Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! 

— Domani Spero

 

As can be expected, the Chicago Tribune report citing an army investigation into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013 made it to the Daily Press Briefing.

State Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says that “No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report.” Since State had concluded its “classified internal review,” how many military personnel did it interview for its report on that Zabul attack?

One, two, ten, the entire unit …how many?

We don’t know since the internal review is classified.

According to the Tribune, the army report says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.  

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The initial blast was cause by detonation from “a remote-controlled bomb hidden under a pallet that was leaned up against the base’s southern wall.” On PRT Zabul base’s wall. The report also slams the “failure of the State Department team to properly coordinate this trip with military leadership.”

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The report says that the State Department shared too much information with Afghan officials, and the group may have been targeted because specifics on the event’s exact time and who would attend “had leaked out.”

Um….we don’t know since the internal review is classified.

An embassy email referenced to in the report said that Qalat was picked because “we think the visuals would be nice” and it is a “the perfect place for a media tour.”

Months or years from now when the media and the public have forgotten about this — are we going to find out that the U.S. Army conducted its investigation without talking to State Department personnel, and that the State Department, as well, came up with an internal review without interviewing any of the military personnel in Zabul?

The spox brought up two items that made us — whisley-tango-foxtrot!

“Afghanistan is a war zone.”

Because we all need a reminder!

“[P]eople responsible for this tragedy were the extremists.”

Holy moly guacamole! Is that the best response we’ve got every time a sapling falls in a forest?

We have excerpted the exchange below.

QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.

So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?

MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.

And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So —

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret —

QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.

MS. PSAKI: — this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.

QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building —

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important —

QUESTION: — is it worth reconsidering?

MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.

QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) —

MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.

QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have —

MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless —

QUESTION: — when they had the meeting, they decided not to there —

MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.

QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.

QUESTION: Of course.

MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.

But there’s more.

On April 10, 2013, McClatchy  filed a lengthy report: Witness: Anne Smedinghoff, other Americans killed in Afghan bombing were on foot, lost.  Five days later, then State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied that Smedinghoff’s party was lost:

“Media reports suggesting that the group was lost are simply incorrect. They were going to a compound across the street from the PRT,” he said in written responses to emailed questions.
[…]

Ventrell said the purpose of what he called the “mission” that led to Smedinghoff’s death was a news conference featuring the senior U.S. official in southern Afghanistan and the Zabul governor to promote a book donation project and the “growth of literacy.”

Ventrell called “highlighting Afghanistan’s ongoing progress for both national and international media” an “integral part of our work.”

“This is what we do, and we believe in it,” he said. “Our diplomats believe in getting out beyond the wire to reach people. In this case we were engaging with the people of Afghanistan AND the local government.”

According to the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, reports suggesting that the group was lost are “simply incorrect.”

The Army report now confirmed that the party “had the wrong location for the school.” 

That official word from the State Department was never retracted.

So the Smedinghoff party was not/not lost, but they had the wrong location for the school? What kind of story is this?  Is there another meaning for the word “lost” that we have yet to learn?  We know about “get lost!” so no need to email us.  Mr. Ventrell is now the Director of Communications for the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
On April 24, 2014, McClatchy’s Mark Seibel writes:

“It’s unclear whether there’s been much soul searching at the State Department. In the Tribune story, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounds unrepentant. “The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the mission,” the Tribune quotes her as saying, then adds that “a classified internal review of the day was conducted, . . . and the department determined no State rules were broken.”

We have folks who complained to us — either that the State Department or Embassy Kabul was thrown under the bus in this army report. Well, we only have the army report to go on.

Army report excepted, we know three things from the State Department: 1) they named a courtyard after Ms. Smedinghoff at Embassy Kabul; 2) there is a new checklist in place; and 3) the internal review of the Zabul incident is still classified.

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President Obama Visits Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Manila — Yabusame, Durian, EDCA, and Lots of Handshakes

— Domani Spero

President Obama is traveling to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines from April 22 to April 29. Below are some photos from his stops:

Japan

The US Embassy Tokyo folks also got a meet and greet with President Obama. We are pleased to hear that no one was strangled with the lanyard of some Top Secret Clearance badge despite all that standing around waiting to see POTUS.  You all did not get up at 3 a.m., did you?

Republic of Korea

Malaysia

Philippines

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Manila, the United States and the Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement is designed to promote among other things, capacity building towards Philippine Army modernization, maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

For more of that, see links below:

President Barack Obama stretches to shake the hand of a young girl held aloft during a U.S. Embassy meet and greet at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Sec. Kerry Heads to Ethiopia, DR Congo, Angola; Nine Ambassadorial Nominees for Africa Still Stuck in Confirmation Chamber

— Domani Spero

On April 25, the State Department announced that Secretary John Kerry will visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Luanda, Angola, on April 29-May 5 “to encourage democratic development, promote respect for human rights, advance peace and security, engage with civil society and young African leaders who will shape the continent’s future, and promote trade, investment and development partnerships in Africa.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departs the United Kingdom en route to the Republic of Korea after participating in the G8 ministerial meetings in London, United Kingdom, April 11, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry departs the United Kingdom en route to the Republic of Korea after participating in the G8 ministerial meetings in London, United Kingdom, April 11, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry will be accompanied by Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Russell Feingold, Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issue Catherine Russell.

We have ambassadors in Addis and Kinshasa at post but who’s missing from that list?

Helen Meagher La Lime, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who was nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Angola on September 2013.  She has been waiting for Senate confirmation since January 15, 2014.  The lengthy wait since the nomination is now approaching eight months.

Dear Congress, this is idiotic.

Hey, here’s an idea. If Congress is serious about chopping down on expenses, it could confirm Ms. La Lime for Angola, and she could hitch a ride in Secretary Kerry’s plane when he leaves tomorrow for his Africa trip.

For multiplied savings, the Senate could also confirm a host of other ambassadorial nominees for several countries in Africa who have been stuck in the confirmation chamber since January this year.

  • Mauritania: Larry Edward Andre, Jr., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
  • Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe: Cynthia H. Akuetteh, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Gabonese Republic, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.
  • Zambia: Eric T. Schultz, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zambia.
  • Niger: Eunice S. Reddick, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Niger.
  • Cameroon: Michael Stephen Hoza, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon.
  • Sierra Leone: John Hoover, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone.
  • Kingdom of Lesotho: Matthew T. Harrington, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
  • Namibia: Thomas Frederick Daughton, of Arizona, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia.

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Oh, la vache! U.S. Court on French Embassy’s “transparent ploy” over discrimination case

— Domani Spero

Judge James E. Boasberg of the District Court for the District of Columbia was not happy with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.. In a court ruling dated April 17, 2014, Judge Boasberg chastised the French Embassy writing that the “defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy”as embassy asserted immunity on the eve of a discrimination trial.

The civil case is between Ashraf-Hassan and the Embassy of France in United States.  The plaintiff is Saima Ashraf-Hassan, a former employee of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and a French citizen who was born in Pakistan. According to court papers, she originally came to the United States to complete research for her Ph.D. in law. After arriving in Washington, Ashraf-Hassan obtained an internship with the French Embassy, which later led to an offer of full-time employment:

During her five years of employment, Ashraf-Hassan alleges that she suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy, all in violation of Title VII. See id. at *2. In addition to claims of unlawful termination, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment that was permeated by harassment so severe and pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment.
[…]
Evidently dissatisfied with this result and with trial looming a few weeks away, the Embassy now invokes the doctrine of sovereign immunity, claiming that after nearly three years of proceedings before this Court, it retains the power to divest itself of the suit at any time it pleases. See ECF No. 51 (Mot. to Dismiss). While at the outset of this litigation, the Embassy acknowledged that it was not entitled to assert immunity, it also stated – somewhat opaquely – that it “reserve[d] the right to raise its immunity should it be necessary to protect the confidential character of [its governmental] activities.” See ECF No. 11 (prior Mot. to Dismiss) at 1. This time has now come, according to Defendant.

In his memorandum opinion, Judge Boasberg writes:

In May of 2011, Plaintiff Saima Ashraf-Hassan brought this suit, alleging that her employer, the Embassy of France in the United States, had violated Title VII by discriminating against her on account of her national origin, race, religion, and pregnancy. In the intervening years, the parties have conducted discovery, attempted to solve their dispute through mediation, and filed assorted motions and other pleadings. Indeed, Defendant has previously moved to dismiss and has also sought summary judgment, but it has repeatedly failed to convince the Court to deny Plaintiff a trial on her discrimination claims.

Now, three years into this litigation and on the eve of trial, Defendant seeks to secure dismissal by claiming for the first time that the Court no longer has subject-matter jurisdiction. Despite its early concessions to the contrary, the Embassy now suggests that it never fully ceded its sovereign immunity when it hired Ashraf-Hassan or when it willingly entered into this litigation. The Embassy contends that it reserved the right to assert immunity at any time of its choosing and that it has the unfettered ability to walk away whenever it deems the claims to be meritless or the proceedings unfair. It protests, moreover, that this suit is now an affront to its dignity, yet Defendant offers no colorable basis to justify dismissal on sovereign-immunity grounds. This case falls squarely within multiple exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a reality that no amount of invective and indignation can change. Defendant may delay these proceedings, but it may not evade trial by means of this transparent ploy.

Read the case here: Ashraf-Hassan v. Embassy of France in United States Civil Action No. 11-805 (JEB).

 

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The #PromiseofHashtag Ignites the Net, and the State Dept Spox Gets Roasted

— Domani Spero

In late March, the State Department launched a new phase in diplomacy and roiled the Internet. (see State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …). Yesterday, it moved on to the next phase with #hashtag diplomacy and ignited the Internet once more.

It looks like this started earlier in the day, during the Daily Press Briefing.   AP’s Matt Lee asked for official reaction on Russia apparently stealing the State Department’s #UnitedforUkraine meme:

QUESTION: Very high? Okay. And then in numerous tweets today – that I think this is a new development – the Russian foreign ministry seems to have stolen your #UnitedforUkraine meme. Do you have any reaction to this? They’re putting out their stuff with UnitedforUkraine on it. They seem to have – or could be trying to hijack it. Would you suggest that they get their own, or are you okay with this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think they’re living by their hashtag.

 

Here is one of the tweets from the Russian foreign ministry:

 

Later on Thursday, Ms. Psaki returned to the hashtag and tweeted:

 

State/IIP’s Macon Phillips followed with this:

REACTIONS

What Theodore Roosevelt said!

 

THE END

You’re laughing but it’s getting eyeballs. Maybe State is willing to be mocked online as long as it gets people talking about #UnitedforUkraine?

Oh, we must confess — Friday! Dear Friday,thank god you’re here!

# # #

 

 

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FBI Investigates Vahey Case: International School Teacher, a Suspected Child Predator

— Domani Spero

Via FBI:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the public’s assistance to identify alleged victims of a suspected international child predator. William James Vahey, a 64-year-old U.S. citizen, was a suspect in an international sex crimes investigation who committed suicide on March 21, 2014. His alleged victims were American and international students enrolled in private schools abroad where Vahey taught, beginning in 1972.

A USB thumb drive belonging to Vahey and provided to the FBI revealed pornographic images of minor males, approximately 12 to 14 years old, who appeared to be asleep or unconscious. The images were captioned with locations and dates that referenced places Vahey had previously traveled with students. When Vahey was confronted about the images, he reportedly admitted molesting boys throughout his entire life and said he gave the minors sleeping pills prior to the molestation.

FBI agents have reviewed photographs dating back to 2008 that depict at least 90 alleged victims. The FBI is seeking to notify individuals of the ongoing investigation and encourage additional alleged victims to come forward.

Vahey, who maintained residences in London and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, traveled extensively and internationally during the past four decades, working as a middle school and high school teacher at several American international schools in at least nine different countries. He taught history, geography, and social studies, and also coached junior varsity and basketball teams for boys. He regularly accompanied students on overnight field trips.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24

In addition to foreign nationals, the schools where Vahey worked were attended by the children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad.  Between 1972 and 2014, Vahey was employed at the following schools:

▪2013–March 2014: Managua, Nicaragua
Vahey was employed as a ninth grade world history and advanced geography teacher at the American Nicaraguan School, located in Pista Suburbana, Managua, Nicaragua. His employment was terminated on March 12, 2014.

▪2009–2013: London, United Kingdom
Vahey was employed as a history and geography teacher for middle and high school students at the Southbank International School, located in London, United Kingdom.

▪2002–2009: Caracas, Venezuela
Vahey was employed as a social studies and history teacher for middle school students at Escuela Campo Alegre, located in Caracas, Venezuela.

▪1992–2002: Jakarta, Indonesia
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school and high school students at the Jakarta International School, located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

▪1980-1992: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Vahey was employed as middle school assistant principal and social studies teacher for middle school students. He also coordinated K-9 social studies curriculum at Saudi Aramco Schools, located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

▪1978–1980: Athens, Greece
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher and guidance counselor for middle school students at the American Community School, located in Athens, Greece.

▪1976–1978: Ahwaz, Iran
Vahey was employed as a history teacher for middle school students and spent one year as a fifth grade teacher at the Passargad School, located in Ahwaz, Iran.

▪1975–1976: Madrid, Spain
Vahey was employed as a middle school teacher at the American School in Madrid, Spain.

▪1973–1975: Beirut, Lebanon
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle and high school students at the American Community School of Beirut, located in Beirut, Lebanon.

▪1972–1973: Tehran, Iran
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school students at the Tehran American School, located in Tehran, Iran.

 

If you have information about the ongoing investigation regarding William James Vahey, or believe you may have been victimized by him, you may complete the FBI’s confidential questionnaire or submit a confidential email to: HOvictimassistance@ic.fbi.gov. You can also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

Read more here: http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/willliam-james-vahey

Allegations on how this was handled by the American school in Managua has surfaced online here (thanks K!). UK’s Daily Mail also reports that Vahey had been investigated at Southbank International over a previous ‘incident’ during his time at the school. But it claimed it was not pursued at the request of both parents and child.

The State Department was asked: The FBI has conducted an investigation of a pedophile that taught for decades on schools that are used by the children of U.S. diplomats. Has there been any concern from any families in how you handle this kind of threat? And will that be part of the new civilian security undersecretaries?”

Here is the official non-answer answer:

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for raising this terrible case. The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to identify victims of a suspected international child predator who is now deceased. The focus is to locate and identify victims. The – many of the victims will likely be American citizens. It is expected that the victim pool will be multinational. In addition to foreign nationals, the schools were attended by children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad. The FBI is committed to providing victim assistance as needed. We will continue to work with the FBI through the – through DS and other national and international law enforcement partners on this ongoing investigation. By his own admission, Mr. Vahey provided victims with sleeping pills prior to the alleged criminal acts. And obviously, as you noted, this has raised a significant concern. We’re certainly closely with the FBI on this around the world.

Nine countries, four continents and that’s the best answer they could come up with, folks.

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

— Domani Spero

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

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

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

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

Ugh! More allegations of nasty bizness here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what happens.

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

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Snapshot: Top Sectors for State Dept Reconstruction Awards in Afghanistan (2002-2013)

— Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

We identified seven project sectors for Department of State reconstruction awards in Afghanistan. The project sectors include mine removal, governance and rule-of-law, support to cultural activities and civil society, education, humanitarian aid, human rights, and economic development. The governance and rule-of-law project sector had the highest amount of total awards with $3.5 billion, of the $4.0 billion in total awards. Governance and rule-of-law projects include rule-of-law activities such as counternarcotics programs and justice sector reform, peacekeeping initiatives, and government outreach programs. Land mine removal programs had the second-largest proportion of total awards with $150.7 million. Table 1 includes the total awards for each identified project sector as well as the percentage of total awards.

 

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Read more here (pdf).

 

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Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

— Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[…]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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Snapshot: Top Recipients of State Dept Afghanistan Reconstruction Funds (2002-2013)

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

State data indicated that the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients,who averaged about $676 thousand each in total obligations.

The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp). Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards. The majority of Dyncorp contracts were for governance and rule-of-law activities such training and equipping the Afghan National Police. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. PAE Government Services Incorporated (PAE) received the second largest amount of total State reconstruction awards, receiving $598 million in contracts. PAE contracts supported development of the rule of law, including police training, counter narcotics advising, and justice sector development.

Of the total reported awards between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013, 98 percent of awards by total value were scheduled to be complete by the end of calendar year 2013.

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According to SIGAR, the U.S. Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR analysis of Department of State data indicates that State obligated nearly $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013.

Read more here (pdf).

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