Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT

 

The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT

 

According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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Coalition of Civil Rights Groups Seek State/OIG Investigation Into US Embassy Yemen’s Passport Revocations

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and  Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project of CUNY School of Law have submitted Stranded Abroad: Americans Stripped of Their Passports in Yemen to the State Department Office of Inspector General requesting that the OIG investigate the State Department and U.S. Embassy Yemen “for confiscating and revoking U.S. passports contrary to regulations, policies, and guidelines.” 

The groups alleged confiscation and revocation without notice, failure to provide direct return passports upon confiscation, collateral attacks on citizenship/proxy denaturalization, coercive interrogations and inadequate investigations prior to passport revocation.  The complaint named seven officials who were then assigned to the US Embassy Yemen and at the State Department who the groups say are aware of the pattern of revocation and “likely to have information that can assist the OIG’s investigation.” The complaint says that the  “inclusion of their names in this report is not intended to imply that they have engaged in any wrongdoing.” (see appendices)

The letter  (PDF) addressed to IG Steve Linick was sent by civil rights and civil liberties groups that include the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,  American Civil Liberties Union, Arab American Institute, Arab Resource & Organizing Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility at CUNY Law School, Muslim Advocates, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

 

 

Read the 44-page complaint below:

 

A related note, we must have missed this one, Al Jazeera did a piece on this back in January 2014 (See Yemeni-Americans cry foul over passport revocations). Below is an excerpt from that piece with an unnamed State Department official:

State Department official familiar with the issue — and who spoke on condition of anonymity — told Al Jazeera that a majority of the passport revocations in Sana’a follow a similar pattern. “Virtually all of the statements say that the individual naturalized under a false identity,” he said. “They appear to be involuntary.”

According to the official, an internal investigation determined that the statements those revocations were based on were obtained under “confrontational” circumstances, with individuals alone in an interview room with an investigative officer and an interpreter who, the official said, treated their subjects “aggressively.”

“We’re talking about an inherently coercive and intimidating environment, without any independent supervision of the interrogator and his translator,” said the official.

A sample of the alleged involuntary statement is included in the complaint (see Appendix B). If the voluntary statements in these revocation cases are anything like those exhibited in Mosed Shaye Omar v. John Kerry, et.al. this would be a great mess.

Back in November, following the federal court decision in Omar v. Kerry ordering the State Department to return the passport improperly revoked by the State Department, we asked State/OIG about this trend and we were told that the OIG does not have “anything on this issue on which it can comment.” It was suggested that we check with Consular Affairs. And of course, we have previously asked the bureau about this, but we do not really expect them to address this in terms of oversight.

The court documents in the Omar case suggest that Consular Affairs is revoking U.S. passports contrary to the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual. But this is not the only case. If all similar cases have the same threshold as the Omar case, it is deeply troubling not only because the revocation appears not to follow State Department’s written guidance, State also never seek to denaturalized the plaintiff.  Which basically leaves the plaintiff still a citizen of this country  but unable to travel anywhere.

We have been troubled by this practice but particularly by the allegations of coercion. We have had a difficult time understanding why Yemeni-Americans would incriminate themselves voluntarily and admit to something that obviously is detrimental not only to their welfare but also their future.  That defies human nature.

And no, we don’t believe that Consular Affairs is the right entity to review its own practices when it comes to these allegations. We’re hoping that State/OIG will look into this as part of its oversight responsibility of the State Department.

 

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It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells

Posted: 2:24 pm EDT

 

Politico reported on January 25 about the State Dept. watchdog tied to earlier Clinton probe.   Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), described by Politico as a Clinton ally questioned the impartiality of the State Department IG’s office. He was specifically targeting OIG Steve Linick’s senior advisor, David Seide, who according to Representative Israel: “You have a guy who used his former position to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Mrs. Clinton that amounted to nothing, who then continues that work in the State Department. That has fingerprints on it that are just too visible and just lead to all sorts of questions.”

Excerpt below from Politico:

A lawyer overseeing investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices has a history of tangling with the former first lady’s political operation: He was a federal prosecutor involved in a probe that led, a decade ago, to the unsuccessful prosecution of a top Clinton fundraising aide.

