September 22, 2021


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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah at a Joint Press Availability

31 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Doha, Qatar

DEFENSE MINISTER AL ATTIYAH:  (Via interpreter) As-salamu alaikum.  First off, I would like to welcome His Excellency Secretary Blinken and His Excellency Secretary Austin.  We always, when we meet our colleagues from the United States of America, we discuss about – we discuss our relations and how to improve them.  Today we spoke about Afghanistan and the humanitarian work, Afghanistan and the evacuation, the technical aspects.  Of course, the technical side is rather complex.  I will leave that to my colleague and brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman.  The floor is yours.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, first of all.  I share my brother Dr. Khalid Al Attiyah, deputy prime minister and minister of state for defense, in welcoming our colleague, His Excellency Antony Blinken and His Excellency Lloyd Austin.  Of course, the state of Qatar and the United States of America have strategic partnership for decades, and this is distinguishable by the fact that it always continues and improves.

Today we discussed a few items on our agenda of mutual interest and how to continue our work and our consultation, taking into account the latest developments on the humanitarian level and the technical level.  We alluded to the evacuation of foreign nationals and Afghanis and to help them to evacuate Kabul.  We stressed on the importance of keeping humanitarian corridors open and the freedom of movement from Afghanistan to be secured, and we urge the Taliban to work with us to expedite this process.  We also talked about the airport, the Kabul airport and the operations there, and the support the state of Qatar is providing in this regard.

And we also discussed other issues, including the Palestinian question.  We emphasized the importance of continued support, humanitarian support for our Palestinian brothers, and the importance of working together to reach a peaceful solution based on the Arab peace initiative and the two-state solution, which the state of Qatar always emphasizes.

We have also discussed the mutual bilateral relations and the strategic interest of both countries as a basis of discussing different issues of mutual interest and how to develop our partnership and raise it to higher levels.  I thank you, Your Excellency Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, for coming here to Doha, and we thank you for all your support and the contributions that you’ve provided us regarding consolidating peace and stability in the region.  And we confirm the partnership of our state of Qatar with you and our continued work to consolidate this partnership.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Let me start, first of all, by saying thank you to his highness the emir for his wonderful hospitality and very good meeting last night.  And to Their Excellencies the Foreign Minister Al Thani and Defense Minister Al Attiyah, thank you as well for hosting us today and for the very good conversation and dialogue that we’ve had.

Secretary Austin and I are very pleased and, indeed, honored to be here to express first and foremost our deep gratitude to the Qatari people.  Many countries have stepped up to help the evacuation and relocation efforts in Afghan – in Afghanistan, but no country has done more than Qatar.  More than 58,000 people have transited through Doha – Americans at risk, Afghans at risk, citizens of allied and partner nations.  Qatar was the first stop on a journey to a more peaceful and hopeful future for so many people.  You welcomed them with compassion and with generosity.  When problems arose, Qatar worked hand in hand with us to address them.  The men, women, and children who transited through here will not forget what you did at a pivotal moment in their lives.  Neither will we.

I want to mention just a few examples of the substantial support – the truly remarkable support – that Qatar has provided.  In addition to saying yes to tens of thousands of people transiting through here, you provided lifesaving medical support, including field medical tents and access to Al Wakrah Hospital, for the exclusive use of evacuees.  You served 10,000 meals three times a day at Al Udeid.  You’ve established a coordination cell at Camp As Sayliyah to help organize all of the NGOs sending more supplies.  And you provided 20 Qatari Airways flights to fly thousands of people to the United States and Germany, and you’ve offered 20 more.  All told, this has been a remarkable outpouring of support under incredibly challenging circumstances and a powerful testament to the world of Qatar’s generosity and statesmanship.

It’s not a coincidence that we’ve transferred our Afghanistan diplomatic operations to Doha.  As we carry forward our diplomacy here, we know that Qatar will be our partner, because this is not the first time that Qatar has stepped up to help in Afghanistan.  For years, at our request, you facilitated diplomacy between the Taliban and the Afghan Government to try to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution.  Now, in addition to being by our side, dealing with the significant human needs that come from ending a war, you also continue to keep working to keep open a pathway from Afghanistan to the rest of the world.  And in particular, we appreciate the diplomacy that Qatar and Turkey are conducting to help get the airport in Kabul up and running again.

On a related note, let me briefly address the topic of charter flights, which has been on people’s minds.  Many thousands of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, at-risk Afghans who we successfully evacuated and relocated from Kabul have left aboard charter flights.  Now others are working to arrange more such flights.  We’re working around the clock with NGOs, with members of Congress and advocacy groups, providing any and all information and doing all we can to clear any roadblocks that they’ve identified to make sure that charter flights carrying Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can depart Afghanistan safely.  Without personnel on the ground, we can’t verify the accuracy of manifests, the identities of passengers, flight plans, or aviation security protocols.  So this is a challenge, but one we are determined to work through.  We’re conducting a great deal of diplomacy on this as we speak.

