Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Arrest Made in Ciudad Juarez Consulate Murders (Maybe)

Ricardo "Chino" Valles de la Rosa, under arrest in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Mexican authorities have arrested a member of the Barrio Azteca, an El Paso, Texas, crime gang that is affiliated with the Carrillo-Fuentes drug cartel, and say that he has confessed to having a role in the murders of three members of the U.S. Consulate Ciudad Juarez community on March 13.

See the Mexican press release here (in Spanish).

The twist is that, according to the story line picked up by the Associated Press and other media outlets, the attacks on our consulate employees and their families had nothing to do with drug cartel retaliation against the U.S. government. I have my doubts about that, which I'll explain below.

Here's today's story from the El Paso Times:

A former Barrio Azteca gang member from El Paso suspected of being involved in the killing of three people tied to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez claimed the target of the attack was a detention officer who mistreated gang members at the El Paso County Jail.

Mexican authorities on Tuesday accused Ricardo "Chino" Valles de la Rosa, 45, of being a lookout for gunmen who carried out the hit.

Valles was arrested Friday by the Mexican army in Juárez and remains in custody in Mexico.

Valles alleged during his detention hearing that a gang leader ordered the hit on Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso County sheriff's detention officer, because Redelfs mistreated fellow gang members at the jail. Valles had another hearing Tuesday before a judge, also in Juárez.

The Barrio Azteca is a brother gang of the Juárez Aztecas gang, and both are aligned with the Carrillo-Fuentes cartel.

On March 13, gunmen shot and killed Redelfs, his wife, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who worked for the U.S. Consulate, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, a maquiladora supervisor and husband of consulate employee Hilda Antillon.

Valles said soon after his arrest that a gang leader ordered him to locate Redelfs the next time the detention officer entered Juárez. He said that on the day of the slayings he notified gunmen for the Aztecas that the white vehicle Redelfs was supposed to be driving had left a children's party at the Barquito de Papel hall.

In his statement to officials, Valles said he followed Redelfs' vehicle along Avenida Ribereña until the gunmen asked him to leave the area because "they had him." Redelfs and his wife were killed near the Stanton Street international bridge.

Because two white vehicles left the same party within minutes of each other, the gunmen decided to follow and attack both of them, officials said Valles told them. Redelfs and Salcido both drove white SUVs that day.

El Paso County sheriff's Deputy Jesus Tovar said Valles has a cocaine delivery charge pending against him in El Paso.

Redelfs was a detention officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office for more than 10 years.

Sheriff spokeswoman Chris Acosta said the Sheriff's Office had no comment on the allegations concerning Redelfs because the FBI was the lead agency responsible for any communications about the case.

"We will repeat what we said before -- that Arthur Redelfs was a professional who was well-respected," Acosta said.

Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza said the FBI and DEA are assisting with the investigation, mostly by providing intelligence.

"We still maintain that we have no information to indicate that any of the three were specifically targeted," FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons said Tuesday. "U.S. law enforcement continues to work on this investigation and follow up on all leads."

Soon after the killings, Mexican officials said the Aztecas gang was responsible. The FBI has extensively investigated the U.S.-based Barrio Azteca gang.

On March 18, U.S. investigators in El Paso County launched an operation to shake down Barrio Azteca members and their associates for information about the murders. A few days later, the Border Patrol received intelligence that the gang was considering some kind of retaliation for the operation.

Mexican officials said that several Mexican law enforcement agencies collaborated in Valles' detention, and that the federal attorney general's office was the lead agency for the investigation of the murders. Officials provided background about Valles, who was born in Juárez in 1964.

At the age of 6, Valles and his family moved to El Paso where he lived for 30 years. Valles, nicknamed "Chino," was a member of the notorious Los Fatherless street gang in South-Central El Paso.

On Oct. 15, 1995, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison on drug charges, and he met members of the gangs in La Tuna federal prison, including a leader that Mexican authorities identified as David Almaraz.

On July 25, 2007, Valles was released after serving 12 years in eight U.S. prisons. That year he moved to Juárez, where he joined up with the gang members there. Valles' body is heavily tattooed with ancient Aztec imagery. "El Paso" is inked on the back of his neck, and "Chino" on his abdomen.

The Mexican army arrested Valles on Friday in the slayings of four rival gang members in Juárez and on a weapons charge for being in possession of a 9 mm handgun.

Last Oct. 21, Valles allegedly gunned down 32-year-old Marco Zapata Reyes at a chicken restaurant named El Pollo Sinaloense, authorities said. He is also accused of killing David Angel Contreras Regalado a week later. Both victims were members of the rival Mexicles gang.

Officials said that in January, Valles allegedly shot and killed two members of the Artistas Asesinos (Artist Assassins, or Double A) gang who were in a blue-green Cadillac. Their names were not released.

I think the announced motive for the attack is unconvincing. The idea that a crime gang that got its start in Texas prisons would attack an El Paso jail officer such as Deputy Redelfs has surface plausibility. However, I don't see any indication that Barrio Azteca has retaliated against other jail officers, so there isn't a pattern there that would substantiate such a threat, and so far as I know no one has alleged any specific cause for Barrio Azteca to retaliate against Redelfs personally.

Also, the party with an interest in attacking an El Paso jail officer - the El Paso-based Barrio Azteca gang - didn't commit the attack. The story that Mexican authorities are putting out has the attacks being committed by multiple gunmen from a Juarez-based gang, rather than by the El Paso-based gang. The suspect, Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, acting alone, merely spotted Redelfs when he left El Paso, followed him, and set him up for others to attack. If the motive was really to attack Redelfs because of his status as an El Paso jail officer, then why wouldn't the El Paso-based gang simply attack him themselves? It's not like Valles de la Rosa has any inhibition about murdering people on either side of the border.

And why were there two attacks within a few minutes of each other, if the motive related only to Redelfs? The confession by Valles da la Rosa doesn't account for the attack - mistaken or otherwise - on a second vehicle being driven by Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of one of the consulate's locally engaged staff. According to Valles' statement, he was never uncertain as to the identity or the whereabouts of Redelfs. Valles followed Redelfs' white SUV after he departed the child's birthday party that had brought him to Juarez, and Valles broke off from that pursuit only after the attackers told him they had the target. Moments later, he heard the gunshots (in the words of his statement, "momentos despues, escucho unos disparos"). He then drove past the Redelf's vehicle, in which he saw a man and a women who appeared to be dead. Why was there any reason for a second crew of shooters to follow a second white SUV from the same birthday party and to attack its occupants?

Most importantly of all, the street gangs, on both sides, work for the Juarez cartel that runs the drug business in Mexico's Chihuahua State.

According to testimony from several different witnesses on both sides of the current trial, BA [Barrio Azteca] now works only with the Juarez cartel of Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes, which has long controlled much of Mexico’s Chihuahua state and Ciudad Juarez, and broke with the Sinaloa Federation earlier in 2008. BA took sides with the Juarez cartel, with which it is jointly running drugs across the border at the Juarez plaza.

BA provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders. On Nov. 3, 10 alleged BA members in Ciudad Juarez were arrested in connection with 12 murders. The suspects were armed with four AK-47s, pistols and radio communication equipment — all hallmarks of a team of hit men ready to carry out a mission.

