Category Archives: Americans Abroad

Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

– Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[...]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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Iraq Got BLISS, Now US Mission Afghanistan Gets ALiSS or Afghanistan Life Support Services

– Domani Spero

FP’s Gordon Lubold recently wrote about The Diplomatic Brain Drain in Afghanistan:

By summer, after a possible runoff election chooses Karzai’s successor, most of the mid-level and senior U.S. civilians with deep Afghanistan experience who would have the knowledge to help foster strong relations with the new government will be long gone. And, officials familiar with the matter said, they will be replaced by diplomats expected to have far less experience.
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The drain of institutional knowledge from Kabul this summer stems largely from the State Department’s staffing policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Unlike other posts for which two- and three-year tours are typical, State usually keeps diplomats in Afghanistan for just one year before pulling them out. While the U.S. military has also been criticized for short tours that make it harder to cultivate and maintain relationships with the military’s Afghan counterparts, it’s the State Department that has for years come under the most criticism for one-year rotations in part because diplomats are considered to have greater influence over broader swaths of the Kabul government.

A State Department official said in an email that while one-year tours in Afghanistan will be in effect and many diplomats will leave Kabul this summer, the Department will ensure there aren’t gaps created by rotating out the current spate of diplomats.

 

The State Department has done one-year assignments in Afghanistan for the last decade.  Since it did not change the TOD while the military is still there, we doubt very much that it will change to 2-year tours if/when the military “departs” at the end of 2014. (See 10 Facts About US Withdrawal from Afghanistan).

The Department has for years also offered “linked assignment” incentives to all bidders on non-DS Afghanistan (Entry-Level personnel bidding on entry-level assignments excepted). This means that an employee’s Afghanistan assignment is linked to his/her onward assignment, typically to non-hardship postings. Folks leaving Afghanistan this summer already have their next jobs selected for them a year ago. And if these FSOs get extended another year in Afghanistan (we don’t see that happening), there will be gaps at various embassies and consulates where these FSOs were scheduled to assume posts.

What should be interesting to see is how many FSOs have done repeat tours in Afghanistan in the past 12 years, and how many of those with language training, have done multiple tours in Kabul or other posts in the country.

In related news, the State Department is planning for the departure of the U.S. Military from Afghanistan. According to State, December 2014 will mark the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, with Afghan forces taking the lead for security country-wide. This change will have implications for the Department of State. Along with the principal responsibility for the diplomatic mission,the State Department will now have the responsibility for providing life support services to Chief of Mission personnel in Afghanistan, including the Embassy staff, but also the Department’s contract personnel.

Related post: US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services

The State Department has issued a draft solicitation for a period of one (1) year with four (4) one year options contract for life support services for the Kabul Embassy Compound (KEC) Afghanistan and other U.S. government sites within the country.

The Afghanistan Life Support Services (ALiSS) program includes food operations and logistics, fire protection, vehicle maintenance services, laundry services, medical services, Regional Security Officer (RSO) support, warehouse operations, and miscellaneous support services and workforce augmentation personnel currently provided through other programs, Interagency Agreements or contracts.   The following life support services requirements will be included as optional services to be exercised at the Government’s discretion: Fuel support and logistics, to include procurement, storage, delivery and planning; Postal Services Support; Waste Management Services, to include solid, gray— and black—water, recycling; Recreational Services Management and/or support; Laundry Services; Transportation Services; Airfield Services and operations.

Now Staffing, or What’s Laundry Gotta Do With It?

The Lubold piece on FP says that the State Department would not provide the number of U.S. foreign service officers serving in Afghanistan. A U.S. official did tell FP that there are about 250 to 300 foreign service officers assigned to the U.S. embassy in Kabul with “the bulk of them are departing this summer.”  

