We originally created a tracker for COVID-19 cases for the State Department and our Foreign Service posts on March 21. We updated that post on March 22. (See Tracking COVID-19 Cases at State Department and Foreign Service Posts (Updated)).
Since Pompeo’s quip at a presser on March 17 that “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests” we still don’t have official breakdown of numbers as to how many employees and family members have actually been infected, how many have recovered from the virus, or even how many were tested, or how many have been medically evacuated for COVID-19.
The last couple of days even with Senior State Department officials doing their “Special Briefing”, we still don’t have a good official count on numbers and places where there are positive, suspected, or quarantined staffers/family members due to COVID-19 cases.
On March 23, SSDO said:
“So the domestic numbers are easier to quantify just based on communications with posts abroad. Obviously, this is a rapidly evolving situation, especially in the overseas environment. I can tell you we’re still at single digits here in the United States with cases – one each, two each, three each in Washington; Houston; Boston; New York; Quantico, Virginia; and Seattle. So the numbers themselves are – overseas are still double-digit. We’re looking at less than 30 scattered over 220 posts around the world, and it remains a challenge. Obviously, the – this type of outbreak, had we known earlier what the epidemiology was and had some of that data, perhaps we would have a better feel for how this was going to move across our overseas posts. But we are keeping pace with it. And again, the number at this point is less than 30.”
In our updated COVID-19 tracker we are noting this info as “fuzzy math.”
On March 24, the SSDO was asked “out of the approximately 40 or so cases of COVID-positive people that you’ve got at State, how many are FSOs and how many are local staff?”. SSDO responded:
“In terms of the cases that we’re following from the State Department’s perspective, I don’t have the precise breakdown in front of me of how many of our direct-hire employees versus local staff. I certainly can get that information. But again, it changes so rapidly that it’s – we just want to focus on the fact that we’re doing everything we can to take care of our people overseas, and for our local staff who are so important to our operations do what we can to facilitate their getting care in the local economy. ”
On March 25, Dr. William Walters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Operations was one of the briefers and said:
“So it’s important to remember that the State Department is about 75,000 – a 75,000-person workforce overseas. We’re tracking 58 current cases in our overseas workforce, spread across the – each – one to 11 cases – I’m sorry, 33 cases is the largest number in any particular regional bureau. But at 58 cases, that’s less than one in 1,000, and that’s a direct result of aggressive actions through the Bureau of Medical Services, through the chiefs of mission at post, and implementing social distancing and telework and all the things that the department has been working so hard at over the past several weeks. Domestically, we’re tracking 16 cases in five cities, the largest at just eight. So that’s 16 cases across thousands of employees. Again, the department has taken this very seriously, has implemented just the right non-pharmaceutical interventions to keep that workforce safe.
Tracker is not embeddable right now, so the links do not work; however, we have links as reference and can post separately, as needed. The newest addition in the update below includes the cases in Madrid, which we were originally informed were 6 positive cases, and now are at reportedly 16 positive cases. Also includes the fuzzy accounting from the March 24 briefing on domestic cases, and the presumptive positive case at SA-1 per internal email on the night of March 24. After we updated the tracker, we saw the March 25 briefing with MED”s Walters and CA’s Brownlee. Walter mentions “tracking 58 current cases” with 33 cases as the highest in one unnamed regional bureau, plus 16 cases in five unidentified cities domestically (3/23 briefing notes six cities).
We think that the fuzziness is intentional. It is very likely that MED (perhaps even Ops) has detailed trackers internal to those offices and could provide a straight-forward breakdown like DOD, if they want to. We’re hearing complaints of “no central info on cases department wide”. As of March 25, based on official briefers, domestic cases went from single digits on 3/23 to 16 domestically; and less than 30 on 3/23 to 58 overseas.
Updated: March 28, 9:45 am PDT
A Health Alert from US Embassy Lima in Peru notes that post is continuing its operations and is “coordinating with the Peruvian Government to arrange repatriation flights over the next few days for U.S. citizens to return to the United States.”
