Category Archives: Diplomatic Attacks

Greg D. Johnsen: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen

-Domani Spero

On September 17, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen was attacked by armed militants. The armed attack which includes car and suicide bombings resulted in the death of seven militants and 12 security personnel and civilians. Greg D. Johnsen in telling the story of that day, writes that things would have been unimaginably worse if not for an unlikely hero.  This also shows how much our diplomatic posts are at the mercy of their host countries’ security support. If the host country’s security personnel runs away or refuses to fight, our people overseas are on their own.  

Photo via State/DS - 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Photo via State/DS – 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Gregory D. Johnsen — follow him @gregorydjohnsen — is the Michael Hastings National Security Fellow and author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia. Excerpt below:

The men knew their early Islamic history, and had picked their target accordingly. For them, Sept. 17 was a holy date. On the Islamic calendar, which held to the lunar cycle, the date was Ramadan 17, 1429. Centuries earlier, at the very beginning of Islam — 624 A.D., or the second year on the Muslim calendar — the Prophet Muhammad led a small band of believers into battle against a much larger pagan force. That morning on the plains south of Medina, the ragtag Muslim army stunned the pagans, a victory Muhammad and the Qur’an attributed to divine intervention.
[...]
The plan was simple: The first vehicle would crash into the main gate, exploding a hole in the embassy’s perimeter and allowing the second jeep and the rest of the men to flood into the main compound and kill as many Americans as they could before they were gunned down. But to do that they had to pass through the concentric circles of security undetected.

At the first checkpoint, the one manned by the Central Security Force, soldiers glanced at the military license plates on the jeeps and waved them through.

The two jeeps pulled ahead to the next checkpoint and stopped. “We have a general here to see the ambassador,” one of the men shouted at Mukhtar and Shumayla.

Neither of them knew anything about a meeting. This wasn’t protocol. Seche hardly ever met people at the embassy; he usually went out. Still, the ambassador didn’t consult with them on his decisions.

Shumayla moved first, walking toward the jeeps to check IDs. About halfway there he paused. The windows in the jeeps were so darkly tinted that he couldn’t see inside. That wasn’t right. Mukhtar was already pulling on the rope to raise the drop bar when Shumayla saw it: a man in the lead jeep popping through a hole in the roof and clutching a Kalashnikov.

“Ya, Mukhtar,” Shumayla shouted. “Run.”

And then the shooting started. Three men jumped out of the trailing jeep, firing as they ran. Shumayla was gone, fleeing for the protection of several concrete barriers. But Mukhtar waited. He had to get the bar down. Letting the rope slide back down through his hands, he hit the duck-and-cover alarm — the embassy’s early warning system — as the bar crashed back down. It all lasted only a few seconds, but that was all it took. One bullet hit him below the left the shoulder; another took him in the stomach. He managed to turn and run about 10 yards toward some rocks before a third bullet hit him in the back and exploded out his chest.

According to Greg Johnsen’s report, Mukhtar al-Faqih was posthumously awarded the Department of State’s Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service for sacrificing his life and giving “the last full measure of devotion to his colleagues and friends.” The U.S. Embassy reportedly hired his younger brother Muhammad to replace him as a security guard but has denied the fourth and youngest brother, Walid, a visa to travel to the U.S.

Read in full: The Benghazi That Wasn’t: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen.

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Filed under Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Locally Employed Staff, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

US Embassy Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department issued a Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country. We blogged about it here (See US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning).

On May 16, the AP, citing a letter sent to embassy employees that day, reported  that the U.S. ambassador in Kenya Robert Godec has requested additional Kenyan and American security personnel and is reducing the size of the embassy staff due to increased terrorist threats in Kenya.

We don’t know when the actual request was made but the May 15 Travel Warning did not include the information on additional security personnel or the reduction of staff.

On Saturday, May 17, Ambassador Godec released the following statement:

[T]he U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community.   The most important responsibility of every U.S. Ambassador and Embassy is to protect American citizens and to keep them informed.  The United States greatly appreciates the Kenyan government’s rapid response to requests for additional security at diplomatic facilities while it also increases security at public and other critical venues.

The Embassy is continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on U.S. staffing. We remain open for normal operations and have no plan to close the Embassy.

We could not remember a post in recent memory that announced a reduction in staffing before it actually happens.  But the reduction in staffing was already widely reported in the media. As well as the request for additional security personnel for post.

We imagined that the Consular folks were up in arms with the “No Double Standard” Policy, which requires that  important security threat information if shared with the official U.S. community (generally defined as Americans working for the U.S. government abroad), must be made available to the wider American community if the threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.

On May 17, the two-day old Travel Warning was replaced with an updated one noting that, “Based on the security situation, the Embassy is reviewing its staffing with an eye toward reduction in staff in the near future.  The Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”

Meanwhile, according to AFP, Kenya’s foreign ministry had accused several foreign nations of “unfriendly acts” and “noted with disappointment” the warnings by Australia, Britain, France and the United States, after they issued travel warnings for coastal regions following a wave of attacks and unrest linked to Islamist extremists.

We should note that US Embassy Nairobi is the largest U.S. embassy in Africa with a staff of more than 1,300 among 19 federal agency offices, including more than 400 U.S. direct hires and over 800 local employees. As of this writing, the embassy has not been declared on authorized departure, the first phase in a staffing reduction.

Ambassador Godec was assigned as the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya in August 2012 following the departure of Ambassador Gration.  He was nominated by President Obama on September 19, 2012 to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and sworn in by Secretary of State Clinton on January 16, 2013.  Prior to his assignment in Nairobi, Ambassador Godec was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) in the Department of State.

Since Nairobi is the site of one of our most catastrophic embassy attacks, we will add the following detail from the Nairobi ARB report in 1999 in the aftermath of the twin East Africa bombings in Kenya and Tanzania:

Ambassador Bushnell, in letters to the Secretary in April 1998, and to Under Secretary Cohen a month later, restated her concern regarding the vulnerability of the embassy, repeating the need to have a new chancery that would meet Inman standards. Ms. Cohen responded in June stating that, because of Nairobi’s designation as a medium security threat post for political violence and terrorism and the general soundness of the building, its replacement ranked relatively low among the chancery replacement priorities. She drew attention to FBO’s plan to extend the chancery’s useful life and improve its security to include $4.1 million for the replacement of the windows.

