• Archive of "Yemen" Category

    Why Evacuating an Embassy is a Political Act

    February 19, 2015 // 14 Comments »

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    The American Embassy in Yemen is closed and the American staff evacuated. Houthi officials say the evacuation was unnecessary and claim it is largely a political act seeking to undermine their legitimacy. Is closing an embassy a political act? What happens when an embassy is evacuated? What happens to private Americans in-country?



    A Political Signal

    The decision to close an embassy rises to the Secretary of State for approval. An embassy evacuation really is a virtual chess match that some State Department critics say is as much about political signals as it is about the safety of America’s diplomats. In cases where the United States wants to support the host government, an embassy closure cuts off most interaction and will eliminate on-the-ground reporting. An evacuation can trigger the fall of the host government based on the perceived loss of American confidence, or may encourage rebels to attack private American citizens seen as less-protected. In that one point of having an embassy at all is symbolism, closure is without a doubt a political act. Reopening the embassy brings up all those factors in reverse.



    How Do You Close an Embassy?

    The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process, with only the time line varying.

    All embassies have standing evacuation procedures, called the Emergency Action Plan, that are updated regularly. A key component is the highly-classified “trip wires,” designated decision points. If the rebels advance past the river, take steps A-C. If the host government military is deserting, implement steps D-E, and so forth.

    Early actions include moving embassy dependents out of the country via commercial flights. Incoming staff can be held in Washington and existing tours cut short. Non-essential official personnel (for example, the trade attache, who won’t be doing much business in the midst of coup) are flown out. Some sort of public advisory must be issued by the State Department to private American citizens under the “No Double Standard” rule. This grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight, where inside threat info was made available to embassy families but kept from the general public.

    These embassy draw-down steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.

    The next steps typically involve the destruction of classified materials. The flood of sensitive documents taken from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 remains a sore point inside State even today. Classified materials include mountains of paper that need to be shredded, pulped or burnt, as well as electronics, weapons, encryption gear and hard drives that must be physically destroyed. Embassies estimate how many linear feet of classified paper they have on hand and the destruction process begins in time (one hopes) to destroy it all.



    Send in the Marines

    Somewhere in the midst of all this, the Marines come into the picture. Embassies are guarded only by a small, lightly armed detachment of Marines. As part of their standard Special Operation Capable (SOC) designation, larger Marine units train with their SEAL components for the reinforcement and evacuation of embassies. They maintain libraries of overhead imagery and blueprints of diplomatic facilities to aid in planning. Fully combat-equipped Marines can be brought into the embassy, either stealthily to avoid inflaming a tense situation, or very overtly to send a message to troublemakers to back off. Long experience keeps Marine assets handy to the Middle East and Africa.



    Private Americans

    What is done to support private American citizens varies considerably. Planning and putting into action support for our citizens was a major part of my work at the State Department. The rule of thumb is if a commercial means of departure exists, private citizens must utilize it, sometimes with the assistance of the embassy. Loans for tickets can be made, convoys organized and so forth. In cases where the major airlines refuse to fly but the airport is still usable, the State Department can arrange charters. In extreme cases only (Yemen is not such a case) the Marines conduct a Noncombatant Evacuation Order (NEO) to pull citizens out of the country using military assets. At times Americans are simply told to “shelter in place” and ride out a crisis. State will ask a neutral embassy in-country, such as the Swiss, to look after them to the extent possible.



    Sorry, Local Staff

    Almost always left out of the mix are the embassy local staff, the cooks, drivers, and translators. Rarely are they evacuated, and are usually left to make their own way in what can be a very dangerous environment for someone seen as an American collaborator. Some have compared this to the poor treatment military translators from Iraq and Afghanistan have received trying to secure visas and refugee status to the United States.



    We Failed

    Closing an embassy is often a tacit admission that America’s policies toward the host government failed. For example, Yemen represents the third American embassy in an Arab Spring country, following Syria and Libya, now closed. Images of an empty embassy are not what the American government looks forward to seeing spreading across social media. A closure is indeed a political act.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    What ISIS Gained by Burning a Man Alive

    February 18, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    japan isis4.jpg

    A few weeks ago, did the majority of the world know the Japanese prime minister pledged $200 million in “humanitarian aid” in the war against ISIS? Or that two Japanese citizens had been held as hostages for months? Or that ISIS also held a Jordanian pilot? Or, since 2005, Jordan had been holding a failed al Qaeda female suicide bomber on death row?

    The world knows now. With three killings, the Islamic State sent its messages viral, and watched them pay off in strategic gains.



    What ISIS Accomplished

    Last month in Iraq, 2,287 people were killed. No one knows how many died in the same time span in Syria and other “war on terror” hot spots. Little seems to have changed for it all. Yet, via skillful manipulation of the global media, here is some of what Islamic State accomplished via taking three lives in such a gruesome manner:

    — Islamic State humiliated two U.S. allies. Both sought to negotiate with the militants and both were shown to be weak and ineffectual.

    — The United States, which remained silent, absent the usual tropes about evil, was shown as ineffectual in being able to help its allies.

    — A key U.S. partner, the United Arab Emirates, announced — based on the Jordanian pilot’s capture alone — that it was suspending airstrikes unless the U.S. stationed search and rescue teams inside Iraq. The U.S. quickly announced it was doing just that, raising its on-the-ground footprint. Keeping partners in the game is crucial to maintaining the dubious claim that efforts against Islamic State are anything but an American campaign. Even with the UAE, estimates are that the U.S. conducts some 80 percent of the airstrikes itself.

    — The Japanese and Jordanian governments have vowed revenge, drawing them deeper into the conflict while bringing their domestic debates over the propriety of supporting what many see as America’s war into the open. Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seizing this moment to try and push through a controversial change to Japan’s pacifist constitution. Blood always runs hot at first; it remains to be seen how many additional deaths of its own citizens a society will tolerate in the name of revenge. Will the hyper-macho images of Jordan’s king wearing a flight suit come to be seen in the same way that George W. Bush’s images of himself in a flight suit now are?

    — The Jordanians executed a Sunni Muslim woman, martyring her and giving new voice to her cause.

    — ISIS successfully kicked off another cycle of revenge in an area of the world where such cycles can become perpetual motion engines. America cannot help but be drawn deeper into this quagmire as it struggles to hold its limited coalition together. President Barack Obama has already announced an increase in annual aid to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion.

    — To its core recruitment audience, who believes in violent jihad, Islamic State saw one of its most barbaric videos broadcast globally. Islamic State is far less concerned about those shocked by the video than it is about those who will join its struggle because of the video.
    War of ideas

    — Islamic State understands that it is waging a war of ideas, and that ideas cannot be bombed away. There is no victory or defeat per se in such a war, just struggle in epic terms.

