George Floyd’s Death: Official Reactions Plus Trolling From Overseas

 

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Imminent Attacks on Four Embassies But Posts and American Public Not Warned ?

 

Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress  (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got MadReal ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were  ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were  an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued  a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
    • US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.” 
    • U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
    • U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
    • U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.”  The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:

“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.

#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs  (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.

So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy.   See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.  
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at  (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers,  we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.

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CRS: How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts from possible Iranian retaliation?

 

CRS: U.S. Killing of Qasem Soleimani: Frequently Asked Questions January 8, 2020
How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts in the Middle East and elsewhere from possible Iranian retaliation?

Secretary Pompeo has said that although U.S. personnel in the Middle East are safer following the removal of Soleimani from the battlefield, there remains “an enormous set of risks in the region” and that the United States is “preparing for each and every one of them.” 78 Secretary Pompeo has also remarked that the United States will ensure that its overseas diplomatic facilities are as “hardened as we can possibly get them” to defend against possible Iranian action.79 Following the December 31 blockade of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, 100 Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response–Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) were deployed at the State Department’s request to reinforce the Embassy. Analysts note that this Task Force, which was created after the 2012 attack on a U.S. post in Benghazi, is capable of providing compound defense through the use of air, ground, and, when necessary, amphibious operations.80 These additional forces augment the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment and other security personnel already present at the Embassy. MSGs have worked with the State Department to protect and safeguard U.S. overseas posts for over 60 years. Neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense disclose the number of MSGs serving at each overseas post. Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley has expressed confidence regarding Embassy Baghdad’s security, stating that it is unlikely to be overrun and warning that air and ground capabilities there mean that anyone who attempts to do so “will run into a buzzsaw.” 81

Some analysts maintain that because Iran and its proxies have previously demonstrated their capability to perpetrate attacks throughout the world, the State Department must mitigate risks to the safety of U.S. personnel not only in the Middle East but worldwide.82 State Department regulations enable the Principal Officer at each overseas post (at an embassy, this would be the ambassador), Regional Security Officer (or RSO, the senior Diplomatic Security Service special agent serving at post), and the post’s Emergency Action Committee, with the support of Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel in Washington, DC, to evaluate threats and develop and implement security policies and programs.83 Some analysts have suggested that past Iranian behavior indicates that the State Department should give special consideration to the threat posed by kidnapping or attacks focused on so-called “soft targets,” which include buildings such as schools, restaurants, or other public spaces that often are frequented by diplomats or their families.84

The State Department could also choose to close or change the status of an overseas post in response to evolving threat assessments. This occurred previously in Iraq, when in September 2018 the State Department announced that the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah would be placed on ordered departure, meaning that all U.S. personnel would be evacuated from post.85 Secretary Pompeo has stated that the State Department is continuing to evaluate the appropriate overseas diplomatic posture for the United States given the Iranian threat.86

 

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New Year Opens With Security Alerts Issued For U.S. Embassies in Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia

Updated: 2:44 pm PST

US Embassy Iraq issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016:

Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately.  U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land.  Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice.  U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.  The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil is open for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance.  U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.

Do not travel to Iraq; Avoid the U.S. Embassy; Monitor local and international media for updates 

US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016:

In light of regional events, there is potential for spontaneous demonstrations or unrest to take place in Bahrain over the coming days, and possibly beyond.  While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.  We remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to local authorities.

U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3:

Heightened Tensions in the Region

The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait is aware of heightened security tensions in the region.  Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy is increasing its security posture. The Embassy will remain open during regular business hours for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance.

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

U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3:

Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.

Actions to Take:

The State Department also tweeted a Security Alert for Morocco:

: Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we encourage US citizens in Morocco to maintain a high level of vigilance. We are not aware of specific threats against US citizens in Morocco. US citizens are urged to enroll in STEP to receive security alerts.

U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia has now issued its own Security Alert:

In light of events in the region, the Mission wishes to remind the American community to maintain heightened security awareness and follow sound security practices while in Saudi Arabia.  The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.  In the past, regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted missile and drone attacks against both civilian and military targets inside the Kingdom.  U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.

@StateDept Plans 28% Staff Reduction For US Mission Iraq By May 2020

 

Via CNN:

The State Department plans to dramatically downsize the number of American personnel in Iraq, according to a memo sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and obtained by CNN.

The document, dated December 6 and sent by Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Mary Elizabeth Taylor to committee Chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, outlines plans to reduce staffing levels at US Mission Iraq by 28% by the end of May 2020.

The reduction would mean 114 fewer people at the US Embassy in Baghdad, 15 fewer people at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center and eight fewer people at Consulate General Erbil. In addition to the reduction in State Department personnel, the cuts would include Defense Department and US Agency for International Development personnel.
[…]
A senior State Department official told CNN that the decision was driven by leadership at State collectively and added that they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted. The official said they are already more cautious about deploying US officials into the field. The official said the Trump administration is seeking to reduce potential security concerns and increase military force with the deployment of more troops to the region.
FP has the following:

The U.S. Mission in Iraq will reduce the number of staff at its embassy, diplomatic support center, and consulate in Erbil in Northern Iraq from 486 to 349, a 28 percent decrease, by the end of May 2020. The majority of the staff leave will come from the State Department, but other government agencies, including the Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will also cut the size of their staff at the embassy, as the document shows.

Foreign Policy posted the Iraq drawdown document sent to SFRC Chair Jim Risch here. The number in the notification includes direct hire personnel, personal services contractors, and third country nationals. What it does not include is life support staff.
Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details.  At that time, State/OIG notes:

The number of security and life support personnel required to maintain this limited substantive staff is huge: 82 management, 2,008 security, 157 aviation, and 1,085 life support personnel. In other words, depending on the definition of support staff, it takes a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. To put this into perspective, a quick calculation of similar support ratios at three major embassies (Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi) shows an average of four substantive officers to every three support staff (4:3) in contrast to 1:15 to 1:60 in Iraq.

So if the staff reduction is approximately 135, what does that mean in reduction of life support staffing level? CNN reports that the staff reductions was “driven by leadership at State collectively …. they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted”.  See OSAC – 2019 Crime and Safety Report – Iraq – Baghdad.pdf 
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The Giant Halkbank Octopus: New Episodes Coming Soon!

 

From our old post in 2017: Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

On March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, 2017 DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

In November 2017, NBC News also reported that Zarrab began cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case.
According to avhal, the Turkish banker, Hakan Atilla served 32 months in prison in the United States for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, and was released on July 19 this year. On October 21, 2019, Turkey’s Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak (and Erdogan’s son-in-law) announced that the former Halkbank director has been appointed as the director general of Borsa Istanbul, Turkey’s main stock exchange.
On October 15, USDOJ announced that TÜRKİYE HALK BANKASI A.S., a/k/a “Halkbank,” was charged in a six-count Indictment with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
On October 24, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon announced that he is launching an investigation into the Halkbank scandal.
Courthouse News Service Adam Klasfeld who has covered this case extensively notes in his October 22 report that “Turkey continued to hold three U.S. consulate workers in captivity with relative silence from the White House, and Halkbank kept an indictment at bay for more than two years, even after its ex-general manager Suleyman Aslan and executive Atilla had been charged with the multibillion-dollar conspiracy.”
Back in 2017, we thought this thriller which started out actually in 2013  (see the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece, A Mysterious Case Involving Turkey, Iran, and Rudy Giuliani) — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars — was going to unravel under the glare of sunlight, but here we are in 2019.  So now we wait for the next episodes.

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