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“Stoned” Guy in the Street Ruins U.S. Embassy Kabul’s Supposed Drug-Free Workplace

Posted: 4:10 am ET

 

The AFP reported last week that six employees of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have been dismissed for drug use or possession.  The State Department confirmed that “six individuals were involved” but that they are not State Department employees according to AFP. The report does not indicate what drugs were used but Afghanistan remains the world’s top opium producer despite billions of dollar spent by the U.S. government there.

It’s not like this is the first time there have been major personnel issues at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

Some years ago both American and expatriate Diplomatic Security contract U.S. Embassy guard staff members (including supervisors) appeared naked in numerous photographs and were also photographed fondling each other. These photographed activities took place at parties in or around the guard staff housing compound, and were evidence of, not surprisingly, “a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract.” See POGO writes to Secretary Clinton about US Embassy Kabul Guards.

In 2013, the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) went looking for a contractor who would be responsible for administering drug tests to the estimated 1,300 security employees in Kabul. Noting that these “armed employees” in Kabul, who were “exposed to extreme conditions,” needed to be “reliable, stable, and show(ing) good use of judgment,” the cyclical drug testing (every six months) for amphetamines, opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, cocaine, and marijuana was required.  So basically new contractors testing other contractors, see more here: State Dept Seeks Drug/Steroid Testing of Security Personnel in Afghanistan and Jerusalem.

But something obviously went wrong somewhere, hey? Sounds like the twice a year screening did not work. A person who appeared to be intoxicated was apparently noticed “wandering around in a state of confusion.” As a consequence, six U.S. Embassy Kabul mission members have been fired for allegedly using, possessing, and even selling illegal drugs. According to the Wall Street Journal, after investigators identified “the drug dealer” involved, his cellular phone was mined for contacts/leads and extensive searches of the embassy employees’ housing complex were launched, which led to the discovery of yet more drugs and more drug users.

According to the Wall Street Journal, most of the employees who were fired were American employees. Furthermore, this number allegedly includes contractors for Aegis/Garda. It is noteworthy that several years ago, dozens of Embassy Kabul guard staff members signed a petition accusing Aegis/Garda guard staff leaders of “tactical incompetence,” and shared that they had “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.” These American employees further called attention to serious gaps in the manned security of the compound, such as guard shortages at key guard positions.

In 2013, former Embassy Kabul security guards filed a class-action lawsuit against Aegis, claiming that the company refused to pay them for the overtime that they had worked while in Kabul. Though this lawsuit was later sent to arbitration, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted her opposition to the State Department’s continued reliance on contractors for embassy security. “We’ve seen failure after failure after failure by these contracted individuals to be competent, professional, and thorough,” she stated.

Note that last year, the housing compound for U.S. Embassy Kabul security personnel was also hit by a bomb (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the severity of the blast was significant. The blast radius was 100 meters wide, and the explosion left a crater that was fifteen feet deep. Half of the housing compound was rendered uninhabitable.

Aegis, the security contractor discussed above, was purchased by Garda/GardaWorld in 2015. Canada-based Garda, the world’s largest security services provider, acquired Aegis in order to expand their company presence throughout both the Middle East and Africa. Garda bids aggressively for embassy security contracts in places like Kabul. In 2015, it undercut former contractor Hart Security Australia with a three-year $72.3 million bid for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). In this case, Australian Security staff  reportedly faced a 60% wage reductions to keep their jobs. Read more about that here.

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@StateDept Lifts Evacuation Order For Istanbul, Travel Restrictions Remain For SE Turkey

Posted: 2:55 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul (see U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?). On March 28, 2017, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning concerning the increased threats from terrorist groups in the country.  The updated warning also states that the evacuation order for USCG Istanbul family members issued in October had been lifted. That means family members on evacuation status may now return to join the FS employees assigned to Istanbul although there are now restrictions on personal and official travel by USG employees and family members traveling and residing in Istanbul.

Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

U.S. citizens are warned of increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism. On March 27, the Department of State terminated its October 29, 2016, decision to direct family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to depart Turkey temporarily. However, there are restrictions on personal and official travel by U.S. government personnel and their family members travelling to and residing in Istanbul. Restrictions on travel by U.S. government personnel to certain areas in southeast Turkey, including Adana, remain. This replaces the travel warning dated January 25, 2017.

