New U.S. Ambassadors Say Hello in Fresh Intro Video Playlist

Posted: 1:59 am ET
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U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria Brewer

U.S. Ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher

U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor

U.S. Ambassador to Senegal Tulinabo Mushingi

U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Luis Arreaga

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Lewis Eisenberg

U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Sharon Day

U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, George E. Glass

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty

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Happy 2016! New Year Wishes Around the Foreign Service (Videos)

Posted: 7:08 pm EDT
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U.S. Embassy Bangkok continues its creative streak. See post’s … it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superm …. it’s a drone moment! With embassy staff and Ambassador Glyn Davies.

 

Here is U.S. Embassy Islamabad‘s happy 2016 video. These folks’ smiles are contagious, aren’t they? Naya Saal Mubarak!

 

Ambassador Joan Polaschik and her staff at U.S. Embassy Algiers say they look forward to the year ahead, and hope that it will be filled with peace, prosperity and more opportunities to strengthen the ties between the two countries.

 

Yeni yılınız kutlu olsun from U.S. Embassy Ankara with a message from Ambassador John Bass. The video has annotations added for viewers to learn more about embassy programs done in 2015.

 

U.S. Embassy The Hague with Ambassador Timothy Broas on the highlights from 2015. They said it was another great year for U.S. – Dutch cooperation and they look forward to what 2016 will bring.

 

U.S. Embassy San Jose with Ambassador with S. Fitzgerald Haney with a year in review in Costa Rica.

 

Happy New Year from the U.S. Embassy Paramaribo! This is Ambassador Nolan’s first time lighting a pagara. Enjoy!

 

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Happy 239th Birthday America! #July4inJune

Posted: 2:14 am  EDT
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The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta generated some controversy this month when it moved its July 4th celebration to June 4th to avoid conflict with the month-long Ramadan observance in the country.  (See US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad). Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has announced Thursday, June 18 as the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.  Below is a round-up of posts that marked Fourth of July in June this year.  Our posts in Muslim countries who have yet to celebrate independence day may have to wait until after July 17th to hold their annual celebration.  If you don’t get why, click here or here.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia with Ambassador Robert Blake

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US Embassy Cairo, Egypt with Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft

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U.S. Embassy Rabat, Morocco with Ambassador Dwight L. Bush, Sr.

June 4, 2015 | ‘We celebrate tonight not only the anniversary of America’s independence, but also the longstanding and warm ties of friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco.” – Ambassador Bush at last night’s Independence day celebration here at the Embassy, which is the first such celebration at our new Embassy compound.

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco with CG Nicole Theriot

June 14 | U.S. Consul General Nicole Theriot in Casablanca, joined by Ambassador Bush to celebrate 239 years of American independence. This year’s event was a Luau (“great feast”) which incorporated fire dancers, Tiki carvings, volcanoes and delicious food showcasing the rich culture and traditions of the state of Hawaii.”

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan with Ambassador Susan Elliott

June 8, 2015 | Did you know the United States gained independence 239 years ago? Here are some photos from this year’s early celebration at the Hyatt Regency Dushanbe! This year’s Independence Day commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law securing access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation for persons with disabilities. In her address, Ambassador Susan Elliott praised U.S.-Tajik cooperation and advocated for greater collaboration to improve conditions for all Tajiks, and highlighted the importance of persons with disabilities having the same rights as non-disabled persons regardless of any disabilities that may prevent them from engaging in daily life.

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

U.S. Embassy Algiers, Algeria with Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik

US Embassy Algiers/FB

Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik leading the 4th of July celebration at the US Embassy in Algeria, June 15, 2015 | US Embassy Algiers/FB

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Ambassador Joseph Yun

June 15 | This year, we celebrate our diverse heritage on the 239th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America in the beautiful island of Penang as well!

