Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Five years ago last Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2254, firmly laying out the only path for an enduring resolution to the Syrian conflict. The United States and the vast majority of the international community remain committed to this dignified plan for ending the suffering of the Syrian people.
The Assad regime, supported by its enablers and allies, however, refuses to end its needless, brutal war against the Syrian people, stalling efforts to reach a political resolution. The Department of State today is imposing sanctions on Asma al-Assad, the wife of Bashar al-Assad, for impeding efforts to promote a political resolution of the Syrian conflict pursuant to Section 2(a)(i)(D) of Executive Order 13894. Asma al-Assad has spearheaded efforts on behalf of the regime to consolidate economic and political power, including by using her so-called charities and civil society organizations.
In addition, we are sanctioning several members of Asma al-Assad’s immediate family, including Fawaz Akhras, Sahar Otri Akhras, Firas al Akhras, and Eyad Akhras as per Section 2(a)(ii) of EO 13894. The Assad and Akhras families have accumulated their ill-gotten riches at the expense of the Syrian people through their control over an extensive, illicit network with links in Europe, the Gulf, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Syrian people continue to wait in long lines for bread, fuel, and medicine as the Assad regime chooses to cut subsidies for these basic essentials that Syrians need.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the President signing the bipartisan Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 into law, the United States will also continue to pressure the Assad regime and its enablers to prevent them from amassing the resources to perpetuate their atrocities. As part of that effort, the Department of State today is taking action against Syria’s Military Intelligence (SMI) organization by designating the SMI commander, General Kifah Moulhem, for his role as one of the architects of the Syrian people’s suffering. Moulhem is now sanctioned pursuant to Executive Order 13894 Section 2(a)(i)(A) for his actions in preventing a ceasefire in Syria.
The Department of the Treasury is additionally imposing sanctions on the Central Bank of Syria, as well as on Lina al-Kinayeh, one of Assad’s key advisers, her husband, Syrian parliamentarian Mohammed Masouti, and several regime affiliated businesses. The United States will continue to seek accountability for those prolonging this conflict.
The Syrian people will decide the future of Syria. To support them, the United States has provided over $12.2 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the conflict and will continue applying pressure on the Assad regime until there is irreversible progress toward a political transition as called for in UNSCR 2254. Also as called for in UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, there must be a nationwide ceasefire, accountability for acts committed during the conflict, free and fair elections pursuant to a new constitution, as well as the release of all arbitrarily detained persons. This is the only path toward a peaceful future for the Syrian people.
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- Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from IraqBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021The drawdown from Iraq is a complex operation of significant magnitude. Established drawdown timelines dictate a reduction in forces to 50,000 troops by August 31, 2010, and a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. While DOD has made progress toward meeting these goals, a large amount of equipment, personnel, and bases remain to be drawn down. Moreover, escalating U.S. involvement in Afghanistan may increase the pressure on DOD to efficiently execute the drawdown. Due to broad congressional interest in drawdown issues, GAO performed this work under the Comptroller General's Authority. GAO examined (1) the extent to which DOD has planned for the drawdown from Iraq in accordance with set timelines, and (2) factors that may impact the efficient execution of the drawdown. To evaluate these efforts GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from over 20 DOD organizations in the U.S., Kuwait, and Iraq.Several DOD organizations have issued coordinated plans for the execution of the drawdown and created new organizations to oversee, synchronize, and ensure unity of effort during the drawdown. To date, DOD reports that its drawdown efforts have exceeded its goals. For example, in January 2010, DOD reported that it had exceeded its target figure for withdrawing wheeled and tracked combat vehicles in Iraq, among other items, by over 2,600 pieces, yet a large amount of personnel, equipment, and bases remain to be drawn down. However, DOD has not (1) fully included contracted support in its operational planning for the drawdown, (2) allowed sufficient time in its guidance to ensure that all contracted services can be put on contract in a responsible manner, or (3) clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of various contract validation review boards. Several other issues may impede the efficient execution of the drawdown from Iraq. First, challenges associated with the planned simultaneous transition of several major contracts may lead to the interruption of vital services. Second, DOD has not determined whether the benefits of transitioning its major base and life support contract in Iraq outweigh the costs and risks of doing so. Third, shortages of contract oversight personnel may increase the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. Fourth, key decisions concerning equipment that will be retrograded from Iraq have yet to be made. And finally, DOD lacks precise visibility over its inventory of equipment and shipping containers. While DOD has begun to address some of these issues, GAO has not fully assessed DOD's actions.[Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of EducationBy Sam NewsJuly 7, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified six priority recommendations for the Department of Education. Since then, Education has implemented three of those recommendations by taking action to: (1) raise awareness of the threat of lead in school drinking water and collaborate with EPA to encourage testing; (2) help borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program better understand eligibility requirements; and (3) improve its cyber risk management framework to better protect the agency's systems and data. In May 2021, GAO identified four additional priority recommendations for Education, bringing the total number to seven. These recommendations involve the following areas: protecting the investment in higher education and ensuring the well-being and education of the nation's school-age children. Education'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 Jackie Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Science & Tech Spotlight: Consumer Electronics RecyclingBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2020Why This Matters Consumer electronics contain critical materials whose supplies are limited, including gold, platinum, and rare earth metals. Domestic recycling of consumer electronics could extend the supply and reduce the current U.S. reliance on imports. New technologies are becoming available, but electronics recycling is complex and faces challenges, such as narrow profit margins. The Technology What is it? Recycling of consumer electronics—including smartphones, televisions, and computers—generally involves separating high-value metals from plastics and other low-value materials. Precious metals and rare earth metals are the economic driving force for consumer electronic recycling technology. These metals have high market values and limited supplies, and they can be reused across many industries, including the defense and energy sectors. Consumer electronic devices can also contain personally identifiable information (PII), including medical and financial data, which could be improperly disclosed if they are not destroyed prior to recycling. According to a study of selected consumer electronics, about 2.8 million tons were disposed of in the U.S. in 2017, of which about 36 percent was recycled. Figure 1. Selected valuable, hazardous, and digital materials contained within consumer electronics that can be recovered, disposed, or destroyed There is no federal standard requiring consumer electronics recycling. Some states have enacted electronics recycling laws requiring electronics producers to pay fees or contract with businesses to ensure electronic waste is collected for recycling. The U.S. recycles electronics domestically and also exports electronics for recycling abroad. How does it work? The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Science & Tech Spotlight: Tracing the Source of Chemical WeaponsBy Sam NewsDecember 21, 2020Why This Matters Some governments are suspected of using chemical weapons despite international prohibitions under the Chemical Weapons Convention. For example, sarin and VX nerve gas have been identified in attacks. Most recently, Novichok nerve agent was used in 2020. Technologies exist to identify chemical warfare agents and possibly their sources, but challenges remain in identifying the person or entity responsible. The Technology What is it? According to the Global Public Policy Institute, there have been more than 330 chemical weapons attacks since 2012. Such attacks are prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention. A set of methods called forensic chemical attribution has the potential to trace the chemical agent used in such attacks to a source. A set of methods called forensic chemical attribution has the potential to trace the chemical agent used in such attacks to a source. For example, investigators could use these methods to identify the geographic sources of raw materials used to make the agent, for example, or to identify the manufacturing process Such information can aid leaders in deciding on whether or how to respond to a chemical weapons attack. Figure 1. Forensic chemical attribution process How does it work? Forensic chemical attribution is a three-step process, though the third step is being developed (see Fig. 1). First, a sample is taken from a victim or the site of an attack. Second, the sample's chemical components are analyzed and identified (see Fig. 2), either at a mobile lab or at one of 18 authorized biomedical labs worldwide. Common identification methods are: Gas chromatography, which separates chemical components of a mixture and quantifies the amount of each chemical. Mass spectrometry, which measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions (i.e., charged particles) by converting molecules to ions and separating the ions based on their molecular weight. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which can determine the structure of a molecule by measuring the interaction between atomic nuclei placed in a magnetic field and exposing it to radio waves. NMR works on is the same principle as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in medical diagnostics. In the third step—still under development—investigators use the data from the forensic chemical identification and analysis and identification methods from step two to develop a "chemical fingerprint." The fingerprint can be matched to a database of information on existing methods or known sources to identify chemical agents (i.e., Source A matching Sample 1 of Fig. 2). However, a comprehensive database containing complete, reliable data for known agents does not exist. How mature is it? Forensic chemical analysis and identification (i.e., Step 2 of Fig.1) is mature for known chemical agents. For example, investigators determined the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack on civilians in 2017. The methods can also identify new agents, as when investigators determined the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agent after its first known use, in 2018. Forensic chemical analysis and identification methods are also mature enough to generate data that investigators could use as a "chemical fingerprint"– that is, a unique chemical signature that could be used in part to attribute a chemical weapon to a person or entity. For example, combining gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can provide reliable information about the chemical components and molecular weight of an agent. To achieve Step 3, scientists could use this these methods in a laboratory experiment to match impurities in chemical feedstocks of the weapon to potentially determine who made it. In an investigation, such impurities could indicate the geographic origin of the starting material and the process used to create the agent. Figure 2. Example of forensic chemical identification and analysis, showing a match between Sample 1 and Source A. Opportunities An effective international system for forensic chemical attribution can open up several opportunities, including: Defense. Knowing the source of a chemical agent could help nations better defend against future attacks and, when appropriate, take military action in response to an attack. Legal response. Source attribution may provide information to help find and prosecute attackers or to impose sanctions. Deterrence. The ability to trace chemical agents to a source might deter future use of chemical weapons. Challenges Chemical database. Creating a comprehensive international database of chemical fingerprints would require funding and international collaboration to sample chemicals from around the world. Finding perpetrators. Matching a chemical to its sources does not reveal who actually used it in an attack. Almost all investigations require additional evidence. Samples. Collecting a sufficient sample for attribution can be