US Embassy Accra’s “Operation Spartan Vanguard” Shuts Down Fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana

Posted: 12:23 am ET

 

Via state.gov/DS

In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag outside every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. However, you were not. This embassy was a sham.

It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law. The “consular officers” were Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch.

For about a decade it operated unhindered; the criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way, as well as obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored.

This past summer the assistant regional security officer investigator (ARSO-I) at the real U.S. Embassy in Accra, in cooperation with the Ghana Police Force, Ghana Detectives Bureau, and other international partners, shut down this fake embassy.

This investigation is a small part of the broader “Operation Spartan Vanguard” initiative. “Operation Spartan Vanguard” was developed by Diplomatic Security agents in the Regional Security Office (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Ghana in order to address trafficking and fraud plaguing the U.S. Embassy and the region.

During the course of another fraud investigation in “Operation Spartan Vanguard” an informant tipped off the ARSO-I about the fake U.S. embassy, as well as a fake Netherlands embassy operating in Accra.

After receiving the tip, the ARSO-I, who is the point person in the RSO shop for “Operation Spartan Vanguard” investigations, verified the information with partners within the Ghanaian Police Force. The ARSO-I then created an international task force composed of the aforementioned Ghana Police Force, as well as the Ghana Detective Bureau, Ghana SWAT, and officials from the Canadian Embassy to investigate further.

The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations. The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players.

The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Some of the services the embassy provided for these customers included issuance of fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000.

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Read in full here: http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/263916.htm.

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Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

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US Embassy Kuwait: Construction Vehicle as Weapon Targets U.S. Military Personnel

Posted: 4:12 am ET

 

On October 9, the US Embassy in Kuwait issued a Security Message to US Citizens in Kuwait about a failed terrorist attack against deployed U.S. troops:

U.S. Embassy Kuwait confirms that what at first appeared to be a routine traffic accident involving three deployed U.S. military personnel on a Kuwaiti highway on Thursday, October 6, was in fact an attempted terrorist attack.  An Egyptian national deliberately rammed a construction vehicle into a passenger vehicle containing the three U.S. personnel.  The Egyptian driver was incapacitated by the impact.  The three U.S. military personnel, who were uninjured, pulled the driver from his vehicle, which had caught fire.  The perpetrator was subsequently hospitalized and is in Kuwaiti custody.

We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.  Nonetheless, this attack serves as a reminder to maintain a high level of vigilance, and the Embassy advises U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert to their surroundings at all times.

Read in full here.

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USDOJ Drops US Embassy Yemen Passport Revocation Case Sans Explanation

Posted: 2:16 am ET

 

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport). In February 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment: “This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.” (see more Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days).

On October 5, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California asked to drop the case “without prejudice.”  We’re wondering how many more of these revocation cases would mow be dropped and sealed in court.

Via Politico:

Federal prosecutors — acting abruptly and without public explanation — have moved to drop a controversial criminal passport fraud case that critics alleged stemmed from coercive interrogations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

Earlier this year, a grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mosed Omar on passport fraud charges linked to a statement he signed during a 2012 visit to the U.S. diplomatic post in the unstable Middle Eastern nation.
[…]

Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a brief court filing asking to drop the criminal case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer will need to approve the dismissal of the case.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to messages seeking an explanation for the sudden move.
[…]
In response to a query Thursday from POLITICO, a spokesman for State Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed that an inquiry is underway into the allegations about improper passport revocations

“In June 2016, State OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects initiated a review of the Department’s processes of passport confiscations and revocations at the US Embassy Sanaa, Yemen,” spokesman Doug Welty said. He offered no additional details on the review.

If the case against Omar went forward, prosecutors might have been obligated to turn over to the defense some or all records of the IG review. That prospect may have contributed to the proposed dismissal, but there was no direct indication.

Read more:

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

#HurricaneMatthew Closes US Embassies in Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas; USAID Activates DART

Posted: 1:44 am ET

 

Due to Hurricane Matthew, the State Department has authorized the voluntary evacuation of authorized family members of U.S. government employees from the The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. A Travel Alert for Cuba recommends that U.S. citizens defer travel to eastern Cuba.

Alert October 3, 2016 Cuba Travel Alert
Warning October 2, 2016 Haiti Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 Jamaica Travel Warning
Warning October 1, 2016 The Bahamas Travel Warning

 

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US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members of USG Employees

Posted: 1:20 am ET

 

On September 29, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It also announced the evacuation of family members of U.S. Government employees assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Below is an excerpt:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of continued instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The potential for civil unrest is high in parts of Kinshasa and other major cities.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, family members of U.S. government personnel have been ordered to leave the country beginning September 29.  Most official U.S. government travel to the DRC has been halted.  The U.S. Embassy is able to provide limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the DRC.  This replaces the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2016.

On September 19 and 20, violent clashes around the election process erupted between security forces and demonstrators, resulting in the loss of life and the destruction of property. Very poor transportation infrastructure throughout the country and poor security conditions make it difficult for the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services anywhere outside of Kinshasa. 

Armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces continue to operate in:

  • North Kivu
  • South Kivu
  • Bas-Uele
  • Haut-Uele
  • Ituri
  • Tanganyika
  • Haut-Lomami

These groups kill, rape, kidnap, pillage, steal vehicles, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians can be indiscriminately targeted. Kidnapping for ransom is common, particularly in areas north and west of Goma, North Kivu. Congolese military and United Nations forces operate throughout North and South Kivu and near the DRC’s borders with the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, particularly in and around Garamba National Park. Travelers in the region may encounter troop movements, armored vehicles and attack helicopters.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly trained security forces at official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa. Be cautious if you are stopped by security forces. Requests for bribes are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the past year, several U.S. citizens have been illegally detained by government forces or robbed of their valuables while being searched.

Read in full here.

Plus this:

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U.S. Embassy Libreville Cancels Routine Services For Sept2 Following Gabon Demonstrations

Posted: 3:24 am ET

 

On September 1, the US Embassy in Gabon released a security message concerning the protests and demonstrations roiling the country. It announced that it will be open for limited operations only on Friday, September 2.

The U.S. Embassy in Libreville informs U.S. citizens that widespread, violent demonstrations, rioting and looting have taken place in Libreville, particularly in the area of Cite de la Democratie-Voie Express-Boulevard Triomphal, and extending through many of the city’s central and southern neighborhoods following the announcement of presidential election results.  Further protests and demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

Security forces have responded to the situation with tear gas and have placed roadblocks at major arterial roads, cutting off transportation across the city. There is also debris and burned cars blocking the roads in some areas.

There are reports of violence in the cities of Oyem, Bitam, Port Gentil and Lambarene.

At this time the airport is open and operational and commercial flights are available.  The Embassy recommends U.S. citizens remain in a safe location and avoid non-essential movement. The Embassy continues to monitor the situation and will update you as appropriate.

Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.  Be vigilant and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.

The U.S. Embassy in Libreville will be open with limited operations on Friday, September 2.  Routine consular services have been cancelled, but emergency consular services for U.S. citizens continue to be available.

 

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Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid

Posted: 3:36 am ET

 

The AP report says that “the attack on the Terrain hotel compound in Juba last month shows the hostility toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under the command of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who has been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013.”  (See How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended Into Bloody Civil War).  The State Department’s official spox declined to say whether Americans were targeted but the Daily Beast piece includes the beating of an American “with belts and rifle butts for about an hour, accusing him of hiding rebels. “You tell your embassy how we treated you,” one soldier told him as he fled to a nearby UN compound.”  During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors also told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were Americans.

The attack on the Terrain compound occurred on July 11.  On July 17, the Special Envoy to South Sudan tweeted that the U.S. is not going to take “offensive action” against South Sudan.

On August 15, over a month after this horrific incident, USUN Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement that the United States is “outraged of the assaults and rapes of civilians … last month.” The US Embassy in Juba received distressed calls, so officials knew this happened before it became  front page news. Still, it took the US over a month to publicly acknowledge this outrage.

A brief backgrounder here — South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became the US Embassy at the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world.  One of the OIG’s key findings at that time is the Department inability to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.”  The embassy operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018. The report warns that the current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff also leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The report indicates that the Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy, which won’t happen until 2018. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. The OIG concludes that personnel and the integrity of our programs will remain at risk.  (see US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers) and US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet.

The US Embassy in Juba has a small U.S. force guarding it but its ability to function as an embassy is only possible with the protection of the host country.  With South Sudan government troops targeting Americans, how is it that the US Embassy in Juba is still open?

Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing with the spox addressing what Embassy Juba did during and following the attack. It also show the limits of what the US Government can do despite being the largest donor in South Sudan.

Via DPB on August 15, 2016:

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. And I’m glad for this. Please.

QUESTION: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.

So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.

Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.

As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.

We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.

Anything more on South Sudan?

QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.

QUESTION: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing —

MS TRUDEAU: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.

MS TRUDEAU: We did.

QUESTION: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that —

MS TRUDEAU: The ambassador made several phone calls.

QUESTION: Several phone calls?

MS TRUDEAU: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.

QUESTION: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there —

MS TRUDEAU: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.

QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.

QUESTION: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or —

MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.

QUESTION: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?

MS TRUDEAU: Was not in a position to do that.

 

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US Mission Russia Issues Alert on Confirmed Anthrax Cases in Siberia

Posted:1:23 am ET

Last week, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a message alerting U.S. citizens of confirmed anthrax cases in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District:

U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should be aware of reported cases of anthrax affecting humans and animals in the region.

As of August 3, local media sources report 20 confirmed cases of anthrax in humans, resulting in the death of one child.  In total, more than 70 people have been hospitalized.  Between 1,500 and 2,300 animals have died or been killed in conjunction with efforts to combat spread of the disease.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is spread by ingesting spores in the air, food, and drink, and is not transmitted by direct human-to-human contact.

Local media outlets report that the governor has declared a quarantine in the district, and the area immediately surrounding the site of the outbreak has been evacuated.  Authorities have also banned the export of animals, furs, antlers, or meat, as well as mushrooms and berries, from the affected area.  At this time, there have been no reports of the disease in neighboring regions.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid travel to affected areas.  U.S. citizens in or transiting through the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should exercise caution, comply with local authorities’ instructions on quarantined areas, and follow local media for the latest information.  Any U.S. citizens who believe they may have been exposed to infected animals or animal products should seek medical attention.

The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District is under the consular district of USCG Yekaterinburg.

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US Embassy Addis Ababa Restricts Personal Travel of USG Personnel in Ethiopia

Posted:12:09 am ET

On August 9, the US Embassy in Ethiopia issued an emergency message informing U.S. citizens in the country of the restrictions on personal travel by USG personnel:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens that protests in Ethiopia have resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and government security forces.  As such, Embassy personnel have been restricted from personal travel to areas in the Amhara and Oromia region states.  Restrictions of future travel by Embassy personnel are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

While U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in the demonstrations, the unpredictability of protests presents significant risks for travelers to the affected regions.  Everyone should increase their level of situational awareness, continuously assess their surroundings, and evaluate their personal level of safety and avoid demonstrations or large gatherings.

Also on Addis Ababa:

 

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