Previewing Upcoming Changes to the Department's Safety and Security Messages for U.S. Citizens

Special Briefing
Carl C. Risch
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC
December 8, 2017


MR GREENAN: It’s a pleasure to introduce you all this morning to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch. Mr. Risch was previously at USCIS as an acting chief of staff, and he’s also served at the USCIS Field Office as a director at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, and he’s worked as an immigration officer for USCIS at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines. And he started his career with USCIS as an immigration officer in the Administrative Appeals Office, but there’s more.

Mr. Risch is also a former Foreign Service officer with the Department of State, where he served as a consular officer at our Consulate General in Amsterdam. He had a highly regarded – a highly regarded legal career in Pennsylvania in addition to his government service, and he has earned his B.A. from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Dickinson School of Law in Carlyle, Pennsylvania. And he’s here this morning to talk to us – a little bit of news we can use – talk to us about some of the changes that are coming in terms of our nomenclature and how we communicate with American citizens and others through our consular services.

And this is an on-the-record discussion. So I’ll turn it over now to Assistant Secretary Risch. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, thank you. As mentioned, my name is Carl Risch. I’ve been the assistant secretary for Consular Affairs since August 11th. So approaching four months being here at State, back home at State where I started my career with the federal government in 1999. So I was a consular officer, a consular coned officer with the State Department during those years. Got to serve in Amsterdam. I served during 9/11 as a visa officer in Europe.

And as mentioned, then I went in and out of private practice but then came back to government as a civil servant in 2006, and I’ve been with the federal government since 2006 as a civil servant until receiving the nomination by the President and confirmed by the Senate to come here as the assistant secretary for Consular Affairs, which is just a fantastic operation. To come and work at such an excellent bureau committed to leadership and good management has been an opportunity of a lifetime.

So, and I’m happy to be here to talk to you today about something I’m very passionate about, and that’s protecting Americans overseas and making sure our messaging regarding protection of Americans overseas and informing travelers about that in the most effective way.

So Consular Affairs has a critical mission, to protect the lives and to serve the interest of U.S. citizens overseas, strengthen our national security, and facilitate legitimate travel. The team I am working with is absolutely dedicated to this. They constantly evaluate how we can be as effective as possible in our essential work. Part of our responsibility for the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is providing information to help U.S. citizens make informed decisions about traveling abroad.

The Department of State is improving our communications with U.S. citizen travelers to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. Over the past year, the Bureau of Consular Affairs gathered feedback from stakeholders across the country and the world to, number one, improve access to the information; and number two, redefine our products. These changes will help ensure a consistent worldwide standard.

You may have noticed our first improvement that launched over the weekend, a newly designed travel.state.gov website which enables easier access to information on mobile devices. The website will also feature improved simple navigation, making for a seamless experience for users of all different kinds of devices.

In January, we will launch our new products with travel advisories being issued for every country in the world to provide U.S. citizens with relevant safety and security information. Travel advisories will give advice to U.S. citizens by following a four-level classification system and providing clear actions to take. So the level one is to “exercise normal precautions;” level two would be “exercise increased caution;” level three would be “reconsider travel;” and level four would be “do not travel.”

And we’ll simplify our messages to U.S. citizens, replacing emergency and security messages with just alerts in an easy-to-understand format. A standard format would help U.S. citizens find and use important security information more easily. Content will be optimized for mobile users and readily sharable on social media.

Communicating with U.S. citizens who live and travel overseas is a big challenge. We truly appreciate your help in getting the word out to people who need this information. We are ready to answer questions on safety and security messaging.

Oh, and we have a sample of what it will look like, if you’d pass these around. Start, do it like a teacher – yeah – with it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Take one and pass it on.

QUESTION: So the one that was issued yesterday, the Worldwide Caution, which category does that fall into? Is it one, two, three, four?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, that’s under the current system. The new system it wouldn’t look that – look like that.

QUESTION: So there would be no more Worldwide Cautions then?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Right. It wouldn’t be called that anymore.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Well, would it be – what if you wanted to not – what if you wanted to do something that affected – for every country on the planet?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: We will call it an alert, as I understand.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: This level four-do not travel, is that obligatory “do not travel,” like you have with North Korea? Or is it an advisory, we advise you not to.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Advisory.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: So we would say do not travel.

