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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Faux U.S. Consular Alert in Lebanon


 

INCIDENT SUMMARY

 

On August 26, an illegitimate “consular message” circulated through unidentified channels, stating with some urgency that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was alerting U.S. citizens and inviting them to contact the Embassy as soon as possible. The Embassy received numerous calls from concerned U.S. citizens, citing their interpretation of the urgent alert as indicative of an emergency. One caller provided the Embassy with the text of the message, which read: “URGENT: The U.S. embassy sends the red degree of its citizens in Lebanon and invites its citizens to contact the embassy as soon as possible.” The Regional Security Office (RSO) assured callers that neither the State Department nor Embassy had issued any such alert.

 

In addition, the Embassy released a notice to its website in response:

 

The U.S. Embassy did not send an urgent message to U.S. citizens on August 26. Official information is posted on this website, the Embassy Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sent by email to U.S. citizens who have registered in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Citizens may enroll in this program at STEP.

 

The fake alert may have stirred concerns amongst recipients due to recent concerns about the possibility of Israeli-Lebanese escalation following two separate incidents of Israeli drone strikes in Lebanese territory (in the Dahiyeh suburb of Beirut and an Iran-allied target in the Beqaa Valley). OSAC and RSO Beirut have received inquiries from various private-sector operators in the region, and reiterate that there has been no official consular messaging or a change to the Lebanese security environment at the time of publication.

 

MORE ON EMBASSY ALERTS

 

Security managers familiar with embassy messaging will recognize that the faux message contained several errors inconsistent with U.S. embassy messaging. Among these are the following:

 

·         U.S. embassies release “Alerts,” and label messaging as such. More specifically, these may be Security Alerts, Demonstration Alerts, Weather/Natural Disaster Alerts, or Health Alerts. The message in question did not contain any of this language.

·         U.S. embassies do not send their Alerts marked as “urgent” or any other measure of timeliness. Nor do U.S. embassies mark Alerts as “red degree” or any other color. Some U.S. embassies do have color-coded geographic notices for certain areas that may be more deserving of caution; a map will accompany nearly any mention of these in an Alert.

·         It is highly unlikely that any U.S. embassy would ask U.S. citizens to call the embassy en masse for any reason. Much more likely would be wording directing travelers to take a certain action, and to call a specific given telephone number (or visit a specific given website) for more information.

·         As with many faux messages, such as internet scams or poison-pen letters, this message contained poor grammar. U.S. citizens should assume proper messaging from one of their embassies would be grammatically correct.

OSAC reiterates that all legitimate alerts are located on individual embassy websites. U.S. embassies also send newly issued alerts via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to all enrollees. In addition, OSAC posts all alerts to its website, viewable without a password. OSAC maintains the entire archival database of messaging dating back more than a decade. Finally, those subscribed to OSAC newsletters will receive word of any newly-issued alerts in the newsletter distributed immediately following their release.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

 

As always, representatives of U.S. private-sector organizations may contact OSAC directly to assess the potential impact of security issues abroad on their organization and its interests abroad. OSAC constituents and those eligible for constituency can find contact information on OSAC’s Contact Us webpage. For additional information on this situation and other developments in Lebanon, contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team.

 

·         OSAC Lebanon 2019 Crime & Safety Report

·         State Department Lebanon Travel Advisory

·         State Department Country Information: Lebanon

·         U.S. Embassy Beirut Security Alert: Heightened Regional Tensions (May 15, 2019)

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