challenging, as can storing and transporting it using a secure chain of custody—potentially over great distance—to one of the 18 authorized biomedical labs worldwide. International cooperation. Lack of cooperation can delay investigations and may compromise sample quality. Cooperation is also essential for creating an international database. Standardization. Attribution methods are complex and require standardized, internationally accepted protocols to ensure results are reliable and trusted. Such protocols do not yet exist for attributing a chemical weapons attack. Policy Context and Questions The following questions are relevant to building an effective, trusted system for tracing attacks using forensic chemical attribution: How can federal agencies promote and contribute to the international standardization of scientific methods for forensic chemical attribution? Which agency or agencies should lead this effort? How can the international community create and implement a framework for cooperation and trust in forensic chemical attribution? What actions could promote or incentivize creation of an internationally accepted database of unique chemical fingerprints for attributing chemical agents to their sources? What can be done to fully identify and address the scientific and technological gaps in current capabilities for attributing a chemical agent to its source? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Capitol Attack: Special Event Designations Could Have Been Requested for January 6, 2021, but Not All DHS Guidance is ClearBy Sam NewsAugust 9, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has specific designations available for planned special events that bolster security-planning processes and coordination between federal, state, and local entities. For example, these designations enhance coordination of protective anti-terrorism measures and counterterrorism assets, and restrict access. These designations include the National Special Security Event (NSSE) and the Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR). These designations were not assigned to the events occurring on January 6, 2021. The events of January 6 included 1) a non-permitted protest at the U.S. Capitol, 2) a scheduled Presidential rally at the Ellipse, and 3) a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results. If requested, the Presidential rally and joint session of Congress could have been considered for a designation as an NSSE or SEAR because, for example, they were large events with Presidential or Vice Presidential attendance. However, according to DHS officials, the non-permitted incident at the U.S. Capitol was not consistent with factors currently used for NSSE and SEAR designations. This non-permitted incident was not designated, even though there were other indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol Complex on January 6. While DHS has developed factors for designating an event an NSSE, it is not clear whether they are adaptable to the current environment of emerging threats. Being able to be dynamic and responsive to change would enable federal entities to implement better security planning. Further, although Secret Service officials stated that a request from the local government in Washington, D.C. would typically initiate consideration for an NSSE designation, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency officials indicated that they did not think the District Government had the authority to request an NSSE designation for an event on federal property. Updating and communicating its policy for requesting an NSSE designation will help DHS ensure that relevant agencies are aware of, and understand, the process for requesting such event designations and may help to better secure the Capitol Complex and other federal properties in the future. Why GAO Did This Study The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 resulted in assaults on approximately 140 police officers, and about $1.5 million in damages, according to information from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Capitol Police. In addition, the events of the day led to at least seven deaths. Questions have been raised about the extent to which necessary steps were taken to adequately secure the Capitol Complex, and share intelligence information. We have a body of work underway that examines the preparation, coordination, and response on January 6, that we will begin issuing over the next several months. GAO was asked to review, among other things, coordination between federal and local entities for security and emergency support for events at the U.S. Capitol and surrounding areas on January 6, 2021. Specifically, this report examines the extent to which federal, state, and local government entities requested a special event designation for the planned events of January 6, 2021 to include: (1) the definition of an NSSE and its designation process; (2) the definition of SEAR and its designation process; (3) the characteristics of past NSSE and SEAR events; (4) the applicability of NSSE and SEAR designations to the events of January 6 and the extent to which they were considered; and, (5) why NSSE and SEAR designations were not considered for the events of January 6. GAO reviewed policies and processes for DHS special event designations, interviewed officials from relevant agencies, and examined DHS data on recent events that received special event designations.[Read More…]
- Homeland Security: Progress Made; More Direction and Partnership SoughtBy Sam NewsAugust 23, 2021Enhancing homeland security is a complex effort that involves all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories; thousands of municipalities; and countless private entities. Since September 11, the nation has taken many actions to combat terrorism and enhance homeland security. It is well known that the U.S. military is conducting operations in Afghanistan. Various legislative and executive branch actions to enhance homeland security have been taken or were underway prior to and since September 11. Government and nongovernment activities are looking to the Office of Homeland Security for further guidance on how to better integrate their missions and more effectively contribute to the overarching homeland security effort. Having a common definition can help avoid duplication of effort and gaps in coverage by identifying agency roles and responsibilities. Although the agencies are looking for guidance, they also want to ensure that their unique missions are factored in as guidance is developed. At the same time, some agencies are unsure what they should be doing beyond their traditional missions. Once the national strategy is issued, federal, state, and local government agencies and private sector groups will need to work together to achieve the goals and objectives. Public-private partnerships used to address Y2K concerns can also be used to promote the national strategy.[Read More…]
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