@StateDept’s Comment on American Casualties During #BrusselsAttacks

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
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Meanwhile in Belgium, the U.S. Embassy in Brussels issued a message that says the security situation remains at level 4. It urge individuals to exercise caution and to avoid large gatherings. “A period of mourning is underway and will end on Thursday. Many public events have been cancelled. Public transportation has been disrupted. Zaventem airport remains closed.”

 

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FY2017 Budget Request: Consular Project Initiatives and New Positions

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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See the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID.

Below is an excerpt from the FY 2017 request for consular projects:

CONSULAR PROJECT INITIATIVES: $2,676.6 million

Revenue from Department-retained consular fees and surcharges funds CBSP consular programs and activities. These fees and surcharges include: Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) surcharges, Passport Security surcharges, Immigrant Visa Security surcharges, Diversity Visa Lottery fees, Fraud Prevention and Detection fees (H&L), and Affidavit of Support (AoS) Review fees. Each consular fee or surcharge is used to fund CBSP activities consistent with its applicable statutory authorities.

Consular Systems Technology: $388.2 million

Consular Systems Technology (CST) supports worldwide consular information systems operations, maintenance, and modernization. CST includes several major investments, including ConsularOne, which consolidates and modernizes all consular applications under a common IT application framework. Other CST application packages support citizens with unplanned or emergency needs, and support task force groups when crises arise that endangers citizens’ lives. The FY 2017 request of $388.2 million, which reflects a decrease of $185.8 million from the FY 2016 estimate, ensures that CA/CST continues to develop and maintain the IT systems and infrastructure necessary to support both domestic offices and overseas posts. Hardware and software expenditures will decrease in FY 2017, due to the FY 2016 completion of worldwide infrastructure replacement projects needed to support the anticipated passport surge. The request reflects continued full software development support of ConsularOne.

Domestic Executive Support: $38.0 million

Domestic Executive Support encompasses CA’s Front Office, the Office of the Executive Director (CA/EX), the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs (CA/P), and the Office of the Comptroller (CA/C). Under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs (CA), the Front Office oversees the overall performance of the Bureau in its role as the primary implementer and manager of the Consular and Border Security Program. The FY 2017 request supports overall operational costs including contracts, supplies, travel and other domestic operations.

The $2.2 million decrease below the FY 2016 estimate is associated with the the realignment of payments for Protecting Powers and Emergency Medical and Dietary Assistance (EMDA) programs to American Citizens Services.

Document Integrity, Training and Anti-Fraud Programs: $4.8 million

The FY 2017 request for CA’s Office of Fraud Prevention Programs (CA/FPP) will support efforts to identify and combat internal fraud, to ensure unqualified applicants do not receive or retain consular benefits.

Visa Services: $96.4 million

CA administers the visa portion of the U.S. immigration framework, using the latest technology to automate the visa process and working with other U.S. government agencies to efficiently and accurately screen all applicants for security threats and other potential ineligibilities. The FY 2017 request of $96.4 million will fund Visa Services activities, including plans for a large-scale digitization of approximately 50 million visa records, a quality assurance audit among contractors to ensure proper procedure and policies are followed, and increases to the labor contract at the National Visa Center (NVC) and Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) due to anticipated workload increases. The $10.2 million decrease is attributable to non-recurring costs in the FY 2016 estimate.

Affidavit of Support Program: $36.7 million

The Affidavit of Support (AoS) form is a requirement for many family- and employment-based immigrant visas, to demonstrate that the applicant will have adequate financial support once in the United States. Revenue from the AoS fees support the review and processing of AoS forms.

Diversity Visa Lottery Program: $4.0 million

The Diversity Visa (DV) program randomly selects nationals of certain countries for the opportunity to apply for immigration visas. DV lottery fees support the administration of the DV program.