As of this writing,there is no update on reduction of staffing at post. On May 20, US Embassy Nairobi issued the following Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Protests in Nairobi Turn Violent.

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US Embassy Attacks: Year in Review — 2013

– Domani Spero

In early May, Diplomatic Security released its annual Year in Review publication detailing attacks on diplomatic personnel/facilities for the past year. In 2013, attacks against American posts and staff occurred in the Philippines, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia,  and the Congo.  While majority of the attacks were against USG properties, there were casualties, killed and/or wounded in Ankara, Zabul, Kabul, Herat and  Taji.  It is important to note that those killed or wounded in these attacks include not only American personnel/contractors but also local employees, local contract guards, local policemen, and civilians.

The following details extracted from State/DS publication Confronting Danger, Year in Review 2013:

January 25 – Manila, Philippines:  Some 15 to 20 protesters gathered across the street from the main gate of the U.S. Embassy to rally against the Visiting Forces Agreement. Police prevented them from approaching any closer, but they managed to throw red paint on the U.S. seal, journalists, and police officers.

January 28 – Manila, Philippines: Approximately 50 protesters gathered across from the consular section of the U.S. Embassy. They were carrying placards that read, “Stop U.S. Intervention” and “U.S.-Aquino Regime Terrorists.” The group departed after throwing plastic bags filled with paint, which struck and defaced the Embassy seal at the Consulate entrance.

February 1 – Ankara, Turkey: At 1:14 p.m., an individual entered the U.S. Embassy access pavilion. When questioned by a member of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force, he detonated a bomb concealed in his clothing. The explosion killed the bomber and the guard, a 22-year veteran of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force.

(See our blog posts on Mustafa Akarsu here.)

March 11 – Kabul, Afghanistan: Two Embassy helicopters received small-arms fire. Both aircraft returned safely to their airbases with no one injured and minimal damage.

March 21 – Baghdad, Iraq: Three rockets were fired at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, producing no injuries and minimal property damage. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.

April 6 – Qalat City, Zabul Province, Afghanistan: Two bombs exploded near a Provincial Reconstruction Team delivering children’s books to a  school. A U.S. Embassy officer, a U.S.-contracted interpreter, and three U.S. military personnel were killed. Four State Department personnel, eight members of the U.S. military, and four Afghan civilians were wounded.

(See our blog posts on the Qalat, Zabul attack here).

April 10 – Baghdad, Iraq: Five rockets impacted outside the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. Damage was minimal and an American worker was slightly injured while attempting to seek cover. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.

June 10 – Kabul, AfghanistanAt 4:45 a.m., Taliban insurgents equipped with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Coalition Forces compound located at Kabul Airport. Multiple rocket-propelled grenades impacted on Camp Alvarado, a U.S. Embassy facility.

June 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 6:35 a.m., eight insurgents launched an attack on the U.S. Embassy Annex. Afghan security forces and Local Guard Force personnel engaged the militants in a firefight. All eight insurgents were killed along with seven members of the Afghan security forces. Seven other Afghan security personnel were injured.

June 27 – Pristina, Kosovo: The U.S. Ambassador, an Embassy political officer and the DS Regional Security Officer went to the Kosovo Assembly to observe ratification of the April 19 Dialogue agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. As they proceeded to the building, protesters pushed the Ambassador into a wall and struck the Regional Security Officer.

July 3 – Basrah, Iraq: Two bombs detonated at the Mnawi Hotel, causing extensive damage to a USAID office located in the building.

July 14 – Istanbul, Turkey: At approximately 7:15 p.m., while driving to an official event, the motorcade of the U.S. Consul General encountered a crowd of 30 people wearing masks and armed with sticks and heavy paving stones. While escaping, the vehicle sustained damage from several rock-throwing protesters.

July 21 – Lahore, Pakistan: At 3:05 p.m., 400 individuals claiming to be members from Imamia Students Organization and Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen marched to the entrance of the U.S. Consulate General’s primary access road. A number of individuals used spray paint to write anti-American slogans on the Consulate’s wall.

September 6 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Approximately 15 to 20 protesters chanted anti-American rhetoric in front of the U.S. Consulate. At the end of the protest, they threw red paint on the street and bollards of the Consulate.

September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan:   The September 13, 2013, attack began when a truck driver eased up to a barrier at the Consulate’s primary vehicle entry point and without warning, detonated a massive improvised explosive charge.  It was 5:32 a.m. and not quite sunrise at the U.S. Consulate in Herat when a terrorist murder squad appeared suddenly and attempted to blast and shoot its way inside. All but one would die within the next 30 minutes, and the fight would mark the first time in memory that DS defeated a complex assault without help from the host country or other forces.  [E]ight contracted guards who were standing regular duty outside the U.S. Consulate were killed. They were: Jawid Sarwary, Mohammad Ramin Rastin, Ahmad Firooz Azizy, Ghazy Zade Mohammed Zaman, Sayed Sadt, Mohammad Ali Askari, Aref Mohammad Sadiqi, and Ezmari Haidary.  The attack also injured four other guards and several Afghan police officers who were on duty outside the Consulate.

(See  US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed)

Photo via State/DS

Photo via State/DS

October 1 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: At approximately 7:40 p.m., members of the Black Bloc anarchist group infiltrated a teachers’ demonstration in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro, one block from the U.S. Consulate General. Vandals lit a fire near the Consulate waiting area and threw cobblestones at Consulate windows.

October 7 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Protests ended in vandalism after members of the Black Bloc anarchist group again infiltrated a demonstration organized by striking Rio teachers. When the striking teachers dispersed, some 400 masked anarchists confronted the police and then threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Consulate General.

