Is Illegal Poaching In Africa And Asia A Threat To US Security?

Illegal poaching is now seen as a potential threat to U.S. national securityThe U.S. intelligence community has been issued a new charge from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Organizations such as the CIA and NSA are being asked to assess the impact that illegal poaching across Africa and Asia is having on U.S. security interests abroad. This shift in policy indicates that the administration may be preparing to get tough on the underground black market that has been built on the bones of thousands of slaughtered animals over the past few years.

While meeting with a group of conservationists, environmentalists and ambassadors at the State Department last week, Clinton called for a unified strategy across a host of regions to help combat the illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns. Those two items in particular have sparked the recent rise in poaching in Africa as suppliers look to fill the rising demand in parts of Asia. In launching this new initiative, the Secretary of State pledged $100,000 to help get new enforcement efforts off the ground, but perhaps more importantly was her announcement that the U.S. intelligence community would lend their talents to the fight for the first time.

At first glance, using U.S. intelligent assets to fight illegal poaching doesn’t necessarily seem like a good use of resources. But much of the poaching is done by rebel forces and local bandits who then use the funds to purchase better weapons and more advanced equipment. Well-armed and funded militias can be a direct threat to the stability of allies throughout Africa and Asia, where a number of fledgling governments are struggling with so many other important social and economic issues. Additionally, because poachers move across borders with impunity and ship their precious cargoes around the globe, the U.S. intelligence community seems best suited to track their movements. Their efforts could lead to not only finding the poachers while they are in the field, but also tracking down buyers in Asia who are funding these hunts.This move comes at a time when poachers are becoming more armed and using more sophisticated tactics. It is not uncommon for the illegal hunters to employ the use of helicopters, night-vision goggles and sophisticated weaponry when stalking their prey, and when confronted by local authorities, they are generally packing bigger and better guns than their foes. That has made combating the poachers extremely difficult, as they are often in and out of a game preserve before anyone knows they are there, and when they are caught in the act, it frequently turns into a deadly firefight.

Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement also takes illegal poaching out of the realm of conservation and puts it squarely into the national security arena. That is a definite change in tone over what we’ve seen out of past administrations, which generally seemed more focused on bigger international issues. Obama may consider poaching a big enough issue to take on in his second term, particularly since he has deep family ties in Kenya, another nation hit hard by poaching.

The Washington Post says that an estimated 10,000 elephants are killed each year in Tanzania alone, which gives you an indication of just how bad this problem has become. In some parts of Africa, rhinos have already been hunted to extinction and if this wholesale slaughter continues, the elephant may not be far behind. I don’t care if the U.S. government did have to come up with an excuse about national security to get more involved, I’m just happy they are taking steps to crack down on this awful trade.

[Photo credit: Kraig Becker]

Art In Embassies Celebrates Serving Abroad …Through Their Eyes

Art in embassies


Art In Embassies
(AIE) is a program of the U.S. Department’s of State and Defense that promotes cross-cultural dialogue and understanding around the world through the visual arts, sponsoring dynamic artist exchanges. For five decades the public-private partnership program has played a big role in U.S. diplomacy. This month, in commemoration of Veterans Day, the AIE program announced the 12 “Best in Show” photographs featured in AIE’s 50th anniversary “Serving Abroad…Through Their Eyes photography exhibition.

Last year on Veterans Day, military, civil service and Foreign Service personnel were invited to submit photographs illustrating their life while serving abroad. Over 3,200 images were submitted, 161 finalists were chosen then the 12 “Best in Show” were identified.

“These photographs depict themes of friendship, places, faces, loss or triumph, providing a window on the complexity, diversity and courageous work performed by America’s heroes throughout the world,” said the U.S. Department of State in a release.

Today, AIE engages 20,000 artists, museums, galleries, universities and private collectors in more than 200 venues in 189 countries. Over 58 permanent collections have been installed in State Department facilities throughout the world.

See all the finalists here

In the video below we see artist Tom Gosford talking about the installation of his work in the U.S. Tijuana consulate, and a look at the Art in Embassies exhibition in the consulate.




The AIE 50th anniversary celebration features U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honoring five artists on November 30, presenting the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for their outstanding commitment to the program.

[Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State]

Summer work travel: Cheap labor or cultural exchange?

summer work travelThe Summer Work Travel (SWT) program is a U.S. Department of State initiative that brings college students from around the world to the United States for seasonal jobs. But far from the cultural exchange advertised, students are finding themselves exploited by workplace safety and health violations.

Late last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an “extensive and thorough review” of the program. Last month, federal officials issued citations and possible fines of nearly $300,000 against the Hershey Company, an employer involved with the program, reports PennLive. This week, the Center for Immigration Studies will hold a public discussion panel sorting it all out.

The panel will discuss results of the report “Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: The $100 Million Work Travel Industry” that says the SWT program has become a cheap labor program in the guise of cultural exchange.Critical of motives behind the program, the Center for Immigration Studies report accuses the program of providing “incentives for employers to bypass American workers by exempting SWT employers from taxes that apply to employment of Americans. Employers also don’t have to worry about providing health insurance, since SWT students are required to buy it for themselves.”

The discussion will be held in Washington D.C. tomorrow, March 13, 2012 at 9 a.m. in the Murrow Room at the National Press Club, 14th and F Streets, NW. Admission is free and open to the public. A transcript and video of the discussion will be available the following week.

Summer Job Searching Tips for College Students



[Flickr photo by Ryan.padilla]