We’ve also been engaged with the Taliban on this topic, including in recent hours.  They’ve said that they will let people with travel documents freely depart.  We will hold them to that.  So will dozens of other countries.  The international community is watching to see if the Taliban will live up to their commitments.

There will certainly be more work to do together in the days to come.  Our two countries will continue to closely coordinate, as we have for the past several weeks, to keep the relocation effort moving forward as smoothly and as swiftly as possible.  This is a complex operation, as complex as any in recent memory, but I’ve got every confidence we’ll succeed at it because the partnership between Qatar and the United States has never been stronger.  And our countries will continue, as we’ve heard, on a wide-ranging list of issues, a wide-ranging dialogue and close cooperation, including on trade, investment, defense, counterterrorism, human rights, cultural exchange, humanitarian aid.  The United States welcomes the al-Ula Accords and supports continued efforts to bring our partners in the region closer together.

The strongest relationship that we have and that we and Qatar have built through this evacuation and relocation effort I know is going to pay continued dividends across these and so many other key areas in the months and years ahead.  What Qatar has done here for Americans, for Afghans, for citizens of many other countries will be remembered for a long, long time.  And so, on behalf of the American people, thank you.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thank you and let me add that I’m glad to be here with my friend and colleague, Secretary Blinken.  And let me say thanks to my counterparts from Qatar for hosting us here today.  It is our great privilege to visit and to express our gratitude.

As Secretary Blinken said, Qatar’s support for Operation Allies Refuge was indispensable to the safe transit of Americans and U.S. personnel, allies and partners, and Afghans at special risk.  At a critical and historic moment, Qatar went above and beyond, and your generosity helped to save thousands of lives.  I’m deeply proud that the U.S. military, together with our partners, completed the largest airlift in history, evacuating more than 124,000 people to safety.  But we could not have accomplished that without Qatar’s support, so again, thank you to the emir and to our colleagues for your help and for your friendship.

In fact, we’re here today because our work together as partners and friends continues, not only with Operation Allies Refuge but on many shared priorities.  The United States is grateful that Qatar continues to host American troops to make sure that our forces are well-positioned to support a range of critical missions in the region.

But our relationship goes deeper than just defense concerns.  We’re working with our regional partners toward some important shared objectives: to wind down conflicts, to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in need, to de-escalate tensions, and to encourage dialogue.  We think that’s the right way to ensure regional security and stability, and we know that Qatar stands with us in advancing peace and security.  And you’ve provided humanitarian aid from Yemen to Gaza and worked to facilitate Afghan peace negotiations.

But Iran’s support for terrorism and its willingness to supply increasingly lethal weapons to non-state group undermines the regional stability that we all seek.  So we’re committed to working together to enhance regional defenses against destabilizing actions, including Iran’s nuclear aspirations.  Our force posture here in Central – the Central Command area of responsibility helps us do that together, but, of course, we’d prefer diplomacy succeed in reducing these tensions.

And let me close by saying how glad I am to be here in person to underscore the importance of the U.S. relationship and friendship with Qatar.  The United States is committed to strengthening this partnership and throughout our network of alliances and partnerships.  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, your excellencies.  We start the press conference.  The first question comes from Al Jazeera English.

QUESTION:  Mohammad Jamjoom with Al Jazeera English.  I have a question for Sheikh Mohammed and a question for Secretary Blinken.  Sheikh Mohammed, there’s great concern over the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, so where do things stand today with regard to fully reopening Hamid Karzai International Airport and getting more aid in?  And how closely will the U.S. be working and to achieve that?

And Secretary Blinken, when it comes to the humanitarian effort, the WHO says that hundreds of medical facilities in Afghanistan are at risk of imminent closure because Western donors who finance them are barred from dealing with the new Taliban government.  So what’s the U.S. going to do to try to ensure that humanitarian aid can be accessed in Afghanistan?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, regarding the status of Kabul airport, as I have mentioned a few days ago, we have already dispatched our teams there to provide technical assistance that’s required to bring the airport and make it up and running again.  We have fixed a lot of the elements which are over there, and we are about to get everything operational very soon.  Right now, we didn’t reach yet an agreement on the way how to manage or to run the airport, but yet we are continuing the humanitarian support and we are chartering almost on a daily basis flights with humanitarian aid and also receiving some flights from different countries with humanitarian aid in order to ensure that the humanitarian passage is open.