David Seide — now the acting senior adviser to the State Department inspector general — gathered evidence that surfaced in the case against David Rosen, the national finance director of Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.
[…]
While Rosen’s trial was a stinging defeat for the government, after Rosen’s acquittal, the committee that arranged the 2000 gala paid a $35,000 civil penalty to the Federal Election Commission and agreed to amend the relevant campaign finance reports to acknowledge more than $721,000 in unreported spending. Such large in-kind donations to a campaign-linked fundraiser were legal at the time, but they were made illegal by the so-called soft-money ban in the McCain-Feingold law passed in 2002.
[…]
Seide appears to have close ties to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and to DiSanto. When Linick gave up his position as IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to join State in 2013, Seide and DiSanto followed him to the new agency.

However, Seide’s résumé doesn’t suggest an anti-Clinton vendetta. After leaving government, he spent a year as an in-house counsel at Morgan Stanley before joining Wilmer Hale, a Washington law firm that has employed many prominent Democrats and former Clinton administration officials.

In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold. The legislation made changes to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to limit the use of “soft money.”

Representative Steve Israel voted in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  So he was for McCain-Feingold before he was against McCain-Feingold?  Here’s the funny thing.  According to Politico, Doug Welty, the State OIG spox said that Mr. Seide was involved in the prosecution of a case in which a Clinton donor was charged with stock fraud, but not the Rosen case.

Chill out! Those prosecutors, they all look the same, hey?

In November last year, senior Democrats also alleged a “fishy connection” between the release of Huma Abedin-related  information and Senator Grassley’s former top investigator, Emilia DiSanto, who is now the deputy inspector general at the State Department. The NYT notes that “Ms. DiSanto worked for Mr. Grassley for years; she joined the inspector general’s office in late 2013, around the time the inquiry into Ms. Abedin began.”

Ms. DiSanto, in an email, responded angrily to questions about whether there was a connection between her and the information that Mr. Grassley had received.

“Any claim that I have communicated with Senator Grassley about State Department nominations is an outright lie,” she wrote. “There is nothing ‘fishy’ about the fact that I once worked for Senator Grassley about five years ago. Indeed, it is quite common for employees of the legislative branch to join the executive branch to continue their public service.”

Senator Grassley’s inquiry originally started with the Special Government Employee (SGE) arrangement involving Human Abedin in August 2013 (see The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up). Senator Grassley said in his letter to Secretary Kerry that he made inquiries on June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013 regarding the State Department’s use of Special Government Employee (SGE). We’re not complaining, by the way, that Senator Grassley is looking into this issue. We’d like to know how other State Department employees can get permission to hold three other jobs concurrent with their federal jobs.  Some friends have mortgages, others have kids in college, car payments, student debts, etc…. so an additional job or two would be really helpful.

In any case, Emilia DiSanto was appointed Acting Deputy IG on October 1, 2013 to succeeded Harold Geisel, the Deputy IG who served as OIG boss for the last five years while the State Department did not have a Senate-confirmed Inspector General.  Ms. DiSanto was with the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office for two years prior to her move to the State Department.

In 2004, during her work at the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. DiSanto reportedly met with Food and Drug Administration whistleblowers about their concerns that widely used antidepressants were linked to suicidal behavior among teens. According to the WSJ, the scientists told Ms. DiSanto that they believed the agency and companies were ignoring or suppressing that information. Shortly thereafter the senator held the first major congressional hearing on a drug safety issue in years.  They later turned their attention to “medical devices, specialty hospitals, the antibiotic Ketek, ghostwritten medical papers, the FDA’s criminal division, its drug division, its veterinary division and, most notably, the diabetes drug Avandia.” See more here (PDF).

In late 2005, she survived an attack by a man who repeatedly struck her with with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat. Reports say no evidence points to DiSanto’s work on the Finance Committee as the cause for the attack, but sources say there are a number of clues that suggest it could be since the assailant “was trying to hide his identity, wearing a hood and black gloves. He also did not make any demands before attacking the 49-year-old staffer. A working assumption among investigators is that he was waiting for her to arrive home.” She reportedly returned to work a week after her attack, and continued to work at the Senate until 2011 when she left and moved to FHFA/OIG.

