Former US Embassy London Employee Pleads Guilty to Cyberstalking and “Sextortion” Scheme

Posted: 12:47 am EDT

 

We’ve blogged previously about the Michael C. Ford case (see State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in GeorgiaUS Embassy London Local Employee Charged With Cyberstalking, Computer Hacking and Wire Fraud).

On December 9, USDOJ announced that the former State Department/Embassy London employee pleaded guilty to perpetrating a widespread, international e-mail phishing, computer hacking and cyberstalking scheme against hundreds of victims in the United States and abroad. More below:

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia, Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office made the announcement.

Michael C. Ford, 36, of Atlanta, was indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.  The names of the victims are being withheld from the public to protect their privacy.

Ford pleaded guilty to all charges and admitted that between January 2013 and May 2015, he used various aliases that included “David Anderson” and “John Parsons” and engaged in a widespread, international computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” campaign designed to force victims to provide Ford with personal information as well as sexually explicit videos of others.  Ford targeted young females, some of whom were students at U.S. colleges and universities, with a particular focus on members of sororities and aspiring models.

Ford posed as a member of the fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent phishing e-mails to thousands of potential victims, warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords.  Ford then hacked into hundreds of e-mail and social media accounts using the passwords collected from his phishing scheme, where he searched for sexually explicit photographs.  Once Ford located such photos, he then searched for personal identifying information (PII) about his victims, including their home and work addresses, school and employment information, and names and contact information of family members, among other things.

Ford then used the stolen photos and PII to engage in an ongoing cyberstalking campaign designed to demand additional sexually explicit material and personal information.  Ford e-mailed his victims with their stolen photos attached and threatened to release those photos if they did not cede to his demands.  Ford repeatedly demanded that victims take sexually explicit videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then send the videos to him.

When the victims refused to comply, threatened to go to the police or begged Ford to leave them alone, Ford responded with additional threats.  For example, Ford wrote in one e-mail “don’t worry, it’s not like I know where you live,” then sent another e-mail to the same victim with her home address and threatened to post her photographs to an “escort/hooker website” along with her phone number and home address.  Ford later described the victim’s home to her, stating “I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb.”  Ford followed through with his threats on several occasions, sending his victims’ sexually explicit photographs to family members and friends.

Ultimately, Ford sent thousands of fraudulent “phishing” email messages to potential victims, successfully hacked into at least 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs.  Ford sent threatening and “sextortionate” online communications to at least 75 victims.

During the relevant time period, Ford was employed by the U.S. Embassy in London.  The majority of Ford’s phishing, hacking and cyberstalking activities were conducted from his computer at the U.S. Embassy.
[…]
“When a public servant in a position of trust commits any form of misconduct, to include federal crimes such as cyberstalking and computer hacking, we vigorously investigate such claims,” said Director Miller.  “The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to investigating and working with the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate criminal allegations and bring those who commit these crimes to justice.”
[…]
U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the Northern District of Georgia scheduled Ford’s sentencing hearing for Feb. 16, 2016.

The Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI are investigating the case.  Senior Trial Attorney Mona Sedky of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali of the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in London provided assistance in this case.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

According to court records, this individual, a U.S. citizen lived in London and joined the U.S. Embassy there in 2009; which suggests that he was a locally hired employee.  The charging documents do not indicate which section of the embassy he worked in or what was his job. But he apparently used his State Department-issued computer at the U.S. Embassy in London while he did his cyberstalking and sextortion schemes.

There are a few curious things about this case. One, that there’s no mention anywhere in court records about his location of work within the embassy; 2) no explanation of how he came to target Jane Doe, an 18 year old Kentucky resident; where did he find her and his other victims? and 3) he successfully hacked 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs — how come nobody noticed? Was this guy a locally hired IT person, so spending all that time on his computer did not raise red flags? 4) Did Embassy London/HR know that this person had a prior criminal record when it hired this employee? If not, why not?

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant executed by DSS Agent Erik Kasik is available below:

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FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?