Our aim is to focus on helping people who want – especially foreign nationals – who want to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, and also encouraging the UN agencies and the others, the other NGOs, to provide help and support to Afghanistan.  We have facilitated a few trips for UN officials to – trying to reach an understanding with Taliban in order not to interrupt their humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, and we hope in the next few days we can get to a level where the airport is up and running for passengers and for humanitarian aid as well.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The United States has been the largest humanitarian assistance provider to Afghanistan.  The needs remain great, and in fact, the situation for so many Afghans is stark.  And we’re determined with the international community to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, and we can and will do that working through partners, NGOs, the United Nations system, and do it in a way that’s consistent with the sanctions that remain in place on Afghanistan.

We’ve issued a license in recent days to make sure that some of this aid could be facilitated, and we’re working very closely with the international community and with these various partners to ensure that assistance for the basic needs of the Afghan people, particularly when it comes to food, when it comes to medicine, can continue.  And going forward, as we continue to work closely with our partners, with the rest of the international community, we’re going to make sure that we’re taking the steps necessary to continue to support assistance to people who need it based on their needs.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Next question is to CNN.

QUESTION:  Sam Kiley, CNN.  Sheikh Mohammed, following the precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan, is America still considered a reliable ally?

And to Secretary Blinken, how many Americans are stuck in Afghanistan and how many SIV holders have you still got to get out?  Can we get some accuracy on those figures, please?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, of course, the U.S. is our most important ally.  It has been – this relationship and partnership has been there for decades.  It’s demonstrated its – our reliance on this alliance between us and the United States in several occasions.  The U.S. has been a strong security partner to the state of Qatar, a strong economic partner, a strong partner in the education, in all the fields.  I don’t think that there is any correlation between what’s happened in Afghanistan and how the U.S. is looking at the region and the partnership with the region, especially with the Gulf region.

From our perspective, that there was a war for 20 years and this war has ended, and we hope that there is a better prospect for the future in Afghanistan.  As a facilitator and mediator in this process, we have the support the day after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces, supporting it by building a strong, coherent country, inclusive – that have an inclusive government that has the basic rights for the Afghan people.  So I think we are sharing the same objective for Afghanistan to have a better future, and we will continue this partnership throughout the region and beyond that region, working together hand-in-hand with the U.S.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to add on to my friend’s comments, I think one mistake that is often made is to somehow equate our engagement in anything we’re working on with the number of American boots we have on the ground in uniform.  We have a much broader definition of what engagement means, and it covers the vast array of issues, including many issues that we’re working on together with Qatar, be they security, be they economic, be they people-to-people ties, be they education, working on climate change, dealing with COVID-19.  And in all of those areas and more, I would suggest that our engagement is deeper than it’s ever been.  And that’s also evidenced by the wide-ranging conversations we’ve had here today with our friends and partners on Afghanistan but also on many, many other issues.

With regard to American citizens in Afghanistan, a few things here.  First, just to step back for a minute, going back to March of this year, we issued 19 separate messages to Americans registered with the embassy encouraging them and then urging them to leave Afghanistan given the security situation.  Again, that goes back to March.  By the time the evacuation commenced in August, we believe there were somewhere in the vicinity of 6,000 American citizens in Afghanistan, and virtually all of them were evacuated in those couple of weeks that we were working out of Kabul International Airport.

But it’s not surprising that despite the situation, despite the long encouragement of people to leave, that some people did not or could not make a decision to do so, in part because this is such an incredibly wrenching decision, because for these people, they are for the most part people who’ve been in Afghanistan for years, decades, possibly even generations.  For them, Afghanistan is home; their extended families are there, and making that decision is extraordinarily hard.

So at this point we believe the number of those who have American citizenship, many of them dual-nationals, who remain in Afghanistan is somewhere around a hundred.  We’re in direct contact with virtually all of them.  We have case management teams assigned to them to make sure that those who want to leave can, in fact, do so.

And as my colleagues have said, we’re holding the Taliban to the commitments that they’ve made to ensure the free passage and safe travel for anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan, starting with any American citizens who wish to do so; Afghans who worked for us, including the Special Immigrant Visa applicants or visa holders; other Afghans at risk.  And the entire international community is looking to the Taliban to uphold that commitment, a commitment that’s now been enshrined in terms of an expectation from the international community in a United Nations Security Council resolution as well as in a declaration signed by more than a hundred countries around the world.

With regard to the Special Immigrant Visa applicants or visa holders, as you know, first we had a program that we inherited that was, unfortunately, in a stall.  About 17,000 people were in the pipeline at the beginning of this past year, and we worked very aggressively to start to move the program forward again.  Interviews for visas had not taken place in Kabul going back to March of 2020.  We restarted them in February.  President Biden issued an executive order – one of the first executive orders he issued – in early February calling for an immediate re-examination of the program to see how it could be made faster and more effective.

