Tag Archives: Pakistan

US Embassy Attacks: Year in Review — 2013

– Domani Spero

In early May, Diplomatic Security released its annual Year in Review publication detailing attacks on diplomatic personnel/facilities for the past year. In 2013, attacks against American posts and staff occurred in the Philippines, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia,  and the Congo.  While majority of the attacks were against USG properties, there were casualties, killed and/or wounded in Ankara, Zabul, Kabul, Herat and  Taji.  It is important to note that those killed or wounded in these attacks include not only American personnel/contractors but also local employees, local contract guards, local policemen, and civilians.

The following details extracted from State/DS publication Confronting Danger, Year in Review 2013:

January 25 – Manila, Philippines:  Some 15 to 20 protesters gathered across the street from the main gate of the U.S. Embassy to rally against the Visiting Forces Agreement. Police prevented them from approaching any closer, but they managed to throw red paint on the U.S. seal, journalists, and police officers.

January 28 – Manila, Philippines: Approximately 50 protesters gathered across from the consular section of the U.S. Embassy. They were carrying placards that read, “Stop U.S. Intervention” and “U.S.-Aquino Regime Terrorists.” The group departed after throwing plastic bags filled with paint, which struck and defaced the Embassy seal at the Consulate entrance.

February 1 – Ankara, Turkey: At 1:14 p.m., an individual entered the U.S. Embassy access pavilion. When questioned by a member of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force, he detonated a bomb concealed in his clothing. The explosion killed the bomber and the guard, a 22-year veteran of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force.

(See our blog posts on Mustafa Akarsu here.)

March 11 – Kabul, Afghanistan: Two Embassy helicopters received small-arms fire. Both aircraft returned safely to their airbases with no one injured and minimal damage.

March 21 – Baghdad, Iraq: Three rockets were fired at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, producing no injuries and minimal property damage. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.

April 6 – Qalat City, Zabul Province, Afghanistan: Two bombs exploded near a Provincial Reconstruction Team delivering children’s books to a  school. A U.S. Embassy officer, a U.S.-contracted interpreter, and three U.S. military personnel were killed. Four State Department personnel, eight members of the U.S. military, and four Afghan civilians were wounded.

(See our blog posts on the Qalat, Zabul attack here).

April 10 – Baghdad, Iraq: Five rockets impacted outside the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. Damage was minimal and an American worker was slightly injured while attempting to seek cover. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.

June 10 – Kabul, AfghanistanAt 4:45 a.m., Taliban insurgents equipped with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Coalition Forces compound located at Kabul Airport. Multiple rocket-propelled grenades impacted on Camp Alvarado, a U.S. Embassy facility.

June 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 6:35 a.m., eight insurgents launched an attack on the U.S. Embassy Annex. Afghan security forces and Local Guard Force personnel engaged the militants in a firefight. All eight insurgents were killed along with seven members of the Afghan security forces. Seven other Afghan security personnel were injured.

June 27 – Pristina, Kosovo: The U.S. Ambassador, an Embassy political officer and the DS Regional Security Officer went to the Kosovo Assembly to observe ratification of the April 19 Dialogue agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. As they proceeded to the building, protesters pushed the Ambassador into a wall and struck the Regional Security Officer.

July 3 – Basrah, Iraq: Two bombs detonated at the Mnawi Hotel, causing extensive damage to a USAID office located in the building.

July 14 – Istanbul, Turkey: At approximately 7:15 p.m., while driving to an official event, the motorcade of the U.S. Consul General encountered a crowd of 30 people wearing masks and armed with sticks and heavy paving stones. While escaping, the vehicle sustained damage from several rock-throwing protesters.

July 21 – Lahore, Pakistan: At 3:05 p.m., 400 individuals claiming to be members from Imamia Students Organization and Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen marched to the entrance of the U.S. Consulate General’s primary access road. A number of individuals used spray paint to write anti-American slogans on the Consulate’s wall.

September 6 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Approximately 15 to 20 protesters chanted anti-American rhetoric in front of the U.S. Consulate. At the end of the protest, they threw red paint on the street and bollards of the Consulate.

September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan:   The September 13, 2013, attack began when a truck driver eased up to a barrier at the Consulate’s primary vehicle entry point and without warning, detonated a massive improvised explosive charge.  It was 5:32 a.m. and not quite sunrise at the U.S. Consulate in Herat when a terrorist murder squad appeared suddenly and attempted to blast and shoot its way inside. All but one would die within the next 30 minutes, and the fight would mark the first time in memory that DS defeated a complex assault without help from the host country or other forces.  [E]ight contracted guards who were standing regular duty outside the U.S. Consulate were killed. They were: Jawid Sarwary, Mohammad Ramin Rastin, Ahmad Firooz Azizy, Ghazy Zade Mohammed Zaman, Sayed Sadt, Mohammad Ali Askari, Aref Mohammad Sadiqi, and Ezmari Haidary.  The attack also injured four other guards and several Afghan police officers who were on duty outside the Consulate.

(See  US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed)

Photo via State/DS

Photo via State/DS

October 1 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: At approximately 7:40 p.m., members of the Black Bloc anarchist group infiltrated a teachers’ demonstration in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro, one block from the U.S. Consulate General. Vandals lit a fire near the Consulate waiting area and threw cobblestones at Consulate windows.

October 7 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Protests ended in vandalism after members of the Black Bloc anarchist group again infiltrated a demonstration organized by striking Rio teachers. When the striking teachers dispersed, some 400 masked anarchists confronted the police and then threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Consulate General.

October 13 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: At approximately 3:30 p.m., two explosions killed two individuals at a residential compound adjacent to the residence of a U.S. Embassy employee. The blast destroyed windows and some of the perimeter wall, but no Americans were injured. The deceased are believed to have been planning attacks against Western targets in Addis Ababa.

October 15 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The teachers’ protests saw anarchist groups again engage in widespread vandalism in the city center. Vandals damaged banks and businesses. The exterior of the U.S. Consulate General building was damaged, including broken windows, when passing protesters threw rocks and coconuts at the building.

October 18 – Porto Alegre, Brazil: At approximately 12:30 p.m., a group of university students calling themselves “Marighella” vandalized the U.S. Consular Agency. The vandals/protesters said they wanted the U.S. out of the country and claimed the U.S. President was a “spy” who wanted Brazil’s oil. They also said they were there to “take over.”

December 16 – Brazzaville, Congo: Heavy gunfire rocked the capital as government forces tried to arrest an official at his residence located within one mile of the U.S. Embassy, but his bodyguards resisted. During the firefight a stray bullet shattered a second-floor window of the U.S. Embassy.

December 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 6:42 a.m., unidentified insurgents fired one 107-mm rocket at the U.S. Embassy. The rocket landed on the east side of the Embassy compound, but failed to detonate. An additional rocket was later found at the launch site. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

December 27 – Taji, Iraq: At approximately 9:20 a.m., a U.S. motorcade en route from Balad to Baghdad came under small-arms fire while stopped at a checkpoint on Highway One. The security team leader — a U.S. citizen — was slightly wounded.

 

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Hello Pop Star — USCG Karachi FSO Phillip Assis Performs on Pakistan Idol

– Domani Spero  

Via Buzzfeed

Phillip Assis, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi performed with the other semifinalists during the Pakistan Idol semifinals last month.  See U.S. Diplomat Becoming Something Of A Celebrity In Pakistan.

 

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, @PhillipAssis spent two years as a Rural Development Agent in Togo with the Peace Corps. Phillip has also worked at the US Energy Association and the World Bank. According to the SAIS Observer, he spent his first tour in the Foreign Service in Guyana, where he met his husband. From there, he was moved to Vatican City and is now the CAO at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan. His next tour will be back in Washington, DC.

He is trained in piano, sax, flute, and vocals, sung at Capitol Hill jazz clubs for years, and released his first album, “Since I Fell for You” on iTunes in 2006 (The album is under the name Phillip Nelson).

Assis just recorded two music videos with embassy support on property rights and peace. “Aman Ao Mina” (“Love and Peace”) is currently a popular song on the radio and music TV stations in Karachi.

 

Beautiful song and we love the beat!  Click here to view “Aman Ao Mina” or here via Vimeo/US Embassy in Islamabad if the embedded player doesn’t play.

In 2012, we featured FSO Shayna Cram in this blog singing ‘Girl’ in Pakistan (see Reaching Across the Airwaves, FSO Shayna Cram Sings in Pashto:

 

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U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

– Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[...]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

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The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?

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— Domani Spero

According to State/FLO, the total adult family member population of the Foreign Service in 2013 is 11,528.  This number was 9,243 in 2007 and  9,819 in 2009. Family members are 78% female and 64% are not working.  Male family members are slowly expanding in numbers; they constitute 20% of the family member population in 2007, 19% in 2009 and is up 22% last year.

Of the 36% working , 24% works inside the U.S. mission with only 12% working in the local economy. The total number of family members employed was 25% in 2009.   While more jobs have become available since 2009, the FS family member population has also expanded by 1,711 in the last four years.  Of the 64% not working  or 7,392 family members — the FLO data does not provide insight into how many of these have opted to stay home voluntarily and how many are interested in working but could not find work overseas.

We should note that the State Department has created an Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) for family member employment.  These are professional level Foreign Service full-time positions, centrally funded by the Department of State and some through ICASS (as opposed to post-funded positions). But the program only provides “186 filled EPAP positions in total.”  Not all family members would like to work, of course, but for those interested in professional level positions, 186 EPAP positions amount to a 1.6% drop in a universe with 11,528 individuals.

The 2011-2013 data indicates that the largest number of FS family members at post is located in the EUR bureau (3,319) followed by the WHA bureau (2,716).  However, the total number of family members employed at post is highest in the South Central Asia countries, followed by posts in Africa.  The South Central Asia bureau only has 615 family members at post, the lowest number among regional bureaus but at 53%, it has the highest  number of employment among family members. The SCA bureau includes Afghanistan and Pakistan  where adult family members are allowed to accompany employees pending job availability at post and “M”bureau approval .

The top leading locations for family member employment have not changed.  As in 2009, the top leading posts for family member employment in 2013 are located in the following bureaus:

#1 South Central Asia (see posts here)

#2 Africa (see posts here)

#3 Near East Asia (see posts here)

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Click on image to view the State/FLO report in pdf)

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Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade Strip Search Video Is Fake – Here’s Proof

– Domani Spero

There is a video circulating on social media which claims to be showing the CCTV footage of the strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade after her arrest in New York.   The video was “user submitted” on zemtv.com on January 3, 2013 under the headline CCTV Footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade being strip searched By U.S Police. The video is online on Tune.pk, Pakistan’s video sharing website where it has 18.9K views, on DailyMotion where it has 123,011 views and on YouTube, where the video is no longer displayed but the following notice is up “Indian diplomat D…” This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Arup Bhattacharya.” Both videos are 1:10 minutes in length and appears to be the same footage.

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Click on image to view the video on Tune.pk
(Warning: graphic images)

screen capture of YouTube video

screen capture of YouTube video

This alleged CCTV footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s strip search is a hoax.  It is ill-intentioned and could put Americans, particularly official Americans in danger.  Given that the Khobragade’s case has already spawned a good number of conspiracy theories, particularly in India, we don’t think that people will just accept it when we say this is a hoax. “Allegedly a hoax” is how the official denial that this video is a hoax is referred to in some parts of social media.

This is not/not “allegedly a hoax” but a real hoax. Nothing but video fakery and we’ve got proof.

The woman in the alleged Khobragade video is not/not the Indian diplomat but Hope Steffey, a U.S. citizen strip-searched by the Stark County sheriff’s department in Ohio in 2006.  The video was obtained by Ms. Steffey’s lawyer and released to the public in 2008 (See 12:44 minute video with Tom Meyer for WKYC-TV, Channel 3, Cleveland, OH)

The screen capture from a report by WKYC-TV (uploaded by a different YouTube user) shows the same woman on a blue mattress being strip searched.

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Click on image to view video of Hope Steffey in the Stark Country jail in Ohio, 2008.
(Warning: Graphic images)

In June 2010, WKYC-TV reported that the settlement of the Hope Steffey lawsuit against Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson, accusing his deputies of using brutal and excessive force resulted in the payment of $475,000. The total cost to Stark County to defend and settle the Steffey lawsuit was reportedly more than $705,000.  It also resulted in the insurance premium for the country county to dramatically jump from $34,261 in 2008 to $195,350 in 2010.

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Balwinder Singh aka ‘Happy’ Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan

– Domani Spero

The day after Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the arrest of  Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud and false statements and caused a diplomatic row, another arrest in Reno, Nevada of Indian national  and U.S. legal resident, Balwinder Singh for conspiring to provide material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan barely made the news.

Below via USDOJ:

Reno Man Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan | December 13, 2013

A Reno, Nev. man has been charged with providing material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan in order to intimidate the Indian government and to harm persons that were not supporting their cause, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Daniel G. Bogden, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada, and Laura A. Bucheit, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI for Nevada.

“A thorough investigation and cooperation among agencies led to these charges,” said U.S. Attorney Bogden.  “Investigating and prosecuting matters of national security is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Balwinder Singh, aka Jhajj, aka, Happy, aka Possi, aka Baljit Singh, 39, of Reno, is charged in an indictment with one count of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country, one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, one count of making a false statement on an immigration document, two counts of use of an immigration document procured by fraud, and one count of unlawful production of an identification document.   Singh was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, in Reno, and is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, for an initial appearance and arraignment.

“After an extensive investigation, the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) of Northern Nevada has disrupted an individual’s involvement in facilitation activities in support of a foreign terrorist organization, targeting an ally of the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bucheit. “We will continue to work with our international partners to prevent acts of terrorism on U.S. soil or, as in this case, on that of an ally. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

According to the indictment, Singh was a citizen of India who fled to the United States and claimed asylum.  Singh lived in the United States where he eventually obtained a permanent resident card from the United States.  The indictment alleges that Singh is a member of two terrorist organizations, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), whose members aim to establish an independent Sikh state in part of the Punjab region of India known as Khalistan. These groups engage in bombings, kidnappings and murders in India to intimidate and compel the Indian government to create the state of Khalistan.  These groups also target for assassination persons they consider traitors to the Sikh religion and government officials who they consider responsible for atrocities against the Sikhs.

The indictment alleges that the object of the conspiracy was to advance the goals of BKI and KZF by raising money and obtaining weapons to support acts of terrorism in India.  It is alleged that the conspiracy began on a date unknown but no later than Nov. 30, 1997.  It is alleged that Singh used a false identity and obtained false identification documents in the United States so that he could travel back to India without being apprehended by the Indian authorities.  It is alleged that Singh communicated with other coconspirators by telephone while he was in the United States to discuss acts of terrorism to be carried out in India.  It is alleged that Singh sent money from Reno, Nev., to co-conspirators in India for the purchase of weapons that would be provided to members of the BKI and KZF to support acts of terrorism in India. It is alleged that Singh traveled from the United States to Pakistan, India, and other countries to meet with coconspirators to assist in the planning of terrorism in India, and that Singh provided advice to coconspirators about how to carry out acts of terrorism.

If convicted, Singh faces up to life in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each count.

The case is being investigated by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in northern Nevada, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sue Fahami and Brian L. Sullivan, and Trial Attorney Mara M. Kohn of the U.S. Department of Justice Counterterrorism Section.

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In related news, on December 18, in a widely reported retaliation for the treatment of its diplomat in New York, the Indian government removed the security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

On December 25, Hindustan Times  writes about the “rumblings” in the U.S. Congress over the removal of the security barriers:  “We can understand the anger and the other measures,” said a senior congressional aide on condition of anonymity, “but removing the barriers has raised security concerns.

On December 29, the Times of India says that Indian officials speaking on background refuted “the US suggestion that they were being vengeful towards the US diplomatic corps and endangering the US embassy.” Seriously.  That’s why there was full press court and cameras when it took the muscular response of dismantling the concrete security barricades and spike strips around Embassy Delhi.  So apparently, the security barriers now have its own mini-drama. The TOI report says  that “A decision to remove the barriers was taken several weeks back when the US side removed a diplomatic parking lane in front of the Indian embassy in Washington DC (that also served as security perimeter) and turned it into public parking.”

Coincidences bumping into each other on the dark side of the moon.

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US Embassy Islamabad: Centaurus Mall Complex Off Limits to American Staff

– By Domani Spero

On October 23, the US Embassy in Pakistan declared the Centaurus Mall Complex off limits to its American staff.  A security message was issued to inform U.S. citizens in the country of the official restriction:

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, informs U.S. citizens that the Embassy is currently prohibiting U.S. staff from visiting the Centaurus Mall Complex in Islamabad.  This restriction on Embassy personnel is consistent with existing security guidance encouraging avoidance of locations where large numbers of people tend to gather. 

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Screen grab of the Centaurus Mall Complex

According to its Wikipedia page, the Centaurus Mall is located in central Islamabad with over four-storey, and has around 250 shops.  It opened to the public in February 2013:

The Centaurus is a mixed use real estate development in the most central location of Islamabad, Pakistan.[3] Designed by British architectural company WS Atkins, it comprises three skyscrapers, containing corporate offices, residential apartments and a 5-star hotel. The tallest skyscrapers in the city have 41 stories and all three are linked by a shopping mall. Interior Design of The Residence and Mall have been designed by ODEION-Turkey. Its estimated cost is $350 million USD.

The Centaurus Mall website says that it has “five floors of ultimate shopping experience.”  The mall features a five-screen cinema, a gold souk, designer and wedding lounge, food courts and fine dining, a supermarket and leisure and family entertainment.   It also has four levels of parking in the basement.

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What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?

-- By Domani Spero

 

Below is the State Department’s High Stress Assignment Outbrief Implementation Guide – the FSI/MED Model.

Background of the High Stress Outbrief Program via fbo.gov

The High Stress Assignment Outbrief program was developed after the first groups of employees began coming back from assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 – posts that would have beenin evacuation status in more normal times. Returnees asserted that coming back from those posts wasn’t at all like coming back from a regular foreign affairs community assignment – that theDepartment needed to help with this particular transition in some way. Med’s Office of Mental Health Services asked the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center to assist in the development of a prototype training event, which was piloted in 2003. MED/Mental Health convened an Iraq Out-briefing Conference on July 29 & 30, 2004 at the Foreign Service Institute. The Outbrief program was reviewedand discussed by the full cadre of RMO/Ps, Dr. Robert Ursano and Dr. James McCarroll, from theUniformed Services University for Health Sciences, Dr. Carol North, Washington University (St. Louis),with guest presentations by (then) Director General of the Foreign Service Amb. Robert Pearson and others.

The program was endorsed by MED leadership and has run as a partnership between the FSI’sTransition Center and MED/Mental Health Services since then. All subsequent Directors General of the Foreign Service have mandated that all returnees from Iraq (and later Afghanistan) who have served for 90 days or longer be required to attend either a group or individual Outbrief upon return to CONUS.The realities of the Foreign Service assignment system brought complications – many officers had TDY-ed to Iraq or Afghanistan and were returning directly to their former posts. Others PCS-ed directly to follow-on assignments around the world. Clearly, a purely Washington-based program would not be effective in providing the service to all of our employees. Furthermore, many participants did not fit traditional Foreign Service employee profiles – special hiring authority hires (3161s), civil service employees, and third country nationals all stepped up to serve in those war zones. RMO/Ps were instructed to deliver Outbriefs at posts or during post visits, and to communicate the name of the Outbrief participant, date, and place back to the Transition Center for entry into the Department’sofficial training registration database to certify compliance.

Read more below:

 

I’ve requested help in understanding the usefulness of the Outbrief session and received a few responses below:

Comment #1: (from a twice-deployed employee)

“I have taken that half-day course twice in 2009 and 2013.  The class was almost the exact same.  They basically tell you to get sleep and try to adjust back and if needed, see someone.  The class I took in 2013 was 8 months after I returned because HR would not pay to send me to DC before home leave then I was in language training for six months.  If it was really important, HR would allow people to take it as early as possible otherwise, it must not be that important.”

Comment #2 (a State Department employee who served in Iraq and Pakistan)

“The description of the outbrief program seems reasonably accurate – although it’s been a while since I attended (in 2008 after Iraq, but not subsequently after Pakistan).  There’s a certain value to spending a bit of time (three hours?) with people that have been through similar experiences – probably including someone that you knew or at least shared acquaintances with.  It gives you a chance to talk with people who better understand your experiences.   It’s possible that some of our feedback made it back to decision makers in aggregated form.  For example, one of the themes of our discussion was that the Department (USG?) was doing itself no favors by sending warm bodies that lacked core qualifications (e.g. basic competence and a desire to be there.)  I think that the Department is now requesting 360s [360 degree feedback] for everyone that they send – although that may just be part of the general trend towards requesting 360s.  My memory is a bit hazy, but I think a key element was describing what other resources (e.g. clinical/therapeutic) might be available for those that needed them.”

Comment #3 (somebody once posted in Iraq— added at 6:48 am PST)
The high stress outbrief  is, as you noted, just an example of CYA– look, we have a program! A couple of voluntary hours with some contractor at cozy FSI with no follow-up, and especially no mandatory individual session is worthless. Many symptoms of PTSD evolve over time, and many returning-to-DC-stresses only become apparent after you have in fact returned to work and gotten the lay of the land in a new office. Speaking out in front of a group is not a core FS trait, and not something any person with real problems does easily. Imperfect as it is, the military does require formal screening and a brief one-on-one session with a counselor. Follow up care (imperfect) is available. At State, you’re told to “get help” without much help in getting it. After all, MED is not responsible for healthcare in the U.S.
 
Still not sure? Check with officers who were MEDEVACed for anything, not necessarily PTSD, and see if any of them got any follow-on from MED other than a new, career-crushing clearance status.

One of our readers commenting on mental health support suggested the following:

“While I know it wouldn’t solve everything, I think that anyone coming out of a post with danger pay should have some sort of mandatory sessions with some sort of licensed therapist. That would take away the stigma of the therapy and maybe get some people some help before they take out their PTSD on themselves or someone else.”

 

Remember the US Embassy Malta road rage meltdown that made the news? (US Embassy Malta Gets a Viral Video But — Not the Kind You Want).  We don’t know this individual nor his story, or which post he previously came from. But assignments to European posts like Malta have typically gone to employees who did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.   We don’t know if this individual came from an AIP posts. Even if he did, it’s not an excuse for such a behavior, but it might help us understand his demeanor.  American diplomats normally do not go around looking for a fight.

Our concern is simple. We are sending people out to the war/danger zones.  The State Department touts its mandatory High Stress Outbrief, an educational program that only requires presentation/delivery skills from whoever delivers the program.  Less than 60 percent of returnees attend the program, and there are no consequences for non-compliance.  Who does the follow-up? Anybody?

Is it fair to say that the State Department does no follow-up beyond the Outbrief session and expects employees to simply self-report any mental health issue? And because no one fears the social stigma of seeking mental health help and nobody suffers from the fear of losing one’s security clearance over a mental health issue, everyone in the Service can be counted on to self-report if/when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in one’s head?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Iraq, Leadership and Management, MED, Mental Health, Org Culture, Pakistan, State Department, War

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

– By Domani Spero

On September 5, Gordon Lubold writing for Foreign Policy reported on USAID’s first known war-zone-related suicide and asks if America is doing enough to assist its relief workers. Excerpt below:

On Aug. 15, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that one of its employees had died suddenly. The agency didn’t mention that Michael C. Dempsey, a senior field program officer assigned as the leader of a civilian assistance team in eastern Afghanistan, killed himself four days earlier while home on extended medical leave. However, the medical examiner in Kent County, Michigan, confirmed to Foreign Policy that Dempsey had committed suicide by hanging himself in a hotel-room shower. His death is USAID’s first known suicide in a decade of work in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. And what makes the suicide particularly striking is that it came a year and three days after Dempsey’s close friend and colleague was killed in an improvised-explosive-device attack in Afghanistan.

Related posts:

More from Mr. Lobold’s A Death in the Family:

Shah left unspoken the issue of suicide that USAID must now confront. With Dempsey’s death as the first known suicide from either of USAID’s Afghanistan or Iraq programs, the suicide forces the agency to deal with an inescapable problem: how to help its employees who deploy to the same war zones as the military but who don’t always have access to the same kind of assistance. Civilian culture may not have the military’s taboo against seeking mental-health assistance, but unlike the Defense Department, which has struggled to arrest the vast suicide problem within its ranks, civilian agencies such as USAID and the State Department are governed by different privacy rules that hamstring those agencies as they try to help employees who may be suffering from post-traumatic anxiety, depression, or worse.
[...]
USAID has deployed more than 2,000 “direct hires” through Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Many of them, like Dempsey, are considered “foreign service limited” (FSL) officers. That means they enjoy many of the same benefits of Foreign Service officers, but can’t be promoted or moved to other offices or departments. About 150 FSL officers are in Afghanistan currently. After each deployment, each one gets a “high-stress outbrief,” but due to privacy concerns, USAID isn’t able to contact any of them after they leave federal service to ensure that they aren’t suffering from deployment-related issues or other maladies, like alcohol abuse or depression. After a deployment, supervisors may only hear about those kinds of problems unofficially, through the bureaucratic grapevine, because of the way privacy regulations govern civilian agencies. And even then, if a problem is identified, USAID, unlike the Defense Department, can’t force an employee to undergo treatment.

Click here for the memorial page of Michael Cameron Dempsey (May 26, 1980  –  August 11, 2013) where you may leave a note or share a photo with his family.

* * *

Something about that “each one gets a “high-stress outbrief,” but due to privacy concerns, USAID isn’t able to contact any of them …” seem odd.

According to the State Department, Foreign Service and Civil Service employees from the State Department and USAID who have spent more than 90 days in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, or Libya are required to attend its High-stress Assignment Outbriefing Program. Any State employee serving at any high stress post is also highly encouraged to attend.

However, a review of the program by State/OIG in July 2010 indicates that fewer than 60 percent of returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan for whom this is mandatory attend the High Stress Assignment Outbrief.   Apparently, very few employees from other high stress posts for whom it is voluntary take it.  State/OIG also stated that “If efforts to increase attendance fail, the Department will need to adopt stronger measures and a follow-up mechanism.”  Now, why would State/OIG propose the adoption of stronger measures to increase the Outbrief attendance if there were “privacy concerns?”

In any case, the Outbrief is mandatory but more than 40% of returnees mandated to attend it do not take it. FSI’s Transition Center admits that “compliance remains a difficult issue:”

“Compliance remains a difficult issue. While the program has received support and validation from a number of internal and external stakeholders, the unique requirement of a post-deployment “de-brief” coupled with a cultural reluctance in the workforce to deal with mental health or stress related issues mitigate against full participation. Since the essence of the program is to provide help to returning employees – and their family members – more rigorous measures to ensure compliance were seen as undesirable (e.g., holding up onward assignments or limiting or temporarily suspending clearances) and counterproductive.”

In a recent document published in conjunction with a solicitation for a High Stress Assignment Outbrief provider also states that the Outbrief “is a two-way educational program” and it is “not a clinical session or intervention.”  Asked by potential provider about “sources/citations for the interviewing methodologies utilized in the High Stress Assignment Outbrief”, the official response is as follows:

“The interview methodology was developed by trainers and psychiatrists working for the Foreign Service Institute and the Office of Medical Services of the Department of State. The interview protocol is not designed as a therapeutic intervention; it’s purpose is to have participants reflect on their experiences, offer advice to the Department, and to provide a conduit for such aggregated information for Department decision makers.”

The Outbrief implementation guide posted by FSI’s Transition Center at fbo.gov also states that “the Department is responsible for keeping track of compliance” and that there is a need (for the selected provider) to make sure that “accurate records are kept of who attended, when, and where.”

In short –

The Outbrief is not/not a clinical session.

It is not/not a therapeutic intervention.

It is mandatory but not everyone attends it.

The Department kept accurate records of who attended it, where and when.

But due to “privacy concerns” USAID isn’t able to contact any of them to ensure that they are not suffering from deployment-related issues.

Also a new contract was awarded to a new Outbriefer in May 2013 for $46,400 (Base and Option Years Estimate).

You know, I’ve lost my brain today. I just don’t get this. If you’ve been through the Outbrief session would you kindly write me and help me understand how this is helpful to returnees from high stress-high threat assignments.

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Filed under Mental Health, Questions, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID, War