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.
.

.

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).

#

Twin Brothers and Co-Conspirators on Alleged Scheme to Hack State Dept to Obtain Passport Information

Posted: 2:16 am EDT


Via
USDOJ:

Twin brothers Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, 23, of Springfield, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, access of a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to access a government computer without authorization, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment, beginning in or about March 2014, the Akhter brothers and coconspirators hacked into the website of a cosmetics company and stole its customers’ credit card and personal information.  They used the stolen information to purchase goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations, and attendance at professional conferences.  In addition, the brothers and coconspirators devised a scheme to hack into computer systems at the U.S.  Department of State to access network traffic and to obtain passport information.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:15-cr-124.

#

U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information

Posted: 3:57 pm  PDT

 

A Grand Jury in the Southern District of Texas indicted three women charged with nine counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the alleged use of U.S. passport information in Houston.  One of the women has been identified by media reports as a contractor working for the State Department. Both the AP and local news say that the Houston and Atlanta passport offices were targeted.

Beginning on or about the year 2010 until on or about March 2, 2015, in the Houston Division of Southern District of Texas and elsewhere,

CHLOE ALYSE MCCLENDON, DOMONIQUE RASHAD THOMAS, A/K/A DOMINIQUE RASHAD THOMAS, A/K/A “TEEN” A/K/A “NIQUE”, and ALICIA LENA MYLES,

defendants herein, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury to devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and in execution of said scheme and artifice, transmit or cause to be transmitted by means of wire in interstate commerce, writings, signs, signals, pictures and sounds for the purpose of executing said scheme or artifice to defraud in Violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.

According to charging documents, the accused were alleged to have done the following: 1) obtain personal identifying information (PII) of others from the Department of State, Passport Administration; 2) transmit the stolen PII to and from each other, 3) use the stolen PII to create counterfeit identification documents, 4) recruit accomplices to assume the stolen identities and use the counterfeit documents to obtain commercial lines of credit and to purchase iPhones, iPads, and other electronic merchandise, 5) cause commercial entities to transmit the stolen PII to assist in the establishment of commercial lines of credit.

An AP report citing authorities identifies McClendon as the contract employee for the State Department passport office.  A quick social media search indicates that the accused is a Senior Customer Service Tech for a federal contractor.

Initial appearance hearing for Chloe Alyse McClendon and Domonique Rashad Thomas was set for today, 5/7/2015 at 02:00 PM before Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy.  Prosecutors told the AP that Alicia Myles remains a fugitive but Click2Houston reports that all three appeared before the judge on Thursday afternoon and were released on bond. Clip below from click2houston.com:

Click here if you are unable to view the embedded video.

The case is  USA v. McClendon et. al. criminal case #: 4:15-cr-00233-1.

This looks related to our recent post: Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices.

In related news, the Passport Office will reportedly start banning cell phone usage for PPT in SA-17.  We’re told that the apparent hold up is due to storage facilities for cellphones outside the  workspace.  Our source says he/she  can’t see how they will let the rest of SA-17 bring cell phones in, since they look at the same PII information, like  passsport applications. Keep us posted.

#

Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim

Posted: 10:52 am EDT

 

Excerpt from Civil Action No. 14-727 (JDB) by Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia:

Kerry Howard, a former Community Liaison Officer at the American consulate in Naples, did not enjoy her working environment. That is an understatement, to be fair: she refers to it as a “cesspool.” Pl.’s Opp’n [ECF No. 21] at 3. In this suit, Howard asserts that she suffered from a hostile work environment that was discriminatory to women, and from discrete instances of retaliation for her attempts to aid fellow employees. But these claims do not match precisely with those she raised during the administrative process. As a result, some must be dismissed, based on the defendant’s motion to do so.
[…]
Here, Howard filed administrative charges alleging only two discrete retaliatory acts: her poor evaluation on April 19, 2012, and being placed on a performance improvement plan that same day. See Notice of Dismissed Allegations [ECF No. 13-2] at 5. Both were dismissed administratively for failure to contact an EEO counselor within forty-five days, as required by the first step of the exhaustion process. See id. Since then, however, it has become clear to both parties that Howard did timely request an EEO counselor on May 7, 2012—regarding her performance improvement plan. See Pl.’s Supp. at 2; Def.’s Resp. at 3. This claim was therefore appropriately exhausted. The Court will accordingly deny defendant’s motion to dismiss as to the retaliation claim regarding that performance improvement plan.1
[…]
Odious the allegations may be—but Title VII “does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.” Burlington, 548 U.S. at 68 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing precedent that courts “must filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss the remainder of Count I.

More straightforward is the government’s assertion that Howard failed to exhaust her hostile work environment claim. In the hostile work environment context—as opposed to discrete instances of retaliation—it is settled that claims “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the administrative charge may be pursued in a Title VII civil action, notwithstanding the failure to otherwise exhaust administrative remedies.” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8 (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115 (“Hostile environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts.”). “A new claim is ‘like or reasonably related’ to the original claim if it ‘could have reasonably been expected to grow out of the original complaint.’” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8–9 (quoting Weber v. Battista, 494 F.3d 179, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

“Claims of ideologically distinct categories of discrimination and retaliation, however, are not ‘related’ simply because they arise out of the same incident.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). As this Court has pointed out before, “[t]he EEOC charge form makes it easy for an employee to identify the nature of the alleged wrongdoing by simply checking the labeled boxes that are provided. When an employee is uncertain which type of discrimination has occurred, she need only describe it in the text of the charge form.” Williams v. Spencer, 883 F. Supp. 2d 165, 174 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In Howard’s formal complaint, she checked the box for reprisal—not for sex discrimination. See Formal Compl. of Discrimination [ECF No. 13-1] at 2. And the explanation she attached to the form similarly focuses on reprisal alone. See id. at 3–4. Thus, “[t]o the extent that [Howard] is attempting to claim that [the hostile work environment] was discriminatory based on [sex], as opposed to retaliatory, [the government] is correct that [Howard] did not exhaust her administrative remedies.” Williams, 883 F. Supp. 2d at 174. As a result, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss as to Count II (hostile work environment based on discrimination).

Read in full at https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0727-25.

#

Menendez Indictment: Visas for Girlfriends, Consular Affairs, INL, and Whatabout “H”?

Posted: 5:29 pm PDT

 

Today, a federal grand jury indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on corruption charges. According to the WSJ, Mr. Menendez, 61 years old, has said “he didn’t do anything wrong and plans to fight the charges.” The indictment is the culmination of a lengthy inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the relationship between the New Jersey senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.” Wait, can you use constituent services as defense if the constituent lives in another state?

New Jersey editorials have now called on the senator to resign. Media reports says that he will step down as ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) because of the indictment. The good senator from New Jersey is reportedly “outraged” by the indictment. He condemned the corruption case against him saying, “I am not going anywhere… I’m angry and ready to fight.” And he is, by god!

 

 

We’ve read through the indictment. We have excerpted the parts below that include the visas for girlfriends initiative (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ukraine), the back and forth with Consular Affairs,  the visa refusals that were overturned, and the back and forth with the INL bureau on a port contract.

The names of the State Department officials are not included, but the indictment includes the offices at the State Department that were the receiving end of the senator’s attention and advocacy:  DAS for Visas Services, Embassy Santo Domingo  and the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

There’s also this nugget:

State 2 to Staffer 8 writes:

If H is in the room — best if the good senator from New Jersey doesn’t mention the prior private meeting they had.

Hey, that’s H, the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs whose job is to “facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” Whatsthatabout?

 

The full indictment document is available online here (pdf)

#

Citizens United Files Lawsuit Against State Dept For Harold Geisel’s Records and OIG Report on Diplomatic Security

Posted: 11:16 am PDT
Updated: 8:37 om PDT

 

Via Bloomberg:

Citizens United filed its fourth lawsuit against the State Department on Thursday, this time seeking documents related to the agency’s Office of Inspector General during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the conservative advocacy group complains that the State Department has not responded to two of its Freedom of Information Act requests in more than six months, beyond acknowledging receiving them. The statutory requirement is 20 business days.

In its court filing, Citizens United argues that “when left to their own devices State Department bureaucrats have taken over three years to respond to Citizens United’s FOIA requests” and that “Such extensive delays are in clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.”

This latest lawsuit, asked for two specific records related the Office of the Inspector General of the State Department: the first one related to former acting IG Harold Geisel, and the second one related to inspection report ISP-I-13-18 released in March 2013. This is the inspection report (pdf) on Diplomatic Security where the inspectors concluded that Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division (SID) lack independence. The OIG recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary should restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.” We don’t know if anything happened in that front but in any case, Citizens United wanted to see all the details, potentially messy, generated by that report. We should also note that this specific report previously made a cameo appearance in another lawsuit in Texas and attracted congressional interest.

Below excerpted from court records:

CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (GEISEL RECORDS), F-2014-16237

11. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit B (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

On April 25, 2011, The Washington Post reported on the vacant State Department’s Inspector General position. The Washington Post reported that: “One high-ranking official familiar with the selection process said the State Department’s current leadership had opposed filling the top slot because it prefers the office to remain under Geisel’s supervision.” On April 5, 2011 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled State Department Inspector General, Actions To Address Independence And Effectiveness Concerns Are Under Way, (GAO-11-382T). The records I request can be described as follows: Any and all records, correspondence, and memos, in any and all formats, that mention, discuss, or reference the performance of Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the nomination of an inspector general, potential candidates for inspector general, a preference or desire to retain Harold W. Geisel as acting State Department inspector general, the aforementioned GAO report, and/or the vacant inspector general position in any context that were sent to and/or sent from any of the following individuals: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Office Manager Claire Coleman, Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations Huma Abedin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Jacob Sullivan, Executive Assistant Alice Wells, Senior Advisor Jeannemarie E. Smith, Special Assistant Lona Valmoro, Special Assistant Nima Abbaszadeh, Special Assistant Bernadette Meehan, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, Under Secretary Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary Wendy R. Sherman, and Acting Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner.

B. CITIZENS UNITED’S SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 FOIA REQUEST (INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT), F-2014-16250

16. On September 16, 2014 Citizens United submitted a FOIA request, online, to Defendant. See Exhibit D (FOIA Request Letter). The request sought:

Any and all correspondence, memos, or records, in any format, that mention, reference, or discuss the State Department Office of Inspector General report The Bureau Of Diplomatic Security, Office Of Investigations And Counterintelligence, Divisions Of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, And Computer Investigations And Forensics (ISP-I-13-18), and/or any previous drafts of the report, and that were sent to, or sent from, the following individuals: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cheryl D. Mills, Huma Mahmood Abedin, Jennemaire E. Smith, Lona Valmoro, Joanne Laszczych, Monica Hanley, Robert V. Russo, and Nora F. Toiv.

This should be interesting unless everything get Sharpied out.  The case is  Citizens United v. United States Department of State, Civil Action No. 15-cv-441 (pdf).

Also this:

.

#

Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case

Posted: 1:0808 am EDT

 

We didn’t know this but former FSO Joan Wadelton was joined by non-profit organization, Truthout in her FOIA lawsuit (pdf) against the State Department. Her formal complaint includes the following:

Over the past decade, Wadelton has collected evidence demonstrating that the type of treatment she received from HR was not unique to her, but instead was the product of a systematic manipulation of the selection board promotion process by a circle of current and former high-level HR managers to advantage themselves and their allies and to disadvantage those they did not favor.

See more here.

Since this is a FOIA case, the Clinton emails made their first walk-in part. We expect that these emails will be cited in many more cases in the court system before too long.

Via Politico:

The saga stemming from revelations about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state made its way into a federal courtroom in Washington Wednesday afternoon in an ex-foreign service officer’s lawsuit for records related to her dismissal.

The discussion of the State Department’s email issues—including a disclosure last week that the agency did not automatically archive the email of many top officials until February of this year—came at a hearing on a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by former State employee Joan Wadelton.
[…]

“The State Department has proposed filing a motion for summary judgment in August 2015, stating it requires nearly six months to compile a Vaughn index for approximately 450 documents. The Court is not convinced, without a further and clearer showing of necessity, that six months is needed to complete this task,” wrote Chutkan, an Obama appointee. She ordered the government to offer a written explanation by March 30 of why that many months are needed.

Wadelton’s complaints about favoritism and irregular employment practices at State have been covered by various diplomacy-related blogs and news outlets, including here at the Atlantic.

The Vaughn Index is an itemized index, correlating each withholding with a specific FOIA exemption and a justification for that justification. This document is prepared by the agency, in this case, the State Department, to justify any FOIA withholdings made.

 #

Related posts:

Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress (diplopundit.net)

Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time! (diplopundit.net)

GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain) (diplopundit.net)

U.S. District Court for the Court of the District of Columbia | Wadelton v. State Department, 4/25/13 (pdf)

Wadelton Case | The FOIA Project

WADELTON et al v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE | Complaint 4/1/2013 (pdf)

 

IT Consultant Using Identity Of Deceased Infant Snagged During Passport Application

Posted: 2:08  am EDT

 

Via USDOJ:

Computer Industry Consultant Convicted For Using Identify Of Deceased Infant

BOSTON – A former Boston computer industry consultant was found guilty following a five-day jury trial on March 6, 2015, of assuming the identity of an infant who died in 1966 and using that identity to obtain a Social Security number.

Steven Nolte, 51, was convicted of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and use of a falsely-obtained Social Security number.  U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for May 28, 2015.  He remains detained pending sentencing.

Nolte was born in Arizona in 1963 as Steven Nolte, but in 1997, he assumed the identity of a four-day-old infant who died in 1966.  At the time Nolte adopted this identity, he was in the process of stealing over $571,000 from a real estate company for which he had provided computer consulting services.  Nolte then obtained a passport in the assumed identity and traveled to Costa Rica, where proceeds of the theft had been wire-transferred.  Nolte thereafter traveled extensively in the South Pacific and ultimately settled in the Boston area, where he worked in the computer industry for many years under his assumed identity.  In 1999, he applied for a Social Security number by using the same false identity.  Nolte’s true identity was discovered in May 2012 when he submitted an application for a replacement passport in Boston under his assumed name.  State Department officials realized that the Social Security number Nolte was using had not been issued to Nolte in the assumed name until he supposedly was 33 years old.  Upon further investigation, agents learned of the infant’s death in 1966, and ultimately uncovered Nolte’s true identity.

The charge of making false statements in a passport application provides for no greater than 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release; the charge of using a falsely-obtained Social Security number provides for no greater than five years in prison and three years of supervised release; and the charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison, and one year of supervised release.  All three charges provide for fines of up to $250,000.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  Sentenced are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Boston Field Office; and Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Pérez-Daple and Robert E. Richardson of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.

Original announcement is here.

#

Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of  four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007.  In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors.  In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.

Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):

Summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.

Opinion:

This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).

The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

Background:

In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.

The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.

Circuit Judge Reinhardt:

The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer

Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

#

Daily Press Briefing Needs IT and FOIA Specialists on HRC Emails, Plus HAK Files Go to Court

Posted: 1:25 am EDT

Clip via PostTV

Argghhhh! Whaaat?

Email System

The State Department has multiple automated information systems. All employees, including locally employed staff and contractors (apparently with the exception of Secretary Clinton and who knows how many others), have state.gov email addresses for use in their unclassified workstations.  But not everyone has classified access and in some places, you have to go to a controlled location just to read your classified email.  Here is a quick description from publicly available documents:

    • OpenNet is the Department’s internal network (intranet), which provides access to Department-specific Web pages, email, and other resources.
    • ClassNet is the Department’s worldwide national security information computer network and may carry information classified at or below the Secret level.
    • SMART-SBU or just “SMART” replaces existing Department of State unclassified email and cable systems with a Microsoft Outlook-based system.
    • SMART-C is the Classified State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset

 

No one “scans” emails for classified material?

The real question seems to be — well, if all her email communication was conducted through a private email  server —  how can we be sure that no classified and sensitive information were transmitted using her private email account?  We can’t, how can we?

However, for ordinary employees with badges and logins, an Information System Security Officer (ISSO) has “read access to the employee’s mailbox to ensure that no messages contain classification levels higher than that allowed on the authorized information system” (see 12 FAM 640-pdf). Which seems to indicate that ISSOs as a matter of course, “scan” State Department electronic mailboxes and files to ensure that there are no material there beyond “Sensitive But Unclassified” in the unclass system, for example.


Moving on to fumigation

Anyways — remember the WikiLeaks fallout? At that time, federal employees and contractors who believe they may have inadvertently accessed or downloaded classified or sensitive information on computers that access the web via non-classified government systems, or without prior authorization, were told to contact their information security offices for assistance.

If the unthinkable does happen, their unclassified computers required the equivalent of um… let’s say, digital “fumigation.” But who does that for private email servers?

