Twin Brothers and Co-Conspirators on Alleged Scheme to Hack State Dept to Obtain Passport Information

Posted: 2:16 am EDT


Via
USDOJ:

Twin brothers Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, 23, of Springfield, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, access of a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to access a government computer without authorization, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment, beginning in or about March 2014, the Akhter brothers and coconspirators hacked into the website of a cosmetics company and stole its customers’ credit card and personal information.  They used the stolen information to purchase goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations, and attendance at professional conferences.  In addition, the brothers and coconspirators devised a scheme to hack into computer systems at the U.S.  Department of State to access network traffic and to obtain passport information.

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-124.

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New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure

Posted: 9:46 pm  PDT

 

We posted this earlier today: US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the State Department must have decided to place the US Embassy in Bujumbura on “ordered departure.” A new Travel Warning was released today. Non-emegency personnel and family members are also ordered to depart the country.   Ordered Departure is initiated in extraordinary circumstances when the embassy is no longer confident of the security of its personnel and families. Once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

The State Department also recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart “as soon as it is feasible to do so.”   Meanwhile, the game of continues, and there are still conflicting reports on social media regarding the operating status of the Bujumbura airport.

by-map bujumbura

Below is an excerpt from the new Travel Warning dated May 14:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel and non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi on May 14.  The U.S. Embassy is able to offer only very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Burundi.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2015.

The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of military and security forces activity in Bujumbura.  There have been increased political tensions and civil disturbances related to these actions.  Airport and land borders are reportedly closed.  U.S. citizens should shelter in place until it is safe to move about, ensure that your travel documents are up-to-date, and confirm that air and land borders are open before attempting to depart the country.

The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.  Political violence persists throughout Burundi, a carryover of the Burundian civil war. Armed groups operate in Burundi.  Weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks have increased but are usually not directed at foreigners.  If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

Demonstrations, gatherings, and even sporting events that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent without advance warning.  For this reason, U.S. citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the Internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest, and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

Travel outside the capital, Bujumbura, presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  Note the U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited.  Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate with impunity.

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US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice

Posted: 10:36 am PDT

 

On May 14, the US Embassy in Burundi released the following Emergency Message to American citizens in the country:

In response to increasing violence in multiple locations across Bujumbura, there will be no movement of Embassy personnel until further notice. The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens exercise extreme caution at all times. If you are in a safe location, the Embassy recommends you remain where you are as travel in Bujumbura is not currently safe. The U.S. Embassy has received reports that the airport continues to be closed and land borders may also be closed at this time. The U.S. Embassy will continue to closely monitor the security environment in Burundi and will advise U.S. citizens further if the security situation changes.

The embassy had a town hall meeting on May 11th.  At that time, the embassy brought up the potential for an evacuation and why amcits should consider plans to leave temporarily:

We are not currently sending any of our Embassy staff or family members home. However, it is important for you to make plans and consider your options for departing Burundi if you choose to do so. It is never a wise plan to rely on the U.S. Embassy for evacuation. It is always better to leave a country while you are able to do so safely and easily. If you or your family members do not feel safe, you should consider making plans to leave, at least temporarily. This is always a personal and individual decision for private U.S. citizens. Our consular officer Kate Kigudde will speak more about consular support during a crisis, but it is important to remember that if you stay in country and the U.S. Embassy organizes an evacuation, you will not be able to bring many of your belongings or any of your family pets. We understand that these can be difficult decisions for people and we strive to give you all the information and tools you need to make the right decision for you and your family.

More updates via Twitter:

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Burn Bag: A weekend on lockdown, whataboutyou?

Posted: 12:01 pm  EDT

Via Burn Bag:

While the Danger Pay Working Group contemplates denying Danger Pay to Mexico border posts, consulate staff in Guadalajara spent the weekend on lockdown and the narco violence related security incidents in Matamoros have gone up fourfold.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05

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Secretary Kerry Makes Brief Stop at Mogadishu Airport, First Ever Secretary of State Visit to Somalia

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT

 

On May 5, Secretary Kerry made a brief stop in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He is the first Secretary of State ever to visit Somalia.  He met with Somalian leaders at the Mogadishu airport but did not go into town. State Department official told the press that this is due to “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge.”

“The last thing we need is something to happen when the Secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport…

[W]e’re making plans to make our presence more enduring in Somalia. As you know, we announced a new Foreign Service career ambassador for Somalia, and once that ambassador is on the ground, our office will continue to be here in Kenya. But once the ambassador is on the ground, we’re going to have a much more enduring TDY footing in Somalia. We’re going to be there much more regularly with a bit of a – a bit more larger footprint.

