U.S. Diplomatic Staffer Missing, Presumed Dead in Colombia Boating Accident

 

A U.S. diplomatic staffer temporary assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota reportedly went missing and is presumed dead after a boating accident in Colombia. The name of the staffer has not been officially released. During his press remarks with Colombia President Ivan Duque in Bogota, Secretary Pompeo commented on the accident that reportedly occurred on Saturday:

Pompeo: I want to comment on the tragic loss that Mission Colombia and the entire State Department suffered this past weekend.  As you may already know, one of our team members, an American, is missing and presumed dead as a result of a boating accident that occurred on Saturday.  We’ve notified the next of kin but are withholding the name of the victim for privacy considerations.  Other government personnel – some assigned to Colombia and others visiting – were also rescued at the scene of the accident.  Some sustained modest injuries, and one was airlifted to the United States yesterday for treatment.

I want to thank President Duque – you, and your team, and your government – also the private citizens of Colombia – for the outstanding assistance that they provided during the course of the rescue operations.  And to my entire State Department team, Susan and I are with you in your grief.  You have my word the department will do everything in our power to comfort and support those who have suffered from this devastating loss.

President Duque (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much, dear Secretary Pompeo.  I would also like first of all to express our solidarity and our condolences.  Our solidarity for the incident that occurred over the weekend, which was an accident and that affected some U.S. citizens, and naturally express our condolences for what has been a several-days search for embassy officials.

As you all know, we have the national navy teams as well as all the local and coast guard services engaged in the corresponding investigation in an effort to reach fruitful results so as to find the body of the person that has not been found yet.  You know, Secretary Pompeo, that we have a shared solidarity in this respect and the people of Colombia regret the incident.

The Colombian Navy released a statement of the incident on Monday, January 20. It looks like the boat capsized due to adverse weather condition in the Cartagena area. During the incident, 11 of the 12 passengers of the boat were reportedly assisted by the Colombian Navy. The victim of the accident is described in the Colombian Navy statement as a temporary official of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and was in the company of several fellow citizens.
The Colombian Navy with the Cartagena Coast Guard, specialized naval divers and aircraft of the Caribbean Aeronaval Group, and with the support of aircraft of the Combat Air Command No. 3 of the Colombian Air Force were reportedly deployed in the area of the incident performing the search operation.  The Colombian Navy statement also says that it will continue with the search and rescue operation while inviting the navigators community to report any information that may assist in locating missing person.
CNN’s report includes comments from the WHA bureau:

A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told CNN that the employee was “on temporary assignment to the US Embassy in Bogota” and was “engaging in tourist activities in Cartagena” when the boating accident occurred.

“We appreciate the Colombian Government’s continued search-and-rescue operation in search of the missing American employee,” they said.
“Other government personnel, some assigned to Colombia and others visiting, were rescued from the capsized boat, some sustaining moderate injuries,” the spokesperson said. “We express our gratitude to the private citizens and Colombian military for rescuing the employees.”

 

Retired FSO David Lindwall Remembers the Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010 (Excerpt Via FSJ)

 

David Lindwall is a retired FSO who was serving as deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake and for the first 18 months of earthquake relief and reconstruction programs. His other posts included Colombia, Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sweden, as well as assignments in Washington, D.C. Excerpt below is from A Night to Remember, Foreign Service Journal, Jan/Feb 2020 where he shares his record of the first hours of the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010:

Three embassy houses on a ridgeline had collapsed and slid down the hill. Our human rights officer and her husband and the noncommissioned officer from the defense attaché’s office were trapped in the rubble. Their neighbor, Security Officer Pete Kolshorn, and a couple of Haitian guards worked tirelessly into the night to rescue them. With violent aftershocks rearranging the rubble every 15 minutes, the rescue operation put the rescuers’ own lives at risk. But they persisted and got their injured comrades up to the top of the ridgeline. All three had broken bones and open wounds. During the two hours it took to get them out of the rubble, we sent a scout to the three hospitals in town. All three were overwhelmed and would not even open their gates to us.

A Haitian doctor who lived nearby gave initial attention to our three wounded colleagues and helped Kolshorn move them several blocks through rubble to the main street. An embassy roving patrol vehicle that had been trapped up in the highlands managed to meet the party on the other side of the rubble. The Haitian doctor advised moving them to the clinic of a plastic surgeon he knew in Petionville. It wasn’t ideal, but it was our only choice. The doctor asked us to send oxygen tanks because one of the male patients had a collapsed lung.

In the expectation that one of our drivers would find a way through the rubble that separated the embassy from Petionville, I asked Dr. Steve Harris, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Port-au-Prince who had set up a provisional hospital in the embassy’s health unit, to get me all the oxygen, morphine and casting supplies he could spare. There were only two tanks of oxygen. That would not be enough to keep the male patient alive, the Haitian doctor told me; but it was all we had, and we dispatched the driver with the supplies.

Through the night more and more wounded came to the embassy looking for help. One of the ambassador’s bodyguards with open wounds and broken bones came carrying his infant son who had multiple fractures. His wife and other children had all been killed when their house collapsed.

By midnight we still had not located a large number of embassy personnel. With so many streets blocked by rubble, it was a real challenge to reach them. Assistant RSO Rob Little offered to take his motorcycle and go looking house by house. Rob knew Port-au-Prince better than any of us, and at 6 foot 6, he was intimidated by nothing. For the next two hours he drove around the neighborhoods where embassy people lived, assembling them in areas where they could be picked up by our vans as soon as the roads were cleared. Some of the embassy homes had been completely destroyed, but their occupants were miraculously spared. Several officers sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, but required evacuation as soon as we could get flights in the next days. For those huddled together in the dark front yards of ruined houses waiting for an embassy van, it must have been a very long night

Read in full here: http://afsa.org/night-remember

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Ex-@StateDept DAS and NSC’s Russia Expert Andrew Peek on Admin Leave Pending Investigation

 

Andrew Peek was part of the Trump Landing Team at the State Department in December 2016 (see Trump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).
On  December 8, 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Peek, a former U.S. military intelligence officer  and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve was to become the deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq.
Peek officially became the NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq on December 11, 2017.  He replaced Chris Backemeyer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iran in 2017. Chris Backemeyer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Peek also replaced Joseph Pennington, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq (2015-18). Joe Pennington is currently the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Click here for Peek’s official bio per state.gov.
On January 18, Axios and other media outlets report that Peek who had Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison’s job at the NSC since November 2019 has “been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation.” Bloomberg reporter notes that “the top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council has left his post, escorted out of the White House on Friday.”

 

As Ukraine Opens Probe Into Yovanovitch Surveillance, Foggy Bottom Remains Mute as a Mouse

Update 1:37 pm PST: Mid-day on Friday, CNN reports: After more than 48 hours of silence, Pompeo says State will investigate possible surveillance of ex-US ambassador

On January 14, we blogged about the Parnas documents indicating a possible surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch while she was posted as U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv (see Parnas Materials: Surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in Kyiv).
According to NBC News reporter Josh Lederman, Robert F. Hyde reportedly dismissed the Parnas texts as “colorful texts” from when they’d “had a few pops way back when I used to drink” (see). When asked about Hyde’s claims of tracking Ambassador Yovanovitch, Lev Parnas in his first TV interview also said, “Well, I don’t believe it’s true.”  He added, “I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn’t take it seriously.”
Since we have not heard anything from the State Department or Secretary Pompeo, are we to understand that the State Department is just taking their words that they’re joking around or drunk as claimed in their worrisome exchange? Given subsequent reporting on the Hyde character, that’s possible, of course. But if there was something there, anyone really expect that these individuals would admit to some nefarious intent publicly?
On January 16, Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior announced that it opened an investigation on the possible surveillance:

Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America. However, the published references cited contain a possible violation of the law of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of the foreign country.

Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state.

Also on January 16, NBC News reported that the FBI paid a visits to Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde’s Connecticut home and business.  FBI spokesperson told The Hill, “There is no further information that can be shared at this time.”  But as former DOJ staffer Matthew Miller points out, DOJ has had these messages for months. They’re investigating this claimed surveillance just now.
As of this writing, neither Pompeo nor the State Department has released any statement of concern on the possibility that one of its ambassadors was under surveillance for unknown reasons by people directly connected to Rudy Giuliani, the shadow secretary of state.
When State officials and Pompeo talk about protecting and supporting our diplomats in their town halls and chitchats, do they still say that loud with straight faces? Really, we’re curious.

