More on Operation Allies Refuge With D/MR McKeon, Amb. Jacobson and SSDO #1 On Background

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On July 21, the State Department held a briefing on Operation Allies Refuge where D/MR Brian McKeon and Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson gave remarks to the press and a Senior State Department official did a Q&A on background with reporters.  US Embassy Kabul CDA Ross Wilson noted previously  in a tweet that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.” D/MR McKeon has the number for approved visas saying, “Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”
Some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and families will be “paroled” into the U.S. starting next week. They will be located at Fort Lee, VA where they are expected, at least right now, to stay for processing for 7 to 10 days. What happens to them afterwards?
Per 9 FAM 202.3, parole authority is governed by section 212(d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 402 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296 transfers authority for immigration matters to the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), including authorizing parole for an alien into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit.
Note that neither the State Department nor consular officers have the authority to approve or extend any type of parole under any circumstances.  Parole is a discretionary authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security. The FAM says “It should be seen as a last resort for persons with urgent needs to travel to the United States or for cases with significant public benefit.”
The FAM also notes that “parolees who are paroled pursuant to INA 212(d)(5)(A) for urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit reasons do not receive the type of resettlement assistance that is provided to refugees.” So, how are they supposed to start new lives in the United States without resettlement assistance?
About 4,000 principal applicants and their families will be taken to an unnamed third-country location while they wait for the completion of their SIV application. The SDO told reporters they are “not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time” when asked about potential relocations to military bases in  Kuwait and Qatar.
The State Department also told reporters that SIV applicants “would have to get themselves to Kabul” adding that  “we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them.” Excerpts below:
Related post: USG to Mount ‘Operation Allies Refuge’ to Relocate Afghans Who Aided United States US Embassy Kabul Interviewed 1,600 Afghan SIV Applicants Since April, Interviewed ≠ Issued Visas July 13, 2021
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon:

“In February, Embassy Kabul reopened for in-person immigrant visa services following an 11-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That backlog has since been cleared out and we’re working as fast possible to interview SIV applicants whose appointments were canceled during a recent COVID outbreak in Kabul. Since January, we’ve already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas.”

Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson:

Our first priority is to relocate to the United States some 750 Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families who have completed the majority of the visa process, including a thorough security background check. We are working to bring them to the United States starting next week. They will be paroled into the United States and have their status adjusted by the Department of Homeland Security. During this processing, they will be located at Fort Lee, Virginia, and when they leave Fort Lee, they will join 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs and started new lives in the United States since 2008.

We are also working to relocate from Afghanistan those applicants who have received chief of mission approval but have not gone so far in their visa processing, including the full security screen. This group includes about 4,000 principal applicants and their families. We will take them to locations outside the United States where they can safely await the completion of their application processing, and we will provide them accommodation and other support during this period, which we are committed to making as short as possible.

QUESTION:  Thanks, guys, for doing this. I think we all have a bunch of questions. I am wondering how long the administration plans to be doing these relocation efforts. Do you expect this is something that will happen over the course of years given some SIV applicants have just applied recently given the U.S. troop withdrawal?

My second question is about safety for these Afghans. What is the U.S. doing, what can the U.S. do to provide them with any safety when U.S. troops withdraw from the country, and how are they being transported to the airport? Is there any support for them given threats from the Taliban? And last question is: How long are they expected to stay at Fort Lee in this final stage? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So working backward, we don’t expect them to stay at Fort Lee for very often, or very long, excuse me. We’ll try to work them through Fort Lee in 7 to 10 day is our hope and expectation. The applicants need to get themselves to Kabul. We’re not going to talk about how they get in and around Kabul and to the airport for security reasons.

The SIV Program is – has eligibility standards, and we have authorized numbers from the U.S. Congress, and so long as we keep having those numbers provided to us by Congress, we’ll keep processing SIV applicants.

QUESTION:  Can you talk about the others in the program and where else they might be going, and how long it will take to get what was originally estimated as as many as 70,000 people, including families, accommodated because obviously their lives are right now in danger? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So the total number of applicants to the SIV Program number just over 20,000, but about half of those have not yet completed the initial stages of the application process, so we’re not in a position to move forward with their case until they do so. So I’m not sure where the 70,000 number comes from. The 4,000 number and their families, they would be targeted for the next phase of bringing people to third country locations, and that process in the third country would take longer because they’re not as far along in the screening process as those who we will bring to the United States.