 

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Below is a quick recap of US-Somali relation via history.state.gov:

1960 | Somalia achieved its independence in 1960 with the union of Somalia, which had been under Italian administration as a United Nations trust territory, and Somaliland, which had been a British protectorate.

1960 | Diplomatic relations were established on July 1, 1960, when the U.S. Consulate General at Mogadiscio (now Mogadishu) was elevated to Embassy status, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires.

1969 | The Somali army launched a coup which brought Mohamed Siad Barre to power. Barre adopted socialism and became allied with the Soviet Union. The United States was thus wary of Somalia in the period immediately after the coup.

1977 |  Barre’s government became increasingly radical in foreign affairs, and in 1977 launched a war against Ethiopia in hopes of claiming their territory. Ethiopia received help from the Soviet Union during the war, and so Somalia began to accept assistance from the United States, giving a new level of stability to the U.S.-Somalia relationship.

1980s | Barre’s dictatorship favored members of his own clan. In the 1980s, Somalis in less favored clans began to chafe under the government’s rule. Barre’s ruthlessness could not suppress the opposition, which in 1990 began to unify against him.

1991 | After joining forces, the combined group of rebels drove Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991. No central government reemerged to take the place of the overthrown government, and the United States closed its embassy that same year, although the two countries never broke off diplomatic relations. The country descended into chaos, and a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions began to unfold.

1991| The U.S. Embassy closed on January 5, 1991, and all U.S. personnel were withdrawn after the collapse of the central Somali government.

1992 | In December 1992, the United States began Operation Restore Hope. President George H.W. Bush authorized the dispatch of U.S. troops to Somalia to assist with famine relief as part of the larger United Nations effort.

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

1993 | On October 3, 1993 Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed’s forces shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in a battle which lead to the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. The deaths turned the tide of public opinion in the United States. President Bill Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of combat four days later, and all U.S. troops left the country in March 1994.

See Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

1995 | The United Nations withdrew from Somalia in March 1995.

2013| The United States did not sever diplomatic relations with Somalia. Through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States maintained regular dialogue with transitional governments and other key stakeholders in Somalia, and after January 17, 2013, with the newly recognized central government of Somalia.

2015 | In February 2015, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Katherine S. Dhanani as first Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. If confirmed, Ms. Dhanani will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia but will be physically based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. See President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991.

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Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT

 

Below is from the official proposal to be published on the Federal Register tomorrow eliminating the visa page insert (VPI) service for regular fee U.S. passports:

The Department proposes eliminating the visa page insert service for regular fee passport book holders beginning January 1, 2016. The expected effective date of this rule coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book. The Department routinely updates the technology used to produce U.S. passport books so that U.S. passport books use the most current anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit measures. The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.

In 2012, an interagency working group tasked with overseeing the development and deployment of Next Generation Passport books found that visa page inserts could compromise the effectiveness of security features of the new passport books that are intended to provide greater protections against fraud and misuse. To maximize the effectiveness of the Next Generation Passport that is expected to be issued to the general public in 2016, the Department considered whether visa page inserts could be phased out at the time that the Department begins to issue the new passport books.

As part of this study, the Department considered the extent of the public’s usage of visa page inserts, costs to the Department of eliminating the service, and whether any inconvenience to the public could be minimized. A study of a sample of visa page insert applications revealed that a significant majority of those applying for visa page inserts had them added to 28-page passport books, rather than to the larger 52-page books. A set of visa page inserts is 24 pages. Accordingly, a 52-page passport book is the same size as a 28-page book with a set of extra visa pages. The Department determined that the demand for additional visa pages would be substantially reduced by issuing only the larger 52-page passport books to overseas U.S. passport applicants. Accordingly, the Department has begun issuing the 52-page book to overseas applicants, who are the most likely to apply for extra visa pages, at no additional cost. This should further reduce the already limited demand for visa page inserts, thus making the rule’s impact on the public very minimal. Individuals who apply for U.S. passports within the United States will continue to have the option to request a 52-page passport at no additional charge.

Each version of the Next Generation Passport book contains two fewer pages total, but the same number of visa pages as the passport books currently in circulation. Accordingly, after the Department begins issuing the Next Generation Passport book, all domestic passport book applicants will still have the option to choose between a 26-page passport book and a larger 50-page passport book, but the larger 50-page passport books will be automatically issued to people applying overseas.

