africa experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) Director of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart (Germany); three times as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Cotonou (Benin), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso); and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

In 2012, the OIG inspection report says that “if the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic.”

It looks like the Department has now considered the risk, a regional embassy presence is out and the embassy will reopen with the 20 deployed troops until they are replaced by an “augmented U.S. Marine Security Guard Detachment.”  How many Marine guards exactly, and how many DS agents and private security contractors will be there to support the reopened post still remain to be seen.

We cannot tell how old is the Embassy Bangui building shown above. It looks like it lacks the set back required for newer buildings. We are assuming that this is  one of those legacy diplomatic properties constructed prior to 2001.  The State Department’s FY 2013 funding supported the acquisition of sites where New Embassy Compound projects are planned in future years, including one for Bangui (p.478). The request, however, did not include  a time frame when the new embassy construction for C.A.R. is expected.

* * *

 

Here’s Merle Haggard with ‘I think I’ll just stay here and drink.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Africa, Defense Department, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Locally Employed Staff, Obama, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

See the Blast Crater From Truck Bomb in the Sept 2013 U.S. Consulate Herat Attack

– Domani Spero

 

About a year ago, the U.S. Consulate in Herat was attacked by militants in Afghanistan (see US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed and Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat: Locals Reportedly Killed/Wounded, No American Casualties).  The U.S. Consulate in Herat was inaugurated in June 2012 by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns (see Deputy Sec’y Bill Burns Inaugurates U.S. Consulate Herat). The total casualties includes eight members of the Afghan guard force. Seven of the eight killed are listed in the KIA page of the Diplomatic Security Wiki: the five guards, Mohammed Firooz, Mohammed Aref Sediqi, Sayed Ahmed Sadat, Mohammed Ali Ascari, and Mohammed Zoman; the local guard force interpreter Raminone Rastin, and driver, Javid Sarwarri. All  were contract employees.

Diplomatic Security recently published its 2013 report on Political Violence Against Americans and includes the following:

September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan

Taliban-affiliated insurgents attacked the U.S. Consulate using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Early in the morning, seven insurgents detonated a truck-borne improvised explosive device outside the Consulate’s entrance. The initial explosion was followed by a second vehicle-borne improvised explosive device minutes later. The insurgents, equipped with small-arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide vests, then engaged U.S. and Afghan security personnel in a sustained firefight, lasting approximately 90 minutes. Eight Afghan guard force members were killed in the violence. Two additional third-country national guard force members were injured.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14

Photo via State Department 2013 Political Violence Against Americans (click on image to see pdf)

An August 2014 OIG inspection report of U.S. Mission Afghanistan (separate post later) says that embassy and military officials told inspectors that the consulate “provides tangible proof of the U.S. commitment to the region. Herat—Afghanistan’s third largest city—is located on key transportation routes and serves as a regional center and economic engine for the west.” Excerpt below:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

Despite operational challenges, Consulate Herat is the most productive of the platforms in providing email reporting to the embassy but transmits only a few of its own finished cables. At the time of the inspection, the consulate repairs were nearing completion and the embassy was reviewing the security and life support situations prior to moving personnel back. Once the staff returns, the impediments to sending cables directly should disappear.

Consulate Herat covers the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah. According to U.S. Embassy Kabul, Consulate Herat is currently headed by Consul and U.S. Senior Civilian Representative Eugene Young William Martin (formerly of USCG Karachi, thanks A!).

Below are some DOD photos in the aftermath of the September 13 attack:

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

 * * *

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Diplomatic Attacks, Foreign Service, FSOs, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, War

U.S. Embassy Islamabad Issues Security Message on Ongoing Violent Protests in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

 

We were happy to say goodbye to Awful August but here we are in September and our unsettled times continue its march. On September 1, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan issued a Security Message to U.S. citizens urging caution due to continuing protests in the country . People have been reported killed and injured in the unrest that turned violent over the weekend. The Consular Section at Embassy Islamabad had been previously closed to the public on Aug 15 – 18 and August 20-21 due to the protests in the capital city.

