U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.

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Libyan National Charged in 2012 Attack on U.S. Special Mission and Annex in #Benghazi

Posted: 2:22 am ET
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Media reports say that U.S. special forces have captured a militant who was allegedly involved in the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  The suspect has been identified as Mustafa al-Imam. An unnamed official told the AP that the suspect was captured in Misrata, on the north coast of Libya and was taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport to the United States.

Per DOJ announcement:

Mustafa al-Imam, a Libyan national approximately 46 years old, has been charged for his alleged participation in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

“The murder of four Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 was a barbaric crime that shocked the American people. We will never forget those we lost – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Ambassador Christopher Stevens – four brave Americans who gave their lives in service to our nation,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “We owe it to them and their families to bring their murderers to justice. Today the Department of Justice announces a major step forward in our ongoing investigation as Mustafa al-Imam is now in custody and will face justice in federal court for his role in the attack.  I am grateful to the FBI, our partners in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense who made this apprehension possible.  The United States will continue to investigate and identify all those who were involved in the attack – and we will hold them accountable for their crimes.”

“The apprehension of Mustafa al-Imam demonstrates our unwavering commitment to holding accountable all of those responsible for the murders of four brave Americans in a terrorist attack in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia.  “Together with our law enforcement partners, we will do all that we can to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States, no matter how far we must go and how long it takes.”

Mustafa al-Imam is charged in a recently unsealed three-count criminal complaint.  The complaint, which was filed under seal on May 19, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges al-Imam with:

  • Killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility involving the use of a firearm and dangerous weapon and attempting and conspiring to do the same.
  • Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death.
  • Discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Al-Imam is in U.S. custody, and upon his arrival to the U.S. he will be presented before a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

Read the full announcement here.

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U.S.Embassy Bamako: Army Green Beret Logan J. Melgar’s Death in Mali Under Investigation as Homicide

Posted: 12:33 am ET
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Media reports say that Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar was found dead in his room in embassy housing in Bamako, Mali on June 4, 2017 and that two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six are reportedly under investigation in his death. One official told ABC News that the death is being investigated by the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as a homicide and that investigators are looking into Melgar’s suspected asphyxiation.

Sgt. Melgar died in Bamako far from battlefield, in an “odd event” that  requires an investigation. But the death occurred in June and even if there is an ongoing investigation, why is the public hearing about this death almost five months after the incident?  The death also reportedly occurred in an embassy housing. Since NCIS (and not Diplomatic Security) is investigating, we suspect but that these DOD members are not/not under Chief of Mission Authority (pdf) while at post but under AFRICOM.

To the inevitable next question as to what our troops are doing in Mali,  we understand that France is in the lead to counter Al Qaida/ISIS affiliates and the US military works in support of French operations in that country. It is also our understanding that there are six western hostages being held in Mali including one US citizen.

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Avoidable Mess: U.S. to Help Chad After “Important Partner” Withdraws Troops From Niger Following Visa Sanctions

Posted: 3:33 am ET
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On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries, including Chad. See Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia:.

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Via BuzzFeed: Experts from the State Department to humanitarian organizations were stunned when the Chad was added to the travel ban in late September. The country is home to a US military facility and just hosted an annual 20-nation military exercise with the US military’s Africa Command to strengthen local forces to fight extremist insurgents. Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, is the headquarters of the five-country Multinational Joint Task Force battling Boko Haram.

What kind of visa numbers do we have for Chad? For temporary nonimmigrant visas the last five fiscal years, see below via travel.state.gov:

FY2016: 1,355 | FY2015: 1,352 | FY2014: 1,294 |  FY2013: 731 |  FY2012: 624

So given Chad’s counterterrorism cooperation, and the carved out already given to Iraq in the September 24 order, why was Chad included in the visa restrictions?  FP proposes this:

One possible explanation for this discrepancy, which would be preposterous in any administration except this one, is that the architects of the ban, having repeatedly heard the phrases “Boko Haram” and “Lake Chad” in the same sentence, assumed that Chad must be the epicenter of Boko Haram. (Lake Chad in fact lies on the border of Chad and three other countries, and Boko Haram is mostly confined to northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southeastern Niger.)
[…]
In the wake of the new travel ban announcement on Sept. 24, Chad has withdrawn hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where up to 2,000 of its soldiers were part of a coalition battling Boko Haram. The Chadian government has not yet offered an official explanation for the pullout, but Communications Minister Madeleine Alingué condemned Chad’s inclusion on the travel ban, saying that it “seriously undermines” the “good relations between the two countries, notably in the fight against terrorism.”
[…]
The Chadian president is likely betting that with his forces withdrawn from Niger, the Trump administration will quickly come to appreciate his country’s security contributions and remove it from the list.

But it turns out — Chad had simply run out of passport paper!

AP’s Josh Lederman writes that Chad lacked the passport paper and offered to furnish the U.S. with a pre-existing sample of the same type of passport, but it was not enough to persuade DHS.  A congressional official told the AP that DHS working with the White House “pushed Chad onto the list without significant input from the State Department or the Defense Department.” 

Without significant input from agencies with people on the ground in Chad. If we were in Chad’s shoes, wouldn’t we do exactly the same? Obviously, being called an “important partner” does not make up for having your citizens banned from traveling to the other country. The action telegraphed careless disregard of the relationship, and Chad most likely, will not forget this easily. “Remember that time when the U.S. put Chad on the visa sanctions list while we have 2,000 soldiers fighting in Niger?” Yep, they’ll remember. We actually would like to know who among the local contacts showed up for the new embassy dedication, by the way (see @StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad).

The DHS/WH architects of these visa bans/sanctions really are the best people with the best brains, hey?

Federal court has now issued a TRO for the latest travel restrictions that includes Chad. So basically, a carefully constructed bilateral relationship ends up in a mess, and it was all for nothing.

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Sharon Weinberger: The Imagineers of War (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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We mentioned Sharon Wienberger’s book a couple days ago in 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons.  For readers who may be interested, below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

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If @StateDept Refuses to Spend $80M Appropriated Funds, Could It End Up in Court? #GAO

Posted: 3:48 pm PT
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Last month, we wrote about the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act; the Act  inspired by then President Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of appropriated funds by Congress.

Today, Politico is reporting that Secretary Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.

“It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department. But more than five months into his tenure, Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another$19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson’s aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America’s adversaries.”

The $60 million will expire on Sept. 30 if not transferred to State by then, current and former State Department officials told POLITICO.
[…]
Last month, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio pressed Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on whether Tillerson considers the Global Engagement Center a priority and urged that hiring caps be lifted so the center can expand.

We anticipate that Congress could allocate more funds for the State Department than requested by the Trump Administration.  Given that the Administration has proposed some 30% cuts in its own request, it will be worth watching what Tillerson will do with the bulk of appropriated funds that the Administration did not ask for. The reported $80 million for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center that the State Department has not released could be the first test.

The State Department could violate the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) if it refuses to obligate funds for policy reasons without President Trump sending a special message to both Houses of Congress.  It is also considered a violation is if it sets aside funds or intentionally slows down spending, or if it proposes a deferral but the timing is such that funds could be expected to lapse before they could be obligated.

Under ICA, an impoundment is any action or inaction by an officer or employee of the federal government that precludes obligation or expenditure of budget authority.  The Act applies to salaries and expenses appropriations as well as program appropriations.

The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA) provides authority for agencies to “impound” or withhold the obligation of funds in certain circumstances. There are two ways for withholding funds, through a deferral or through proposed rescission. In both both cases, the President is required to send a “special message” to the House and the Senate specifying the following:

(1) the amount of budget authority which he proposes to be rescinded or which is to be so reserved;
(2) any account, department, or establishment of the Government to which such budget authority is available for obligation, and the specific project or governmental functions involved;
(3) the reasons why the budget authority should be rescinded or is to be so reserved;
(4) to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated fiscal, economic, and budgetary effect of the proposed rescission or of the reservation; and
(5) all facts, circumstances, and considerations relating to or bearing upon the proposed rescission or the reservation and the decision to effect the proposed rescission or the reservation, and to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated effect of the pro- posed rescission or the reservation upon the objects, purposes, and programs for which the budget authority is provided.

A deferral is used if the President wants to temporarily withhold obligation of funds (but not beyond the end of the fiscal year). A rescission is used if the President wants to permanently withhold funds from obligation and for Congress to cancel the budget authority (before that authority would otherwise expire). The latter can be accomplished only through legislation.

The GAO’s Principles of Federal Appropriations Law notes that “The President is authorized to withhold budget authority that is the subject of a rescission proposal for a period of 45 days of continuous session following receipt of the proposal. Unless Congress acts to approve the proposed rescission within that time, the budget authority must be made available for obligation.”

Since Congress is on break in August, and the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, we don’t think there’s enough time to notify Congress of the rescission if that’s something the State Department is considering for the $80 million GEC funds.

So what happens if an agency withholds appropriated funds, and refuses to spend it?

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Former U.S. Naval Attaché to US Embassy Manila Michael Brooks Sentenced in Navy Scandal

Posted: 2:35 am ET
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On June 16, 2017, USDOJ announced that a former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines was sentenced for taking bribes in a massive U.S. Navy corruption scandal.

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

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U.S. Embassy Doha Issues Security Message Amidst #Qatar Diplomatic Crisis

Posted: 2:45 am ET
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On June 5, the U.S. Embassy in Doha issued a security message over the break in diplomatic relations between Qatar and other Gulf countries.

On June 5, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt announced the cessation of diplomatic and consular ties with the State of Qatar. Qatar Airways and other airlines in the region have announced the suspension of certain flights to and from Qatar. The U.S. Embassy takes this opportunity to remind all U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Qatar to check directly with your travel providers for any potential impact on your personal travel arrangements and remain alert to additional developments. The embassy is monitoring the situation closely and is working with the Government of Qatar to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the country.

We should note that the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar is concluding her assignment, and the NEA Bureau‘s Acting Assistant Secretary is retiring. No successors have been announced to-date for both positions.

A 2010 OIG report notes that Embassy Doha is a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Government agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million. A key element of the U.S. Qatari strategic partnership is the use of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, one of the most important military bases in the Middle East.

Amb.Peter Bodde and AFRICOM Gen. Thomas Waldhauser Make First Libya Visit Since 2014

Posted: 3:03 am ET
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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 EscortsUS 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.”

 

Related posts:

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Trump Bombs Syria While Hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia Demands UNSC Meeting

Posted: 4:23 am ET
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Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping:

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