Passport Services: $991.7 million

The Passport Services Directorate (PPT) protects U.S. border security and facilitates legitimate travel through comprehensive management of consular information technology systems, financial resources, and human resources in support of consular activities. As the Department prepares for the significant increase in passport demand related to the WHTI surge, the FY 2017 request will ensure that PPT can continue to provide exemplary service while meeting the FY 2017 projected workload of 20 million applications. Increasing workload demand is a driver of most CBSP expenses, including those of Passport Services. The overall increase of $24.8 million over the FY 2016 estimate includes increases for the Traceable Mail Initiative, travel, the Passport Call Center, supplies such as passport books and cards, and the full implementation of the Next Generation Passport (NGP) book, which will include more security features than the current passport. The increases, however, will be offset by reductions for foils and ribbons not required with the NGP; savings from phasing out printers for the current passport, and a reduction in postage.

American Citizens Services (ACS): $13.5 million

The Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services, Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (OCS/ACS) provides documentation and protection to U.S. citizens worldwide. The

FY 2017 request will allow CA to meets its protection responsibilities for U.S. citizens overseas through programs for crisis management; protection of children, victims of crime, and U.S. citizens residing and traveling abroad; voter assistance; and emergency support to destitute U.S. citizens. The FY 2017 request reflects a $912,000 increase over the FY 2016 estimate, which supports the biannual paper stock purchases for Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CBRA) forms and the realignment of payments for Protecting Powers and Emergency Medical and Dietary Assistance (EMDA) programs from Domestic Executive Support.

Consular Affairs Overseas Support: $1,102.1 million

CA Overseas Support covers overseas expenses of the CBSP, including the costs of start-up support costs for overseas staff. Overseas support includes continued implementation of the Global Support

Strategy (GSS); International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) contributions; equipment for consular agents; and recurring, non-salary support for Locally Employed Staff (LE Staff) and all U.S. Direct Hire (USDH) personnel. The FY 2017 request of $1,102.1 million is approximately $1.7 million below the FY 2016 Estimate, which is the net result of an increase of additional overseas operational expenses of $19.5 million, offset by a $21.2 million decrease for non-recurring new position support costs from FY 2016. Additionally, CA will begin paying non-rent operating expenses in

FY 2017, which were previously funded by the Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance (ESCM) appropriation.

FSN Separation Liability Trust Fund (FSNSLTF): $1.2 million

FSNSLTF covers the accrued separation pay of CBSP-funded locally employed staff who voluntarily resign, retire, die in service, or lose their jobs due to reduction-in-force. The FY 2017 request funds the FSNSLTF contribution for consular-related Foreign National staff.

BORDER SECURITY STAFF/AMERICAN SALARIES (AMSALS): $680.5 million

Human capital is the most vital component of the CBSP. The Department devotes a significant level of effort and resources toward increasing the efficiency and capacity in the visa and passport processes, including ensuring adequate staffing levels both domestically and overseas. CBSP-funded staff costs include positions in CA as well as in numerous partner bureaus. The $37.4 million increase over the FY 2016 estimate is attributable to the new positions, which will strengthen the consular workforce during the upcoming renewal of millions of passports in FY 2017. To support the consular-funded programs and activities, the FY 2017 request includes 90 new positions: seven domestic consular positions; 61 overseas consular positions; 20 positions for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS); and two positions for the Foreign Service Institute (FSI).

The full document for the State Department request is available here (PDF).

 

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US Embassy Beirut: A Form Letter Response, Please, That’s Cold

Posted: 2:50 am EDT
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The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria suspended its operations on February 6, 2012, and is not open for normal consular services.  The Travel Warning for Syria was last updated on August 27, 2015. Yes, these folks should have left Syria when it was still a possibility, but they probably knew that already, and blaming them now is not going to help. For folks interested in learning what the U.S. Government can and cannot do in a crisis overseas, please click here.