Post’s Alert issued on Tuesday said that “As of March 24, approximately 700 Americans have departed Peru on repatriation flights. It also announced the departure from post of Ambassador Urs, and the travel to Peru of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung “to support our aggressive repatriation efforts.”
“For medical reasons, Ambassador Krishna Urs departed Peru on March 20. He continues to engage from Washington with senior Peruvian officials as well as to support the Department’s efforts on behalf of the United States.”
As of 5:00PM on March 25, post said it has repatriated over 1000 Americans from Peru.
In video below released by Embassy Lima, the Chargé d’Affaires Denison K. Offutt says that there are currently over 5,000 Americans in Peru. We don’t know if all of them are asking to return to the United States, but if so, this would be one of the largest evacuations of U.S. citizens from overseas at this time. This is not as huge as the nearly 15,000 evacuation from Lebanon in 2006 but the logistics of moving a large number of people to the United States with border closures and limited air traffic during a pandemic will be extraordinarily challenging.
According to Embassy Lima, the Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time. Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020. At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).
Update from post indicates unusual difficulties with host country in obtaining permission for these repatriation flights . First, the Government of Peru told Ambassador Urs on March 23 that it had authorized repatriation flights, only for the contracted airline to notify the embassy at night that the flights are not approved. The following day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to US Embassy Lima that no U.S. flights had been approved. Ambassador Urs then spoke to the Peruvian Foreign Minister at 6:45 a.m., during which time, he was reportedly assured that the permissions would be granted in time. The Peruvian government ultimately declined to provide the proper clearances for a LATAM flight to pick up Americans stranded in Cusco. A charter flight operated by American Airlines departed Miami with a scheduled arrival at 12:30 p.m. Embassy Lima said that the Peruvian government also declined to approve permits for the charter flight, so the pilot returned the airplane to Miami.
Something’s going on there, hey?
During the March 25 Special Briefing, CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam “a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government” and that the “information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes.”
Embassy Lima’s update on March 25 said that there were two flights scheduled today, but these are “booked with humanitarian priority individuals, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian, and other adults in need of medical assistance.” Also that “the U.S. Embassy is scheduling additional flights for this week pending Peruvian government authorization.” As of March 25, Embassy Lima was able to get its first flight from Cusco to Miami (via Lima) and is reportedly scheduling a flight from Iquitos to Miami. So that’s good news.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne confirmed that Canada received the go-ahead for 3 Air Canada flights to bring stranded Canadians home from Peru this week.
On March 21, Politico reported that a U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Peruvian government is not allowing Americans stuck in Peru to leave until the White House ensures thousands of Peruvians are given safe passage home.[…] “The government of Peru is basically holding these Americans hostage,” the U.S. official said. “They want the U.S. to fill planes with Peruvians before they’ll let the planes land to pick up Americans. But they’re not ready or organized in the United States to gather their people up, and they don’t want to pay for the flight.“
Could Peru wait this out or slow this down as Americans stuck in Peru fumes louder, and clogs congressional offices with complaints? Already Senator Rubio (R-
Texas FL) has publicly scolded the State Department for Americans stuck in Peru “due to lack or (sic) urgency by some in mid-level of @StateDept.”
Except that Peru apparently wants something from the White House not the State Department.
March 25 DOS Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam in Peru a “capacity issue:”
The logjam there was a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government. To reduce this to simplicity, we had commitment from the senior-most levels of the government – from the foreign minister, et cetera, the ministerial level – that yes, the flight yesterday Monday would be able to go forward – flights yesterday Monday would be able to go forward. That information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes, and so the American Airlines flight that was going into Lima literally turned around as it was preparing to enter Peruvian airspace because it didn’t have the permit necessary.