There may actually be more according to the ALiSS solicitation which estimates the amount of laundry that needs washing per week.  Of course, the laundry line item in the solicitation did not separate FSOs, specialists, contractors, etc but we thought this interesting.  As of March 2014, quantities being laundered in Kabul include “An approximate maximum of 150 ongoing TDY occupants which require a once a week washing of bed linens and towels (approximately 50 loads per week) and “GSO HOUSING: An additional 250 residential size (20 pound) laundry loads per week.”

What will the future mission staffing look like?

According to the ALiSS solicitation, Embassy Kabul’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff by 2017 but the total mission staffing appears to be three times that number.  Below is the breakdown of anticipated staffing according to the publicly available solicitation for life support services for US Mission Afghanistan:

  • The West Compound includes the New Chancery, the Old Chancery, three staff diplomatic apartment buildings (“SDAs”), and the Marine House. The West Compound also has a number of non—permanent buildings, offices and residences. By late summer 2017, construction will be completed on three new SDAs, a new Office Annex, a new Office Building Annex, an extension to the warehouse, and an extension to the Marine House. The Embassy’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff.
  • The Kabul Embassy Complex (KEC) contains two major cafeterias with one on the West Embassy compound and the second on the East Compound. A third cafeteria is under construction within the new Office Annex in the West Compound and is expected to be operational by January 1, 2015. Each cafeteria offers three main meals per day seven days a week, as well as a salad/sandwich bar for afterhours dining.  The cafeteria on the West Compound is a 390 m2 facility that has a seating capacity for roughly 160 personnel.  The cafeteria on the East Compound is a 300 facility that has a seating capacity of roughly 150 personnel.
  • Camp Eggers: The majority of the housing will be containerized housing units (CHUs). The electric plant will be six diesel generators that will provide primary power for the entire camp. There will be wells added to the camp to provide water and the water will be treated. The camp population will be 1,500 personnel and Phase One construction should be completed by mid—2015.
  • Camp Seitz: The camp population is currently 620 personnel, but the number will likely rise to nearly 800 by mid—2015.

Additional Mission Afghanistan sites may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Consulate General Herat and supporting facilities (including Camp Kodiak): The diplomatic platform in Herat is a full Consulate. The current location, in a former “five star” luxury hotel, houses all COM operations in the consular district. The site provides housing, offices, a large dining facility that can be used as a shura/conference center, and other traditional Consulate components. The Consulate is currently negotiating for the acquisition of additional adjacent property to provide the potential for a helicopter landing zone. Projected post—2014 staffing in Herat is 101 (27 US direct hire/ 74 Local Employed Staff).
  • Consulate General Mazar—e Sharif and supporting facilities (including Camp Little Bear): The diplomatic platform is a formal Consulate that will continue to be located at the German NATO base, Camp Marmal, until NATO military forces withdraw from the base. The Consulate operates from U.S. and NATO military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, hardened housing units, and containerized housing units. Life support is provided largely by German NATO forces at Camp Marmal, with limited support from U.S. military forces. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 70 (20 US direct hire / 50 Local Employed Staff).
  • Kandahar Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Kandahar will continue to be located on the U.S. NATO Kandahar Air Field until all U.S. and NATO military forces withdraw from the Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from a two—acre compound in close proximity to Camp Valdes, known as the “C&C Compound” site. The compound supports 27 direct hire employees and 7 Locally Employed Staff, but the compound is capable of supporting 50+ personnel with housing and office space. The compound provides office space for 16 people but could be retrofitted to accommodate the entire platform, if needed. The site includes a dining facility that is not utilized at this time. It also includes recreational facilities, gymnasium, picnic area, and shop space.
  • Jalalabad Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Jalalabad is located on U.S. military forces’ base FOB Fenty, adjacent to Jalalabad Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from U.S. military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, and hardened housing units. U.S. military forces at FOB Fenty provide all life support. There is no DOS security contractor staff at Jalalabad and all current and foreseeable future movements depend upon military assets. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 9 (6 US direct hire / 3 Local Employed Staff).
  • Bagram Embassy Liaison Office: The Liaison Office will operate from U.S. military constructed hardened office space and reside in housing units provided by the military. U.S. and NATO military forces at BAF provide all life support. There is no State Department security contractor staff at Bagram and all movements depend upon military assets. Projected staffing at this location is 5 US direct hire.