QUESTION: But you wouldn’t be banning travel on American citizens?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Right. That would not signify necessarily that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you say what countries will fall into that category, or is that still be determined?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: That’s still being determined.

QUESTION: How long until it looks like this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: January.

QUESTION: January?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Because the – we’re doing it – and also I should point out that we’re also looking at having different levels for different countries. So the Country Y designation for one country, like you say level two-exercise increased caution, while specific parts of that country would be maybe level three or level four.

QUESTION: Like you do with Mexico now? Some states you say don’t go to, but other states you can go to. Something along --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m not sure how that will work out for Mexico specifically, but in general it’s that kind of approach.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: So to give people useful information that they can access.

QUESTION: Is this delivered over text or email? Or you sign up, I guess, as soon – for --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: You would have to go and look at our website, but it would be mobile accessible, and you could share that.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: But also if somebody signs up for our STEP program --

QUESTION: Right.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: -- they would get country-specific information.

QUESTION: So if I’m in a country and a level changes, State will push the change in status? Would that be a feature as well? So if I’m in a country that has gone from level two to level three, or level three to level four, if I’ve signed up for alerts, it’ll push or text me? Or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: And they changed the overall level?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m not certain about that.

QUESTION: But does this mean that, like, Warden messages, Warden notices, security messages, are no longer going to be issued by specific embassies?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Warden messages, I don’t believe, would be changed.

QUESTION: So the embassies will issue alerts?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: We do alerts instead.

QUESTION: Instead of Warden?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: The alert’s going to be pushed out through a Warden system --

QUESTION: Okay, so here is my pet – I’ve had this pet peeve for a long time. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: By the way, he has lots of pet peeves. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: A lot of them had to do with CA. (Laughter.) However, this is not really – so there used to be on the OSAC website, you used to be able to sign up to get – that was the – that’s the only place where Warden messages from – or whatever you want to call them – alerts from various embassies are gathered and put in a centralized place. But it’s not always very timely. There used to be a way that you could sign up when Country X put out – Embassy X put out a Warden message, security alert, whatever, that they – that you’d get an email and then there would be a – if there were three in one day, you would get them all out at once.

That doesn’t seem to exist anymore. And I’m wondering if in your – as you go about doing this new interface, if there is a place on travel.state.gov where you could find all of the Warden notices or security alerts that embassies put out, because they’re not really very accessible. There’s no centralized location for them.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: From a historic standpoint.

QUESTION: Well, I mean from a historic – I’m not sure what that means.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: You mean looking – is that when you’re looking in the past or contemporary, in effect?

QUESTION: Realtime notification? That’s what you’re saying?

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. And that doesn’t say – I don’t know when it dropped, about five or six years ago. But so like right now we have a situation where multiple embassies are putting out – it’s the same alert, right, but multiple, more than 20 or 30, have warned about the Jerusalem protests. But there is no real centralized place where you could find all of those together. You have to go, in some cases, you like have to look at each embassy website to see if they’ve issued one. OSAC does a decent job of advertising them, but it’s not real-time and it’s not a – in some cases, it could be delayed by even a day or two. So I’m just wondering if that’s something.

STAFF: Are you enrolled in STEP?

QUESTION: Well, don’t you have to enroll – isn’t that country-specific?

STAFF: Yes, but --

QUESTION: So I would have to enroll in 190 STEP programs? I already get too many emails as it is. (Laughter.) I’m not – I mean, that – see, that’s what I mean. I mean, if you’re, like – I can understand if you are a traveler and you’re going to Turkey that you might not care about a Warden message or security notice for South Africa. But those of us in this room who cover the whole world – it would be helpful. It would be useful.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: We want it to be as useful for as many Americans living and traveling overseas as possible. So – and what – when we looked at this, what we thought was that the current messaging – that the public didn’t understand the difference between the different types of messages, that it was confusing. Particularly when you talk about travel warnings, travel alerts, security emergency messages – we’re trying to make it a bit more transparent and understandable.

QUESTION: Right, no, I understand. This is just a – I am talking about something that would just be convenient so you could go and look and see all of the local alerts that embassies have put out in one place instead of having to go to each embassy website.

QUESTION: Keeping in mind that the people in this room are informing the public about these.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Right. It’s something we can talk about, looking at access to messaging --

QUESTION: It would be very helpful. Whether you guys do it on travel.state.gov or OSAC does it or whoever does it, it just – it would be extremely useful, I think.

QUESTION: Is – can you sort of address the issue of – I think in the past, one of the criticisms has been that some of the alerts and advisories stir up a degree of fear or almost paranoia about traveling to certain places. For example, the travel alert to Europe; a citizen might look at that and think, like, gosh, am I not allowed to – is the State Department advising me against going to Europe because of the threat of terrorist attacks, or something like that. I mean, is this designed at all to address these issues, the sort of – the sense that these alerts maybe have provoked a level of fear that did not necessarily correlate with the threat level in the country?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: We want them to be not confusing, and that people know how to react to the information that is being provided by the government. So there is no desire to, as you said, cause fear or paranoia where it’s not justified for some reason. So we looked at the four – I mentioned the four levels.

So level one is “exercise normal precautions.” I mean, this is the lowest level for safety and security risk. So there’s some risk to any international travel, of course, but the conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States, and may change at any time.

But then we look over to level two, this “exercise increased caution.” And this would be “be aware of heightened risks to safety and security.” The Departments of State – Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in that travel advisory. Conditions in any country may change, again, at any time.

And level three – now we’re into “reconsider travel.” So this would be talking about avoiding travel due to serious risks of safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the travel advisory. Conditions, again, may change at any time.

And then level four, the “do not travel.” This is the highest advisory level due to life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. Government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. Leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the travel advisory. Again, things could change.

So that’s sort of how we defined them. But then on the page you’ll see in the sample there’s going to be these different risk indicators. So --

QUESTION: It’s circled in red.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: So this is all of them. So you probably wouldn’t have them all in there. And then we defined what they are. So it’ll say for this imaginary country – it’ll say, travel advisory – “Republic of X, Travel Advisory. Exercise increased caution.” So we’re at level two. And it’ll say what the reasons are.

In this case, it says it’s terrorism and crime. So the T and the C, I assume, would appear up here. And then it would be in the text explaining the information that led to that advisory and to that designation.

QUESTION: Can you say how often any given country will be reassessed, and will we get alerts when there’s been a change or just get regular intervals like we get now with some of the cautions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I can’t really predict how it will go around that. I mean, we’re always reviewing the security situation overseas. It’s something we’re monitoring all the time. But as for whether or not a specific release will be made when a designation changes, I don’t think it’s really our expectation, but I don’t know if it will change very often. So it will probably be --

QUESTION: So it’s not going to be the six-month – every six months you guys update it, like you have been in the past?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I don’t believe --

STAFF: It will be at least every six months.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yeah. It’ll be frequently. We want this to be a – we want this to be useful to people.

QUESTION: Could you explain a little bit more about – you said there’s not going to be any more Worldwide Cautions. If there’s an event like the killing of Usama bin Ladin or – how would the word get – how does the alert system mesh with this new system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: It would be very similar to that. It’s just that here, instead of having some countries not having any information, every country will have a travel advisory so that we’ll be able to discuss the situation in every country.

QUESTION: Wait. So if there’s some – wait, okay, sorry. If something necessitates there being an alert for everywhere in the world, you would then just update every single country’s advisory, or you would put out one thing?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I believe that we send out one thing, the alert.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, (inaudible).

STAFF: And so we haven’t made a final – I think at times we may use the Worldwide Caution, so we haven’t set a definitive, like “We’re never going to use this,” because if we need it, we will – if we need to put out something for --

QUESTION: Yeah, you would just put out something sort of blanket.

STAFF: So we would, but it’s going to be – it’s going to be kind of an ongoing assessment.

QUESTION: Yeah.

STAFF: It’s – we haven’t decided that we’re completely doing away with it, but we haven’t decided that we’re going to for sure keep it. It’s – if it’s needed, there will be a Worldwide Caution, and if not, we won’t have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

STAFF: Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you go into more detail on kind of what is triggering the changes and just kind of given --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the timing, does the response to Jerusalem have any – anything to do with the changes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m sorry, could you repeat the last part?

