Category Archives: Trends

New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Yemen urging Americans to defer travel to Yemen and for those living there to depart the country:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on January 29, 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a remains a restricted staffing post.  This limits the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services. Embassy Officers are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sana’a. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. The Embassy is subject to frequent unannounced closures.  In May 2014, the Embassy was closed for almost five weeks because of heightened security threats.

Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and U.S. facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.

Read the full release here.

The very next day, Yemeni Americans were on the news.  US citizens in Yemen accused the  American embassy of confiscating their passports.  The State Department reportedly is withholding fraudulent passports, but rights groups say Yemeni Americans are being unfairly targeted.

 

Leaving the country without a regular passport would be difficult but perhaps not impossible.

Back in January, we blogged about this. (See US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?  At that time,a State Department official who spoke on background told us that citizens with revoked passports “may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.” That is, based on the circumstances of the case. Earlier, we’ve prodded that CA/Embassy Sana’a provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases on its website.  To-date, there is nothing online in terms of guidance on appealing these cases.

Passport revocations are not the only thing that seem to be surging in Yemen.

Last month, Embassy Sana’a announced that U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a “Super Saturday” event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship.  Consular staff volunteers reportedly assisted more than 120 Americans and Yemeni-American dual nationals residing in Yemen complete Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) forms to document the U.S. citizenship of their children.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller, along with Embassy Sana’a Consular staff, hosted a special weekend event to register the births of children born in Yemen who are eligible for American citizenship. (photo via US Embassy Sana’a/FB)

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. This past June, the US Embassy in Sana’a says that it serves more than 73,000 American citizens residing in Yemen. The embassy also expects to process  7,000 Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for this year alone.  This at a high fraud post with limited staffing.

This is not the first time that the U.S. has told its nationals to leave Yemen.  And so far, there has been no talk of an evacuation.  The embassy is already on restricted staffing but should the embassy shutdown, the evacuation of Yemen’s American citizen population would be a logistical nightmare and could potentially dwarf the evacuation of nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.

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Tweet of the Day: US Embassy London to Get Nap Rooms?

– Domani Spero

 

Seriously, can you imagine what this is going to do to your bidlists?

 

Via HuffPost UK

The United States embassy in London plans to install nap rooms to stop its diplomats from getting too tired, the American ambassador to Britain has indicated.

Matthew Barzun made the pledge during an event at the embassy on Monday afternoon alongside Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

During a Q&A session with embassy staff, Huffington encouraged Barzun to follow the example set by the HuffPost New York office and dedicate a space to allow staff to rest. Following enthusiastic reception from his staff, Barzun declared the suggestion was “so moved”. He added: “We’re going to look at nap room locations.”

 

Click here to see 10 successful corporations that already let employees catch some shuteye during work hours in an effort to boost employee productivity, alertness and general health. Early this year, digital marketing startup HubSpot had an office expansion, which of course, includes this nap room with a hammock!  We don’t know what’s the work hours like for these companies but a technology start-up AskforTask.com set up a nap room to help ease fatigue among its web developers who were working long hours.  Apparently some were working as long as 70 hours per week. Do we have that kind of work hours anywhere?

To balance out all that excitement, best read BBC’s Nap Rooms Gone Bad.

Oops! A search over at OPM provides zero results on nap breaks.  OPM does have this to say – Combination With Rest Periods Prohibited:  “An agency may not extend a regularly scheduled lunch break by permitting an employee to take an authorized rest period (with pay) prior to or immediately following lunch, since a rest period is considered part of the employee’s compensable basic workday.”DOL also has nothing on nap breaks. Government rules will probably need to catch up on this new trend. And yes, we can already envision the circus in Congress.

If this is implemented, the embassy’s time and attendance clerk will need a new SOP. Who will be eligible to use the nap rooms and for how long — generalists, specialists, FSNs, contractors, charforce, guards, all of the above, some of the above?  Who gets the nano-nap, the micro-nap,  the mini-nap or the power nap? The embassy may also need to hire a scheduler for the nap rooms.  Also, who will wake up employees if they oversleeps or if they get nightmares during their naps?  Would this potentially be grounds for grievance – somebody could not get a power nap, did not get a boost in productivity, hence was not promoted at the first opportunity?

