Posted: 5:35 pm PT
Posted: 5:35 pm PT
Posted: 4:32 am ET
The joint report by State/OIG and DOJ/OIG concerns three deadly force incidents in Honduras that occurred in 2012. Four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire. No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat. In a second incident, a suspect was killed in a firefight that did not actually happen, and in a third incident that involved a plane crash, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.
The 424-page report provides in great detail what happened during the three incidents and the response/actions made by DEA, State/INL, State/WHA, the US Embassy in Honduras, and the stories officials gave to the Congress and the public about the incidents.
The report says that “DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.”
State Department briefers also “never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents.”
State Department officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, including the video analysis, which could have contradicted prior DEA assertions.
The US Embassy in Honduras had received a report from the TRT officer dated July 3, 2012 which stated that the pilot “died instantly.” But after the July 3 shooting, WHA and INL officials developed press guidance that did acknowledge that DEA agents “were involved with the shooting,” but stated that “both suspects were given first aid and transported via helicopter to a secure location.” This guidance was repeated verbatim by State’s spokesperson during the daily press briefing on July 9, 2012.
Chief of Mission Authority Undermined
It is notable that then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents “after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA.” The report says that DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel. DEA operates at the US Embassy in Honduras under Chief of Mission authority and it refused to provide the ambassador the information she required.
The situation was “exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.”
That’s the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
A subheading in the report says:
INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority
The report states that within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents this happened:
INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.
AS Brownfield also raised internal and external objections to DS involvement. Immediately following the Ambassador’s request for DS involvement, he e-mailed Deputy Administrator Harrigan and offered to push the investigation “back into the box.” Likewise, in the September 2012 meeting between DS, INL, and WHA, AS Brownfield minimized the failure of DEA to cooperate and ascribed partial blame to DS.
State/OIG notes the following:
DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information, supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents.
Excerpt via State/OIG and DOJ/OIG:
Operation Anvil began in April 2012 as a 90-day pilot program designed to disrupt drug transportation flights from South America to Honduras. Members of DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) and officers from a vetted unit of Honduran National Police known as the Tactical Response Team (TRT) comprised the ground team on the interdiction missions. The stated role of the FAST team members was to train and advise the TRT officers and assist them on these missions. State Department-owned helicopters provided transport and armed air support on the missions. The Honduran Air Force provided door gunners and, on certain missions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft provided detection and surveillance capabilities. In addition, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) provided operational support from the command center in Honduras.
May 11 incident:
DEA conducted internal shooting reviews regarding all three incidents. DEA initially decided not to review the May 11 incident because early reporting was that no DEA agent fired a weapon and because the Hondurans who fired were foreign law enforcement officers (LEOs). DEA changed its mind after a local Honduran police report asserted four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire…..No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat.
June 23 incident:
Following this interdiction, DEA officials reported that during a search for suspected drug traffickers, FAST and TRT officers encountered an armed suspect who failed to drop his weapon after being ordered to comply and was shot and killed by a FAST agent. Similarly, State officials reported that a FAST agent shot and killed an armed suspect after the suspect attempted to draw a gun. However, the TRT report did not mention FAST’s use of deadly force and instead stated that multiple suspects fired at the TRT, and the TRT returned fire for a few minutes. According to FAST, this reported firefight did not happen.
July 3 incident:
TRT submitted two reports describing the July 3 events. The first made no mention of FAST’s use of deadly force and stated that the second pilot died from injuries sustained as a result of the plane crash. The second stated this pilot had aimed and fired a handgun at the officers, and the officers responded with deadly force. Both reports made reference to a 9mm handgun found at the scene, but FAST personnel told the OIGs they never saw a handgun at the scene. DEA officials told us they were advised that following the incident, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.
U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA and concerned the Honduran investigation would not satisfy those interested in the May 11 incident. DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel. DS continued its own investigations, and issued reports on all three incidents stating it was unable to make definitive or conclusive findings because of DEA’s refusal to provide access to evidence and what it described as shortcomings in the Honduran investigations.
State OIG concluded that DEA failed to comply with the Chief of Mission authority granted to Ambassador Kubiske. Longstanding executive orders direct executive branch employees in a host country to comply with the direction of the Ambassador, who is the President’s personal representative to the host nation government. However, DEA repeatedly refused to comply with the Ambassador’s instructions to provide her and DS with information regarding the three incidents. This conflict was exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.
State OIG also found that State officials made inaccurate and incomplete statements to Congress and the public regarding Operation Anvil, including representations that it was a Honduran-led operation, which these officials knew to be inconsistent with how the operation actually proceeded. In addition, State officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, despite numerous questions about whether the United States would conduct an investigation of the deadly force incidents.
INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority
Statements to Congress
State briefers also never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents. According to Wells, he was reluctant to inform the staff of the DS investigation and did not offer DS officials to brief the staff because Congress may have come to realize the conflict between DS and DEA. Therefore, Congress was never informed of the investigative work performed by DS, including the video analysis, which seemed to challenge DEA’s previous statements to Congress that the passenger boat had fired upon the pipante.
Statements to the Public
Posted: 3:03 am ET
The U.S. ambassador to Libya Peter Bodde (based in Tunisia) and AFRICOM’s General Thomas Waldhauser (based in Germany) flew into Tripoli for two hours to meet with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. This is reportedly the first visit by a U.S. diplomat since post closure in July 2014 (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts; US Embassy Libya Evacuation of July 26, 2014 – In Photos).
Ambassador Bodde reiterated U.S. support for Libya “as a unified, secure, and prosperous state under a government that can serve the Libyan people” and “applaud the ongoing Libyan dialogue on how to form a government that has broad acceptance across Libya, within the framework of the Skhirat Agreement.” Ambassador Bodde also thanked Prime Minister al-Sarraj for “his ongoing strong partnership in combating ISIS and other UN-designated terrorist groups, and we stand with all Libyans in combating terrorism anywhere in Libya.”
Posted: 2:44 am ET
We previously blogged about President Trumps FY2018 budget request (see FY2018 Trump Budget Word Cloud: Cuts, Reduction, Elimination) and #TrumpBudget Proposal FY2018: Most Volatile Geographic Bureaus Get the Deepest Cuts).
On May 23, President Trump sent his first budget request and FY2018 proposal for 4.1 trillion to Congress. The 32% cut to the international affairs budget has been called irresponsible. Senator Lindsey Graham warns that the Trump budget cuts to the State Department is “a lot of Benghazis in the making.” Meanwhile, 225 corporate executives sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson on Monday arguing that “America’s diplomats and development experts help build and open new markets for U.S. exports by doing what only government can do: fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, and promote host country leadership to create the enabling environment for private investment.” The business executives note the importance of U.S. international affairs programs to boost their “exports abroad and jobs here at home” and urged Secretary Tillerson’s support for a strong International Affairs Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
While it is doubtful that Congress will support the Trump proposal in its current form, we suspect that the Administration will come back next year and every year thereafter for additional bites. After all the border wall is estimated to cost anywhere between $21B-$67B and for FY18, the Trump Administration has requested $1.6 billion for “32 miles of new border wall construction, 28 miles of levee wall along the Rio Grande Valley and 14 miles of new border wall system that will replace existing secondary fence in the San Diego Sector…” on the 1,933-mile U.S.-Mexico border. And since the president has already kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign, we can be sure that the noise about the border wall will remain in the news for the foreseeable future.
Important to note, however, that this is only a budget request and that the Congress is the branch that actually appropriates the funds. In March, the Trump Administration sought cuts to the State Department and USAID funding (see Trump Seeks Further Funding Cuts From @StateDept/@USAID, This Time From 2017 Budget). In early May, Congress did not give in to the request and appropriated funds comparable to the previous administration requests but as pointed out here, this is just the beginning of the budget wars.
The Secretary of State who believed he has to earn President Trump’s confidence every day stepped up to the plate once more, and released a statement calling the proposed -32% budget for his agency as “responsive to the realities of the world in the 21st century.”
Today, President Trump requested $37.6 billion for the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. This budget request reflects the President’s “America First” agenda that prioritizes the well-being of Americans, bolsters U.S. national security, secures our borders, and advances U.S. economic interests.
This budget is responsive to the realities of the world in the 21st century, and ensures that the State Department and USAID can quickly adapt to an ever-changing international environment. Activities and programs supported in this budget will support our effort to defeat ISIS and other terrorist organizations and combat illegal migration and trafficking. This budget will also support our efforts to combat corruption and address threats to good governance, which helps level the playing field for American workers and businesses.
The FY 2018 budget supports the President’s commitment to make the U.S. government leaner and more accountable to the American taxpayer, while maximizing our diplomatic and engagement efforts, including with our international partners. As we advance the President’s foreign policy priorities, this budget will also help lay the foundation for a new era of global stability and American prosperity.
Posted: 2:17 am ET
On May 24, the U.S. Senate confirmed John J. Sullivan as Deputy Secretary of State in a 94-6 vote. Six senators voted against Mr. Sullivan’s confirmation: Booker (D-NJ), Duckworth (D-IL), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Warren (D-MA), and Sanders (I-VT).
2017-05-24 PN350 Department of State | John J. Sullivan, of Maryland, to be Deputy Secretary of State.
While Mr. Sullivan is reportedly expected to be dual hatted as “D” and “D/MR”, his nomination is only for the position of Deputy Secretary of State. As somebody who is not a newbie in the federal government, he would recognize the deleterious effect of leaving the upper ranks of the State Department empty, but we’ll have to wait and see if his arrival makes a difference in the speed of appointments. See related posts below.