Category Archives: Federal Agencies

Diplomatic Security Locates 21 Year Fugitive Through Facebook

– Domani Spero

 

Via USDOJ:

SAN FRANCISCO – Francisco R. Legaspi made his initial appearance in federal court yesterday morning for failing to appear for his sentencing on Jan. 28, 1993, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez, announced.

According to court documents, Legaspi, 61, of London, Ontario, Canada, formerly of Daly City, was indicted on Aug. 19, 1992 on three counts of aiding and filing false quarterly employment tax returns for Mission Childcare Consortium in violation of 26 U.S.C.§ 7206(2). He pleaded guilty on Nov. 9, 1992 to one count of the Indictment. Legaspi was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 28, 1993, but failed to appear in court. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest for his failure to appear. On Feb. 24, 1993, an Indictment was returned against him charging him with failure to appear in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3146.

Legaspi was located in Canada in 2012, after the Bureau of Diplomatic Security researched social media websites and found Legaspi’s Facebook page. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police used the information to apprehend Legaspi. Thereafter, he was extradited from Canada to the United States with the assistance of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

On July 1, 2014, Legaspi entered a not guilty plea to the Indictment charging him with failure to appear. Legaspi’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 8, 2014, before the Honorable Richard Seeborg, United States District Court Judge in San Francisco.

The maximum penalty for aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns, in violation of Title 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2), is three years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum penalty for failure to appear, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 3146, is two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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Colombian Nationals Extradited to U.S. For Bogotá Death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson

– Domani Spero

 

In June 2013, we blogged about the death of DEA Special Agent Terry Watson in Bogota, Colombia (see US Embassy Bogota: DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson Killed in Colombia).  On July 2, 2014, the Department of Justice announced the extradition of seven Colombian nationals charged in connection with the DEA agent’s death.

Via USDOJ:

Seven Colombian nationals were extradited to the United States to face charges relating to the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James Terry Watson.
[...]
“DEA Special Agent James ‘Terry’ Watson was a brave and talented special agent who represented everything good about federal law enforcement and our DEA family,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “We will never forget Terry’s sacrifice on behalf of the American people during his 13 years of service, nor will DEA ever forget the outstanding work of the Colombian National Police and our other law enforcement partners.  Their efforts quickly led to the arrest and extradition of those accused of committing this heinous act.”

All of the defendants were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on July 18, 2013.   Gerardo Figueroa Sepulveda, 39; Omar Fabian Valdes Gualtero, 27; Edgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27; Hector Leonardo Lopez, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramirez, 31; and Andrés Alvaro Oviedo-Garcia, 22, were each charged with two counts of second degree murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to kidnap.  Oviedo-Garcia was also charged with two counts of assault.   Additionally, the grand jury indicted Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also a Colombian national, for his alleged efforts to destroy evidence associated with the murder of Special Agent Watson.

The defendants arrived in the United States on July 1, 2014, and made their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, today before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr.   A detention hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014, before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis.
[...]
According to the indictment, Figueroa, Valdes, Bello, Lopez, Gracia and Oviedo-Garcia were part of a kidnapping and robbery conspiracy that utilized taxi cabs in Bogotá, Colombia, to lure victims into a position where they could be attacked and robbed.  Once an intended victim entered a taxi cab, the driver of the taxi cab would signal other conspirators to commence the robbery and kidnapping operation.

The indictment alleges that on June 20, 2013, while he was working for the U.S. Mission in Colombia, Special Agent Watson entered a taxi cab operated by one of the defendants.  Special Agent Watson was then allegedly attacked by two other defendants – one who stunned Special Agent Watson with a stun gun and another who stabbed Special Agent Watson with a knife, resulting in his death.

On July 1, 2014, the Government of Colombia extradited the defendants to the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and DSS, including the Office of Special Investigations and the Regional Security Office at Embassy Bogatá, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities, and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

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US Embassy Colombia: DEA Employee/Spouse Plead Guilty to False Statements in Kidnapping Hoax

– Domani Spero

Via USDOJ:

Nydia L. Perez and John A. Soto, both 44, of Haymarket, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials in federal court on Friday, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director for International Operations John Boles of the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, in December 2013, Perez, an employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and her husband Soto, a private contractor in the United States Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, designed and executed a hoax with the intention of defrauding the United States Embassy in Bogotá.   As part of the hoax, Perez and Soto fabricated a plot to kidnap minors who are United States citizens.

According to court filings, Perez and Soto sent, through electronic mail and courier services, information about a purported threat to the safety of minor United States citizens in Bogotá.   Perez and Soto added detailed descriptions of the targeted United States citizens, including information about their whereabouts and daily routines.   Perez and Soto included photographs of the citizens in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat, and attempted to implicate innocent individuals in the kidnapping plot.   Perez and Soto made numerous false representations to law enforcement and security officials in furtherance of the fabricated kidnapping plot.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman-Jackson is scheduled for Aug. 21, 2014.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Legal Attaché in Bogotá and the Extra-Territorial Squad of the FBI Miami Field Office.   Also participating in the investigation were the DEA, the U.S. Embassy Bogota Regional Security Office, and the U.S. Embassy Bogota Force Protection Detail.   The Department is grateful for the assistance of the Colombia National Police Directorate of Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion.

