Category Archives: Protests

Yemen Rebels With “Death to Amreeka” Logo Take Over Sanaa

– Domani Spero

 

On September 13, 2014, ambassadors to Yemen from ten countries, including the United States and the UK released a statement of “grave concern” on the  rising threat to the security of Yemen:

The Group of Ten Ambassadors notes with grave concern the rising threat to the security of Yemen posed by actions of groups and individuals who oppose full and timely implementation of the political transition in accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism, as well as the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and as called for in UN Security Council Resolutions.  The Group reaffirms its abiding commitment to the peaceful transition process as outlined in the GCC Initiative and calls on all parties to abide by the founding principles of the Initiative aimed at ensuring the security, stability, and unity of Yemen.
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The Group of Ten Ambassadors further condemns Ansar Allah’s public statements, which essentially mean threats to overthrow the Yemeni government and holds the group responsible for the deterioration of the security situation in Sana’a, for not fully withdrawing from Amran, and from engaging in armed clashes in al-Jawf as provided in the UNSC Statements of 11/07/2014 and 29/08/2014.

 

Photo via US Embassy Sanaa/FB

Photo via US Embassy Sanaa/FB

As clashes escalated and advanced into the capital city, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa released an emergency message on September 18.  No updated message has been posted as of this writing:

The Embassy informs the public that ongoing clashes are now affecting the area around 60 Meter Road after Madbah Junction near Eman University.  Due to the continuing civil disorder and the escalating threat of violence, the Embassy advises all U.S. citizens to exercise great caution, avoid travel along 60 Meter Road beyond Madbah Junction, and use Movenpick Road to travel to the airport.    

On September 19, Al Jazeera reports of continued fighting in Sanaa:

On September 20, a tweet from the UK ambassador to Yemen:

 

Also on September 20, a statement from the UN:

A proposal not an agreement:

Curfew imposed:

The UN Yemen deal was signed today, after Huthis rebels swooped on key institutions across Sanaa, including the government headquarters and military sites, after an apparent surrender by security forces, according to France 24:

 

Early on September 21, Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa also tendered his resignation:

A notable part of the newly signed UN-brokered agreement according to Al Jazeera is that the annex, which was not signed by the Houthis, stipulated their withdrawal from Sanaa, Jawf and Amran within 45 days:

 

Need something further to read on this?

 

Okay, now this:

It is.  See this Houthis gallery via Al Jazeera from 2013.

According to Al Jazeera, the Houthis took over several government buildings in Sanaa including the defence ministry’s headquarters, the army headquarters, the parliament building, the Central Bank and the national radio station.

This Middle East Institute piece by Charles Schmitz on the Huthi Ascent to Power says that “The Huthi movement today must choose between pressing ahead militarily and provoking a bloody civil war in the capital or using its considerable political capital to form a wider, more inclusive and legitimate government in Yemen, to begin to address Yemen’s pressing problems. The movement appears to waiver unpredictably between the two options.”

No official statement either from Embassy Sanaa or the State Department concerning the latest developments or movements of personnel has been released.  We will update if we learn more.

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Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

– Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members

– Domani Spero

According to news reports, as many as a hundred people may have been killed and hundreds wounded in Ukraine’s latest clashes.  On February 20, the State Department replaced its Travel Alert for Ukraine with a new Travel Warning for U.S. citizens to defer travel to the country in light of escalating violence.  It also announced the authorized departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing political unrest and violent clashes between police and protestors.  U.S. citizens in Ukraine, and those considering travel to Ukraine, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of the escalating violence, particularly in Kyiv.  This replaces the Travel Alert for Ukraine dated February 18, 2014.  On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine.  While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Ukraine to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the capital city of Kyiv.  Since February 18, there has been a sharp escalation in violence between protestors and police, resulting in multiple deaths and hundreds of injuries.  The Ukrainian Security Services announced that they may use “extraordinary measures” to remove protestors from occupied areas.  Protestors remain in Kyiv’s Independence Square and have occupied several government buildings in Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine.  Groups of young men, popularly called “titushky,” have attacked journalists and protestors and committed other random acts of violence in Kyiv and other cities.  Since February 19, the use of gunfire against protestors and journalists has been reported.