We'll see what develops as investigations proceed and more arrests are made. But for now, the simplest explanation for the murders of our employee, her husband, and the husband of another employee in Ciudad Juarez seems to be just this: "BA [Barrio Azteca] provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders."

CIA Identities Protection and the John Adams Project

The Washington Times has a bit more on a story they first reported two weeks ago concerning a conflict between the CIA and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over a certain type of legal assistance that DOJ allows for Gitmo detainees. Bill Gertz, a reporter with a long record of receiving leaks from inside the intelligence community, says that a CIA security assessment has concluded that the privileged interaction of certain Gitmo detainees with their legal teams creates a danger for CIA officers.

See CIA Says Gitmo Officers at Risk of Exposure:

A team of CIA counterintelligence officials recently visited the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and concluded that CIA interrogators face the risk of exposure to al Qaeda through inmates' contacts with defense attorneys, according to U.S. officials.

The agency's "tiger team" of security specialists was dispatched as part of an ongoing investigation conducted jointly with the Justice Department into a program backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The program, called the John Adams Project, has photographed covert CIA interrogators and shown the pictures to some of the five senior al Qaeda terrorists held there in an effort to identify them further.

Details of the review could not be learned. However, the CIA team came away from the review, conducted the week of March 14, "very concerned" that agency personnel have been put in danger by military rules allowing interaction between the five inmates and defense attorneys, according to an intelligence source close to the review.

The team also expressed concerns about the inmates' access to laptop computers in the past. Some of the inmates who are representing themselves in legal proceedings were granted laptop computers without Internet access. However, the officials fear that future unfavorable court rulings could provide the inmates with the capability of communicating outside the island prison.

The joint investigation, which recently added U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald to the Justice Department team, was stepped up earlier this month after a disagreement between Justice Department and CIA officials over whether CIA officers' lives were put in danger at the prison.

The probe was launched last year but was given renewed attention after CIA counterintelligence officials expressed alarm at the recent discovery of photographs of CIA officers, without their names on the photos, in a cell at the prison.

Mr. Fitzgerald, who investigated the press disclosure of clandestine CIA officer Valerie Plame beginning in 2003, has been meeting with CIA officials for the past several weeks as part of the probe.

The prosecutor was called into the case after agency officials voiced worries that Justice Department investigators did not share their level of concern over the danger that al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, could secretly send information on the identities of CIA officers to al Qaeda terrorists outside the prison through the attorneys.

A senior Justice Department National Security Division official, Donald Vieira, recused himself from the probe earlier this month as a result of the interagency dispute. Mr. Vieira was a Democratic counsel on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, before taking a post at the Justice Department.

Spokesmen for the CIA and Justice Department had no comment. The new chief defense counsel for Guantanamo, Marine Corps Col. Jeff Colwell, also declined to comment on the recent CIA security review conducted at Guantanamo.

Spokesmen for the ACLU and the John Adams Project have denied that any lawyers working to represent Guantanamo detainees have compromised the security of CIA personnel, asserting that they have operated within rules set by a military judge.

[TSB note: I'm sure no lawyer would violate those rules; well, some would, but the ACLU's word is good enough for me.]

Military lawyers and some civilian lawyers seeking to represent the detainees have held meetings with the detainees over the past several months.

[TSB note: the detainees are meeting lawyers who are "seeking to represent" them? The Gitmo Gang is such a hot property that they are fielding offers now? Next we'll hear that these lawyers compete for Gitmo clients by offering percentages of future book, movie and lecture revenues, and that the ACLU is sending literary agents to look out for the Gitmo Gang's interests.]

Regarding the interagency dispute, some CIA officials are said to be concerned that Justice Department investigators may have been advocates on behalf of the Guantanamo Bay detainees prior to joining the Obama administration.

The worries were heightened after the recent disclosure that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had signed Supreme Court briefs supporting a court review of the case of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla. Mr. Holder apologized last week for failing to disclose his role in the briefs during Senate confirmation hearings last year to be attorney general.

Mr. Holder announced in November that he would shift military trials of five al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo to a federal court in New York. However, under protests from critics, he reversed the decision and is expected to announce soon either another civilian trial location or military trials at the Cuban prison.

Newsweek magazine reported March 29 that CIA concerns were heightened after 20 color photographs of CIA officials were found in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a detainee who U.S. officials think is one of the financiers of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Officials familiar with the photos said they included snapshots of CIA officers in public areas.

According to U.S. officials, the photographs were obtained by the John Adams Project through private investigators who were able to track down the CIA officials.

Info Management Specialist Recalled From Pretoria, Under Investigation

The Washington Times is reporting today that a State Department information management specialist is under investigation for, well, severely mismanging some of the information in his possesion.

Reginald Eugene Hopson, a 30-year State Department foreign service officer, was summoned back to Washington from South Africa in October, stripped of his top-secret security clearance and questioned by federal investigators, records show.

He was an information management specialist and pouch control officer who processed classified information at U.S. embassies in Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, and South Africa. His interrogators wanted to know about a raft of classified documents found in his possession — documents they said he had no business having.

The documents included a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) file on a confidential undercover operation and eight classified State Department cables, two of which related to intelligence matters and national defense.

A search of a storage locker containing boxes he had shipped to suburban Maryland from his recent post abroad also turned up five diplomatic passports, a Bolivian passport and bank documents from Italy, Spain, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.

"I have [reason] to believe that Mr. Hopson has violated" laws prohibiting removal of classified information concerning national defense or foreign relations, Special Agent Stanwyn A. Becton of the State Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) wrote in a federal affidavit seeking a judge's approval to search Mr. Hopson's storage locker.

"None of the cables would have required Hopson to print and retain copies of them," the affidavit said.

One of the national defense-related cables, according to the affidavit, "was an extremely sensitive document whose subject matter had no relation to Hopson's job responsibilities and should not have been in his possession."

The affidavit also said that when Mr. Hopson started answering their questions, federal investigators found he changed his story and offered explanations that did not make sense.

The OIG referred inquiries of the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baltimore, which neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a criminal investigation.
Mr. Hopson, who received his first top-secret security clearance in 1981, could not be reached for comment. He has not been charged with a crime.

A State Department spokesman said Mr. Hopson, who joined the foreign service in 1979 and was listed by the department in 2005 as being among the "key officers of foreign service posts," is now stationed in the Washington area. The spokesman said department policy prohibits comment on active investigations. He also declined to describe Mr. Hopson's job status.

A source with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the State Department division that also is investigating the matter and determines eligibility for access to classified material, said: "Annually, there are a limited number of instances where the DSS performs investigations resulting in the curtailment of an individual's assignment abroad which are serious enough to warrant suspension of their security clearance."

Violations of the security laws listed in the affidavit can result in a fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Daniel Hirsch, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, the bargaining unit that represents foreign service officers, confirmed that a union representative accompanied Mr. Hopson to a Nov. 11 interview at the DSS in Arlington, Va., but declined to comment on the interview or the case.

When asked about the classified documents, Mr. Hopson told investigators that a co-worker must have put them there.

"Hopson's claim makes little sense as no one knew that law enforcement agents would be inspecting either his office or the boxes prior to the classified documents being discovered," Mr. Becton wrote. The agent also noted that the cables originated from previous posts where Mr. Hopson had served; one was attached to a personal e-mail.

It was not the only time Mr. Hopson would be at a loss to explain being caught with documents he was not supposed to have. In 2009, investigators found two confidential cables addressed to U.S. embassies in his shipping boxes. Neither of the cables required him to print and retain copies, the affidavit said.

Mr. Hopson said during the interview that when he was assigned in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 2006 there were not enough desks so he worked in an abandoned annex building for two years.

Last June, he left that post a week earlier than scheduled without certifying that he was not taking classified material. DSS and OIG agents were investigating visa fraud at the embassy at the time and discovered that Mr. Hopson was storing classified information in his unauthorized work space. The affidavit said when his supervisor told him to relocate to a secure facility, he failed to comply.

After Mr. Hobson left for his new post in Pretoria, South Africa, a search of his work space revealed a sensitive DEA document and a "confidential" State Department cable in an unlocked desk drawer. The affidavit said the DEA document detailed "an ongoing undercover operation that Hopson had no reason to have in his possession."

A 2009 OIG report described Port of Spain as "an exceptionally attractive transshipment point for drugs." The report said the DEA has a six-person embassy team "to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking networks."

The report also said the embassy's facilities "do not further a sense of team or collective activity, either on or off the job," adding that "for decades, the department has found it difficult to attract quality officers to small islands where service can be mind-numbing and perceived as inconsequential to Washington."

Investigators learned that Mr. Hopson had shipped four boxes from Port of Spain to Pretoria. Inside one, they found eight classified State Department cables, two of which related to intelligence matters and national defense. Search of another revealed two more "confidential" cables, neither of which would have required Mr. Hopson to print copies.

At an interview with DSS investigators in September, Mr. Hopson initially said he had "dumped" the contents of his personnel files into the shipping boxes. Later, he "changed his story and said that he had, in fact, looked through the documents before putting them in the boxes."

Mr. Hopson further said he had no idea how the cables got into his boxes, and speculated that he was set up. He called the discovery of the documents "very suspicious … especially the quantity of the documents found."

As for the documents found in the annex building, Mr. Hopson told investigators he had not worked in that space immediately before his departure, he did not store classified material there, other personnel had access to the area, and he had completely cleaned out his desk when he left.

A week after the State Department suspended Mr. Hopson's security clearance, monitors observed him pack his belongings to return to the U.S. A final search of one those boxes contained two more classified cables. He said he was using the documents for training purposes.

In a written statement he gave to investigators last September, Mr. Hopson "volunteered that he 'in no way sold or gave any classified or unclassified documents to anyone not cleared to see them'" the affidavit said.

We'll learn more about this case, and Mr. Hopson's motive, in due time. But, the fact that he printed and retained cables about DEA operations in the Caribbean makes me suspect that this is not so much about espionage for a foreign state as about peddling info to drug traffiking organizations. The violation he is alleged to have committed is just as serious either way, of course.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On This Day in 1981

On March 30, 1981, President Reagan was shot by would-be assassin John Hinckley. If there was any mention of that event in any of the major news media in Washington today, I didn't see it.

The President "took a round" in the chest, as Secretary of State Alexander Haig put it to the White House press corps later that day, when Hinckley fired a .22 revolver at Reagan six times as he left the Hilton Hotel after addressing an AFL-CIO conference.

Hinckley hit not only Reagan, but also White House press secretary James Brady, Washington DC Police Officer Thomas Delahanty, and U.S. Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy. All four of them survived, which must say something about the luck of the Irish.

As for Hinckley, he was was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982.

Opposition Continues to Foreign Affairs Security Training Center

Local opposition to State Department plans for construction of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore appears to be hardening. The Washington Times had a story two days ago about the latest public meeting on the matter, a meeting which did nothing to satisfy local opponents.

For more than three hours, officials from the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the General Services Administration patiently answered questions and withstood scathing comments that revealed an opposition and distrust rivaling the most confrontational displays in last year's health care town-hall summits.

When it was over, few opinions had been swayed.

-- snip --

"We have been treated by the GSA [General Services Administration] and the State Department as if we're a bunch of backwood hicks who don't know what's good for us," said Centreville resident Sveinn Storm, a local activist who has taken a prominent role in opposing the center.

"In reality, we are mainstream America. We're angry about wasteful projects that are going to ensure that our children and grandchildren won't be able to climb out of the pit of debt that projects like this are digging for them. We are absolutely livid at the treatment that we've received."

-- snip --

Complaints range from concerns that the facility would overwhelm country roads or create too much noise to a fear that it would contribute to suburban "sprawl" or drive away game birds from this popular hunting area.

In opposing the project, County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, a Republican who is running for Ms. Mikulski's Senate seat, said zoning restrictions would limit a private developer to building about 150 to 200 town houses on the site, but the federal government is not bound by similar restrictions.

"This flies in the face of all the efforts this state has made toward smart growth and planning," he said.

-- snip --

A January public meeting intended to address local concerns ended up prompting an angry letter to GSA acting Administrator Stephen R. Leeds from Ms. Mikulski, who said agency representatives treated her constituents "with a disregard that borders on arrogance."

"They displayed a shocking, inexcusable and inexplicable lack of preparation, which has resulted in threat of lawsuits, widespread anger and what I fear now is an implacable opposition to the project," she wrote, adding that the GSA's inability to answer basic questions gave the appearance of a lack of transparency. "It is hard to imagine how your team could have done a worse job in explaining this important project to the community."

-- snip --

The State Department has persisted, with mixed results, in its effort to make the case that the facility will be good for the community. Officials have posted plans, maps and the answers to dozens of frequently asked questions on their Web site.
They have arranged bus tours to military and civilian facilities with similar missions as the proposed training center and staged explosives demonstrations to make their case to skeptical residents, politicians and reporters that the facility will not be as intrusive as they think.

In some cases, the efforts have only provided ammunition to the opponents, who have filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, securing project documents and details. Mr. Storm traveled with a video camera to New Mexico to visit a security training facility with a similar mission to document the town's disenchantment with the federal facility it invited on the promise of jobs and economic growth.

You can read more about the objections of local residents at Citizens for Greater Centreville.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dipomatic Security: 2009 Year in Review

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security's 2009 Year in Review is now available (here), and it is worth a look.

One small item in the report really stood out to me, personally, since it is a good example of something that I think should be done routinely. It was about physical security enhancements abroad, and how DS specialists worked with a local architect in Rome to meet security requirements for our historic chancery there in an architecturally sensitive way. The result is a compound access control booth that is in full compliance with the purportedly onerous 'Fortress Embassy' security standards, yet is so visually discrete that it is practically invisible from outside the embassy's perimeter fence. See a photo of that stealthy structure on pages 14 and 15 of the report.

I'm happy to learn that someone in DS is concerned about protecting our culturally significant properties, as well as our people. That guy ought to get a bonus.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Abdulmutallab (TWA "Christmas Bomber") Had a Visa Denial Reversed

The WaPo has a bit of a ho-hum story tonight about the complicated visa history of the "Christmas Bomber," young Mister Abdulmutallab of Nigeria.