QUESTION:  Thanks, guys. Let me follow up on what comes next. Can you confirm that there’s the deal pretty much done to move, I don’t know if it’s the next round or the third round, some of these applicants to military bases in Kuwait and Qatar? And can you talk about whether there’s a push on P-2 refugees, whether the number – sorry, the kind of aperture of the person who can apply, whether there’s a push to expand that aperture and including P-2 refugees. And I know you don’t want to talk about some of the details on transport for security reasons, but can you give us any more details on how exactly they will get to Fort Lee this first round? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I’m sorry, Nick, I was – I didn’t understand the last piece of the question. I’m not sure we have many answers that we can give you. We’re talking to third countries about the possibility of temporary relocation, but we’re not in a position to confirm any agreements with any of those third countries at this time.

On the transportation to Fort Lee, we will fly them into the country and bring them by vehicle to Fort Lee. I assume it will be buses.

QUESTION:  Hi there. Thank you for doing this. Let’s see. Is the – because the Afghan SIVs will fly out through the Kabul airport, has there been an agreement finalized to keep that operating under Turkey? I don’t know if their relocations are all supposed to be completed by the time the U.S. withdraws or not. And then you say you’re – do you not yet have any agreement from any other country to temporarily host the Afghan SIVs?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  On the second question, we don’t have agreement with any countries that we’re ready to announce here.

On the airport, obviously, we’ve said the airport needs to be open and functioning as part of a normal country, and we’re grateful for our conversations with our colleagues in Turkey. The DOD is leading those conversations. We’re optimistic that we’ll have the security package that we need at the airport in Kabul.

QUESTION:  Thank you for having this call. A couple of follow-ups as well. Can you say how many there are in total with this group of 4,000 principal applicants who will be moved to third countries? If you include their families, what is that total number?

You said applicants will have to get themselves to Kabul. For many of them, that journey would be dangerous if not impossible. What would you say to the – to security concerns of folks trying to get to Kabul? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  So we don’t know for certain how many family members will be brought. The principal applicant can choose to bring the ones that are eligible. We’ve just been doing these rough extrapolations based on an average of three to five per principal applicant based on past practice. In order to come on an evacuation flight, they would have to get themselves to Kabul. Obviously, we don’t have substantial U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them. If they’re, say, in the north of the country and they don’t feel safe staying in Afghanistan, they could go to a neighboring country and finish their SIV application process there.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon. Thank you so much for the call. Just a follow-up question on the Afghanistan fixers who have helped the U.S. press organizations. Would you support the creation of a visa program for those Afghans, Afghans who helped with the U.S. media organizations and who are now seeking safety in the U.S.? I’m asking this because a coalition of U.S. media organizations has sent a letter to the Congress requesting to create such visa program. Would you like to weigh in? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:   Yes, thank you. We’ve seen the letter from the news organizations and we’ll be responding in due course to them. As I think I’ve responded previously to this question, in terms of other people in Afghanistan who have helped the United States or helped U.S. organizations, whether it’s NGOs or media organizations, we are looking at other options for providing safe options for them outside of Afghanistan.

 

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US Embassy Nigeria Reduces Public Operations as a Security Precaution

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On July 16, the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria announced the reduction of its public operations through this week as a security precaution:

Location:  Abuja, Nigeria
Date:  July 16, 2021
Event:  Limit Non-essential Movement

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja has reduced public operations effective Friday, July 16 through next week as a security precaution.  The U.S. Embassy has strongly encouraged U.S. staff to limit non-essential personal travel in the Federal Capital Territory and private U.S. citizens are advised to do the same.

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@NewYorker: Vienna Is the New Havana Syndrome Hotspot

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Via New Yorker:
Since Joe Biden took office about two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and other government officials in Vienna have reported experiencing mysterious afflictions similar to the Havana Syndrome. U.S. officials say the number of possible new cases in the Austrian capital—long a nexus of U.S. and Russian espionage—is now greater than the number reported by officials in any city except for Havana itself, where the first cases were reported.
[…]
The first possible syndrome case in Vienna was reported a couple of months after Biden’s Inauguration. That case and subsequent ones were reported to officials in Washington soon after they occurred. But the Biden Administration decided not to announce the Vienna outbreak—officials were concerned that any public disclosure about the cases would hamper ongoing U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement investigations, which are still under way in Vienna. The Austrian Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the cluster of cases.
CNN quotes a State Department spox:
“In coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating reports of possible unexplained health incidents (UHI) among the U.S. Embassy Vienna community or wherever they are reported,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Any employees who reported a possible UHI received immediate and appropriate attention and care.”
On May 25, 2021 U.S. government workers and their spouses who say they were injured by Havana Syndrome sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Brian McKeon (via NBC)