Ground transportation is currently disrupted in Kyiv and some other parts of the country.  Since February 18, local authorities have shut down the Kyiv Metro (subway) for extended periods and cancelled inter-city trains on some routes with little or no notice.  Ukrainian authorities have set up roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads entering Kyiv and adjacent to protest areas.  Commercial flights to and from Ukraine are currently operating normally.

Read in full here.

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US Embassy Colombo Tweets Photo, Protesters Show Up

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– Domani Spero

On January 12, The US Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka released a statement about US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes Stephan J. Rapp’s visit to the country:

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp visited Sri Lanka from January 6-11 to meet with government and political leaders, civil society, and to tour former conflict zones.  He heard about the progress made since the conflict, but also the Sri Lankan people’s continuing desire for reconciliation, justice and accountability.

During Ambassador Rapp’s discussions, he listened to eyewitness accounts about serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including those that occurred at the end of the war. In that context the government of the United States encourages the government of Sri Lanka to seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions.

Below is the photo that the Embassy Colombo tweeted of  Ambassador Rapp  with US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison visiting St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan last week.  We hope we won’t hear this week that this is a “rogue” tweet.

Screen Shot 2014-01-12

Ambassador Sisson and Stephan J. Rapp, US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes, at St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka

The photo above is reportedly the site where the Sri Lankan army killed hundreds of families towards the end of the civil war in 2009. Last Thursday, protesters in Colombo marched to the U.S. Embassy. Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof.G.L.Peiris had also protested over the “unconventional news leads.”

Read more Fury in Sri Lanka at US Embassy Tweet on Killing of Tamils via NYT. From 2009, via CSM — How will Sri Lanka reconcile after a bitter war?

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Balwinder Singh aka ‘Happy’ Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan

– Domani Spero

The day after Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the arrest of  Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud and false statements and caused a diplomatic row, another arrest in Reno, Nevada of Indian national  and U.S. legal resident, Balwinder Singh for conspiring to provide material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan barely made the news.

Below via USDOJ:

Reno Man Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan | December 13, 2013

A Reno, Nev. man has been charged with providing material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan in order to intimidate the Indian government and to harm persons that were not supporting their cause, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Daniel G. Bogden, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada, and Laura A. Bucheit, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI for Nevada.

“A thorough investigation and cooperation among agencies led to these charges,” said U.S. Attorney Bogden.  “Investigating and prosecuting matters of national security is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Balwinder Singh, aka Jhajj, aka, Happy, aka Possi, aka Baljit Singh, 39, of Reno, is charged in an indictment with one count of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country, one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, one count of making a false statement on an immigration document, two counts of use of an immigration document procured by fraud, and one count of unlawful production of an identification document.   Singh was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, in Reno, and is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, for an initial appearance and arraignment.

“After an extensive investigation, the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) of Northern Nevada has disrupted an individual’s involvement in facilitation activities in support of a foreign terrorist organization, targeting an ally of the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bucheit. “We will continue to work with our international partners to prevent acts of terrorism on U.S. soil or, as in this case, on that of an ally. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

According to the indictment, Singh was a citizen of India who fled to the United States and claimed asylum.  Singh lived in the United States where he eventually obtained a permanent resident card from the United States.  The indictment alleges that Singh is a member of two terrorist organizations, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), whose members aim to establish an independent Sikh state in part of the Punjab region of India known as Khalistan. These groups engage in bombings, kidnappings and murders in India to intimidate and compel the Indian government to create the state of Khalistan.  These groups also target for assassination persons they consider traitors to the Sikh religion and government officials who they consider responsible for atrocities against the Sikhs.

