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Trump Administration Plans @StateDept-@USAID Merger and Deep Program Cuts

Posted: 2:49 am ET

 

The FP exclusive says that the Trump administration is planning to merge USAID into the State Department, and imposed deep cuts on USAID programs.  Apparently, senior USAID officials have “told staff that the agency is attempting to cope with the steep cuts by prioritizing its field offices abroad over its offices in Washington. Nonetheless, the agency still anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. USAID currently operates in about 100 countries.” Also this:

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.”

The article talks about reorganization but does not talk about a reduction in force, which we think is inevitable if this budget is approved.  If this administration slashes in half or eliminate entire USAID programs, what is there left to do for staffers?  In the 1990’s when State and USAID went through similar cuts, USAID lost about 2,000 jobs. By 1996, WaPo reported that USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000.” The number did not include a breakdown but we are presuming that this overall number included local employees overseas. See The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

A white paper submitted to the then Obama-Biden Transition in 2008 noted the staffing woes with USAID:

The number of employees at USAID has dropped from 4,300 in 1975, to 3,600 in 1985, to 3,000 in 1995. As of September 2007, USAID was staffed with 2,417 direct hire staff (1,324 foreign service officers and 1,093 civil servants) and 908 staff with limited appointments (628 personal services contractors and 280 Pasas, Rasas, and others). In addition, the agency employed 4,557 Foreign Service nationals at missions overseas. While staffing levels have declined, program responsibility has increased from approximately $8 billion in 1995 to approximately $13 billion in 2007 (in 2005 dollars). USAID has set a target of a contracting officer managing a range of $10-14 million per year, but the current level is at an average of $57 million.

There are inadequate numbers of experienced career officers; as a result, management oversight of programs is at risk. Fifty percent of Foreign Service officers were hired in the last 7 years. One hundred percent of Senior Foreign Service officers will be eligible to retire in 2009. Of 12 Career Ministers, six will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2010. Mid-career Foreign Service officers in their mid-40s have less than 12 years of service. Until 2007, 70-80 members of the Foreign Service would leave the service annually, 85% for retirement; that rate has fallen to 45-55%. Of 122 new hires in 2007, only 10% were experienced mid-career hires.
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DOD maintains a 10% float (for training and placing staff in other agencies and organizations). AID has float of 1⁄2 of a percent, little training, and is unable to take opportunities for placing staff in other agencies and organizations.

In 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

Folding USAID into State would most likely require congressional approval, but the work to get there is most probably already underway.  When USIA was folded into State, a new PD cone was created; does this mean a Development cone will soon be added to the Foreign Service career tracks?  Will the USAID development professionals move to State or will they find they find their way elsewhere?  The already stressful transfer season this summer just got tons harder.

Also see Former Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) Jeremy Konyndyk Twitter thread below on why this is such a short-sighted idea.

FY18 Budget Control Levels via Adam Griffiths, Foreign Policy:

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Official Involved in Bush-Era Purge of Gay Employees Now in Trump Administration

by Justin Elliott,ProPublica
April 10, 2017, 2:27 p.m.

 

It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistleblowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report.

Staffers were abruptly reassigned from Washington, D.C., to a new office 500 miles away in Detroit in what the head of the office reportedly described as an effort to “ship [them] out.” Staffers who refused were fired.

Crude anti-gay emails were found in the agency chief’s account.

Now one of the major players in the scandal has a new assignment: He works in the Trump administration.

In December, James Renne was appointed to the Trump “landing team” at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the transition effort between the election and the inauguration. He was then hired Jan. 30 in a senior role at the Department of Agriculture, though his exact job duties are not clear.

Renne was part of the wave of early political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams,” whose role is to lay the groundwork for the new administration’s policies. (We published details on hundreds of beachhead hires, obtained through public records requests.)

In the Bush administration, Renne was hired in 2004 as deputy special counsel of the Office of Special Counsel, the small federal agency that is supposed to protect employees across the government from retaliation for whistleblowing. The tenures of Renne and his boss, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, were almost immediately mired in controversy after career employees said they were improperly fired. Language stating that job discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation also disappeared from the agency website.

A little-noticed inspector general report, released in 2013, depicts Renne as a central player in the efforts. Bloch and Renne, it found, hatched the plan to abruptly open a new “Midwest Field Office” in Detroit and reassign career staff there. Employees who declined to move lost their jobs.