On the Factual Basis for Plea, the government provides the following details:

  • On December 14, 2013, PEREZ and SOTO caused an e-mail to be sent to the American Citizen Services section of the United States Embassy, which described a plan by unnamed individuals to kidnap SOTO’s minor children, who are United States citizens. The e-mail included photos of the minor children engaged in various everyday activities in order to enhance the seriousness of the threat. In furtherance of the hoax, PEREZ and SOTO also mailed a package to the United States Embassy. The package contained a written description of the threat and additional photos of the children, in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the threat.
  • PEREZ met with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) on December 17, 2013 to discuss the kidnapping threat. PEREZ lied to the FBI as to her knowledge of the purported kidnapping plot, stating that the only person she could think of who was capable of creating a kidnapping plot was her family’s doorman, Heder Vargas. PEREZ falsely represented that she and SOTO, as well as SOTO’s minor children, were potential targets of the purported kidnapping plot, although she knew the kidnapping plot was in fact a hoax. During the December 17, 2013 meeting, PEREZ did not inform the FBI that she knew there existed no actual threat to herself, SOTO, or SOTO’s children.

 

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colobia Photo via state.gov

U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia
Photo via diplomacy.state.gov

We really don’t get this.  The intention was to defraud the U.S. Embassy in Bogota? How were they doing to do that? Since the U.S. Government cannot participate in developing and implementing a ransom strategy in kidnappings, it follows that ACS Sections do not have hidden money in their vaults.  In any case, whatever was the plan, it didn’t work.

Which made us dig up this section of the FAMeven overseas, kidnapping of U.S. citizens are federal crimes for which the FBI has authority to investigate under the U.S. Criminal Code. And certainly, kidnapping threats against a mission employee/family would be handled beyond the Consular Section.

According to court filings, Count One, Making a Materially False Representation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2) (a Class D Felony) carries a maximum sentence of five (5) years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and a $100 special assessment, a three (3) year term of supervised release, an order of restitution, and an obligation to pay any applicable interest or penalties on fines or restitution not timely made.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8/21/2014 at 10:00 AM in Courtroom 3 before Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The case is USA v. PEREZ, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00086-AK and USA v. SOTO, Magistrate judge case number: 1:14-mj-00087-AK.

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FBI Investigates Vahey Case: International School Teacher, a Suspected Child Predator

– Domani Spero

Via FBI:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the public’s assistance to identify alleged victims of a suspected international child predator. William James Vahey, a 64-year-old U.S. citizen, was a suspect in an international sex crimes investigation who committed suicide on March 21, 2014. His alleged victims were American and international students enrolled in private schools abroad where Vahey taught, beginning in 1972.

A USB thumb drive belonging to Vahey and provided to the FBI revealed pornographic images of minor males, approximately 12 to 14 years old, who appeared to be asleep or unconscious. The images were captioned with locations and dates that referenced places Vahey had previously traveled with students. When Vahey was confronted about the images, he reportedly admitted molesting boys throughout his entire life and said he gave the minors sleeping pills prior to the molestation.

FBI agents have reviewed photographs dating back to 2008 that depict at least 90 alleged victims. The FBI is seeking to notify individuals of the ongoing investigation and encourage additional alleged victims to come forward.

Vahey, who maintained residences in London and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, traveled extensively and internationally during the past four decades, working as a middle school and high school teacher at several American international schools in at least nine different countries. He taught history, geography, and social studies, and also coached junior varsity and basketball teams for boys. He regularly accompanied students on overnight field trips.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24

In addition to foreign nationals, the schools where Vahey worked were attended by the children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad.  Between 1972 and 2014, Vahey was employed at the following schools:

▪2013–March 2014: Managua, Nicaragua
Vahey was employed as a ninth grade world history and advanced geography teacher at the American Nicaraguan School, located in Pista Suburbana, Managua, Nicaragua. His employment was terminated on March 12, 2014.

▪2009–2013: London, United Kingdom
Vahey was employed as a history and geography teacher for middle and high school students at the Southbank International School, located in London, United Kingdom.

▪2002–2009: Caracas, Venezuela
Vahey was employed as a social studies and history teacher for middle school students at Escuela Campo Alegre, located in Caracas, Venezuela.

▪1992–2002: Jakarta, Indonesia
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school and high school students at the Jakarta International School, located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

▪1980-1992: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Vahey was employed as middle school assistant principal and social studies teacher for middle school students. He also coordinated K-9 social studies curriculum at Saudi Aramco Schools, located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

▪1978–1980: Athens, Greece
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher and guidance counselor for middle school students at the American Community School, located in Athens, Greece.

