Holiday Cyber-Shopping & Deals That Are Too Good To Be True

By Erik Barnett

Throughout the holiday shopping season, consumers hunt for good bargains. Unfortunately, transnational criminal organizations are happy to offer opportunities through the sale of counterfeit goods, often sold through genuine-looking websites.

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U.S. law enforcement teamed up with Europol and 18 countries to target the sale of counterfeit goods over the internet. Photo: Europol

Organized crime groups have long been involved in the sale of counterfeit goods, which is very often tied to other criminal activity such as human trafficking, health and safety violations, and tax evasion. Over the last several years, counterfeit luxury goods, apparel, DVDs, and other fake items are increasingly sold through websites that mimic the sites of the manufacturers.

But law enforcement is fighting back to protect consumers while combatting transnational organized crime. Timed with recognition of “Cyber Monday,” U.S. law enforcement teamed up with Europol and 18 countries to target the sale of counterfeit goods through internet sites as part of Operation In Our Sites – Transatlantic V. Over the past three months, 28 law enforcement and customs agencies worked together to seize domain names of almost 300 websites selling counterfeit goods.

Led by U.S. ICE Homeland Security Investigations and Europol, the countries of Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom joined in this year’s effort. The 292 domain names seized under Operation In Our Sites V brings the total number of domain names seized to 1829 since the project began with only five countries in November 2012.

In addition to the efforts of law enforcement, consumers can protect themselves by exercising their common sense. Shop, when possible, on authorized retail internet sites. Look for spelling errors in the text on the site itself or other signs the site may not be authentic. Some domain names may contain the name of the actual brand, followed by words such as “bargain,” “outlet,” or “cheap.” A good rule to remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, American companies lose billions of dollars each year because of the illegal sale of counterfeit products that are trademarked and pirated goods that are copyrighted. The impact is often most felt by American workers, whose salaries, pensions and health insurance premiums are funded by the legitimate sale of genuine, trademarked and copyrighted articles.

While some people might buy a counterfeit handbag or watch under the mistaken belief it really doesn’t “hurt” anyone, there is a tremendous loss to companies and their workers through the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods. When a pirated movie is watched as opposed to buying a genuine DVD, it isn’t whether Angelina Jolie earns another million dollars, but whether the worker on the movie set holding the mike boom has a fully-funded pension or his kids are covered by health insurance.

Erik Barnett is the Attaché for ICE Homeland Security Investigations at the U.S. Mission to the European Union

American Thanksgiving: Diversity Within Shared Traditions

Nile J. Johnson is Assistant Information Officer at the U.S. Mission to the European Union


Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends gather to celebrate the wonderful things that have happened over the last year. Perhaps a new baby was born, or a parent earned a promotion. Maybe your sister overcame an illness or a homeless family now has shelter. Whatever the case, there’s always something for which to be grateful. Including a turkey.

But the turkey isn’t the only thing that makes the meal super special. My family has traditionally added many different sides to spice up our Thanksgiving meal experience. My absolute favorite is my mother’s stuffing, which includes clams and raisins. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and succulent, and it’s always a hit! Also, since my oldest sister started her own family, she has fallen in love with healthy cooking. Her black bean salad is fantastic, and is generally “taste-tested” into non-existence by mealtime.

Here is more on our culinary traditions from my colleague Karisha Kuypers from the Foreign Agriculture Service here at the U.S. Mission to the EU:

A Thanksgiving  celebration at Ambassador Gardner's.

A Thanksgiving celebration at Ambassador Gardner’s.

Thanksgiving is one of the United States’ most loved holidays.  The traditions associated with the holiday are some of the most typical American and the most universally observed across the country.  For a majority of Americans, the most important part of Thanksgiving is a large meal of traditional foods shared with friends and family.  No other American holiday is so closely associated with food, and in particular, by the specific types of food that are served.  The classic American Thanksgiving meal almost always includes a turkey, bread stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Even though the dishes served in a traditional Thanksgiving meal are remarkably uniform across the United States, the recipes for those dishes can vary by region, by culture, or even by family.  These ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dishes are interpreted in different ways by people from different regions of the United States, which often makes these recipes a fascinating insight into the diversity of cultures, regions, and history across the United States.  The types of produce and food native to each section of the United States also play a role in the way Americans interpret traditional dishes.  Foods that are native to particular regions in the United States, along with the cultures and cooking traditions from those regions, influence the ways in which Thanksgiving traditions have developed across the country.