And we instituted a series of changes to do just that throughout the spring, including quadrupling the number of staff working on Special Immigrant Visas.  In Washington, I assigned an additional 50 people to that effort, doubling the staff working on it in Kabul.  And despite COVID, including a spike in COVID that really put a dent in operations in the June and early July period, we went from issuing about a hundred visas a week to nearly a thousand a week by August.  And we cut the time in processing the applications for SIVs in half.

Nonetheless, the program was never designed for an emergency evacuation.  It includes 14 steps required by Congress that we have to work through with many, many other agencies.  And so despite our efforts to move as fast as we could and to make it more efficient, as I said, once we hit an emergency evacuation system – situation, the program was not designed for that.

Now, as to the number of SIV applicants who have gotten out of Afghanistan, those that remain, we’re working on getting numbers right now.  So many of the people who have left remain in transit, moving from the so-called lily pad countries toward the United States.  In our effort to get as many people out as fast as we can while we had the airport functioning, we focused on doing just that, and we’re doing accountings on the back end as people arrive in the United States.

So my expectation is we will have a breakdown of the numbers of people who left Afghanistan, including not just American citizens but green card holders, SIV applicants, SIV visa holders, Afghans at risk, those eligible for P-1 and P-2 visas – all of that will be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead as we’re able to break down the numbers.  But I can say this:  Of the 125,000 people or so who were evacuated from Afghanistan, the overwhelming majority were Afghans and Afghans at risk in one way or another, and so some significant number of that will almost certainly wind up being SIVs, SIV applicants, those eligible for the SIV program.  And when we have a full accounting, we’ll make it available.

MR PRICE:  Our first question goes to Christina Ruffini, CBS.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Secretary Blinken, regarding the charter flights, aid groups and members of Congress say the Taliban is essentially holding these flights hostage and not allowing them to leave in order to get more out of the American Government.  Is that accurate?  Are you aware of American citizens trying to evacuate on these flights?  Is the State Department at all hindering the overall effort to get charters in or out of Afghanistan?  And what channel was used for discussion with the Taliban on this issue, and what did you tell them to do?

And Sheikh Mohammed, as the Secretary mentioned, more than 58,000 people have evacuated through your country, but many of them don’t have paperworks, visas for onward countries, et cetera.  How – has the U.S. presented a concrete plan on how to process these individuals?  And how long do you expect some of these undocumented evacuees to remain in your country?

And Secretary Austin, knowing what we know now, do you consider the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan a success?  Thank you, gentlemen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  So, as noted, we are working around the clock to help U.S. citizens, to help lawful permanent residents, to help at-risk Afghans to whom we have a special commitment depart Afghanistan if they so choose.  And we’ve successfully done that already, and we’re in continuous contact with American citizens who remain in Afghanistan.  For weeks now we’ve been working very closely with Qatar, with Turkey, to see to it that the Kabul airport could get up and running again to civilian air travel as soon as possible, and we’re also working to facilitate overland passage for those who wish to depart.

When it comes to charters – and I addressed this a short while ago – we facilitated safe evacuation and relocation of thousands of these individuals, first aboard the charter flights that left from Hamid Karzai International Airport under the well-known difficult and dangerous conditions that we were operating.  Now, of course, we don’t have personnel on the ground in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Kabul or whether it’s up north in Mazer-e-Sharif.  We don’t have the means to verify the accuracy of manifests, the identity of passengers onboard these planes, aviation security protocols, or where they plan to land, among other issues.  And these raise real concerns, but we are working through each and every one in close coordination with the various initiatives and charter flights that are seeking to evacuate people.  But I just want to emphasize that there are a lot of issues to work through.

We continue to engage.  We’re engaging as we speak to resolve these issues and, indeed, to hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people with travel documents, including American citizens, freely depart Afghanistan.  And we’ve reiterated this point directly to the Taliban in recent hours.  As with any commitment the Taliban makes, we’re focused on what they do, not just on what they say.  But this, of course, is not just us; it’s the entire international community.

On these charter flights, as I mentioned, one of the challenges has been that, as we understand it, there are groups of people who are grouped together, some of whom have the appropriate travel documents – an American passport, a green card, a visa – and others do not.  And it’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said that those without valid documents at this point can’t leave.  But because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go.  We’ve been able to identify a relatively small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-e-Sharif with their families.

We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave.  And again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that.  They’ve upheld that commitment in at least one instance in the last 24 hours with a family that was able to leave through an overland route, and we are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-e-Sharif.  So we have to work through the different requirements, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI:  Thank you.  Regarding your question about how we are dealing with the undocumented evacuees, of course, we have coordinated efforts in advance and ahead of time between Qatar and the U.S. to start receiving the evacuees at transit points at the beginning.  And given the nature and also the timing of the evacuation, there were some undocumented evacuees who landed here in Doha, but the process is being done for them, and it was done in a very good coordination and cooperation between our people here in Doha and the U.S. officials who are represented here to deal with the evacuation process.