The Department believes the limited demand for visa page inserts is outweighed by the importance of ensuring that the Next Generation Passport provides the maximum protection against fraud and misuse. Furthermore, the Department must monitor unused inventories of passport products, and the elimination of visa page inserts would facilitate more secure inventory controls. Accordingly, the Department proposes eliminating visa page inserts in passport books issued to the general public beginning January 1, 2016.

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

When news about the elimination of passport page inserts first surfaced in late March, we went looking for answers.  A State Department official responded to our inquiry as follows, with emphasis on security and other interesting details:

The Department’s highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens and this includes our commitment to ensure the U.S. passport remains the most secure travel document in the world. As we look forward to the next version of the U.S. passport, an internal focus group determined that supplemental visa pages pose vulnerabilities to both the physical security of the passport and the issuance process. While the United States is the only country to offer the option of adding additional visa pages to passports, below is some additional data which helped us arrive at our decision:

  • The total demand for additional visa pages is quite small. In FY 2012, we saw approximately 168,000 requests for additional pages compared to 12 million passport issuances.
  • For years have we have offered two passport book sizes to the American public: 28 pages and 52 pages. In FY2013 we estimated that 97% of all passport renewals used fewer than 18 visa pages, a strong indication that the current book sizes we offer meet the needs of the majority of American travelers.
  • To meet the needs of frequent travelers, we began issuing the 52-page passport books at all overseas posts which is where most requests for additional visa pages are processed.
  • Customers can renew their passports via expedited service both domestically and overseas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

We realize some frequent travelers may have concerns about this decision, but it is our duty to implement policies that reinforce and maintain the security of the passport. The United States allows travelers to enter into the country with a valid visa in an expired passport, as long as both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) are from the same country and type. Many other governments have similar regulations. However, we recommend that travelers obtain the latest information on visas and entry requirements from the nearest embassy or consulate of destination country before traveling.

According to CA, after the proposed rule is announced on the Federal Register, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct outreach to educate the public on the elimination of visa pages insert (VPI), the effects of this decision, and alternative consular services.

Interested parties may submit comments for 60 days starting April 29, by any of the following methods:

  • Visit the Regulations.gov web site at: http://www.regulations.gov/index.cfm and search the RIN 1400-AD76 or docket number DOS-2015-0017.
  • Mail (paper, disk, or CD-ROM): U.S. Department of State, Office of Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT), Attn: CA/PPT/IA, 44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1227, Sterling, Virginia 20166-1227.

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Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices

Posted: 3:19  pm EDT

 

 

WaPo reported last week that federal employees responsible for reviewing and processing U.S. passports are now prohibited from bringing their cellphones to work.  The new rule would affect the 1,200 government workers and 1,000 private contractors in passport offices across 22 domestic locations. What started this off? Who knows except that there apparently was a contractor in Houston:

“The rumor among passport workers is that a contractor in Houston was taking pictures of private information on passports.”

A State Department official confirmed the new policy to WaPo:  “The Department has a serious and important obligation to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of U.S. citizens applying for passports,” the official said. “Prohibiting cellphones throughout our Passport Agencies, where employees review and process passport applications, is an effort to further protect passport applicant’s PII.”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide is not happy.  The union wondered what use is getting these employees secret clearances if they can’t be trusted with the information?

Read in full here.

Our own source at the Consular Affairs bureau declined to confirm the rumor but did confirm the ban on cell phones.

The last time the Passport Agency made a huge splash was back in 2008 when illegal access of politician and celebrity passport records were discovered.  Nine State Department employees and contractors were charged and pleaded guilty in that case.

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A Look at the DOS Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County

Posted: 12:50 am EDT

 

Below is excerpted from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County.

In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed at a reduced scope of requirements. The project would proceed as a hard skills only facility, including driving tracks, mock urban environment, explosives training, and firearms training. The reduced scope included the elimination of the dormitories and dining facilities, reducing the size of certain training venues, and the removal of soft skills training. According to the EIS, an extensive site search process evaluated more than 70 potential sites in proximity to the Washington, D.C. area including federal facilities, military bases and private properties.

