Two Days, Two Diplomatic Incidents: U.S. Embassy Brussels, U.S. Embassy Seoul

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Libyan National Mustafa al-Imam Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in 2012 Benghazi Attack

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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On June 17, DOJ announced that a Libyan national was found guilty of terrorism charges in the 2012 attack of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi.

Casualties in the US Consulate Benghazi attacks: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith, security personnel and former Navy SEALs, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty

Excerpt from announcement:

Mustafa al-Imam, a Libyan national approximately 48 years old, was found guilty of terrorism charges for his participation in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya.  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attack at the Mission and the nearby Annex in Benghazi.
[…]
Al-Imam was captured in Libya on Oct. 29, 2017.  He was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists and maliciously destroying and injuring a dwelling and placing lives in jeopardy by a jury on June 13, 2019.  The former charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in prison, while the latter charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 20 years in prison. The jury failed to reach a verdict on 15 other charged counts, leading the court to declare a mistrial on June 17, 2019.  The government has not yet announced whether it plans to retry Al-Imam on the remaining counts.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The trial began with opening statements on May 8, 2019, before a jury in the courtroom of the Honorable Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Over the next four weeks, the government presented testimony from 27 witnesses.  The witnesses included those who were wounded in the attack, as well as others who survived the attacks.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s New York Field Office with substantial assistance from various other government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the two victim agencies, the CIA and the Department of State.

Read the full statement here.

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The Havana Syndrome in the News, and Some Questions For Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

The Havana Syndrome remains a mystery and a subject of interest. But the latest report via Buzzfeed suggests that “much of the early research into the mystery may have been botched or biased.”

The initial investigation was confined to two competing sets of researchers, both eager to publish studies on their own work, and whose findings have been at odds with each other. In one case, researchers were also seeking to promote their own newly approved medical device as a diagnostic tool. And until now, the effort has lacked broader oversight by an institution capable of cross-disciplinary research.

“The fundamental problem is you can’t trust anybody here,” said medical ethicist Sergio Litewka of the University of Miami, who has written about the political cloud of secrecy and distrust surrounding the diplomats’ injuries. “Not the US State Department and not the Cuban government.” (BuzzFeed has filed a lawsuit with the State Department requesting its communications related to the medical research into the injuries, after the agency denied a request for them on medical privacy and ongoing investigation grounds.)

Can somebody please ask the new “M” Brian Bulatao what’s his plan about this matter going forward?  Can an “America First” policy over everything afford to have this medical mystery just go unsolved? What happened to the Accountability Review Board reportedly convened by the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The ARB process doesn’t stop when the secretary of state is fired via tweet, does it?  What happens to those affected? What happens to those affected who were not employed by the U.S. government (spouses and children)? What happens if those affected leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily?  What arrangements are made in terms of medical care? What’s the plan if a similar incident were to happen at another part of the globe?

We missed this 4-part report from Canada:

The Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community

The Havana Syndrome, Part 4: What it could be and how experts will try to crack the case

Diplomatic Security Memorial: Ten U.S. Embassy Kabul Guards Killed in Truck Bomb #OTD #2017

 

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U.S. Embassy Honduras Cancels Routine Services For June 3-7 After Protesters Torch Access Gate

 

Protesters in Honduras set the access gate to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on fire with tires doused with fuel according to Reuters. The report says that “the protesters chanted “American trash, American trash” outside the embassy, which was not being guarded at the time.”

CNN notes that “the fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon, and a State Department spokesperson later said no embassy personnel were injured in the incident.”

The U.S. Embassy was not being guarded at the time of the protest?

As of 1 am EST, we have not been able to find an official statement from Foggy Bottom. US Embassy Honduras CDA Heide Fulton did release a statement (see below) and announced the suspension of routine consular services for next week due to the fire damage.

@StateDept’s Level 4 “Do Not Travel” Countries as of May 6, 2019 (Updated)

Via travel.state.gov:

Updated: May 10, 2019: Note that while Mexico is listed as a “Level 2: Exercised Increased Caution” country, the following five states in Mexico are considered “Level 4: Do Not Travel ” locations:

  • Colima state
  • Guerrero state
  • Michoacán state
  • Sinaloa state
  • Tamaulipas state

We understand that Mexico is the only country that the State Department breaks down this way.

Grievant Prevails Over Diplomatic Security’s Duplicative Disciplinary Actions

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-027

HELD – The Board held that the Department failed to meet its burden of proving that it did not violate agency policy when it imposed a second round of discipline (a two-day suspension without pay) after grievant had previously received several oral admonishments) for the same act of misconduct.

… Grievant accessed the CCD and reviewed the female friend’s visa records. He then sent an email on May 24, 2013 to the Consular Officer who had adjudicated the visa application, asking why the visa had not been approved and whether there was anything the applicant could do to “overcome” the disapproval.