Thanksgiving stuffing is a perfect example: this typically American dish is a mixture of bread, vegetables, and herbs that can either be cooked inside the turkey (hence the term ‘stuffing’) or on its own as a side dish.  From there, culture, region, and family traditions interpret the basic building blocks of the recipe to create variations of what it means to be traditional.  It is often possible to tell where in the United States a person comes from simply by the type of stuffing that he or she makes.  In the South, stuffing is made with cornbread in place of bread and often includes spicy pork sausage.  Instead of bread, stuffing in the upper Midwest often uses wild rice, a type of rice native to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  In both New England and Louisiana, with their abundance of seafood, stuffing may include oysters.  Chestnuts and hazelnuts are added in states like Washington and Oregon that have an abundance of chestnut and hazelnut groves, while pecans are used in pecan-producing states in the South like Georgia.  Peppers and even chilies might be added to stuffing recipes in the Southwest.

As in most countries, holiday traditions tend to center around food.  The typical Thanksgiving meal demonstrates both the importance of traditional dishes as well as how different cultures, ethnicities, and regions in the United States interpret these traditions and make them their own.  Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for Americans not only to demonstrate pride in their own cooking traditions and food culture, but also a chance to celebrate uniquely American foods.

Preventing Gender-based Violence Early in Conflict Situations: A U.S.-EU Priority

U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally

U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. Photo: DOS

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) and the start of the accompanying 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, first announced in December 1999 by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 54/134. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “gender-based violence (also called GBV) anywhere is a threat to peace, security, and dignity everywhere” and combatting it in emergencies is a major U.S government priority.

President Obama has enunciated this priority in the U.S.’ National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and a Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. Multilaterally, there is the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-based violence in Emergencies, a multi-stakeholder initiative launched by the United Kingdom in September 2013, and led since January by the United States. The Call to Action aims to protect the rights of women and girls, and create a safer environment for them during, and after, conflict and natural disasters.

The Women Refugee Commission’s Beth Vann was in Brussels for the EU Roundtable on Gender-based Violence in Emergencies. Photo: USEU

The Women Refugee Commission’s Beth Vann was in Brussels for the EU Roundtable on Gender-based Violence in Emergencies. Photo: USEU

Last week, the U.S. Mission joined colleagues from Care International, the International Rescue Committee, the European Commission (DG ECHO), and Member States represented in the Council Working Group on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid (CoHaFa), for a Roundtable on Gender-based violence in Emergencies. The event reviewed progress on our individual Call to Action commitments over the past year and urged more EU Member States to sign the Call to Action Communique.

We also discussed ways to translate our political commitments into concrete actions.  For the United States, our Call to Action commitment is embodied in our Safe from the Start initiative, which has mobilized $22 million since 2013 to promote innovation, strengthen training for aid workers, and contribute to global best practices against gender-based violence with a focus on the earliest phase of a crisis. Initiatives under Safe from the Start include hiring of more GBV experts, development of mobile services for GBV survivors, and ensuring that assistance and resources are available where they matter most – on the ground, and within the reach of the women and girls – starting on day one of a crisis.

The United States and our EU partners share a common goal: a future where peace and prosperity are the norm, not the exception. We know gender-based violence often increases in humanitarian and emergency situations. So, we need to plan for this reality instead of hoping problems won’t occur or waiting until reports are too staggering to ignore. We need to ensure that the best practices to stop gender-based violence are deployed as a life-saving measure, from the very beginning of each and every crisis.

By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

-Secretary Kerry on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism
-Beth Vann of the Women Refugee Commission: Tacking Gender-based Violence is a Priority for the U.S. Government (Facebook post on November 25)
-U.S.Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally

Transatlantic Partners Raise Awareness of Regional Impact of CAR Crisis

The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is little known, at least compared with other more high-profile humanitarian crises such as Syria. But the impact of the crisis for the people of that country and the potential negative effects across what is still a fragile region have been profound. As of October 2014, more than 425,000 people have fled CAR. They have suffered from intense violence and shocking levels of malnutrition during their long and treacherous journey to find refuge.

Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the Stae Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks at Brussels roundtable on the regional effects of the crisis in the Central African Republic. Photo: USEU

Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks at Brussels roundtable on the regional effects of the crisis in the Central African Republic. Photo: USEU

The European Union, under the leadership of former ECHO Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, has been in the fore the past two years in calling attention to the CAR crisis. The United States is the largest humanitarian donor in the region, providing nearly $150 million inside CAR and for CAR refugees in neighboring countries. Therefore, it is only fitting that USEU together with EU partners and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should have joined forces recently to raise awareness of the regional dimensions of this crisis.

On October 27, we co-organized a roundtable consultation with key stakeholders to encourage increased attention, and humanitarian and development support, to address the basic and long-term needs for refugees and vulnerable migrants who have sought refuge in the countries surrounding CAR. The day-long event attracted 60 participants from the U.S. Government, the European Commission, EU Member States, NGOs, UN humanitarian agencies, and think tanks, and highlighted the importance of creative strategies to address long-term issues such as promoting refugee self-sufficiency and reconciliation measures. Headlining the event for the United States was Ambassador Stuart Symington, U.S. Special Representative for the CAR crisis, and Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Ambassador Symington spoke of the importance of creating a feeling of citizenship as a foundation for rebuilding stability in CAR.

Ms. McKelvey, who had just returned from the region where she saw firsthand the conditions of refugees and returning migrants in Cameroon and Chad, described how the international community is responding and emphasized that protection and security remain serious challenges. Ms. Carla Montesi, Director for Western and Central Africa in the European Commission’s DG Devco, spoke to the EU response, in particular the Bekou Trust Fund that the EU just launched. (Bekou means “hope” in the local Sango language spoken in CAR.) The Bekou Fund is seeking to link relief programs with development, providing immediate relief to people in need while at the same time supporting the capacity of local authorities to promote peace and to create conditions for long-term development.

From the start of this crisis, the EU and the U.S. have been in the forefront the humanitarian response in Central Africa, promoting restoration of security, helping to bring warring sides together, and addressing humanitarian needs both within CAR and its neighbors. The recent roundtable was another step in our joint effort to bring a lasting peace to this shattered region of the world.

By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

Impressive U.S.-European Law Enforcement Joint Action Takes Down Over 400 Black Market Websites

By Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

This week, U.S. law enforcement worked with 16 other countries and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, to arrest 17 individuals for involvement in selling illicit goods through a “darknet marketplace.”


Silk Road 2 was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to sell kilograms of illegal and harmful drugs, as well as firearms and other dangerous contraband.  In addition to Silk Road 2, hundreds of other darknet marketplace sites were shuttered through this law enforcement action and police confiscated property and illicit cash proceeds.

So, why is this important or newsworthy?  We regularly see law enforcement announce operations against criminal elements and indeed the predecessor Silk Road website was seized last year and its operator arrested in the United States.

This was different because it demonstrated the vitality, and necessity, of the multilateral model of law enforcement, with Europol’s EC3 organizing the efforts of 16 countries in coordination with a massive effort in the U.S. undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Justice Department.  What used to take years to organize, took mere months through the working relationship U.S. law enforcement has developed with European authorities.  This is a relationship based on mutual trust and respect that is yielding positive results on both sides of the Atlantic.

This effort was also different because it showed the fallacy to which some transnational criminals cling: that the darknet is impenetrable to law enforcement.  There was a massive multi-state operation undertaken by the FBI to ensure simultaneous arrests and seizures.  And, according to publicly available charging documents, traditional police techniques were utilized including an undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations, who gained high level access to insiders in the dirty world of internet-based drug dealing.  Not all countries allow for undercover investigations, and while each country’s laws and sovereignty is to be respected, the use of such techniques where allowed and subject to strict judicial oversight, can be beneficial to the entire international community.

Finally, a lesson from this criminal investigation that should not be overlooked is the continued use of some virtual currencies as the payment method of choice in some unlawful activity.  Virtual currencies are an emerging technology with great potential to bring financial services to the underserved, but are also being exploited by transnational criminals in an attempt to evade arrest and seizure of their ill-gotten gains.  To some extent, the lack of universal regulation and enforcement against these virtual currencies contributes to this illegal use.  The United States has undertaken significant steps to regulate and enforce anti-money laundering to curtail such activity and we stand ready to assist all of our European partners as they hopefully undertake similar steps.

I congratulate the men and women of law enforcement from the 17 countries today that have been made safer by their collective and sustained efforts.