David Seide was appointed Counselor to the Inspector General on October 18, 2013.  Previously, he served for almost three years as Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency.  His title was later changed to Acting Senior Adviser to the Inspector General at the State Department.

Both Ms. DiSanto and Mr. Seide worked with Mr. Linick when he was inspector general at Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). We should note that they worked with the RMBS Working Group and the New York Attorney General’s Office in support of the investigation and prosecution of RMBS fraud cases. In November 2013, when all three have already moved to the State Department, their old office, FHFA/OIG with the Justice Department and other state and federal entities secured a record $13 billion global settlement with JPMorgan for misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages.  They did the jobs they were supposed to do there.

Now they’re doing the jobs they’re supposed to be doing at the State Department.

And some politician is trying to convinced us that they are at fault for doing their jobs by peddling “all sorts of questions” and citing  “fingerprints.”

Mr. Seide is one of the two team leaders and 10 OIG staffers who looked into the Department of State’s FOIA Processes for Requests Involving the Office of the Secretary (PDF).  Is the good congressman from New York also digging up the backgrounds of the 10 OIG staffers involved in that project? That is, by the way, a distressing report to read but nobody asked how come no one had ever done this review before? What happened to the OIG during the Clinton tenure? What’s that? There was no Senate confirmed IG during that entire tenure?

Too bad, there was no IG with major brass balls before now to look under the rugs.

We do think that the real target of these allegations of bias is Mr. Linick. Because, hey … if his closest aides are political sleeper cells, who somehow manage to lay low in the bureaucracy and a decade later they turned the screws at their first opportunities, then by golly, he must be, too!  And if you can smear the messengers badly enough, then, of course, all those reports his office issued and will issue in the future can simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan.

This is predictable babble and the good congressman from New York and friends must now find a vomitorium so they can throw up all this crap.

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But…you mean…diplomacy works? #ImplementationDay #IranPrisonerSwap

Posted: 5:57 pm EDT

 

 

In related news:

And just a few days ago:

Diplomacy is under appreciated because it is often misunderstood.  But when it works, it beats the alternative.

 

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#BurkinaFaso Attack: Gunmen Storms Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou

Posted: 6:52 pm EDT

 

BBC is reporting that two car bombs went off outside the Splendid hotel at around 19:30 local time (same as GMT) in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Masked men have reportedly stormed the Splendid Hotel, which is used by UN staff and westerners, witnesses said. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims credit for ongoing attack and there are reportedly hostages according to media reports.

The French Embassy in Ouagadougou says that the incidents happened this evening around 20:30 at the Splendid Hotel, frequented by westerners.  The embassy notes on Twitter that the curfew has been extended from 11 pm to 6 am. It also says that an  Air France flight from Paris-Ouagadougou on Friday night was diverted to Niamey, Niger.

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted that it is aware of what is happening and that it is following closely the ongoing situation in downtown Ouagadougo. It has also instructed embassy personnel to avoid the downtown area.

 

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US Embassy Jakarta: Shelter In Place On After Explosions Rock Indonesia’s Capital

Posted: 2:20 am EDT

 

 

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@StateDept Gears Up For Counterterrorism Messaging in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa

Posted: 12:45 am EDT

 

Last year, the State Department told us that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  Following the departure of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the State Department appointed Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in February 2015. Mr. Hussain previously served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Less than a year into his tenure as CSCC coordinator, Mr. Hussain left State to join the Department of Justice (see Another Coordinator Gone, What’s Next For the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?).

Last week, the State Department announced the revamping of its counter-violent-extremist communications efforts (see @StateDept Announces Michael D. Lumpkin as Head of New Global Engagement Center).

A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes the following items on countering foreign fighters and violent extremist organizations. It provides 1) funding to counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate including partnership with governments and multilateral organizations; and 2) reduction of public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization through engagement and public messaging campaigns.