▪1976–1978: Ahwaz, Iran
Vahey was employed as a history teacher for middle school students and spent one year as a fifth grade teacher at the Passargad School, located in Ahwaz, Iran.

▪1975–1976: Madrid, Spain
Vahey was employed as a middle school teacher at the American School in Madrid, Spain.

▪1973–1975: Beirut, Lebanon
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle and high school students at the American Community School of Beirut, located in Beirut, Lebanon.

▪1972–1973: Tehran, Iran
Vahey was employed as a social studies teacher for middle school students at the Tehran American School, located in Tehran, Iran.

 

If you have information about the ongoing investigation regarding William James Vahey, or believe you may have been victimized by him, you may complete the FBI’s confidential questionnaire or submit a confidential email to: HOvictimassistance@ic.fbi.gov. You can also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

Read more here: http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/willliam-james-vahey

Allegations on how this was handled by the American school in Managua has surfaced online here (thanks K!). UK’s Daily Mail also reports that Vahey had been investigated at Southbank International over a previous ‘incident’ during his time at the school. But it claimed it was not pursued at the request of both parents and child.

The State Department was asked: The FBI has conducted an investigation of a pedophile that taught for decades on schools that are used by the children of U.S. diplomats. Has there been any concern from any families in how you handle this kind of threat? And will that be part of the new civilian security undersecretaries?”

Here is the official non-answer answer:

MS. PSAKI: Well, thank you for raising this terrible case. The FBI is seeking the public’s assistance to identify victims of a suspected international child predator who is now deceased. The focus is to locate and identify victims. The – many of the victims will likely be American citizens. It is expected that the victim pool will be multinational. In addition to foreign nationals, the schools were attended by children of American diplomats, military personnel stationed overseas, and other American citizens working abroad. The FBI is committed to providing victim assistance as needed. We will continue to work with the FBI through the – through DS and other national and international law enforcement partners on this ongoing investigation. By his own admission, Mr. Vahey provided victims with sleeping pills prior to the alleged criminal acts. And obviously, as you noted, this has raised a significant concern. We’re certainly closely with the FBI on this around the world.

Nine countries, four continents and that’s the best answer they could come up with, folks.

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Iraq Got BLISS, Now US Mission Afghanistan Gets ALiSS or Afghanistan Life Support Services

– Domani Spero

Updated on April 25, 2014 with additional details on staffing and also on Herat. 

FP’s Gordon Lubold recently wrote about The Diplomatic Brain Drain in Afghanistan:

By summer, after a possible runoff election chooses Karzai’s successor, most of the mid-level and senior U.S. civilians with deep Afghanistan experience who would have the knowledge to help foster strong relations with the new government will be long gone. And, officials familiar with the matter said, they will be replaced by diplomats expected to have far less experience.
[...]
The drain of institutional knowledge from Kabul this summer stems largely from the State Department’s staffing policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Unlike other posts for which two- and three-year tours are typical, State usually keeps diplomats in Afghanistan for just one year before pulling them out. While the U.S. military has also been criticized for short tours that make it harder to cultivate and maintain relationships with the military’s Afghan counterparts, it’s the State Department that has for years come under the most criticism for one-year rotations in part because diplomats are considered to have greater influence over broader swaths of the Kabul government.

A State Department official said in an email that while one-year tours in Afghanistan will be in effect and many diplomats will leave Kabul this summer, the Department will ensure there aren’t gaps created by rotating out the current spate of diplomats.

 

The State Department has done one-year assignments in Afghanistan for the last decade.  Since it did not change the TOD while the military is still there, we doubt very much that it will change to 2-year tours if/when the military “departs” at the end of 2014. (See 10 Facts About US Withdrawal from Afghanistan).

(Note: We understand from a source who was posted in Afghanistan that a number of FSOs are serving two-year assignments in the mission. The guesstimate is placed at less than 10%. A few FSOs also extend their tours either so their spouses can serve with them or because it enables them to get onto a different bidding cycle.As for senior officials, we are told that “the Department was somewhat successful in pushing senior officials to stay more than one year,” although some senior FSOs apparently do not stay as long because “other opportunities arise or due to personality conflicts.”)

The Department has for years also offered “linked assignment” incentives to all bidders on non-DS Afghanistan (Entry-Level personnel bidding on entry-level assignments excepted). This means that an employee’s Afghanistan assignment is linked to his/her onward assignment, typically to non-hardship postings. Folks leaving Afghanistan this summer already have their next jobs selected for them a year ago. And if these FSOs get extended another year in Afghanistan (we don’t see that happening), there will be gaps at various embassies and consulates where these FSOs were scheduled to assume posts.

What should be interesting to see is how many FSOs have done repeat tours in Afghanistan in the past 12 years, and how many of those with language training, have done multiple tours in Kabul or other posts in the country.

