Category Archives: Visas

State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues

– Domani Spero

 

Yesterday, we posted about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  During the Daily Press Briefing, yesterday, the State Department officially stated that it believed the root cause of the problem was “a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility issues.” According to the deputy spokesperson, the servers are getting back online but that they are coming back in a queue and that fixes are not being done on a country-by-country basis. And by the way, it’s not just the peak summer travel season, there’s also the Africa Summit in D.C. next week.

“Obviously, there’s actually a huge crush right now because of the Africa Leaders Summit, so obviously that’s a huge priority for us to make sure everybody gets their visas for the Africa Leaders Summit. We do believe that a vast majority of the travelers who have applied for visas for the summit have been issued.”

CA’s FB folks have been regularly answering questions from angry complaints posted on its Facebook page and have announced that they will continue to monitor and respond to consular clients at 9:00 EDT tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Late yesterday, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also posted a new Frequently Asked Questions on Facebook and on its website (not easily accessible from the main visa page) concerning the CCD performance issues and the steps taken to address those issues. Perhaps the most surprising is that its back-up capability and redundancy built into the CCD were both affected killed by the upgrade that hobbled the system.  Something to look forward to by end of calendar year — CA is upgrading the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software and that plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems. We are republishing the FAQ in full below.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 12.07.05 AM

Information Regarding Ongoing Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Performance Issues and Steps Taken| JULY 30, 2014

The Department of State continues to work to restore our visa system to full functionality.

We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity.

We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, including adoption cases.  So far, we have been able to issue most cases with few delays.

Nearly all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What caused the system performance issues?  Hardware, software, or both?  Details?

On July 20, to improve overall system performance and address previous intermittent performance issues, we updated software as recommended. Our database began experiencing significant performance issues shortly after this maintenance was performed.

A root cause has not been identified at this time.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.  Once that has been accomplished, resources will be applied to determine the root cause.

Q:  What steps did we take to mitigate the performance issues?

Since July 20, our team has worked to restore operations to full capacity.  On July 23, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) was brought back online with limited capacity.

The Department of State is working with Oracle and Microsoft to implement system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing ongoing performance issues.

We are incrementally increasing the number of processed cases as our systems will allow.

Q:  Has the Bureau of Consular Affairs experienced these types of outages in the past?

CA has experienced minor outages in the past, but never of this magnitude.  We have a plan in place to mitigate these occurrences in the future.

Q:  Is the software to blame?  Are contractors at fault?  Why was this allowed to happen?

We have been working to improve our services through upgrades while maintaining existing operations worldwide.  However, we are limited by outdated software and hardware.

Q:  Why did those steps not work?  What’s the next step?

We have not determined why the problems occurred.  We are working with our contractor and the software vendor to address the problems.

We are bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.

Q: Why wasn’t there a back-up server?

There was back-up capability and redundancy built into the system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.

Q: What steps are being taken prevent this from happening again?

CA has a plan in place to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software by the end of the calendar year.  We are working to ensure the existing system will remain fully functional until the new database is up and running and thoroughly tested.  The plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems.

Q:  If CA is fee funded, why can’t it build a robust database that doesn’t fail?

The database has grown dramatically, in both quantity of data and functionality, and vastly improved border security.  In addition to checking names against databases, we review fingerprints and perform facial recognition.

We are working towards modernization of our software, hardware, and infrastructure.  Demand for our services outpaced our modernization efforts.

Consular Affairs has, and has had, a redundant system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.  This is one of the issues we are urgently addressing now.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a passport applicant?

Almost all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a visa applicant?

Visa applicants they can expect delays as we process pending cases.  We remain able to quickly process emergency cases to completion.

We are working urgently to correct the problem to avoid further inconveniencing travelers.

We are posting updates to the visa page of travel.state.gov, and our embassies and consulates overseas are communicating with visa applicants.

In addition to communicating through our websites, e-mail, and letters, we are also reaching out to applicants via Facebook and other social media sites, such as Weibo, to relay the latest information.

Q:  Why hasn’t the Department been more forthcoming until now?

We have experienced CCD outages in the past, but they have never disrupted our ability to perform consular tasks at this magnitude.

We informed the public as soon as it was apparent there was not a quick fix to bring the CCD back to normal operating capacity, and are briefing Congressional staffers regularly.

Q:  What is the outlook for Non-immigrant visas?  When do we estimate the backlog will be processed?

That will depend on a number of factors.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.

We must also continue processing new requests.  We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible, but we want applicants to know that we will continue to be operating at less than optimal efficiency until the system is restored to full functionality.

