Category Archives: Terrorism

U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack

– Domani Spero

Big scoop via WaPo today:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assaults has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured Sunday near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Read in full: U.S. captures Benghazi suspect in secret raid.

The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also released the following statement:

 I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15 the U.S. Military — in cooperation with law enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

Below is a collection of tweets on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently was not shy about giving interviews to the media in the past year or so:

 

Here is also a Reuters interview from 2012 —  Mystery deepens about US enemy No. 1 in Libya. Yesterday, a day after Khattala was captured,but before it was publicly released, there apparently was an ugly Benghazi panel over in D.C. WaPo’s Dana Milbank reports about that here. Politico wades in, also the Daily Beast here.

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Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?

– Domani Spero

 

On May 27, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Libya. In part, the warning says, “Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya.” (see  New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer. On the May 30th, Daily Press Briefing the State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki was asked to confirm about U.S. Special Forces operating in Libya (which she denied), and addressed the reduction in staffing in Tripoli:

QUESTION: I have a very quick question. The London Times is claiming that U.S. special forces and in particular CIA forces, French forces, and Algerian forces are inside Libya chasing after Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who apparently survived. I mean, reports of his death were erroneous. Could you confirm to us whether there is actually a role for the U.S. in Libya or a military presence?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more than what we’ve already announced.

QUESTION: Could you – okay. Could you comment on the presence or the deployment of theUSS Bataan with some 2,000 Marines at the shores of Libya?

QUESTION: Is there anything new on this?

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new, and it was announced, I believe, two days ago.

QUESTION: Okay, but – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to confirm for you –

QUESTION: Are we to assume that maybe Americans citizens are ready to leave the country? That’s the question.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would say we – last Friday, I believe it was, I think, or maybe it was Monday – sorry – we put out a new Travel Warning. We have – as a result of the ongoing instability and violence, we reduced – and in that Travel Warning we reduced that we – we announced that we reduced – sorry, tongue-twister – the number of U.S. Government personnel at its Embassy – at our Embassy in Tripoli, and we are taking prudent steps to assure the security of our personnel given the instability. We are in constant contact with our Embassy, we are constantly evaluating the security needs, but I have nothing new to report on on that front.

QUESTION: I just – before everyone gets all excited, this is not an evacuation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: These people left on regularly scheduled commercial aircraft. There was no panic. There was no attack, anything like that. They –

MS. PSAKI: There is no plan for a U.S. Government-sponsored evacuation at this time. This is a temporary reduction in staffing.

We should note that the May 27 Travel Warning did not announced that “we reduced – the number of U.S. Government personnel – at our Embassy in Tripoli,” it only announced that there exist limited staffing.  AmEmbassy Tripoli was already on limited staffing since May 8, 2013, when the Department of State ordered the departure of a number of U.S. government personnel from Libya.

So how was this current reduction of staffing done without the “authorized” or “ordered” departure of personnel?

It could be that TDYs were cancelled, and replacements were not brought in when PCS staff went on leave. But when personnel are pulled out from post (we don’t know how many) due to the security situation, it is typically done by declaring an “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  A Travel Warning is also issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs whenever a post goes to authorized or ordered departure. The warning routinely urges private U.S. citizens to consider leaving or avoiding travel to countries where authorized or ordered departure is in effect.

Under the “no double standard policy,” if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals. So if the embassy went on authorized or ordered departure, the State Department has an obligation to publicly share that information.

What is the difference between an authorized departure and an ordered departure?

While some folks make a distinction between authorized/ordered departures and evacuations, in reality they are the same. 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 Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) benefits for evacuees then commence from the day following arrival at the safe haven location.

An “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the Chief of Mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).   It allows the Chief of Mission greater flexibility in determining which employees or groups of employees may depart, and “avoids any negative connotation” that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” Typically, in an authorized departure, airports are still open and personnel depart post via regularly scheduled commercial aircraft.

An “ordered departure” is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. Government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the Chief of Mission or the Secretary of State. Some ordered departure may still be done through commercial flights, but more often than not, this involves chartered USG flights from post to the designated safe haven in the region or back to the United States.  While an ordered departure may be followed with temporary post closure, what typically happens is that post remains open with mission essential emergency staffing.

Last February, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Ukraine that includes the following:

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.

In April, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for South Sudan:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in South Sudan depart immediately.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of most remaining U.S. government personnel from South Sudan on January 3, 2014.

So the question now is —  did US Embassy Tripoli went on a reduction of staff, “sort of a drawdown,“without officially calling it an authorized or ordered evacuation?

