@StateDept Publishes Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Report

Posted: 4:41 am ET
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The State Department published the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Report on June 20. The Act enacted on December 23, 2016, authorizes the President to impose financial sanctions and visa restrictions on foreign persons in response to certain human rights violations and acts of corruption.

According to the notice, the President approved the report on April 21, 2017.  The report required per Pub. L. 114-328, Subtitle F details (1) U.S. government actions to administer the Act and (2) efforts to encourage the governments of other countries to impose sanctions that are similar to the sanctions authorized by Section 1263 of the Act.

Under Sanctions, the report notes:

“Although no financial sanctions were imposed under the Act during the 120 days since its enactment, the United States is actively seeking to identify persons to whom this Act may apply and collecting the necessary evidence to impose sanctions.”

Under Visa Sanctions, the report notes:

“Although no visa sanctions were imposed under the Act during the 120 days since its enactment, the Department of State is continuously reviewing available information in order to take appropriate actions with respect to visa ineligibilities.”

Under Termination of Sanctions, the report notes:

“No sanctions imposed under the Act were terminated in the 120 days since its enactment.”

The report also notes the following:

“With the passage of the Act, the United States now has a specific authority to identify and hold accountable persons responsible for gross violations of human rights and acts of significant corruption. The global reach of this authority, combined with a judicious selection of individuals and entities, will send a powerful signal that the United States continues to seek an end to impunity with respect to human rights violations and corruption. The Administration is committed to implementing the Act to support efforts to promote human rights and fight corruption. By complementing current sanctions programs and diplomatic outreach, the Act creates an additional authority to allow the Administration to respond to crises and pursue accountability, including where country-specific sanctions programs may not exist or where the declaration of a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act may not be appropriate. With the establishment of the first dedicated global human rights and corruption sanctions program, the United States is uniquely positioned to lead the international community in pursuing accountability abroad consistent with our values.”

While no individual has been sanctioned under the act, the report lists a few examples of Treasury Department designations issued in recent years which illustrates designations that align with the Act’s focus on human rights and corruption.

Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy: On January 9, 2017, Russian national and member of the Russian State Duma Andrey Konstantinovich Lugovoy was designated under the Magnitsky Act, which includes a provision targeting persons responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian government officials. Lugovoy was responsible for the 2006 extrajudicial killing of whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko in London, with Dmitriy Kovtun (also sanctioned) acting as his agent or on his behalf. Lugovoy and Kovtun were two of five individuals designated under the Magnitsky Act on January 9, 2017.

Evariste Boshab: On December 12, 2016, Evariste Boshab was designated under E.O. 13413 (“Blocking Property of Start Printed Page 28216 Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”), as amended by E.O. 13671 (“Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency With Respect to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”), for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Boshab offered to pay DRC National Assembly members for their votes in favor of a bill to amend electoral law to delay elections and prolong President Joseph Kabila’s term beyond its constitutional limit.

Kalev Mutondo: Also on December 12, 2016, Kalev Mutondo was designated under E.O. 13413, as amended by E.O. 13671, for engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the DRC. Kalev supported the extrajudicial arrest and detainment of opposition members, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Kalev also directed support for President Kabila’s “MP” political coalition using violent intimidation and government resources.

North Korean Ministry and Minister of People’s Security: On July 6, 2016, the North Korean Ministry of People’s Security was designated pursuant to E.O. 13722 (“Blocking Property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea”) for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Ministry of People’s Security operates a network of police stations and interrogation detention centers, including labor camps, throughout North Korea. During interrogations, suspects are systematically degraded, intimidated, and tortured. The Ministry of People’s Security’s Correctional Bureau supervises labor camps (kyohwaso) and other detention facilities, where human rights abuses occur, such as torture, execution, rape, starvation, forced labor, and lack of medical care. A Department of State report issued simultaneously with these designations cites defectors who have regularly reported that the ministry uses torture and other forms of abuse to extract confessions, including techniques involving sexual violence, hanging individuals from the ceiling for extended periods of time, prolonged periods of exposure, and severe beatings. Choe Pu Il, the Minister of People’s Security, was also designated for having acted for or on behalf of the Ministry of People’s Security.

Joseph Mathias Niyonzima: On December 18, 2015, Joseph Mathias Niyonzima was designated under E.O. 13712 (“Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Burundi”) for being responsible for or complicit in or for engaging in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burundi. Niyonzima supervised and provided support to elements of the Imbonerakure pro-government militia in Burundi, a group that has been linked to the arrest and torture of individuals suspected of opposing the Nkurunziza regime. He was also involved in plans to assassinate prominent opposition leaders.

Fahd Jassem al-Freij: On May 16, 2013, Syrian Minister of Defense Fahd Jassem al-Freij was designated pursuant to, among other authorities, E.O. 13572(“Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to Human Rights Abuses in Syria”) for his role in the commission of human rights abuses in Syria. During his time as Syrian Minister of Defense, the Syrian military forces wantonly and capriciously killed Syrian civilians, including through the use of summary executions and indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians. Some of these airstrikes killed civilians waiting outside of bakeries.

The report says that the United States is committed to encouraging other countries to impose sanctions that are similar to those provided for by the Act. “The Department of State actively participates in global outreach, including the G-20 Denial of Entry Experts Network, a sub-group of the G-20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, in which countries share best practices among visa and immigration experts. Through this network, the United States has encouraged other G-20 members to establish and strengthen corruption-related visa sanctions regimes.”

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Russia Seeks Return of Diplomatic Property ASAP, Get Ready For Season Finale!

Posted: 1:04 am ET
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Last December, in response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to a pattern of harassment of our diplomats overseas, the State Department declared persona non grata  35 Russian officials operating in the United States “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status.” The Department also informed the Russian Government that it would “deny Russian personnel access to two recreational compounds in the United States owned by the Russian Government.” (see USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions).

Last week, the Russian Embassy in D.C. tweeted that it is seeking the return of its diplomatic property ASAP.

WaPo reported on Wednesday that the Trump Administration was moving to return the Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.

Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.

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Snapshot: @StateDept Aid Allocation by Region and Top Recipients, FY2016 Request

Posted: 3:06 am  ET
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Via CRS

Under the FY2016 request, top foreign assistance recipients would not differ significantly from FY2014 (FY2015 country data are not yet available). Israel would continue to be the top recipient, with a requested $3.1 billion (level with FY2014) in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds, followed by Afghanistan, for which $1.5 billion was requested (a 28% increase from FY2014). Egypt would receive $1.5 billion (-3% from FY2014), largely in FMF to support shared security interests, and Jordan would get $1.0 billion (-1% from FY2014) to promote security and stability in the region as well as address economic and security strains related to the crisis in Syria. Pakistan would get $804 million (a 10% cut from FY2014), to continue ongoing efforts to increase stability and prosperity in the region. Other top recipients include Kenya ($630 million), Nigeria ($608 million), Tanzania ($591 million), and other African nations that are focus countries for HIV/AIDS programs. A new addition to the top recipient list under the request would be Ukraine, for which $514 million was requested (snip).

Below is the proposed FY2016 foreign operations budget allocations by region and country.

top-recipients-fy2016-request

Funding allocation among regions would change slightly under the FY2016 request compared with FY2014 (FY2015 regional data are not yet available), with Europe/Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere increasing their share by 2% each as a result of proposed funding for Ukraine and Central America. Africa’s share of aid funding would decline by about 5% from FY2014 estimates.

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68 Delivers Farewell and Thanks to Foggy Bottom, See More Goodbyes and Parting Thoughts

Posted: 3:33 pm PT
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U.S. Ambassadors Bid So Long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Adieu

Posted: 1:56 am ET
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In early December, we did a round up of FS retirements and State Department goodbyes (see Foreign Service Retirements, and State Department Farewells and Departures).