Look, we understand that there is not much that the USG can do in terms of consular services in an active war zone.  But. While it may not be much, forwarding the inquiry in this case to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus might have, at a minimum, alerted the Section of this family’s existence.  Two, when one is in a life and death situation, receiving a form letter from the U.S. government is probably one of the coldest manifestation of the bureaucracy.

The Government of the Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz. U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan: AmmanACS@state.gov; +(962) (6) 590-6500.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

Former Iran Prisoner: “Oman initiated our release, not the State Department”

Posted: 12:29 am EDT
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Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans who were hiking in a mountainous region of Turkey near Iran in June 2009 when they were seized by Iranian border guards. He and his friend Joshua Fattal were detained in Evin prison in Tehran for more than two years. He was charged on August 21, 2011 with espionage and illegal entry and given an eight year sentence. On September 21, 2011, one month after his sentence, Mr. Bauer (and Mr. Fattal) was released and allowed to return to the United States.

He is now a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering criminal justice and human rights. As news broke this weekend about the Iran prisoner swap, Politico reported that he called Clinton’s appeal for more sanctions “totally irresponsible” and accused her of constantly inflaming tensions with Iran. Read Politico’s story here. He also tweeted this:

In October 2011, the NYT had this item about the passing of FSO Philo Dibble. He died on October 1, 2011, 10 days after Fattal and Bauer were released:

Philo Dibble, a career Foreign Service officer who played a central role in the release of two American hikers who had been held in an Iranian prison for more than two years, died at his home in McLean, Va., on Oct. 1, 10 days after the hikers were freed. He was 60.

The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Elizabeth Link Dibble, who is also a State Department official. Both worked in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, where he was deputy assistant secretary of state for Iranand she is the bureau’s principal deputy secretary.

“Philo really was the lead in the State Department for coordinating all U.S. government efforts regarding the release of the hikers,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, the Near Eastern bureau’s assistant secretary, said Thursday.

While explaining that he could not provide details because “it’s pretty sensitive,” Mr. Feltman said Mr. Dibble had coordinated efforts with diplomats from other nations, including Oman and Switzerland, in trying to free the hikers. (Switzerland has represented American interests in Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979-81.)

We may not know the full story how the release of the hikers went down until somebody from State writes a book about it or do an ADST oral history but some random Internet person actually tweeted what we were thinking:

Emails about the hikers were part of the latest Clinton email dump. Below is a selection of the emails:

Bauer’s letter to D/S Bill Burns with a redacted request – PDF
Statement of Facts issued by the State Department for Mr. Bauer – PDF
The hikers’ parents letter to President Obama copied to State – PDF
OpsAlert updates during release of two hikers – PDF
Bauer and Fattal statements after release (transcript) PDF

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New Law Authorizes Revocation or Denial of U.S. Passports to Certain Tax Delinquents

Posted: 12:58 am EDT
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On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or “FAST Act.” This is the first law enacted in over ten years that provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation. DOT says that the FAST Act largely maintains current program structures and funding shares between highways and transit. It is a down-payment for building a 21st century transportation system, increasing funding by 11 percent over five years.  Read more here from the Department of Transportation.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 9.50.33 PMThere is also one item included in the FAST Act that’s related to the State Department and the traveling American public. Section 7345 provides for the revocation or denial of U.S. passports to applicants with certain tax delinquencies considered ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ –that is, a tax liability that has been assessed, which is greater than $50,000 and a notice of lien has been filed. To be clear, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not actually able to revoke or deny any American taxpayer a passport for delinquent taxes. Revocation or denial or passports can only be done by the Department of State. It looks like the IRS Commissioner will need to make a certification of “seriously delinquent tax debt” to the Secretary of Treasury, who must then transmit the certification to the Secretary of State for the actual revocation. The new law provides for a humanitarian and emergency exception, and issuance of a limited passport for direct return to the United States.

This is similar to the arrangement on passport revocation with child support obligation enforcement.  The State Department works with the Health and Human Services on Child Support Arrearage.  Under the HHS passport denial program,  noncustodial parents certified by a state as having arrearages exceeding $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State (DoS), which denies them U.S. passports upon application or the use of a passport service.

