Congress Threatens to Benghazimazi State Dept Funding Over Clinton Emails

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

First, the State Department told the court that the Clinton emails won’t be released until next year.

But US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras rejected the proposal and ordered to State Department to get on with it on a rolling basis.

And then — oh, look!


According
to NYT, here’s what happened:

In the five-minute session with reporters, Mrs. Clinton also addressed questions about her exclusive use of a personal email address while at the State Department, saying she wanted the department to release the emails she had sent and received from her private account sooner rather than the estimated release in January 2016.

“They belong to the State Department, so the State Department has to go through its process,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But as much as they can expedite the process, that’s what I’m asking them to do.”

Because Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a personal email account while at the State Department, much of her correspondence has been shielded from federal records requests, creating a firestorm from Republicans investigating her handling of the 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya.

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Someday, somebody will helpfully calculate the labor cost of 12 employees doing this for 5 weeks; something that could have been avoided if the responsible people were doing their jobs responsibly in the first place.

In any case, Congress has now threatened to benghazimazi the State Department funding, not all of it, just some, of course. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for State and foreign aid told The Hill that funding could be withheld from the agency’s programs and efforts “unless it relates to our own national security or our allies.” According to The Hill, GOP sources said divisions such as Legislative Affairs and Public Affairs and the Office of the Secretary could be affected.  Whether this would be a tame who will blink first contest or a real pissing contest, remains to be seen.

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Also, on May 21st, this happened:

About 350 pages of the Clinton emails obtained by The New York Times and now available online, represent about a third of the roughly 850 pages of emails from Secretary Clinton’s personal account that have been turned over to the Select Committee on Benghazi. The emails seemed to be all Sid, Sid, Sid, but there are also emails from the former Ambassadors to Libya, Chris Stevens (p.116, p.138, p.341) and Gene Cretz (p.70, p.346), former A/S for NEA Jeff Feltman (p.68, p.71), Cheryl Mills, State Department management go-to guy, Pat Kennedy (p.330), among others.  Click here to read it or download the pdf file here.

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Burn Bag: Remind me again of the purpose of a CDO? Anyone?

Via Burn Bag:

Remind me again of the purpose of a CDO*? What is their purpose when I can set my own training and lobby my own bids, the bureaus so the handshakes and assignments. Tell me again why this power tripping office exists?

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*CDO – career development officer

Burn Bag: Why is INL so enamored with aerial fumigation?

Posted: 1:18 am EDT

 

Via Burn Bag:

The U.S. Government never discusses the fact that flows of cocaine to the U.S. and the coca crop in Colombia do not correlate. Since there is no science behind this, why is INL [Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] so enamored with spray? What interests are driving this program? 

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information

Posted: 3:57 pm  PDT

 

A Grand Jury in the Southern District of Texas indicted three women charged with nine counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the alleged use of U.S. passport information in Houston.  One of the women has been identified by media reports as a contractor working for the State Department. Both the AP and local news say that the Houston and Atlanta passport offices were targeted.

Beginning on or about the year 2010 until on or about March 2, 2015, in the Houston Division of Southern District of Texas and elsewhere,

CHLOE ALYSE MCCLENDON, DOMONIQUE RASHAD THOMAS, A/K/A DOMINIQUE RASHAD THOMAS, A/K/A “TEEN” A/K/A “NIQUE”, and ALICIA LENA MYLES,

defendants herein, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury to devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and in execution of said scheme and artifice, transmit or cause to be transmitted by means of wire in interstate commerce, writings, signs, signals, pictures and sounds for the purpose of executing said scheme or artifice to defraud in Violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.

According to charging documents, the accused were alleged to have done the following: 1) obtain personal identifying information (PII) of others from the Department of State, Passport Administration; 2) transmit the stolen PII to and from each other, 3) use the stolen PII to create counterfeit identification documents, 4) recruit accomplices to assume the stolen identities and use the counterfeit documents to obtain commercial lines of credit and to purchase iPhones, iPads, and other electronic merchandise, 5) cause commercial entities to transmit the stolen PII to assist in the establishment of commercial lines of credit.

An AP report citing authorities identifies McClendon as the contract employee for the State Department passport office.  A quick social media search indicates that the accused is a Senior Customer Service Tech for a federal contractor.

Initial appearance hearing for Chloe Alyse McClendon and Domonique Rashad Thomas was set for today, 5/7/2015 at 02:00 PM before Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy.  Prosecutors told the AP that Alicia Myles remains a fugitive but Click2Houston reports that all three appeared before the judge on Thursday afternoon and were released on bond. Clip below from click2houston.com:

Click here if you are unable to view the embedded video.

The case is  USA v. McClendon et. al. criminal case #: 4:15-cr-00233-1.

This looks related to our recent post: Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices.