 

 

Below is an excerpt from the September 1 message:

The U.S. Embassy cautions U.S. citizens in Islamabad to avoid the Red Zone due to continuing protests in the area which have become violent. Hundreds of people have been reported injured and at least three people reportedly killed since protests turned violent on Saturday, August 30th.  Additional demonstrations have been called for throughout Pakistan.  Furthermore, there have been reports of opportunistic criminal activity in the city, to which American Citizens should be alert.  The Embassy has advised its employees to limit their movements, and we recommend that U.S. citizens observe the same precaution. All U.S. citizens are advised to monitor the situation via local media, stay clear of all known demonstration routes and areas, keep a low profile, exercise caution, and avoid large gatherings.  Currently, the Embassy is scheduled to be open on Tuesday, September 2 for normal services.  U.S. citizens who are in Pakistan or who may be contemplating a visit to Pakistan are reminded to review the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014.

We remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur regularly throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have often taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.  U.S. citizens should follow media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.  Scheduled or unscheduled protests may result in road closures, high volumes of road traffic, or other movement restrictions.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be.  Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions

State Dept Updates Ukraine Travel Warning: Ongoing Violent Clashes in the Eastern Regions

– Domani Spero

 

On August 29, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning on the risks of traveling to the eastern regions of Ukraine:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine due to ongoing violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine.This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 1 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days.  The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an operation to reclaim these areas.  Violent clashes between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated over the past month and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.  Some of these clashes have included the use of armored vehicles, aircraft, and other military weapons including surface to air missiles, the use of which was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.  Widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These Russian-supported groups have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula, and to exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson.  Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s attempted annexation of Crimea and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with Russia’s continuing occupation of this part of Ukraine.  The international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize this purported annexation.  The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine.  In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging the current status quo on the peninsula

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, and remain out of the country at this time.  U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services; however, in light of the ongoing unrest, the Embassy has severely restricted the travel of U.S. Government personnel to areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and occasionally limits travel to other adjacent regions.  As a result, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s Crimean region is extremely limited.

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prohibit all U.S. flight operations within Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Regions.  This expanded the FAA’s previous NOTAM restricting U.S. flight operations within the

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Countries 'n Regions, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, War

Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
[...]

In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

 * * *

 

1 Comment

Filed under Congress, Consular Work, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Hearings, Interagency Cooperation, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Visas

U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

 

On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel in Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)).

Today, the State Department issued an update to its August 8 Travel Warning for Iraq noting the departure of  a “limited” number of staff from our posts in Baghdad and Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and Amman, Jordan.

CIA map

Map via CIA.gov (click on image to see larger view)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.  Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating, but the Department of State has relocated a limited number of staff members from the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, to note the departure of some staff from the Consulate General in Erbil. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons.  These and other attacks frequently occur in public gathering places, such as cafes, markets and other public venues.

Numerous insurgent groups, including ISIL, previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country.  ISIL and its allies control Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and have captured significant territory across central Iraq and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region.  In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

Due to the potential of political protests and demonstrations to become violent, U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

Read in full here.

Three days ago, President Obama ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq. The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq.

On August 8, the Pentagon announced that at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities. 

Pentagon releases indicate that to date, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yezidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain.

USCG Erbil which remains open is headed by Joseph Pennington, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

USCG Basrah is headed by Matthias Mitman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed post as Consul General in Basrah in September 2013.  He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 2011-2013 and as the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2009-2011. He was the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2006-2008 with responsibility for U.S. economic policy in Iraq and international engagement.  Before joining the NSC staff, Mr. Matthias was assigned to U.S. Embassy Baghdad as Senior Economic Advisor.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Defense Department, Evacuations, Foreign Service, Iraq, Obama, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, War

State Dept’s Albright Archive – Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, August 7, 1998

– Domani Spero

 

Sixteen years ago today, the near simultaneous vehicular bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on August 7, 1998, cost the lives of over 220 persons and wounded more than 4,000 others. Twelve American USG employees and family members, and 32 Kenyan and 8 Tanzanian USG employees, were among those killed. The current U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, Jr. was the Econ Counselor at Embassy Nairobi in 1998.

