U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Posted: 2:01 am ET
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On October 8, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all temporary visa services for the embassy and consulates in Turkey. The statement says that “recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.” This development follows the arrest of U.S. Consulate General’s Metin Topuz, a locally hired employee in Istanbul this past week (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”). There was also the prior arrest of the U.S. Consulate Adana local employee Hamza Uluçay, arrested in March on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” and who remains in jail to this day.

Hamza Uluçay has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years, and according to Hurriyet Daily News was arrested as he left the consulate building for “allegedly attempting to direct the public to provocative activities in the southeastern province of Mardin.” Back in March, Hamsa Bey was reportedly referred to a local court in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district but he was later released on probation. The prosecutor objected to the release and he was detained for the second time on charges of “being a member of a terror organization.”  According to Hurriyet, the searches at Hamsa Bey’s residence includes seizure of $21 U.S. dollars with B, C, D, F, G, K and L series on them.

An AP report in April 2016 previously notes that Turkish  authorities are citing U.S. banknotes, specifically $1 bills as evidence that people are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the A Haber television channel, “There is no doubt that this $1 bill has some important function within the Gulenist terror organization.” The AP report citing the Aksam daily, says that one theory is that F designates a high-ranking soldier or police chief; J and C represent low-ranking soldiers; E and S are for instructors and academics in Gulenist schools and B is for students.

In July,  Henri J. Barket wrote about Hamsa Bey in The Atlantic’s Erdogan’s Anti-Westernism Picks Up Speed:

One particularly absurd case is that of Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, who was picked up on “terrorism” charges. He is a foreign service national, a local hire who helps U.S. diplomats arrange meetings and navigate the local political and social scene. I have known Hamza for 25 years—I first met him in the 1990s in Adana during a research trip. When I saw him last in March 2016, I joked with him that he ought to never retire because Consulate Adana, notwithstanding his American colleagues, could not function without him. These audacious charges amount to nothing less than sticking a thumb in America’s eye.

Local employees including those in small posts like Adana provide not only bridges with local host country nationals and officials, they also provide continuity for posts so our diplomats are able to do their jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Adana covers a consular district that encompasses 22 provinces, including Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Its district includes the major cities of Mersin, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Van that have large Kurdish population. One diplomat told us that “Hamza Bey in Adana is one of our finest.” Local employees do not freelance, or go rogue; the calls and contacts they make in their own countries are connected to their jobs, and are done on behalf of their American supervisors, and consequently, on behalf of the United States. Unlike American diplomats who have diplomatic and consular immunity (PDF), local employees do not have such privileges and immunities.

The second, and latest local employee arrested by Turkish authorities is Metin Topuz “on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.” According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish pro-government daily, the indictment for Metin Bey includes “contact with a number of police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked” and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.” The indictment reportedly also charged that he is a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.”

The Daily Sabah previously reported this arrest as “US consulate linked to another alleged FETÖ conspiracy.” The newspaper citing a report by the Akşam newspaper says that “M.T. assisted FETÖ-linked police chiefs in handing over documents regarding the 2013 police operations to Preet Bharara, a former New York attorney who conducted an investigation into Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish national who is being held in the U.S. three years after being included in a 2013 probe involving people close to the government in Turkey.”

We understand that Metin Bey works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. Contacts with members of the local judiciary or law enforcement would certainly be part of his job, a fact lost on the Government of Turkey.  Turkey watchers notice that government-affiliated press is ramping things up. U.S. Mission Turkey’s October 5 made reference to leaks, and an attempt to try Metin Bey in the media rather than in the court of law.

It is probably not an accident that the local employees arrested are long-term employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey. The question is if this is now open season for all Turkish nationals working for the United States in Turkey. If the Turkish Government can go after employees at the U.S. consulates, how long before they’re going to go after the Turkish nationals working for the U.S. Military in Turkey?

According to turkeypurge.com which monitors President Erdogan’s purges since July 15, 2016, our NATO-ally Turkey has now arrested over 60,000 individuals, detained over 127,000 people, arrested over 300 journalists, shut down 187 media outlets, and sacked over 146,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics who were dismissed by government decrees.

