US Embassy Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?

— Domani Spero
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The State Department issued a Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country. We blogged about it here (See US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning).

On May 16, the AP, citing a letter sent to embassy employees that day, reported  that the U.S. ambassador in Kenya Robert Godec has requested additional Kenyan and American security personnel and is reducing the size of the embassy staff due to increased terrorist threats in Kenya.

We don’t know when the actual request was made but the May 15 Travel Warning did not include the information on additional security personnel or the reduction of staff.

On Saturday, May 17, Ambassador Godec released the following statement:

[T]he U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community.   The most important responsibility of every U.S. Ambassador and Embassy is to protect American citizens and to keep them informed.  The United States greatly appreciates the Kenyan government’s rapid response to requests for additional security at diplomatic facilities while it also increases security at public and other critical venues.

The Embassy is continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on U.S. staffing. We remain open for normal operations and have no plan to close the Embassy.

We could not remember a post in recent memory that announced a reduction in staffing before it actually happens.  But the reduction in staffing was already widely reported in the media. As well as the request for additional security personnel for post.

We imagined that the Consular folks were up in arms with the “No Double Standard” Policy, which requires that  important security threat information if shared with the official U.S. community (generally defined as Americans working for the U.S. government abroad), must be made available to the wider American community if the threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.

On May 17, the two-day old Travel Warning was replaced with an updated one noting that, “Based on the security situation, the Embassy is reviewing its staffing with an eye toward reduction in staff in the near future.  The Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”

Meanwhile, according to AFP, Kenya’s foreign ministry had accused several foreign nations of “unfriendly acts” and “noted with disappointment” the warnings by Australia, Britain, France and the United States, after they issued travel warnings for coastal regions following a wave of attacks and unrest linked to Islamist extremists.

We should note that US Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 among 19 federal agency offices, including more than 400 U.S. direct hires and over 800 local employees. As of this writing, the embassy has not been declared on authorized departure, the first phase in a staffing reduction.

Ambassador Godec was assigned as the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya in August 2012 following the departure of Ambassador Gration.  He was nominated by President Obama on September 19, 2012 to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and sworn in by Secretary of State Clinton on January 16, 2013.  Prior to his assignment in Nairobi, Ambassador Godec was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) in the Department of State.

Since Nairobi is the site of one of our most catastrophic embassy attacks, we will add the following detail from the Nairobi ARB report in 1999 in the aftermath of the twin East Africa bombings in Kenya and Tanzania:

Ambassador Bushnell, in letters to the Secretary in April 1998, and to Under Secretary Cohen a month later, restated her concern regarding the vulnerability of the embassy, repeating the need to have a new chancery that would meet Inman standards. Ms. Cohen responded in June stating that, because of Nairobi’s designation as a medium security threat post for political violence and terrorism and the general soundness of the building, its replacement ranked relatively low among the chancery replacement priorities. She drew attention to FBO’s plan to extend the chancery’s useful life and improve its security to include $4.1 million for the replacement of the windows.

As of this writing,there is no update on reduction of staffing at post. On May 20, US Embassy Nairobi issued the following Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Protests in Nairobi Turn Violent.

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US Embassy Dar Es Salaam: Obama, Bush at Wreath-Laying Ceremony for 1998 Embassy Attack Victims

—By Domani Spero

President Obama and former President George W. Bush honored the victims of the 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the memorial.

If video is unable to display, click here to view in YouTube/AP

More photos here and here.

Via the Crowe ARB:

According to physical evidence and reports from persons on the scene just prior to the bombing, on the morning of Friday, August 7, 1998, a truck laden with explosives drove up Laibon Road to one of the two vehicular gates of the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam. Apparently unable to penetrate the perimeter because it was blocked by an embassy water tanker, the suicide bomber detonated his charge at 10:39 a.m. at a distance of about 35 feet from the outer wall of the chancery. The type and quantity of explosives are still under investigation.

