Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

Related posts:

Related items:

Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

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Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.

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Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Last month, we’ve blogged about State/INL’s aerial eradication program in Colombia (see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?). We understand that there was a cable sent through the Dissent Channel concerning this subject. We also received an  allegation that the “OIG wouldn’t touch this issue last year.”   So we asked the Office of Inspector General and here is its official response:

There is no Department program or operation that the OIG is unwilling to review. In fact, the OIG inspected Embassy Bogota, Colombia in early 2011. That inspection discusses counter narcotics programs, drug production and trafficking in Colombia. Additional pertinent, recent reports include a Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Bogota, published in December 2008 (ISP-C-09-08A), and an Inspection of Embassy Bogota published in March 2006 (ISP-I-06-16A).

That 2011 OIG inspection report is a 64-page document;  the discussion on the counternarcotics program encompasses approximately four pages of that report.

We could not locate a recent OIG inspection/audit of the counternarcotics (CN) program in Colombia. By comparison,  there are multiple audits for the CN program in Afghanistan (see related items below). The CN program in Colombia predates the one in Afghanistan, so makes one ask questions. We’ve also asked State/OIG if there is any plan to put this program in the IG’s inspection or audit schedule anytime soon? Here is the response:

OIG develops its work plans based on a number of factors – including, a program’s risk profile, its relation to the Department’s management challenges, mandated work, congressional requests, OIG resources, etc. Our FY 2015 Work Plan and 2015 Office of Audits Strategic Work Plan are on our website. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any work, in addition to that listed in the plans, which may or may not be scheduled in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from the Embassy Bogota 2011 report (pdf):

Since 2001, Colombia’s estimated annual cocaine production potential has decreased by 61 percent, from 700 to 270 metric tons. The United States has made a major investment in helping Colombia address the narcotics problem. The United States provided more than $7.4 billion (approximately $5.9 billion from the Department of State (Department) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense for Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs from FYs 2000 through 2010.

Embassy Bogotá’s NAS is one of the largest in the world, with 134 employees and 664 contractors. The FY 2010 NAS budget for all programs was approximately $244 million, a significant decrease over a 3-year period from approximately $326 million in FY 2007.

That’s a lot of money and that 61% looks good but when was the last time this program was audited?

The only Audit of INL Programs in Colombia we could locate is one dated July 2000 and posted publicly online in 2004.  The audit says that “Despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain.”

But this 2000 OIG audit is, of course, an ancient dog.

In any case, aerial eradication is discussed briefly under “Other Matter” in a 2010 USAID/OIG audit on the Alternative Development program in Colombia (pdf):

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], acting on the behalf of the Government of Colombia, delineates project boundaries and verifies, using a combination of satellite and ground monitoring, that the area is free of illicit crops. Despite these measures taken, beneficiaries do not have a guarantee that they will not be subject to aerial eradication. Officials from USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section acknowledge that occasionally, land that the Government of Colombia has certified as being illicit free and has come under the alternative development program has been subject to fumigation (eradication). The audit interviewed beneficiaries from two alternative development activities in the department of Putumayo who lost their licit agricultural crops because of aerial eradication efforts.

Beneficiaries are still at risk despite demonstrating that their land is illicit free because the different goals and objectives that the U.S. Government is trying to achieve under its three-tiered counternarcotics strategy (interdiction, eradication, and alternative development) do not always complement each other. For example, a key U.S. Government’s counternarcotics objective is to assist the Government of Colombia in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of illicit drug crops. Under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Office of Aviation supports the Colombian National Police’s efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation. As part of those efforts, the Office of Aviation uses airborne digital cameras to photograph suspected coca fields. If coca is identified, these fields become targets for aerial fumigation.

According to officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the routes used for aerial fumigation are based on predetermined global positioning system coordinates. However, while in the air, if the pilot is able to visibly identify coca outside of the predetermined area, then a decision to eradicate can be made. Unfortunately, some licit crops share an appearance similar to that of the coca leaf, creating a possibility for human error in the decision to eradicate.

According to USAID/Colombia and Narcotics Affairs Section officials, there is a complaint process established for anyone who believes that their land has been fumigated erroneously. The complaint process can be lengthy, and if beneficiaries cannot provide the correct global positioning system coordinates of their land and the date of the alleged fumigation, any damages resulting from the fumigation can be difficult to prove. Adding to the challenge is that the effects of aerial fumigation are not immediately visible but appear days or weeks after the field was sprayed. If a complaint is successful, the beneficiary is compensated for the loss. However, it is doubtful that the beneficiary can truly recover the time and effort invested in the cultivation of the licit agricultural crops on the land. And having lost their investment once, the beneficiary may decide not to continue with the production of licit crops.

Officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Narcotics Affairs Section state that interagency coordination has improved and more sharing of information is helping to ensure that alternative development program beneficiaries are better identified and considered prior to instances of aerial fumigation. Nevertheless, the protection of these beneficiaries cannot be guaranteed.

 

In March 2014, the Congressional Research Service issued  a report (pdf) on International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses. Excerpt below:

Much of contemporary counternarcotics efforts in Colombia stem from a 1999 Colombian government strategy to address security and development issues, called Plan Colombia. It was intended to be a six-year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50% over six years. In support of Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs, the U.S. government spent more than $8 billion in security and development assistance between FY2000 and FY2011, to include both civilian and military counterdrug support efforts.

Here is the part of the 2014 CRS report that talks about eradication:

Eradication is a long-standing but controversial U.S. policy regarding international drug control. As recently as 2008, the State Department had considered crop control the “most cost-effective means of cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never planted, destroyed, or left unharvested. Without drug cultivation, the State Department’s rationale continued, “there would be no need for costly enforcement and interdiction operations.”

Proponents of eradication further argue that it is easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram of powder cocaine is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers may devote fewer economic resources to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the drug product.

Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. Manual eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants. Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is expensive to implement where it is permitted. Aerial fumigation in Colombia has also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human, animal, and environmental consequences.

Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is cost-effective or politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially in conflict or post- conflict environments.  Some argue that this has been the case with respect to eradication efforts in Afghanistan, where some U.S. officials have acknowledged that poppy eradication may have caused many poor Afghan farmers to ally with insurgents and other enemies of the Afghan government.  In 2009, Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time, called Western eradication policies in Afghanistan “a failure” and stated that they have “wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.” Since 2009, the U.S. government has no long directly participated in eradication operations in Afghanistan.

Ok.

So help us out here.  What we can’t understand is how a program that costs American taxpayers over $8 billion in the last 11 years has no State/OIG audit trail?

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Related posts:

 

Related items: Counternarcotics (CN) Reports Afghanistan

Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counter-narcotics Assistance to Afghanistan | November 14, 2014} AUD-MERO-15-02 | View Report: aud-mero-15-02.pdf

Performance Evaluation of PAE Operations and Maintenance Support for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Counternarcotics Compounds in Afghanistan | March 04, 2011| MERO-I-11-02 | View Report: 157927.pdf

Status of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Programs in Afghanistan Performance Audit | December 23, 2009 | MERO-A-10-02
| View Report: 134183.pdf

Interagency Assessment of the Counternarcotic Program in Afghanistan July 2007 | August 03, 2007 |  ISP-I-07-34 | View Report: 90158.pdf

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs July 2005 | June 18, 2009 | ISP-I-05-14 | View Report: 125271.pdf

 

US Mission Afghanistan: Insider Attack During Senior U.S. Official’s Visit Kills One, Wounds Several Others

Posted: 1:17 pm EDT

 

Another insider attack out of Afghanistan is in the news today. According to media reports one U.S. service member is dead. The number of those wounded is reportedly between 3 to 7 Americans. The US Embassy in Kabul released the following brief statement:

We are aware that there was an exchange of gunfire involving Resolute Support service members near the provincial governor’s compound in Jalalabad. The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor. All Chief of Mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.  

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via USConMazar/FB

via USConMazar/FB

Below via LAT

“The incident took place after a senior U.S. official held a meeting with the provincial governor,” embassy spokesperson Monica Cummings said. “All chief of mission personnel of the visiting party are accounted for.”  The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, P. Michael McKinley, was in Kabul and not part of the visit to Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, embassy officials said.
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Via Stripes:

The attack occurred after a meeting between U.S. Embassy officials and local Afghan leaders at the provincial governor’s home in Jalalabad, said Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal, police spokesman for Nangarhar province.  An Afghan soldier suddenly opened fire on American and NATO troops providing security for the embassy team. The gunman and a member of the security team were shot dead during the exchange, Mashraqiwal said.

Via WaPo:

According to Afghan officials, Ambassador Michael McKinley was not present at the meeting. The U.S. Embassy did not provide further details on which senior U.S. official was meeting with the governor. But Afghan officials in Jalalabad said it was Donald Y. Yamamoto, who also holds ambassadorial rank.
Yamamoto, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethi­o­pia and principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, served as a senior U.S. civilian representative to Northern Afghanistan, based in the U.S. Consulate in Mazar-e Sharif, where he was sent during last year’s elections. He now is the senior civilian representative in Afghanistan for Regional Command North, the State Department said.