The email read in part:

I explained to [the inquiring REDACTED Official] that the visa issuance process is an independent process done by the consular section at the respective embassy [sic] and that I have no involvement in the process or adjudication of the application, but that I would check with the embassy to see if there was anything that she could do or provide to overcome the refusal. Is there anything the applicant could do or provide to overcome the 214(B) refusal? Or is it pretty solid given no local employment and only having recently started her studies in business admin?

Grievant did not receive a response to his inquiry and he took no further action

CASE SUMMARY – In May 2013, grievant, a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent, received a request from a professional colleague inquiring about a visa denial of a female friend of another colleague. Grievant accessed the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to determine who the Consular Officer was for the visa denial and drafted an email to that officer inquiring whether there was anything his contact could do regarding the denial. Within a few days, the Visa Chief at the post that made the visa decision, wrote to the Consular Integrity Division of DS (DS/CID) advising that grievant had apparently accessed the CCD without a work related need to do so. DS/CID passed the matter to the Chief of the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Criminal Division (DS/ICI/CR). The Chief of DS/ICI/CR consulted with the Supervisory Special Agent of DS/CID and with the Chief of the Criminal Fraud Investigations Branch (CFI) before deciding to refer the matter to grievant’s immediate supervisors for whatever action they deemed appropriate.

Two of grievant’s supervisors opened administrative inquiries in June 2013, contacted grievant, learned from him that he immediately acknowledged the improper access of the CCD and each decided to give grievant an oral admonishment. One additional supervisor also admonished grievant orally. All management officials concluded that no further action was necessary. Grievant was so informed by at least two of these officials.

In the fall of 2014, the DS Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI) informed grievant that it was opening an investigation into the same matter. During an interview with grievant and his counsel, grievant advised that he had already been counseled for this act of misconduct. He provided proof that he had been admonished; however, he was proposed for a three-day suspension that was later mitigated to two days. The suspension proposal was sustained by the Department and grievant served the two-day suspension.

A grievance regarding duplicative discipline was denied by the agency. On appeal, the Board concluded that all regulatory steps had been followed by grievant’s supervisor who initially determined that he was the appropriate official, in consultation with others at DS, to determine what discipline should be imposed. The Board further concluded that administrative inquiries were properly conducted by additional supervisors after evidence was gathered, grievant was consulted, and all appropriate factors were considered. The Board found that specific agency policy precluded grievant from being subjected to a second disciplinary process. Accordingly, the Board held that the Department was obligated to refund grievant’s pay and benefits lost during the suspension; his Official Performance Folder should have all references to the suspension proposal and decision removed; and that grievant’s OPF should be reviewed by reconstituted Selection Boards for each year (2017 and possibly 2018) in which the suspension letter was in the file.

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@StateDept Ups Sri Lanka Travel Advisory After Multiple Easter Sunday Explosions (Updated)

Updated: On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees in Kindergarten through 12th grade.  The Department also authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.

On April 21, the State Department increased the Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka to Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) after multiple attacks throughout the country. Explosions reportedly occurred at  the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo and churches in Kochchikade, Katuwapitiya and Batticaloa; the blasts killed 290 people and wounded 500.  Arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing according to media reports.

The Advisory says in part:

Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also announced that it will be closed to the public on April 22. The American Center in Colombo & all American Spaces will also be closed. Emergency American Citizen Services will be available (see contact number below).  In a statement to the press, the secretary of state confirmed that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in Sri Lanka attacks,

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GAO Calls For Pompeo’s “Personal Attention” to Address Priority Open Recommendations

 

The Government Accountability Office’s Gene L. Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States has written to Secretary Pompeo calling for his “personal attention” to the GAO’s multiple “open recommendations that should be given high priority.”

In November 2018, we reported on a government-wide basis that 77 percent of our recommendations made in fiscal year 2014 had been closed as implemented.2 State’s recommendation implementation rate for the same time frame was 91 percent. As of March 2019, State had 101 open recommendations.

Among the recommendations are apparently 20 open priority recommendations. The State has implemented 10 of the 20 recommendations since GAO wrote Foggy Bottom a letter in February 2018. And now GAO has urged the secretary’s “personal attention” for the remaining recommendations. In addition, the GAO has added eight new recommendations as priorities in 2019; these are related to data quality, the administration of hardship pay, and embassy construction and now brings the total number of open priority recommendations to 18.

Here are some:

Security of Overseas Personnel and Facilities: Of the 18 open priority recommendations, eight are related to the security and safety of personnel serving overseas. State concurred with these eight recommendations and reported some steps taken to address them.