Posted: 1:21 am EDT

 

Charles William Thomas. You may not remember that name. He was a Foreign Service Officer. In April 1971 he shot and killed himself.  The Thomas case led to changes in the promotion and personnel system and helped usher in a grievance program at the Department.  Below excerpted from ADST:

Charles William Thomas was a bright mid-career Foreign Service officer who was selected out because his efficiency report was mixed with a poorer officer of the same name. After his lifelong dream of serving in the State Department came crashing down, Thomas committed suicide and his case became a cause celebre. His wife Cynthia held the Foreign Service and the State Department responsible.
[…]
In 1973, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell rendered a decision in Lindsey v. Kissinger declaring the lack of procedural safeguards in State’s selection-out system unconstitutional. A Foreign Service Grievance Board with public members was established in 1976, and procedural safeguards were created through consultations with AFSA.

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In April this year, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) dismissed FSGB Case No. 2014-042 after the State Department sought a preliminary ruling on the grievance, contending that “the grievance was untimely filed and not covered under the Board’s jurisdiction.”

This case is notable not only because officials of the State Department of old ignored the Board’s original ruling in 1972, but also because ignoring the grievance has stretched into the current leadership of the State Department.  The unnamed grievant in this case apparently wrote to Secretary John Kerry on May 14, 2014, and again on May 28, asking that he implement the 1972 recommendations of the Grievance Committee. Apparently, the grievant did not even received a response. The current FSGB accepted the grievant’s appeal with an effective filing date of October 22, 2014 but then dismissed it  for untimely appeal.

Grievant is a former Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who was appointed as an FSO Class 6 on November 26, 1954. He had been in grade for eight years as a FSO Class 4 when the 1968 Selection Boards did not recommend him for promotion to Class 3. On January 17, 1969, the Department of State (agency, Department) officially notified him that he would be separated for expiration of time in class (TIC) effective April 30, 1969. Having already learned informally of his proposed termination, grievant met personally with the then Secretary of State on January 2, 1969, and gave him a paper, “Notes for the Secretary.” The notes detailed policy clashes grievant had with his superiors, which he believed had prevented his promotion. The Secretary appointed two senior inspectors to conduct an investigation. The inspectors made grievant’s “Notes” available to his supervisors and on January 8, 1969, the supervisors gave their comments on the “Notes” to the Secretary. The inspectors furnished their report1 to the Secretary on January 15. The submissions led the Secretary not to take any action to stop the separation.

On September 26, 1969, after receiving several extensions of his employment, grievant requested a hearing under 3 FAM 1820 (“Grievances”), becoming the first Foreign Service employee to do so. He charged that his supervisors’ comments introduced untrue, slanderous and misleading statements into the agency’s records.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969. He was not eligible to retire and collect an annuity because he did not meet the age requirement.2 The Department helped him secure an immediate civil service position on October 5, 1969 with the Department of Defense.

Following a period during which grievant sought information to support his case, a three-member Grievance Committee commenced hearings on March 3, 1971. On September 27, 1972, the Committee found generally in grievant’s favor. With one member voicing exceptions to some of its eleven recommendations, the Committee recommended, inter alia, that the agency appoint grievant to FSO Class 3, credit the time he spent in government service since his separation towards Foreign Service retirement, and pay his legal expenses. The Committee submitted its report to the Director General instead of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Personnel, because the latter had appeared as a witness and disqualified himself. The Committee suggested that the Deputy Secretary be the final reviewing officer.

The reviewing officers decided not to accept the recommendations. In 1977, grievant filed an appeal3 with the Foreign Service Grievance Board requesting reinstatement, which request was denied because the Board found the appeal untimely.4 On October 13, 1993, two Senators wrote to the Secretary of State on grievant’s behalf.

Noting that grievant’s claim was adjudicated in his favor by the Grievance Committee but never implemented, they suggested that grievant may not have been notified of his eligibility to pursue administrative and judicial remedies provided in legislation. They asked how their committee could be assured that the Department would implement the recommendations in grievant’s case. There is no evidence of the Secretary’s response in the record of proceedings (ROP).