In related news, the Passport Office will reportedly start banning cell phone usage for PPT in SA-17.  We’re told that the apparent hold up is due to storage facilities for cellphones outside the  workspace.  Our source says he/she  can’t see how they will let the rest of SA-17 bring cell phones in, since they look at the same PII information, like  passsport applications. Keep us posted.

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Burn Bag: Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has a new mission, no more stabilization or stab/ops

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

Via Burn Bag:

Yes, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has a new mission: “CSO advances the Department of State’s understanding of how to anticipate, prevent, and respond to violent conflict through analysis and planning; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and targeted, in-country efforts that inform U.S. government policymaking.”    Since there’s no longer any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations, why is that being left in the Bureau’s name?

Colombia Health Ministry Calls For Suspension of Aerial Herbicide Fumigation, Defense Ministry Pushes Back

Posted: 12:40 pm PDT

 

We did a few posts on the aerial fumigation in Colombia last month.  See: State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?;  So, who wants to drink up or be in target area for next aerial fumigation in Colombia?Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Last week, the Colombia Health Ministry recommended that the aerial fumigation in the country be suspended. The Colombian Defense Ministry was quick to pushed back.

This is the same week when Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Colombia for the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue and the Steering Committee for the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, and joined the High-Level Strategic Security Dialogue.

 

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Below is an excerpt from WOLA’s Adam IsacsonSenior Associate for Regional Security Policy:  Even if Glyphosate Were Safe, Fumigation in Colombia Would Be a Bad Policy. Here’s Why.

Colombia is the only coca-growing country that allows aerial herbicide fumigation. Faced with the possibility that it may be aerially spraying carcinogens over its own citizens, Colombia’s Health Ministry issued a statement late Monday recommending that the aerial fumigation program be suspended.

Whether to suspend the program is up to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has yet to make or schedule an announcement. Meanwhile, Colombian government agencies that carry out the fumigation program have been quick to push back. “We cannot permit losing the benefits [of spraying] on delinquency, crime and terrorism,” said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, who oversees Colombia’s National Police and its counternarcotics division, which performs the spraying. “We will continue using all our tools that help maintain security for Colombians.”

U.S. government officials say that while they will respect Colombia’s sovereign decision, they insist that glyphosate is safe and that they’d rather not see the spray program end. The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau has spent somewhere between US$1 billion and US$2 billion on herbicides, contractor pilots and mechanics, police escort helicopters, fuel, search-and-rescue teams, and related fumigation costs since the program began in 1994.
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The lesson of Colombia’s fumigation program is that there is no substitute for economic development and government presence in national territory. The opposite—flying anonymously above without any presence on the ground—causes the coca trade to migrate and alienates populations whose support is necessary amid an armed conflict. When not coordinated with food security and alternative livelihoods, fumigation also gives guerrillas a powerful propaganda tool: the FARC and ELN have heavily employed the argument that the spraying is proof that Colombia’s “oligarchy” either doesn’t care about peasants, or wants to use the spraying to dispossess them of their lands.

Read in full here.

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Burn Bag: The Consular Leadership Indicator, great idea in principle but …

Posted: 12:11 am EDT

 

Via Burn Bag:

The Consular Leadership Indicator: great idea in principle. But do they really think officers are going to give candid feedback about their supervisors right in the middle of EER* season? And what about all those ELOs** who are up before the Tenuring And Commission Board next month?

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

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* EER – employee evaluation report
** ELO – entry level officer

Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT

 

Below is from the official proposal to be published on the Federal Register tomorrow eliminating the visa page insert (VPI) service for regular fee U.S. passports:

The Department proposes eliminating the visa page insert service for regular fee passport book holders beginning January 1, 2016. The expected effective date of this rule coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book. The Department routinely updates the technology used to produce U.S. passport books so that U.S. passport books use the most current anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit measures. The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.

In 2012, an interagency working group tasked with overseeing the development and deployment of Next Generation Passport books found that visa page inserts could compromise the effectiveness of security features of the new passport books that are intended to provide greater protections against fraud and misuse. To maximize the effectiveness of the Next Generation Passport that is expected to be issued to the general public in 2016, the Department considered whether visa page inserts could be phased out at the time that the Department begins to issue the new passport books.

As part of this study, the Department considered the extent of the public’s usage of visa page inserts, costs to the Department of eliminating the service, and whether any inconvenience to the public could be minimized. A study of a sample of visa page insert applications revealed that a significant majority of those applying for visa page inserts had them added to 28-page passport books, rather than to the larger 52-page books. A set of visa page inserts is 24 pages. Accordingly, a 52-page passport book is the same size as a 28-page book with a set of extra visa pages. The Department determined that the demand for additional visa pages would be substantially reduced by issuing only the larger 52-page passport books to overseas U.S. passport applicants. Accordingly, the Department has begun issuing the 52-page book to overseas applicants, who are the most likely to apply for extra visa pages, at no additional cost. This should further reduce the already limited demand for visa page inserts, thus making the rule’s impact on the public very minimal. Individuals who apply for U.S. passports within the United States will continue to have the option to request a 52-page passport at no additional charge.