Fully implementing our two priority recommendations on personnel security could help ensure State personnel are prepared to operate in dangerous situations. In March 2014, we recommended that State take steps to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirements. State has taken action to clarify agency responsibilities and plans to verify FACT compliance. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to complete and carry out its plans to monitor and verify compliance with the FACT training requirement for permanent and temporary personnel.

Fully implementing our three priority recommendations on physical security at overseas posts could improve the safety and security of personnel serving overseas, particularly in high-threat locations. For example, in July 2015, we recommended that State take steps to clarify existing standards and security-related guidance for diplomatic residences. Although State has conducted a review of existing security standards for diplomatic residences, State needs to complete its efforts to update these standards and take several additional actions to improve its ability to identify and mitigate risks and enhance security policies.

Fully implementing our three recommendations related to transportation security, such as those related to armored vehicles, could improve State’s efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas. In October 2016, we recommended that State take steps to enhance its efforts to manage such security risks, including by improving its related guidance and developing monitoring procedures. Although State implemented a shared site for reporting and monitoring each post’s armored vehicle fleet, State needs to create consolidated guidance that specifies transportation security requirements to ensure that posts comply with State’s armored vehicle policy

Security Assistance: Every year the United States provides billions of dollars in assistance to other nations in the form of security equipment and technical assistance. In April 2016, we recommended that State develop time frames for establishing policies and procedures to help the U.S. government provide a more reasonable level of assurance that equipment is not transferred to foreign security forces when there is credible information that a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. State concurred with this recommendation and reported that it drafted standard operating procedures for conducting equipment vetting globally. To fully implement this recommendation, State needs to finalize its revised guidance for overseas posts that are responsible for vetting foreign security forces prior to transferring equipment to them. Information

Technology: One open priority recommendation, if fully implemented, could improve information technology at State. In May 2016, we found that State spent approximately 80 percent of its information technology budget on operating and maintaining older systems. For example, three of State’s visa systems were more than 20 years old. The software for one of these systems was no longer supported by the vendor, creating challenges related to information security. We recommended that State identify and plan to modernize or replace legacy systems. State concurred with the recommendation. According to State, it is developing a plan for modernizing and migrating each eligible system to the cloud by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Data Quality: By fully implementing three priority recommendations we are adding this year, State could improve the quality of foreign assistance data, including data on democracy assistance, and ensure consistency in published information.

Administration of Hardship Pay: When fully implemented, two priority recommendations could improve State’s administration of hardship pay and its ability to identify and recover improper payments related to hardship pay. In September 2017, we recommended that State assess the cost-effectiveness of its policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay and analyze available data to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, among other things. State concurred with the recommendations and reported that it is working to identify changes in policy that would result in greater efficiencies and is planning to utilize the Overseas Personnel System to centrally collect and analyze arrival and departure data. To fully address these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that the efforts are complete and that the actions have enabled the department to more easily identify and prevent improper payments.

Embassy Construction: By fully implementing three priority recommendations, State could improve budgetary decision-making as well as better align Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) staffing levels and capacity with workforce needs for its Capital Security Construction Program (CSCP). In September 2018, we recommended that State determine the estimated effects of cost inflation on planned CSCP embassy construction capacity and time frames and update this information for stakeholders on a regular basis, such as through the annual budgeting process. We also recommended State provide an analysis for stakeholders identifying those embassies that still need to be replaced to meet State’s security standards and estimating total CSCP costs and projected time frames needed to complete those projects. In addition, we recommended State conduct an OBO-wide workforce analysis to assess staffing levels and workload capacity needed to carry out the full range of OBO’s mission goals, to include the CSCP. State concurred with the recommendations and described several actions planned or under way to address these issues. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that it has completed these efforts.

Click PDF for the full list of the the GAO’s 18 priority open recommendations for the Department of State as of April 2019.

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US Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For All Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 7:06 pm PST
Updated: 8:23 pm PST

 

After about a week of protests in Haiti, the State Department issued a mandatory and voluntary departure orders for some family members of non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Haiti. See U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On.

On February 14, the US Embassy issued a Security Alert noting about “reports of armed men in the area near U.S. Embassy personnel housing compounds.” Post instructed embassy personnel “to remain indoors.”

We understand that post had requested the full “ordered departure” for non-emergency staff within the last 24 hours.  An official statement on the status of non-emergency personnel in country has now gone out. The mandatory evacuation is for all non-essential staff, and for all family members. As of this writing, the Haiti Travel Advisory is still dated February 12, and has not been updated to reflect the updated “ordered departure” status for non-essential personnel.

Updated: When we look at travel.state.gov again at 8:23 pm PST, the February 14 updated Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Haiti  is up. The Advisory notes the crime and civil unrest in the country, the mandatory evacuation of non-emergency staff and family members, and the U.S. government’s  limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.