Required Reading on Hostage Cases: And when not/not to write, “Please enjoy your day!”

Posted: 3:39 am EDT

Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of eight books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which spent eight weeks on The New York Times best seller list and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.  Last month, he wrote a piece about the civilian effort to save the five ISIS hostages.

Excerpt:

The State Department appointed Carrie Greene, in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, to be a liaison with the families. She seemed impatient with their independent investigations. “You really shouldn’t be talking to these terrorists,” she warned. “It’s against the law.” Viva Hardigg responded, “Excuse me, Carrie, but we are well acquainted with U.S. laws, and if someone you love is being held by terrorists, with whom else should you talk?” Greene ended her e-mails with “Please enjoy your day!”

When Peter Kassig was kidnapped, his parents got a call from a State Department official. Paula recalls, “She basically said, ‘We know your son has been taken in Syria. We don’t have an embassy in Syria. We don’t have people on the ground in Syria. We don’t have a diplomatic relationship with them, so we can’t do anything to help you.’ ” In May, 2014, the families had a joint meeting with Daniel Rubinstein, a special envoy appointed to handle affairs in Syria. “He was nice, but when we asked how to contact him we were told not to e-mail or phone him,” Diane Foley says. In order to talk with him on the phone, the families had to travel to a local F.B.I. office, so an agent could dial Rubinstein’s number for them.

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Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies

Posted: 12:28  am EDT

Via GAO:

Terrorism and violent extremism continue to pose a global threat, and combating them remains a top priority for the U.S. government. State leads and coordinates U.S. efforts to counter terrorism abroad. State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism was elevated to bureau status in 2012 with the aim of enhancing State’s ability to counter violent extremism, build partner counterterrorism capacity, and improve coordination. GAO was asked to review the effects of this change and the new bureau’s efforts.

While the bureau has undertaken efforts to assess its progress, it has not yet evaluated its priority Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program and has not established time frames for addressing recommendations from program evaluations. Specifically, the bureau established indicators and targets for its foreign assistance–related goals and reported results achieved toward each indicator. The bureau has also completed four evaluations covering three of its six programs that resulted in 60 recommendations. The bureau reported having implemented about half of the recommendations (28 of 60) as of June 2015 but has not established time frames for addressing the remaining recommendations. Without specific time frames, it will be difficult for the bureau to ensure timely implementation of programmatic improvements. In addition, despite identifying its CVE program as a priority and acknowledging the benefit of evaluating it, the bureau has postponed evaluating it each fiscal year since 2012.

image from gao.gov

image from gao.gov

The bureau’s number of authorized FTEs grew from 66 in fiscal year 2011 to 96 in fiscal year 2015, which is an increase of more than 45 percent. Figure 6 shows the number of authorized FTEs within the bureau for fiscal years 2011 to 2015, along with the number of FTE positions that were filled. While the bureau’s current authorized level of FTEs for fiscal year 2015 is 96 positions, it had 22 vacancies as of October 31, 2014. The percentage of vacancies in the bureau has ranged from 17 percent to 23 percent in fiscal years 2011 to 2015. According to the CT Bureau, these vacancies have included both staff-level and management positions.

In addition to the authorized FTEs, the CT Bureau also has non-FTE positions, which include contractors; interns; fellows; detailees; and “When Actually Employed,” the designation applied to retired State employees rehired under temporary part-time appointments. For fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, the CT Bureau had 92, 78, and 69 such positions, in addition to its authorized FTEs, according to the CT Bureau.

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Related item:

State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations | GAO-15-684 | pdf

 

Terrorist Attacks Rock France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three Countries. Three Continents. All Soft Targets.

Posted: 4:41  pm EDT

 

Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait today. At least 37 people including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisia, one person was reportedly decapitated in France at a US-owned factory, and at least 25 people were killed at a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kuwait. Three countries, three continents and  all soft targets.
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The US Embassy Paris released the following security message on 

The U.S. Embassy in Paris informs U.S. citizens that a terrorist attack took place at approximately 10 AM today at a U.S.-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Isere, France, southeast of Lyon, at a large industrial park. One person was killed and two others were reported injured. None of the deceased or injured was a U.S. citizen. The motivation for the attack is unknown, and one suspect is in French government custody.   The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Following the January 2015 terrorist attacks, the Government of France raised the “Vigipirate” level and continues to evaluate its security posture on a regular basis. Up-to-date information is available on the “Vigipirate” website in French.

 

Under this system, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe.

 

U.S. citizens in France are encouraged to remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places, or any other suspicious activities, to French law enforcement authorities. French authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

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The  US Embassy in Tunis released the following  message:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia around the Kantaoui area at the Imperial Riu Marhaba and Soviva hotels in Sousse.   The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Kantaoui area and surrounding vicinity. The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants.

U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur.  Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security.

Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.  In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.  Also, travel to either border should be avoided if possible given the periodic security incidents along the border regions.

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The US Embassy in Kuwait issued this: Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City – Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

The embassy also released a statement calling the explosion “a senseless terrorist attack on worshipers in the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque”, condemning the attack and says that “the United States stands ready to assist our friend and ally Kuwait in any way possible.”
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Below is the WH statement on the three attacks:

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US Embassy N’Djamena Imposes Travel Restrictions on Embassy Staff After Suicide Bombings in Chad

Posted: 2:40 am  EDT

 

On June 15, the U.S. Embassy in Chad temporarily closed to the public due to reported explosions in the capital city.  All American citizens and their families were advised to shelter in place and not to travel around town.

 

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Late Monday, Embassy  N’Djamena released the following security message informing American citizens in the country of travel restrictions imposed on embassy personnel following the suicide attacks in the capital city:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Travel Restrictions and Security Review – June 15, 2015

Due to the bombings in N’Djamena on Monday, June 15, U.S. Embassy personnel are required to travel in armored vehicles and are restricted from traveling after dark to public places such as bars, restaurants, and markets. U.S. citizens are encouraged to review the Travel Warning for Chad, and to remain alert for potentially dangerous situations. U.S. citizens should avoid locations frequented by foreigners, including shops, restaurants, bars, and places of worship.

U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution throughout the country, and maintain vigilance in daily affairs, even when visiting familiar locations.

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US Embassy Cairo: Local Guard Arrested on Terrorism Charges Without Prior USG Alert

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

 

The Daily Beast:

“An embassy official confirmed to The Daily Beast that 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the mission in downtown Cairo. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.

Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill.”

 Additional details from Daily New Egypt:

The reports claim that State Security prosecution accuse Ali of being a commander with a militant group, the Helwan Brigades, and participating in 13 attacks, including the bombing and burning of a Helwan court.

However, activists who have been documenting a wave of forced disappearances by the Egyptian security authorities in the past two weeks shared an account of a man named ‘Ahmed Amin Suleyman’, 44, who is claimed to be a staff member at the embassy. Suleyman reportedly had his house raided on 25 May, but he was not at home. The following day, Suleyman fell out of contact – 12 days before the reported arrest of ‘Ahmed Ali’.

Following his disappearance, his wife received a phone call informing her that her husband had been arrested. Family members went to the local Helwan police station, but were informed that Suleyman was not there. The family submitted a 1 June telegram to report his disappearance and request support, a copy of which was seen by Daily News Egypt.

VOA reported on June 10 that Egyptian security forces have arrested dozens of activists ahead of a general strike planned for June 11, part of what the activists describe as an unrelenting crackdown on dissent. There are also reports of forced disappearance cases believed to be abductions by security forces.

Local nationals working for our embassies overseas are often targets, especially in repressive countries.  We can’t know this early if these are real charges or if this is a case of a targeted arrest for some other reason.  There’s a lot we don’t know here.  We just hope our congressional reps would refrain from running around with their hair on fire when they read this news.  We should give our government a chance to verify the basis of these Egyptian charges before we hold one more outrage hearing on security failure.

What should be most concerning is the fact that the Government of Egypt apparently had enough evidence to arrest this individual on terrorism charges, but did not provide prior warning to the U.S. government. Why?

Let’s see — we give Egypt  $1.3bn in annual military funding, and no one bothered to pick up the phone to alert the embassy about this alleged terrorist working at the mission? That’s some kind of partnership we have there.

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Dear Consular Affairs, This Is Giving Us Sorta Kinda Nightmares

Posted: 12:24 am EDT

 

An assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs told Congress in 2003 that “the Department of State’s visa work abroad constitutes the “forward based defense” of the United States against terrorists and criminals who seek to enter the country to harm us.” 

In 2012, the deputy assistant secretary for visa services told Congress, “We are the first line of defense in border security because the Department is often the first government agency to have contact with foreign nationals wishing to visit the United States” (pdf).

We get that, and then you read about embassy officials who all had full-time duties elsewhere in the embassy serving as consular officers.  Some of them who apparently had no experience with consular work performed consular functions according to the OIG inspectors.  No consular experience? We wonder if that means first tour officers who went through the consular course but serving in a non-consular function at post, or does that mean embassy officials with no prior experience but hopefully, at least, with Con-Gen light training? Folks might read this and scream like … but that is such a small consular operation.  Well, that’s true enough.  But like they say, the bad guys only have to succeed once, and we know that they are trying mighty hard every day.

Via State/OIG inspection report of US Embassy Antananarivo (pdf):

The small consular section provides the full range of consular services, and Department end users express satisfaction with the work of the section. The embassy processed 1,579 nonimmigrant visas in FY 2014. Demand for immigration from Madagascar and Comoros to the United States has been low historically. Between FYs 2009 and 2014, the embassy issued on average fewer than 35 immigrant visas each year. The consular staff noted that few citizens of Madagascar and Comoros have taken advantage of the Diversity Visa Program that Congress created to diversify the sources of immigration to the United States. In 2013, the consular staff started publicizing the Diversity Visa Program in Madagascar and Comoros. More than 21,400 Malagasy submitted entries for the program in 2013, three times the number who applied in 2012.

The consular section chief position experienced a gap of 8 months from December 2011 to August 2012 because of a voluntary curtailment by the previous consular officer. The embassy assured the Department that backup officers at the embassy could cover the gap. Several different officers served as consular officers during that period, but all had full-time duties elsewhere in the embassy and some had no experience doing consular work. Because the amount of consular work in Antananarivo was low, the Department accepted the backup assurances as acceptable and decided not to send any officers on temporary duty assignment during the 8-month gap.

When the current consular section chief arrived, he discovered several problems with consular management controls. The backup officers had not done the daily accounting for consular cash receipts from April to August 2012, a management control vulnerability that the consular section chief reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The consular section chief also learned that one of the backup officers was attempting to use consular funds to pay for a nonconsular trip to Comoros and to purchase equipment, such as iPads and four flat-screen televisions, that were ostensibly for use in the consular section but in fact were meant for use elsewhere in the embassy. The current consular section chief stopped those inappropriate expenditures of consular funds and reconstructed the consular cash records for the 8-month period. He did not find any discrepancies in accounting for the consular cash. However, this incident highlights the fact that consular management controls can go awry even in small consular operations, especially when no full-time consular manager is present. The embassy gave assurances to the Department that an officer who headed another section could serve concurrently as consular section chief for 8 months. The Department needs to consider carefully the credibility of such assurances when evaluating options for filling staffing gaps.

The consular section chief has had discussions with the Bureau of Consular Affairs about the fact that his consular workload does not require a full 40 hours per week. Officials in the Bureau of Consular Affairs suggested that the consular section chief could volunteer to take on other duties in the embassy. During the inspection, in consultation with the OIG inspection team, the chargé d’affaires designated him as the backup Comoros reporting officer.

We doubt that these gaps or occasionally, the temporary closures of consular section when the sole consular officers are away from their posts had to do with money, since the CA bureau certainly has tons of that. So we’re wondering if this has more to do with poor planning.  If not, well, what is it?
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Well, now …

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Snapshot: Bureau of Counterterrorism (State/CT) Proposed Organizational Structure

Posted: 1:53 am EDT

Via GAO:

Terrorism and violent extremism continue to pose a global threat, and combating these at home and abroad remains a top priority for the U.S. government. In 2010, the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), conducted at the direction of the Secretary of State, highlighted these global threats and, among other actions, recommended that State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism be elevated to bureau status. According to the 2010 QDDR report, the elevation of this office to a bureau would enhance State’s ability to, among other things, counter violent extremism, build foreign partner capacity, and engage in counterterrorism diplomacy. In addition, the report stated that the bureau’s new status would enable more effective coordination with other U.S. government agencies.

Proposed State/CT Org Structure

Proposed State/CT Org Structure (click image for larger view)

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Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Bureaucratic Bang! Bang!

Posted: 1:18 am EDT

 

“The fate of the CSCC just underscores the difficulty of experimentation in government — there is zero tolerance for risk and no willingness to let a program evolve. […] “It’s easier to do the same stuff over and over and wring your hands instead of investing resources and having patience.”

Daniel Benjamin
Former State Department CounterTerrorism Chief
Source: WaPo in In a propaganda war against ISIS, the U.S. tried to play by the enemy’s rules | May 8, 2015

 

Video clip via WaPo:

Marco Rubio Borrows Liam Neeson’s Strategery — Hunt, Find, Kill. Rinse and Repeat ∞

Posted: 11:24 pm EDT

 

We could not stop watching this gem.  We would like to suggest that the good senator hire a dramatic coach. His tone is just not/not menacing enough. And the delivery is lacking some … some real  habanero.   We tried to imagine this on a SOTU address and it’s just … no, can’t do.  Frankly, we don’t scare easily. And if he can’t scare us enough, how will he scare the living daylights out of global jihadists and terrorists? Attention @FearDept, more help over there!

 

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U.S. Embassy Uganda Warns of Possible Terrorist Threats to Western Interests

Posted: 9:15 pm PDT

 

Via U.S. Embassy Kampala, March 25, 2015

The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon.  Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days.  U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.

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