Iraq Reconstruction – Rogues’ Hall of Shame from 2005-2011

 SIGIR | Convictions from Iraq Reconstruction


Nicole Avant, US Ambassador to the Bahamas to Resign By End of Year

The US Embassy in the Bahamas announced on October 27, 2011 that U.S. Ambassador Nicole A. Avant will soon end her tenure as the thirteenth United States Ambassador to The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. According to the embassy, Ambassador Avant will depart the Bahamas by the end of the year to “return to private life and devote more time to her family.”

From the embassy presser:

On October 22, 2009 Ambassador Avant presented her credentials to Governor General His Excellency Arthur D. Hanna.  Over the last two years, Ambassador Avant has worked closely with the Government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to further strengthen bilateral relations and advance five initiatives; Education, alternative energy, economic and small business development, women’s empowerment, and raising awareness about the challenges facing people with disabilities.

Ambassador Avant described her tenure in The Bahamas as a rewarding experience. “For the last two years I have had the privilege of representing my country and President Barack Obama as the Ambassador of the United States of America to The Bahamas. It has truly been an honor to serve in this beautiful country and advance our mutually beneficial partnership, which is based on a shared commitment to regional security, democratic ideals, economic and social progress, energy security and stewardship of the environment.

I am tremendously proud of what the U.S. Mission has accomplished during my tenure, particularly in assisting local communities on New Providence, Grand Bahama and in the Family Islands.  Throughout my travels I have had the opportunity to meet so many Bahamians who are making a difference in society at all levels.  I applaud you for your leadership and your investment in the future of The Bahamas.  You are true Ambassadors.

On behalf of my husband Ted Sarandos and our children Sarah and Tony, I wish to convey my sincere gratitude to the Governor General, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the government and the people of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas for your warmth, hospitality and friendship over the last two years.  We will always have a great affection for The Bahamas and will consider it our second home.”

Another Bloody Day in Our Pretend 51st State of Afghanistan

According to ISAF: “[T]he three incidents today included a vehicle-born improvised explosive device detonating in Kabul, causing a number of Coalition and civilian casualties; an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform apparently turned his weapon on Afghan and Coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, killing three ISAF service members and wounding several others; and a teenage girl carried out a suicide attack on a National Directorate of Security building in the eastern province of Kunar, killing herself  and wounding several NDS personnel.”

Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman provides more details:

At least five U.S. troops and eight U.S. civilians in Kabul are dead on Saturday after a Taliban bomber targeted the lightly-armored bus transporting them through the Afghan capitol. 

While details are still sketchy, the Taliban attack shows sophistication. The bus, known colloquially as a “Rhino,” is a slow transport vehicle built to withstand small arms fire. Its hull is V-shaped, like a Mine Resistant Ambushed Protected (MRAP) vehicle, so it can survive driving over a homemade bomb.

But insurgents evidently spotted two vulnerabilities with the Rhino. First, unlike troop convoys or patrols, Rhinos travel along a set, predictable route. Second, as ABC News notes, the buses are not built to survive a suicide car bomb detonating along its side. And the Rhino was reportedly escorted by a convoy of thickly armored MRAPs, which indicates that the insurgents understand it to be the less-secure vehicle.

In the second incident, ISAF makes it sound as if the individual just put on an ANA uniform then proceeded to turn his weapon on Coalition forces.  The casualties were mostly Australian troops. The Australian has more details:

AFGHAN troops at a forward base have been disarmed and confined to barracks after a rogue Afghan soldier killed three Australians and wounded seven.

Australia’s 1550 personnel in Afghanistan are on higher alert with concerns greatest among hundreds of instructors mentoring their Afghan counterparts in remote patrol bases.

The soldiers, a captain a corporal and a lance corporal whose names have not yet been released, and an Afghan interpreter were shot down during a parade at a patrol base at Shah Wali Kot in northern Kandahar Province yesterday morning, Afghan time.
The killer was wearing an Afghan National Army uniform.

Those who fired back at him included some of the wounded Australians. The killer was shot dead.

The local Afghan Army commander, General Abdul Hameed, said the rogue Afghan soldier had been in the army for three years.

“At around 8.30 this morning (3pm AEDT), an ANA soldier named Darwish who had been serving as an ANA soldier for the past three years opened fire on a group of Australian military officers, killing three of them,” said Hameed.

In the third incident, another suicide bombing by a female teenager in Kunar province:

At least one civilian Afghan was killed and 7 others including five Afghan national police forces were killed after a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives near the Afghan National Directorate for Security building in eastern Kunar province on Saturday.

