Burn Bag: Where taking “open door” seriously can ruin corridor reputation … oh woe!

Posted: 2:19  am EDT

 

When management at your post in crisis tells you they have an open door and want to know how people are feeling, then tells you your (widely shared) concern is insignificant and you are ruining your corridor reputation by bringing it up.

 

 

Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet

Posted: 1:23  am EDT

 

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We’ve used the USAID OIG website but it does not have a smart nor responsive search function. We wanted to know how many inspections, audits, whatev reports the Office of the Inspector General at USAID did on IRD over the years.  If they were rigorous in their oversight and USAID and  the State Department did not do anything about it, that is an important component to this story.  And if that is true, we wanted to see just how rigorous based on the reports the oversight office put out through the years, because how else can we tell but by the number and quality of their output?

We sent a direct message to USAID OIG via Twitter and we got a response back:

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For specific inquiries, please contact our office directly http://oig.usaid.gov/content/contact-usaid-oig

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You click on that link and you’re told that “for media or general information inquiries, contact the OIG’s Immediate Office by mail, telephone, or fax. Whoa!  The Immediate Office, apparently, is not immediate enough.

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Late last year, following a Washington Post report on a USAID program in Pakistan, USAID OIG released (pdf) a statement with the following:

OIG is committed to providing products and information that are responsive to the needs of external customers and stakeholders. In responding to questions posed by Members of Congress and congressional staff, OIG has always endeavored to provide complete and accurate information based on the documentation and information available to us.

This is USAID’s largest nonprofit contractor.  According to WaPo, USAID suspended IRD this past January from receiving any more federal work. The suspension came in the wake of allegations of misspending highlighted in a Post investigation in May 2014.  USAID told the Post that they are cracking down on contractors who misspend tax money.

Hookay. So let’s start with finding out what type of oversight USAID OIG provided on IRD contracts since 2006. This is one time when those USAID OIG Fact Sheets would really be helpful.

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Related items:

USAID Suspends Big Contractor IRD: What Took So Long? (NonProfit Quarterly)

Doing well by doing good: The high price of working in war zones (WaPo, May 2014)

 

U.S. Embassy Uganda Warns of Possible Terrorist Threats to Western Interests

Posted: 9:15 pm PDT

 

Via U.S. Embassy Kampala, March 25, 2015

The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon.  Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days.  U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.

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IT Consultant Using Identity Of Deceased Infant Snagged During Passport Application

Posted: 2:08  am EDT

 

Via USDOJ:

Computer Industry Consultant Convicted For Using Identify Of Deceased Infant

BOSTON – A former Boston computer industry consultant was found guilty following a five-day jury trial on March 6, 2015, of assuming the identity of an infant who died in 1966 and using that identity to obtain a Social Security number.

Steven Nolte, 51, was convicted of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and use of a falsely-obtained Social Security number.  U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for May 28, 2015.  He remains detained pending sentencing.

Nolte was born in Arizona in 1963 as Steven Nolte, but in 1997, he assumed the identity of a four-day-old infant who died in 1966.  At the time Nolte adopted this identity, he was in the process of stealing over $571,000 from a real estate company for which he had provided computer consulting services.  Nolte then obtained a passport in the assumed identity and traveled to Costa Rica, where proceeds of the theft had been wire-transferred.  Nolte thereafter traveled extensively in the South Pacific and ultimately settled in the Boston area, where he worked in the computer industry for many years under his assumed identity.  In 1999, he applied for a Social Security number by using the same false identity.  Nolte’s true identity was discovered in May 2012 when he submitted an application for a replacement passport in Boston under his assumed name.  State Department officials realized that the Social Security number Nolte was using had not been issued to Nolte in the assumed name until he supposedly was 33 years old.  Upon further investigation, agents learned of the infant’s death in 1966, and ultimately uncovered Nolte’s true identity.

The charge of making false statements in a passport application provides for no greater than 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release; the charge of using a falsely-obtained Social Security number provides for no greater than five years in prison and three years of supervised release; and the charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison, and one year of supervised release.  All three charges provide for fines of up to $250,000.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  Sentenced are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Boston Field Office; and Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Pérez-Daple and Robert E. Richardson of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.

Original announcement is here.

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Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of  four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007.  In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors.  In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.

Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):

Summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.

Opinion:

This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).

The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

Background:

In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.

The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.

Circuit Judge Reinhardt:

The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer

Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

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A chilly year up north? How Canada left U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman out in the cold

Posted: 12:57  am EDT

 

On March 16, the United States and Canada signed  a new agreement reaffirming the United States and Canada’s commitment to enhancing security while facilitating lawful travel and trade, and supersedes the existing U.S.-Canada Air Preclearance agreement signed in 2001.  The new preclearance agreement – allowing for the immigration, customs and agriculture inspections required for entry into either country to occur on foreign soil – will reportedly reduce congestion and delays at the border and increase efficiency and predictability in cross-border travel, tourism and transportation.

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All smiles there, and why not?