The difficulty arises there from the fact that there was some infections in the civil aviation authority and in the civilian side of the airport, and they just shut down that entire entity and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport. We’re helping them address this shortfall by – we’ve taken the INL, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement hangar on the military side of the airport, taken everything out of it. We’re arranging chairs in there at socially distant appropriate spacing and we’re preparing to use that as a working space, a processing space to move people through. We’re also preparing to send down a flyaway team of consular officers and we have a senior officer from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs going down to assist as well. So we’re doing what we can to help the Peruvians fill that sort of capacity gap, and we hope – we hope – that this will keep things moving more fluidly in the future. Out.
— Embajada EEUU Perú (@USEMBASSYPERU) March 23, 2020
Today close to 300 more U.S. citizens departed Peru on two flights from Lima and Cusco. We have now repatriated close to 1,000 U.S. citizens. We know we are not finished and we will continue our efforts until we repatriate all U.S. citizens seeking to return home. pic.twitter.com/MRldlOHWUn
— Embajada EEUU Perú (@USEMBASSYPERU) March 25, 2020
All of our energy is focused on getting American citizens back safely to the U.S.
So far today an additional 106 citizens departed, bringing the total to over 600. pic.twitter.com/l6DZGIWYDs
— Embajada EEUU Perú (@USEMBASSYPERU) March 23, 2020
(2/2) Be advised the government of #Peru is limiting air traffic for U.S. citizens to only official travel facilitated through U.S. government. We encourage all citizens to be mindful of fraud & scams &continue monitoring our official channels for the most up-to-date information
— Embajada EEUU Perú (@USEMBASSYPERU) March 22, 2020
U.S. Citizen Travelers: Please enroll in https://t.co/NRpFzarMGq to receive alerts & ensure you can be located in an emergency. U.S. Citizens in an Emergency: Call 1-888-407-4747 (U.S./Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 (overseas) or visit the Embassy page: https://t.co/gQCOPVupqL pic.twitter.com/1rVNwo53ER
— Embajada EEUU Perú (@USEMBASSYPERU) March 22, 2020
Americans stranded overseas because of the coronavirus are being told not to count on the US government to help them out. https://t.co/J2wHYqAgOy
— Nicholas Wadhams (@nwadhams) March 18, 2020
Stranded American travelers in Morocco say the United States government is not helping them get home, while the British and French authorities aid their citizens. https://t.co/GuDblOuYNi
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) March 19, 2020
New: A State Dept spox doesn’t rule out more evacuation flights for US citizens stranded overseas, telling @ABC, “We are considering all options to assist US citizens” impacted by govts suspending travel. Folks in Morocco, Peru are unable to get home now: https://t.co/l7J8bhi7J2
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) March 19, 2020
In Peru, where President Martin Vizcarra issued a 15-day nationwide state of emergency and border closure Sunday, US travelers say hundreds are stuck in the country without a means of departure https://t.co/x4yfjk0wWe
— CNN (@CNN) March 18, 2020
Americans still stranded abroad amid coronavirus travel bans race to get home.
"We are living in this constant state of chaos and uncertainty." https://t.co/JmCfx66DOK
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 18, 2020
Americans stranded around the world after transportation shutdowns and border closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic say they are struggling to get help from the State Department https://t.co/ymxqXRyy6H
— CNN (@CNN) March 19, 2020
On August 10, USA Today reported that the president has threatened retaliation Friday against countries and organizations that issue travel warnings on the United States because of gun violence (see Amnesty International Issues Travel Advisory For the United States of America).
The president said during the gaggle “We are a very reciprocal nation with me as the head. When somebody does something negative to us in terms of a country, we do it to them.”
Oh, Lordy, that’s going to be the end of the State Department’s Travel Advisories, wouldn’t it? Better not show him the other countries’ color coded map of the United States where these gun violence is happening, or that’s going to blow up the State Department’s travel advisory travel map, too.
But seriously, per Foreign Affairs Manual, the travel advisories are part of the Consular Affairs’ Consular Information Program (CIP). It is a public outreach program through which the Department of State, through the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), and U.S. embassies and consulates, “inform U.S. citizens and nationals of potential threats to their health or safety abroad and provide information about consular services.” Also this:
“All information provided to the public through the CIP represents the Department’s objective assessment of conditions in a given country based on reliable information available at the time of publishing, as reported by posts, various Department bureaus, other U.S. government agencies and departments, foreign governments, and credible open sources.”