According to USCG Mazar’s FB page, the Senior Civilian Representative to northern Afghanistan as of March this year is David Birdsey. Donald Y. Yamamoto currently serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.  He was previously ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti.

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Snapshot: State/INL’s Counternarcotics Program Afghanistan — $220 Million With Unclear Results

Posted: 1:04  am EDT

 

Via State/OIG:

Afghanistan produces three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium, with cultivation reaching a record high in 2013. To reduce, among other things, illicit opium revenue for the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Department of State (Department), Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), assists the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) with initiatives aimed at reducing opium’s supply and demand. Since 2006, INL has expended $220 million on seven Counternarcotics (CN) initiatives in Afghanistan according to its Financial Management Activity Report (FMAR).
[…]
The degree to which INL’s CN program for Afghanistan has achieved desired results is unclear because INL has not fully developed or implemented Performance Measurement Plans (PMPs)2 to track progress for its CN initiatives and to allow for appropriate budgeting. As a result, INL cannot determine whether its Afghan CN initiatives are successful or should be revised, reduced, or canceled. Additionally, the long-term viability of CN initiatives is unclear because INL had not worked with the GIRoA to develop required sustainment plans that detail how CN initiatives will continue without U.S. assistance.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25

Click on image for larger view. (Click here for OIG report in pdf)

Above graphic extracted from State/OIG Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Assistance to Afghanistan, November 2014 (pdf).

Related to our blog post on Colombia, note that INL’s program in Afghanistan does not seem to include aerial eradication ( see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?).

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Anything Can Be Sold Campaign: Try ‘Afghanistan, Always An Adventure’ — The Pomegranate Peace (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

rashmeeRashmee Roshan Lall started with The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, made a brief foray into publishing as editor of Rupa and HarperCollins India, and then took up broadcasting with the BBC World Service in London. She presented ‘The World Today’, BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs program. She was subsequently The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe. Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. A Foreign Service spouse, she previously spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. She also spent six months in Washington, D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election.  Visit her website at www.rashmee.com.

The Pomegranate Peace is a work of fiction.  The author of that dark dramedy on Iraq clearly see this book as art imitating life.  Five million dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, handed over to an Afghani-Canadian contractor resident in Vancouver to grow pomegranates instead of poppy? Check.  Peter Van Buren  writes that “one could retitle Pomegranate Peace as We Meant Well, Too and not be too far off the mark.”   And we have to agree.  The excerpt below is Chapter 11 of the book; we imagine this is how you brand a country — with a PR flak, lots of money and a small shot glass topped with magic and imagination.  Read more via Amazon, HuffPo, the Good Book Corner.  Thanks to Rashmee, Piers  and Arcadia Books for permission to share the following excerpt with our readers.

pomegranate peace cover

Reprinted from The Pomegranate Peace by Rashmee Roshan Lall by arrangement with Arcadia Books Limited. Copyright © 2013 Rashmee Roshan Lall. Available as an ebook from any ebook platform.

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Mr Khayber Ahmad, veteran of regime change, was not the only one thinking ahead to yet another transition. Over at the embassy, we were obsessed with plans for departure. Our president had set a date, or at least the year: 2014. We had 700 days to shape up and ship out. I was on the Transition Planning Team (Small), otherwise known as TPTS, or Tippets if you wanted to run everything together because you had run out of time, or patience, or the desire to be accurate.

Tippets was born of Tipple, the Transition Planning Team (Large) or TPL. The smaller group had a hundred people; the large was twice as big. Tippets was supposed to think, plan, do (TPD). That is how ‘Campaign Afghanistan’ began. Out of two acronyms and a string of alphabets. I was there. I saw it come into existence. I watched it take shape and I was present when it was launched.

It took a little while for Campaign Afghanistan to become the new standard for management courses taught at American universities. But it happened because of Sam Starkowsky’s excellent and highly readable book, The Donkey in the Dark. The book became a bestseller and Little Sam was anointed the world’s favourite management guru. But at the time, no one could have imagined that Little Sam would turn the 30-million-dollar ‘Campaign’ into the American version of Rumi’s 700-year-old story ‘The Elephant in the Dark’. And a solid business theory to boot, one which is routinely cited as the essential philosophy of creative problem-solving.

Everyone now knows the way in which Professor Starkowsky reprised Rumi. The original had a group of men touching an elephant in a dark room and offering wildly differing reports on the creature. The one who touched the trunk said it had to be a hosepipe; the man who felt the beast’s ear thought it was surely a fan; the third ran his hand over the animal’s leg and pronounced it a pillar and the fourth caressed the elephant’s wide back and decided it was a throne. Just as Rumi used the story to illustrate the limits of individual perception, Little Sam’s modern fable about a dozen Americans and a donkey underlined the importance of seeing the whole, not just parts of a problem. I have to hand it to Little Sam. I never knew he had it in him. He seems to have been the only one at a Tippets meeting to see the big picture.

It seemed such a good idea at the start even though the memo that set it off was the usual bureaucratese:

Agenda for TPTS:

TPD for APA – Sustainability. Selling Afghanistan to tourists, businessmen, the world.

To decode, this meant that the Transition Planning Team (Small)’s Think, Plan, Do strategy for Afghanistan-Post-America was all about selling the country as a brand.

As a former journalist, I was on the Tippets Working Group, which was smaller – just 25 people. We spent a whole day talking ‘Afghanistan, the idea’. Much of the time we debated the images that come to mind when the name Afghanistan is said out loud. Mountains, brave men, weapons, war, beautiful but benighted women. What, if any of that, to sell? Could it be sold at all?

Opinion on the working group was mixed. Little Sam thought that anything could be sold. Anecdotally, even refrigerators to Eskimos.

‘And in the real world, plots of land on the moon are sold,’ he said gravely. ‘And what about the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you send a check for a mere ten bucks to a certain address? Dreams can be sold,’ he added persuasively, ‘though sometimes they might be dud.’

 

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State Dept Issues Travel Warnings For Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; Warns of “Imminent Attacks” in Kabul

Posted: 11:17 EST

 

On February 24, the State Department issued Travel Warnings for Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia:

Algeria Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria, as noted in the Department of State’s latest Worldwide Caution. Although the major cities are heavily policed, attacks are still possible. The majority of terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes occur in the mountainous areas to the east of Algiers (Kabylie region and eastern wilayas) and in the expansive Saharan desert regions of the south and southeast. In September, the ISIL-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) abducted and beheaded a French citizen, in the Kabylie region.
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The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. Embassy personnel assigned to Algiers sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under security restrictions. The U.S. Department of State permits U.S. diplomats in Algeria to be accompanied only by adult family members, and children under age 12. Embassy travel restrictions limit and occasionally prevent the movement of U.S. Embassy officials and the provision of consular services in certain areas of the country. Likewise, the Government of Algeria requires U.S. Embassy personnel to seek permission to travel outside the wilaya of Algiers and provides police escorts. Travel to the military zone established around the Hassi Messaoud oil center requires Government of Algeria authorization.

state.gov/nea map

state.gov/nea map

Pakistan Travel Warning:

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi continue to provide consular services for all U.S. citizens in Pakistan. The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar no longer offers consular services and the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remains temporarily closed for public services.
[…]
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.
[…]
U.S. government personnel travel within Pakistan is often restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles. Embassy staff is permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.

U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel. U.S. officials are not authorized to use public transportation.

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. There have been recent attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates, an attack on Shi’ite Muslims outside a community center in the Eastern Province on November 3, 2014, and continuing reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners in the Kingdom.
[…]
Security threats are increasing and terrorist groups, some affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom.

On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). The U.S. Embassy has instructed U.S. government personnel and their families to avoid all travel to Al Hasa Governorate, and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

In related news — yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued an Emergency Message concerning threats to American citizens in what is still a war zone.

“As of late February 2015, militants planned to conduct multiple imminent attacks against an unspecified target or targets in Kabul City, Afghanistan. There was no further information regarding the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the first overseas destination of the new defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter. According to the NYT, he arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend and opened up the possibility of “slowing the withdrawal of the last American troops in the country to help keep the Taliban at bay.”  Most of the remaining troops in the country are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2016.

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Recognizing Excellence: State Department Annual Awards 2014

Posted: 01:26 EST

 

Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy | USCG Michael Dodman

For leadership at the U.S. Consul General in Karachi, “where he advanced U.S. goals in Pakistan while ensuring the safety and morale of his team.”

Michael Dodman_karachi

Michael Dodman, USCG Karachi, Pakistan | Photo by USCG Karachi/Flickr

 

Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy | William B. Stevens

For “outstanding leadership and unwavering commitment in leading the Department’s Ukraine Communications Task Force to stem the tide of Russian propaganda.”

Will Stevens_Moscow

US Embassy Moscow Spokesman – Will Stevens | Photo via American Center Moscow

 

Sue M. Cobb Award for Exemplary Diplomatic Service | Ambassador Susan D. Page

For “leading the U.S. Mission to South Sudan under extremely challenging circumstances” and advancing the president’s goal of a South Sudan “as a viable state at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

Ambassador Susan D. Page visited a water point and purification facility set up by Samaritan’s Purse, as part of a U.S government supported project to assist IDPs in Nimule. the water point is for the use of the host community in Nimule town and the IDPs who are living among them.  | Photo via US Embassy Juba/Flickr

 

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U.S. Embassies Warns of Threats to American Residences in Pakistan, Potential Targets in Afghanistan, Mali, Ethiopia

— Domani Spero

 

On December 19, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert concerning potential threats during the holiday period.

The lone wolf attack in Sydney, Australia on December 15, 2014, resulting in the deaths of two hostages, is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious, maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.  This Travel Alert expires on March 19, 2015.

An analysis of past attacks and threat reporting strongly suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship, and schools, among other targets, during or coinciding with this holiday period. ­U.S. citizens abroad should be mindful that terrorist groups and those inspired by them can pose unpredictable threats in public venues.  U.S. citizens should remain alert to local conditions and for signs of danger.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on December 19 is also warning of terrorist threats to American residences by groups that may be purporting to be service providers to gain access to the properties:

The Embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen  residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers. U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future. Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan Government response may raise the possibility for future threats.[…] The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile is  warning of potential attacks on western NGOs in Kabul:

As of early December 2014, militants were planning to attack a Western, possibly American, non-government organization (NGO) in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Surveillance had been completed and the attack was likely to take place within 2-4 weeks. The NGO office was possibly located close to the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan Passport Authority in Kabul City. There was no further information regarding the timing, targets, or methods of the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued a security message for places typically visited by Westerners:

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also issued a security reminder for U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country.  The targets for these attacks, according to the message, could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and places of worship.

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Senate Confirmations: P. Michael McKinley (Afghanistan), Richard Verma (India)

— Domani Spero

 

On December 9, the U.S. Senate slowly winding its business in town, confirmed the ambassadorial nominees for Afghanistan and India. There’s still a long list of nominees awaiting confirmation, but  the candle is growing short here; we don’t think many more will make it through this Congress. But here are the nominees who made it through the confirmation obstacle course on December 9:

 

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Ambassador McKinley is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan. A two-time Ambassador and four-time Deputy Chief of Mission, he is known for his gifted leadership and management abilities. A consensus builder with demonstrated interpersonal skills, broad expertise in high-level foreign policy negotiations and detailed knowledge of the region, he will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Afghanistan, a nation of unsurpassed foreign policy importance to the United States Government in a critical region of the world.

Previously, Mr. McKinley served in the Department of State as Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia (2010-2013), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru (2007-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium (2004-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Washington, D.C. (2001-2004), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium (2000-2001), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda (1997-2000), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1997), Political Officer, U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom (1990-1994), Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1989-1990), Political Officer, Office of Southern African Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1987-1989), Political Officer, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Washington, D.C. (1985-1987) and Consular and General Services Officer, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (1983-1985).

Mr. McKinley earned a MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (1975-1982), and a B.A. from Southampton University, South Hampton, United Kingdom (1971-1975). He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of State, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2011), 12 Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French. via state.gov-McKinley, Michael P. – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – September 2014

 

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Richard Rahul Verma serves as Senior Counselor to the global law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as to the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC.  His practice focuses on international law and regulatory issues, with a specialization in Asia and emerging markets.  Mr. Verma also serves as a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he directs their “India 2020” initiative.  Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations.  His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the U.S.

Previously, in Washington, D.C., he served as Assistant Secretary of State (Legislative Affairs), Department of State (2009-2011), Partner, Steptoe and Johnson LLP (2007-2009), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Majority Leader (2006-2007), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Minority Leader (2004-2006), Senior Counsel, Office of the Senate Democratic Whip (2003-2004), Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Reid (2002-2003) and Associate, Steptoe and Johnson (1998-2002).  Mr. Verma served on active duty as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Air Force at Holloman, Air Force Base, New Mexico and Fort Meade, Maryland (1994-1998).  He was also Field Representative, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Bucharest, Romania (1993-1994) and Staff Assistant, Congressman John P. Murtha (1991-1992).

 Mr. Verma earned a B.S. at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1990, a J.D., cum laude, at American University in 1993 and a LL.M, with distinction, at Georgetown University Law Center in 1998.  He is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations and a Meritorious Service Medal, a Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force.  via state.govVerma, Richard R. – Republic of India – September 2014

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