Apparently, the grievant also seek confirmation that his hearing be held “completely within State Department regulations at the time, so that he would not be required to argue before a court that the Department is improperly failing to recognize the legitimacy of its past responsibility for implementing the recommendations which resulted from his hearing.”

Grievant wrote to the current Secretary of State twice and when he did not get a response, he wrote to the FSGB on September 12 and October 16, 2014. He explained that he sought a negotiated settlement of retirement pay in lieu of enforcement of the remedies granted to him in 1972. The Board accepted his appeal with an effective filing date of October 22. On December 12, 2014, the agency asked the Board to make a preliminary determination that grievant’s appeal should be dismissed, on the grounds that the Board lacked jurisdiction.

The FSGB ruling:

We recognize grievant’s unusual position in the history of this Board as well as his enduring dissatisfaction with the outcome of the hearing process. As noted earlier, our analysis today is limited to jurisdiction and does not address the merits of grievant’s case. In accordance with 22 CFR § 904.2, the Board makes the following preliminary determination on jurisdiction: because grievant has not shown that his appeal was made “not later than two years after the occurrence giving rise to the grievance,” nor is there evidence that grievant was “unaware of the grounds for the grievance,” we find grievant’s appeal untimely.

Grievant was separated on October 4, 1969 under the rules deemed unconstitutional in 1973 after the Lindsey v. Kissinger ruling.  The Grievance Committee recommended that grievant be reappointed to a higher position, a recommendation ignored by senior officials in the State Department.  Last year, the FSGB took the case then says this case was filed late, and the Board lacks jurisdiction. But the members recognize the grievant’s “enduring dissatisfaction.”  Yeah, there’s that. And the State Department lumped this case with the trash with no effort to fix or mitigate the alleged wrongs it did to one individual some four decades ago.

Read the 40 year old grievance case below:

 

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DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 

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Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.

[…]

There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.

 

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Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East

 

Mills’ Transcript Features FSO Ray Maxwell: 35 Years Working For Uncle Sam, and Yo! What the Frak?

Posted: 3:52 am EDT

 

On October 21, the Benghazi Democrats released the full transcript of Cheryl Mills interview with the Select Benghazi Committee (click here to read the full transcript).

One of the questions asked Ms. Mills, Secretary Clinton’s former chief of staff was the allegation made by former NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell about a document scrub (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

Ms. Mills says this (per transcript):

“I might have had an encounter with him when he was being hired. I don’t know. Meaning, ensuring that he was in a place where he could be appointed or hired. I don’t know. But I don’t — I never had an encounter with Ray Maxwell around Benghazi.”

In a follow-up question, clipped below, Ms. Mills basically gave a word salad about the “hiring” of Mr. Maxwell. What the frak? We should note that Mr. Maxwell, at the time he was thrown under the Benghazi bus, had served 21 years in the career Foreign Service in addition to 6 years enlistment in the Navy Nuclear Power program. He earned a Naval Reserved commission then completed two division officer tours in the guided missile destroyer, the USS Luce (DDG-38); a total of about 14 years in the Navy, before joining the Foreign Service.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21

We have extracted the parts where Ms. Mills talked about Mr. Maxwell with the Committee.  Available to read here: Mills Transcript-RayMaxwell Extract.

Last year, we wrote The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?).

Sometime after that, we were able to read for the first time, the original grievance Ray Maxwell wrote on April 3, 2013 (pdf) addressed to State Department HR official Linda Taglialatela. Maxwell writes:

On December 18, 2012, the ARB Report was released. When I returned to my office after lunch, A/S Beth Jones’ OMS told me to meet with her at 2 pm. At 2:20 A/ S Jones returned to the office and summoned me. She invited me in and closed the door. She told me the ARB report had been released and that it was not complimentary to the Department, to NEA, or to me. She said PDAS Elizabeth Dibble was reading the classified report in the SCIF, and that she had not yet seen it. Then she said she had been instructed by Cheryl Mills to relieve me of the DAS position, that I was fired, and that I should have all my personal belongings out of the office be close of business that same day. She said PDAS Dibble would identify a place where I could keep my belongings, and that I would remain in the Bureau as a senior adviser. She said the Bureau was going to take care of me and that I didn’t need to “lawyer up.”