The report found that the employees were targeted for no legitimate reason, pointing to “facts which reflect that Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne may have been motivated in their actions by a negative personal attitude toward homosexuality and individuals whose orientation is homosexual.”

One evening shortly after he was hired in 2004, Renne took the lead in removing the language from the agency’s website about how job protections cover sexual orientation, the report says.

From the report: “Mr. Renne was depicted as intently searching the OSC website with the assistance of a senior career official to identify passages which interpreted [the nondiscrimination law] as extending protection to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. According to this account, Mr. Renne demanded that OSC’s information technology manager remove these materials from the website immediately.”

That change was later the subject of congressional hearings.

Renne did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Agriculture, which hired him, declined to comment.

The scandal at the Office of Special Counsel dragged on for years, spawning congressional and criminal investigations.

In a formal complaint filed at the time, the employees who were reassigned to Detroit pointed to a “Concerned Catholic Attorneys” letter Renne had signed in 2000 that is a broadside against a range of gay rights efforts. It warns that the “homosexual lobby’s power has grown exponentially.”

The inspector general report found that Renne played a central role in the plan to open a Detroit office, noting that “the reorganization was formulated by Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne very early in their tenure.” An outside consultant they hired to help with the plan told investigators that “it appeared that Mr. Bloch may have been heavily influenced by Mr. Renne.”

That consultant, retired Lt. Gen. Richard Trefry, told investigators:

Mr. Bloch indicated to General Trefry that there was a sizeable group of homosexuals employed by OSC, which had developed during the years prior to his taking office, that he “had a license” to get rid of homosexual employees, and that he intended to “ship them out.”

The report continues:

Further, in the portions of Mr. Bloch’s official e-mail account that were available to the investigative team, there were crude and vulgar messages containing anti-homosexual themes that appeared to have been forwarded from his personal email. 2026 Similarly, Mr. Bloch’s public media references to [his predecessor as Special Counsel, Elaine] Kaplan contained repeated, negatively-phrased assertions regarding her sexual orientation. For example, in interviews he granted during 2007, Mr. Bloch described her as a “lesbian activist,” a “public lesbian,” a “well-known gay activist”, and similar depictions.

Now in private practice, Bloch told ProPublica the report is “filled with untruth, outright falsehoods, and innuendo.” When the report was released, Bloch denied that he ever talked about targeting gay employees.

The inspector general report says it was based on interviews with more than 60 people and examination of over 100,000 emails.

The affected employees ultimately came to a settlement with the government. The terms were not released.

During the investigation into his tenure, Bloch’s home and office were raided by the FBI and he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge arising from his hiring the company Geeks on Call to do a “seven-level wipe” on his government computers. Years later, Bloch later unsuccessfully sued the government over his firing.

There’s little public record of what Renne has been doing since his time working with Bloch. The Trump landing team announcement identified him as working for Renne Law. A fellow member of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence landing team said that Renne had worked at the ODNI inspector general office. And Bloch said he also heard that Renne had gotten a job in the intelligence community after their work together. An ODNI spokesman declined to comment.

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The OPM OIG report is available to read here — DS

The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA

Posted: 4:39 am ET

 

Reporting for the Washington Post in 1996, Thomas Lippman wrote that “The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton’s first year.” He noted that “the relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration’s deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand” (see U.S. Diplomacy’s Presence Shrinking).

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992Warren M. Christopher was nominated Secretary of State by then President-elect Clinton in December 1992.  Christopher was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 1993, and sworn in the next day. Two months into the new administration, Secretary Christopher made his first official congressional appearance as Secretary of State before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary House Appropriations Committee to talk about redirecting American foreign policy, refocusing the aid budgets, and reforming institutions.

Secretary Christopher at that time said that “American foreign policy in the years ahead will be grounded in what President Clinton has called the three “pillars” of our national interest:  first, revitalizing our economy; second, updating our  security forces for a new era; and, third, protecting democracy as the  best means to protect our own national security while expanding the  reach of freedom, human rights, prosperity, and peace.”  He talked about Saddam Hussein, “If the lawlessness of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has taught us any single lesson, it is that weapons of mass destruction, especially when combined  with missile technology, can transform a petty tyrant into a threat to world peace and stability.” Secretary Christopher talked about the State Department budget, “It will be a tough budget for tough times.  It will be a flexible budget that seeks austerity, not as a hardship to be endured but as a challenge to innovate and do our job  better.  Above all, we hope that this budget will mark a transitional step to a truly focused budget that sets priorities and puts resources behind them.”

Oh, brother where are ya?

In February 1993, Secretary Christopher also sent a  message to State Department employees on the Implementation Directive on Reorganization.  Two months into the Trump Administration, and days after the OMB released Trump’s “skinny budget” we have yet to hear from Secretary Tillerson on where the State Department go from here.  We know that he supports the budget cuts for his department, and he has made no public effort of defending the funding and programs for his agency but the top diplomat of the United States still has not articulated the foreign policy priorities of this administration. If Secretary Tillerson has sent a message to his troops in Foggy Bottom, we have yet to hear about it or its contents.

The proposed FY18 budget slashes the international affairs budget by 28% or 36% with Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding factored in.  If passed by Congress, what happens to That Three-Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy?  As diplomacy and development will be hobbled by cuts, are we going to see an exponential growth in private contractors in support of DOD, diplomacy and development? Or are we going to just see staffing gaps and reduced diplomatic footprints from Algeria to Zimbabwe?

In Tillerson’s recent interview with IJR, he said about the State Department budget that “One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not.”

He’s right.  The cuts may happen this year, and next year, and every fiscal year thereafter.  It sounds to us like an “American First” foreign policy does not see much use for diplomacy.  So we expect that the State Department budget will continue to be targeted during the entire Trump term. But if history is any indication, the decisions made today will have repercussions for our country down the road. Back in 1993, Secretary Christopher said, “when the time eventually comes to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the money and personnel for those posts probably will have to come out of existing resources, officials said, thus increasing the pressure to close marginal posts elsewhere.” In 1996, the then Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director John D. Holum warned that the agency “no longer has a U.S. technical expert assigned to the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq.”  

With the exception of Iran, we are back in Iraq, and Somalia, and we know what happened in Libya.  We don’t grow diplomats overnight. Expertise and diplomatic muscle grow with time, with every assignment, with every challenge. What happens when the next crisis erupts in Asia? Can we just pluck diplomats and development experts from the OPM growth chamber?  Or are we going to have a civilian surge once more with diplomats lacking experience and language skills thrown into a pit and then expected to do an effective job?

Remember, do you remember?

We should note that the Democrats had control of the House and the Senate after the 1992 elections but the midterm elections in 1994 resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. That was the Gingrich Revolution.  By the way, R.C. Hammond who previously served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich (a vocal Trump ally) is now a communications adviser for Secretary Tillerson.

WaPo reported that between 1993-1996 “the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.”

In 1995, according to NYT: The U.S. ambassadors to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, the E.U., Germany, Russia and NATO reportedly got together and sent a secret cable to Secretary Christopher, signed by all of them, telling him that the “delivery system” of U.S. foreign policy was being destroyed by budget cuts. They pleaded with him to mobilize those constituencies in the U.S. that value the work of embassies, and volunteered to come to Washington to testify before Congress in their defense. The ambassadors got a polite note back from Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, telling them he understood their concerns but that there was a new mood in Congress. There was no invitation to testify.

The State Department at that time reportedly also promoted the concept of “diplomatic readiness,” similar to military readiness, “in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid — activities that, in the diplomats’ view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.”

More than 100 businesses, trade associations, law firms and volunteer groups did organize a “Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership” without much success.

And this despite the fact that a 1994 GAO study indicates that only 38 percent of the U.S. government personnel in embassies work for the State Department, while 36 percent work for the Pentagon, 5 percent for Justice and 3 percent for Transportation. The other 18 percent includes representatives of the Treasury, Agriculture and Commerce departments.  We don’t know what is the current breakdown of federal agencies operating overseas under the State Department umbrella but if the Trump Administration starts turning off the lights in Africa, or Asia for instance, that could also prove problematic for the Pentagon.

What a 27% budget cut looked like for the international affairs budget?

By Fall 1995, the State Department released a Q&A on the International Affairs Budget–A Sound Investment in Global Leadership.  It includes the following:

Q. Since most Americans favor reducing government spending to balance the federal budget, have the State Department and other foreign affairs  agencies done anything to cut costs?