Q:  Is the Department going to reimburse applicants who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?

We sincerely regret any delays, inconvenience, or expense that applicants have may have incurred due to the CCD performance issues.

While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand.  Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas.

The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees.  The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.

Q:  What impact will this have on SIVs?

We have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel.  We are committed to helping those who have helped us.  While issuances of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis have been impacted, as have visa issuances around the world, SIV processing continues and remains a high priority.

Q: How is this impacting student visas?  They are scheduled to start the fall semester soon.

We are committed to issuing visas to all qualified students and exchange visitors.  Issuance of student and exchange visitor visas has been impacted in the past few days, but visa processing continues.

We understand the importance to international students and exchange visitors, their families, and their U.S. host institutions of timely visa issuance in order to facilitate travel and to ensure all students and exchange visitors may begin their programs on time.

Q: What about situations where the student won’t arrive to school on time?

Students should contact their educational institution’s Designated School Official (F and M visas) or designated U.S. sponsor’s Responsible Officer (J visas) and discuss with them what arrangements they can provide for you to begin your program after the start date on your Form I-20 (F and M visas) or Form DS 2019 (J visas), should such a circumstance become necessary.

Q:  Will this have any impact on the Diversity Visa program in September?

While issuances of all immigrant visas, including diversity visas, have been impacted in the past few days, IV processing continues and remains a high priority.  The Department expects to have used all numbers for DV-2014 when the program year ends on September 30, 2014.

Q:  What impact do we anticipate this will have on the U.S. economy?

Tourism and students have a major impact on our economy.  Last year, it was estimated that international visitors spent $180.7 billion and supported 1.3 million American jobs.  International students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the Department of Commerce.

We recognize the significant impact that international travel and tourism has on the U.S. economy, and are taking all possible steps to ensure that the economic impact is minimal.

People traveling under the Visa Waiver Program are not affected at all; nor are those whose previously-issued visas remain valid.

We routinely advise applicants needing new visas to make appointments well in advance of their planned travel, and not to book their travel until they have their printed visas in hand.

The original post is available here.  If CA is reading this, it would be helpful if a link to the FAQ is posted on the main visa page of travel.state.gov and in the News section.  We were only able to find the FAQ from a link provided in Facebook and not from browsing around the travel.state.gov website.

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

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Burn Bag: Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via Burn Bag:

Our post is in the top 5 for IV, NIV, and ACS cases, with dozens of ELOs, and yet we have some of the worst senior level and mid-level managers I have ever encountered in the Foreign Service.  Our Consul General is a walking stiff who shows her face once every six months, half of the consular management seems to suffer from tone deafness and do not realize how poor morale is or how unpopular they are for their mismanagement.  Where are the good, or at least decent, consular managers?

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

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U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit

– Domani Spero

Oh, the stuff you can do these days with energy and imagination.  The U.S.Consulate General in Toronto did a Reddit AMA last week, answering questions on visas and Amcit services. While the AMA response was modest, we believe this is the first time a consular post did an AMA on Reddit. USCG Toronto processes over 500 nonimmigrant visas a day. In 2008, Consulate General Toronto already had the largest NIV section in Canada.  The inspection report at that time noted that about half of all new immigrants to Canada chose the greater Toronto area for their place of residence.

USCG Toronto, Canada Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

USCG Toronto, Canada
Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

Below is an excerpt from the  AMA conducted by  FSOs, Nausher Ali, Visas Chief  and Kathryn Porter,American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto:

Greetings Reddit!
We are U.S. Foreign Service Officers from the Consular Section of U.S. Consulate Toronto, and we want to answer your questions about non-immigrant visas and U.S. citizen services! We’ll give as much information as we can in order to help you understand how we work. Hopefully, this conversation will help you be better prepared for a visa interview and/or allow us to help you more efficiently if you are a U.S. citizen living or traveling abroad.

Please note, we are UNABLE to talk in detail about specific cases or “pre-adjudicate” your specific case. We also cannot answer questions on immigrant visas for this particular thread. Any questions that deal more with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will either not be answered or we will link you to their relevant websites for more information. Finally, we cannot answer questions about life in the U.S. Foreign Service for this thread either. There are already a few other threads that do that quite well! That said, we’ll try to respond to as many of your questions as possible!

Our team that is answering your questions consists of the following people:

•Nausher Ali, Consul and Visas Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

•Kathryn Porter, American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

Victoria from reddit will be here with us today as well. Ask Us Anything!

https://twitter.com/usconstoronto/status/479355253007998976

Edit: Thank you everybody for your questions. We really enjoyed this today. Sadly, we have to take off. Happy travels!