Actually, the number of people who have been evacuated through Doha is around 58,000, yet most of them has already reached their destinations, and right now we have approximately around 4,000 who are already in the process to be also transferred to a third country.  But the entire framework has been agreed between Qatar and the U.S. in advance before this evacuation started, and we were expecting some challenges to that would come up given the nature of and also the emergency of that evacuation.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  So what happened in the post-drawdown is something that I think will be studied very carefully in the weeks and months ahead, and I won’t try to diagram that here.  What I will tell you is that I’m absolutely proud of the tremendous work that our brave servicemen and women did as we evacuated 124,000 people from the Kabul airport in a very short period of time under some very, very dangerous and difficult circumstances.  I’d also say that no operation is ever perfect.  There are lessons to be learned.  And what we’ll do is what we always do in the military, is conduct an after-action review, take a look at ourselves, take a look at what we did, what could have been done better.

MR PRICE:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  Secretary Austin, over the past few weeks, the U.S. was unable to see emerging threats from the Taliban in Afghanistan, even with ground forces and a 20-year presence.  More recently, we’ve heard from General Milley that he believes that there are emergent threats coming from Afghanistan such as terrorism threats, ones that could pose a threat to the United States.  And so my question is:  Now, with no troops and no ground-based intelligence in Afghanistan, how will the U.S. be able to conduct and stop – conduct operations and stop terrorism threats with only over-the-horizon capabilities?

And Sheikh Mohammed, I’d like to follow up on something you said earlier.  You mentioned that you anticipate flights coming out of Hamid Karzai International Airport within days.  Could you give us a sense of what specifically you expect to see in the coming days?  And when can we expect to see commercial flights coming out of that airport?  Thank you.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Well, there’s no question that it will be more difficult to identify and engage threats that emanate from the region, but we’re committed to making sure that threats are not allowed to develop and create significant challenges for us in the homeland.  We already have robust capabilities in the region.  We look to improve them on a daily basis and we’re going to continue to do that.

And I would just say, Nancy, that we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years in terms of the development of our capabilities.  And I would further say that there isn’t a scrap of earth that we can’t reach out and touch when we need to.  We’ve demonstrated that time and time again.  And again, our job is to make sure we stay vigilant and continue to develop capabilities.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, regarding our expectations on Hamid Karzai Airport, actually, now what has been fixed is already making the airport capable to receive charter flights., and we are starting the humanitarian aid flights as a test and as a pilot for that.  But also we have highlighted earlier that there are certain standards need to be met, especially from security perspective, security point of view toward to board passengers on those flights.  Those need an agreement with Taliban, which is still in negotiation.

Regarding the airport to be opened to commercial international flights, we believe that given the current status of the airport, it will be able to receive them for maybe during a limited time in the day but will need an upgrade in some of the equipment which will make it more capable to run as an international standard airport.  But I always highlight on the importance of the security measures.  If we can get the security measures in place and agree on them with Taliban, then things will be easier and we can achieve these goals as soon as possible.

