Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Airlines Blame Everything and Everybody

The Fall of Saigon, 1975

Given the rolling fiasco of airline cancellations in the last six days, with travelers still stranded at airports around the country, unable to book alternate flights sometimes till days later, there's a lot of public anger toward the airlines. Well, a lot more than usual, let's say.

The airlines, of course, are blaming everything and everybody except themselves for the mess, in which flight cancellations legitimately caused by horrible weather in the Northeast and Midwest have developed into huge numbers of cancellations and delays throughout the air travel system. There were 3,600 new cancellations today, for example, bringing the total to well over 25,000 since last Thursday.

One villain the airlines were quick to finger is the Department of Transportation, which in 2010 addressed the scandalous problem of airlines stranding passengers for hours and hours on idled planes on tarmacs by imposing stiff fines for excessive tarmac delays. The problem disappeared virtually overnight, but the airlines have always hated the rule,  and are widely blaming it now for the excessive number of cancellations in recent days.  After all, the airlines and their various amen-choruses argue, why risk stiff fines valiantly trying to get planes into place to depart, when weather might cause backups and passenger dissatisfaction in getting those planes onto runways within prescribed time frames?

The airlines and various elements of the media that accept that line of reasoning seem not to consider the obvious fact that a great many of the massive number of flight cancellations since last Thursday have occurred at airports where the weather was not bad, for departures to other airports where the weather was not bad. (And in many cases, involving aircraft that had originated in places where the weather was also fine). So where was the tarmac-delay fine threat in those cases?

The fact is, the current fiasco is a direct consequence of an air transport system that has been significantly shrunk by the airlines in their quite reasonable drive to maintain profitability. Routes have been cut, crews are stretched thin, backup aircraft are unavailable, customer service and reservations agent workforces have been slashed and outsourced, while planes are all flying nearly full -- meaning re-booking after a canceled flight is daunting, even if you can get an agent on the line or get the online systems to work. So because there is no slack and there is no backup in the systems, weather disruptions immediately roll out through the whole network, with one result being that some terminals have resembled the Fall of Saigon in recent days.

Yesterday, meanwhile, JetBlue Airways came up with a new excuse when it shut down its operations at the New York airports and Boston: While the weather meant delays, cancellations were greatly exacerbated, JetBlue said, by new rules from the Federal Aviation Administration that limited duty-hours of pilots as a safety measure (partly in response to that horrific accident that killed 50 when a Continental flight operated by Colgan Air crashed near Buffalo. Pilot exhaustion was one of the causes of that disaster.) Other airlines are now also invoking the FAA rule as an excuse.

Well, the nation's pilots have something to say on that. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a union that represents 50,000 pilots in North America, issued this statement today (the underlining is mine):

***
ALPA Statement on Flight Delays and Rollout of New Pilot Flight/Duty Time Rules
Record bad weather and poor planning to comply with new regulations by a few individual airlines should not distract from the tremendous advancement in safety that has resulted from this past weekend’s implementation of the FAA’s new science-based flight- and duty-time regulations for airline pilots who fly passengers. Airline companies have had two years’ advance notice and the proactive safety culture that ALPA pilots have helped to develop at many airlines. Implementation of these long-overdue regulations has gone smoothly in all but a very few cases. These new pilot fatigue rules are a significant accomplishment in enhancing safety for the traveling public.

Where the safety achievement does fall short is that the new regulations do not apply to pilots who fly cargo. While the new rules make historic progress for pilots who fly passengers by taking into account a pilot’s work schedule, aircraft equipment, human physiology, and travel distances, the deliberate exclusion of cargo airline pilots clearly indicates there is an illogical conclusion that cargo pilots do not deserve the same protection from fatigue. For that reason, ALPA will never stop advocating for one level of safety and for Congress to pass the Safe Skies Act (H.R. 182/S. 1692), which will bring all airline pilots under these important safety regulations. When these regulations are applied to all-cargo operations, our industry will take an enormous stride toward achieving one level of safety to the benefit of all who fly.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Target's 'Guests' Get Royally Hacked

[UPDATED Dec. 27]

I never cease to be amazed by corporate PR responses to their companies' fiascoes. Latest case in point, Target, the big retail chain where the various credit and debit cards of 40 million customers ("guests," in the sanctimonious, insincere corporate mind) have been hacked since the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Target, incidentally, did not publicly disclose this eminently disclose-worthy fact until today, after a tenacious blogger, Brian Krebs, broke the startling news on his blog, KrebsOnSecurity.com

Target's PR response, which most of the corporate-friendly media rushed to slam high into their breaking stories on the hacking scandal, was notable for its obfuscation. Here it is in full. 