 

Questions include topics such as H1Bs, asylum, discrimination, moving, immunity, moving to Canada, Spain vs Chile. Somebody wanted to know the officers’ favorite snacks!  Answer:”Poutine! Mission Canada! How could you NOT like Poutine? I like sautéed mushrooms on mine” and “timbits.” No, timbits are  not/not doughnut holes!

Here are some of the Qs asked and answered:

Q: What’s the actual intention for visa interview? I mean it hardly last for not even a minute.

Nausher: Visa interviews do usually last a few minutes because the consular officers are well-trained in quickly determining whether or not the applicant is eligible for a visa. Once they’ve determined that, there’s no reason to continue the interview. Here in Toronto we interview more than 500 people a day.

Q: Questions: How can a person aged 18-19 get an internship with an office like this? Sounds interesting for the experience and Can you explain what you guys/gals do there all day?

Nausher: we actually have an intern program for both American interns and Canadian residents. Most US Embassies and Consulates have a page that talks about their internship program, including ours. And here’s the link. The work depends on what section the internship is in. But typically a lot of interns will get to experience a lot of variety during their internship because a lot of what we do varies from day to day. For example, today we’re conducting an “Ask me Anything.”

Kathryn: And what we do all day depends. Every embassy has multiple sections, including political, economic, consular, public diplomacy, and management. Officers in each section do various activities to advance US interest and work together with the host country towards shared goals.  And for our internships, it’s all over the place. We are more likely to get people from international relations, political science.

Nausher: but we are always looking for different backgrounds. Most of our interns are local kids – we have 4 Canadian interns across 3 separate units. We are just looking for enthusiasm and interest in working at a diplomatic mission.

Q: I heard law of land does not apply inside the embassy. Is that true?

Nausher: It’s very complicated and really a question for a lawyer, but we are still on Canadian territory, but consulates and embassies are guaranteed certain immunities and protections under the relevant Vienna Conventions.

Q: If you were a character in George R R Martin’s books, what house would you choose to belong to, and why?

Kathryn: I feel like in Canada, it has to be House Stark! Winter is always coming! This is specific to Mission Canada. Here in Mission Canada we would be House Stark.

Q:  What’s your opinion on Mayor Ford?

Nausher: Mayor Ford has gotten a lot of attention here and internationally. But as foreign diplomats in Canada, it’s not our role to comment on domestic politicians.

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US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”

– Domani Spero

 

State/OIG has just posted online its inspection report of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The mission is headed by career diplomat, Ambassador Michael H. Corbin and DCM Victor Hurtado who both arrived in July 2011.

Below are some of the key judgments extracted from the publicly available report:

  • The Ambassador’s focus on business development as the mission’s primary goal has contributed to an increase in U.S. exports and created a favorable image in business circles for both the Ambassador and the embassy.
  • Front office support for the bilateral military relationship has strengthened that valuable tie. The Ambassador has been a key facilitator in gaining the release of U.S. military equipment for the United Arab Emirates, including through effective congressional testimony.
  • The Ambassador’s focus on commercial promotion has de-emphasized other important U.S. interests, such as law enforcement and illicit finance that agencies at the mission are working to advance. The Ambassador received below average scores on every leadership category in OIG questionnaires.
  • The United Arab Emirates’ strategic location and stable environment has led to an expansion of U.S. Government agencies at the embassy, without a corresponding increase in management support positions. The National Security Decision Directive 38 process is not accomplishing its purpose of subjecting proposed staff increases to careful review.
  • The embassy’s Defense Support Division contract merits comprehensive review. Issues include cost, standards of service, possible expansion, duration, and the contract’s heavy reliance on mission assistance.
  • Demand for consular services at both Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai has mushroomed in recent years. Both are making progress transitioning from small-scale to medium-sized, high productivity operations. Frequent requests for special handling of routine visa cases from the front office and other parts of the mission impede this process.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, September 3–23, 2013, and in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, between October 19 and November 7, 2013. Ambassador Marianne Myles (team leader), Michael Hurley (deputy team leader), Alison Barkley, Beatrice Camp, Roger Cohen, David Davison, Shawn O’Reilly, Keith Powell II, Richard Sypher, Joyce Wong, and Roman Zawada conducted the inspection.

