Category Archives: Govt Reports/Documents

U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

– Domani Spero

 

I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Congress, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Obama, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

^ ^ ^

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High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!

– Domani Spero

 

The Foreign Affairs Manual says that it is the general policy of the Department of State “to  provide all medical program participants with the best medical care possible at post. In a situation where local medical facilities are inadequate to provide required services, travel to locations where such services can be obtained may be authorized.” (see 16 FAM 311).  Elsewhere on the same regs, the FAM says  that “a pregnant patient who is abroad under U.S. Government authorization is strongly encouraged to have her delivery in the United States. The patient may depart from post approximately 45 days prior to the expected date of delivery and is expected to return to post within 45 days after delivery, subject to medical clearance or approval.” (see 16 FAM 315.2 Travel for Obstetrical Care).

A grievance case involving a high risk pregnancy of a Foreign Service spouse was recently decided by the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB).  This is one case where you kind of want to bang your head on the wall. The FAM gets the last word in the Foreign Service, but in this case (and we don’t know how many more), the State Department  ditched the relevant citation on the Foreign Affairs Manual in favor of a longstanding practice on its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Specifically, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED)  SOP. So basically, MED relied on its interpretation of the regulations contained on its SOP instead of the clear language included in the FAM.

No shit, Sherlock!

Excerpt below from FSGB Case No. 2014-007.

SUMMARY: During grievant’s tour in his spouse became pregnant. She had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth. The post medical team (FSMP) and the State Department Office of Medical Services (MED) both agreed that this was a very high-risk pregnancy and that the preferred option was that the spouse return to the U.S. as soon as possible for a special procedure and stay under the care of a single obstetrician specializing in high-risk care for the remainder of her pregnancy. Although MED authorized a 14-day medical evacuation for the procedure, it advised grievant that, under its longstanding practice, it could not authorize further medical evacuation per diem under 16 FAM 317.1(c) prior to the 24th week of gestation. MED instead directed grievant to seek the much lower Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA).

Grievant claimed that the regulation itself stated only that per diem for complicated obstetrical care could be provided for up to 180 days, and therefore permitted his spouse to receive such per diem beginning in approximately the 10th week of pregnancy, when she returned to the U.S. for treatment. He also claimed that he was entitled to have his airline ticket paid for by the agency as a non-medical attendant when he accompanied his wife back to the U.S., since her condition precluded her from carrying her own bags.

The Board concluded that the agency’s regulation was not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the agency’s longstanding practice was both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the agency’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, did not accord any deference to the agency’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and relied instead on the language of the regulation itself.

Here is the FAM section on Complicated obstetrical care:

16 FAM 317.1(c):  If the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP [Foreign Service Medical Provider] at post determines that there are medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post, per diem at the rates described in 16 FAM 316.1, may be extended, as necessary, from 90 days for up to a total of 180 days.  

More from the Record of Proceeding:

When FSMP contacted MED in Washington, DC, they were given the response that MED does not medevac for obstetrical care until after the 24th week of gestation. The 24th week of gestation is when the medical world deems a fetus viable outside of the womb. Grievant claims both FSMP and the post’s Human Resources (HR) reviewed the FAM and other MED documents to determine how MED handles high risk pregnancies at a hardship post and could not find any reference that limited a high risk pregnancy to the 24 weeks claimed by MED.

Grievant claims he contacted the head of MED and asked for an explanation as to why MED was not following 16 FAM 317.1(c), which allowed for medevac for high risk pregnancies. M/MED/FP responded with the following in an e-mail dated August 27, 2013:

This issue of how early a woman can be medevac’d for delivery comes up regularly. So does the situation of cervical cerclage – up to 80,000 procedures are done in the U.S. per year. While not in the FAM, MED has a long standing internal SOP that the earliest we will medevac a mother for obstetrical delivery is at 24 weeks gestation. 

Grievant claims that his spouse’s pregnancy was high-risk enough to qualify for medical evacuation prior to the 24 weeks’ gestation. Grievant also argues that every medical professional in and in Washington, including MED staff, agreed. Grievant argues that MED’s justification for how they choose which pregnancy to deem OB-medevac-worthy for high risk is ambiguous. Grievant takes issue with MED imposing internal rules that are not published in the FAM. Grievant claims that the alternatives offered by MED were not in accordance with 16 FAM 317.1(c).

What was the official State Department position?

The agency asserts that grievant’s wife was medevac’d to Washington, DC, to receive obstetrical care. MED did not believe there were medical complications necessitating early departure from post or delayed return to post. Thus, the agency claims, 16 FAM 317.1(c) does not apply to her situation.

Did it not matter that the FSO’s wife “had had five previous pregnancies, none of which resulted in a viable birth?”  The Department also made the following argument:

The agency further argues that, in any event, although not compelled by law, the Department’s Office of Medical Services (MED) has a longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that the earliest MED will authorize a medevac of a pregnant woman for delivery, even in the case of complicated pregnancies, is 24 weeks’ gestational age. This SOP, MED asserts, is based on the medical community’s widely accepted recognition that the gestational age for fetal viability is 24 weeks. 

Ugh!

The ROP states that MED personnel communicating with both grievant and the post FSMP repeatedly relied on the SOP that no medevac would be provided prior to the 24th week of pregnancy as the basis for their guidance. They did not cite grievant’s wife’s particular medical circumstances as the rationale for denying an earlier continuous medevac.

You might remember that the last time MED failed to use common sense, the State Department ended up as a target of a class action lawsuit.

Here is the Board’s view:

It is the Board’s view that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous. It provides for the Medical Director or designee or the FSMP at post to determine if there is a complication requiring early departure or a delayed return, and authorizes up to 180 days’ per diem when such a determination is made. The entire context of the provision is to define what benefits are provided when based upon medical needs, and the provision appears to reflect the individualized medical decision making required in the case of complicated obstetrical care. Although the preceding provision, 16 FAM 317.1(b),8 places a set 45-day limit for per diem both before and after an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, that limit is also, by all appearances, based on medical analysis of normal pregnancies and deliveries, which lend themselves to such generalizations. Airlines do not allow pregnant women to travel less than 45 days before birth, because of the risks involved. 16 FAM 317.1(b) recognizes and incorporates that medical evaluation under the circumstances of a normal pregnancy. Although not stated explicitly in the record, we assume that the 45 days of per diem permitted after delivery also reflects a medical assessment of recovery times under normal circumstances, which, because they are normal, can be generalized.
[…]
In the Board’s view, the longstanding practice is also arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. As stated by MED, the rationale for the 24-week practice is that a fetus is generally not considered viable before the 24th week of pregnancy. It is not based on, and does not take into consideration, whether the mother’s need for medical care can be provided safely at post prior to the 24th week, or whether the medical care needed by any fetus of less than 24 weeks to come to full term as a healthy baby can safely be provided at post. It is difficult to see any link at all between the rationale offered by State/MED with the recognition of medical needs established in the regulations.

It is the Board’s conclusion that 16 FAM 317.1(c) is not ambiguous, and that any clarification meant to be provided by the Department’s longstanding practice of requiring the 24-week waiting period in cases of complicated pregnancies is both plainly erroneous and inconsistent with the Department’s own regulations, and arbitrary and capricious. We, therefore, do not accord any deference to the Department’s interpretation of its regulations by virtue of this practice, and rely instead on the regulation itself.

To the extent that the agency is arguing that the SOP is freestanding and applies by its own terms, apart from 16 FAM 317.1(c), again, we conclude that the agency is in error. By the same analysis as outlined above, the SOP conflicts with the provision of the published regulations of the agency. An SOP may not take precedence over a regulation with which it is in conflict.

The Board’s conclusion, based on the record, is that this was a high-risk pregnancy, with risks to both the mother and the fetus, and that the necessary obstetrical care was in the U.S. Under these circumstances, medical evacuation per diem should have been authorized beginning upon the return of grievant’s wife to the U.S., and continuing for 180 days.