Fort Pickett was established in 1942 as a World War II training camp. Fort Pickett has been primarily used to provide training facilities, maneuver training areas including live fire artillery ranges, installation operations, and mobilization support for U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units, as well as all branches of the U.S. military. Fort Pickett encompasses approximately 45,148 acres, of which 45,008 were identified as no longer required by the U.S. Army by the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The remaining 140 acres were identified as a U.S. Army Reserve enclave. VaARNG has operational control over approximately 42,000 acres of Fort Pickett through a 1997 facility land use agreement. Fort Pickett is currently used as a Maneuver Training Center. Approximately 2,950 acres were not needed for military uses and were deeded to Nottoway County in 2000 for use in the economic development activities of the LRA (Schnabel Engineering 2010).

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click image for larger view

 

As recently as several days ago, the hill.com covered this project’s struggle in Congress, Two years after Benghazi, State battles lawmakers over training site for agents.

According to the State Department, the FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress and re-affirmed by two independent panels in 2013, for a consolidated security training facility.

Below is a quick chronology of the project:

  • July 2011 -Selected Fort Pickett and began Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Master Planning efforts
  • October 2012 –Released Draft EIS for full scope FASTC
  • December 2012 –Completed Master Plan for full scope FASTC
  • February 2013 –DOS decision to reduce scope of FASTC to hard skills only
  • Early 2013 –Project activities placed on hold while additional due diligence conducted
  • April 2014 –Administration decision to move forward at Fort Pickett

Here are the components of the FASTC as excerpted from the Final EIS:

High Speed Driving Track Area

The High Speed Driving Track Area would be used for driver training in various conditions including normal driving, emergency driving, and flooded conditions. Training would consist of 810 drive track operations per day with cars traveling up to 100 miles per hour and would include approximately 600 simulator (flash bang pyrotechnics) operations annually. The following facilities along with associated surface parking would comprise this area:

D02 High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course – 550-acre facility consisting of three separate tracks, two lanes wide, ranging in length from 1.6 to 2 miles long. The tracks would be closed loops with a variety of turns and elevation changes to replicate different driving conditions. The course would include skid pads and ram pads.

D02a, b, c Classroom Buildings – Each of the three High Speed Driving Tracks would include a 30- person classroom building, support facilities, and a 15-space parking area for staff. Classrooms would be located close to the tracks and include covered bleacher seating.

Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area

The off-road/unimproved driving tracks would be used for training drivers in off-road and unimproved road conditions. Driver training would consist of 24 operations per day (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) plus 8 operations during the nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). The Off-Road/Unimproved Driving Track Area would consist of unpaved tracks through forested areas and classroom buildings, including: an Unimproved Road Driving Course, an Off-Road Driving Course and two classrooms.

Mock Urban Training Environment

The Mock Urban Training Environment area would consist of three distinct, but interrelated, simulated urban training environments that would provide scenarios for students training for protecting humans transitioning between vehicles and buildings in a setting similar to a typical high-density urban environment. The three areas, Mock Urban Driving Course (D03), Explosives Simulation Alley (E04), and Mock Urban Tactical Training Area (T02), would be designed to function separately or together for maximum flexibility with the courses.

This will include a Mock Embassy, a compound of buildings that would be modeled on the U.S. Army’s Military Operations on Urban Terrain facilities. Buildings would model banks, restaurants, theaters, and residences. Also included is a Smoke House, a three-story, fabricated building configured as a training facility specifically fabricated and configured for training non-firefighting personnel on procedures for safe escape and evacuation of a building, as well as limited entry, search, and rescue training for law enforcement and rescue personnel. Students will practice different exercises to gain confidence in methods of escapement from a burning building.

Explosives Training Environment

The Explosives Training Environment would consist of an Explosives Demonstration Range (E02), Post-Blast Training Range (E03), and Explosives Breaching Range (E05).

Firearms Training Environment

Students would train in the Firearms Training Environment in the use of firearms including pistols, rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. Total estimated activity at all the firing ranges would be more than 6 million rounds annually, normally between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Firing range buildings would be designed to ensure acceptable noise levels in adjacent areas inside and outside of the buildings.

Service Area

The Service Area would consist of support facilities for centralized delivery, storage, and maintenance needs related to internal infrastructure and operations throughout FASTC.

Driver Training Maintenance Area

The Driver Training Maintenance Area would provide centralized vehicle storage and maintenance facilities supporting all of the driver training activities for FASTC.

Ammunition Supply Point

The Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) would provide storage for ammunition and explosives used at the Explosives Training Environment, Firearms Training Environment, High Speed Driving Tracks, and Mock Urban Training Environment.