Below are additional details that need a highlighter:

Staffing Quadrupled in Last 10 Years

Staffing for Mission UAE, which consists of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, has quadrupled from 80 to 325 Americans in the last 10 years. More than 30 non-Department of State (Department) offices and agencies are present in country, and the mission houses 14 regional offices that cover the Middle East and other areas. The chancery is less than 10 years old but faces major space and infrastructure challenges. By 2017, the mission may also need to provide management support for 90 or more FMS personnel now supported by a private contractor that runs the Defense Support Division (DSD).

Mission UAE supported 1,605 temporary duty visitors and 63 VIP visitors in 2012, and the heavy visitor workload takes a toll on staff morale. All locally employed (LE) staff members are third country nationals, many from South Asia.

Mission Morale Is Poor

Morale and the housing program received the lowest scores on OIG questionnaires by a wide margin. Many complaints are caused by Abu Dhabi and Dubai being understaffed in management sections, lengthy initial stays in temporary quarters, and the location of the Al-Reef housing compound. Understaffing has a cascading effect on housing maintenance, personnel, and financial services, and subsequently on morale. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not hardship differential posts but do receive a 25 percent cost of living allowance.

This is the second inspection conducted by State/OIG in less than 5 years. In the OIG inspection of 2010, the report noted a major challenge in  managing the unique and complex task of supporting one of the world’s largest foreign military sales accounts, amounting to some $15 billion. According to this latest OIG report, that contract is now valued at $34 million over 5 years. It appears that the challenge has not abated. Excerpt below:

Defense Support Division Contract 

Embassy Abu Dhabi and the Department determined that the existing ICASS support platform could not handle a large and rapid influx of FMS personnel and in 2011 created the DSD platform to augment embassy services. The DSD contract provides traditional ICASS administrative support services to approximately 90 FMS personnel; most of them arrived in 2012 and 2013. That number is expected to increase. The contract is for approximately $34 million over 5 years. The UAE Government pays for the contract. The embassy is responsible for overseeing it.
[…]
According to a March 2011 memorandum of understanding between the embassy and the Department of Defense, the Ambassador is responsible for ensuring that the quality, quantity, and cost of support provided by the contractor matches the support provided to embassy staff through ICASS. The Ambassador is also responsible for reviewing performance standards to assess the services provided by DSD. At the time of the inspection, no cost audit had been planned or performed.
[…]
Extensive interviews with staff indicate that embassy leadership and staff members do not fully understand the DSD support arrangement. The embassy has received no firm estimate of the numbers of future FMS personnel who will need support, where they will be located, and what support they will require. The Department has received personnel projections and estimates, but has not shared them with the embassy.

The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector. (Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

Dubai Air Show 2013 | The air show has already made huge news with multiple announcements of civil aviation deals between the U.S. and #UAE topping $100 billion. These record contracts underline the partnership and the already strong bonds that exist between the U.S. and the UAE overall and in the commercial/private business sector.
(Photo via US Embassy UAE/FB)

 

Visa Referrals Violations

The steady stream of inquiries from other parts of the mission for updates and special handling of otherwise routine visa cases hampers efforts in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai to provide efficient services for all consular clients and are in direct violation of Department regulations. The OIG team observed many examples of these inquiries via phone and email during the inspection. 

Pressure to handle routine nonimmigrant visa cases in a special or expedited fashion has the effect of slowing down the entire standard process in both locations, undermining cooperation and trust between the consular sections and other parts of the mission, and creating an appearance of impropriety. Responding to these inquiries, often from multiple sources relating to a single case, distracts consular chiefs from managing the day-to-day operations of the sections. These inquiries are being made in violation of 9 FAM Appendix K, which permits advocacy only through a formal referral process. Both consular sections should familiarize all staff with this policy.

 

Psst — A Special Mention on Gifts

Embassy Abu Dhabi has not designated a gifts officer or standard operating procedures for disposition of gifts, as required by Department regulations. Per 3 FAM 4122.1, the gifts officer is the embassy management officer. Because gifts are used and disposed of in accordance with Department regulations governing property management and disposal, management offices often delegate this role to the general services office. The absence of a clear standard operating procedure for gifts disposition places gift recipients at risk of ethics violations.

 

Goodbye to All That — MEPI, R&R Travel Benefit

The State/OIG report recommends that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) close the Middle East Partnership Initiative regional office in Abu Dhabi.  Apparently, in October 2012, the UAE government directed MEPI to end all grants within the country. With the suspension of grants in the UAE and increased restrictions elsewhere, the OIG team questions the justification for a regional MEPI office in Abu Dhabi. State/OIG notes that closure of the MEPI office would save approximately $1.5 million.

