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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Big Fraud in the Far Abroad: Part II

While I try to put together this part of the story, please go read Part I to give me a little time. You can find it by clicking here, that will avoid my having to do a "previously on the Diplomad" intro.

OK, finished with Part I? Here we go, and sorry for the length. This is not the final part, unfortunately.

As noted before, I am not doing research for this. I tell the story as my memory presents it. Memory, of course, gets reshaped and eroded by the winds and water of time; it gets deposits of odd pieces of  what geologists call glacial erratic, debris that does not belong with the surrounding countryside. I will try to sift through all that and come up with something approximating The Truth, but will likely miss here and there, and allow some glacial erratic to enter the picture--it will, nevertheless, approximate The Truth more than an Oliver Stone movie or a John Kerry recollection, but that's a low bar.

As my tour churned on in Sri Lanka, events did not take note of Long and AC: the airport in Colombo got blown up by the Tamil Tigers and, of course, Al Qaeda exploited our lax visa laws to insert a killer team into the United States and conduct the September 11 atrocity. We in management at the Embassy were caught up in those events, and, frankly, missed what was happening inside the fortress, and had relied on the personnel system's vetting. No excuses, just the facts as I remember them (see above).

AC and Long continued as popular figures in the embassy--with one exception, the embassy doctor--the foreign diplomatic and business community, and among Sri Lankans. Long found funds somewhere, using her extensive DC contacts, that allowed the embassy, which owned a vacant lot, to build a very nice swimming pool and tennis court for the use of our personnel--a big morale booster given how grim everything else had become. Visitors, especially one very senior Bush appointee, were full of praise for how their visits to Colombo were handled, and grateful to the attentions bestowed upon them by Long and her team. That senior visitor, who came to Colombo several times, appreciated, for example, that Long had convinced the hotel management, at no extra charge, to move a large and expensive piece of exercise equipment into the visitor's hotel suite for his exclusive use. The Ambassador and I appreciated her ability to solve problems without fuss. AC seemed to be doing his job in the consular section, and was very popular among the local staff for his humor and generosity. We were like a sailor delighted with the wonderful weather and smooth sailing, not realizing that we were in the eye of the hurricane, and that the eye would pass.

The first hint that the eye of the hurricane was passing and that winds were coming came when the RSO (Regional Security Officer) handed me a summary of a report of an interrogation in California by the ATF. That summary was in a monthly bulletin of security issues that went out around the world to embassies. He said, "Read it. There's some disturbing stuff in there. I am going to ask for the full report." The summary, as well as I can remember it, told of the arrest of an Indian national, let's call him Rajiv, crossing from Arizona or Nevada into California with a truckload of cigarettes bound for his cousin's 7/11 store in Los Angeles. No California taxes--which are considerable--had been paid on the cigarettes, and the cousins hoped to engage in a little black market selling. Rajiv had been picked up as part of an investigation into suspected terrorist activities; when the ATF found out his activities involved cigarettes they were less interested, but were holding him for California authorities and Immigration (INS).

Rajiv freaked out. He began telling the ATF folks that if they went easy on him, and did not let INS deport him, he would tell a story much more interesting than one about some tax-free smokes. He admitted that he was on a tourist visa, and had been in the US for a couple or so years. Rajiv had gotten the visa in Fiji by paying the U.S. "consul" $5000 through a broker. He said he wasn't the only one. A ring of Indian smugglers, according to Rajiv, flew people into Suva and got them US visas thanks to that American consul. Rajiv described the consular officer as a former Army officer married to a Fijian national. He said the consul would contact the Indian smugglers at a swanky golf club in Suva, collect money and passports, and then a day or so later, bring the passports back with visas in them. He said the operation in Fiji had stopped when the consul had been reassigned to Laos or Thailand, but he had heard it continued there.

Both the RSO and I noted that AC had been an NCO in the Marines not an Army officer; he and Long, however, had served in Fiji during the time described by Rajiv; AC had been an associate in the consular section although not the consul; he was married to a Vietnamese-American FSO, not a Fijian; and he and Long had gone on to Vietnam, not Laos or Thailand. All that said, nevertheless, the story clearly was too close for comfort or to dismiss out of hand; the possible discrepancies, after all, were understandable. Rajiv's description of the consular officer provoked suspicion about AC from our RSO and even from dim-bulb me. I told the RSO that, yes, he should get more details.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Long continued her charm offensive. The dinner parties, the charity events, the contacts who could get us big discounts on this and that, helping me buy a birthday present for my wife, etc. It must have been April or May of 2002, when Long insisted that my wife accompany her on a shopping trip to Indonesia; AC was to vacation in Cambodia, but Long wanted to see Jakarta. The Diplowife was at first reluctant to go, until she learned there was a good chance that Jakarta would be our next assignment. She wanted to get a look at it, and, oh, did you say "shopping?" She left for Jakarta with Long and a twenty-something adopted "daughter." As she later recounted the visit to the RSO, my wife found the trip odd. Instead of staying at a hotel as Long had said they would, they all stayed with an Iranian woman whose husband, also Iranian, worked for the UN. Long seemed to know them very well. Long and the Iranian woman were conducting some sort of hush-hush jewelry business, with Long bringing stones from Sri Lanka and both paying and collecting payment, as well as other stones from the Iranian. My wife said they tried to conduct the business away from her, but that at least twice she saw the Iranian hand Long some stones, and Long write a check, and vice-versa. When she had remarked to Long about the gems and the checks, Long proved evasive and quickly changed the topic. My wife also noted that the Iranian lady detested Long's "daughter," telling Long that the young lady could not sit at the dinner table because in Iran, "Servants do not eat with you." The Iranian blew up at Long, "You have to decide if she's going to be your daughter or your maid." The next day, Long decided that she would fly on first to Taiwan and then to Hong Kong to continue her vacation. My wife returned alone to Colombo.

What are the odds? The China Air flight which Long said she would use to go from Taiwan to Hong Kong crashed into the ocean with all lost. My wife was horrified. We could not get hold of AC in Cambodia, and contacted our people in Phnom Penh, Taipei, and Hong Kong to let them know of the possibility that one of our officers and her daughter had been on the doomed flight.

To be continued . . .

Scenes from coming episodes: The Dutch step in; the twin sister line; the LA connection; the Oregon connection; the Colorado connection; the Virginia connection; the Vietnam connection; the Dulles Airport VIP lounge connection; the doctor's dissent; a falling out among the good guys; a stressful Thanksgiving in Dambulla-Kandalama among the monkeys; a broken wheelchair; social security checks; stuffed sofas; and sex on the desk and in the cubicle . . . all this and more yet to come to your screens!


  1. Even though we are not nearly at an end, I find myself disappointed that another 40 or 50 chapters in the novel are not to be expected.

  2. A great story! Keep 'em coming!

  3. Learn to be patient, grasshopper!

  4. may i suggest that you write a book? your stories deserve a wider audience and if it should help shake up the state dept. .....

  5. I cannot guess how the doctor fits in. Be still, my heart....

  6. Wow ! Has this been pitched to Hollywood yet ?

  7. I second the suggestion that Mr. Amselem write a book.

  8. It's a thrilling story, and Paragraph three is beautiful writing. I will save it.

  9. That was great, Diplomad! And with yet another cliffhanger. Best serial on the net right now. Looking forward to the rest.

  10. This is good stuff! You really need to protect this stuff (copyright). That statement "We all look alike to you, right?" keeps coming back and bugging me. I'd bet even money she didn't go down with that plane (her so called daughter may have), but she didn't.
    James the Lesser

  11. Matt, the Seventh ReaderJune 5, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    Yes, Dip, you should certainly write a book. I would buy it right away, as would all the others in your legion of followers.

    Please hurry with the next chapter of this story. I just determined that my work will prevent me from seeing Godzilla in the theaters and I will be even more dependent on your writing than normal to keep me going.

    1. Six.

      Six followers.

      It's an inside joke.

  12. Patience is not a virtue I possess, I simultaneously love and hate you right now... I'm very excited to read the next part of this thrilling tale, it really lends truth to the old line that, "Truth is often stranger than fiction." Screenwriters only wish they could come up with stories like this.

    Nick from the Penal Colony formerly known as New York

  13. Interesting, I remember hearing about that crash and went to refresh my memory on it.It was an in-flight break up following and explosive decompression due to an improperly repaired pressure bulkhead after a tail strike 20 years earlier. The source I'm looking at is Wikipedia and we all know that isn't the most reliable source but it says the nationalities of those on board were 9 Chinese, 5 Hong Kong, 1 Singaporean, 1 Swiss and 109 Taiwanese. No Americans, no Vietnamese. Very interesting. James may be right that Long was not on the flight.


  14. From a source that I do think is trustworthy, the Aviation Safety Network, an accident report that agrees with the Wiki, but doesn't break out casualties by nationality: