@StateDept Spox Talks “No Double Standard Policy” and 7 FAM 052 Loudly Weeps

Posted: 2:58 am ET

 

So we asked about the State Department’s “no double stand policy” on December 5 after media reports say that classified cables went out  in the past 2 weeks warning US embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible @POTUS announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On December 7, the State Department press corps pressed the official spokesperson about a cable that reportedly asked agency officials to defer all nonessential travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Note that the security messages issued by multiple posts on December 5 and 6 with few exceptions were personal security reminders, and warnings of potential protests.  The Worldwide Caution issued on December 6 is an update “with information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions, political violence, and criminal activity against U.S. citizens and interests abroad.

None of the messages released include information that USG officials were warned to defer non-essential travel to the immediate affected areas. When pressed about this apparent double standard, the official spox insisted that “unfortunately, just as State Department policy, we don’t comment on official – whether or not there was an official communication regarding — regarding this.”

Noooooooooooooooooo!

The spox then explained  what the “no double standard” policy means while refusing to comment on official communication that potentially violates such policy. And if all else fails, try “hard to imagine that our lawyers have not gone through things.”  

Holy moly guacamole, read this: 7 FAM 052  NO DOUBLE STANDARD POLICY

In administering the Consular Information Program, the Department of State applies a “no double standard” policy to important security threat information, including criminal information.

Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.

If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.

The Department’s “No Double Standard” policy, provided in 7 FAM 052, is an integral part of CA/OCS’s approach to determine whether to send a Message.  The double standard we guard against is in sharing threat-related information with the official U.S. community — beyond those whose job involves investigating and evaluating threats — but not disseminating it to the U.S. citizen general public when that information does or could apply to them as well.

Also this via 7 FAM 051.2(b) Authorities (also see also 22 CFR 71.1, 22 U.S.C. 2671 (b)(2)(A), 22 U.S.C. 4802, and 22 U.S.C. 211a):

…The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there.  By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations.  Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, or how that information is to be presented.

As to the origin of this policy, we would need to revisit the Lockerbie Bombing and Its Aftermath (this one via ADST’s Oral History).

The State Department’s official spokesperson via the Daily Press Briefing, December 7, 2017:

QUESTION: So a cable went out to all U.S. diplomatic and consular missions yesterday that asked State Department officials to defer all nonessential travel to the entirety of Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Normally when you are discouraging American officials from going to a particular area, under the no double standard rule, you make that public to all U.S. citizens so that they have the same information. I read through the Travel Warnings on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza yesterday, both in the middle of the day and then at the end of the day after the worldwide caution, and I saw no similar warning to U.S. citizens or advice to U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to those areas. Why did you say one thing in private to U.S. officials and another thing – and not say the same thing in public to U.S. citizens?

MS NAUERT: Let me state the kinds of communication that we have put out to American citizens and also to U.S. Government officials. And one of the things we often say here is that the safety and security of Americans is our top priority. There are top policy priorities, but that is our overarching, most important thing, the safety and security of Americans.

We put out a security message to U.S. citizens on the 5th of December – on Monday, I believe it was. We put out a security message to our U.S. citizens that day – that was Tuesday? Okay, thank you – on the 5th of December. We put out another one on the 6th of December as well, expressing our concerns. We want to alert people to any possible security situations out of an abundance of caution. That information was put, as I understand it, on the State Department website, but it was also issued by many of our posts overseas in areas where we thought there could be something that could come up.

In addition to that, there is a Travel Warning that goes out regarding this region. That is something that is updated every six months, I believe it is. This Travel Warning for the region has been in effect for several, several years, so that is nothing new. In addition to that, we put out a worldwide caution. That is updated every six months. We had a worldwide caution in place for several years, but yesterday, out of an abundance of caution, we updated it. As far as I’m aware of, and I won’t comment on any of our internal communications to say whether or not there were any of these internal communications because we just don’t do that on any matter, but I think that we’ve been very clear with Americans, whether they work for – work for the U.S. Government or whether they’re citizens traveling somewhere, about their safety and security. This is also a great reminder for any Americans traveling anywhere around the world to sign up for the State Department’s STEP program, which enables us to contact American citizens wherever they are traveling in the case of an emergency if we need to communicate with them.

QUESTION: But why did you tell your officials not to travel to those areas between December 4th and December 20th, and not tell American citizens the same things? Because you didn’t tell that to American citizens in all of the messages that you put up on the embassy website, on the consulate website, nor did you tell American citizens that in a Worldwide Caution, nor did you tell them that in the link to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza that was put out by the State Department in the Worldwide Caution yesterday. You’re telling your people inside one thing, and you’re telling American citizens a different thing, and under your own rules, you are – there is supposed to be no double standard. Why didn’t you tell U.S. citizens the same thing you told the U.S. officials?

MS NAUERT: Again, unfortunately, just as State Department policy, we don’t comment on official – whether or not there was an official communication regarding —

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Saibo

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: – regarding this. But I can tell you as a general matter, I think we have been very clear about the security concerns regarding Americans. We have put out those three various subjects or types of communications to American citizens who are traveling in areas that could be affected.

QUESTION: I’m going to ask you –

MS NAUERT: In terms of the U.S. Government, when we talk about the U.S. Government deferring non-essential travel, I would hope that people would not travel for non-essential reasons just as a general matter anyway.

QUESTION: But why – I’m going to ask you a hypothetical, which I would ask you to entertain, if you’ll listen to it.

MS NAUERT: I’ll listen to it. I’d be happy to listen to it.

QUESTION: If there were such communication, and you know and every U.S. diplomat who gets an ALDAC, which means every other person who works at the State Department knows that this communication went out – so if there were such communication, why would you say one thing to your own officials and a different thing to American citizens —

MS NAUERT: As our —

QUESTION: – which is what the law and your own rules require?

MS NAUERT: As you well know, we have a no “double standard.” And for folks who aren’t familiar with what that means, it’s when we tell our staff something about a particular area or a security threat, we also share that same information with the American public. I would find it hard to imagine that our lawyers have not gone through things to try to make sure that we are all on the same page with the information that we provide to U.S. Government officials as well as American citizens. And that’s all I have for you on that. Okay? Let’s move on to something else.

#

Advertisements

#Jerusalem Recognition: Security Messages and Suspension of Services #USEmbassies

Posted: 1:46 pm PT
Updated: 9:41 pm PT

 

Update: As of 1315 EST on December 6, 2017, the State Department has established a task force to track worldwide developments following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The task force is located in the Operations Center and will include representatives from NEA, SCA, EUR, EAP, CA, DS, PM, PA, and H.

On December 6, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel (see Trump Admin Gets Multiple Warnings That Jerusalem Recognition Could Trigger Dangerous Consequences).

Politico reported on December 4 that the State Department has warned American embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible announcement. “The warning — delivered in the past week via two classified cables described by State Department officials — reflects concern that such an announcement could provoke fury in the Arab world.”

A day before the expected Jerusalem recognition announcement, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem issued a security message informing citizens that U.S. government employees and their family members are not permitted until further notice to conduct personal travel in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Bethlehem and Jericho.  It also notes that official travel  by U.S. government employees in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank is permitted only to conduct essential travel and with additional security measures. (See Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Jerusalem, Demonstrations on December 6).

On December 6, US Embassy Amman in Jordan reminded U.S. citizens of the need for caution and awareness of personal security.  It also  temporarily suspended routine public services. As well, U.S. government personnel and their family members in Jordan are limiting public movements, including an instruction for children not to attend school on December 7, 2017.(see Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Amman (Jordan), Possibility of Demonstrations, Temporary Suspension of Routine Public Services).

As of this writing, the following posts have issued security messages related to the Jerusalem recognition, some outside the immediate region.  Some of our posts in the NEA Bureau have yet to issue similar messages.

Should we remind folks of their “no double standard policy”?

Generally, if the State Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.  If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.