The bomb attack killed eleven people; one other is missing and presumed dead. Another 85 people were injured. No Americans were among the fatalities, but many were injured, two of them seriously. The chancery suffered major structural damage and was rendered unusable, but it did not collapse. No one inside the chancery was killed, in part due to the strength of the structure and in part to simple luck. A number of third-country diplomatic facilities and residences in the immediate vicinity were severely damaged, and several American Embassy residences were destroyed, as were dozens of vehicles. The American Ambassador’s residence, a thousand yards distant and vacant at the time, suffered roof damage and collapsed ceilings.

At the time of the attack, two contract local guards were on duty inside a perimeter guard booth, while two others were in the pedestrian entrance screening area behind the booth and another was in the open area behind the water truck. All five were killed in the blast. The force of the blast propelled the filled water tanker over three stories into the air. It came to rest against the chancery building, having absorbed some of the shock wave that otherwise would have hit the chancery with even greater force. The driver of the water tanker was killed, but his assistant, seen in the area shortly before the explosion, is missing without trace and presumed dead.

Read in full here.

(;_;)

 

 

 

 

Crisis Management Exercise – Also Known as “Just More of That FSI Crap”

That’s what apparently one ambassador called it within hearing distance of the staff. The ambassador is a career Foreign Service officer.

In the aftermath of the 1998 twin bombings of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the State Department expanded its crisis management training program to allow most Foreign Service employees to participate in an exercise each tour.  If memory serves us right, the CME is part of the recommendations of the ARB Nairobi/Dar.  According to a recent OIG report on FSI, posts that have experienced civil unrest, terrorism, and natural disasters in recent years reported that the exercises were invaluable in preparing them for real crises.

Even a small post like the US Consulate in Ponta Delgada in the Azores did one last September:

The U.S. Consulate conducted a Crisis Management Exercise on September 4, 2012.  The training exercise, designed to practice crisis management procedures in the case of a major natural or man-made disaster type scenario, stressed the importance of emergency planning and preparedness.  Visiting U.S. Foreign Service Institute training facilitator Ruth Abramson covered emergency planning fundamentals, guidance regarding crises, and led participants through a series of fictional yet realistic disaster situations.  This year’s exercise included host government officials which greatly enhanced the scope of the training and accentuated the importance of communication in times of crisis.  Principal Officer Rafael A. Perez highlighted the need for all American Citizens living in the Azores to register with the U.S. Consulate in Ponta Delgada – especially dual citizens.

CME at the US Consulate Ponta Delgada (via USCon Azores)

CME at the US Consulate Ponta Delgada (via USConsulate Azores)

A chief of mission who considers the CME crap sends a signal to his/her staff that the exercise not only lacks merit but is also a waste of time.  And if the person at the top does not take it seriously, how can anyone expect the rest of the mission to take it seriously?

We thought we might update this Crisis-Prepared Vs. Crisis-Unready list extracted from the FAM.  We added the last two items on the list for um, clarity.

From the lessons learned over time and in numerous crises, from natural disasters to terrorist bombings we have developed a strong concept of what NOT to be or do. If you and your colleagues can assure yourselves that the following characteristics of a crisis-prone organization do not describe you or your consular section, you should be able to tackle whatever crisis you encounter .

If the following describes your post, then you need some serious help:

♥ Does not know where it is at risk

♥  Does not routinely communicate internally or externally

♥ Has not considered how to respond

♥ Has not identified key managers

♥ Has unclear policy guidance

♥ Has no emergency procedures/checklists

♥ Has an uncertain/unclear media policy and strategy

♥ Cannot anticipate

♥ Is concerned more with liability than results

♥ Chief of Mission refers to CME as “just more of that FSI crap”

♥ Chief of Mission has been heard on more than one occasion hoping for the Ambassador and DCM to “get killed in the first few minutes of the exercise” so they can leave early.

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