The indictment alleges that the object of the conspiracy was to advance the goals of BKI and KZF by raising money and obtaining weapons to support acts of terrorism in India.  It is alleged that the conspiracy began on a date unknown but no later than Nov. 30, 1997.  It is alleged that Singh used a false identity and obtained false identification documents in the United States so that he could travel back to India without being apprehended by the Indian authorities.  It is alleged that Singh communicated with other coconspirators by telephone while he was in the United States to discuss acts of terrorism to be carried out in India.  It is alleged that Singh sent money from Reno, Nev., to co-conspirators in India for the purchase of weapons that would be provided to members of the BKI and KZF to support acts of terrorism in India. It is alleged that Singh traveled from the United States to Pakistan, India, and other countries to meet with coconspirators to assist in the planning of terrorism in India, and that Singh provided advice to coconspirators about how to carry out acts of terrorism.

If convicted, Singh faces up to life in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each count.

The case is being investigated by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in northern Nevada, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sue Fahami and Brian L. Sullivan, and Trial Attorney Mara M. Kohn of the U.S. Department of Justice Counterterrorism Section.

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In related news, on December 18, in a widely reported retaliation for the treatment of its diplomat in New York, the Indian government removed the security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

On December 25, Hindustan Times  writes about the “rumblings” in the U.S. Congress over the removal of the security barriers:  “We can understand the anger and the other measures,” said a senior congressional aide on condition of anonymity, “but removing the barriers has raised security concerns.

On December 29, the Times of India says that Indian officials speaking on background refuted “the US suggestion that they were being vengeful towards the US diplomatic corps and endangering the US embassy.” Seriously.  That’s why there was full press court and cameras when it took the muscular response of dismantling the concrete security barricades and spike strips around Embassy Delhi.  So apparently, the security barriers now have its own mini-drama. The TOI report says  that “A decision to remove the barriers was taken several weeks back when the US side removed a diplomatic parking lane in front of the Indian embassy in Washington DC (that also served as security perimeter) and turned it into public parking.”

Coincidences bumping into each other on the dark side of the moon.

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US Embassy Bangkok Issues Security Message on Thailand Protests

– Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Bangkok issued a security message to U.S. citizens in the country concerning the mass protests  in the capital city. BBC News Bangkok reports that today is the eighth day of protests aimed at unseating Yingluck Shinawatra, who became Prime Minister of Thailand following the 2011 general election.  Four people have reportedly died and dozens have been injured in the civil unrest that shows no sign of abating.

Domestic political activists in Thailand are holding large demonstrations at several sites throughout Bangkok. These demonstrations may continue in the coming days, including at several Thai government facilities in areas within and outside of Central Bangkok.

Violence, including gunshots, was reported on the night of November 30/morning of December 1st in the area of Ramkhamhaeng University in the Bang Kapi district northeast of Central Bangkok. At least two persons have been reported killed and several dozen have been reported injured. Police have used tear gas and other measures to protect government facilities at several locations in Bangkok.

Although the Thai government has not implemented a curfew, senior officials have recommended that residents remain at home from 10:00 p.m. Dec 1 through 5:00 a.m. Dec 2.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok will be open on Monday as usual. Please check the Embassy’s web page and Twitter feed for updates.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports.

The UKFCO’s current Travel Advice on Thailand notes that “on 25 November the authorities in Thailand implemented the Internal Security Act in all districts of Bangkok and Nonthaburi as well as the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan and the Lat Lum Kaeo district of Pathum Thani, which will lead to an increased security presence and possible disruption to traffic.”

Previous anti-government protests in Thailand occurred in March, April, and May 2010 which resulted in the occupation of  Bangkok’s business district. The government’s operation to clear the protesters led to multiple deaths and injuries, property destruction, and a closure of the embassy for over a week.  According to a 2010 report, the unrest also resulted in the  relocation of embassy personnel from residences close to the protest zone, issuance of a travel warning, and granting of authorized departure for family members.