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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 12 priority recommendations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since then, USDA has implemented two of those recommendations. The department publicized information on state agencies’ use of data matching to reduce recipient fraud. USDA also ensured its workforce data are more reliable. In July 2021, GAO identified one additional priority recommendation for USDA, bringing the total number to 11. These recommendations involve the following areas: protecting the safety of the food supply. reducing improper payments. strengthening protections for wage earners. improving oversight of federal assistance and awards. improving cybersecurity. USDA’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or  
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  • Military Operations: DOD Needs to Address Contract Oversight and Quality Assurance Issues for Contracts Used to Support Contingency Operations
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) uses contractors to meet many of its logistical and operational support needs. With the global war on terrorism, there has been a significant increase in deployment of contractor personnel to areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In its fiscal year 2007 report, the House Appropriations Committee directed GAO to examine the link between the growth in DOD's operation and maintenance costs and DOD's increased reliance on service contracts. GAO determined (1) the extent to which costs for selected contracts increased and the factors causing the increases, (2) the extent to which DOD provided oversight for selected contracts, and (3) the reasons for DOD's use of contractors to support contingency operations. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed a nonprobability sample of seven DOD contracts for services that provide vital support to contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO reviewed contract requirements, funding documents and DOD guidance for these contracts and interviewed DOD and contractor personnel.Costs for six of the seven contracts GAO reviewed increased from an initial estimate of $783 million to about $3.8 billion, and one consistent and primary factor driving the growth was increased requirements associated with continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, the Army awarded a $218.2 million task order for equipment maintenance and supply services in Kuwait in October 2004. Since then, approximately $154 million of additional work was added to this task order for vehicle refurbishment, tire assembly and repair, and resetting of prepositioned equipment. Other factors that increased individual contract costs include the use of short-term contract extensions and the government's inability to provide contractually required equipment and services. For example, in three of the contracts GAO reviewed, short-term contract extensions (3 to 6 months) increased costs because the contractor felt it was too risky to obtain long-term leases for vehicles and housing. The actual cost of one contract we reviewed did not exceed the estimated cost for reasons such as lower than projected labor rates. GAO has frequently reported that inadequate staffing contributed to contract management challenges. For some contracts GAO reviewed, DOD's oversight was inadequate because it had a shortage of qualified personnel and it did not maintain some contract files in accordance with applicable guidance. For five contracts, DOD had inadequate management and oversight personnel. In one case, the office responsible for overseeing two contracts was short 6 of 18 key positions, all of which needed specialized training and certifications. In addition, for two other contracts, proper accounting of government owned equipment was not performed because the property administrator position was vacant. Second, DOD did not always follow guidance for maintaining contract files or its quality assurance principles. For four contracts, complete contract files documenting administration and oversight actions taken were not kept and incoming personnel were unable to determine how contract management and oversight had been performed and if the contractor had performed satisfactorily prior to their arrival. In addition, oversight was not always performed by qualified personnel. For example, quality assurance officials for the linguist contract were unable to speak the language so they could not judge the quality of the contractor's work. Without adequate levels of qualified oversight personnel, proper maintenance of contract files, and consistent implementation of quality assurance principles, DOD may not be able to determine whether contractors are meeting their contract requirements, which raises the potential for waste. DOD used contractors to support contingency operations for several reasons, including the need to compensate for a decrease in force size and a lack of capability within the military services. For example, an Army contract for linguist services had a requirement for more than 11,000 linguists because DOD did not have the needed linguists. According to Army officials, the Army phased out many interpreter positions years ago and did not anticipate a large need for Arabic speakers.
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  • Justice Department Sues Florida Man for Flagrant Violations of the Rivers and Harbors Act
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) announced that the United States has filed a civil lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida against Fane Lozman for violations of the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA) in connection with Mr. Lozman’s obstruction of Lake Worth Lagoon, a navigable waterway, in Riviera Beach, Florida.
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  • John McAfee Indicted for Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    An indictment was unsealed today charging John David McAfee with tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee. The June 15, 2020 indictment was unsealed following McAfee’s arrest in Spain where he is pending extradition.
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  • Russian Cybercriminal Sentenced to Prison for Role in $100 Million Botnet Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A Russian national was sentenced Oct. 30 to eight years in prison for his role in operating a sophisticated scheme to steal and traffic sensitive personal and financial information in the online criminal underground that resulted in an estimated loss of over $100 million.
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    In Travel
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Advanced Plastic Recycling