Then yesterday, the Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark has a long piece on what is reportedly Bruce Heyman’s “rough year” as America’s ambassador to Ottawa.

For Mr. Heyman, it’s telling that since the day he presented his credentials nearly a year ago, when he and his wife Vicki had a 15-minute meet-and-greet with Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen, the U.S. ambassador has never had a one-on-one with the PM.
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“There was no edict,” one senior Canadian government figure insisted. But several sources said there was at least a common narrative, from the Prime Minister’s Office to ministers, that Mr. Heyman wasn’t welcome.

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Today, there’s also this Vanderbilt Mag piece noting that “Our northern neighbor is the United States’ largest goods trading partner, with $632 billion in total goods trade in 2013.”

“Bruce and I are really tackling this job as a team,” says Vicki. “We’ve been traveling the country like road warriors. Top to bottom, right to left.”

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A related note — right there is an example of unpaid labor by a chief of mission spouse, a tradition deeply valued by the State Department until 1972 when the directive on diplomatic wives was issued and thereby ruined the much-beloved twofer system. That’s when participation by a Foreign Service wife in the work of a post was deemed “a voluntary act of a private person” and when the diplomatic spouse’s performance memorandum stopped being placed in the FSO’s performance dossier. We presumed, by the language of the directive, that up to 1972 there were no accompanying male diplomatic spouses in the service.

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US Embassy Niger: Schools Attended by Official American Dependents Get Armed Guards

Posted: 12:58  am EDT
Updated: 1:49 pm EDT message updated by US Embassy Niamey

 

The U.S. Embassy in Niamey released a Security Message on March 19 informing American citizens in Niger of the change in embassy school policy:

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by officials of U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards.

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by children of official U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards. (updated)

The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens in Niger to exercise caution, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase security awareness, and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the importance of taking precautions that can help you avoid being a target. Please follow these good personal security practices:

Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;

Reduce exposure to places where Westerners frequently congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores;

Know where you are going and have an exit plan in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;

Tell family member, co-workers, or neighbors where you’re going and when you intend to return;

Minimize your profile while in public;

Follow the instructions of local authorities;

Be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for personal safety concerns;

Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy number tel. (227) 20-72-26-61 and the after-hours emergency number, (227) 20-72-31-41.

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

According to the 2014 Crime and Safety report, Niger is rated by the Department of State as High for terrorism and for crime.

  • Its central location and the vast, open Sahara and Sahel Deserts make the transit of terrorists, criminals, weapons, migrants, contraband, and illegal drugs possible.
  • Due to safety and security concerns, the Peace Corps ceased its operations in Niger in January 2011.
  • Embassy Travel Policy (applicable to all U.S. government executive branch travelers under Chief of Mission authority) requires that all travel north of Niamey and east of Zinder be accompanied by an armed security escort, with guards at hotels for overnight stays.

Excerpt from the Crime and Safety Report:

There has been an overall decrease in residential robberies in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence. While thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no residential guard and/or visible residential security measures, there have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence, including some diplomat and NGO residences. There was an incident at an Embassy residence by a violent individual; the Embassy guard on duty physically protected the residence from intrusion. In addition, there have been numerous cases of commercial and NGO office robberies.

Niger is rated high for terrorism. Niger has experienced terrorism firsthand, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) operations and clashes between the Nigerien military and al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other terrorist groups in the north. The January 2013 French military intervention in Mali against AQIM and its allies caused terrorist elements to threaten reprisals against countries — including Niger – that participated. In May 2013, AQIM-related forces led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar executed simultaneous suicide attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and dismounted gunmen on a Nigerien military camp in Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit.

Boko Haram (BH) has an increasing presence; the group is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked government forces, slaughtered civilians, and kidnapped foreigners. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced an increase in extremist rhetoric in the south (specifically Diffa), and Boko Haram members have been arrested in Niger.

According to the March 8 update at state.gov, Embassy Niamey is a 30% hardship differential post with zero COLA and zero danger pay.

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US Embassy Mali Issues Security Message on La Terrasse Suspects At-Large, Potential Future Attacks

Posted: 12:52  am EDT

 

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On March 19, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako released a security message to American citizens residing in Mali related to the March 7 attacks:

The U.S. Embassy provides the following information and security guidance to U.S. citizens following the March 7 attacks at La Terrasse.  Malian authorities report that the suspects involved in the attacks are still at-large.  While there are no specific restrictions on public venues, official U.S. government personnel are advised to reduce exposure to places frequented by westerners until the hunt for suspects-at-large is concluded.  As a result of the continuing investigation, Malian and international security forces have developed leads that may indicate potential future attacks in the capital.  Therefore, the U.S. Embassy has reemphasized general security guidance provided earlier this week, and has informed official U.S. government personnel of the following additional measures:

  • The Embassy is in regular communication with the American International School of Bamako (AISB) regarding its security posture, including transport and physical security.
  • Official U.S. government personnel lodging in local hotels will no longer be concentrated into a few hotels.
  • Personal travel by official governmental personnel outside Bamako is prohibited in March and April, at which time the restriction will be reassessed.
  • Additional guidance will be distributed in coming days about possible movement restrictions for official U.S. government personnel around Bamako on the two upcoming holidays, March 26 and April 6.