In related news, the State Department is planning for the departure of the U.S. Military from Afghanistan. According to State, December 2014 will mark the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, with Afghan forces taking the lead for security country-wide. This change will have implications for the Department of State. Along with the principal responsibility for the diplomatic mission,the State Department will now have the responsibility for providing life support services to Chief of Mission personnel in Afghanistan, including the Embassy staff, but also the Department’s contract personnel.

Related post: US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services

The State Department has issued a draft solicitation for a period of one (1) year with four (4) one year options contract for life support services for the Kabul Embassy Compound (KEC) Afghanistan and other U.S. government sites within the country.

The Afghanistan Life Support Services (ALiSS) program includes food operations and logistics, fire protection, vehicle maintenance services, laundry services, medical services, Regional Security Officer (RSO) support, warehouse operations, and miscellaneous support services and workforce augmentation personnel currently provided through other programs, Interagency Agreements or contracts.   The following life support services requirements will be included as optional services to be exercised at the Government’s discretion: Fuel support and logistics, to include procurement, storage, delivery and planning; Postal Services Support; Waste Management Services, to include solid, gray— and black—water, recycling; Recreational Services Management and/or support; Laundry Services; Transportation Services; Airfield Services and operations.

Now Staffing, or What’s Laundry Gotta Do With It?

The Lubold piece on FP says that the State Department would not provide the number of U.S. foreign service officers serving in Afghanistan. A U.S. official did tell FP that there are about 250 to 300 foreign service officers assigned to the U.S. embassy in Kabul with “the bulk of them are departing this summer.”  

There may actually be more according to the ALiSS solicitation which estimates the amount of laundry that needs washing per week.  Of course, the laundry line item in the solicitation did not separate FSOs, specialists, contractors, etc but we thought this interesting.  As of March 2014, quantities being laundered in Kabul include “An approximate maximum of 150 ongoing TDY occupants which require a once a week washing of bed linens and towels (approximately 50 loads per week) and “GSO HOUSING: An additional 250 residential size (20 pound) laundry loads per week.”

What will the future mission staffing look like?

According to the ALiSS solicitation, Embassy Kabul’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff by 2017 but the total mission staffing appears to be three times that number.  Below is the breakdown of anticipated staffing according to the publicly available solicitation for life support services for US Mission Afghanistan:

  • The West Compound includes the New Chancery, the Old Chancery, three staff diplomatic apartment buildings (“SDAs”), and the Marine House. The West Compound also has a number of non—permanent buildings, offices and residences. By late summer 2017, construction will be completed on three new SDAs, a new Office Annex, a new Office Building Annex, an extension to the warehouse, and an extension to the Marine House. The Embassy’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff.
  • The Kabul Embassy Complex (KEC) contains two major cafeterias with one on the West Embassy compound and the second on the East Compound. A third cafeteria is under construction within the new Office Annex in the West Compound and is expected to be operational by January 1, 2015. Each cafeteria offers three main meals per day seven days a week, as well as a salad/sandwich bar for afterhours dining.  The cafeteria on the West Compound is a 390 m2 facility that has a seating capacity for roughly 160 personnel.  The cafeteria on the East Compound is a 300 facility that has a seating capacity of roughly 150 personnel.
  • Camp Eggers: The majority of the housing will be containerized housing units (CHUs). The electric plant will be six diesel generators that will provide primary power for the entire camp. There will be wells added to the camp to provide water and the water will be treated. The camp population will be 1,500 personnel and Phase One construction should be completed by mid—2015.
  • Camp Seitz: The camp population is currently 620 personnel, but the number will likely rise to nearly 800 by mid—2015.

Additional Mission Afghanistan sites may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Consulate General Herat and supporting facilities (including Camp Kodiak): The diplomatic platform in Herat is a full Consulate. The current location, in a former “five star” luxury hotel, houses all COM operations in the consular district. The site provides housing, offices, a large dining facility that can be used as a shura/conference center, and other traditional Consulate components. The Consulate is currently negotiating for the acquisition of additional adjacent property to provide the potential for a helicopter landing zone. Projected post—2014 staffing in Herat is 101 (27 US direct hire/ 74 Local Employed Staff).
    (Note: We understand that after last summer’s attack there, the building was “pretty much demolished” and that necessary “fixes” are ongoing so our diplomats will be able to move back into the building on or about 2015). 
  • Consulate General Mazar—e Sharif and supporting facilities (including Camp Little Bear): The diplomatic platform is a formal Consulate that will continue to be located at the German NATO base, Camp Marmal, until NATO military forces withdraw from the base. The Consulate operates from U.S. and NATO military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, hardened housing units, and containerized housing units. Life support is provided largely by German NATO forces at Camp Marmal, with limited support from U.S. military forces. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 70 (20 US direct hire / 50 Local Employed Staff).
  • Kandahar Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Kandahar will continue to be located on the U.S. NATO Kandahar Air Field until all U.S. and NATO military forces withdraw from the Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from a two—acre compound in close proximity to Camp Valdes, known as the “C&C Compound” site. The compound supports 27 direct hire employees and 7 Locally Employed Staff, but the compound is capable of supporting 50+ personnel with housing and office space. The compound provides office space for 16 people but could be retrofitted to accommodate the entire platform, if needed. The site includes a dining facility that is not utilized at this time. It also includes recreational facilities, gymnasium, picnic area, and shop space.
  • Jalalabad Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Jalalabad is located on U.S. military forces’ base FOB Fenty, adjacent to Jalalabad Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from U.S. military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, and hardened housing units. U.S. military forces at FOB Fenty provide all life support. There is no DOS security contractor staff at Jalalabad and all current and foreseeable future movements depend upon military assets. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 9 (6 US direct hire / 3 Local Employed Staff).
  • Bagram Embassy Liaison Office: The Liaison Office will operate from U.S. military constructed hardened office space and reside in housing units provided by the military. U.S. and NATO military forces at BAF provide all life support. There is no State Department security contractor staff at Bagram and all movements depend upon military assets. Projected staffing at this location is 5 US direct hire.