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Plastic waste in the U.S. has grown tenfold from 1970 to 2018, while recycling rates have remained low. Mounting plastic waste in landfills and oceans can contaminate ecosystems and adversely affect human health and wildlife. Chemical recycling technologies have the potential to improve plastic recycling, but several challenges remain. The Technology What is it? Plastics are found in many everyday items—including food packaging, water bottles, bags, and appliances. They are largely made from fossil fuel-based chemicals combined with various additives—such as stabilizers or flame retardants—to achieve a desired result (e.g., strength, rigidity, color, heat resistance). The majority of plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills, with a relatively small portion incinerated and an even smaller portion recycled. The accumulating plastic waste in landfills generally does not biodegrade or break down. Figure 1. Methods of plastic waste disposal in the U.S. Plastic recycling technologies reprocess or remanufacture plastic waste for reuse. Currently, the dominant technology for plastic recycling is mechanical recycling, which uses physical processes—such as sorting, grinding, washing, separating, drying, and re-granulating—to recover plastics that can be substituted for virgin, or new, plastics. However, mechanical recycling technology is expensive, labor intensive, and generally results in lower quality plastics than virgin plastics. Consequently, industry is considering advanced recycling technologies— namely, chemical recycling—as an alternative or complement to mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies use heat, chemical reactions, or both, to recycle used plastic into virgin-equivalent plastic, fuel, or other chemicals. In addition, recent advances in sorting technology—one of the physical processes common to both chemical and mechanical recycling technologies—may also increase the efficiency of chemical recycling and lead to increased plastic recycling. For example, artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to increase automated sorting efficiency. Similarly, another advanced technology efficiently sorts materials by identifying their molecular vibrations. How does it work? Chemical recycling can promote a closed-loop system, known as a circular economy, wherein plastics are reused rather than discarded in landfills or incinerated. There are three general categories of chemical recycling technologies: conversion, decomposition, and purification. Figure 2. Closed-loop chemical recycling Conversion focuses on converting polymers—long-chain hydrocarbon molecules built from smaller repeating units called monomers—in mixed or sorted plastics into smaller molecules. This can occur through a variety of techniques, including pyrolysis and gasification. Pyrolysis, sometimes called "plastics to fuel," turns plastic waste into a synthetic crude oil that can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil, or waxes. This process involves heating the plastic waste to high temperatures (300-900°C) in the absence of oxygen. Different forms of pyrolysis use different temperatures, pressures, and processing times. Gasification also heats plastic waste to high temperatures (500- 1300°C) in a low-oxygen environment to convert plastic waste to synthesis gas, or "syngas." Syngas—a fuel mixture containing mainly hydrogen and carbon monoxide—can be combusted for electric power generation or converted into other fuels or chemicals, such as ethanol and methanol. Decomposition breaks down polymers in sorted plastics into monomers to produce new plastics. This decomposition can be done with heat or chemicals. Chemical decomposition uses solvents to break the polymers into monomers. Some decomposition technologies use enzymes to break down polymers at temperatures as low as room temperature, resulting in less energy consumption. Purification uses solvents to separate polymers from additives or contaminants. Unlike other types of chemical recycling, purification does not break or modify the polymer. Purification may be used with mixed or sorted plastics.  How mature is it? While technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification are mature, their use in plastic recycling is relatively new, due in part to the low cost of virgin plastic material and the challenges associated with recycling contaminated or complex plastic products. Conversion is currently the most mature of the chemical recycling technologies, with several companies using pyrolysis, and at least one company using gasification on a commercial scale. Several companies are also developing, or are in the initial phases of piloting, thermal and chemical decomposition. Purification is the least mature chemical recycling technology, although research into it is ongoing. Advanced sorting technologies vary in maturity, with molecular vibrations for material identification already in use, and artificial intelligence sorting still under development. Opportunities Resource conservation. Chemical recycling can produce raw materials of virgin quality, thereby decreasing demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources. Reduced landfill use. A significant amount of plastic waste ends up in landfills. New technologies could reduce the need for landfills, which may reduce the release of harmful chemicals into the environment. New markets. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Chemical recycling creates a market for plastic waste and a new way to reuse some plastics. Challenges Adoption hurdles. Companies looking to use chemical recycling may face several hurdles, including process and technology challenges, high startup and operating costs, underdeveloped domestic markets for recycled products, and limited incentives for recycling innovation and investment. Suitability. Chemical recycling may not be suitable for all types of plastic, particularly when polymer chains are irreversibly bonded together. Competition. Virgin plastics are typically cheaper to produce than recycled plastics, in part due to transportation costs and limited recycling infrastructure, making it hard for recycling processes to compete. Policy Context & Questions With the volume of plastic waste expected to grow over time, some key questions for policymaker consideration include: What steps could the federal government, states, and other stakeholders take to further incentivize chemical recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of these approaches? What steps could policymakers take to support a transition toward a circular economy, including innovation and investment in manufacturing and recycling capacity? What might policymakers do to promote advanced recycling technologies while also reducing the hazards associated with existing plastic production and recycling methods? For more information, contact: Karen L. Howard at (202) 512-6888 or
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  • United States Sanctions Corrupt Actors in Paraguay
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Department Press Briefing – February 24, 2021
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Ned Price, Department [Read More…]
  • Former DEA Agent and His Wife Plead Guilty for Roles in Scheme to Divert Drug Proceeds From Undercover Money Laundering Investigations
    In Crime News
    A former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent and his wife pleaded guilty Monday to all charges in a 19-count indictment unsealed against them on Feb. 21, 2020. U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson accepted the guilty pleas in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
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  • Condemning ISIS-K Attack on a Kabul Gathering
    In Crime News
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  • Judges Bring Students and Their Families an Inside Look at The Bill of Rights
    In U.S Courts
    Students and parents across the Midwest gathered around computer screens set up at kitchen tables, desks, and couches to join federal judges and volunteer attorneys in an educational celebration of the Bill of Rights in advance of its Dec. 15 anniversary.