 

 

 

 

United Arab Emirates to Pay For Estimated $60Million USA Pavilion in Expo2020 Dubai #foreignassistance

 

The world exposition Expo2020 is set to open in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on October 20, 2020.  In December 2019, InPark Magazine reported that nearly 200 countries have signed up to participate, each participant with a national pavilion. The per-pavilion investment was reported to be in the millions with China’s pavilion cited at a cost of $100 million. (see The U.S. could be a no-show at Expo 2020 Dubai). In fall last year, UAE’s The National also reported that the United States has yet to secure funding and begin construction on its $60 million pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai. The US Consul General in Dubai Philip Frayne was reportedly confident that funding would be available despite  failure of a private consortium to raise the needed funds (see Financial troubles stall construction of US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai).
On January 16, UAE’s The National reported that the US will participate at Expo 2020 Dubai with UAE funding:

American participation had been in doubt due to a law, passed in the 1990s, which prevents public funds being used for Expos. In the past, businesses have met the bill, but despite a lobbying effort led by Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, the US failed to attract enough private funding for Dubai. Legislative efforts to get around the rules proved unsuccessful.

It is not yet known how much money the UAE will provide to the US. However, it is understood that the original design of the US pavilion, which was estimated to cost $60 million (Dh220m) will be changed, not least because of time pressures with the opening of the event just nine months away.

The National also got a quote from Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council: The US State Department would be “100 per cent” in charge of the pavilion, Mr Sebright said, with the UAE government to offer support and assistance “as appropriate”.
Below is the State Department’s announcement citing the generosity of the Emirati Government in making America … er great anew by providing funds for the building of the USA Pavilion and making U.S. participation in Expo2020 Dubai possible.

GAO Report Cites @StateDept’s Obstruction in Ukraine Security Funds Review

 

Via GAO:

We also question actions regarding funds appropriated to State for security assistance to Ukraine. In a series of apportionments in August of 2019, OMB withheld from obligation some foreign military financing (FMF) funds for a period of six days. These actions may have delayed the obligation of $26.5 million in FMF funds. See OMB Response, at 3. An additional $141.5 million in FMF funds may have been withheld while a congressional notification was considered by OMB
[…]
Letter from General Counsel, GAO, to Secretary of State and Acting Legal Adviser, State (Nov. 25, 2019). State provided us with limited information.
[…]
As a result, we will renew our request for specific information from State and OMB regarding the potential impoundment of FMF funds in order to determine whether the Administration’s actions amount to a withholding subject to the ICA, and if so, whether that withholding was proper. We will continue to pursue this matter.

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch

 

 

Travel With Mike and Susan Pompeo to Silicon Valley

 

Imminent Attacks on Four Embassies But Posts and American Public Not Warned ?

 

Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress  (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got MadReal ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were  ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were  an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued  a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
    • US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.” 
    • U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
    • U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
    • U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.”  The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:

“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.

#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs  (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.

So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy.   See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.  
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at  (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers,  we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.

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US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass Steps Down After a 2-Year Tenure

 

ABC News reported ton January 6, 2020 that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass (1964–) was stepping down from his position “after serving in the war-weary country’s capital since December 2017.”  An official reportedly said that his departure was “long-planned and part of the normal rotation cycle, with American ambassadors typically serving in Kabul for only two years.” Also:
The State Department has named Ross Wilson as chargé d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until a new ambassador is confirmed. Wilson is expected to arrive in Kabul soon, according to the official.
Karen Decker, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, will serve as chargé d’affaires until Wilson’s arrival, the official said.
Ambassador Bass’ immediate predecessor in Kabul was Ambassador Peter Michael McKinley (1954–) who served  from January 6, 2015–December 18, 2016. Previous to Ambassador McKinley was Ambassador James B. Cunningham (1952–) who served from August 13, 2012–December 7, 2014. Ambassador Ryan Clark Crocker (1949–) who was briefly chargé d’affaires ad interim in 2002 returned to served for one year from  July 25, 2011–July 23, 2012. President Obama’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Winfrid Eikenberry (1951–), served from May 21, 2009–July 19, 2011. President George W. Bush’s last ambassador to Afghanistan, William Braucher Wood (1950–) also served a two-year tenure from  April 16, 2007–April 3, 2009.