And now this — Turkey’s MFA copy/pasted the official USG statement, and has now issued a reciprocal suspension of visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States. It addition to its embassy, Turkey has seven consulates in the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

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So who told Congress the real story about the deadly force incidents in Honduras in 2012? #OperationAnvil

Posted: 4:32 am ET
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The joint report by State/OIG and DOJ/OIG concerns three deadly force incidents in Honduras that occurred in 2012.   Four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire.  No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat. In a second incident, a suspect was killed in a firefight that did not actually happen, and in a third incident that involved a plane crash, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.

The 424-page report provides in great detail what happened during the three incidents and the response/actions made by DEA, State/INL, State/WHA, the US Embassy in Honduras, and the stories officials gave to the Congress and the public about the incidents.

The report says that “DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.”

State Department briefers also “never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents.”

State Department officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, including the video analysis, which could have contradicted prior DEA assertions.

The US Embassy in Honduras had received a report from the TRT officer dated July 3, 2012 which stated that the pilot “died instantly.” But after the July 3 shooting, WHA and INL officials developed press guidance that did acknowledge that DEA agents “were involved with the shooting,” but stated that “both suspects were given first aid and transported via helicopter to a secure location.” This guidance was repeated verbatim by State’s spokesperson during the daily press briefing on July 9, 2012.

Chief of Mission Authority Undermined

It is notable that then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents “after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA.” The report says that DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel.  DEA operates at the US Embassy in Honduras under Chief of Mission authority and it refused to provide the ambassador the information she required.

The situation was “exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.”

That’s the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

A subheading in the report says:

INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority

The report states that within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents this happened:

INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.

There’s more:

AS Brownfield also raised internal and external objections to DS involvement. Immediately following the Ambassador’s request for DS involvement, he e-mailed Deputy Administrator Harrigan and offered to push the investigation “back into the box.” Likewise, in the September 2012 meeting between DS, INL, and WHA, AS Brownfield minimized the failure of DEA to cooperate and ascribed partial blame to DS.

State/OIG notes the following:

DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information, supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents.

Excerpt via State/OIG and DOJ/OIG:

Operation Anvil began in April 2012 as a 90-day pilot program designed to disrupt drug transportation flights from South America to Honduras. Members of DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) and officers from a vetted unit of Honduran National Police known as the Tactical Response Team (TRT) comprised the ground team on the interdiction missions. The stated role of the FAST team members was to train and advise the TRT officers and assist them on these missions. State Department-owned helicopters provided transport and armed air support on the missions. The Honduran Air Force provided door gunners and, on certain missions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft provided detection and surveillance capabilities. In addition, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) provided operational support from the command center in Honduras.

May 11 incident:

DEA conducted internal shooting reviews regarding all three incidents. DEA initially decided not to review the May 11 incident because early reporting was that no DEA agent fired a weapon and because the Hondurans who fired were foreign law enforcement officers (LEOs). DEA changed its mind after a local Honduran police report asserted four people were killed (including two pregnant women) and four others were injured after a helicopter with DEA personnel confused cargo in a passenger boat for bales of drugs and opened fire…..No evidence of narcotics was ever found on the passenger boat.

June 23 incident:

Following this interdiction, DEA officials reported that during a search for suspected drug traffickers, FAST and TRT officers encountered an armed suspect who failed to drop his weapon after being ordered to comply and was shot and killed by a FAST agent. Similarly, State officials reported that a FAST agent shot and killed an armed suspect after the suspect attempted to draw a gun. However, the TRT report did not mention FAST’s use of deadly force and instead stated that multiple suspects fired at the TRT, and the TRT returned fire for a few minutes. According to FAST, this reported firefight did not happen.