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  • Management Report: Preliminary Information on Potential Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits during the COVID-19 Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As part of ongoing work on unemployment insurance (UI) benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, GAO found potential racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of UI benefits, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. Specifically, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey, a higher percentage of White, non-Hispanic/Latino applicants received benefits from UI programs during the pandemic than certain other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, our preliminary analysis of data obtained from five selected states in our ongoing review of the PUA program—a temporary program providing benefits to individuals not otherwise eligible for UI—identified some racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of PUA benefits. In two of the five states, for example, the percentage of White PUA claimants who received benefits in 2020 was considerably higher than the percentage of Black PUA claimants who received benefits that year (both groups consist of non-Hispanic/Latino claimants). This analysis of state-provided data is preliminary and we are continuing to examine these data, including their reliability and potential explanations for disparities. Various factors could explain the disparities we identified in our preliminary analyses, such as differences in UI eligibility that may be correlated with race and ethnicity. However, another potential explanation is that states could be approving or processing UI claims differently for applicants in different racial and ethnic groups. Why GAO Did This Study The UI system provides a vital safety net for individuals who become unemployed through no fault of their own, and this support is essential during widespread economic downturns. During the pandemic, the CARES Act supplemented the regular UI program by creating three federally funded temporary UI programs, including the PUA program, which expanded benefit eligibility and enhanced benefits. As part of our ongoing work on the various UI programs during the pandemic, we analyzed the extent to which there have been differences in the receipt of benefits by race and ethnicity. The purpose of this report is to inform DOL about potential racial and ethnic disparities in the receipt of UI benefits. According to DOL, ensuring equitable access to UI benefits is a top priority for the agency. We recognize that the complexity of these issues may take time to examine in depth. However, given that PUA and the other temporary UI programs are scheduled to expire in September 2021, we are sharing this preliminary information for DOL to consider in determining whether it needs to engage with states at this point to ensure equitable access to the UI system. For more information, contact Thomas M. Costa at (202) 512-7215
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press on Release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • New Embassy Compounds: State Faces Challenges in Sizing Facilities and Providing for Operations and Maintenance Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    In response to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies, the Department of State (State) embarked on a multiyear, multibillion dollar program to replace insecure and dilapidated diplomatic facilities. Since 2001, State has constructed 52 new embassy compounds (NECs) under this program, and moved over 21,000 U.S. government personnel into more secure and safe facilities. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which new facilities match the space and functionality needs of overseas missions and State's actions to address space and functionality challenges; and (2) operations and maintenance challenges at these new facilities and State's steps to address them. GAO analyzed staffing data and other documentation for 44 NECs built from 2001 to 2009 and interviewed State headquarters and embassy officials at 22 of these 44 NECs to obtain information on their functionality and operations and maintenance issues.State has located nearly one-quarter of overseas staff in NECs, which posts said are an improvement over older facilities. However, NECs do not fully meet the space and functionality needs of overseas missions. Current staffing levels exceed the originally-built desk--or office--space at over half of the 44 NECs GAO analyzed. Post management has dealt with space limitations by converting spaces, like conference rooms, into offices, but 4 posts have had to retain space outside the compound for staff that could not fit in the NECs. Also, officials at almost all of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in depth reported some spaces, like consular affairs spaces, did not fully meet their functional needs. According to State officials, it is difficult to predict changing foreign policy priorities that can affect staffing levels, and the process for planning NECs has been unable to fully account for these changes. Budget constraints also affected decisions about the size of NECs and types of features provided. State has taken some actions to improve NEC sizing, but does not have sufficient flexibility in its staffing projection and design processes to better address sizing challenges. To address problems with functionality, State implemented a lessons learned program to analyze issues in completed NECs and modify design criteria for future NECs, but State has not completed, in a timely manner, planned evaluations that are designed to identify such issues. While NECs are state-of-the-art buildings, they have presented operations and maintenance challenges, and the larger size and greater complexity of NECs, compared to facilities they replaced, have resulted in increased operations and maintenance costs. In 2010, State developed its first long-range maintenance plan that identifies $3.7 billion in maintenance requirements over 6 years for all overseas facilities, but it does not include time frames for implementing identified maintenance projects or address increased operating costs. Problems with testing, or "commissioning," new building systems have contributed to problems with building systems that do not function as they should, causing higher maintenance costs. State strengthened its commissioning process, though this change only applies to future NECs and does not address problems at existing NECs. Further, State does not currently recommission--or retest--NECs to ensure they are operating as intended. In addition, more than half of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in detail experienced problems with some building systems, resulting in the need for premature repair and replacement. Through its lessons learned program, State has changed some design criteria for future NECs to avoid problems with building systems. Finally, State has had problems hiring and training personnel who have the technical skills necessary to manage the complex NEC systems. State has taken initial steps to improve its staff hiring and training, but does not have an overall plan to establish its NEC human resource needs and the associated costs.
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  • Sargeant Marine Inc. Pleads Guilty and Agrees to Pay $16.6 Million to Resolve Charges Related to Foreign Bribery Schemes in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador
    In Crime News
    Sargeant Marine Inc., an asphalt company formerly based in Boca Raton, Florida, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $16.6 million to resolve charges stemming from a scheme to pay bribes to foreign officials in three South American countries.
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  • Courts Suspending Jury Trials as COVID-19 Cases Surge
    In U.S Courts
    About two dozen U.S. district courts have posted orders that suspend jury trials or grand jury proceedings, and scale back other courthouse activities in response to a sharp nationwide rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. The surge in new court orders in recent weeks marks a significant pause in efforts by federal courts to resume full operations.
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