Below is Stephen Colbert’s interview with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The main feature in this interview is the declassified memo (PDF) from General Myers and an accompanying eight-page Joint Chiefs of Staff report which makes clear that the Intelligence Community’s (IC) “don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know” and that “knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.” Read more here via UNREDACTED from the National Security Archive.
The ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes a provision for “terrorist travel prevention and visa waiver program” officially called the ‘‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015’’. The new law which affects dual nationals from WVP countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria includes a waiver to be be exercised by the DHS secretary. The new law also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on each instance in which the Secretary exercised the waiver authority during the previous year.
On January 21, the State Department announced the implementation of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program. Below is the announcement:
The United States today began implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day and is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining the highest standards of security and border protection. Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at our embassies or consulates. For those who need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. embassies and consulates stand ready to process applications on an expedited basis.
Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.
Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:
Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty;
Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.
Again, whether ESTA applicants will receive a waiver will be determined on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the terms of the law. In addition, we will continue to explore whether and how the waivers can be used for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan.
Any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States.
The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation.
An updated ESTA application with additional questions is scheduled to be released in late February 2016 to address exceptions for diplomatic- and military-related travel provided for in the Act.
CNN is reporting that three American contractors went missing in Iraq two days ago, citing an unnamed senior security official in Baghdad.
“A company filed a report Sunday about three of its staff going missing two days ago. They are American contractors. We are looking into this report,” the official told CNN. Separately, an Iraqi security official with knowledge of the case said that two of three missing contractors are dual Iraqi-American citizens, and that the third is an American national.
“We are working in full cooperation with Iraqi authorities to locate the missing Americans,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman Scott Bolz according to the AP.
Although some media outlets are reporting that three are missing, the U.S. Embassy has confirmed to the AP on Sunday that “several” Americans have gone missing in Iraq, after local media reported that three Americans had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.
#Breaking Sources: Three Americans kidnapped by militias in Baghdad
The latest Travel Warning for Iraq dated December 4, 2015 notes:
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. government personnel in Iraq to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission must follow strict safety and security procedures when traveling outside the Embassy and Consulates.
It is not clear if the missing are American contractors working for NGOs operating in Iraq or if they are USG contractors. We also have yet to see reporting on the circumstances of their disappearance.
On December 18, the USDOJ announced the indictment by a grand jury of former State Department employee, Kenneth Apple, 65, of Beaverton, Oregon, on charges related to his role in allegedly awarding $2 million in micro-dairy contracts from the U.S. government for use in Iraq.
Via DOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia:
According to the indictment, Apple, a former employee with the U.S. Department of State, helped to steer the sole-sourcing of $2 million in micro-dairy contracts to a company in which his son, Jonathan Apple, owned a 50 percent interest. However, Jonathan Apple and his partner had no technical experience in the industry. Kenneth Apple conspired to use his official position to pass on non-public information to his son in order to fraudulently award and administer government contracts. The conspirators further provided false information to, and concealed material details from the U.S. government.
According to the indictment, Kenneth Apple provided templates and technical specifications used in the proposal submitted by Jonathan Apple and his partner to the U.S. government. In addition, Kenneth Apple caused false and misleading statements to be made to the U.S. government regarding his experience, ownership interest, and the status of the projects. For example, Kenneth Apple directed a conspirator to keep Jonathan Apple’s name off the company’s website and any ownership documents. When federal law enforcement agents confronted Kenneth Apple about the scheme, he made false statements, including that he could not recall the owner of the company that won the micro-dairy contracts and that he did not receive any money from the contracts.
Kenneth Apple faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud or obstruction of an official proceeding, and five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy or false statements. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Frank Robey, Director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit (MPFU); and Robert E. Craig, Special Agent in Charge for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Uzo Asonye and Katherine Wong are prosecuting the case.
According to court records, Kenneth D. Apple was arrested on December 18 in Oregon. His defense is currently listed as the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia.
The indictment says that Kenneth D. Apple was a civilian employee with the Department of State assigned to the Kirkuk PRT in Iraq from January 2009 through March 2011 as an agricultural advisor. Micro-dairy processors are self-contained, mini-factories that are used to process milk into cheese and yogurt.
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:15-cr-363.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:
According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.
Now this …
Very few profiles in courage today in Congress; we are leaving good people behind on the battlefield with this bill. https://t.co/YNioOmfIII
The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?
We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.
Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.
On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:
According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts. But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.
Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.
John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.
He applied as a refugee in 2010:
John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.
He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:
Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.
As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.
John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.
Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.
The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.
If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?
And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis. He served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”
The State Department is seeking information for the availability of a new medical service provider for U.S. Mission Iraq. There is an incumbent contractor, CHS Middle East, LLC of Cape Canaveral, Florida. The total estimated contract value for the incumbent contractor is approximately $234M. According to the fedbiz announcement, the health units and diplomatic support hospitals will need to be mission capable by summer 2016. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:
Government is requesting information regarding the availability and feasibility of attracting new medical service providers to support the requirements of the U.S. Mission Iraq as described in this RFI. This notice is issued solely for information and planning purposes and does not constitute a Request for Proposal (RFP) or a commitment on the part of the Government to conduct a solicitation for the below-listed services in the future.
The DOS has a follow-on requirement for a Contractor to provide medical service support to U.S. Government (USG) personnel, USG third party contractors and authorized foreign nationals in Iraq. These medical services will be provided at USG facilities and include but are not limited to the following: general medical, surgical, orthopedic, gynecologic, dental, behavioral health, public health, urgent and emergency care and mortuary affairs. In order to fulfill these requirements the Contractor is responsible for providing trained and certified health care professionals (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, surgeons, emergency medical technicians, etc…) and the administrative services and staff to equip and operate the USG contractor-operated health care facilities in Iraq.
The Contractor is responsible for performing random and non-random drug testing for other third party contractors operating in support of the DOS in Iraq. Additionally, because other third party contractors require Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in country, the Contractor is responsible for the medic validation and verification to ensure the verification of maintenance of credentials for EMTs.
Supported population is between 3500-5800
While the primary place of performance is throughout the country of Iraq, the Contractor may be tasked with providing temporary medical service support to other USG facilities located in the Near East Region (i.e., North Africa and the Middle East).
The BDSC Large Diplomatic Support Hospital not only provides primary care to personnel at BDSC, but also may serve as the secondary and trauma care center for the patient population within U.S. Mission Iraq (4300 – 5800 personnel). These services include evacuation management and mortuary affairs.
The Contractor shall provide on-site primary, urgent and initial emergency care for general medical, surgical, orthopedic, gynecologic, and mental health conditions; triage, stabilize and evacuate patients to the next level of medical care; and keep up to two patients in the Health Unit (HU) for up to 24 hours until stabilized or medically evacuated. Staffing shall be continuous and uninterrupted; coverage for illness and vacations shall be the responsibility of the Contractor.
The Contractor is responsible for providing routine care during regular working hours and on an emergency basis after normal working hours based on Chief of Mission (COM) requirements. Medical Service Support Iraq (MSSI) II; Solicitation SAQMMA-15-SS-MSSI .
I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person. It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.
With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:
A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.” The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.”
Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.
It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions based on her personal experience with PTSD. She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government. She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.
Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.
Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.
Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:
This is excerpted from the Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, filed on May 27, 2015 concerning a case of a U.S. citizen found guilty of abusing his own children who are also U.S. citizens. News reports are often loud when things go wrong, but never as loud when things go right. We don’t often hear about these cases until they go to court and we almost never hear the role played by our consular officials when assisting the victims. An RSO was also involved in this case, but was unnamed in court documents. We understand that this official will be DCM at one of our embassies in the Middle East this summer.
The vice consul in this case is FSO Mark Goldrup. His name appeared on the Congressional Record in June 2009 for his consular officer appointment. We suspect but could not confirmed that he was on his first overseas assignment at US Embassy Damascus when he assisted these victims find safe shelter in Syria back in 2010. The prosecutor said that Mr. Goldrup “took the extraordinary step of keeping an American citizen away from his two citizen sons because he felt that he posed a danger to them.” The State Department’s recruitment slogan last year was Change the World, Join the Foreign Service. Not sure about the world, but here is proof of one FSO who helped changed three lives, forever.
