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State Department Offices

The Family Engagement Team (SPEHA + Consular Affairs)

Your Family Engagement Team is comprised of experts in the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Hostage Affairs Unit (HAU) . The specific members of your Family Engagement Team will be:

  • Your SPEHA officer (who manages the diplomatic engagement),
  • The SPEHA Family Engagement Coordinator (who ensures communication with the U.S. government team and the family runs as smoothly as possible), and
  • Your HAU officer (who manages consular engagement overseas via the Embassy or Consulate)

Your SPEHA officer and HAU officer are your primary points of contact, and should be the first people you contact if you have any questions or any updates to share. This team can help arrange any and all contact between your family and other representatives from the State Department or other U.S. government offices.

Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA)

The Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs is a dedicated senior diplomat with the rank of Ambassador who is appointed by the President and reports to the Secretary of State. The Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (collectively referred to as SPEHA) coordinates all diplomatic engagements for detentions the U.S. government regards as wrongful.

SPEHA also coordinates all diplomatic engagements in support of hostage recovery efforts in collaboration with the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell (HRFC). The HRFC will remain aware of wrongful detentions and offer may expertise, as appropriate.

Your SPEHA team includes SPEHA leadership, a SPEHA action officer, and SPEHA’s Family Engagement Coordinator (FEC). The SPEHA team works closely with the consular officers in the HAU, officials from the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where your loved one is wrongfully detained, and the officers in the regional bureau that specialize in that country as well as the official who handled regional issues at the National Security Council (NSC).

Bureau of Consular Affairs, Hostage Affairs Unit (HAU)

The Bureau of Consular Affairs protects U.S. citizens and their interests abroad. The Hostage Affairs Unit (HAU) is a team of consular officers in Washington, D.C., charged with the resolution and monitoring of wrongful detentions and hostage takings abroad. The team is comprised of officers with a wide breadth of regional knowledge as well as consular experience. The HAU will be your direct contact with consular officials overseas and can provide guidance on a variety of consular related issues, such as U.S. government notification of an arrest overseas, access to detained U.S. nationals, sending money/items to detained U.S. nationals, passports, and repatriation options to the United States. The Bureau of Consular Affairs generally does not have authority to provide assistance to non-U.S. citizens.

U.S. Embassies and Consulates

The United States has a diplomatic presence represented by the ambassador and diplomatic personnel working at U.S. embassies and consulates in most countries around the world. Embassies and consulates are typically staffed by a range of employees from different parts of the State Department and wider U.S. government. The ambassador is the highest-ranking U.S. official in the foreign country and is a personal representative of the President of the United States. The ambassador, as the chief of mission, leads coordination with the host country on all issues. Other individuals at the embassy or consulate with whom you may interact include consular staff, the regional security office, the public affairs office, and the political/economic desk officer. Your SPEHA and HAU team can liaise with contacts at the embassy or consulate in order to answer your questions.

Regional Bureaus and Desk Officers (“The desk”)

Regional bureaus in the State Department manage regional and bilateral policy issues for their designated country or area. Regional bureaus employ desk officers who work in Washington, D.C. Much like the HAU officer serves as your conduit to the embassy or consulate in the country where your loved one is detained, the desk officer can explain the political or economic context in that country and provide political insights on the potential impact of actions that you and your U.S. government team are considering. We rely on the desk officer for important geopolitical updates, regional briefings or information that pertains to the political climate of the country where your loved one is detained.

U.S. Government Entities Outside the State Department

Each wrongful detention is different and can involve any number of governmental and non-governmental entities. This guide is meant to serve as a starting point to help you understand who some of the common players are, and how they might be involved. Please speak with your Family Engagement Team about any questions you might have regarding entities involved, or seeking to become involved, in your loved one’s wrongful detention.

Congressional Representatives

Members of Congress who represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate may also be great allies in the efforts to secure your loved one’s release. Congressional members may pass laws and resolutions that work to advance your loved one’s release, and they may also use their influence and resources to help in other ways. You can find more information on the Working with Congress page, and you can also contact your Family Engagement Team to discuss ways to engage your Congressional representatives.

Department of the Treasury

Treasury’s lead sanctions agency is the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and they may be involved in the discussions on your specific loved one. Your Family Engagement Team might also be able to put you in contact with Internal Revenue Service colleagues who will understand the specific concerns of a family whose loved one is detained wrongfully overseas. If you have any questions, please contact your Family Engagement Team.

Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell (HRFC)

The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell is the U.S. government’s interagency team that coordinates efforts dedicated to recovering U.S. nationals held hostage abroad. Staffed by hostage recovery professionals from the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the FBI, and the intelligence community, the fusion cell aims to improve how the government develops hostage recovery plans, tracks developments in specific cases, shares information with families, and provides information to Congress and the media. Although individuals held by a foreign government are not generally regarded as hostages, the Department of State can consult with the HRFC on certain matters through SPEHA and the HAU, who can coordinate with the HRFC.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future