Of course, if you curtail staffers from post, that is, shorten the employees’ tours of duty from their assignments, or urge them to voluntarily curtail their assignments, that would not constitute an evacuation either, yes? Or if post management strongly suggests that people take their R&Rs earlier over the summer during a heightened threat, that would just be a regular movement of personnel and not at all an “ordered” departure.

So — you still get a reduction of staffing  without the negative connotation of an evacuation.

Not a trick question — how many staffers do you have to pull out from post before you call it an evacuation?

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Related item:

3 FAM 3770 Travel to Post Under Authorized or Ordered Departure (pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

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Greg D. Johnsen: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen

-Domani Spero

On September 17, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen was attacked by armed militants. The armed attack which includes car and suicide bombings resulted in the death of seven militants and 12 security personnel and civilians. Greg D. Johnsen in telling the story of that day, writes that things would have been unimaginably worse if not for an unlikely hero.  This also shows how much our diplomatic posts are at the mercy of their host countries’ security support. If the host country’s security personnel runs away or refuses to fight, our people overseas are on their own.  

Photo via State/DS - 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Photo via State/DS – 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Gregory D. Johnsen — follow him @gregorydjohnsen – is the Michael Hastings National Security Fellow and author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia. Excerpt below:

The men knew their early Islamic history, and had picked their target accordingly. For them, Sept. 17 was a holy date. On the Islamic calendar, which held to the lunar cycle, the date was Ramadan 17, 1429. Centuries earlier, at the very beginning of Islam — 624 A.D., or the second year on the Muslim calendar — the Prophet Muhammad led a small band of believers into battle against a much larger pagan force. That morning on the plains south of Medina, the ragtag Muslim army stunned the pagans, a victory Muhammad and the Qur’an attributed to divine intervention.
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The plan was simple: The first vehicle would crash into the main gate, exploding a hole in the embassy’s perimeter and allowing the second jeep and the rest of the men to flood into the main compound and kill as many Americans as they could before they were gunned down. But to do that they had to pass through the concentric circles of security undetected.

At the first checkpoint, the one manned by the Central Security Force, soldiers glanced at the military license plates on the jeeps and waved them through.

The two jeeps pulled ahead to the next checkpoint and stopped. “We have a general here to see the ambassador,” one of the men shouted at Mukhtar and Shumayla.

Neither of them knew anything about a meeting. This wasn’t protocol. Seche hardly ever met people at the embassy; he usually went out. Still, the ambassador didn’t consult with them on his decisions.

Shumayla moved first, walking toward the jeeps to check IDs. About halfway there he paused. The windows in the jeeps were so darkly tinted that he couldn’t see inside. That wasn’t right. Mukhtar was already pulling on the rope to raise the drop bar when Shumayla saw it: a man in the lead jeep popping through a hole in the roof and clutching a Kalashnikov.

“Ya, Mukhtar,” Shumayla shouted. “Run.”

And then the shooting started. Three men jumped out of the trailing jeep, firing as they ran. Shumayla was gone, fleeing for the protection of several concrete barriers. But Mukhtar waited. He had to get the bar down. Letting the rope slide back down through his hands, he hit the duck-and-cover alarm — the embassy’s early warning system — as the bar crashed back down. It all lasted only a few seconds, but that was all it took. One bullet hit him below the left the shoulder; another took him in the stomach. He managed to turn and run about 10 yards toward some rocks before a third bullet hit him in the back and exploded out his chest.

According to Greg Johnsen’s report, Mukhtar al-Faqih was posthumously awarded the Department of State’s Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service for sacrificing his life and giving “the last full measure of devotion to his colleagues and friends.” The U.S. Embassy reportedly hired his younger brother Muhammad to replace him as a security guard but has denied the fourth and youngest brother, Walid, a visa to travel to the U.S.

Read in full: The Benghazi That Wasn’t: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen.