Malek M. Al Maliki was sentenced to 292 months on each of counts 1 & 2, to be served concurrently last year. He was remanded to the custody of the US Marshal. Supervised Release 10 years. This term consists of 10 years on each of counts 1 & 2, all such terms to run concurrently, with several conditions including Firearms and Dangerous Weapons Prohibition; DNA Collection; Mental Health Treatment; Minor Protection and Restriction Program; Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. (United States of America v. Al Maliki; 1:13-cr-00121-SL-1). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District affirmed the lower courts decision on May 27, 2015 (Case No. 14-3386). Excerpt below:
McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge. A jury of his peers found Malek al-Maliki guilty of a heinous crime: sexually abusing his own two children, ages twelve and three. Al-Maliki challenges several aspects of his conviction and sentence. His constitutional challenge to his conviction is a close call, but it ultimately fails under plain-error review. The rest of his challenges fail as well. We affirm.
Iraq native Malek al-Maliki had his first child, John Doe #1, with Hinda al-Rhannai in 1998. Two years later, the couple had a civil marriage and al-Maliki (but not his wife) became a United States citizen. Their physical union did not last long. Although they remained legally married, the couple has been separated since 2000 or 2002. Despite the separation, they had one more child, John Doe #2, in 2007. Since around 2000, al-Maliki has lived alone on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, and al-Rhannai has lived in Morocco and then Syria with the two sons.
Al-Maliki visited his family on a few occasions over the years. The United States claims that during one trip from August to November 2010, he sexually abused his two children (then ages twelve and three), violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 2423(c) and (e). A grand jury indicted him under that statute, which at the time punished any United States citizen “ who travels in foreign commerce, and  engages in any illicit sexual conduct,” which includes noncommercial sexual acts with a minor, or any attempts to do the same.
Al-Maliki denied all of the charges, and a trial began. The jury heard from Mark Goldrup, a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria. He testified that he put al- Rhannai and her children in a safe shelter after al-Rhannai came to the embassy seeking assistance for injuries consistent with domestic abuse. The jury also heard from Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Gabriel Hagan. She testified that she observed the sons’ open affection toward their mother, but that al-Maliki insisted his wife abused the sons. She also testified about a live interview she saw of John Doe #1, where the boy cried and hid his face while struggling to recount the sexual abuse (the “sin,” he called it) that he suffered.
Al-Maliki next challenges the admissibility of Goldrup’s testimony on two grounds: that his testimony included an improper hearsay statement, and that it included prejudicial statements about domestic violence. Nothing improper occurred.
Hearsay. Goldrup’s challenged testimony included this out-of-court statement: “[Al- Rhannai] stated that she had been abused by [al-]Maliki.” R. 97 at 15. But that statement was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted (that al-Maliki had in fact abused his wife); it was offered “for the limited purpose of explaining why [Goldrup’s] government[al] investigation” began. United States v. Martin, 897 F.2d 1368, 1371 (6th Cir. 1990) (collecting cases). Two conclusions follow: It is not hearsay, Fed. R. Evid. 801(c), and the government did not violate the Confrontation Clause, Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 59–60 n.9 (2004).
Middle Eastern stereotype. Goldrup’s testimony also included this statement: “You wouldn’t expect a law enforcement response” for spousal abuse in Syria because “it’s culturally understood [there] that a man has a right to beat his wife.” R. 97 at 53. That statement, taken in context, was both relevant and not unduly prejudicial. It was relevant because it rebutted al- Maliki’s attack on Goldrup’s credibility for not reporting the spousal abuse to Syrian authorities. United States v. Chance, 306 F.3d 356, 385 (6th Cir. 2002); see United States v. Segines, 17 F.3d 847, 856 (6th Cir. 1994).
Read in full here(pdf). Warning: Some graphic entries.
On February 6, 2012, the U.S. Embassy Damascus suspended operations and is not open for normal consular services.
“If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound? What if it crushes a local national contractor working on a USG facility— will anyone mention the man’s death, or can we expect radio silence as usual? It’s becoming clear that no one back home really cares about what’s going on over here….it’s like 2004 all over again.”
U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009. Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick
Note: “T-Walls” or Texas barriers can reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet. According to army.mil, t-walls of the larger variety became symbols of life in Iraq although several variations of shapes and sizes also abound around Iraq. Read more here.
A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan. Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that US taxpayers also had to shoulder.
What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?
The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.
USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.
From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.
Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.
At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.
In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.
In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.
On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:
a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.
In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.