Monday, June 2, 2014

Big Fraud in the Far Abroad: Part I of a Painful Recollection

This is a true story.

Well, as I have said before about other recollections, as true as memory let's it be. I am deliberately not going to do research on this story; I want to tell it as I remember it. Perhaps the final record, whatever that is, will show that I got some incidents out of order. So be it.

In addition, my account is shaped by further caveats: while the names of the principals in this tale have been stated since this matter eventually became public and is now a matter of record, other names have been changed or just omitted. I had to compress details for brevity's sake--and it will still be a long account. I, unfortunately, also had to omit other details on how we cracked the case so as not to comprise means and methods. During this period, we worked closely with the Sri Lankan and Maldivian governments, as well as the British and the Australian High Commissions on sensitive issues dealing with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the presence of AQ terrorists. I will leave that out, too. My point is that we were focused outwards; we did not think some of our own would betray us. We trusted the people whom the personnel system sent--and that proved a grave mistake.

Above all, however, this is a complicated story, with lots of temptations to head off on tangents. It has a complex back story, one which I can touch on only relatively lightly here. In addition, the story has many moving parts located in many different parts of the globe over a considerable span of time; it will be tough to keep it all making sense. I will try. I have left out some salacious details (might put them back in for the Hollywood version): This is a suitable for work and family blog.

One last cautionary note: I have to show circumspection when dealing with certain people--that will become clear as the story progresses. For the sake of fairness, unlike much of what I have written on this blog before, the idiocy, the vindictiveness, and, perhaps, the outright malfeasance that will be described cannot be put at the feet of President Obama and his inept minions. In fact, one major dolt whom I would love to name but cannot for a variety of reasons was a senior Bush political appointee. Democrats do not have a lock on stupidity; it is a bipartisan commodity.

OK, here we go.

I was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Sri Lanka, 2000-2003. The head of admin was Long Lee, a Vietnamese-American then in her late-forties with a colorful story as to how she ended up in the US Foreign Service. Just how much of this colorful story was true, well, I guess she and God know, but nobody else I could find does. I never thought the Department did a good job of verifying her life’s account. She told of having been a Foreign Service National (FSN) in Saigon, married to an ARVN officer killed by the VC, and barely making it out of Vietnam ahead of the NVA’s conquest of Saigon--these details would change in various tellings. She landed in Washington, D.C., became a US citizen, married an older FSO, whom she subsequently divorced, but with whom she remained friends, and joined the Foreign Service as an administrative cone office--these details, in particular, the order in which they occurred also changed in different tellings. Along the way, she married, again; this third husband was the one I met in Sri Lanka. This spouse, whom everyone called AC, was some 18 years younger than Long. He had been a Marine Security Guard (MSG) when he met the apparently just-divorced Long. After they married, he left the Marines, and became a dependent spouse. She got assignments in Africa, and back in Vietnam, which was odd--as we will see. AC worked at our Colombo embassy, as he had at others, as a visa associate in the consular section. They arrived roughly the same time we did, the summer of 2000, and we became friends. I could not foresee how much I would regret that friendship.

Long and AC arrived in Sri Lanka from an assignment in Hanoi, following one at the US Embassy in Fiji. At both of those posts, as noted, she had worked in admin and he in the visa section. They brought with them a large family of adopted children from Vietnam, and one severely handicapped and very pretty little girl from Cape Verde where they also had served. It was all a bit weird, but in this age one may not question family structures. Throughout my time at post I occasionally noted other “adopted” children coming in and out, elder “relatives” staying and quietly leaving, and a host of young women who would come and go and be introduced as “relatives,” children from her first or second marriage, and friends. Long and AC were famous for their dinner parties, as Long was a superb cook. I noticed on a couple of occasions, however, that she had various of her “children,” teenagers or early twenties, working in the kitchen, and whom she treated rather harshly. On more than one occasion, I remarked to Long, after she had introduced me to one of her “children,” “I thought you said before her name was Jasmine, now it’s Lilly? I thought Lilly was that one over there.” Long would laughingly say, “We all look alike to you, right?” I must state that my wife, who worked then in the security office, was always a bit more openly suspicious than I about arrangements at Long’s house. I, perhaps, did not pay them the attention I should have--my excuse being the press of other work, especially after 9/11.