July 3 incident:

TRT submitted two reports describing the July 3 events. The first made no mention of FAST’s use of deadly force and stated that the second pilot died from injuries sustained as a result of the plane crash. The second stated this pilot had aimed and fired a handgun at the officers, and the officers responded with deadly force. Both reports made reference to a 9mm handgun found at the scene, but FAST personnel told the OIGs they never saw a handgun at the scene. DEA officials told us they were advised that following the incident, a Honduran police officer planted a gun in evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the scene.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske authorized State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) to investigate the three incidents after she became frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA and concerned the Honduran investigation would not satisfy those interested in the May 11 incident. DEA refused to share information with DS or provide access to relevant personnel. DS continued its own investigations, and issued reports on all three incidents stating it was unable to make definitive or conclusive findings because of DEA’s refusal to provide access to evidence and what it described as shortcomings in the Honduran investigations.

  • Embassy officials told the OIGs that in the days after May 11, the U.S. Embassy tried to address questions raised about the possibility that innocent Hondurans had been killed in the operation. However, DEA Headquarters instructed DEA personnel not to provide information about the May 11 incident, and later the June 23 and July 3 incidents, to those outside DEA while DEA’s own internal reviews were in progress. Frustrated by her inability to obtain information from DEA, and by conflicting findings of the various Honduran investigations, Ambassador Kubiske approved DS investigations into all three shooting incidents. However, DEA refused to participate in joint investigations with DS, to make FAST members available to DS for interviews, or to share with DS the evidence DEA collected as part of its own investigations. Within State, INL was not supportive of the DS investigations and suggested as an alternative that DEA share its final report with State. DEA eventually agreed to provide a summary of its findings to the Ambassador and DS upon completion of its investigations.
  • DS nevertheless continued with its own investigations and issued reports on all three incidents. DS’s investigation of the May 11 incident included a review of the video footage by a DS video analyst who found no contrasts of light, which would be indicative of gunfire, originating from the passenger boat. However, DS was unable to make any “definitive findings” regarding the shooting because of DEA’s refusal to provide access to evidence. In addition, because INL did not allow DS access to evidence regarding the INL helicopters, the DS report did not address actions taken on the helicopters, such as whether there was an instruction to fire. DS also reached “inconclusive” findings on the June 23 and July 3 incidents, citing the lack of access to DEA evidence and shortcomings in the Honduran investigations.
  • The DOJ OIG concluded that DEA’s withholding of information from the U.S. Ambassador was inappropriate and unjustified. DEA’s presence in Honduras was at the pleasure and discretion of the Ambassador, and requesting and receiving information about the results of law enforcement operations involving American personnel, which the Ambassador herself personally authorized, was clearly within her supervisory responsibilities and authority as Chief of Mission.
  • DOJ OIG found that DEA’s obligations to DS were less clearly defined, and that this likely contributed to the dispute between DEA and DS over investigative jurisdiction. Although DEA told us that they resolved this dispute through an “agreement” with DS, this agreement appears to have been more of a unilateral expression of the limited terms to which DEA would agree, namely that DEA would provide a presentation and short, summary report to the Ambassador and the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer at the conclusion of the DEA internal review.
  • DOJ OIG also found that even though State officials pressured Honduras to conduct an investigation into the May 11 incident, DEA – with State’s concurrence – did not grant Honduran requests for information other than allowing them to watch the video, and specifically refused to provide DEA’s investigative report and the opportunity to question DEA personnel involved in the operation. DEA officials provided us with several reasons why DEA refused GOH access to DEA personnel, including the desire to insulate U.S. personnel from host nation jurisdiction and that multiple witness statements could harm U.S. judicial proceedings against Anvil drug traffickers. Even assuming the validity of these reasons, it was inconsistent for DEA and State to assert to congressional staff that GOH should investigate the May 11 incident but not give Honduran authorities the information necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.
  • DOJ OIG found that the lack of cooperation between DEA, State, and GOH during their respective investigations was closely related to the deficiencies in pre- operation planning for what would happen in the event of a critical incident. And even under DEA’s construct that each entity would investigate its own personnel, there was no mechanism for ensuring access to relevant information across the entities or for resolving or even identifying conflicting evidentiary or investigative gaps created by such a division of responsibility. The result was that no one did a comprehensive and thorough review of the May 11 incident.
  • It also was concerning that, in some instances, DEA officials described information favorable to DEA’s positions while omitting unfavorable information, such as video evidence of TRT officers shooting at people who had fallen or jumped into the water, the inconsistent TRT reporting and TRT gun-planting incident, and the results of a preliminary report from the Honduran National Police (described in Chapter Six) that made findings critical of law enforcement actions on May 11. DEA officials also did not disclose the existence or results of the video enhancement and analysis by the DS video analyst who found no evidence indicative of gunfire from the passenger boat. Moreover, DEA continued to inaccurately and incompletely characterize its role in Operation Anvil as being supportive and advisory only.
  • In addition, DEA officials told us that following the July 3 interdiction, a Honduran officer planted a gun into evidence and reported it as a weapon found at the shooting scene. Although the gun-planting report reached senior DEA officials, no steps were taken to address it other than ensuring that DEA did not rely heavily on TRT information to support any U.S. prosecutions.