Although the Embassy is not aware of any specific threat information at this time, Malian security forces continue to show a heavy presence around Bamako, including roadblocks and random police checkpoints, especially from dusk to dawn.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, vary routes, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure their own safety, as should be standard operating procedure at all times.  Ensure your personal communications devices are usable in a crisis, and fully employ any safety measures (locks, grills, alarms, etc.) at your residence.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report for Mali notes the following:

Despite the significant successes of French offensive and counterterrorist operations, military operations continue to take place in the northern region of the country based on the persistent presence of extremist and militant factions and their capabilities to target Malian and western targets, including UN and French assets. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively static, there are continued concerns that Bamako remains a viable target for these groups. In January 2014, extremist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar reemphasized his pledge to target France and its allies in Mali in retaliation for Operation Serval. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED and PBIED); armed assaults; indirect fire and hand grenade attacks; and other attacks against foreign nationals, including kidnappings. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. Two French journalists were kidnapped then killed in November 2013 in the Kidal region.

Americans are currently warned against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the country, fluid political situations, and continuing threat of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable, security concerns and military operations continue throughout parts of the country. U.S. citizens who are in country are urged to exercise caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

According to the state.gov update dated March 8, 2015,  Embassy Bamako is a 10% COLA, 10% danger and 25% hardship differential post.

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US Embassy Tokyo: Consular Section Contributes to Flowers Will Bloom Project

Posted: 12:19 am  EDT

 

Via US Embassy Tokyo

“The American Embassy offers its continued sympathy and support for the victims of the 3.11 Triple Disaster, and is pleased and proud to contribute to the Flowers Will Bloom project. Here, staff from our consular section offer their version of the Flowers Will Bloom, highlighted by photos of Ambassador Kennedy’s visits to Tohoku in 2013 and 2014.”

The triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear plant breakdown struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

 

 

Embassy Tokyo and USCG Okinawa are currently in the front pages due to media reports that both Ambassador Kennedy and Consul General Alfred Magleb had been the objects of death threats in telephone calls last month. We don’t know why the news are just showing up now.

The Consular Section in Naha serves a large number of American military personnel and their families stationed on Okinawa. According to the Consulate General, its staff includes a 10-person consular team looking after Americans in need of passports (over 5,000 per year), reports of birth abroad (well above 1,000 annually), and other U.S. citizen services.

According to a 2014 CRS report, the Japanese archipelago serves as the most significant forward-operating platform for the U.S. military in the region; approximately 53,000 military personnel (39,000 onshore and 14,000 afloat in nearby waters), 43,000 dependents, and 5,000 Department of Defense civilian employees live in Japan.  It also notes that about 25% of all facilities used by U.S. Forces Japan and about half of the U.S. military personnel are located in Okinawa, which comprises less than 1% of Japan’s total land area.

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U.S. Embassy Djibouti to Close to the Public on Thursday, March 19 for Security Posture Review

Posted: 5:38 pm PDT

 

On March 18, the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti sent out a security message informing Americans residing in the country that it will be closed to the public on Thursday, March 19, to review its security posture.  The statement says that the Embassy will reopen for regular business on Sunday, March 22.  Emergency consular services for U.S. citizens will be available.

All U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security, follow instructions of local authorities, and read the most current Travel Warnings and Country Specific Information for Djibouti.
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The U.S. Embassy in Djibouti is located at Lotissement Haramous Lot # 350B. You can contact the Consular Section of the Embassy via email at ConsularDjibouti@State.gov or by phone at, tel.  +(253) 21-45-30-00.   For after-hours emergencies, please call +(253) 77-87-72-29.

Map of Djibouti

Map from CIA World Factbook

The State Department had previously released a Travel Warning for Djibouti in November 2014 warning U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Djibouti. It also urged U.S. citizens in Djibouti to evaluate their personal security situation in light of specific threats from terrorism.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at Western (including U.S.) and Djiboutian interests in Djibouti.  Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings (to include car bombings), kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Djiboutian ports.  Attacks may target official government facilities, including Embassies and military installations, as well as soft targets such as restaurants, clubs, hotels, and other commercial entities.  While Djiboutian officials continue the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist attacks, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should also consult the Worldwide Cautionfor further information and details.

On May 24, 2014, two suicide bombers attacked a restaurant popular with Westerners in Djibouti’s city center.  One person was killed and others were severely injured.  Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack, and renewed its previously stated intent to conduct similar attacks in Djibouti against both Djiboutian and Western targets.  These threats have been regularly repeated since 2011, following Djibouti’s commitment to contribute forces to the African Union Mission in Somali (AMISOM).

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