Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 — Noteworthy Cases

Posted: 1:30  am EDT

 

The Foreign Service Grievance Board recently released its 2014 annual report:

A primary goal of the Board continuing during this past year (and in prior years) has been to improve its timeliness in terms of issuing its orders and decisions. The Board is acutely aware of the short timeframes that impact the careers of Foreign Service employees, and especially the schedules of various agency-appointed boards that grant tenure, decide on promotions, rank (and “low rank”) employees, and make other career-defining personnel decisions. While the Board does not fully control the entire grievance appeal process, e.g., the period during which the parties engage in sometimes lengthy discovery or file time- consuming motions, it has put in place procedures to expedite where possible those actions it does control.
[…]
The three-member panels selected to decide grievance appeals continued to work effectively during the year, producing several orders and decisions with significant issues of first impression or complexity. Social media has had an impact on some of the Board’s grievance appeals, and is likely to expand as a growing presence in both professional and personal interactions among Foreign Service employees. The increased exposure of what may have been considered private communications in the past has produced challenging questions regarding standards for personal and professional conduct of Foreign Service personnel, including the issue of what is a reasonable expectation of privacy; similarly, rapid changes in technology, in particular the growth of digitally based communications and cyber tools such as cloud computing, have altered methods of information storage, access and security that undoubtedly affect Foreign Service operations. These developments, along with rapidly evolving social and demographic changes, both within the Foreign Service and the society at large, are likely to influence to some degree future grievance disputes. A major challenge for the Board is to maintain its level of institutional and technological awareness to keep pace with the dynamic environment in which future dispute resolution will be necessary.

See the stats here:  Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 – Statistics

According to the 2014  report, the largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total). The Board is now seeing cases on disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition that affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.  The average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 45 weeks. This is two weeks longer than the average time of disposition in 2013. The Board currently has 19 members, with 12 retired foreign affairs members and 7 legal professionals.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

Fifty-three new cases were filed with the Board in 2014, comparable to the number filed the previous year (54). Over the past six years, the number of new cases has ranged from a high of 74 to a low of 43. Of the 2014 cases, 47 cases were filed by employees of the Department of State (or survivors of State Department employees); five by employees of USAID; and one by AFSA. No cases were filed by employees of the other agencies under the Board’s jurisdiction.
[…]
Timeliness of disciplinary actions, as governed by agency regulations, also continued as an issue of concern to employees. In three new cases filed, the employees alleged that delays ranging from 14 to 36 months violated Department regulations and disadvantaged them. Two cases involving timeliness were decided by the Board this year. In the first case, the Board found that a three-year delay was prejudicial to the employee and dismissed the charges. In the second, a two-year delay was deemed not to be prejudicial, but the charges were dismissed as not proven.

Eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation. Four involved allegations of alcohol abuse. The largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total).

A number of individually noteworthy cases were filed in 2014:

    • A USAID case involved the starting salary of a new hire, whose documentation of his previous salary while self-employed was alleged to be fraudulent. The grievant was one of several USAID new hires who were issued bills of collection for overpayment of salary following an agency audit of the starting salaries of new hires. Regulations for establishing starting salaries primarily took into account standard salary histories, and did not address factors stemming from self-employment or lower salaries/stipends earned while an applicant was earning an advanced degree.
  • The daughter of a State Department employee contested a bill of collection issued by the Department for $311,000 in overpayment of a survivor annuity and denial of a waiver for the overpayment. The grievant was unaware that she needed to notify the Department upon the death of her mother. Survivor annuity payments were deposited into a joint account for several years before the error was discovered.
  • AFSA filed an implementation dispute challenging the Department’s decision to deny payment of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to outstanding employees identified by the selection boards in 2013. AFSA maintained that its agreement to defer such payments during sequestration of the budget in 2013 did not extend to a discretionary decision by the Department to withhold such payments permanently after the funds were available.
  • A former president of AFSA contested the propriety of an email sent out by senior Department staff criticizing her for an op-ed piece she had co- authored with two former ambassadors. The op-ed piece, published in the Washington Post, expressed the authors’ perception that State was inappropriately placing an increasing number of civil service and political appointees in the highest leadership positions. The grievant also challenged the failure of one of the authors of the email to recuse herself from service on the grievant’s promotion board that year.
  • A retired Foreign Service Officer filed a grievance alleging that remedies granted to him pursuant to the first grievance ever filed, in 1972, under authorities preceding the establishment of the Foreign Service Grievance Board, had never been implemented. He is seeking monetary relief.
  • A grievant who in 1998 claimed bias on the basis of sexual orientation and a procedural error, and who appealed the FSGB decisions to both the district court and court of appeals, filed a new grievance claiming that Time-In-Class (TIC) and Time-in-Service (TIS) extensions awarded in that case had never been properly implemented, resulting in his impending separation for expiration of his TIS.