The incident took place around 11:00 am local time in Asadabad district, center of eastern Kunar province.

According to an Afghan security official speaking on a condition of anonymity said, at least two female suicide bombers were involved in today’s bombing, out of which one of them managed to detonate her explosives and the other one managed to escape the scene.

US Embassy Kabul released the following  statement to the media:

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the ISAF soldiers and civilians and Afghan citizens who died during the suicide bombing attack in Kabul this morning. We mourn their loss but will continue their dedicated work on behalf of peace in this country and region. We also remember those lost or injured today in other incidents in Kunar and southern Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

It looks like traffic is still the biggest problem in Kabul or, Afghanistan for that matter. Why, if that bus was not on the road, and if those people were not congregating at a parade or in their office, there would be no road/foot traffic; and if there were no road/foot traffic, there would not have been any attacks.

So — traffic is still the biggest problem. We’re sure we  won’t have nightmares tonight. I’m sure of it … goddammit!

Meanwhile, our go-to guy in It’s Always Sunny in Kabul nudges us to see the big picture:

“Sure, some are going to argue that today’s incident in Kabul that killed 13 US troops is an indication of an escalating insurgency, but those sorts of people just don’t grasp the big picture: the insurgents are in Kabul because their freedom of movement is restricted everywhere else.”

What do you do with a "problem" like Peter Van Buren? Take away his badge, escort him out, bar the door, throw away the key and ….

Collage of images taken by U.S. military in Ir...Image via WikipediaHey! That’s going to really shut him up.

Yesterday, AFP reports that Mr. Van Buren was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning while officials there decide what to do next with him.  Our own source said that Mr. Van Buren has been placed on administrative leave for the next couple of weeks. Admin leave is like “we’ll pay you so we don’t have to see you.”  I supposed that’s until they can find the citation in the FAM that would fit this “problem.”  Mr. Van Buren’s current assignment reportedly had also been curtailed. If true, that means they just took away his desk and chair, too. So even if he is allowed to return after his admin leave, he won’t actually have a job to return to. 

As an aside, Mr. Van Buren’s book is the main selection in our house’s book of the
month club.  Our 5th grader is currently reading it at home and at
school. I don’t think it’s going to damage the kid in any way.

Mr. Van Buren’s book is highly critical of the State Department’s work in Iraq, the accompanying blog, just as critical. Not sure if the punishment is for the book, the blog, or for both. No one would speak on the record. The suspension letter did not cite the book, but did cite as one of the author’s faults, “an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern.”

This is the first time, as far as memory goes, that the State Department had actually yanked somebody’s clearance over “publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review.” Whereas, in the past, I was aware of the shock factor in threatening bloggers with this in-house version of the “nuclear” option, this is the first time where somebody actually pushed the red button. And in a very public way. 

This is the part where I should also note that although Mr. Van Buren is the first ever blogger escorted out of the building, he was only the latest casualty in the tigers can bite you escapades inside the State Department.  Some FS bloggers have been unable to get suitable ongoing assignments – or even normal responses to their bid lists.  As one recently told me, “these officers have not asked for extraordinary favors:  just regular, humdrum postings that fall comfortably within the bidding rules, that are not heavily bid or bid on by superstars, and for which they are completely competent. ….they have heard only silence.”

Assignment issues, blogger disappearances and PVB’s case undoubtedly will bring a big chill to the FS
blogosphere. Don’t be shocked if folks go back to the 50’s and start
hiding their journals under their pillows, as was quaintly suggested elsewhere.

But here is the big question.  Now that State had unleashed the “nuclear” option and suspended Mr. Van Buren’s security clearance, what other threats can you cite to help with behavior modification inside the Big House? He’s really going to stop talking/writing/giving interviews now that he had his clearance suspended, or now that he is barred from Foggy Bottom.

You think?

You suspend his clearance hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his badge, hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You bar him from entering any door of the State Department hoping that will scare him enough he’d stop blogging; he did not. You take away his desk and his chair hoping that will scare him out of his wits he’d stop blogging. Instead, on October 27, he was the guest of the National Press Club, his appearance covered by WaPo’s Joe Davidson. The hometown paper has finally caught up with the news.

And look just now — the book even meets the approval of NYmag, which ranked the book significantly higher than the Mexican cyclops shark.  See the unintended consequences here?

So how do you solve a “problem” like Peter Van Buren? Well, certainly not the way the State Department is “solving” it right now.