US Embassy KL/FB

US Embassy Malaysia Fourth of July celebration in Penang with Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun | US Embassy KL/FB

Time to re-up our favorite Fourth of July video from US Consulate General Milan featuring President Obama, Lady Liberty, then Ambassador David Thorne, Consul General Kyle Scott  and the USCG Milan  crew:

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US Embassy Algeria Now on Authorized Departure for Family Members

An Emergency Message went out to US citizens in Algeria on January 20, 2013 alerting them that on Jan 19, the Department of State has authorized the departure from Algiers of eligible family members following the attack on the In Amenas BP facility on January 16th and subsequent credible threats of kidnapping of western nationals.

The Consular Section is open for public services but the message warns that “the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Algeria is limited.”

The Travel Warning for Algeria was also updated on January 19, 2013 warning of the risks of travel to Algeria, and the authorized departure of embassy family members.  The new warning replaced the Travel Warning for Algeria dated September 13, 2012, with updated information on the current security situation in Algeria, the continuing threat posed by terrorism, and to reiterate information on security incidents and recommendations on security awareness.

Read the new Travel Warning here.

This follows the ordered departure of US Embassy Bamako’s family members two days ago.  Authorized departure means leaving is still optional for family members.  The next stage would be ordered departure for remaining family members and those considered non-emergency personnel.   It is possible when security situation deteriorates so fast that a post can go from authorized departure straight to suspension of operation as was the case with the US Embassy Bangui during the Christmas week last December.

Safe journeys everyone,

sig4

 

 

US Embassy Algiers: Hostages Taken at In Amenas Gas Complex in Algeria

The notice below is not showing on US Embassy Algiers website as of this writing, but is available on the DS-run OSAC website. The embassy issued the following emergency message for U.S. Citizens in Algeria following the attacks on the BP Facilities in In Amenas, some 60 miles from the Libyan border:

1/16/2013 |

The U.S. Embassy in Algiers has received information that there was an attack on BP personnel and facilities in the city of In Amenas, Algeria this morning.  We condemn this terrorist attack in the strongest terms.  We are keeping close watch of the situation.  We are in contact with Algerian authorities and our colleagues at the British Embassy in Algiers, as well as with BP’s security office in London and the Diplomatic Security office in Washington.

At this time, we are not aware of any US Citizen casualties.  We stand ready to assist any US Citizens.

U.S. citizens should review their personal security plans, remain aware of their surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities.   Regardless of where you are, keep your security and situational awareness levels high.  U.S. citizens are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly.

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

USNews has reported that a group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities.  On early Wednesday, Islamist militants have reportedly attacked and occupied a natural gas field partly operated by BP in southern Algeria.  Two people have reportedly been killed and the facility has reportedly been surrounded by Algerian forces.

Nigeria Online adds that the location of the attack is 800 miles from the capital in Algeria’s vast southern desert.  BP, together with Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company, Sonatrach, operate the gas field. Statoil is said to have about 20 employees in the facility. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, also reportedly provides services for the facility.

The UK Foreign Office released the following statement:

“There is in an ongoing terrorist incident near the town of Ain Amenas at an oil installation near the Algerian border with Libya.

“We can confirm that British nationals are caught up in this incident.

“The FCO has political and consular crisis teams working on this incident. The British Embassy in Algiers is liaising with the local authorities.”

We will not be confirming further details at this time.

ITV News is reporting that the militant group has claimed it is holding seven Americans among the 41 Algeria hostages.  More about the developing news here.

The State Department had since confirmed that Americans were among the hostages but released no further details:

“Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

The Telegraph has the following additional details about a 2012 report forecasting the likelihood of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacking energy facilities in the Sahara within two years:

In a 2012 report, risk consultants Exclusive Analysis – recently acquired by IHS – warned that “The greatest expansion of terrorist activity [in Algeria] is occurring in the south and the border areas, where AQIM factions based in northern Mali, such as Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), can penetrate the provinces of Illizi, Adrar, Tindouf and Tamanrasset to conduct kidnap for ransom and attacks on Algerian security forces,” Firas Abi Ali, Deputy Head of MENA Forecasting wrote.

