The true story of the fake US embassy in Ghana
November 28, 2017 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Last year, the US state department said it had uncovered a fake embassy in Accra that had been issuing a stream of forged visas (Previously). The fake embassy became a sensation largely because the story was so predictably familiar. The Africans were scammers. The victims were desperate and credulous. The local police officers were bumbling idiots. Countless officials were paid off. And at the end, the Americans swooped in and saved the day. There was only one problem with the story: it wasn’t true.
posted by Blasdelb (12 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well that's awkward. The best part of the story IMHO is the reporting on how hard it is to get a legitimate visa for the US.
posted by Nelson at 11:30 AM on November 28 [6 favorites]


Yeppi is a rockstar. Read all the stuff she writes, whenever you can.
posted by infini at 12:06 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


Huh. I'm curious what the motivation for the embassy was? It just seems an odd thing to make up.

Also:
"Abrantie was packing his bags when his friends pointed out that he didn’t speak a word of Dutch, and wouldn’t have enough time to get his bearings, find a job and figure out if he could survive as an illegal immigrant before his real visa ran out. He decided to take his chances hustling in Ghana instead."
From friends who lived there, it's entirely easy to get around in the Netherlands with English. Unless they were translating for this guy in the article and just didn't mention it.
posted by tavella at 12:10 PM on November 28


Huh. I'm curious what the motivation for the embassy was? It just seems an odd thing to make up.

It's not entirely made up, but I'm guessing the state dept was more interested in slapping something together that looks good to their bosses than curbing the massive visa fraud economy in Ghana. It's hard to think of Ghana as the post most diplomats wish to serve in, so resume driven PR can't be ruled out.
posted by pwnguin at 12:16 PM on November 28


Which would be painfully ironic, given that the forgers also padded resumes to help people in Ghana get out.

The article touched on what could be justification:
As it can take weeks or months for an embassy to check whether a document submitted by a visa applicant is real, most embassies do not attempt to verify everything. Instead, everyone puts on a show. Embassies overzealously scrutinise a handful of applications. Ghana’s police shut down what scams they can. Reporters file sensational pieces. Foreign governments, facing increasing pressure to limit immigration, add ever higher hurdles for legitimate applicants to clear. Everyone gets to say they’re doing something.
Emphasis mine.

Great writing, not only for the investigative journalism, but also for providing broader context on so many sides as to complete the story for outsiders looking in -- the history of Ghana, its current shortage of jobs and the difficulty to move away.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:26 PM on November 28 [6 favorites]


It's hard to think of Ghana as the post most diplomats wish to serve in, so resume driven PR can't be ruled out.

Accra for expats is one of the hottest locations on the continent.
posted by infini at 12:45 PM on November 28 [7 favorites]


One potential reading that I got from it is that the US embassy was less keen on having the prosecution succeed than the Ghanaian prosecutors. Presumably they're pretty aware that they do get to grant more visas and get more visa applications with a relatively sophisticated market in fraudulent documents than they would if either
  1. There were no fraudulent documents, and they had to refuse 99% of visa applications because they don't meet the conditions, and no one put applications in anyway,or
  2. The high-quality fraudulent documents market is blown apart, and they have to refuse 99% of visa applications because the fakes are so bad.
Either way, the embassy suddenly becomes pointless. I imagine there's people in the State Department who put a bit of thought into what level of scrutiny they want to put visa applications through for each different country in order to maximise the soft power that the US gets through being an aspirational destination for illegal migration. Hard to get to, but not impossible, so only the most determined and cleverest make it there.
posted by ambrosen at 4:30 PM on November 28


> It's hard to think of Ghana as the post most diplomats wish to serve in, so resume driven PR can't be ruled out.

Hardship posts are a way for State Department employees to fast track their careers. Locations like Ghana can be more desirable than Sweden in that sense. This might not be true during the current Presidential administration, but it's been true up through the Obama administration, which is when this took place.
posted by at by at 4:52 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]


Ghana also falls in the sweet spot for people working the Diplomatic Security (DSS) side of embassies: it's a rough and tumble enough area that their security jobs are important but not so much so that they're worried about kidnappings and murder. For DSS, Paris is boring and Kabul is a nightmare. Accra is nicely in between.
posted by introp at 4:57 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]


ambrosen, that idealistic era was over 5 years ago.
posted by infini at 8:38 AM on November 29


Thanks for the tip about the writer infini, I'll look for her stuff.
I loved this piece, and I also loved the pictures. Big pink house, multiple occupancy, bakery in the back. Yes, a very convincing masquerade of an embassy, people must have been really taken in, especially all the poor villagers!


But, the US state department said, the number of fraudulent documents coming from west Africa had gone down by 70% as a result of this and other raids.
Heh. In between saving Zambia and fixing the US Treasury maybe Louise Linton had a brief stint writing reports for their admin dept.
posted by glasseyes at 9:04 AM on November 29 [1 favorite]


In between saving Zambia and fixing the US Treasury maybe Louise Linton had a brief stint writing reports for their admin dept.

*snigger*
posted by infini at 10:32 AM on November 29


« Older Alternate Timelines   |   “I think I'm missing a piece.” Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.