Via ‘‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act’’ or the ‘‘FAST Act’’ (PDF):

SEC. 32101. REVOCATION OR DENIAL OF PASSPORT IN CASE OF CERTAIN UNPAID TAXES.

‘‘SEC. 7345. REVOCATION OR DENIAL OF PASSPORT IN CASE OF CERTAIN TAX DELINQUENCIES.

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—If the Secretary receives certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that an individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport pursuant to section 32101 of the FAST Act.

‘‘(b) SERIOUSLY DELINQUENT TAX DEBT.—

‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—For purposes of this section, the term ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ means an unpaid, legally enforceable Federal tax liability of an individual—

‘‘(A) which has been assessed,

‘‘(B) which is greater than $50,000, and

‘‘(C) with respect to which—

‘‘(i) a notice of lien has been filed pursuant to section 6323 and the administrative rights under section 6320 with respect to such filing have been exhausted or have lapsed, or

‘‘(ii) a levy is made pursuant to section 6331.

‘‘(2) EXCEPTIONS.—Such term shall not include—

‘‘(A) a debt that is being paid in a timely manner pursuant to an agreement to which the individual is party under section 6159 or 7122, and

‘‘(B) a debt with respect to which collection is suspended with respect to the individual—

‘‘(i) because a due process hearing under section 6330 is requested or pending, or

‘‘(ii) because an election under subsection (b) or (c) of section 6015 is made or relief under subsection (f) of such section is requested.

‘‘(c) REVERSAL OF CERTIFICATION.—

‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—In the case of an individual with respect to whom the Commissioner makes a certification under subsection (a), the Commissioner shall notify the Secretary (and the Secretary shall subsequently notify the Secretary of State) if such certification is found to be erroneous or if the debt with respect to such certification is fully satisfied or ceases to be a seriously delinquent tax debt by reason of subsection (b)(2).

[…]

(e) AUTHORITY TO DENY OR REVOKE PASSPORT.—

(1) DENIAL.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided under subparagraph (B), upon receiving a certification described in section 7345 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 from the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State shall not issue a passport to any individual who has a seriously delinquent tax debt described in such section.

(B) EMERGENCY AND HUMANITARIAN SITUATIONS.—Not- withstanding subparagraph (A), the Secretary of State may issue a passport, in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons, to an individual described in such subparagraph.

(2) REVOCATION.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of State may revoke a passport previously issued to any individual described in paragraph (1)(A).

(B) LIMITATION FOR RETURN TO UNITED STATES.—If the Secretary of State decides to revoke a passport under subparagraph (A), the Secretary of State, before revocation, may—

(i) limit a previously issued passport only for return travel to the United States; or

(ii) issue a limited passport that only permits return travel to the United States.

(3) HOLD HARMLESS.—The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, and any of their designees shall not be liable to an individual for any action with respect to a certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue under section 7345 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

According to the WSJ, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or Tigta, a watchdog agency, found that the IRS sent 855,000 notices to U.S. citizens abroad in 2014.

Treasury OIG notes that as of May 2014, the State Department estimated that approximately 7.6 million U.S. citizens live in a foreign country. It also reports this:

Even though the IRS sent approximately 855,000 notices and letters to U.S. taxpayers living in other countries during Calendar Year 2014, it cannot determine taxpayer response rates.  The lack of data on response rates for international taxpayers is problematic because this information is needed to determine the effectiveness of international correspondence on increasing taxpayer compliance and to make program improvements.

7 FAM 1380 which provides guidance on passport denials, limitations, and revocations is unfortunately behind the firewall so we are unable to see the specific updates in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

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US Embassies Issue Possible Terrorist Attack Warnings in Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia

Posted: 5:34 pm EDT
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Tunisia

Pursuant to the recent Security Message for U.S. Citizens in Tunisia that was published on Thursday, December 17, 2015 we wish to advise you that a report of unknown credibility indicates the possibility of a terrorist attack at the Tunisia Mall in Berges du Lac on Sunday, December 20, 2015.  We advise you to avoid the area. Also see the Security Message for U.S. Citizens, published December 17, 2015.