    The Charlie Hebdo killers appeared to have been inspired by American citizen cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. assassinated in 2011. And for all that al Qaeda has been degraded, Islamic State has arisen as its spawn. That dead men inspire living acts of horror shows that unless the fundamental ideas driving Islamic militants are addressed, there will be no end.

    The Heisenberg Effect

    Absent Jordan, the bulk of the Arab world reacted to the Islamic State video with firm statements, and no action. Somehow, that remains primarily in the hands of an America that cannot seem to understand how its very presence in the Middle East exacerbates conflict.

    Robert Pape and James Feldman, in Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It reviewed 2,100 suicide bombings in the Middle East from 1980 to 2009. They conclude most were fueled by U.S. intervention.

    And there has been plenty of fuel for those who fan the flames. Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces invaded, occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have publicly killed or been killed, since 1980. This history suggests what one Marine officer called in the Small Wars Journal the Heisenberg Effect, after the physics theorem that states the presence of an observer affects the event being observed.

    Any Ideas?

    America’s track record in the “war on terror” is a poor one, the ISIS video only the latest bit of evidence. You can’t shoot an idea. You defeat a bad idea with a better one. Islamic State has proven terribly effective with its bad ideas; on the American side, more than 13 years after 9/11, we need to ask, so what do you have to offer?



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Libya: A Perfect Storm of Interventionist Failure

    February 17, 2015 // 13 Comments »

    Still image from video shows men purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneeling in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli


    Libya is the perfect storm example of the failure of U.S. interventionist policy in the Middle East.


    The Obama-Clinton Model

    In 2011, Libya was to be the centerpiece of Middle East Intervention 2.0, the Obama-Clinton version.

    Unlike the Bush model, that of Texas-sized land armies, multi-year campaigns and expensive reconstruction efforts, the Obama-Clinton version would use American air power above, special forces and CIA on the ground, and coordinate local “freedom fighters” to overthrow the evil dictator/terrorist/super-villain of the moment. “We Came, We Saw, He Died,” cackled then-Secretary of State Clinton as Libyan leader Moamar Quaddafi was sodomized by rebels on TV.

    The idea was that the U.S. would dip in, unleash hell, and dip out, leaving it to the local folks to create a new government from scratch. So how’d that strategy work out in Libya?


    Benghazi Only A Sign

    Benghazi was only a sign of the chaos to come.

    Here’s the state of Libya today. Several Islamist groups vying for control in Libya have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and carried out barbaric executions, as in Iraq and Syria. The growth and radicalization of Islamist groups raise the possibility that large parts of Libya could become a satellite of the Islamic State where one never previously existed.

    Libya’s official government, led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, has only tenuous authority, having been run out of Tripoli last summer amid fighting between rival militias formed during the 2011 civil war.

    The shell government Thinni leads, pathetically still recognized by the international community, operates out of the eastern city of Bayda. The Libya Dawn movement, a coalition of militias and political factions, has wrested control of the capital and established a rival government.

    Fighters who identify themselves as part of the Islamic State have killed journalists and many other civilians. They took credit for the November 13 bombings targeting the Egyptian and United Arab Emirates embassies in Tripoli. Last month, fighters linked to the Islamic State kidnapped Egyptian Coptic Christians and bombed the Corinthia Hotel in the capital, killing ten people.

    And according to the New York Times, the chaos in Libya has paralyzed the economy. The one industry that is booming is human smuggling. Taking advantage of the lawlessness, smugglers who use Libya as a way station in moving impoverished sub-Saharan Africans and Syrian refugees to Europe have become increasingly brazen and reckless in their tactics, sending hundreds to their deaths.



    Egypt Bombs Libya after 21 Beheaded

    In what is only the latest evidence of the failure of the 2011 intervention, Egyptian jets bombed Islamic State targets in Libya recently, a day after the group there released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. That forced Cairo directly into the conflict across its border. While Cairo is believed to have provided clandestine support to some former-Libyan general fighting the rogue government in Tripoli with his own militia, the mass killings pushed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi into open action.


    The Obama-Clinton Model

    While Libya is the perfect storm example of what happens when the U.S. clumsily intervenes in a Middle Eastern country, it is certainly not the only example. The evacuation of the American embassy in Yemen is the marker for America’s policy failure there. The U.S. is again at war in Iraq, trying the new interventionist model as a recipe to rescue the old one. That conflict alone threatens to inflame the entire region, pulling in Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others.

    Want to see the future? Look to the recent past. Look at Libya.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Can the US Seize Would-Be Jihadis’ Passports?

    October 24, 2014 // 2 Comments »




    The person who shot up the Canadian Parliament had had his passport taken away by the Canadian government, ostensibly to prevent him from traveling to Syria to join ISIS


    Can the U.S. government seize the passports of American citizens who it believes may travel abroad to join ISIS or other terror groups? Yep. The process is almost no-cost to the government, extra-judicial, can be made secret and requires a lengthy court process to even try to contest. No passport, no international travel, the ultimate no-fly tool against would-be jihadis. So why hasn’t this process been used more often?


    Scary Stories

    Leaving aside the not-insubstantial questions about their validity, the warnings are ominous.

    With some Americans seeking to join ISIS, there are fears that on their return they may commit terror in the U.S. Unlike foreign citizens, these radicalized Americans would sail through immigration checks and be able to easily disappear into a familiar society. The U.S. is seeking to tackle the problem at the supply end, preventing Americans from departing to join ISIS in the first place, as well as from the other side, blocking citizens from returning freely to the United States.

    The arrest at O’Hare airport of Mohamed Khan, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, is one example. Authorities claim the young man headed to the Middle East to join ISIS, and, citing a left-behind note explaining his choice, waited at the airport to arrest Khan on charges of attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization. The operation involved significant law enforcement resources to stop one teenager based largely on suspicion.


    Another Tool in the Box

    The United States can simply seize passports from American citizens if “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”

    The law allows this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause” part of the law, meaning the person needn’t have done anything. The government just needs to think they might.

    A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request revealed that prior to Obama ordering him and his 16-year-old son to be killed by a drone in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, alleged al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. citizen. The two would not have been able to travel to the United States without handing themselves over to law enforcement. Indeed, a letter to that effect was allegedly sent to some address in Yemen inviting al-Awlaki to visit the American Embassy to discuss the details.

    Al-Awlaki isn’t the only person in Yemen to have his U.S. passport seized.

    According to information obtained through a U.S. government whistleblower involved directly with U.S.-Yemeni affairs, the American embassy in Sanaa, Yemen seized over one hundred U.S. passports from Yemeni-Americans (some place the number at 500 passports) between 2011 and 2013. Only after several legal battles did the State Department curtail its actions. Though State publicly claims the seizures were an anti-fraud measure, many in the Yemeni community saw them as a pilot program.

    A similar case involved the seizure of a Moroccan-American’s passport in Kuwait.

    The actions at the American embassy in Yemen may fit into a larger pattern. For example, at the same time in 2011 the U.S. was ramping up its actions against Yemeni-Americans, Australia appeared to be doing much the same thing. “Withholding passports is an important means of preventing Australians from traveling overseas to train, support or participate in terrorism,” an Australian government spokesperson said. “It may also be used to help prevent an Australian already overseas from participating in activities that are prejudicial to the security of Australia or another country.”


    How are Passport Seizures Legal?

    Restrictions on travel suffered under the British were part of the list of “injuries and usurpations” in the Declaration of Independence. So don’t Americans have a right to travel?

    Nope. The precedent was set by infamous ex-CIA officer Philip Agee, who in the 1970′s exposed CIA officers identities. It was in Agee’s case that the Supreme Court coldly affirmed that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.” A lower court put it even more bluntly: “The Secretary [of State] may preclude potential matches from the international tinderbox.”

    The basic premise is that travel abroad (travel within the U.S. is specifically provided for in the Constitution, though the No-Fly list certainly can limit one’s options) is that it is an “aspect” of liberty subject to restraint under due process. In the 1950’s, American Communists were often denied passports if their travel abroad was believed to be in support of their political beliefs, a policy later overturned by the Supreme Court. The Court struggled to balance national security and personal liberty regarding travel through multiple cases, but has never concluded that travel– or having a passport– is a fundamental right.


    Some History

    The whole concept of Americans requiring passports to travel has its roots in national security restrictions. With the exception of roughly the years of the Civil War and World War I, Americans did not need a passport to enter the United States. Americans were first required as a group to hold passports at the start of the Second World War. The travel requirements instituted in the past only during times of national crisis stuck around after WWII through the present day, formalized in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. With echoes of current government actions, what was created as a wartime contingency morphed into a permanent peacetime restriction. The history of passport restrictions is not long, but does resonate into the post-9/11, Post-Constitutional era.

    While no right to travel per se exists for Americans, there is a basic assumption, rooted in the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that Americans have something between an expectation, an entitlement and an implied right to return to the United States from abroad, rooted in the concept of citizenship. The ease with which passports can be seized (or boarding an aircraft denied via the No-Fly list) is not seen in conflict; in al-Awlaki’s case, he would have been welcome to come home, albeit in leg irons en route to federal SuperMax. Time is also an issue. How long the government may make a citizen wait before allowing a return to the U.S. under some specific circumstances is not codified and thus can be used as a de facto seizure or punishment without raising a case publicly.


    Why Doesn’t the Government Seize More Passports?

    In short, for an American citizen to travel abroad, whether for vacation or jihad, the government’s permission, in the form of a passport, is required. So why then does the government not use such a long-tested authority to deny or seize the passports of those suspected for traveling to join terror groups?

    While the real answer is obviously unknowable, several ideas may help explain this. First is that in fact such measures might be taking place. Persons who have not yet applied for a passport may find themselves denied issuance, and applications may have been denied or “in processing” without the applicant knowing the reason. The government is under no obligation to tell the person involved nor the media that national security has been invoked.

    More likely however, it is a matter of legal timidity and public relations. Arresting and trying someone for material support for terrorism is something of a set-piece case for post-9/11 law enforcement. There is little legal controversy generated, and almost no danger under present circumstances of any nasty precedent being set. Wide-spread passport seizures could easily create a new chance to bring the issue before the Supreme Court, risky business for a government that much prefers to act as it wishes vis-vis American’s rights.

    The other reason for restraint may simply be public relations. The public is familiar and appears supportive of arrests. Law enforcement in these circumstances are the good guys. Passport seizures sound a bit harsh, totalitarian-like, and are technically done under the authority of the Department of State, who does not enjoy the good guy reputation many attribute to the law enforcement people who “keep us safe.” It could be as simple as law enforcement not being willing to work with the State Department for bureaucratic reasons.

    Regardless, these are dark seas. In a democracy, the right of citizens to depart and return should not on its face be restricted in the interest of the government. The idea of limiting an American citizen’s travel proactively, on the assumption that she or he will end up fighting with ISIS based on documents or web postings, scrapes at liberty, even if the tools are there and it is legal to use them.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    I Read al-Qaeda’s Inspire Mag So You Don’t Get Arrested

    October 10, 2014 // 3 Comments »



    Inspire is an English language online magazine published since 2010 by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I just read the latest issue so you won’t get arrested doing so.

    Aimed primarily at radicalizing youth audiences in the U.S. and Britain, the mag appears semi-regularly (twelve issues so far) online only, as a PDF, and is entirely in English. Graphically well-done, the editorial parts of the magazine shift among sometimes bad-English reporting, religious and jihadi-inspirational pieces, and bomb making instructions.

    Yeah, bomb making instructions. That’s the part that sort of is controversial, the clear, step-by-step photo-illustrated instructions for making your own explosives using common materials, plus the encouragement to use them in crowded places.

    Inspire and al-Awlaki

    The magazine was once thought to be the work of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who once preached at a Northern Virginia mosque and lunched at the Pentagon, gone-bad.

    Though al-Awlaki and his teenage son were assassinated by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011, thus ending his editorship, the magazine continues to be published. Al-Awaki’s thoughts are reprinted posthumously and still carry influence. That tells you pretty much all you need to know in two sentences about the failure of the war on terror.

    Disclaimer

    Because reading/possessing Inspire may be illegal in the UK and Australia, and viewing it online in the U.S. likely to land you on some sort of watch list or another, I’ll just offer the one link here to the full text if you want to read the whole thing. For me, if I’m not on some list already I haven’t been doing my job and should just go back to my true passion, Little House on the Prairie fan fiction.

    Inside the Spring 2014 Inspire Mag

    Things begin straight-forward enough with a note from the editor:

    The American government was unable to protect its citizens from pressure cooker bombs in backpacks, I wonder if they are ready to stop car bombs! Therefore, as our responsibility to the Muslim Ummah in general and Muslims living in America in particular, Inspire Magazine humbly presents to you a simple improvised home recipe of a car bomb. And the good news is… you can prepare it in the kitchen of your mom too.

