U.S. Navy Vet Sean P. Lawler to Move From NSC to @StateDept to be Chief of Protocol

Posted: 12:51 am ET
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On September 9, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Sean P. Lawler to be Chief of Protocol. The WH released the following bio:

Sean P. Lawler of Maryland to be Chief of Protocol and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service. Mr. Lawler is the Director for Visits, Planning, and Diplomatic Affairs at the National Security Council. Prior to that, Mr. Lawler was the Chief, Office of Visits and Protocol at the U.S. Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Maryland. A veteran with more than 20 years of service in the U.S Navy, Mr. Lawler capped his military service as the Director of Administration at the Naval Support Facility Thurmont (Camp David) in Thurmont, Maryland. Earlier, he was the Administrative Department Leading Chief Petty Officer and Ship’s Secretary on the USS John C. Stennis and he was an Executive Assistant to the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

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Former U.S. Naval Attaché to US Embassy Manila Michael Brooks Sentenced in Navy Scandal

Posted: 2:35 am ET
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On June 16, 2017, USDOJ announced that a former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines was sentenced for taking bribes in a massive U.S. Navy corruption scandal.

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Posted: 11:02 am  EDT
Updated: 5:23 pm EDT
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Today, Secretary Kerry tweeted this:

I am pleased to welcome John Kirby as our new State Department Spokesperson. I first got to know John’s work several years ago, when I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he was spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Information for the Navy. John was known as the Navy’s indispensable utility player – it didn’t matter whether he was serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, or aboard multiple Navy vessels – name the challenge – at every stage of his career, including in his most recent assignment as the Pentagon’s top spokesman, John has stood out for his impeccable judgment, collegiality, and character. And he understands the media – absolutely. John has always – intuitively, instinctively – gravitated toward diplomacy, and I know that he is looking forward to that focus as he retires from the Navy and moves into civilian life. All of this makes him the perfect person to help tell America’s story to the world.

I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, who stepped in seamlessly as Acting Spokesperson over the past few months. Marie has made a contribution to every important thing I’ve done as Secretary and plays a particularly important role in leading the communications strategy for our Iran negotiations.

I am privileged to work with a remarkable team and grateful to each of them for their contributions.

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New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer

— Domani Spero
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Today via CNN’s Barbara Starr:

At the May 27 Daily Press Briefing, the State Department spox was asked about the warship that’s headed towards the coast of Libya.  Here is the official word:

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, I believe, announced that a week or two ago, and that was a step that was taken to be prepared to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in U.S. installations in North Africa, so that’s been in place. It’s a step we’ve taken in the past. But the reasoning – that was the reasoning for doing that.

Asked about an “ordered departure” for Embassy Tripoli, Ms. Psaki said  the State Department “continue to review the situation and address Embassy security needs.” She did not make any new announcement concerning the evacuation of personnel except to say that  “any changes to staffing at any post would be announced through a travel warning.”

On May 27, the State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Libya recommending that U.S. citizens in the country “depart immediately.” The new warning made no mention of the possible reduction of staff or evacuation of personnel:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately. Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on December 12, 2013.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Read in full here.

News report says that USS Bataan has a thousand Marines on board.  The USS Bataan (LHD 5) is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit which deployed  on Feb. 8, 2014 from the Naval Station in Norfolk,Virginia  for an eight-month assignment in the U.S Navy’s 5th and 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

According to the U.S. Navy, the USS Bataan has a complement of 104 officers, 1,004 enlisted personnel and a Marine Force of 1,894 (plus 184 surge).  It has the following aircraft: twelve CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopters, four CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters, six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft, three UH-1N Huey helicopters, four AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and a planned capability to embark MV-22 Osprey VTOL tilt-rotors.

The USS Bataan was most recently in Jordan to participate in Exercise Eager Lion 2014a 12-day annual military exercise involving 8,000 personnel from 19 countries.

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

The USS Bataan (LHD-5) prepares to dock at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in the Port of Aqaba in Jordan to participate in training scenarios with regional partners during Exercise Eager Lion 2014, May 23. Exercise Eager Lion is a recurring, multi-national exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance regional security and stability by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. James A. Hall/Released)

USS Bataan2

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Michael Gable, of Peachtree City, Ga., directs an CH-53E Super Stallion onto the flight deck aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) during exercise Eager Lion 2014 in preparation for training with multinational partners to demonstrate interoperability. The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in exercise Eager Lion 2014, which is a multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and enhance security and stability in the region by responding to modern-day security scenarios. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark Hays)

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa staff members watch an AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), land aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5). The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caleb McDonald/Released)

The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) was previously on Libya duty in the Med in 2011.  In April 2014, the Marines and Navy sailors of the 22nd MEU and the Bataan marked the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Bataan Death March for which the USS Bataan (LHD 5) was named.  The March was the forced transfer of 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war by the Imperial Japanese Army, following the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. The ship is on Facebook, and while not prolific, it tweets @LHD5.

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US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

– Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[…]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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