QUESTION: Does Jerusalem, does that have anything to do with the changes?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Oh, no, this has been going on for a year. This has been going on even before the change in administration, this exercise to improve the messaging and improve the way that we do this, provide this service. So Consular Affairs took – undertook a year-long assessment of our consular safety and security information. The assessment identified three areas for improvement. So as I mentioned before, the public did not understand the differences between the types of messages, especially between travel warnings and travel alerts, between security and emergency messages. We wanted it to be an easier to understand system.

Number two, that the public was not sure what to do in response to the messaging, and that was sort of our point in having this – these levels so that people have better understanding of where the United States stands on travel in particular places at particular times.

And three, our internal review sometimes slowed down the transmission of information to the public and we wanted to try to stop that, to have a more agile system where travel alerts can be sent out more quickly and we already had information about particular countries in the world, every country, on our website.

QUESTION: So these new advisories will have or will not have announcements of authorized or ordered departures?

STAFF: I think that’s something that would be communicated with an alert if we have a change in (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Right.

QUESTION: Okay. So it would be a country-specific order?

STAFF: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I ask a non-messaging question?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Sure.

QUESTION: Just on the announcement that the proclamation is fully enforced, was there ever an estimate done of the number of people from a historical perspective that would be affected by a full implementation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m not aware of one being done, but I think --

QUESTION: Just based on numbers from years past of applicants, of – or successful visa applicants.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m not aware of one, but I do believe some of that data around different visa types and different nationalities could be extracted or gleaned from publicly available statistics online, on our website and on DHS.

QUESTION: But that’s far beyond my mathematical ability to calculate. So I was hoping that someone would do it for me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s also sorted by country where the embassy is, not by nationality from what I can tell. So I mean, if somebody is – from one nationality is applying at an embassy in a different country, they wouldn’t be in that data.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Sometimes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I think some data is by nationality that’s on our website. I don’t have it in front of me, obviously, but you do.

STAFF: You can --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: You can check.

STAFF: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I’m not on Wi-Fi, but I’ll check later. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I also have a slightly unrelated question. I know that the Mexican tourism minister was in this building this week, lobbying in part to avoid a tougher travel alert, advisory from you guys. Did you meet with him and what did you tell him (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I did not meet with the --

QUESTION: You did not.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: -- with that group.

QUESTION: So you don’t know of any kind of discussion or debate about the travel advisories to Mexico?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Not specifically right now, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: How are these changes being communicated to other governments to, I guess, prevent them from getting irked if, say, they get a “reconsider travel” advisory or a “do not travel” advisory? What sort of, I guess, diplomatic outreach is happening?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: We’re just starting that process really. Certainly we will be explaining this to other countries and to our traveling public. That’s why we’re talking to you right now, because we want to make sure that U.S. citizens – and that’s the audience primarily for this – our traveling – the American traveling public and those living overseas. So we’ll make an effort to – continue to make an effort to explain this and hopefully there will be support that it’s an improvement to the system and to the process.

QUESTION: Do you think that these warnings work? I mean, do you actually see less travel when there’s a stronger warning to those countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I don’t know that statistically. I can say as a consumer, I as a traveler in my private life, I’ve always referred to these resources and used the STEP program, and relied on this guidance. So I hope that others certainly do the same. It’s very useful and we want it to be even more useful in time.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, this is an effort that was started by the State Department under the Obama administration that has then continued through the Trump administration, so it’s not necessarily a product of one or the other, but more so department efforts as a whole?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: It’s a – yes. It’s an effort of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and it’s not been – did not come about after the change of administration. It was initiated before --

QUESTION: And it started under the Obama administration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yes.

QUESTION: One of the – as I’m sure that you know, one of the prime effects of a travel – of a – whether it’s now, a travel warning that says, “do not go,” or “we recommend you do not go,” the prime effect – one of the major impacts that it has is on insurers and group travel, like college or university groups who go who can’t then get – they run into insurance problems, so they cancel these trips. Has there been outreach with them on this new system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yes, yes. And there will continue to be outreach by me personally coming into the new year, and the rest of our team at Consular Affairs to reach out to different stakeholders.

QUESTION: And had they – had they complained or raised concerns about the existing one, that it might be – that it’s confusing or that – I mean, these groups, the insurers?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, we’ve been working with stakeholders all along to try to come up with a better system.

QUESTION: Okay. And they’re on board I presume?

STAFF: They welcome this, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. They like this? Okay.

MS NAUERT: I’m sorry. Could I – you’ve been working with who? Did you say insurers?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Stakeholders.

MS NAUERT: Stakeholders. Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: And the travel organization – travel industry.

MS NAUERT: And that’s what, in part, helped prompt this, so there could be a better understanding and more clear-cut system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a date in January when this is going to go live?

STAFF: Around the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: January.

QUESTION: Huh?

STAFF: 10th? Carmela?

STAFF: On or around the 10th is where we’re at.

QUESTION: January 10th? Okay.

STAFF: Around the 10th is our goal. We want to do it right and not –there’s nothing that’s a drop dead date that we have to launch. So the first phase was getting the website, and then that will be the next phase. And so --

QUESTION: Assuming that it does go into place on the 10th, what happens to all of the existing travel warnings and stuff? They just go poof?

STAFF: Everything will convert over on that – on that day, or right around that day.

QUESTION: Okay.

STAFF: So it’ll – we’re teeing everything up to change over to the new system at the same time.

QUESTION: Got you.

STAFF: There might be a little bit of a lag just because the servers, pushing all the information takes a few hours. It’s not just flipping a button and everything switches, but it should all happen kind of, again, right at the same time.

QUESTION: Okay. So a country – let’s say Country X, which currently has a warning that says “do not go,” on the 10th – roughly thereabouts – that will be replaced with a level four alert, travel advisory. Is that correct?

STAFF: So at that time a new travel advisory will come into play. I don’t think it’s that we’re going to delete everything off the system. The old stuff will still be visible, but it won’t be – for example, the page won’t say, “travel alerts and travel warnings.” On the page it might still under the historical list it as a travel warning, but the new travel advisory level would display at that time.

QUESTION: Okay. So the --

STAFF: The levels are still being worked out.

QUESTION: Right.

STAFF: So we can’t say one for one what it’s going to --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, barring some bizarre change in a situation – let’s just take Syria as an example – right now, the warning says, “don’t go to Syria.” That will be – assuming things do not improve dramatically in Syria over the course of the next month, that will – they’ll get a level four?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I would say that the exercise in causing the transition to occur would not be done as a way to change the way we view travel to a particular country. We wouldn’t try to bury it in this process.

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: That we’d want it to be a transparent and consistent transition so that people are not confused about our position on travel to every country in the world and the different levels of caution people need to take into consideration.

QUESTION: Right.

MS NAUERT: Tracy, you had asked a question a couple minutes ago – Tracy’s with The L.A. Times – about whether or not you met with Mexican officials about that.

QUESTION: Yes, uh-huh.

MS NAUERT: And so I asked that question: How does that work? Do we ever weigh in --

QUESTION: The countries.

MS NAUERT: -- accept political commentary, if a country’s like don’t put us on this warning list, or whatever. And this is your answer.

STAFF: Yeah, so we just are clarifying that they’re strictly based on safety and security conditions, and not on political considerations.

QUESTION: Requests from a country or any country – okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: So those who have signed up already on this website, they have to sign up again after 10th of January?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, this would be visible to everyone. You wouldn’t have to subscribe.

QUESTION: But you have to sign up again to get the alerts?

STAFF: If you’re in STEP – if you’re enrolled in STEP.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: In the STEP program – no, that stays the same.

STAFF: Yeah. Is that what you’re – are you talking about the STEP program?

QUESTION: I don’t know. Once you get the – these travel advisory --

QUESTION: This is why you need to do this. (Laughter.)

STAFF: If you’re already getting them, you’ll be getting them.

STAFF: You do not have to re-enroll. It will just – the system will now say “alerts” instead of saying “a security message is being sent” or “an emergency message is being sent.” It’ll say “alerts” at the top, but the same people will stay there.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yeah, it’s not a revamping of our registration (inaudible).

QUESTION: So who will be the one who like – and what are the criteria for determining if a country is level three or level two? How does that process work?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: It would be an assessment of these different factors that I went through.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, actually, I didn’t go through them. They would look at crime, as we described here.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Terrorism, civil unrest, health considerations, natural disaster; something – perhaps a time-limited event such as elections, sporting events, other incidents that may pose safety risks; and then other, which would then be described in the text of the travel advisory. And that’s something that the State Department would work collaboratively on with the Bureau of Consular Affairs --

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: -- taking the lead, and it’s not driven by politics. It’s driven by our commitment to making sure that Americans who are traveling overseas are informed travelers and have access to up-to-date information.