The office that handles FOIA requests is the Office of Information Programs and Services (A/GIS/IPS/RL) under the Bureau of Administration. The Department also has its own chief information officer. Can we please have the State Department’s IT and FOIA experts talk about this from the podium?  Please, please, please, pretty please, this is getting more painful to watch every day.

 

[grabpress_video guid=”7ebdc05049ec1cf964f05708abe166946e545cb4″]

 

In related news — when you see reports that US embassies have been cited multiple times by State/OIG for use of  “personal email folders,” we suggest you take a deep breath.  That’s not/not the same as the use of personal private emails like Yahoo or Gmail. What those OIG reports are probably referring to are the personal storage folders, also known as  .pst files in Microsoft Outlook on the employees’ hard disk drives. Why would you want to save your emails in the personal folders of your computer?

Because a .pst file is kept on your computer, it is not subject to mailbox size limits on the mail server. By moving items to a .pst file on your computer, you can free up storage space in the mailbox on your mail server.

 

Just because you have classification authority, must you?

Below is an excerpt from the State Department Classification Guide | January 2005, Edition 1 (pdf via the Federation of American Scientists)

High Level Correspondence. This includes letters, diplomatic notes or memoranda or other reports of telephone or face-to-face conversations involving foreign chiefs of state or government, cabinet-level officials or comparable level figures, e.g., leaders of opposition parties. It should be presumed that this type of information should be classified at least CONFIDENTIAL, though the actual level of classification will depend upon the sensitivity of the contained information and classification normally assigned by the U.S. to this category of information. Information from senior officials shall normally be assigned a classification duration of at least ten years. Some subjects, such as cooperation on matters affecting third countries, or negotiation of secret agreements, would merit original classification for up to 25 years.

One thing to remember here, and it’s an important one — the secretary of state is the highest classification authority at the State Department.

CFR 2005 Title 22 Volume I Section 9-10:

(a) In the Department of State authority for original classification of information as ‘‘Top Secret’’ may be exercised only by the Secretary of State and those officials delegated this authority in writing, by position or by name, by the Secretary or the DAS/ CDC, as the senior official, on the basis of their frequent need to exercise such authority.

But why would the USG’s classification guide or classification authority even apply to an email server that apparently is not owned nor physically possessed or maintained by the State Department?


No one is coming out of this smelling like roses

The 67th secretary of state exclusively used private email during her entire tenure at the State Department. She left the State Department on February 1, 2013.  The official word is that in October 2014 — to improve record-keeping or something — the State Department “reached out to all of the former secretaries of state to ask them to provide any records they had,” Secretary Clinton reportedly sent back “55,000 pages of documents to the State Department very shortly” after the letter was sent to her. “She was the only former Secretary of State who sent documents back in to this request,” said Ms. Harf.  This storyline is not even walking quite straight anymore according to the NYT’s follow-up report of March 5.

What appears clear is that the USG cannot possibly know the answer to the endless questions surrounding these emails since it does not have possession of the private email server used in the conduct of official business. But somebody must know how this set-up came to be in 2009.  What originated this, what security, if any  were put in placed?

As if we don’t have enough  disturbing news … have you seen this?

 

But 56th took his files with him!

In related news,  the National Security Archive  filed suit against the State Department this week under the Freedom of Information Act to force the release of the last 700 transcripts of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s telephone calls (telcons). The Archive’s appeal of State’s withholding dates back to 2007.

.

 

The 56th secretary of state had reportedly removed the telcons, along with his memcons and office files, from the State Department when he left office at the end of 1976. According to the FOIA-released declassification guide for the State Department “information that still requires protection beyond 25 years should be classified for only as long as considered necessary to protect the national security.”

But … but …it’s been almost 40 years, heeeellloo!

Where are we again? Oh, utterly distressed by this whole thing.

 

 

Related post:

Don’t read WL from your workstation, if read elsewhere make sure you wash your eyes or you go blind….

 

Related items:

It could be very long time before Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mails see the light of day (WaPo)

12 FAM 640  DOMESTIC AND OVERSEAS AUTOMATED INFORMATION SYSTEMS CONNECTIVITY (pdf)

Leaked Guccifer emails did say “confidential” but the purported sender of those emails was no longer in USG service and presumably, no longer had any classification authority.