State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in Georgia

Posted: 1:41 pm EDT
Updated: 8:09 pm PDT

 

A State Department employee based at the U.S. Embassy in London  was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is now facing charges of interstate threats, computer fraud, wire fraud, and cyberstalking. The employee identified by news reports and court documents as Michael C. Ford reportedly has a home in Alpharetta, Georgia but has worked at the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009. Typical State Department assignments are normally 3 years, sometimes with one-year extensions. The complaint does not say what work Ford has done at Embassy London or his category of employment.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that the individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service.  She also said that as of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy.
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The Affidavit (pdf) executed by Eric J. Kasik, Special Agent of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) says that on or about April 2015, DSS began investigating a target, later determined to be a U.S. Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford (“FORD”), for allegedly engaging in a computer hacking, cyber stalking, and extortion.  We should note that the affidavit is intended to show that there is sufficient probable cause to support the complaint.

According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Diplomatic Security “identified the specific State Department computer that is located at a workstation cubicle located in the U.S. Embassy in London. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in London told me that the only person who sits at that workstation cubicle and uses that computer is Michael C. Ford. FORD is a U.S. citizen who has worked as an Embassy employee in London since 2009.”

Item #25 on the complaint reiterates what folks already know — that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in any communications or data transiting or stored on the information system of the State Department.

DSS computer specialists have apparently obtained copies of specific documents or files that were allegedly stored on the employee’s computer in London. Court documents cited one document as example: “a spreadsheet that appears to summarize some of FORD’s more recent criminal activities. Along the far left hand column of the spreadsheet is a list of account names for approximately 250 e-mail addresses.” Special Agent Kasik says that “DSS agents have determined that several of the accountholders appear to attend the same college in Indiana, where they belong to the same sorority. One is a 17-year-old. This leads me to believe that FORD may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S.”

The alleged MO is described in item #16 of the Kasik affidavit:

16. The target initially sent Jane Doe Two an e-mail message to her Google e-mail account, posing as a Google representative and claiming that Jane Doe Two’s Google e-mail account was going to be deleted unless she provided her password. Jane Doe Two provided her password, as directed. The target then apparently hacked into Jane Doe Two’s Google account, presumably using the stolen password. He then obtained, presumably from Jane Doe Two’s hacked accounts, two or more private photographs of Jane Doe Two of a sexual nature. He also obtained other PII about Jane Doe Two, including her first and last name, her address, where she worked and went to school, and her parent’s first and last names and e-mail addresses. The target then sent Jane Doe Two several threatening e-mail messages to her Google e-mail account. He admitted that he had obtained sexual photographs of Jane Doe Two and sent her the photographs as proof. He then demanded that she provide her current home address and her parents’ contact information and other PII. He warned her that, if she refused, he would e-mail the photographs of her to a list of others, listing the first and last names of several of her acquaintances. The target also threatened to post her photographs online.

The affidavit is available here (pdf) via patch.com/georgia.

WSB-TV2 Atlanta reports that Ford will be in federal court in Atlanta today for a bond hearing and that his attorneys declined to comment at this point in the case.  Click her to read the report via AP.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

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SFRC May 20 Hearings: Delawie (Kosovo), Kelly (Georgia), Pettit (Latvia), Raji (Sweden), Noyes (Croatia)

Posted: 12:09 am EDT

 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will hold confirmation hearings on May 20 for ambassadorial nominees for Kosovo, Georgia, Latvia, Sweden and Croatia.

The fellowship of the tortoise SFRC held confirmation hearings on March 10 (see Nominations), March 25 (see Nominations), and May 19 (see Nominations). So far, it had only cleared cleared 6 Foreign Service lists on March 26 (see Business Meeting); all were cleared by the full Senate on March 27.  The SFRC is currently scheduled to take up 10 ambassadorial nominations and five FS lists on Thursday, May 21st.

Here’s what’s up for Wednesday, May 20:

Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Time: 02:30 PM
Location: Senate Dirksen 419
Presiding: Senator Johnson

The confirmation hearing video will be online here when available.

