State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in Georgia

Posted: 1:41 pm EDT
Updated: 8:09 pm PDT

 

A State Department employee based at the U.S. Embassy in London  was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is now facing charges of interstate threats, computer fraud, wire fraud, and cyberstalking. The employee identified by news reports and court documents as Michael C. Ford reportedly has a home in Alpharetta, Georgia but has worked at the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009. Typical State Department assignments are normally 3 years, sometimes with one-year extensions. The complaint does not say what work Ford has done at Embassy London or his category of employment.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that the individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service.  She also said that as of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy.
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The Affidavit (pdf) executed by Eric J. Kasik, Special Agent of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) says that on or about April 2015, DSS began investigating a target, later determined to be a U.S. Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford (“FORD”), for allegedly engaging in a computer hacking, cyber stalking, and extortion.  We should note that the affidavit is intended to show that there is sufficient probable cause to support the complaint.

According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Diplomatic Security “identified the specific State Department computer that is located at a workstation cubicle located in the U.S. Embassy in London. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in London told me that the only person who sits at that workstation cubicle and uses that computer is Michael C. Ford. FORD is a U.S. citizen who has worked as an Embassy employee in London since 2009.”

Item #25 on the complaint reiterates what folks already know — that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in any communications or data transiting or stored on the information system of the State Department.

DSS computer specialists have apparently obtained copies of specific documents or files that were allegedly stored on the employee’s computer in London. Court documents cited one document as example: “a spreadsheet that appears to summarize some of FORD’s more recent criminal activities. Along the far left hand column of the spreadsheet is a list of account names for approximately 250 e-mail addresses.” Special Agent Kasik says that “DSS agents have determined that several of the accountholders appear to attend the same college in Indiana, where they belong to the same sorority. One is a 17-year-old. This leads me to believe that FORD may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S.”

The alleged MO is described in item #16 of the Kasik affidavit:

16. The target initially sent Jane Doe Two an e-mail message to her Google e-mail account, posing as a Google representative and claiming that Jane Doe Two’s Google e-mail account was going to be deleted unless she provided her password. Jane Doe Two provided her password, as directed. The target then apparently hacked into Jane Doe Two’s Google account, presumably using the stolen password. He then obtained, presumably from Jane Doe Two’s hacked accounts, two or more private photographs of Jane Doe Two of a sexual nature. He also obtained other PII about Jane Doe Two, including her first and last name, her address, where she worked and went to school, and her parent’s first and last names and e-mail addresses. The target then sent Jane Doe Two several threatening e-mail messages to her Google e-mail account. He admitted that he had obtained sexual photographs of Jane Doe Two and sent her the photographs as proof. He then demanded that she provide her current home address and her parents’ contact information and other PII. He warned her that, if she refused, he would e-mail the photographs of her to a list of others, listing the first and last names of several of her acquaintances. The target also threatened to post her photographs online.

The affidavit is available here (pdf) via patch.com/georgia.

WSB-TV2 Atlanta reports that Ford will be in federal court in Atlanta today for a bond hearing and that his attorneys declined to comment at this point in the case.  Click her to read the report via AP.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

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Howard W. French on Gayle Smith’s Appointment as USAID Administrator

Posted: 1:29 am EDT

 

We’ve previously posted about the nomination of Gayle Smith as the next USAID administrator on May 5 (see Gayle Smith: From National Security Council to USAID Administrator.  What if every nominee gets a thorough treatment like this?

Excerpt from Mr. French’s piece over at FP:

When President Obama recently nominated Gayle Smith to be the next administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, many members of the country’s small Africa-related foreign policy community howled.
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Smith’s critics, myself included, have objected to the fact that over the years, this former journalist has been a conspicuous backer of authoritarian regimes in places like Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Rwanda. When I first made this point publicly, a former White House staffer offered a disconcertingly ambivalent response: “I’m not sure if there were more compelling candidates out there,” he said.

He may well be right – and the reason for the lack of qualified personnel is a direct consequence of Washington’s long failure to devise a coherent policy toward Africa.
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Gayle Smith should certainly not stand alone to answer for this horrible record, for which the American foreign policy establishment has never given anything like a proper reckoning. One of the reasons for that, though, is the persistence of people like Smith, and her patron, Susan Rice, in positions of high authority. Another, equally pernicious, is the general disinterest that Africa receives from the foreign policy thinkers.

As a region of the world, Africa is virtually alone in being consigned to people with thin expertise and little policy background or clout to shape and guide American diplomacy. Top Africa jobs have often become a kind of sop for African Americans within the bureaucracy. Celebrities like Bono, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck are looked to help set priorities and galvanize public interest. That this should be necessary must be seen as a failure of the policy establishment itself to think more creatively and with more ambition about such a large part of the world.

Read in full via FP, From Quarantine to Appeasement (registration may be required).

Ms. Smith’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. It is currently pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Howard W. French journalist, author, and photographer, as well as an associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was previously a Senior Writer for The New York Times, where he spent most of a nearly 23 year career as a foreign correspondent, working in and traveling to over 100 countries on five continents.  From 1979 to 1986, he lived in West Africa, where he worked as a translator, taught English literature at the University of Ivory Coast, and lived as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and other publications. From 1994 to 1998, he covered West and Central Africa for the NYT, reporting on wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa, with particular attention to the fall of the longtime dictator of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko.

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Photo of the Day: Little Andrew Evaluates Secretary Kerry’s Haircut

Posted: 2:01 am EDT

 

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

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Secretary Kerry Holds 8-Month-Old on Shoulders After Addressing U.S. Military and Diplomatic Personnel at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds 8-month-old Andrew Belz on his shoulders as he poses with the children of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel following a speech to them at the Yongsan Army Garrison amid a visit to Seoul, Republic of Korea, on May 18, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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US Embassy #Burundi Announces Evacuation Flights From Bujumbura to Kigali For May 17

Posted: 8:06 pm PDT

 

The State Department announced today the availability of evacuation flights for U.S. citizens in Burundi departing on Sunday, May 17, from Bujumbura to Kigali, Rwanda. Like all evacuation flights, American citizen passengers are expected to sign a promissory note promising to later reimburse the U.S. government for the cost of the evacuation.

22 U.S.C. 2671(b)(2)(A) provides that “Private United States citizens or third-country nationals, on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable, with such reimbursements to be credited to the applicable Department of State appropriation and to remain available until expended, except that no reimbursement under this clause shall be paid that is greater than the amount the person evacuated would have been charged for a reasonable commercial air fare immediately prior to the events giving rise to the evacuation.” (via FAM – pdf)

Below is an excerpt from the US Embassy Bujumbura announcement:

The U.S. Department of State wishes to inform U.S. citizens interested in departing Burundi that we are planning charter evacuation flights for Sunday, May 17, from Bujumbura, Burundi, to Kigali, Rwanda. Those wanting to travel should plan to arrive at Bujumbura International Airport no later than 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning. After that time we cannot guarantee you a flight.

The cost will be approximately $620.00 per passenger. Please note that you will be asked to sign a form agreeing to reimburse the U.S. government for your evacuation costs. As indicated in the May 15 Emergency Message, this option is open only to U.S. citizens and their immediate family members. There is a luggage allowance of 20 kilograms per traveler. Pets may be allowed on a case by case basis, provided they have a veterinary certificate, kennel (cage), and will be carried in the cargo hold of the aircraft. The weight of the pet in the kennel will count against the 20 kilograms per traveler. In addition, travelers should be prepared to pay $30 in cash for a Rwandan visa upon arrival in Kigali.

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura requests U.S. citizens who plan to use this option to depart Burundi to contact us at BurundiEmergencyUSC@state.gov to confirm your plans and obtain additional flight information, even if you already contacted us to express your interest.

The Embassy also asks U.S. citizens who are not in possession of a valid U.S. passport and who may need emergency passport services in order to leave the country to please contact the Consular Section at BujumburaC@state.gov or 22-20-7066 or 79-95-1666 with their contact information. Emergency consular services will be available at the Embassy between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.

You can alert us to U.S. citizens affected by the situation in Burundi, including yourself, by visiting https://tfa.state.gov/ccd, selecting “2015 Burundi Unrest” and providing as much information as possible. You can also contact us at 1-888-407-4747 (From the United States and Canada), +1-202-501-4444 (From all other countries), and email BurundiEmergencyUSC@state.gov if you have additional questions or concerns.If you are currently in Burundi and do not have the ability to access the internet or send email,you may contact the Embassy’s consular section at +257-22-20-7000.

Read more here: http://burundi.usembassy.gov/em51615.html

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Related items:

Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

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Related items:

New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure

Posted: 9:46 pm  PDT

 

We posted this earlier today: US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the State Department must have decided to place the US Embassy in Bujumbura on “ordered departure.” A new Travel Warning was released today. Non-emegency personnel and family members are also ordered to depart the country.   Ordered Departure is initiated in extraordinary circumstances when the embassy is no longer confident of the security of its personnel and families. Once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

The State Department also recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart “as soon as it is feasible to do so.”   Meanwhile, the game of continues, and there are still conflicting reports on social media regarding the operating status of the Bujumbura airport.

by-map bujumbura

Below is an excerpt from the new Travel Warning dated May 14:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel and non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi on May 14.  The U.S. Embassy is able to offer only very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Burundi.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2015.