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US Embassy Kenya Restricts USG Personnel Travel, New Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya on May 15 warning of the risks of travel to Kenya, of potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests, and the restriction of U.S. Government personnel travel in country.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  The levels of risk vary throughout the country. This replaces the Travel Warning of April 4, 2014, to update information about the current security situation.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani.  Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.
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Kenyan law enforcement has disrupted several terrorist plots throughout the country.  On March 17, 2014, police discovered a large and sophisticated car bomb in the Mombasa area, as reported in the local media.  The intended target remains unclear. 
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On April 23, 2014, gunmen ambushed a convoy vehicle and attempted to kidnap an international humanitarian staff member at the Dadaab refugee complex.  While the kidnapping attempt was unsuccessful, one national staff member was injured in the attack.
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As a result of these recent events and threats, the U.S. Embassy has restricted travel for U.S. government personnel to the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh and to the coastal areas of Mombasa and Diani. Travel for personnel is limited to only mission-essential trips and must be pre-approved by appropriate Embassy offices. U.S. Embassy personnel are also prohibited from traveling to northeastern Kenya, including the cities of El Wak, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, and Liboi. U.S. Embassy personnel are also restricted from traveling to the coastal area north of Pate Island, including Kiwavu and north to Kiunga on the Kenya-Somalia border. The Embassy has also instituted a policy of restricting U.S. government-sponsored regional conferences and trainings in Nairobi and reviewing the numbers of TDY personnel coming to the country for official purposes.

Although these restrictions do not apply to travelers not associated with the U.S. government, U.S. citizens in Kenya should take these restrictions into account when planning travel. The Embassy regularly reviews the security of these areas for possible modification.

There are no restrictions on U.S. embassy employee travel to Kenya’s most popular tourist destinations such as Masai Mara, Amboseli, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo, Lamu Island, Hell’s Gate, Samburu, Mount Kenya, and Malindi. However, as with the prohibited travel destinations listed above, the Embassy regularly reviews the security of these unrestricted areas for possible modification.

Read in full here.

Via UKFCO

Via UKFCO

On Friday, May 16, there have been reported explosions at Gikomba Market on the edges of the Eastleigh district in Nairobi. Casualties have been reported. On the same day the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to the following areas:

  • areas within 60km of the Kenya-Somali border
  • Kiwayu and coastal areas north of Pate Island
  • Garissa District
  • the Eastleigh area of Nairobi
  • low income areas of Nairobi, including all township or slum areas
  • Mombasa island and within 5km of the coast from Mtwapa creek in the north down to and including Tiwi in the south (this area does not include Diani or Moi international airport)

If currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, travelers are also advised to “consider whether you have an essential reason to remain.”

Media reports that hundreds of British tourists are being evacuated on chartered flights from Kenya’s coast after the Foreign Office warning.

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US Embassy Yemen: Consular Services Will Remain Closed Through May 22, 2014

– Domani Spero

On May 15, the US Embassy in Sana’a released an updated Security Message to amcits in Yemen notifying them that consular services will remain closed through May 22, 2014:

Due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa will remain closed for consular services through May 22, 2014. The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting the Embassy, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. It is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis. 

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart. The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa remains a restricted staffing post. As staff levels at the Embassy are restricted, our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency and provide routine consular services remains limited. U.S. government employees are restricted in their movements and cannot travel outside of Sanaa. In addition, movements within Sanaa are severely restricted by and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.

U.S. citizens in Yemen remain vulnerable to kidnappings and terrorist attacks, especially when in transit to and from residences or workplaces. U.S. citizens should exercise caution and take prudent security measures in all areas, especially those areas frequented by Westerners.

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GAO: State Dept Management of Security Training May Increase Risk to U.S. Personnel

– Domani Spero

The State Department has established a mandatory requirement that specified U.S. executive branch personnel under chief-of-mission authority and on assignments or short-term TDY complete the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) security training before arrival in a high-threat environment.

Who falls under chief-of-mission authority?

Chiefs of mission are the principal officers in charge of U.S. diplomatic missions and certain U.S. offices abroad that the Secretary of State designates as diplomatic in nature. Usually, the U.S. ambassador to a foreign country is the chief of mission in that country. According to the law, the chief of mission’s authority encompasses all employees of U.S. executive branch agencies, excluding personnel under the command of a U.S. area military commander and Voice of America correspondents on official assignment (22 U.S.C. § 3927). According to the President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission, members of the staff of an international organization are also excluded from chief
-of-mission authority. The President’s letter of instruction further states that the chief of mission’s security responsibility extends to all government personnel on official duty abroad other than those under the protection of a U.S. area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report which examines (1) State and USAID personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement and (2) State’s and USAID’s oversight of their personnel’s compliance. GAO also reviewed agencies’ policy guidance; analyzed State and USAID personnel data from March 2013 and training data for 2008 through 2013; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and at various overseas locations.