State/OIG:

State OIG concluded that DEA failed to comply with the Chief of Mission authority granted to Ambassador Kubiske. Longstanding executive orders direct executive branch employees in a host country to comply with the direction of the Ambassador, who is the President’s personal representative to the host nation government. However, DEA repeatedly refused to comply with the Ambassador’s instructions to provide her and DS with information regarding the three incidents. This conflict was exacerbated by senior INL officials who told DS that DS had no authority to investigate the incidents and refused to provide the helicopter crews for DS to interview.

State OIG also found that State officials made inaccurate and incomplete statements to Congress and the public regarding Operation Anvil, including representations that it was a Honduran-led operation, which these officials knew to be inconsistent with how the operation actually proceeded. In addition, State officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, despite numerous questions about whether the United States would conduct an investigation of the deadly force incidents.

INL Failed to Comply with Chief of Mission Authority and Undermined the Ambassador’s Exercise of Her Authority

  • As a bureau within the Department of State, INL should understand the importance of Chief of Mission authority. However, INL senior officials repeatedly undermined Ambassador Kubiske’s authority and failed to cooperate with the investigations she authorized.
  • Within a day of the Ambassador authorizing DS to investigate the June and July shooting incidents, INL Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Perez began to raise objections to DS involvement. She communicated these objections to both DS and DEA officials, and although she told the OIGs that she did not intend to obstruct the investigation of the shooting incidents, INL’s support bolstered DEA’s unwillingness to cooperate.
  • Likewise, AS Brownfield also raised internal and external objections to DS involvement. Immediately following the Ambassador’s request for DS involvement, he e-mailed Deputy Administrator Harrigan and offered to push the investigation “back into the box.” Likewise, in the September 2012 meeting between DS, INL, and WHA, AS Brownfield minimized the failure of DEA to cooperate and ascribed partial blame to DS.
  • In addition, INL failed to comply with Chief of Mission authority by refusing to assist DS in its attempt to interview the helicopter crews. As noted in Chapter Ten, the SID agent requested to speak with the pilots and gunners, but INL denied this request. The request was forwarded up to the highest levels of INL, and AS Brownfield instructed his staff not to cooperate. Although he recognized that the request fell under the Chief of Mission authority, he instructed that INL was not to produce the crew for DS to interview. Senior DS and INL officials also discussed the request at a September 2012 meeting, but AS Brownfield remained opposed to providing DS access to the crews. In fact, INL was not even focused on the circumstances of the helicopter opening fire on the passenger boat, because they believed the helicopter fire was suppressive only and not intended as a use of deadly force.
  • The failure of DEA and INL to provide any cooperation with the investigation requested by the Ambassador resulted in the inability of the SID Agent to complete his investigations and develop conclusive findings regarding the three shooting incidents. DEA’s refusal to follow the Ambassador’s written request for information, supported by INL, not only violated their duties under the Foreign Service Act, but prevented a complete and comprehensive understanding of the three incidents. Ambassador Kubiske and other State officials had grave concerns over the methodology and findings of the various Honduran investigations, so she requested the DS investigation to better understand what could quickly become a diplomatic problem. However, her intentions were never realized because of the failure of DEA and INL to abide by Chief of Mission authority.

