Posted: 12:23 am ET
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In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag outside every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. However, you were not. This embassy was a sham.
It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law. The “consular officers” were Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch.
For about a decade it operated unhindered; the criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way, as well as obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored.
This past summer the assistant regional security officer investigator (ARSO-I) at the real U.S. Embassy in Accra, in cooperation with the Ghana Police Force, Ghana Detectives Bureau, and other international partners, shut down this fake embassy.
This investigation is a small part of the broader “Operation Spartan Vanguard” initiative. “Operation Spartan Vanguard” was developed by Diplomatic Security agents in the Regional Security Office (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Ghana in order to address trafficking and fraud plaguing the U.S. Embassy and the region.
During the course of another fraud investigation in “Operation Spartan Vanguard” an informant tipped off the ARSO-I about the fake U.S. embassy, as well as a fake Netherlands embassy operating in Accra.
After receiving the tip, the ARSO-I, who is the point person in the RSO shop for “Operation Spartan Vanguard” investigations, verified the information with partners within the Ghanaian Police Force. The ARSO-I then created an international task force composed of the aforementioned Ghana Police Force, as well as the Ghana Detective Bureau, Ghana SWAT, and officials from the Canadian Embassy to investigate further.
The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations. The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players.
The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Some of the services the embassy provided for these customers included issuance of fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000.
Read in full here: http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/263916.htm.
— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso. The messages are dated but typically do not carry a timestamp:
On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore announced in a televised address that he will continue dialogue to form a transitional government after which he will transfer power to a democratically elected president. He reiterated the message that the government is dissolved and announced that the state of martial law is lifted in all of Burkina Faso.
However, there is currently a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew nationwide.
The city of Ouagadougou currently appears to be calm, however protesters continue to gather at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, and at the Place Tiefo Amoro (Station Square) in Bobo-Dioulasso. Crowds and spontaneous protests may also form elsewhere.
Embassy staff continues to shelter in place until further notice. We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same and to make movements for essential purposes only.
At this time we do not know if civilians have access to the Ouagadougou International Airport. We are monitoring the situation but it is unclear whether flights continue to operate.
Meanwhile, today, Burkina Faso said bye-bye Blaise:
— Pedro da Costa (@pdacosta) October 31, 2014
Enter armed forces chief General Honore Traore:
The people celebrates:
— AJE News (@AJENews) October 31, 2014
Former-Prez to Ghana?
Meet the new boss:
Meet the new boss in Burkina Faso. Any better than the old boss? http://t.co/XHBzHwTP4c
— Patrick J. Lyons (@patlyonsnyt) October 31, 2014
Except for the Emergency Message from Embassy Ouagadougou, there is no Travel Warning or Alert issued on Burkina Faso as of this writing. The latest State Department statement is dated October 30, and obviously had been overtaken by events.
The United States welcomes President Compaore’s decision to withdraw a National Assembly bill which would have amended the constitution and allowed him to run for an additional term of office. We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor. We look forward to that transition taking place in 2015. We regret the violence and the loss of life today in Burkina Faso, and call on all parties to avoid further violence. We underscore our commitment to peaceful transitions of power through democratic elections and emphasize neither side should attempt to change the situation through extra-constitutional means.
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— Domani Spero
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On October 25, WaPo reported that the governors of New York Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered on Friday the imposition of a mandatory 21-day quarantine for medical workers returning from the countries hit hardest by the ebola epidemic. Illinois later in the day imposed similar restrictions. Today, NYT reported that the Obama administration has expressed deep concerns to the governors and is consulting with them to modify their orders to quarantine medical volunteers returning from West Africa.
Ebola CRS report via Secrecy News (pdf):
On August 8th, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The recent arrival in the United States of several health care workers who contracted the disease, combined with the first diagnosis of a case in the U.S. at a hospital in Dallas, has sparked discussion about the appropriate government response. Aside from the various policy considerations at issue, the outbreak has generated several legal questions about the federal government’s authority to restrict specific passengers’ travel and/or contain the outbreak of an infectious disease. These questions include, inter alia, whether the federal government may: (1) restrict which countries U.S. nationals may travel to in the event of a public health crisis; (2) bar the entry into the United States of people who may have been infected by a disease; and (3) impose isolation or quarantine measures in order to control infectious diseases.
Passport restrictions on which countries U.S. citizens may visit can be imposed by the Secretary of State. Pursuant to the Passport Act, the Secretary of State may “grant and issue passports” according to rules designated by the President, and may impose restrictions on the use of passports to travel to countries “where there is imminent danger to the public health or the physical safety of United States travellers” (sic). The Supreme Court has recognized that the authority to “grant and issue” passports includes the power to impose “area restrictions” – limits on travel to specific countries (restrictions must comply with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution). Although passport restrictions are not criminally enforceable, they may prevent travelers from boarding a flight to a restricted area.
Restrictions may also be imposed on who may enter the United States, though the range of applicable restrictions may differ depending upon whether a person seeking entry into the country is a U.S. national. The government enjoys authority under federal immigration law to bar the entry of a foreign national on specific health-related grounds, including when a particular foreign national is determined to have a “communicable disease of public health significance.” More broadly, section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the President, pursuant to proclamation, to direct the denial of entry to any alien or class of aliens whose entry into the country “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
These restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens, who may enjoy a constitutional right to reenter the country. Nonetheless, certain travel restrictions may impede the ability of any person – regardless of citizenship – from traveling to the United States in a manner that potentially exposes others to a communicable disease. For example, airlines flying to the U.S. are permitted under Department of Transportation regulations to refuse transportation to passengers with infectious diseases who have been determined to pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. In making this determination, airlines may rely on directives from the CDC and other government agencies. Pilots of flights to the United States are also required to report certain illnesses they encounter during flight before arrival into the U.S.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain a public health “Do Not Board” (DNB) list, which contains the names of people who are likely to be contagious with a communicable disease, may not adhere to public health recommendations, and are likely to board an aircraft. Airlines are not permitted to issue a boarding pass to people on the DNB list for flights departing from or arriving into the United States. People placed on the DNB list are also “assigned a public health lookout record,” which will alert Customs and Border Protection officers in the event the person attempts to enter the country through a port of entry. The CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) can conduct exit screening at foreign airports to identify travelers with communicable diseases and alert the relevant local authorities.
Finally, both federal and state governments have authority to impose isolation and quarantine measures to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. While the terms are often used interchangeably, quarantine and isolation are actually two distinct concepts. Quarantine typically refers to separating or restricting the movement of individuals who have been exposed to a contagious disease but are not yet sick. Isolation refers to separating infected individuals from those who are not sick. Historically, the primary authority for quarantine and isolation exists at the state level as an exercise of the state’s police power in accordance with its particular laws and policies.
However, the CDC is also authorized to take measures “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession.” In order to do so, the implementing regulations “authorize the detention, isolation, quarantine, or conditional release of individuals.” This authority is limited to diseases identified by an Executive Order of the President, a list which currently includes Ebola. Whether an isolation or quarantine order originates with the federal or state government, such orders will presumably be subject to habeas corpus challenges, and must also comport with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.
View the original CRS Legal Sidebar here (pdf) includes active links.
And that legal challenge may soon be upon us. On October 26, Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, went on CNN on Sunday and criticized the “knee-jerk reaction by politicians” to Ebola. According to CNN, Hickox, an epidemiologist who was working to help treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has tested negative twice for Ebola and does not have symptoms. Norman Siegel, Hickox’s attorney, and a former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told CNN that he will be filing papers in court for Hickox to have a hearing no later than five days from the start of her confinement. Siegel told CNN that Hickox’s quarantine is based on fear.
[T]he following communicable diseases are hereby specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act:
(a) Cholera; Diphtheria; infectious Tuberculosis; Plague; Smallpox; Yellow Fever; and Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Crimean-Congo, South American, and others not yet isolated or named).
July 31, 2014 Update
“(b) Severe acute respiratory syndromes, which are diseases that are associated with fever and signs and symptoms of pneumonia or other respiratory illness, are capable of being transmitted from person to person, and that either are causing, or have the potential to cause, a pandemic, or, upon infection, are highly likely to cause mortality or serious morbidity if not properly controlled. This subsection does not apply to influenza.”
A side note, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power is currently traveling to the countries in West Africa hardest hit with the ebola outbreak:
— US Embassy Ghana (@USEmbassyGhana) October 26, 2014
Landed in Guinea. Here to see how world is responding to #Ebola outbreak. 1st country in current outbreak, 1st stop on my trip to W. Africa.
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) October 26, 2014
Now, since Ambassador Power is not a medical worker, she probably will not be subjected to the NJ/NY mandatory quarantine when she gets back. However, on October 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that public health authorities will begin active post-arrival monitoring of travelers whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. Active post-arrival monitoring, according to the CDC means that travelers without febrile illness or symptoms consistent with Ebola will be followed up daily by state and local health departments for 21 days from the date of their departure from West Africa. Except that Ambassador Power’s return trip will not be originating from West Africa but from Belgium, the last stop on this West Africa-Europe trip before returning to the U.S.
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— Domani Spero
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— Israel Laryea (@Izraella) July 18, 2014
Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page, where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet. One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”
SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”
Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:
“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”
According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”
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- Demo Against US Embassy In Accra (spyghana.com)
- Accra: US Embassy Welcomes Chris Brown To Ghana (glitzghana.com)
- Ghanaians ask for asylum in Brazil (bbc.co.uk)
- Reports: Hundreds of Ghanaian fans seeking asylum in Brazil (prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com)
- US, Ghana Conclude Talks on $500million Compact for Energy Sector (atlantablackstar.com)
- Partnering Ghana To Investigate Market Fires Shows Deep Alliance (modernghana.com)
- Ghanaians Staging Protest at Washington DC Against Bad Governance (newsrescue.com)
On April 11, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Gene A. Cretz as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana. The WH released the following brief bio:
Ambassador Gene A. Cretz, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-
Counselor, is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. In 2008, Ambassador Cretz served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. From 2004 to 2007, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. From 2003 to 2004, he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires. From 2001 to 2003, he was Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt. Other overseas assignments include service in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad. Assignments in Washington include State Department posts in the Bureau of International Organizations, the Operations Center, and in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. From 1975 to 1977, Ambassador Cretz served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Afghanistan.
He received a B.A. from the University of Rochester and a M.Sc. from the State University College at Buffalo.
If confirmed, Ambassador Cretz would succeed career diplomat, Donald Teitelbaum who was appointed to the US Embassy in Accra by President Bush on May 5, 2008. He was in the news recently when he spoke with Margaret Brennan on Bloomberg’s Television’s “InBusiness” discussing the northwest African nation’s government and U.S. business opportunities there. Click here to see the video.
- US Embassy Libya Reopens With Ambassador Cretz
- Modest Diplomatic Footprint Returns to Tripoli Without Ambassador Cretz
- State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel
- Wiki-Weapons of Mass Distraction Fallout: the Firing Squad is Lining Up Here and There …