Category Archives: Functional Bureaus

Kerry Officially Appoints Amos Hochstein as Energy Envoy. Oh, Hey, What’s That?

– Domani Spero

 

It’s official. Last week, Secretary Kerry appointed Amos Hochstein as Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Here is his state.gov bio:

Amos J Hochstein serves as the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs leading the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) at the U.S. Department of State. He oversees U.S. foreign policy engagement in the critical intersection of energy and national security. In this role, he advises the Secretary on global energy security and diplomacy, as well as promotes U.S. interests to ensure energy resources are used to increase economic opportunity, stability and prosperity around the world. Special Envoy Hochstein also advises the Secretary on U.S. strategy to advance global integration of renewable and clean energy sources. Prior to this role, Mr. Hochstein served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy and in that capacity oversaw the Office of Middle East and Asia and the Office of Europe, the Western Hemisphere and Africa where he lead the bureau’s energy diplomacy efforts.

Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. Hochstein spent more than 15 years advising U.S. elected officials, candidates for public office and thought leaders on domestic and global energy policy initiatives. He began his career in Washington, DC, on Capitol Hill where he served in a variety of senior level positions, ultimately serving as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mr. Hochstein first served as the principal Democratic staff person on the Economic Policy, Trade and Environment Subcommittee where he oversaw work authorizing Ex-Im Bank, OPIC and USTDA, as well as drafting legislation on export controls and trade-related multilateral organizations and regimes.

Mr. Hochstein served as Policy Director to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). Prior to his work with Sen. Dodd, he worked as a Senior Policy Advisor to Senator (then Governor) Mark Warner (D-VA).

Harnessing his experience in the policy, campaign and public sector, Mr. Hochstein moved to the private sector as Executive Vice President of International Operations at Cassidy & Associates. Throughout his career, he has been a counselor for both domestic and international oil and gas companies, as well as companies focusing on renewable energy. In this capacity, he assisted corporations in assessing potential new markets and the development of alternative sources of power and best strategies to bring them to market.

 

You may now follow (or not) Mr. Hochstein on Twitter at  but he says “tweets are my own.” Now, where’s the fun in that?

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Mr. Hochstein succeeds Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was appointed Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs after a stint as ambassador to Mexico. The Bureau of Energy Affairs was subsequently  created in November 2011.   We have posted here about Ambassador Pascual when he became the first public casualty of WikiLeaks in March 2011.  Two days after that, his resignation was announced On May 2011, Ambassador Pascual was appointed as Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. He was nominated the first Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Energy Affairs in February 2012.  The Senate did not act on the nomination and this past summer, he resigned from his State Department post to join Columbia University’s  Center on Global Energy Policy.

According to the state.gov, the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) is “working to ensure that all our diplomatic relationships advance our interests in having access to secure, reliable, and ever-cleaner sources of energy.” It’s three core objectives includes energy diplomacy, energy transformation, and energy transparency and access.

Mr. Amos has been appointed to a special envoy position which requires no confirmation. He heads State’s ENR office supported by  Amb. Mary Warlick as his Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryRobin Dunnigan as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy and Robert F. Ichord, Jr., Ph.D. as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation.

Oh, hey, what’s that?

 

Wait — there’s more? Via Newsweek back in 2010, with special mention for the new special envoy, Mr. Hochstein who then oversaw the Equatorial Guinea account:

The rise in foreign lobbying may have also compromised the policymaking of current and future U.S. government officials. With little oversight, lobbyists can represent the most repressive regimes and then turn around and work in government. According to John Newhouse, author of a forthcoming book on the influence of foreign lobbies on American policies, one of John McCain’s senior foreign-policy advisers during his 2008 campaign, Randy Scheunemann, simultaneously worked for McCain and as a paid adviser to the government of Georgia, which had been accused of human-rights violations. Despite McCain’s reputation as a leading champion of human rights, Scheunemann largely escaped questions about whether his lobbying might have affected his foreign-policy advice to the powerful senator. Similarly, while at Cassidy & Associates, lobbyist Amos Hochstein oversaw the Equatorial Guinea account, which required him to argue the merits of one of the most repressive regimes on earth. Still, after leaving Cassidy, Hochstein landed a prominent job on the (ill-fated) 2008 presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a politician also known for his longstanding human-rights advocacy. Now Hochstein says he helped “move the ball forward on human rights” in the country.