Long proved outstanding at her job. She wrote well, had a mastery of numbers and budgets, considerable personal charm, a sense of humor, a wide network of contacts, and, above all, an unparalled ability to cut through admin logjams and red tape. There seemed no problem of logistics, management, or administration that she could not solve. You could go to her and say, “We have a surprise 50-person VIP delegation arriving tomorrow. We need to reserve hotel rooms, get them transportation, set up their schedules and host a reception for 400. We need dancing bears, elephants, unicorns, and manatees . . ..” You get the point. She made things happen. She had her local staff running like a Swiss watch. Long drew the attention of a senior Bush State appointee, who thought her the ideal officer; he had big plans for her onward assignments, and made it clear he was her protector.

AC was an energetic, good looking, athletic, big, loud, personable man’s man. He hunted, fished, played superb golf and tennis, swore like a sailor, and was always launching out on some new hobby or another, including learning to play the piano. He almost talked me in to going 50/50 with him on buying a locally made fishing boat. AC worked hard in the visa section, and was very knowledgable about US immigration law and procedures, and citizen services. When my eldest son would come to visit, he worked as AC’s assistant in the consular section; they, among other things, would pay visits to imprisoned Americans. AC taught him a great deal about consular law and services. I did find troubling AC’s fascination with get-rich-quick schemes; he seemed perpetually talking about how to make money with this or that investment, and had all sorts of schemes to game the stock market. He, at times, would mention in passing investing in a limo service and in a restaurant. That, too, shows up later.

I should mention a few other key persons in this story. Our security officer (RSO), and his deputy, were excellent. Given the violent civil war raging in the country and especially after 9/11, they had a very tough job. The embassy in Colombo received more white powder letters than any other embassy in the world. We were besieged with--thankfully--fake anthrax envelopes and bomb threats. Each one of these many envelopes had to be treated as the real thing. The RSO and his deputy set up some excellent procedures--which I won’t describe--for dealing with this flood of hostile “correspondence.”

The new Ambassador was a personable and experienced FSO. He and I became friends and had to deal with a host of issues, not the least of which was pressure from Washington to make the US a major player in ending the Sri Lanka civil war. I have described this in other postings and won’t go over it again. He was in the US when 9/11 happened, and barely missed by minutes being on one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the Twin Towers.

There we were, chugging along, fat, dumb, and happy to be doing the work of America in faraway and exotics lands. We had a few glitches (one described here ) but in general it was a well-run mission producing good stuff in the war on terror, on nuclear non-proliferation (yes), on finding a solution to the local civil war, and promoting American products. We also worked hard and successfully to undermine EU efforts to set up an outrageous extradition regime under the Treaty of Rome that would allow the EU to grab and try Americans and citizens of other countries that did not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Undersecretary John Bolton was absolutely superb in the battle to ensure that Americans, especially our military, would not get haled before some European-based court on spurious charges.

Then two bolts of lightening flashed; they very briefly illuminated the problem scenario that was developing. I cannot remember which of these two “bolts” came first. Doesn’t really matter. One came courtesy of the Netherlands immigration service; the other, courtesy of the ATF.

To be continued in a bit--or when I get around to it. I have to plan carefully the telling of the rest of this tale of woe--the single biggest case of visa corruption in the history of the State Department.

26 comments:

  1. You have well and truly wetted the appetite Dip. Don't leave the follow up too long in the writing.

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  2. yeah.. follow this up promptly or I'll declare shenanigans!

    - reader #1482

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  3. Can't wait for the next instalment....also feel a sense of dread at the shenanigans of diplomatic staff with no sense of duty to country. How many of them are there? Still, a great story!

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  4. oh and... who wants to bet this 'prisoner swap' was more about closing gitmo than it was about retrieving a soldier who apparently abandoned his assignment?
    "Hey... we had to let those guys go to get that one guy back.. not our fault they went out and killed more of our soldiers, ya know?"

