What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT

 

Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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Secretary of State’s Security Detail Who Asserted He Was Drugged, Robbed, and Kidnapped Gets 14 Day Suspension

Posted: 2:31 am EDT

 

This case is about a member of the security detail of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who asserted that he was drugged, kidnapped and robbed during a trip overseas in June 2012. The State Department says that “the grievant consumed nine alcoholic beverages the night before the meeting and the flight, left his hotel alone at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the meeting and flight, and remembers nothing after that until he allegedly awoke at 10:15 a.m. in a car with three strangers in a wooded area 25 km. from his hotel.”  

Public records indicate that the then secretary of state was on foreign travel to Oslo and Tromso, Norway from June 1-2, 2012.

The following is excerpted from the Record of Proceeding from FSGB No. 2014-043:

Grievant joined the Department in 2011. The instant grievance arises from events on the evening of June 1 and morning of June 2, 2012, in and around (REDACTED), while grievant was assigned to temporary duty (TDY) as a member of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Security Detail (SD) during the Secretary’s official visits to (REDACTED) and (REDACTED).
[…]
Grievant, an untenured Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, grieved the Department’s Decision to suspend him for 14 days without pay and place a discipline letter in his Official Personnel Folder for Failure to Report for Duty. The Department charged him with failure to report for a morning meeting and missing a flight from REDACTED to REDACTED on June 2, 2012, while a member of Secretary Clinton’s Security Detail. As aggravating factors, the Department cited the fact that grievant consumed nine alcoholic beverages the night before the meeting and the flight, left his hotel alone at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the meeting and flight, and remembers nothing after that until he allegedly awoke at 10:15 a.m. in a car with three strangers in a wooded area 25 km. from his hotel. Grievant was removed from the Security Detail and sent home from REDACTED, with other members of the Detail picking up his assignments in REDACTED. Grievant asserted the affirmative defense that he was drugged, kidnapped, and robbed, making it impossible for him to report for scheduled duty. He further complained that the Department’s investigation of the incident was biased and procedurally flawed, that he has been improperly harmed by the Report of Investigation, that the Department mischarged him, that his “off-duty” conduct should not constitute an aggravating factor, and that the penalty was unreasonably harsh and inconsistent with penalties meted out for similar or lesser offenses in recent years.
[…]
Grievant states that at approximately 10:15 a.m. on June 2, he awoke in the rear passenger seat of a car parked in a wooded area with three other sleeping men whom he could not identify but who looked “vaguely familiar.” He exited without waking the others and followed a path to a road. At approximately 11:00 a.m., grievant contacted an SD team member and was instructed to flag down a public bus and proceed to the nearest railway station. After being picked up by the ASAIC, the Assistant Regional Security Officer, and a local national, grievant stated that he felt very groggy, “more than just hung over.” They took him to a local medical center for evaluation, and then to a police station, where grievant filed a report of the incident, noting that $80 and a credit card were missing from his wallet (though other credit cards and grievant’s BlackBerry were still in his possession).

As the circumstances of grievant’s disappearance were unclear, and his report of feeling groggy raised questions about his neurocognitive condition, the Department removed him from the SD and ordered him to return to the U.S. Blood and urine tests from the medical center came back negative for the substances screened (so-called “date-rape drugs” Oxazepam, Benzodiazepine, and Creatine), and the (REDACTED) police ultimately dismissed grievant’s complaint that he had been robbed “by unknown perpetrator” for lack of evidence.  (Note: Grievant argues in the FSGB case that “although tests at the medical center detected no drugs in his system, the tests did not screen for common “date rape” drugs GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol and thus do not disprove that he was drugged.)”
[…]
On the other hand, the Department asserts that grievant has produced no evidence in support of his affirmative defense (i.e., that he was “likely” the victim of a crime that prevented him from reporting for duty). There is no witness testimony establishing that he was kidnapped, drugged, and robbed. The tests performed at the medical center produced no evidence that grievant was drugged, and grievant’s complaint that the screening was not comprehensive for all common “date rape” drugs, even if true, in no way establishes that he was in fact drugged (italics added).

Wait, but if he was tested for all common date drugs, and it shows, wouldn’t that have provided some evidence that something happened to him beyond just the alcoholic drinks?

The Foreign Service Grievance Board says that “consistent with its obligation to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Department must have latitude to determine how best to conduct an investigation and frame an ROI. We are not persuaded by the evidence or arguments submitted by grievant that the Department abused its discretion or violated applicable law or regulation in carrying out its investigation of grievant’s failure to report for duty or in formulating its conclusions in the ROI.”