Lobbying can turn down the pressure on authoritarian regimes. After years of intense lobbying, Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang managed to transform his image in Washington from a venal autocrat into a solid American ally and buddy of U.S. business. In 2006 he strode out of a meeting at Foggy Bottom with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who declared him “a good friend.”

Look, one of our readers also sent us a link to Sunlight Foundation’s Foreign Influence Explorer for Equatorial Guinea. If you have never seen it, click here for folks you may or may not know.

Oh, dear.  May we please retract our congratulations now?

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Filed under Appointments, Foreign Affairs, Functional Bureaus, John F. Kerry, Obama, Political Appointees, Realities of the FS, Special Envoys and Reps, State Department

Snapshot: State Dept Overseas Real Property Acquisitions & Disposals (FY2008-2013)

– Domani Spero

 

 Via GAO

Our analysis of State’s real property portfolio indicated that the overall inventory has increased. State reported its leased properties, which make up approximately 75 percent of the inventory, increased from approximately 12,000 to 14,000 between 2008 and 2013. However, comparing the total number of owned properties between years can be misleading because State’s method of counting these properties has been evolving over the past several years. OBO officials explained that in response to changes in OMB’s and FRPP’s reporting guidance, they have made efforts to count properties more precisely. For example, OBO has focused on separately capturing structural assets previously recorded as part of another building asset, such as perimeter walls, guard booths, and other ancillary structures. As a result of this effort, State recorded approximately 650 additional structural assets in its fiscal year 2012 FRPP report and approximately 900 more structures the following year in its fiscal year 2013 FRPP report, according to OBO officials.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.11.13 AM

Acquisitions: State reported spending more than $600 million to acquire nearly 300 properties from fiscal year 2008 through 2013 (see fig.1).11 State uses two sources of funding to acquire real property. It acquires land for building new embassy compounds (NEC) with funding from the CSCS program. It acquires residences, offices, and other functional facilities with proceeds from the disposal of unneeded property. In fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported spending approximately $400 million of these disposal proceeds to acquire approximately 230 properties.

Disposals: From fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported selling approximately 170 properties. In doing so, it received approximately $695 million in proceeds (see fig.1). According to State, property vacated when personnel move into newly constructed facilities is the largest source of property that can be disposed of. When State completes construction of a NEC, personnel previously working in different facilities at multiple locations are then collocated into the same NEC, a move that provides State an opportunity to dispose of its former facilities. Further information on State’s acquisitions and disposals from fiscal year 2008 through 2013, can be found in figures 1 and 2 below.

Leases: The majority of State’s leased properties are residences. State reported spending approximately $500 million on leases in 2013 and projects a potential increase to approximately $550 million by 2016 as growing populations in urban centers around the world push rental costs higher and the U.S. government’s overseas presence increases.

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Benghazi Select Committee Invites DS Greg Starr (Again) and IG Steve Linick to Hearing #2

– Domani Spero

 

The House Select Committee on Benghazi had its inaugural hearing on September 17 (see Battle For Benghazi in WashDC:  Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin). That hearing’s topic was “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations” and the committee had as witnesses, DS Greg Starr, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Mark J. Sullivan and Todd Keil, chairman and member respectively of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices. The Accountability Review Board Recommendations were issued for the State Department and not a task just for Diplomatic Security. For whatever reason, Mr. Starr, one bureau’s assistant secretary was invited to answer agency implementation questions from the Select Committee. No deputy secretary or under secretary was available to answer questions from the Hill?

On November 21, the House Intel Committee released its final Benghazi Report.

 

The Select Committee on Benghazi issued the following statement on the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report:

“The Select Committee on Benghazi received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds. It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”

 

Some fellow over there said that the report is full of crap.

 

Also, apparently, other GOP lawmakers, and Benghazi survivors were fuming over the House report and were not happy with the Intel Committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Uh-oh.

So crap or not, the Benghazi Select Committee is charging on.  The Committee will have a second hearing on “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel.” This time, the Committee will appropriately hear from Assistant Secretary Starr. By the way, where can we place bets on how many times A/S Starr will be invited to speak to the Committee before this is over in 2017?  Because you know this won’t be over until after the 2016 elections; poor fellow was not even working at the State Department when the Benghazi attack happened.

A/S Starr will be joined by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick for this hearing.  We think this is Mr. Linick’s first appearance before Congress following his confirmation.

