What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT

 

Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT

 

The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT

 

On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

Screen Shot

Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

Screen Shot

February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

Screen Shot

Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

Screen Shot

 

Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw

 

There are over 24,000 diplomats working for @StateDept?

Posted: 5:24 pm EDT

 

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“There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world. Of that number some are diplomats and some are civil servants serving mostly domestically.”

— Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, director of the Foreign Service Institute. As the Chief Learning Officer for the U.S. government’s foreign affairs community, she is focused on preparing America’s diplomats for the challenges of tomorrow. Born and raised in Clearwater Florida, her State Department career has taken her to Egypt, Germany, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Bulgaria. (Via Parade).

Note: The Parade article was updated sometime after January 24 to say, “There are over 24,000 Americans working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”  The Wayback Machine dated January 24 has the original line that says, “There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”

 

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It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells

Posted: 2:24 pm EDT

 

Politico reported on January 25 about the State Dept. watchdog tied to earlier Clinton probe.   Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), described by Politico as a Clinton ally questioned the impartiality of the State Department IG’s office. He was specifically targeting OIG Steve Linick’s senior advisor, David Seide, who according to Representative Israel: “You have a guy who used his former position to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Mrs. Clinton that amounted to nothing, who then continues that work in the State Department. That has fingerprints on it that are just too visible and just lead to all sorts of questions.”

Excerpt below from Politico:

A lawyer overseeing investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices has a history of tangling with the former first lady’s political operation: He was a federal prosecutor involved in a probe that led, a decade ago, to the unsuccessful prosecution of a top Clinton fundraising aide.

David Seide — now the acting senior adviser to the State Department inspector general — gathered evidence that surfaced in the case against David Rosen, the national finance director of Clinton’s 2000 Senate bid.
[…]
While Rosen’s trial was a stinging defeat for the government, after Rosen’s acquittal, the committee that arranged the 2000 gala paid a $35,000 civil penalty to the Federal Election Commission and agreed to amend the relevant campaign finance reports to acknowledge more than $721,000 in unreported spending. Such large in-kind donations to a campaign-linked fundraiser were legal at the time, but they were made illegal by the so-called soft-money ban in the McCain-Feingold law passed in 2002.
[…]
Seide appears to have close ties to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and to DiSanto. When Linick gave up his position as IG at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to join State in 2013, Seide and DiSanto followed him to the new agency.

However, Seide’s résumé doesn’t suggest an anti-Clinton vendetta. After leaving government, he spent a year as an in-house counsel at Morgan Stanley before joining Wilmer Hale, a Washington law firm that has employed many prominent Democrats and former Clinton administration officials.

In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, better known as McCain-Feingold. The legislation made changes to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to limit the use of “soft money.”

Representative Steve Israel voted in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  So he was for McCain-Feingold before he was against McCain-Feingold?  Here’s the funny thing.  According to Politico, Doug Welty, the State OIG spox said that Mr. Seide was involved in the prosecution of a case in which a Clinton donor was charged with stock fraud, but not the Rosen case.

Chill out! Those prosecutors, they all look the same, hey?

In November last year, senior Democrats also alleged a “fishy connection” between the release of Huma Abedin-related  information and Senator Grassley’s former top investigator, Emilia DiSanto, who is now the deputy inspector general at the State Department. The NYT notes that “Ms. DiSanto worked for Mr. Grassley for years; she joined the inspector general’s office in late 2013, around the time the inquiry into Ms. Abedin began.”

Ms. DiSanto, in an email, responded angrily to questions about whether there was a connection between her and the information that Mr. Grassley had received.

“Any claim that I have communicated with Senator Grassley about State Department nominations is an outright lie,” she wrote. “There is nothing ‘fishy’ about the fact that I once worked for Senator Grassley about five years ago. Indeed, it is quite common for employees of the legislative branch to join the executive branch to continue their public service.”

Senator Grassley’s inquiry originally started with the Special Government Employee (SGE) arrangement involving Human Abedin in August 2013 (see The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up). Senator Grassley said in his letter to Secretary Kerry that he made inquiries on June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013 regarding the State Department’s use of Special Government Employee (SGE). We’re not complaining, by the way, that Senator Grassley is looking into this issue. We’d like to know how other State Department employees can get permission to hold three other jobs concurrent with their federal jobs.  Some friends have mortgages, others have kids in college, car payments, student debts, etc…. so an additional job or two would be really helpful.

In any case, Emilia DiSanto was appointed Acting Deputy IG on October 1, 2013 to succeeded Harold Geisel, the Deputy IG who served as OIG boss for the last five years while the State Department did not have a Senate-confirmed Inspector General.  Ms. DiSanto was with the Federal Housing Finance Agency-Inspector General’s Office for two years prior to her move to the State Department.

In 2004, during her work at the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. DiSanto reportedly met with Food and Drug Administration whistleblowers about their concerns that widely used antidepressants were linked to suicidal behavior among teens. According to the WSJ, the scientists told Ms. DiSanto that they believed the agency and companies were ignoring or suppressing that information. Shortly thereafter the senator held the first major congressional hearing on a drug safety issue in years.  They later turned their attention to “medical devices, specialty hospitals, the antibiotic Ketek, ghostwritten medical papers, the FDA’s criminal division, its drug division, its veterinary division and, most notably, the diabetes drug Avandia.” See more here (PDF).

In late 2005, she survived an attack by a man who repeatedly struck her with with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat. Reports say no evidence points to DiSanto’s work on the Finance Committee as the cause for the attack, but sources say there are a number of clues that suggest it could be since the assailant “was trying to hide his identity, wearing a hood and black gloves. He also did not make any demands before attacking the 49-year-old staffer. A working assumption among investigators is that he was waiting for her to arrive home.” She reportedly returned to work a week after her attack, and continued to work at the Senate until 2011 when she left and moved to FHFA/OIG.

David Seide was appointed Counselor to the Inspector General on October 18, 2013.  Previously, he served for almost three years as Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency.  His title was later changed to Acting Senior Adviser to the Inspector General at the State Department.

Both Ms. DiSanto and Mr. Seide worked with Mr. Linick when he was inspector general at Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). We should note that they worked with the RMBS Working Group and the New York Attorney General’s Office in support of the investigation and prosecution of RMBS fraud cases. In November 2013, when all three have already moved to the State Department, their old office, FHFA/OIG with the Justice Department and other state and federal entities secured a record $13 billion global settlement with JPMorgan for misleading investors about securities containing toxic mortgages.  They did the jobs they were supposed to do there.

Now they’re doing the jobs they’re supposed to be doing at the State Department.

And some politician is trying to convinced us that they are at fault for doing their jobs by peddling “all sorts of questions” and citing  “fingerprints.”

Mr. Seide is one of the two team leaders and 10 OIG staffers who looked into the Department of State’s FOIA Processes for Requests Involving the Office of the Secretary (PDF).  Is the good congressman from New York also digging up the backgrounds of the 10 OIG staffers involved in that project? That is, by the way, a distressing report to read but nobody asked how come no one had ever done this review before? What happened to the OIG during the Clinton tenure? What’s that? There was no Senate confirmed IG during that entire tenure?

Too bad, there was no IG with major brass balls before now to look under the rugs.

We do think that the real target of these allegations of bias is Mr. Linick. Because, hey … if his closest aides are political sleeper cells, who somehow manage to lay low in the bureaucracy and a decade later they turned the screws at their first opportunities, then by golly, he must be, too!  And if you can smear the messengers badly enough, then, of course, all those reports his office issued and will issue in the future can simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan.

This is predictable babble and the good congressman from New York and friends must now find a vomitorium so they can throw up all this crap.

f791ea607711be2775df70d9287f543b160f7b76b9f250ebefa874ae9c6ee67b

 

Related items:

 

 

 

US Embassy Beirut: A Form Letter Response, Please, That’s Cold

Posted: 2:50 am EDT

 

The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria suspended its operations on February 6, 2012, and is not open for normal consular services.  The Travel Warning for Syria was last updated on August 27, 2015. Yes, these folks should have left Syria when it was still a possibility, but they probably knew that already, and blaming them now is not going to help. For folks interested in learning what the U.S. Government can and cannot do in a crisis overseas, please click here.

Look, we understand that there is not much that the USG can do in terms of consular services in an active war zone.  But. While it may not be much, forwarding the inquiry in this case to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus might have, at a minimum, alerted the Section of this family’s existence.  Two, when one is in a life and death situation, receiving a form letter from the U.S. government is probably one of the coldest manifestation of the bureaucracy.

The Government of the Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz. U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan: AmmanACS@state.gov; +(962) (6) 590-6500.

 

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When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
[…]
What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
[…]
When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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Former Iran Prisoner: “Oman initiated our release, not the State Department”

Posted: 12:29 am EDT

 

Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans who were hiking in a mountainous region of Turkey near Iran in June 2009 when they were seized by Iranian border guards. He and his friend Joshua Fattal were detained in Evin prison in Tehran for more than two years. He was charged on August 21, 2011 with espionage and illegal entry and given an eight year sentence. On September 21, 2011, one month after his sentence, Mr. Bauer (and Mr. Fattal) was released and allowed to return to the United States.

He is now a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering criminal justice and human rights. As news broke this weekend about the Iran prisoner swap, Politico reported that he called Clinton’s appeal for more sanctions “totally irresponsible” and accused her of constantly inflaming tensions with Iran. Read Politico’s story here. He also tweeted this:

In October 2011, the NYT had this item about the passing of FSO Philo Dibble. He died on October 1, 2011, 10 days after Fattal and Bauer were released:

Philo Dibble, a career Foreign Service officer who played a central role in the release of two American hikers who had been held in an Iranian prison for more than two years, died at his home in McLean, Va., on Oct. 1, 10 days after the hikers were freed. He was 60.

The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Elizabeth Link Dibble, who is also a State Department official. Both worked in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, where he was deputy assistant secretary of state for Iranand she is the bureau’s principal deputy secretary.

“Philo really was the lead in the State Department for coordinating all U.S. government efforts regarding the release of the hikers,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, the Near Eastern bureau’s assistant secretary, said Thursday.

While explaining that he could not provide details because “it’s pretty sensitive,” Mr. Feltman said Mr. Dibble had coordinated efforts with diplomats from other nations, including Oman and Switzerland, in trying to free the hikers. (Switzerland has represented American interests in Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979-81.)

We may not know the full story how the release of the hikers went down until somebody from State writes a book about it or do an ADST oral history but some random Internet person actually tweeted what we were thinking:

Emails about the hikers were part of the latest Clinton email dump. Below is a selection of the emails:

Bauer’s letter to D/S Bill Burns with a redacted request – PDF
Statement of Facts issued by the State Department for Mr. Bauer – PDF
The hikers’ parents letter to President Obama copied to State – PDF
OpsAlert updates during release of two hikers – PDF
Bauer and Fattal statements after release (transcript) PDF

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False 360 Feedback Input in a Denial of Tenure Case Makes It to the Grievance Board

Posted: 3:32 am EDT

 

We’ve written previously about the 360 degree feedback tool as practiced by the State Department, most recently last fall when a Speaking Out piece was published in the Foreign Service Journal urging that the Department reevaluate its use of the 360-degree reviews (see The State Dept’s 360 Degree Feedback as Placement Tool, and Probably, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen).

In a recent Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) case, an FS-2 officer who works for USAID, appealed the denial of his grievance in which he challenged the denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board, on the grounds that a principal document on which it based its decision was fatally flawed. And it includes an example of the 360 feedback gone wild.

The 2013 Tenure Board had deferred grievant for tenure consideration for one year. Grievant alleges that the recommendation for deferral was based mainly on anonymous, negative 360 degree input that was the polar opposite of grievant’s accumulated Appraisal Evaluation Forms (AEFs) and other, positive 360 degree information. When the 2014 Tenure Board rejected grievant for tenure, the Agency decided to terminate him. The centerpiece of his grievance and appeal is the 2014 Tenure Board’s alleged improper reliance upon a single, stale and flawed 2013 TEF. Furthermore, grievant complains that the Agency denied him substantive due process because it failed to provide him with reasonably specific and timely notice of his deficiencies and an opportunity to improve his job performance before the denial of tenure.

Grievant joined the Foreign Service in May 2009 as an FS-2 officer, as part of the USAID’s recruitment program to attract mid-career professionals under the Development Leadership Initiative (“DLI”).

The AEFs Before the Tenure Board.  The package of information considered by the 2013 Tenure Board included a collection of three AEFs, covering grievant’s performance from April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010 , from April 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011 , and from April 1, 2011 through March 30, 2012. All three were uniformly positive, and they did not include any complaints that grievant was not performing adequately in any skill areas or that he was deficient in any work objective.
[…]
The 2013 TEF. This document is found in the record as Attachment J to grievant’s Appeal Submission. The author of this January 3, 2013 TEF (hereinafter REDACTED) was the Director of the agency’s REDACTED Office in USAID/Washington. He described himself as “the employee’s Office Director for five months,” indicating that he was evaluating grievant’s performance for the period of July 2, 2012 to December 19, 2012. He stated specifically that he “relied heavily on the 360 degree input provided by senior tenured officers who observed the employee’s performance in his two overseas assignments and his short stay in AID/W.” His reference to “360 degree input” denotes a certain type of information that a rater is permitted to obtain in preparation of an AEF. The use of 360 degree sources is also permissible in the preparation of a TEF.*3

In the Precepts for the Employee Evaluation Program (ADS Chapter 461) , “360 degree sources” are defined as: “Customers, peers, other managers, subordinates, and other individuals with whom or for whom an employee may have worked who can provide feedback, from their various perspectives, about the employee’s performance during any period of performance currently being evaluated.” The Precepts contain instructions for how a rater and rated employee must collaborate to select the particular 360 degree sources, some of whom are required to be solicited even if they do not respond.

According to the Record of Proceeding, at that time that the supervisor wrote the TEF, the Precepts did not explicitly direct or authorize the inclusion of 360 degree information in a TEF, although such authorization had become explicit by the time the 2014 Tenure Board made its decision. See ADS Chapter 414mad, 3.3.3 (“Responsible officials should use all appropriate sources of information in preparing the TEF, including AEFs, Appraisal Input Forms (AIFs), and 360 feedback.”).

The grievant argued that he was harmed by the underlying falsity of some of that information – compounding the impropriety. Grievant stated that some of the negative 360 comments were “literally false information that during the tenure process no one questioned or compared to the accurate facts as reflected in grievant’s OPF.”

Grievant identifies two examples of prejudicially false information that came to light:

One, grievant learned that one of the originally unnamed 360 degree sources was REDACTED who was a Civil Service supervisor of a technical office in the REDACTED in Washington, D.C. The underlying 360 degree source material that sent to was a memorandum of December 11, 2012. In it, he opined that grievant did not have the ability to function at the FS-01 level.  REDACTED added, “The fact that he has been curtailed in his first two overseas assignments in REDACTED and REDACTED by the Agency reinforces [sic] my recommendation.”9 The unchallenged information in the Record of Proceedings in this appeal shows that grievant left REDACTED  because he volunteered for a CPC (Critical Priority Country) assignment in REDACTED. Then, he left the subsequent assignment REDACTED at the end of one year, because one year was the standard length of time for a CPC assignment. Neither departure from post was involuntary or punitive in any way.

Two, another important false statement about grievant came from a 360 degree source later identified as REDACTED.  In an email of December 10, 2012 to he described himself as grievant’s “mentor” in REDACTED . In part, REDACTED stated,

He [grievant] taxed my experience and skills to the max until I finally requested that he be transferred out of our Mission. To cut to the quick, I would not recommend him for Tenuring [sic], I would rate him as negative on all of the FS Precepts for tenuring and I believe that the Agency would be better served employing [grievant] as a PSC. I did not write his AEF but I did have input and discussed his negative performance with his supervisor . . . . He refused to do rotations stating that he knew all about the Agency, our rules and regulations and how other tech and support offices functioned. . . . I had him removed.10

Grievant identifies several false statements about him in this TEF. One, grievant’s AEFs all confirmed that he completed whatever training rotations had been prescribed for him. […]  Moreover, comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of grievant’s status as a “mid-level” career candidate, who after the initial few weeks of orientation, was not subject to the types of rotations that applied to “entry-level” candidates. As mid-level, he was assumed to be knowledgeable in his field and was evaluated as a regular employee, not as a trainee – one who, according to his AEF’s, fully met those expectations.

Golly! You folks at USAID know this is wild, right?

Here is the decision of the FSGB: HELD: The denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board was tainted by the flawed and falsely prejudicial 2013 Tenure Evaluation Form (TEF) and was also issued in violation of several Agency Precepts. The denial of tenure is reversed and the case remanded to the Agency with instructions to expunge the 2013 TEF, as well as the letters deferring and denying tenure, and to place grievant’s updated Official Personnel File (OPF) before the next Tenure Board.

Read the ROI of the case below:

 

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Snapshot: @StateDept Processing Time for FOIA Requests From Albright to Kerry

Posted: 12:48 am EDT

 

Via State/OIG:

The Department has been particularly late in meeting FOIA’s timelines for requests involving the Office of the Secretary. Table 1, which is based on IPS data provided to OIG, shows the processing time for FOIA requests that were tasked to S/ES and involved the current and past four Secretaries of State. Only 14 of the 417 FOIA requests were completed within the statutory timeframe. Fifty-five of the requests took more than 500 days to process. The majority of the requests, 243 of 417, are still pending; several of these pending requests were received years ago. For example, 10 of the 23 pending requests relating to former Secretary of State Colin Powell are at least 5 years old.

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