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Security and privacy information and advice at home and abroad.

Archive for July 2011

RQ: Pay Scales

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This question has come up a few times in my inbox as well as on the various forums with a Foreign Service bent;

Where can I find the Foreign Service pay scale for 2011?

You can find the 2011 (and, in fact, 2012) Pay scales here (PDF):

But why does it say “2010 FOREIGN SERVICE (FS) SALARY TABLE” ?  Way back when the deficit argument was just starting to ramp up, someone decided that a 2-year freeze on federal employees’ pay (oh, except Congress) and the subsequent two billion dollars in savings would make a difference in a deficit that is running over one trillion dollars.



In other words the President looked under the couch cushions for loose change and happened to find a particularly shiny penny.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.


reCaptcha Fail

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I’m all for the crowdsourcing of print digitization, but it’s a small wonder this word wasn’t recognized by OCR.

(For those unfamiliar with the reCaptcha system, it crowdsources optical character recognition by asking users to type in a word that digital OCR does not recognize.  The unknown word is paired with a known “control” word.  Both words are assumed correct if the control word is correct, but the results of the unknown word are not considered correct until multiple people have entered the same thing.  More on reCaptcha here and here.)

Hard reCaptcha.

I'm not up on my Greek.

Written by OSB

28/07/2011 at 23:59

Travel Warning: Central African Republic

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for the Central African Republic yesterday.  It reads as follows:

Central African Republic

July 28, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to the Central African Republic (CAR), and recommends against all but essential travel outside the capital, Bangui. Travelers in the CAR should exercise extreme caution. This replaces the Travel Warning of January 14, 2011, to reflect the current security situation and the potential for spontaneous demonstrations.

Armed militia groups, bandits, and poachers present real dangers, and the Central African government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country. There have been repeated attacks on Central African and expatriate travelers in the countryside. Poachers and armed men also pose a threat to game hunters in northern and eastern CAR. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) poses a similar threat to hunters in eastern CAR. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by OSB

28/07/2011 at 23:36

Three Interesting Papers from WEIS 2011

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The 10th annual Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS 2011) was held at George Mason University in June.  WEIS is “the leading forum for interdisciplinary scholarship on information security, combining expertise from the fields of economics, social science, business, law, policy and computer science” and almost never fails to produce interesting papers.  Here are the three I found most interesting and relevant to the average person.

Nevena Vratonjic, Julien Freudiger, Vincent Bindschaedler, and Jean-Pierre Hubaux of EPFL, Switzerland presented, “The Inconvenient Truth about Web Certificates” (PDF).  Read the rest of this entry »

Travel Warning: Colombia

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Colombia yesterday.  It reads as follows:


July 22, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations like Cartagena and Bogota, but violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and large cities. This updates and replaces the Travel Warning for Colombia issued November 10, 2010 to update information on recent security incidents and terrorist activity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by OSB

23/07/2011 at 08:54

RQ: Reconciliation

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This past weekend a reader asked,

How do you reconcile your career ambitions as a Specialist with the de facto status of Specialists as “support staff.”  Specialists don’t occupy the top positions at the State Department, nor do they ever (to my knowledge) become Ambassadors.  Since the opportunities for Foreign Service Officers are so much more prestigious at the upper levels, why didn’t you switch?

Short answer: I would never want to be an ambassador.

For a more detailed response, I offer the following points.

Very few FSOs become Ambassadors.  Very, very few.  I agree that Specialists with the ambition of becoming an Ambassador should absolutely take advantage of the various options available to them in terms of switching career tracks, or leverage their overseas experience with State to score well on the FSOT and in the oral assessment.  However, when you look at the larger picture the odds are still very, very long that you’ll ever make it that high.  As a counter to this line of reasoning; if you spend your entire 25-year career as one of the best Political officers the State Department has ever had, and you get passed over for a position by a political appointee, how would you feel?  At the highest levels qualification does not play as large a role as a stellar 25-year career might assume.

I spoke to Specialists being considered “support staff” in a previous post.  If you choose to accept “support staff” as a demerit, that is a personal choice.  I’ve never met an FSO who is ungrateful when I open their safe after they forget their combination, nor have I ever had to justify the importance of what I do to an FSO.  I do my job, am good at it, and it just so happens that my success facilitates the success of others.

Finally, I question the logic of judging a line of work based on the very top levels of what those in that profession can reach.  If you join State determined to become an ambassador you might very well reach that level.  The odds are that you won’t.  Others are perfectly satisfied in their chosen specialty for a myriad of reasons- experience in the field, career options after they retire, the desire to do something relevant to their education, etc.  To answer the question directly, I don’t reconcile my career ambitions as a Specialist with the unlikelihood of me becoming an Ambassador at all.  I don’t know how far up the SEO food chain I’ll go, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get my -01 at some point… and beyond that?  Who knows.  If not, oh well- I’ll retire without leaving anything back at post.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

Written by OSB

22/07/2011 at 06:24

Travel Warning: Libya

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Libya yesterday.  It reads as follows:


July 19, 2011

The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Libya, and recommends that U.S. citizens in Libya depart immediately due to the ongoing fighting between opposition and government forces throughout Libya. Currently, there is a risk of attacks against hotels and other public buildings in Benghazi and other opposition-held areas in Libya. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated February 25, 2011.

The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli suspended operations on February 25, 2011. The Hungarian government, acting through its Embassy in Tripoli, serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Libya. Services available to U.S. citizens in Libya are limited. U.S. citizens in need of assistance should first contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 1-877-407-4747 (if within the United States or Canada) or 1-202-501-4444 (if outside the United States or Canada), or send an email to For emergencies, U.S. citizens in Libya may contact the Hungarian Embassy in Tripoli directly. The Hungarian Embassy is located on Talha Ben Abdallah Street in the Ben Ashur region of Tripoli. The telephone number is 218 21 361-82-18, or 361-82-19. The fax number is 218 21 361-82-20 or 361-37-95. Email contact is available at, or Visas and travel documents to the U.S. are not issued at the Hungarian Embassy in Tripoli; individuals interested in visas should apply at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

The Department of State urges those U.S. citizens who decide to travel to or remain in Libya despite this Travel Warning to enroll their stay in Libya through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), online at, and provide their current contact and next-of-kin information.

Written by OSB

20/07/2011 at 11:47