Wed, 12/10/2014 – 10:00am
HVC-210

Topic: Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel

Witnesses:

  • Greg Starr, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security
  • Steve Linick, Inspector General, Department of State

The hearing page is here.

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Filed under Assistant Secretary, Congress, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Leaks|Controversies, Politics, Questions, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions, Under Secretary

US Embassy Yemen: How to Catch the Visa Malfeasance Pokemons? Very Quietly.

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via NY Daily News:

An employee at the embassy may have given out more than 50 sham visas to people who falsely claimed they needed to enter the U.S. to attend an oil industry conference in Texas, according to unsealed papers in Brooklyn Federal Court. The feds learned the Yemeni citizens never went to the conference. It was not clear if the fraudulent visas were connected to terrorism. The feds have uncovered a breach of security inside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that led to bogus visas being issued, the Daily News has learned.

 

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Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

If these visas were issued at the embassy, these are authentic visas, using real foils –issued under fraudulent reasons. What are the typical types of visa fraud? Below according to state.gov:

  • Presenting false documents to apply for a visa
  • Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, like a criminal history in the alien’s home country
  • The sale, trafficking, or transfer of otherwise legitimate visas
  • Misrepresenting the reasons for requiring a visa
  • Counterfeiting, forgery, or alteration of a visa

We must also add, procurement of authentic visa by malfeasance — bribing a consular employee.  For more on visa security, read Fred Burton’s Getting Back to the Basics here.

DSS Special Agent Bert Seay’s filed a court statement at the Eastern District of New York supporting probable cause to arrest one of those 50 individuals issued visas in Yemen:

In August 2014, DSS received information from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General (“DHS-OIG”) that DHS-OIG had received an anonymous tip that Yemeni national employees working in the non-immigrant visa unit of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen were helping other Yemeni nationals to fraudulently procure non—immigrant visas in exchange for money. Based on information provided by DHS-OIG, DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.

DSS identified the visa applications as suspicious because, in the applications, the Yemeni visa applicants purported to be employed by Yemeni oil companies and stated that their reason for traveling to the United States was to attend an oil industry conference called the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas.  However, investigation by DSS determined that, in most instances, the Yemeni oil companies listed as employers on the visa applications were fictitious and, further, that the visa applicants did not, in fact, attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” after traveling to the United States.

The DS agent statement includes a caveat that the “complaint is to set forth only those facts necessary to establish probable cause to arrest,” but does not include “all the relevant facts and circumstances.” The complaint also notes that “DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.”

The allegations involved Yemeni national employees,more than one. Suspicious cases involved over 50 visas, and law enforcement got one arrest. Alert is now broadcasted on all channels. So, how do you catch the Visa Malfeasance and Visa Fraudster Pokemons? It’s not like you can now pretend to send a local employee to FSI for training then arrest him or her upon arrival at Dulles like this or this.

Also, for non-State readers, here is what the regs say about visa referrals:

“A referral is a written request, maintained permanently, to advocate for, or otherwise assist, your contacts at post in the visa application process. Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” (See 9 FAM, Appendix K, Exhibit I – pdf).

The news report actually gave us more questions than answers. Visa issuance is a specific responsibility of a Consular Officer; it cannot be issued by just any embassy official or any embassy employee. The processing and issuance process is now automated and requires specific login credentials; it’s not like anyone can just stamp a visa foil on a passport with a stamp pad.

And when did foreign national embassy employees started issuing visa referrals? Only qualified and approved individuals may make visa referrals. But here’s the thing – the regs are clear, to qualify as a visa referring officer you must:

(1) Be a U.S. citizen, direct hire, encumbering an NSDD-38 authorized position or serving in a long-term TDY role (of more than 121 days) in place of a permanently stationed direct hire who falls under Chief of Mission (COM) authority and encumbers an NSDD-38 position as defined by the Human Resources section at post;

(2) Attend a referral briefing with the consular section; and

(3) Submit a signed and dated Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement to the consular section.

Not only that, the chief of section/agency head of the referring officer’s section or agency must approve each referral (and must attend the briefing and sign the compliance document in order to do so). In the absence of a section/agency head or acting head, the Principal Officer (PO) (if at a consulate), or Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), or Ambassador must approve the referral.

So, how is it possible for a Yemeni employee in this case (who has not been identified publicly or charged), to submit 50 visa referrals is seriously perplexing.