The following security messages via DS/OSAC:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Berlin (Germany), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Minsk (Belarus), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Ankara (Turkey), Demonstrations on December 6

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Lisbon (Portugal), White House Announcement on Jerusalem

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Rome (Italy), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Madrid (Spain), Personal Security Reminder

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: London (United Kingdom), Possible Protests

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Rabat (Morocco), Demonstrations

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Cairo (Egypt), President Trump’s Announcement that the United States Recognizes Jerusalem as the Capital

#

U.S. Embassy Bulgaria Issues/Withdraws Security Message, PM Reacts to Threat Alert on Sofia Buses

Posted: 1:04 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

On March 23, the U.S. Embassy in Sofia issued a Security Message regarding a possible threat against an unspecified bus line or bus lines in the vicinity of Hotel Pliska (Boulevard “Tsarigradsko shose” 87), in the eastern Sofia neighborhood of Istok.  It advised American citizens to avoid the area and to find alternate means of transportation.

A few hours later, the message was withdrawn, the embassy posting “Security Alert no longer in effect” on its website.  According to novanite.com, the alert has angered the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov who is quoted as saying, “The information… does not match reality.”

Domestic security agency DANS and the Interior Ministry have already checked the warning submitted to 112, the emergency hotline, Borisov has explained in a statement that follows a message by the US State Department citing the country’s embassy in Sofia.

“The checkup found out it was all about unsettled love relations between a Bulgarian and a foreign national,” he has added.

Borisov has also slammed US diplomats for exporting to the public “the information received by their Bulgarian counterparts” and for doing so in an “absolutely unacceptable way”.

The security message follows the bombings in Brussels and Ankara, the latter a subject of much speculation online that Embassy Ankara had to release a statement on how it became aware of the threat.

Reuters reports that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov also says, “I want to assure Bulgarian citizens that the state investigates any indication of a threat to citizens and would not withhold such a thing from the public if there was the slightest danger to life and limb.”

Since the embassy received the information from their Bulgarian counterparts, the USG officials in Sofia were obligated to disseminate  the information or they’d run afoul of the USG’s No Double Standard policy (see 7 FAM 052).

Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.  If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.

In this case, if the embassy told its employees “to avoid” a specific area and “to find alternate means of transportation” due to a possible threat, they are required to share that information with U.S. nationals living in Bulgaria. Except in extraordinarily urgent circumstances, posts are cautioned not to issue an Emergency Message or a Security Message pertaining to safety or  security of private U.S. citizens without first clearing the language with the Department.

 

#

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

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

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.

* * *

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

A New Travel Warning for Egypt? No Comment or Howabout “There Are No Guarantees In This Business”

The NYT reported on May 11 that Egyptian security forces have arrested three militants with ties to Al Qaeda who were planning terrorist attacks in Egyptian cities and against a foreign embassy.  An unnamed western official told the NYT that the Egyptians had privately identified the embassy as the US Embassy in Cairo. Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said at a news conference that the suspects had been arrested with 22 pounds of explosive materials and instructions on how to make bombs and build rockets and model airplanes to use in the attacks.

He said the suspects were ‘‘on the verge’’ of attacking an embassy when they were arrested.

The State Department would not comment on the Egyptian allegations. ‘‘We don’t discuss the specifics of our operations nor the exchanges we have with foreign officials,’’ said Jennifer R. Psaki, a department spokeswoman.

As of this writing, there is no USG Travel Warning issued for Egypt.  There is a Travel Alert dated March 29, 2013 that talks about “the continuing possibility of political and social unrest, incidents of which have led to recent violence.” Also that “There have been no reports of U.S. citizens being targeted specifically because of their nationality; however, in isolated instances, Westerners and U.S. citizens have been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations.”

That March 29 alert made no mention of al-Qaeda or terrorism in Egypt. The Embassy’s Messages to U.S. Citizens do not appear to include any details about the October 2012 incident where an al-Qaeda cell was caught in Cairo’s Nasr City. At least, we could not find anything on the embassy or OSAC’s website.

We have several contacts in Egypt and one of them shared with us the security advisory sent by an international organization to its 1,000 plus personnel in Egypt on May 11. Below is an excerpt:

Egyptian security forces reportedly apprehended three militants with alleged ties to al-Qaeda in Alexandria and Cairo on May 11. Initial reports indicate militants planned to execute suicide bombings in central locations in Cairo and Alexandria in the coming days, including in Metro stations. Mohammed Ibrahim then added that their target was a “foreign embassy”, which other reports claimed was the French Embassy in Cairo’s Giza district.