October 13 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: At approximately 3:30 p.m., two explosions killed two individuals at a residential compound adjacent to the residence of a U.S. Embassy employee. The blast destroyed windows and some of the perimeter wall, but no Americans were injured. The deceased are believed to have been planning attacks against Western targets in Addis Ababa.

October 15 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The teachers’ protests saw anarchist groups again engage in widespread vandalism in the city center. Vandals damaged banks and businesses. The exterior of the U.S. Consulate General building was damaged, including broken windows, when passing protesters threw rocks and coconuts at the building.

October 18 – Porto Alegre, Brazil: At approximately 12:30 p.m., a group of university students calling themselves “Marighella” vandalized the U.S. Consular Agency. The vandals/protesters said they wanted the U.S. out of the country and claimed the U.S. President was a “spy” who wanted Brazil’s oil. They also said they were there to “take over.”

December 16 – Brazzaville, Congo: Heavy gunfire rocked the capital as government forces tried to arrest an official at his residence located within one mile of the U.S. Embassy, but his bodyguards resisted. During the firefight a stray bullet shattered a second-floor window of the U.S. Embassy.

December 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 6:42 a.m., unidentified insurgents fired one 107-mm rocket at the U.S. Embassy. The rocket landed on the east side of the Embassy compound, but failed to detonate. An additional rocket was later found at the launch site. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

December 27 – Taji, Iraq: At approximately 9:20 a.m., a U.S. motorcade en route from Balad to Baghdad came under small-arms fire while stopped at a checkpoint on Highway One. The security team leader — a U.S. citizen — was slightly wounded.

 

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Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service union recently released its Security Recommendations from its QDDR Security Working Group.

The recommendations available here includes the following number one item:

“We are opposed to the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security. Cross cutting decisions involving security and achieving other national priorities need to be consolidated, not further divided.”

Whaaaaat?  Here is how the AFSA Security Working Group explains it:

Non-concurrence with Decision to Create new Under Secretary for Security 

The Benghazi ARB, the Report of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, and the OIG Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process all focus on the need to tighten and better focus responsibility for security at senior levels. The independent panel report recommends the creation of a new undersecretary level position for security. We disagree.

The problem is not just security but finding the balance between risk, resources, and the accomplishment of national foreign policy objectives. The result, as the OIG report notes (pg. 4), is that contrary positions tend to be “represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management.” Creating a new undersecretary for security will do nothing to resolve this problem and, in fact, is likely to prioritize security over our reason for being in risky locations in the first place. The need is for a single location to reconcile the two perspectives and take responsibility for the resulting decisions. This could either be in the U/S for political affairs or, as the IG recommends, at the level of the Deputy Secretary level but it should not be in a new U/S devoted exclusively to security.

All three reports note the 14-year failure at consistent implementation of similar recommendations made previously. A significant challenge for Department leadership will be to put in place and maintain effective implementation mechanisms. Almost as important will be to convince its personnel that it continues to pay attention once the political heat dies down.

Can we just say that we disagree with AFSA’s disagreement? You really want the policy folks to have the last say on security?  Really?

We have reached out to AFSA to determine who were the members of this Working Group but have not heard anything back. (Have not heard back because no one wants to hear more questions about The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate?)  We understand from interested readers that AFSA is reportedly saying these are not “policy prescriptions” and that “The papers were reviewed and approved by the AFSA Governing Board before they were submitted to the QDDR office at State.”

What is clear as day is that the diplomats union is now on record not just in non-concurrence but in opposing the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security.

Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Gregory B. Starr was asked about this new position during his confirmation hearing, and here is what he said:

Prior to Mr. Starr’s nomination and subsequent confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, he was appointed to a non-renewable term of five years as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security in 2009. As head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (DSS), he reported directly to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Starr’s response to the question on elevating Diplomatic Security to an under secretary position is perhaps not totally surprising.  In the org structure DS reports to M; M being one of the six under secretaries in the State Department.  Can you imagine how it would have been received in Foggy Bottom had he publicly supported the creation of the U/S for Diplomatic Security at the start of his tenure?

Meanwhile, Congress which is now on its 4,487th hearing on Benghazi and counting, has also not been a fan of elevating DS to the under secretary level.  Last year, this is what the HFAC chairman said:

“I won’t endorse a new undersecretary position until the State Department provides the committee with a compelling rationale,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “More bureaucracy is not synonymous with effective security.”

Mr. Starr talks about access to the Secretary and his deputies, Congressman Royce talks about an expanding bureaucracy, and AFSA talks about “consolidation” at “P” or the Deputy Secretary level. The Dems think Pfftt and the GOP is basically still talking about those darn “talking points.”

No one is talking about fixing the “span of control” or the “organizational structure” that needs work.

We’re afraid that we’ll be back talking about this again, unfortunately, at some future heartbreak.

Diplomatic Security: Things were a changin’ in the 1980s

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State, by administrative action, established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by a Director holding a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State on Nov 4, 1985. The creation of the new Bureau followed recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (the Inman Panel), which studied means of protecting Department personnel and facilities from terrorist attacks. Congress authorized the Bureau, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of Aug 27, 1986 (P.L. 99-399; 100 Stat. 856).

What state.gov does not specifically say on its history page is that the creation of the DS bureau was a direct result of the bombing of the Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.

This.

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut. (Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut.
(Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

In the short history of the bureau, there had been four FSOs appointed as assistant secretary and three non-career appointees.  The current assistant secretary, Mr. Starr is the first career security official to lead the DS bureau. Since its inception, the bureau has been relegated to the administrative and management bureaus.  FSO Robert Lamb who was Administration A/S in 1985 assumed duties as Coordinator of the Office of Security. He was designated Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Nov 4, 1985 and appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security on March 12, 1987.