Statements to Congress

State briefers also never informed Congress of the DS investigations, despite numerous questions from the Senate Appropriations staff regarding whether State planned to investigate the shooting incidents. According to Wells, he was reluctant to inform the staff of the DS investigation and did not offer DS officials to brief the staff because Congress may have come to realize the conflict between DS and DEA. Therefore, Congress was never informed of the investigative work performed by DS, including the video analysis, which seemed to challenge DEA’s previous statements to Congress that the passenger boat had fired upon the pipante.

Statements to the Public

  • On several occasions, State officials prepared press guidance to be used to discuss Operation Anvil and the shooting incidents with media and public audiences. However, these talking points contained information that was not accurate. For example, INL and WHA officials prepared press guidance immediately after the May 11 incident that repeatedly referred to DEA acting only in a “supporting” and “advisory” role with the “highly trained” Honduran law enforcement officers in the lead. These statements were repeated by State’s spokesperson in the daily press briefing on May 17, 2012. Similarly, Embassy officials prepared talking points for the Ambassador’s interview with the Associated Press on May 25, 2012 that stated that the DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.” As noted above, both INL and WHA officials were aware of the limitations of the TRT and that they were not capable of leading such operations.
  • After the July 3 shooting, WHA and INL officials developed press guidance that did acknowledge that DEA agents “were involved with the shooting,” but stated that “both suspects were given first aid and transported via helicopter to a secure location.” This guidance was repeated verbatim by State’s spokesperson during the daily press briefing on July 9, 2012.  As noted in Chapter Eight, this statement was inaccurate. All three FAST medics told the OIGs that the pilot was already dead when they first assessed him at the scene and that they focused their attention to the other pilot who had significant injuries from the crash. This questionable statement may have originated from the INL Senior Aviation Advisor or the Delta Team Leader, and the INL and WHA officials who drafted and approved the press guidance may not have realized it was incorrect, although the Embassy had received a report from the TRT officer dated July 3, 2012 which stated that the pilot “died instantly.”
  • State officials failed on numerous occasions to provide accurate information to Congress and the public regarding Operation Anvil and the three shooting incidents. In an effort to avoid highlighting DEA’s failure to cooperate with the DS investigation, State officials never informed Congress of the DS investigation, including the video analysis, which could have contradicted prior DEA assertions. These incomplete and inaccurate statements have contributed to the continued uncertainty regarding what actually occurred during the three shooting incidents.

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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
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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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US Embassy Pakistan: Local Employee Iqbal Baig Killed in Islamabad

Posted: 2:47 pm EDT
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A local employee of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan was reportedly killed by unidentified gunmen in the capital city of Islamabad.  The victim was identified as Iqbal Baig who worked for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reportedly for about a dozen years. The AFP citing the victim’s brother reports that the victim had received threats in the recent past.

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Related posts:

 

 

Arms Traffickers Extradited for Conspiring to Kill U.S. Officials in Colombia and Providing Support to the FARC

Posted: 00:37 EST
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The Justice Department announced on February 26, the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro and were arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams last week.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro yesterday and will be arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams later today.

“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “It is further alleged that they conspired to sell the weaponry with the understanding that it would be used to shoot down American aircraft and kill American officers.  We once again laud the efforts of the DEA to stem the flow of lethal weapons that could be aimed at U.S. officers and to deter weapons traffickers who mean harm to the United States.”

According to the Indictment, which was unsealed in December 2014:

Since at least May 2014, Vintila has been a Romania-based weapons trafficker, Romagnoli has been a Europe-based weapons trafficker, who is able to procure fraudulent end-user certificates (EUCs) for military-grade weaponry, and Georgescu has been a Romania-based weapons broker.  Between May and October 2014, Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by FARC against the United States.  During a series of recorded telephone calls and in-person meetings, Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA (the CSs), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC.  Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to provide these weapons to the CSs with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill officers and employees of the United States and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes.  Romagnoli further agreed to provide fraudulent EUCs in order to make the illegal sale of weapons look legitimate.