SEC . 7073.
(a) COUNTERING  FOREIGN  FIGHTERS AND  VIOLENT EXTREMIST  ORGANIZATIONS .—Funds appropriated under titles III and IV of this Act shall be made available for programs to—

(1) counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate, including those entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Public Law 82–814), including through programs with partner governments and multilateral organizations to—

(A) counter recruitment campaigns by such entities;
(B) detect and disrupt foreign fighter travel, particularly at points of origin;
(C) implement antiterrorism programs;
(D) secure borders, including points of infiltration and exfiltration by such entities;
(E) implement and establish criminal laws and policies to counter foreign fighters; and
(F) arrest, investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate terrorist suspects, facilitators, and financiers; and

(2) reduce public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations, including FTOs, by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization, including through such activities as—

(A) public messaging campaigns to damage their appeal;
(B) programs to engage communities and populations at risk of violent extremist radicalization and recruitment;
(C) counter-radicalization and de-radicalization activities for potential and former violent extremists and returning foreign fighters, including in prisons;
(D) law enforcement training programs; and
(E) capacity building for civil society organizations to combat radicalization in local communities.

Below is the State Department’s FY2016 request (PDF) which includes an Overseas Contingency Operations Request for International Information Programs (IIP) for $6 million. Here is part of the request and justification:

The Department faces unprecedented and unanticipated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program requirements, including countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The FY 2016 OCO Request for IIP activities supports increased organizational capacity to expand counterterrorism messaging in the key languages of Arabic, Urdu, Somali and English during hours of peak activity in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

  • Dedicated ISIL Content Group ($700,000): The request includes $700,000 for editorial content to produce and translate content specifically addressing ISIL. Resources will support production and translation of new content for Anti-ISIL efforts without sacrificing production on other enduring priorities.
  • U.S. Speakers Office ($400,000): The request includes $400,000 to dispatch U.S. speakers on short notice to engage key foreign audiences in specific target countries on emergent issues. IIP would partner closely with the relevant regional or functional bureau(s) to identify both the target countries and key audiences for each issue. In addition, IIP would leverage the expertise of these speakers through other types of programs, particularly virtual interactive discussions.
  • Digital “special forces” platform development team ($600,000): The request includes $600,000 to support formation of a team that has the capacity and ability to rapidly execute time-sensitive projects. This team of five, including one designer, two front-end developers, one back-end developer/engineer, and one production manager, would have the capacity to handle three to four concurrent projects.
  • Outreach Program ($750,000): The request includes $750,000 for outreach programs targeting non-governmental international partners in order to extend the reach of the Anti-ISIL campaign with a broader range of messages and messengers. Some of these would reach new audiences; others might have greater credibility with existing audiences. The Department currently lacks the capacity to perform the outreach necessary for such an effort. Funding would also support training to staff at posts in order to boost their capacity to conduct counter-messaging and outreach to foreign partners and contacts.
  • Digital Products ($1 million): The Department has several in-house audiovisual producers, but lacks the technical resources to produce original footage, complex animation, or mobile- phone/tablet applications. Extremist adversaries, including ISIL, exploit all of these techniques to garner recruits and support their operations. The request of $1.0 million supports augmentation of existing in-house production of mash-up videos and stand-alone banners with original films, animated clips and mobile apps. Because each of these genres would require significant up-front investment in production facilities and professional expertise, the funding will support commissioned products from proven leaders in the field.
  • Social Media Analytics ($650,000): Social media analytics can inform and shape content to make it relevant and engaging to target audiences. This new and evolving business practice can make the Department’s public diplomacy materials more effective and improve the Department’s ability to create policy content that is informed by data. The Department currently has access to only the most minimal tools for surveying and analyzing the social media environment. The Request includes $650,000 for a competitive suite of tools that would add value across the various platforms where the Department is active.
  • Liaisons ($600,000): The Department coordinates broadly across the interagency and with international partners. The request includes $600,000 for 3 dedicated positions (FTEs or equivalent), possibly in the form of reimbursable detailees, with the sole purpose of synchronizing and optimizing operations for maximum effect against the adversary.
  • Integrated Analysis ($1.3 million): The Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Integrated Analysis section (CSCC/IA) is currently minimally staffed by two Intelligence Community officers and two Department of State civil servants. The request includes $1.3 million to ensure CSCC work is informed by intelligence and coordinated with the work of the rest of the Interagency; measuring effectiveness; and managing research into emerging counter-radicalization and messaging trends and best practices. CSCC’s increased operational tempo related to the President’s 3-year plan against ISIL and the effort against violent extremism in general, necessitates additional personnel and resources. Three reimbursable detailee billets are needed to be filled by intelligence analysts from National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense of National Intelligence Open Source Center, to ensure the highest-quality all-source intelligence support to CSCC planners and Digital Outreach Team operations. Additional funds are needed to research operations-applicable best practices and emerging technologies in the areas of counter-radicalization and target audience messaging.

 

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Snapshot: Number of “T” Visa Applications, FY2005-2014

Posted: 12:24 am EDT

 

Via DHS/OIG:

Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-386). Among other provisions, the Act created the T nonimmigrant status (T visa) to provide temporary immigration benefits to foreign nationals and aliens who are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons.  To be eligible for a T visa, victims must (a) be in the United States on account of trafficking; (b) face extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed; and (c) with two exceptions, comply with reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the acts of trafficking.

USCIS data on trafficking victims were limited to foreign national victims who had applied for T or U nonimmigrant status. This included individuals who had entered the United States legally as visitors, temporary workers, or others without lawful status.8 According to USCIS data, fewer than 1,000 foreign national victims applied for T visas each year from 2005 to 2014. Figure 3 shows a steady increase in T visa applications for this timeframe. However, this number remains small in comparison with the estimated hundreds of thousands of human trafficking victims in the United States, and is far below the 5,000 T visas that Congress sets aside for human trafficking victims every year.

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As depicted in table 1, our analysis of USCIS data from October 1, 2005, through September 2, 2014, showed that 3 percent of T visa applicants were minors while 61 percent were between 30 and 49 years old. T visa applicants were evenly divided by marital status and almost equally divided in terms of gender. Further, 41 percent of T visa applicants were from three Asian countries. The Philippines had the highest number of applicants (20 percent), followed by Mexico with 16 percent. Most T visa applicants did not report the method by which they entered the United States, although 10 percent self- reported they had no lawful status at the time of application. While the information pertains only to those victims who applied for T visa status, it does shed some light on the characteristics of foreign national victims and their origins, and could be useful in identifying human trafficking activity.

 

US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit

Posted: 2:19 pm EDT

 

 

On January 4, two attacks were directed at USG personnel in Afghanistan (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  On January 5, the “I survived this yesterday, took a photo and then quit my job” thread went live on Reddit with user DanDalVlan, an Air Traffic Controller contractor in Afghanistan who survived the VBIED attack of a USG site near the Karzai International Airport.

He opened his Reddit thread with “Make money, they said. See the world, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 1706 points 1 day ago 

It was worth it, at first.  Even after the first attack I went through, it was worth it. After this, though? Nope. Big fucking nope. My entire room imploded around me in a surreal blur of glass and brick. If I had been standing instead of laying in bed, I wouldn’t be typing this. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 4895 points 1 day ago* 

Sorry, I forgot to put the story up. I was living at the compound that got attacked by a Taliban VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that was inside of a very large truck. It rendered our compound pretty much useless. Luckily, we had no fatalities with mostly minor injuries (myself included). 

I was working as an Air Traffic Controller out there. The country of Afghanistan doesn’t have the infrastructure to control their own air traffic, so it is contracted out and I was one of those contractors.

Edit I’m editing this just to say that I’m falling behind on answering questions, but I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

2nd Edit I’m officially failing in my attempts to answer questions and reply as fast as they come in. Sorry if I have missed anyone.