Most importantly is this:
“Information provided through the CIP, including Travel Advisories and Alerts for U.S. citizens, is based on the overall assessment of the situation in country. By necessity, this analysis is undertaken without regard to political or economic considerations.”
The Travel Advisory Review Committee (TARC) brings Department stakeholders together to discuss security information and how it is relayed via Travel Advisories. TARC includes representatives from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, (DS/TIA/ITA); Post’s regional bureau; the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; the Office of the Under Secretary for Management; Representatives from other bureaus as appropriate based on the threat, to include: 1) Coordinator for Counter Terrorism (CT), when the threat is terrorism related; 2) Medical Services, when the threat is health related; 3) Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB/TRA/OP), if there are aviation issues; 4) Legal offices (OCS/L/CA), when there are legal issues; 5) The Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security (T), when there is a nuclear issue; 6) Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), when the threat is environmental; and 7) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), if threat presents human rights concerns, such as LGBTI issues.
The TARC is chaired by CA’s Overseas Citizen Services, an office that reports to the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch. Mr. Risch, however, has overall responsibility for the Consular Information Program (CIP), to include supervising and managing the program, and is authorized to determine the final wording of all products. CA’s Carl Risch reports to the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. U/Secretary Bulatao in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and Secretary Mike Pompeo.
So, if this president starts retaliating against countries that issue Travel Warnings for the United States, who’s going to tell him “no”? We’re ready to borrow the rules from the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, if needed.
So if the U.S. State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens that travel to a certain country is unsafe, and that country threatened retaliation, would we drop the warning?
— Tom the Dancing Bug (@RubenBolling) August 10, 2019
Posted: 3:04 am ET
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The State Department did a Background Briefing on State Department Communications With U.S. Citizens Overseas on July 7 with a senior agency official.
Below is an excerpt:
OPERATOR: Yes. Next we’ll go to the line of Jackie Northam with NPR. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much for doing this. I also have a couple of questions. And one is, is there any sort of consideration – I assume there is – about the economic impact of any of these Travel Warnings or advisories? I mean, tourism, surely, but also any sort of business deals that might be in the works, what sort of impact it’ll have on the host country.
And the other thing is I’m just trying to – I’m curious about why you’re doing this background call. Is – was something precipitated it? Was there just sort of a general, gosh, we should let everybody know, or did something happen that sort of pushed you to make this background call?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, Jackie, great questions. No, we do not consider the economic impact, because again, as I said, just as when we go into a host government and explain that the purpose of our Consular Information Program is to help U.S. citizens living and traveling abroad make good decisions about their activities and their travel plans, we do not take economic considerations into that mix. It’s purely about the security of American citizens. That said, we also work very closely with the Overseas Security Advisory Council – OSAC – which is a public-private partnership headed by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. And so we are able to use OSAC and all of its thousands of members – U.S. companies, academic organizations, NGOs – to help disseminate our Consular Information Program documents and our Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings, our Security and Emergency Messages. And obviously, those companies will take all of that into account; they will work with OSAC on doing risk assessments for their own purposes to help develop security plans and so forth for both their U.S. employees as well as other nationalities who work for the companies.
Why are we doing this now? I think because recently we’ve had so many questions from the press about the differences between Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings. We just felt that it was a good time to try to explain what this is all about.
Actually, the policy says it is undertaken without regard to — not just economic but also political consideration. Per 7 FAM 051.2:
Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. Government sources. 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.
The Foreign Affairs Manual also notes what happens when there are disagreements among bureaus:
Disagreements among bureaus over Cou..ntry Specific Information, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, or Messages are generally resolved by either the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) or the Under Secretary for Management (M).
So economic or political consideration was not/not the reason why it took a geographic bureau “months” to get the front office in a high threat post to agree to that new travel warning. It was the typewriter’s fault? Thank heavens that’s cleared up 😳!