It held that “the Department has met its burden of proving that the charged misconduct (Failure to Report for Duty) occurred, that a nexus exists between grievant’s misconduct and the efficiency of the Service, and that the proposed punishment is proportionate to the offense. Grievant has failed to meet his burden of proof with respect to the affirmative defense he asserted” and denied the  grievance appeal by the special agent.

Read in full here:

If the document embed does not display in full, the FSGB file is accessible here as PDF.

 

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Visa Fraudster With 25 Fraudulent H-1B Visa Petitions Gets 3 Years Probation and $400,000 Forfeiture

Posted: 12:01 am EDT

 

Via state.gov/ds:

OAKLAND, Calif. – A federal judge has sentenced a British man to three years of probation and the forfeiture of $400,000 for his role in a visa-fraud scheme, announced Special Agent In-Charge David Zebley of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) San Francisco Field Office.

Madhu Santhanam, 41, was sentenced on January 7, 2016, by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the Northern District of California following Santhanam’s guilty plea to a count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

In his December 10, 2014, plea agreement, Santhanam, owner of Maan Systems of Union City, California, admitted that he had submitted at least 25 fraudulent I-129 petitions between September 2009 and June 2013. Employers must submit these documents to obtain H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrant applicants seeking to work in the United States.

In many of his fraudulent I-129 applications, Santhanam falsely indicated that the applicants would be working at his company or placed at Fortune 500 companies, but instead he placed the workers at unapproved worksites. As part of his plea agreement, Santhanam paid a forfeiture judgment totaling $400,000.

The successful prosecution was the result of an investigation led by the DSS special agent assigned to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), an interagency investigative body overseen by the Homeland Security Investigations Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

So no jail time, only probation, and he forfeited $400K to USG, which is about $16K per fraudulent H1-B visa petition. A high risk, high return enterprise.

When the guilty plea was announced in December 2014, DOJ says that the maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to commit visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1546, is a maximum term of 5 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and 3 years of supervised release.

Wow! All that work for the feds, and over 12 months after the guilty plea, and not a single day in jail. What does it take before fraud like this gets taken seriously enough that we actually put people in jail?

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Coalition of Civil Rights Groups Seek State/OIG Investigation Into US Embassy Yemen’s Passport Revocations

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and  Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project of CUNY School of Law have submitted Stranded Abroad: Americans Stripped of Their Passports in Yemen to the State Department Office of Inspector General requesting that the OIG investigate the State Department and U.S. Embassy Yemen “for confiscating and revoking U.S. passports contrary to regulations, policies, and guidelines.” 

The groups alleged confiscation and revocation without notice, failure to provide direct return passports upon confiscation, collateral attacks on citizenship/proxy denaturalization, coercive interrogations and inadequate investigations prior to passport revocation.  The complaint named seven officials who were then assigned to the US Embassy Yemen and at the State Department who the groups say are aware of the pattern of revocation and “likely to have information that can assist the OIG’s investigation.” The complaint says that the  “inclusion of their names in this report is not intended to imply that they have engaged in any wrongdoing.” (see appendices)

The letter  (PDF) addressed to IG Steve Linick was sent by civil rights and civil liberties groups that include the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,  American Civil Liberties Union, Arab American Institute, Arab Resource & Organizing Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility at CUNY Law School, Muslim Advocates, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

 

 

Read the 44-page complaint below:

 

A related note, we must have missed this one, Al Jazeera did a piece on this back in January 2014 (See Yemeni-Americans cry foul over passport revocations). Below is an excerpt from that piece with an unnamed State Department official:

State Department official familiar with the issue — and who spoke on condition of anonymity — told Al Jazeera that a majority of the passport revocations in Sana’a follow a similar pattern. “Virtually all of the statements say that the individual naturalized under a false identity,” he said. “They appear to be involuntary.”

According to the official, an internal investigation determined that the statements those revocations were based on were obtained under “confrontational” circumstances, with individuals alone in an interview room with an investigative officer and an interpreter who, the official said, treated their subjects “aggressively.”

“We’re talking about an inherently coercive and intimidating environment, without any independent supervision of the interrogator and his translator,” said the official.

A sample of the alleged involuntary statement is included in the complaint (see Appendix B). If the voluntary statements in these revocation cases are anything like those exhibited in Mosed Shaye Omar v. John Kerry, et.al. this would be a great mess.