Discipline

The Board resolved 12 appeals from discipline imposed by the Department of State. There were no appeals from disciplinary decisions of other agencies. In discipline cases, the agency has the burden to prove that the charge is factually correct; has a nexus to employment; and that the penalty is appropriate. The appeals covered a range of issues: alcohol and/or weapons-related incidents (five cases); filing false claims for reimbursement; false statements given to explain an absence from work; failure to maintain control of a diplomatic pouch; interfering with an investigation; the appearance of prostitution (two cases); and a security violation. In eight of the cases the charged employee alleged that the penalty was too harsh. In five of the discipline cases the Board affirmed the Department’s decision; in two it found in favor of the charged employee; in one it partially affirmed and partially reversed; and four cases were settled before reaching a decision on the merits. Nine of the cases involved employees of the Office of Diplomatic Security.

In one discipline case and a handful of others, the employees claimed that the incidents were related to the stress of service at hardship posts. As more employees are assigned to posts in countries where violence is endemic, the Board will be sensitive to similar conditions in appeals arising from this issue.

EER/OPF/IER

Eighteen appeals involving inaccuracies, omissions, prejudicial statements, or prejudicial errors in employees’ Official Performance Files that could affect their promotion and/or tenuring competitiveness were decided by the Board. The Board affirmed the agency decision in ten of the cases; reversed in two; and partially affirmed, partially reversed in three cases. Two appeals were settled, and one was withdrawn.

Two of the appeals contested IERs issued by the Office of the Inspector General, one involving an ambassador and the second a public affairs officer. In the first, the Board found that the right to counseling applied equally to ambassadors as to other employees. Although the bar may be higher in what an ambassador is expected to know, the Board found that in this particular case the ambassador had no reason to know of the deficiencies identified in the IER, and, therefore, lack of counseling by her supervisors prior to inclusion of the criticisms in the IER and her OPF was not harmless error. The Board also found that several comments in the IER about another, identifiable employee should not have been included in the ambassador’s OPF. The Board ordered that the IER be removed from the ambassador’s OPF. The second case was settled and withdrawn prior to a decision on the merits.

See The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

Assignment

In general, the Board does not have jurisdiction over assignment actions. However, the Board may hear appeals in which the employee alleges a procedural violation of the assignment process. Two such cases were resolved last year. The first case stemmed from the 2012 violence in Benghazi. The employee alleged that he was removed from his position based on ill-founded conclusions by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, and that he had been made a scapegoat as part of a politically motivated damage control effort. Prior to the conclusion of the appeal process, the grievant retired from the Department. The Board found that most of the remedies he had requested were no longer viable post-retirement, and it therefore drew no conclusions based on the merits. In the second case, the Board also found that the requested remedy, a change in eligibility requirements for long- term training, was outside its authority and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

Financial

Eight appeals involving financial claims were resolved by the Board last year, each presenting different, complex issues:

  • In an appeal challenging denial of a medical evacuation allowance, the Department followed a long-established Standard Operating Procedure in denying medical evacuation for a high-risk pregnancy prior to the 24th week of gestation. The employee was directed to seek instead the lower separate maintenance allowance, even though all medical personnel agreed that grievant’s spouse needed to return to the U.S. in the 10th week of pregnancy.  The Board found that the Department’s practice was inconsistent with its own regulations and directed the Department to recalculate grievant’s per diem based on the medical evacuation rate.See High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!
  • Six Security Engineering Officers (SEOs) challenged the Department’s decision to limit hiring of their class to an FP-06 pay level, while hiring preceding classes with similar qualifications up to the FP-04 level. In addition to charging a violation of merit principles, the grievants claimed that there were no jobs available at the lower level, so they were unjustly required to work at a higher pay grade than they were being paid. The case was resolved with respect to four grievants when they withdrew their appeals. The appeal of the other two is pending.
  • A career Civil Service employee was given a Limited Non-career Appointment in the Foreign Service, then granted a conversion to career Foreign Service. While in the U.S. working to satisfy the language requirement for a pending overseas FS assignment, grievant’s position was first designated FP-02, then retroactively downgraded to GS-12. The Department required her to reimburse the overpayment in salary resulting from the initial designation. The Board found that, while the Department’s regulations regarding conversions are unclear, in this case the downgrade without notice was an improper application of the relevant laws and regulation, and the employee was entitled to recover the funds repaid to the Department.
  • The Department denied a cash award to an employee for a suggestion he had made and that it had implemented. The primary basis for denial was that grievant had received a cash award for a similar reason, and thus was not permitted a second cash award for the suggestion. Grievant also claimed that the official who denied the award was the deciding official in a disciplinary action pending against him, and thus should have recused himself. The Board found that the two awards were for different purposes and thus not prohibited by the regulation, and agreed that the deciding official should have recused himself from the award decision. It remanded the case to the Department to reconsider its original decision.
  • A Diplomatic Security agent was required to surrender his law enforcement credentials and was denied law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) when the Secret Service investigated him regarding a collectible coin that he had purchased and sold, which turned out to be counterfeit. The investigation remained pending for a number of years, with no charges brought against the agent. During that time, his LEAP pay remained in abeyance. The Board found that although the Department did not have regulations addressing these circumstances, it had implemented a clear and consistent policy and did not act arbitrarily in denying grievant LEAP pay.
  • A retired criminal investigator with the USAID Inspector General’s Office alleged that the State Department miscalculated his retirement annuity by applying a pay cap imposed by the USAID IG through a 2006 memorandum. The Board found that the Department’s reliance on the memorandum was proper, and denied grievant’s claim to a higher annuity. The grievant has appealed this decision to the D.C. district court.

Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

One new case was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia last year. Gregory Picur, retired from USAID’s Office of Inspector General, appealed the Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s calculation of his retirement annuity. A decision is pending.

Three other cases are pending decisions in federal court:

    • The five plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al. v. United States Department of State, et al. (923 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2013)), retired and active duty Diplomatic Security agents who served in Iraq in 2004, appealed a district court decision granting summary judgment to the Department. The plaintiffs had grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay during their time in Iraq and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts they had been paid in excess of that cap. The Board had affirmed the Department’s decision applying the cap and denying the waiver.
      (note: a ruling was issued on this case this past week, we will post separately)
    • In November 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. district court to review a FSGB order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal.
  • In January 2011, Joan Wadelton appealed a Board decision ordering six new reconstituted selection boards be convened as the remedy for three prior grievances. Ms. Wadelton’s appeal contests the Board’s decision to order a new round of reconstituted boards, rather than direct a promotion, as she had requested. Ms. Wadelton is separately engaged in litigation against the Department concerning compliance with three related FOIA requests she filed seeking certain Department records about her. The Department has completed its production of documents pursuant to those requests and is currently engaged in briefing related to motions for summary judgment. (see  Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case)

One of the “other” cases adjudicated by the Board.

[T]he employee had been assigned to a senior job in an international organization for five years by virtue of separation/transfer with reemployment rights. Under that particular arrangement, his OPF was not reviewed for promotion for those years, and he was reemployed by State at the same grade as when he had left. Grievant contested the legality of that policy. The Board found that, although there was confusion within State about the ramifications of different transfer/secondment actions and grievant had not always been given consistent information, the precepts were clear and no remedy was warranted. Grievant has two related cases pending. (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

The full report is available here.

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Burn Bag: On security clearance … leave it alone or the process will become “more” problematic?

Via Burn Bag:

“We have many EFM clearances – and interim clearances were requested by HR and rejected by DS for all of them – which are still pending. The oldest one is 15 months, the next is 13 months, etc. etc. (we have many). These people will PCS [permanent change of station] and still not have their clearance completed. The only statements from DS – other than implying to leave them alone or the process will become “more” problematic are that USDH [U.S. direct hire] clearances are first in line. Some missions depend on EFMs.”

image via imgur

image via imgur

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Related post:
Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days.   We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.

So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.

We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:

“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”

Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not.    We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail.  But seriously, a straight forward  inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.

So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.

The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com.  And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.

Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.

We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them.  That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.

So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.

Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances.  Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait.  So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.

We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.

In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.

We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.”  We were cited an example where an  eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies.  Again, that same information is also accessible to the  Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.

Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance.  We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members.  Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system.  Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job.  The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.  So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.

And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.

There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.

Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):

We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide.  Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.

So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post.  I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.

Here’s our related post on this topic: No Longer Grandma’s Foreign Service. You’re welcome to post this on the leadership site behind the State Department firewall. Hey, the somebodies already post our burn bag entries there, so why not this one?

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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:

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U.S. Embassy Uganda Warns of Possible Terrorist Threats to Western Interests

Posted: 9:15 pm PDT

 

Via U.S. Embassy Kampala, March 25, 2015

The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon.  Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days.  U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.

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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.

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US Embassy Niger: Schools Attended by Official American Dependents Get Armed Guards

Posted: 12:58  am EDT
Updated: 1:49 pm EDT message updated by US Embassy Niamey

 

The U.S. Embassy in Niamey released a Security Message on March 19 informing American citizens in Niger of the change in embassy school policy:

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by officials of U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards.

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by children of official U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards. (updated)

The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens in Niger to exercise caution, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase security awareness, and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the importance of taking precautions that can help you avoid being a target. Please follow these good personal security practices:

Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;

Reduce exposure to places where Westerners frequently congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores;

Know where you are going and have an exit plan in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;

Tell family member, co-workers, or neighbors where you’re going and when you intend to return;

Minimize your profile while in public;

Follow the instructions of local authorities;

Be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for personal safety concerns;

Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy number tel. (227) 20-72-26-61 and the after-hours emergency number, (227) 20-72-31-41.

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

According to the 2014 Crime and Safety report, Niger is rated by the Department of State as High for terrorism and for crime.

  • Its central location and the vast, open Sahara and Sahel Deserts make the transit of terrorists, criminals, weapons, migrants, contraband, and illegal drugs possible.
  • Due to safety and security concerns, the Peace Corps ceased its operations in Niger in January 2011.
  • Embassy Travel Policy (applicable to all U.S. government executive branch travelers under Chief of Mission authority) requires that all travel north of Niamey and east of Zinder be accompanied by an armed security escort, with guards at hotels for overnight stays.

Excerpt from the Crime and Safety Report:

There has been an overall decrease in residential robberies in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence. While thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no residential guard and/or visible residential security measures, there have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence, including some diplomat and NGO residences. There was an incident at an Embassy residence by a violent individual; the Embassy guard on duty physically protected the residence from intrusion. In addition, there have been numerous cases of commercial and NGO office robberies.

Niger is rated high for terrorism. Niger has experienced terrorism firsthand, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) operations and clashes between the Nigerien military and al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other terrorist groups in the north. The January 2013 French military intervention in Mali against AQIM and its allies caused terrorist elements to threaten reprisals against countries — including Niger – that participated. In May 2013, AQIM-related forces led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar executed simultaneous suicide attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and dismounted gunmen on a Nigerien military camp in Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit.

Boko Haram (BH) has an increasing presence; the group is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked government forces, slaughtered civilians, and kidnapped foreigners. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced an increase in extremist rhetoric in the south (specifically Diffa), and Boko Haram members have been arrested in Niger.

According to the March 8 update at state.gov, Embassy Niamey is a 30% hardship differential post with zero COLA and zero danger pay.

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US Embassy Mali Issues Security Message on La Terrasse Suspects At-Large, Potential Future Attacks

Posted: 12:52  am EDT

 

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On March 19, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako released a security message to American citizens residing in Mali related to the March 7 attacks:

The U.S. Embassy provides the following information and security guidance to U.S. citizens following the March 7 attacks at La Terrasse.  Malian authorities report that the suspects involved in the attacks are still at-large.  While there are no specific restrictions on public venues, official U.S. government personnel are advised to reduce exposure to places frequented by westerners until the hunt for suspects-at-large is concluded.  As a result of the continuing investigation, Malian and international security forces have developed leads that may indicate potential future attacks in the capital.  Therefore, the U.S. Embassy has reemphasized general security guidance provided earlier this week, and has informed official U.S. government personnel of the following additional measures:

  • The Embassy is in regular communication with the American International School of Bamako (AISB) regarding its security posture, including transport and physical security.
  • Official U.S. government personnel lodging in local hotels will no longer be concentrated into a few hotels.
  • Personal travel by official governmental personnel outside Bamako is prohibited in March and April, at which time the restriction will be reassessed.
  • Additional guidance will be distributed in coming days about possible movement restrictions for official U.S. government personnel around Bamako on the two upcoming holidays, March 26 and April 6.

Although the Embassy is not aware of any specific threat information at this time, Malian security forces continue to show a heavy presence around Bamako, including roadblocks and random police checkpoints, especially from dusk to dawn.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, vary routes, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure their own safety, as should be standard operating procedure at all times.  Ensure your personal communications devices are usable in a crisis, and fully employ any safety measures (locks, grills, alarms, etc.) at your residence.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report for Mali notes the following:

Despite the significant successes of French offensive and counterterrorist operations, military operations continue to take place in the northern region of the country based on the persistent presence of extremist and militant factions and their capabilities to target Malian and western targets, including UN and French assets. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively static, there are continued concerns that Bamako remains a viable target for these groups. In January 2014, extremist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar reemphasized his pledge to target France and its allies in Mali in retaliation for Operation Serval. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED and PBIED); armed assaults; indirect fire and hand grenade attacks; and other attacks against foreign nationals, including kidnappings. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. Two French journalists were kidnapped then killed in November 2013 in the Kidal region.

Americans are currently warned against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the country, fluid political situations, and continuing threat of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable, security concerns and military operations continue throughout parts of the country. U.S. citizens who are in country are urged to exercise caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

According to the state.gov update dated March 8, 2015,  Embassy Bamako is a 10% COLA, 10% danger and 25% hardship differential post.

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US Embassy Tokyo: Consular Section Contributes to Flowers Will Bloom Project

Posted: 12:19 am  EDT

 

Via US Embassy Tokyo

“The American Embassy offers its continued sympathy and support for the victims of the 3.11 Triple Disaster, and is pleased and proud to contribute to the Flowers Will Bloom project. Here, staff from our consular section offer their version of the Flowers Will Bloom, highlighted by photos of Ambassador Kennedy’s visits to Tohoku in 2013 and 2014.”

The triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear plant breakdown struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

 

 

Embassy Tokyo and USCG Okinawa are currently in the front pages due to media reports that both Ambassador Kennedy and Consul General Alfred Magleb had been the objects of death threats in telephone calls last month. We don’t know why the news are just showing up now.

The Consular Section in Naha serves a large number of American military personnel and their families stationed on Okinawa. According to the Consulate General, its staff includes a 10-person consular team looking after Americans in need of passports (over 5,000 per year), reports of birth abroad (well above 1,000 annually), and other U.S. citizen services.

According to a 2014 CRS report, the Japanese archipelago serves as the most significant forward-operating platform for the U.S. military in the region; approximately 53,000 military personnel (39,000 onshore and 14,000 afloat in nearby waters), 43,000 dependents, and 5,000 Department of Defense civilian employees live in Japan.  It also notes that about 25% of all facilities used by U.S. Forces Japan and about half of the U.S. military personnel are located in Okinawa, which comprises less than 1% of Japan’s total land area.

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Ambassador Mark Lippert tweets, “doing well & in great spirits …”

Posted: 11:04 EST

 

 

More details from Reuters and Voice of America below:

  • Ambassador Lippert was attacked and  slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist at about 7:40 a.m. local time Thursday (2240 GMT Wednesday) at a forum hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation in Seoul.  The attack took place in a government arts centre across the street from the heavily guarded US embassy.
  • He was treated at Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital where he underwent a two and a half hour surgery that required 80 stitches.
  • A small fruit knife  was used in the attack.
  • The attack resulted on a gash on the ambassador’s face measuring 11 centimeters (4 inches) long and 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep, located from his right cheekbone to jaw on the right side of his face and a puncture wound on his left wrist, causing nerve damage that was repaired.  There was reportedly no major damage to his facial nerves or salivary glands. Reports say he will be hospitalised for three or four days.
  • The forum organizer denied that the alleged assailant was a member. “Kim was able to gain admittance by taking advantage of a bureaucratic oversight, saying he was from an old group that no longer exists but remains on the organization’s list.  He said it was an annual event and there had been no such incident like this in past, so they did not request extra police presence.” The assailant who was caught and identified also tried to attacked the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in 2010 by throwing a piece of concrete. He was reportedly given a suspended jail term for that incident.

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Related post:

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert injured in attack by armed assailant (updated)