High Threat Countries: 9 to 18

The June 2013 State memorandum identifying the nine additional countries noted that personnel deploying to three additional countries will also be required to complete FACT training but are reportedly exempt from the requirement until further notice. State Diplomatic Security officials informed the GAO that these countries were granted temporary exceptions based on the estimated student training capacity at the facility where FACT training is currently conducted. We know from the report that the number of countries that now requires FACT training increased from 9 to 18, but they are not identified in the GAO report.

“Lower Priority” Security Training for Eligible Family Members

One section of the report notes that according to State officials, of the 22 noncompliant individuals in one country, 18 were State personnel’s employed eligible family members who were required to take the training; State officials explained that these individuals were not aware of the requirement at the time. The officials noted that enrollment of family members in the course is given lower priority than enrollment of direct-hire U.S. government employees but that space is typically available.

Typically, family members shipped to high-threat posts are those who have found employment at post. So they are not just there accompanying their employed spouses for the fun of it, they’re at post to perform the specific jobs they’re hired for. Why the State Department continue to give them “lower priority” in security training is perplexing. You know, the family members employed at post will be riding exactly the same boat the direct-hire government employees will be riding in.

Working Group Reviews

This report includes the State Department’s response to the GAO. A working group under “M” reportedly is mandated to “discover where improvements can be made in notification, enrollment and tracking regarding FACT training.” The group is also “reviewing the conditions under which eligible family members can and should be required to complete FACT training as well as the requirements related to personnel on temporary duty assignment.”

Excerpt below from the public version of a February 2014 report:

Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the remaining 33 State assigned personnel on such assignments had not complied with the mandatory requirement. For State and USAID personnel on temporary duty of 6 months or less (short-term TDY personnel), GAO was unable to assess compliance because of gaps in State’s data. State does not systematically maintain data on the universe of U.S. personnel on short-term TDY status to designated high-threat countries who were required to complete FACT training. This is because State lacks a mechanism for identifying those who are subject to the training requirement. These data gaps prevent State or an independent reviewer from assessing compliance with the FACT training requirement among short-term TDY personnel. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government , program managers need operating information to determine whether they are meeting compliance requirements.

State’s guidance and management oversight of personnel’s compliance with the FACT training requirement have weaknesses that limit State’s ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries. These weaknesses include the following:

  • State’s policy and guidance related to FACT training—including its Foreign Affairs Manual , eCountry Clearance instructions for short-term TDY personnel, and guidance on the required frequency of FACT training—are outdated, inconsistent, or unclear. For example, although State informed other agencies of June 2013 policy changes to the FACT training requirement, State had not yet updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect those changes as of January 2014. The changes included an increase in the number of high-threat countries requiring FACT training from 9 to 18.
  • State and USAID do not consistently verify that U.S. personnel complete FACT training before arriving in designated high-threat countries. For example, State does not verify compliance for 4 of the 9 countries for which it required FACT training before June 2013.
  • State does not monitor or evaluate overall levels of compliance with the FACT training requirement.
  • State’s Foreign Affairs Manual notes that it is the responsibility of employees to ensure their own compliance with the FACT training requirement. However, the manual and Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government also note that management is responsible for putting in place adequate controls to help ensure that agency directives are carried out.

The GAO notes that the gaps in State oversight may increase the risk that personnel assigned to high-threat countries do not complete FACT training, potentially placing their own and others’ safety in jeopardy.

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US Embassy Cairo FSN Ahmed Alaiba Detained Since 1/25–State Dept Still Seeking “Clarity”

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– Domani Spero

Cairo Post reported on February 11 that Egyptian National Security arrested a local employee on Jan. 25 who works for the U.S. embassy in Cairo.  On February 12, NYT’s David Kirkpatrick has additional details:

Security forces have detained an Egyptian employee of the United States Embassy who worked as a liaison to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian news reports said Wednesday, stirring fears of pressure on Western diplomats who communicate with the Islamist opposition.

Embassy officials said the employee, Ahmed Alaiba, was detained on Jan. 25, the third anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising here, and he has been held without charges since then.
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An Egyptian government official briefed on the case said Mr. Alaiba was under investigation for both participating in an illegal demonstration and “communicating with an outlawed group.”
[...]
Mr. Alaiba, an Egyptian citizen, has no diplomatic immunities. But some Western diplomats said that the leaks to the Egyptian news media about his arrest appeared to convey a message to them as well. Many diplomats were already wrestling with fears of possible retribution from the military-backed government if they continued meeting with Brotherhood officials as they did before the takeover.