Posted: 3:22 am ET
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We don’t have the numbers but we suspect it’s enough to merit attention from a travel insurance company. The State Department’s Consular Affairs Twitter arm, @TravelGov caused an uproar recently for something it tweeted recently under the #springbreakingbadly hashtag. There is now a parody account @, by the way, though we’re still waiting for it to get to a “10” in funnies. In any case, we have to use the following because the original tweet had been deleted:
Somebody on Twitter complained, “I really don’t even get the tweet lol.” Another tweeple explained, “It means don’t fall for people trying to flatter you because they may actually be trying to take advantage of you.” Okay. That random person’s explanation would have gone down better than the Bo Derek reference. The reactions to the “not a 10” tweet were quick:
We’re wondering if the handlers were told to stand in that corner and not/not do the Twitters again until further notice. But, look, the folks at the CA bureau know more than most folks what happens when spring break turns bad. They’re the people who visits American citizens in jail, deliver the bad news to family members back home, assist victims of crimes overseas, identify bodies in morgues, and assist in the repatriation of remains, among other things. If this uproar and attention, actually reaches the spring break traveling folks (18- to 24-year-old demographic) and save one or two and their families some spring break horror stories, then it might be worth standing in a corner even just for a bit.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ @TravelGov eventually apologized for the tweet.
We almost wished State/CA did a Spring Break Straight Talk event with real stories similar to those from the UK-FCO (see Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right? and British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More). Or something like the Top 10 Spring Break Horror Stories from the field. Oops! The “world’s most entertaining site” did one already with 10 Terrifying Real Life Spring Break Horror Stories last year. So best read that.
Anyway, we went looking for spring break crime statistics from the State Department. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs told us that they do not maintain statistics on arrests of, or crimes perpetrated against, U.S. citizens overseas during Spring Break. However, anecdotal information from its posts overseas and calls to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington indicates the most common crimes against U.S. citizens overseas are scams, robberies, and sexual assaults.
Here are some of the scenarios they want people (not just spring breakers) to be aware of:
- Travelers wooed into bars by “friendly” locals to share drinks, only to discover the drinks were priced at $100+ dollars and the U.S. citizen is expected to pay;(note: read this Pattaya Scams – How to avoid getting scammed in Pattaya (or anywhere else!)
- Travelers who unwittingly agree to carry packages from newfound local friends which contain drugs; (note: the average age of the couriers at about 59, with the oldest known courier 87 years old according to a congressional hearing in February this year).
- Travelers who are offered free drinks at bars only to be drugged, robbed, and/or sexually assaulted; (note: read this Buyer beware: 10 common travel scams)
- Travelers who drink too much and fall off hotel balconies (note: Travel Direct Insurance says that “Motorcycles are bad enough – throw in drink, drugs and no helmet, and you’re almost guaranteed a trip to the hospital. The same goes for jumping from third floor balconies. We witness enough tragedies as it is, so PLEASE think about your personal safety, your experience and your limits when you travel. It doesn’t matter whether you are 19 and it’s your first trip overseas or 59 and have seen half the world, don’t do things that are plain stupid.”
The bureau also points to its page on international scams which notes that scams evolve constantly, and the list includes examples and resources will help alert travelers to the indicators of some common scams.
The bureau also offers advice to travelers for spring break here, all reasonable like obeying local laws, not carrying weapons (not even a pocketknife), avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and drugs, and other commonsense advice.
Probably the most important thing to remember while in a foreign country is the non-portability of American rights. A U.S. citizen traveling overseas is subject to that foreign country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Also worth noting that while Uncle Sam can provide assistance when Americans are arrested or detained abroad, consular officers cannot demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen arrested abroad or otherwise cause the citizen to be released. They cannot represent a U.S. citizen at trial, or give legal advice, or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.
Posted: 2:03 am EDT
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On November 23rd, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert:
Here is part of the Worldwide Caution it issued in July:
The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. In August 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.
What’s the difference between a Worldwide Alert and Worldwide Caution?