Just like that.

Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote about this previously here:

Maxwell impresses as a State Department archetype, dedicated to the insular institution, apolitical to the point of frustration to an outsider, but shocked when he found his loyalty was not returned.

He has revealed what he knows only two years after the fact. People will say he is out for revenge. But I don’t think that’s the case. As a State Department whistleblower who experienced how the Department treats such people, I know it’s not a position anyone wants to be in.
[…]
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn your own life, and that of your family, upside down, risking financial ruin, public shaming, and possibly jail time. It is a process, not an event.

According to NEA officials interviewed by the House Oversight Committee, decisions about security  policy and security resources rested firmly within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, not  NEA.   PDAS Elizabeth Dibble, told the Committee that Maxwell had no responsibility for security measures and should not have been held accountable by the ARB.  Lee Lohman, the Executive Director for NEA told the Committee, When I looked at Ray Maxwell’s situation, I had a much better sense of how much he was or was not involved in this, and it struck me as being unfair.
Below is an excerpt from the House Oversight Committee majority report:
Therefore, the ARB’s finding that Maxwell lacked “leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi” is puzzling. Maxwell himself denied having any formal role in determining the appropriate security posture or evaluating security requests by the U.S. mission in Libya.


The ARB’s approach to assigning accountability within NEA for the failures that led to 
the Benghazi tragedy is puzzling. The ARB identified “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” within NEA. It seems obvious that a “systemic failure” within a large organization such as NEA could only result from a widespread failure throughout the system, either to recognize the challenges posed by the inadequate security  posture of the Benghazi mission in a deteriorating environment, or else to take the appropriate steps to rectify it in order to safeguard American lives. Yet within the entire NEA Bureau, the ARB singled out only Raymond Maxwell, for conduct his own supervisor contended was not “material” to what happened in Benghazi. 

If Ambassador Jones and others are right, and the intelligence Maxwell stopped reading was not material because NEA was essentially powerless to affect the actions of DS in Benghazi, it is unclear why the ARB blamed Maxwell for not reading it. If the intelligence did provide some kind of insight which could have prevented the failures of Benghazi, it is further unclear why Maxwell was held accountable for not reading it, but Ambassador Jones and others within  NEA were not held accountable for having read it and taken no effective steps to remedy the shortcomings of the Benghazi compound’s security posture before it led to a loss of life?

So about 31 35 years working for Uncle Sam, and one day, one is conveniently fired. And expected to lay back and play dead until the Benghazi train passes by.

Playing dead is needed for the proper functioning of the Service?

Excuse me, I need to throw up. Again.

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Related posts:

Democrats vs Republicans at Benghazi Committee: Pew, Pew, Pew, Tzing! Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

Posted: 6:52 pm EDT

 

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On October 7, Chairman Gowdy wrote a 13-page letter to Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee (see pdf).  On October 18, Rep. Cummings responded with a 2-page letter stating that the alleged classified information in a Blumenthal email dated March 18, 2011, was not in fact classified, and was redacted by Gowdy himself.  That email is available to read here (pdf); note the absence of redaction codes.  On October 18,  responded to ’ letter on whether that Libya source was classified info in his letter here (pdf).

The Democrats charged that the Select Committee “has never held a single hearing with anyone from the Department of Defense in 17 months, and the Select Committee has conducted nearly ten times as many interviews of State Department employees than Defense Department employees (39 compared to 4).” 

The report says that the Committee has conducted a total of 54 transcribed interviews and depositions to date. Previous congressional committees and the independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) had already spoken to 23 of these individuals. The actual number of “new” interviews is 31 according to the Democrats contradicting the “50 interviews” apparently cited by Mr. Gowdy.

