Today, I would like to talk to you about [Diplomatic Security Service]’ Assistant Regional Security Officer Investigator Program and how it helps protect Americans and U.S. national security.
Briefing With Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Ricardo Colon On the Role of Diplomatic Security in Combatting Transnational Crime
RICARDO COLÓN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR DOMESTIC OPERATIONS
BUREAU OF DIPLOMATIC SECURITY
JUNE 11, 2020
MR BROWN: Hey. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this on-the-record briefing with Ricardo Colon, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Domestic Operations in our Bureau of Diplomatic Security. We continue to look for opportunities to highlight ways in which the State Department supports Americans and advances U.S. national security interests around the world. And you’re all familiar with the work that our Bureau of Consular Affairs does to support American citizen services globally, but the work of our Diplomacy Security colleagues is no less impactful and closely aligned with our consular operations.
Today, DAS Colon will highlight the mission set of the Assistant Regional Security Officer Investigator – or ARSO-I – Program and how it helps protect Americans and U.S. national security. DAS Colon will be available to answer your questions following his brief introductory remarks. And as always, please remember the contents of the briefing are embargoed until the end.
MR COLON: Thank you, PDAS Brown. Good afternoon, everyone. My name – as PDAS Brown said, my name is Ricardo Colon. I am the deputy assistant secretary with the Diplomatic Security Service. Today, I would like to talk to you about DSS’s Assistant Regional Security Officer Investigator – or ARSO-I – Program and how it helps protect Americans and U.S. national security.
In addition to protecting State Department people and facilities, DSS has a mandate to protect the integrity of U.S. travel documents. This can mean anything from a U.S. passport or visa or any document in any country used to obtain those forms in the United States or abroad. In 1996, DSS partnered with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to combine CA’s fraud detection capabilities with DSS’s criminal investigative expertise to better protect these documents.
DSS embedded special agents in consular sections at three U.S. diplomatic posts to investigate instances where these documents may be misused, fraudulently obtained, or manipulated – often to conduct other crimes such as sex and labor trafficking, terrorism, and human smuggling. The DSS-Consular partnership proved so successful that today we have more than 120 DSS special agents embedded in consular sections at over 110 diplomatic posts in 76 countries.
Our ARSO-I Program is an investigative global force multiplier that disrupts, deters, and dismantles transnational criminal organizations and terrorists that threaten U.S. national security and the safety of Americans and our partners overseas.
The program has three pillars: conducting transnational investigations; liaising with our partners and support our U.S. law enforcement partners’ investigations; and training our foreign partners. Each year, we train over 40,000 foreign law enforcement, immigration, airline officials, NGOs, and private sector partners on how to detect and deter crime so we can stop criminal activities at the root rather than allowing it to cross U.S. borders.
Some of our recent successes include disrupting and dismantling a major international human smuggling ring operation in Albania; tracking down and returning a DSS Most Wanted fugitive charged with passport fraud, sexual assault, and other crimes; and training Peruvian partners that led to the dismantling of a global human smuggling and trafficking network. These are just a few of the type of work DSS conducts on a daily basis. We have plenty of other examples from all over the world that demonstrate how we protect U.S. borders and national security. Thank you.
MR BROWN: Okay. Operator, I guess we have – we’ll go to questions.
OPERATOR: Sure. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, press 1-0 at this time on your telephone keypad. Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, press 1-0.
MR BROWN: All right. It looks like we have a question from Luke Barr.
QUESTION: Hey, Mr. Colon. Thanks so much for taking the time today. Really appreciate it.
I have two questions. The first is: Is there a particular place – you mentioned Albania, but is there a particular hot spot that you’re seeing a lot of activity in? And if so, what activity?
And the second question is: Do you know anything about diplomatic services – excuse me, Diplomatic Security being asked to investigate a leak last fall that Secretary Pompeo alleges came from the Office of Inspector General about an OIG report? And more broadly, is investigating press leaks an appropriate use of DS’s time and resources?
MR COLON: So to your first question, in terms of hot spots, no particular hot spots. I mean, we do – we work with our analysts all the time in terms of looking at trends. Part of our focus is working with all of our foreign law enforcement partners to develop what we call capacity building and increasing their capabilities to investigate all travel document-related crimes across all types of investigations that we get involved with.
Part of our mandate – and this is what makes DS very unique in this sense, apart from the fact that we’re the most widely represented U.S. law enforcement organization overseas – is that when you have a mandate to protect two of the most important documents in the world, the U.S. passport and the U.S. visas, there are all types of crimes that relate to the misuse of the U.S. travel documents: everything from identity fraud, document vendor schemes, human smuggling, illegal adoption schemes, (inaudible), terrorist activity, money laundering, sex trafficking.
So we get involved in all of these types of investigations. So – and we – as I mentioned during my statement, we conduct over – typically over 2,000 training sessions every year, training over 40,000 individuals across the globe, in terms of building capacity with all of our foreign counterparts. And that’s why – what makes this – that’s what makes the ARSO-I Program such a great investigative global force multiplier in terms of disrupting activities overseas.
So as far as your specific question in terms of hot spots, in terms of illicit activity, I mean, the entire world is a hot spot.
In terms of your second question, Secretary Pompeo said that any time he wanted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to investigate a leak —
MR BROWN: We wouldn’t have any comment on any particular investigation. I believe that is our general practice (inaudible) here since you’re asking about a specific investigation.
Next question. Let’s go to David Hubler.
QUESTION: Yes, I was curious if you could just give us a little more information about one – one or two of these investigations. You mentioned Albania and Peru. Could you just give us a little more general – I know you can’t go into real specifics, but just a bit more information about what DSS was doing there.
MR COLON: Yes. In the Albania case, Operation Crystal Eagle, which was a joint DSS-Albania state police operation, it was led by Albania’s elite investigative unit called Joint Shield. On May 23rd, the Albanians arrested 22 people involved in a major human smuggling operation which involved obtaining or manipulating foreign passports, generating fake documents, and managing passport productions and labs in two countries. This ring helped individuals travel via smuggling routes to countries in the West. The criminal ring included some high-level individuals in Albania, resulting in multiple arrests of several dozen people. And I would add, as we do with a number of law enforcement organizations throughout the world, we have an incredible relationship with the Albanians, and this operation is just the most recent in a line of successful operations.
With respect to the Peruvian operation, as I mentioned for – one of the pillars of the ARSO-I Program is training, capacity building with our foreign partners on how to spot fake travel documents and how to investigate crimes that affect their citizens. Last year our ARSO-I team traveled to a very remote part of Peru to provide such training, and shortly thereafter one of the officers that took the training uncovered a fake travel document. He followed that investigative trail, which led to a human trafficking ring operating in that region. The Peruvians initiated the investigation and was able to effectively shut down that operation.
MR BROWN: Great, thanks. Next let’s go to Ben Fox.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I guess I was wondering if you’re seeing – is it predominantly counterfeit passports or people using stolen U.S. travel documents? And I guess if it’s the former, the counterfeit, what are you seeing in terms of how they are being produced? Are there any trends that you’re seeing in terms of where they’re being produced or how? And how are they bypassing the security measures that have been taken? Thank you.
MR BROWN: Maybe you’re on mute.
MR COLON: Oh, so we – I mean, we see the full range of fraudulent documents, from poorly produced to very high-quality production of the fraudulent documents. And we work very closely with the Consular Affair fraud prevention managers on those type of issues. And of course, as part of our training program we also incorporate that into our training with our foreign partners. And fraudulent documents is one aspect of it. We also – as part of our investigations and our training programs we also work on document vendors who try to manipulate the application process in pursuit of obtaining fraudulent passports and visas.
MR BROWN: Okay, if you want to get into the queue, dial 1 and 0. Okay, not seeing any other questions popping up in the queue, so DAS Colon, thanks for talking to us about this program, and thanks to everyone who dialed in. Have a great day.