U.S. and EU Focus on Evolving Foreign Fighter Threat

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council, in a rare heads-of-government session led by President Obama, adopted a binding resolution calling on all member countries to strengthen their domestic laws and other efforts to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. The resolution attracted 104 co-sponsors, the second-highest number in the history of the UN Security Council.

Panel on "De-radicalization of Foreign Fighters: Comparing U.S. and EU Practices" at the European Parliament on September 23, 2014. Photo: USEU

Panel on “De-radicalization of Foreign Fighters: Comparing U.S. and EU Practices” at the European Parliament on September 23, 2014. Photo: USEU

In the lead-up to this historic measure, USEU partnered with the European Foundation for Democracy to sponsor a series of events in Brussels on Tuesday focusing on the rapidly-evolving threat posed by foreign fighters. At a standing-room only public discussion at the European Parliament, and in other venues for groups of influential policy-makers, U.S. and European experts shared the results of their research, and their experiences in working with returning foreign fighters and those at risk of recruitment.

President Obama chairs UN Summit on foreign terrorist fighters. Photo: State Department

President Obama chairs UN Summit on foreign terrorist fighters. Photo: State Department

During these conversations, the panelists and attendees compared U.S. and European approaches to preventing foreign fighter recruitment and travel, and dealing with the returnees. Much remains to be done, but awareness-raising events like these, and concrete actions such as those called for in the new UN Security Council Resolution 2178, are essential elements in the international effort to combat terrorism.

I was extremely gratified to see the level of interest in these discussions, especially since one of our most important goals here at USEU is promoting transatlantic understanding and cooperation on important security issues such as this. In fact, we first began examining with the EU the potential threat posed by foreign fighters several years ago. Since then our work with the EU institutions and Member States has become deeper and wider-ranging, involving exchanges at all levels, from local community volunteers to President Obama’s summit meeting with the EU last March. USEU has either initiated or supported dozens of such exchanges, and we will continue working closely with our European partners to enhance security on both sides of the Atlantic, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

By Thomas Rogan, Senior Consular Representative/CVE Officer, U.S. Mission to the European Union

U.S. Supports European Asylum Database as Part of Engagement on Refugee, Asylum Issues

Ambassador William Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, has described migration as a “megatrend” of the 21st century, affecting hundreds of millions of people. The United States and the European Union face similar challenges managing and protecting migratory flows while safeguarding our external borders, which is one reason we have my office, part of the State Department’s Population, Refugees and Migration Bureau (PRM), here at the U.S. Mission. The U.S. and EU also share fundamental values of freedom, democracy, and rule of law, among which is the obligation of states to grant asylum to those in need of international protection.

Syrian refugees. Photo: PRM

Syrian refugees. Photo: PRM

The EU has made great strides over the past decade in establishing a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) that aims to ensure that asylum seekers are treated in a dignified manner and that their cases are examined so that, no matter where an applicant applies, the outcome will be similar. However, divergent interpretations of the CEAS across the EU and inconsistencies between CEAS and international refugee law are still to be overcome.

The United States is constantly seeking ways to engage with the EU on migration and asylum issues and to support, as appropriate, the ongoing implementation of the CEAS. As part of those efforts, this week USEU provided a grant of $24,820 to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a pan-European alliance of 82 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.

Our grant will support the ongoing operation of ECRE’s European Database on Asylum law (EDAL). EDAL is a pan-European on-line database that provides interested stakeholders free access to texts of key judicial decisions relating to EU asylum law in 17 Member States, as well as decisions of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In this way, EDAL helps ensure consistency and quality in judicial interpretations of EU asylum law in the varied Member States. EDAL also includes a section that provides continually updated legal commentary on important European legal judgments in asylum matters.

The U.S. Mission and PRM are proud to be partners with ECRE and the EDAL initiative. We have a long-standing and extensive relationship with the EU on humanitarian and migration issues, which makes sense when you consider that the U.S., the European Commission and EU Member States together provide over 60% of all global humanitarian assistance funding. Our grant is part of an effort to build closer partnerships with Brussels-based humanitarian and migration NGOs, and is provided under the Julia Taft Refugee Fund program, which helps U.S. Ambassadors respond to critical gaps that are not addressed in larger U.S. humanitarian funding programs. In Fiscal Year 2013, Taft grants supported projects in forty-six countries, although this is the first time the U.S. Mission has provided a Taft Grant to a local partner here in Brussels. We look forward to continued cooperation with ECRE and other EU-based partners as we work to enhance refugee protection worldwide.

By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU