Friday, January 31, 2014

Egypt: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning, Tourists Be Cautious

Effective January 30, 2014, the US Department of State alerts US citizens to the risks of traveling to Egypt due to continuing political and social unrest.  

Based on an assessment of the security situation in Egypt, the Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for US Embassy personnel on November 6, 2013.  The State Department lifted ordered departure status for US Consulate General Alexandria on December 16, 2013. However, Consulate General personnel are based out of the US Embassy in Cairo while required facility security upgrades are being made in Alexandria.
Political unrest, which intensified after the July 2013 change of government, is likely to continue in the near future. 
Demonstrations have on numerous occasions resulted in violent clashes between security forces and protesters and between protesters supporting rival factions, some of which have resulted in deaths and injuries to those involved and in property damage. Participants have generally thrown rocks, and Molotov cocktails, with security forces responding with tear gas. Police, on occasion, have used live ammunition as a crowd control measure and in response to live ammunition used by demonstrators against police. 
Most violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including Cairo and its suburbs, Alexandria, and Port Said. Gender-based violence in and around protest areas, where women have been the targets of sexual assault, poses an ongoing concern. There has been a recent and notable increase in the use of explosive devices to target police or other government institutions or individuals, which have resulted in casualties and damage to infrastructure.
The security situation in North Sinai, including the major east-west coastal highway and the towns of El Arish, Shaykh Zuwayd, El Gorah and Rafah, has been marked by ongoing violent attacks on Egyptian security personnel and by continuing and frequently intense security operations against the sources of violence. The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid travel to North Sinai.
The security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes, and Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahhab, Nuweiba, and Taba has been calm; US citizens should nonetheless remain alert to local security developments.
The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse. On June 28, 2013, a US citizen was killed during a demonstration in Alexandria. 
US citizens have also been arrested and deported for being in close proximity to demonstrations and for taking pictures of demonstrations, police and military. Foreign journalists, credentialed or not, have also been increasingly targeted by both security forces and Egyptian citizens while attempting to cover demonstrations or gain access to restricted areas.  Several have been detained for prolonged periods as a result of their activities, and others have been subjected to verbal or physical assault by citizens suspicious about the reason for their presence.
Because of the proximity of the US Embassy to Tahrir Square and other demonstration locations in Cairo, the US Embassy has sometimes been closed to the public on short notice due to violent protests. The Embassy will notify US citizens as quickly as possible of any closing and the types of emergency consular services that will be available. Should security forces block off the area around the US Embassy during demonstrations, US citizens should contact the American Citizens Services section before attempting to come to the US Embassy during that time. US citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt.
The US Embassy restricts its employees and their family members from traveling to specific areas listed in the Country Specific Information Sheet, and advises all US citizens to do the same.  Depending on the current security situation, the US Embassy may also restrict the movements of its employees and their families within Cairo itself.  We continue to urge US citizens to stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Please check our Country Specific Information Sheet for further security guidance. Remain alert to local security developments and be vigilant regarding your personal security; know the locations of police and fire stations, hospitals, and the US Embassy.
Unless otherwise indicated in a public announcement, the US Embassy is open for all routine American Citizens Services by appointment. US citizens needing emergency assistance do not need an appointment. Visit the Embassy website to check the latest changes to Embassy hours or services. US citizens with routine phone inquiries may call the Embassy's American Citizens Services section at 2797-2301, Sunday to Thursday from 0900 hours and until 1600 hours.  For emergencies after business hours and on weekends and holidays, US citizens can contact the Embassy Duty Officer via the Embassy switchboard on 2797-3300. The US Embassy is closed on US federal holidays. U.S. citizens in Egypt are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
For the latest security information, US citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website where the Worldwide CautionCountry Specific Information for EgyptTravel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.
Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 0800 hours and until 2000 hours EST,  Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).
The US Embassy in Egypt is located at 5 Tawfik Diab Street (formerly known as Latin America Street), Garden City, Cairo. For emergencies after business hours and on weekends and holidays, US citizens can contact the Embassy Duty Officer via the Embassy switchboard on 2797-3300. 
For the full text of the Department's latest travel warning on Egypt, see the below:

COMMENT: Although I understand fully the political pressure my former colleagues at the US Department of State must deal with in terms of the tourism impact on the Egyptian economy, I have BOLDED all sections of the text of the Department's updated travel warning, as all mandate security vigilance at all times.

It is essential that foreign travelers to Egypt realize fully that Egypt is not yet "out of the woods," in terms of it being a normal tourist destination. It is not.

Calamities of all sorts can occur with little notice, so I do emphasize that anyone traveling to Egypt for non-essential travel keep in mind that security threats can occur at any time.

It should be noted that the Department of State has not distributed a Crime and Safety Report for Cairo in 2013 or 2014, largely because the political situation in the capital is so fluid and unpredictable.

Personally speaking, I would not visit Cairo as a tourist destination until such time as the political situation in the country is more stable, as many tourist destinations in the capital may be inhibited by demonstrations, traffic delays and closures depending on the level of political unrest.

From the standpoint of Luxor, Aswan, the Luxor-Aswan Nile cruise routes and the Red Sea/Southern and Western Sinai resorts such as Hurghada, Sharm el-Shiekh, Dahhab, Nuweiba and Taba have been calm.

If traveling to any of the above destinations, it would be far more prudent to depart from international airports outside of Cairo.

Nigeria: Muslim Extremists Reportedly Kill 99 People in Borno, Adamawa

According to The Arab Times, suspected Islamic extremists, very likely representing the terror group, Boko Haram, used high explosives and small arms to attack a village and worshippers during a Christian church service in Nigeria’s northeast, killing at least 99 people and forcing hundreds from their homes.

The attacks in the two states resulted in one of the highest death tolls in recent attacks by militants who are defying an 8-month old military state of emergency in three states in northern Nigeria designed to halt an Islamic resurgence.

Boko Haram detonated several explosions in Kawuri in Borno state after launching their assault near the weekly market as vendors were packing up.

Reportedly,  52 people died and the entire village was burned to the ground, including 300 homes. IEDs left behind detonated on Monday morning, narrowly missing security personnel who were collecting bodies in Kawuri.

COMMENT: A police official who evacuated wounded victims confirmed at least 52 people were killed and 16 wounded. Also on Sunday, suspected militants in Adamawa state, south of Borno, stormed a Roman Catholic church during a Sunday morning service in Wada Chakawa village.

The Reverend Raymond Danbouye, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Yola, said dozens of people were killed. Local Chairman Maina Ularamu said officials recovered 45 bodies including those of two police officers. 

Nearly 200 people have been killed this month in attacks by suspected members of the Boko Haram terrorist network in the area around Maiduguri. The city is the birthplace of the group, whose name in the local Hausa language means “Western education is forbidden.” A January 14 car-bomb also detonated in Maiduguri, killing about 70 people.

According to the US Department of State's four-tier threat level categorization system, the criminal and political threat nationwide is described as "Critical," the highest level of threat.

As I have said so often in the past, I STRONGLY discourage tourist travel to Nigeria.

For those who have ESSENTIAL and CRITICAL business travel to the country, I suggest the following:

1. Realize that the president of Nigeria has ordered a state of emergency in the the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states until further notice, largely to counter the insurgency of the terror group, Boko Haram.

Boko Haram wants to impose sharia law in a country of nearly 170 million people mixed roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. It has become the largest security threat in Africa's top oil exporter and second largest economy;

2. If your are unconvinced that your personal security cannot be assured during your visit to Nigeria, decline offers to visit the country;

3. Keep in mind that Nigeria is a virtually lawless society with few resources to safeguard its own citizens and visiting foreign travelers.

4. If any of our readers who are contemplating travel to Nigeria want security guidance, please email me at:

Italy: Update--Amanda Knox, 26, Raffaele Sollecito, 29, Found Guilty of Murdering Meredith Kircher

According to The Associated Press, an Italian appellate court in Florence on Thursday (January 30) upheld an earlier conviction against Amanda Knox, 26, and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 29, in the murder of Knox's former roommate, Meredith Kercher. 

Kercher, who was 21 at the time of her murder, was bludgeoned to death. She was killed on November 1, 2007 in Perugía, Italy.
The appellate court sentenced Knox to 28½ years in prison and Sollecito to 25 years for Kercher's 2007 murder. The court did not immediately order Sollecito's arrest and noted that Knox was "justifiably abroad" after an appellate court in 2011 acquitted the two and ordered them freed.
COMMENT: The new conviction immediately fueled speculation that a long, drawn-out extradition process for Knox is in the offing, assuming the verdicts are upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court, a process that could take at least another year or two.
After the acquittal in 2011, Knox returned to Seattle, WA, hoping that that would end her involvement with the Italian criminal justice system. Yet, Italy's Supreme Court soon ordered a third trial that returned new guilty verdicts and extended her original 26-year sentence. 
As for Sollecito, he was taken to a police station after the guilty verdicts were read in court, where his passport was stamped that he cannot leave Italy as mandated by the Florence court.
That being said, fraudulent passports can easily be obtained in Italy. In a statement made from Seattle, Amanda Knox denounced the ruling as unjust, saying she was "frightened and saddened" by the perversion of justice.
Imagine the wonderful times the family might have shared were Meredith still alive? Imagine!
For Amanda Knox, she will no doubt return to tabloid celebrity status for many years to come.
Tragically, though, for the Kerchers, young Meredith is dead and has been for six long years. The only thing left for them is continued loss and heartache, not knowing exactly how their precious daughter actually died.

Justice will never bring Meredith back, but it will calm the souls of her family...if someone goes to prison. Tw
hich will be something we have to come to terms with," said Stephanie Kercher, the victim's sister who attended the verdict with her brother Lyle.Lawyers for both Knox and Sollecito have vowed to appeal, but must wait to see the written reasoning behind the verdict before doing so. The Florence court has 90 days to issue its motivations.

India: Japanese Tourist Files Complaint Against Alleged Rapist Posing as Trekking Guide

According to, Goa police have filed a complaint of alleged rape against a Srinagar resident for allegedly raping a Japanese tourist in August 2013.

Speaking to IANS on Friday (January 31), police inspector Paresh Naik said the Japanese tourist said in her complaint that she was afraid of filing a complaint in Jammu and Kashmir, fearing physical harm. So, she chose to file a complaint in Goa.

COMMENT: Police in Goa have since transferred the criminal complaint back to Kashmir where the rape reportedly occurred.

The complaint reveals that the alleged rapist had posed as a trekking guide and had taken Rs.20,000 (US$319.00) from her for an excursion during which he sexually assaulted her.

Despite my best efforts to discourage solo women from traveling to India, rape allegations against foreign women continue to occur.

This report will be updated as new information is received.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tip of the Day: More Than Half of All Acts of Terrorism Occurred in Just Three Countries

If you're interested in reducing your risk of acts of terrorism, please consider that in 2012, more than HALF of of all incidence of terrorism occurred in just three countries:

1. Pakistan

2. Iraq

3. Afghanistan


While the total number of terrorist attacks around the world has been steadily rising, it is also an increasingly concentrated phenomenon. New data released today by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism based at the University of Maryland reveals that just three countries for the year 2012—Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan—accounted for 54% of attacks and 58% of fatalities that year. 

After Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan:

The next five countries include:

1. India

2. Nigeria

3. Somalis

4. Yemen

5. Thailand

India: Japanese Tourist, 35, Duped, Robbed by Assailants Posing as Engineering Students

According to The Times of India, two criminals posing as engineering students duped a solo Japanese tourist, 35, to show him the sunrise at a local marina near Srinivasapuram (a slum section located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu). 

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of the state Tamil Nadu, and is India's  fourth largest city with a population of 7.6 million people. Chennai was seriously affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Subsequently, they took the Japanese tourist on the beach walking toward Srinivasapuram. Upon reaching a secluded area, the two assailants robbed the tourist of an undisclosed sum of money, three ATM cards, his watch and passport.

COMMENT: Fortunately, two local residents befriended the tourist and took him to the Foreshore Estate police station.

Inasmuch as the police officers at the station did not understand the foreigner, and seemingly did not have access to a Japanese translator (see below), crime victim ended up spending the next eight hours at the police station. 

Eventually, the officers determined that the Japanese visitor was staying at a lodge in Triplicane, resulting in the police filing a complaint with the appropriate jurisdiction.

According to the US Department of State the threat level in the capital city of New Delhi is "High," which is the second highest threat level in the Department's four-tier system of descending levels of threat: "Critical, High, Medium and Low."

Solo foreign travelers, both men and women, continue to be targeted predominantly by local criminals.

Yemen: US Citizens Urged To Defer Travel, Those in Yemen Are Urged to Depart

Effective January 29, 2014, the US Department of State warns US  citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  

The Department urges US citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those US citizens currently living in Yemen to depart.    

The Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for non-emergency US Embassy personnel on January 28, 2014. 

The US Embassy in Sana'a remains a restricted staffing post, however, and as staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to assist US citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services remains limited. 

Embassy staff are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of the capital. In addition, movements within Sana’a are severely constrained by and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation. 

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high. 

In September 2012, a mob attacked the US Embassy compound. Demonstrations continue to take place in various parts of the country and may quickly escalate and turn violent. US citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise extreme caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continue to be active throughout Yemen. The US government remains highly concerned about possible attacks on US citizens (whether visiting or residing in Yemen), and US facilities, businesses, and perceived US and Western interests. 

A US citizen was attacked and killed in Taiz on March 18, 2012 and the press reported that AQAP claimed responsibility. An ongoing risk of kidnapping exists throughout Yemen. In the last year, international and local media have reported several kidnappings of Westerners. Violent crime is also a growing problem; local media reported the murder of two US citizens in Taiz and Aden in 2013. In addition, piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean is a security threat to maritime activities in the region. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet.

US government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist. Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the US government for travel costs. 

The lack of a valid US passport may hinder US citizens' ability to depart the country and may slow the US Embassy's ability to provide assistance. 

US citizens in Yemen should ensure that they have proper and current documentation at all times. For more information, see "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis" on the Department's Internet website. Evacuation options from Yemen are extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and other security concerns. The US government typically evacuates US citizens to a safe haven, and travelers are responsible for making their own onward travel plans. Travelers should not expect to be evacuated to the United States.

US citizens remaining in Yemen despite this Travel Warning should limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, enroll their presence in Yemen through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and provide their current contact information and next-of-kin or emergency contact information. 

If you wish to depart Yemen, you should make plans and depart as soon as possible. The airport is open and commercial flights are operating. There are no current plans for US government-sponsored evacuations. US citizens seeking to depart Yemen are responsible for making their own travel arrangements.

The US Embassy in Sana'a is located at Dhahr Himyar Zone, Sheraton Hotel District, P.O. Box 22347. The telephone number of the Consular Section is (967)(1)755-2000, extension 2153 or 2266. For after-hours emergencies involving US citizens, please call (967)(1)755-2000 (press zero for extension) or (967) 733-213-509. From time to time the Embassy may temporarily close or suspend public services for security reasons. Emergency assistance to US citizens during non-business hours (or when public access is restricted) is available through Embassy duty personnel.

For the latest security information, US citizens living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs website where the current Worldwide CautionTravel Alerts and Travel Warnings, and Country Specific Information for Yemen can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers in other countries, by calling a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available during 0800 hours and 2000 hours EST Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).

The US Embassy also encourages US citizens to review the Traveler's Checklist which includes valuable security information for those living and traveling abroad. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play to have travel information at your fingertips.

For the full text of the updated travel warning, see:

Italy: Update--Deliberations Begin in Appellate Court of Third Knox Trial

According to The Associated Press, a Florence appeals court has begun deliberations in the third murder trial of US student Amanda Knox, 26,  in the obvious absence Knox herself, largely because she is safely at home in her native country.
The court entered chambers at 1015 hours on Thursday morning (January 30), with the last round of rebuttals by Knox's defense team closing four months of arguments in the third trial for the brutal 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, 21.
COMMENT: Although Knox awaited the verdict half-a-world away in the safety of her hometown of Seattle, WA, her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, appeared in the Florence  court.
A verdict is expected later today.
I urge our readers who know only of tabloid celebrity  Amanda Knox's side of the story, to go to the below website for some perspective:
Unlike Meredith Kircher, 21, Amanda Knox, 26, can comfortably look forward to a long, fruitful life thanks to the pro-defendant criminal justice system in Italy.
The Kircher family, sadly, has been denied justice and will never have final peace.
For a much different perspective, please see John Kircher's April 2012 book, MEREDITH: OUR DAUGHTER'S MURDER AND THE HEARTBREAKING QUEST FOR THE TRUTH. Mr. Kircher's book includes free shipping anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Jamaica: Update--US Tourist, 53, Resident of Las Vegas Killed by Personal Watercraft, Operator Flees Scene

According to The Associated Press, US tourist Thomas Torres, 53, of Las Vegas, NV was killed on Tuesday (January 28) after being struck in the head by a personal watercraft off a popular western beach resort.
Constable Carla Francis of the Jamaican police force's communications office identified the victim by name, age and place of residence.
Torres was reportedly swimming in the sea off the beach in Negril when he was hit by the watercraft, Francis said. Witnesses told police the operator of the watercraft sped off as beachgoers jumped into the water to pull Torres to shore.
Torres was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The operator of the jet-ski, fled from the area, although

A man reportedly already in trouble with the law and with a case before the courts, has been taken into custody and four Jet Skis seized, after an American tourist became the causality of a hit-and-run accident in Negril, Westmoreland on Tuesday, February, 28.
Police detectives have indicated that they have taken a man in for questioning hours after the fatal incident he was said to have been involved in. It is understood that the accused was already before the courts for illegally operating a water craft machine.
The dead American has been identified as 53 year old Thomas Torres Castillo a resident from Las Vegas, Nevada.
According to reports, Castillo was reportedly swimming close to his hotel in which he was staying, Travellers Beach Hotel when the fatal incident took place.
Police in the tourist resort town of Negril, Westmoreland said at about 1:15 p.m. Castillo was struck in the head by the jet-ski, which at the time did not stop. 
The American, who was vacationing in the island with his wife, was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Investigations are ongoing.
Days after the incident Assistant Superintendent of the Marine Police Adrian Hamilton, revealed in an interview with another entity that the suspect who has had previous run-ins with the law, was before the court only weeks ago, (January 9) for operating without a license and insurance.
In recent months there have been several complaints about jet skis being operated in areas reserved for swimming. 
Late last year October, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill told Parliament that there would be a six-month suspension on the importation of all jet skis for commercial use.
He also said, that the Ministry of Tourism had held talks with the marine police and the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard about actions to be taken against illegal jet-ski operators.     
In the meantime there is a call from some members of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) for a complete ban on jet skis in certain resort areas. 
This would be an interim step until permanent measures are implemented. 
COMMENT: A few months ago, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill announced in Parliament that regulations on the safe usage of personal watercraft would be strengthened and enforced. He made the announcement amid growing concern about accidents as well as the environmental impact and noise pollution from person watercraft.
McNeill also imposed a six-month ban on the importation of new watercraft and said all personal watercraft activities in resort areas would be conducted beyond swimming areas and away from piers and shops.
Kingsley Roberts, communications director for Jamaica's tourism ministry, said officials were awaiting a full report on Tuesday's incident and had no immediate comment other than the fact they regretted the death of the American. 
In August 2013, another deadly personal watercraft accident made headlines on the Caribbean island. A seven-year-old Jamaican girl was killed while playing in the sand in the northern resort town of Ocho Rios when a watercraft operator lost control and skidded up the beach, slamming into her. Several relatives of the girl were injured. The operator, a tourist, was charged with manslaughter.
I continue to urge visitors from abroad to be wary of personal watercraft in emerging nations as few island-nations have yet to effectively regulate these often dangerous watercraft.

Additionally, few rental operators ensure that all operators who rent such vehicles are given thorough instruction in their operation and that a Jamaican driver's license or foreign driving permits are copied before a rental agreement is finalized.

Tip of the Day: Answers to Questions Posted in Yesterday's Tip of the Day: Mobile Phones

1. You're driving in a foreign country and suddenly realize that a group of men are driving behind you erratically! 

Answer: Do NOT drive to your home (if a resident), as the situation could very easily go from bad to worse.

If you're staying at a local hotel that you're a guest in, drive up to the front entrance, quickly exit your vehicle and run in and ask to speak to the security director. Explain you're plight to him/her.

As a retired special agent/Regional Security Officer (RSO) from the US Department of State I would generally suggest that you contact your nearest embassy or consulate for help, but my extensive history with US embassies and consulates, with which I've had years of experience, are rarely waiting with welcome arms to help you in a true emergency.

2. You are driving in a developing country for the first time and unfortunately declined "full comprehensive coverage" because you are trying to save money on transportation! You are lost in the city and suddenly you strike a pedestrian in a cross-walk. He is not moving. Who are you going to call?

Answer: Unfortunately, this is not a good situation to find yourself in. On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the highest, this could well be described as a 3 or 4.

Depending heavily on what type of positive relations your government enjoys with the host nation, you should prepare yourself to having your passport confiscated and/or your identity card if you've resident in the country.

Here is a tip that all long-term residents should have all of the numbers in their "speed-dialer" of their mobile phone: (1) Name of the nearest hospital  that speaks your language; (2) the day-time and after-hours numbers of your nearest embassy or consulate; (3) the name of a reputable attorney who speaks your language; (4) your employer (if applicable); and  (5) your closest friend, preferably in the country you're in.

If you're not lucky enough to have these numbers already inputted into your "speed-dialer" I would urge you to call your closest friend FIRST, provide him/her your credit card number, expiration date and security code and ask them to contact a reputable attorney to represent you. Also, tell them what police station you're being taken to and phone number if known.

Now, the hard part: Be prepared to be detained, potentially arrested and even jailed for injuring and potentially killing a host government national.

Please hope that you have NOT been drinking as some countries treat those who injure or kill a citizen severely.

Regardless of whether you're in the country with either a business or tourist visa, if your visit is short, you may not need personal liability insurance, but from experience, I would strongly suggest it.

3.  Always carry a cell-phone charger with you when traveling abroad, particularly if you are frequently talking on the phone.

4. Do you know which countries require a "hands-free" device?

Answer: If you don't know, go to:

5. Is the cell-phone you are using abroad an unlocked, quad-band phone?

Answer: This might take a few more words than you're comfort zone permits, but the answer is pretty simple and I suspect you'll become much better informed:

First of all, if you have a mobile phone that is serviced through a wireless provider, you have what is referred to as a LOCKED mobile phone.

Personally, I don't like LOCKED mobile phones simply because using them abroad, particularly in countries where they function perfectly well, are costly (e.g., roughly US$3-5 per minute).

UNLOCKED quad-band GSM phones will operate in almost any country, although I urge you to verify this before you purchase any UNLOCKED phone. They also function because the SIM card used on an unlocked phone is specific to the country.

If you purchased an UNLOCKED GSM/HSDPA quad-band phone off the Internet like I did (Samsung Galaxy ACE S5830), you should be able to operate very inexpensively in most countries.

There are four different frequencies of GSM service around the world: 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, and 1900MHz. Most cheap phones are single or dual band, meaning they only work on one or two of those frequencies so they will only work in one or two regions of the world.

Most high-end phones are Quad-Band meaning they work on all  four frequencies. You want to unlock a Quad-Band phone because that will work with ALL carriers and in ALL countries around the world!

The definition of a locked cell phone is a cell phone that is programmed to only work with one GSM carrier. Almost all wireless carriers such as Cingular, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, VoiceSteam, etc. began a marketing ploy years ago to entice customers to buy their service by paying for most, or all, of the cost of a new cell phone (instead of the customer having to buy it) providing the customer would commit to a one-or-two year contract to use their wireless service.

That's one reason why the US has one of the most inflexible mobile phone systems in the world. 

The wireless carriers did not want that expensive phone to be able to be used for free at a later time by the customer with a different carrier, so they got the cell phone manufactures to program the phones to be locked so they only work with their service and no others. 

The good news is you can unlock any GSM phone relatively easily. Most are easy to unlock just by typing in a code, and some others just take a few extra button presses.

Now you know why 95% of all carriers lock their phones. If your mobile has been purchased or used by one of the wireless carriers, assume it is LOCKED. 

Sadly, most mobile phones sold in the US are locked, although increasingly the Internet is fully of unlocked, quad-band GSM phones.

You can find hundreds of companies that unlock cell phones on eBay and on the internet. The local "mom-and-pop" shops can usually unlock most phones, but charge you far more than the internet companies will. 

Most internet-based companies are able to unlock most phones remotely. All you have to do is send them the IMEI serial number on back of your phone (all phones have one, it's right above the bar codes) and they will send you a code to unlock the cell phone.

Some companies ask you to send them your phone. Each model is different, so you will have to search a little to find the best deal for someone to unlock your particular phone model. These unlock codes are usually $4.00 to over $100.00 depending on the model of the phone you have and which company you choose to buy the unlock code from. 

The only thing you have to be careful about is typing in a wrong code too many times. All SIM locked phones only allow five tries total. The fifth wrong access code locks the phone completely so it won't turn on or work at all, and you have to send it back to the factory to have them reset it which takes a few weeks. 

In all honesty, I knew that I wanted an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone for overseas use, which is why I selected the Samsung Galaxy ACE S5830.


1. Buy an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone, as it will work on all four GSM frequencies.

2. If you currently have a LOCKED GSM quad-band phone you like, keep it and go to dealers who can "unlock LOCKED access codes."

3. If you don't have a GSM quad-band phone use it at home and purchase an unlocked, quad-band GSM phone with all the bells and whistles you need for overseas use. 

Germany: Chancellor Merkel Warns Nations Who Spy on Their Allies Risk Destroying Trust

According to The Associated Press, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday (January 29) that countries who spy on their allies risk destroying trust, resulting in less rather than enhanced security.
The US says its surveillance programs are focused on threats to national security, including terrorism, but conveniently omitted incidents of  economic espionage against trusted allies including Chancellor Merkel, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and numerous other trusted allies in Europe.

