Statement by the United States Embassy Spokesperson Eric Watnik
El Alto, February 11, 2008
In a few minutes, we will be departing the El Alto Airport for Trinidad. Thank you for joining us in this important trip.
This event is another example of the solidarity of the people of the United States with those who have been injured by the flooding that has ravaged large portions of Bolivia. In Trinidad, we will be met by an aircraft that has flown in from the United States bringing relief aid. This aid is in addition to the assistance we have already given in other flood-stricken areas during this rainy season.
With regard to another issue, I would like to emphasize that at no time did U.S. Embassy personnel ask any Peace Corps volunteers or Fulbright scholars to engage in intelligence activities.
Nevertheless, I can confirm that one member of our security staff did—over seven months ago, in July 2007—provide a security briefing for Peace Corps volunteers that included incorrect information. In that routine security briefing, the security official involved mistakenly gave the security briefing for Embassy employees to Peace Corps volunteers.
For safety and security reasons, Embassy employees are required to report on suspicious activities. This is not a requirement for individuals who do not work for the Embassy, as is the case of Peace Corps volunteers or Fulbright scholars working either in Bolivia or anywhere in the world.
The security officer was immediately corrected by a senior Peace Corps official during the briefing.
Following this briefing, our senior security officer instructed his staff not to repeat the inappropriate guidance.
The security officer in question also briefed a Fulbright scholar in November 2007. The briefing was one-on-one; we cannot confirm its content. Nevertheless, we take this matter very seriously.
We are disappointed that the Fulbright scholar involved did not voice his concerns to other Embassy officers or to a member of the Fulbright Commission after the briefing in November 2007. Had he done that, this situation would have been immediately corrected. The Embassy was not aware of this issue until it came to our attention in the press late last week.
The security officer in question has been recalled to Washington to be debriefed; the Department of State will take appropriate action following the debriefing.
Once again, we regret any misunderstanding this isolated incident—which occurred more than seven months ago and was immediately corrected—may have caused regarding the valuable people to people and educational work being carried out by the Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars in Bolivia.
This is all the information about the incident we have available at this moment. We would like now to focus on the urgent relief aid we will deliver in Trinidad today and we ask you to please stay focused on the issue of the humanitarian aid to the flood victims when the Ambassador gives his remarks later. The Ambassador will not take any question regarding the incident today.
Thank you very much.