This week, some of President Obama’s top representatives overseas mark the conclusions of their tours abroad with speeches, interviews, parties, videos, and long goodbyes.  There were also awards, and breakfasts. One got an honorary degree, another got a poster of thanks from a window.  Take a look!

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America’s Cushiest Ambassadorships Will Go Vacant By Inauguration Day

Posted: 2:46 am ET
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Unless requested to stay on, all political appointees of the outgoing Obama administration are expected to leave by the time President-elect Trump is sworn into office on Inauguration Day. The expectation includes politically appointed ambassadors (see Foreign Service Tradition: Political Ambassadors Have To Be Out By January 20). Some reports say that all Obama ambassadors were recalled, or fired, or asked to quit by January 20. All ambassadors were appointed by President Obama, so they are all Obama ambassadors.  About 50 ambassadors who are political appointees will step down by January 20.  The fact that these positions will go vacant next week is not unique, of course; the last time embassies went through this exact process was in January 2009, and previous to that, in January 2001, and on and on.  Those who are career ambassadors (worked up the ranks) were not asked to submit their resignations during this transition so they will continue with their tenures. If there are career ambassadors also stepping down in the next few weeks, those would merely be coincidences when their typical 3-year tour ends and they “rotate” to their new assignments.

Due to popular demand, we’ve compiled a list where political ambassadors are expected to step down next week.  The list is primarily extracted from a State Department document on ambassadorial assignments overseas prepared by the Office of Presidential Appointments (HR/PAS).  We’ve added a couple of vacancies that occurred since the document was last updated in October 2016. You will note that these embassies/posts are in some of the world’s most desirable locations. These positions are sometimes described as some of the “world’s cushiest ambassadorships” or the State Department’s “swankiest gigs”.  The list below also includes vacancies most recently encumbered by political appointees (with the exception of Syria which is traditionally encumbered by a career ambassador, and currently on suspended operation).

 

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | p.1

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | 1/2

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | p.2

Ambassadors List (Political Appointees) Jan 2017 | 2/2

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President Obama Ends ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy For Cuban Migrants

Posted: 12:32 am ET
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In August 2016, nine Latin American countries wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry about the USG’s “wet-foot/dry foot” policy and “expressing their deep concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policy across the region.” (see Nine Latin American Countries Request Review of U.S. “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy For Cuban Migrants).

Today, the White House announced the end of the policy which allows Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) to be sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The change in policy is effective immediately according to DHS.  Below is the announcement:

Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.  The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century.  Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.   During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people – inside of Cuba – by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.

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Foreign Service Tradition: Political Ambassadors Have To Be Out By January 20

Posted: 4:36 pm PT
Updated: 6:02 pm PT
Updated: Jan 10, 2:29 am ET
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The United States has 170 embassies and 11 missions other than an Embassy headed by a chief of mission (OSCE, UNVIE, USOAS, USOECD, USEU, USUN, USNATO, USUN Geneva, USAU, ASEAN, and US Mission to Somalia).  About 30 percent of these posts are encumbered by political/noncareer appointees (about 50 ambassadors), while the remaining 70 percent are filled by career diplomats.

The NYT coverage of Jan. 5 says that the Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, and that the mandate was issued “without exceptions.” The piece quotes Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, who tells NYT that it is reasonable to expect ambassadors to return at the end of a term, given that they are direct representatives of the president with broad grants of authority.

“But I don’t recollect there was ever a guillotine in January where it was just, ‘Everybody out of the pool immediately.’”

The article also quotes Ambassador Marc Grossman who cites former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell who reportedly offered particularly wide latitude to ambassadors facing family issues.  “This was something that was important to Secretary Powell because of his own experience living and serving all over the world, so when people asked him, ‘Could I stay another couple of weeks, couple of months; my kids are finishing school,’ he was very accommodating,” Mr. Grossman said, adding that his flexibility was an “exception” to the general practice.

Secretary Powell was an “exception” to the general practice of the wholesale departure of political appointees at the beginning of every administration.

 

By Tradition, All Political Ambassadors Are Expected to Leave By January 20

All political appointees, including ambassadors “serve at the pleasure of the president.” All appointees of the outgoing administration are expected to leave by the time a new president is sworn into office on January 20. We’ve heard that some chiefs of mission have made requests for extensions to their tenure overseas but until this week, no one reportedly received an official response. We understand that some folks were looking for the cable directive but could not locate it.   We’ve asked State about the cable requesting the COM resignations and the nonresponse to these requests last week but we were later directed to the Transition Team. To-date  we have not received a response to our inquiry.

To read more about this Foreign Service tradition, see FDR’s Request For the Formal Resignations of All Chiefs of U.S. Diplomatic Missions Overseas from 1940 and 1944.

 

Resignation Instructions

Political Ambassadors:  We understand that there was no general cable issued this year and that the resignation instructions to the ambassadors came by email. Individual cables were reportedly sent to political appointees who requested extensions telling them the requests were declined.  These cables directed to individual ambassadors would have been captioned personnel channel and would have had limited distribution. Political ambassadors who did not request extensions did not receive such a cable as it was understood they will depart by January 20.

Career Ambassadors:  The scuttlebutt in our inbox said that for the first time the new administration will actually ask some career ambassadors for their resignations as well. This rumor is not/not true.  We can confirm that career ambassadors were not/not required to submit resignation letters to the Trump Transition. Career ambassadors received this notification last month.  If we’re looking for a break in precedent, this might be it.  This year, there has been no directive, or expectation for career Foreign Service ambassadors to have to submit resignations at the end of the Obama term.

Here is State Department spokesman John Kirby:

kirby-precedent

 

The Hows and Whys of Ambassadorial Extensions

Political ambassadors are some of the president’s, shall we say, best friends. Just as the Bush political ambassadors were closely identified with President George W. Bush, the Obama political ambassadors are also closely identified with President Barack Obama.   All ambassadors are direct representatives of the president. However, political ambassadors are partisan operatives who received their appointments due to their political support of the president. There is therefore, no incentive for any incoming administration, whether Democratic or Republican, to extend the appointments of their political opponents.

Getting political ambassadors to leave is less urgent when the president is on his second term or if the president-elect is from the same party . For example, President Obama appointed Bruce J. Oreck as Ambassador to Finland in 2009. His tenure actually extended to the second Obama term and he did not leave until 2015.  President George W. Bush appointed his pal Roy L. Austin as Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, and his tenure spanned the full two Bush terms.

When there is a change of administration from one political party to the other, as we currently have, the departures become more imperative.  Did some Bush ambassadors asked for extensions when President Obama came to office? Yes. Did the Obama Transition Team agree? In one case we could find, yes.  We don’t have all the names of those given extensions but the AP’s Matt Lee (@APDiplowriter) tweeted that according to officials, in the past two inter-party transitions (Clinton-Bush, Bush-Obama) only about 10 political ambassadors have gotten extensions.  That one example we found is noncareer Ambassador Peter Cianchette who was appointed to Costa Rica by President George W. Bush in May 2008. He stayed in office until June 19, 2009, five months after President Obama’s inauguration.  One of our readers alerted us that Ambassador Dick Morningstar was appointed to the European Union by President Bill Clinton on July 7, 1999. He was allowed to remain at post by Powell/Armitage up to September 21, 2001, eight months into President George W. Bush’s first term.  A blog pal also reminded us that noncareer Ambassador Ford M. Fraker was appointed by President George W. Bush as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in May 2007, and departed post in February 8, 2009, a few weeks into President Obama’s tenure.

 

So it happens, though not often, but …

There is nothing that prevents the Trump Transition from granting some of these requests on a case by case basis.  We should note that President-elect Trump has announced his nominees for the United Nations, China and Israel. While there are rumors of nominees for certain posts, the president elect needs to appoint about 50 ambassadorships as he assume office in two weeks. Based on time required to vet nominees, process security clearance, training, and Senate confirmation, we estimate that the firsts of the new ambassadors may not get even to post until late spring or summer.  Also, the Trump Landing Team at the State Department includes two former political ambassadors from the George W. Bush years and one former career diplomat (see Trump Transition: Agency Landing Team For @StateDept Includes Old Familiar Names). They should know what this is like, right?

That said, we have to acknowledge that it is the incoming administration’s prerogative whether to accept or decline extension requests. The new administration holds all the keys.

In a perfect world, Secretary Powell’s “exception” to general practice ought to be the rule. Folks with kids in school would then be able to depart posts without too much disruption for school and the family. But we do not live in a perfect world.  We are sympathetic about not pulling kids out of school in the middle of the school year. Nothing to do with political ambassadorships (kids don’t get to vote what their parents do) just the recognition, from personal experience that moving kids in the middle of a school year is hard and challenging.  While most kids in the Foreign Service are indeed resilient and adaptable, not everyone has that gift.

A side note — even in the career Foreign Service,  the “needs of the service” does not really consider “family issues” even when it should.  Just part and parcel of the job.  At other times, of course, it simply couldn’t.  The risks of diplomatic assignments range from coup d’etats and civil unrests to natural disasters which means that career diplomatic employees and family members have “go-bags” and must always be ready for evacuation orders to  leave homes, schools, friends, even pets, at a moment’s notice (See Children of diplomats displaced by strife often caught between two worlds). A sad reality of the Foreign Service, and a reflection of the ongoing disruptions in various parts of the world.

Embassies Won’t go “Empty”

Finally, as the NYT reported, some of our largest, and most desirable diplomatic posts like France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Belgium, etc. will leave our embassies without Senate-confirmed ambassadors.  While this is true, this does not mean that posts will go “empty”.  At these ambassadors departures, their deputy ambassadors who are career diplomats would step up as chargé d’affaires (CDAs) until the new appointees get to posts.  Maybe it will take six months, maybe eight, we don’t know at this point  how fast the Senate can get them confirmed, though it would be a shorter wait if the new nominees are from the career service.

Note: We remain interested in the resignation instruction to COMs sent via cable so we can compare it to FDR’s. Nerdy request. If you have a copy of the 2008 cable, please drop us a line.

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Some hot and cold reactions from here and there:

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Read: ODNI’s Declassified Intel Report on Russian Involvement in Recent U.S. Elections

Posted: 1:02 pm PT
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ODNI made available online the declassified intel report on Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.  It says that on December 9, 2016, President Barack Obama directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review and produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections.   ODNI also says that “The Intelligence Community did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election, and DHS assesses that the types of systems the Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”

The original report is posted here.  Or you may read the report embedded below:

Note: Click on Cloudup’s lower right hand arrow to maximize the document.

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USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions

Posted: 1:09 pm PT
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On December 29, the State Department declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status.”  The Treasury Department also announced that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on two Russian individuals for engaging in malicious cyber-enabled activities pursuant to E.O. 13694.  Specifically, Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev and Aleksey Alekseyevich Belan are being designated for their activities related to the significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for private financial gain.  Meanwhile, DHS and FBI released a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) which provide details of the tools and infrastructure used by Russian intelligence services to compromise and exploit networks and infrastructure associated with the recent U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities. Below is the State Department statement:

The State Department today declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status. The Department also informed the Russian Government that it would deny Russian personnel access to two recreational compounds in the United States owned by the Russian Government.

The Department took these actions as part of a comprehensive response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to a pattern of harassment of our diplomats overseas that has increased over the last four years, including a significant increase in the last 12 months. This harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk. In addition, the Russian Government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our Consulate General in St. Petersburg; and rejecting requests to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg.

Today’s actions send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences.

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