Cablegate: Consular Response to Terrorist Attacks In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





SUBJECT: Consular response to Terrorist attacks in
Madrid on March 11, 2004: Lessons Learned


1. Summary: March 11, 2004, eleven bombs went off in
Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring almost 1,500 in
a series of attacks on commuter trains coming into
Madrid and at three separate train stations between
7:30 and 8:00 am. Both the Consular Section and
Embassy went into immediate action. The Consular
Section had three major goals the first day: obtaining
information, communicating that information, and
providing assistance. By the second day, those goals
changed to: providing assistance, verifying
information, and communicating broader information. In
addition, attaining information about the alleged
perpetrators was essential so the visa unit could check
for lookout information we might have on those
individuals. The following is a summary of actions
taken by the consular section in response to the
terrorist attack, and we hope can serve as a helpful
framework for other consular sections. End Summary.

Obtaining Information

2. The consular section immediately recognized their
need to know what had happened and if there were any
American citizen victims. We came together as a group
for a brief meeting at OOB, we shared the information
we had individually gathered, and specific tasks were
assigned. All of us were in shock, many concerned
about family and friends, and coming together as a
section initially was an important first step. Through
regular group meetings and clear assignment of duties,
everyone contributed to our ability to respond as a
team to the crisis. Some staff performed regular duties
like interviewing the visa and passport applicants who
appeared for service. Processing these routine walk-
ins and pre-scheduled visa interviews, was critical to
providing a semblance of normality and freed up other
staff to focus on crisis response tasks. We recognized
that it was vitally important that everyone felt he/she
was doing valuable work and through the clear
designation of tasks and maintaining office
communication through frequent short meetings to touch
base, the sense of teamwork was enhanced.

-One FSN tracked news reports and recorded solid
leads and factual development. Radio and TV
monitors in the Consular Section were tuned into
different major news sources. They provided us
with a source of immediate information and
prevented us from falling behind in communal
updates. One FSN's task was to gather and
corroborate the information coming from the
various sources allowing us to be sure we had
accurate and timely information.

-Each person was asked to reach out to his/her
best contacts in local police, media and emergency
assistance providers. (For example, someone might
have had a friend/relative working at the train
station or in the press at the scene.) These
informal contacts created a network of resources
for information, which was not available through
media broadcasts.

-Given that we have a large number of student
groups, we had our intern reach out to directors
of major university programs to ask them to
confirm the welfare of their students. We could
use this information in responding to calls, e.g.
Syracuse University, NYU, Arizona State, Oberlin,
etc. have been contacted and confirmed all their
students are OK. (Throughout the year we maintain
an active outreach program with the Universities,
and the good contacts with program directors
really helped us in this situation.)

-Throughout the day we used an email collective
among consular section chiefs in Madrid to share
information continually, touching base on reported
injuries/deaths and on travel advice.

-One FSN and one FSO kept track of all the call-in
sheets (see item on Talking Points below), to see
if any likely victims could be identified from
information provided by callers.

-The Spanish government put a list of injured
victims who had been identified on the Internet.
We were able to search that site and provide the
reference to callers so they could check

-The FSOs began running the Internet list of
injured victims through PIERS to see if we could
find any matches. We would print out and call
likely matches, and we were able to eliminate a
number of possible victims in this way, when we
could confirm that the match in PIERS was safe and
sound. FSNs ran any possible hits through the ACS
registration system

-About 3pm, the CG and Senior ACS FSN went to the
three major hospitals providing assistance to the
majority of victims and to the morgue to search
for American victims. We offered to be alert to
other foreign victims who might come to our
attention, and told the other consular section
chiefs at other embassies in Madrid through our CG
email collective.

Communicating Information

3. We found that obtaining information and
communicating that information regularly were
inextricably linked. Both the Department and the front
office were eager for any concrete information about
victims. We provided regular reports throughout the

-First we called the Operations Center and asked
to speak to the Consular Duty officer to inform
her of the bombings. We had limited information,
but this served as a heads up to establish a line
of communication.

-Each section/agency in the embassy was asked to
confirm that all staff were accounted for. We
told everyone in the embassy to call home to be
sure our families were ok and to inform our
families of our own well being.

-We contacted colleagues at other embassies in
Madrid through an email collective among consular
section chiefs, which was already established and
active. This group was very supportive and email
allowed us to keep track without waiting for calls
to go through. Phone systems were disrupted most
of the day.

-The Embassy held an early morning briefing and
arranged for an all agency EAC for early

-The Ambassador held an embassy wide town meeting
in the afternoon.

-We drafted talking points for callers, with a
standard set of questions attached: Who is
calling, who are you calling about, why are you
concerned (i.e. what makes you think your
friend/relative might have been in the train),
contact information for all parties, date and time
of the call and who took the call. These talking
points were distributed throughout the embassy and
sent to OCS for them to send on to the US phone
information line. We wanted to provide
information and obtain information efficiently and
to keep track of everything in a usable format.

-We turned the talking points into a Warden
message, had it cleared with the duty officer, and
included in the message the request that everyone
should call home to let family/friends know they
were ok.

-We continued to meet as a group in the consular
section every hour or so to update each other on
information and activities.