In 2016, numerous terrorist attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, and vehicle-borne bombings in tourist areas, public spaces, private celebrations, sporting events, and government, police, and military facilities throughout Turkey resulted in hundreds of deaths. The most recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on January 1, 2017, and simultaneous suicide bombings near Istanbul’s Besiktas/Vodafone Soccer Stadium on December 10, 2016. In addition, an increase in anti-American rhetoric has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

Additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals, and sea transport. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have been explicitly targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination. We remind U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans including communications preparedness/connectivity, monitor local news for breaking events, remain vigilant at all times, and check in with loved ones after an attack or security incident.

On January 4, the Turkish government extended the state of emergency through April 18, 2017.  The Turkish government will decide in April whether to extend the state of emergency for another 90 days.  Under the state of emergency, security forces have expanded powers and the government has, at times, restricted internet access and media content.  U.S. citizens have been deported and/or detained and held without access to lawyers or family members under the state of emergency.  Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.  U.S. citizen employees of some non-governmental organizations in Turkey have also recently experienced increased scrutiny and denials related to residence permit applications.  The Department continues to monitor the security environment for potential impact on the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey and urges U.S. citizens to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on http://www.travel.state.gov to stay informed.

U.S. government personnel and their family members residing in or visiting Istanbul are restricted from congregating or traveling in large groups and are not permitted to visit these Istanbul locations without prior approval from the Consulate:

  • Large, crowded areas such as shopping malls and houses of worship frequented by expatriates, entertainment complexes, nightclubs, public sporting/cultural performance venues, and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares
  • Tourist destinations throughout Istanbul, to include historical sites, monuments, large bazaar markets, and museums.

U.S. government personnel living in or visiting Turkey continue to require approval from the U.S. Embassy  to visit the  southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  Travel within Adana by U.S. government personnel may also be subject to restriction.  Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy may prohibit movements by its personnel and those of its subordinate Consulates to these areas on short notice for security reasons.  Due to recent acts of violence and the potential for reprisal attacks by terrorist groups due to continued Turkish military activity in Syria, we urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to large urban centers near the Turkish/Syrian border.  U.S. citizens should also be aware that the Government of Turkey has closed its border with Syria.  The Government of Turkey prohibits border crossings from Syria into Turkey, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey.  Turkish authorities will consider permitting the passage of individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger on a case by case basis.

Read the entire Turkey Travel Warning here.

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@StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents

Posted: 5:17 pm ET
Updated: March 30, 4:18 am ET  

 

On March 29, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.  The State Department phone directory dated March 27, 2017 lists Candace Claiborne as an Office Management Specialist (OMS) at the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts (EUR/CARC). This office has desk officers for Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Minsk Group Co-Chair.  The Minsk Group  provide a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The DOJ announcement notes that Claiborne has been an Office Management Specialist (OMS) for the Department of State in since 1999 and has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  Given the lengths of the tours of duty, we suspect that she was in more than four posts in 18 years, but we have yet to see a copy of the FBI complaint. OMSs provide office management and administrative support including managing the calendar(s) and schedule(s) for senior staff, proofing, editing, tracking and filing documents, preparing agenda and materials for meetings, providing computer and mobile device support, knowledge management, and planning and assisting with official events and visitors. Read more about OMSs here.

According to the FBI agent’s affidavit supporting the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, “there is probable cause to believe that Claiborne made materially false statements to federal law enforcement officers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, and conspired with Co-Conspirators A B, and C to obstruct an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512. These criminal violations werc either begun or committed in Washington D.C., where Claiborne resides and works, and where the Department of State is headquartered or were begun or committed overseas, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state.”  But who’s Co-Conspirator A, and why wasn’t he charged?

Read the criminal complaint here via Politico. It looks pretty bad. 

Below is the DOJ announcement:

State Department Employee Arrested and Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Foreign Agents

A federal complaint was unsealed today charging Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., and an employee of the U.S. Department of State, with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.

The charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord for National Security, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

“Candace Marie Claiborne is a U.S. State Department employee who possesses a Top Secret security clearance and allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit. Pursuing those who imperil our national security for personal gain will remain a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“Candace Claiborne is charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements in connection with her alleged concealment and failure to report her improper connections to foreign contacts along with the tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits they provided,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “As a State Department employee with a Top Secret clearance, she received training and briefing about the need for caution and transparency. This case demonstrates that U.S. government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments”

“Candace Claiborne is accused of violating her oath of office as a State Department employee, who was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully mislead federal investigators about her significant and repeated interactions with foreign contacts,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale. “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who, though required by law, fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

The FBI arrested Claiborne on March 28. She made her first appearance this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint and arrest warrant, which was unsealed today, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintains a Top Secret security clearance. Claiborne also is required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, the affidavit alleges, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. According to the affidavit, the gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, Chinese New Year’s gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, the affidavit alleges, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

According to the affidavit, Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who, shortly after wiring $2,480 to Claiborne, tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who allegedly confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the affidavit states. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents, the affidavit alleges.

