Terrorist Attacks Rock France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three Countries. Three Continents. All Soft Targets.

Posted: 4:41  pm EDT
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Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait today. At least 37 people including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisia, one person was reportedly decapitated in France at a US-owned factory, and at least 25 people were killed at a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kuwait. Three countries, three continents and  all soft targets.
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The US Embassy Paris released the following security message on 

The U.S. Embassy in Paris informs U.S. citizens that a terrorist attack took place at approximately 10 AM today at a U.S.-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Isere, France, southeast of Lyon, at a large industrial park. One person was killed and two others were reported injured. None of the deceased or injured was a U.S. citizen. The motivation for the attack is unknown, and one suspect is in French government custody.   The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Following the January 2015 terrorist attacks, the Government of France raised the “Vigipirate” level and continues to evaluate its security posture on a regular basis. Up-to-date information is available on the “Vigipirate” website in French.

 

Under this system, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe.

 

U.S. citizens in France are encouraged to remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places, or any other suspicious activities, to French law enforcement authorities. French authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

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The  US Embassy in Tunis released the following  message:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia around the Kantaoui area at the Imperial Riu Marhaba and Soviva hotels in Sousse.   The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Kantaoui area and surrounding vicinity. The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants.

U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur.  Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security.

Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.  In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.  Also, travel to either border should be avoided if possible given the periodic security incidents along the border regions.

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The US Embassy in Kuwait issued this: Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City – Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

The embassy also released a statement calling the explosion “a senseless terrorist attack on worshipers in the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque”, condemning the attack and says that “the United States stands ready to assist our friend and ally Kuwait in any way possible.”
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Below is the WH statement on the three attacks:

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SCOTUS Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, See Round-Up of US Embassies on LGBT Pride Month

Posted: 9:27 am PDT
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SCOTUS ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. Excerpt from the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy (via NYT):

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.  Read the SCOTUS opinion here (pdf). Sending hugs to our friends in the LGBT community this beautiful and historic summer day!

Below is a round-up of U.S. embassies marking LGBT Pride Month this year:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Wellington, New Zealand


Manila , Philippines

Ankara, Turkey

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Buenos Aires, Argentina


Luxembourg

 

Tokyo, Japan 

 

London, United Kingdom

Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan

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US Embassy Burundi: Students Broke Into Embassy Grounds Seeking Refuge (Updated)

Posted: 2:32 am  EDT
Updated: 3:05 PM EDT
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Update via US Embassy Bujumbura on the students who entered the embassy compound:

After the Burundian National Police broke down the student camp at the construction site yesterday, the university student who sought refuge at the U.S.Embassy were allowed to stay for the afternoon and provided with water. The students remained in the Embassy parking lot until approximately 7:30 pm when they departed of their own free will after speaking with Ambassador Dawn Liberi. There was no effort to forcibly remove them.

The students relocated to a refuge run by a religious entity. The U.S. Embassy continues to work with the Government of Burundi to fully resolve this issue and has also been in contact with humanitarian organizations on behalf of the students.

Last month, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on ordered departure (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On June 25, this happened:

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The US Embassy released the following statement on June 25:

At approximately 1:15 pm Burundian National Police entered a construction site adjacent to the U.S. Embassy where university students set up camp seeking refuge when violence broke out in Bujumbura at the end of April and the national university was closed. The students dispersed from the site in an orderly manner and some entered the Embassy parking lot. Approximately 100 students peacefully remain in the visitor parking lot of the U.S. Embassy.

The police and students had no physical confrontation. The police officers did not resort to violence; no shots were fired and tear gas was not used. Four people suffered minor injuries during the movement. All embassy staff members are safe and accounted for.

The U.S. Embassy has contacted the Government of Burundi and urged them to find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

We understand that the students went into a lot that is outside the real embassy perimeter (as per standard embassy design). We’re also told that the gap below the gate is probably due to ground settling over the years since construction.

We should note that the embassy occupied the new embassy compound in October 2012. According to the OIG report, the embassy occupies a modern compound with an electrical generating capacity equal to that of the entire national grid. The capital cost of the new embassy compound, $137 million, is 25 percent of the national government’s annual budget.

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State Department’s Visa Systems Now Operational at 165 of 220 Posts Worldwide

Posted: 1:56 am  EDT
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The State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database problems that affected travelers globally is is now back online at 165 of 220 visa issuance posts worldwide.  The latest update does not explain in details the cause of the glitch except to cite the hardware issue.  It also says that service was restored “using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources.”  It does not explain what “other sources” mean but if it took at least 9 days to get that redundant, secondary back-up system to kick in, that’s not a very good system.

The Consular Affairs-issued FAQ asks how many people were affected by this outage? The answer it provides to this question is neither here nor there.  Folks, if you can’t answer your own question, please don’t include it.

According to travel.state.gov, the average visa applications processed every day worldwide is 50,000 x 9 days (June 9-19)=450,000 + 25,000 (half the average daily applications) x 4 days (June 22-25) = 100,000. Total number potentially affected 550,000.  Is that close enough?

The June 25 update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. Whoa! Help us out here. What kind of refusal/approval rates are we looking at here? That 540,000 figure is a little hinky because not all applicants who apply are issued visas. If it would have issued 540,000  visas, what would have been the total number of applicants?  Note that all of them must pay the visa fees. We estimate that the USG loss from this latest glitch is between $72 to $84 million (average daily applications globally x no. of days x $160 visa fee). Is that too low?

Meanwhile, StarrFMonline.com reported that the US Embassy in Accra, has “dismissed reports that it is ripping Ghanaians off by accepting visa fees in spite of the visa issuance imbroglio that has hit US embassies across the world.” The consular section chief  had to explain that “if anybody was refused a visa, that was because of the case and has nothing to do with our technical issues.”

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On June 24, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 50 posts, representing nearly 73 percent of its  nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are back online and issuing visas.  It also says that “posts overseas have issued more than 150,000 non-immigrant visas since June 9.” And that for context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 450,000 visas during the June 9-23 timeframe.

On June 25, the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas.  The update says that if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started.

Via travel.state.gov, June 25 update:

Visa Systems Issues

  • The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 165 posts, representing more than 85 percent of our nonimmigrant visa demand worldwide, are now online and issuing visas. 

  • Posts overseas issued more than 82,000 visas on June 24. 

  • Posts overseas have issued more than 238,000 non-immigrant visas this week. For context, if systems had been operating normally, posts would have issued approximately 540,000 visas since the outage started. 

  • We will continue to bring additional posts online until connectivity with all posts is restored. All posts worldwide are now scheduling interviews with applicants, including with those who applied after the systems problems began on June 9.

  • We deeply regret the inconvenience to travelers who are waiting for visas, as well as their families and U.S. businesses that have been affected.

  • We continue to post updates to our website, travel.state.gov.

 

Q: Reports indicate that your backlog is 700,000 visas. Is this accurate?

No. While there is a large backlog of cases to clear, it never approached that level, and we have already made good progress issuing those visas. Many posts are working overtime this week and during the upcoming weekend, and we expect to eliminate the backlog in a week or less.


Q: How old is this equipment? And does the age of the equipment and the need to have so many repairs to the hardware mean that this equipment should have been replaced? Is this a funding issue at the base of it?

The hardware that impacted the biometrics system is several years old. The Department was working to move the biometrics system off of this hardware.

The operational requirements to keep this database running for domestic and overseas passport and visa issuances caused delays in upgrading the database according to our planned maintenance schedule.

We have been working to upgrade our systems over the past year.

We will move ahead with planned migration and systems upgrades as soon as we fully restore service.

Q: How did you restore service?

We restored service using a redundant, secondary backup system and other sources. That data allowed us to begin to re-connect posts to the affected portion of the system and synchronize biometric data. This system is running on newer hardware, and has a synchronized standby system in a different Department data center.

In parallel, we are continuing to restore data from backups and overseas post databases. This process is ongoing.

Q: Do you know whether this is equipment that was acquired directly by the State Department, or was this acquired through a third-party contractor?

The equipment was acquired by the Department of State.

Q: How many people were affected by this outage?

During the past two weeks, consular sections have continued to interview travelers who applied June 8 or earlier. Those posts reconnected to our system are now issuing visas for those applicants.

Q: How are cases being prioritized?

We continue to facilitate urgent cases for those individuals who need to travel imminently, and will continue to do so until the systems are normal.

We apologize to travelers and recognize that this has caused hardship to some individuals waiting for visas as well as families and employers.

Q: What about the foreign agricultural workers (H2A visa holders?)

More than 2,500 temporary or seasonal workers have been issued new visas in Mexico since last week.

We will continue to prioritize H-2 applicants as our systems return to normal, and issue as many approved cases as possible. However, we will not be able to process these as quickly as we typically do until our systems are functioning normally. We continue to ask that any employers with urgent needs contact the post which is processing their applicants and we will do everything we can to facilitate the cases.

We are no longer asking CBP to provide Port of Entry waivers, as we have now begun issuing visas at border posts.

Visa applicants, including agricultural workers, who have not received a visa should not report to the border. Please contact the nearest embassy or consulate.

Read more here.