The ALiSS solicitation also says that  “Due to the evolving U.S. profile in Afghanistan, the schedule for solicitation, award and implementation is aggressive and subject to change.”

 

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Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

– Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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State/OIG Issues Alert on Recurring Weaknesses of State Department’s Computer Security

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– By Domani Spero

In November 2013, Inspector General Steve Linick issued a management alert memo to the State Department’s Management Control Steering Committee concerning the “significant and recurring weaknesses” of its information system security program over the past three fiscal years (2011-2013).

The recurring weaknesses identified were in six areas: Authority to Operate (ATO), Baseline Controls, Scarming and Configuration Management Controls, Access Controls, Cyber Security Management, and Risk Management and Continuous Monitoring Strategies.

A backgrounder from the OIG report:

The Department of State (Department) is entrusted to safeguard sensitive information, which is often the target of terrorist and criminal organizations. Cyber attacks against Government organizations appear to be on the rise,’ including state-sponsored efforts to exploit U.S. Government information security vulnerabilities. The Department is responsible for preserving and protecting classified information vital to the preservation of national security in high risk environments across the globe. The Department also undertakes significant numbers of financial and other transactions, including, for instance, the daily collection of millions of dollars in consular fees. In addition, the Department maintains records on approximately 192 million current passports,5 which contain such sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) as dates of birth and social security numbers. To protect this information, the Department must ensure that its Information System Security Program and management control structure are operationally effective.

Some of the examples of weaknesses cited include the following:

  • In FY 2013, OIG found another instance of access control weakness. Specifically, OIG reported that 36 employees assigned to the [Redacted] (b) (5).  Pursuant to 12 FAM 232, those systems can only be accessed by individuals possessing appropriate clearances. The 36 employees did not possess such clearances.
  • On August 20, 2013, the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) reported that the Department had a total of 6,369  system administrators. According to IRM officials, system administrators are given network-wide permissions to allow them to collaboratively manage and troubleshoot issues.“ However, such broad access by large numbers of system administrators also subjects the system to risk. The recent, highly-publicized breach of information pertaining to national security matters by Edward Snowden, a contract systems administrator, starkly illustrates the issue.”
  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not have the administrative credentials needed for Demilitarized Zone servers  to perform periodic scanning.

State/OIG made three recommendations including directing the Office of the Chief Information Officer to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing to further evaluate the Information System Security Program and outline a range of technical and procedural countermeasures to reduce risks.

On December 13, 2013, James Millette, the chairman of the Steering Committee and the State Department’s Comptroller who also heads the State Department’s Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) sent the OIG a written response which says  that they “respectfully disagree on the level of severity these weaknesses collectively represent.” Part of the response also includes the following:

Your memo recommended that the MCSC direct IRM to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing. The Committee believes that DS, like the OIG, has direct lines to the Secretary and has the capability to be independent in these matters. In addition, DS assured the Committee that they have the capability and work with and have the confidence of NSA in these matters. We believe OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing. However, we fully understand the issue of perception of independence. Therefore the MCSC is supportive of DS and IRM having further discussions with the OIG on this matter to determine the best plan of action to perform penetration testing that meets the needs of the OIG and Department management. In addition, at the meeting, we suggested that there may be other alternatives to NSA, such as using a 3rd party to review the methodology used by DS.

That’s an old timer at the State Department telling the new IG that the Committee believes that Diplomatic Security (DS)  like the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has “direct lines” to the Secretary?  Really!  It is a fact that DS reports to “M” or the Under Secretary for Management  and not directly to the Secretary.  (Unless, the Committee thinks the OIG also reports to “M” just like DS)?  OIG is one of the ten offices at State that reports directly to the Secretary.  If  the Secretary in practice delegates that authority, he has two deputies above the under secretaries, and one of them is for management and resources.