Proposed Timeframe for Development of FASTC

Due to the substantial size of the entire project, FASTC would be designed in five separate packages and constructed in three to five phases, depending on funding, over a five-year period. Package 1 would include venues essential to commence operation of the FASTC training program and construction would begin in the summer of 2015, prior to the expiration of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding in September 2015. Package 1 would consist of construction activities that completely avoid impacts to regulated wetland areas and could be constructed prior to completion of the ongoing wetland permitting process. Training venues would begin to operate in 2016 with approximately 10% of training operations underway. Construction of Packages 2 and 3 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2015/2016 and Packages 4 and 5 are estimated to begin in the fall/winter of 2016/2017. By 2018, all training venues fundamental to the FASTC training program would be in place, and 90% of the training program would be operational. By 2020, 100% of training would be operational. Phasing schedules continue to evolve and would ultimately depend on timeframes for design and appropriated funding from Congress, but they are estimated in this Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for purposes of analysis.

Proposed FASTC Student and Staff

During the first year of training operations in 2016, average attendance at the facility would be approximately 60 students daily, and approximately 1,000 students would be trained annually. Sixty percent of the training would occur between May and September. The number of students would increase as FASTC becomes fully operational. Between 2018 and 2020, at full operation, average daily attendance would increase to 600 students, and approximately 9,200 students would be trained annually. The average training duration would be approximately 14 days.

Concurrent with the increase in the number of students, the number of staff would also be anticipated to increase over the five-year construction period. Beginning in 2016, the transfer of the Security and Law Enforcement Training Division with limited administrative support and tactical training support from other facilities would occur. With anticipated movement attrition in present staff levels, plus the need for additional facility support staff, DOS estimates that approximately 21 already filled positions would be relocated in 2016. Approximately 12 positions, including information technology specialists, contract  and finance specialists, budget officers, program officers, and security would be filled locally. Service contractors would provide buildings, roads and grounds maintenance, housekeeping, and repair.

Between 2017 and 2020, an additional 191 staff would relocate and 115 employees would be hired for a total staff of 339. Some transferred employees would include administrative and technical support, and instructional systems management staff. Other employees, such as physical fitness, information technology, instructors, and maintenance would be hired locally.

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Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) For Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (Fort Pickett) Now Available

Posted: 11:05 am EDT

 

The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center(FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia is now available.

As required under the National Environmental Policy Act, GSA has prepared and filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed development of a U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Nottoway County, Virginia. GSA is the lead agency; cooperating agencies are DOS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and National Guard Bureau. The Final EIS also documents compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

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Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) – Fort Pickett

The purpose of the proposed FASTC site in Nottoway County is to consolidate existing dispersed “hard skills” security training functions to provide effective, efficient training specifically designed to enable foreign affairs personnel to operate in today’s perilous and dangerous overseas environment. Hard skills training is practical, hands-on training in firearms, explosives, anti- terrorism driving techniques, defensive tactics, and security operations. Such training improves security and life safety for the protection of U.S. personnel operating abroad. The proposed FASTC would fill a critical need, identified in the 2008 report to the U.S. Congress, for a consolidated training facility. A central facility would improve training efficiency and provide priority access to training venues from which DS may effectively conduct hard skills training to meet the increased demand for well-trained personnel. The proposed FASTC would train 8,000 to 10,000 students annually.

The Final EIS was prepared to evaluate the environmental consequences of site acquisition and development of FASTC on three adjacent land parcels at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett (Fort Pickett) and Nottoway County’s Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) area in Nottoway County, Virginia.

The proposed site is 1,350 acres with an additional 12 acres for relocation of an existing tank trail and scheduled use of a 19 acre Fort Pickett range. The site is surrounded by compatible land uses within Fort Pickett. The total area of disturbance for construction of driving tracks, mock urban environments, explosives and firearms ranges, and administrative and service areas would be 407 acres. Utilities would be installed or relocated along existing roadways or within areas planned for development.

According to the Federal Register announcement, all efforts and work on the proposed site at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County’s LRA area were put on hold in early 2013 pending additional due diligence and reviews at an existing federal training site in Georgia. As part of this due diligence effort, DOS conducted site visits to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

During this time period, DOS also assessed the scope and size of the FASTC project and determined a smaller platform was more fiscally prudent. In April 2014, the earlier DOS selection of the proposed site for FASTC at Fort Pickett and Nottoway County was reaffirmed by the Administration. A Master Plan Update was prepared in 2014 to incorporate the adjustments in the FASTC program.

