Wednesday, 11 July 2018

"Low profile" warning to Americans dates back to Lockerbie

[What follows is excerpted from an article headlined The US embassy in the UK is telling Americans to “keep a low profile” during Trump’s visit published yesterday on the Vox website:]

The US Embassy in London is warning Americans to “keep a low profile” when President Donald Trump visits the UK from July 12 to 14.

Here’s why: Protesters who disagree with the US president’s policies are planning to stage multiple demonstrations during Trump’s trip. Most are set to take place on July 13, when Trump meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth.

And while this might sound extreme, it’s actually not. There are two reasons why.

“There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the alert. We send these out all the time,” Courtney Austrian, a spokesperson for the US mission in London, told me.

That practice dates back to 1998 [RB: this should, of course, be 1988], when a terrorist blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in an incident now known as the Lockerbie bombing. (The plane exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.) There were allegations afterward that the US government told employees it had intelligence of a terrorist attempt, which prompted officials to change their flight plans. It’s unclear if those claims were true or not. [RB: From The Helsinki warning: "On 5 December 1988 (16 days prior to the attack), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that, on that day, a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks ... The anonymous warning was taken seriously by the US government, and the State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all US carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a $5 security surcharge..."]

But since those allegations, US embassies around the world now give the same warnings to citizens as they do to employees, says Austrian. She added that embassy staff gets warnings like this all the time for mass demonstrations, which is why there is a warning now for all Americans.

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