Below is an excerpt from Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s oral history interview in 2005, recalling that day (via ADST Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, July 21, 2005 (full interview-pdf):

“The worst three days of the crisis were the first three: Friday, when we were blown up; Saturday when the rescuers finally arrived to create even more chaos; and then Sunday when we held a memorial service for the Americans and dealt with the international news media. Of course they wanted a press conference. I did not want any photographs taken, because I looked pretty banged up but was persuaded otherwise. I smile, because about a week later my OMS came up to me and said, “You know Pru, I really shouldn’t be saying this, but I’ve been seeing pictures of you on television and in the newspaper and I have to say it’s good that you got your hair done a few days before we were bombed. As bad as you looked, your hair was okay.”…

When Secretary Albright did come I had two conditions: that we not have to prepare briefing papers, because we had lost all of our computers, and we had nothing, nothing. And the other, that she not spend the night, because the security involved in that would have been so astronomical. As it turned out, the plane had problems in Dar, where she had first stopped, and she had to cut her trip short.
[...]
Once the Secretary and her entourage came and left, we received what I began to call the disaster tourists. Well meaning people from various parts of Washington who couldn’t do a thing to help us. In November I sent a cable to Washington requesting by name the people we wanted to visit. The response was “Now wait a minute, you’re complaining about the visitors who are coming and now you want others. You’re sending very mixed messages here.” They didn’t seem to understand the difference between those VIPs who could be part of the solution and those having their photographs taken in the remains of the embassy.

 

Photo via US Embassy Tanzania website

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright makes private visit to the U.S. Mission in Dar es Salaam on November 29, 2006. She laid a wreath at a memorial honoring the 11 lives lost on August 7, 1998, when the Chancery building was bombed. U.S. Ambassador Michael L. Retzer joined Secretary Albright at the wreath laying ceremony. Photo via US Embassy Tanzania

Also below are docs extracted from the State Department’s Albright Archive on the announcements, public notices, briefings and reports following the twin East Africa bombings.

 

* January 1999: Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998

  • 01/08/99: Statement by Secretary Albright on the Accountability Review Boards Report
  • 01/08/99: Special Briefing by the Chairman on the Report

PUBLIC NOTICES

  • Admiral William Crowe Sworn in as Chairman of Accountability Review Boards for Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
  • Worldwide Caution in light of the recent U.S. military strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, and possible threats to Americans and American interests overseas.
  • U.S. Strikes on Terrorist-Related Facilities in Sudan and Afganistan
  • Condolences
  • $2 Million Reward: Persons wishing to report information about these bombings, or any other terrorist attack, should contact the authorities or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In the U.S., contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation or call the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service at 1-800-HEROES-1 (within U.S. only). Information may also be provided by writing: HEROES, P.O. Box 96781, Washington, D.C. 20090-6781, USA

Updates . . .

The Secretary of State:
*08/27/98: Remarks on apprehension of suspects in bombings of U.S. embassies, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
* 08/18/98: Remarks to U.S. Embassy staff and family members, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
* 08/18/98: Joint press availability following meeting with Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete, Dar es Salaam
* 08/18/98: Remarks at the Site of the Bombing at U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya
* 08/17/98: Remarks Before Departure to Kenya and Tanzania, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland
* 08/14/98: Remarks with Colonel Rick Erdman after visit with East African Bombing Victims and Families, Walter Reed Hospital
* 08/13/98: Remarks with President Clinton and Defense Secretary Cohen at ceremony honoring those who lost their lives in Kenya and Tanzania, Andrews Air Force Base
* 08/12/98: Remarks at Ramstein Air Force Base, Ramstein, Germany
* 08/12/98: Remarks prior to departure for Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany
* 08/11/98: Response to Statement by the African Ambassadors to the U.S.
* 08/12/98: Secretary Albright travels to Ramstein, Germany
* 08/10/98: Interview on CBS Evening News, Washington, D.C.
* 08/10/98: Remarks with Director General Gnehm to State Department Employees
— $2 Million Reward
* 08/09/98: Interview on NBC-TV’s “Meet The Press” With Tim Russert, Washington, D.C.
* 08/08/98: Statement on the deaths in Nairobi, Kenya
* 08/07/98: Statement on bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania

The President: 
* President Clinton Radio Address (8/15/98)
* President Clinton, Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen at ceremony honoring those who lost their lives in Kenya and Tanzania, Andrews Air Force Base (8/13/98)
* President Clinton Radio Address (8/8/98)
* Remarks by President William Clinton, The White House (8/7/98)
A Proclamation by the President on the bombing incident (8/7/98)

Special Press Briefings:
* August 13, 1998
* August 11, 1998
* August 10, 1998
* August   7, 1998

What Happened?
* Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (8/7/98)

Travel

  • Global Alert and Consular Services: Worldwide cautions, current travel safety information for specific countries, American citizens services abroad, and visa services abroad.

Background Information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic History, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, Security, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bugs, Consular Work, Contractors, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Legacy, Security, Spectacular, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology, Technology and Work, Visas

State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 7/27/14 with media reports on number of evacuees.

In the early morning of July 26, the State Department finally suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the embassy in Tripoli.  The new preferred official term for these personnel movements now appears to be “relocation,”perhaps to avoid any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” So this is a relocation but under armed escorts.

The State Department also  released an updated Travel Warning for Libya (excerpt below):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately.  On July 26, the U.S. Embassy suspended all embassy operations in Libya and relocated staff, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 27, 2014.

Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

[...]

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

 

Read in full here. For previous warning see New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer.

Closure of an embassy indicates the termination of diplomatic relations, and that has not happened here. Here is Secretary Kerry emphasizing that this is a suspension of embassy operations not a closure.

 

American officials told NBC that 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday.  The Daily Beast reported that “158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya.” A variation of those two numbers have been widely reported in the media. The US Embassy in Tripoli had a skeleton crew prior to the evacuation, so “158 U.S. diplomats” evacuated from Tripoli is a questionable number.  Perhaps the only  one who got closest to the number evacuated is Reuters, reporting that “the eight or so U.S. diplomats who had been in Libya and a security staff numbering 200 or more drove out of the country on Saturday under a heavy escort….”

In any case, the last time the State Department suspended its operation in Libya was in February 2011. (See State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel). It was subsequently reopened in September 2011. Following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya on September 12, 2012 but did not appear to suspend operations then (if it did, we missed it). See our related Libya posts here.

The current suspension of embassy operations follows the temporary withdrawal of  the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) staff from Libya last July 14. That UN convoy reportedly left Tripoli by road headed for the Tunisian border, 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.  Yesterday, July 25, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced the suspension of its mission’s operations in Tripoli for security reasons and the evacuation of more than 500 Turkish nationals similarly via Tunisia.

The State Department’s media note this morning :

This relocation was done over land, with our personnel arriving in Tunisia this morning, and traveling onward from there. We are grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.

Something else to note about an evacuation unfolding in the age of social media.  During the evac, Libyan tweeps reported “3 convoys with total of 27 cars +1  lorry were leaving the US embassy in airport rd. Marines on foot and planes above.”  Other tweets of note:

 

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26 at the request of the Department of State.  The operation lasted five hours without incident:

At the request of the Department of State, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26. All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security. The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.

* * *

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Defense Department, Diplomatic Security, Evacuations, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Media, Realities of the FS, Secretary of State, Security, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions, UN, War