During their recorded meetings, Vintila and Romagnoli provided the CSs with catalogues of military-grade weapons they were prepared to provide the FARC.  Vintila gave the CSs a catalogue of weapons that included pistols, machine guns and other high-powered weaponry, and Romagnoli showed the CSs a catalogue that included automatic weapons and shoulder-fired rocket launchers.  Romagnoli additionally showed one of the CSs a sample fraudulent EUC.  Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu also discussed the logistics of receiving payment for the weapons from the CSs and delivering the weapons to the FARC.

The indictment charges Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu, with two separate terrorism offenses:

Count one charges all three defendants with conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees.  If convicted of count one, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Count two charges all three defendants with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the FARC.  If convicted of count two, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

The allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Read the full announcement here.

 

 

Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

— Domani Spero
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In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[…]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
[…]
According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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US Embassy Colombia: DEA Employee/Spouse Plead Guilty to False Statements in Kidnapping Hoax

— Domani Spero
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Via USDOJ:

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto, both 44, of Haymarket, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials in federal court on Friday, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director for International Operations John Boles of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2013, Perez, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and her husband Soto, a private contractor in the United States Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, designed and executed a hoax with the intention of defrauding the United States Embassy in Bogotá.   As part of the hoax, Perez and Soto fabricated a plot to kidnap minors who are United States citizens.

According to court filings, Perez and Soto sent, through electronic mail and courier services, information about a purported threat to the safety of minor United States citizens in Bogotá.   Perez and Soto added detailed descriptions of the targeted United States citizens, including information about their whereabouts and daily routines.   Perez and Soto included photographs of the citizens in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat, and attempted to implicate innocent individuals in the kidnapping plot.   Perez and Soto made numerous false representations to law enforcement and security officials in furtherance of the fabricated kidnapping plot.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman-Jackson is scheduled for Aug. 21, 2014.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Legal Attaché in Bogotá and the Extra-Territorial Squad of the FBI Miami Field Office.   Also participating in the investigation were the DEA, the U.S. Embassy Bogota Regional Security Office, and the U.S. Embassy Bogota Force Protection Detail.   The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Colombia National Police Directorate of Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion.

On the Factual Basis for Plea, the government provides the following details:

  • On December 14, 2013, PEREZ and SOTO caused an e-mail to be sent to the American Citizen Services section of the United States Embassy, which described a plan by unnamed individuals to kidnap SOTO’s minor children, who are United States citizens. The e-mail included photos of the minor children engaged in various everyday activities in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat. In furtherance of the hoax, PEREZ and SOTO also mailed a package to the United States Embassy. The package contained a written description of the threat and additional photos of the children, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the threat.
  • PEREZ met with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) on December 17, 2013 to discuss the kidnapping threat. PEREZ lied to the FBI as to her knowledge of the purported kidnapping plot, stating that the only person she could think of who was capable of creating a kidnapping plot was her family’s doorman, Heder Vargas. PEREZ falsely represented that she and SOTO, as well as SOTO’s minor children, were potential targets of the purported kidnapping plot, although she knew the kidnapping plot was in fact a hoax. During the December 17, 2013 meeting, PEREZ did not inform the FBI that she knew there existed no actual threat to herself, SOTO, or SOTO’s children.

 

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colobia Photo via state.gov

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia
Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

We really don’t get this.  The intention was to defraud the U.S. Embassy in Bogota? How were they doing to do that? Since the U.S. Government cannot participate in developing and implementing a ransom strategy in kidnappings, it follows that ACS Sections do not have hidden money in their vaults.  In any case, whatever was the plan, it didn’t work.

Which made us dig up this section of the FAMeven overseas, kidnapping of U.S. citizens are federal crimes for which the FBI has authority to investigate under the U.S. Criminal Code. And certainly, kidnapping threats against a mission employee/family would be handled beyond the Consular Section.

According to court filings, Count One, Making a Materially False Representation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2) (a Class D Felony) carries a maximum sentence of five (5) years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and a $100 special assessment, a three (3) year term of supervised release, an order of restitution, and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines or restitution not timely made.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8/21/2014 at 10:00 AM in Courtroom 3 before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The case is USA v. PEREZ, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00086-AK and USA v. SOTO, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00087-AK.

