FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad

Posted: 2:42 am ET

Via The Daily Beast by Dante Paradiso, a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the great-grandson of a New York City police officer (with standard disclaimer).  Mr. Paradiso is also the author of the book, The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy that will go on sale on October 3, 2016.

… I get that in matters of criminal justice there are larger social justice issues at play, structural inequities of the past still ingrained in the our layered local, state and federal systems that leave us with difficult race, gender and class divides. But life is the cardinal value and change must start there.

For these very reasons, the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, mandated by Congress, highlight “Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life” at the very top. Having contributed to many of these reports, in many different countries, I have spent many days in previous assignments listening to the protestations of host country officials. They have told me that their government cannot be held responsible for every bad cop, that the cases are misrepresented, that we are talking about a fraction of the police force and that the actions of a few do not fairly represent the whole picture. As a trained lawyer, I know well that any case can be distinguished on its facts and that nearly every death outside a judicial process can be explained away. Yet as a diplomat, I have told those officials that legal parsing won’t cut it.

So when I see that in a Cleveland park a child with a plastic gun is shot moments after police pull up, or that in the streets of Chicago a 17-year-old is hit with nearly one bullet for every year he lived, or that in Baton Rouge a man is tackled, pinned down by two cops and shot in the chest, after all the shock and the sadness, I inevitably think about how any of these extrajudicial killings would have been described in our Human Rights Report, and the kind of conversations I would have had, if they had occurred in some country other than my own.

Read more:

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USAID Reconstruction Contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq Bites Former Louis Berger Executives

Posted: 4:05 am ET

 

In May 2015,  the former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of USAID contractor Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG) was  sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period.  See Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement! Last week, USDOJ announced that it has filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act against the former LBG CEO Derish M. Wolff  and former CFO Salvatore J. Pepe “for conspiring to overbill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies for costs incurred performing reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.”

Via USDOJ: United States Sues Former Executives of Government Contractor for Making False Claims in Connection with Reconstruction Contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Justice Department announced today that the government has filed suit under the False Claims Act against Derish M. Wolff and Salvatore J. Pepe, respectively the former CEO and CFO of Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), for conspiring to overbill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies for costs incurred performing reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries, the Justice Department announced today.  LBG is based in East Orange, New Jersey.

“Those who do business with the U.S. government should expect appropriate consequences if they do not deal fairly,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “As this case demonstrates, the government will hold both corporate entities and individuals accountable if they misuse taxpayer funds.”

The government’s complaint alleges that Wolff and Pepe designed and directed various accounting schemes that resulted in LBG billing the government for indirect overhead costs at inflated rates.  According to the complaint, for example, Wolff and Pepe shifted portions of salaries of LBG executives and accounting personnel from contracts paid for by foreign and state governments and private entities to contracts paid for by the United States.  Wolff and Pepe allegedly certified the false rates and submitted them to the government in annual financial reports.

The United States resolved criminal and civil claims against LBG arising from this conduct on Nov. 5, 2010.  At that time, LBG entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and paid $50.6 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations.  Pepe pleaded guilty on that date to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government and was later sentenced to one year probation.  Wolff pleaded guilty to the same charge on Dec. 12, 2014, and was later sentencedto 12 months of home confinement and required to pay a $4.5 million fine for his role in the scheme.  The complaint filed today asserts civil claims against Wolff and Pepe.

The United States filed its complaint in a lawsuit originally brought under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, by Harold Salomon, an LBG accountant from March 2002 to October 2005.  Under the Act, a private citizen can sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The United States is also entitled to intervene in the lawsuit, as it has done in this case.

This matter is being handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, with investigative support from the FBI, USAID’s Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

“I applaud the dedication of USAID-OIG special agents, along with special agents of the FBI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service,” said USAID Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr.  “Their joint investigative work has helped the Justice Department take action against those responsible and signals our continuing commitment to protecting public funds from fraud, waste, and abuse.”

The case is United States ex rel. Harold Salomon v. Derish M. Wolff & Salvatore J. Pepe, Civ. No. RWT-06-1970 (D. Md.).  The claims asserted against Wolff and Pepe are allegations only to the extent not admitted in their criminal pleas, and there has been no determination of civil liability.

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Trump’s Wild Talk About America’s NATO Treaty Obligations — Not/Not a Misquote

Posted: 12:19 pm ET

 

SANGER: But I guess the question is, If we can’t, do you think that your presidency, let’s assume for a moment that they contribute what they are contributing today, or what they have contributed historically, your presidency would be one of pulling back and saying, “You know, we’re not going to invest in these alliances with NATO, we are not going to invest as much as we have in Asia since the end of the Korean War because we can’t afford it and it’s really not in our interest to do so.”

TRUMP: If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?

SANGER: We do.

HABERMAN: We both do.

TRUMP: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

[…]

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

[…]

TRUMP: I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.

SANGER: But Erdogan is not. Tell us how you would deal with that?

TRUMP: Well, it would be ideal if we could get them all together. And that would be a possibility. But I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we have a potentially — we could have a potentially very successful relationship with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together.

SANGER: And what’s your diplomatic plan for doing that?

TRUMP: Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.

There’s mooooore, oh, dear.

Meanwhile — in Russia, Trump is apparently “inspiring a new generation of optimism.”

Here’s the NATO reaction:

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Amb. to Seoul Mark Lippert Gets an F-16 Ride Over South Korean Airspace, DPRK Reacts

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

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U.S. Embassy Juba: 47 Troops Ordered to South Sudan, 130 Pre-Positioned in Djibouti

Posted: 2:19 am PT

 

On July 13, President Obama informed Congress of the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan.

In response to the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan, I have ordered the deployment of additional U.S. Armed Forces personnel to South Sudan to support the security of U.S. personnel, and our Embassy in Juba. The first of these additional personnel, approximately 47 individuals, arrived in South Sudan on July 12, 2016, supported by military aircraft. Although equipped for combat, these additional personnel are deployed for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property. These deployed personnel will remain in South Sudan until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed. Additional U.S. Armed Forces, including approximately 130 military personnel currently pre-positioned in Djibouti, are prepared to provide support, as necessary, for the security of U.S. citizens and property, including our Embassy, in South Sudan.

On July 13, Embassy Juba also announced two charter flights that will depart Juba for Entebbe, Uganda on Thursday, July 14. Passengers are expected to make onward travel plans themselves. A security message issued previously notes that “seating is very limited”  and that the mission “cannot guarantee availability.”  Passengers are limited to one piece of luggage (20 kg/45 lbs) each.  Pets are not included in the charter flights.  Passengers who are not documented with a valid U.S. passport “will likely not be considered for boarding.”

 

Germany and the EU have completed the evacuation of its citizens on July 13.  The UK and India are in the process of also evacuating their citizens from South Sudan.

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@StateDept Orders Departure of Non-Emergency Personnel From US Embassy #Juba, Canada Closes Embassy

Posted: 1:12 am ET
Updated 1:20 am ET

On July 10, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning against travel to South Sudan due to ongoing fighting, intercommunal violence, and violent crime.  It also announced the “ordered departure” of non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Juba.  Post is headed by Ambassador Mary Catherine (Molly) Phee, a career diplomat who was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan in July last year.

CIA Map

CIA Map

Excerpt below:

The U.S. State Department warns U.S. citizens against travel to the Republic of South Sudan because of ongoing fighting, intercommunal violence, and violent crime.  On July 10, 2016, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from US. Embassy Juba.  This replaces the Travel Warning dated December 31, 2015.

After clashes between government and opposition forces in Juba on July 7 and 8, general fighting broke out in Juba on July 10.  Since the signing of a peace agreement in August 2015 and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in April 2016, instability has persisted nonetheless across the country.  This instability is exacerbated by intertribal and intercommunal violence, cattle raiding, economic uncertainty, and an increase in violent crime. Aid workers have been the targets of shootings, ambushes, assaults, harassment and robberies, some resulting in death.  Fighting that began on July 10 marked a sudden and serious deterioration in the security situation in the capital.

The risk of violent crime is high throughout South Sudan, including in Juba.  Due to the risk of carjacking and banditry, travel outside of Juba should be undertaken with a minimum of two vehicles and appropriate recovery and medical equipment in case of mechanical failure or other emergency.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance, and should carry medical evacuation insurance.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of South Sudan, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). For further background information regarding FAA flight advisories and prohibitions for U.S. civil aviation, U.S. citizens should consult Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.

Read the full text of the warning here.

Meanwhile, CBCNews is reporting that the Canadian government has now closed its embassy in Juba “until further notice” and warned Canadians in the country to consider leaving as soon as it’s safe to do so.  “Be aware that the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance in South Sudan is extremely limited. The situation in Juba is deteriorating,” reads a Global Affairs advisory sent to Canadian nationals in South Sudan. See more here.

A few news clips:

 

Related posts:

 

We’re Out! Britain Votes to Leave European Union, David Cameron Announces Resignation #Brexit

Posted: 3:36 am ET

 

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Secretary Kerry Visits Ny-Alesund, Norway — Northernmost Civilian Settlement in the World

Posted: 1:34 am ET

Secretary Kerry is traveling to the Dominican Republic, Norway, Denmark & Greenland from June 13-17, 2016. On July 16, he was on the research vessel “Teisten,” with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world.

[O]ne of the greatest challenges of our times besides the fight against extremism is to deal with the enormous battle of climate change. That’s why I’m going to Greenland tomorrow, because if we were to lose the ice sheet of Greenland, we would see a sea level rise of some 22 feet over the course of this century. Everybody knows that what is happening now is a – is a huge transformation in weather patterns, in the melt of glaciers – which I saw in Svalbard today, and I will see again tomorrow – and we have to make smarter decisions about the kind of energy that we’re going to provide ourselves with. (Via)

 

The research vessel "Teisten," carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The research vessel “Teisten,” carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, floats on the Kongsfjorden in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, as the two leaders inspect the Blomstrand Glacier to see the effects of global warming on the Arctic environment on June 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A glacier appears outside the window of a transport plane on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies from the Svalbard Airport in Svalbard, Norway, to an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, and tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Two reindeer graze against a glacial backdrop on June 16, 2016, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visit an Arctic research station in Ny-Alesund, Norway, the northernmost civilian settlement in the world, and before tour the nearby Blomstrand Glacier. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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Saudi Jewelry Gifts Questions: @StateDept Retains Gifts for the U.S. Diplomacy Center Collection

Posted: 3:30 am ET

Some questions have been raised about the gifts from Saudi Arabia, particularly a few specific, high valued items given to Secretary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  We’ve asked the State Department about this, and we were told that one gift is pending transfer to the GSA but three have been retained for the U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) collection.  The United States Diplomacy Center which is scheduled to be completed in 2016 is a public private initiative which will include some 6,000 diplomatic artifacts  — via:

The Department of State is providing the space, staff and security, while the private sector will provide the funds to design and build the 40,000 sq. ft. facility. The Center includes a 20,000 sq. ft. exterior Pavilion and its informative exhibits about today’s Department of State in Hall 1, the Founding Ambassador Concourse below Hall I, and two interior Halls both of 10,000 sq. ft. each: one chronicling the history of the American diplomacy, and the other focusing on education. The USDC is located at the Department of State building on 21st Street at Virginia Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. Visit the USDC website www.Diplomacy.State.gov for information on the progress and developments of the creation of the United States Diplomacy Center.

The following response from a State Department spokesperson:

Per GSA guidelines, there is no timeline for reporting gifts of more than minimal value to GSA after they’ve been received. The Department of State reports all gifts of more than minimal value annually in the Federal Register and generally biannually directly to GSA when doing a transfer of gifts. The Department transfers the maximum quantity of gifts GSA has the capacity to accept.

When a gift is no longer being used for official use, it must be reported within 30 days to the Office of the Chief of Protocol, to pend transfer to GSA.

‎All four gifts in question are in the possession of the Department of State. The first three are in official use, as part of the collection of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. The final is being stored and pending transfer to GSA, and will be transferred when GSA has the ability to accept it.‎‎

Here are some gifts currently included in the Diplomacy Center’s online collection:

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US Embassy Ulaanbaatar: CODEL Mongolia, May 2016

Posted: 1:08 am ET

The House Democracy Partnership, @house_democracy,  a bi-partisan Commission in the US House of Representatives, works with 17 partner democratic legislatures around the world.  Last month, the members were in a congressional visit to Mongolia.

Here’s the U.S. Congressional delegation at a lunch at Ikh Tenger hosted by Speaker Z. Enkhbold. Photo via US Embassy Ulaanbaatar.

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Here’s the U.S. Congressional delegation in front of the Statue of Chinggis Khaan. Photo via US Embassy Ulaanbaatar.

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