Robert Gates, right, writes that Joe Biden is nearly always wrong about certain policy areas. Perhaps in his next book he will be more candid. (JIM WATSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Official U.S. government travel advisories — warning Americans to be careful, or not to even go to, dangerous places such as Benghazi or Fallujah — are the province of the State Department, which relies on information from embassies around the world.

So it was most curious when the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations recently issued a warning about going to the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen.

“Increasingly, individuals, especially of Yemeni origin, report that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa have revoked and taken away their U.S. passports,” the advisory said, “sometimes pressuring them to sign confessions they do not understand without legal advice.”

The warning was included in a brochure issued by the rights groups. Former State Department official and author Peter Van Buren, on his blog at, supplements that advice with some observations. The bottom line: Don’t go to that embassy, even for routine paperwork, without a lawyer. And if you do go on your own, hold on to your passport and slowly back out of there at the first sign of trouble. (If any official says the words “additional processing,” for instance, run for the door.)

Passport fraud is believed to be an especially serious problem in Yemen, we’re told, but it’s hard to get precise figures on how many passports have been revoked. The State Department is not saying. The Yemen Post in August reported “more than 20 known cases of Yemeni-Americans” who tried to renew their passports and had them confiscated instead. Some put the number in the hundreds.

Our sense is that it’s at least in the high double digits. But whatever the number, we’re hearing that some Yemeni Americans whose passports have been seized on suspicion of fraud have been required to wait up to two years or more while the embassy clears up its suspicions. (Since State can’t revoke naturalization — that’s the turf of the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services agency — those presumed citizens are in limbo while being investigated.)

Asked about this situation, a State Department official ­e-mailed this statement: “As we do in all U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world, we seek to uphold our commitment to provide fair process to every individual that enters U.S. Embassy Sana’a, while upholding our obligations under the law. . . . The Department has authority to deny and revoke a U.S. passport under certain conditions, including those involving false identity.”

The federal courts are likely to end up deciding what process is due.

‘Duty’s’ calls

Former defense secretary Bob Gates’s controversial new memoir, “Duty,” contains an explicit and useful warning to future presidents:

In your first term, never, ever appoint someone to a senior post that will be his or her last job in government. You are likely to regret it — a sentiment that President Obama, Vice President Biden and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton may be feeling quite keenly these days. (The advice is especially important when that appointee is not a member of your political party or has no personal relationship with you.)

Second term? No problem. Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, can say whatever he wants in his memoir, and who cares? Obama will be out of office. And Obama’s book could well come out before Kerry’s.

Meanwhile, Gates and Osama bin Laden may not have agreed on much, but their views of Biden are truly harsh.

In his book, Gates slams Biden for being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Gates’s nasty shot at Biden seems to reflect bin Laden’s views of the vice president, expressed in a document found in Pakistan during the 2011 Navy SEALs raid and killing of the terrorist:

“Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there,” bin Laden wrote to an associate. “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis.”

On the other hand, our colleague Max Fisher notes that Gates, as the CIA’s top Kremlinologist back in the Ronald Reagan administration, was wrong about the most “important issue he ever faced”: whether Mikhail Gorbachev might be a different kind of Soviet leader and worth dealing with to try to end the Cold War.

Gates strongly, and wrongly, insisted that Gorbachev was cut from the same cloth as his Soviet predecessors. (This might explain why, if memory serves, Gorbachev appeared to refuse to shake hands with him at the Kremlin when Gates traveled there with Secretary of State James Baker in 1990. When Baker introduced Gates, Gorbachev said something like “I know who you are.”)

Diversity watch

Chris Lu, who was White House Cabinet secretary during the first Obama term, is going to be nominated to be deputy secretary of labor, the White House announced Wednesday, making him the first Asian American to be nominated to a deputy secretaryship during this administration.

If confirmed, Lu will replace Seth Harris, who has been deputy secretary since 2009 and did a six-month stint as acting secretary last year. Harris is leaving next week for a teaching gig at Cornell.

Asian Americans have been pushing to fill sub-Cabinet-level positions — an effort to build a strong bench for future selections to Cabinet posts. Lu apparently would be only the second Asian American deputy secretary of a Cabinet department in history, certainly in recent history. (Elaine Chao, deputy transportation secretary under Bush I, was the first.)

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