Hold on, we’re on the bureaucracy’s uncharted country.

 

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State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …

– Domani Spero

In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.  The NYPost writes:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #United­For­Ukraine @State­Dept­Spox.
[...]
Psaki defended her photo.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.

Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats  of  further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:

UnitedforUkraine_Psaki

Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson

unitedofrukraine_stengel

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss

Selfie Missing:  Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.

unitedofrukraine_evanryan

Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan

UFU_maconphillips

Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips

Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez

Unitedofrukraine_michellekwan

Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor

UFU_embassykyiv

Embassy Selfie:  Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff

 

Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:

 

Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.

Oops, wait … what’s this?  The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…

 

Google'd Putin riding a bear

 

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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Quote of the Day: “Take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk … Mm…hmm

– Domani Spero

Here is Doug Frantz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs via nextgov.com:

“Social media is an interactive platform, so if you wait to come back to the State Department to get clearance on how to respond to a question over Twitter it will take days if not weeks and the conversation will be over,” Frantz said. “So you want people to be engaged. You want them to be willing and able to take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk and try to change our policy on Iran, but if you’re behaving responsibly, we can expect small mistakes.”

In many ways, the department is vulnerable to those risks whether or not officials are actively engaging on social media.

Frantz cited the case of a diplomatic security officer and his wife who were expelled from India after making derogatory comments about the country on their personal Facebook pages. “I tell people never tweet anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post,” Frantz said.

We should be impressed at this enlightened approach of employees being allowed to afford small mistakes.  Except that elements of the State Department continue to harass Foreign Service bloggers who write in their private capacity on blogs and other social media sites.  Remember my Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft?  Different folks get on and off the bus, but this is just as real today.

Harassment, as always, is conducted without a paper trail unless, it’s a PR nightmare like Peter Van Buren, in which case, there is a paper trail.  So an FSO-blogger’s difficulties in obtaining an onward assignment has nothing to do with his/her blog, or his/her tweets. Just bad luck of the draw, see?  Oh, stop doing that winky wink stuff with your eyes!

Anybody know if there is an SOP on how to intimidate diplo-bloggers into going back into writing in their diaries and hiding those under their pillows until the year 2065? Dammit! No SOP needed?

So, no witnesses, no paper trail and  no bruises, just nasty impressive stuff done under the table.  Baby, we need a hero –

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AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?

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– Domani Spero

Back in August 2013, Yemen Post reported of “more than 20 known cases” of U.S. passports revoked by U.S. Embassy Sana’a in Yemen:

More than 20 known cases of Yemeni-Americans who have tried to renew their passports in Yemen have surfaced in the last four months. The Yemeni American News has learned that the usual scenario is that American citizens of Yemeni descent have had their passports taken away when they go to the American Embassy in Sana’a to either renew their passports or get a visa for an immediate relative. Not only is it common for the embassy to decline a passport renewal or disallow a visa but, in addition, citizens are having their passports confiscated.

Peter Van Buren previously blogged about the U.S. passport revocations at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen here and here. WaPo’s  In the Loop has a Jan.9  item about the rights groups’ warning to U.S. passports applicants visiting the embassy.

Here is what state.gov says about passport revocation:

Passport revocation may be effected when the person obtained the passport fraudulently, when the passport was issued in error, when the person’s certificate of naturalization was cancelled by a federal court, or when the person would not be entitled to a new passport under 22 C.F.R. §§ 51.60, 51.61, or 51.62.

The State Department revokes passports in accordance with Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) sections 51.60-62, and 51.65. There are also several statutes under which passports may be revoked and that are incorporated into DOS’s regulations, including: 8 U.S.C. 1504 (the passport was illegally, fraudulently or erroneously obtained); 42 U.S.C. 652(k) (for non-payment of child support); 22 U.S.C. 2714 (for certain drug traffickers); 22 U.S.C. 2671(d)(3) (non-repayment of repatriation loan); and 22 U.S.C. 212a (adds authority to revoke passports of persons convicted of sex tourism). Via

You may click here for 22 CFR on the denial and restriction of passports.