 

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US Mission South Africa to Amcits: Avoid All Non-Essential Movement #CivilUnrest

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On July 13, US Mission South Africa issued a Security Alert recommending that U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel within areas affected by blockages, increased violence, vandalism and criminal activity

Event:  Civil unrest and protests continue throughout KwaZulu-Natal Province and Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng Province.  Following reports of blockages on many provincial and municipal transit routes, increased violence, vandalism, and criminal activity at commercial centers, and calls for calm by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the U.S. Mission to South Africa recommends avoiding all non-essential movement within affected areas.  Exercise heightened caution in commercial areas where looting and violence can and has occurred suddenly.  The situation throughout many areas of these provinces is unstable and authorities are not able to respond to all events.   

The U.S. Consulate General Durban is available for emergency services only.  The U.S. Consulates General in Johannesburg and Cape Town are operating as normal.

There is currently a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” Advisory for South Africa due to COVID-19 and related restrictions and conditions. The advisory also advised U.S. citizens to “Exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime and civil unrest. “
The advisory dated July 6, 2021 was “Reissued with updates to COVID-19 information and “If you decide to Travel.”
US Mission South Africa is currently headed by Chargé d’Affaires Todd P. Haskell who joined Mission South Africa as the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in March 2021. Ambassador Haskell previously served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Congo from July 2017 until January 2021. He is a 35-year career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor.
Ambassador Haskell’s second in command is Heather Merritt who was “chosen by the Department of State to serve as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Mission to South Africa, effective April 16, 2021.”  According to her official bio, she arrived in South Africa on August 28, 2020 as the U.S. Consul General in Johannesburg.

 

Related items:

Related posts:

 

 

 

 

US Embassy Eswatini Confirms Shots Fired at Embassy Vehicle, @USMC Augments Internal Security

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Thanks — DS

 

The US Embassy in Mbabane, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) issued a Security Alert, the sixth alert since late June following the continuing civil unrest in the country. The Embassy has also confirmed that shots were fired at a U.S. Embassy vehicle on July 1st and that U.S. Marines have augmented its internal security. @USMC has released a statement that a team of 13 Marines deployed on short notice to the embassy to support on-ground embassy security personnel along with the Diplomatic Security Service Mobile Security Deployments team.

Event:  The Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini announced a nationwide curfew from 1800 – 0500 hours.   Communication disruptions, including internet and cell phone service, are occurring.  Security forces are actively patrolling the streets during curfew hours.

The international airport, KMIII, is now operational.  U.S. citizens wishing to depart Eswatini should take advantage of commercial options available.

The U.S. Embassy has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Eswatini.

Citizens are urged to respect the government curfew and exercise caution.

US citizens who require assistance should contact +268 2417 9000 and then PRESS TWO.

The South African land borders are currently open and antigen tests are available at the border at a cost of 300 Rand, payable in Rand only.  For citizens flying out of OR Tambo, PCR testing labs are available.  Citizens are required to have a negative PCR test in order to travel to the United States.

The U.S. Embassy is operating with reduced services. U.S. citizens needing emergency services should call the Consular Section using the contact information below.

Actions to Take: 

    • Monitor local media for updates on changing conditions.
    • Expect communication disruptions; contact family and friends to let them know you are safe.
    • If safe, stock up on groceries and water and then stay home.

 

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@USEmbassyHaiti Remains Closed Following President Moïse’s Assassination (Updated)

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Merci — DS

 

Updated: 7/9/2021 2:36am ET: Embassy Port-au-Prince announced that it will remain closed on July 9th:

The Embassy will be closed for consular services tomorrow, July 9th, 2021. As per our earlier message to U.S. citizens, the Consular Section will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in Haiti and will inform you as appropriate. We are confirming information that the airports may reopen for commercial flights as early as tomorrow, July 9th, 2021.