The minister further stated that the cell is related to a previous cell that was apprehended in Nasr City on October 24, 2012. In that incident, forces raided a suspected militant hideout in Cairo’s Nasr City District, killing one suspect said to have been linked to the deadly September 11 Consulate in Benghazi.

The security advisory on its assessment says that the arrests highlight the continued presence of Islamist militants “throughout Egypt and their connection with transnational extremist networks.”

The advisory also notes that the militants of the Nasr City cell who were apprehended in October last year were arrested on suspicion of possessing weapons, engineering attacks in Cairo, planning assassinations of government leaders, and smuggling weapons from Libya to support the rebels in Syria. It warns that “A suicide attack in the immediate term highlights militants’ ability to advance beyond the preliminary stages of planning attacks, which coincides with the ongoing security and intelligence vacuum that emerged following the January 2011 revolution.”

Apparently, there were reports claiming that the target was the French Embassy. The advisory addressed this but appeared convinced that “there remains a high likelihood” that the US Embassy Cairo may have ben the target due to the “notable rise in Anti-US sentiments” since the Arab Spring:

In case the French Embassy was not the intended target, we assess there remains a high likelihood that other Western missions in Cairo may have been targets, primarily the U.S. and Israeli embassies. This is due to a notable rise in anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli sentiments in North Africa since the 2011 upheaval.

Also — the security advisory points to the potential risk for reprisal attacks in the aftermath of the arrests:

As details emerge regarding the background of the detainees, we assess that the risk for reprisal attacks in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt will increase.  This threat is likely to include, but is not limited to, the targeting of security installations as well as foreign interests. Furthermore, in case the planned attack was indeed related to the situation in Mali, this threat applies to Western-affiliated interests in the Middle East and Africa regions as a whole, and not solely in Egypt. 

Via Google Earth

Google Earth

Okay then —

We’re going to have to ask a delicate question – which will annoy folks at Embassy Cairo’s front office.

Did post management know that there is this threat? Does it know about the threat to the mission now?

If the answer is “no” — does that mean their local and intel contacts are plainly useless? But … but …see, apparently “Egyptian officials have reportedly told their American counterparts that the US Embassy was a target.”

Well, then if that is true, then the answer had to be a “yes.” In which case the policy of “No Double Standard” kicks in. That’s the part where if/when the Department shares information with the official U.S. community (as in travel warnings/alerts/consular info program), it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals (see 7 FAM 052.1).

So far we haven’t seen anything from US Embassy Cairo.  This is a curious case that’s bugging our OCD plenty.

Update on May 12@9:50 am:  Wait — we posted this past midnight last night and  this morning, a blog pal kindly knocked us on the head on this — telling the blog that it is “easy” to get around the No Double Standard policy.  See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  So, really —  if you carry on as before, and you don’t change official behavior or advice, you don’t need to tell anyone.

Oops …. but… but … oh, dammit!!

If you missed our blog post on US Embassy Cairo on May 11th, see  US Embassy Egypt: From the Real Post Reports, the New Cairo; Plus Western Embassy Targeted.  That post merit at least a triple curse!

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

US Embassy Guyana: Is this the consequence of midlevel staffing/experience gaps?

On Thursday, July 18, three persons were killed when police opened fire on protestors in Linden opposed to the increase in electricity rates. Linden is the second largest town in Guyana after Georgetown, and the capital of the Upper Demerara-Berbice region. According to local reports, police said they were forced to fire pellets into the crowd because many of them were robbing persons and burning vehicles.

Map extracted from 2008 OIG report of US Embassy Guyana

Also on Thursday, the following message was posted on US Embassy Guyana’s Facebook page:

Statement by Diplomatic Representatives of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America on the Deaths of Protesters in Linden

Georgetown, Guyana – The diplomatic representatives of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America wish to express their profound regret at the tragic loss of life that took place July 18th in Linden. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives or suffered injury.