And so far, no reporting on what really needs to be done, by Target, to fix this: The company should be required to pay for credit-monitoring services for the the millions of people whose credit cards were hacked through Target's fault, and who need to monitor their credit card accounts and credit ratings because of it. Instead, Target (and the lickspittle media) are merely advising the victims to do this on their own, at their own inconvenience and expense.

Today, the media had barely reported the actual news -- Hey! 40 Million of Us Have Been Hacked at Target! -- when in the impossibly corrupted routine of the 24 hour news cycle the Target response to the heist, and not the heist itself, became the "late-breaking" news. And reporters scooped Target's palaver right up, long before they asked: Just how the holy hell did this happen, Target? What kind of schlock point-of-sale security do you have? And yo, how come you have a schlock data-security system at your stores? What are you going to do to make things right by your customers (I mean "guests"), other than to provide them with boilerplate tips on the laborious process required for them, the customers ("guests!") to examine their accounts and, if something is wrong, to go about making it right -- including phone calls to credit card companies, investigations of statements and even credit reports and, of course, the annoying chores of getting new credit cards issued, and duly notifying all of those auto-pay accounts of the new information, so their bills won't become delinquent? You may not be responsible for fraudulent charges on your card, but fixing it ain't easy, folks.

[UPDATE: Now Target admits that PIN numbers on the 40 million cards were also stolen, a week after it had denied this. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/27/target-pin-data-stolen_n_4508670.html]

Point-of-sale security hacking is one of the under-reported scandals in the retail world, including the world of hotels and restaurants, which are notorious for cheaply maintained and supervised front-end credit-card security operations. The big online retail operations generally have high-grade central security against hacking of credit card information, but at the retail local level -- you know, where you physically swipe your card -- hackers are increasingly busy stealing personal data by the boatloads.

I've written a couple of columns about point-of-sale hacking at hotels and restaurants. And I'll post more on the overall problems, as well as the likelihood that fiascoes like the Target Heist will spur the introduction of chip-and-pin credit cards (like they use in Europe). Let's hope this latest hacking scandal will spur retail companies to spend the money they need to spend to bolster data security at the point of sale. You know, where they actually take your money.

Here, annotated by me, is some of the insultingly phony language in Target's statement today, the statement -- issued only after the news of the heist was broken by a blogger -- that so many reporters are treating with respect:

"Target today confirmed it is aware of unauthorized access to payment card data that may have impacted certain guests making credit and debit card purchases in its U.S. stores. Target is working closely with law enforcement and financial institutions, and has identified and resolved the issue.
“Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence. We regret any inconvenience this may cause,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Target. “We take this matter very seriously and are working with law enforcement to bring those responsible to justice.”
Approximately 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been impacted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. Target alerted authorities and financial institutions immediately after it was made aware of the unauthorized access, and is putting all appropriate resources behind these efforts.  Among other actions, Target is partnering with a leading third-party forensics firm to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.":
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Big Storms Snarl Air Traffic in Midwest


That's the air travel delay mess currently illustrated on Flightview.comhttp://www.flightview.com/ after tornadoes and thunderstorms raked central Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest today.

The red dots indicate severe delays. The yellow ones show how the Chicago delays push out into the Northeast.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Those Conspiracy Theories

The media are going to be driving us to distraction in coming week with endless reprisals of the Kennedy
saga, now that we're up against the 50th anniversary of that awful day when those shots rang out in a hotbed of virulent right-wing hatred that was the city of Dallas in November of 1963.

And the rehashes of the conspiracy theories are at full volume. Thankfully, sensible voices are among them, like this one by Fred Kaplan in Slate that discusses why the "magic bullet" didn't really have to be so magic at all.

Myself, I firmly believe that there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy, a man who had many dangerous enemies and whose reckless personal behavior nurtured still more..

I also firmly believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot and killed Kennedy from the assassin's pitiful perch at a window on the Sixth Floor of that school book warehouse where he worked (and lurked) on Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

What say?