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The maximum penalty for a person convicted of obstructing an official proceeding is 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for making false statements to the FBI is five years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

At her court appearance today, Claiborne pleaded not guilty before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather. A preliminary hearing was set for April 18.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John L. Hill and Thomas A. Gillice for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Julie Edelstein of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

It looks like the arrest warrant was issued yesterday, and the complaint was unsealed today, but we have yet to locate the charging document.  As with the DOJ statement, we should note that charges contained in a criminal complaint are allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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US to Implement Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications

Posted: 4:08 am ET

 

Read the cables via Reuters:

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

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

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

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

 

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Former Top Diplomats Make a Case For Sensible Funding of the State Department Budget

Posted: 2:21 am ET

 

In light of the Trump Administration’s proposed FY18 budget, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Council of American Ambassadors wrote a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to make a case for sensible State Department funding in the federal budget.  The letter was signed by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, AAD Chairman; Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, AAD President; Ambassador Bruce S. Gelb, CAA Chairman; and Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel CAA Chairman Emeritus. We understand that identical letters were also sent to Senators Cardin, Corker, Graham, Leahy and Schumer in the Senate, and Representatives Engel, Lowey, McCarthy, Pelosi, Rogers, and Royce in the House.

Sept 14, 2012: Thousands of protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, setting fire to the Consular Section entrance, and causing extensive damage. (Source: U.S. State Department/DS)

Below is the text of the letter AAD/CAA sent to the Hill:

On behalf of the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Council of American Ambassadors (CAA), we believe the proposed magnitude of the cuts to the State Department budget pose serious risks to American security. After the military defeat of the Islamic State, intensive diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Syria will be essential to stabilization, without which the radical movements that we now contest will reappear. Afghanistan requires the same attention.

As a general principle, diplomacy is far less costly than war to achieve our national purposes. Diplomacy is most often the first line of America’s defense. When the Islamic State suddenly appeared in Mali, it was our Embassy that was able to recommend action based on knowing the difference between terrorists and local political actors who needed support. When Ebola in West Africa threatened a worldwide pandemic, it was our Foreign Service that remained in place to establish the bases for and support the multi-agency health efforts deployed to stop the disease outbreak. It is to our embassies that American citizens turn for security and evacuation abroad.

Our embassies’ commercial work supports US companies and citizen entrepreneurs in selling abroad. This creates thousands of American jobs. Every dollar spent on this work returns hundreds in sales. Peacekeeping and political missions are mandated by the Security Council where our veto power can ensure when, where, how many, and what kind of peacekeepers used in a mission support US interests. Peacekeeping forces are deployed in fragile, sometimes prolonged, circumstances, where the US would not want to use US forces. UN organized troops cost the US taxpayer only about one-eighth the cost of sending US troops. Our contributions to refugees and development are critical to avoid humanitarian crises from spiraling into conflicts that would draw in the United States and promote violent extremism. Budget cuts of the amounts contemplated endanger basic US security interests.

US public diplomacy fights radicalism. Educational exchanges over the years have enabled hundreds of thousands of foreign students truly to understand Americans and American culture. This is far more effective in countering radical propaganda than social media. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that 46 current and 165 former heads of government are US graduates.

These few examples should show why so many American military leaders are deeply opposed to the current budget proposals. They recognize that when diplomacy is not permitted to do its job the chances of Americans dying in war increase. When the number of employees in military commissaries or military bands exceeds the number of US diplomats, the current budget proposal is indeed not a cost-effective way to protect America and its interests.

The Academy, representing the most experienced and distinguished former American diplomats, both career and non-career, and the Council have never opposed all cuts to the State Department budget. The Academy’s detailed study American Diplomacy at Risk (2015) proposed many reductions. We believe streamlining is possible, and we can make proposals to that end. However, the current budget proposals will damage American national security and should be rejected.

The original letter is here: Letter re Proposed DOS Budget Cuts – Senator McConnell.

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

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

USDOJ also announced the contact info for potential victims:

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

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

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

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

Via Burn Bag:

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

via tenor.co

 

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U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

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On Invocation of Visa Sanctions For Countries Unwilling to Accept Their Deported Nationals

Posted: 3:27 am ET

 

On January 3, the State Department published 9 FAM 602.2 on the Discontinuation of Visa Issuance Under INA 243 (D) which provides that “upon being notified by the Secretary of Homeland Security that a government of a foreign country denies or unreasonably delays accepting an alien who is a citizen, subject, national, or resident of that country, the Secretary of State shall order consular officers in that foreign country to discontinue granting immigrant visas or nonimmigrant visas, or both, to citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents of that country until the Secretary of Homeland Security notifies the Secretary of State that the country has accepted the alien.”

–> A discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) is based on an order issued by the Secretary of State to consular officers in a particular country to stop issuing visas pursuant to INA 243(d).  The Secretary may decide to order consular officers to discontinue issuing all visas in the country or a subset of visas.

–> Affected posts generally will be informed by cable which visa classifications or categories of visa applicants are subject to a discontinuation under INA 243(d) and when visa issuance must be discontinued.  When the Secretary orders discontinuation of visa issuance, the Visa Office will work with the relevant regional bureau and the affected post to provide specific guidance via cable.

Only one country, The Gambia, is currently subject to discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) though this might just be the start. There are potentially 85 countries that could be subject to a visa sanction based on their refusal in accepting their own nationals deported from the United States.  The FAM, at this time, does not include any guidance pertaining to immigrant visas.

In October last year, the State Department spokesperson said this about the visa sanction for The Gambia in the DPB:

As of October 1st, 2016, the United States and Banjul, The Gambia, has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the offending country has accepted those individuals.
[…] The Gambia is unique in that we have applied numerous tools on how to engage, but without any result. Some other countries have responded in some way or made partial efforts to address the deficiency; The Gambia has not. We have been seeking cooperation with the Government of The Gambia on the return of Gambian nationals for some time, from the working level up to the highest level, and we have exhausted diplomatic means to resolve this matter.

Last year, ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale also went before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for a hearing on “Recalcitrant Countries: Denying Visas to Countries that Refuse to Take Back Their Deported Nationals”. Below is an excerpt from his prepared testimony which provides additional background for this issue:

The removal process is impacted by the level of cooperation offered by our foreign partners. As the Committee is aware, in order for ICE to effectuate a removal, two things are generally required: (1) an administratively final order of removal and (2) a travel document issued by a foreign government. Although the majority of countries adhere to their international obligation to accept the return of their citizens who are not eligible to remain in the United States, ICE faces unique challenges with those countries that systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their nationals. Such countries are considered to be uncooperative or recalcitrant, and they significantly exacerbate the challenges ICE faces in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001).

In Zadvydas, the Court effectively held that aliens subject to final orders of removal may generally not be detained beyond a presumptively reasonable period of 180 days, unless there is a significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future. Regulations were issued in the wake of Zadvydas to allow for detention beyond that period in a narrow category of cases involving special circumstances, including certain terrorist and dangerous individuals with violent criminal histories. Those regulations have faced significant legal challenges in federal court. Consequently, ICE has been compelled to release thousands of individuals, including many with criminal convictions, some of whom have gone on to commit additional crimes.

23 countries considered “recalcitrant”, 62 countries with “strained cooperation”

Countries are assessed based on a series of tailored criteria to determine their level of cooperativeness with ICE’s repatriation efforts. Some of the criteria used to determine cooperativeness include: hindering ICE’s removal efforts by refusing to allow charter flights into the country; country conditions and/or the political environment, such as civil unrest; and denials or delays in issuing travel documents. This process remains fluid as countries become more or less cooperative. ICE’s assessment of a country’s cooperativeness can be revisited at any time as conditions in that country or relations with that country evolve; however, ICE’s current standard protocol is to reassess bi-annually. As of May 2, 2016, ICE has found that there were 23 countries considered recalcitrant, including: Afghanistan, Algeria, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. As a result of their lack of cooperation, ICE has experienced a significant hindrance in our ability to remove aliens from these countries. In addition, ICE is also closely monitoring an additional 62 countries with strained cooperation, but which are not deemed recalcitrant at this time.

DHS/ICE and State/CA: measures for dealing with uncooperative countries

Responses to a country’s recalcitrance are, in part, guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ICE and DOS Consular Affairs, signed in April 2011. Pursuant to this MOU, ICE continues to work through U.S. diplomatic channels to ensure that other countries accept the timely return of their nationals in accordance with international law by pursuing a graduated series of steps to gain compliance with the Departments’ shared expectations. The measures that may be taken when dealing with countries that refuse to accept the return of their nationals, as outlined in the 2011 MOU, include:

♦ issue a demarche or series of demarches;

♦ hold a joint meeting with the Ambassador to the United States, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, and Director of ICE;

♦ consider whether to provide notice of the U.S. Government’s intent to formally determine that the subject country is not accepting the return of its nationals and that the U.S. Government intends to exercise authority under section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to encourage compliance;

♦ consider visa sanctions under section 243(d) of the INA; and

♦ call for an interagency meeting to pursue withholding of aid or other funding.

A State Department official on background told us today that “facilitating the removal of aliens who are subject to a final order of removal, particularly those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, is a top priority for the Department of State.”  Also that the Department’s discontinuation of visa issuance this past October was “in response to the Gambia’s failure to issue travel documents for any individuals under final order for removal.” More:

When approaching a specific country, we consider all options at our disposal, taking into account the totality of national security and foreign policy equities that could be impacted.  In many cases, significant progress has been possible through intensive diplomatic engagement.  Taking into consideration each country’s specific situation and other important U.S. interests, we work with ICE to determine the course of action best suited to securing compliance from each government.

Since visa issuance is on reciprocal basis we wanted to know how this might affect America citizens in countries subjected to visa sanctions. Here is the official response:

Our goal is to achieve success without inciting retaliation that could hurt the U.S. in other ways.   Imposition of visa sanctions on a given country is one potentially powerful tool.  However, it is important to note that what works in one country may not be effective in another.  Some governments would prefer to have their citizens stay home rather than spend their money on U.S. hotels, airlines, and tourist attractions.  Others could retaliate in ways that could be detrimental to wider U.S. security concerns, such as law enforcement, military, or counter-terrorism cooperation.

 

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CCTV and Starbucks Receipt Help Identify Zia Zafar in Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

Posted: 2:44 am ET

 

Via USDOJ | january 10, 2016 | Zafar Photos

Zia Zafar, 31, of Chino Hills, California, made his initial appearance here today after being charged with the attempted murder of a diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint, on January 6, Zafar disguised himself and followed a Vice Consul of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara through a parking garage to his vehicle. After the Vice Consul got into his car and drove towards the garage exit, Zafar allegedly shot him once in the chest and fled. The Vice Consul was taken to a local hospital, where he currently remains. Zafar was subsequently detained by Mexican authorities.

Zafar was deported from Mexico yesterday afternoon and arrived in the United States last night. He was immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder of an internationally protected person. Zafar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Bill A. Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement after Zafar’s initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Sloan, and Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

The FBI and DSS are investigating the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The Justice Department notes that the charges in the criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Screen Shot

Zafar was charged with the attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, an “internationally protected person outside the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1116(a)”.  Court records  indicate that Zafar is represented by Whitney E.C. Minter of the Office of the Federal Public Defender (Alexandria, VA).

Below is an excerpt from the affidavit executed by David J. DiMarco, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in support of criminal complaint application and arrest warrant in this case:

Probable Cause and Details of the Investigation

8. On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Avenida Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

9. Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to a payment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, he saw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

10. Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcrafl exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The video then shows ZAFAR following Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to a different area of the garage, the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

Identification of ZIA ZAFAR

1 1. On or about January 7, 2017, Mexican law enforcement obtained surveillance video from a nearby Starbucks located at Avenida Vallarta #3300, Guadalajara, Mexico. The Starbucks video, dated January 6, 2017, shows an individual matching the description of the above-referenced shooter. Mexican law enforcement obtained a Starbucks receipt dated January 6, 2017, 5:19 p.m. for a purchase totaling 58 Mexican Pesos, paid, by credit card, and signed by the purchaser bearing the name Zafar/Zia.

12. A search of a Mexican Immigration database revealed that ZAFAR, who entered Mexico on a student visa, was born on REDACTED 1985, and holds a U.S. Passport bearing the number REDACTED. A search of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records from California revealed that ZIA ZAFAR, born on REDACTED 1985, holds a California driver’s license bearing the number REDACTED. The records obtained from the Califomia DMV include a signature which bears remarkable similarity to the signature on the aforementioned Starbucks receipt.

13. Mexican Immigration records revealed that ZAFAR reported his local residence in Mexico as in Guadalajara, Mexico. Mexican law enforcement conducted surveillance at the residence on January 7, 2017, at approximately 8:14 p.m. and noted the presence of a Honda Civic with California license plate number 4RZH452. A subsequent check of California DMV records revealed the car was registered to ZAFAR.

14. Mexican law enforcement subsequently detained ZAFAR inside the above-listed residence.

15. Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered fiom the residence.

The court has ordered Zafar’s detention pending trial. In addition to safety of the community, other reasons cited for the detention includes “lack of significant community or family ties to this district”, “significant family or other ties outside the United States”, “history of violence or use weapon”, and “background information unknown or unverified.”

 

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