Back in November, following the federal court decision in Omar v. Kerry ordering the State Department to return the passport improperly revoked by the State Department, we asked State/OIG about this trend and we were told that the OIG does not have “anything on this issue on which it can comment.” It was suggested that we check with Consular Affairs. And of course, we have previously asked the bureau about this, but we do not really expect them to address this in terms of oversight.

The court documents in the Omar case suggest that Consular Affairs is revoking U.S. passports contrary to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual. But this is not the only case. If all similar cases have the same threshold as the Omar case, it is deeply troubling not only because the revocation appears not to follow State Department’s written guidance, State also never seek to denaturalized the plaintiff.  Which basically leaves the plaintiff still a citizen of this country  but unable to travel anywhere.

We have been troubled by this practice but particularly by the allegations of coercion. We have had a difficult time understanding why Yemeni-Americans would incriminate themselves voluntarily and admit to something that obviously is detrimental not only to their welfare but also their future.  That defies human nature.

And no, we don’t believe that Consular Affairs is the right entity to review its own practices when it comes to these allegations. We’re hoping that State/OIG will look into this as part of its oversight responsibility of the State Department.

 

Related posts:

Related items:

 

 

USG Creates New National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) After OPM Data Breach

Posted: 12:16 am EDT

 

Last week, OPM announced a series of changes to modernize and strengthen the way it conduct background investigations for Federal employees and contractors and protect sensitive data. The new bureau will be housed at OPM but will have DOD IT security and operation. It also absorbs OPM’s Federal Investigative Services (FIS).  It is described as a new government wide-service provider. It is not clear how this will affect agencies like the State Department who conducted their own separate background investigations in the past.

Below is an excerpt from the OPM announcement:

These changes include the establishment of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), which will absorb the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) existing Federal Investigative Services (FIS), and be headquartered in Washington, D.C. This new government-wide service provider for background investigations will be housed within the OPM. Its mission will be to provide effective, efficient, and secure background investigations for the Federal Government. Unlike the previous structure, the Department of Defense will assume the responsibility for the design, development, security, and operation of the background investigations IT systems for the NBIB.

Today’s announcement comes after an interagency 90-Day Suitability and Security review commenced last year in light of increasing cybersecurity threats, including the compromise of information housed at OPM, to re-examine reforms to the Federal background investigations process, assess additional enhancements to further secure information networks and systems, and determine improvements that could be made to the way the Government conducts background investigations for suitability, security and credentialing.

This review was conducted by the interagency Performance Accountability Council (PAC), which is chaired by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and comprised of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in their respective roles as Security and Suitability Executive Agents of the PAC, and the Departments of Defense (DOD), the Treasury, Homeland Security, State, Justice, Energy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others. It also included consultation with outside experts.

We are proud of the collaborative effort of the interagency team that helped identify these critical reforms. And we are committed to protecting the security of not only our systems and data, but also the Personally Identifiable Information of the people we entrust with protecting our national security.

We also want to thank the men and women of OPM’s Federal Investigative Services for the work they do every day to provide quality background investigations to agencies across Government.

The Administration will establish a transition team that will develop a plan to stand up NBIB and migrate the existing functions of the current Federal Investigative Service to the NBIB, and to make sure that agencies continue to get the investigative services they need during the transition.

For more information about today’s announcement please go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/22/way-forward-federal-background-investigations.

 

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US Embassy Kabul: Jan 4 Incident is “Getting Lowballed” by US Officials? (POGO)

Posted: 12:29 am EDT

 

We’ve recently posted about the attacks in Kabul (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan and US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit. On January 7, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) asks, Is the US Embassy in Kabul the next Benghazi?

Quick excerpt below:

Based on exclusive photos, videos, and messages the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been receiving from sources on the ground in Kabul since the housing compound for US Embassy security guards was hit by a bomb on Monday, it is clear that the scope and severity of the blast was significant. However, the US State Department has not mentioned the attack in any of its daily press briefings this week, nor has it provided updates regarding the safety and security of American embassy personnel in Afghanistan. POGO has asked the agency for updated information, but has not received a response at the time of this writing.

An American on the scene at Camp Sullivan, which houses hundreds of US and Nepalese guards, told POGO the blast radius was 100 meters wide and caused a 15- feet deep crater, indicating an explosive charge of at least 2,000 lbs. He said the incident is “getting lowballed” by US officials. A BBC producer in Kabul Tweeted that it was the second largest bomb ever detonated in the Afghan capital.