    To be fair, the kitchen of your mom has to be stocked with some pretty unusual stuff to pull this off, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

    There follows some quotes by famous people on news topics, most predictable. But one by a Muslim college student in the U.S. stands out:

    I remember I had one professor that said that if he was in Iraq, he’d probably be on the other side. And I remember I was just looking at him thinking I’ll be in jail if I thought that.

    A quote by another leaves you with the uncomfortable impression that these guys “get it,” saying the things we just don’t hear from our own media:

    If we don’t change our stupid foreign policies, there will sooner or later be many more people overseas wishing to do this country harm! We’re already the most hated country in the world and through our own stupidity that will only get worse. Moreover, we’re spending ourselves into oblivion over this!

    So while there is plenty of bloody jihad stuff written in Borat-level English, it isn’t all that way in Inspire. One wonders if this approach, accidentally humorous and purposefully serious, is not actually an effective way to speak to disaffected youth.

    Dog Food

    Despite my promise to you, I did not actually read every word of articles that began “Twelve years have passed since the blessed Battles of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania…” or asked “Is the modern Buffalo soldier worth a Labrador? Would the U.S. Army at least honor them with Dickin Medals?”

    I sort of can figure out without getting 800 words in what the point of a piece that asks “Isn’t it saddening that Bo, Obama’s dog, dines with the tax payers’ money on better food than that of 100 million Americans?” But hah, Inspire, got you there. A lot of lower-income Americans are forced to eat the same dog food Bo does!

    Salty Obama

    And see if you can puzzle out this one:

    Obama is like a very thirsty patient that suffers from high blood pressure. As he becomes thirstier he finds a cup of salty water with salt crystals visible. To make the water drinkable, he has to get rid of the salt. So he stirs the water. As he stirs, the salt begins to disappear, this makes him very happy. Yes, the salt disappeared from sight, but the taste of the water became saltier. This is exactly what Obama is doing by the use of unmanned drones.


    Bombs

    Things alternate like that for most of the magazine, kind of thoughtful stuff, weird unintelligible stuff, sort of parable, sort of makes sense maybe stuff, a lot of anti-Semitism and rants intermingled with Quranic quotes. But things get deadly serious when the topic turns to making and employing car bombs.

    The magazine explains the bomb making instructions are “open source jihad,” to allow persons via the web to “prepare for jihad,” all from the comforts of home. I am not a chemist, but the details seem easy to follow, broken down into steps with photos to illustrate. Theory is tagged on to the practical; how explosive combustion works, how pressure is measured and so forth. Different ignition switches are discussed, depending on whether you seek a timed explosion or intend a suicide attack where you’ll trip the bomb manually.

    You turn away with the impression that this is something simple enough that you could probably make it work.

    It is made clear the type of bomb you’ll be making is aimed at destroying people, not buildings, and advice is given accordingly.

    Closing the Pages

    It would be unfair to close the pages of Inspire and say I felt anything but creeped out. I’ve tried to come up with something more intelligent sounding, but what starts as a laugh ends very seriously. Someone was very effective at making me walk away thinking they want to kill me.

    So when you read other versions of what’s in Inspire, most of which focus on creating their own, new levels of fear-mongering or in belittling the magazine as “clumsy,” spare a thought to what the magazine is really achieving: it makes you afraid. That’s what good propaganda does, effectively get inside your head. Inspire is good propaganda.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Book Review: Agent Storm, My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA

    September 10, 2014 // 9 Comments »

    Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA is a worthy read; if it was fiction it might be called “a good yarn.” The book is instead straight-up non-fiction, making it all the more interesting as a window into the world of modern espionage.

    An Enthusiastic Muslim

    The book is the “as told to” autobiography of Morten Storm. Storm grew up on the dark side of Denmark, a tough, a brawler, a street gang member who always looked for a fight and usually found one. He did some jail time, and lived on the outskirts of society, surviving well enough off Denmark’s generous social welfare system. Socially and spiritually adrift, he was a quick convert to Islam, driven into his new faith by a chance encounter with a library book on the life of The Prophet. The descriptions of the built-in camaraderie of the mosques shows their appeal to disenfranchised youth.

    Storm quickly found a way to combine his street smarts with his new faith, gravitating into the growing European jihadi underground. He soon moved to the UK, taking up life in “Londonistan,” the slang term for England’s dark underbelly of Muslim immigrants. Like them, Storm felt marginalized, left out, looked down on and began moving in ever-more radical circles. Despite his over six foot height and bright red hair, he found himself well-accepted. An encounter with a fellow Muslim, who died almost in his arms, propelled Storm to Yemen in search of meaning for his own life. His devotion to Islamic studies and his tough attitude saw him befriended not just by his classmates, but soon by Anwar al-Awlaki himself. Storm takes on all sorts of courier missions for the cleric and becomes a member of his trusted inner circle.

    A Double-Agent

    Another chance event suddenly has Storm again reverse course. He falls in with Danish intelligence and Britain’s MI5/MI6 and becomes a double-agent. His second conversion is marked by a bacon sandwich and a beer with his new intel friends to seal the deal. He begins accepting money and taskings from both the British and the Danes.

    Storm quickly becomes invaluable, exploiting his connections with al-Awlaki and apparently nearly every significant jihadi in Europe to the advantage of his handlers. He finally attracts the attention of the CIA, which dispatches case officers to work with him toward one goal: pinpoint the location of al-Awlaki so the Americans can assassinate him. Storm agrees and over a series of events, the American citizen cleric is indeed assassinated by an American drone (along with his 16 year old son, also a U.S. citizen.) The CIA, however, double-crosses Storm, denies him the $250,000 payment promised for his work and eventually drives the big Dane in from the cold. His last conversion is to go to the media with his tale, and leave the world of espionage behind.

    Tradecraft

    Without a doubt the very best parts of the book expose a bit of intelligence tradecraft. Unlike what one sees in movies and reads in (fictional) spy books, “spying” is 90 percent working patiently with people, with just a little high-tech thrown in. The book portrays this accurately, showing the best spies are more like skilled psychiatrists than hardened killers. A few details of the recruitment process appear to have been left out, perhaps for security reasons, perhaps because of the unusual three-way sharing of Storm. In real life, case officers of the CIA (the KGB, the Danish security services, MI5/MI6…) spend a lot of time seeking out people (“agents”) who can be convinced to betray their organization or nation. Motives vary, and a smart case officer will pay close attention to what his/her agent really wants– money, adventure, sex, etc. We watch as Storm is cleverly manipulated with both money and the lure of adrenaline rushes, and as his failed fervor for Islam and desire to provide for his family is worked against him.

    Of equal interest are the contrasts drawn among the three services involved in handling Storm. The Danes are friendly, clubby, out for a good time even as they subtly draw Storm in and play him off against the Brits and the Yanks. The British impress with their professionalism and appeal to Storm’s sense of adventure, setting him up for sessions in arctic survival with an ex-Royal Marine and shooting lessons with an SAS man.

    Then there is the CIA. Storm saves the Americans for his most unflattering portrayal, painting them as impatient, and ready to hand over obscene amounts of money when needed, only then to double-cross their “man” inside al Qaeda when needed. The CIA has another agent, secretly, alongside Storm and never even feigns to trust either of them. The CIA’s simplistic and crude handling is one of the main drivers behind Storm’s break with the intel world.

    A Few Criticisms

    A few criticisms mark an otherwise decent read. Storm is not shy about his own accomplishments, taking personal credit for a number of significant intelligence successes during the years he worked as a double-agent. One does wonder how accurate such an accounting is, suggesting as it does that the combined European and U.S. spy agencies had very few other people on the inside. Storm is also quite casual, almost dismissive, about how easy it was for him to gain the complete trust of hardened terrorists, despite his very recent infidel past and quick conversion to Islam. The bad guys never really put his allegiance to the test absent a few word games, leaving the question of if al Qaeda’s operational security is really so lame why the intel agencies did not have hundreds of inside men and women. Apparently one need only send the average red-haired European Viking into Yemen claiming he is a recent Muslim convert and bam! you have infiltrated the world of terror.

    Conclusion

    Storm’s own blustery self-image and the bit of unrealness noted aside, Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA is a decent read for anyone watching the world of intelligence who also appreciates a good story.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Satire: Interview with Obama’s Nobel Prize Statue

    August 25, 2014 // 12 Comments »

    Famously, the Nobel Committee in 2009 awarded its prestigious Peace Prize to President Barack Obama.

    The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in announcing the award, cited Obama’s promotion of nuclear nonproliferation and a “new climate” in international relations, especially in reaching out to the Muslim world.

    In an exclusive interview, for the first time ever the actual Peace Prize, a large, coin-like object, speaks out.

    “At first, it was an amazing time. Like the Committee, I too was all caught up in hope and change. Sure, some cynics said from the beginning that Obama just got awarded me because he wasn’t George Bush, but that just wasn’t what it felt like, honestly. We all believed. The man took me into his home and at first displayed me on his mantel in his private office. It was the same office Clinton got busy with Monica in, so I was on hallowed ground. Really, it was hashtag Proud. At the same time, Obama had his kids’ pictures on the same mantel, which felt cool at first then became kinda creepy. I should have taken the hint. I guess I was in love, and love can make you naive.”

    “Looking back, I can almost pinpoint the moment things started to fall apart. At first Barack would come in to the office, alone, and just look at me. One night, very late and after a well-deserved Scotch or two, he said to me ‘I don’t have a birth certificate, but I’ve got you my Peace Prize.’ I never felt closer to him. Then after he dropped his college transcripts behind the file cabinet and was trying to fish them out to shred, he came upon a Post-It note George Bush left behind. It read ‘They’ll believe anything, just do whatever the hell you want.’ The next day he turned me toward the wall, and a few days after that he shoved me into the junk drawer of his desk.”

    “Bang, on December 1, less than two months after getting me, Barack announces he is surging 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. He even used that filthy word, surge, whereas a real man would just call it an escalation and take the heat. I still wanted to believe, so I rationalized it as something he had to hold his nose and do to clean up that mess Bush started, but looking back I now wonder how I could have been that stupid. I guess I wasn’t alone in that, but shut away in the dark drawer, I felt I could only blame myself. Sure I was being mistreated, but I somehow felt it must have been something I had done, you know, somehow my fault. If only I had been more supportive, maybe a little warmer to him after those hard days he had. I knew about Michelle, and of course knew he’d never leave her, but still.”

    “Once Barack had taken that first step, the rest just tumbled out. Drone strikes everywhere, then Libya, denying the Arab Spring, Special Ops all over Africa, whatever happened between him and Putin that one crazy weekend to ruin things, Syria, Ukraine, it just went on and on. Sometimes he’d open the drawer for a stapler or something and I’d swear his eyes were glowing bright red in the dark.”

    “But the real end for us was Iraq. Barack got elected on the fact that he was one of a very few Senators who voted against that awful war, and beat Hillary using that against her own yes vote for Iraq. He took some heat in 2011 for the pull out of the last troops from Iraq but stuck it out. So you can imagine how I felt when he announced 300 advisors being sent in, then unlimited months of air strikes, then more advisors, then whatever that Yazidi thing was, and on and on. Now the U.S. is back in Iraq on another open-ended campaign that seems to have no goal, no endpoint, no definition of ‘victory.’ Meanwhile, we are still in Afghanistan and Gitmo is still an open sore. So where have we seen this movie before, right? I keep asking myself, is this 2014, or 2006?”

    “Anyway, I begged him to just let me go. I said he should give me away to Bono or Sean Penn, or just send me off to the Carter Foundation, but he said no, I was his and always would be. I even snuck out and called the Nobel Committee, but man, if you could hear a shrug over the phone that described it.”



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    A Poem to Barack

    August 22, 2014 // 19 Comments »




    As American again goes to war in Iraq (under the guise of humanitarian intervention), it is worth remembering the cost to the people on the ground.

    This is not my work, but rather that of a commenter on Boing Boing which bears repeating. Ideally, it would appear on some future memorial to America’s drone victims.

    Barack.

    Can you still hear the screaming of the Yemenite children?

    I bet the firewood they were gathering burned real good

    when the Hellfire missiles torched their little bodies.





    The child pictured is not Yemeni. She is Shakira, a 4-year-old girl, who survived but was burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2009. Burned children look the ame in Yemen as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the other places U.S. drone attacks occur.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    The New Year’s Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past

    January 1, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    (In the spirit of our times, this end-of-year post looks forward, not backward. Happy New Year to all.)

    “Who the hell are you?”

    “Why Barack, I’m the Christmas Ghost of Presidential Legacies Past. I visit second-term presidents to help them map out their foreign policy legacy.”

    “Dude, Christmas was last week. It’s 2014, the New Year.”

    “Yeah, sorry, traffic was bad, and I lost most of a day trying to sign up for healthcare.”

    “I’m calling the Secret Service. Get out of my bedroom!”

    “No need Mr. President. No one can see me but you. I’m here to talk about the future, about America overseas, so you can achieve your place in history. I am here to help guide you.”

    “You do this for all presidents? What happened with Bush, then?”

    “That was unfortunate. It turned out Karl Rove had been a hyena in a previous life and could somehow still smell me, so I got chased out. And see how it ended up for Bush? His legacy is fear of overseas travel, wondering how far the Hague’s reach really is.”