The Final EIS designates Build Alternative 3 as the Preferred Alternative. Build Alternative 3 would have direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts, but the impacts are reduced as compared with the 2012 build alternatives. Changes between the Supplemental Draft EIS and Final EIS include the results of consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer as required by Section 106 of the NHPA, and updates on consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pertaining to effects on northern long-eared bats under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Section 7 consultation will be concluded prior to the Record of Decision. The Final EIS also updates the proposed action to support emerging advanced tactical training needs and a change in the availability of existing facilities. The proposed action includes limited use of helicopters in training to approximately one or two days per month and the addition of an Ammunition Supply Point on the proposed site. The Final EIS addresses and responds to agency and public comments on the Supplemental Draft EIS.

Hopefully this means that the Fort Pickett project is on and taxpayers won’t be spending millions of dollars sending thousands of State Department trainees from VA-MD-DC all the way to Georgia as some in Congress would like to do.

-04/24/15   Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  [13842 Kb]

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Stranded in Yemen: Americans left to find own way out, but exactly how many more AmCits are left there?

Posted: 7:01 pm EDT

 

Via CNN:

“My son served in the army for four years. In Iraq. He served because we love our country. As we should. Now look at us?”
[…]
Muna is from Buffalo in upstate New York. Her family is among the dozens of Americans caught in the crossfire of warring parties in Yemen. And although many other countries evacuated their citizens, India most notably ferrying out around 5,000, the United States has said it is too dangerous for them to directly evacuate American nationals.

screenshot of CNN video

screenshot of CNN video

For Muna, her ordeal ended at Djibouti Port where Christina Higgins, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, was among the embassy staff waiting to meet them. I asked Higgins about the sense of abandonment Muna and many of the other Americans trapped in Yemen said they felt.

“We have one of the branches of al Qaeda that’s especially active. There’s the Houthis — neither of these two groups friendly to U.S. citizens. We’ve had to weigh very, very carefully what is the safest way, the best way for us to help them.”

Higgins said ultimately each U.S. citizen is going to have to judge what is best for themselves and their families.

“For many U.S. citizens, that’s going to mean sheltering in place. For other U.S. citizens, we’re actively working at getting information to them on different avenues for travel out of Yemen.”

Read in full here.

Also read: After hours at sea, chaos and desperation at Yemeni city

 

IOM announced today that it has temporarily suspended is evacuation operations in Yemen. It also says, “To date, operations continue to be hampered by unacceptable demands in regard to the identity of passengers to be evacuated by IOM. Security conditions within and around Sana’a airport have also worsened, affecting the ability of IOM staff to operate on airport grounds.”

 

Meanwhile in Djibouti:

 

Also this one on the DPB on April 20, we’re not sure which email is this referring to:

QUESTION: — between a Yemen – or a U.S. citizen stuck in Yemen.

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: I know you can’t comment on the specific case —

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — but just the language of that email that she had the exchange with, is that the kind of language that Americans still stuck in Yemen can expect?

MS HARF: Yes, I saw that email exchange. I think a couple points on that. The first is if you look at a majority of that email, it’s really the same messages I’ve been giving from the podium about the fact that we have been warning for some time, that we are trying to do things to assist. And we have a number of people – we’ve actually increased our consular staff in Djibouti to help consular services to Americans who have been able to leave Yemen. But we have consular officers who are working around the clock in Djibouti and elsewhere doing so.

I think, look, that language is probably not typical of the services we’re providing to Americans, candidly. I probably wouldn’t have used it. But I think looking at our broader efforts in terms of the consular support we’re giving to Americans, even in a very difficult operating environment where we don’t have an embassy, where we have been warning, we – our consular officers really are working very hard to get them what they need even, again, under very difficult circumstances.

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The State Department to date has refused to give an estimate a guesstimate on the American citizen population in Yemen. The OIG report back in 2010 estimated that the Yemeni-American community was about 55,000. Our source from Consular Affairs who is not authorized to speak for the bureau indicates that the most recent estimate is actually much higher than that OIG number.

Odd thing about this? There was a congressional hearing on Yemen several days ago. The congressional reps did not ask about this. The NEA principal deputy assistance secretary of state on that hearing did not talk about this.  And so far, we haven’t heard from the angry old men in the Senate chamber screaming over the abandonment of U.S. citizens in foreign country.

In related news, last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filedlawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of dozens of Yemeni-Americans trapped in Yemen for failure to evacuate them.  Today, a San Francisco man has sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case is just the latest in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

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