According to POGO sources on the ground, multiple Afghan nationals were killed (two, according to the Interior Minister) and 11 Nepalese security personnel and one American citizen were injured and flown from the scene. A Kabul hospital reported that nine children were among the wounded in the attack.
[…]

So, how safe are the US embassy and those who defend it?

That’s the question POGO has been asking officials for years at the State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon. Guards defending the facility have long feared that their daily armored convoys to and from the embassy make them sitting ducks for Taliban attacks.
[…]
“If the embassy were attacked, we’d have a huge problem and I don’t want to think about the casualties,” J.P. Antonio, a former medic at the embassy, told POGO in September 2013.
[…]
When a senior State Department official reassured Congress in September 2013 that the the US embassy in Afghanistan was well-protected, POGO challenged the veracity of the centerpiece of his testimony – that the contractors protecting the compound had proven themselves twice in battle – and forced him to correct his testimony when it became clear there were no such tests of the Kabul embassy guard force.

Read in full here.

 

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Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) Gets Some Love From Congress

Posted: 12:53 am EDT

 

A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes an item on funds available for the contentious Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) project.

(E) Funds appropriated under this heading in this Act that are designated for Worldwide Security Protection shall continue to be made available for support of security-related training at sites in existence prior to the enactment of this Act: Provided, That in addition to such funds, up to $99,113,000 of the funds made available under this heading in this Act may be obligated for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) only after the Secretary of State—

(i) submits to the appropriate congressional committees a comprehensive analysis of a minimum of three different locations for FASTC assessing the feasibility and comparing the costs and benefits of delivering training at each such location; and

(ii) notifies the appropriate congressional committees at least 15 days in advance of such obligation: Provided, That such notification shall also include a justification for any decision made by the Department of State to obligate funds for FASTC.

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US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan

Posted: 5:19 pm EDT

 

In December 2015, the US Embassy in Kabul warned of an “imminent attack.”  On January 4, 2016, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a security message that the embassy has received reports that an explosion has taken place in the vicinity of Airport Circle in Kabul at approximately 11:00 a.m. local time and indicated that mission personnel have been advised to avoid the area. The same day, NBC News reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a compound for civilian contractors near the Kabul airport on Monday, a senior security official said, hours after another suicide bomber blew himself up. A convoy of U.S. embassy guards who live at Camp Sullivan was targeted in the second attack, the official said, but none of the guards were injured.

Camp Sullivan is a 20.9-acre property located near Kabul International Airport. It sits about 2.14 miles from the main embassy compound.

 

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Photo of the Day: New Embassy London Topping Out Ceremony

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

Via US Embassy London:

On December 8, the U.S. Embassy in London held a “topping out” ceremony with the Stars and Stripes flying on the roof of the new Embassy undergoing construction at Nine Elms. The building has now reached its full height.  More photos here.

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New US Embassy Topping Out Ceremony Via US Embassy London/Flickr

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US Embassies Issue Possible Terrorist Attack Warnings in Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia

Posted: 5:34 pm EDT

 

Tunisia

Pursuant to the recent Security Message for U.S. Citizens in Tunisia that was published on Thursday, December 17, 2015 we wish to advise you that a report of unknown credibility indicates the possibility of a terrorist attack at the Tunisia Mall in Berges du Lac on Sunday, December 20, 2015.  We advise you to avoid the area. Also see the Security Message for U.S. Citizens, published December 17, 2015.

Pakistan

The American Embassy in Islamabad has received threat information regarding possible terrorist attacks against locations in Islamabad in late December, especially during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.  Possible targets include places of worship and shopping centers.  U.S. government personnel are under additional movement restrictions in coming weeks, including religious venues and large shopping centers.  We advise private U.S. citizens to exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens are reminded to review the active travel warning for Pakistan, and minimize the number and duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, and other locations where large numbers of people congregate.  U.S. citizens should monitor Pakistani media reports regarding these and similar threats.

Indonesia

[F]urther to the Worldwide Travel Alert published on November 23, 2015, we advise U.S. Citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling in Indonesia during the Christmas and New Year holidays due to continued threats from extremists to conduct attacks in the country. Gatherings at places of worship in such places as Poso and Solo have been, and may still be appealing targets for terrorists. The Indonesian National Police, through multiple news media outlets, have announced that they will be providing additional security to stop ISIL type attacks in Indonesia. During this holiday period, we advise U.S. citizens to remain aware of their surroundings when gathering at nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and places of worship in Indonesia, as terrorists have previously planned and carried out attacks on these venues, and could do so again.

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