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Tillerson Appoints Ex-USNATO Ambassador Kurt Volker as Special Representative For Ukraine Negotiations

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Posted: 12:49 am ET

 

On July 7, the State Department announced Secretary Tillerson’s appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker served at USNATO from July 2, 2008 to May 15, 2009.  He was reported in spring as in the running for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR). This is Secretary Tillerson’s first special rep appointee.

Below is the released statement:

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson announced today his appointment of Ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Ambassador Volker, who has served previously as the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and as Director for NATO and Western Europe on the National Security Council, will take responsibility for advancing U.S. efforts to achieve the objectives set out in the Minsk agreements. He will accompany the Secretary to Kyiv on Sunday, July 9, and is expected to continue to hold regular meetings with Ukraine and the other members of the Normandy Format: Russia, Germany, and France.

“Kurt’s wealth of experience makes him uniquely qualified to move this conflict in the direction of peace,” said Secretary Tillerson. “The United States remains fully committed to the objectives of the Minsk agreements, and I have complete confidence in Kurt to continue our efforts to achieve peace in Ukraine.”

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United States Dedicates the New U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway

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Posted: 12:10 am ET

 

On Thursday, June 15, 2017, the new U.S. Embassy in Oslo was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Chargé d’affaires Jim DeHart served as Master of Ceremonies and welcomed the guests. Speakers included Governing Mayor of Oslo Raymond Johansen, Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Overseas Building Operations (OBO) Director Ambassador William Moser.

Via State/OBO:

The new, multi-building complex is located on a 10-acre site in the Huseby neighborhood. The new facility provides a safe, secure, and modern facility for U.S. diplomacy and incorporates numerous sustainable features targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute.

EYP Architecture & Engineering of Washington DC is the architect and Walsh Construction of Chicago, Illinois constructed the new facility.

Since 1999, as part of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has completed 133 new diplomatic facilities, with an additional 52 projects now in design or under construction.

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In May 2012, Ambassador Barry White broke ground on the new Embassy in Oslo. The Mayor of Oslo, the Honorable Fabian Stang; Director of Oslo Planning and Building Authority, Ellen de Vibe; Secretary His Majesty The King’s Cabinet, Knut Brakstad; as well as Deputy Chief of Protocol Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oystein Braathen, attended the groundbreaking ceremony, according to the State Department.

The New Embassy Compound in Oslo is a multi-building complex which includes a chancery, an underground support annex, three entry pavilions, and Marine security guard quarters. The new facility will reportedly provide approximately 200 embassy employees with “a state-of-the-art workspace.”

The new facility will incorporate numerous sustainable features, including a restored stream that will become a key landscape feature and contribute to storm water management. Other sustainable features are a green roof on one building, use of natural daylight for energy savings, and a ground-source heat exchange system that will allow the Embassy to meet nearly 100 percent of its heating load. The new Embassy site is also located within 300 meters of public transportation and includes more than 45 bicycle parking spaces. The facility is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute.

The $228 million project was constructed by Walsh Global, LLC of Chicago, Illinois and the architect of record is EYP Architecture & Engineering. When this project was announced, it was scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2015.

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U.S. Embassy Ukraine Confirms Security Incident at Mission Compound on June 8

Posted: 1:49 am ET

 

Shortly after 12 AM on June 8, an unknown person reportedly threw an explosive device at the US Embassy in Kyiv.  This was originally reported as an act of terrorism, but local authorities later reclassified the incident as an act of malicious hooliganism.” The US Embassy in Kyiv confirmed the security incident but noting that there was no damage to the property and no personnel were injured.

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#TrumpBudget Proposal FY2018: Most Volatile Geographic Bureaus Get the Deepest Cuts

Posted: 3:03 am ET

 

Diplomatic Security’s 2015 Political Violence Against Americans publication notes that attacks involving U.S. citizens or interests occurred predominantly in the Near East (NEA), South Central Asia (SCA), and Africa (AF).