State/OIG also recommends that the Bureau of Administration eliminate the rest and recuperation travel benefit for personnel posted in Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai. Elimination of R&Rs would save $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel cost.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are non-differential posts, which normally would not qualify them for rest and recuperation travel. In May 2012, the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Allowances analyzed hardship differential questionnaires from embassies and consulate generals worldwide. It used a 12-point scoring system to determine rest and recuperation eligibility. One-hundred eighty-one missions were recertified as eligible. Another 23 missions not receiving a hardship differential, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, were examined further using the 12-point scoring system. This analysis determined that neither Abu Dhabi nor Dubai was qualified. Abu Dhabi met the rest and recuperation criteria for only 2 of the 12 factors (climate and unusual personal hazards), and Dubai for only 3 (climate, unusual personal hazards, and communicable diseases). The allowances office recommended to the Assistant Secretary for Administration that Abu Dhabi and Dubai cease the authorization of rest and recuperation travel. 

The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs countered this decision with memoranda from Abu Dhabi and Dubai detailing social/cultural/gender isolation, geographic isolation, climate, health conditions, and similar issues. Inspectors noted that, with the exception of climate, the post report for the United Arab Emirates addresses none of these elements. The Bureau of Administration concurred with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and retained rest and recuperation travel for Abu Dhabi and Dubai.   A review of the rest and recuperation destinations indicates that Dubai remains a “regional rest break” location for employees based in Kabul. There is no justification for continuing this benefit for employees assigned to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. In FY 2013, the mission spent $260,000 on rest and recuperation travel. 

 

Front Office Leadership and Management

The report says that its most significant recommendations concern needed leadership in establishing clear priorities for the whole mission and managing growth. But there are other stuff, too. Excerpt on front office leadership and management below:

DCM Gets a Nice Mention

The DCM is respected for his sound judgment, fairness, and ability to resolve issues. He has sought to clarify the Ambassador’s goals and objectives and help section chiefs and agency heads understand them. He is engaged and has hands-on knowledge of almost every issue and problem, with one person stating what many expressed in different ways: he is the “glue that holds the place together.” Senior staff members express appreciation for his open-door policy and the access it provides.   Nevertheless, the DCM needs to focus greater attention on LE staff support, mentoring of first- and second-tour employees, housing, mission expansion, office space, and the DSD contract.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Up

The Ambassador has accomplished much in support of the President’s National Export Initiative. He has made significant contributions to increased U.S. exports to the UAE as evidenced by his nomination for the 2013 Charles E. Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development. He interfaces with Fortune 500 firms and has won particular praise for the assistance he has provided to smaller companies that are less certain of how to conduct business in the region. Heads of agencies with significant trade and business advocacy responsibilities characterize the Ambassador as the most engaged chief of mission with whom they have ever worked. The Ambassador has been a key player in promoting government-to-government economic dialogue and receives high marks from the local American Chamber of Commerce for including private-sector considerations at that forum. He attends dozens of trade shows and assemblies. He is generous in introducing newer U.S. companies to UAE officials.

Chief of Mission  — Thumbs Down

The Ambassador has not focused sufficiently on his staff and the internal workings of the embassy. In OIG-administered questionnaires, his staff rated him below average in every leadership category. Segments of the embassy community, including first- and second-tour employees and LE staff, feel under-supported. Staff members reported their belief that the Ambassador does not spend enough time in the embassy and is disengaged from the community. Both Department and non-Department staff members assert the Ambassador does not have a full grasp of the mandate of their office or agency. Several employees reported that the Ambassador has never visited their offices. These factors, as measured by OIG’s questionnaires and confirmed by OIG interviews at the embassy, contribute to poor morale. A systemic analysis of the underpinnings and potential impacts of these concerns is beyond the scope of this inspection. However, these results suggest the need for a more methodical review.
[…]
The Ambassador’s focus on business has left other elements of the mission somewhat adrift. Law enforcement, illicit finance, civil society, human rights, and other policy concerns receive relatively little attention. The law enforcement working group met only once in 2013, and no agenda or minutes are on file. There has been no formal illicit finance working group since the arrival of the Ambassador and the deputy chief of mission (DCM), despite the presence of more than five agencies with responsibility for sanctions, money laundering, and similar programs. The front office needs to pay greater attention to this cluster of issues.

Pesky Stuff — Leading by Example

Speeding Fines | “One result of the Ambassador’s frequent trips to Dubai and his crowded schedule is a large number of speeding fines on his vehicle. The mission has asked the host government to reduce or eliminate these fines in both Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s jurisdictions. This practice is contrary to Department and mission policy.”

Inappropriate Use of USG Resources |  “The Ambassador has requested that Consulate General Dubai pay personal expediting services with the consulate general’s government credit card for his convenience. Though he reimbursed all personal expediting services, he benefited from the corporate rate and inappropriately used government resources for personal purposes.”

In 2010, the OIG report on UAE said that then COM Richard Olson (now ambassador to Pakistan) and DCM Douglas C. Greene both scored “a perfect five (on a scale of one to five) on the OIG “leadership qualities” confidential survey among non-Department agency heads before the inspection.”  Links to both reports are listed under related items.

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Related items:

-05/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi and Consulate General Dubai, United Arab Emirates (ISP-I-14-11A)  [468 Kb]

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-62A – Inspection of Embassy Abu Dhabi & CG Dubai, United Arab Emirates – June 2010 

 

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Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?

– Domani Spero

We last blogged about the US Consulate-related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in February 2014. The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate (see US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso).

On April 22, SpyTalker Jeff Stein has Murders in Juárez in Newsweek with disturbing allegations.

David Farrington, a U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) service agent, has been vexed by a troubling question for the past several years. He has reason to suspect a colleague deliberately failed to warn an American working at a U.S. consulate in Mexico that she was targeted for assassination by a drug cartel.

Farrington, a former Marine and 10-year veteran of the State Department’s security service, was the first agent to get to the scene of the March 13, 2010, Juarez murders—another car carrying a consulate employee was attacked as well—and caught the case, as they say in police lingo. But his revulsion quickly turned to consternation, and then obsession, when he began asking questions about the whereabouts of the consulate’s chief security officer that day. Eventually, he was taken off the case, according to State Department emails obtained by Newsweek, relieved of his badge and gun, and ordered to undergo a psychological fitness review. But he hasn’t given up.
[...]
Documents show that the Juarez case was just one of a slew of episodes in which investigators charged that senior State Department officials deep-sixed investigations to protect careers or avoid scandal. In June 2013, CBS News aired a report by John Miller, a former FBI chief spokesman, based on an internal IG memo citing instances in which “investigations were influenced, manipulated or simply called off” by senior department officials.

Ugh! More allegations of nasty bizness here.

According to NYT, that OIG report became public “as a result of a civil suit filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”

For more of that case, see Higbie v. Kerry, Dist. Court, ND Texas 2014.

On June 10, 2013, the DOJ lawyers representing Secretary Kerry filed a Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents (Doc. 79) — that OIG report. Court doc explains:

These alleged improperly-obtained documents relate to the Office of Inspector General’s (“OIG”) inspection of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) offices. Defendant contends that these documents are privileged and irrelevant. Additionally, Defendant argues that these documents are not related to the Dallas Resident Office; rather, these documents concern the “policies, resources, and management controls of the DS office that conducts criminal investigations worldwide.”

However, on March 14, 2014, the District Court of Texas granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and denied as moot Defendant’s Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents saying that “The court reviewed the alleged improperly-obtained documents and determined that nothing contained in the documents would change its ruling regarding Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The last time we checked, State/OIG still has that CBS charges on deep-sixed investigations “under review.” In November 2013, State/OIG put out an ad for one senior investigative counsel for complex/sensitive allegations.  This latest allegation may put that review on the front burner.

(Also see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal)

The Newsweek report says that “Farrington’s bosses quietly returned his badge and gun. Nothing more was said about his FFDE, but his applications for a new assignment—even in the most unpopular places—have all been turned down.”

But it also says that Cary Schulman, a Dallas lawyer who has represented Farrington (also Higbie and Fedenisn) had faxed over 100 pages of internal emails and other materials related to Farrington’s case to the House oversight and Senate foreign relations committees.

Let’s see what happens.

On April 24, DOJ announced that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, aka “Benny,” “Farmero,” “51,” “Guero,” “Pecas,” “Tury,” and “86,” 35, of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Barrio Azteca Lieutenant who ordered the March 2010 murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, was sentenced  to serve life in prison.

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US Consulate Kentucky Offers Diplopundit a Green Card Lottery Visa in ALL CAPS, and Wrong Font!

– Domani Spero

We just got this ‘Congratulations! You Won the Green Card Visa Lottery‘ email purporting to originate from the State Department.

Yup, not just from the State Department but from the United States Consulate in Kentucky.  In ALL CAPS. And in wrong font.  You dolts!  Didn’t you get the memo?  12 pt Times New Roman!