According to this, Diplomatic Security is responsible for this:

Diplomatic Security  protects the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. employees under Secretary of State and Chief of Mission authority worldwide, as well as the lives of approximately 70,000 family members of these employees. An additional 40-45,000 locally engaged staff (LES) are also protected during working hours. In sum, with 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel and other critical staff, DS successfully protects almost 150,000 employees and family members during business hours, and about 100,000 U.S. employees and family members around the clock. Approximately 275 foreign service posts abroad, comprising thousands of buildings and residences, also fall under the Department’s responsibility and the DS protective security purview.

Currently, the DS bureau is one of thirteen bureaus including Budget and Planning, Human Resources, Overseas Buildings Operations under the “M” family of offices in the Under Secretary for Management. In essence, the top security official at State is not a security official but a management official.

Badda bing badda boom – Reorganization Sorta Done

The State Department has now created a DAS for High Threat Posts.  The State Department could argue that it has done “DS reorganization” with the creation of a new DAS for High Threat Posts.

The new DAS position for High Threat Posts was announced in November 2012, even before ARB Benghazi issued its report. Did it show the State Department’s quick response  ahead of the curve? Absolutely. The ARB report would later call the creation of the DAS HTP as a “positive first step.” 

Congress was partially mollified, something was being done.  

Just because something is being done doesn’t mean what is being done is what is needed or necessary.

We’ve learned in the Nairobi and Tanzania bombings that those missions were not even high threat posts when they were attacked. Also, in the August 2013 closure of posts in the Middle East and North Africa due to the potential for terrorist attacks, only four of 19 were designated as high threat posts.  And when we last blogged about this, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts  have zero danger pay.  

So why an office and a new DAS for HTP?

We think that the creation of a new DAS for HTP was a band-aid solution that everyone could get behind.  It did not encroach on anyone’s turf, no one had to give up anyone or anything, it did not require new money from Congress, it’s a new desk in the same shop, under the same old structure. It could be done cheaply and fast. Add a well-respected DS agent as A/S and tadaaaa — badda bing badda boom – reorganization sort of done!

 

Elevating Diplomatic Security — A 14-Year Old Idea Comes Back

Elevating Diplomatic Security in placement and reporting  within the State Department is not a new idea. The Accountability Review Board following the twin bombings of the the US Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania recommended  in January 1999 that “a single high-ranking officer [be] accountable for all protective security matters.”

13. First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of US diplomatic personnel abroad. It is essential to convey to the entire Department that security is one of the highest priorities. In the process, the Secretary should reexamine the present organizational structure with the objective of clarifying responsibilities, encouraging better coordination, and assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the Secretary’s behalf such activities within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

The ARB Nairobi/Tanzania was not talking about an assistant secretary, since that position was already in existence since 1985. It clearly was talking about a higher ranking official accountable for security.

August 1998:  The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

In fact, in the aftermath of the East Africa twin bombings, there was a move to consolidate security and threat intelligence functions under one entity, the Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism and having Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary of State.

The Cohen-Albright memo proposed combining pertinent security and threat intelligence units into one single unit within the new DS (operational threat intelligence functions of Intelligence & Research (INR), DS Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), and the threat analysis unit of Counter—Terrorism (S/CT). The rationale for this?  That “this will ensure that we have one single entity within the Department responsible for all operational security and threat intelligence, and it also establishes clear, formalized lines of communication and accountability on threat matters with the IC and the Department.”Currently, INR continues to reports directly to the Secretary, CT reports to (J) and ITA remains at DS.

One change that did happen as a result of the twin bombings  was the relocation of RSOs reporting authority from Management Counselors to the Principal Officers at overseas posts.  The (M) at that time, Bonnie Cohen instructed posts that RSOs must now report to, and be evaluated by, DCMS or Principal Officers, rather than their current reporting relationship to administrative counselors. In her memo to Secretary Albright, she wrote: “This will elevate the role of security at posts, ensure that senior post management are engaged in the decision making process of security/threat issues, and establish clear lines of accountability, responsibility and communication. This will correct a number of problems that have arisen by having DS personnel part of the administrative section at post.” See the Cohen to Albright memo here (pdf).

The May 5, 2000 action memo from DS which was approved by Secretary Albright called for placement of  the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) , International Narcotics and Law Enforcement(INL) and the then Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (CT) under this newly created Under Secretary. INL and CT currently reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). The new under secretary position proposed and approved in 2000, an election year, never materialized. Secretary Albright was in office until January 19, 2001.  A new administration came into office and in January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.  See the Carpenter to Albright memo here (pdf).

Similarly, following the Benghazi attacks, the Accountability Review Board Benghazi made the following recommendation in December 2012:

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

 

The Independent Panel on Best Practices was the result of the ARB Benghazi recommendation that the State Department established a Panel of outside independent experts with experience in high threat, high risk areas to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, identify best practices from other agencies and countries and regularly evaluate security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  The panel headed by former USSS Director Mark Sullivan made one thing clear:

“One clear and overarching recommendation, crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

Aaand, we’re back exactly where we were in the late 1990s when  Booz Allen was asked to look under the rocks on all security concerns about the Department cited in the Inman Panel Report and Admiral Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards and tasked with providing recommendations and best practices to the State Department.

Do you get a feeling that we’ve been going round and round in circle here?

 

Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security – Signed, Sealed, Delivered – and Ignored?

We should note here that the  Independent Panel on Best Practices (IPoBP) report is not locatable at the State Department’s website.  The August 2013 report is available here via Al Jazeera. U.S. taxpayers paid for the Panel members to  go look under the rocks, interview hundreds of people, write up their report, and the report is only retrievable from AJAM? Seven months after the report was issued, the State Department’s Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom met with members of the Best Practices Panel on March 26, 2014.

These two items tell us the clear importance placed by the bureaucracy on the recommendations of outside independent experts. It’s like — it’s done, now go away.

