@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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@StateDept Issues Worldwide Travel Alert on Top of Worldwide Caution, Message Fatigue Next?

Posted: 2:03 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

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:

Here’s more:

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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?

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State Department’s Worldwide Caution, Etcetera — #Benghazi, So Soon Forgotten

On February 19, 2013, the State Department issued a Worldwide Caution to update everyone on “the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world.” The notice replaced the one issued on July 18, 2012 “to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.”

Below is the relevant section from the Worldwide Caution, can you spot what’s missing? (the full notice is here):

MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA:  Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa.  The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.  Terrorist organizations continue to be active in Yemen, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).     Security threat levels remain high in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  In September 2012, a mob of Yemeni protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy compound.  U.S. citizens have also been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past (though none recently) and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist there.  There are a number of extremist groups operating in Lebanon, including Hizballah, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.  Iraq remains dangerous and unpredictable.  U.S. military forces departed as of December 31, 2011, but the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens, including kidnapping and terrorist violence, continues.  In Algeria, Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active and operates throughout the country.  Terrorists sporadically attack westerners and Algerian targets, particularly in the Kabylie region, and near Algeria’s borders with Libya and Mali.  In January, terrorists attacked a natural gas facility at In Amenas resulting in the deaths of dozens, including three U.S. citizens.  Terrorists have also targeted oil processing plants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.   Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.  U.S. citizens should remain cautious and be aware that there may be a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against U.S citizens.   No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The conflict in Syria has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with many thousands wounded and over one million displaced persons.

In September 2012, civil unrest, large scale protests and demonstrations as well as violent attacks – some of which were in reaction to an anti-Islamic video and cartoons – targeted U.S. missions and schools overseas including in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen.  U.S. citizens are warned that demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violent clashes.  U.S. citizens are also reminded that demonstrations and riots can occur with little or no warning.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Frankly, we kinda stop paying attention to these notices because we pretty much follow the news, and these do not offer anything more than what is already available out there. But we recently got a note from one of our readers urging us to look for Benghazi in the latest Worldwide Caution released. Um, nuthin’ there.

A from a distant post sends:

 [T]here is not a single mention of Benghazi anywhere? The only reference is an oblique statement about generalized violence and attacks across North Africa in part related to the Mohammed videos. It does not mention Benghazi by name, nor the deaths of any USG personnel, nor explains the reasoning behind the attacks.  That seems like a startlingly blind omission given the political catfighting going on over the attacks, their cause, the timeline, and subsequent ARB.  

 It makes you wonder what the caution is supposed to be for.  Does it mean that it is safe for AMCITs to go to Benghazi? Or if it isn’t, how did this make it through the clearance process without someone saying “Uh, what about Libya? Maybe we should note that USG personnel were killed there less than 6 months ago?” 

Maybe we should. This is not crowdsourcing or anything but wouldn’t that make sense? We understand that the CA Bureau cannot be expected to cite all security threats and terrorist activities in the last six months in its Worldwide Caution notice, but given that U.S. personnel actually died there …

Dear Consular Affairs Bureau, four U.S. citizens died in Benghazi, one more than In Amenas. Shouldn’t that merit a mention in your latest Worldwide Caution?

We were also looking over its Libya Country Specific Information updated last on February 8, 2013 and below is part of what it says under the THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY section:

Recent worldwide terrorism alerts, including the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, have stated that extremist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East region. In June 2012, an unknown group of attackers detonated an improvised explosive device outside the compound of the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi. There have also been attacks on diplomatic vehicle convoys. Any U.S. citizen who decides to travel to Libya should maintain a strong security posture by being aware of surroundings, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, and varying times and routes for all required travel.

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution and comply with local regulations when traveling in desert and border regions of Libya. Terrorist attacks in Algeria, the June 2009 murder of a U.S. citizen teacher in Mauritania, kidnappings of Western tourists in desert regions of Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and 2012, northern Niger in 2010, and Mali in January 2009, and the terrorist activity of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa are indicative of a continued threat in the region.

Dear God! Has this job been outsourced to a robot with an outdated software? How else can you explain mentioning the IED attack on Benghazi in June 2012 but missed altogether mentioning the attack on September 2012.

Look it’s on Wikipedia!

The Diplomatic Security/RSO also prepared the Crime and Safety Report for Libya dated February 22, 2013 which includes three specific mention of Benghazi, but not the attack of the temporary U.S. mission there:

  • The majority of the 16,000 criminals released during the revolution remain free. Carjacking, robberies, burglaries, and thefts continue. Unlike in Benghazi, acts of terrorism, targeted assassination campaigns, and violence specifically against Westerners have not been characteristic of the Tripoli landscape.
  • Civil Unrest: Violent clashes between armed groups are possible, particularly at night. Clashes often include the use of heavy weapons. Public demonstrations occur frequently in the central squares of cities, such as Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli and Freedom Square in Benghazi.
  • Areas to be Avoided: Because of ongoing instability and violence, the Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Libya and strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid, and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra. The Department’s ability to provide consular services to U.S. citizens is extremely limited.

We don’t know about you but this is kinda hinky.   It’s as if the Benghazi attack did not even happen … have we forgotten that we took casualties there?  Or has Benghazi been purposely scrubbed clean from these products?  But why?

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