Going by the report, below is a list of 31 people interviewed by the Committee. We note that that are no DOD or CIA folks included here, only State Department people:

  • 1: State Department Chief of Staff State Department Chief of Staff from 2009 until February 1, 2013
  • 2: Senior Watch Officer in the Diplomatic Security Command Center from 2011 to 2013
  • 3: Principal Officer who served in Benghazi in the fall of 2012
  • 4: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the summer and fall of 2012
  • 5: Principal Officer who served in Benghazi in the summer and fall of 2012
  • 6: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the summer of 2012
  • 7: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring and summer of 2012
  • 8: Principal Officer who served in Benghazi in the spring and summer of 2012
  • 9:  diplomatic security agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2012
  • 10: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2012
  • 11: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the winter and spring of 2012
  • 12: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the winter of 2012
  • 13: Principal Officer who served in Benghazi in the fall and winter of 2011-2012
  • 14: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the fall and winter of 2011
  • 15: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the fall of 2011
  • 16: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2011
  • 17: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2011
  • 18: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2011
  • 19: Diplomatic Security Agent who served in Benghazi in the spring of 2011
  • 20: Post Management Officer for Libya from 2011 through June 2012
  • 21: Communications Officer for the State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from the fall of 2008 to the present
  • 22: U.S. Ambassador to Libya from December 2008 until May 2012
  • 23: U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations from July 2010 until July 2013
  • 24: U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya from 2009 until June 15, 2012
  • 25: Deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations from July 2011 until September 2014
  • 26: Contracting Officer in the State Department Office of Acquisitions starting in May of 2012
  • 27: Executive Secretariat Director of Information Resources Management who served from spring of 2008 until November of 2012
  • 28: Chief of the Records and Archives Management Division from fall of 2014 to the present
  • 29: Spokesperson in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2011 through 2013
  • 30: A speechwriter for Secretary Clinton
  • 31: A speechwriter for Secretary Clinton

Here’s one thrown over by WaPo’s Pinocchios:

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Here’s one who was a student in Cairo in 2011:

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Here’s one who wasn’t at the State Department anymore at the time of the incident:

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Here’s one who says “I don’t know of anything.”

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Boy! Who wrote these questions? A secretary of state “ordering” a secretary of defense?  What universe is that?

Who signed off on the April 2012 cable “denying security resources to Libya?” Can these congressional folks really be this ignorant? Every cable that goes out must have clearance. They all include the name or names of draftee/s and the names of the clearing and approving officials. How could a DS agent in Benghazi know if the secretary of state in WashDC “personally” signed off on any cable? And are these folks really ignorant of the hierarchical structure of the State Department? Or are they purposely ignorant because reality is not sexy enough to blow up?

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New hearings, please, on the topic of what can be done so politicians grow a conscience instead of playing offense/defense when they search for the “truth” — the kind where we don’t have to wrap the word “truth” in air quotes.

The former deputy director of the CIA writes that “The State Department facility in Benghazi has been widely mischaracterized as a US consulate. In fact it was a Temporary Mission Facility (TMF), a presence that was not continuously staffed by senior personnel and that was never given formal diplomatic status by the Libyan government. The CIA base—because it was physically separate from the TMF—was simply called “the Annex.” [….] CIA does not provide physical security for State Department operations. Why so few improvements were made at the TMF, why so few State Department security officers were protecting the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, why they allowed him to travel there on the anniversary of 9/11, and why they allowed him to spend the night in Benghazi are unclear. I would like to know the conversations that took place between Stevens and his security team when the ambassador decided to go visit Benghazi on 9/11/12. These were all critical errors.

Well, the temporary mission did not issue visas, nor had a consular officer tasked with providing citizen services. The State Department must have had another mission, what was it?  To lend cover to the “Annex”? If there was no State Department temporary mission in Benghazi, would the CIA have had an outpost there? How many people from the CIA did this Committee talked to? What the frack were they thinking when they interviewed UN personnel and speechwriters but not interview the spooks?