The ALiSS solicitation also says that  “Due to the evolving U.S. profile in Afghanistan, the schedule for solicitation, award and implementation is aggressive and subject to change.”

 

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FBI Adds Ex-Diplomat Bradford Bishop, Jr. to Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List (Video + Photos)

– Domani Spero

On April 10, the FBI named William Bradford Bishop, Jr. to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Bishop is wanted for allegedly bludgeoning to death his wife Annette, mother Lobelia, and three sons, William Bradford III (14), Brenton (10), and Geoffrey (5) at their home in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 1, 1976.  He was a Foreign Service officer with postings in Italy, Ethiopia, Botswana and was posted in Foggy Bottom in 1974. He has been a fugitive since 1976.

 

bishop1

Photo taken circa 1970-1975 Source: FBI |              More images here.

Have you seen this man?
1-800-CALL-FBI

Photograph enhanced to age 77 Source: FBI

Photograph enhanced to age 77
Source: FBI | More images here.

Via FBI:

Investigators believe Bishop then drove to rural North Carolina, buried the bodies in a shallow grave, and lit them on fire. The United States Attorney’s Office in Maryland has charged Bishop with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in the murders.

Adding Bishop to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list creates the national and international attention needed to bring closure to a case that has remained unsolved for decades. Bishop has not been seen since he bought a pair of sneakers in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in 1976. A witness said Bishop was with a woman who was walking a dog described as an Irish Setter but is believed to have been the family’s golden retriever Leo.

Investigators with the FBI’s Baltimore and Washington Field Offices, Montgomery County Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and United States Department of State formed a task force in May 2013 to review the case as part of a cold case initiative. The task force is now asking the public for help in finding Bishop. The task force worked with top forensic artist Karen T. Taylor to create an age-progressed bust of what Bishop may look like now at the age of 77.

“Media wasn’t the same in 1976 as it is now. You didn’t have 24-hour news stations that many people watch in the gym or sitting in airports. You also didn’t have social media, like Facebook or Twitter back then,” said Steve Vogt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Baltimore Division. “All that has changed with the Bishop case is the passage of time. Bishop broke with his life and assumed a new identity. Because of that fact, most traditional fugitive investigative techniques are worthless. We’re hoping media and people who are active on social media pay attention to this; they’ll be the ones to solve this case.”

Bishop is a white man and 6’1” tall and 180 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes when he was last seen in 1976. He has a six-inch vertical surgical scar on his lower back that would still be visible.

“This was a horrific case that involved five innocent members of one family, including three young children, who were all brutally murdered in a place in which they felt safe and by a person whom they trusted. It is unthinkable that a man who is a son, a husband, and a father could commit such a terrible crime,” said Chief Thomas Manger with the Montgomery County Police Department.

Bishop loved the outdoors and was an avid hiker, runner, swimmer, and fisherman who also enjoyed riding motorcycles. He was also a licensed amateur pilot who learned to fly in Botswana, Africa. Bishop was well-read and learned to speak many languages while working in the United States Foreign Service. Bishop earned a degree in American Studies from Yale University and a master’s degree in Italian from Middlebury College in Vermont. He kept detailed journals and may continue to do so now. Bishop was a longtime insomniac and was being treated with medication for depression. Bishop drank scotch and wine, and he enjoyed eating peanuts and spicy food. He was also prone to violent outbursts and preferred a neat and orderly environment.

“Bishop wrote many times in his journal that he wanted a freer life, one where he didn’t have to answer to anyone but himself. He doesn’t deserve the freedom he’s enjoyed for the last three decades,” said Sheriff Darren Popkin with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. “We have a warrant for his arrest, and regardless of how old it is, we know the only way we’re going to bring Bishop to justice is for a neighbor, co-worker, or possible family member to come forward to say they know Bishop now.”