Pakistan

The American Embassy in Islamabad has received threat information regarding possible terrorist attacks against locations in Islamabad in late December, especially during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.  Possible targets include places of worship and shopping centers.  U.S. government personnel are under additional movement restrictions in coming weeks, including religious venues and large shopping centers.  We advise private U.S. citizens to exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens are reminded to review the active travel warning for Pakistan, and minimize the number and duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, and other locations where large numbers of people congregate.  U.S. citizens should monitor Pakistani media reports regarding these and similar threats.

Indonesia

[F]urther to the Worldwide Travel Alert published on November 23, 2015, we advise U.S. Citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling in Indonesia during the Christmas and New Year holidays due to continued threats from extremists to conduct attacks in the country. Gatherings at places of worship in such places as Poso and Solo have been, and may still be appealing targets for terrorists. The Indonesian National Police, through multiple news media outlets, have announced that they will be providing additional security to stop ISIL type attacks in Indonesia. During this holiday period, we advise U.S. citizens to remain aware of their surroundings when gathering at nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and places of worship in Indonesia, as terrorists have previously planned and carried out attacks on these venues, and could do so again.

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USCG Dhahran Consular Team Wins 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service

Posted: 3:51 am EDT
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Via state.gov:

A State Department consular team has won the prestigious 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service. The team was honored at an awards ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 15.

Administered through the Federal Customer Service Awards Program, the President’s Award for Customer Service is designed to recognize, promote, and reward service excellence, professionalism, and outstanding achievement by federal employees, including teams working on initiatives with a direct impact on customers. The Award also seeks to help agencies identify practices that can be reproduced across the government.

This year, the Department of State was cited for the work performed by Foreign Service and Locally Employed Staff members of the consular section in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, who overcame security and technical hurdles to offer on-site consular customer service to the hundreds of U.S. citizens building the world’s largest petrochemical facility in Jubail. By setting up regularly scheduled visits to academic, corporate, and residential sites, the Dhahran team reduced U.S. citizens’ risks faced during road travel in Saudi Arabia.

Further information about the 2015 President’s Award for Customer Service can be found here.

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consdhahran

Our consular section is sporting their college gear in support of Back to School Week. August 2015 (Photo from U.S. Consulate General Dhahran/FB)

USCG Dhahran is headed by Consul General Mike Hankey who arrived at post on July 8, 2014. According to the Key Officers List, the consular section chief is Kelly Landry.  The Dow-Aramco petrochemical complex in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, is said to be the world’s largest. Once complete it will reportedly be home to 30 production plants and provide approximately 4,000 jobs.

The Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia dated September 21, 2015 notes that there have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them.  On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

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U.S. Embassy Caracas Issues Security Message on Recent Detention of Several U.S. Citizens in Venezuela

Posted: 00:53 EST
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We saw this the other night:

 

On March 4, the US Embassy in Caracas issued the following security message on the recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to call to the attention of U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Venezuela the Government of Venezuela’s recent detention of several U.S. citizens in Venezuela. Under the Vienna Convention, if you are arrested overseas, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy. In practice, the Venezuelan government frequently fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested or detained, and/or delays or denies to U.S. detainees. Please ask friends or family to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately on your behalf should you be detained by government authorities.

This announcement is available on the U.S. embassy website, but is not/not available on the embassy’s Facebook or Twitter feed.  When we inquired from the embassy’s Public Affairs Office, we were told to direct our inquiry to the Consular Section. Like whaaat?