On Jan 13, 2014, the Inspector General sent another memo to the Management Control Steering Committee. The memo indicates closure of one recommendation but left the other two issues “unresolved.” This is also where the OIG patiently explains to the Committee what it means by “independence.”

OIG considers Recommendation 3, pertaining to independent penetration testing, unresolved. The MCSC indicated that it is supportive of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and IRM having further discussions with OIG on this matter, but it further stated that “OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing.” The issue, however, is not about DS’s “capability” but its independence and perceived independence.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

An independent assessor is any individual or group capable of conducting an impartial assessment of security controls employed within or inherited by an information system. Impartiality implies that the assessor is free from any perceived or actual conflicts of interest with respect to the development, operation, and/or management of the information system or the determination of security control effectiveness.

Because DS is actively involved in the Department’s Information System Security Program, it cannot be considered an independent, impartial assessor. The recommendation will remain open until OIG reviews and accepts documentation showing that independent penetration testing has been implemented. The penetration testing must be performed by the National Security Agency or an equally qualified organization independent of the Department and approved by OIG.

The NSA is already conducting pentest on critical U.S. infrastructures among other things.  Why is State thinking only DS, or third party and not NSA?

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Related item:

-01/13/14   Mgmt Alert on OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]

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Couple in State Dept $53 Million Contract Fraud Gets 18-24 Months in Prison

– Domani Spero

In May and September 2013 we blogged about this case (See State Dept Contract Employee/Husband Indicted For Alleged Secret Scheme to Steer More Than $60 Million Contracts to Their Company and Ex-State Dept Contract Employee And Husband Plead Guilty To $53 Million Fraud. The Daily Caller broke this story in July 19, 2013.  The contractor, Kathleen McGrade was reportedly fired the day after.

Last week, the same couple at the center of this contracting fraud was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively.  Given that each defendant faced a maximum penalty of 360 months or 30 years imprisonment, the 18-24 months incarceration is a bargain.

WaPo reports additional details during the sentencing:

In a lengthy speech before she was sentenced, McGrade offered various explanations for her misdeeds and told a federal judge in Alexandria that she was in court only because she had “been told that somehow the procurements that took place were illegal.”
[…]

As O’Grady handed down the two-year sentence — far short of the five years and 10 months that federal sentencing guidelines had called for as a minimum — he said McGrade had nearly persuaded him to impose a stiffer penalty.

“That was almost a delusional recitation of what has occurred here,” O’Grady said. “To convince yourself that it’s everybody else’s fault is astonishing, given the facts of this case.”

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Contract Employee And Husband Sentenced For $53 Million Fraud | December 6, 2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Kathleen D. McGrade, age 64, and Brian C. Collinsworth, age 47, of Stafford, Va., were sentenced today to 24 and 18 months incarceration, respectively, by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia for committing major fraud against the government, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State; and Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Section, Washington, D.C. Field Office, made the announcement following the sentencing hearing.

According to Court records, McGrade and Collinsworth admitted that McGrade was a contract employee for the Department of State and performed the role of a contract specialist for an office that awarded construction contracts for work done at U.S. embassies worldwide.  Collinsworth worked at one of the companies that received contracts.  In 2006, the defendants married, but did not tell others at the Department of State.  The defendants started a company, the Sterling Royale Group, or SRG, with McGrade being the president and Collinsworth the vice-president and project manager.

In late 2007, McGrade caused a State Department contracting officer to sign a contract between the Department of State and SRG, when McGrade failed to disclose her role in SRG, her marriage, or that proper contracting competitive procedures had not been followed.  The contract made SRG eligible to receive task orders for work to be done at embassies and McGrade  began steering work to the company.  She acted as the contract negotiator between the Department of State engineers responsible for getting the jobs done, on the one hand, and Collinsworth, who was acting on behalf of SRG and the subcontractors, on the other.  Between 2008 and 2011, McGrade caused  Department of State contracting officers to sign 17 task orders awarding work worth almost $53 million.  In 2010, the defendants also lied about their marriage to investigators conducting McGrade’s background investigation regarding renewal of her security clearance.

In the summer of 2011 a news article disclosed the defendants’ marriage, and the Department of State terminated her employment.  The Department of State, however, had paid SRG about $39 million, and after the defendants had paid their subcontractors, they still had millions of dollars.  Among other things, they bought houses, a condominium, a yacht, a Lexus automobile, jewelry, and a Steinway piano with the fraudulently obtained money.  The defendants were ordered to forfeit all of those items in the amount of $7,864,795.

This case was investigated by the Department of State, Office of Inspector General, and the Global Illicit Financial Team, a task force led by the Criminal Investigation Section of the Internal Revenue Service.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jack Hanly and Mark D. Lytle are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.

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About That $10 Million Rewards for Justice for Benghazi — Was It In Morse Code?