Bishop is believed to have taken with him a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver he inherited from his father with the serial number C981967. He had been seen in many photos wearing his class ring from Yale, something that meant a lot to him andthat he still may have or wear.

William Bradford Bishop, Jr. is the 502nd person to be placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, which was established in March 1950. Since then, 471 fugitives have been caught or located, 156 of them as a result of citizen cooperation.

If you have any information about William Bradford Bishop, Jr. that may help lead to locating him or help investigators, you are asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI. You could receive a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest. Go to http://www.fbi.gov to see more detailed information about the Bishop case, study the age-progressed photos in-depth, and view his dental records and other important images that may help you identify Bishop. You can also leave any tips at https://tips.fbi.gov/. If you are overseas, you are asked to go to the nearest embassy or consulate.


Related FBI.gov Top Story: William Bradford Bishop Added to FBI Top Ten List

Bethesda Magazine – The Man Who Got Away

Also read An Open Letter to William Bradford Bishop, Jr. by former FSO James Bruno of DiploDenizen.

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Photo of the Day: Shhh! Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.

–Domani Spero
On April 4, during a visit to Morocco, Secretary Kerry stopped by at Rick’s Cafe owned by Kathy Kriger – a former State Department Foreign Service Officer.  The cafe apparently also has a piano player named Sam who presumably played “As Time Goes By” during the secretary’s visit.

Secretary Kerry then headed back home after a 12-day, 23,000-mile trip to Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa on April 4, 2014.  While he was gone, State/OIG issued a management alert over $6 billion in State Department contracting money.  In the alternate universe our Rick says, “You better hurry, they cannot properly account $6 billion in contracting money. And you’ll miss that plane.”  Our Ilsa [laughs] and says: “The whole world isn’t crumbling.  And don’t worry, I have my own plane and now have 371,006 miles!

 

ricks cafe_casablanca

Secretary Kerry Views ‘Casablanca’ During Visit to Rick’s Cafe in Morocco U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches a scene from the film ‘Casablanca’ during a visit to Rick’s American Cafe – started by a former State Department Foreign Service Officer – in Casablanca, Morocco, on April 4, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. [...] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

- Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[...]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

– Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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Dear Diplomatic Security — If We Catch Davis A. Edwards, Will You Fund Our Blog?

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State/DS) has this guy as its Most Wanted Fugitive: Davis Edwards (aka Ted Lythgoe, Teddy Lythgoe, Edward Charles Davis, Charles Simmons, Davis Adder Ewards).  Doesn’t Mr. DS Fugitive remind you of Panama’s Manuel Noriega without the hair? Anyway, four entities are looking for this man for theft and fraud.  We’ll do fraudster chasing over in Mexico if DS promise to fund our blog. We need a vacation, anyway; we also need a cute pug as bait to take with us.

Photo from state/gov/ds

Photo from state/gov/ds

Via state.gov/ds:

Mr. Davis A. Edwards is wanted by the Diplomatic Security Service, Social Security Administration/Office of the Inspector General, and Health and Human Services for social security fraud, passport fraud, theft of government funds, aggravated identity theft, and wire fraud.  The total loss to the U.S. government is still being determined, but is expected to be well over $300,000.

During the 1990s, Mr. Edwards stole the identity of his deceased uncle to work and obtain Social Security Administration disability benefits.  During this time, Mr. Edwards also applied for and was issued four U.S. passports under numerous aliases, including his deceased uncle’s identity. 

As of May 2013, there is reason to believe that Mr. Davis Edwards may be living in Ensenada, Mexico or in an ex-patriate community in Mexico.  Mr. Edwards does not speak Spanish but has previously expressed interest in living in Mexico.  His primary livelihood is construction and he has an affinity for pugs.  Mr. Edwards also requires constant access to medical prescriptions. 

Mr. Edwards may also go by the following names: Ted Lythgoe, Teddy Lythgoe, Edward Charles Davis, Charles Simmons, Davis Adder Edwards.  He is of average build (5’09”, 165 pounds) with brown eyes and no hair (bald).  He has also been featured on Washington State’s Most Wanted list.

