Why didn’t the State Dept have a permanent IG from 2008-2013? Late, but a senator wants to know.

Posted: 12:13  am EDT

 

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley has been keeping the records folks awake in Foggy Bottom. Last week, he directed his attention on the missing permanent IG at the State Department from 2008-2013. Over two years late but this gotta be good.

The previously Senate-confirmed OIG for the State Department was Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007 and left post on January 15, 2008.  President Obama nominated the current IG Steve Linick in June 2013. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on September 17, 2013 and Mr. Linick officially started work at the State Department on September 30, 2013.  (By the way, on October 1, the federal government went on shutdown and Mr. Linick’s office was one of the very few offices at the State Department whose employees were put on furlough).  The vacancy at the IG’s office lasted more than five years before President Obama’s nominee finally took office.  (See Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 DaysAfter 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General).

In any case, Senator Grassley now wants to know why the IG vacancy at the State Department lasted, by official count, 2,071 straight days. Late but okay, we’d like to know, too.  The senator wrote a letter to Michael E. Horowitz, the Chair of Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and to Secretary Kerry. Excerpt below:

Congress needs a better understanding of how and why the State Department lacked a permanent IG who could serve as an independent watchdog for 2,071 straight days. Accordingly, please respond to the following by September 11, 2015:

CIGIE Chair Horowitz: Assuming that CIGIE prepared a list of recommended candidates to fill the IG vacancy at the State Department created upon the departure of former IG Howard Krongard in 2008:

a. Who were the candidates?
b. When were they recommended?
c. Who sent the slate of recommendations from CIGIE to the White House?
d. Who received the slate of recommendations at the White House from CIGIE?

e. What was the response, if any, from the White House regarding the slate of candidates?
f. Who, if anyone, at CIGIE received the White House’s response?
g. When and how was any such response from the White House received?

h. Please provide all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the White House about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.
i. Did CIGIE provide candidate names to the State Department? If so, please provide the Committee with all records from any CIGIE official at the time relating to communications with the State Department about the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy.

Secretary Kerry: Please provide the Committee with all State Department records related to the IG vacancy or potential candidates to fill the vacancy, including communications between and among former Secretary Clinton, her senior staff, or any State Department personnel, any CIGIE official, or any White House official.

In the letter’s footnotes, Senator Grassley cites the testimony of POGO’s Danielle Brian on “Watchdogs needed: Top Government Investigator Positions Unfilled for Years, June 3, 2015.”  POGO has previously questioned the independence of the State Department’s acting IG. POGO also published a letter from “very concerned employees” (pdf) dated January 12, 2008 sounding the alarm on the appointment of an acting IG. Senator Grassley is listed as one of the addresses of that letter.

Senator Grassley’s IG vacancy letter cites two cases:

1) The “appearance of undue influence and favoritism” in departmental investigations of three allegations related to Diplomatic Security investigations (see Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security | January 2015 (pdf).

[ As an aside — the original OIG draft/report on DS investigations dates back to 2012 and was made part of the Higbie v. Kerry, a title VII employment discrimination case in Texas. That case was subsequently dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals (pdf) in March 2015.  But in 2013, the government sought to exclude the “improperly obtained documents” that Higbie obtained via a subpoena from a retired OIG employee, Aurelia Fedenisn. The government asserted that the documents, including the draft report, were improperly retained by Fedenisn after her employment ended in 2012.  We’re reminded of this case in relation to the IG vacancy because the Washington Examiner recently reported that the then acting IG had sought to keep early drafts of a controversial OIG report under wraps in the Higbie case in federal court in 2013. Note that the contents of that draft report have already circulated and were reported on by the press in June 2013].

2) Allegations related to “protected disclosures” at  the U.S. Consulate General in Naples Italy, a case currently in the court system  (see Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim.

Senator Grassley’s letter is available to read here: 2015-08-27 Grassley | CEG to CIGIE and State Dept (IG Vacancy)

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Travel Photographer/FS Spouse Seeks to Help Rebuild a Small Corner of Nepal

Posted: 2:58 am EDT

 

The impact of the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes resulted in over two million people in Nepal losing their houses due to damage. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during September and October this year, population movements are expected to increase, particularly with the mass outflux from the Kathmandu Valley to districts before the Dashain festival beginning in late October. On a smaller scale, with the end of the monsoon, the majority of those residing in spontaneous settlement and those relocated due to landslide risks will likely return to their original residence. Ensuring comprehensive returns will also depend on the availability of support for shelter reconstruction.

Derek Brown, a Foreign Service spouse and a friend of the blog is helping with shelter reconstruction in a small corner of Nepal.  Derek is an American travel photographer, currently based in Kathmandu. He was previously in Pakistan and India with his USAID FSO spouse and has been generous in sharing some of his photos with this blog (see Derek Brown’s Photographs From India — Old Delhi, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, and Kutch; NYT’s India Ink Features Awesome Photographer and USAID/EFM).

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Derek wanted to document Nepalis helping Nepalis, and reached out to his friend Pawan Shakya whom he’d first met in 2013. Pawan who runs a small family publishing business from Durbar Square, the historic center of Kathmand has already embarked on self-funded relief projects aimed at some of the neediest villages following the earthquake. Derek realized that he could help in the planning, funding and execution of Pawan’s projects. He brought in Tyler Driscoll, a graphic designer he knew from San Francisco and together they put up a GoFundMe fundraising to help rebuild a small corner of Nepal.

The relief effort is intended to improve the lives of over 500 earthquake-stricken Nepali villagers in 2 villages. They picked the village of Chhap, 3.5 hours northeast of Kathmandu. Of 250 houses in the area, only 1 remained inhabitable after the earthquakes. The other location Ranipauwa Village is roughly 1.5 hours drive northwest of Kathmandu, and was almost totally destroyed by the earthquake, with essentially none of the houses inhabitable or even repairable.

The villages were selected based on need, the ability of villagers to help each other, and their ability to help themselves. Very importantly, one young man from each village works for Pawan’s family business. Having a person from inside each community not only provides valuable insight into issues and opportunities, but it also facilitates ongoing communication and monitoring that can help avoid all sorts of missteps.

They plan not only to build bamboo relief houses, they also plan to fund chicken farms, replace livestock and provide improved seeds for future plantings in the two villages.

derek bamboo hse

Tyler, Derek and Pawan © 2015 Derek Brown http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Derek says that neither Pawan nor him will be taking any compensation at any point–Pawan is doing the calendar printing at cost and there will be no charge for Derek’s  images.  The GFM campaign provides other rewards that do carry cost like mugs, t-shirts, large prints, so do let them know if you do not want them.  They have raised about $11K so far in the last two months of their GFM campaign.   If you are able to help, check out their GFM campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/nepaltogether.

You may also follow Derek’s photo blog documenting their rebuilding efforts here: http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Below is a photo of a mother and child washing hair in a creek in Nepal, one of our favorites from Derek’s  collection. What a lovely smile! Check out the rest of his photos on Facebook and Tumblr.  धन्यवाद

Photo by

© 2015 Derek Brown

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State/OIG Inspects US Mission Japan: Oh, Heck, Where Do We Start?

Posted: 1:35 pm EDT

 

State/OIG released it inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and its constituent posts.  The OIG made 65 recommendations intended to improve Embassy Tokyo’s operations and programs.  Mission Japan is headed by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy who arrived in November 2013, and her DCM,  Jason P. Hyland who arrived in June 2014. Mr. Hyland’s predecessor is not named in the report. Prior to this inspection, US Mission Japan was last reviewed in early 2008, and a report was issued in June 2008 (link to that report at the bottom of this post).

US Embassy Japan from diplomacy.state.gov

Let’s start with the key findings:

 The Department of State has not addressed security problems, including vulnerabilities which the Office of Inspector General identified in previous inspection reports.

 The role and authorities of the Ambassador’s chief of staff are not clearly defined, leading to confusion among staff as to her level of authority, and her role in internal embassy communications.

 The embassy’s focus on daily reporting of political and economic developments comes at the expense of building a broad network of contacts and providing in-depth analysis for policy formulation.

 The embassy is not coordinating reporting and diplomatic engagement across the mission. Constituent posts in Sapporo, Nagoya and Osaka-Kobe need to be brought up to the high standards set by posts in Fukuoka and Naha.

 The level of U.S. direct-hire staffing in the embassy’s political, economic, and consular sections is greater than workload warrants.

 The public affairs section faces major management challenges, but has begun to focus on educational exchanges and staffing adjustments to cope with the high visitor load and public outreach needs.

 American Presence Post Nagoya should cease offering routine consular services; consular operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo are inefficient.

 Although the embassy’s management section has made significant progress on cost containment, senior managers should pay greater attention to management controls over travel and official residence allowances.

 Office of Inspector General inspectors identified $122,665 in cost savings and $2,331,787 in funds put to better use during the inspection.

Overview of the mission:

Mission Japan is one of the U.S. Department of State’s (Department) most important missions in terms of its size and the U.S. interests for which it is responsible. The mission includes 13 U.S. Government agencies and 5 constituent posts: consulates general in Osaka-Kobe and Naha, consulates in Sapporo and Fukuoka, and an American Presence Post1 in Nagoya. The mission also includes the Foreign Service Institute language school in Yokohama. Headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan are located nearby at Yokota Air Base, and various U.S. military commands are located throughout the mainland and on Okinawa. The mission has 272 U.S. direct-hire employees and total employment of 727. In FY 2014, total funding for the mission, including other agencies, was $93.6 million. U.S. direct-hire employees were receiving a 25- to 35-percent cost-of-living allowance based on location at the time of the inspection.

Now, the good news:

  • Good Scores for Ethics | The Ambassador has made clear to the bureau’s executive office, the management officers at Embassy Tokyo, and her front office staff that she wants all her activities to be conducted in accordance with U.S. Government regulations. This was borne out by the fact that the highest score she received from staff members who completed a personal questionnaire was for her ethical behavior.
  • Hague Convention Accession | Japan is second only to Mexico in the number of children abducted from the United States. Japan’s accession to The Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction in 2014 was a significant development, due in no small part to Embassy Tokyo’s efforts to encourage Japan to join.
  • EFM Employment | A de facto work agreement with the Government of Japan allows family members to apply for work permits with strict rules governing employment. Twenty-seven eligible family members are employed inside the mission, and 34 eligible family members are employed outside the mission, mostly as English teachers.
  • RSO:  The Tokyo regional security office is responsible for the security and emergency preparedness of a large geographically dispersed diplomatic mission. In discussions and interviews with embassy staff members, the OIG team was told repeatedly that the regional security office is responsive to their needs. Accomplishments of the senior regional security officer include reinvigorating the law enforcement working group, updating and drafting missing or outdated security policies, and implementing modifications to the local guard contract that save the Department approximately $230,000 annually. The regional security office staff uniformly describes the senior regional security officer as a good mentor and communicator.
  • Cost Containment: In 2014, to contain cost, the embassy transferred 70 percent of its voucher processing to the Department’s regional voucher processing center. The cost to process a voucher in Japan is three times higher than at the regional center. The transfer resulted in the elimination of at least two voucher examiner positions.

And the not so good news, oh where do we start?

  • Leadership | A non-career Ambassador with wide experience in nongovernmental and publishing industries leads Embassy Tokyo. She sees the strengthening of mutual understanding between the Japanese and the American people and the deepening of the security alliance as her prime responsibilities. The Ambassador does not have extensive experience leading and managing an institution the size of the U.S. Mission to Japan. She relies upon two key senior staff members—her non-career chief of staff and a career Senior Foreign Service deputy chief of mission (DCM)—to make sure that Embassy Tokyo and its constituent posts receive the resources and guidance they need to conduct day-to-day operations. The chief of staff, who has extensive experience in public relations and has worked with the Ambassador over a period of years, organizes special projects for the Ambassador, coordinates functions within the embassy, and oversees embassy staff interactions with the Ambassador. The DCM, who arrived in Tokyo 6 months before the start of the onsite inspection process, focuses on internal management of the embassy and coordination with the constituent posts.
  • Communication Between the Front Office and Embassy Sections Needs Improvement.
  • High Visibility Ambassador Puts a Strain on Some Embassy Elements
  • Role of Chief of Staff Needs Refinement
  • The Deputy Chief of Mission Should be More Proactive in Exercising Leadership

The leadership section does not include discussion on training, mentoring, and professional development of First and Second Tour (FAST) officers, or mission morale. The report says that “four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date.”  There’s a term for that; it’s called curtailment.  A non-career chief of staff, a PR person, who has a large sway in the functioning of this embassy is not named in this report.  And just before the arrival of the inspectors, the front office apparently had made some headway on improving communication by holding a town hall meeting to unveil the revised memo outlining the activities the Ambassador would undertake. The report is not clear if this is the ambassador’s first town hall meeting with embassy staff.

Political Section:

  • Minister Counselor Positions Under-Ranked
  • Economic Section Has Too Many Supervisors
  • Economic Section Portfolios Organized Poorly
  • Excess Staff in the Political and Economic Sections
  • Law Enforcement Working Group Lacks Political Context

Econ Section

  • Reporting and Advocacy Needed on Structural Reform
  • Economic Section Not Keeping Proper Records and Files
  • Embassy Tokyo does not have a current records management policy and does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management.

  • The economic section’s reporting relies heavily on media sources. On some policy developments, the OIG team found that embassy reporting did not add value to more timely reporting by the international press. Reporting was mostly single-sourced and did not evidence a range of contacts among Japanese business leaders, legislators or staff, political parties, academia, or other economic leaders or decision makers, as intended by 2 FAM 113.1 c (10) and (11).

Consular Section

  • Consular Officer Staffing Is Excessive
  • No Coordination of Consular Social Media
  • Inefficient Consular Operations in Fukuoka and Sapporo

Note that citizens of some countries including Japan, who are traveling to the U.S. for 90 days less for business or tourism may not need a visa as they are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This report says that Tokyo’s consular section, with 14 officers, has more officer positions than other consular operations of similar workload, with a high proportion of managers to entry-level officers.

Management Section:

  • Inconsistencies in Billing Methods Creates Confusion
  • Cashiering Violation and Fiscal Irregularity
  • Class B Cashier’s Cash Advance is Excessive
  • Salaries Inappropriately Paid Directly to Official Residence Expense Staff (this is a pretty common subject in OIG reports)
  • Position Descriptions Are Inaccurate
  • Delays in Processing Within-Grade Increases
  • In-House Post Language Program Is Not Cost Effective
  • No In-House Equal Employment Opportunity Training Provided to Staff
  • Allegations of Sexual Harassment Not Reported to the Office of Civil Rights
  • Unauthorized Use of Motor Pool Shuttle Services
  • Living Quarters Allowance Not in Compliance with the Foreign Affairs Manual
  • No Emergency Backup Generators at Some Constituent Posts
  • The Department’s Office of Fire Safety conducted visits in 2014. The report identified 83 deficiencies of which the mission has corrected 53.
  • Locally Developed Software Applications Not in Compliance
  • Emergency Communication Does Not Meet Department Standards
  • No Logs of Network Maintenance
  • Premium Class Train Travel Policy Does Not Comply with Department Regulations
  • Extra Travel Costs Inappropriately Approved for Using Indirect Routes
  • USCG Naha: Inappropriate Use of Official Residence Expense Funds Instead of Representation Funds

Public Affairs

The OIG report says that in the past 8 months, four of seven officers in the public affairs section assigned to Tokyo have left post before their tour end date. That’s called curtailment. Unless they were all medevaced.

  • Embassy’s 11-person Media Analysis and Translation Team Lacks a Clear Mandate | Without a survey of the MATT’s customers, the embassy cannot confirm who—if anyone—is reading its products or justify the $1.25-million annual cost of operating the MATT.
  • Social Media Lacks Coordination| Several LE staff members work separately with social media, resulting in a multiplicity of uncoordinated messages
  • Grants Management Not in Compliance
  • No Public Diplomacy Strategy
  • The public affairs section was told to take a 26-percent cut. This reduced the public diplomacy allotment from $11.5 million in FY 2011 to $8.6 million in FY 2012. Even at that reduced rate, Mission Japan’s public affairs budget was still the largest in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. As a result of these budget cuts, the public affairs section eliminated 17 LE staff positions. The public affairs section allocated 68 percent of its FY 2014 budget of $8.5 million to LE staff salaries. According to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, this is high by world standards. […]The Ambassador selected the country public affairs officer, who arrived in Tokyo in August 2014, to stabilize the public affairs section, end the curtailments, define LE staff duties in order to clarify the new distribution of duties following the 2012 staff cuts, bring transparency to personnel decisions, and get the entire staff’s commitment to move forward. Since the public affairs officer’s arrival, the public affairs section has had considerable success, particularly with programs on educational exchange and women’s issues

A few more items with notable details extracted from the report:

Commercial Email Usage |  In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business.

Employee Evaluation Reports do not Reflect Demonstrated Weaknesses | The OIG team reviewed a range of Department employee evaluations written by managers at the U.S. Mission to Japan. They found several examples of evaluations that did not reveal any indication of serious weaknesses, even though the rated officers had required in-depth management and or discipline by their supervisors and had absorbed time and resources from senior embassy officers. The DCM, having been at post only 6 months, has not yet produced employee evaluations. The inspectors advised him to make clear to rating officers that employee evaluations must present an accurate record of each staff member’s strengths and a realistic area for improvement.

Yokohama Language Program Cost-Benefit Analysis Lacking | To provide Japanese-language instruction in Yokohama, it costs the Department an estimated $2.3 million per year. The total cost of operating the school, factoring out fixed expenses, such as leasing residences for the students, post allowance, education allowance, the school director’s salary and benefits, and other sunk costs, is $1 million per year. This translates into a per-student cost of from $83,583 to $200,599 for a student body of from 5 to 12 students. The Department could be incurring higher costs for providing language services.

No Justification for Paying Post Allowance to Family Member Appointees | Worldwide, Embassies London and Tokyo are the only two authorized to pay post allowance to family member appointees. In 2001, the Department granted them an exception on the basis of their inability to recruit individuals for family member positions because of lower salaries and wages, in accordance with 3 FAM 8218.1 c. In Japan, these adverse employment conditions no longer exist. Except for security escort positions, the embassy has had no difficulty filling family member positions. It also has been able to fill some of its LE staff vacancies with eligible family members when they meet all position requirements. The cost impact to the embassy of providing the post allowance to nine full-time family members is $59,190, annually.

Consulate General Naha Not Benefiting from Zero Cost Leasing Offer | In February 2010, the Open Source Center located on the U.S. Army’s Torii Station offered four Government-owned houses located on Kadena Air Base to Consulate General Naha at zero leasing costs. Consulate General Naha has not fully considered this offer. The OIG team estimates accepting the Open Source Center’s offer would save leasing costs of $110,665 per year. The embassy would continue to fund utility and make-ready costs. In Naha, U.S. direct hires already use base services, including the commissary, Post Exchange, and other support services. U.S. direct-hire dependents attend Department of Defense schools. According to 15 FAM 228 b, housing selection should achieve maximum cost benefit to the U.S. Government, and every effort should be made to lease appropriate housing with terms that reflect the likelihood of the housing unit remaining in posts inventory, with lease terms of 5 years or more whenever appropriate.

Private Domestic Staff Inappropriately Housed in U.S. Government-Owned Facility | The embassy continues to house private domestic staff of U.S. direct-hire officers in a separate U.S. Government-owned facility (the former U.S. Marine Dormitory) despite a 2008 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion cautioning that the legality of operating living quarters for private domestic servants of U.S. Government employees on U.S. Government premises is highly doubtful under Federal appropriations/employment law. The presence of such facilities on U.S. Government-controlled real property also raises liability issues under employment law and tort law. The embassy raised concerns about prior fraudulent domestic staff employment contracts, use of appropriated funds to maintain the facility and collection of utilities reimbursements through the employees association as a probable violation of appropriation law. At the time of inspection, 42 domestic staff resided in the 31-room U.S. Government-owned building designated for domestic staff. According to 15 FAM 244, post personnel may house full-time domestic staff in their own U.S. Government-provided quarters if space is available and approved by the regional security officer. The estimated cost of maintaining the facility is $60,000 per year.

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Related items:

OIG_ISP-i-15-35a JAPAN Aug 25, 2015

OIG – U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Japan and Constituent Posts June 2008

State Dept’s Wibbly Wobbly Jello Stance on Use of Private Email, Also Gummy Jello on Prostitution

Posted: 1:38 am EDT

 

We’ve added to our timeline of the Clinton Email saga (see Clinton Email Controversy Needs Its Own Cable Channel, For Now, a Timeline).

On August 24, 2015, State Dept. Spokesman John Kirby told CNN:  “At The Time, When She Was Secretary Of State, There Was No Prohibition To Her Use Of A Private Email.” Below is the video clip with Mr. Kirby.

Okay, then. Would somebody please get the State Department to sort something out. If there was no prohibition on then Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email, why, oh, why did the OIG inspectors dinged the then ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration for using commercial email back in 2012? (See OIG inspection of US Embassy Kenya, 2012).

Screen Shot 2015-08-25

Oh, and here’s a more recent one dated August 25, 2015. The OIG inspection of U.S. Embassy Japan (pdf) says this:

In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business. In addition, OIG identified instances where emails labeled Sensitive but Unclassified6 were sent from, or received by, personal email accounts.

OIG has previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for official Government business. Such risks include data loss, hacking, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. Department policy is that employees generally should not use private email accounts (for example, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so forth) for official business.7 Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit Sensitive but Unclassified information when available and practical.8

OIG report referenced two cables, we’ve inserted the hyperlinks publicly available online: 11 STATE 65111 and 14 STATE 128030 and 12 FAM 544.3, which has been in the rules book, at least since 2005:

12 FAM 544.3 Electronic Transmission Via the Internet  (updated November 4, 2005)

“It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

This section of the FAM was put together by the Office of Information Security (DS/SI/IS) under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, one of the multiple bureaus that report to the Under Secretary for Management.

Either the somebodies were asleep at the switch, as the cliché goes, or somebody at the State Department gave authorization to the Clinton private server as an Automated Information System.

In any case, the State Department’s stance on the application of regulations on the use of private and/or commercial email is, not wobbly jello on just this one subject or on just this instance.

gummy-bears-o

dancing jello gummy bears

On October 16, 2014, State/OIG released its Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. This review arose out of a 2012 OIG inspection of the Department of State (Department) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). At that time, OIG inspectors were informed of allegations of undue influence and favoritism related to the handling of a number of internal investigations by the DS internal investigations unit. The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. (See State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s NotCBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

One of those eight cases relate to an allegation of soliciting a prostitute.

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provides that disciplinary action may be taken against persons who engage in behavior, such as soliciting prostitutes, that would cause the U.S. Government to be held in opprobrium were it to become public.1

In May 2011, DS was alerted to suspicions by the security staff at a U.S. embassy that the U.S. Ambassador solicited a prostitute in a public park near the embassy. DS assigned an agent from its internal investigations unit to conduct a preliminary inquiry. However, 2 days later, the agent was directed to stop further inquiry because of a decision by senior Department officials to treat the matter as a “management issue.” The Ambassador was recalled to Washington and, in June 2011, met with the Under Secretary of State for Management and the then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State. At the meeting, the Ambassador denied the allegations and was then permitted to return to post. The Department took no further action affecting the Ambassador.

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.

Department officials offered different justifications for handling the matter as a “management issue,” and they did not create or retain any record to justify their handling of it in that manner. In addition, OIG did not discover any guidance on what factors should be considered, or processes should be followed, in making a “management issue” determination, nor did OIG discover any records documenting management’s handling of the matter once the determination was made.

The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6 In addition, OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter. 

After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)). 

During the course of that review, State/OIG said it discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials.

The OIG apparently, found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

.

Also, have you heard?  Apparently, DEA now has an updated “etiquette” training for its agents overseas.

That’s all.

Is there a diplomatic way to request that the responsible folks at the State Department culture some real backbone in a petri-dish?

No, no, not jello backbone, please!

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U.S. Embassy France: U.S. Consular Agency Nice to Close Permanently on Sept 1, 2015

Posted: 1:36 am EDT

Via U.S. Embassy Paris, August 21, 2015:

The U.S. Embassy to France and Monaco and the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille announce a consolidation of consular services in southern France in order to better serve the public and enhance security for customers and staff.  Effective September 1, 2015, the U.S. Consular Agency in Nice will close.  All routine and emergency consular services in the Marseille consular district* will be provided by the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.  The closure reflects the U.S. government’s policy of providing the highest quality consular service to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in a location that offers a secure environment for all concerned.

As of September 1, 2015, all U.S. passport applications, reports of birth abroad applications, and notarial services must be scheduled at either the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille or the U.S. Embassy in Paris. For emergency services in the Marseille consular district, U.S. citizens are advised to contact the consular section at the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.  For emergency services in other regions of France, U.S. citizens are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

The OIG report of US Mission France from 2012 notes that  the Nice consular agency accepts passport applications and provides notarial services. It also says that a senior local employee with more than 40 years of consular experience essentially runs the office, making appointments for the part-time consular agent, who sees applicants on Wednesdays. Back in 2012, the Consulate General Marseille also referred all Federal benefits applicants to Nice. State/OIG notes that  the Social Security Administration funds a five-person Federal benefits unit at Embassy Paris that has responsibility for providing information and processing claims in France and regionally. The assistant in Nice, although knowledgeable about Federal benefits, is providing unreimbursed and duplicative services for customers living in the south of France. A long time to be working for Uncle Sam.

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Foggy Bottom’s Big Chill Freezes Even Retired Diplomat … Diplo Doggy Wins!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

For obvious reasons, we are unable to share the name of the retired diplomat here but we have permission to share this with our readers.

Retired FSO: I was planning on blogging about Hillary’s emails. Title: “If I Did What Hillary Did, I’d Be In Jail.”

Me: Great! Looking forward to reading it!

Retired FSO: But I won’t.

Me: Oh?

Retired FSO: Just read 3 FAM 4170. I’m retired. I can’t believe I really need to clear my blogposts with PA. I mean, I’d use common sense, you know? I wouldn’t be divulging stuff like, say, our nuclear launch codes, or the chronically malfunctioning air conditioning system at Main State. I’d just focus on how when you become a charter member of America’s political elite, the rules don’t apply to you. That’s all. 

Me:  Only stuff “of department concern” needs clearance. Max timeframe for blogs, five days.

Retired FSO: But they’ve made me jittery. I don’t fancy jail. They’d probably force me to watch re-runs of “Madame Secretary” every day; let me read only the FAM! The eighth amendment  doesn’t allow this kind of cruel and unusual punishment, but Mother State can be as vindictive as a Borgia dowager.

Me: Okay. So, does this mean you’ll stop blogging?

Retired FSO: Nah. Maybe I’ll just write about my pets from now on. Think anybody would read Diplo Doggy’s Adventures?

Me: I will. 

Retired FSO: We live in difficult times.

Via Giphy Commons

Via Giphy Commons

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Related posts:

OIG Compliance Review: Minimum Security Standards For Overseas Facilities Remain a Hard Nut to Crack

Posted: 2:00 pm EDT

 

Three ARB-related IG reports were issued this past week, two of them, the Audit of the DOS Implementation of the Vital Presence Validation Process and the Review of the Implementation of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board Recommendation have been designated as Classified. The third one, the Compliance Followup Review of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process is available in full online.

On September 25, 2013, State/OIG released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) Process. That report contains 20 formal and 8 informal recommendations. For the status of the 20 formal recommendations, see Appendix B of the report.  For the status of the informal recommendations, see Appendix C of the report. The OIG notes that the action taken by State at some Benghazi ARB recommendations “did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately.”

Thirteen of the formal recommendations and five of the informal recommendations are related to the ARB process. The remaining seven formal and three informal recommendations mirror or are closely related to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. As stated in the ARB process review report, the ARB process team’s rationale for issuing these recommendations was that the action taken to date on some of the Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately. The classified annex to the report provides an assessment of the Department’s implementation of the recommendations of the Benghazi ARB as of the date of the review. Its focus is on the implementation of the 64 tasks S/ES issued in response to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. It contains no OIG recommendations.

In the Compliance Followup Review or CFR dated August 2015, State/OIG reissued one recommendation from the 2013 inspection report, that the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in designated high-risk, high-threat locations and include these minimum standards for occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. The report also include a little nugget about DOD cooperation with investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve State Department personnel, specifically mentioning “the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.” That’s the incident where FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others were killed in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.

Outstanding Recommendation on Minimum Security Standards 

Recommendation 17 of the ARB process review report recommended that the Department develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities in HRHT locations. The Department rejected this recommendation, stating that existing Overseas Security Policy Board standards apply to all posts and that separate security standards for HRHT posts would not provide better or more secure operating environments. Furthermore, recognizing that Overseas Security Policy Board standards cannot be met at all locations, the Department has a high threshold for exceptions to these standards and the waiver and exceptions process requires “tailored mitigation strategies in order to achieve the intent of the standards.”5

Although OIG acknowledges the Department’s assertion of a “high threshold for exceptions,” the Department’s response does not meet the recommendation’s requirement for standards that must be met prior to occupancy. As was noted in the ARB process review report, “…occupying temporary facilities that require waivers and exceptions to security standards is dangerous, especially considering that the Department occupies these facilities long before permanent security improvements are completed.”6 As the Department has not identified minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupancy, Recommendation 17 is being reissued.

Recommendation CFR 1: The Office of the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, should develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in Department of State-designated high-risk, high-threat environments and include new minimum security standards of occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. (Action: M, in coordination with DS and OBO)

So, basically back to where it was before Benghazi, when there were no minimum security standards prior to occupying temporary facilities.

How high is this “high threshold of exceptions” that’s being asserted?

Risk management process now called “tailored mitigation strategies” — resulting in waivers of Inman standards?

So waivers will continue to be executed?

And temporary facilities will continue to be occupied?

Key Findings:

  • The Department of State has complied with all the formal and informal recommendations of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process, except one, which has been reissued in this report.
  • The Department of State has implemented regulatory and procedural changes to delineate clearly who is responsible for implementation, and oversight of implementation, of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Under Secretary for Management, in coordination with the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is responsible for implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources is responsible for overseeing the Department’s progress in Accountability Review Board implementation, which places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department of State.
  • The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation manages the Accountability Review Board function. The Accountability Review Board process review report was critical of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation’s recordkeeping and files of past Accountability Review Boards. The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation has since revised its Accountability Review Board recordkeeping guidelines. These revised guidelines have yet to be tested, as no Accountability Review Board has met since the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, which issued its report in December 2012.

More details excerpted from the IG report

Flow of Information

Formal Recommendations 1, 2, 3, and 9—as well as Informal Recommendations 1 and 3—concern the flow of information within the Department and from the Department to Congress. The recommendations introduce additional reporting requirements for all incidents that might meet the criteria to convene an ARB, as well as a more clearly defined list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s Report to Congress. Recommendation 9 tasks S/ES with creating a baseline list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s report to Congress. That list is now more clearly specified and included in regulations governing the ARB process.

Informal Recommendation 3 requires broader circulation of ARB reports as well as the Secretary’s report to Congress. The M/PRI position is that these reports belong to the Secretary and their dissemination should be at the Secretary’s discretion. OIG continues to believe that the Secretary should exercise discretion and circulate ARB reports and subsequent reports to Congress more widely within the Department.

ARB Recordkeeping

In December 2014, M/PRI revised its ARB recordkeeping guidelines regarding those records to be retained and safeguarded. However, because no ARB has convened since Benghazi, these revised guidelines remain untested. Although these guidelines require recording and transcribing telephone interviews, they do not mandate verbatim transcripts of all interviews, including in-person meetings, as the Inspector General suggested in his May 29, 2014, memorandum to the D/MR.

Action Memo for the Secretary

In compliance with Recommendation 1, the OIG CFR team found that M/PRI now drafts an action memo for the Secretary after every Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) meeting detailing the PCC decision, even if the PCC does not recommend convening an ARB.

In response to Recommendation 4, the Under Secretary for Management amended 12 FAM 030 to require vetting and reporting security-related incidents, which do not result in convening a PCC. Those cases will be communicated to the Secretary.

Alternative Review

To meet the intent of Recommendation 2, M/PRI has included in its instructions to the PCC chair a reminder to PCC members that if the PCC votes not to convene an ARB, the PCC should decide whether to recommend that the Secretary request an alternative review.

Terminology

Recommendation 5 recommends establishing written criteria to define the key terms “serious injury,” “significant destruction of property,” and “at or related to a U.S. mission abroad.” The 2013 OIG inspection team found that ambiguity in the terminology had led to their inconsistent application as criteria in decisions to convene ARBs.

ARB Implementation

Recommendations 10 and 11 recommend institutionalizing the oversight of the implementation of ARB recommendations as a responsibility of D/MR. M/PRI’s revision of 12 FAM 030 and addition of 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-12 now clearly delineate who is responsible for managing the ARB process and who is responsible for oversight of implementation of ARB recommendations. The Deputy Secretary’s responsibility for overseeing implementation of ARB recommendations places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department.

Personnel Performance 

Recommendation 19 tasks M/PRI, in coordination with the Bureau of Human Resources and the Office of the Legal Adviser, to prepare clear guidelines for ARBs on recommendations dealing with issues of poor personnel performance. M/PRI has revised its standing guidance to ARB members, referring them to the Department’s new leadership principles in 3 FAM 1214, 4138, and 4532 when documenting instances of unsatisfactory performance or poor leadership. The Department further codified this ARB authority by expanding the list of grounds for taking disciplinary or separation action against an employee, including “conduct by a senior official that demonstrates unsatisfactory leadership in relation to a security incident under review by an [ARB] convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831.” In addition, in January 2013 the Department began seeking an amendment to the ARB statute (22 U.S.C. 4834(c)) to provide explicitly that unsatisfactory leadership may be a basis for disciplinary action and that the ARB would have the appropriate authority to recommend such action. No change to the statute has yet been made.

Strengthening Security at High-Risk, High-Threat Posts

New courses:  Guided by a panel of senior DS special agents and outside organizations, DS updated its former High Threat Tactical Course to create a suite of mandatory courses for DS agents assigned to HRHT locations, drawing on lessons learned from the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Herat, Afghanistan. The cornerstone of these courses is the “High Threat Operations Course” (HT-310), which, as of October 1, 2013, was made mandatory for all DS agents at grades FS 04 through 06 who are assigned to HRHT locations. Similar, but shorter duration courses (HT-310E and HT-315) are required for senior and mid-level DS agents assigned to such locations.

Marine Detachments

The Department, in coordination with DOD, has added 20 new MSG detachments, and Marine Corps Headquarters has created the Marine Security Augmentation Unit. Although some HRHT posts still lack MSG detachments, for example, because of the lack of host government approval, the Department has made progress in deploying new detachments and increasing the size of existing detachments.[…] The June 2013 revision of the memorandum of agreement also includes a revision of the MSG mission. In the previous version, the MSG’s primary mission was to prevent the compromise of classified information. Their secondary mission was the protection of personnel and facilities. In the revised memorandum of agreement, the mission of the MSG is to protect mission personnel and prevent the compromise of national security information.

DS Agents Embed With DOD Forces

An additional area of security improvement beyond reliance on the host government has been the Department’s closer relationship with DOD, whose personnel have been involved in every Department contingency operation at an HRHT post since the Benghazi attack. Furthermore, DS agents are now embedded in DOD expeditionary forces.

About That Zabul Incident

Recommendation 6 recommends that the Department seek greater assurances from the Department of Defense (DOD) in providing investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve Department personnel. The Department makes its requests via Executive Secretary memorandum to the equivalent DOD addressee, in accordance with 5 FAH-1 H-120. The DOD counterpart has been responsive in delivering requested materials in all the recent instances, including the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. M/PRI will continue to monitor DOD responses to requests for reports in the future.

That means, the State Department now has the Army investigation report into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.  See Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! Zabul Attack: Walking But Not Lost, More Details But Not Official; Plus Update on Kelly HuntArmy Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan.

The Chicago Tribune FOIA’ed that Army report but did not make the document public. The State Department internal report of the incident as far as we are aware, remains Classified. Then State Department spox, Jennifer Psaki referred to “multiple investigations” in April 2014;  none publicly released.

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Related item:

ISP-C-15-33 | Compliance Followup Review of the Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process | August 2015

 

What’s Next For Former FSO Michael Sestak, Plus Some Unanswered Questions

Posted: 2:05 pm EDT

 

On August 14, 2015, former FSO Michael T. Sestak was sentenced to 64 months imprisonment for receiving over $3 million in bribes in exchange for visas at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Preliminary Consent Order of Forfeiture filed in the District Court of Columbia includes forfeiture of a) “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense;” and  b) “a money judgment equal to the value of any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense.”

The consent order identifies 1) any and all funds and securities seized from Scottrade Account #XXXX001S, held in the name of Anhdao Thuy Nguyen (“Scottrade Account”); and 2) $198,199.13 seized from the Department of Treasury from the Treasury Suspense Account under Seizure Number 38l30010—O1 (“Treasury Account”); and 3) a money judgment in the amount of at least $6,021,440.58, for which the defendant (Sestak) is jointly and severally liable with any co-conspirators ordered to pay a forfeiture money judgment as a result of a conviction for either offense.

In the plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell nine properties in Thailand and that the proceeds would be paid to the United
States to satisfy a portion of the money judgment entered against him. The consent order also notes that “upon entry of a forfeiture order, Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(b)(3) authorizes the Attorney General or a designee to conduct any discovery the Court considers proper in identifying, locating, or disposing of property subject to forfeiture.”

In a pre-sentencing filing,  Mr. Sestak requested that any term of incarceration occur in a Camp-level facility. Specifically, at FCI Miami or if that’s not available, FCI Pensacola.  Defense justification is based on Sestak’s “lack of criminal history, the non-violent nature of the crimes, his cooperation with the Government, his lifetime of public service, his age, education, and status as a trustee during his pretrial confinement at Northern Neck Regional Jail.”‘

We had a chance to ask a few questions from his lawyer, Gray Broughton; we wanted to know where will be the location of his incarceration.

“The Bureau of Prisons will ultimately make a determination as to where Mr. Sestak is incarcerated,” said Mr. Broughton.  The defense lawyer again cited the nonviolent nature of the crimes and Mr. Sestak’s “clean criminal history.”  Mr. Sestak should be housed in a lower security level facility, according to his lawyer and that his prior employment with the U.S. Marshal will be taken into consideration by the Bureau of Prison.
We asked about the plea deals received by Sestak and main co-conspirator Bihn Vo.   Sestak’s lawyer believed the government made the best deal it could:

Mr. Sestak received a sentence of 64 months – 32 months less than codefendant Binh Vo, who received a sentence of 96 months. The Government will end up getting roughly $5M from Binh Vo – the $3M it already seized and the $2M he has agreed to pay in the next year. Binh Vo’s money (and his wife) are all currently outside of the U.S., so the U.S. doesn’t have any control over either. It made the best deal it felt it could with Binh Vo.

We were also interested in the duration of the sentence. By our calculation, Mr. Sestak would be almost 50 by the time he completes his sentence.  Mr. Broughton, however, told us that “assuming good behavior, Mr. Sestak would serve 85% of the sentence.” He will reportedly also get credit for the 27 months he has been in jail since his arrest, towards his sentence. We’re not sure if he’ll get credit for the full 27 months. But if that’s the case, and if our math is correct, he’d be out between 2-3 years.

We asked what happened to the 500 visa applicants that Mr. Sestak had issued visas to in Vietnam. And if Mr. Sestak was asked to help track or account for the applicants who paid bribes for their visas. Mr. Broughton said, “I don’t know what happened to the visa applicants. I am not aware of any efforts by the US Government in that regard.”

Mr. Broughton also released the following statement after the sentencing:

**
Michael Sestak received a fair, well-reasoned sentence today. The Court had the unenviable task of taking a multitude of opposing factors into consideration in devising Mr. Sestak’s sentence. 

As counsel for the U.S. Government readily admitted during Mr. Sestak’s sentencing hearing, Binh Vo was the mastermind of the visa fraud conspiracy. Binh Vo also had the largest pecuniary gain and will likely have millions of dollars waiting for him upon his release – along with his wife Alice Nguyen, who was able to avoid prosecution as a result of Binh Vo’s plea agreement. The Court appeared to appreciate that a sentence greater than or equal to Binh Vo’s sentence of 8 years would be fundamentally unjust for Michael Sestak, even though the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommended a sentence of approximately 20 years.
 
What made things difficult for the Court in determining an appropriate sentence is that Mr. Sestak was an essential component to the conspiracy and a public servant who had taken an oath of loyalty to his Country. It was Mr. Sestak’s status as a public official and the theory that would-be criminals will think twice before committing similar crimes that caused the Court to sentence Michael Sestak to something greater than time served.
 
Ultimately, the Court balanced these countervailing factors by issuing a sentence of 64 months – 32 months less than codefendant Binh Vo, who received a sentence of 96 months.
 
Michael Sestak is a good man who made made a huge mistake. Even after his release from prison, Mr. Sestak’s actions – and the shame that follows – will haunt him forever.
**

 

With the case concluded for all charged co-conspirators, we thought we’d asked the State Department what systemic changes had Consular Affairs instituted at USCG Ho Chi Minh City and worldwide following the Sestak incident.

The State Department, on background says this:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs takes all allegations of malfeasance seriously and continually works to improve its operations. Following any detection of vulnerabilities, CA works to improve management controls and guidance to the field. After the incident in Ho Chi Minh City, the management controls at post were comprehensively reviewed to determine what improvements could be made to their processes. As a matter of policy, we do not discuss the specifics of internal management controls.

Most of the Sestak visa cases were allegedly previous refusals. If true, we don’t quite understand how one officer could overturn so many visa refusals and issue close to 500 visas without red flags, if consular management controls worked as they should.  We wanted to know what consequences will there be for supervisors, embassy senior officials and principal officers who fail to do their required oversight on visas. And by the way, what about those who also do not follow the worldwide visa referral policy, particularly, Front Office occupants? The State Department would only say this:

As a matter of policy we do not discuss specific internal personnel actions. Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We have zero tolerance for malfeasance. We work closely with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate all allegations of visa fraud. When substantiated, we seek to prosecute and punish those involved to the fullest extent of the law.

We imagined that the Bureau of Consular Affair’s Consular Integrity Division would be tasked with reviewing procedures and lessons learned on what went wrong in the Sestak case. We wanted to know if that’s the case and wanted to ask questions from the office tasked with the responsibility of minimizing a repeat of the Sestak case. Here is the official response:

The Consular Integrity Division regularly reviews incidents of malfeasance or impropriety and makes recommendations for procedural changes to reduce vulnerabilities and updates training materials for adjudicators and managers based on the lessons learned, including the case in Ho Chi Minh City. The Consular Integrity Division also does reports on the management controls at overseas posts, as well as reports that review global management controls issues, which inform CA leadership about any issues of concern.

No can do.  So far, we’ve only learned that the CID reviewed incidents of malfeasance including the Sestak case but it doesn’t tell us if it did a specific report on HCMC and what systemic changes, if any, were actually made.

We tried again. With a different question: According to in country reports, USCG Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped DS crack the Sestak case. ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, dedicated to visa investigations. If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come neither the RSO-I or the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

As a matter of policy, we do not discuss the details of investigations. Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We continually work to improve its operations, both in the field and here in Washington DC.

Ugh! Sestak was charged in May 2013. In July that year, the State Department told Fox News it was reviewing thoroughly alleged “improprieties” regarding a consular official in Guyana allegedly trading visas for money and possibly sex. In another article in 2014,  former Peace Corps, Dan Lavin,  said, “The State Department makes millions off of the poorest people in the world just by selling them the opportunity to fill out the application.” He also made the following allegation: “There are people at the embassy who can get you a visa,” Lavin said. “If you’re a Sierra Leonean, you go to a man called a ‘broker’; you then pay that ‘broker’ $10,000 and he personally gives that money to someone at the embassy who in turn gets you a visa.”  Apparently,  when asked about the accusations, a spokesperson at the U.S. embassy in Freetown declined to comment.

In any case, we also wanted to know if there were systemic changes with the State Department’s RSO-I program and how they support consular sections worldwide? Or to put it another way, we were interested on any changes Diplomatic Security had implemented in the aftermath of the Sestak case. Here is the amazing grace response, still on background:

It is the mission of DS special agents assigned as Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigators (ARSO-I) to find fraud in the countries where they serve.

Sigh, we know that already. We thought we’d also ask about those 489 Vietnamese who got their visas under this scheme. What happened to them? Did Diplomatic Security, DHS or some other agency tracked them down?

The Bureau of Consular Affairs conducted a review of visas issued by Mr. Sestak. The Department revoked those visas that were improperly issued. If the visa holder had already travelled to the United States on the improperly issued visa, the Department of State notified the Department of Homeland Security so that agency could take action as appropriate.

We don’t know how many “improperly issued” visas were revoked. All 489?

We don’t know how many of those able to travel to the U.S. were apprehended and/or deported to Vietnam.

Frankly, we don’t really know what happened to the 489 Vietnamese nationals who paid money to get visas.

Calvin Godfrey who covered this case from Vietnam writes:

State Department investigators managed to track down and interrogate a few, though they wouldn’t say how many. The Washington DC office of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency didn’t respond to a list of questions about their efforts to track them down.

We also don’t know how much was the total proceed from this illegal enterprise. The USG talks about $9.7 million but one of the co-conspirators in an email, talked $20 million. Below via Thanh Nien News:

Prosecutors only put the gang on the hook for a $9.7 million — a “conservative estimate” they came up with by multiplying $20,000 by 489. Statement written by Hong Vo the middle of the illicit ten-month visa auction:

“I can’t believe Binh has pretty much made over $20m with this business,” she wrote to her sister, identified only as Conspirator A.V. “Slow days… are like 3 clients… and that’s like 160k-180.”

 

Then there’s the individual who purportedly started this ball rolling in Vietnam. Below excerpted from Thanh Nien News:

The State Department was quick to crow over Vo’s sentencing, but it remains deeply disingenuous about how this case came about and what it means.

“This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s unwavering commitment to investigating visa fraud and ensuring that those who commit this crime are brought to justice,” crowed Bill Miller, the head of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a press release generated to mark Vo’s sentencing.

The problem there is that the whole case didn’t come about through careful oversight; it came about because a sad sack from Central Vietnam loaned his pregnant wife $20,000 to buy a US visa from Sestak and the Vos. Instead of coming home with their baby boy, she disappeared, married another man and blabbed about it on Facebook. The sad sack wrote rambling letters to the President and the State Department’s OIG trying to get his wife and money back.

That Vietnamese informant reportedly is a recipient of threats from some of the Sestak visa applicants. Poor sod. So, now, one of the co-conspirators got 7 months, another 16 months, Sestak got 5 years, Vo got 8 years,  one alleged co-conspirator was never charged, and we don’t know what happened to close to 500 visa applicants. Also, the USG gets less than half the $20 million alleged gains. It looks like, at least Vo, will not be flipping burgers when he gets out of prison.

Now life goes on.
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U.S. Embassy Poland: Ambassador Steve Mull Flies in F-16, Reportedly Lands Top #IranDeal Job

Posted: 3:55 pm EDT

 

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