Category Archives: Federal Agencies

State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
[...]
CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

 Related articles

 

 

About these ads

1 Comment

Filed under Bugs, Consular Work, Contractors, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Legacy, Security, Spectacular, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology, Technology and Work, Visas

The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA

– Domani Spero

 

On July 22, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) responsible for civil aviation safety issued the following notice:

At 12:15 EDT on July 22, 2014, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours.  The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of July 22, 2014.  The NOTAM applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.

On July 23, the notice was extended for another 24 hours:

Today the FAA issued another Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that yesterday’s NOTAM flight remains in effect for Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport for up-to-an-additional-24-hours while the FAA continues to monitor and evaluate the situation.

The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible.

 

Also on July 23, Senator Cruz tweeted this:

 

The FAA is under the Department of Transportation and is headed by Anthony Foxx who is the  Secretary of Transportation, and not/not by John Kerry, the Secretary of State. That hardly matter these days.  Now, it looks like the Senate confirmation of several dozen nominees just got a tad more complicated.

Later in the evening of July 23,the FAA lifted the flight restriction:

The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by cancelling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today. The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT.

Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.

Whew! But not so fast.

Did you see what the senator was upset about?  From Sen. Cruz’s statement:

“Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas.  Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate.  This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers.  It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.

He’s alleging economic boycott and mighty mad about it.  On June 24, Politico reported that the senator, who GQ calls the “Distinguished Wacko Bird from Texas” has vowed to block all State Department nominees until he gets answers. But it hardly matters what answers he get, he won’t like them when he gets them.

After such lengthy waits, with some nominees waiting for over a year, we thought that these State Department nominees will eventually get confirmed by August 1. Last year, some 30 nominees were confirmed by the Senate during its last day in session (see Here Comes the Sun: U.S. Senate Confirms A Slew of New Ambassadors as It Runs Out the Door). But that was before the “nuclear option changed  the Senate rules.  In November 2013, the Democrats changed the rules so executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60-vote majority that was previously needed. Read more of that here and here.

Senator Cruz is , of course, not the first one to deploy a blanket hold to extract something from the executive branch.  We can’t remember all of them but you might recall that in 2010, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) also adopted the blanket hold in an attempt to compel the Administration to award certain defense contracts to his home state of Alabama. Not endorsing it but can understand why he would do that for Alabama.  In the current case, one is left wondering why is the $11 billion tourism industry in a foreign country more important to a sitting senator than having our top people on the ground to protect and promote American interests.

 of Bloomberg Views recently wrote that it seems unlikely that any new executive branch holds by Senator Cruz would make much difference. “Without majority support, a hold is merely a senator’s threat to use every stalling tactic available.” Don’t tear out your hair or scream yet, we’ll have until August 1st to wait and see.