First, I think it must be said that the State Department handled the book clearance badly. Somebody should have owned up to the snafu instead of gunning after the author. The 30-day timeline for clearing the book lapsed. It was not the author’s fault regardless of whether or not the person responsible for clearance had a meltdown, a baby, was sick or was on vacation. But State like any old and cumbersome bureaucracy is loath to admit to its own mistakes.  They cleared Condi’s book within the 30-day timeline, yet Mr. Van Buren’s book was not afforded the same courtesy. The State Department, in short, broke its own clearance procedure. And when Mr. Van Buren published the book as allowed under its own regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State accused him of “unauthorized disclosures of classified information,” and asked his publisher for redactions six days before the book hit the stores.  Can you imagine them doing that to Secretary Rice’s book? Nope. Big fry, small fry; are there different rules?

But hey – like Joe Davidson says, “The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.”And it’s free!

Second, given the potential fallout from a book about reconstruction in what has always been an unpopular, contentious war, and given how much money we’re spending on reconstruction projects over in Iraq, somebody higher than a Deputy Assistant Secretary should have read the book, cleared his/her calendar and spoke privately with the author. Instead of sending the tigers with sharp teeth. I have not meet Mr. Van Buren in person, and he may be far from cutesy and cuddly, but he has written a vivid, engaging account of our reconstruction debacle in Iraq seasoned with absurdities, great and small. To dismiss him as nothing but a disgruntled employee is just plain brainless. Public opinion is already against the Iraq war. Add to that the rest of the domestic headaches that the American taxpayers have been suffering in the last several years. And what do you get?  A public relation disaster, with the State Department as the big, bad growling tiger in a starring role. It does not help that State appears to be acting like a big, bad growling tiger trying to eat an angry mouse. Grrrr….diplomatic skills exercised?  Zero.

Remember when Matthew Hoh resigned over Afghanistan? He had two tours of duty in Iraq and five months under his belt in Afghanistan when he quit.  Hoh received offers of new gigs from both Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. I understand, he even got some face time with the VPOTUS. I think both ambassadors understood that in our top foreign policy engagement, they cannot be perceived as tone-deaf to the concerns of their man on the ground.

I’m not saying State should have offered Mr. Van Buren a fancy gig in Paris. But at the very least, somebody from the Seventh Floor should have attempted to speak with him. He, after all, spent 23 years with the State Department and cared enough to write the Iraq Experience down in a book. With his name on it. Not even the folks interviewed by USIP were willing to put their names down in that Oral History Project.  But no one bothered to speak with him. A DAS alleging his disclosure of classified info did eventually write to him, albeit belatedly, and not really to listen to what he had to say.

It’s as if the State Department is proud of all its smart people except for those with the guts to speak up, or write a critical book.  Or are they only proud of our smart diplomats when they dissent in private, in a channel that the American public never ever gets to hear, and that which the organization is free to ignore?  The guy who talks too much not only gets a good hearing in my book, he or she should be afforded an opportunity to contribute in fixing the problems that he cites. No, we do not shoot the messengers in our book. Most especially if they are bearing bad news. But that’s us.  Unfortunately, that is often the case in the bureaucracy, the State Department perhaps more so than most. A dead messenger is a good messenger, no news is good news. Ta-daa! And all is great in Iraq. Amen.

Three, Mr. Van Buren is not without faults.  He posted articles in his blog without obtaining clearance as required in the FAM. Mr. Van Buren, like his employer, also broke the clearance procedure in the FAM.  He even admits to that.  But I don’t know of any FSO who blog who had requested clearance for his/her every blog post.  The regs make no distinction whether what you write is critical or not, a clearance is required on matters of official concern.  And since State’s purview is the entire world, that covers just about everything.  So to go after Mr. Van Buren in a singular fashion invites the suspicion that he is targeted for his critical views, not just for the blog but also for his book.

Four, that convoluted business of the use of a disclaimer. You put up a disclaimer to ensure that what you write is not attributed to the State Department or the US Government. 

Here is Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer in his blog:

Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog or book.

A spokesman went so far as confirmed Mr. Van Buren’s disclaimer, telling NPR that “the author’s
views are his own, and not necessarily those of the State Department.” And really now, if you read his blog, it is hard to imagine anything similar coming out from Mr. Toner or Ms. Nuland from State’s Public Affairs shop. 

And then you have the following disclaimer from the personal blog of the Deputy Director of the State Department’s  Office of Innovative Engagement:

……  is an employee of the United States Department of State.  She has been with the Department of State for fourteen years in both traditional Information Technology roles and also as the Deputy Director for the Department’s  first social media office – The Office of Innovative Engagement.  The viewpoints, opinions and ideas expressed here do not represent the official opinion or policy of the United States Government or the Department of State.