“AQIM’s southern factions, based near the borders with Mali and Niger, are growing stronger. They have kidnapped a number of Westerners and possess a proven vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) capability.

Danger Room already has tomorrow’s news as the war in Mali spills over into Algeria:

“U.S. citizens have been taken hostage by an extremist group out to avenge the French offensive against Islamist fighters in Mali, an unforeseen consequence of the operation that could get the U.S. involved directly in the conflict.”

And has this reminder:

“It may be worth noting that the Defense Department has faced criticism for not being able to deploy special operations forces and other military assets in time to prevent the deadly September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Africa Command had an unarmed surveillance drone over the site of the battle, but the incident ended too quickly for a mobilization. Amongst the explanations offered by the Pentagon is that Panetta, Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham and other senior leaders did not have sufficient time or visibility into what specifically was taking place in Benghazi to carry out a response.”

“It might also be worth noting that U.S. special operations forces have extensive experience in hostage rescue.”

Image via Online Nigeria

Image via Online Nigeria

In this report (see Al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali), the AP notes that AQIM operates not just in Mali, but in a corridor along much of the northern Sahel and that this “7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) long ribbon of land runs across the widest part of Africa, and includes sections of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Chad.”

A related item — the USG policy on hostage taking and kidnappings is on the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (see 7 FAM 1820) which covers private Americans as well as official Americans. The regs was most recently updated in June 2012. Is spells out USG policy:

“The U.S. Government will make no concessions to individuals or groups holding official or private U.S. citizens hostage. The United States will use every appropriate resource to gain the safe return of U.S. citizens who are held hostage. At the same time, it is U.S. Government policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession. See 7 FAM 1821 e regarding U.S. Government policy and limitations on the role of Foreign Service posts and the Department of State should private citizens, organizations or companies elect to negotiate with hostage takers or pay ransom.”

Flashing red on Africa. We will continue to keep tabs of the emergency messages coming out of Algeria, Mali and neighboring outposts.

 

US Embassy Algiers: environment remains “unusually taxing” and about that success in social media

The State Department’s OIG released recently its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Algeria.  Ambassador Henry S. Ensher and his DCM, Elizabeth M. Aubin arrived at post in July and September respectively, last year.  During the OIG inspection last fall, three of the five section chief positions were vacant. Below are the report’s Key Judgments:


• [This section has been redacted. This section has been redacted. This section has been redacted.]
• The management section provides inadequate services to its customers. Opaque processes, perceptions of undue influence and preferential treatment in hiring, and poor communication contribute to customer dissatisfaction with management services.
• Management controls are weak due to a lack of standard operating procedures in vulnerable areas and insufficient collaboration among units, particularly in supply chain management.
• Interagency coordination on counterterrorism, economic and trade issues, and foreign assistance is excellent. Although the United States and Algeria cooperate closely on only a narrow range of issues, related primarily to counterterrorism, the embassy uses assistance programs to promote broader common interests.
• The Ambassador recognizes the centrality of public diplomacy (PD) to achieving the embassy’s goals and supports PD programs and activities. Embassy Algiers has effectively engaged with young people, a priority target audience, and employs a diverse range of exchange programs and PD platforms.

Operating Environment:

Embassy Algiers operates in an unusually difficult and dangerous environment that requires strong American management skills and expertise. The current management section has neither the staff nor the experienced leadership to operate effectively. The professional credentials of the current management team do not constitute a recipe for success: a management officer who had never served overseas previously; U.S. direct-hire unit chiefs who, with one exception, were serving in their functional areas for the first time; and LE staff members with mixed levels of proficiencies and who are still recovering from malfeasance cases in the recent past. Many of the findings in this inspection report mirror those of the last two inspections in 2001 and 2006. The former deputy chief of mission, who departed immediately prior to the OIG inspection, provided neither guidance nor sufficient mentoring to the management section. The absence of adequate front office support contributed to protracted debates and bureaucratic logjams at the working level. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs characterized the management section’s operations in more positive terms than OIG found to be warranted.

Family Member Employment:

The U.S. citizen eligible family member hiring process also generates complaints of favoritism and lack of fairness. The embassy’s hiring practices do not conform to Department recruitment policy guidelines contained in the Local Employee Recruitment Policy Guidebook. For example, the embassy has not constituted a post employment committee to review the qualifications of U.S. citizen eligible family members and U.S. veterans who apply for embassy positions. The committee must document its deliberations and prepare a formal memorandum to the chief of mission, recommending appointments for all U.S. citizen eligible family members and veterans who are hired at the mission. The human resources office has drafted, but not yet completed, a family member appointment handbook and other implementing guidance for hiring eligible family members. In the absence of a properly functional hiring process, the embassy cannot address concerns that eligible family member hiring is not transparent and free of improper influence.

Entry-Level Officer Mentoring

The embassy does not have a formal mentoring and professional development program for ELOs, as required by Department guidance (2010 State 120467). The large complement of untenured, first- or second-tour officers and specialists—13 employees, representing more than a third of the Department contingent —combined with the paucity of mid-level professionals, puts a heavy burden on the mission’s few senior officers. In some sections, adequate supervision, training, and mentoring are also deficient. [REDACTED]

There are a couple parts in the report where more enlightenment would have been nice:

Consular Management
Consular management and local staff observe consular leadership tenets. All LE staff members have been cross-trained in at least two of the consular functional areas. The section is sufficiently staffed to meet its visa and American citizens service workload. Standard operating procedures for all routine functions are in use and available to everyone in the section. The deputy chief of mission reviews the adjudications of the consular section chief.

The paragraph above is the entire section on consular management. The inspection occurs every five years and that’s all there is to say?  Management and staff observe the consular leadership tenets – like how? And which ones? All of them?

The OIG inspectors also reviewed the embassy’s web and social media usage and have the following conclusion:

Internet usage is growing but still limited in Algeria. Facebook is the dominant social medium. The embassy successfully uses its Web page and social media to disseminate and amplify policy information, promote programs, and facilitate contact with younger Algerians. PAS Algiers places appropriate emphasis on social media and allocates resources to locally relevant social media.

The report, however, never discussed the OIG’s measure for success in this area.  How can you tell that an embassy has “successfully” used its web page and social media platforms — number of fans? number of comments? type of engagement? number of face-to-face contact? mere existence?

US Embassy Algiers has four, yes, four Facebook accounts:

U.S.Embassy Algiers-Alumni & Education Advising has 2709 fans and open to the general online public. The following FB pages are apparently up but are only open to registered FB users.

  • US Embassy Algiers Consular Section – American Citizen Services
  • US Embassy Algiers Consular Section – Visa Unit
  • U.S.Embassy Algiers Access Program

US Embassy Algiers joined YouTube on Oct 7, 2009. It has 248 video uploads and currently has 285 subscribers.  It is also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/USEmbAlgiers with 704 followers.

Algeria is the second largest country in the African continent. It currently sits as the top 7th internet country in Africa, in terms of users. In 2000, there were only 50,000 internet users in the country.  Internet usage statistics for 2010 indicates 4.7 million users, and an internet penetration rate of 13.6%.  Internet World Stats citing Facebook numbers says that there are 2,836,740 FB users in Algeria as of December 2011.

I admit I was never good with math but c’mon — the embassy has 2,709 FB fans in a country with 2,836,740 FB users. It has approximately a total of 3,600 users across FB, YouTube and Twitter (non gen-public FB pages excepted) in a country with some 4.7 million internet users. 

Dear OIG, what the heck are you talking about?