If you have any information relating to Davis A. Edwards please contact us by emailing DSSMostWanted@state.gov or calling us toll free at 1-855-TIP-4-DSS (1-855-847-4377).

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This guy got away with four fake passports?! Dudes, that’s scary. We’ll pack our bags when you send the pug. In the meantime …

Dear friends in Ensenada, Mexico – if you have seen this man, please call. He may appear in a pharmacy for medicine. He responds to six names. He may have a pug (dog) with more hair than him. This man looks like a bald Manuel Noriega. Please call, thanks!

Queridos amigos en Ensenada, México – si usted ha visto a este hombre, por favor llame. Él puede aparecer en una farmacia por medicamentos. Él responde a seis nombres. Él puede tener un pug (perro) con más pelo que él. Este hombre se parece a un calvo Manuel Noriega. Por favor llame, ¡gracias.

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US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso

– Domani Spero

We’ve blogged previously about the US Consulate -related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in 2010.  The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate.

El Paso Times’ Diana Washington Valdez has covered this case from the beginning. According to EPT, the jury was selected on January 31, 2014:

Jury selection gets underway today in the trial of an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez in 2010.

Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, who pleaded not guilty, claims in court filings that he confessed to the crime because he was tortured and his wife raped by Mexican police before he was extradited to the United States in 2012.
[…]
U.S. officials have not offered a clear motive for the three slayings in 2010, except to suggest that the killers might have confused the victims for rivals. Evidence from the trial may shed light on why the trio was attacked.

The three victims had left a children’s party in Juárez attended by consulate employees and their families, and were in two separate vehicles, Redelfs and his wife in one, and Salcido in the second vehicle. Both vehicles were white in color.

Shooters, who were also in separate vehicles, followed the two white cars and shot them up in Juárez near the Stanton Street bridge.

Read more here.

Catch up on the trial below — see links to the El Paso Times coverage:

Juarez consulate killings: Opening statements begin
02/03/2014 – The government presented opening statements this morning in the trial of Arturo “Benny” Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged drug cartel enforcer accused of taking part in the slayings of three people associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010.

US Consulate trial: Barrio Azteca gang member recounts killings during Juarez cartel war
02/04/2014 - A Barrio Azteca gang member gave bone-chilling testimony Monday about his role in the violence that ignited Juarez during the drug cartel wars and left among its victims a U.S.

Juarez consulate trial: FBI agent says the accused never told him he was tortured in Mexico
02/05/2014 - The defendant in a federal trial accused of conspiring to kill three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez in 2010 did not tell FBI agents that Mexican police tortured him…

Juarez consulate killings: Witness says Barrio Aztecas were trained by Zetas cartel
02/05/2014 - A Barrio Azteca gang member turned government witness testified Tuesday that his gang had received training on how to become better killers from the notorious Zetas drug cartel.

Juarez consulate trial: Relative of kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testifies
02/07/2014 – A relative of Mexican drug kingpin Vicente Carrillo Fuentes testified Thursday as a government witness in the federal trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, an alleged Barrio Azteca leader accused of conspiring to kill three people with links to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez.

El Paso Barrio Azteca gang helped arm counterparts in Juarez
02/08/2014 – Barrio Azteca gang members in El Paso provided firearms and ammunition to counterparts in Juarez and used women as drug mules to smuggle heroin into the United States, said former gang members

US Consulate trial: DEA source set up secure network for Juarez cartel
02/11/2014 – A telecommunications specialist from Mexico testified Monday that he helped set up a secure radio network for the Barrio Azteca and La Linea members in 2010 that was used to relay orders to kill …

US Consulate killings trial: Witness says defendant ordered the slayings
02/12/2014 – A Barrio Azteca member who admitted taking part in the March 2010 slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez testified Tuesday that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon gave the order…

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