There had been talks alleging “500 seized/revoked passport cases.” Our own inside source who is not authorized to speak about this matter tells us that “at least 100 passports were taken” so far in Sana’a.  We were told that most of the individuals concerned were naturalized U.S. citizens.  According to State Department rules which are not published online, individuals remain eligible for U.S. passports until their Certificate of Naturalizations are revoked.

Naturalization certificates are supposed to stand on its own and cannot be questioned.  If the State Department has negative information, it is supposed to send the information to DHS/USCIS for action. But unlike most other immigration proceedings that USCIS handles in an administrative setting, revocation of naturalization can only occur in federal court.

Here is what USCIS says on revocation of naturalization:

If a court revokes a person’s U.S. citizenship obtained through naturalization, the court enters an order revoking the persons naturalization and cancelling the person’s Certificate of Naturalization. In such cases, the person must surrender his or her Certificate of Naturalization. Once USCIS obtains the court’s order revoking citizenship and cancelling the certificate, USCIS updates its records, including electronic records, and notifies the Department of State of the person’s revocation of naturalization. 

So — if true that most of the revocation cases concerned naturalized Yemeni-Americans, is the US Embassy in Yemen performing passport revocations without prior action from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)?  Is this a case of a new policy?  Or is this a case of a Consular Section running “wild” with “minimal supervision” an allegation made by a State Department insider to this blog?

We asked around for an official comment and could only get one from a State Department official speaking on background:

“This Department is aware of the reports concerning these passports, and the situation has been reviewed.  Regarding the Department’s policy for passport revocation, the Department may revoke a passport, regardless of location, for reasons set forth in federal law and in federal regulations.  U.S. passports are the property of the United States Government and upon revocation must be returned to the Department of State.  A passport bearer is notified of the revocation and the reasons for revocation and must surrender the passport.  Depending upon the circumstances, the bearer may be provided with a limited validity passport for a direct return to the United States.”

The State Department refused to confirm or deny the number of passport revocations to date.

In response to reports that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa has been taking U.S. passports away from a large number of U.S. citizens in Yemen, civil rights and community organizations like the ACLU, ALC, AROC, CAIR and CLEAR have published a booklet to raise awareness about the constitutional rights of people whose passports have been taken away, or who are interviewed or “interrogated” at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04

Click on image to view the PDF document

A little more digging around indicates a few court cases involving the US Embassy in Sana’a.

Abdo Hizam v. Hillary Clinton

Plaintiff Abdo Hizam brought action against defendants Hillary Clinton, the United States Department of State, and the United States of America (collectively the “State Department”) seeking a judgment declaring that he is a citizen of the United States and an order compelling the defendants to re-issue his Consular Report of Birth Abroad for a Citizen of the United States (“CRBA”) and passport.

On April 18, 2011, the State Department informed Mr. Hizam by letter of its opinion that it had committed an error in calculating the physical presence requirement for his acquisition of citizenship at birth. Subsequently, the State Department informed Mr. Hizam that his CRBA had been canceled and his passport revoked and requested the return of those documents. On May 19, 2011, he complied.

The July 27 Order found that the State Department did not have the authority to revoke Mr. Hizam’s citizenship documents and ordered the return of Mr. Hizam’s CRBA. The State Department contended that absent a stay it will suffer irreparable injury because the July 27 Order undermines its “sole discretion” to withhold passports. The Court says that “being required to comply with a court order is insufficient in and of itself to constitute irreparable harm.” In September 2012, the Court ruled that the stay is denied on the condition that Mr. Hizam not seek derivative status for his family members until an appeal, if lodged, is resolved.” The appeal is ongoing on this case.

The Hizam case was covered by NYT in 2012 here. This case bears watching as no fraud is alleged here; instead, the CRBA was issued due to the error of the adjudicating officer.

 Nashwan Ahmed Qassem v. Holder et. al. | CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 6:13-cv-06041-DGL

Complaint for writ of mandamus & declaratory judgment against Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Consular General, US Embassy, Sana’a Yemen, and Chief, Immigrant Visa Branch, US Embassy, Sana’a Yemen, Eric Holder, The United States Department of Justice, filed by Nashwan Ahmed Qassem. In October 2013, the Clerk of the Court was directed to close the case by Hon. David G. Larimer.  This case reportedly involved Embassy Sana’as  revocation of a passport and was settled by issuing the passport.

All documents sealed except for order granting motion to withdraw.