Questions about Mr. Alaiba’s arrest made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. This FSN has been detained since January 25. Besides repeating what has already been reported in the news media, Ms. Harf could only promise to “see if we have more clarity on this.” Eighteen days after the embassy employee was detained, Ms. Harf could not even say what was this employee’s job at the embassy?!

Typically, the local employees who do work overseas like Mr. Alaiba’s are political assistants or political specialists. These are fairly common jobs in diplomatic missions.  We do want to know what the former DCM, now  Chargé d’Affaires Markc Sievers is doing about the detention of a member of his embassy’s staff?  Yes, he’s Egyptian, and a local employee, and he’s one of ours.  If uncorrected, this could become a dangerous precedent. Anyone who works for the U.S. government in Egypt who talks to MB officials or supporters or other opposition figures could just be thrown into jail without charges or some spurious ones.

In some dark corners of the net, the conspiracy theorists are already busy. This is apparently proof of President Obama’s secret support for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Which just shows how little people know about what our official representatives do overseas.  Our diplomats and local employees talk to host country governments and opposition parties/figures around the globe.  What they learn help inform the decisions that our government makes.  This happens whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. Some of the folks our officials talk to are not very nice, some are corrupt, some would not even think twice about stabbing us in the back. But that’s the world we lived in.  To expect that our government officials should only talk to the government in power is idiotic, that gives us only half the story. It also makes it impossible for our people to do substantial work when the levers of power change hands.  So, do think about that when you hear about these nutty stuff.

Now, can we please have somebody at the podium who wears a hat or sash that says, “Clarity is my name” whether it snows or not?

Excerpt below from the greatest mid-day show in town:

QUESTION: I wanted to start by asking about the Embassy employee in Cairo who was arrested for his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood. First off, what is the reaction of the State Department? What’s being done, I assume, to have him released, if he hasn’t been released already? And then if you could talk a little more broadly about whether or not the State Department or the Administration believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and what this says about dealing with a government in Cairo that is refusing to recognize such a significant part of the population in Egypt.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. So we can confirm that a locally employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy was detained on January 25th and that, as far as we understand, he has been held without charges since then. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt and have requested additional information about his case. The locally employed staff member was detained, I think, over a weekend on January 25th while off-duty, as I think maybe you mentioned.

The United States does not – has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We have been very clear in Egypt that we will work with all sides and all parties to help move an inclusive process forward. We’ve also repeatedly, both publicly and privately, called on the interim government to move forward in an inclusive manner. That means talking to all parties, bringing them into the process. We’re not saying what the future government should look like specifically other than that it should be inclusive. That, of course, includes the Muslim Brotherhood. We will continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there.

QUESTION: So if he was arrested or detained anyways off-duty, is it your understanding he was – he is being detained because of his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood, or was there another reason to your understanding?

MS. HARF: Let me see if we have more clarity on this. I’m not sure we have entire clarity about the reasons for his continued detention. Let me check with our folks and see. Again, I’m not sure if we know exactly why he’s being detained.

QUESTION: Because otherwise, I mean I’m sure other employees at the Embassy are – would be reluctant to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood or any opposition groups that the current government in Cairo seems to not look upon favorably. And –

MS. HARF: Let me see – oh, sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, and so I just wonder, as you say, how the Obama Administration and the State Department is going to continue reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they do that if employees are being arrested and there’s certain penalties that people have to face in doing so.

MS. HARF: Well – yeah. No, it’s – to be clear, I’m not saying that that was the reason for his detention. I would need to confirm that with folks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t heard that, so let me check and see that.

Again, he was a locally employed staff member. Our folks that are on the ground there have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups as well. So let me see two things if I can get a little more clarity about the reason for his detention and also what his job was at the Embassy. I just don’t have all that clarity.

QUESTION: Okay. So would an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo be able to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood? I assume they have been.

MS. HARF: Well, they certainly have been. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: And again, I’m not sure that was the reason for his detention. So before we sort of take this – I’m happy to check and see if we just have some more clarity on that.

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USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

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Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details

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– Domani Spero

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September11-12, 2012 together with Additional Views.  You may read it here. The Armed Services Committee also released six files from the declassified transcripts of the Benghazi briefings here.

The report notes that between 1998 (the year of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and 2012, 273 significant attacks were carried out against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel. In the course of its investigation, SSCI conducted on-the record Member and staff meetings with officials already named previously in news reports and with  the unnamed former CIA Chief of Base in Benghazi who was at the Annex on the night of the attacks and U.S. Government security personnel on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attacks.