Visa denial was reversed for terrorism suspect in 2004:

A U.S. consular official originally denied terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab a visa to enter the United States in 2004 after finding false information on his application, but that official was overruled by a supervisor, according to senior government sources.

-- snip --

Abdulmutallab's visa history was recently shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee and House lawmakers, who have been exploring whether the government missed any red flags and could have prevented the Nigerian from entering the country.

-- snip --

Officials said the consulate supervisor who authorized Abdulmutallab's visa concluded that he had strong ties to Nigeria and no derogatory information in his background and that his inaccurate answer about having been denied a visa might have been based on a misunderstanding.

"When that judgment was reviewed, the supervisor concluded that this was not a willful misrepresentation and that he had the intent of returning home after visiting the United States," one official explained.

The bottom line is that the 18 year-old Abdulmutallab committed a non-material error on his first visa application, which was forgiven based upon his lack of willful misrepresentation and his strong ties to Nigeria, i.e., his Daddy's $$$$$$$. This all happened before he was radicalized and became a security threat.

Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

As is usually the case, I found the on-line comments readers made about the story more interesting, and sometimes providing a better interpretation of the event, than the news article itself. Here are two if the 32 comments posted as of midnight Thursday:

(MEppinger wrote)

Junior consular officers, who conduct visa interviews in all or our embassies and consulates, are often the most strict in interpreting the regs and denying visas. They take a lot of flack for it, and get a lot of pressure, some from their immediate supervisors, some from higher in the embassy, but MOST from members of Congress.

Congress, before you light into our career diplomats, do us a favor and take a look at your own "constituent services" staff. In particular, look at the boilerplate text of letters sent out in your name when a constituent (or, on occasion, a non-voting resident of your district) complains about a visa denial for a friend or relative. Before you castigate State, change your own office's policies. Only weigh in for people personally and favorably known to you. Help lead all branches of government in defending the integrity of our visa processes. 99% of the time, junior officers are out their on the front lines on their own. They only hear from Congress when a complaint comes in about a visa denied. Why not start but having their backs on visa denials?!

(When you think about it that way, when you think about actually saying "no" to an unknown constituent who writes for help with a visa, it gets a lot harder, doesn't it?)

State Department consular supervisors put pressure on their junior officers to reverse visa denials in part because of their own years of having to justify having denied this or that visa, including answering hundreds of letters from members of Congress over visa denials.

Visa decisions are the most petty and the most crucial part of our front-line defenses. At the same time that you ask State to make some changes, Congress, do your part.


(deparker2001 wrote)

As a retired consular officer--no I was not the reviewer in 2004. I retired in 2002--please permit me to add a modicum of reality to this discussion.

For the misrepresentation to be a grounds for the denial of a visa application it must be "material." That means that the information must be so important that were the truth to be known, then the visa would be denied. Now a previous application is not material and that fact can be easily discovered through normal name checks which probably occurred in this case. In any event the visa issuance was perfectly valid in this case. The young man traveled to the US and left the country. And he wasn't a jihadist in those days, as far as we know. So a "security officer" would not have found any reason to refuse his visa application in 2004.

The problem with this case has nothing to do with the visa issuance. The problem was the lack of coordination between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. If the information regarding the training of jihadists in Yemen had been known and if someone had checked up on some of these young men, then they might have known that this chap was a danger in 2009. If there are fixes to be made, then they must be made within the intelligence community.

Both of those readers sound like they know what they are talking about.

"Much Has Changed" Since 2009 at the Office of the Historian

And changed for the better, according to the brief treatment - only four and a half pages - given to the U.S. State Department's Office of the Historian (HO) in the Inspector General's February 2010 Inspection Report of the Bureau of Public Affairs.

The HO sounds like an incomparably happier place than it was last summer. So much angst back then!

On pages 36 and 37 of the OIG report there is a good description of the difficult editorial process that is involved in producing the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. Timely production of new FRUS volumes will always be a struggle, in part due to the unavoidable delays and interagency hassles entailed in declassifying the relevant documentation. As I noted before:

It's no secret that the CIA is the main obstacle to the clearance of material in the FRUS series. You can read the arguments for and against CIA openness with the HO here. The policy conflicts between the CIA and the HO are regularly aired in public with each publication of the minutes of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation (like this one from last December). I'm sure the declassification process is much more frustrating for the wienies in the HO than it is for interested onlookers like Anonymous and me.

By the way, I still think "The History Weenies" would look good on office coffee mugs. I once made a similar recommendation to an intelligence unit within the Drug Enforcement Administration in Colombia ("Geeks with Guns") and they put it onto logo hats and T-shirts.

American Police Training and Political Violence

Domani Spero at Diplopundit had a sobering post earlier this week about U.S. efforts to train police in Afghanistan (here), and it left me thinking about the topic of police forces and counterinsurgency efforts.

Today, thanks to a link in the History News Network, I found an article that provides some perspective on U.S. efforts to train local police forces abroad over the past hundred or so years. See: American Police Training and Political Violence: From the Philippines Conquest to the Killing Fields of Afghanistan and Iraq by Jeremy Kuzmarov, assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa.

I hope that someday a historian will handle the much-neglected topic of U.S. efforts to pacify and administer the Island of Puerto Rico between 1898, when it was acquired as war booty, and 1952 when it became a U.S. Commonwealth. In many ways, the campaign in Puerto Rico was a companion piece to the much larger but shorter-lived one in the Philippines, and it had a political afterlife that is still unfolding.

Do Americans even know that the U.S.-appointed chief of the P.R. Insular Police, a U.S. Army Colonel named Francis E. Riggs, was assassinated by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1936? Or that there was a nationalist uprising on the island in 1950 that motivated the attempt to assassinate President Truman at Blair House? Or that Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the U.S. Congress in 1954?

The subject of Puerto Rico has long fascinated me, and I've given some thought to researching and writing an article myself about the political conflict - frankly, the counterinsurgency - that took place there between local nationalists and their U.S. government adversaries. Maybe someday!

The Ides of March Madness

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

(Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19)

Caesar should have paid a little more attention to that warning, but what can you do? Chief Executives back then - as now - couldn't take every threat assessment seriously, not even one that came from an occult source that had reported reliably in the past. Anyway, I'm sure Caesar figured that, if worse came to worse and his enemies in the Senate made a move on him, then Brutus would have his back. If you can't trust your closest political ally, mentee, and family member, then whom can you trust?

But, political assassinations in ancient Rome do not concern me today. Rather, I'd like to present Shakespeare's Final Four Picks, which come to us courtesy of the American Shakespeare Company, those wonderful people who present Renaissance theater the way it actually was - contemporary, entertaining, popular and often bawdy - and never the antiquarian oh-so-serious highbrow way that it is presented most everywhere else. (I'm looking at you, Folger Shakespeare Library!)