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Bolivian President Expels USAID For Alleged “Political Interference”

WaPo reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales acted on a longtime threat Wednesday and expelled USAID for allegedly “seeking to undermine Bolivia’s leftist government.” He also harangued Secretary Kerry for calling the Western Hemisphere the United States’s  “backyard.”  Bolivia’s ABI state news agency said USAID was “accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations.”

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

Screen Capture of USAID/Bolivia

USAID Bolivia has put out a fact sheet says in part, “The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.”

The USAID fact sheet also indicates that in the last 50 years, USAID has spent nearly $2 billion in Bolivia on education, health, agriculture, food security, alternative development, economic development, and environment programs.  USAID’s budget for Bolivia in FY2011 was $26.7 million from a high of over $72 million in 2008 before U.S.-Bolivia relations soured.

The most recent OIG report we could locate is dated 2008.  At that time, USAID Bolivia had 16 American direct hire employees and 116 foreign national staff and a total funding for FY 2008 of $72,135,552.

President Morales expelled DEA agents from Bolivia in 2008 for alleged conspiracy.  On September 10, 2008, the Bolivian Government also expelled Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, after declaring him Persona Non Grata.   It is not clear if a reduction in staffing followed the reduction of funds for Bolivia in the years following the double expulsion in 2008.

Update on 5/3/13: According to the State Dept:   There are 9 Americans and 37 Foreign Service Nationals (Bolivians) working at USAID/Bolivia.  After the May 1 announcement by President Morales, the Bolivian Foreign Minister called the Embassy to officially inform us of the decision to expel USAID and said USAID would be given a “reasonable” amount of time to end operations. The Embassy has not received a diplomatic note and no further details regarding a timeline were given.

This is not the first time the Bolivian president got upset over remarks made in Washington, of course.  David Greenlee who was Ambassador to Bolivia in 2003-2006 spoke briefly about this as part of the ADST Oral History (Ambassador Greenlee was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2007.  See here — http://www.adst.org/Readers/Bolivia.pdf):

On the political side, our relations quickly deteriorated. Morales couldn’t stop attacking us. Partly, I am sure, it was his personal resentment, still occasionally stoked by intemperate remarks from Washington. The problem there was not the State Department. But off-hand comments, here and there, would give him something to work with. Once Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, for example, said something sneering about Morales on a visit to Paraguay. It played to Morales’ hand, not ours.

Morales looked for anything he could use to demonstrate to his base that we were the enemy and he was “bending our arm.” Once some guy from the U.S. came into Bolivia and allegedly, I have to be careful about my language, blew up a couple of buildings, or parts of buildings. There were deaths and injuries. Morales accused the U.S. of sending him to terrorize the country. The reality was that the guy had been arrested in Argentina for blowing up an ATM machine, and then obtained a Bolivian visa on the border with Bolivia, entered the country, and went on to get a license from the police to sell dynamite. I went over this with Morales, and he even thanked me, and thanked me publicly, for the “clarification.” But within a week he was back with his accusations. “Why is the U.S. always sending us terrorists?” he would say. Morales lives in a parallel universe.

And here is what Ambassador Greenlee said about bilateral assistance back in 2007:

 Relations had always been good, but very asymmetrical. The U.S. was the biggest bilateral assistance donor. Until Evo Morales was elected president at the end of 2005, the U.S. was always courted, paid deference to, because of that. But our presence was overwhelming. We were too big, the way we did things, was too big for the bilateral relationship. It was bad for Bolivia, and it was bad for us. The Bolivians were in the habit, the bad habit, of being supplicants, and we were in the position, the frankly arrogant position, of doling out assistance. The Bolivians wanted help without conditionality, while we needed to know that our aid wasn’t being squandered, that it was going to something that had a developmental purpose or an anti- drug purpose. The Bolivians resented the emphasis on drugs. They saw the cocaine trade as a U.S. problem, but it was increasingly, even on the consumption side, a Bolivian problem in equal measure.

If you want to read more, click here to see the ADST Bolivia Reader.(pdf)

–DS