QUESTION: Would you be the most senior person who would sign off if there’s a change in a country’s level, or does that ever rise, I guess, higher than your desk?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I think it’s – I think certain it rises higher – will rise higher than my desk. (Laughter.)

MS NAUERT: Well, in a situation like DPRK, that’s something that the Secretary and the President weighed in on that as well, if I remember correctly.

STAFF: But that was a different – that was a geographic restriction.

MS NAUERT: Yeah. Yeah, I know it’s different, but --

STAFF: But the advice to not go I don’t think was controversial.

MS NAUERT: Does that make sense?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: But to – this is something that – I mean, it’s a collaborative effort, so we’ll be working with our regional bureaus and other experts within the State Department, looking --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Right, but if you’ve gathered the evidence that says here are the conditions; we think it warrants an increase in the level, who ultimately signs off on approving or disapproving of that increase?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Well, everything we do that affects the safety and security of Americans ultimately is the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

QUESTION: So would a country have different levels of travel? Different travel advisory levels? Like, Myanmar, you’ll have probably level four in Rakhine State, Rangoon you might have two or three? Is it possible or not?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yes, that is possible. Yes. We want it to be, like I said, an agile, helpful tool where it recognizes that travel to different parts of the same country may pose different types of risks and to be able to explain what those risks are.

QUESTION: So how would that work? I mean, Myanmar is a good example. What – when you call up the country page would it be, like, level four or would it be a different level and then you have to read down to see, okay, Rakhine – don’t go there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Not sure what it’s going to look like on the page. Our goal is that it would be obvious and helpful.

QUESTION: Yeah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: But my understanding is that it would likely be some – again, not pointing specifically to Myanmar – just in general, you would have a level two for the whole country, and then specific, defined areas would be perhaps level three or level four.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: So does North Korea – sorry – do they have no level now? Are they just considered out of the system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: No. We have a travel --

QUESTION: But under this system, what level? Because they don’t fall under level four, obviously. So it’s just “do not travel?” It’s its own --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I’m not going to speculate about where North Korea will fall on the scale --

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry. A country where Americans are not allowed to travel, where would that fall in this system?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: It would probably land in level four; not specific to North Korea. If figuratively, Americans were prohibited from going there because of security concerns or their safety and security --

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: -- it really would be immaterial that – the not being able to travel by law component. It would be more about looking at: Is it safe for Americans to go there based on the factors that we’ve pointed out? And if it’s not, then they would be level four.

QUESTION: But based on what you said earlier, actually, North Korea wouldn’t be in the system at all because you said that level four is advisor “do not travel,” whereas North Korea is “you may not travel.”

QUESTION: Well, but you’ve --

QUESTION: You’re not permitted to travel.

QUESTION: But you can get a validated passport.

QUESTION: You can get a waiver but the law is that American citizens are prohibited from traveling to North Korea. And that’s not – you said that would not be level four; that would be a different category altogether.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: I don’t – I don’t think I said that. I’m not sure where North Korea would fall on there, but --

QUESTION: Well, but you said that level four is you’re advised not to travel. You’re not banned from travel. Are you saying it would all be in the same --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: The purpose of level four would be to tell people that we advise against travel there. If there are also legal reasons why you can’t go there – I mean, there’s reasons why you can’t travel and do things in other places too. And it may be specifically described in the text.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: But North Korea will have its own travel advisory and its own leveling and its own explanation around travel there.

QUESTION: Four-plus.

QUESTION: If those are the four levels that they have leveled, they’re at level six. (Laughter.)

MR GREENAN: All right. Well, thank you very much.

MS NAUERT: Thanks, everybody.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yeah. Thanks, everybody.

MS NAUERT: Hope that’s helpful.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about Jerusalem? I know you can’t – you probably won’t be able to answer, but we had a lot of questions yesterday. And since you are head of Consular Affairs, what will passports say?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: At this time --

MS NAUERT: Still working on it. (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: As Ambassador Satterfield said yesterday, at this time, there are no changes to our current practices regarding place of birth on consular reports, birth abroad, and U.S. passports.

QUESTION: You were ready for that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RISCH: Yes.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you.