Some of the significant attacks against U.S.diplomatic facilities and personnel in 2015 occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh (protesters threw flammable liquid at a U.S. Embassy vehicle); Dili, Timor-Leste (a hand grenade was thrown over the wall of a U.S. Embassy residential property); Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (a U.S. Embassy vehicle transporting two U.S. congressional staffers to their hotel was hit by pedestrians throwing rocks); Sana’a, Yemen (a mortar or rocket round exploded on the road in front of the U.S. Embassy and Houthi rebels opened fire on two U.S. Embassy Quick Reaction Force (QRF) vehicles dispatched to assist locally employed embassy staffers detained at a rebel checkpoint); Erbil, Iraq (a vehicle laden with explosives detonated outside the U.S. Consulate General, killing two Turkish nationals and injuring 11 others, including a U.S. citizen); and Bangui, Central African Republic (an individual opened fire on a U.S. Embassy two-vehicle motorcade transporting eight passengers to the airport).

The FY2018 budget request proposed to cut funding deepest in the geographic areas that are most volatile and dangerous:  NEA -$45.1M;  SCA -$43.7M; AF – $32.7M; EUR -$24.3M; EAP -$12.6M; WHA -$12.6M.

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The Bureau of African Affairs (AF) promotes the Administration’s foreign policy priorities in 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through 44 U.S. embassies, four constituent posts, and the U.S. Mission to the African Union. AF addresses key foreign policy initiatives and development challenges across Africa by focusing on five overarching policy priorities to: 1) advance peace and security; 2) strengthen democratic institutions and protect human rights; 3) spur economic growth through two-way trade and investment; 4) promote development including better health; and 5) advance diplomatic effectiveness through appropriate staffing and facilities.

In support of U.S. national security interests, AF has provided significant assistance to ensure that the African Union could play a major role in mitigating continental peace and security challenges. AF also supports the African Union’s ability to act as a standard bearer for democracy and human rights, the rule of law, and economic prosperity. AF also strongly supports African efforts to counter terrorism in the Sahel and West/Central Africa, Somalia and wider East Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin region. Finally, the Bureau and other State Department entities are working with counterparts throughout sub-Saharan Africa to provide humanitarian assistance to drought-stricken populations in the Horn of Africa; aid refugee populations; curtail trafficking of people, drugs, and arms; and facilitate the path towards an AIDS-free generation.

The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) advances vital U.S. national interests in the Asia Pacific region. Home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the emerging engagement occurring between the United States and nations in the Asia Pacific region reaffirms that America’s future security and prosperity will be shaped by developments in the region. EAP is comprised of 43 embassies, consulates, and American Presence Posts located in 24 countries from Mongolia to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. EAP has 861 foreign and civil service positions in overseas posts and domestic offices. The Bureau also provides support to the American Institute in Taiwan, a non-governmental organization that represents U.S. interests in Taiwan.

EAP leadership and diplomats reinforce rules-based order in the region by building an international commitment to defeat ISIS. EAP works to promote cooperation on transnational threats such as cyberspace and health pandemics, as well as threats from state actors, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and defending freedom of navigation in the region’s maritime spaces, including in the South China Sea.

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To support American prosperity and security, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ (EUR) strategic objective over multiple administrations has been to support a Europe “whole, free, and at peace.” The bureau’s range of tools includes the 50 EUR missions and important multilateral platforms including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). European nations are the United States’ most capable and globally engaged partners and can be force multipliers. Maintaining these alliances and partnerships is vital to U.S. defense and to our ability to enhance international stability, counter Russian aggression and subversion, and confront complex global challenges, such as proliferation, terrorist threats, and combatting organized crime and violent ideologies.

The total FY 2018 EUR Enduring Request is $470.6 million, a -$24.3 million decrease to the FY 2017 estimate, including $1.1 million in OCO. With these resources, and in conjunction with foreign assistance resources allocated to the region, EUR will continue to work to achieve the full range of State Department priorities, and seek to generate greater operating efficiencies and cost containment initiatives.

Through 25 embassies and consulates, stretching from Morocco to Iran, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) promotes U.S. interests by combating terrorism and violent extremism, and leading the Global Coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); promoting the free flow of commerce; and preserving Israel’s security, working toward a comprehensive and lasting Middle East Peace between Israel and its neighbors. The region’s primary causes for volatility include: terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Qa’eda, who have found safe havens that threaten U.S. interests and allies; Iran’s malign regional influence impends U.S. partners’ strategic security; and the ongoing Syrian civil war that exports instability and undermines the stability of its neighbors with humanitarian crises.

