So CA/OCS May Survive a Funding Crunch Only to Fall Apart at the Seams?

 

The largest public facing bureau of the State Department is the Bureau of Consular Affairs. For those who may need more familiarity, the major sub-divisions within this bureau are passport services (PPT), visa services (VO) and overseas citizen services (OCS). The identification and repatriation of remains of Americans overseas are handled by OCS. Evacuations of American citizens during natural disasters and civil unrest are also handled by OCS.  When somebody goes missing overseas, or becomes a victim of crime, these cases are handled by CA/OCS. In addition to the recent Afghanistan evacuations, the bureau also managed the massive COVID repatriation around the globe.
Consular operations are mostly fee-based; you pay for visa processing, passport issuance, notarial services and so on.  With the Trump travel bans and the subsequent COVID travel restrictions, passport and visa fee collection significantly cratered. At the same time, CA undertook two massive repatriation and evacuation.
In a congressional hearing in 2020, the State Department projected a $1.4 BILLION loss which was about 50 percent of Consular Affair’s revenue in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020. It also projected comparable losses in FY2021 and FY2022. We’re sure the numbers are available internally, but we have yet to see publicly the cost of the global COVID repatriation and the Afghanistan evacuation.
During that same 2020 hearing, CA’s top official told Congress that services for American citizens “will not be put out of business.” We’re now wondering if the OCS directorate was saved from the funding crunch only to fall apart at the seams. Let’s consider a few things that we’ve learned:
STAFFING
–The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (CA/OCS – DAS) recently sent a memo to staff acknowledging that the long hours and lack of sleep has taken an “unacceptable health toll”.
— The  Director of the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (CA/OCS/ACS) abruptly retired, reportedly one year into a two year tour and only months after making the Senior Foreign Service.
— The Managing Director of CA/OCS took a week off after acknowledging to the staff that the MD’s well-being had been put at risk, and indicated the need for some time off “to regroup.”
— Several of the staff who flew into Afghanistan are reportedly still struggling with what they saw.
— Staffers who made the thousands of phone calls to US citizens in Afghanistan have reportedly been traumatized by what they hear.
— During the inbound call phase early in the operation these staffers reportedly “suffered abuse at the hands of the US public, self-identified military callers who blamed the Task Force for Afghans left behind, and congressional staff who called in to yell at phone bank workers.”
A FOREVER TASK FORCE AFTER THE END OF A FOREVER WAR
— The Task Force continues – until when?
— “We are still staffing 24 hour task force support, which is just wearing people out.”
LEADERSHIP OBSESSES OVER NUMBERS AS EXHAUSTION BITES
— The Leadership is reportedly “totally focused” on the numbers. “All that matters in the Bureau is the number of people called, put on lists, and flown out.  Getting everyone out who wants out is a great goal, but from the top it is clearly just numbers.”
— “A/S and PDAS are only focused on this, basically never in SA17. Everyone is exhausted.”
— Somebody noted to us that “The idea that “around 100″ citizens remain in Afghanistan is absurd, as we never knew how many were there in the first place. And if it is such a low number who are posts from Mexico to Pakistan calling?”  Initially these posts were apparently calling the same folks who had reached out to the US over and over to try to determine who is ready to go. It was relayed to us that most of the times, State didn’t actually have a flight for them to get on or a solution to their problems (no passport, can’t leave family), leading to some testy exchanges.
— Department leadership allegedly “appears blind to the fact that the obsession with getting the number of American Citizens  in Afghanistan to zero has crippled OCS.”
For those who agree that the US should rightfully obsess in a zero AmCit number in Afghanistan, we should point out that the United States left thousands of U.S. citizens stranded in Yemen in 2015 and the show ponies in Congress did not care to interrupt their beauty sleep. (see Stranded in Yemen: Americans left to find own way out, but exactly how many more AmCits are left there?Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy DecisionsFor U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen).
REALITY CHECK
— “CA is ill prepared to continue on this path, and a second major crisis would be almost impossible for the Bureau to address.”
— “CA and OCS people need a break.”
— “COVID is still an issue around the world, regular OCS work doesn’t go away, so fewer people have to handle that and these are the same people that did the COVID repatriations.”
— “It’s not just OCS though, the SIV cases are still out there, and posts everywhere are short staffed, tired, and working under a variety of local restrictions”
— “CA needs what it always needs: money, staff, training, and a Department leadership that values more than a visa referral or a quote for the Secretary.”
Well, now you know.
How soon before we hear about the leadership tenets and taking care of people?

 

Related posts:

 

 

What’s happening at CA/OCS? Besides People Calling In to Yell at Staffers Working the Phones

 

Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the protection and safety of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three offices: the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (OCS/ACS), the Office of Children’s Issues (OCS/CI), and the Office of Legal Affairs (OCS/L).

Billy Goat on Grass Field by Pixabay

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Top 10 Countries: @StateDept Repatriation of U.S. Citizens as of April 29, 2020

 

The State Department’s May 1st update notes that it has now coordinated the repatriation of 76,030 Americans on 810 flights from 126 countries and territories including  six flights from six countries in South and Central America repatriated approximately 800 U.S. citizens on April 30 and a charter flight from India carrying approximately 300 Americans arrived in the U.S. on May 1.
Based on the State Department’s data, Western Hemisphere countries based on number of U.S. citizens evacuated remain the top eight out of 10 countries.  India and Pakistan, both under the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) are the only non-WHA countries in the top 10 counties.

COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update)

 

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.

 

US Embassy Lima Works on Repatriating Thousands of Americans #StuckInPeru

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 .”
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.

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Related post:
US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

State/CA: Hundreds of American Travelers Stuck Overseas Due to COVID19 Travel Restrictions

 

Trump Threatens Retaliation Against Countries That Issue Travel Warnings For USA #GetReady

 

 

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.

 

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@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.

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Is there consideration for possible impacts of US travel #security advisories? No? It depends?

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 WarningsTravel 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 😳!

 

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How many spring breakers drink too much and fall off hotel balconies? #SpringBreakingBadly

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 @Travel_Gov, 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 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 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.

 

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