Well, I regard my theory as the only one that accounts for all of the indisputable actual evidence (as opposed to the distorted or false assertions and outright lies) that has accumulated to support the idea that there was in fact a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

The man, lifted to sainthood in the Camelot mythology that his widow and disreputable family, abetted by the worshipful media, worked so hard to maintain all of these years, had powerful enemies. Some of them, without doubt, hated him enough to be classified as potential mortal enemies. among them were elements of the mafia, institutionally and personally aggrieved (Kennedy's pathological philandering encompassed mob girlfriends, let us not forget, definitely a complicating factor in one's mortality). So the likely suspects include elements of the mafia, perhaps in league with rogue quasi-military elements tossed seething onto history's sideline with the the Bay of Pigs fiasco. There were also fanatic right-wing radicals who coalesced in Dallas, partly under the aegis of the oil billionaire crackpot H.L. Hunt, and probably in cahoots with anti-Kennedy zealots who had military backgrounds and simmering resentments about the way things were going in Washington. I don't even include Fidel Castro & Company on this list, though Fidel & Co. certainly had motive and, arguably, at least some means and opportunity, given the loony careening that Lee Harvey Oswald did through various communist precincts in the years before he focused his hatred onto one shining uber-celebrity and crouched at a window on Dealey Plaza ready to fire.

I am, incidentally, persuaded that forensic science has adequately explained the so-called "magic bullet" that was the main sticking point for many of those otherwise believed what the Warren Commission said: That Oswald did it, and did it alone.

Every single cogent objection to that theory can be explained and accounted for -- if you accept that there was one, and perhaps more than one, actual conspiracies in the works in 1963, perhaps in semi-organized form -- at that exact time that Oswald did the deed by himself.  And when Kennedy was killed that day, my guess is, those other conspirators were dumbfounded, because they somehow thought they had a part in it.

One can see them phone one another feverishly asking, "How did it go down?" Or, "Who said it was going to be Dallas?" Or "Who the fuck is this Oswald guy?" (The answer to which might have been, "So-and-so ran into him a few months ago, that's all I know.") And another suggestion might have followed: "We gotta shut him the fuck up!"

Entry the compliant and eager-to-please Jack Ruby.

To me, with some knowledge from many years as a reporter how the mafia actually works, the Mob is the most likely candidate for at least the lead role in a botched conspiracy, though I certainly suspect that Dallas right-wind fanatics might also have had an operation in the works on their own. As to the mafia, I once in the early 1990s spent some days interviewing a prominent mob hit-man in the witness protection program, a man who had murdered many colleagues on orders -- and I recall how amazed I was at his recounting of various dastardly and infamous deeds that were accomplished only after numerous botched attempts, some of which ended in failure in circumstances that can only be described as farcical.

Before it disappeared in the late 1990s, the mafia was insidious and extremely dangerous. But it was also made up of basically lazy (though violent) men with limited IQs and minimal skills in the sort of social communications that would be needed to successfully manage and complete an intricate, delicate, complex, high-level conspiracy followed by a decades-long cover-up.

So, even though the mob never pulled the trigger that day, this conspiracy or separate (but perhaps overlapping at some points) conspiracies was gloriously botched at every step of the way. So was the cover-up, but the true details of it I am certain have long been hidden in plain sight, woven into in the quite visible thicket of conspiracy, fact, supposition, wishful thinking, false lead, deception, and modifications of deception.

To this very day, I believe, there are old men with murky pasts who suspect, but have never known for certain, that they had a role in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy.

Who was killed, I am willing to bet money, by Lee Harvey Oswald, a pathetic loner with a grudge and delusions of grandeur, acting by himself that day.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disturbing News on Drones

There are two important stories about attack drones in the two newspapers I read today. One's a major piece, fully reported out, in the New York Times about the very serious legal, ethical and security issues posed by the C.A.A. drone campaign in Pakistan.


The other important drone story is half-baked, in the local paper here in Tucson (Here) -- evidently simply repeating information from Tom Horne, the Arizona state attorney general and a well-known right-wing hack. That story reports the indictments, by Horne's office, of 21 members of the Arizona Air National Guard -- including their commander, a colonel -- on charges that they operated a fraudulent scheme in which the military personnel used phony addresses to receive $1.4 million in "additional benefits" to which they were not entitled. They are said to have falsely claimed living outside the Tucson area while on federal active duty in order to qualify for extra pay.

The mission of the unit, within the 214th Reconnaissance Group: Operating Predator drones from inside the sprawling Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson on combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is, this gang -- the indicted ones include eight officers and 13 enlisted personnel -- was on active combat duty, but more than 8,000 miles away, inside an Air Force base deep in the dusty desert of southern Arizona.

What? You might ask that, as anyone I know who read the story did today. The indictment says that the whole gang of them were operating a criminal scheme, with their commanding officer, while actively engaged in combat duty for United States military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? Really?

All's I know on this is what I read in the papers, as Will Rogers used to say. But this one is a sleeper, it seems to me -- assuming some smart national reporting ensues.

The commanding officer was the only one named in the indictment: Col. Gregg Davies. The names of the others indicted were not made public.
Attorney General Horne's story is interesting, at least the little of it that we see so far. He says his office got involved in the investigation into the fraud -- which occurred between November 2007 and September 2010, (quoting today's Arizona Daily Star here, my italics): "after the FBI asked him to intervene when the case only involved two guardsmen, and the federal prosecutor's office declined to pursue charges."

Uh-oh. Where have we heard about "shenanigans" (the state AG's office word to describe the current unholy mess) involving the Arizona attorney general, the federal prosecutor's office in Phoenix and a military agency accused of malfeasance? Oh, maybe that politically tangled "gunwalking" mess called Operation Fast and Furious?

I can't imagine how the details will work out, but I sure do have a big hunch that Politics Phoenix Style is driving at least a part of this story, although the other part is obviously almost as complicated. That is, why are state National Guard personnel involved in remote combat drone ops from an Air Force base in Tucson? Maybe I am ill-informed, but I thought that sort of thing was done by actual U.S. military troops. And what the hell was going on in that air National Guard unit -- and at the command of that Air Force base?

Brewer Wags the Finger
More to come, I would hope, on this big mess in the Arizona Air National Guard, nominally under the command of one Jan Brewer, governor.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Republicans to Nice German Couple I Met Today: Drop Dead!



The closing of Saguaro National Park is neighborhood news where I live, adjacent to the park, on the east side of Tucson. Everything's shuttered, including access to hiking and horse trails.

But in a way it's also international news. As I was taking a photo at the main gate of Saguaro National Park this afternoon, a nice German couple drove up in a rental SUV with Texas tags and were surprised and very disappointed to find it shut -- as, of course, all other national parks are.

"Since today?" the woman asked. "We have been driving all day from Texas."

I apologized to her, as an American citizen appalled by the Republican radicals' attempts to continue a rolling coup d'etat and, ultimately, overthrow the government. (Something that at least older Germans might have some terrible familiarity with.) That coup began with the asinine impeachment of Clinton on spurious charges, reached full speed with the outright theft of the 2000 presidential election, indulged itself in the incompetence that allowed 9/11 to occur, followed by lying us into a war, and of course has been at full speed in the last five years trying to delegitimatize the 2008 election and destroy Obama, since they couldn't defeat him in a national election.

Or maybe it's the logical continuation of the cynical, antidemocratic Southern Strategy policies based on paranoia, criminal conspiracy and racial hysteria, accompanied by shrew gerrymandering, that were cooked by the Nixon cabal.

[Andrew Sullivan addresses that well today: "How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case – as well as two Senate elections  -   think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way...? ...[This] it is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States....When ideologies become as calcified, as cocooned and as extremist as those galvanizing the GOP, the American system of government cannot work. But I fear this nullification of the last two elections is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the American system of government as we have known it cannot work. It cannot, must not work, in the mindset of these radicals, because they simply do not accept the legitimacy of a President and Congress of the opposing party. The GOP does not regard the president as merely wrong – but as illegitimate. Not misguided – illegitimate...."
... This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment. ...]

Today's Republican right-wing anarchists who cynically engineered the government shutdown because they didn't like the health care law and were unable to change it through democratic means would never apologize, of course. Because their goal is failure of the U.S. government, and as things are going, the anarchists could well succeed one of these days. Unless we stop them.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Rolling Coup d'Etat

I think Jonathan Chait has it about right in this analysis of the latest ugly Washington showdown, which he refers to as a kind of "soft impeachment." I'd sharpen that point and call it the continuation of a rolling coup d'etat, a treacherous but well-planned strategy to undermine -- small-d/cap-D, take your pick -- democratic government that was first manifest large with the outrageous impeachment of Clinton and the theft of the 2000 presidential election. But it actually started with Nixon and Agnew.

Dangerous waters we're in. Here's Chait's piece in New York Magazine:

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/09/debt-ceiling-showdown-the-fight-of-obamas-life.html

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New Global Travel Alert

There's often some justifiable criticism of the State Department's sometimes sweeping travel warnings and alerts for being somewhat alarmist, but by and large travelers find useful information, and cause for caution, in them.

The agency has issued a general worldwide "caution" statement that seems to be founded partly on the potential ramifications and implications of the Nairobi mall terrorist massacre and the growing power of Al Qaeda-influenced Islamic terrorist gangs. Here it is in full:

The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated February 19, 2013, to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.
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. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.
Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.
In early August 2013, the Department of State instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations August 4 through August 10 because of security information received. The U.S. government took these precautionary steps out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may have planned to visit our installations.
U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attempted attacks on subway and rail systems, aviation, and maritime services. In the past, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, Glasgow, and New York City.
EUROPE: Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida, its affiliated organizations, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Europe. Additionally, there is a continuing threat in Europe from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. On February 1, 2013, an individual detonated a bomb at a side entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing one Embassy guard and injuring others. The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi/Cephesi or DHKP/C) claimed responsibility on its website for the attack. The DHKP/C has stated its intention to commit further attacks against the United States, NATO, and Turkey. In May 2013, in London, two Islamic extremists, unaffiliated with any group, killed a British soldier. The reported reason for the attack was to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed by British soldiers. European governments have taken action to guard against terrorist attacks, and some have made official declarations regarding heightened threat conditions. In the past several years, organized extremist attacks have been planned or carried out in various European countries. On February 5, the Bulgarian government announced its judgment that Hezbollah was responsible for a July 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas which resulted in the deaths of five tourists and a bus driver.
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-Qa’ida 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 Hezbollah, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Iraq is experiencing levels of violence not seen since 2007, and al-Qa’ida in Iraq is increasingly resurgent. Although U.S. interests have not been targeted directly, the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens, including kidnapping and terrorist violence, continues, even in Baghdad’s International Zone. Bahrain continues to see bouts of sectarian violence, with Shi’a insurgents conducting IED attacks against Bahraini government and security facilities. Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates are active throughout North Africa. In Algeria, terrorists sporadically attack Westerners and Algerian government targets, particularly in the Kabylie region, and near Algeria’s borders with Libya and Mali. In January 2013, 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. The In Amenas attack was staged from southern Libya, which has become a haven for regional terrorist organizations that present a threat to U.S. interests in Tripoli. Libyan security is largely provided by militias that occasionally fight one another, and that have been unable to protect U.S. persons from past attacks, such as the September 2012 attack against the U.S. Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi that led to the deaths of four U.S. citizens, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. 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. Continuing political and social unrest in Egypt has led to large demonstrations that have turned violent. Westerners and U.S. citizens have occasionally been caught in the middle of clashes and demonstrations. On June 28, a U.S. citizen was killed during a demonstration in Alexandria. On May 9, a private U.S. citizen was attacked with a knife outside the U.S. Embassy after being asked whether he was an American. Political and social unrest in Tunisia has also led to large demonstrations that occasionally turn violent. In September 2012, a large group of demonstrators breached the U.S. Embassy compound in Tunis, causing significant damage.
No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and throughout the country the potential exists for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, and chemical attacks, 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.
AFRICA: A number of al-Qa’ida operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in and around Africa. In February 2012, the emir of U.S-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced the alliance of the two organizations. Al-Shabaab has taken credit for the attack on the shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya on September 21, 2013, which claimed the lives of over 60 people and injured over a hundred more, including U.S. citizens. Al-Shabaab assassinations, suicide bombings, hostage taking, and indiscriminate attacks in civilian-populated areas are also frequent in Somalia. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated their intent to attack Somali authorities, the African Union Mission in Somalia, and non-military targets such as international donor offices and humanitarian assistance providers. Additionally, the terrorist group al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (an area that stretches across the African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea to include Senegal, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea). It has claimed responsibility for kidnappings, attempted kidnappings, and the murder of several Westerners throughout the region, including southern Algeria. AQIM-related threats against Westerners in Mali and elsewhere increased following the initiation of the U.S.-supported, French-led intervention in northern and central Mali, where the security environment remains fluid. In neighboring Niger, terrorists formerly associated with AQIM conducted suicide attacks targeting a French mining facility and a Nigerien military compound in Agadez in late May. The loosely organized group of factions known as Boko Haram continues to carry out significant improvised explosive device and suicide bombings in northern Nigeria, mainly targeting government forces and innocent civilians; attacks have continued at a high rate since their attack on the UN building in the capital of Abuja in 2011. Boko Haram and splinter group Ansaru have also claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of several Western workers and tourists, both in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon; Ansaru has murdered virtually all of its hostages in the face of real or perceived rescue attempts, while Boko Haram allegedly received a large ransom payment for the release of a French family abducted near a tourist park in northern Cameroon. In 2013, extremists have also targeted both Nigerians and foreign nationals involved in polio eradication efforts in northern Nigeria. Extremists attacked a school in northeast Nigeria, killing over 40 students, and have called for further attacks on educational institutions. Several agencies that have partnered with the U.S. government in the field of public health development in northern Nigeria have curtailed their activities in response to these threats. The president of Nigeria declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states in response to activities of extremist groups.
U.S. citizens considering travel by sea near the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, or in the southern Red Sea should exercise extreme caution, as there have been armed attacks, robberies, and kidnappings for ransom by pirates. The threat of hijacking to merchant vessels continues to exist in Somali territorial waters and as far as 1,000 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, Yemen, and Kenya in international waters. There has also been a recent rise in piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, including hijackings.
U.S. government maritime authorities advise mariners to avoid the port of Mogadishu and to remain at least 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. In addition, when transiting around the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, or in the Red Sea, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys and maintain good communications at all times. U.S. citizens traveling on commercial passenger vessels should consult with the shipping or cruise ship company regarding precautions that will be taken to avoid hijacking incidents. Commercial vessels should review the Department of Transportation Maritime Administration's Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region. Review our International Maritime PiracyFact Sheet for information on piracy in the southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean.
SOUTH ASIA: The U.S. government continues to receive information that terrorist groups in South Asia may also be planning attacks in the region, possibly against U.S. government facilities, U.S. citizens, or U.S. interests. The presence of al-Qa’ida, Taliban elements, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, indigenous sectarian groups, and other terror organizations, many of which are on the U.S. government's list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens in the region. Terrorists and their sympathizers have demonstrated their willingness and ability to attack locations where U.S. citizens or Westerners are known to congregate or visit. Their actions may include, but are not limited to, vehicle-borne explosive attacks, improvised explosive device attacks, assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults, or kidnappings.
Such attacks have occurred in a number of South Asian states, including Pakistan, where a number of extremist groups continue to target U.S. and other Western citizens and interests, and Pakistani government and military/law enforcement personnel. Suicide bombing attacks continue to occur throughout the country on a regular basis, often targeting government authorities such as police checkpoints and military installations, as well as public areas such as mosques, and shopping areas. U.S. citizens are increasingly targeted for kidnapping. No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and throughout the country the potential exists for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Elements of the Taliban and the al-Qa’ida terrorist network, as well as other insurgent groups hostile to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, remain active. Insurgents continue to target various U.S. and Afghan government facilities in Kabul City, including the June 25, 2013 attack against a U.S. government facility adjacent to the Afghan Presidential Palace and U.S. Embassy. There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping and assassination of U.S. citizens and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. India has experienced terrorist and insurgent activities that may affect U.S. citizens directly or indirectly. Anti-Western terrorist groups, some of which are on the U.S. government's list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, have been active in India, including Islamist extremist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami, Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Indian Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Tayyiba. Terrorists have targeted public places in India frequented by Westerners, including luxury and other hotels, trains, train stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas.
Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and other countries experienced civil unrest, large scale protests and demonstrations following the release of anti-Islamic videos and cartoons in September 2012.
CENTRAL ASIA: Supporters of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al-Qa’ida, the Islamic Jihad Union, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. government interests. 

Before You Go

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens living overseas or planning to travel abroad to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). When you enroll in STEP, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. Enrolling will also make it easier for the Embassy to contact you in the event of an emergency. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date; it is particularly important when you enroll or update your information to include a current phone number and e-mail address.
U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. For additional information, please refer to "A Safe Trip Abroad."
U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
As the Department of State continues to develop information on potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threat information through itsConsular Information Program documents, including Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, Country Specific Information, and Emergency and Security Messages, all of which are available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website at http://travel.state.gov. Stay up to date by bookmarking our website or downloading our free Smart Traveler iPhone or Google Play App for travel and timely security information at your fingertips. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.
In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, from other countries, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).  

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