In order to defeat ISIS and stabilize liberated areas, Mission Iraq will vigorously engage with the Government of Iraq, international organizations, regional neighbors, economic partners, and the Iraqi people to support improvements in governance, economic development, Iraq’s regional relations, and to maintain a strong enduring partnership with Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement. Mission Iraq’s 5,500 personnel working at Embassy Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC), Consulate General Basrah, and Consulate General Erbil are essential to pursuing the above-stated goals.

The FY 2018 Request is $413.3 million ($175 million Enduring and $238.3 million OCO), a -$45.1 million decrease below the FY 2017 estimate. The request strives to gain efficiencies via a more stringent management of travel, contract, and International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) operations throughout the region. Additional efficiencies are being pursued through the review of programs/operations such as aviation assets and support, consulate operations, and financial support provided to outside entities by way of agreements.

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) is responsible for promoting U.S. interests in one of the most populous and dynamic regions of the world. With a combined population of more than 1.5 billion people, the 13 countries that make up SCA are home to almost a quarter of the world’s population, including one-third of the world’s Muslims and 850 million persons under age 30, making continued engagement in South and Central Asia vital to U.S. national security and regional stability.

Department operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across South and Central Asia remain critical to ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States. On the security front, the efforts of the U.S. and bilateral and regional partners have combated multiple terrorist threats. Continued programs to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and deter nuclear proliferation in the region will continue to improve security for the homeland and U.S. global partners.

SCA’s request will also support two major regional initiatives: the New Silk Road (NSR) focused on Afghanistan and its neighbors, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor linking South Asia with Southeast Asia.

The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) is comprised of 52 Embassies and Consulates encompassing Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. WHA’s primary goals include helping to shut down illicit pathways to the United States to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism. The bureau will continue to work with partner governments and civil society in support of democratic values and human rights. WHA will support bilateral trade agreements that respect U.S. national sovereignty and promote U.S. investment and jobs. WHA will use all possible sources of leverage to encourage other countries to open markets to U.S. exports of goods and services, to provide adequate and effective enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Department seeks to expand security, prosperity, and democracy in the Hemisphere through partnerships that benefit the United States and its strategic national security partners.

The WHA FY 2018 Request is $256.2 million, a -$12.6 million reduction to the FY 2017 Estimate. WHA will implement contractual services reductions in order to absorb the reduction.

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The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) and its seven diplomatic missions play a central role in U.S. efforts to advance national security through the multilateral system, including the United Nations (UN). IO works through organizations that offer opportunities to achieve multi-national solutions to complex global issues.

U.S. multilateral engagement is an important component of a robust U.S. foreign policy, and particularly in promoting U.S. priorities through transnational action. International organizations comprise a global architecture that can extend U.S. influence at a reduced cost to the American taxpayer over bilateral or unilateral actions.

The UN system, in particular, has principal convening power for multilateral action within its main bodies, funds and programs, and specialized agencies. Through the UN system, the United States can take internationally-recognized action on issues affecting U.S. citizens that may not be resolved elsewhere, including aviation safety and security, public health, internet governance, and global postal services. IO’s multilateral engagement extends beyond the UN system to buttress multi-national resolutions outside the UN’s walls.

 

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U.S. Embassy London: 100 #StatuesofLiberty Protest Trump’s First #100Days

Posted: 2:40 am ET

 

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET

 

Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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@StateDept Lifts Evacuation Order For Istanbul, Travel Restrictions Remain For SE Turkey

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul (see U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?). On March 28, 2017, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning concerning the increased threats from terrorist groups in the country.  The updated warning also states that the evacuation order for USCG Istanbul family members issued in October had been lifted. That means family members on evacuation status may now return to join the FS employees assigned to Istanbul although there are now restrictions on personal and official travel by USG employees and family members traveling and residing in Istanbul.

Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

U.S. citizens are warned of increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism. On March 27, the Department of State terminated its October 29, 2016, decision to direct family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to depart Turkey temporarily. However, there are restrictions on personal and official travel by U.S. government personnel and their family members travelling to and residing in Istanbul. Restrictions on travel by U.S. government personnel to certain areas in southeast Turkey, including Adana, remain. This replaces the travel warning dated January 25, 2017.

In 2016, numerous terrorist attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, and vehicle-borne bombings in tourist areas, public spaces, private celebrations, sporting events, and government, police, and military facilities throughout Turkey resulted in hundreds of deaths. The most recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on January 1, 2017, and simultaneous suicide bombings near Istanbul’s Besiktas/Vodafone Soccer Stadium on December 10, 2016. In addition, an increase in anti-American rhetoric has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

Additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals, and sea transport. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have been explicitly targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination. We remind U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans including communications preparedness/connectivity, monitor local news for breaking events, remain vigilant at all times, and check in with loved ones after an attack or security incident.

On January 4, the Turkish government extended the state of emergency through April 18, 2017.  The Turkish government will decide in April whether to extend the state of emergency for another 90 days.  Under the state of emergency, security forces have expanded powers and the government has, at times, restricted internet access and media content.  U.S. citizens have been deported and/or detained and held without access to lawyers or family members under the state of emergency.  Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.  U.S. citizen employees of some non-governmental organizations in Turkey have also recently experienced increased scrutiny and denials related to residence permit applications.  The Department continues to monitor the security environment for potential impact on the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey and urges U.S. citizens to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on http://www.travel.state.gov to stay informed.

U.S. government personnel and their family members residing in or visiting Istanbul are restricted from congregating or traveling in large groups and are not permitted to visit these Istanbul locations without prior approval from the Consulate:

  • Large, crowded areas such as shopping malls and houses of worship frequented by expatriates, entertainment complexes, nightclubs, public sporting/cultural performance venues, and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares
  • Tourist destinations throughout Istanbul, to include historical sites, monuments, large bazaar markets, and museums.

U.S. government personnel living in or visiting Turkey continue to require approval from the U.S. Embassy  to visit the  southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  Travel within Adana by U.S. government personnel may also be subject to restriction.  Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy may prohibit movements by its personnel and those of its subordinate Consulates to these areas on short notice for security reasons.  Due to recent acts of violence and the potential for reprisal attacks by terrorist groups due to continued Turkish military activity in Syria, we urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to large urban centers near the Turkish/Syrian border.  U.S. citizens should also be aware that the Government of Turkey has closed its border with Syria.  The Government of Turkey prohibits border crossings from Syria into Turkey, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey.  Turkish authorities will consider permitting the passage of individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger on a case by case basis.

Read the entire Turkey Travel Warning here.

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@StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents

Posted: 5:17 pm ET
Updated: March 30, 4:18 am ET  

 

On March 29, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.  The State Department phone directory dated March 27, 2017 lists Candace Claiborne as an Office Management Specialist (OMS) at the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts (EUR/CARC). This office has desk officers for Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Minsk Group Co-Chair.  The Minsk Group  provide a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The DOJ announcement notes that Claiborne has been an Office Management Specialist (OMS) for the Department of State in since 1999 and has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  Given the lengths of the tours of duty, we suspect that she was in more than four posts in 18 years, but we have yet to see a copy of the FBI complaint. OMSs provide office management and administrative support including managing the calendar(s) and schedule(s) for senior staff, proofing, editing, tracking and filing documents, preparing agenda and materials for meetings, providing computer and mobile device support, knowledge management, and planning and assisting with official events and visitors. Read more about OMSs here.

According to the FBI agent’s affidavit supporting the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, “there is probable cause to believe that Claiborne made materially false statements to federal law enforcement officers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, and conspired with Co-Conspirators A B, and C to obstruct an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512. These criminal violations werc either begun or committed in Washington D.C., where Claiborne resides and works, and where the Department of State is headquartered or were begun or committed overseas, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state.”  But who’s Co-Conspirator A, and why wasn’t he charged?

Read the criminal complaint here via Politico. It looks pretty bad. 