Alarir et al v. Holder et al.|  CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:12-cv-07781-AKH

Complaint in the nature of mandamus against Gerald Michael Feierstein, Eric H. Holder, Janice L. Jacobs, Alejandro Mayorkas, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Rodham Clinton by Abdallah Alarir aka Aiyahs, Nasser A. On or about October 18, 2012, seeks order compelling Defendants to (a) issue an immigrant visa to plaintiff Abdallah Alarir and (b) issue United States passports and Consular Records of Birth Abroad to plaintiffs Alaa AJarir and Rawan Alarir.  After a sixth request for an extension, on 10/31/2013, the Clerk was directed to close the case by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. The case endorsement says “A suggestion of settlement having been made, this case is dismissed, subject to restoration by either party within 30 days on notice. All pending court dates are cancelled.”

The case was settled with issuance of an immigrant visa to Abdallah Alarir and United States passports and Consular Records of Birth Abroad to Alaa Alarir and Rawan Alarir according to the dismissal order dated November 2013.

Mousa v. United States of America et. al.| CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 3:13-cv-05958-BHS

COMPLAINT filed (sealed) on November 2013 against defendant(s) United States of America, U.S. Consulate for the Country of Yemen, David Doe, John Doe by Hashed Naji Mohamed Mousa, Fekriah Abdulwahab and minor children, A.H.M., B.H.M. As of 12/05/2013, this case reportedly involving the passport applications of minor children is ongoing. Some files are sealed.

Passport Applications Pending at Post

According to 7 FAM 1368 — “If the passport applicant does not have sufficient evidence to establish a claim to U.S. citizenship, post must provide the applicant with written notification that his/her application has been denied, but will be held by post for 90 days pending submission of additional evidence. If an applicant requests additional time to submit evidence within the 90 day period, posts may grant an additional 90 days or other reasonable period of time based upon the circumstances. In general, passport applications may not remain pending at a post for more than six months.”

If passport applications have been pending at post for six months or even longer (WaPo says that some cases are pending for two years), and American citizens had to get lawyers, and go to court to compel the embassy to decide on their cases, then there is something problematic with the process. Absent an official explanation from the CA Bureau, we can only speculate on what is going on here: 1) Is there is a new policy on passport applications/revocations that the State Department is using without appropriate announcement? 2)  Is there is a new policy on passport applications/revocation that State is using specific to Yemeni-American passport applications? 3) Are there Citizenship/Passport/Fraud staffing issues at Embassy Sana’a that impacts this trend? 4) Is the lengthy waiting time and backlog due to fraud overload at post?

Isolated Cases or a New Trend?

We could not locate any new guidance publicly available on U.S. passport revocations. Is there one available  that supersedes 7 FAM 1368?  If there is one, it would have been published in the Federal Register, not just the changes but the propose changes to the rules. There appears to be several proposals for information collection related to passport applications published on the Federal Register but nothing on passport revocations.

If true that over 100 passports were taken away, revoked or pending revocation, these are no longer isolated cases but  may now constitute a trend.  In 2010, a State/OIG report on Yemen includes this:

“The failed attempt by a Yemeni-trained Nigerian terrorist to blow up a Detroit-bound jet on Christmas Eve 2009 and the Yemeni links to the U.S. Army major who, in November 2009, allegedly killed 13 of his countrymen in Fort Hood, Texas, have raised the public consciousness of Yemen as a center for terrorism. This awareness has underscored the importance to homeland security of all consular activities. Issuing a passport or visa to a terrorist is a real risk, and Embassy Sanaa works hard to make sure that their product is free of fraud.”

But if that’s the basis for this “new” trend in passport processing at post, how about  the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and the UAE?  Are U.S. embassies in those countries also revoking passports of Americans of local origins? The Times Square plot involved Faisal Shahzad, an American of Pakistani origin. Shoe bomber and self-proclaimed Al Qaeda member Richard Reid is a British citizen. If there is a new passport policy, is it universally applied to every country where there were terrorist plots hatched or where the attackers trained or originated?  (A side note — A couple of years ago, the UK stripped British citizenship from 16 individuals who had dual nationality because they were considered to pose a threat to the UK. In 2011, more than 50 Australians have had their passports revoked or refused to prevent them from going overseas for “terrorist training holidays).”