Merkel used her inaugural address to Parliament after her re-election to slam the US and the United Kingdom over their spy programs. Among the allegations to surface from secret US government documents released by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden last year (2013) are that friendly countries and their leaders--including Merkel--have been the target of electronic eavesdropping.
"Actions where the ends justify the means, where everything that is technically possible is done, harms trust," Merkel said. "It sows distrust. In the end there will be less, not more, security."
COMMENT: Chancellor Merkel said her government felt a responsibility to protect the privacy rights of its citizens, too. Yet, she rejected calls to pressure Washington into signing a "no spy" agreement between the two countries by suspending trade talks between the US and the EU. 
Merkel also said despite the recent friction, the "trans-Atlantic partnership remains of outstanding importance….Germany cannot wish for a better partner than the United States of America," she said.
Merkel has accepted an invitation from US President Barack Obama to visit Washington in the coming months, though no date has been set. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Wednesday that the spying issue would be discussed during the visit.

Hawaii: Update--Ivy Harris' Pimp Charged in Transporting a Prostitute Across State Lines

According to The Oregonian, A federal grand jury in Portland, OR has returned an indictment against Mark Anthony Miles Jr., 35, charging Miles in transporting Ivanice "Ivy" Harris, 29, across state lines in May 2013 so she could work as a prostitute. 

The four-count indictment charges Miles of traveling with Harris in early May to Hawaii to promote his "business enterprise," which was "pimping" her for work as a prostitute. 

Tragically, Harris' body was found some 40 miles from Honolulu on May 20. Active duty Marine Master Sergeant Nathaniel Cosby USMC  has been charged in her death.

Miles was arraigned Monday (January 27) and a detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

COMMENT: Miles was one of eight alleged Portland-area pimps indicted on federal charges as part of an FBI-led enforcement called "Operation Traffic Stop.'' The defendants are accused of transporting young Portland women across the country to engage in prostitution, including to Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho and Minnesota, federal prosecutors said.

"Local traffickers are sending young Portland-area women all over the country to have sex with strangers for money,'' said Oregon's US Attorney Amanda Marshall. "These young women, far from home, are being placed in grave danger, so that their pimp can buy himself a Mercedes, or a Cadillac, or an expensive pair of jeans.'' In the Miles case, federal prosecutors are seeking to seize his 2006 Mercedes Benz if he's convicted, according to court filings.

The defendants are charged under both the federal Travel Act and Mann Act. The Travel Act accuses them of traveling to another state to promote prostitution and the Mann Act accuses them of transporting women to other states to have them engage in prostitution. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Portland police arrested Miles last Friday (January 24).

Harris was visiting Hawaii to celebrate her 29th birthday with Miles, whom police and friends also have described as her boyfriend.

Detectives successfully linked Miles to Ms. Harris' death after reviewing surveillance footage that depicted Cosby and Harris meeting outside a Waikiki bar and later kissing in the elevator of a hotel where he was staying.

The other defendants arrested on federal charges of promoting prostitution across state lines include: Steven "Flawless'' Huffman Jr., 40; Jorge "Baby Slim'' Ortega Jr., 32; Jermaine "Chocolate'' Hankins, 38; Michael "Mackin Mike'' Willis Jr., 28; DeShawne "The Don'' Howard, 32; and Camilio "Killa'' Carradine, 33.

Two more defendants accused of sex trafficking a minor and transporting the minor for the purpose of prostitution have yet to be arrested.

Our thanks go out to the US Attorney's office in Portland and the FBI's excellent work in uncovering this criminal enterprise.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

Bolivia: China's Harzone Industry Corp. Wins Contract to Build Bridges

China’s Harzone Industry Corp. has been selected to build two bridges in Bolivia’s Amazon region that, once completed, will be the nation’s longest, the official ABI news agency said Friday (January 24).

The $69.4 million contract was signed in the northern Amazon province of Pando by Harzone and the Bolivian Highway Administration (ABC), in a ceremony attended by President Evo Morales.

Construction of the bridges over the Beni and Madre de Dios Rivers is part of the government’s plan to improve transportation links in the country.

During the rainy season, the rivers overflow their banks and area communities are cut off due to the impossibility of boat transportation.

COMMENT: The 580-meter-long (1,900-foot-long) bridge over the Madre de Dios river will be concluded in 3½ years and cost $42.2 million, 70% of which will come from the national government and 30% from Pando’s government, the ABC announced.

The Beni II bridge, which will stretch for 480 meters (1,570 feet) and cost $27.2 million, will provide a first-ever road link between the provinces of Beni and Pando.

Politically, as leftist governments have risen in Latin America, increasingly PRC-based firms have established a foot-hold in the region.

It is unknown as to how many international firms were asked to bid on the projects.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tip of the Day: Always Carry a Mobile Phone When Traveling Abroad, Particularly for Emergencies

I have often urged all travelers to carry a mobile phone 24/7 when traveling abroad in the event of a security emergency.

Let me share a few examples:

1. You're driving in a foreign country and suddenly realize that a group of men are driving behind you erratically! 

Quickly: Who do you call in this crisis? Do you even have a mobile phone? A very bad time not to have one.

2. You are driving in a developing country for the first time and unfortunately declined "full comprehensive coverage" because you are trying to save money on transportation! You are lost in the city and suddenly you strike a pedestrian in a cross-walk. He is not moving. Who are you going to call?

Quickly: Is the number of your nearest embassy or consulate in the speed-dialer of you cell-phone? If not, please place it there, as you may never know when you need to make that call. Very often the after-hours number is different.

3.  Always carry a cell-phone charger with you when traveling abroad, particularly if you are frequently talking on the phone.

Quickly: Do you know whether the country you're in requires you to have a "hands-free" device? Do you know where to get some information?

4. Is the cell-phone you are using abroad an unlocked, quad-band phone?

Quickly: do you know the difference between a locked, quad-band phone and an unlocked, quad-band phone?

If you'd like the answers to these critical questions, please check the Tip of the Day tomorrow (January 29, 2014)!

North Korea: Update--US Diplomat Urges Pardoning of Imprisoned US Citizen Kenneth Bae

According to The Associated Press, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies' has called for Pyongyang to release US-naturalized citizen Kenneth Bae, 44, originally from South Korea.

At a news conference earlier this month, Mr. Bae said his plight is worsening due to poor health.
"We hope that they're willing to release Kenneth Bae," Davies told reporters following talks with Chinese officials in Beijing. "His family is understandably very worried about his fate and would like him to be returned to them."
Bae was arrested in November 2012, while voluntarily leading a tour group in North Korea and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified subversive activity, which is always expected from Pyongyang. 

COMMENT: Bae was relocated to a prison hospital last summer in poor health, but said at his news conference that he was being transferred back to his prison cell.
Davies said the US government had made direct appeals to North Korean representatives on Bae's behalf to no avail. Although North Korea has released detained Americans before following appeals, it has shown no indication that it is willing to do so in Bae's case.

Having spent the better part of my career as a US Department of State special agent and Senior Regional Security Officer (SRSO), often helping US citizens extricate themselves from bad choices they have made because of inexperience or naiveté, it must be emphasized that Mr. Bae voluntarily took tour groups to North Korea, knowing that the government there would potentially accuse him of trumped-up charges, particularly if he was engaged in missionary activities.

Kenneth Bae is a naturalized US citizen, having moved to California in 1986 where he later attended the University of Oregon, but dropped out after two years. 

In April 2013, Bae was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in North Korea.

Despite being a naturalized US citizen, Bae reportedly lived in China with his wife and stepdaughter for seven years. Subsequently, he created a tourism company called "Nations Tour" that were allegedly billed as missionary trips, although it is unknown with which denomination he was affiliated. 

Working with an evangelical organization known as Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Bae was reportedly accused of preaching against the North Korean government in both in American and South Korean churches.

On December 21, 2012, North Korea announced that it had charged an American identified as Bae Jun-ho with "hostile acts against the republic.

During January 7-10, 2013, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson was unable to meet Bae and delivered a letter from Bae's son to North Korean authorities.

On April 30, 2013, North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor. On May 14, 2013, he was moved to a "special prison," where he would perform farm labor, an activity that he had never performed in the past.

On July 3, 2013, an interview with Bae was released, in which he spoke of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, a fatty liver and back problems.

A Swedish ambassador met with Bae in a hospital in August 2013; Bae's sister reported that he was moved from the camp because of deteriorating health and after losing more than 50 pounds (23 kg). Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, arrived in North Korea on October 11, 2013 to visit her son for five days. She was allowed three visits, totaling six hours.

On July 3, 2013, an interview with Bae was released, in which he begged for forgiveness from his captors and for United States' help. It was confirmed later in July that former President Jimmy Carter had no plans to visit North Korea and release Bae.

Although family members of Kenneth Bae are scheduled to visit with US Secretary of State John Kerry next week, it appears that US efforts to secure Bae's release have been exhausted.

I continue to strongly discourage US veterans of the Korean Conflict (1950-53) and ethnic South Koreans, particularly those that are now US citizens, in visiting North Korea under any circumstances.