Or could it be that State was there for a very simple reason — the need for a reporting outpost? Click here (pdf) for the Action Memo from the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau (NEA) to the Under Secretary for Management (M) requesting approval for the continued operation of the U.S. presence in Benghazi through the end of calendar year 2012. That’s why there was a “tent” and not a fortress.  The memo was approved in December 2011.

Also see the email chain in this document collection (pdf) on Diplomatic Security coverage and the “Banghazi Plan;” RSO Eric Nordstrom’s emails are clear enough, the status of Benghazi post was undefined and Diplomatic Security did not want to devout resources to it.  NEA wanted to be there, why?  DS did not want to put resources there, why? The email from Shawn P. Crowley, the Principal Officer in Benghazi from January-March 2012 is also instructive.  Plenty of lessons there, but folks are not seriously looking, why?

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Obama Nominees: A Work Around the Republican Senate? Call Your Senate Besties!

Posted: 2:39 am EDT

 

Politico writes that Tom Cotton, the freshman Republican senator from Arkansas has indefinitely stalled ambassadorial nominees to Sweden, Norway and the Bahamas — a former White House counsel, plus two Obama campaign bundlers — until the administration investigates the Secret Service’s misconduct.

It’s not just Cotton holding up nominations. Republican senators such as Ted Cruz, John McCain and Chuck Grassley are deploying the tactic at an unprecedented level in their ongoing war with the White House. Right now, eight ambassadorial nominees are waiting on the Senate floor to be confirmed, and more than 100 other nominations are languishing in committee.
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It’s a historic battle with the president that’s likely to continue as Obama marches toward the end of his presidency with minimal relations with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
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Faced with such resolute opposition from the GOP, there are signs that the White House isn’t eager to push more high-ranking nominees to the Senate.
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[F]or dozens of other nominees hoping to serve Obama for his last 15 months, there’s no way to work around the Republican Senate. Currently, there are about 60 nominees awaiting floor action, and more than twice that waiting for committee approval.

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The Senate did confirm a few nominees for the State Department last week (see Senate Confirmations: Tamlyn, Hawkins, Gilmour, Nolan, Alsup, Rubinstein, Amato, Mendelson), mostly career appointees.  However, the senate hold, includes not just political appointees but even midlevel career appointees snared in this logjam (see Senators Grassley and Cotton Now Have 25 @StateDept Nominations Glued Down, and Going Nowhere).

With less than a hundred days to go, some of these nominees will potentially time out this year and would have to be renominated.  Some of those on the list have already been renominated once before, we can’t imagine they’d be willing to put their lives on hold just waiting around indefinitely.  If they do get renominated and get confirmation,  they’ll have several months on the job before they have to submit their resignation after the November 2016 presidential election.

Who wants to move household in February 2016 only to pack out and move household again in December or January 2017? This would be true particularly for political appointees but they may not care as long as they get to posts.  However, career appointees would not be exempted from this disruption either if they are destined for posts high on the wish list of the 2017 political appointees.

Career diplomats are typically allowed to serve their full tours even if there is a change of administration.  But all appointees serve at the pleasure of the president, so 2017 will be another year of embassy staffing disruption and personnel movement for top ranking career diplomats will be in the stars.

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Related post:

The Tyranny of the Timepiece : Senate Rules Obstruct Voting to a Degree that Wounds Our Government (pdf)

The Logic of Collective Inaction: Senatorial Delay in Executive Nominations, American Journal of Political Science (for fee access).

Spying Case Against Robin Raphel Fizzles; AG Lynch’s “Houston, We Have a Problem” Moment

Posted: 2:05 am EDT

 

We blogged about the Robin Raphel case in September (see The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?.

In November 2014, we also blogged this: Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.

On October 10, the NYTimes reported that officials apparently now say that the spying investigation has all but fizzled. This leaves the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.

The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.

If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.
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Some American investigators remain suspicious of Ms. Raphel and are loath to abandon the case entirely. Even if the government cannot mount a case for outright spying, they are pushing for a felony charge related to the classified information in her home.

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In the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work.  Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.

Are we going to hear soon that the federal officials handling the Raphel case also made some fundamental mistakes and misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft?  At least two of these officials leaked the probe to the news media even if no charges were filed against Ambassador Raphel.

This  was not a harmless leak. She lost her security clearance, and her job at the State Department without ever being charged of any crime. And in the court of social media, just the news that she is reportedly the subject of a spying investigation is enough to get her attacked and pilloried for treason. Perhaps, the most disturbing part in the report is that the authorities appear to have no case against her for spying, so now they’re considering slapping her with a felony charge under the Espionage Act.

Now, why would they do that?

Perhaps to save face and never having to admit that federal authorities made a mistake or lack an understanding of international statecraft? They could say —  see, we got something out of a year’s worth of investigation, so it was not completely useless.

Or perhaps because American investigators still viewed Ambassador Raphel’s relationships with deep suspicion?

Because, obviously, “deep suspicion” is now the bar for an espionage charge?

We should note that the hydrologist, Sherry Chen was cleared of spying charges but was notified in September that she will be fired by the National Weather Service for many of the same reasons the USG originally prosecuted her. Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University had been charged with “four counts of wire fraud in the case involving the development of a pocket heater for magnesium diboride thin films.” The USG asked to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning it could be revived, according to philly.com.

Unlike the Chen and Xi cases, Raphel was never charged and was not afforded the right to defend herself in the court of law.  What we have in one case may have been a misunderstanding, a second case, may well have been a mistake, but a third case is certainly, a trend.

This is AG Loretta Lynch’s  “Houston, we have a problem” moment.

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FASTC Hard Skills Training Center: “Who owes who favors?”

Posted: 12:19 am EDT

 

On September 9, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing to examine the efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and assets in northern Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border (see HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe).  There were questions about danger pay, security, local guard pay, planned facilities, hardship posts, staffing and yes, a congressman did suggest that we close our consulates in Mexico.

During the hearing, one congressman also showed up to beat up DS A/S Gregory Starr about the FASTC hard skills training center set to be built at Fort Pickett. The congressman from Georgia, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (GA-1)wanted to know why the OMB has not released its report on this politically contentious project that has been going on for years.  Um… probably because it’s not Diplomatic Security’s report to release? What the congressman from Georgia probably really want to ask is why the heck is the State Department building a training facility  in Fort Pickett, VA, didn’t everybody know that FLETC in Glynco, GA is the best facility there is?  We did not see the representatives from the VA delegation, probably because this was a hearing related to border posts.  Not sure, the congressman was really interested in the answers to the questions he asked. He told Mr. Starr to “go back and compare the two sites.” We wonder how many times Diplomatic Security has to go back and compare these two sites. Until all the congressional delegates are happy with it?  Did he ask other questions about the border posts? Must have missed that.

The Skeptical Bureaucrat recently did a piece on the FASTC:

To review the situation, the administration wishes to construct a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) that would consolidate ‘hard skills’ training by the State Department and its partners at Fort Pickett in southside Virginia. Some members of Congress are trying to stop the project, ostensibly on grounds of economic efficiency, and would require the State Department to use the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia for hard skills training. Both sides are currently awaiting the public release of a General Accountability Organization (GAO) report that evaluates the business case for building FASTC at Fort Pickett.

This week the Progress-Index, a local newspaper in the Fort Pickett area, interviewed and quoted a senior Diplomatic Security Service official for an article about the political impasse over FASTC. Well, hum, that’s interesting. I presume the senior official had gotten official clearance to make those remarks. I further presume that State gets to review the expected GAO report before it goes public. Putting 2 + 2 together, I wonder whether DS is signalling with the interview that it knows the GAO will support building FASTC at Fort Pickett?

Here’s the article, Report could speed up diplomatic training center at Fort Pickett:

State Department officials are hoping a soon-to-be released report will help end wrangling in Congress that has delayed construction on a diplomatic security training center at a National Guard base in Virginia.

Construction on the first phase of the facility at Fort Pickett, just over the Dinwiddie County border, was set to begin Aug. 1 with a completion date set for 2019. State Department officials have put that work on hold while they respond to Congressional requests for information.

The State Department stands by its selection of Fort Pickett, saying its proximity to Washington, D.C., and rural location would allow it to conduct around-the-clock military-style training. The site is also within driving distance of Marine bases in Virginia and North Carolina that State Department personnel train with, as well as Navy special warfare forces that are stationed in Virginia Beach.

Stephen Dietz, executive director of the State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security, said the Marines have told him that they can’t afford to travel to Georgia for State Department training. He said the cost estimates for the southeastern Georgia site [FLETC} only have to do with construction, and don’t include operation, maintenance or travel costs for State Department, military or intelligence agency personnel. 

Read TSB’s  Possible Tip-Off About FASTC Hard Skills Training Center at Fort Pickett?

The report cited by TSB also has a quotable quote from Mayor Billy Coleburn of Blackstone, Virginia who has been looking forward to as many as 10,000 people coming through for State Department training each year:

“If you’re banking your hopes on common sense and consensus in Washington, D.C., you stay up late at night worrying,” said Mayor Billy Coleburn. “Who owes who favors? Who gets browbeaten behind the scenes. Those are things we can only imagine — what happens in smoke-filled rooms in Washington, D.C?”

We can’t imagine those things. Nope.

What we’ve learned from this hearing is that Congress is really worried about the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas. Until it’s not.

So far, it has not been able to get its act together on a project that’s the center of a long standing tug-of-war between politicians. For sure, there will be another hearing. And another. And another.

It certainly is interesting to watch these congressional hearings where our elected reps demonstrate their deep understanding of the issues bubbling with barely hidden agendas. Can we please start sending these folks to Crash and Bang training?  Also, Channel 9 has Survivor Matamoros Nuevo Laredo, all 9 square miles of the city you’re allowed to go  is also accessible on Channel 9, any volunteers?

Anybody out there know what’s happening to the GAO report?

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US Embassy Budapest Issues Alert on Railway Station, Silent on Refugee/Migration Crisis on Doorstep

Posted: 6:37 pm EDT

 

The UNCHR in Budapest, Hungary writes that — an angry confrontation between police and refugees on a blocked train just outside Budapest; a makeshift camp of stranded Syrians, Afghans and others at the capital’s main railway station; more than 2,000 refugees crossing into the country from Serbia each day the contours of Europe’s refugee and migration crisis are growing and shifting.  It describes the concourse in front of the main Keleti train station in Budapest as resembling a sad, makeshift campsite. “More than 2,000 people slept there overnight, a few in small tents, some with blankets and air mattresses, many on the cement floor covered in nothing but their clothes.”
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On September 3, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary issued an alert concerning the migrants at the the Keleti Railway Station. This is about the only statement we could locate concerning the refugee crisis in its host country:

The U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens in Hungary to be alert when traveling through the Keleti Railway Station (Palyaudvar).  Increasing numbers of migrants in and around the station have resulted in large crowds in public spaces.  Although these crowds have occasionally confronted police, demonstrations have been peaceful, and the presence of migrants has not led to a rise in crime, violent or otherwise.  However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Rail passengers should be prepared to show their passports to be admitted to the trains and platforms.  Rail traffic to and from the station has been subject to significant delays.  In some cases, departures have been cancelled.

On the same day when Hungary was accused of inhumane treatment of refugees, Embassy Budapest tweeted this:

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A couple of weeks earlier, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell toured Hungary’s majestic caves:

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An FB commenter writes to Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Bell, by not speaking against Hungary’s regressive and inhuman actions on refugees you are proving all the charges that you are an ineffective diplomat and mere window dressing. Perhaps you should join Donald Trump’s campaign. Hungary needs to become the great country she could be, not revert to her infamous policies of the 20th Century.

Two days ago, this photo shocked the world:

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On September 3, the State Department spox tweeted this:

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The latest from Embassy Budapest today is learning more about programs that support the conservation of culture, urging,  “Follow !”

On Facebook, there is a ‪#‎USAfridayQUIZ‬.

That’s all.

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