Opposition For Trump’s Nominee as @StateDept’s Refugee Chief Gets Louder

Posted: 2:26 pm PT

 

On May 24, the White House announced the nomination of former FSO Ronald Mortensen to be the Assistant Secretary of State for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

The WH released a brief bio:

Dr. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service Officer.  For the past 15 years, he has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).  Dr. Mortensen served at U.S. diplomatic missions in France, Australia, Canada, Gabon, Mauritania and Chad.  He has worked on humanitarian responses that saved lives and alleviated the suffering of millions of people in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Libya, Haiti, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many other countries in West Africa.  Most recently, Dr. Mortensen served as Disaster Assistance Response Team leader in Iraq.  Dr. Mortensen is the recipient of numerous Department of State (State) and USAID awards including the Una Chapman Cox Fellowship.  He is a Vietnam era, Air Force veteran.  Dr. Mortensen earned two B.S. degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah and an M.A. from the University of Oklahoma.  He speaks French.

According to the brief bio released, Mr. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service Officer who also did work for USAID/OFDA.  A source told us he was an FSO from 1977 to 1996. The Una Chapman website confirms that he was one of the two recipients of the Una Chapman Cox Sabbatical Leave Fellowship in 1991. This fellowship is available to Foreign Service employees (Generalists and Specialists), for Grade FS-01 and FS-02 in any career track. There is speculation that he was on the administrative career track given the work that he did for USAID following his retirement from the Foreign Service. Click here for more of that from Jeremy Konyndyk who led USAID’s  Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017.

In September 2017, the State Department’s blog, DipNote reblogged a USAID post highlighting “a few of the amazing humanitarians who are this year’s winners of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the category of National Security and International Affairs.” The blogpost includes Mr. Mortensen who it says “served as the DART Leader in Iraq five times over the past two-and-a-half years.”  USAID’s original post is here: And the Oscar for Public Service goes to…USAID!

The Utah Standard News where Mr. Mortensen is described as “an earlier supporter and long-time columnist” has a more detailed background and links to the nominee’s position as a “a staunch advocate against illegal immigration.

The Mortensen nomination was submitted  to the Senate on May 24 and is still pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as of this writing.  We do not expect this administration known for doubling down on controversial issues to withdraw this controversial nomination. Even if this nomination manages to make it through the SFRC, where the split is 11 v. 10, it may end up not going anywhere. The GOP currently has a slim Senate majority at GOP 51 v. 49 (Dems 47, Ind 2); one GOP senator (McCain) has already asked for the withdrawal of this nomination, and a second one (Flake) is on the record for not supporting this nominee.  That said, strange things are happening these days, so we can’t really say when a nomination is dead until it is dead. And even then, some nominations will presumably come back as zombies next January if the President renominates them.

BONUS CLIP:

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Trump Nominates Goldberg, Hale, Sison, and Smith For Personal Rank of Career Ambassador

Posted: 2:45 pm PT

 

On July 18, President Trump sent the nomination of four career diplomats for the personal rank of Career Ambassador to the U.S. Senate. The nominations have been placed on the Senate Executive Calendar on July 26. As of this writing, the nominations are awaiting full confirmation by the U.S. Senate. We believe these are the first career ambassador nominations made under this administration.

The following-named Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the Department of State for the personal rank of Career Ambassador in recognition of especially distinguished service over a sustained period:

  • Philip S. Goldberg, of DC
  • David M. Hale, of NJ
  • Michele Jeanne Sison, of MD
  • Daniel Bennett Smith, of VA

Ambassador Goldberg was recently sent to US Embassy Havana to be its chargé d’affaires (see New head of U.S. embassy in Cuba, Philip Goldberg, faces critical road ahead, Feb 2018).

Ambassador Hale has been nominated as the next Under Secretary for Political Affairs. As of July 30, 2018, the nomination is pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ambassador Sison was nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti in July 2017. She was confirmed by voice vote on November 2, 2017.

Ambassador Smith is the current Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR). He was confirmed to that position in 2014 and serving in that capacity to-date, presumably pending the confirmation of this successor Ellen E. McCarthy who was nominated on June 18, 2018.  He has been widely rumored as the next Director General of the Foreign Service but no official announcement has been made to date.