But — that does not seem to be the case here or we would have heard more about this. So what is it? Why Yemen in particular? And how come this appears to be happening only in the last year or so?

Fraud Overload?

In 2010, the State Department estimated the number of U.S. citizens in Yemen at  over 55,000. According to State/OIG, U.S. citizenship is highly valued in Yemen. “Fathers can receive up to $50,000 (45 times the per capita Gross Domestic Product) as a bride price for a U.S.-citizen daughter. As a result, parents often claim children as their own who are in fact from other families, in order to fraudulently document the children as U.S. citizens and use them as a potential source of income.”

A 2009 Fraud Summary floating around the net describes Yemen as having a “pervasive fraud environment.” At that time, the embassy estimated that two-thirds of  its immigrant visa cases (IV) were fraudulent and  that the embassy considered all cases fraudulent until proven otherwise.  Post also used DNA testing and bone age testing to ensure that only qualified children of U.S.citizens receive passport benefits.  So is the passport processing time, lengthly and complicated in Yemen exacerbated by fraud overload?

Muckrock.com, by the way, has filed an FOIA of the Fraud Summary for Sanaa last year and we’re still waiting for that to show up online.

Staffing Shortages?

The American Citizen Services Unit of an embassy handles among other things Emergency Services to U.S. Citizens Abroad, and Citizenship and Nationality cases.  Due to the more complicated nature of these cases, the unit is typically staff by a mid-level officer and local employees.  The unit, almost always, depending on the workload include one entry level officer who is typically on a 3-6 month job rotation in the ACS unit.  Another component of the consular operation is the Fraud Manager, who often times, is also a first or second tour officer, complemented by local staff and in some cases a Regional Security Officer-Investigator (RSO-I). At the time of the IG inspection, the Fraud Unit was staffed by two LE staff members, a part time ARSO-I, a part-time, first-tour vice consul, and no full-time Fraud Manager.

The State/OIG 2010 report on Yemen especially noted that “staffing shortages and backlogs increase the risk to U.S. homeland security caused by pervasive fraud and the threat of terrorism.” Subsequent to the inspection, we understand that the embassy hired an eligible family member as a Fraud Manager and also hired a local fraud analyst.  The situation in Yemen has progressively become more difficult in the last several years. Sana’a has been designated a 30% danger post since 2008.  In 2013, it became a 30% hardship post.  Under the circumstances, can you imagine the staffing shortages improving significantly?

Anyway, we don’t know exactly what’s going on here except that the “situation has been reviewed.” It is doubtful that the Bureau of Consular Affairs will provide some clarity on what’s going on with passport revocations in Yemen but we think it should.  It ought to also provide guidance on how to file an appeal in revocation cases.  Embassy Yemen does not provide any instruction online on this regard.  If limited staffing at post has exascerbated  the processing backlog, perhaps CA who has tons of consular funds should consider additional temporary staffing at a nearby post to help address the problem.

Maybe State’s ace in a hole is  Haig v. Agee, (1981) which upheld the right of the executive branch to revoke a citizen’s passport for reasons of national security and the foreign policy interests of the U.S. under the Passport Act of 1926.  But – if these revocation are only happening in Yemen, might not all this end up in court as individual lawsuits or as a potential class action depending on actual number of people impacted?  

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US Embassy Bangkok Issues Security Message on Thailand Protests

– Domani Spero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Dept Introduces More New Ambassadors: Gaspard, Hackett, Ayalde, Costos, Yun, Berry

– By Domani Spero

The State Department’s foreign-facing bureau, the  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) released a few more videos for its ambassador introduction series.  They obviously come from one script — say a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, visit some Washington memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.  We have to say that these videos are getting better, but they also come across as somewhat artificial at times, particularly when they get the ambassador and spouse do a duet in their greetings. Some of the ambassadors in this series, not just the ones below are naturally telegenic and excellent in delivery, of course, but others are less so.

One of our readers inquired who watches these videos.  These are  IIP products so the intended audience are presumably foreign publics.  Although, there doesn’t seem to be standard on how these videos are “push” to their intended audience abroad.  Some videos are posted across the missions’ multiple social media platforms with negligible results while others are posted only on the mission’s YouTube channels with better though uneven results. These videos are created by professionals (PR, video, digital?) at the IIP bureau, but just because you can, does it mean you should?  Does it make sense to make these videos for all chiefs of mission regardless of the Internet penetration rates in their host countries?  For instance, in Burkina Faso, the Internet penetration rate is only 3% of the population and in Chad that rate is 1.9%. Radio isn’t sexy, but wouldn’t it have more reach in those cases?  I supposed the answer whether it makes sense depends on what kind of return IIP is looking for in its investment of time and effort. For the chiefs of mission, it’s a question of whether they should get on this hot train because everybody’s doing it or if they should find an alternative outreach method more appropriate to their host countries’ infrastructures.

We have two previously related posts on this:

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard

This video was posted by State/IIP on YouTube, and separately on US Embassy Pretoria’s website and Facebook page. The video was also plugged by the embassy’s Twitter account but the total eyeball count could not get above 400 views.

Ken Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See
(with Italian subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP and linked to by US Embassy to the Holy See’s website and Facebook page.  Total views of about 1023 as of this writing.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde

Published in English and Portuguese by State/IIP on YouTube in mid September, we could not locate this video on the embassy’s website, Facebook page or a mention even on Twitter. It currently has 243 views.

James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra
(Spanish subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP in English and with Spanish subtitle with a total views of about 3,000. We have not been able to find this video on the embassy’s website or Facebook page, however, it was reposted by the embassy’s YouTube channel where it registered approximately 6,300 eyeballs.

Joe Yun, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia
(Malay subtitle)

This video released by State/IIP in English and with Malay subtitle currently has about 320 views. It does not look like it’s posted on the embassy’s website but it was  reposted on the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel where it has about 755 views.

John Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia

Posted by State/IIP in September, it has about 1030 views. Reposted by US Embassy Canberra on the embassy’s YouTube channel, it currently has 25,791 views

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State/IIP Introduces New American Ambassadors on YouTube – Pick Your Favorite Now!

– By Domani Spero

The  State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) has rolled out several videos for its Ambassador Introduction Video Series on You Tube.  The videos are mostly in English (with one exception) or with some local language subtitles. The most viewed from this latest releases is the video of US Ambassador to Belgium Denise Bauer.  The only one in a foreign language (with an English version also available) is delivered unexpectedly not by a career diplomat but by non-career appointee Alexa Wesner, the new ambassador to Austria.  The most viewed in this series at 377,521 views is still the video introduction of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens originally published in May 2012 by america.gov and US Embassy Tripoli. A good number of these videos get less than a thousand views.

See Here Comes the Sun: U.S. Senate Confirms A Slew of New Ambassadors as It Runs Out the Door for the recent confirmations. We expect to see mored videos like these as the confirmed ambassadors start getting to posts.

AUSTRIA

U.S. Ambassador to Austria Alexa Wesner  

Deutsch Version - 6,254 views |   Meet U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Alexa Wesner English Version – 687 views

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Post … - Jun 27, 2013

BELGIUM

U.S. Ambassador to Kingdom of Belgium Denise Bauer 

Views: 34,261

Officially In: Denise Bauer — from Women for Obama to Belgium

DENMARK

U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford

Views: 9,974

Officially In: Rufus Gifford — From Obama for America to Denmark

ITALY

U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Philips

 English with Italian Subtitles – 105 views

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | July 9, 2013

CHAD

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Chad James Knight

Views – 94

Officially In: James Knight, from Iraq to Chad

LEBANON

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale

Views – 60

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts - June 21, 2013

BURKINA FASO

U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Tulinabo Mushingi

Views – 41

Officially In: Tulinabo Mushingi, from S/ES to Burkina Faso

LAOS

U.S. Ambassador to Laos Dan Clune

Part Lao/Lao With English Subtitles – 25 views

Officially In: Dan Clune – From HR/BEX to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

UNITED KINGDOM

Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s Matthew Barzun

Views: 647

Special mention goes to the US Embassy in London for ditching the video formula and welcoming the new Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Matthew Barzun by looking back at some of the former Ambassadors to London in Position Filled at Grosvenor Square! Ambassador Barzun was previously the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Sweden duringPresident Obama’s first term in office.

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