Alerts are time-bound, true, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. Worldwide Caution is updated at least every six months.
The Fear Department is on it:
The Worldwide Travel Alerts and Worldwide Caution are parts of the State Department’s Consular Information Program (CIP). Below from the FAM:
The CIP “is not mandated by statute, but several statutes are relevant to the Department’s performance of this function: Section 505 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 requires the Secretary to notify Congress whenever the Department issues a Travel Warning because of a terrorist threat or other security concern (22 U.S.C. 2656e). Section 321(f) of the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, Public Law 101-604 (49 U.S.C. 44905), prohibits the notification of a civil aviation threat to “only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” See 7 FAM 052, No Double Standard Policy. 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.”
Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. government sources. 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, nor how that information is to be presented.
Who is responsible for the issuance of the travel information program?
Within the State Department, that would be the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele T. Bond who is responsible for supervising and managing the travel information program. But the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services has primary day-to-day supervisory responsibility for the program. That’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services Karen L. Christensen.
Within OCS, Michelle Bernier-Toth, the Managing Director in the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) is responsible for the day-to-day management and issuance of travel information, including coordinating the preparation of all Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Worldwide Cautions, Messages, and Fact Sheets before their release.
Here are a few things to know about the Travel Alerts:
- If a threat evaluated as credible, specific, and non-counterable is aimed at a broad group (e.g., U.S. citizens/nationals and/or U.S. interests generally), the Department will authorize the relevant post(s) to issue a Message, and may also issue or update a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or Worldwide Caution.
- The Department issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens/nationals. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations/violence, and high profile events such as an international conference or regional sports event are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
- Travel Alerts are issued for a specific period, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. If conditions warrant, the Department may cancel a Travel Alert before the end of the prescribed period via All Diplomatic and Consular Posts (ALDAC) cable and press release.
According to regs, CA/OCS reviews the Worldwide Caution continually and updates it at least every six months to ensure the most current general and regional safety and security information is shared with the U.S. citizen public.
The State Department admitted that it’s not offering a different advice from what it has been been saying for over 10 years in Worldwide Caution. And folks have certainly wondered if the threats evaluated in this current Travel Alert are “credible, specific, and non-counterable” as directed by its rules book, or just one more CYA exercise; that is, if CA doesn’t issue a warning/alert and something happens, you already know where the fingers will be pointed, but …
The Worldwide Caution already cites the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Worldwide Alert says that “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.” That’s not a short-term condition. And yet, the alert is only good until February 24, 2016. If the State Department issues an alert not based on credible and specific threats but simply on a belief that attacks could happen during a specific timeframe, how useful is that really?
The other concern, of course, is message fatigue. How long before folks stop taking this seriously?
Posted: 3:39 am EDT
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Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of eight books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which spent eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Last month, he wrote a piece about the civilian effort to save the five ISIS hostages.
New Yorker exclusive: Lawrence Wright’s definitive account of the secret civilian effort to save five ISIS hostages: http://t.co/jKQ6zdTiM7
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) June 24, 2015
The State Department appointed Carrie Greene, in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, to be a liaison with the families. She seemed impatient with their independent investigations. “You really shouldn’t be talking to these terrorists,” she warned. “It’s against the law.” Viva Hardigg responded, “Excuse me, Carrie, but we are well acquainted with U.S. laws, and if someone you love is being held by terrorists, with whom else should you talk?” Greene ended her e-mails with “Please enjoy your day!”
When Peter Kassig was kidnapped, his parents got a call from a State Department official. Paula recalls, “She basically said, ‘We know your son has been taken in Syria. We don’t have an embassy in Syria. We don’t have people on the ground in Syria. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with them, so we can’t do anything to help you.’ ” In May, 2014, the families had a joint meeting with Daniel Rubinstein, a special envoy appointed to handle affairs in Syria. “He was nice, but when we asked how to contact him we were told not to e-mail or phone him,” Diane Foley says. In order to talk with him on the phone, the families had to travel to a local F.B.I. office, so an agent could dial Rubinstein’s number for them.