Below are the State Department and USAID nominees who were cleared through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are just waiting for the full Senate vote. We have included the dates these nominations were officially announced and the dates they were reported out of the Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Nuclear Non-proliferation Nominated: July 18, 2013
Adam M. Scheinman, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Executive Service, to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the rank of Ambassador.
Jan 15, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Mauritania Nominated: September 10, 2013
Larry Edward Andre, Jr., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Jan 15, 2014
Timor-Leste Nominated: July 31, 2013
Karen Clark Stanton, of Michigan, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Jan 15, 2014
Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Nominated: September 12, 2013
Cynthia H. Akuetteh, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Gabonese Republic, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe.
Jan 15, 2014
Zambia Nominated: September 12, 2013
Eric T. Schultz, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zambia
Jan 15, 2014
Albania Nominated: July 25, 2013
Donald Lu, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania.
Jan 15, 2014
Palau Nominated: July 31, 2013
Amy Jane Hyatt, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau.
Jan 15, 2014
Cameroon Nominated: July 30, 2013
Michael Stephen Hoza, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cameroon.
Jan 15, 2014
Sierra Leone Nominated: July 09, 2013
John Hoover, of Massachusetts, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Sierra Leone.
Jan 15, 2014
Lesotho Nominated: August 01, 2013
Matthew T. Harrington, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Jan 15, 2014
Namibia Nominated: July 30, 2013
Thomas Frederick Daughton, of Arizona, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia.
Jan 15, 2014
Norway Nominated: September 10, 2013
George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.
Feb 04, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Hungary Nomination: November 06, 2013
Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary.
Feb 04, 2014
Iceland Nomination: October 30, 2013
Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland.
Feb 04, 2014
State/VC Nominated: July 18, 2013
Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance), vice Rose Eilene Gottemoeller.
Feb 04, 2014
State/DGHR Nominated: October 04, 2013
Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service, vice Linda Thomas-Greenfield, resigned.
Feb 04, 2014
USAID/OIG Nominated: June 10, 2013
Michael G. Carroll, of New York, to be Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development, vice Donald A. Gambatesa, resigned.
Feb 04, 2014
Jamaica Nominated: September 10, 2013
Luis G. Moreno, of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Jamaica.
Mar 11, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
New Zealand and Samoa Nomination: October 30, 2013
Mark Gilbert, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Independent State of Samoa.
Mar 11, 2014
Trinidad and Tobago Nominated: July 30, 2013
John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mar 11, 2014
Bosnia and Herzegovina Nominated: November 21, 2013
Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mar 11, 2014
State/IO Nominated: October 30, 2013
Bathsheba Nell Crocker, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs), vice Esther Brimmer, resigned.
Mar 11, 2014
State/ASEAN Nominated: January 16, 2014
Nina Hachigian, of California, to be Representative of the United States of America to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.
May 20, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Bahamas Nominated: February 07, 2014
Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
May 20, 2014
Czech Republic. Nominated:  March 6, 2014
Confirmed: July 23, 2014
Andrew H. Schapiro, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Czech Republic.
May 20, 2014
USAID Nominated: December 19, 2013
Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Mara E. Rudman.
May 20, 2014
Argentina Nominated: July 30, 2013
Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Argentine Republic.
Jun 24, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
South Korea Nominated:  May 01, 2014
Mark William Lippert, of Ohio, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Korea.
Jun 24, 2014
Vietnam Nominated: May 14, 2014
Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Jun 24, 2014
Algeria Nominated: May 14, 2014
Joan A. Polaschik, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
Jun 24, 2014
USAID Nominated: April 10, 2014
Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Nisha Desai Biswal, resigned.
Jun 24, 2014
State/OFM Nominated:  May 01, 2014
Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, vice Eric J. Boswell, resigned.
Jun 24, 2014
USAID Nominated: March 31, 2014
Alfonso E. Lenhardt, of New York, to be Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Donald Kenneth Steinberg.
Jul 16, 2014 Reported by Mr. Menendez, Committee on Foreign Relations, without printed report.
Paraguay Nominated: June 03, 2014
Leslie Ann Bassett, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Paraguay.
Jul 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Americans Abroad, Congress, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Nominations, Politics, Security, Senate Hold, State Department

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.

  * * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Facebook, Federal Agencies, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

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.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Career Employees, Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Latin America, Realities of the FS, Security, U.S. Missions

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.

 * * *

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Contractors, Court Cases, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Security, U.S. Missions

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.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Govt Reports/Documents, U.S. Missions

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.”

 

* * *

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Americans Abroad, Federal Agencies, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FSOs, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul

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.

* * *

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Americans Abroad, Evacuations, Federal Agencies, Foreign Affairs, Protests, State Department, U.S. Missions

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

|| >    We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub  <||

 

– 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?

* * *

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]

Leave a comment

Filed under Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Leadership and Management, Security, State Department, Technology, Technology and Work

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.

 * * *

Leave a comment

Filed under Contractors, Court Cases, Federal Agencies, Follow the Money, Hall of Shame, State Department