In 1972 an Englishman was traveling through Afghanistan and had his passport stolen. The British Embassy in Kabul issued him a new one with no fuss or delay.
It subsequently transpired that his passport was later used by a member of the Black September terrorist group. The Englishman found out about it when his local chief of police called to mention it, more in the sense of a friendly ‘You’ll never believe where your passport turned up’ than in the sense of ‘prove you’re not a Black September terrorist’.
On occasion, subsequently, the English gent traveled to the US. Ah – now you see where the story is headed, don’t you. He did so without any problems in the 1970s, and so you’d think that would be the end of the story.
Alas, no. In 1984 getting a US visa proved slightly problematic, but the US Embassy in London quickly cleared it up, and gave the Englishman a telex originated by the then US Secretary of State, George Schultz, saying that the traveler was a bona fide ordinary person.
He continued to travel to the US, with no problems, and both with an official visa and as a visa-waiver traveler.
No problems, that is, until now. He recently filled out the online form for US pre-clearance prior to an upcoming trip to New England with the rest of his family, and his application was refused.
This required him to spend $160 to get an in-person interview at the US Embassy ($160!!!!) and wait ten days for an appointment. Unfortunately, the staff were less than helpful and claimed that no-one in London could approve his visa, the matter being referred back to Homeland Security in DC. The earlier telex from George Schultz apparently no longer counts for anything.
The passport was lost 40 years ago, and the passenger has traveled to the US repeatedly in the intervening time, and has been ‘vetted’ and approved for travel all the way up to Secretary of State level. So why is there a problem now? No-one, ever, suggested any complicity on the traveler’s part with his lost passport, and he’s never been a problem in any other respects.
One also has to wonder about the fairness of the $160 fee, so the hapless would-be traveler can meet with a Consular official and try and get the Consular Service to sort out its mess-up. At least when buying software, the software company will usually provide free support for an initial period, or perhaps allow one free support call, and/or waive the support fee if it ends up being a bug in their software rather than simply a lack of understanding on the user’s part.
As for the interesting excuse dimension, the US Embassy in London explained the delays, both in its office and back in the Washington DC Homeland Security head office as being due to – wait for it – the Olympics.
If someone can explain how it is that an influx of visitors to Britain from all around the world has any bearing on either the US Homeland Security’s workload, that would be interesting to know.
Oh – and note also the implication in the excuse that the US Embassy in London will be busier than normal, too. That would only be true if the staff were all taking multiple days off to attend Olympic events (which I guess is entirely possible). It is unlikely there’ll be many more Americans in Britain over the Olympics than there are at any other time of year (because so many are in Britain at any time to start with, a surge of some thousands of extras is not significant) and furthermore, the Embassy has totally different departments for ‘US Citizen Services’ and ‘Visa/Consular Duties’.
You can read more about the would-be traveler’s problems in this article. What I find saddest though is the almost unbroken chorus of contempt for the US in the reader responses, and to put that in context, the UK is supposed to be our closest ally, and of all the UK newspapers/websites, the conservative Daily Telegraph – and its readers – is probably the most pro-US.
This, folks, is how the US is increasingly being viewed, even by its closest of close allies. As a pariah walking outside the lines of accepted norms of international behavior.