She went on to blog about her Twitter cliff notes writing about her agency’s social media policy:

Public engagement should only be conducted by trained professionals.  You should not tweet about something you are not an expert in.  An example would be if you are not a consular officer do not talk about the visa or passport process.  Direct those people to the appropriate subject matter expert.

Twitter is a live community of humans and reacts the same way as people do when engaging with them in real life.  You should focus on developing a “human voice” or persona for your community.  This means no generic tweets or “ever green” tweets!  Mass messages across all Department accounts are also considered to be an inappropriate use of Twitter.
Before using any new social media tools for official State Department purposes, it is important that you are familiar with State Department Policy on Social Media: 5 FAM 790. You should also review the Managing Your Social Media field guide.  This guide is very important to helping you plan, create, and execute a successful social media campaign.

Personal vs. Professional Self:

You must have permission to tweet in your professional capacity.  Permission is granted by the head American officer in the section or the Office Director for domestic offices.

If you are tweeting in your professional capacity, you must disclose the account as being an official Department of State account.

If you are tweeting on someone’s behalf, you must state who is on duty.  Transparency is critical to building trust with your community.

When tweeting in your personal capacity you should not talk specifically about your job.  See 3 FAM 4170 for additional information.

Whether or not this deputy director had clearance to post this policy item in her blog as a personal item is between her and Public Affairs. However, I do have to point out that both blogs used disclaimers claiming to be writing in their personal capacities. Mr. Van Buren blogs about Iraq and affairs of the state, all on matters of official concern. Ms. Deputy Director blogs about the Department’s social media policy, also a matter of official concern. One is under investigation, the other as far as I know is not.

According to the regs, some of the factors to be considered in overcoming the presumption of private capacity with the use of a disclaimer include, but not necessarily limited to: 1) The current or former position, rank, and/or duties of the employee; 2) The relationship between the employee’s position, rank, and/or duties and the subject matter of the speaking/teaching/writing.

It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FSO was a PRT guy in Iraq from 2009-2010, and if my source is correct, is now an employee without a job.  The Deputy Director presumably is in the GS scale; could be GS-14/15 and the incumbent in her office. 

By the way, if you find 5 FAM 790, the State Department
Policy on Social Media significantly imperfect and hard to wrap your head around, you
have the deputy director to thank for that. She reportedly is the
co-author of this first social media use policy for the Department of

Finally, there is that notion that they drummed into your head from A-100 on, that as a Foreign Service Officer, you are on duty 24/7.  They like saying that. And for the most part, folks in the Foreign Service understand that to be true. You like to think you have a personal life until you have to report to the Regional Security Officer who you slept with the previous night. Or until they tell you — hey, you are actually blogging on official time, since you are considered on duty 24/7. They have not told you that? Don’t worry, they’ll eventually come around to telling you that when they can’t figure out what to do with bloggers.

In any case, you are on duty 24/7 until the government decides that you are not. Remember the case of Douglas Kent, the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok who was involved in a
car accident in October 1998 while driving home from his office?  State concurred with DOJ that he was not on duty 24/7 when the accident occurred.  Here is a trip down memory lane via U.S. Diplomacy:

Kent left the post on reassignment, a Russian citizen injured in the
accident sued Kent in his individual capacity in a district court in
California.  According to an August 31, 2006, “AFSANET” message from the
American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), “The Department of Justice
with State Department concurrence refused to certify that Kent was
acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred,”
thus undermining his claim of immunity.  Ultimately, with AFSA
supporting FSO Kent’s legal defense, the case went to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor by determining
that he was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident
took place. 
The Kent case clearly demonstrates that while Foreign Service
personnel, especially those in senior positions, may consider themselves
on duty 24 hours a day while stationed overseas and thus fully
protected, particular circumstances may put those immunities at risk.

In theory, the rules are there to protect you. In practice, the rules can mean many different things to many different people — human interpretation, unless it’s done by droids, see?  The folks who write the rules can break it with no consequences. The folks who are covered by the rules are also allowed to break it but somebody’s gotta pay the price. If you come to think of it — the big fry, small fry rules only really sucks if you’re the small fry.  But if offends our sense of fairness.

In the end,  organizations particularly one as traditional and hierarchical as the State Department cannot tolerate people falling out of a straight line; it’s contrary to its sense of order and proper functioning of the organization. And really — “open door,” “innovative engagement,” “smart power,” and whatnot can only go so far.  An organization like State must do what it must do to protect its “brand,” (like any commercial company, only with less money); it is after all, one of the best places to work in the Feds world.

I doubt if the State Department will fire Mr. Van Buren for “disclosure” of alleged classified information in his book, or for linking to a WikiLeaks cable, or even for writing/speaking without clearance. That would make it look petty and seem vindictive and would drag this case long and possibly into court.  But organizations are not without power; it always has an ace up its sleeve, so to speak. In this case, a catch-all slam dunk section in 3 FAM 4130 otherwise known as  “Standards for Appointment and Continued Employment,” could be the ace up its sleeve. A much used up phrase of “poor judgement” is like a flyswatter that can be used for employees writing outside the chalked lines, as well as employees who patronize prostitutes.



Paul Bremer Who? Writes About Libya, and What Success Looks Like …. As in Iraq

Bremer signs over limited sovereignty to Iraq'...Image via Wikipedia
L. Paul Bremer and members of the Iraqi Govern...Image via Wikipedia
Via WaPo:

The parallels are striking. For decades, both dictators had been labeled terrorists by U.S. administrations, Republican as well as Democratic. For decades, each man had brutally oppressed his own citizens, often using cynical methods to exacerbate tribal and sectarian divisions. Gaddafi was found in a sewer pipe; Hussein was captured in a spider hole. Sic semper tyrannis.

The capture or death of a dictator can help close a curtain on a long period of tyranny. But consolidating such a huge political change has not been easy in Iraq, and it won’t be easy in Libya, either. Iraq’s experience suggests that success will hinge on addressing three urgent issues during this transition….
But the dictator’s capture did not solve Iraq’s security problems. The positive impact of his incarceration was soon canceled out by a large Sunni uprising in Anbar province and a simultaneous Shiite attack on three provincial capitals in southern Iraq. At the time, the United States lacked both the appropriate strategy and adequate forces to respond effectively to these challenges, a situation that was eventually corrected by President George W. Bush’s courageous troop surge in 2007.

But, but … Iraq had an Army, right?  Nah! I think somebody dismantled that one. Except he said he did not, really.

Read in full here.  You have permission to excuse yourself if you need to use the vomitorium.

If you don’t remember Paul Bremer, that makes two of us. Such a bummer when you suffer from a short memory fuse on our debacle in Iraq.  Anyway, I had to Google this one. It turns out that Paul Bremer in full is Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III. He was appointed by George W. Bush as presidential envoy to Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004 and is the author of some book about spending a hopey year in Iraq.  He was a career diplomat, one of ours …. sigh ….

Readers of WaPo who remember this guy just fine were understandably a tad confused.  One predicted what’s up at WaPo — “Coming next week, advice on living a dignified life from Charlie Sheen.”  Another asked, “Paul Bremer? Really? He’s like the George Costanza of policy advisors.”

Oh, dear!

Condi Congratulates Her Excellent Self in Her New Book, And Why Not?

Condoleezza Rice London, England March 1, 2005...                            Image via WikipediaVia WaPo – ‘No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington’ by Condoleezza Rice by Glenn Kessler:

“Rice is much more open detailing the administration’s struggle to deal with Iraq’s descent into violence during Bush’s second term. She congratulates herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field, but she might want to read “We Meant Well”— a hilarious and often depressing account by a foreign service officer of what really happened on the ground.”

Read in full here.

Oh, she congratulates herself – now, that’s a must read section.  Wonder if that infamous town hall made the cut in her book, complete with invited reporters at a ready to record those “whinny” diplomats who dared asked questions about what do you do after you get to Iraq.

Kessler writes that the former Secretary of State “congratulates” herself on “forcing more State Department officials into the field.” Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot! Why is she congratulating her own excellent self?  I bet she did not know that most Foreign Service folks were already serving in the field before she came to Foggy Bottom? Or that the civil servants were hired to man the fort on C. Street not the blackholes of  ….

Pardon me?  Oh, you mean, she “forced” them into the war zones in 2007? Must be it. Except wait a minute …. neither her then Director General of the Foreign Service or Deputy went over there to serve.  I heard they worked REALLY hard at HR to get people to go; remember the prime candidate exercise? So basically, some suckers went to the war zones and others got their ambassadorships to some pretty sweet island countries in the Pacific or elsewhere without ever having some Baghdad dust on their shoes. You say it’s unfair?  But who says bureaucratic life should be fair?

I’ll have to wait until my public library gets a copy of this book. Sorry, I can’t, I just can’t bear to part with my donated dollars for Dr. Ferragamo’s legacy shoring book.

US Files Complaint Against Obiang Jr., Alleged Kleptocrat and Son of Equatorial Guinea Dictator

Via DOJ:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. government has filed civil forfeiture complaints against approximately $70.8 million in real and personal property, which the government alleges is the proceeds of foreign corruption offenses and was laundered in the United States, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton.

An amended civil forfeiture complaint has been unsealed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California and a separate civil forfeiture complaint was filed today in the District of Columbia.   According to the complaints, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (Nguema) used his position and influence as a government minister for Equatorial Guinea to acquire criminal proceeds through corruption and money laundering, in violation of both Equatoguinean and U.S. law.    According to the complaints, Nguema is the son of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo (Obiang), the president of Equatorial Guinea.

“The complaints announced today allege that, on a modest government salary, Minister Nguema amassed wealth of over $100 million,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.   “While his people struggled, he lived the high life – purchasing a Gulfstream jet, a Malibu mansion and nearly $2 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia.   Alleging that these extravagant items are the proceeds of foreign official corruption, the Department of Justice is seeking to seize them through coordinated forfeiture actions.   Through our Kleptocracy Initiative, we are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders.”

“This investigation was initiated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in an effort to identify Teodoro Nguema Obiang’s assets in the United States after he was suspected of obtaining his wealth from alleged illicit activities such as the misappropriation of public funds, theft, extortion and embezzlement of the nation’s natural resources,” said ICE Director Morton. “ICE HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad to hold these individuals accountable by denying them the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains.”

According to the complaints, despite an official government salary of less than $100,000 per year, Nguema amassed more than $100 million during a period in which he and an inner circle of individuals who hold critical positions of political and economic power in Equatorial Guinea were the near-exclusive beneficiaries of the extraction and sale of that country’s natural resources .   Under Equatoguinean law, the natural resources belong to the people of Equatorial Guinea.   The complaints allege that Nguema used intermediaries and corporate entities to acquire numerous assets in the United States, including more than $1.8 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, a $38.5 million Gulfstream G-V jet, a $30 million house in Malibu, Calif., and a 2011 Ferrari automobile valued at more than $530,000.

Read in full here.

Related posts:

Friday, March 26, 2010 | The Problem with Alleged Kleptocrats and Visas …

Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Global Witness: Son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator plans $380M superyacht

OIG Review of Visa Lottery Snafu Details Failure of the Consular Bureau’s CST Office

The State Department’s OIG has released one of its shortest limited scope reports on the visa lottery failure this past summer.  Not only was the visa lottery a public relations debacle, there was also a case filed in federal court on it; later dismissed in mid-July. Excerpts from the report:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.
The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, 3limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off-the-shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank-ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rankordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.

CST management acknowledged that it did not follow the standard systems development life cycle (SOLC) process, which establishes standards for planning, developing, testing, and deploying systems. Sound systems and computer program development calls for the use of the SOLC process, and in its absence, the project was implemented without the opportunity to identify and assign the appropriate resources to support and adequately test this critical computer program. As a result, while the new contractor was developing the new program, the incumbent contractor tasked with operating and maintaining the legacy selection program was unaware of the new development effort and was preparing to run the old program. CST did not notify the incumbent contractor until it was time to run the selection process. Thus there was no opportunity for the two contracting companies to share information and plan the implementation.

Furthermore, the decision to move to an internally developed DV randomization computer program changed the contractors’ scopes of work, and the CST director did not notify AQM of these tasking changes. This lapse provides further support for the OIG May 2011 inspection report recommendation that CA and AQM conduct independent audits of CST contracts.

CST failed to follow the Department’s 5 FAM 610 requirements for project development, integration, modification, and maintenance of information technology systems, products, and services. These requirements apply to all Department personnel and to contractors involved in Department systems and program planning. Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office in its internal controls standards identifies Application Software Development and Change Control as one of the internal management controls to mitigate risk for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. One of the requirements is that all new or revised software be thoroughly tested and approved. By not adhering to the SDLC process and Department guidance, CST failed to meet established quality standards and business objectives and added unnecessary and costly steps to the program development and testing stages.

The report provides three brief recommendations but as if unable to help itself, the report points out to one final issue about CST management:

A final issue is that CST managers demonstrated a lack of understanding of visa issuance procedures and failed to consult appropriately with all stakeholders. For example, CST managers believed it was necessary to centralize all DV petition data because they erroneously thought the legacy stand-alone system allowed unqualified applicants to be issued visas without proper security checks. In actual practice, no visas are issued using the selection database. Consular officers adjudicate all DV applicants in the same system and with the same clearance processes as all other immigrant visas issued overseas.

Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.
The OIG review of the DV 2012 program emphasizes the need for CST to implement the recommendations made in the May 2011 report. At the time of the current review, CST management had neither provided OIG with an after-action report nor conducted a lessons learned analysis to share with CST staff or other stakeholders. CST was also unable to provide the OIG team with a plan for future implementation of the DV program. These documents are vital to the effective oversight and management of the DV program and will help avoid this and similar incidents, as well as their potentially costly consequences, in the future.

If CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) seems familiar, that’s because we have posted about it here, here and most recently, here.  Hard to imagine that there won’t be any fall out on this over there in terms of top management shuffle. 

Here’s the rather shocking part.  CST apparently is not sure who is responsible for administering the Diversity Visa program. Dammit, all my gray hairs jumped as if pulled by electric sheeps! All these years, CST wasn’t sure and it never bothered to find out? Holy molly guacamole!

Which of the following belong together?  a) Diversity Visa, b) Visa Office, c) Overseas Citizens Services. 

Bingo! I can do this with my eyes close – see? 

Related item:
Review of the FY 2012 Diversity Visa Program Selection Process, ISP-I-12-01

Related posts:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | Inadequate Oversight of State Dept’s Consolidated Consular Database– Is This WikiLeaks Waiting to Happen, Again?

Monday, July 18, 2011 | US Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against State Dept for Voided Green Card Lottery

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 | State Dept CA CIO Kirit Amin Rants on FSOs, Cronyism, Nepotism, “Doormats”… Two Days Later, Apologizes


Blogger Confidential: Deconstructing the Big House "Clearance" Mailbox

Since the day when Peter Van Buren posted in his blog the letter of suspension he received from Diplomatic Security, we have been reading concerned emails from some bloggers.

This is the section that is generating much concern:

“DS/SI/PSS has been notified that you have shown an unwillingness to comply with Department rules and regulations regarding writing and speaking on matters of official concern, including by publishing articles and blog posts on such matters without submitting them to the Department for review, and that your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable. This raises serious security concerns and can be disqualifying under Adjudicative Guidelines “E” (Personal Conduct) and “K” (Handling Protected Information).”

So one blogger who is posted in Agonistan and will be known here as Blogger Alpha started the clearance process for all his/her blog posts to stay on the right side of things.  Below is Blogger Alpha’s interesting first-hand experience with the Big House “Clearance” mailbox.

From: Blogger Alpha
To: Big House Clearances Mailbox
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan

As required, below is a blog post submitted for your clearance.

Please acknowledge receipt of this submission.

Thank you,
Blogger Alpha

—– Forwarded Message —–

From: Big House Clearances Mailbox
To: Blogger Alpha
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan

Dear Blogger Alpha,

This is to acknowledge receipt of your article, “Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan.” However, neither Dolly Parton nor dolls fall under the category considered “matters of official concern.” Please read your article carefully before submitting for clearance.

Jane Doe for “Big House Clearances Mailbox”
Bureau of Professional Responsibility in Participatory Media

—– Reply Message —–

From: Blogger Alpha
To: Big House Clearances Mailbox
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan 2

Please note that my article, “Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan” is not about Dolly Parton or dolls.  There are folks with guns in this blog post, and it is set in Agonistan, just one of our priority sites in the whole universe.

Since this is a blog post, I request expeditious review and clearance of the attached material.

Thank you for your assistance,
Blogger Alpha

—– Forwarded Message —–

From: Big House Clearances Mailbox
To: Blogger Alpha
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan2

Dear Blogger Alpha,

Thank you for calling my attention to the oversight and resending your blog post for clearance.

Your article, “Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan,” is not/not cleared for publication.  For starters, the article clearly addresses matters of official concern because it contains details about our facilities and bases in Agonistan.

Bureau X and Bureau Y refused to clear the article for publication due to the fact that the piece contains information that, if released, could be used to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities and capabilities of security at our bases in Agonistan. 

It is also quite possible that the views you express in the piece as official policy goals will be attributed to the Big House, notwithstanding the use of a disclaimer as required by 3 FAM 4172.1-4. This will, of course, as you know impair the proper functioning of the mission and our wider public relation efforts.

Think before you hit send. How’s this for expeditious? 🙂


Jane Doe for “Big House Clearances Mailbox”
Bureau of Professional Responsibility in Participatory Media

—– Reply Message —–

From: Blogger Alpha
To: Big House Clearances Mailbox
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan 3

Thank you for your quick response.  I do have a few questions.

All information about our bases and facilities in Agonistan comes from open sources and publicly available non-WikiLeaks, non- restricted materials online  (check out this link that list them).  

Can you please tell me which specific words in my article could be used by our enemies to identify and exploit our security, that they have not learned from a simple Google search?

I would also appreciate an explanation on how this blog post with a proper disclaimer could be construed as attributable to the Big House.  My disclaimer is carefully worded to make clear that my writing is a personal opinion and not an official statement from the Big House.

Is it possible that the non-overcome of a disclaimer is being applied arbitrarily to my blog submissions because they contain contrary opinions on what’s sunny in Agonistan?

Thank you,
Blogger Alpha

—– Forwarded Message —–

From: Big House Clearances Mailbox
To: Blogger Alpha
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan3

Dear Blogger Alpha,

Due to a miscommunication within the Big House, the previous response you received mistakenly emphasized the security concerns raised by your article.  Please disregard that response.

Below is the real reason why your article is not/not cleared for publication.

The piece clearly implicates security issues in its reference to a lack of “broomsticks for air flyers” to support Big House staffers who remain in Agonistan. 

However, our overriding concern with your article is that it includes numerous statements, all on matters of official concern. You cannot call the President of Agonistan a “snake” without some official reaction. We do want to keep our regular weekly meetings with him, and you probably know how touchy he can be. What you write therefore could adversely affect our relations with Agonistan as well as our larger mission to defeat the forces of evil in that region.

Furthermore, your article addresses a purported plan to keep 25,000 witches with brooms in Agonistan “until the end of time” and to house them on “permanent caves and covens.”  Plus, the article discusses specific locations for such covens.  It also implies that the Big House intends to invade other countries in the area using droid witches; where did you get that idea?

As well, you note that the Big House would ignore Agonistan’s demands to send home all staffers regardless whether they are certified witches or warlocks. Any of these statements, taken individually or in combination, supplemented by others that appear in the article, could cause serious damage to our policy, and in particular to our Sisyphean efforts and military/development activities in Agonistan. 

In addition, this harm would be amplified in the wider international community.  People potentially will give credence to such statements coming from an in-house staffer (particularly one who is currently working in Agonistan), never mind the required and well-worded disclaimer included in the piece.

And while it may be true that some of the information and speculation in your article comes from “open sources” or “publicly available non-WikiLeaks, non- restricted” materials online, this is not a determinative factor in our analysis of the submission.  Please note that the publication of sensitive information from open sources does not absolve you and other employees from the requirements and standards set forth in 3 FAM 4170. Just because it is out there does not mean you are free to discuss it.

For these reasons, the Big House is not/not in a position to clear your article as submitted.  We are, however, prepared to review it again, and possibly clear it for publication, if you edit it significantly (like maybe delete paragraphs 1-20?).  If you wish to publish any future articles on matters of official concern, please recognize the potential effects of your comments on our relations with friends, enemies and frienemies and on one of our most delicate missions ever.

Thank you.

Jane Doe for “Big House Clearances Mailbox”
Bureau of Professional Responsibility in Participatory Media

—– Reply Message —–

From: Blogger Alpha
To: Big House Clearances Mailbox
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan 4

If I delete paragraphs 1-20, I’d be left with nothing but the title for my blog post.

Blogger Alpha

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Big House Clearances Mailbox
To: Blogger Alpha
Cc: Blogger Alpha@email.xxxx
Subject: Please clear the following blog post: Dolly’s Shooty Shooty Bang Bang Folks in Agonistan4

Dear Blogger Alpha,

You are cleared to publish the title.

Thank you.

Jane Doe for “Big House Clearances Mailbox”
Bureau of Professional Responsibility in Participatory Media






Hamid Karzai, Our Man in Kabul — Misinterpreted Once Again!

And it’s a good thing! Because if this was not a “misinterpretation” that would make us real dummies with pet snakes in that neighborhood. 

Via HuffPo:

“If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan,” Karzai said is an interview with private Pakistani television station GEO that aired Saturday. “If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

Here is also a snippet of a video complete with finger wagging:

The LA Times has more:

President Hamid Karzai’s office on Monday sought to distance him from controversial remarks in a television interview aired over the weekend in which he asserted that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a hypothetical war against the United States. The presidential palace said the Afghan leader’s comments, made in an interview with the Pakistani television station Geo, had been “misinterpreted.”
A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.

Western military officials and diplomats publicly played down the significance of Karzai’s comments, even while privately expressing varying degrees of bafflement and dismay.

Read in full here.

As long as we continue willfully misinterpreting the smoke signals being sent from over there, we’re good, right?