Each version of the Next Generation Passport book contains two fewer pages total, but the same number of visa pages as the passport books currently in circulation. Accordingly, after the Department begins issuing the Next Generation Passport book, all domestic passport book applicants will still have the option to choose between a 26-page passport book and a larger 50-page passport book, but the larger 50-page passport books will be automatically issued to people applying overseas.

The Department believes the limited demand for visa page inserts is outweighed by the importance of ensuring that the Next Generation Passport provides the maximum protection against fraud and misuse. Furthermore, the Department must monitor unused inventories of passport products, and the elimination of visa page inserts would facilitate more secure inventory controls. Accordingly, the Department proposes eliminating visa page inserts in passport books issued to the general public beginning January 1, 2016.

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

When news about the elimination of passport page inserts first surfaced in late March, we went looking for answers.  A State Department official responded to our inquiry as follows, with emphasis on security and other interesting details:

The Department’s highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens and this includes our commitment to ensure the U.S. passport remains the most secure travel document in the world. As we look forward to the next version of the U.S. passport, an internal focus group determined that supplemental visa pages pose vulnerabilities to both the physical security of the passport and the issuance process. While the United States is the only country to offer the option of adding additional visa pages to passports, below is some additional data which helped us arrive at our decision:

  • The total demand for additional visa pages is quite small. In FY 2012, we saw approximately 168,000 requests for additional pages compared to 12 million passport issuances.
  • For years have we have offered two passport book sizes to the American public: 28 pages and 52 pages. In FY2013 we estimated that 97% of all passport renewals used fewer than 18 visa pages, a strong indication that the current book sizes we offer meet the needs of the majority of American travelers.
  • To meet the needs of frequent travelers, we began issuing the 52-page passport books at all overseas posts which is where most requests for additional visa pages are processed.
  • Customers can renew their passports via expedited service both domestically and overseas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

We realize some frequent travelers may have concerns about this decision, but it is our duty to implement policies that reinforce and maintain the security of the passport. The United States allows travelers to enter into the country with a valid visa in an expired passport, as long as both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) are from the same country and type. Many other governments have similar regulations. However, we recommend that travelers obtain the latest information on visas and entry requirements from the nearest embassy or consulate of destination country before traveling.

According to CA, after the proposed rule is announced on the Federal Register, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct outreach to educate the public on the elimination of visa pages insert (VPI), the effects of this decision, and alternative consular services.

Interested parties may submit comments for 60 days starting April 29, by any of the following methods:

  • Visit the Regulations.gov web site at: http://www.regulations.gov/index.cfm and search the RIN 1400-AD76 or docket number DOS-2015-0017.
  • Mail (paper, disk, or CD-ROM): U.S. Department of State, Office of Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT), Attn: CA/PPT/IA, 44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1227, Sterling, Virginia 20166-1227.

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Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices

Posted: 3:19  pm EDT

 

 

WaPo reported last week that federal employees responsible for reviewing and processing U.S. passports are now prohibited from bringing their cellphones to work.  The new rule would affect the 1,200 government workers and 1,000 private contractors in passport offices across 22 domestic locations. What started this off? Who knows except that there apparently was a contractor in Houston:

“The rumor among passport workers is that a contractor in Houston was taking pictures of private information on passports.”

A State Department official confirmed the new policy to WaPo:  “The Department has a serious and important obligation to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of U.S. citizens applying for passports,” the official said. “Prohibiting cellphones throughout our Passport Agencies, where employees review and process passport applications, is an effort to further protect passport applicant’s PII.”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide is not happy.  The union wondered what use is getting these employees secret clearances if they can’t be trusted with the information?

Read in full here.

Our own source at the Consular Affairs bureau declined to confirm the rumor but did confirm the ban on cell phones.

The last time the Passport Agency made a huge splash was back in 2008 when illegal access of politician and celebrity passport records were discovered.  Nine State Department employees and contractors were charged and pleaded guilty in that case.

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Burn Bag: State/CSO gets a new mission statement but remains a bureau in fundamental crisis

Via Burn Bag:

As of Friday morning’s announcements of the new mission statement and the bureau town hall (from which most everyone left more confused than informed) to discuss the new organization chart, we remain a bureau in fundamental crisis. Everyone scratching their heads about what they do and exactly whom they support.

CSO’s contractors continue to be an internal force just as the OIG report cited. Worse yet, we already have total supervisory overhead (civil service, foreign service, and third party contractors’ employees) of almost 1:1 with “doers” and despite what the bureau told Congress. Lots of editing and reviewing and pontificating takes place but very little drafting or other original work. It reminds me of a third world state run enterprise!

Should the new name now be the Bureau of Conflict Analysis and Atrocity and Violent Extremism Prevention and J Undersecretary Pet Issues (CAAVEPJUPI)?

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via canadian foreign service problems

 

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