Here are the teams the Bard likes:

Kentucky Wildcats vs West Virginia Mountaineers
Will’s Tip: “Wildcats in your kitchen” (Othello, 2.1)

Northern Iowa vs Ohio State
Will’s Tip: “Lament thy miserable State” (Merry Wives, 3.5)

Duke Blue Devils vs Saint Mary’s Gaels
Will’s Tip: “From all such Devils, good lord deliver us!” (Shrew, 1.1)

Kansas State Wildcats vs Butler Bulldogs
Will’s Tip: “Down, down, ’Dogs, down” (2 Henry IV. 2.4)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

India's Hottest Chili Enlisted in the War Against Terrorism

The Associated Press reported today on the Indian Defense establishment's intention to use their hottest native pepper plant as a weapon against terrorists. See: Indian military to weaponize world's hottest chili.

Much scoffing about "curry bombs" and "grenade masala" has followed the AP report, but I think this idea is a great advance in the field of counterterrorism.

From the AP report:

The Indian military has a new weapon against terrorism: the world's hottest chili.

After conducting tests, the military has decided to use the thumb-sized "bhut jolokia," or "ghost chili," to make tear gas-like hand grenades to immobilize suspects, defense officials said Tuesday.

The bhut jolokia was accepted by Guinness World Records in 2007 as the world's spiciest chili. It is grown and eaten in India's northeast for its taste, as a cure for stomach troubles and a way to fight the crippling summer heat.

[TSB note: the bhut jolokia is indeed the #1 hottest chili, according to no less an authority than the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.]

It has more than 1,000,000 Scoville units, the scientific measurement of a chili's spiciness. Classic Tabasco sauce ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units, while jalapeno peppers measure anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000.

"The chili grenade has been found fit for use after trials in Indian defense laboratories, a fact confirmed by scientists at the Defense Research and Development Organization," Col. R. Kalia, a defense spokesman in the northeastern state of Assam, told The Associated Press.

"This is definitely going to be an effective nontoxic weapon because its pungent smell can choke terrorists and force them out of their hide-outs," R. B. Srivastava, the director of the Life Sciences Department at the New Delhi headquarters of the DRDO said.

Peppers have long been used to produce irritant sprays, such as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC). But those are made from cayenne peppers, which have a Scoville heat unit rating of 30,000 to 50,000. The highest law enforcement grades of OC are refined to about 5,000,000 SHUs, or at least ten times the potency of the unrefined pepper.

Cayenne pepper might be hot enough to make a pretty good weapon in some parts of the world, but in Indian culture it's merely a condiment. Totally harmless.

The bhut jolokia pepper starts with more than 1,000,000 Scoville units in its unrefined state, and I can only imagine how painfully hot it could get in its fully refined - weaponzied - form. Wow! Practically an organic napalm.

I bet it will be a rough couple of lifetimes for any dug-in Indian terrorist who gets saturated with that stuff.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Trial Date Nears for Ex-CIA Algiers Station Chief

Way back in the January 2009 the public learned that the CIA Station Chief in Algiers had been removed from post two months earlier, arrested by Diplomatic Security Agents, and charged with multiple counts of rape. Today, the WaPo is reporting that a trial date is finally getting close.

From CIA official's rape case headed to June trial:

[I]t looks like the increasingly lurid case of Andrew Warren, the CIA’s station chief in Algeria until he was removed under a cloud of rape charges in October 2008, is heading for court.

The Justice Department and Warren’s Florida-based attorney, Mark David Hunter, confirmed independently that the erstwhile covert operator is heading for a Washington trial, scheduled now for sometime in June. Hunter otherwise declined to comment.

The accused is now attempting to get some of the evidence against him suppressed by alleging improprieties in the conduct of the investigation. The government has filed a supplemental brief asking that the defense motion for suppression be denied.

Who knows which way the court will rule? But, judging by the affidavits of the State Department investigators that are linked in the WaPo article, it seems there is ample evidence to convict the miscreant whichever way the motions go.

South of the Border, Down Mérida Way

The recent attack on our consulate employees and their families still casts a pall over the very subject of U.S.-Mexico relations. However, today the SecState is visiting our neighbor to the south for a meeting of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group, and the State Department's Office of the Spokesman has been sending out a stream of press releases in support of the visit.

Here they are:

Secretary Clinton: Travel to Mexico, March 23, 2010

United States-Mexico Security Partnership: Progress and Impact

United States-Mexico Partnership: Anti-Arms Trafficking and Anti-Money Laundering

United States-Mexico Partnership: A New Border Vision

I just hope that, somewhere amid all the hundreds of millions of dollars in training and equipping, technical assistance, and professionalization of Mexican law enforcement agencies that make up the Mérida Initiative, there will be a little bit of justice for these three people.


Update (7:40 PM): Two nameless Senior Administration Officials, who were evidently aboard the plane that was taking SecState Hillary Clinton to Mexico City, took time out from their busy schedules to give the press a background briefing. Note: Senior Administration Official Two refers to "Mexican DTOs" in his or her remarks, which I assume are Drug Trafficking Organizations.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Natural and Organic, But Maybe Not Secure

Whole Fords says it is "free of artificial flavorings, colorings, sweeteners, preservatives and hydrogenated fats," but how can you be sure it is also free of potential assassins laying in wait amid the aisles of gluten-free-this and organic-that and Rainforest-friendly-other stuff?

Ed Henry of CNN just tweeted the following observation this Sunday morning in Washington:

Ben Bernanke [Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System] shopping Whole Foods w/two security guards, but he's wearing polo that says "The Fed" so kind of gives him away. That & beard.

Who even knew that the Fed Chairman had bodyguards? Or logo polo shirts?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feds Round Up the Usual Suspects Looking for Leads in Murder of U.S. Consulate Employee

photo from Borderline Beat

From the El Paso Times:

"Basically, we're just shaking the tree to see what fruit comes out," said Special Agent James Bohn, a spokesman for the FBI in El Paso.

The FBI- and DEA-led Operation Knock Down interrogated 100 of the 700 known Barrio Azteca gang members investigators wanted to question, officials said. Some people were arrested because they had outstanding warrants.

-- snip --

Law enforcement officers are trying to generate leads on the deaths Saturday of Lesley A. Enriquez, 35, a U.S. citizen who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Juárez; her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, a detention officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office; and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, of Juárez whose wife worked for the consulate.

-- snip --

Mexican officials have said they suspect that the Aztecas gang of Juárez might have been involved in the shootings.

The Aztecas is a brother organization to the El Paso-based Barrio Azteca gang. Both are allied with Vicente Carrillo Fuente's Juárez drug cartel.

Some further information is available from Borderline Beat.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Congressional Staffers Harrass Long-Suffering U.S. Capitol Police

This story in The Hill has one bit of surprising news - surprising to me, at least - which is that “the [U.S. House of Representatives] does not require criminal background checks to be conducted on the 8,000 staff members who work with lawmakers.” That doesn't seem wise.

The rest of the story is not exactly news. It turns out that Congressional staffers have an inflated sense of their importance. I'm shocked, shocked!

My heart goes out to the U.S. Capitol Police officers who must deal with thousands of the most self-important people in the world every day. If we paid them each a nickel for every time they heard the words do you know who I am? coming from some intern to the junior assistant to the deputy chief of the minority staff of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Trade Preparedness Policy Funding and Railroad Pensions, I’ll bet they could all retire tomorrow.

The situation calls for a modern-day “Clubber” Williams ("there is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court”) but you can’t get away with that behavior anymore, not now that there are surveillance cameras everywhere.

U.S. Mission Mexico Flags at Half Staff

The U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez (photo from Reuters)

All U.S. Mission installations in Mexico flew their flags at half staff for three days, ending today, in mourning for Lesley Enriquez, the employee who was killed March 13th in Ciudad Juarez.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

FBI: Ciudad Juarez Attackers Might Have Been "Confused"

The Associated Press is reporting tonight on the FBI's working theory about the dual attacks that killed three people connected to U.S. Consulate Ciudad Juarez. The FBI speculates the attackers might have been looking for two other white vehicles that were leaving another kid's party in Juarez that same Saturday afternoon. And, therefore, our employees weren't targeted due to their employment and this wasn't an attack on U.S. government interests.

That's an awfully big stretch of speculation that reaches a comforting conclusion.

From the AP story (FBI: No evidence Mexico hit men targeted Americans):

Confused hit men may have gone to the wrong party, the FBI said Tuesday as it cast doubt on fears that the slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. consulate shows that Mexican drug cartels have launched an offensive against U.S. government employees.

Gunmen chased two white SUVs from the birthday party of a consulate employee's child on Saturday and opened fire as horrified relatives screamed. The two near-simultaneous attacks left three adults dead and at least two children wounded.

The working theory, described to the AP by FBI spokeswoman Andrea Simmons, drives home just how dangerous Ciudad Juarez has become — and just how vulnerable those who live and work there can be, despite the Mexican government's claims that most victims are drug smugglers.

According to the line of investigation, the assailants — believed to be aligned with the Juarez drug cartel — may have been ordered to attack a white SUV leaving a party and mistakenly went to the "Barquito de Papel," which puts on children's parties and whose name means "Paper Boat."

"We don't have any information that these folks were directly targeted because of their employment by the U.S. government or their U.S. citizenship," Simmons said by phone from El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez.

Well, Special Agent Simmons also 'doesn't have any information' that the killers were just confused, does she?

The article goes on to quote a private analyst who doubts the cartels would have the huevos to attack U.S. government employees, because that would provoke a heightened response from both the U.S. and Mexican governments.

But why wouldn't the narcos be willing to strike directly at U.S. interest targets, especially soft ones? Aren't the narcos facing an "existential threat" from the U.S.-supported Mexican federal government's narcotics control campaign, as is stated on page 14 of the State Department's 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that was released to Congress two weeks ago?

"We believe that the Mexican government's efforts are having a real impact. For the first time, trafficking organizations are facing an existential threat from the state, which they cannot win by bribery or intimidation."

The Mexican drug cartels are fighting for their survival at this point. Given enough provocation, such as news stories about the escalating levels of U.S. support for Mexico's campaign against them (see, for example, this WaPo report from February 24: U.S. to embed agents in Mexican law enforcement units battling cartels in Juarez), I think they certainly would strike at U.S. employees. What would they have to lose?

UK Warns Mexico Against Using Scam Bomb Detector

A few months ago the British government took action against a corporation that has been selling a notorious scam bomb detector known variously as the GT 200, the ADE 651, the Sniffex and the MOLE. Now the British are attempting to warn the Mexican government against using the ridiculous devices, which their military and police forces have purchased by the hundreds at the price of $20,000 each.

Good luck to the Brits. The U.S. government has so far been unable to convince the Iraqi government to stop using the thousands of GT 200s it purchased for $85 million. Evidently, the snake oil used to sell these things is particularly long-lasting and the victim doesn't come to his senses for years, if ever.

For their $20K, the Mexicans get nothing but an empty plastic box connected to an antenna and programmed with a deck of ordinary plastic cards. Really. That's all. See here and here for U.S. government test reports that document the bald-faced fraud that is the GT 200, ADE 651, et al.

From today's New York Times:

The British government has notified Mexico that a handheld device widely used by the Mexican military and police to search for drugs and explosives may be ineffective, British officials said. [TSB note: "may" be ineffective? That's British understatement. There's no maybe about it.]

Mexico’s National Defense Secretariat has spent more than $10 million to purchase hundreds of the detectors, similar to the “magic wands” in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, for its antidrug fight. Although critics have called them nothing more than divining rods, Mexican defense officials praise the devices as a critical part of their efforts to combat drug traffickers. At the military’s National Drug Museum, one of the devices is on display, with a plaque that describes its success in finding hidden caches of drugs.

-- snip --

As of April 20, 2009, the army had purchased 521 of the GT 200 detectors for just over $20,000 apiece, for a total cost of more than $10 million, according to Mexican government documents. Police agencies across Mexico have made additional purchases, records show.

“We’ve had success with it,” Capt. Jesús Héctor Larios Salazar, an officer with the Mexican Army’s antidrug unit in Culiacán, said recently. “It works with molecules. It functions with the energy of the body.”

Molecules? That quote must be a translation error. I think Captain Larios meant to say it works with magic, and it functions with the energy supplied by a body of money. Captain, please open your eyes. The only ones who have ever had any success with the GT 200 are the gringos who sold them to you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Would John Adams Do About the ACLU?

The Washington Times has a story today about an escalating conflict between the CIA and the Justice Department that was brought on by Justice's toleration of certain practices by legal supporters of Gitmo detainees. See Justice, CIA clash over probe of interrogator IDs.

The CIA and Justice Department are fighting over a secret investigation into a controversial program by legal supporters of Islamist terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay that involved photographing CIA interrogators and showing the pictures to prisoners, an effort CIA officials say threatens the officers' lives.

-- snip --

According to U.S. officials familiar with the issue, the current [CIA versus Justice Department] dispute involves Justice Department officials who support an effort led by the American Civil Liberties Union to provide legal aid to military lawyers for the Guantanamo inmates. CIA counterintelligence officials oppose the effort and say giving terrorists photographs of interrogators has exposed CIA personnel and their families to possible terrorist attacks.

This is the part I found most interesting:

The officials said the photographs of the CIA officers found recently at Guantanamo were obtained by a joint program of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers called the John Adams Project.

The project, according to a Washington Post report in August, hired contractors to photograph CIA officers who were thought to have carried out terrorist interrogations. Those photographs were then to be provided to defense lawyers representing some of the Guantanamo detainees as part of an effort to identify the interrogators, for possible use as witnesses in military or civilian trials.

Joshua Dratel, a lawyer representing the John Adams Project, declined to comment directly on whether his group hired investigators to photograph CIA officers and supply them to military defense lawyers.

However, Mr. Dratel said in an interview that "none of the John Adams Project lawyers have done anything inappropriate or contrary to the protective order or any other rules that apply" to the prisoners.

ACLU spokesman John Kennedy also declined to comment on whether the project obtained photographs of CIA officers. However, he said none of the John Adams Project lawyers disclosed the identities of CIA officers to detainees held at Guantanamo.