In exchange for “a processing fee” of $890 – $1420, the U.S. lottery visa that we apparently “won” also includes free tickets to — the United States. How do we claim this prize and free ticket if we’re already in the United States? We desperately needed a vacation and would like tickets for Hawaii. We were going to call the phone number provided to inquire (offer says do not email because they’re “busy”) but the country code says +66. Mr. Googles says that country code belongs to Thailand.  And here we thought US Consulate Kentucky is in the land of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

Don’t you just want to head to Thailand for spring break, find U.S. Consulate Kentucky’s Secretary General Brooke and punch him in the face?

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

So below is the U.S. Consulate in Kentucky, USA with a phone number in Thailand headed by a Secretary General who uses an email without a .gov.  Kidding aside, if you don’t want to be a fraud victim, read this one:  Diversity Visa Program Scammers Sending Fraudulent Emails and Letters.

Apologies for inflicting an ALL CAPS post on our readers but doing this as a PSA:

 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 

NATIONAL- VISA- CENTER 32  ROCHESTER  AVE,

PORTSMOUTH , NH 0358801-2  USA 

CASE- NUMBER::FRC 55865663318AA

PREFERENCES- CATEGORIES:-  (DV DIVERSITY)
FOREIGN- STATE -CHARGEABILITY

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE AMONG THE LUCKY SELECTED WINNERS OF THE U.S. GREEN CARD EMAIL BALLOT LOTTERY PROGRAM OF THE 2014 EDITION .

DETAILS.
THIS E-MAIL BALLOT VISA- LOTTERY- PROGRAM WAS INNOVATED ON 2ND OF MARCH BY- USAFIS, THIS IS THE 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM AND ITS DESIGNED TO BE HELD EVERY YEAR, THE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROGRAM IS TO GIVE FREE- VISA’S TO CITIZENS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WHO WISHES TO TRAVEL TO U.S AND START A NEW LIFE AND WORK.

IN THIS INNOVATED PROGRAM, NO -REGISTRATIONS WERE BEING MADE OR REQUIRED AS THE PROGRAM WAS BEING CONDUCTED THROUGH COMPUTER DRAW SYSTEM OF E-MAIL RANDOM EXTRACTIONS FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEBSITES.

IN THIS 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM, TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE (225) U.S- VISA’S WERE RELEASED AND 6.3 MILLION E-MAIL ADDRESSES WERE EXTRACTED FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEB-SITES DURING THE 33-DAYS EXTRACTION PERIOD THAT RAN  FOR FINAL SELECTION, ALL EXTRACTED EMAIL ADDRESSES WERE ASSIGNED TO DIFFERENT TICKET NUMBERS FOR REPRESENTATION AND PRIVACY FOR FINAL- SELECTION THROUGH COMPUTER- DRAW- SYSTEM.

YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS ATTACHED TO TICKET- NUMBER (564002-188) DREW -THE LUCKY- NUMBER’S WHICH SUBSEQUENTLY WON YOU THE U.S VISA AND WE ARE SENDING THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION- DIRECTLY THROUGH THE- SELECTED- WINNING E-MAIL ADDRESS WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU RECEIVE THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION IN YOUR MAIL BOX THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED- AMONG THE LUCKY- WINNER’S.

APPROXIMATELY ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE (155) LUCKY- SELECTED- WINNER’S HAD BEEN NOTIFIED- THROUGH THEIR SELECTED E-MAIL ADDRESSES- INCLUDING YOU TODAY

YOUR VISA- WINNING -IDENTIFICATION- CASE -NUMBER IS (FRC55865663318AA) NOTE THAT YOUR VISA- WINNING IDENTIFICATION CASE NUMBER IS YOUR PIN CODE TO CLAIMING YOUR VISA.

DISQUALIFICATION,
ANY -SELECTED- LUCKY- WINNER FROM THE SOME COUNTRIES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED, THIS IS BECAUSE EACH HAS MORE THAN 50,000 CANDIDATES IN THE U.S:-

BASIC- QUESTION.
HOW CAN I MAKE THE CLAIM OF MY VISA?
YOU WILL OBTAIN YOUR VISA THROUGH THE- U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE AND NOTE THAT THE U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE WILL NOT ATTEND TO YOU WITHOUT YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS OF WHICH TO ACCESS YOUR VISA WINNINGS THROUGH THEIR NETWORK DATABASE.

OUR VISA PROCESSING AGENTS HAD BEEN APPORTIONED AMONG SIX GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS, ALL SELECTED LUCKY WINNER’S WILL NEED TO ACT ON THEIR CLAIMS APPLICATIONS QUICKLY BEFORE THE VISA CLAIM EXPIRATION DEADLINE(30TH APRIL 2014)

FOR YOUR- VISA- FORM AND REQUIREMENTS,CONTACT OUR ASIA/PACIFIC/MIDDLE EAST -AGENT VIA THIS CONTACT DETAILS,  NAME: MRS DONNA WHITE 

E-MAIL:  ussdc@america.hm
E-MAIL:  usavisa@linuxmail.org


TEL:+66-948762973

 N.B: PROCESSING FEE.
SINGLE- US$890
DUAL- US$1,420

HOW CAN I PAY THE PROCESSING FEE? 
THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF PAYMENT ARE ACCEPTED: 

WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER.
MONEY GRAM.
BANK TRANSFER.

BENEFITS. 
ALL THE SELECTED -LUCKY -WINNER’S WILL GET FREE AIR TICKETS TO THE U.S. YOUR AIR TICKET WILL BE SEND TO YOU BY- OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC /MIDDLE EAST AGENT TOGETHER WITH YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS.

PLEASE READ AND FOLLOW ALL THE ENCLOSED INSTRUCTIONS VERY CAREFULLY.

DO NOT REPLY BACK TO THIS NOTIFICATION E- MAIL (BUSY)

FOR FURTHER INQUIRIES; 
CONTACT OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC AGENT WHERE YOUR VISA WINNING DETAILS FALLS.

SINCERELY YOURS,
MR. TONY BROOKE 
SECRETARY GENERAL US CONSULATE  KENTUCKY 

 

If you are not too familiar with visas and the United States, please know that there are no/no U.S. embassies or consulates inside the United States. There is no such thing as a Secretary General or a U.S. Consulate Kentucky. To learn more about the green card lottery, officially called the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program, please check out the official page of the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/immigrate/diversity-visa.html.

 

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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. [...] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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Snapshot: Visa Waiver Program Countries as of February 2014

Under the visa waiver program (VWP), the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may waive the “B” nonimmigrant visa requirement for aliens traveling from certain countries as temporary visitors for business or pleasure (tourists). Nationals from participating countries must use the web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to get an approved electronic travel authorization before embarking to the United States, and are admitted into the United States for up to 90 days. The VWP constitutes one of a few exceptions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in which foreign nationals are admitted into the United States without a valid visa. As of January 2014, 37 countries participate in the VWP.

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei,  Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

CRS: Visa Waiver Program, February 12, 2014

Now includes 38 countries. On February 28, 2014, Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the designation of Chile into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  Starting May 1, 2014, eligible Chilean passport holders with both an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and an e-passport will be able to visit the United States without nonimmigrant visitor visas.

Read more here.

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Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs announced last week her retirement from from the State Department effective April 3.  Ambassador Jacobs was appointed  to the CA Bureau on 2008. Previous to this appointment, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, accredited at the same time to Senegal and was a resident in Dakar.  Excerpt from the announcement email sent to CA folks:

“It has been a wonderful thirty-plus years with the Department of State, serving in many different roles and in

English: Janice L. Jacobs

English: Janice L. Jacobs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

many different locations around the world. As many of you have heard me say, my almost six years as Assistant Secretary has been the most enjoyable and the most rewarding of all the positions I have held.  I am extremely proud of the role the Bureau has played as a trailblazer in the area of leadership, and now, management.  Our team is recognized by counterparts throughout the Department for our balanced approach, our smart goal-setting, and our wise use of resources.  I am confident that you all will continue to innovate to provide the best of government service.” 

Ambassador Jacob’s two immediate predecessors, Maura Harty and Mary Ryan were both career Foreign Service officers, but seven of the twelve appointees since 1953 had been non-career appointees.

A quick summary of this top CA position via history.state.gov:

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs”. From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

Here are the previous appointees.

The last political appointee assigned to the CA Bureau as Assistant Secretary was Elizabeth Tamposi under President George H. W. Bush . If you don’t remember the Bill Clinton passport files scandal, the NYT covered it here and here. More reading  here (Berry v. Funk) for some background and a separate judgement here, where the court granted monetary award to Ms. Tamposi for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and expenses.

If you  have time to spare, you might also want to read Sherman Funk’s Oral History interview here; he was the IG at that time.  All Oral History interviews referenced to here are available via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Assistant Secretary, Consular Work, FSOs, Political Appointees, Retirement, State Department, Visas