US Embassy Caracas Updates Staff Policy Due to “Recent Kidnapping of Embassy Personnel”

Posted: 3:06 am ET
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On September 25, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a Security Message updating its policy on embassy staff and family members’ movements in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas informs all U.S. citizens in Venezuela that the policy regarding the movements of U.S. citizen diplomats and their family members in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela has been updated.  As always, the Embassy encourages all U.S. citizens living in and traveling through Venezuela to remain vigilant at all times and to practice good personal security.

Effective immediately, Calle A (through La Alameda neighborhood, the intersection of Calle B/Calle A to the Centro Commercial Santa Fe)is ano travel zonefrom “dusk to dawn” daily for all diplomatic personnel until further notice.

Travel in groups is highly recommended.  Travel outside the Embassy’s housing area by U.S. diplomats between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. must be conducted in armored vehicles or in groups utilizing at least two vehicles.  Group travel may be conducted with unarmored vehicles.

This decision was made due to increased concerns surrounding the recent kidnapping of Embassy personnel traveling in a diplomatic-plated vehicle on this road and other incidents.  This policy is subject to review in 30 days.

Makes one wonder if these kidnappings are now specifically targeted against embassy personnel.

Diplomatic Security’s Venezuela 2017 Crime & Safety Report issued in back in February is excerpted below:

Venezuela remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with increasing violence and criminal activity in 2016, at times reaching unprecedented levels. The government of Venezuela often attempts to refute claims of increasing crime and murder rates; however, their claims are widely rejected by independent observers. Official crime figures are not released by government officials, but unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased in 2016, despite unprecedented levels in 2015. The majority of Caracas’ crime and violence remains attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. Caracas is notorious for the brazenness of high-profile violent crimes (murder, robbery, kidnapping) committed in neighborhoods across the city, at all hours.
[…]
U.S. Embassy locally employed staff often report being victims of armed robberies and carjacking. There is no indication that American citizens or U.S. Embassy-affiliated personnel are specifically targeted for crime because of their nationality or official status.

Read the full report here.

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Three American Contractors Kidnapped in Iraq Tell Their Story

Posted: 1:54 am ET
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Remember the Americans reported missing in Iraq early this year? (see US Embassy Baghdad: “Several” Americans Missing in Iraq).  It turns out there were three American contractors who went missing: Waiel El-Maadawy, an Army veteran and former Florida sheriff’s deputy,  his cousin, Amr Mohamed, of Bullhead City, Arizona, and Russell Frost, of Wichita, Kansas.

McClatchyDC has their story:

[T]he men were released to Iraqi middlemen who took them to the Green Zone, the government complex where the U.S. Embassy is housed. That day, Feb. 16, was the last the Americans saw of Abu Marina, the Iraqi held captive with them. Attempts to reach him via his Facebook account failed; his whereabouts are unknown.

Coverage of the kidnapping is a case study in the unreliability of newsgathering in Baghdad, where fear and sectarian agendas shape how incidents are reported, especially given the difficulties of Western journalists to move freely around the city.

Every news organization that covered the case reported inaccurate information, typically focusing on the brothel angle based on the accounts of unnamed “Iraqi security officials.” Virtually everything else in the reports was wrong, too: the men’s names, nationalities, genders, employer and time of capture.

Read more below:

 

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Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT
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WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of  four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007.  In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors.  In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.

Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):

Summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.

Opinion:

This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).

The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

Background:

In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.

The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.

Circuit Judge Reinhardt:

The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer

Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

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Fictional Girl Almost Cause Massive School Brawl, Later Reported Kidnapped for $50K Ransom to US Embassy

— By Domani Spero

 

In late August, 18-year old Andriy Mykhaylivskyy (on Twitter as @AndriyHaddad and in IMDB) was arrested and charged by federal complaint with making false statements to a United States official. He allegedly used the internet and social media to create a fictitious high school girl, used that fake identity to establish an online relationship with another person and then falsely reported the girl’s kidnapping to the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova.  The other individual allegedly used by Mykhaylivskyy reported the same kidnapping to the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Presumably, the two kidnapping reports sent not just two embassy duty officers but also Regional Security Officers and host country officials on a wild goose chase for a fictitious person allegedly created by Mykhaylivskyy on Facebook using photographs of an actual high school student taken from an unsecured Facebook page without her knowledge or permission.

NorthJersey.com reported in August that last year at a different high school, Mykhaylivskyy lured another student into a six-month online relationship with a girl named Chantel Caparelli which did not result well for the student. In April, more than two dozen boys and young men from Weehawken and Rutherford were also threatening to meet for a massive brawl over a girl.  A mother quoted in the report says, “Nobody knew at the time that this girl Kate wasn’t real, so they were all fighting over her.”  Read more in  Alleged ‘Catfish’ scheme spurred anger, threats of violence at Rutherford High School. And this:  Federal agents arrest Rutherford man, 18, in Bulgarian kidnap hoax.

According to NYDaily News, Mr. Mykhaylivskyy was ordered held in lieu of $5,000 bail after he was arraigned in federal court. A judge also ordered that the teen continue school, but can only be allowed to use the Internet for educational purposes.

 

Via USDOJ:  N.J. Man Arrested for Making False Report of Kidnapping of Online “Teenage Girl” to U.S. Embassy

NEWARK, N.J. – A Bergen County, N.J., man who allegedly used the internet and social media to create a fictitious high school girl, used that fake identity to establish an online relationship with another person and then falsely reported the girl’s kidnapping to a U.S. Embassy was arrested today by federal officials, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Andriy Mykhaylivskyy, a/k/a/ “Andriy Haddad,” 18, of Rutherford, N.J., was arrested this morning and charged by complaint with making false statements to a United States official. He is scheduled to make his initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion in Newark federal court.

According to the complaint:

In late August 2012, Mykhaylivskyy, allegedly posing as Kate Brianna Fulton, began an online relationship with a high school classmate identified in court papers as “Individual One.” Law enforcement investigation determined Kate Fulton was a fictitious person created by Mykhaylivskyy on Facebook using photographs of an actual high school student taken from an unsecured Facebook page without her knowledge or permission.

On July 2, 2013, Mykhaylivskyy, using an alias, called the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova, and reported that his girlfriend, “Kate Fulton,” a United States citizen, had been kidnapped in Bulgaria on June 28, 2013. The online relationship continued until Kate’s alleged kidnapping, with Mykhaylivskyy maintaining the relationship online and via text messaging.

Mykhaylivskyy independently befriended Individual One, claimed to know Kate Fulton, and confirmed details regarding Kate Fulton.

On July 8, 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, received a telephone call from Individual One seeking assistance regarding the kidnapping of Kate Brianna Fulton, whom Individual One reported was kidnapped while she was vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria. Individual One provided the Embassy with tweets that Individual One received on June 29, 2013, a day after the purported kidnapping, from Kate Brianna Fulton’s Twitter account. One tweet was of a number that Individual One believed to be Kate’s local Bulgarian cell phone and the other read, “Someone help me.”

After receiving the second report of the kidnapping, federal agents from the U.S. Embassy Sofia, Bulgaria, Regional Security Office and the headquarters of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Northern Virginia engaged in an extensive investigation to locate Kate Brianna Fulton and also received assistance from Bulgarian law enforcement. Bulgarian police combed hotels, hostels and other lodgings in Burgas seeking information on the missing girl and the Bulgarian border police searched incoming passenger records.

This law enforcement investigation revealed that Kate Brianna Fulton was a fictitious person created by Mykhaylivskyy, and that the high school student whose pictures were used without her permission was safe and in the United States.

The count of making false statements with which Mykhaylivskyy is charged is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Embassy Sofia, the DSS Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations, the DSS New York Field Office and the New York and Newark Joint Terrorism Task Forces, for the investigation leading to today’s arrest.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara F. Merin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office General Crimes Unit in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Mykhaylivskyy Complaint

Coming soon to a teevee-movie near you.

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