U.S. State Department Global Travel Warning & Why No One Cares

This afternoon the United States’ State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert for United States citizens globally (which links back to a February 19 2013 worldwide travel warning).

 

Travel warnings from the State Department have become a little bit like Chicken Little yelling, “the sky is falling.”  Travel cautions are constantly released, and worldwide travel alerts serve more as a scare tactic that a true warning.

 

Todays travel warning states “The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.”

 

… and goes on to read…

 

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.”

 

First off, the warning while considered a Worldwide Alert specifically covers the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Given the specific geographic areas covered by the alert, it is a fairly regionalized travel alert, not a worldwide travel alert.

 

Secondly, This travel alert expires on the 31st of August 2013.

 

Now, just to be clear, the regions highlighted in today’s alert, making news headlines and popping alerts up on people’s mobile phones, are regions that are continually considered to be high threat areas for U.S. citizens by the State Department and have been for more than a decade. The need to make this alert news, and issue an expiration date is confusing.

 

If travelers are to be on high alert or restrict their travel until the 31st of August, wouldn’t a terrorist organization just wait until September to have the element of surprise in there attack?  Issuing a public expiration date is a little like issuing an end date for a war, whether or not you have won, been defeated or met your objectives.

 

 

An interesting email from within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was forwarded to me this afternoon that makes today’s State Department travel warning even more confusing. The email reads, ” To bring you up to speed on the worldwide travel warning released this afternoon, counter terrorism and threat analysis reports indicate a targeted attack may be imminent. At this time there is no additional information to provide any information as to when this attack may take place or where this attack may take place. Best analysis focuses on Southern Europe, North Africa, South Asia, Central Europe, Central Africa, India or the Middle East. ”

 

Further more the focus is on  al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations. The al-Qa’ida affiliated organizations of interest in the alert are Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Indian Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, DHKP/C, Hezbollah, The Islamic Jihad Union, Islamic Maghreb and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen- al-Islami   … however of these nine known terrorist organizations, only three of them have any ties to al-Qa’ida.   Additionally, some of these terrorist organizations are squarely focused on targets other than the United States and U.S. Citizens.

 

In a world where not only the United States, both other nations, continue to battle foreign and domestic stateless terrorist organizations, the use of Travel Alerts, especially Worldwide Travel Alerts … that are in fact not worldwide … need to be used sparingly.   Causing fear and panic creates more problems, socially, politically and economically, when other options for raising awareness exits.

 

For starters, given that both the geographic and political boundaries of the Arabian Peninsula fall within the Middle East Region, why did The State Department need to issue an alert for the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula?  Wouldn’t saying the Middle East and North Africa have sufficed?

 

The State Department could have skipped using language indicating a worldwide travel alert and simply issued a renewed warning to travelers in the Middle East and North Africa.

 

The rhetoric the State Department chose to use reminding people of terrorist threats in public places, private places, hotels, tourist areas, on board planes, trains, buses and ships indicates that people in the warning area should immediately fly home, avoiding commercial transport, and cease traveling, because everywhere outside of the secure bunker below Area 51 is a likely area of potential threat.

 

… and most importantly, if the Department of Homeland Security has the threat narrowed down three continents, a sub-continent and a massive diverse region spanning three continents (as Egypt is the Middle East but in Africa and Turkey is in the Middle East but in Europe while the rest of the region is in Asia) with no information as to when an attack may occur, how can anyone prepare for a possible threat?

 

The whole scope of this warning is similar to “lock your doors or a masked man who may or may not be in your area might break into your house, pistol whip you and steal your car keys.”

 

I am all for national security, I am a vocal advocate for travel security, but issuing worldwide alerts for things that are not worldwide, using language that indicates that no one knows anything about a viable threat, simply dulls the message.   A dull droning message is a message that people ignore. When people ignore your message you put their lives in dangers, because they won’t listen to you when a real threat exists.

 

Happy Flying!

 

@flyingwithfish

Comments

  1. Rob,

    It would still be a vague threat that even the DHS doesn’t seem to take seriously internally. While foreign threats are handled by agencies other than the DHS, they seem to be the central clearing house for counter terrorism issues. When they have no timeline for the threat and believe the threat can happen on half of the inhabited continents on earth that is not a Travel Alert, that is just called Thursday.

    When did I get promoted to Captain?

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  2. Good points all.

    And people in charge always get to be Captain … unless you’re flying for Asiana of course. Then I’m not sure who is in charge.

  3. If they are closing all the embassies for a particular day, this is more than the routine threat level. Maybe something happens, maybe it doesn’t, but who could write the letter to the families if they thought they could have prevented some deaths.

  4. Glenn

    The State Department closed 16 Consulates and Embassies for this coming Sunday the 4th, but the threat alert is through the 31st of August. Most Consulates and Embassies are shut on Sunday and if this was an ongoing threat then the State Department would make an extended closure schedule.

    There is a significant disconnect between U.S. agencies on this threat internally.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. Fish

    The Sunday closing are a big deal as these closing are largely in Muslim countries, where Sunday is a working day, thus our embassies are normally working and open.

    There is an angle that by making public these credible threats it makes the planners pause and reschedule their plans, giving more time to find them

    Having said that I hope your theory is right and all this is overkill and mis-communication.

    Jeff

  6. I wonder now many people DOS pays to write and distribute this meaningless blather.. For anyone over ten on 9-11-2001, we KNOW that some extra caution is necessary. Said caution is necessary in foreign lands as well as domestically. Perhaps we should Sequester most of that money.

  7. Jeff,

    I am aware that the business day in the region is typically Sunday through Thursday. I initially glossed over the State Department Travel Warning, as they are issued with some regularity, until I received a few emails from someone who has sent me very reliable info from within the DHS. The DHS is not known for “under reacting” and these emails indicated that the organization’s threat analysts and counter terrorism folks were not terribly concerned about this threat more than other threats.

    That is not to say they are being lackadaisical or ignoring a potential threat, but these people , the people who raise the alerts, are not treating this info as any more likely than the other countless viable threats they assess on an on-going basis.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

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