Witnesses

  1. Gregory T. Delawie
    Of Virginia, To Be Ambassador To The Republic Of Kosovo
    (see Certificate of Competency: Delawie, Gregory T. – Republic of Kosovo – March 2015)
  2. The Honorable Ian C. Kelly
    Of Illinois, To Be Ambassador To Georgia
    (see Certificate: Kelly, Ian Crawford – Georgia- March 2015)
  3. Nancy Bikoff Pettit
    Of Virginia, To Be Ambassador To The Republic Of Latvia
    (see Certificate: Pettit, Nancy B. – Republic of Latvia – October 2014)
  4. Azita Raji

    Of California, To Be Ambassador To The Kingdom Of Sweden
    (see WH announcement of nomination dated October 23, 2014; political appointee, no Certificate of Competency posted on State Department website).

  5. Julieta Valls Noyes
    Of Virginia, To Be Ambassador To The Republic Of Croatia
    (see Certificate: Noyes, Julieta Valls – Republic of Croatia – April 2015)

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Benghazi Select Committee to Interview 60 Additional Witnesses, Are You On the List?

Posted: 2:38 am EDT

The Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attacks in Benghazi released an Interim Progress Update on May 8, 2015. Below is an excerpt from the report including an item on its intent to call mid-level managers from the State Department:

 

  • In the coming months, an additional 60 witnesses representing current and former officials and employees from the State Department, the White House and the Intelligence Community will be interviewed.
  • The Committee is nearing the end of its first round of interviews with State Department employees. Information obtained from this first round of interviews has raised additional questions of current and former State Department officials. Upon completion of these interviews, the Committee will begin a second round of interviews with additional State Department employees. This second round of interviews will consist of mid-level managers at the Department, many of whom were and are responsible for making day-to-day decisions and implementing the policy that is set by State Department leadership.
  • The Committee also intends to interview current and former senior State Department officials. These officials include Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin, Susan Rice and Patrick Kennedy, among others.
  • [T]he Committee intends to interview former White House and National Security Staff personnel regarding their roles in the events prior to, during and after the Benghazi attacks. These individuals include former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, former Deputy Strategic Communications Advisor Ben Rhodes, former National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor, and former Director for Libya on the National Security Staff Ben Fishman. None of these individuals have previously testified before Congress regarding their role in and including knowledge of the events prior to, during or after the Benghazi attacks.
  • Beginning in June, the Committee intends to interview current and former Department of Defense employees about their role in the response to the Benghazi attacks. These individuals include Secretary Leon Panetta, General Martin Dempsey and General Carter Ham, among others.

The 11-page update is available to read here (pdf).

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Photo of the Day: Little Andrew Evaluates Secretary Kerry’s Haircut

Posted: 2:01 am EDT

 

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

17627487688_74414c3bc5_z

Secretary Kerry Holds 8-Month-Old on Shoulders After Addressing U.S. Military and Diplomatic Personnel at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds 8-month-old Andrew Belz on his shoulders as he poses with the children of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel following a speech to them at the Yongsan Army Garrison amid a visit to Seoul, Republic of Korea, on May 18, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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Burn Bag: All are watching to see if the Inspector General caves to pressure …

Posted: 1:15 am EDT

 

Via Burn Bag:

“OIG inspects NEA post and blasts FO leadership. Retaliations ensue. FO says post is too sexy these days for OIG to print what they found. All are watching to see if IG caves to pressure.”

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OIG: Office of Inspector General
IG: Inspector General
FO: Front Office
NEA:  The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. diplomatic relations with Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Regional policy issues that NEA handles include Iraq, Middle East peace, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and political and economic reform.

US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center

Posted: 1:02 am EDT

 

Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post.  The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff.  The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”

The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this —  there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.

And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ” 

A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:

The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires

Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection.  The OIG inspectors write:

The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.

Some other good news:

1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey.  3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.

Now for that American Center boondoggle: 

According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062).  The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation.  But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.

A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
[…]
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
[…]
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

We were able to locate the embassy announcement of the new American Center from April 2012.

Welcome to the new American Center.  In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen.  It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect.   It will not be your traditional cultural center.  This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program.   It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar.  I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
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As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible.  VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen.  Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
[…]
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe.  We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center.  While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free. 

This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the  2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?


I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies

The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014.  At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:

[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.

Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?

As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.

The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.

No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center

According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.

A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.

Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):

  • Twenty-five 46-inch televisions ($21,500) and six 70-inch televisions ($24,600).
  • A motorized theater curtain system ($7,150).
  • Twenty iMacs ($22,935), 16 HP TouchSmarts ($14,247), 20 Wii stations ($4,230), 20 Apple TVs ($1,920), and 10 iPods ($1,790).
  • Fifty home theater chairs ($26,600).
  • A replica of the Seattle Space Needle, painted wall mural, and totem pole ($4,810).
  • Decorations, including more than a dozen fish and turtle sculptures ($5,400).


Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?

The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:

No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.

Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding

The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation.  Who signed them out? Who approved these loans?  What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”

As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.

Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.


Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?

Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:

The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.

Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection.  The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.

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Related item:

ISP-I-15-20A Inspection of Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar | May 15, 2015  

 

US Embassy #Burundi Announces Evacuation Flights From Bujumbura to Kigali For May 17

Posted: 8:06 pm PDT

 

The State Department announced today the availability of evacuation flights for U.S. citizens in Burundi departing on Sunday, May 17, from Bujumbura to Kigali, Rwanda. Like all evacuation flights, American citizen passengers are expected to sign a promissory note promising to later reimburse the U.S. government for the cost of the evacuation.

22 U.S.C. 2671(b)(2)(A) provides that “Private United States citizens or third-country nationals, on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable, with such reimbursements to be credited to the applicable Department of State appropriation and to remain available until expended, except that no reimbursement under this clause shall be paid that is greater than the amount the person evacuated would have been charged for a reasonable commercial air fare immediately prior to the events giving rise to the evacuation.” (via FAM – pdf)

Below is an excerpt from the US Embassy Bujumbura announcement:

The U.S. Department of State wishes to inform U.S. citizens interested in departing Burundi that we are planning charter evacuation flights for Sunday, May 17, from Bujumbura, Burundi, to Kigali, Rwanda. Those wanting to travel should plan to arrive at Bujumbura International Airport no later than 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning. After that time we cannot guarantee you a flight.

The cost will be approximately $620.00 per passenger. Please note that you will be asked to sign a form agreeing to reimburse the U.S. government for your evacuation costs. As indicated in the May 15 Emergency Message, this option is open only to U.S. citizens and their immediate family members. There is a luggage allowance of 20 kilograms per traveler. Pets may be allowed on a case by case basis, provided they have a veterinary certificate, kennel (cage), and will be carried in the cargo hold of the aircraft. The weight of the pet in the kennel will count against the 20 kilograms per traveler. In addition, travelers should be prepared to pay $30 in cash for a Rwandan visa upon arrival in Kigali.

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura requests U.S. citizens who plan to use this option to depart Burundi to contact us at BurundiEmergencyUSC@state.gov to confirm your plans and obtain additional flight information, even if you already contacted us to express your interest.

The Embassy also asks U.S. citizens who are not in possession of a valid U.S. passport and who may need emergency passport services in order to leave the country to please contact the Consular Section at BujumburaC@state.gov or 22-20-7066 or 79-95-1666 with their contact information. Emergency consular services will be available at the Embassy between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.

You can alert us to U.S. citizens affected by the situation in Burundi, including yourself, by visiting https://tfa.state.gov/ccd, selecting “2015 Burundi Unrest” and providing as much information as possible. You can also contact us at 1-888-407-4747 (From the United States and Canada), +1-202-501-4444 (From all other countries), and email BurundiEmergencyUSC@state.gov if you have additional questions or concerns.If you are currently in Burundi and do not have the ability to access the internet or send email,you may contact the Embassy’s consular section at +257-22-20-7000.

Read more here: http://burundi.usembassy.gov/em51615.html

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Related items:

Burn Bag: If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?

Posted: 10:31 am EDT

Via Burn Bag:

“If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?  What if it crushes a local national contractor working on a USG facility— will anyone mention the man’s death, or can we expect radio silence as usual?  It’s becoming clear that no one back home really cares about what’s going on over here….it’s like 2004 all over again.”

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009. Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick

Note: “T-Walls” or Texas barriers can reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet. According to army.mil, t-walls of the larger variety became symbols of life in Iraq although several variations of shapes and sizes also abound around Iraq.  Read more here.

 

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

Posted: 9:46 pm  PDT

 

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

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

by-map bujumbura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 10:36 am PDT

 

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

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

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

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

More updates via Twitter:

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