-We updated the talking points to address the most
frequently asked questions; and we sent a second,
updated Warden message in the afternoon. We
provided the updated information to OCS so they
could give it to the OCS information contractor.

-We created a roster for after-hours work and
double-checked our home phone/cell phone telephone
tree list.

-We confirmed the instructions for sending Warden
messages so anyone could activate the warden email
and fax lists, not just the staff normally
assigned. This meant the folks on the duty roster
had tools necessary if needed.

-We touched base with other consular operations in
country via email and phone (Consulate General
Barcelona and six consular agencies). We felt the
email contact worked best to ensure everyone had
the same information, but follow-up phone calls
were effective in reassuring our colleagues we
were fine. It also meant we had them on tap for
additional assistance if needed. We also needed
to be sure they were not experiencing any
-We kept in touch with OCS regularly by phone and
email throughout the day. A series of meetings
throughout the day were held with other embassy
sections. Short, focused meetings worked best.

-Upon return from the hospitals and morgue, about
9:30 pm, the CG had a meeting with about ten
consular staff working late, called the Ambassador
and Consular Duty officer in the Department and
sent a short email to OCS.

-The day after the attacks in coordination with
OCS, we issued an updated CIS and a Public
Announcement on the acts of violence, addressing
travel concerns.

-The following Monday the CG went to Alcala de
Henares, where about 200 Americans are studying,
for a group meeting. This was the point of origin
of the trains, and the students were appreciative
of the personal outreach and reassurance.

Providing Assistance

4. We identified three American victims of the
attack. Fortunately all three suffered relatively minor
physical Injuries, and there were no reported deaths.
Once the individuals were identified (using the
Internet lists, PIERS, and personal contacts), we
called them to make initial contact.

-We contacted possible victims and/or emergency
contacts using the information on passports /
registration lists and PIERS. We were able to
eliminate some individuals with name match in this
way as they or their family confirmed they were
not in Madrid at the time.

-We asked the victims to come in. The first
victim who came in actually arrived to apply for a
replacement passport. One was hesitant to use
public transportation, but did come in on Monday
even though we offered to come to her. The third
has been in contact by phone only and is still
hesitant to get on the public transportation.

-The Legat at post wanted to talk with American
victims. We made those contact arrangements. We
also identified another American who was in the
train but not physically injured.

-We requested expedited processing for family
members of affected people should they need
passports in the US. The DAS/PPT sent a message
to all PPT agency directors to expedite emergency
issuance and waive the expedite fees.

-When it became clear that many victims were South
Americans, we asked VO to assist in getting a
message to all WHA posts to request expeditious
visa processing for family/friends if needed. VO
sent an ALDAC to WHA posts.

-We continue to maintain contact and follow up
with the American victims.

Visa Issues

5. As the Spanish law enforcement officials began to
identify, arrest and pursue suspects, we worked with
other agencies in the embassy to obtain specific
identifying information so we could run name checks
through the CCD and check our own issuance records
We were disturbed to note that none of the names we
ran resulted in hits based on prior Visas Viper
Submissions. We learned that one person had been
issued a visa (not one of the principal
suspects), and we pulled up the application and
provided it to the VO duty officer, the RSO, DS duty
officer, Legat and others requesting with a need to
know. We reviewed our issuance practices, management
review of cases, and provided a context to those
requesting the applications so they could better
understand how we adjudicate cases and make our
decisions. For example, the issuance was to a non
Spanish citizen, but in the six weeks preceding the
bomb attacks, we had adjudicated applications from 90
different nationalities. This information was
essential for non-consular/visa officials to
understand why we might have
issued this individual.

Organizing Ourselves

6. One of the basic lessons learned for us, was
reviewing how we organized ourselves to accomplish our

- Regular meetings: We gathered regularly
with different groups, large and small. The
meetings were short and specific goals were
important. However, coming together as a
group helped us keep a feeling of teamwork as
we went about our individual tasks.

- Clear specific tasking: Each person needed
to be clear on his/her role. This enabled us
to concentrate, bring specifics to the
meetings, and not get distracted with
peripheral things.

- Created roster for after-hours work,
confirmed home and cell phone numbers. The
people who could stay, did, those with family
commitments could leave. We knew who could be
called in for back up, those needing rest
could get it.

- Email collectives - This was very important
for efficient communications especially when
you want to get information distributed but
phone lines are disrupted. Very efficient for
getting clear information in brief format.

- Wearing identifying tags: When we went to
the sites we used badge like tags to identify
ourselves. This way people could identify us
as US government officials/employees and could
approach us for assistance if needed. We had
tags pre-made from when we went to the airport
after 9/11

- Taking care of each other - We brought in
food to share. The Ambassador brought us
dinner the first night from his own kitchen.
We sent tired people home. We supported
people when they were in distress and let
ourselves cry if needed. We tried to see when
someone needed a quiet supportive talk and to
pull individuals aside to talk it out a bit
when they looked in need. We still need this
as the stress and anxiety has been continuing
and we need to be sure renew our reserves
physically and psychically in the event
further events occur.

Lessons Learned

7. Outreach and good contacts show their value in a
crisis situation. Regular communication is essential.
Taking care of each other is vital. Being in a country
with a strong infrastructure makes your job a lot
easier. Let's hope no other post in the world needs
this summary.


© Scoop Media

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