 

Related posts:

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Steve Mull, Last Career Ambassador in Active Service Departs Foggy Bottom

Posted: 1:56 pm PT

 

On July 11, we posted about the nomination of Ambassador David Hale to be the next Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P); also that a second hand source informed us that Ambassador Steve Mull, the acting “P” and the last remaining Career Ambassador in the active Foreign Service is on his way to retirement (see Ambassador David Hale to be @StateDept’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs).

On July 27, Secretary Pompeo held a ceremony for Ambassador Mull. The secretary of state’s schedule only indicated that he was hosting the flag ceremony for Ambassador Stephen D. Mull, at the Department of State at 10:30 a.m. and that the event was “closed press coverage”.

After 36 years in the Foreign Service, Ambassador Mull concluded his diplomatic career this past week with what appears to be a nice official send off from the secretary of state. This is a change from the most recent redesigned practice of pushing senior career diplomats out the airlock of Starship Foggy Bottom.

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo poses with Ambassador Stephen D. Mull and his wife during the flag ceremony, at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Here’s a video from US Embassy Warsaw With Ambassador Mull for our send off:

 

Related posts

 

@StateDept’s Immigrant Visa Processing Portal #CEAC Down For 10 Days Now

Posted: 1:15 pm PT
Update: July 31, 2:32 | It looks like the CEAC website is once again functional as of today.  

 

The State Department’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) for immigrant visas has been down since at least July 20th.  We can confirm that the service affected is specific to immigrant visa applicants and does not affect nonimmigrant visa applications.  We understand from a source that  the National Visa Center (NVC) that is using the website to allow applicants to send their paperwork to the consulates doesn’t have any information about the reasons or the possible timeframe on when it will be back on. We were told although we’re unable to confirm that “appointments have been canceled this time as well and it affected every consulate in the world that is using the new “faster” digital processing system.”

On July 26, we requested clarification from the Consular Affairs bureau if this is a scheduled maintenance and if they have a time frame when this will be completed. The following is a comment we received from a State Department official on background in response to our inquiry:

The Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) Immigrant Visa web portal is currently unavailable due to maintenance. During this time, IV applicants will be unable to access/login to the CEAC Immigrant Visa Agent (DS-261), Online Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260), or the Immigrant Visa Fee Payment portal. The CEAC Immigrant Visa application Status Check and Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) are not impacted by this maintenance. For urgent cases that are already at an overseas post, applicants may be asked to complete a paper-based immigrant visa application (DS-230), which will be provided by the local consulate or embassy. We regret the inconvenience to travelers and recognize the hardship for those waiting for visas, and in some cases, their family members or employers in the United States, during this maintenance period.

A quick scan of a few u.s. embassies’ visa webpages indicate no announcement of the system’s unavailability, however, travelstate.gov does have a highlighted announcement at the top of its page that says:

Immigrant visa forms and fee payments are currently unavailable in the Consular Electronic Application Center. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to resolve this and hope to have the system fully functional as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Apparently, some attorneys who made inquiries were told that a planned weekend update to the system resulted in an unexpected “catastrophic failure.” On July 27, travel.state.gov tweeted the following but we’re nowhere near in learning if this was a regularly scheduled update that gone bad, if there are other technical issues, or what is the time frame for bringing this system back online.

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Senate Passes 98-0 Resolution Against Making Available Current/Ex-Diplomats For Russia Questioning

 

A follow-up to Trump-Putin Summit Fallout: POTUS Entertains Proposal For Russia to Question Ex-US Amb Mike McFaul. The Senate has just passed a 98-0 resolution against making available for Russian questioning  current or former diplomats as well as other officials of the United States Government. The White House has now released a statement about Putin’s proposal that the President of the United States purportedly disagreed with but had previously called “an incredible offer.”

See July 19 update below via VOA with Secretary Pompeo saying “It’s not going to happen,” then added that “”President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.”  

The notion that this proposal was made in “sincerity” by President Putin, and that President Trump disagreed with it is actually laughable. Were that true, the Press Secretary could have said immediately that the president pushed back hard against that proposal. This White House must really think we’re all dumb as rocks.

This was a no brainer. Ambassador McFaul, and the other officials that Russia wanted to question may not have been employees of this president, but they were employees and representatives of the United States of America, not of the Democratic Party (despite what this president might think or believe). The fact that this was even offered as a proposal tells us just what Putin think of this President. And the fact this President Trump did not push back and even appeared to consider it is horrifying.

So instead, the Press Secretary announced from the podium that the president “would work with his team” — excuse me, to do what exactly? And now the Press Secretary is saying that while President Trump disagreed with Putin’s proposal, “hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”  That proposal was supposedly in exchange for the questioning of USG individuals. And now all they have left is “hoping” that Putin will go ahead with the proposal anyway?

Holy caramba! No wonder Putin is laughing his head off; he’s playing chess against our White House playing find the shortest toothpick.

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UPDATE:

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Trump-Putin Summit Fallout: POTUS Entertains Proposal For Russia to Question Ex-US Amb Mike McFaul

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U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

 

In January 2017, we covered the shooting of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence:

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Director Christian J. Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar entered his guilty plea before U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judge Trenga scheduled Zafar’s sentencing hearing for November, 7, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar armed himself with a firearm, donned a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance, and waited in a parking garage for a Vice Consul, who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara.  Although Zafar initially was following the Vice Consul as he walked towards his vehicle, Zafar noticed a security guard nearby, and instead moved to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the Vice Consul to exit.  As the Vice Consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the Vice Consul in his chest and leaving him in serious condition.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the Vice Consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

“Zia Zafar surveilled and targeted a U.S. official serving in Mexico, lying in wait before shooting him in the chest in a heinous act of premeditated violence,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who seek to harm U.S. officials serving overseas.  The Department of Justice will continue work with our domestic and international partners to ensure that anyone who targets U.S. officials abroad will be brought to justice.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

[…] FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

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Th court filings confirmed much of the details previously reported about this case, though the case remains perplexing.  On January 10, 2017, an Affidavit in Support of a Criminal Complaint was filed by David J. DiMarco, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) assigned to the Extraterritorial Squad, Washington Field Office. Includes the following:

On January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft, the victim, was employed with the U.S.Department of State as a Vice Consul in the Consular office in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Vice Consul, Ashcraft is recognized by the Government of Mexico as a diplomat. As such, Ashcraftwas granted diplomatic immunity in the course of his official duties.

On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Agenda Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to apayment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, hesaw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcraft exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The videothen shows ZAFAR followmg Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to adifferentarea ofthe garage,the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

The criminal complaint filed on January 9, 2017 was originally filed under seal and the offense description is listed as “Attempted Murder of an Internationally Protected Person”.

The AFFIDAVIT by USA as to Zia Zafar was also sealed. The criminal case cover sheet is redacted but includes Zia Zafar’s name, Juvenile FBI file number #316130AC9, and year of birth as 1985. The subject’s race, place of birth, language/dialects are left blank (or redacted, hard to tell).

In April 28, 2017, the Defense filed a motion to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) by Zia Zafar. The filing says that “Sealing of this document is necessary in order to safeguard the privacy and safety of the defendant.”

A Memorandum in Support by Zia Zafar re 28 MOTION to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) also includes the following:

B. Sealing is necessary in order to safeguard the safety and privacy of the defendant. Counsel for the defendant has considered procedures other than sealing and none will suffice to protect this information from disclosure and to prevent public dissemination of information concerning Mr. Webster’s mental health.

Mr. Webster?

On May 5, 2017, there was a Status Conference to determine the competency of the defendant.

On August 11, 2017 there was an Arraignment/Competency Hearing.

On January 12, 2018 the Court granted the Motion for Psychiatric Exam and ordered that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination at the Alexandria Detention Center.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to shooting the U.S. diplomat in Mexico.

The Statement of Facts filed on July 13, 2018 as part of Zafar’s plea agreement is only three page long and notes that Zafar and the diplomat that he attacked did not know each other. According to the Statement, the diplomat was targeted because “the defendant knew from earlier surveillance that he worked at the United States Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.” News citing Mexican officials previously reported that Zafar targeted Ashcraft over a visa denial.

The Affidavit submitted in support of the warrant says Zafar entered Mexico on a student visa, had a California driver’s license and drove a Honda Civic with California license plate. It doesn’t say when he entered Mexico or how long was he residing in the country prior to the attack.

The Affidavit did cite the use of a Starbucks receipt and Mexican immigration database to identify Zafar, and help in his apprehension by Mexican authorities.  It also says that “Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered from the residence.”

The court filings do not indicate what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this incident; there is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.

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Trump-Putin Show: A Shocker to the World, But “Fabulous …Better Than Super” to Russians

 

The one-on-one summit meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin finally happened today in Helsinki with no American officials in attendance as observers or notetakers, only interpreters.  The interpreter for the USG side is Marina Gross.

After a whole morning trapped in the vomitorium, we finally surfaced for air and some coffee. That joint press conference frankly was more bonkers than the SBC show we watched last night. After picking up our jaw from the floor, we saw that the Department of Justice this morning also unsealed a criminal complaint in the District of Columbia charging Maria Butina, a Russian national residing in Washington, D.C. with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States.

I’m still sick to my stomach. We’ll remember this Helsinki moment in the future.

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State/OIG Reports Summarized in Classified Annex to the Semiannual Report to the Congress, 10/1/2017–3/31/2018

 

Via State/OIG:

AUD-MERO-18-29 page54image9152Audit of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Management and Oversight of Explosives Detection Canine Services in Afghanistan | 2/2018

AUD-SI-18-23  Management Assistance Report: DynCorp Intelligence Analysts Supporting the Embassy Air Program Lack Access to Information Needed To Fully Identify Risks and Mitigate Threats | 1/2018

AUD-SI-18-22 Audit of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Management of page54image14736Construction Materials Destined for Controlled Access Areas |1/2018

AUD-IT-18-18 Management Assistance Report: The IT Network Supporting the Colombian page54image16808Aviation Program Requires Attention To Ensure Compliance With Federal Standards | 1/2018

AUD-MERO-18-11 Audit of Emergency Action Plan for U.S. Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine page54image19136 | 12/2017

AUD-IT-18-12 Audit of the Department of State Information Security Program page54image20832 | 10/2017

ISP-S-18-12 Classified Inspection of Embassy Managua, Nicaragua | 3/2018

ISP-S-18-09  Classified Inspection of Consulate General Curacao, Kingdom of the Netherlands page54image26120| 1/2018

ISP-S-18-04 Classified Inspection of Embassy Beijing and Constituent Posts, China page54image27808 | 12/2017

ISP-S-18-08 Inspection of Construction Security for New Embassy Compound Jakarta, page54image29496Indonesia | 11/2017

ISP-S-18-06 Classified Inspection of Consulate General Hong Kong, China page54image31288 | 11/2017

Four additional reports (titles classified) can be found in the Department of State Classified Annex to the Semiannual Report to the Congress.

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State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

 

Via State/OIG

OIG did not substantiate any allegations of whistleblower retaliation related to Department contractors or grantees. However, OIG did substantiate an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. As required by the Foreign Affairs Manual, OIG reported its findings to the Under Secretary for Management. The report recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated.

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Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) PDF

The brief note from State/OIG’s semi-annual report includes little details about a security clearance revocation, not suspension. According to 12 FAM 233.4, suspension is an independent administrative procedure that does not represent a final determination and does not trigger the procedures outlined in 12 FAM 234, which includes revocation.  With revocation, the Department may determine that immediate suspension without pay from employment under 5 U.S.C. 7532 is deemed advisable.

After State/OIG’s referral to “M”, the Under Secretary for Management will reportedly transmit the IG materials to the Security Appeals Panel, “if one is convened in the matter, and to other Department officials as appropriate” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

Note that the State Department does not have a Senate-confirmed “M” as of this writing. We want to know if the security clearance is not reinstated per OIG recommendation.

State/OIG’s semi-annual report also does not include information on consequences for the individual/individuals who perpetrated the revocation of this whistleblower’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing activity.

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