– Domani Spero

On November 15, news outlets reported that the State Department revealed … that it  “secretly,” some reports says it “quietly,” others say it “covertly” offered, a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in the deadly terror attack last year on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

How does one communicate secretly that there is such a reward?  Do you pass it on a whisper campaign, on a rumor campaign, in Morse Code or do you use a tin can telephone? Here is the  $10 million reward imagined in Morse Code.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20

$10 Million Reward Imagined
The United States is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in the deadly terror attack last year on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy.

On November 18, the $10 million reward made it to the State Department’s daily press briefing. On the red corner, as usual,  is AP’s Matt Lee, and on the blue corner is the official spox, Jennifer Psaki. Below is the word cloud if you want the DPB in 2 seconds.
Created with Word It Out

Via Word It Out

If you want the longer version, below is an excerpt from the transcript:

QUESTION: Can the State Department provide documentation that the $10 million you have offered, dating back to September, exists?

MS. PSAKI: Documentation?

QUESTION: Documentation. On Friday afternoon there was a press release that said –

MS. PSAKI: I’m very familiar with it. I think we confirmed at the time that the Rewards for Justice program has had a reward offer of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of any individual. That is conveyed to the appropriate parties. We haven’t made the decision beyond confirming it to put on the website or publicize it further. So I’m not sure what you’d be looking for.

QUESTION: When you said “at the time,” do you mean last January?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I said that’s when we made the decision to put them on the list. Obviously, there have been an incredible level of interest. We – through consultations, we decided to confirm, but we have made the decision to publicize it by putting it officially on the website, et cetera. But beyond that, in terms of specific documentation, I’m not sure that’s something that we would have available for a program like that.

QUESTION: Understood. Can you describe how a secret reward system works?

MS. PSAKI: Probably not. What are you looking for specifically?

QUESTION: Just the process, like who made the decision? Was it Secretary Clinton, Susan Rice, the White House? Who made the decision to offer a reward and keep it a secret, and if –

MS. PSAKI: Well, broadly speaking, this is – Secretary Clinton made the decision to, in consultation with a range of parties, to put them on this list. In terms of the decision made about whether to publicize it or not, that’s discussion made through a range of parties. Sometimes we are especially cautious about publicizing the names of suspects or bringing any additional public attention to them if there’s a belief that it would be – that the investigation is sensitive and it would adversely affect the process. So that’s part of the decision-making, and obviously you reconsider that decision just like anything over the course of time.

QUESTION: But if you have a secret rewards program, if nobody knows about it, how can you expect to get any answers?

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that although the reward was not posted, has not been posted on the website, our interagency partners have a range of ways of making this reward offer known as needed, and they’ve done that since January.

QUESTION: What – could you just be a little bit more specific about what that means? Does that mean they go up, walk up to some dude on the street in Benghazi and say, “Hey, buddy, we got some cash here if you can let us know who did this.” Is that what that means?

MS. PSAKI: I can confirm that is probably not an accurate depiction –

QUESTION: Not.

MS. PSAKI: – but I don’t have – I can’t outline for you –

QUESTION: Okay, so exactly how is it – how is it?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, I can’t outline for you more specifics. Obviously, there are a range of contacts, a range of steps that are taken. I’m not going to outline those more specifically.

QUESTION: The other thing, I – the one thing I don’t – perhaps you can explain it to me, I don’t really understand this. You said that one of the reasons for not publicizing it is because you don’t want the names to get out there, right? But as I understand it, there are no names on this list, that it’s an event-specific award. In other words, if you have information leading to the arrest of anyone who was involved in the attack – not Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. Z. So if it’s an event-specific award, I just – the argument that publicizing the names is – would be bad or could compromise the investigation seems to vanish into vapor.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I will have to check on that for you in the specifics of what’s being publicized or not publicized. Obviously, anything that could impact an investigation is one of the bottom lines.

QUESTION: Right. But is it not correct that the reward is event-specific? In other words, it is for information leading to the arrest and conviction or capture or whatever of anyone who was involved in the attack on the Benghazi mission and not for Mr. X, specifically, who was involved in the attack? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to check on whether individual names are a part of that process.

QUESTION: Now, if Secretary Clinton approved the decision to keep this reward a secret, who made the decision within the building to make it a secret?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Lucas, I’m not going to outline decision – internal decision-making, but there is a process in place that discusses what is the appropriate way to handle. That was a decision made. Obviously, it continues to be reviewed, and we decided to confirm it.

QUESTION: So the State Department’s position is you had a secret negotiations about a secret rewards program – how do you expect to capture –

MS. PSAKI: It’s hardly a secret rewards program. Our desire to catch these suspects is hardly secret. It’s a top priority for the Administration. The decision was made for a range of reasons that we were not going to publicize the fact that they are a part of this list. Obviously, we’ve made a decision to confirm it, but I don’t think anybody should question our desire to catch these suspects.

QUESTION: And why was that decision made after repeated questions about these suspects?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s obviously an ongoing review of any of these cases on whether to keep public or private. There was a great deal of interest. In response to an inquiry from Congress, we confirmed that and we’ve confirmed it for all of you since then.