The embassy estimates that regional services-related work occupies 51 percent of its personnel. The 2010 inspection report of US Embassy Bangkok notes that the country team at Embassy Bangkok is composed of representatives from 40 U.S. Government executive branch agencies and departments, plus one legislative branch agency.   The US Embassy in Bangkok has also doubled in size in the last 10 years largely due to the concentration of regional services in Bangkok.  At the time of the inspection there were almost 2,000 employees with US Mission Thailand, including local nationals and U.S. local hire.  The report cautioned that “The trend toward regionalization in Bangkok may have reached its limit, as its advantage as a politically stable location for regional operations is diminishing with Thailand’s rapidly evolving political situation.”

Prolonged protests have the potential to impact regional support on finance, payroll (for as many as 67 embassies), human resources,  regional training, customer services, as well as courier services and engineering services.  No State Department Travel Warning or Travel Alert has been issued as of this writing.

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Morsi Ousted, US Mission Egypt Now On Ordered Departure

— By Domani Spero

Shortly after noon today, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.  We understand that the AMIDEAST has also flown out the remaining interns/Arabic students (Andrew Pochner who was killed in Alexandria was an intern at AMIDEAST), and that the Fulbrighters have also left. Excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

If you wish to depart Egypt, you should make plans and depart as soon as possible. The airport is open and commercial flights are still operating, although cancellations may occur. Travelers should check with their airlines prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. U.S. citizens seeking to depart Egypt are responsible for making their own travel arrangements.

Previously, on June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members.

The last time the US Embassy in Cairo was ordered evacuated was in January-February 2011.  The embassy staff did not return to post until April that year.

On 03 Jul 2013 19:36, Al Jazeera reported that the Egyptian army has overthrown President Mohamed Morsi, announcing a roadmap for the country’s political future that will be implemented by a national reconciliation committee:

The head of Egypt’s armed forces issued a declaration on Wednesday evening suspending the constitution and appointing the head of the constitutional court as interim head of state.

In a televised broadcast, flanked by military leaders, religious authorities and political figures, General Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi effectively declared the removal of  Morsi.

Sisi called for presidential and parliamentary elections, a panel to review the constitution and a national reconciliation committee that would include youth movements. He said the roadmap had been agreed by a range of political groups.

Ahram Online reported that the head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court, the most senior Egyptian court, is Adly Mansour. He was promoted to position in June. He is now reported as the new interim president of Egypt.  The website also notes the attendees at the press conference where El-Sisi gave his speech included a number of top military and police officials who sat in two rows on either side of the podium; the Coptic Orthodox patriarch Tawadros II; the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayyeb; ElBaradei; a representative of Nour Party; Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the anti-Morsi Rebel campaign’s founders; and a senior judicial figure.

Next talk coming up?

$1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt’s military, or as time.com puts it, the aid that’s about 20% of Egypt’s most stable public institution.  The text of Foreign Assistance Act requiring US gov to cut military aid to countries after a coup: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/8422 ….

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the following statement on the removal of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president:

“It is unfortunate that Morsi did not heed popular demands for early elections after a year of his incompetent leadership and attempting a power grab for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Morsi was an obstacle to the constitutional democracy most Egyptians wanted.  I am hopeful that his departure will reopen the path to a better future for Egypt, and I encourage the military and all political parties to cooperate in the peaceful establishment of democratic institutions and new elections that lead to an Egypt where minority rights are protected.  But make no mistake about it, Egypt is in for very difficult days.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also praised the Egyptian military for taking action, saying, “democracy is about more than elections.”

The folks over at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared to be gone for the holidays.

President Obama released a statement with the following:

The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters. Given today’s developments, I have also directed the relevant departments and agencies to review the implications under U.S. law for our assistance to the Government of Egypt.

 

And State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki apparently declined to specify earlier Wednesday what would constitute  a military coup, though she affirmed the U.S. recognition of Morsi as the democratically elected leader.