The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of military and security forces activity in Bujumbura.  There have been increased political tensions and civil disturbances related to these actions.  Airport and land borders are reportedly closed.  U.S. citizens should shelter in place until it is safe to move about, ensure that your travel documents are up-to-date, and confirm that air and land borders are open before attempting to depart the country.

The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.  Political violence persists throughout Burundi, a carryover of the Burundian civil war. Armed groups operate in Burundi.  Weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks have increased but are usually not directed at foreigners.  If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

Demonstrations, gatherings, and even sporting events that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent without advance warning.  For this reason, U.S. citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the Internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest, and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

Travel outside the capital, Bujumbura, presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  Note the U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited.  Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate with impunity.

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US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice

Posted: 10:36 am PDT

 

On May 14, the US Embassy in Burundi released the following Emergency Message to American citizens in the country:

In response to increasing violence in multiple locations across Bujumbura, there will be no movement of Embassy personnel until further notice. The Embassy recommends that all U.S. citizens exercise extreme caution at all times. If you are in a safe location, the Embassy recommends you remain where you are as travel in Bujumbura is not currently safe. The U.S. Embassy has received reports that the airport continues to be closed and land borders may also be closed at this time. The U.S. Embassy will continue to closely monitor the security environment in Burundi and will advise U.S. citizens further if the security situation changes.

The embassy had a town hall meeting on May 11th.  At that time, the embassy brought up the potential for an evacuation and why amcits should consider plans to leave temporarily:

We are not currently sending any of our Embassy staff or family members home. However, it is important for you to make plans and consider your options for departing Burundi if you choose to do so. It is never a wise plan to rely on the U.S. Embassy for evacuation. It is always better to leave a country while you are able to do so safely and easily. If you or your family members do not feel safe, you should consider making plans to leave, at least temporarily. This is always a personal and individual decision for private U.S. citizens. Our consular officer Kate Kigudde will speak more about consular support during a crisis, but it is important to remember that if you stay in country and the U.S. Embassy organizes an evacuation, you will not be able to bring many of your belongings or any of your family pets. We understand that these can be difficult decisions for people and we strive to give you all the information and tools you need to make the right decision for you and your family.

More updates via Twitter:

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Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

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Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.

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Marco Rubio Borrows Liam Neeson’s Strategery — Hunt, Find, Kill. Rinse and Repeat ∞

Posted: 11:24 pm EDT

 

We could not stop watching this gem.  We would like to suggest that the good senator hire a dramatic coach. His tone is just not/not menacing enough. And the delivery is lacking some … some real  habanero.   We tried to imagine this on a SOTU address and it’s just … no, can’t do.  Frankly, we don’t scare easily. And if he can’t scare us enough, how will he scare the living daylights out of global jihadists and terrorists? Attention @FearDept, more help over there!

 

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State Dept and USAID to Host Family Member Employment Forum, May 14, 9am -1pm

Posted: 10:42 am EDT

 

The State Department and USAID will be hosting a Family Member Employment Forum this Thursday at the George Marshall Center. This is described as “an event for family members from all agencies under Chief of Mission Authority who are going or returning overseas and are interested in employment outside the mission. Career development experts will share information on the latest hiring practices and trends. Family members will share their employment challenges and successes within their respective career fields (legal, medical, education, accounting, and finance).”  Check out the forum Agenda:  2015 Family Member Employment Forum Agenda

  • Meet one-on-one with career counselors
  • Network and learn from fellow EFMs
  • Learn to develop your global network
  • Develop a strategy for employment outside the mission
  • Learn tips for launching a home-based business
  • Build your personal brand
  • Explore telework and virtual employment options
  • Update your LinkedIn photo at the FLO photo booth
  • Meet with FLO’s team of employment experts

Click here to register at State/FLO.

May 14, 2015
9:00am – 1:00pm

U.S. Department of State, George Marshall Center
21st Street and Virginia Avenue NW
Washington, DC
Metro Station Map (2 pages)

 

One-on-One Coaching Sessions: To sign up for a 20-minute coaching session with a professional career counselor during the Employment Forum, email LJohnson@usaid.gov.

Opening Keynote Speakers

Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources
Arnold A. Chacon, Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
Erin Elizabeth McKee, Senior Deputy Director, USAID
Susan Frost, Director of the Family Liaison Office

Speakers, Panelists and Career Counselors

Fernando Alvarez Sarah Novak
Vicky Bell Deborah Pratt
Christine Elsea-Mandojana Joan Rooney
Paula Feeney Mary Santulli
Susan Musich Debra Thompson
Vici Koster-Lenhardt Vonda Vandaveer
Catherine McCormick Tobias Ward
Bill Norris Carol Brooke-Williams

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