We do not doubt our government’s desire to apprehend the people responsible for the attack.  But do you understand how this is done?  We have a hard time understanding how one can put up a reward  but not put it up on the RFJ website, not use posters, not use matchbooks, has no paid advertisements on the radio and newspapers, the Internet, and any other appropriate avenue to assist in bringing to justice those responsible for this terrorist attack.

In related news, a Grand Rapids resident has hired a lawyer and is reportedly seeking a $25 million bounty for identifying the location of UBL eight years before he was killed in  Pakistan.

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Peace Corps Volunteer Karen Phillips’ Gabonese Killer Sentenced to Life for 1998 Murder

– By Domani Spero

On December 16, 1998, a Peace Corps volunteer attended a swearing-in ceremony at a small city in Gabon, some 200 miles from the capital city of Libreville.  Reports said she went with three friends to a small bar near her house to celebrate, left the bar around midnight and never made it back to her house.  The next day, a young girl on her way to school found Karen Phillips  body.

This December will the 15th death anniversary of Karen Phillips, the Peace Corps volunteer murdered in the African county of Gabon. She was there to help farmers to better market their produce and teach English at a local school.

On November 19, 2013,  the Peace Corps announced that Thierry “Rambo” Ntoutoume Nzue was convicted for the 1998 murder of 37-year-old Peace Corps/Gabon Volunteer Karen Phillips. A Gabonese criminal court sentenced Ntoutoume Nzue to life in prison. One individual was previously charged with murder and two others, including this “Rambo” were charged in connection with the killing.  Below is the full text of the announcement:

Libreville, Gabon, Nov. 19, 2013 – Thierry “Rambo” Ntoutoume Nzue was convicted Tuesday for the 1998 murder of 37-year-old Peace Corps/Gabon Volunteer Karen Phillips. A Gabonese criminal court sentenced Ntoutoume Nzue to life in prison.

Phillips served in Oyem, an agricultural city of about 40,000 in the coastal African nation of Gabon. She worked as an agro-forestry volunteer, helping local farmers market their agricultural products.

“She just loved helping people,” said Richard Phillips, Karen’s father. “That’s the type of person she was. Karen was a doer and a giver.”

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Phillips worked in Atlanta as a fundraiser for the international development organization, CARE. A native of Delaware County, Pa., Karen received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Villanova University in 1982, and a master’s degree in business administration from Fordham University in 1989.

“There is nothing harder for this agency than losing a volunteer, and after many years, I wholeheartedly hope the Phillips family can now find a sense of comfort and closure,” Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said. “I am extremely grateful to those who have relentlessly sought justice for Karen Phillips and her family for more than a decade.”

Phillips was found stabbed to death on December 17, 1998. Since her death, an investigative team led by the Gabonese judicial police, with the assistance of the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Embassy in Libreville have worked to pursue justice for Phillips. In late 2012, the government of Gabon formally requested, through the international police organization INTERPOL, that U.S. federal law enforcement assist in the investigation of the murder. The team revisited all aspects of the crime. Subsequently, Ntoutoume Nuze was identified, brought to trial, and convicted by Gabonese authorities.

“Everyone who has worked on Karen’s case over the years has been deeply moved by both her life of commitment to service and her tragic death,” Peace Corps Inspector General Kathy A. Buller said. “I hope this verdict will bring a degree of peace to her family and friends.”

According to news reports, Karen Phillips had been a PCV for less than a year when she was killed.

“Karen and volunteers Stacy Jupiter and Lynne Kraskouskas had just been to the swearing-in party on Dec. 16 when they stopped at a small bar near Phillips’ house.

As the three sipped beer and ate Chips Ahoy! cookies, a drunken man approached the women saying he was Phillips’ neighbor. Phillips brushed off his advances, Kraskouskas and Jupiter later told police.

The volunteers left the bar and parted ways at a nearby corner about midnight. Jupiter planned to walk Kraskouskas, a new volunteer, back to a training center in town. Phillips assured the two that she would be fine going home alone.”

The initial investigation focused on a former rock star/son of a diplomat who had lived in Germany, Israel, Denmark and the U.S., his cousin, and one other individual:

“A man named Ndoutoume Nzue Thierry, nicknamed “Rambo,” told police that Ondo and his cousin, Jean ClŽment Mintsa, forced Phillips into a car. Police identified Thierry as the drunk man who approached Phillips and her friends in the bar the night she died.

But Thierry abruptly changed his story after demonstrators converged on the Oyem jail where Ondo and Mintsa were being questioned. On Dec. 24, two days after implicating Ondo in Phillips’ murder, Thierry said Phillips fell on a rock while they had consensual sex. On Dec. 30, Thierry told police he attacked and stabbed her with a nail clipper. In February 1999, Thierry accused Ondo again.”

In July 2000, the three men charged were acquitted in the Phillips murder.  In 2003, Dayton Daily News did a lengthy piece on Phillips murder and her father’s pursuit for justice.

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