    “OK Spirit, what do you want from me?”

    “Barack, you were elected the first time on the promise of hope and change. You got reelected mostly by not being Mitt Romney. You need to reclaim the original mantel. You need to be bold in foreign affairs and leave America positioned for this new world. You won the election by not being the candidate from the 1950s. Now, you need to establish a foreign policy for an America of 2014 instead of 2001.”

    “What do you mean, Spirit?”

    “Stop searching for demons. Let’s start with the Middle East. You inherited a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, thanks to Rove and his canine sense of smell, but what did you do with it?”

    “I ended the war in Iraq.”

    “No, you agreed not to push back when the Iraqis threw the troops out in 2010. The war continues there, just without us, fought in little ugly flare-ups among Iranian proxies. But that’s spilled milk. What you need to do is reclaim your State Department from what is now a lost cause.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Much like the way Vietnam destroyed the army, Iraq and Afghanistan gravely wounded your State Department. Why does America still maintain its largest embassy in a place like Baghdad? That massive hollow structure sucks money and, more importantly, personnel, from your limited diplomatic establishment. Scale it back to the mid-size level the situation there really requires, and move those personnel resources to places America badly needs diplomacy. As a bonus, you’ll remove a scab. That big embassy is seen throughout the Middle East as a symbol of hubris, a monument to folly. Show them better — repurpose most of it into a new university or an international conference center and signal a new beginning.”

    “You mentioned Iranian influence in Iraq, so yeah, thanks, George Bush, for that little gift. I have the Israelis up my back looking for a war, and it seems every day another thing threatens to spark off a fight with the Iranians.”

    “Iran can be your finest achievement. Nixon went to China, remember.”

    “You know Spirit, you actually look a little like Henry Kissinger in this light.”

    “Yeah, I get that a lot. Coincidences, right? Barack, you can start the process of rebalancing the Middle East. Too many genies have slipped out of the bottle to put things back where they were and, like it or not, your predecessor casually, ignorantly allowed Iran to reclaim its place as a regional power. Let’s deal with it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner over the nukes. You know as well as I do that there are many countries who are threshold nuclear powers, able to make the jump anytime from lab rats to bomb holders. You also know that Israel has had the bomb for a long time and, despite that, despite the Arab hatred of Israel and despite the never-ending aggressive stance of Israel, their nukes have not created a Middle East arms race. Yet. Keep talking to the Iranians. Follow the China model (they had nukes, too) and set up the diplomatic machinery, create some fluid back channels, maybe try a cultural exchange or two. They don’t play ping-pong over there, but they are damn good at chess. Feel your way forward. Bring the Brits and the Canadians along with you. Give the good guys in Tehran something to work with, something to go to their bosses with.”

    “But they’ll keep heading toward nuclear weapons.”

    “That may be true. America’s regular chest-thumping in the Middle East has created an unstoppable desire for Iran to arm itself. They watched very, very closely how the North Koreans insulated themselves with a nuke. The world let that happen and guess what? Even George W. stopped talking about North Korea and the stupid Axis of Evil. And guess what again? No war, and no nuclear arms race in Asia. Gaddafi went the opposite route, and look what happened to him, sodomized while your then-Secretary of State laughed about it on TV.”

    “But what about sanctions?”

    “Real change in Iran, like anywhere, is going to have to come from within. Think China again. With prosperity comes a desire by the newly-rich to enjoy their money. They start to demand better education, more opportunities and a future for their kids. A repressive government with half a brain yields to those demands for its own survival and before you know it, you’ve got iPads and McDonalds happening. Are you going to go to war with China? Of course not. We’re trading partners, and we have shared interests in regional stability in Asia that benefit us both despite the occasional saber-rattling around elections. Sure, there will always be friction, but it has been and can be managed. We did it, with some rough spots, in the Mediterranean with the Soviets and we can do it in the Gulf, what President Kennedy called during the Cold War the “precarious rules of the status quo.” I don’t think this will result in a triumphant state visit to Tehran, but get the game started. Defuse the situation, offer to bring Iran into the world system, and see if they don’t follow.”

    “I can’t let them go nuclear.”

    “Well, I don’t know if you can stop it without exploding the entire region, and focusing just on that binary black and white blocks off too many other, better options. Look, they and a whole bunch of other places can weaponize faster than you can stop them. What you need to do is work at their need to weaponize, pick away at the software if you will, the reasons they feel they need to have nukes, instead of just trying to muck up the hardware. Use all the tools in the toolbox, Barack.”

    “But they’re Islamos.”

    “Whatever you want to call it. Islam is a powerful force in the Middle East and it is not going away. Your attempts, and those of your predecessor, to try and create ‘good’ governments failed. Look at the hash in Syria, Libya and, of course, Iraq. You need to find a real-politick with Islamic governments. Look past the rhetoric and ideology and start talking. Otherwise you’ll end up just like the U.S. did all over Latin America, throwing in with thugs simply because they mouthed pro-American platitudes. Not a legacy move, Barry. It will feel odd at first, but the new world order has created a state for states that are not a puppets of the U.S., and not always an ally, but typically someone we can deal with, work with, maybe even influence occasionally. That’s diplomacy, and therein lies your chance at legacy. Demilitarize your foreign policy. Redeploy your diplomats from being political hostages in Baghdad and Kabul and put them to work all over the Middle East.”

    “Sure Spirit, nothing to it. Anything else you want me to do before breakfast?”

    “Hey, you asked for the job — twice — not me.”

    “Spirit, sorry to go off topic, but is that an 8-track tape player you’re carrying around?”

    “Hah, good eye Barack. KC and the Sunshine Band, Greatest Hits. Things work oddly in the spirit world and one of the quirks is that unloved electronics from Christmas’ past migrate to us. Here, look at my cell phone, big as a shoebox, with a retractable antenna. I still play games on an old Atari. We got Zunes and Blackberries piled up like snow drifts over there. But back to business.”

    “What else, Spirit?”

    “As a ghost, I’m used to taking the long view of things. I know better than most that memory lasts longer than aspiration, that history influences the future. You have it now in your power to finally amend an ugly sore, America’s dark legacy of the war of terror. Guantanamo. You realize that every day that place stays open it helps radicalize dozens of young men for every one you hold in prison. Demand your intel agencies give you a straight-up accounting on who is locked away there. For the very few that probably really are as horrible as we’d like to believe, designate them something or the other and lock them away in an existing Federal Super Max. Just do it, override Congress and take the heat. Heck, you’re not very popular even among your former supporters anymore, so why not go for a win for the base. Turn the others in Gitmo over to the UN or the Red Cross for resettlement. It is an ugly deal, but it is an ugly problem. Close the place down early in 2014 over the first three-day weekend to defuse the media, let the short-term heat burn off and move on.”

    “And Afghanistan?”

    “Same thing. Cut your losses. Afghanistan will be on a slow burn for, well, probably forever no matter how many occupiers you can leave in place. Among other reasons, Pakistan needs it to stay that way. They like a weak but not failed state on their western border and you can manage that. The special ops guys you secretly leave behind can deal with any serious messes. Corruption and internal disagreements mean there will never be a real Afghan nation-state, no matter how badly you want one. The soldier suicides, helicopter accidents and green-on-blue attacks are a horror, and so unnecessary at this late stage of the great game. You are going to accomplish nothing by dragging that corpse of a war around with you for two more years, so cut it off now.”

    “Next is drones, right?”

    “Yes Barack, next is drones. This is fool’s gold and you bought into it big. You thought it was risk-free, no American lives in danger, always the 500 pound elephant in the room when considering military action. But, to borrow a phrase, look at the collateral damage. First, you have had to further militarize Africa, setting up your main drone base in Djibouti. Like Gitmo, every thug you kill creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. Seriously, haven’t you noticed that the more you kill, the more there seem to be to kill? You need more friends for America and fewer people saying they are victims of America. Make your intel people truly pick out the real, real bad guys, the ones who absolutely threaten American lives. Be comfortable in publicly being able to articulate every decision. Don’t be lazy with bringing death. Don’t continue to slide downhill into killing easier and easier just because you have a new technology that falsely seems without risk. Drones are a tool, not a strategy. Seek a realistic form of containment, and stop chasing complete destruction. You need an end game. The risk is there my friend, you just have to pull back and see it in the bigger picture.”

    “Bigger picture, eh? That’s what this legacy business is all about, isn’t it? Seeing Iranian nukes not as the problem per se, but as part of a solution set that doesn’t just leave a glowing hole in the ground, but instead fills in things, builds a base for more building.”

    “You’re getting it now. And even as domestic politics suffers in gridlock, you have room to do things in foreign policy that will mark history for you. As a second term president, you are freed from a lot of political restraints, just like you told Medvedev you would be.”

    “Open mikes, who knew, right? But what about my successor? The party wants me to leave things ready for 2016.”

    “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got Springsteen working on new songs for the campaign. Hey, you know anything that rhymes well with ‘Hillary’? Right now we’ve only got ‘pillory’ and ‘distillery.’ Bruce is stuck on that.”

    “But look, Spirit, I appreciate the advice and all, but to be honest, all this you propose is a lot of work. It’s complicated, needs to be managed, has a lot of potential for political friction. I could, you know, just stick with things the way they are. Ordering the military to do things is easy, we’ve got an online form for it now where I just select countries to attack from a drop-down list. People seem to have gotten used to a permanent state of low-level warfare everywhere, drone killings, the occasional boil flaring up like Benghazi. It wasn’t a serious election issue at all. Why should I bother?”

    “Well, among other things Barack, you’ve got two very sweet, wonderful reasons sleeping just down the hallway. It is all about their future, maybe even more than yours.”



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    ACLU, Others, Advise Americans to Be Wary When Dealing with U.S. Embassy in Yemen

    December 20, 2013 // 14 Comments »

    We have covered in detail the ongoing misuse of authority at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, where a pattern of coerced “confessions,” flimsy fraud accusations and outright illegal passport seizures has led to a) promotion by the State Department of the senior consular officer involved and b) a flurry of lawsuits that State consistently loses as Yemeni-Americans are forced into court to correct State. You can catch-up on the story here and here.

    Since the original articles, we have learned that a group representing Yemeni-Americans has sought and failed to secure a meeting with the State Department, only getting as far as a local passport office in the U.S. The group then contacted the FBI for help, with concerns about possible civil rights violations based on national origin.

    A national rights group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, also indicated they are working with a number of Yemeni-Americans who were improperly treated at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa.

    A Warning Pamphlet for Americans Visiting the American Embassy

    The situation in Yemen has gotten bad enough, and is pervasive enough, that now the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus, and other concerned groups produced a pamphlet warning Yemeni-Americans and others of the situation, and giving advice on how to safeguard themselves. In my own 24 years as a consular officer at State, I am aware of no other embassy, U.S. or other, that has its own warning pamphlet for its own citizens.

    You can read the English version of the pamphlet here; if you are traveling to Yemen, you better damn well read it.

    The pamphlet states quite plainly:

    “Increasingly, individuals, especially of Yemeni origin, report that officials at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa have revoked and taken away their U.S. passports, sometimes pressuring them to sign confessions they do not understand without legal advice.”


    Brown is the New Black

    The advice in the pamphlet is sound and accurate to my reading. The basics– admit nothing, sign nothing, leave and get legal advice– apply to any interaction with our government. However, to many people traveling abroad, such advice may seem shocking. For the most part, Americans have come to believe that “their” embassy in a foreign country is a place of refuge, not another encounter with yet another form of psuedo-law enforcement. Sad to say, but times have changed and even a visit to an American embassy is now a potentially dangerous act for a citizen to undertake. Citizens are viewed as adversaries, particularly “lessor” citizens such as Hyphenated-Americans. Indeed, we can’t find one case in Sanaa that involved a Mr. or Ms. Whitebread.

    Some Friendly Suggestions

    In addition to the advice in the pamphlet, I’d like to also pass on some suggestions based on my own consular experience. Of course this is for informational purposes only, is not encouragement to commit fraud or misrepresentation, not an aid to visa cheating and certainly not legal advice or a legal opinion. I am not a lawyer and do not play one on TV.

    –Do not trust or speak in detail to any local embassy employee. Because these staffers are local people, speak the local language and often appear sympathetic, many Americans of local origin feel comfortable unburdening themselves or speaking more plainly in this encounter. Do not do so; everything you say will be relayed to the American staff and held against you. Do not fall prey to their appeals based on a shared religion, tribal affiliation or the like.

    –In your initial encounter, especially if you walk in on your own to the embassy, expect to outline your reason for being there to a local employee. Be brief and strictly factual. The first American you will see is very likely to be a new or recent hire. If s/he brings in a second American, that person is likely to be either a more senior manager who will make decisions on your case, an antifraud person or law enforcement. If it was me, as soon as that second person appeared, or when the first American left to “consult” or “check with the boss,” I would terminate the interaction and not continue without legal advice.

    –Do not casually relinquish physical possession of your passport without considering legal advice. Technically the passport is the property of the U.S. government, not you, but only in very rare circumstances will the embassy ever try and take it from you by force. Of course, when renewing a passport, you do have to surrender the old one.

    –If after a first encounter at an embassy you are “invited” back in for additional interaction, consult an attorney first. It is never a good idea to go in alone. Do not believe statements such as “we just want to clear something up” without legal advice.

    –If you do not speak English well enough to interact with trained Americans on legal matters, bring along your own trusted translator. The American may insist on using his/her translator, but yours should at least monitor the conversation. The staff who translate in these interactions are not professional translators, merely clerks pressed into service as few of the Americans speak the local language well. The local employee may make mistakes through incompetence, or may misrepresent what you say to favor the boss. Take notes, or have someone with you to take notes, preferably an attorney.

    –If the American uses the terms “additional processing” or “administrative processing,” your case is likely to be denied, sent for fraud work or otherwise acted on not in your favor. In the visa world, “administrative processing” often means your case is being referred for security and intelligence checks. These can take months, and you will likely never know why a visa was denied.

    –It is typically useless to ask to speak to someone else, or a more senior person. If the first interaction does not go well, you may wish to leave and seek legal advice on how to proceed.

    –Interactions at the embassy, even with Americans, are not fully subject to U.S. legal standards. The embassy is not “American soil.” You do not have your full rights standing there. There is no “Miranda” requirement. You do not have to be sworn. They do not have to tell you to what purpose they plan to use your information. U.S. embassy officials working on “administrative matters” are not obligated to keep detailed notes, transcripts or observe standard rules of evidence. In many cases they can turn over your information to local, host country law enforcement if they believe a “crime” has taken place. Information gathered in the course of a passport or visa interview can be shared freely with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

    –Almost anything to do with visas has no appeal or judicial oversight. Be especially mindful of any visa interaction, as once the visa is denied you have very little recourse or remedy easily available.

    The system is not fair, and was not designed to be fair.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen

    More on State’s Illegal Passport Revocations in Yemen

    December 16, 2013 // 12 Comments »

    Searches of public court records continue to expose the illegal actions of the U.S. Department of State in Yemen. One private attorney connected to cases in Yemen says “Issues with the U.S. Consulate in Sana’a are systemic and reach far beyond seizure of U.S. passports. That is merely the egregious tip of the iceberg. I have dealt with many Yemeni’s experiencing problems with the U.S. Consulate in Sana’a. Most non-litigation options fail, but at the same time most Yemeni nationals are afraid litigation will result in retaliation.”

    If you have not read our original report on the issue, see it here.

    Abdo Alarir, et al, v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs

    The first case is Abdo Alarir, et al, v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs, et al, filed October 18, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York. Mr. Alarir, a U.S. Citizen, filled paperwork to bring his children from Yemen to the U.S. One of the kids would immigrate to the U.S. on a visa (“Green Card”) and two would qualify already as American Citizens. The latter is made official when the State Department issues what is called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (a CRBA in State-speak). The reasons why one kid gets a visa and the other two a CRBA are complex but irrelevant to what the State Department, illegally, did with this case.

    Actually what State did was… nothing. The Department of Homeland Security approved the visa (it’s a two-agency process) in 2010. At State, nothing was done for three years to process the cases. As for the Consular Report of Birth for the other two kids, these can be approved within an hour, with the official documents available soon after, right at the embassy, no Homeland Security involvement required. That’s pretty much standard practice around the world. But apparently not in Yemen. So, faced with stonewalling out of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, the American dad sued.

    But back to Sanaa. Dad initially pursued the Consular Reports of Birth. He was told at an initial meeting with State on February 7, 2012 to provide more documents. He did on February 12, 2012, via DHL with a tracking number. Embassy Sanaa waited over a month until March 18, 2012 to send Dad a form letter saying the documents had not been received. Meanwhile, Dad’s lawyer was told by Homeland Security that they had done their part of the job on the visa, that the lawyer should contact the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, and to please bug State from here on out, not them. The paper trail as filed with the U.S. District Court ends there. State just dummied up and did… nothing.

    The lawsuit found its way through the court system, but before the District Court could issue a decision, wham! State, without comment, apology or explanation, just up and issued the visa and Consular Reports of Birth. The case was thus closed on November 23, 2013, and a State Department fudge-up swept under the rug.

    The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

    Two More

    Next up is Yemeni-American Nashwan Ahmed Qassem v. Hillary Clinton, Janice Jacobs, et al. This case was filed on January 30, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for Western New York and though full documentation is not available electronically, it appears to be similar to the other cases. Embassy Sanaa illegally revoked the U.S. Citizen’s passport, he sued, State turned around and re-issued the passport before the Court could render a verdict. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

    A third case we were able to unearth in public records is ongoing, that of Yemeni-American Hashed Mousa. This one involves a U.S. Citizen Yemeni-American grandfather, who was somehow made to “voluntarily” admit that years ago he obtained his own U.S. citizenship by fraud. Despite the law being very clear that only Homeland Security can revoke citizenship due to fraud on the original application, Embassy Sanaa just went ahead and confiscated grandpa’s U.S. passport. The embassy then waited for grandpa’s son to come in to apply for citizenship for the grandchildren, denying those applications based on a flimsy chain of a) since the embassy illegally claimed that grandpa was not a U.S. citizen b) his own son was not a U.S. citizen and therefore c) the grandkids could not be U.S. citizens. The case is 3:13-cv-05958-BHS, filed in the Western District of Washington State. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

    A Question

    It appears quite clear that something happened at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa. Whether the illegal actions against Yemeni-Americans were part of a State-sponsored process, or the actions of a local bureaucracy poorly supervised and out-of-control, are unclear and largely irrelevant. The problems with State and Sanaa grew so egregious that the National Security Council, and even Homeland Security, raised questions. Some good news; sources inside the Department of Justice suggest that whatever was going on toward Yemeni-Americans in Sanaa has tapered off under new management. State, for its part, selected the former manager as Consular Officer of the Year, promoted her, and reassigned her to a dream job in Sydney. The Consular Officer of the Year did not respond to a request for comment.

    That leaves only the question of why the State Department is not seeking to resolve these cases administratively, going back through the files, identifying and reviewing “unusual” actions/inactions and moving to fix things. Instead, State is forcing American Citizens to file expensive lawsuits, which State contests to the last moment before bellying up and doing what it should have and could have done much earlier, issuing the documents it was supposed to.

    It is almost as if State, even when caught red-handed in the wrong, still wants to punish those who challenge it.


    BONUS: In the past, State has challenged the use of its official seal, as seen above, by this blog. Haven’t heard them this time.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military, Syria, Yemen