Below is the DOJ announcement:

State Department Employee Arrested and Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Foreign Agents

A federal complaint was unsealed today charging Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., and an employee of the U.S. Department of State, with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.

The charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord for National Security, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

“Candace Marie Claiborne is a U.S. State Department employee who possesses a Top Secret security clearance and allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit. Pursuing those who imperil our national security for personal gain will remain a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“Candace Claiborne is charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements in connection with her alleged concealment and failure to report her improper connections to foreign contacts along with the tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits they provided,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “As a State Department employee with a Top Secret clearance, she received training and briefing about the need for caution and transparency. This case demonstrates that U.S. government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments”

“Candace Claiborne is accused of violating her oath of office as a State Department employee, who was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully mislead federal investigators about her significant and repeated interactions with foreign contacts,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale. “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who, though required by law, fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

The FBI arrested Claiborne on March 28. She made her first appearance this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint and arrest warrant, which was unsealed today, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintains a Top Secret security clearance. Claiborne also is required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, the affidavit alleges, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. According to the affidavit, the gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, Chinese New Year’s gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, the affidavit alleges, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

According to the affidavit, Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who, shortly after wiring $2,480 to Claiborne, tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who allegedly confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the affidavit states. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents, the affidavit alleges.

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The maximum penalty for a person convicted of obstructing an official proceeding is 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for making false statements to the FBI is five years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

At her court appearance today, Claiborne pleaded not guilty before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather. A preliminary hearing was set for April 18.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John L. Hill and Thomas A. Gillice for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Julie Edelstein of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

It looks like the arrest warrant was issued yesterday, and the complaint was unsealed today, but we have yet to locate the charging document.  As with the DOJ statement, we should note that charges contained in a criminal complaint are allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Dear SecState Tillerson: Congrats on 737 Cost Savings, But Don’t Ditch Your Press Corps on #Turkey Trip

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

On March 23, the State Department reiterated during the Daily Press Briefing Secretary Tillerson’s excuse for ditching his traveling press:

[H]e was clear and he’s spoken about this in his interviews – is that he is committed to a smaller footprint. That’s not to say – let me be clear – that we’re not going to look at taking any press in future trips. I’m not saying that at all. But he is committed to a smaller footprint. And with respect to the trip to Asia, the space constraints on the plane did not allow, frankly, for a press contingent. So we worked with — [snip] So we work with our embassies. I think it is. And I can get into this. I don’t – we don’t need to have this out here, but I’m happily – happy to talk to you about this offline. But there’s a significant cost savings to taking the smaller plane, but that smaller plane requires – or has minimal seating.

Secretary Tillerson cited “cost savings” in using a smaller aircraft ( a 737), which apparently also “flies faster”; presumably in comparison to the 757 previously used by his predecessors?

We don’t know much about airplanes, so you know we’ve got to take a look, right?

Here is the current secstate’s 737 | C-40 B/C via af.mil:

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The body of the C-40 is identical to that of the Boeing 737-700, but has winglets. Both models have state of the art avionics equipment, integrated GPS and flight management system/electronic flight instrument system and a heads up display. Heading the safety equipment list is the traffic collision avoidance system and enhanced weather radar. The aircraft is a variant of the Boeing next generation 737-700, and combines the 737-700 fuselage with the wings and landing gear from the larger and heavier 737-800. The basic aircraft has auxiliary fuel tanks, a specialized interior with self-sustainment features and managed passenger communications. The cabin area is equipped with a crew rest area, distinguished visitor compartment with sleep accommodations, two galleys and business class seating with worktables.

The C-40B is designed to be an “office in the sky” for senior military and government leaders. Communications are paramount aboard the C-40B which provides broadband data/video transmit and receive capability as well as clear and secure voice and data communication. It gives combatant commanders the ability to conduct business anywhere around the world using on-board Internet and local area network connections, improved telephones, satellites, television monitors, and facsimile and copy machines. The C-40B also has a computer-based passenger data system.  The C-40C is not equipped with the advanced communications capability of the C-40B. Unique to the C-40C is the capability to change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers.