Doesn’t it makes you wonder how many high risk pregnant women on USG orders overseas were affected by this longstanding internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?  If planning on getting pregnant overseas, read the redacted ROP below:

 

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Theodore Osius III Sworn-in as New U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via state.gov

Theodore Osius III, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Associate Professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. on detail from the Department of State. Deeply experienced in Asian Affairs, he was among the first officers in Hanoi, opened the post in Ho Chi Minh City and has held critical senior executive positions in the region. Known as a talented leader and expert manager, he uses his public affairs and electronic outreach savvy to reach important audiences. He has a strong grounding in commercial advocacy that delivers concrete trade results. He will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Vietnam, a key nation in Southeast Asia for American diplomacy.

Previously, Mr. Osius served the Department of State as a Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C. (2012-2013), Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia (2009-2012), Political Minister-Counselor, Embassy New Delhi, India (2006-2009), Deputy Director, Office of Korean Affairs (2004-2006), Regional Environment Officer, Embassy Bangkok, Thailand (2001-2004), Senior Advisor on International Affairs, Office of the Vice President (1998-2001), Political Officer, Consulate General, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (1997-1998), Political Officer, Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam (1996-1997), Staff Aide/Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, New York (1993-1995), Political/Management Officer, Embassy Vatican, Holy See (1992-1993) and Political/Consular Officer, Embassy Manila, Philippines (1989-1991). He was also Legislative Correspondent, Office of Albert Gore, Jr., U.S. Senate (1985-1987) and Presidential Intern, American University, Cairo, Egypt (1984-1985). He is a Founding Member of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

Mr. Osius earned an A.B. from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1984 and a M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. in 1989. He is the recipient of two Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and three Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State. He speaks Vietnamese, French, Italian, Basic Arabic, Basic Hindi, Basic Thai, Basic Japanese and Basic Indonesian.

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Snapshot: State Dept Overseas Real Property Acquisitions & Disposals (FY2008-2013)

– Domani Spero

 

 Via GAO

Our analysis of State’s real property portfolio indicated that the overall inventory has increased. State reported its leased properties, which make up approximately 75 percent of the inventory, increased from approximately 12,000 to 14,000 between 2008 and 2013. However, comparing the total number of owned properties between years can be misleading because State’s method of counting these properties has been evolving over the past several years. OBO officials explained that in response to changes in OMB’s and FRPP’s reporting guidance, they have made efforts to count properties more precisely. For example, OBO has focused on separately capturing structural assets previously recorded as part of another building asset, such as perimeter walls, guard booths, and other ancillary structures. As a result of this effort, State recorded approximately 650 additional structural assets in its fiscal year 2012 FRPP report and approximately 900 more structures the following year in its fiscal year 2013 FRPP report, according to OBO officials.

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Acquisitions: State reported spending more than $600 million to acquire nearly 300 properties from fiscal year 2008 through 2013 (see fig.1).11 State uses two sources of funding to acquire real property. It acquires land for building new embassy compounds (NEC) with funding from the CSCS program. It acquires residences, offices, and other functional facilities with proceeds from the disposal of unneeded property. In fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported spending approximately $400 million of these disposal proceeds to acquire approximately 230 properties.

Disposals: From fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported selling approximately 170 properties. In doing so, it received approximately $695 million in proceeds (see fig.1). According to State, property vacated when personnel move into newly constructed facilities is the largest source of property that can be disposed of. When State completes construction of a NEC, personnel previously working in different facilities at multiple locations are then collocated into the same NEC, a move that provides State an opportunity to dispose of its former facilities. Further information on State’s acquisitions and disposals from fiscal year 2008 through 2013, can be found in figures 1 and 2 below.

Leases: The majority of State’s leased properties are residences. State reported spending approximately $500 million on leases in 2013 and projects a potential increase to approximately $550 million by 2016 as growing populations in urban centers around the world push rental costs higher and the U.S. government’s overseas presence increases.

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Impending Release of CIA Torture Report Prompts Embassy Security Review (Again)

– Domani Spero

 

Via LAT

The most extensive review of U.S. intelligence-gathering tactics in generations is set to be made public Tuesday, reigniting a post-9/11 public debate over the use of torture to combat terrorism.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s much-anticipated report comes after a years-long review of CIA practices and subsequent wrangling with the spy agency and the White House over whether its contents should be made public and, if so, which parts should be redacted.
[…]
As Feinstein finalized plans to release part of the report, Secretary of State John F. Kerry phoned her Friday to warn of the potential consequences of releasing the report at this time. The State Department called for a review of security measures at overseas missions as a precaution against possible demonstrations, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the administration has taken “prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place” at U.S. facilities around the world.

The Guardian reported yesterday that the chairman of the House intelligence committee said the release of the Senate report examining the use of torture by the CIA a decade ago will cause violence and deaths abroad. The same report quoted the State Department spox:

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the State Department has “directed all of our posts overseas to review their security posture in light of … a release of this report, to ensure that our personnel, our facilities and our interests are prepared for the range of reactions that might occur.”

This has been a long delayed report, although it looks like it will finally come out tomorrow.

Back in August 2014:

Also in August 2014:

Back in September 2014:

Then today:

NPR notes that the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to release the 480-page executive summary of the report on the CIA’s interrogation policies during the presidency of George W. Bush. The entire report is 6,000 pages long but only the executive summary is expected to be released.

There could be violent responses in many expected and unexpected places:

There’s more:

Potentially violent reactions to the report could be directed not just on official Americans overseas but also American citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time. No security message or travel warning has been posted on travel.state.gov or via OSAC as of this writing. You all be careful out there!

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Benghazi Select Committee Invites DS Greg Starr (Again) and IG Steve Linick to Hearing #2

– Domani Spero

 

The House Select Committee on Benghazi had its inaugural hearing on September 17 (see Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin). That hearing’s topic was “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations” and the committee had as witnesses, DS Greg Starr, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Mark J. Sullivan and Todd Keil, chairman and member respectively of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices. The Accountability Review Board Recommendations were issued for the State Department and not a task just for Diplomatic Security. For whatever reason, Mr. Starr, one bureau’s assistant secretary was invited to answer agency implementation questions from the Select Committee. No deputy secretary or under secretary was available to answer questions from the Hill?

On November 21, the House Intel Committee released its final Benghazi Report.

 

The Select Committee on Benghazi issued the following statement on the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report:

“The Select Committee on Benghazi received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds. It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”

 

Some fellow over there said that the report is full of crap.

 

Also, apparently, other GOP lawmakers, and Benghazi survivors were fuming over the House report and were not happy with the Intel Committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Uh-oh.

So crap or not, the Benghazi Select Committee is charging on.  The Committee will have a second hearing on “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel.” This time, the Committee will appropriately hear from Assistant Secretary Starr. By the way, where can we place bets on how many times A/S Starr will be invited to speak to the Committee before this is over in 2017?  Because you know this won’t be over until after the 2016 elections; poor fellow was not even working at the State Department when the Benghazi attack happened.

A/S Starr will be joined by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick for this hearing.  We think this is Mr. Linick’s first appearance before Congress following his confirmation.

Wed, 12/10/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210

Topic: Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel

Witnesses:

  • Greg Starr, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security
  • Steve Linick, Inspector General, Department of State

The hearing page is here.

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US Embassy Yemen: How to Catch the Visa Malfeasance Pokemons? Very Quietly.

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via NY Daily News:

An employee at the embassy may have given out more than 50 sham visas to people who falsely claimed they needed to enter the U.S. to attend an oil industry conference in Texas, according to unsealed papers in Brooklyn Federal Court. The feds learned the Yemeni citizens never went to the conference. It was not clear if the fraudulent visas were connected to terrorism. The feds have uncovered a breach of security inside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that led to bogus visas being issued, the Daily News has learned.

 

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Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

If these visas were issued at the embassy, these are authentic visas, using real foils –issued under fraudulent reasons. What are the typical types of visa fraud? Below according to state.gov:

  • Presenting false documents to apply for a visa
  • Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, like a criminal history in the alien’s home country
  • The sale, trafficking, or transfer of otherwise legitimate visas
  • Misrepresenting the reasons for requiring a visa
  • Counterfeiting, forgery, or alteration of a visa

We must also add, procurement of authentic visa by malfeasance — bribing a consular employee.  For more on visa security, read Fred Burton’s Getting Back to the Basics here.

DSS Special Agent Bert Seay’s filed a court statement at the Eastern District of New York supporting probable cause to arrest one of those 50 individuals issued visas in Yemen:

In August 2014, DSS received information from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General (“DHS-OIG”) that DHS-OIG had received an anonymous tip that Yemeni national employees working in the non-immigrant visa unit of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen were helping other Yemeni nationals to fraudulently procure non—immigrant visas in exchange for money. Based on information provided by DHS-OIG, DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.

DSS identified the visa applications as suspicious because, in the applications, the Yemeni visa applicants purported to be employed by Yemeni oil companies and stated that their reason for traveling to the United States was to attend an oil industry conference called the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas.  However, investigation by DSS determined that, in most instances, the Yemeni oil companies listed as employers on the visa applications were fictitious and, further, that the visa applicants did not, in fact, attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” after traveling to the United States.

The DS agent statement includes a caveat that the “complaint is to set forth only those facts necessary to establish probable cause to arrest,” but does not include “all the relevant facts and circumstances.” The complaint also notes that “DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.”

The allegations involved Yemeni national employees,more than one. Suspicious cases involved over 50 visas, and law enforcement got one arrest. Alert is now broadcasted on all channels. So, how do you catch the Visa Malfeasance and Visa Fraudster Pokemons? It’s not like you can now pretend to send a local employee to FSI for training then arrest him or her upon arrival at Dulles like this or this.

Also, for non-State readers, here is what the regs say about visa referrals:

“A referral is a written request, maintained permanently, to advocate for, or otherwise assist, your contacts at post in the visa application process. Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” (See 9 FAM, Appendix K, Exhibit I – pdf).

The news report actually gave us more questions than answers. Visa issuance is a specific responsibility of a Consular Officer; it cannot be issued by just any embassy official or any embassy employee. The processing and issuance process is now automated and requires specific login credentials; it’s not like anyone can just stamp a visa foil on a passport with a stamp pad.

And when did foreign national embassy employees started issuing visa referrals? Only qualified and approved individuals may make visa referrals. But here’s the thing – the regs are clear, to qualify as a visa referring officer you must:

(1) Be a U.S. citizen, direct hire, encumbering an NSDD-38 authorized position or serving in a long-term TDY role (of more than 121 days) in place of a permanently stationed direct hire who falls under Chief of Mission (COM) authority and encumbers an NSDD-38 position as defined by the Human Resources section at post;

(2) Attend a referral briefing with the consular section; and

(3) Submit a signed and dated Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement to the consular section.

Not only that, the chief of section/agency head of the referring officer’s section or agency must approve each referral (and must attend the briefing and sign the compliance document in order to do so). In the absence of a section/agency head or acting head, the Principal Officer (PO) (if at a consulate), or Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), or Ambassador must approve the referral.

So, how is it possible for a Yemeni employee in this case (who has not been identified publicly or charged), to submit 50 visa referrals is seriously perplexing.

The complaint identified one defendant as ABDULMALEK MUSLEH ABDULLAH ALZOBAIDI. He allegedly submitted a visa application dated March 8, 2014 presented to an in-person interview with “a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa,Yemen on April 14, 2014.”  In his visa application, the defendant allegedly stated, among other things, that he was a “manager” of “Jaber Oil Company.” The defendant allegedly further provided the Consular Officer with a business card for Jaber Oil Company. The defendant also allegedly stated in his visa application that the purpose of his trip to the United States was to attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas for approximately 15 days.