A. Yes, the Administration has done a great deal to cut costs. We have already:

— Cut the foreign assistance budget request by 20%;

–Trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department and 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA);

–Identified, for elimination by 1997, about 2,000 jobs at the U.S.  Agency for International Development (USAID);

–Decreased administrative and overhead costs by $100 million; and

–Closed, or scheduled for closing, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts, and 28 USAID missions abroad.

OVERSEAS POSTS CLOSED, 1993-96 Consulates, consulates general and State Department branch offices: Algeria Austria Australia Brazil Colombia Egypt France Germany Indonesia Italy (2) Kenya Martinique Mexico Nigeria Philippines Poland Somalia Spain Switzerland (2) Turkey Thailand (2) Venezuela Zaire Embassies Antigua and Barbuda Comoros Equatorial Guinea Seychelles Solomon Islands. AID missions Afghanistan Argentina Belize Botswana Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Caribbean region Chad Chile Costa Rica Estonia Ivory Coast Lesotho Oman Pakistan South Pacific Switzerland Thailand Togo Tunisia Uruguay Zaire (via)

According to WaPo in 1996, USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full “sustainable development missions” — on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development — declined from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.”

That’s what a 27% budget cut inflected on the international affairs budget did in the 90’s.

By 1999, with the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were both abolished and folded into the State Department.

Who ya gonna call?

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell was recently quoted saying, “America being a force is a lot more than building up the Defense Department. Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate.”

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn  apparently signaled that President Trump’s initial proposed budget “won’t dictate how the State Department gets funded.” “The president’s budget goes in the waste basket as soon as it gets here,” he said.

We should note that in the 1990s, both houses of Congress (GOP) and a White House under a Democrat worked together to slashed the State Department budget. It was not a question of how much to cut, but where to cut.  This time around, we have a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, but while the WH is gunning for these cuts, the Senate particularly, appears not to be quite on board with the slash and burn cuts.  Still, we are reminded what former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Stephen J. Ledogar (1990-1997) noted in his oral history (PDF) — that “Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.” 

So … while there are differences in the circumstances during the budget cuts in the 1990’s and the proposed budget cuts in the current and FY18 fiscal years, we are mindful how things can change with the right carrots.

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Trump Seeks Further Funding Cuts From @StateDept/@USAID, This Time From 2017 Budget

Posted: 2:51 am ET

 

Last December, Public Law No: 114-254 (12/10/2016) was signed into law to provide continuing appropriations for most federal agencies through April 28, 2017. This continuing resolution (CR) was passed and it prevented a shutdown of the federal government that would have occurred when the previous CR expired on December 9, 2016 (at that time, eleven of the twelve FY2017 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government had not been enacted).  The bill funded most projects and activities at the rate established for FY2017 spending by the Budget Control Act of 2011 including additional emergency, disaster relief, and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

It looks like the House will be in session for eight calendar days in April, while the Senate will have ten days. With six months left in the current fiscal year and while Congress is expected to wrestle once more with that CR next month, the Trump Administration is also seeking cuts from the FY2017 budget.  The “savings” from the proposed cuts in the current fiscal year will reportedly also go to DOD for additional military spending, and to help build that wall.

Via usnews.com:

memo sent by the administration on Friday to the House and Senate appropriations committees provides the first detailed look at the proposed cuts, and is expected to meet resistance as the budget blueprint did from lawmakers who have fewer than a dozen legislative days to craft and pass the trillion-dollar spending legislation to keep the lights on.
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All told, the programs overseen by the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee would see the greatest reductions, totalling $7.26 billion, followed by $2.88 billion from the subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations, including $1.16 billion to USAID foreign aid programs going to combating climate change, family planning and other global health initiatives.

The list of proposed reductions below is via Politico (see pages 11-12 above for the proposed cuts for the State Department).

Some programs will be slashed while others are zeroed out under the proposed cuts from the State/USAID budget for FY2017. In the case of PEPFAR (Aids) the proposal calls for “slowing the rate of new patients on treatment in FY17.” It slashed funds for peacekeeping operations, family planning/reproductive health, and refugee programs “because of lower projections in FY 2017 of refugee admissions.” Here are some of the most notable programs targeted for cuts this year under Trump’s proposal:

Development Assistance (DA) (-$562M): Proposed savings in the DA account include reducing support for bilateral climate change programs that are part of the previous Administration’s Global Climate Change Initiative. Further savings from the FY 2017 CR level can be achieved by reducing economic assistance in other sectors to programmatically sufficient levels, such as through reductions of up to 20 percent in basic and higher education (which has a large pipelines of unspent funds); biodiversity; democracy, human rights, and governance; agriculture and food security (while still addressing key objectives and priorities in the Global Food Security Act); and other sectors.

Economic Support Fund (ESF) (base) (-$290M): This decrease accepts the topline reduction in the House bill (-$274 million vs. CR), which included zeroing out the GCF. It then also reduces several sectors, including bilateral climate change, basic/higher education, democracy/governance, and economic growth.

President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/Global Health Programs (-$242M): This reduction would achieve savings by requiring PEPFAR to begin slowing the rate of new patients on treatment in FY 17, by reducing support to low-performing countries, by reducing lower-priority prevention programs, or by identifying new efficiencies or other savings.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (-$200M): This account can absorb a $200 million reduction from the annualized base CR rate with insignificant impact to the account, given carryover, the slow rate of FY 2016 obligations, and resources recaptured through de-obligations, recoveries, and proceeds of sale.

Foreign Military Financing (-$200M): This account can absorb a $200 million reduction from the annualized base CR rate by cutting funding for high income countries and consistent with funding restrictions for certain countries in the FY 2017 House and Senate bills.

International Organizations and Programs (-$169M): This account provides for non-assessed contributions to international organizations. This reduction would eliminate such contributions to most organizations funded through the account including the UN Population Fund and some contributions to climate change programs but preserve flexibility to make contributions to some organizations such as UNICEF as well as those supporting global security functions.

Educational and Cultural Exchanges (-$140M): Reduction or elimination of programs based on the ability to fund outside of ECE, ability to merge with other programs, and legacy programs in high income countries. Scale back of programs to prior year levels and/or 5-10% reductions given budgetary constraints.

Global Health Security (-$72M): This proposal zeroes out global health security programs at USAID in FY 2017 to realize up to $72.5 million in savings. These programs are currently supported with 2-year funds and it is unlikely the agency will obligate a significant portion of these funds under the current CR. This proposal instead seeks legislative authority to repurpose $72.5 million in remaining Ebola emergency funds to support these programs in FY 2017.

Specified Other Global Health Programs at USAID (-$90M):To achieve additional savings, reduced levels for:
• Tuberculosis (-$44.6 million below FY 17 CR)
• Polio eradication (-$7.9 million)
• Nutrition (-$16.3 million)
• Vulnerable children (-$7.5 million)
• Neglected tropical diseases (-$13.3 million)

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Sex Trafficker Used @StateDept’s Summer Work Travel Program in Scheme Targeting Foreign Students

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

On March 24, USDOJ announced the sentencing of Jeffrey Jason Cooper to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking. Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program (SWTP), falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio.   According to DOJ, he fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

Below via USDOJ/FL:

Miami Beach Sex Trafficker Sentenced To 30 Years in Prison For International Trafficking Scheme Targeting Foreign University Students

Defendant Lured Foreign Students on False Promises in Furtherance of Interstate Prostitution and Erotic Massage Enterprise

Chief United States District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida sentenced Jeffrey Jason Cooper, 47, of Miami Beach, Florida, to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking and related violations arising from the defendant’s scheme to recruit foreign students on false promises of legitimate summer jobs, and then to advertise them to customers of his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. Chief Judge Moore also ordered Cooper to pay $8,640.00 in restitution to the victims.

A jury convicted Cooper on Nov. 17, 2016, of five counts of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking by fraud, three counts of wire fraud, two counts of importing and attempting to import aliens for prostitution or immoral purposes, and one count of using a facility of interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise. According to evidence presented during the four-day trial, Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program, falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio. In addition to defrauding the students, Cooper fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

After the victims arrived in Miami, Cooper revealed to them for the first time that the yoga studio did not exist and that he expected them to perform erotic massages for customers of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise. Witnesses testified that the victims, shocked and upset, tried to find work elsewhere but eventually gave up and began working for the defendant.

As established at trial, police began investigating Cooper after neighbors complained he was prostituting women from his apartment complex, and conducted an undercover operation that led to the recovery of the victims, one day before Cooper had scheduled them to travel to Los Angeles, California, where Cooper also operated his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. When questioned by law enforcement, Cooper claimed that the victims cleaned apartments for him, and characterized his relationship with them as that of an “older brother.” Evidence at trial included records from Backpage.com advertising the victims’ services, and Facebook communications confirming that Cooper recruited the victims on false and fraudulent pretenses, revealing the true nature of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise only after the victims arrived in the United States.

“The successful prosecution and decades-long sentence imposed on Jeffrey Cooper illustrate the international impact of law enforcement’s united efforts to combat human trafficking – whether by fraud, force or otherwise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to bring to justice those individuals who knowingly exploit others for their own personal profit.”
[…]
“We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this,” said Christian Schurman, acting director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “Because of our global presence, DSS is positioned to work with U.S. and foreign law enforcement to stop those that would manipulate instruments of international travel to profit from selling human beings in this way.”

The case was investigated by HSI and DSS, with assistance from the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kazakhstan; the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Astana, Kazakhstan; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Miami Dade Police Department and the North Bay Village, Florida, Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth M. Schlessinger, who was previously with the Southern District of Florida and is now with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Trial Attorney Matthew T. Grady of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.  Some of the documents including the complaint are also available online here through plainsite.org.

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US to Implement Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications

Posted: 4:08 am ET

 

Read the cables via Reuters:

1) CABLE 23338 – Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts; March 10, 2017

2) CABLE 24324 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 15, 2017

3) CABLE 24800 – Halt Implementation; March 16, 2017

4) CABLE 25814 – Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications; March 17, 2017

 

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Operation Island Express II Nets Two Document Suppliers in Puerto Rican Identity Trafficking Scheme

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

On March 14, 2017, USDOJ announced that two identity document suppliers were sentenced to prison for their role in trafficking the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents:

Francisco Matos-Beltre, 43, a Dominican national who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, formerly of Philadelphia, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Isaias Beltre-Matos, 46, a Dominican national and legal permanent resident formerly of Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to serve 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release. Both defendants were sentenced before U.S. District Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez of the District of Puerto Rico. Beltre-Matos pleaded guilty on Aug. 10, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain. Matos-Beltre pleaded guilty on Sept. 14, 2016, to conspiracy to commit identification fraud and commit human smuggling for financial gain.

According to admissions made in connection with the pleas, identity document runners located in the Savarona area of Caguas, Puerto Rico, obtained Puerto Rican identities and corresponding identity documents. Other conspirators, identified as identity document suppliers and brokers, located in various cities throughout the United States allegedly solicited customers for the sale of social security cards and corresponding Puerto Rico birth certificates for prices ranging from $400 to $1,200 per set. The defendants also admitted that the conspirators used the U.S. mail to complete their illicit transactions.

According to the pleas, Beltre-Matos admitted that he sold identity documents to customers, who generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver’s licenses. Some customers obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport, according to the plea agreement. Matos-Beltre also admitted to being a document supplier and that he bought and transferred identity documents belonging to real people to document brokers. Matos-Beltre admitted that he knew his customers would fraudulently use the documents that he provided.

Diplomatic Security special agents record evidence seized during a training exercise to execute a search warrant in suburban Washington, D.C., July 21, 2009. U.S. Department of State Photo.

USDOJ also announced the contact info for potential victims:

Potential victims and the public may obtain information about the case at: www.justice.gov/criminal/vns/caseup/beltrerj.html. Anyone who believes their identity may have been compromised in relation to this investigation may contact the ICE toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) and its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tipline. Anyone who may have information about particular crimes in this case should also report it to the ICE tip line or website.

Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of identity theft, or wants information about preventing identity theft, may obtain helpful information and complaint forms on various government websites including the Federal Trade Commission ID Theft Website, www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additional resources regarding identity theft can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/pubs/ID_theft/idtheft.htmlwww.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.htmlwww.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/identity_theft; and www.irs.gov/privacy/article/0,,id=186436,00.html.

USDOJ credits the Chicago offices of ICE-HSI, USPIS, DSS and IRS-CI for leading the investigation, dubbed Operation Island Express II.  Also cited are HSI San Juan and the DSS Resident Office in Puerto Rico, the HSI Assistant Attaché office in the Dominican Republic and International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center (IOC-2).  Trial Attorneys Marianne Shelvey of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Frank Rangoussis of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section prosecuted the case, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico was cited for providing assistance.

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Burn Bag: Where Grievances Won’t Get Brushed Under the Rug?

Via Burn Bag:

“For the person who got sexually assaulted while working as a FSO at the State Department at one of their missions, and who doesn’t want to report it to State Dept officials and/or the police, he/she can always go to the Legat office, or at a smaller Embassy find out which Legat covers their Embassy and report the crime to their office.  Legats and Assistant Legats are FBI agents who work overseas, and they are not affiliated with the State Dept.  Therefore, their grievances won’t get brushed under the rug, and they can make sure some REAL accountability is obtained.”

via tenor.co

 

Related posts:

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Staffing the State Department: Campaign Staffers and Supporters Find a New Home

Posted: 1:16 am ET

 

We’ve previously posted in this blog the names of the Trump landing team at the State Department (see Trump Transition: Agency Landing Team For @StateDept Includes Old Familiar NamesTrump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).

On March 8, ProPublica released the names of more than 400 individuals who were hired by the Trump Administration across the federal government. These jobs do not require Senate confirmation.  ProPublica notes that its list represents Trump administration hires primarily made between Jan. 20 and Jan. 30, according to the Office of Personnel Management. It also says that at least a few of the officials have since moved to other agencies or left the government. The names were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests to federal agencies.

Below are the names from the ProPublica list hired at the State Department.  Based on this list, it looks like only one from the Trump Landing Team (Ambassador Charles Glazer) has remained at the State Department as senior advisor. The rest of the names appear to include mostly former Trump campaign staffers. Note that GS for Grade level refers to the pay scale for federal employees. SES stands for Senior Executive Service, who serve in top positions the government.

If you have any information about members of the Trump beachhead teams or their roles in the agencies, contact ProPublica at beachhead@propublica.org to add to their list or via Signal at (774)-826-6240. Here is a guide for how to leak to ProPublica.

Via ProPublica

State Michael Dougherty (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State John Eanes Senior Advisor SES 1/20/17
State Emily Eng (see) Staff Assistant GS-11 1/26/17
State Matthew Flynn Special Assistant GS-14 1/20/17
State Katherine Giblin Special Assistant GS-14 1/20/17
State Charles Glazer Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Julia Haller Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State Jennifer Hazelton (see) Special Assistant GS-14 1/23/17
State Abigayle Jones (see) Staff Assistant GS-12 1/20/17
State Federico Klein (see) Staff Assistant GS-09 1/23/17
State Amanda Middlemas Special Assistant GS-13 1/24/17
State Hunter Morgen (see) Staff Assistant GS-07 1/20/17
State Matthew Mowers (see) Senior Advisor SES 1/20/17
State Christina Perrone (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/23/17
State Margaret Peterlin (see) Senior Advisor SES 1/25/17
State Pamela Pryor (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Jack Sewell (see) Staff Assistant GS-07 1/20/17
State Jared Smith (see) Staff Assistant GS-11 1/23/17
State Danielle Stoebe Staff Assistant GS-05 1/20/17
State Robert Wasinger (see) Senior Advisor GS-15 1/20/17
State Katheryn Wellner Special Advisor to Transition GS-15 1/23/17

 

Related items:

 

One Ridiculously Shy Secretary of State Plays ‘No See, No Hear’ Game With Press Corps

Posted: 6:25 pm ET
Updated: March 9, 3:05 am: added a video of Andrea Mitchell ejected from Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s presser

 

One day after C-SPAN captured Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Atty General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly scurried out of the room while ignoring questions from the press on the new Trump travel ban, Secretary Tillerson was seen briefly for some photo-op with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State on March 7, 2017. NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell was on hand to ask questions. She was quickly hurried out of the room by staffers who fortunately, yes, fortunately, were not riding on a motorized podium.

On March 2, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also had a photo-op with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano before their bilateral meeting at the U.S. Department of State.   And gosh darnit, Andrea Mitchell was also there to ask questions, but was escorted out with nothing but a memory (and a video) of the shy T-Rex.  Play that video again. Did you catch that T-Rex smile?  That’s the smile you have when you’re thinking, ‘That’s Andrea Mitchell asking me some questions, and I did not have to answer any of them because … hey, isn’t this great!?”

Folks, if the State Department bans Andrea Mitchell from in-person events with Secretary Tillerson, can we please have one more video of her being escorted out before you do that so we’ll have three in our collection? Also if that happens, we’ll have to make a plea for photoshop ninjas to switch Secretary Tillerson with the Naked Guy fella in this GIF below. That way, every time folks asks what’s going on at the State Department, we can just post the ‘nothing to see here’ GIF with T-Rex.