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Following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse at his home on July 7th, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince announced closure of its offices for July 7-8. Embassy Haiti has previously restricted its direct-hire US citizen staff to the Embassy compounds in Tabarre until further notice.

Event:  The Embassy will be closed tomorrow, July 8th, 2021.  As per our earlier message to U.S. citizens, the Consular Section will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in Haiti and will inform you as appropriate.

Actions to Take:

    • Avoid demonstrations and crowds.
    • Do not attempt to drive through roadblocks; and
    • If you encounter a roadblock, turn around and get to a safe area.
    • Monitor local media for breaking events and be prepared to adjust your plans.
    • Keep travel documents up to date and easily accessible.
    • Have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.
    • Make contingency plans to leave the country.
The current Ambassador to Haiti Michele J. Sison was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 24 to be an Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. US Embassy Haiti’s Deputy Chief of Mission is Nicole D. Theriot.  No nominee has been announced to succeed Ambassador Sison at the US Embassy Port-au-Prince as of this writing. There’s going to be a loud call from the Hill to appoint a special envoy to Haiti.

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National Security Professionals Call for Action on Hate Crimes and Racism Against Asian-Americans

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Via Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in National Security:

[….] We are foreign policy and national security professionals, including active and retired military members, diplomats, civilian government employees, government contractors, intelligence officers, investors, scientists, and academics. We are Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, who come from diverse backgrounds, from third-generation Chinese-Americans whose ancestors sought more opportunities and labored to build the vital infrastructure of America’s westward expansion, to first-generation immigrants whose parents wanted to achieve the American Dream. We are allies and community members united by our commitment to America, and we are bound by a collective mission to make our country a better and more secure place.

As a community, it has been heart-wrenching to hear—and personally experience—the latest surge of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans across our beloved country, the same country for which thousands of Asian-Americans have fought and died. The perpetuation of this prejudice has only intensified under the COVID-19 pandemic and the geopolitical and economic strains and racial polarization it has surfaced. Simultaneously, the xenophobia that is spreading as U.S. policy concentrates on great power competition has exacerbated suspicions, microaggressions, discrimination, and blatant accusations of disloyalty simply because of the way we look. Many of us have been targeted because we are either ethnically Chinese or simply look Asian. This is not to dismiss credible counterintelligence concerns as evidenced through indictments of U.S. citizens—some of whom are White—spying for China. Treating all Asian-Americans working in national security with a broad stroke of suspicion, rather than seeing us as valuable contributors, is counterproductive to the greater mission of securing the homeland. As members and allies of the AAPI community, we acknowledge that Asian-Americans are intrinsic to the fabric of American society.

Read in full below:

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U.S. Seizes Domain Names Used in Spear-Phishing Campaign With Mimicked @USAID Emails

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Via USDOJ:
Justice Department Announces Court-Authorized Seizure of Domain Names Used in Furtherance of Spear-Phishing Campaign Posing as U.S. Agency for International Development

On or about May 25, malicious actors commenced a wide-scale spear-phishing campaign leveraging a compromised USAID account at an identified mass email marketing company. Specifically, the compromised account was used to send spear-phishing emails, purporting to be from USAID email accounts and containing a “special alert,” to thousands of email accounts at over one hundred entities.

Upon a recipient clicking on a spear-phishing email’s hyperlink, the victim computer was directed to download malware from a sub-domain of theyardservice[.]com. Using that initial foothold, the actors then downloaded the Cobalt Strike tool to maintain persistent presence and possibly deploy additional tools or malware to the victim’s network. The actors’ instance of the Cobalt Strike tool received C2 communications via other subdomains of theyardservice[.]com, as well as the domain worldhomeoutlet[.]com. It was those two domains that the Department seized pursuant to the court’s seizure order.
[…]
On May 28, pursuant to court orders issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, the United States seized two command-and-control (C2) and malware distribution domains used in recent spear-phishing activity that mimicked email communications from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This malicious activity was the subject of a May 27 Microsoft security alert, titled “New sophisticated email-based attack from Nobelium,” and a May 28 FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency joint cybersecurity advisory.

The Department’s seizure of the two domains was aimed at disrupting the malicious actors’ follow-on exploitation of victims, as well as identifying compromised victims. However, the actors may have deployed additional backdoor accesses between the time of the initial compromises and last week’s seizures.

 

Another ‘Coup’ in Mali, US Embassy Bamako Provides Routine Services

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