Haven’t we seen this before? Honduras. 2009 when the military removed a sitting president and flew him out to Costa Rica.  But certainly without the millions protesting like in Egypt.  Here’s what we might hear down the road.  “[O]n the ground, there’s a lot of discussion about who did what to whom and what things were constitutional or not, which is why our lawyers are really looking at the event as we understand them in order to come out with the accurate determination.”

We suspect that the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser is busy. There has not been a nominee since Avril Haines’ nomination was withdrawn so she could be nominated as CIA’s #2.  Mary McLeod, the Principal Deputy Legal Adviser is currently it.

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US Mission Egypt Now on Authorized Departure But July 4th Celebration Still On

— By Domani Spero

On June 28, the State Department announced the authorized departure of “a limited number” of non-emergency USG personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing unrest.  Since we’re now in the summer season and school is out, hopefully a good number of family members have already left the country. The Travel Alert dated May 15, 2013 has now been replaced with a Travel Warning that U.S. citizens defer travel to Egypt at this time.

The embassy had previously announced that it will be closed to the public on Sunday, June 30 and later announced closure also for Monday, July 1.  (See US Embassy Cairo: To Close on June 30, Be Prepared to Shelter in Place).  But as of today, we understand that the Embassy Front Office has yet to cancel post’s July 4th celebration for next week.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest.  On June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members.  U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Alert issued for Egypt dated May 15, 2013.

On June 28, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt due to the ongoing political and social unrest.

Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt’s 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future due to unrest focused on the first anniversary of the President’s assumption of office.  Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and security forces have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. There are numerous reports of the use of firearms as well. While violent protests have occurred in major metropolitan areas, including downtown Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said, the security situation in most tourist centers, including Luxor, Aswan, and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh, continues to be calm. Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault.

Read the June 28 Travel Warning here.

In related news,  Ahram Online is reporting that a 21-year old American has become a second casualty amidst clashes in Alexandria.  The report citing  Amin Ezz El-Din, head of Alexandria’s security directorate said that the young American had been taking pictures with his mobile phone near one of the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which President Morsi hails, when he was stabbed to death.  Neither the US Embassy Cairo or USCG Alexandria has confirmed the death. Then there’s this side story from McClatchy Newspapers’ Middle East Bureau chief:

Screen Shot 2013-06-28

Update @ 10:04 pm PST:  The American killed in Alexandria has been identified by Kenyon College as Andrew Pochter.  Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., died during clashes between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi.  He was an intern at AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in international education, training and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa.  There is troubling report that the victim was asked if he was an American prior to stabbing. If true, this would be the second incident in a few weeks that appears directed at U.S. citizens.  Until May 9th this year, security advisories from the embassy were still saying that “in general, anti-American sentiment is not directed at individual U.S. citizens in Egypt.”

The ongoing protests leading up to the mega-protest organized for June 30 while directed at President Morsi and his party are taking on an increasingly anti-American tenor.

The Tamarod (Rebel) Campaign collecting signatures for an early presidential election has listed its reasons online including one why it rejects its sitting president: “We reject you… Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the USA.” More about the Tamarod campaign here.

The protesters are saying it with banners, too; all posted on Twitter and cc’ed to @USEmbassyCairo.  The banners are made with specific messages; as well, there are photos circulating of the U.S. ambassador’s photos spray painted with red X marks.  That looks like a lot of anger just waiting to burst …

Twiiter_patterson

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Meanwhile, CNN’s Barbara Starr said that U.S. Marines stationed in southern Europe have been put on alert as a precaution in advance of expected large demonstrations and potential unrest in Egypt this weekend:

About 200 combat capable Marines in Sigonella, Italy, and Moron, Spain, have been told to be ready to be airborne within 60 minutes of getting orders to deploy, according to two administration officials.

The units have several V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that would carry troops and infantry weapons to Egypt to protect the U.S. Embassy and American government personnel and citizens if violence broke out against Americans.

The officials both emphasized this is contingency planning in advance of the expected demonstrations to ensure American military assets, including rescue forces, can act if needed. In the event Americans had to be evacuated from Egypt and could not get to the airport due to the unrest, there are about 2,000 additional Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea, officials said.

A third official said the decision to keep the warship in the Red Sea was “very precautionary.”

Continue reading:  Out of precaution, Marines on ready to go to Egypt to protect U.S. Embassy, citizens.

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US Embassy Cairo: To Close on June 30, Be Prepared to Shelter in Place

— By Domani Spero

 

The US Embassy in Cairo issued its Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 48 indicating that the embassy will be closed on Sunday June 30th, set as the date for a national anti-Morsi, anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt. While the embassy did not actually say “be prepared to shelter in place,” it notes that the situation is “particularly unpredictable” and folks need to “possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.” Below is an excerpt from the security message:

In anticipation of demonstrations that may turn violent, the U.S. Embassy will be closed to the public on June 30th. The U.S. Embassy will continue monitor conditions and announce decisions regarding its operating status.

As potentially violent protest activity may occur before June 30th, U.S. citizens are advised to maintain a low profile and restrict movement to the immediate area of their residences and neighborhoods starting on June 28. U.S. citizens should monitor announcements from the U.S. Embassy and local media in order to stay current with the situation. As the security situation is particularly unpredictable, please ensure you possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.

Due to a report that opposition groups plan to solicit signatures at sixteen Cairo Metro stations on the morning of June 25, the U.S. Embassy is advising its personnel to utilize other transportation means. Though violence is not expected in connection with soliciting signatures, it is possible that confrontations between individuals involved and opposing groups could become violent.

Meanwhile,  @USEmbassyCairo can’t seem to catch a break after Ambassador Anne Patterson’s recent outreach events suffered an online backlash not just on Twitter but also on the embassy’s FB page. Some pretty nasty stuff there.

On the June 30 closure, one Twitter user tweets, “Everybody is officially freaking out.”

(‘_’)

 

 

 

 

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What’s Missing From the Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1768)

As we have blogged here previously, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation on April 26, 2013, to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB). (See HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)).

The bill currently has 22 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The current regs gave the Secretary of State the authority to appoint four out of five members of the ARB.  Under the proposed legislation, the Secretary of State may now only appoint two members of the Board:

“A Board shall consist of five members, two appointed by the Secretary of State, two appointed by the Chairperson of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (the CIGIE Chairperson), and one appointed by the Director of National Intelligence.”

On the ARB Staff:

“(2) Staff.–

“(A) In general.–A Board may hire staff to assist the Board, and may have any Federal Government employee assigned or detailed to such Board, with or without reimbursement, to assist such Board. Any such assignee or detailee shall retain without interruption the rights, status, and privileges of his or her regular employment.

“(B) Special rule.–Any individual who is hired, assigned, or detailed to assist a Board under subparagraph (A) shall be subject to the rule relating to the avoidance of conflicts of interest under subsection (a) in the same manner and to the same extent as a Member of such a Board is subject to such avoidance under such subsection.

“(C) Office of the Inspector General.–To the maximum extent practicable, individuals assisting the Board shall be employees of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of State.”.

Here are the ARB staff that may potentially be affected if the ARB Reform Act is passed by the House, the Senate and signed into law:

  • Under current ARB regs, the ARB Staff Officer is a member of the M/PRI staff appointed by the Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management
  • An ARB Executive Secretary is also appointed by M/PRI when an ARB is convened.  The Executive Secretary coordinates and facilitates the work of that Board. The Executive Secretary will normally be a senior Foreign Service officer or a retired senior Foreign Service officer who is recommended by DGHR/CDA.  DGHR is an office an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Experts, consultants and support staff: As determined by the Board the Department will provide the necessary experts, consultants and support staff to enable the Board to carry out its duties effectively and efficiently.
  • S/ES-EX will provide a full-time dedicated administrative support coordinator (detailee or WAE) to assist the Executive Secretary of the ARB, as formalized in Administrative Notice No.05-02, dated February 22, 2005.

H.R. 1768 also addresses conflicts of interest and recusals:

(c) Conflicts of Interest.–Section 302 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act is amended by adding at the end the following new subsections

 “(c) Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest.–

“(1) In general.–The Secretary of State, the CIGIE Chairperson, and the Director of National Intelligence may not appoint any individual as a member of a Board if the Secretary, the CIGIE Chairperson, or the Director, as the case may be, determines that such individual has a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board reasonably could be expected to review.

   “(2) Declining appointment.–An individual shall decline appointment to membership on a Board if such individual has actual knowledge of a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board could reasonably be expected to review.

  “(3) Recusal from particular activities.–A member of a Board shall recuse him or herself from any Board activity, interview, deposition, or recommendation concerning a person with whom such member has a conflict of interest. Such member shall promptly notify the other members of such Board of any such recusal, but need not state the basis therefor.

The current regs specifies that the ARB report on its findings and program recommendations to the Secretary of State.  To those who are repeatedly harping why the Benghazi ARB did not interview Secretary Clinton, this might be the best answer.  The ARB is supposed to submit its report to the Secretary of State. Does it make sense for the ARB to interview the Secretary when the report is to be submitted to the same Secretary that convenes the Board?

12 FAM 036.3 also specifies that “The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation. Note that the regs did not say the Secretary must provide the ARB report to Congress, only that he/she must report to Congress on the recommendations and the actions taken. There is nothing on the regs that precludes the Secretary of State from sharing the ARB report with Congress, but she is not required to do so under current laws.

On its program specification,  H.R. 1768 changes that and mandates that the ARB submits its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State and Congress.

“(1) In general.–Except as provided in paragraph (2), not later than 90 days after a Board is convened in a case, such Board shall submit to the Secretary of State and Congress its findings (which may be classified to the extent determined necessary by the Board), together with recommendations as appropriate to improve the security and efficiency of any program or operation which such Board has reviewed.

And that’s all good improvement, but here is what’s missing –

A standing committee within the State Department actually assesses whether an ARB should be convened or not.  Whether the Secretary of State convenes an ARB or not depends on the  the recommendation of this standing committee.  Per 12 FAM 032.1, “the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) will, as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.”

The ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) according to the FAM is composed of the following members:

(1) The Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), who will chair the Committee; [M/PRI reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(2) The Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security or the Principal Deputy; [Diplomatic Security reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(3) The Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research; [INR reports directly to the Secretary]

(4) The Coordinator for Counterterrorism [reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights]

(5) The senior deputy assistant secretary (or secretaries, as appropriate) of the relevant regional bureau(s); (regional bureaus report to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs]

(6) One representative designated by and representing the DNI; and

(7) The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services [Consular Affairs reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

The FAM is clear that the  ARB process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents. Through its investigations and recommendations, the Board seeks to determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices.”

An ARB is convened when there is serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.

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US Embassy, Tunisia

And yet in the aftermath of the 2012 mob attacks of U.S. embassies particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen where there were significant destruction of USG properties, no ARB was convened.

Why?

The destruction of property was not just the embassy buildings and facilities but also includes a number of  torched armored vehicles. We don’t know what type of armored vehicles were lost during last year’s attacks, but armored vehicles used in Iraq in 2005 cost at least $205,742 each.

Some of these attacks went on for hours with no help from the host country government.  Some embassy employees thought they were going to die and called loved ones to say their goodbyes.

So it makes us wonder — was the ARB/PCC  blind to what happened at these posts, and thus did not make a recommendation to convene a Board?

Or did the the ARB/PCC thought convening an ARB amidst the Benghazi debacle and the Benghazi ARB was a tad too much for the agency to handle that no ARB was recommended?

If Congress must reform the Accountability Review Board to improve its effectiveness and independence, it ought to start with a look  at the Permanent Coordinating Committee, its composition and recommendation process on whether an ARB is to be convened or not.
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