The complaint identified one defendant as ABDULMALEK MUSLEH ABDULLAH ALZOBAIDI. He allegedly submitted a visa application dated March 8, 2014 presented to an in-person interview with “a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa,Yemen on April 14, 2014.”  In his visa application, the defendant allegedly stated, among other things, that he was a “manager” of “Jaber Oil Company.” The defendant allegedly further provided the Consular Officer with a business card for Jaber Oil Company. The defendant also allegedly stated in his visa application that the purpose of his trip to the United States was to attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas for approximately 15 days.

According to court docs, in September 2014, DSS agents received information from the Yemeni Ministry of Commerce and Information confirming that the Jaber Oil Company is not a registered or legitimate company in Yemen. That Houston conference is an annual event.

Since this individual has now been charged, he will have his day in a New York court but this brings up an even troubling scenario.

According to 2009 unclassified cable published by WikiLeaks, Yemen security conditions prevent the embassy’s Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) from performing field investigations so post rely almost exclusively on telephone investigations to combat fraud.  So, if there’s a universe with 50 suspicious cases, how many were investigated by FPU prior to visa issuance? This would have been a pretty standard practice in a high fraud post like Yemen.

In a 2010 inspection review of US Embassy Sana’a, OIG inspectors noted (pdf) that “Because of staffing limitations, Embassy Sanaa is not doing the required annual reviews of its visa referral system. This important internal control is mandated by 9 FAM Appendix K 105(d). Not regularly reviewing referrals deprives consular management of important information on the adjudication process and potentially improper behavior.”

That report, although old, also noted at that time that nonimmigrant visa processing is “a relatively small part of the post’s consular workload, and it is managed successfully by one part-time officer.”

Embassy Sana’a has suffered from staffing and security limitations for many years. We can’t imagine that the staffing situation at post has grown any better since that 2010 report. Has it?

And this makes one wonder — if Sanaa is under “ordered departure”and has limited staff, why do we insist on processing visas there?  Embassy Sana’a did not respond to our inquiry on this case but says on its website that “requests for U.S. tourist and business visa appointments continues to grow.”  Also that “Visa services are an important Embassy function, and the robust demand for tourist and business visas reflects the strong continuing relationship between Yemen and the United States.”

The continuing relationship is so strong that no one has been arrested for the multiple attacks of the U.S. mission in Yemen.

According to AQAP, it has targeted US interests in Yemen three times in the last 60 days alone: shelling of compound on September 27, targeting Ambassador Tueller with IEDs on November 6, and the detonation of two IEDs on post’s northern gate on November 27. The attack last week reportedly resulted in embassy guard death/s; this has not been mentioned, confirmed, or denied by the State Department. This news has not made it to the front pages, so you know they will try again.

via UKFCO

via UKFCO

On a related note, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all travel to Yemen and strongly urge British nationals to leave the country.

Is this what we should call expeditionary consular diplomacy now?

 


 

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Court Cases, FCO, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Locally Employed Staff, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, Visas

State Department OIG – Published Reports, October 2014

via state.gov/oig

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Filed under Consular Work, Foreign Affairs, FS Benefits, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department, Visas

Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials

– Domani Spero

 

Late on November 6, WaPo published the following Robin Raphel story:

Here is a link to the NYT story:

 

On November 7, an unnamed official cited by the Associated Press said the FBI investigation was related to access to classified materials:

 

NYT did a follow-up report over two weeks later reporting that an eavesdropping on a Pakistani official led to the Raphel inquiry:

 

A follow-up report from WaPo includes a statement from Amy Jeffress, Ambassador Raphel’s attorney (she is also the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia).

“Ambassador Raphel is a highly respected career diplomat who has dedicated her life to serving the United States and its interests,” said Amy Jeffress, Raphel’s attorney and the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. “She would never intentionally do anything to compromise those interests. She, and we as her counsel, are cooperating with the investigation, and we are confident that she will be cleared of any suspicion.”

What do we know about this case?  Below is a list of “known” items out there according to media reports:

  • The federal investigation reportedly is part of a counterintelligence probe.
  • Ambassador Raphel’s security clearances reportedly was withdrawn.
  • She reportedly was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire.
  • The FBI reportedly searched her Northwest Washington home, and her State Department office  also was examined and sealed.
  • Agents reportedly “discovered classified information” during a raid at her home.
  • In an intercepted conversation this year “a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat,” reportedly setting off the espionage investigation.
  • Apparently,Ambassador Raphel has not been told she is the target of an investigation, and she has not been questioned according to her spokesman.
  • Ambassador Raphel now has a lawyer.
  • Over two weeks after the original report surfaced, she has not been formally accused or charged with a crime. Since she has not been formally charged, she has no way to defend herself from allegations.