We suspect that had the Independent Panel on Best Practices report did not make it to AJAM, we may not have been able to read it. A copy was also given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

The Best Practices report says that “crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

If this position is created, it would be the seventh under secretary position at the State Department. It would join two other “Security” bureaus: Arms Control and International Security (T) and Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). It would be at par with its previous home, Management (M). It would be on equal footing with Political Affairs (P). It would control a significant security budget and about 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel , other critical staff and contractors. It could draw bureaus from other under secretaries, similar to the ones approved in 1999 and never implemented, into the DS orbit.  Most importantly, it would report directly to the Secretary of State:  one accountable security official with the authority necessary to manage on the Secretary’s behalf security matters  within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

That’s a lot of change. There will be tooth and nail fights on lots of corridors.  The new Deputy Secretary Higginbottom will have lots of friends who will borrow her ears. And the bureaucracy will go on self-preservation mode.

One good news if this happens?  There will be no pointing fingers at each other when something horrible happens.  We’ll have one accountable official to drag before Congress.

Speaking of “T” and “J”, a diplomatic security agent asked, “Does that mean we give more importance to ‘international security’ and ‘civilian security’ than we give to our own personnel?”

Does it?

 

DS Doesn’t Need to be in the Room?

At posts overseas, the Regional Security Officer reports to the Ambassador not the Management Counselor (see the Cohen  to Albright memo here).  The Best Practices report notes that this  “direct line of authority from the Ambassador to the RSO, utilizing the Country Team and Emergency Action Committee when necessary, was seen as critical to effective post security management and responding to dynamic threats.”In part, the report says:

[A]t the headquarters level, the same clear lines of authority and understanding of responsibilities are not as well defined or understood. This has led to stove-piped support to posts and lack of understanding of security related coordination requirements among DS, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Regional Bureaus, as noted by the Benghazi ARB. In fact, some senior Foreign Service officers and DS Agents who met with the Panel identified the Under Secretary for Management (M) as the senior security official in the Department responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.
[...]
Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based both on policy and security considerations. “
[...]
Diplomatic Security is only one of eleven diverse support and administrative functions reporting to the Under Secretary for Management. This is a significant span of control issue and, if unaddressed, could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.

 

So moving DS into an under secretary position under S simply mirrors what is already happening at posts overseas. Except that like everything else in a bureaucracy, it’s complicated.

AFSA says that creating a new under secretary for security will not resolve the contrary positions that typically resides between Management (M) and Political Affairs (P) and would “likely result in prioritizing security” over the reason for being in risky locations in the first place.

A DS agent who supports the creation of a U/S for DS explained it to us this way:

“What they really mean is that security considerations raised by a DS U/S would have to be given equal  weight to the other reasons for being in a risky location.”

What we’re told is that all the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries have to do right now is convinced “M” that they need to be at location X.  They do not need to work with DS at all. “When  D is getting briefed, DS doesn’t even have to be in the room.” 

Now, that might explain why DS professionals have very strong feelings about this.

So what if it’s going to be a three-way bureaucratic shootout?

You might have heard that Benghazi has flared up once more.  Take a look at this screen grab from one of the emails recently released via FOIA by the State Department to Judicial Watch.  Who’s missing from this email?

Screen Shot 2014 email fogarty

A Staff Assistant to the Secretary, received an update from the A/S NEA about Benghazi and passed on the update to the senior officials in Foggy Bottom. You’d expect an update from a diplomatic security official, but as you can see in the email header, neither the sender nor the source of this email is even Diplomatic Security.

One more thing –we have occasionally heard what goes on at posts before it goes on evacuation. At one post, the Front Office did not want to go on evac because it was concerned it would become an “unaccompanied post” and thereafter limit the quality of bidders it would get during the assignment season. The decision whether post should go on authorized or ordered departure does not reside with the security professionals but with management and geographic officials.

So basically, if this  U/S for Security position becomes a reality, instead of a bureaucratic shootout between P and M, there would be a three-way shootout between P, M and DS.  In addition to policy  and resource consideration, the bureaucracy will be expected to give security considerations equal  weight when standing up a presence in a risky location or on any matter with a security component.  If the three could not sort it out, the Deputy Secretary or the Secretary would have the last say.

The Best Practices Panel says that “An effective security function must be co-equal to the other organizational
components and have a “seat at the table” to ensure strategic accountability, common understanding of risk, and corresponding mitigation options and costs.

Frankly, we cannot find a reason to argue with that, can you?

Are we doing this again in 2025?

Here is a blast from the past:

The Under Secretary would coordinate on your behalf all operational threat intelligence and security issues with other USG agencies.[...] This reorganization offers better command, control and accountability of Departmental security functions and responsibilities; streamlines the flow of security and threat intelligence information with DS as the focal point for the intelligence agencies; sends a strong signal to the Hill and others that we are taking security seriously by this reorganization; addresses the ARBs‘ findings; and institutionalizes the security apparatus at State to reflect a robust, progressive and disciplined approach to security, which is unaffected by political or personal preferences.

 That reorganization was never implemented. And here we are back to where we were some 14 years ago.

Are we going to do this again in 2025?

* * *

P.S. We’d be happy to put together the top ten reasons for and against the creation of an Under Secretary of  for Security. Send your contributions here by this Friday. The names of contributors, for obvious reasons, will not be published. If we get enough submissions, we’ll blogit.

 

Related items:

Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 | January 1999: http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/arb/accountability_report.html

Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report on Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012 (pdf) (Unclassified) December 2012 | More documents here: http://www.state.gov/arbreport/

The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013 (pdf) via Al Jazeera

 

 

 

 

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Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?

– Domani Spero

We last blogged about the US Consulate-related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in February 2014. 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 (see US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso).

On April 22, SpyTalker Jeff Stein has Murders in Juárez in Newsweek with disturbing allegations.

David Farrington, a U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) service agent, has been vexed by a troubling question for the past several years. He has reason to suspect a colleague deliberately failed to warn an American working at a U.S. consulate in Mexico that she was targeted for assassination by a drug cartel.