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The C-40 B/C provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for U.S. leaders to locations around the world. The C-40B’s primary customers are the combatant commanders and C-40C customers include members of the Cabinet and Congress.  (Courtesy photo)

Previously, the secretary of state’s airplane was a C-32, a specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner.  This is the aircraft used by Secretary Kerry.  757 | C-32  via af.mil:

The C-32 provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for our nation’s leaders to locations around the world. The primary customers are the vice president, using the distinctive call sign “Air Force Two,” the first lady, and members of the Cabinet and Congress. The C-32 body is identical to that of the Boeing 757-200, but has different interior furnishings and 21st century avionics. The passenger cabin is divided into four sections: A) The forward area has a communications center, galley, lavatory and 10 business class seats; B) The second section is a fully-enclosed stateroom for the use of the primary passenger. It includes a changing area, private lavatory, separate entertainment system, two first-class swivel seats and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. C) The third section contains the conference and staff facility with eight business class seats. D) The rear section of the cabin contains general seating with 32 business-class seats, galley, two lavatories and closets.

The USAF C-32 fact sheet also says that this aircraft is more fuel efficient and has improved capabilities over its C-137 predecessor. “It can travel twice the distance on the same amount of fuel, and operate on shorter runways down to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in length. Its 92,000-pound (41,731 kilogram) fuel capacity allows the aircraft to travel 5,500 nautical miles unrefueled.”

Here is the side-by-side comparison of the two planes, the 757 that former Secretary Kerry used and the 737 that Secretary Tillerson is currently using.

Cost savings? Yes, but …

There are fixed costs associated with operating an aircraft that do not vary according to aircraft usage (crew, maintenance, labor, parts, operations overhead, administrative overhead, etc) so we requested from the State Department the cost savings identified with the Tillerson trip to Asia. Its official response was to direct us to the DOD comptroller for the travel per hour cost. According to the DOD Comptroller’s FY2017 hourly rates for fixed wing aircraft effective October 1, 2016 (used when the applicable aircraft are provided on a reimbursable basis), Secretary Tillerson’s 737/C-40C aircraft costs about a third of the previous secretary’s 757 cost per hour.

But, because there’s always a but …the 737/C-40C model used by members of the Cabinet and Congress can change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers. Let’s just say that Secretary Tillerson is using the 737/C-40B model primary used by combatant commanders; this model still has seats for 26-32 passengers.

Secretary Tillerson traveling party to Asia was small, so he basically flew with a half empty plane but the State Department officially cited “space constraints” as the reason for not having a traveling press.  In any case, if Secretary Tillerson is saving money by using a smaller but mostly empty plane, he surely can save more money by using a smaller plane with paying passengers (press pay for their rides in USG planes) instead of empty seats, won’t he?  He does not have to take the whole village, but he has to take more than one, and they ought not be preselected for obvious reasons.

To Turkey, to Turkey

On Friday, the State Department announced that Secretary Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on March 30, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials, then travel to Brussels, Belgium on March 31 to visit NATO.

The Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, rates Turkey’s press freedom status as “not free.” Its report on Turkey states: “Media outlets are sometimes denied access to events and information for political reasons. Critical outlets are regularly denied access to the AKP’s party congress and meetings, and the government prevents certain journalists from attending press conferences or accompanying officials on foreign visits.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in 2016 and closes some 178 news outlets and publishing houses by decree in the space of five months.

This is one trip where the Secretary of State absolutely cannot afford to ditch his traveling press.

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Ex-CIA Sabrina de Sousa Granted Partial Pardon by Italian President Mattarella

Posted: 2:19 am  ET

 

We’ve followed the case of Sabrina de Sousa in this blog since 2009. She previously worked as an FSO for the State Department from 1998 to 2009. In a July 2013 interview with McClatchyDC, Ms. De Sousa confirmed that she worked under cover for the CIA in Milan, Italy.

 

According to the Guardian, the office of Italian President Sergio Mattarella issued a statement late Tuesday saying that De Sousa had been granted a partial pardon. It means a reduction of her four-year sentence of detention by one year.  The statement cited by media reports indicate that De Sousa “would be able to serve her sentence with “alternative measures” to detention, meaning that she could avoid spending any time in jail.”

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