The Indian media has had a field day with this investigation, throwing in a bunch of name calling, and well, it looks like she is considered a national nemesis over there. The view from Pakistan (read this) is thoughtful and more wait and see.  We’re also now starting to see Raphel’s name being linked to Hillary Clinton; she has been described as a “close Clinton family friend,” a  “Hillary donor” and a “powerful Clinton ally.”

In any case, we understand from a source inside the building that the FBI would “never investigate” a State employee without coordinating with Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence. Apparently, there is an FBI liaison in DS/IC to assist with the sharing of case information but whatever role Diplomatic Security played in this case, the bureau is not advertising it.

We’ve compiled a list of the things we don’t know about this case and the questions we have:

  • According to WaPo, two U.S. officials described the investigation as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. Who are these officials and what are their motive for leaking a counter-intel probe to the news media?
  • The investigation reportedly is ongoing; does the media spotlight not jeopardize the investigation?
  • According to NYT, it is unclear exactly what the Pakistani official said in the intercepted conversation that led to this investigation. Apparently, it is also not/not clear “whether the conversation was by telephone, email or some other form of communication.” Does this mean all discrete discreet Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are limited to discussing their lunch menu and tourist opportunities in their host country to using tin can telephones for official subjects?
  • Who is the  Pakistani official? Was he/she aware that USG agents were eavesdropping? If he/she/they were not aware before of the eavesdropping, are they aware now?  We’re seriously perplexed, how is this helpful?
  • We understand that by the time a case like this goes overt, the government has  all the information it needs.  It is not not apparent if that is the case here. If we presume that the USG went overt because it has all the evidence it needs, how come there are no charges to-date?

One of our most sacred principles in the United States is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.   The government not only must charge an individual suspected of a crime, it also must prove,beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged. That has not happened here.

Despite what the Indian media says, and even if Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are using tin-can telephones to communicate, the current status of the Raphel case amount to allegations from unnamed officials, and an ongoing investigation.  That is far from clear evidence of guilt.

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Updated on 11/25/14 at 1546 PST to correct grammatical errors and for clarity. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Department’s Computer Systems Hacked, 5th Known Agency Breach This Year?

– Domani Spero

 

Just the bit of bad news you don’t need to start your Monday:

 

Below via WaPo:

The State Department did not seek to publicize that it had been hacked. On Friday, it announced that “maintenance” would be done to the unclassified network during a routine, scheduled outage. But on Sunday, after the Associated Press first reported the breach, officials acknowledged they had found traces of suspicious activity in their system and were updating security in the middle of a scheduled outage. In a sign of how complete the shutdown was, duty officers were using Gmail accounts.

A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the breach, also told WaPo that “none of the department’s classified systems were compromised.”

Would State report publicly the classified intrusion if those systems were compromised?

This report follows the confirmation of a hack at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which reportedly forced cybersecurity teams to seal off data vital to disaster planning, aviation, shipping, etc. this past September, the reported breach of the computer networks of the United States Postal Service, compromising the data of more than 800,000 employees and a breach at the White House.  In June this year, the WSJ also reported the breach of computer systems at the Office of Personnel Management, which stores data on federal employees.

An unnamed official told nextgov.com that State is bolstering the security “of its main unclassified network during a scheduled outage of some Internet-linked systems.” The site, nextgov.com says it is “unclear why officials waited until this weekend to disconnect potentially infected systems at State.”

As of this writing, the State Department’s mobile access (go.state.gov) is down with the following notice: “The Department is currently experiencing an ongoing, planned outage to upgrade our network.  during this event, mobile access (GO) will be unavialable.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.  For questions or more information, please contact the IT Service Center at 202-647-2000.”

We understand that GO will be down until further notice and may need to be rebuilt. A mobile copy is currently live at http://m.state.gov.