We appeal to all parties and stakeholders to work together in a spirit of national unity to prevent any further violence and to resolve current tensions through an open and inclusive dialogue.

The same local report says that “…. the United States embassy in an internal memo told staff to stay away from Linden, the scene of “violent protests,” and be careful when moving about in Georgetown where there are “ongoing protests.”

One of our readers named anon y mouse, noting the absence of a Warden Message on the Embassy website, or a Travel Alert on travel.state.gov. asked if there is a “double standard” here.

We will crib here from our old blog post on Bogota about the “no double standard policy:”

The State Department has what is called the “no double standard” policy  in its travel information program. 7 FAM dictates that if State shares important security threat information including criminal information with the official U.S. community, such information should also be made available to the non-official U.S. community.  Selective notification is against the law.  The regs also says that “If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/U.S. non-citizen nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.”

And actually 7 FAM 053.2-2 (e) below has very clear reminders which says:

“Remember that if you conclude you should warn your personnel or any U.S. Government employees, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, your request for Department approval to warn post personnel should also include a request to share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “no double standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052). The policy applies whether the information is shared with U.S. Government employees in town meetings, in post newsletters, by e-mail, or on the telephone. The threat or warning information might include information about locations within the host country including hotels, restaurants, entertainment spots, places of worship, tourist sites, etc. Unless the threat is specific to a particular institution for reasons peculiar to that institution, you should not list names of specific locations, including names of hotels or restaurants, for which threat or warning information is available. You should also refrain from developing lists of “approved” hotels. In providing such lists to the community, you may actually increase the risk that perpetrators could change the target, thus increasing the risk to U.S. citizens/nationals who may be relying on such lists. (underlined for emphasis).

We checked the embassy’s website and social media presence.  There was that message on Facebook from the diplomatic reps, including the United States, and there is a tweet referencing it but there is no emergency or warden message on the embassy’s website or FB/Twitter or in the embassy blog, The Demerara Diaries.

Via FB

Via Twitter

Via US Embassy Guyana website, screen grab of July 21, 2012

But on July 19, the US Embassy actually issued an Emergency Message to US citizens. But you won’t know that from checking the embassy’s website or visiting its social media accounts.  Why? Because it’s not there.  We actually found it on the Diplomatic Security-run OSAC website here only because we knew what we were looking for.

Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens: Demonstrations in Linden (Guyana)
Political Violence
Western Hemisphere > Guyana > Georgetown
7/19/2012
This message advises U.S. citizens in Guyana to exercise caution when in public due to violent protests in Linden and ongoing protests in Georgetown in response to a rise in electricity rates. The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens in Guyana to limit your movement in and around Georgetown and Linden and to avoid unnecessary travel throughout the country.

The recent protests in Linden resulted in property damage and loss of life.  Protests are being held July 19 at Eve Leary Police Headquarters in response to the events in Linden.  Protests in Georgetown are ongoing and may extend to other locations.

The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid large public gatherings. Be aware of traffic delays and increased pedestrian presence in the potential problem areas listed above. Note that this list of problem areas is not comprehensive, and you should exercise caution throughout Guyana.

Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable.  You should avoid them if at all possible.  Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what the local news media has to say.

Really, how useful are those social media platforms?  To our last count, the embassy has two Facebook pages (one solely for the consular section). It has a separate photo gallery, streaming videos and is on Flickr, Twitter and Tumblr.  And not a single one of these outlets has the link to the emergency message, that it’s own consular section presumably put out on July 19.  Would a US citizen in Guyana know to look at the OSAC website for the embassy’s emergency message? (Note: As of July 22, 3:26 AM EST, no relevant update on the embassy’s website/social media fronts).

In addition to that, Guyanese Online published what it says is an internal memo to embassy employees, part of which says:

“Regional Security Officer (RSO) advises to limit your exposure in and around Georgetown to necessary travel. Travel to Linden is prohibited until further notice,” states the document.

There are a couple of things at issue here: 1) the Emergency Message published via OSAC and the internal memo from RSO are not anywhere on the embassy’s online presence; could be due to IT issues (like webmaster on leave, no back up) or internet availability (we’re stretching here but we don’t know how good or bad is the accessibility in country). The message after it’s cleared must go to the PA or IT section, or the social media ninjas and whoever is in charge of maintaining the website.  We won’t call this a double standard since the Emergency Message actually went out; the fact that it’s not on the embassy’s website or related outlets is more like somebody dropping the ball …. because it happens.

2) the Emergency Message did not include the fact that embassy employees were prohibited from traveling to Linden until further notice. This is the more troubling part, because the regs are darn clear. And it appears that in this case, the embassy told official Americans they are prohibited from traveling to Linden, but did not/not share this information with the non-official American community in its Emergency Message.  But then we saw this:

Via US Embassy Guyana website, screen capture of July 21, 2012

We can’t help but wonder if this is all a simple oversight/folks dropping the ball into the ocean or if this is an example of the consequences of the Foreign Service midlevel staffing and experience gaps reported by GSO  GAO recently?  (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

The last time the OIG visited the US Embassy Guyana was in 2008. It is one of those posts described as “previously neglected” as a “back water” post – among the last in line to receive support” according to the 2008 report.

At the time of that inspection, the report said that “it is regrettable the Department has not done a better job of ensuring that some experienced consular cone officers are regularly assigned to this hard-to-fill post. Its consular section was (maybe still is) staffed by “an assortment of Civil Service officers on excursion tours, out-of-cone and entry-level Foreign Service officers, and a consular associate.”

The 2008 inspection also reported the following details:

  • “the regional security office has had a rotation of 15 temporary duty regional security officers before the arrival of the incumbent.”
  • “Numerous temporary-duty employees have been sent from Wash­ington to fill gaps, at least partially, but this leads to a lack of continuity in positions where there is not a strong corps of LE staff to provide historical perspective.”
  • “28 LE staff was terminated in the past two years,” but the report points out that “none was terminated for malfeasance, notwithstanding a his­tory of such problems that included a previous consular officer.”

Staffing at the embassy was reportedly “chronically short,” despite being accorded a 25 percent hardship allowance and and official designation as a hard-to-fill post.

As of July 15, 2012, Guyana is a 25% hardship and 25% COLA assignment.

We’d like to think that something happened since 2008 to fix the problems pointed out in the 2008 report of US Embassy Guyana. But — Guyana remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and unless we missed it, the country has not moved into a “front water” priority post for the State Department.

And seriously? — with AIP posts sucking out the oxygen from practically every part of the U.S. Foreign Service, who has a spare oxygen tank for a post like Georgetown?

But – despite all that we can’t give post an easy pass.  Given that the protection of US citizens is one of the embassy’s most important responsibility overseas or so they say, the American Citizen Services chief (or if there isn’t one, the Consular chief) should have been working hand in glove with the embassy’s Security Officer. And if neither the consular section nor the security office is well versed on the “no double standard” policy — surely somebody at the front office has this drummed into their heads?

We just hope that no US citizen becomes a victim at the next riots in Linden.

Update@ 11:55 AM PST
Peter Van Buren
, a Consular Officer before he was put on deep ice, points out another possible explanation:

Let’s imagine inside the Embassy the usual fight about saying anything bad about the host nation. RSO and/or CONs knows of the danger and wants to warn people, which will trigger the “no double standard” rule. POL and/or the Front Office are worried about bilateral relations. So, the “compromise” is to release the info publicly, sort of, in a way that gets it out there enough for CYA but not enough to create a stir.
I saw this more than once in my own career. RSO or CONs used the channel it controls (newsletter) to disseminate info and the Front Office blocked it from the channel it controls (web site).
Ah yes, that familiar bureaucratic battle.  Although more often than not, we think that battle occurs in relation to the issuance of the Consular Information Sheet or the Travel Warning.  Warden/emergency messages are not exempted from that battle, of course, but we don’t know if that’s what happened here.  If it is, then that’s when you need a Consular Officer, one with balls who will stand up to POL and/or the front office on the mat of 7 FAM 050.

Domani Spero