Farrington, a former Marine and 10-year veteran of the State Department’s security service, was the first agent to get to the scene of the March 13, 2010, Juarez murders—another car carrying a consulate employee was attacked as well—and caught the case, as they say in police lingo. But his revulsion quickly turned to consternation, and then obsession, when he began asking questions about the whereabouts of the consulate’s chief security officer that day. Eventually, he was taken off the case, according to State Department emails obtained by Newsweek, relieved of his badge and gun, and ordered to undergo a psychological fitness review. But he hasn’t given up.
[...]
Documents show that the Juarez case was just one of a slew of episodes in which investigators charged that senior State Department officials deep-sixed investigations to protect careers or avoid scandal. In June 2013, CBS News aired a report by John Miller, a former FBI chief spokesman, based on an internal IG memo citing instances in which “investigations were influenced, manipulated or simply called off” by senior department officials.

Ugh! More allegations of nasty bizness here.

According to NYT, that OIG report became public “as a result of a civil suit filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”

For more of that case, see Higbie v. Kerry, Dist. Court, ND Texas 2014.

On June 10, 2013, the DOJ lawyers representing Secretary Kerry filed a Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents (Doc. 79) — that OIG report. Court doc explains:

These alleged improperly-obtained documents relate to the Office of Inspector General’s (“OIG”) inspection of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) offices. Defendant contends that these documents are privileged and irrelevant. Additionally, Defendant argues that these documents are not related to the Dallas Resident Office; rather, these documents concern the “policies, resources, and management controls of the DS office that conducts criminal investigations worldwide.”

However, on March 14, 2014, the District Court of Texas granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and denied as moot Defendant’s Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents saying that “The court reviewed the alleged improperly-obtained documents and determined that nothing contained in the documents would change its ruling regarding Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The last time we checked, State/OIG still has that CBS charges on deep-sixed investigations “under review.” In November 2013, State/OIG put out an ad for one senior investigative counsel for complex/sensitive allegations.  This latest allegation may put that review on the front burner.

(Also see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal)

The Newsweek report says that “Farrington’s bosses quietly returned his badge and gun. Nothing more was said about his FFDE, but his applications for a new assignment—even in the most unpopular places—have all been turned down.”

But it also says that Cary Schulman, a Dallas lawyer who has represented Farrington (also Higbie and Fedenisn) had faxed over 100 pages of internal emails and other materials related to Farrington’s case to the House oversight and Senate foreign relations committees.

Let’s see what happens.

On April 24, DOJ announced that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, aka “Benny,” “Farmero,” “51,” “Guero,” “Pecas,” “Tury,” and “86,” 35, of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Barrio Azteca Lieutenant who ordered the March 2010 murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, was sentenced  to serve life in prison.

 * * *

 

 

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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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USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

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US Embassy Saudi Arabia: Avoid Awamiyah in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province

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– Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia released a Security Message for U.S. Citizens in the country concerning an attack that occurred in the Eastern Province of the country and advises U.S. citizens to avoid the area.  The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed that the security incident involves two German diplomats who were shot at, their official vehicle burned but no reported injuries.

On the night of January 13, 2014, two German diplomats were attacked by unknown gunmen while traveling through the Awamiyah neighborhood of the al-Qatif Governorate in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.  While the attack disabled their vehicle (which subsequently burned), the two diplomats escaped to safety.  The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia has re-instructed its employees and their family members to avoid Awamiyah and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. Regardless of where you are, it is always advisable to keep your security and situational awareness levels high.

Please follow these good personal security practices:

Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;

Know where you are going and have a plan of what to do in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;

Identify safe areas (for example police stations, hospitals, Saudi Government buildings) in your area and how to get to them quickly;

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

Minimize your profile while in public;

Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran (013-330-3200), the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh (011-488-3800), and U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah (012-667-0080).  The emergency number for the Saudi Police, Fire, and Rescue is 999;

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

Active link added above.

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Foreign Service Balancing Act: Safety and Openness for America’s Diplomats

– Domani Spero

John Norris, the Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at American Progress and former director of communications for U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott recently wrote an excellent piece in The Atlantic on balancing safety and openness for our diplomats overseas.  He notes that foreign affairs professionals have faced disease, disaster, war, and terrorism over the last 234 years and asks, how secure should today’s officers be?

Mr. Norris piece takes readers behind the stories of long forgotten names reminding us of deaths, mayhem, losses, in our diplomatic service in the last couple hundred years.  He writes about William Palfrey who Congress appointed as America’s first consul in 1780 and who later that year on his way to Bordeaux was lost at sea. He writes  about  American diplomats murdered in the 1800s, more lost at sea, others killed in a volcanic eruption and various diseases.  And how the 20th century was marked as “the beginning of an era when U.S. diplomats were targeted directly because they were U.S. diplomats.”

Excerpt below:

Disease was the greatest threat to an American diplomat during the 1800s. The American Foreign Service memorial plaque in the lobby of the State Department that honors those Americans who lost their lives serving abroad reads like a journal of tropical disease. American diplomats were felled by Yellow Fever, Coast Fever, Tropical Fever, African Fever, cholera, smallpox, malaria, and unnamed epidemics. More than three-fifths of the U.S. diplomatic fatalities in the 19th century were caused by such illnesses.
[...]
State and USAID have done stellar job in protecting their work forces during this perilous period of American international engagement. But this increased security is expensive. In 1998, the diplomatic security budget was $200 million; by 2012 it had leapt to $2.6 billion. That is a more than 1,000 percent increase in 14 years.
[...]
The fact is, working and traveling abroad carries risk. Since 1999, the United States has suffered, on average, 1.5 fatalities a year among its foreign affairs workforce— and that is a period during two ground wars and a global offensive against al-Qaeda. That rate of fatalities is five times that faced by a normal desk worker in the United States today. It translates to almost exactly the same fatality rate as the domestic construction industry, an enterprise that we think of as routinely hazardous, but not on a catastrophic scale.

Since William Palfrey died 234 years ago, there have been 133 different years where there were no deaths of international workers cited on the wall of honor, including six years since 1990. These comparisons are not meant to either minimize or sensationalize the risks of being an American diplomat, but to put them in perspective.
[...]

But right now the greatest challenge is a Congress that whipsaws between ignoring the Foreign Service and scapegoating it after disasters, effectively pushing the State Department toward a zero risk approach that will trap American diplomacy in a hermetic bubble. As one former ambassador argued to me, “If the American public is willing to take a certain number of casualties to promote our interests overseas—and I believe the answer to that question is “yes”—that message needs to be conveyed to the State Department.”

William Palfrey knew full well that a sea voyage to France in 1780 was a hazardous affair. He still got on the ship.

Continue reading How to Balance Safety and Openness for America’s Diplomats.

Mr. Norris notes that we lost one diplomat to enemy action in World War I, two deaths related to World War II, and none during the Korean War. The author also writes about that deadly 11-year stretch when we lost ambassadors to assassinations, kidnappings, executions. Then we lost personnel to suicide bombings and in war zones.

And there was Vietnam where we lost over 40 U.S. diplomatic personnel and where according to the writer, “almost three times as many diplomatic personnel were killed in the broader Vietnam theater than in the rest of America’s wars combined.”  Also this, “It wasn’t until 1972 that the State Department was willing to acknowledge to its own staff how many people had been killed in the field.”

The only thing missing in this historical mortality in the FS is the suicide numbers in the Foreign Service, which like the Vietnam numbers, will go unacknowledged for the foreseeable future, but that’s a separate story.

In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Norris quotes one former ambassador saying, “If the American public is willing to take a certain number of casualties to promote our interests overseas…”

According to the Pew Research, “no more than 6% of those surveyed in the final month of the 2012 presidential campaign, cited a foreign policy issue, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the most important problem facing the country today.”

[M]ost have also taken the view that Americans should concentrate more on national problems, and building up strength and prosperity here at home. In 2011, 52% of Americans said that the U.S. “should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can.”

Even on Benghazi, only a quarter of the American public was paying attention:

“Even when it came to the administration’s handling of the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012, which claimed the lives of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the political furor in Washington was not matched by interest among the general public. A survey in May found that only 25% of Americans said they were following news of the Benghazi investigation very closely, even after new disclosures emerged about the issue.”

But given the new mantra of operating with “an abundance of caution,” it remains to be seen how this balancing act plays out in the post-Benghazi foreign service world.

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Near, far, wherever you are, Benghazi will go on and on … oh, but do you want to buy a Benghazi thong?

– Domani Spero

The 60Minutes’ Benghazi segment with Lara Logan aired on Oct. 27, 2013 and reignited the Benghazi controversy once again. It included interviews with former US Embassy Libya DCM Gregory Hicks, and Green Beret Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood. We’ve heard from Mr. Hicks previously and blogged about it here: “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Features Former Embassy Tripoli DCM Gregory Hicks and Benghazi Hearing: No Kaboom as Promised, But More Details Fill Up the Dark Space of Sadness.

We’ve also heard from Colonel Wood once before: Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers

But we haven’t heard previously from this Morgan Jones fellow. That’s apparently a  pseudonym used by a former British soldier who has been “helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade.” He was reportedly the “security chief for Blue Mountain Security” in charge of the Libyan guard force.

Shortly after the segment aired, Media Matters cited Fox News correspondent Adam Housley as having said that he had previously spoken to the man “a number of times and then we stopped speaking to him when he asked for money.”

The same day that the 60 Minutes segment aired, Los Angeles Times’ Richard A. Serrano reported that two of theDOJ’s key witnesses in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack were summoned to the Oversight Committee earlier in October and “grilled for hours in separate legal depositions” conducted in “a highly guarded and secret interviews.”  The report identified the Diplomatic Security agents as Alec Henderson, who was stationed in Benghazi, and John Martinec, then based in Tripoli. Henderson was reportedly interviewed on Oct. 8 for eight hours and Martinec was interviewed for five hours on Oct. 10.  The report further says that Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa earlier had also demanded access to a third agent, David Ubben, who was seriously injured in the Benghazi attack. According to LAT, Mr. Issa learned the identities of the three agents from Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, who testified before the committee in spring.

On a related note, did you hear that Senator Graham is exceptionally pissed about Benghazi and has promised to block “every appointment in the US Senate” until the Benghazi survivors are produced?   Apparently, he did not know that two DS agents were right next door on October 8 for legal depos that lasted for altogether 13 hours.  Pardon me? Is it purely coincidental that there are bad news in the polls, and that a primary is potentially a headache? Well, is it?

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In any case, on October 28, Julia Frifield, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs responded to Senator Graham’s previous September 24 letter concerning the Benghazi survivors availability.  Read the response here.

On October 29, Mr. Morgan’s book, The Embassy House published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster went on sale; available in hardcover, Kindle and Audible; the cheapest edition via Kindle currently selling at $10.99.

Previously, in September 2013, Deadline reported that Thunder Road has acquired The Embassy House to use as the basis for a feature about the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya,

“The film will be written by Taylor Sheridan, whose adaptation of Comancheria has Marc Forster attached. Thunder Road is producing Sheridan’s script Sicario, and they’ve set him to script a look at Benghazi that is one part Black Hawk Down and another Lawrence Of Arabia. //UK-based Luke Speed of the Marjacq Agency repped the book and Gersh’s Bob Hohman and Bayard Maybank and Elevate repped the scribe. Thunder Road used its own resources to buy the book and will fund development, and hasn’t yet enlisted a studio.”

Also in September, The Hollywood Reporter says that HBO has optioned another book, Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, with Jerry Weintraub on board to executive produce.  Under Fire is authored by former DSS Agent and Stratfor VP Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz and is “Based on the exclusive cooperation of eyewitnesses and confidential sources within the intelligence, diplomatic, and military communities” according to the book’s Amazon page.

If they start filming soon, will the movies be ready in time for the 2nd anniversary of the attack or the 2014 election?

On October 31, WaPo’s Karen DeYoung threw some more fuel on the Benghazi fire:

“[I]n a written account that Jones, whose real name was confirmed as Dylan Davies by several officials who worked with him in Benghazi, provided to his employer three days after the attack, he told a different story of his experiences that night.

In Davies’s 2 1 / 2-page incident report to Blue Mountain, the Britain-based contractor hired by the State Department to handle perimeter security at the compound, he wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, “we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.”

On November 1, The Cable’s John Hudson reported that Star Benghazi ‘Witness’ May Not Have Been an Actual Witness:

“In contrast with the 60 Minutes account, which saw him knocking out terrorists with the butt end of his rifle and scaling a 12-foot wall the night of the attack, the Blue Mountain report has Jones at his beach-side villa for the majority of the night. Despite an attempt to make it to the compound, Jones wrote that “we could not get anywhere near … as roadblocks had been set up.”

Further The Cable points out that “the book titled The Embassy House was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation, which owns 60 Minutes — a fact not disclosed in the 60 Minutes story.

Oh, dear …. is that what’s called cross promotion or something?

On November 2, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported that Dylan Davies, aka: Morgan Jones denied writing the incident report cited by Karen DeYoung’s report in WaPo.  The Daily Beast had obtained a copy of the Blue Mountain Group 4-page incident report that lists Dylan Davies, “PM” as the “Name of Person Reporting.” The report is dated 13:00 hours, September 14, 2012, unsigned and the published copy does not include any indication whether the report was emailed or faxed to the Blue Mountain Group. See for yourself here via Josh Rogin/ScribD.

The Daily Beast report described Jones/Davies as a “Benghazi Whistleblower” and says that “Davies said he did not know who leaked the report to the Post but said he suspected it was the State Department, an allegation that could not be independently corroborated.” More below:

“A State Department official confirmed it matches the version sent to the U.S. government by Davies’s then-employer Blue Mountain Group, the private security company based in Britain, on Sept. 14, 2012, and subsequently provided to Congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks.
[...]
Davies said he believed there was a coordinated campaign to smear him. This week, Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, sent a public letter to CBS News asking it to retract the 60 Minutes Benghazi piece on the basis of the Washington Post article. On the Fox News Channel, reporter Adam Housley claimed on air this week that Davies asked for money in exchange for an interview. Davies denied this charge. 60 Minutes has stood by its reporting.”

Continue reading  Benghazi Whistleblower Says He Was Smeared.

Media Matters and Fox News in a coordinated smear campaign?  If I were drunk at 10 o’clock in the morning, that still sounds crazy bad.

The Blue Mountain Group was snared early on in the Benghazi controversy. Remember that time when the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said this three days after the attack: “I can tell you that at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya – at no time.”  That turned out to be false. This was covered by Danger Room in September 2012:  Feds Hired British Security Firm to Protect Benghazi Consulate.

The contract is a curious one, of course, since security in the State Department falls under the Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) program which has core funding for the protection of life, property, and information of the agency. WSP funding supports not just domestic facilities but also  worldwide guard force protecting overseas diplomatic missions and residences.  Defense Industry Daily has a list of contractors for the 5-year $10 billion WPS security contract inked in 2010.  The Blue Mountain Group is not on that list.  One wonders, given the presence of OGA in Benghazi, if this was in fact an OGA contract, though  the paperwork does say it is a State contract. Or it is possible that none of the WPS contractors are allowed to operate in Libya, so State had to procure services from another provider?  But then, that does not explain why three days after the attack, the State spokesperson was adamant that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya.”

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A redacted copy of the Blue Mountain Group contract has now been released after a FOIA by Judicial Watch and can be read/downloaded here.

One thing more. On October 14, 2012, UK’s The Telegraph reported about Blue Mountain, described as a small British firm based in south Wales:

“Blue Mountain, which is run by a former member of the SAS, received paper work to operate in Libya last year following the collapse of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. It worked on short term contacts to guard an expatriate housing compound and a five-star hotel in Tripoli before landing the prestigious US deal.
[...]
But Blue Mountain’s local woes appears to have hampered a coordinated response by the compound’s defenders when the late assault kicked off.

Darryl Davies, the manager of the Benghazi contract for Blue Mountain, flew out of the city hours before the attack was launched. The Daily Telegraph has learned that relations between the firm and its Libyan partner had broken down, leading to the withdrawal of Mr Davies.
[...]
Abdulaziz Majbiri, a Blue Mountain guard at the compound, told the Daily Telegraph that they were effectively abandoned and incapable of defending themselves on the night of the attack.”

So far, no one has gone back to clarify or straighten out that story.

And because the Benghazi controversy simply refuses to die, CNN is reporting that a CIA operatives will testify behind closed doors at a classified Benghazi hearing on the week of November 11.

Then yesterday, Politico reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz  “slammed the source behind a report that revealed the real name of a British security agent in Benghazi, which was published in The Washington Post.”

“I don’t know who did it, but to release a covert agent’s name to endanger his life should be an absolute outrage in this town,” Chaffetz said Monday on Fox New’s “Fox and Friends” when asked if he thought the White House was behind the leak.

I was seriously looking for something like this to pop up because … hey, it’s too attractive to pass up if you want some screen time.  But now Morgan Jones/Dylan Davies is not only a “whistleblower”  he is also a “covert agent”?

Well, I’ll be …. the Oversight Committee hearing is coming soon.

Have you noticed that Benghazi is not only a popular subject with politicians, it has also gained popularity in the Amazon marketplace? The Benghazi tragedy has spawned not just books but also bumper stickers, a Benghazi album from Moon Records, Cover Up (The Benghazi Song), a Benghazi Memorandum Book,a Benghazi Record Book, whatevs.  There are also Benghazi cartoons, mousepads, coffee mugs, coasters, bottles, tshirts, a pinback button, and a Benghazi memorial license plate. There are more Benghazi-branded products available via Cafepress.com including  Benghazi underwear and panties; don’t  miss the Benghazi Blame and Good Riddance classic thongs. Benghazi products are also available at Zazzle.com; don’t miss the doggie clothing line.

If you’re renovating, there is even a Benghazi light switch cover for a 2 plug outlet.

And now my grey matter is seriously hyperventilating and need to drown itself in sorrow.

 

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