A local employee of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan was reportedly killed by unidentified gunmen in the capital city of Islamabad. The victim was identified as Iqbal Baig who worked for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reportedly for about a dozen years. The AFP citing the victim’s brother reports that the victim had received threats in the recent past.
During Ramadan our FSNs fast during the day. In an effort to build unity, our political section is holding its second offsite in 6 months for 7 Americans and 10 FSNs. They are paying a speaker over a thousand dollars to lecture on diversity in the workplace. Coffee breaks and a fancy lunch will be catered for the Americans.
“An embassy official confirmed to The Daily Beast that 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the mission in downtown Cairo. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.
Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill.”
The reports claim that State Security prosecution accuse Ali of being a commander with a militant group, the Helwan Brigades, and participating in 13 attacks, including the bombing and burning of a Helwan court.
However, activists who have been documenting a wave of forced disappearances by the Egyptian security authorities in the past two weeks shared an account of a man named ‘Ahmed Amin Suleyman’, 44, who is claimed to be a staff member at the embassy. Suleyman reportedly had his house raided on 25 May, but he was not at home. The following day, Suleyman fell out of contact – 12 days before the reported arrest of ‘Ahmed Ali’.
Following his disappearance, his wife received a phone call informing her that her husband had been arrested. Family members went to the local Helwan police station, but were informed that Suleyman was not there. The family submitted a 1 June telegram to report his disappearance and request support, a copy of which was seen by Daily News Egypt.
VOA reported on June 10 that Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of activists ahead of a general strike planned for June 11, part of what the activists describe as an unrelenting crackdown on dissent. There are also reports of forced disappearance cases believed to be abductions by security forces.
Local nationals working for our embassies overseas are often targets, especially in repressive countries. We can’t know this early if these are real charges or if this is a case of a targeted arrest for some other reason. There’s a lot we don’t know here. We just hope our congressional reps would refrain from running around with their hair on fire when they read this news. We should give our government a chance to verify the basis of these Egyptian charges before we hold one more outrage hearing on security failure.
What should be most concerning is the fact that the Government of Egypt apparently had enough evidence to arrest this individual on terrorism charges, but did not provide prior warning to the U.S. government. Why?
Let’s see — we give Egypt $1.3bn in annual military funding, and no one bothered to pick up the phone to alert the embassy about this alleged terrorist working at the mission? That’s some kind of partnership we have there.
“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.
To read about the frustrations of dealing with inaction from Washington, see Ambassador Prudence Bushnell interview, A Soul Filled with Shame via ADST. Below is an excerpt:
Once the RPF took over Rwanda, I was sent to check things out. It was yet another surreal experience. The countryside of one of the most populous countries in the world was literally deadly quiet. Berries ready to harvest were rotting on the coffee trees; houses stood vacant. The man who served as the ambassador’s driver drove us. When we were stopped by child soldiers at checkpoints, I learned never to look them in the eye. As we drove we heard the story of how the driver had hidden and what happened to some of the other embassy employees. Many were dead.
I participated in a memorial service for the FSNs [local Foreign Service employees] who were killed. I will never forget looking into the stony faces of employees who had been abandoned by the U.S. government. American officers who came up to speak would weep, to a person. The Rwandans just looked at us. I can only imagine what they were thinking and the trauma that was still with them.
She was asked what was the rationale for not getting involved:
“We had no interest in that country.” “Look at what they did to Belgian peacekeepers.” “It takes too long to put a peacekeeping operation together.” “What would our exit strategy be?” “These things happen in Africa.” “We couldn’t have stopped it.” I could go on….
I could and did make the argument that it was not in our national interest to intervene. Should we send young Americans into a domestic firefight, possibly to be killed on behalf of people we don’t know in a country in which we have no particular interest? From the perspective of national interest, people like Richard Clarke will argue we did things right.
In terms of moral imperative there is no doubt in my mind that we did not do the right thing. I could have a clear bureaucratic conscience from Washington’s standpoint and still have a soul filled with shame.
According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days. We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.
So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.
We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:
“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”
Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not. We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail. But seriously, a straight forward inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.
So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.
The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com. And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.
Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.
We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them. That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.
So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.
Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances. Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait. So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.
We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.
In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.
We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.” We were cited an example where an eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.
The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies. Again, that same information is also accessible to the Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.
Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance. We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members. Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system. Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job. The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation. So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.
And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.
There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.
Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):
We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide. Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.
So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post. I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.
The State Department suspended embassy operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and American staff were relocated out of the country according to the February 11, 2015 Travel Warning released late tonight. Embassy Sanaa had previously announced the suspension of all consular services until further notice on February 8.
On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff were relocated out of the country. All consular services, routine and/or emergency, have been suspended until further notice. The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on September 25, 2014.
The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain extremely concerning, and there are no plans for a U.S. government-sponsored evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage U.S. citizens wishing to depart to do so via commercial transportation options. If you wish to depart Yemen, you should make plans to depart as soon as possible. Airports may experience unexpected closures with little to no warning and access to the airport also may be cut off if the security situation deteriorates. All U.S. citizens in need of emergency assistance should contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in a neighboring country. For U.S. citizen inquiries, you may send an email to YEMENEMERGENCYUSC@state.gov.
The announcement followed a whirl of rumors surrounding the suspension of operations at Embassy Sana’a in less than 24 hours.
BREAKING: US officials: US Embassy in Yemen to suspend operations amid security concerns.
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.
* * *
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.
Spox for #Yemen embassy in DC confirms shooting incident outside US embassy in Sana’a. Dips playing it down, but reports guard shot dead.