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This can’t possibly be an easy time for what is already a challenging environment, so let that slide for now.  The American Citizen Service at Embassy Caracas did not respond to our inquiry.  A related note, the Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety report on Venezuela in 2014 says:

Harassment of U.S. citizens by airport authorities and some segments of the police are limited but do occur. Any incident should be reported to American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy. The ACS Unit can be reached by telephone at +58 (212) 907-8365 or by e-mail at ACSVenezuela@state.gov.

The recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela is clearly an escalation beyond simple harassment.

The United States does not appear to have a bilateral agreement with Venezuela concerning mandatory notification when it comes to the arrest of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.

However, Venezuela is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), a multilateral treaty to which the United States and more than 170 other countries are party. This is the same treaty that President Maduro cited in announcing the reduction of U.S. Embassy staff in Caracas (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!).

Venezuela is also a party to Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Navigation and Commerce with the United States of America, Jan. 20, 1836, 12 Bevans 1038 (entered into force May 31, 1836), a bilateral agreement addressing consular issues with the U.S. since 1836 (see Consular Notification and Access-pdf).

Let’s stop here for a moment and look at Texas. As in Medellin v. Texas. The United States has been cited for failing to provide consular notification in cases brought by Paraguay in 1998, by Germany in 1999,and by Mexico in 2003 before the International Court of Justice.

State Department officials have travelled since 1997 but more extensively since 2003, throughout the United States to give classes and seminars about consular notification and access to federal, state, and local law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice officials.

The obligations of consular notification and access apply to U.S. citizens in foreign countries just as they apply to foreign nationals in the United States. The State Department’s guidance to the arrest of foreigners in the United States is to “treat a foreign national as you would want a U.S. citizen to be treated in a similar situation in a foreign country.”

Because when we don’t, it’s hard to make a  case that other countries should abide by their obligation for consular notification and access when U.S. citizens are arrested overseas.

And as if things are not strange enough in the U.S.-Venezuela relations, take this one:
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State Dept Re-attached to the Internet, and About Those “Unrelated” Embassy Outages

— Domani Spero
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A few hours ago, we posted this: State Dept Spox on outages at embassies: “separate”, “unconnected”, “unrelated” — wowie zowie!

It looks like the State Department was re-attached to the Internet sometime this morning. Although as of this writing, go.state.gov is still down for “temporary maintenance.”

Screen Shot 2014-11

Screen capture of http://go.state.gov, still current as of 11/19/2014

Here’s what we’ve learned about the embassy outages:

The Consular Consolidated Database is apparently unaffected, as are visa and passport services.

EXCEPT that Consular Sections were unable to accept credit card payments because those are connected to the Internet, which was unavailable from the State Department’s OpenNet.

Here’s how OpenNet is described in the FAM:

OpenNet is a physical and logical Internet Protocol (IP)-based global network that links the Department of State’s Local Area Networks (LANs) domestically and abroad. The physical aspect of the network uses DTS circuits for posts abroad, FTS-2001-provided circuits, leased lines, and dial-up public switch networks. This includes interconnected hubs, routers, bridges, switches, and cables. The logical aspect of the network uses Integrated Enterprise Management System (NMS) and TCP/IP software, and other operational network applications. OpenNet is a Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) network, which supports e-mail and data applications.

We understand that the American Citizen Services (ACS) Units, in particular, were not able to process payments by credit cards. Since the Internet connection issue had been reportedly resolved earlier today, we hope that this has resolved itself, too.

As to visa services, those are connected to the Global Support Strategy (GSS) contract, and 99% of fees would have been collected through the GSS contractor, not at post.

EXCEPT that most GSS contractors do scheduling via their own 3rd party websites, which would not be able to be accessed from OpenNet. If visa scheduling had delays, that would be because posts had to find a non-OpenNet Internet connection to update scheduling slots, as necessary.

A note on the GSS:  The GSS contracts provide support services for nonimmigrant and immigrant visa operations at United States consulates and embassies abroad, including but not limited to public inquiry services, appointment services, fee collection services, biometric enrollment services, document delivery services and data collection services.

So when the State Department spox said that these outages were not connected and were unrelated, well —

Congratulations! You sound nice at the podium but what the heck were you talking about?

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Oops! What’s this? Updated at 1552 PST Nov 19:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 3.44.20 PM

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State Dept Awards $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola

Domani Spero
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Yahoo News reported on September 9 that “an undisclosed number of people who’ve been exposed to the Ebola virus — not just the four patients publicly identified with diagnosed cases — have been evacuated to the U.S. by an air ambulance company contracted by the State Department.”  The report identified Phoenix Air Group as the provider of the air ambulance services. The VP of the company said medical privacy laws and his company’s contract with the State Department prevented him from revealing how many exposed patients have been flown from West Africa to the U.S.  He did tell the reported that Phoenix Air has flown 10 Ebola-related missions in the past six weeks. The report also says that the State Department confirmed the four known Ebola patient transports but couldn’t provide details on any exposure evacuations to the United States.  An unnamed State Department official told Yahoo News that “every precaution is taken to move the patient safely and securely, to provide critical care en route, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”(See Ebola evacuations to US greater than previously known).

Public records indicate that the State Department awarded the air ambulance contract on August 18, 2014.  The sole source contract was awarded to Phoenix Air for a period of six (6) months at an estimated cost of $4,900,000.00 under FAR 6.302-2  for “unusual and compelling urgency.” The services include among others, air ambulance evacuation, a dedicated on-call aircraft and flight crew, an aero-biological containment system, and emergency recall and mission preparedness:

This requirement is in response to Department of State’s diplomatic mission overseas to provide movement of emergency response personnel into and out of hazardous/non-permissive environments and medical evacuation of critically ill/injured patients, including those infected with unique and high contagious pathogens. This is an immediate response to the Ebola Virus Crisis.

The contract justification says that the movement of patients infected with highly contagious pathogens, as with the current Ebola Virus epidemic, requires the use of an air-transportable biocontainment unit. A unit was designed and built by the Center for Disease Control in 2006 in collaboration with the Phoenix Air Group in Cartersville, GA. The Aeromedical Biological Containment Shelter (ABCS) is the only contagious patient airborne transportation system in the world which allows attending medical personnel to enter the containment vessel in-flight to attend to the patient, thus allowing emergency medical intervention such as new IV lines, intubation, etc.

Yes, the Pentagon has a transport tube but —

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a transport “tube” which a patient is placed into, but once sealed inside the patient is isolated from medical care. It is admittedly (by the DOD) more designed for battlefield causalities than live human transport, especially over long distances. It is also only certified for DOD aircraft and not by the FAA for commercial aircraft which makes this capability not feasible in meeting the Department’s urgent need for the capability to transport contagious patients world-wide.”

Why is this a sole-sourced contract?

Below is part of the justification statement extracted from publicly available documents:

As a matter of standard business practice, Phoenix Air Group does not provide chartered transport of highly contagious patients outside of a standing government contract. As the only vendor with this unique capability, Phoenix Air Group has never offered this service on a one-off basis to private of government entities. The capability was developed on a multi-year contract with the CDC (2006-2011). When the CDC could no longer to afford to maintain the stand-by capability, the equipment was warehoused. While it is technically true that the movement of two American citizens in late July, 2014, was a private transaction, those missions were conducted after the Department requested that PAG consider a break in their standard business practice on a humanitarian basis, with the assurance that the USG would make all necessary arrangements for landing clearances, public health integration, decontamination, and provide press guidance. Simply put, the transportation of this type of patient requires too much international and inter-agency coordination, and incurs too much corporate risk, for PAG to provide the service outside the protection of a federal contract to do so.

The U.S. Department of State has always been responsible for the medical evacuation of official Americans overseas, regardless of their USG agency affiliation. Because of the unique severity and scope of the current Ebola outbreak, and the complete lack of host nation infrastructure to support victims of EVD infection, the international community is finding recruitment of professional staff very difficult without being able to articulate a sound medical evacuation plan. To that end, the Governments of Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the World Health Organization and the United Nations, have separately approached PAG to establish exclusive contracts for this limited resource. Had the Department not moved very quickly to establish its own exclusive use contract, our negotiating position would have shifted, placing USG personnel and private citizens at significant risk.

The availability of the PAG resource is thus a foreign policy issue, placing the U.S. Department of State as the logical arbiter of international agreements to assure equitable coverage while protecting U.S. national interests. The Department is moving to establish Title 607 agreements with these and other eligible entities, allowing coordinated sharing of the resource on a cost-reimbursable basis under 22 U SC 2357 authorities.

Private American citizens responding to this crisis would lack the resources to privately contract for this service, even if it were available on the open market. By establishing the contract through the Department, additional options are provided to American Citizen Services, allowing them to structure the funding as a form of repatriation loan. This would be very difficult to do if not for a Department-level contract; by bringing the resource in-house, the money flow remains within the Department, spreading the financial risk across a much larger budgeting pool. Foreign governments are being encouraged to take similar steps with their own private citizens through high level dialogue that is only possible when the Department is in the lead on this issue.

Given recent CDC guidelines for the movement of asymptomatic contacts, an unprecedented level of control and coordination is necessary to move these individuals that, despite not being contagious or even clearly infected, are nonetheless quarantined. The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

The “special missions” G-111 aircraft, what is it?

 The ABCS was certified by the Federal Air Administration (FAA) under a Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for use in an aircraft. The STC further lists only two (2) air- craft by serial number as approved for the installation and operation of the ABCS. Both aircraft are owned and operated by Phoenix Air.

The two aircraft listed by serial number in the STC are “special missions” Gulfstream G-III jets owned and operated by Phoenix Air. There are only three “special missions” G-111 aircraft in the world and Phoenix Air owns and operates all three. These are unique aircraft converted in the Gulfstream Aerospace factory during the original manufacturing assembly line from standard “executive” aircraft to “special missions” aircraft which includes a large cargo door forward of the wing measuring 81.5” wide X 61” high thus allowing the large components of the ABCS to be installed in the aircraft and post-flight decontamination to be performed, each aircraft has a heavy duty cargo floor allowing the ABCS floor attachment system to be installed, and each aircraft is certified at the factory for passenger, cargo or air ambulance operations.

Phoenix Air holds various DOD Civil Aircraft Landing Permits (CALP’s) from all U.S DOD service branches allowing its aircraft to land at all U.S. military bases and facilities worldwide. For security reasons, all medical evacuations of patients with highly contagious pathogens must land at military airfields. Recent experience reinforces the importance of using military airfields, especially OCONUS where the host nation governments have refused to allow the aircraft access to civil airports in the Azores, but have conceded to allow the aircraft to refuel on USMIL airfields in their country.

All Phoenix Air flight and medical personnel have the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS) required accreditation and CDC recommended inoculations for air ambulance missions as well as missions into disease~prone areas around the world providing DOS a unique capability that may not be available with other aviation vendors.

 

Unlike the outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) virus and fears of a pandemic in 2007, one thing we haven’t heard this time is  “shelter-in-place.” Back then, Americans abroad were advised to identify local sources of healthcare and prepare to “shelter-in-place” if necessary. “In those areas with potentially limited water and food availability, Americans living abroad are encouraged to maintain supplies of food and water to last at least two and as long as 12 weeks.” We remember thinking then about the embassy swimming pool and wondering how long it would last if city water runs out. Or what happens if a mob comes into the compound in search of food and water.

That does not seem to be the case here. At least, this time, there will be an air ambulance equipped to evacuate  Americans back home should it come to that. Note that the  justification statement does not include details of how much of the cost will be accounted for as part of the repatriation loan program (pdf) for private Americans.

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