3rd Edit I’ve tried replying to all the questions I could find. I’ve gotta stop now though so I can pack my dirty and glass-covered clothes and get on this flight out of here. I’ll try to respond more when I land. permalink

He was asked about how successful the Taliban has been in attempting to influence the region.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 3171 points 1 day ago

I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good source when it comes to that type of information. We live a VERY sheltered life. We go from secure facility to secure facility, with absolutely zero time spent amongst the local nationals. Unless things like this happen, we hear about stuff at about the same pace as the rest of the world, and with the same twists and biases. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. permalink

He was asked if entertainment is imported?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 250 points 1 day ago

Yes, luckily we were still able to get mail. I had quite the collection of board games that my friends and I would play. Then there’s internet/youtube, it’s extremely slow, but better than nothing.permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 261 points 1 day ago

We had booze.I’ll just leave it at that. permalink

He was asked about his Top Ten Favorite Boardgames.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 2 points 22 hours ago

Top 10 in no particular order: 1. Smash Up 2. Revolution 3. Catan 4. Ticket to Ride 5. Kingdom Death: Monster 6. Risk Legacy 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill 8. Rebellion 9. Munchkin 10. Dixit. I don’t usually like games that are “work together” games. They can usually just be played single player and they usually end up with one person “in charge” anyways. permalink

Another user said his relative was in Afghanistan as an air traffic controller about 5 years ago and didn’t think he ever ran into anything such as this though. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 102 points1 day ago

It’s been getting slowly worse ever since the “official” pullout last year. Usually the winter time is the quietest time since it’s very cold. This year, however, they have been unexpectedly active. permalink

One Reddit user write the question in the American public’s mind: what we are are trying to achieve in a country long known as the graveyard of empires.  “How will Afghanistan come to control their own air traffic in the future if US contractors are doing it all? Is there movement towards Afghanis ever taking it over? Is the US working towards that end, or is this about supplying Americans with jobs? I’m trying to understand what it is we’re trying to achieve there.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 58 points1 day ago

Short answer is yes, we are working towards that. We are currently training a handful of Afghanis. However, they have to learn English as well as all the complicated rules governing ATC. They will not be completely taking over anywhere in the foreseeable future. permalink

He was asked how close he was to the VBIED that blow up the compound”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 150 points 1 day ago

My room was the closest room to it for our building. Probably about 200 feet.permalink

Somebody wanted to know if the bomb ruptured his ear drums?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 26 points 23 hours ago

No, I kind of felt it coming before anything else and I opened my mouth to avoid having my eardrums pop. permalink

Another user cited a most appropriate use of this video: NSFW Lyrics

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 181 points 1 day ago

That was absolutely amazing and almost entirely accurate. The only difference being that I didn’t really have much of anything left to grab. I’m just glad I have renter’s insurance. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 122 points1 day ago

I have my ID and passport and some clothes. Everything else is pretty much toast. I’m most sad about my boardgame collection.

He was asked if it is “good pay for risking your neck?”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 193 points1 day ago

It was before, now it’s not even close. To be clear, the pay didn’t change, my perspective did. permalink

One Reddit user says, “I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but your still probably in shock from it all, but remember, PTSD is real. I strongly recommend, when you are ready, a therapist. Someone who you can brain dump it all out. Everyone handles near death experiences differently. I was a medic, and addict/alcoholic, and I am one of those whom never got help, and it nearly killed me. I don’t mean to impose any fear or anxiety on you, I just say from personal experience.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 11 points21 hours ago

That’s actually why I did this. So I could share and talk about it.permalink

The Reddit post was submitted on January 5.  It currently has 2605 comments, and 5,867 points (96% upvoted). The photo submitted in the aftermath of the attack is here.

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According to SIGAR, since 2004, FAA—primarily through the Office of the Transportation Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—has received $56.5 million from State and USAID to train Afghan civil aviation personnel, assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in developing its regulatory regime, and improve Kabul International Airport’s infrastructure and services. There’s more:

Due to difficulties associated with developing Afghan capacity for managing the civil aviation system, FAA officials and coalition forces concluded that effective future operation of Afghan airspace would require the development of a third-party contract for providing airspace management services. Accordingly, in 2013, FAA and coalition forces assisted MOTCA in preparing a contract that included provisions requiring the contractor to train Afghan personnel, similar to the structure of the Afghan-centric aviation security contract.
[…]
The United States planned to transition airspace management responsibilities back to the Afghans at the end of 2014, but, partly due to a lack of certified air traffic controllers, that did not occur.[…] Due to the potential for air service disruption, the Department of State funded an interim, DOD-managed contract for $29.5 million to provide the services through September 2015. If a follow-on contract is not awarded before this contract expires, the United States could be called on to fund another interim contract.

 

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