The John Adams Project of the ACLU is so named because future President John Adams provided legal representation to British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre. Presumably, the Gitmo Bar thinks that is analogous to what they're doing. But, after reading today's Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Gitmo's Indefensible Lawyers, I'd say the ACLU is lucky they don't have to answer to the President Adams who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts. That guy would have put the Gitmo Bar away for a loooong time.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Irish

St. Patrick's Day is almost here, and The History News Network has a post about the deeper meaning of that enjoyable, yet rather curious, cultural phenomenon of the St. Patrick's Day parade (see The Wearing of the Green).

According to Christopher Shannon, an Associate Professor of History at Christendom College:

Scholars of Irish American history who bemoan the reduction of Irish culture to the worst of nineteenth-century, stage-Irish stereotypes might do better to sit back and wonder at the simple, and almost miraculous fact of the continued existence of the St. Patrick’s Day parade—a private, ethnic religious holiday whose public celebration dwarves those of most official national state holidays.

Why the paucity of academic attention? Shannon's bottom line is that Irish-Americans have spoiled the fun for scholars of ethnicity by failing to conform to their preconceived ideas of what constitutes ethnic identity.

How Will Mexicans Perceive the Attack on U.S. Consulate Employees?

The attacks against our Ciudad Juarez consulate employees and their families were horrendous even by the contemporary standards of the Mexican border region. Murdering pregnant women and shooting into cars full of toddlers are acts likely to be particularly offensive to the Mexican public, maybe enough so as to provoke a reaction against the narco gangs that committed those atrocities.

Jose Rene Blanco Vega, the vicar general of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez, is quoted in today's El Diario denouncing the murder of innocent people with specific reference to the murder of the three connected to the U.S. Consulate.

My translation of the article's key phrase:

"The point of view of the Church is that from the first moment of conception in the womb until the last moment of life of an elderly person, human life is sacred, nobody can touch it, nobody can destroy it, no one can take it away." This crime against any person, from the smallest or poorest to the highest official, will always be a grave offense, he said.

It makes me wonder whether Saturday's attacks might have the potential to be a turning point in the Mexican government campaign against the border's narco gangs. Talk about having the moral high ground. Even the gangs themselves are likely to be ashamed of the perpetrators of those attacks, since they do have their own moral codes, and moral codes are far more binding than laws in a lawless environment. Shooting women and children is not what Jesús Malverde, the patron saint of drug traffickers and mythic figure adopted by the narcos, would do.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

U.S. Consulate Employee Killed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

photo from el Diario

Correction, March 15:

The news media have often referred to the female victim of Saturday's attack as a U.S. citizen, however, she was - and, unless she was naturalized, remained at the time of her murder - a Mexican/Canadian citizen. Mexican news media is reporting today that she was born in 1974 in the state of Chihuahua and is the daughter of prominent Mexican businessman Manuel Jorge Enriquez Savignac and a Canadian mother. She was employed at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez since 2001, and resided in El Paso, Texas.


Update at 8 PM, March 14:

The State Department just released Hillary's Clinton's Statement on the Murders in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.


The news media is reporting that an employee of U.S. Consulate Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was killed late Saturday, along with her U.S. citizen husband. The couple were shot by multiple gunmen while in their private vehicle and stopped at the El Paso International Bridge, the main border crossing point into El Paso, Texas. A child, reported to be under one year old, was unharmed in the back seat of the vehicle.

At roughly the the same time the U.S. couple were killed, a Mexican citizen who is married to a Mexican employee of the Consulate was shot to death at a separate location.

Some U.S. news outlets are reporting the names of the two U.S. citizen victims, but I've seen no official identification yet. Neither have I seen any official information concerning in what capacity the U.S. victim was employed at the Consulate.

According to the ABC News story today:

The U.S. State Department has authorized employees working in six Mexican border cities to move their families out of those areas because of security concerns.

The unprecedented move comes as authorities in Mexico investigate the murders of 3 people connected to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez.

Gunmen killed the victims late Saturday afternoon. In a brief statement Sunday morning National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer confirmed the murders.

"The President is deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders of three people associated with the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, including a U.S. citizen employee, her U.S. citizen husband, and the husband of a Mexican citizen employee."

Local Mexican news outlets added some details today (report in Spanish), and the New York Times is adding more in a report dated March 15.

The State Department issued a new travel warning for Mexico today.

It's easy to speculate that the shootings were attacks by narcotics traffickers on U.S. interests, and the circumstances - multiple gunmen in broad daylight, and near-simultaneous attacks on related targets - supports that assumption. However, early reports are notorious for being wrong, and I'll wait for more information before drawing any conclusions about this sad incident.

And the Rosemary Goes to ...

Congratulations are due to the Federal Chief Information Officers' Council, which beat out strong competition to win the 2010 Rosemary Award for Worst Open Government Performance.

Washington, DC, March 12, 2010 - The Rosemary Award for worst open government performance, named after President Nixon’s secretary who erased 18 ½ minutes of a crucial Watergate tape, this year goes to the Federal Chief Information Officers Council, the senior federal officials (responsible for $71 billion a year of IT purchases) who have never addressed the failure of the government to save its e-mail electronically, according to the citation today by the National Security Archive.

-- snip --

Previous recipients of the Rosemary Award include the FBI in 2009 (for having a record-setting rate of “no records” responses to FOIA requests), the Treasury Department in 2008 (for shredding FOIA requests and delaying responses for decades), the Air Force in 2007, and the Central Intelligence Agency in 2006. The Award is named after President Nixon’s long-time secretary Rose Mary Woods and the backwards-leaning stretch – answering the phone while keeping her foot on the pedal of a tape transcription machine – that she testified caused the erasure of an 18 ½ minute section of a key Watergate conversation on the White House tapes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

The U.S. Department of Education is buying tactical shotguns for it's Chicago Office of the Inspector General:


And not just any shotguns, but bad-ass ones with law enforcement-restricted short barrels, ghost ring sights, recoil reducers, and Speedfeed stocks for carrying extra ammo. Pretty much every shotgun accessory except a tactical light. (Maybe they skipped that option because school's out at night?)

What's up with that? Is the Department of Education creating its own SWAT teams?

It is not uncommon for Inspector General personnel to be law enforcement officers, since they might investigate criminal violations such as fraud and other white-collar offenses. But the usual self-defense weapon is a pistol. An accountant with a shotgun? Now, that's frightening.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pakistani Visitors Receive a Cultural Experience, TSA-Style

The New York Times is reporting tonight on a fiasco of a cultural exchange visit to the U.S. by a group of Pakistani parliamentarians (Upset by U.S. Security, Pakistanis Return as Heroes):

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A tour of the United States arranged by the State Department to improve ties to Pakistani legislators ended in a public relations fiasco when the members of the group refused to submit to extra airport screening in Washington, and they are now being hailed as heroes on their return home.

“People should be thankful, you made them so proud,” said Hamid Mir, the host of a popular national talk show, during an interview in his studio on Tuesday with four of the six politicians, who railed against the security precautions at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Meetings with the Obama administration’s top policy makers on Pakistan, including the president’s special representative, Richard C. Holbrooke, and visits to the Pentagon and the National Security Council, did not allay the anger the politicians said they felt at being asked to submit to a secondary screening on Sunday before boarding a flight to New Orleans. They declined to be screened and did not board the flight.

Pakistan is one of 14 mostly Muslim countries whose citizens must go through increased checks before they fly into the United States, a procedure mandated by the Obama administration in the wake of the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up an airliner flying from the Netherlands to Detroit on Dec. 25.

The inclusion of Pakistan on the list was broadly criticized as an insult to a country that the United States calls an ally.

The leader of the parliamentary group, Senator Abbas Khan Afridi, said in an interview on Tuesday that before they were to board the flight for New Orleans, he and his colleagues were selected from a crowd of passengers at the airport and asked to stand aside.

They were then asked to accept a full-body scan by a machine, he said. Such body-scanning units are in use at 19 airports across the United States, and more are being installed.

One of Mr. Afridi’s colleagues, Akhunzada Chitan, told Mr. Mir on his “Capital Talk” program, “Going through a body scan makes you naked, and in making you naked, they make the whole country naked.”

The lawmakers were chosen to visit the United States by the Political Section of the American Embassy. American officials are eager to reach out to political figures from the underdeveloped and isolated tribal areas where the Pakistani Army is now fighting to reclaim territory from the Taliban.

The United States Agency for International Development pledged two years ago to spend $750 million on various projects in the tribal areas, but residents there complain that they see more of the Taliban than American assistance.

In preparatory briefings for their trip, the politicians were advised that they might have to submit to extra body searches, just as randomly selected Americans must submit to secondary screening by the new machines, two officials from the American Embassy said.

The Pakistanis were specifically warned that the United States was not a “V.I.P. culture,” unlike Pakistan, where politicians are often exempted from unpalatable procedures that other people have to tolerate, the American officials said.

“We are disappointed that the group took offense at the security procedures thousands of Americans and visitors must endure at airports every day,” said Larry Schwartz, the senior communications adviser at the American Embassy in Islamabad.

“No offense was intended. Indeed, they were warmly welcomed at high levels in Washington.”

The American Embassy in Islamabad has been endowed with an extra $37 million by Congress to spend on exchange programs intended to show skeptical Pakistanis that the United States is a real ally, a country that wants to help, not hinder, Pakistan.

The people-to-people exchanges between Pakistan and the United States, which include American lecturers and teachers of English coming to Pakistan, is now the most ambitious of such efforts run by the State Department around the globe, Mr. Schwartz said.

About 2,000 Pakistanis are expected to participate in the strengthened educational and cultural programs this year, he said. Indeed, a prime motivation of the protest against the screening procedures by the tribal area politicians appeared to be an effort to appeal to their home constituencies, many of whom regard the United States as an enemy.

“Our people were very disturbed we were going to America,” Mr. Afridi said. “We were under threat for going to the United States. We took the risk to see if America was interested in solving the problems.”

It isn't clear from this report whether the Pakistanis absolutely, positively, refused to go through a body scanner, or whether they were reacting to a little bad attitude from a TSA Inspector. (What? A TSA Inspector getting officious? Hard to believe, I know.) Or was it a case of foreign VIP presumption meeting homegrown TSA intransigence? Either way, things will not end happily.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Azzam the American" Captured in Pakistan (?); Who Do We Pay?


Evidently, the American-born al Qa'ida operative who was arrested in Karachi today was not / not Adam Gadahn, AKA "Azzam the American."


According to Pakistan's Dawn News:

KARACHI: Pakistani security forces along with help of US intelligence arrested Abu Yahya Mujahdeen Al- Adam, who is a close associate of Osama Bin Laden. Abu Yahya was arrested on Sunday from an area surrounding the super highway, on the outskirts of Karachi.

The Associated Press is also reporting the arrest of Adam Yahiye Gadahn, the native American who became al Qa'ida's spokesman to the English-speaking world and who is under indictment in the United States for treason. So it might be true, but we should wait for official confirmation of his identity.

The arrest occurred on the same day Gadahn's latest video was posted to militant web sites.

Here's a profile of Gadahn that helps to put the twisted freak into perspective.

Assuming the man in custody in Karachi is really Gadahn, it looks like the Department of State might owe someone one million dollars.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Cherry Trees Will Bloom in Three Weeks

The U.S. National Park Service has set the dates for the 2010 National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC as March 27 to April 11, and predicts the average peak bloom will occur on April 4. Evidently, the trees survived our February Snowpocalypse with little or no damage to their blooms.

From the NPS press release:

The Blooming Period is defined as the period that starts when 20% of the blossoms are open and ends when the petals fall and the leaves appear. The Blooming period starts several days before the Peak Bloom Date and can last as long as 14 days; however, frost or high temperatures combined with wind and/or rain can shorten this period.

During the Blooming Period, the National Park Service conducts annual Cherry Tree Walks and bike tours around the Tidal Basin. These Park Ranger conducted programs present an interpretive look at the historical and cultural influence of the Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees in our Nation's Capital. For information on the dates and times of the walks and bike tours please call (202) 426-6841.

The cherry tree blossoming is one of those local events I try not to miss. Really very lovely.

The cherry trees were a gift from Japan in 1912, and were intended to symbolize the friendship that existed between the peoples of the two countries. Helen Herron Taft, the wife of President Taft, and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the United states, planted the first two cherry trees in March of that year.

To put a political twist on a botanical matter, you might ask: how did the trees fare during the severe rupture of U.S. - Japanese relations that occurred 29 years after they were planted? Very well, it turns out. According to the NPS web page on the history of the cherry trees, only four of them were vandalized after Pearl Harbor, and for the duration of the Second World War the trees were officially referred to as "Oriental" flowering cherry trees. All was soon forgiven after the war, and in 1952, after the stock of trees in the Adachi Ward near Tokyo had fallen into decline, the NPS sent budwood from the original Japanese donation to restore the grove.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who Is the Biggest Tax Deadbeat of Them All?

It's not news that there are Federal employees with delinquent tax debts. Read more about that here. When you dig down, it turns out that many of them are on mutually agreed payment plans with the Internal Revenue Service and are current with their payments, so the idea that there are thousands of federal tax deadbeats isn't so juicy as it seems at first. But that doesn't stop some Congressmen from making a big deal about it. According to an item in the WaPo's Federal Diary column today, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced legislation that would fire federal tax deadbeats.
“Federal employees have an obvious obligation to pay their federal income taxes,” said Chaffetz. “Because they draw their compensation from the American taxpayers, federal employees owe it to the taxpayers themselves to pay their taxes. If not, they should be fired.”
OK with me. Fire away. But, as I continue to flip through the WaPo, I see a news story about another federal employee with tax problems, one who failed to report assets totaling more than $1 million on legally required financial disclosure forms. Neither did he report or pay taxes on rental income from a villa in the Caribbean, an infraction for which the Internal Revenue Service merely required him to paid the taxes but not any penalties or interest. I suggest that, in fairness, any federal employee with a tax delinquency should be treated according to the Rangel Rule. That is, they should be treated with the same courtesy that the IRS extends toward the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Did the Hawaiian Islands Merge With the Galápagos?

Even better question: when did schools stop requiring Geography?