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In totally unrelated news, and nothing/nothing whatsoever to do with this reported hack — State/OIG on November 7, published its Audit of Department of State Information Security Program.  The report is readable if you don’t mind the redacted parts:

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.11.19 AM

Below is an excerpt:

Information technology security controls are important to protect confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information and information systems. When they are absent or deficient, information becomes vulnerable to compromise.[REDACTED]
[…]
Although we acknowledge the Department’s actions to improve its information security program, we continue to find security control deficiencies in multiple information security program areas that were previously reported in FY 2010, FY 2011, FY 2012, and FY 2013. Over this period, we consistently identified similar control deficiencies in more than 100 different systems. As a result, the OIG issued a Management Alert in November 2013 titled “OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Department of State Information System Security Program” that discussed significant and recurring control weaknesses in the Department’s Information System Security Program [REDACTED B(5)]

The FY 2013 FISMA audit report contained 29 recommendations intended to address identified security deficiencies. During this audit, we reviewed corrective actions taken by the Department to address the deficiencies reported in the FY 2013 FISMA report. Based on the actions taken by the Department, OIG closed 4 of 29 recommendations from the FY 2013 report.
[…]
We identified control deficiencies in all [Redacted] (b) (5)  of the information security program areas used to evaluate the Department’s information security program. Although we recognize that the Department has made progress in the areas of risk management, configuration management, and POA&M since FY 2013, we concluded that the Department is not in compliance with FISMA, OMB, and NIST requirements. Collectively, the control deficiencies we identified during this audit represent a significant deficiency to enterprise-wide security, as defined by OMB Memorandum M-14-04.
[…]
Although we found the Department’s Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT) Standard Operating Procedures aligned with NIST SP 800-61, Revision 2,39 procedures do not clearly state all the bureaus, offices, and organizations that require notification prior to closing an incident. As a result, DS/SI/CS did not report all incidents to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) as required. Specifically, 1 out of 22 (5 percent) security incidents we tested was not reported to the US-CERT, even though it was a Category 4 incident and involved potential classified spillage. If the Department does not report data spillage incidents (potential or confirmed) to US-CERT within the established timeframes, US-CERT may not be able to help contain the incident and notify appropriate officials within the allotted timeframe.

According to State/OIG, Category 4 incidents are incidents involving improper usage of Department systems or networks (that is, a person that violates acceptable computing use policies).

According to OMB Memorandum M-14-04, a significant deficiency is defined as a weakness in an agency’s overall information systems security program or management control structure, or within one or more information systems that significantly restricts the capability of the agency to carry out its mission or compromises the security of its information, information systems, personnel, or other resources, operations, or assets. via

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Related item:

Audit of Department of State Information Security Program; Published On: November 07, 2014; Report Date: November 2014; Report Number: AUD-IT-15-17; View Report: aud-it-15-17.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Burn Bag: Consular Leadership Tenet #5: Something Seriously Wrong With the CCD. Communicate?

Via Burn Bag:

“Why is the CCD [Consular Consolidated Database] such a piece of trash lately and when is Senior CA [Consular Affairs] Management going to communicate honestly with the Field what the problem is?  Anyone with a brain can tell there is something seriously wrong with the system.”

giphy_daleks

by rhetthammersmithhorror.tumblr.com via giphy.com

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Office of Inspector General Adds Evaluations and Special Projects Office, Launches New Website

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department Office of Inspector General has been recruiting and hiring new staffers the last several months. The latest change is the addition of a new directorate and the relaunching of its website.  The snazzy, new website includes a video with IG Steve Linick.  The new site also includes a better search function to locate reports by category, topic, location or bureau/office.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 9.18.21 PM
New org chart below. Note that Emilia DiSanto is no longer in an acting capacity but has been formally appointed as IG Linick’s deputy.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20

 

Perhaps the most notable addition is that of Evaluation and Special Projects:

The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) was established in 2014 to strengthen OIG’s oversight of the Department and BBG, and to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. ESP will fulfill OIG’s whistleblower protection duties by educating Department and BBG employees and contractors on the protections from retaliation for disclosing fraud, waste, or abuse. ESP is also responsible for reviewing allegations of administrative misconduct by senior officials, and issuing management alerts to highlight urgent need for corrective actions and capping reports on thematic areas of concern. Additionally, ESP is responsible for special evaluations and reviews, including responses to congressional inquiries. The work of this new office complements the work of OIG’s audits, investigations, and inspections by developing a capacity to focus on broader, systemic issues.

ESP has issued a Management Alert on Grant Management Deficiencies (MA-14-03), which highlights significant deficiencies in Department grants management oversight. It also produced a Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01), which examined allegations of undue influence and favoritism in eight high-profile internal investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).

