US Embassy Mali Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 6:48 pm EDT
Updated: 12:32 pm EDT
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The December 1, 2015 Travel Warning for Mali is out. It says it part:

The State Department continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Mali.  This Travel Warning also informs U.S. citizens that on December 1 the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members and non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Bamako. U.S. citizens already in Mali are encouraged toreview their personal safety and security plans to determine whether they should depart. U.S. citizens are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. The U.S. Embassy in Mali will provide only emergency consular services to U.S. citizens for the foreseeable future.

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We’ve recently posted about the terrorist attacks in Bamako (see US Embassy Bamako Lifts Shelter in Place Advisory After Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali). On December 1, the State Department has reportedly ordered the authorized departure of personnel and family members from Mali. We are presuming that the authorized voluntary departure affects non-emergency personnel and not all personnel at this time.  The Travel Warning for Mali was last updated on May 7, 2015.  We expect that it will be updated with this new development. We will update this post when the new warning is issued.

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Peace Corps Assault Victims in Need of Ongoing Therapy Not a Good Fit For Peace Corps Service?

Posted: 2:50 am EDT
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The Peace Corps was apparently notified mid last week about CBS This Morning’s broadcast on the sexual assaults on Peace Corps volunteers. Below via Peace Corps Worldwide:

The general feeling within in the agency–based on questions asked–is that the segment will focus on what has gone wrong overseas and CBS will not balance its reporting with the positive changed that have taken place for women since the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 took effect. The reporting will also focus on the failures of  some CDs in country to protect their Volunteers.

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The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak has more:  Whistleblower: Peace Corps Ignored and Then Blamed Sexual Assault Victims

Following the sexual assault of a Peace Corps volunteer in 2014, Peace Corps clinical psychologist Dr. Kris Morris issued behind-the-scenes “guidelines.” The message: Volunteers who continue to need help following a sexual assault are not Peace Corps material.

“Demonstration of a need for ongoing therapy is an indication that she is not a good fit for Peace Corps Service,” Morris wrote in a September 2014 email. Morris also said that a “maximum of 4-6 sessions” of counseling abroad would be permitted for the victim once she returned to her post following a medical

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Of related note, the Peace Corps OIG has been battling access to records with its own agency:

Peace Corps OIG’s access issues stem from a sensitive and important subject: the Peace Corps’ handling of volunteer reports of sexual assault. OIG’s push for access is about fulfilling its collective responsibility to ensure that Congress, the Peace Corps, and OIG does everything possible to ensure volunteers – who sacrifice so much when serving in remote corners of the world – receive the services they need and the response they deserve from the agency when they are victims of a sexual assault.

The agency’s basis for the denial of information is a legal opinion by the former Peace Corps general counsel that the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 overrides the IG’s right of access under the IG Act. OIG’s access issue has led to three congressional hearings, extensive press coverage, a hold being placed on the nomination of the Director, and, ultimately, the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the agency and OIG, which resulted in access to more, but not all, of the information.

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It is not a coincidence that on the same day that these reports dropped, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet also penned A journey of reform on the agency’s blog. How much of a culture change has occurred if volunteers who continue to need help following a sexual assault are considered not Peace Corps material?

Together, we have achieved extraordinary progress, seeing nothing short of a culture change that reflects our dedication to Volunteers and our commitment to a response that is victim–centered and consistent with our nation’s best practice. Our record of agency reform reflects that progress.

And because it’s 2015, there’s this:

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@StateDept FOIA: Foreign Service Chief of Mission Diversity (2008-2012)

Posted: 1:13 am EDT
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The document below is part of the State Department’s Clinton November Email Release via foia.state.gov.  The document does not indicate who or which office put the numbers together.

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EB-5 Program: U.S. Citizenship For Sale For $1M, Or Only $500K With Loophole Discount

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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The EB-5 visa program was designed to provide entry visas–and a path toward American citizenship–to immigrants who invest at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high unemployment or rural areas, to create or preserve at least 10 jobs.

Early this year, the Seattle Times asks, “how does downtown Seattle, the job center of the nation’s fastest-growing big city, become Detroit on paper?” The report says that the EB-5 rules has a loophole that cuts the price of a green card to $500,000 if foreigners invest in a rural area or urban one with high unemployment. “The rules allow them to string together several areas of high unemployment with one of low unemployment, like Manhattan or downtown Seattle, then build their project in the more prosperous area.” The Seattle Times which did a series on the EB-5 program in the Pacific Northwest says that  “EB-5 capital backs at least $2 billion in current projects in the Puget Sound region.”  

In 2013, the SEC alleged that a McAllen, Texas, company with government approval to participate in the EB-5 program pocketed investors’ cash and never got anyone a visa. Judge Randy Crane of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an injunction restricting the company, USA Now, from raising funds from prospective immigrants.

That same report notes that the SEC had also filed a lawsuit against a Chicago developer who allegedly duped dozens of Chinese investors out of close to $150 million by pretending to build a hotel and convention center through an EB-5 regional center.

This past August, Lobsang Dargey, reportedly an impoverished Tibetan monastery student once who has become a well-to-do real-estate developer in Washington state faced civil fraud charges related to the EB-5 program. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused him of misappropriating anywhere from $17 million to more than $50 million of the would-be Chinese immigrants’ money for his personal use or unapproved expenditures.

Early this month, the National Law Review reported that a civil action was also filed by the SEC against EB5 Asset Manager, LLC and its owner Lin Zhong in the United States District Court of Southern Florida. The SEC alleges that since at least March 2011, Zhong has used several entities that she owns and controls to exploit the EB-5 program, defrauding at least 17 investors out of $8.5 million.

Excerpt from LAT:

 [T]he private firms that get federal permission to create regional centers design their own districts, which Feinstein’s office argues has led to gerrymandering by tethering high-unemployment neighborhoods to wealthy ones. Remember, EB-5 visas are available for $500,000 invested in high-unemployment or rural areas; otherwise, the investment must be $1 million. So the gerrymandering allows wealthy immigrants to gain Legal Permanent Resident status by making what amounts to a two-year, $500,000 loan to an investment pool building a high-end hotel in a ritzy part of town that is connected, on paper, to a neighborhood with more risk and a higher need for investment. It’s hard in that scenario not to see the program the way Feinstein does — as selling citizenship.

The EB-5 program will expire on December 11 unless extended by Congress.  On November 4, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) penned an op-ed saying the program should not continue.  “The bottom line is that the EB-5 regional center program sends a message that American citizenship is for sale, and the program is characterized by frequent fraud and abuse.”

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Happy December! Amb. Adams Had Already Met With the Real Santa in Helsinki

Posted: 12:53 am EDT
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Via
US Embassy Finland/FB:

You’ll never guess who the Ambassador just met in Rovaniemi…the real Santa Claus! We can’t share what he wished for (or it won’t come true). But we can share that he is participating in the #RovaniemiProcess. We all wish the best for Santa’s home in the Arctic and the #RovaniemiProcess will help make that happen. Check it out to learn more: http://www.rovaniemiprocess.fi/en

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Ambassador Charles Adams, Jr. was born on August 25, 1947, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where his father, a career officer of the U.S. Foreign Service, was on assignment. As an FS kid, he had previously lived in Canada, France, Germany, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana.  He was nominated by the White House in July 2014, and was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 24, 2015. He assumed charge of Embassy Helsinki on August 3, 2015.

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