    - reader #1482

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  5. Mr. Mad,
    Well the elements are all there. She's a key admint, he's visa and likes money, she's got more family than a happy Mormon, and she's very skilful at working on "American guilt" to deflect suspicion. In my work here in Texas, I've been around the Mexican community for over 25yrs and parts of this story just jump out at me. I'm probably missing a lot of this, but I'd say she's running illegals, maybe hostiles. Her husbands in it for the money at a minimum. She's supposedly came out of the post Nam boat people chaos and has been sleeping her way deeper in the State Dept......
    Next installment please!

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    1. Well, I need tell nothing more. You've basically got it . . . sigh . . .

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    2. Well there is a difference between us, you can write! My prose can drop people up to 50ft away, besides there are big holes in my grasp of this. So without further ado, next installment please!
      James the Lesser

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  6. Oh, am smelling fraud and deceit....much like what's emanating out of DC these days. Please, don't wait too long as I am on tenterhooks as it is! You are a master story teller, Mr. Mad.

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    1. I have to agree with this assessment, I love your writing and your storytelling abilities. More please, when you can.

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  7. that was nasty .....impatiently waiting for the next installment.

    Put me down for a copy of your book ..your really need to write a book.

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  8. Interesting!

    Please tell us more on the non-proliferation work in this backwater country.

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    Replies
    1. It had to do with third countries.

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  9. Bigger than Mike Sestak in Ho Chi Minh City?

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  10. Fascinating story so far. When I was on the credentials committee of the county medical association, we had a young orthopedic surgeon apply. A routine question on an application was "Have you ever been arrested ?" His answer revealed another interesting story. He was a military doctor in Vietnam and met and married a local girl who was a South Vietnamese. He brought her back to the States with him when his service term ended. In 1975, when the NVA took over the country, he discovered her celebrating and learned she had been a VC all along.

    He hired some South Vietnamese refugees (I'm sure there were more than enough volunteers) to kidnap her and take her back to Thailand where they shoved her over the border, back to the VC. He got caught and convicted of kidnapping and conspiracy and spent a couple of years in prison. He was now finally going into practice after getting out of prison. Interestingly, his license was unaffected. Usually a felony is enough to lose your license.

    Anyway, he became a member in good standing not long after our meeting.

    Any similarity to your story ?

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    1. I should add that this was back about 1978.

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    2. "Shoved her over" which border, exactly? Last time I looked, VN and Thailand have no common border. Unless you count the Lao PDR as a part of Thailand. Which of course some Thai do.

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  11. Bated breath. . . Can't wait.

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  12. Matt, the Seventh ReaderJune 2, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Once I read references to visas and all the children and relative passing through, I figured she was selling visa and otherwise facilitating illegal immigration. However, that does nothing to diminish my great enthusiasm to read the continuation of this story.

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  13. More! More! (and please put my name down to buy your book when you write it...)

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  14. Dude, come on!!! That is such a tease! I will continue to check the site daily, waiting for Part II, though now I will have to try to refrain from getting too excited. haha love the stories, keep them coming.

    Nick from the Penal Colony formerly known as New York

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  15. OK, OK! I will try! But I am in the process of going back to DC to pack up and send my long-stored belongings out West. I must worry about sofas, mirrors, and Indonesian masks. My writing, alas, will take a back seat - - for a bit.

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    1. Find yourself a copy of the new Mad Magazine and see Barack Obama's Unfortunate New Movie. The photo is devastating. It will make your journey more tolerable.

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    2. Matt, the Seventh ReaderJune 4, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Dip, will you check your possessions for electronic bugs, or do you assume the misadministration's toadies monitor you in other ways?

      And please write a book.

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  16. I transferred to Colombo in July 2004. By then, The recovery work was well underway with a solid follow-on Admin Officer. I thought the FSN staff was solid. When Although my section was more on the breaking-the-case side of the house, I, I did make a point to sit down with the staff and emphasize in simple terms that they didn't just have the authority to question the questionable, they had an obligation to do their jobs with integrity, as did the American staff.

    All in all, a great tour.

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