According to court docs, in September 2014, DSS agents received information from the Yemeni Ministry of Commerce and Information confirming that the Jaber Oil Company is not a registered or legitimate company in Yemen. That Houston conference is an annual event.

Since this individual has now been charged, he will have his day in a New York court but this brings up an even troubling scenario.

According to 2009 unclassified cable published by WikiLeaks, Yemen security conditions prevent the embassy’s Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) from performing field investigations so post rely almost exclusively on telephone investigations to combat fraud.  So, if there’s a universe with 50 suspicious cases, how many were investigated by FPU prior to visa issuance? This would have been a pretty standard practice in a high fraud post like Yemen.

In a 2010 inspection review of US Embassy Sana’a, OIG inspectors noted (pdf) that “Because of staffing limitations, Embassy Sanaa is not doing the required annual reviews of its visa referral system. This important internal control is mandated by 9 FAM Appendix K 105(d). Not regularly reviewing referrals deprives consular management of important information on the adjudication process and potentially improper behavior.”

That report, although old, also noted at that time that nonimmigrant visa processing is “a relatively small part of the post’s consular workload, and it is managed successfully by one part-time officer.”

Embassy Sana’a has suffered from staffing and security limitations for many years. We can’t imagine that the staffing situation at post has grown any better since that 2010 report. Has it?

And this makes one wonder — if Sanaa is under “ordered departure”and has limited staff, why do we insist on processing visas there?  Embassy Sana’a did not respond to our inquiry on this case but says on its website that “requests for U.S. tourist and business visa appointments continues to grow.”  Also that “Visa services are an important Embassy function, and the robust demand for tourist and business visas reflects the strong continuing relationship between Yemen and the United States.”

The continuing relationship is so strong that no one has been arrested for the multiple attacks of the U.S. mission in Yemen.

According to AQAP, it has targeted US interests in Yemen three times in the last 60 days alone: shelling of compound on September 27, targeting Ambassador Tueller with IEDs on November 6, and the detonation of two IEDs on post’s northern gate on November 27. The attack last week reportedly resulted in embassy guard death/s; this has not been mentioned, confirmed, or denied by the State Department. This news has not made it to the front pages, so you know they will try again.

via UKFCO

via UKFCO

On a related note, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all travel to Yemen and strongly urge British nationals to leave the country.

Is this what we should call expeditionary consular diplomacy now?

 


 

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Court Cases, FCO, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Locally Employed Staff, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, Visas

Snapshot: Top 5 Source Countries of Foreign Workers in Gulf Countries

– Domani Spero

 

via GAO

Migrants, such as foreign workers, from many countries seek employment in the Gulf region. In 2013, the top five source countries of international migrants to Gulf countries were India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and the Philippines (see table 5). Growing labor forces in source countries provide an increasing supply of low-cost workers for employers in the Gulf and other host countries where, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), demand for foreign labor is high.

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Economic conditions and disparities in per capita income between source and host countries encourage foreign workers to leave their countries to seek employment. In 2012, average per capita income in the six Gulf countries was nearly 25 times higher than average income per capita in the top five source countries, and some differences between individual countries were even more dramatic, according to the World Bank. For example, in 2012, annual per capita income in Qatar was more than $58,000, nearly 100 times higher than in Bangladesh, where per capita income was almost $600. Foreign workers in Gulf countries send billions of dollars in remittances to their home countries annually. For example, in 2012 the World Bank estimated that migrant workers from the top five source countries sent home almost $60 billion from the Gulf countries, including nearly $33 billion to India, nearly $10 billion to Egypt, and nearly $7 billion to Pakistan.

Read more here (pdf).

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Govt Reports/Documents, Pakistan, Real Post of the Month, Snapshots

State Department OIG – Published Reports, October 2014

via state.gov/oig

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Filed under Consular Work, Foreign Affairs, FS Benefits, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department, Visas