Nothing in the findings or recommendations of the Committee was particularly surprising.  The report spreads the blame around not just on the State Department, Defense, the intel community, but also the late Ambassador Stevens for declining twice additional security offered by AFRCOM’s General Carter Ham.   But there are some notable details that we have not seen before:

More specificity about the team that flew to Benghazi:

A seven-person security team (consisting of two DoD personnel, four CIA personnel, and a linguist) flew from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi and successfully helped evacuate the Americans from the Annex to the airport. It is important to clarify that, at the time of the attacks in Benghazi, there were six DoD personnel assigned to Embassy Tripoli. Four employees were under Special Operations Command Africa (SOC-AFRICA) and reported through a similar, but separate, chain of command within AFRICOM. The other two individuals from that team were DoD personnel working (based on a memorandum of understanding) under a separate special operations task force. According to the DoD, the four staff under SOC.,.AFRICA were told by their command to stay to protect Embassy Tripoli due to concerns of a similar attack in Tripoli.

What about State’s Intel Bureau?

Based on the Committee’s review, the State Department’s INR disseminated no intelligence products related to the Benghazi attacks in the year following the attacks. Considering the attacks began on a State Department facility, involved the deaths of two State Department personnel, and were an important indication of escalating threats against U.S. facilities and personnel in the region, the Committee fmds it unsettling that INR chose not to, or was unable to, disseminate any analysis related to the attacks or the implications of the attacks.
[…]
Yet, INR officials have access to State Department information and perspectives that many in the Intelligence Community do not; therefore, INR should play a more active–not just a coordinating-role in analysis for the IC and not just the State Department. The State Department’s Inspector General went even further and found that INR should be the office to produce a comprehensive security assessment for each post based on all available diplomatic and intelligence sources.

Individuals Supporting the Investigation, Killed?

The Libyan Government has not shown the political incentive or will within its own country to seek out, arrest, and prosecute individuals believed to be associated with the attacks. Furthermore, the security environment in Benghazi remains extremely dangerous for individuals wishing to work with the U.S. Government on its investigation into the attacks. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller noted that as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks, underscoring the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya. It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.

Interesting Footnotes!

#18| SSCI Transcript, Hearing on Security Issues at Benghazi and Threats to U.S. Intelligence and Diplomatic Personne/.and Facilities Worldwide Since the Attacks, December 4; 2012, p. 67. However, on page 47 of its classified report, the ARB concluded: “While none of the five DS agents discharged their weapons, the Board concluded that this was a sound tactical decision, given the overwhelming degree to which they were outgunned and outnumbered: A decision to discharge their weapons may well have resulted in more American deaths that night, without saving lives. The multiple trips that DS agents and Annex security team members made into a burning, smoke-filled building showed readiness to risk life and limb to save.“

#65 | The Committee recognizes that there were communications between State Department employees in Libya regarding security during this time period, including an August 22, 2012, document entitled, “Security Requests for U.S. Mission Benghazi” that was sent from OS agents in Benghazi to the RSO in Tripoli that included specific requests for (I) physical security, (2) equipment, and (3) manpower. There is no indication those requests were passed on to State Department Headquarters in the form of a cable.

#68 | An August 28, 2012, memo entitled, “Regional Security Officer Turnover” from the outgoing RSO stated: “U.S.Mission Benghazi has an uncertain future; Post is scheduled to close December 31,2012. Various alternatives are being proposed, including colocating with the Annex. The RSO should be aware that requests for expensive security upgrades may be difficult to obtain as headquarters is hesitant to allocate money to a post that may be closing in a few months.” Classified Report of the ARB, December 18,2012, Appendix 6, p. I.

Wondering why it was necessary to classify #18 and #68 from the publicly available ARB Report? Do you know?

The Senate report in 85 pages long.  The report itself is 42 pages long with its findings and recommendations. The report includes three appendices; as well, there are “Additional Views” attached to the report:  a 5-page one from the Democrats on the SSIC (Senators Feinstein, Rockefeller IV, Wyden, Mikulski, Udall, Warner, Heinrich and Maine Senator Angus King);  a 16-page one from the GOP members of the Committee namely, Vice-Chairman Chambliss and Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio and Coburn and a 4-page statement by Maine Senator Susan Collins who co-authored with then Senator Joe Lieberman the HSGAC 2012 report, “Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi.

So, basically, what they could not agree to put in the body of the report, the SSIC members placed as attachments to their bipartisan work. We expect that the morning shows on Sunday will be populated with politicians talking about their “additional views” on the report.

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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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