Also, the new website includes the State OIG Winners for 2014 CIGIE Annual Awards including an Award of Excellence in Investigation for an Individual that went to Special Agent Jeff Whitney:

The Office of Investigations received the Award of Excellence in Investigations, Individual awarded to Special Agent (SA) Jeff Whitney for his exceptional performance in the conduct of investigations supporting contingency operations in Southwest Asia and the protection of high-risk Department resources. SA Whitney led two complex investigations in Kabul, Afghanistan, which resulted in a $1.7 million cost savings to the Department and a combined debarment of at least 26 contractor entities. These investigations involved schemes relating to bid rigging, antitrust violations, bribery, conflict of interest, and violations of the Procurement Integrity Act. SA Whitney diligently and effectively worked with prosecutors from the Department of Justice and Special Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service to interview several witnesses and subjects, write and serve multiple search warrants and travel to dangerous environments within Afghanistan in order to accomplish investigative objectives. SA Whitney also met with numerous Department and Embassy Officials to aide them in their efforts to improve their processes to ensure these types of schemes are not replicated in the future.

Check it out!

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Filed under Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department

USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s report on whistleblowers’ complaints that critical details had been sanitized from publicly released reports of USAID OIG includes an item on the NGO trial and bail money in Egypt:

[T]he Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.
[…]
On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.
[…]

Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

 

A lie and a bribe:

A ransom:

 

The State Department spokeswoman not named in the report was the former spox, and now Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.  And because the lie was from the official podium of the State Department, this was an official USG lie. Let’s revisit the Daily Press Briefing from March 1, 2012:

QUESTION: Victoria, could you clarify for us the role of the U.S. Government in posting the bond? I understand that $300,000 per individual was posted and the promise that they will return to face trial. Could you explain to us if there was any role for the U.S. Government in that aspect?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just clarify that none of these people who have now departed were in custody, none of them were subject to arrest warrants. They were under travel restrictions. So at the request of the attorneys for the employees, the Egyptian court ruled that the travel restrictions would be lifted if the employees posted bail. So through their lawyers, the NGOs made payments on behalf of their employees from available funds. So there were no bribes paid, and this was paid by the NGOs.

QUESTION: No, I did not suggest that there was any bribes. I just wanted to ask if there was any official role for the U.S. Government to post bail. Some people may not have had the money. I mean, did you try to help them post that money? It’s a huge sum of money for the bail.

MS. NULAND: The organizations paid the bail.

QUESTION: But these organizations get money from the U.S. Government. Was there any government money involved in this bail payment?

MS. NULAND: The checks for this bail, as I understand it, came from the organizations.

QUESTION: But as I say, these organizations are funded, some of them quite – to the tune of quite a lot of money. So was there any taxpayer money involved in paying this bail? And if there was, which I understand there was, what happens if they – if bail is forfeited, if these people decide not to go back and to face the charges? Does that leave the taxpayer on the hook for however much the percentage was that you guys kicked in?

MS. NULAND: Well, first, to be clear, the bail was posted by the organizations.

QUESTION: Yes, but if I –

MS. NULAND: That said –

QUESTION: But if I give you $300,000 and then you give it to the Egyptians, it’s technically correct that you paid the Egyptians, but it’s my money.

MS. NULAND: Again, the bail was paid by the organizations. You are not wrong that these organizations benefit from U.S. Government funding. They benefit from U.S. Government funding so that they can do the work that they do to support a democratic transition. With regard to the fungibility of money or anything with regard to that, I will have to take that question.

 

So the NGOs paid Egypt; maybe those NGO’s carried and handed $4.6 million to the money shakers, and we called it NGO money. But apparently, it’s USAID money, so really — U.S. taxpayers’ money.  And but for this WaPo report, the American public would not have known that we paid the bail money because the key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.  Documents that are not made public. Also apparently deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

So in places where American NGOs and USAID operates, a not too friendly host government can grab any of the staffers for any purported local crime, and USAID will pay ransom bail money to get the staffers released and returned to the United States; and it can put the details about those payments in USAID financial documents that we never get to see?

And we wonder why people get jaded watching this show.

The world is changing. While this information might have been hidden in the past from public view for say 20 years or until the FRUS is released, things, at least some things increasingly don’t work like that anymore. The refresh cycle on sunshine in government is coming at shorter bursts.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Follow the Money, Foreign Assistance, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Huh? News, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID