Category Archives: Leaks|Controversies

Confirmations 11/20: Pettit, Spratlen, Krol, Moreno, Lu, Hartley, Controversial Nominees Up Next Month

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice vote on November 20:

  • James D. Pettit, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova
  • Pamela Leora Spratlen, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Uzbekistan
  • George Albert Krol, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Luis G. Moreno, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Jamaica
  • Donald Lu, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania
  • Brent Robert Hartley, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia

On November 18, the State Department spox, Jeff Rathke said that “The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.”

We desperately need all of America’s team on the field of diplomacy, and these are all spectacularly qualified career nominees. This is exactly how our remaining nominations should be considered and confirmed. There are 19 career Foreign Service officers awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor. They were all carefully considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and approved. The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.A total of 58 State Department nominees, including 35 career diplomats, are still waiting.
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Nominees on the floor have waited for more than eight and a half months on average, 258 days. It’s critical, in the Department’s view, that we get these nominees confirmed before the Senate adjourns for the year to prevent further delay in meeting our foreign policy objectives, and while we appreciate the progress just made, we know that America is stronger if the backlog is cleared and our nominees are confirmed before Thanksgiving. The Secretary has made a personal plea to his former colleagues in the Senate, and we would ask again for their help.

On November 19, the spox tried again:

Yesterday, I began the briefing with a pitch for my fellow Foreign Service officers who have been waiting for Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry called in from London to his chief of staff, David Wade, and he asked me to come out here again this afternoon and do the same. The Secretary has been in continued contact with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill about this. It’s very important to him. He needs to have his team and he also feels it’s important that these non-controversial nominees be confirmed before Thanksgiving as well. It’s the right thing to do for them, for their families, and for America’s interests.

On November 20, the spox tried once more to appeal that the nominees be confirmed “en bloc or by unanimous consent”to no avail:

We’ve asked the united – that the Senate confirm these nominations en bloc or by unanimous consent, as we’ve seen in some cases this week, particularly because there’s no objection to these highly qualified and dedicated nominees. We urge the Senate to confirm them quickly and put them to work for the country. We need it desperately.

 

It looks like that’s it for today.  Coming up next month, the nominations of the more controversial nominee to Argentina:

Plus the nominee for Hungary:

 

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Ex-USAID/OIG Pakistan: Finding fully developed for final report, whatchatalkinbout?

– Domani Spero

 

We previously blogged recent items about USAID (see below):

In response to WaPo’s Oct. 23 article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports,” USAID/OIG has released a two-page statement dated October 24 citing its “extensive track record of providing independent, robust oversight.” It has tweeted that October 24 statement multiple times since it was first linked to on Twitter on October 27.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03

 

Yesterday, WaPo published a letter to the editor from Joseph Farinellaa senior FSO who was USAID/OIG director in Pakistan:

The Oct. 23 front-page article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports” cited a Sept. 30, 2012, inspector general’s report on an audit of a U.S. Agency for International Development assistance program in Pakistan. I was the inspector general director in Pakistan whose office conducted the audit. The article cited a draft audit finding placed in a confidential “management letter” rather than in the final published report. The inspector general’s chief of staff said that this was done because our work was not supported by evidence and more time was needed to develop information for a final report.

I recently retired as a senior Foreign Service officer with more than 40 years of worldwide audit experience in several organizations. Our finding on the program not operating efficiently and effectively was fully developed for inclusion in the final report. We provided examples of funds not used for main program goals, why this happened and the negative effect on the program.

Instead of a fully developed finding with recommendations in a published audit report, information was provided to the mission director in a letter. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said it all: “That’s ridiculous. The finding shouldn’t have been removed.”

Okay, maybe the USAID/OIG or his chief of staff would like to take a stab at this again?

Once more with feelings.

It seems to us that there is an easy remedy here for USAID/OIG if it really wishes to put these allegations to rest.

  • First, release all the draft audit reports as a companion to each of the final reports that are the subject of these allegations. It will give us, the paying public, a way to gauge just how much sanitation work were or were not done with these reports.
  • Second, USAID/OIG can release all the confidential “management letters” or “management alerts” it issued to USAID management, and all follow-up actions.  The October 24, 2014 USAID/OIG statement  says that “OIG’s current policy and practice is to post all management letters on its public Web site. This policy has been applied to management letters issued from April 2014 forward.” Okay, but that’s not any help with these allegations as there’s no way to tell how many “management letters” have actually been issued by USAID/OIG previous to April 2014. The allegation is that audit findings were placed on management letters that are not accessible to the public. So let’s see those management letters online and see which audit findings were not supported by evidence.

These allegations go to the heart of USAID/OIG’s mandate as an independent overseer of the people’s money.  Here now, we have an ex-auditor for a specific program publicly contradicting USAID/OIG’s official spin, not to mention the multiple whistleblowers who also came forward. Sorry, but a two-page statement touting the office’s “independent and robust oversight” will not be good enough to shut this down.

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Poor MidLevel Official Writes #Ebola Memo That Never Went Anywhere — Oy!

– Domani Spero

 

In September, we blogged that the State Dept Awarded $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola.  Apparently, the last couple of days there was a flap over a State Department memo on a plan to bring non-Americans with Ebola to U.S. soil for treatment. The memo labeled Sensitive But Unclassified – Predesicional is available to read here and notes USG obligation to non-U.S. citizen employees and contractors of U.S. agencies (USAID, CDC, etc.) and programs as well as NGOs and private firms based in the United States.

The  Washington Times identified the memo’s author as Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the Office of International Health and Biodefense (OES/IHB). The Office of International Health and Biodefense is the primary State Department policy office responsible for a variety of international health issues. It takes part in U.S. Government policymaking on infectious disease, environmental health, noncommunicable disease issues, global health security, antimicrobial resistance, and counterfeit and substandard medications.  A clearance sheet attached to the memo reportedly says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

The memo did make it to the Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. Excerpt below:

QUESTION: And then the last one on this is: There was a report last night and again this morning about this memo that was – the State Department memo –

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me address that.

QUESTION: — about bringing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. One, just factually, the document referenced was drafted by a midlevel official but not cleared by senior leaders. It never came to senior officials for approval. And any assertion that the memo was cleared by decision-makers is inaccurate. There are no plans to medevac non-Americans who become ill with Ebola to the United States. We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third countries subject to reimbursement and availability. But we’re not contemplating bringing them back to the United States for treatment.

QUESTION: So the – but essentially, what you’re saying is that one guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s also weeks old and the memo isn’t current because European – our European partners –

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — have addressed this matter by providing their own guarantees, but go ahead.

QUESTION: One problem that – I mean, that I see is that a week ago, the Pentagon and the White House was insisting that, no, no, no, there is no overall quarantine order and it’s just this one commander, or these guys who are in Italy. And now all of a sudden, today we have Secretary Hagel saying no, it’s going to be – it’s Pentagon-wide and it’s going to go to all of the troops that are there. What is there to prevent this memo from coming back to life, as it were –

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with this –

QUESTION: — and becoming policy? Has it been flat out rejected or is it just kind of sitting on a shelf someplace and maybe could be implemented at some point?

MS. PSAKI: It’s sitting on a shelf or on a computer – since we use computers nowadays – by the individual who wrote it, I suppose. I think the important point here is that our European partners, since several weeks ago when that was written, have addressed this by providing a guarantee to international health workers that they would either be flown to Europe or receive high-quality treatment on the spot. So it’s not applicable at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, in general, why was this never approved? I mean, it seems – I mean, you could make the argument that the U.S. has great healthcare facilities, that no one who has contracted the disease in the United States has actually died. So I think there might be some who could make the argument that why not bring people?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but many countries have decided to make that decision to deal with it themselves, and we’ve certainly been discussing with them how to do that.

QUESTION: So this has been discarded as unnecessary rather that rejected –

MS. PSAKI: It was never discussed at any levels, in any serious level with decision-makers. So I don’t – wouldn’t say it was discarded, but –

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Along the lines of what Matt was saying, on page 5 of the memo, it says that it was approved by Nancy Powell, the head of the Ebola Coordination Unit. Doesn’t that suggest it was fairly further along in the process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the approval memo. As I understand, and just so you know, sometimes there are people listed. It doesn’t mean they cleared it. It just means there are people who need to clear a memo. So I will check and see if there was anybody who actually cleared it.

“One guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere?” And the official spokesperson, without blinking said, “correct.”

Don’t you just hate it when they say things like that and throw some midlevel official under the medevac plane?

In fact, the justification for the air ambulance evacuation contract awarded to Phoenix Air on August 18, 2014 appears clear enough as to why this was necessary:

The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

That leaked memo is not saying we’re moving Liberia’s entire infected population for treatment in U.S. hospitals, is it?  An argument can be made that the USG has an obligation to assist in the treatment of those infected in the course of their work fighting the ebola outbreak on behalf of the international community.  The State Department is not/not making that argument, of course.  The only official argument it is making is that – that memo, that never went anywhere beyond the midlevel officer’s desk.

Nothing to do with an election coming up? Sure, okay.

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Dear White House, About That John Kerry as Sandra Bullock in Space — Just. Stop. It.

– Domani Spero

 

Following the “chickenshit”flap, Mark Lander’s WH piece on October 29 via the NYT also includes the following:

Mr. Kerry is vocal and forceful in internal debates, officials said, but he frequently gets out of sync with the White House in his public statements. White House officials joke that he is like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity,” somersaulting through space, untethered to the White House.

Aides to Mr. Kerry reject that portrait, saying he dials into White House meetings from the road and is heavily involved in the policy process.

So then the Business Insider made this:

 

We can’t help but wonder what’s going on over at the White House.

 

Yup, you’re careening wildly all over the place, and undermining very publicly this administration’s Secretary of State, and you think there will be no consequences because it’s just a joke?  Didn’t you stop to consider that foreign ministries around the world may start questioning just how “untethered” the Secretary  is to the White House and that it could impact how they deal with him or his agency?

For Baracksakes, adult supervisors need to please step on the brakes here!

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Oops, what did the WH say?

 

Right.

 

Today, Secreatry Kerry was at the Sixth Annual Washington Ideas Forum.

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State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts

– Domani Spero

 

One of the most serious allegations contained in the CBS News report last year include a regional security officer (RSO) reportedly assigned in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” with local guards.

The memo, reported by CBS News’ John Miller, cited eight specific examples, including allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”

USA Today reported that the regional security officer in Beirut allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought.

It turns out, according to State/OIG that this RSO already had “a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked”

It boggles the mind … the RSO typically supervises the local guard force!

Seven posts! Just stop and think about that for a moment. This was the embassy’s top security officer; a sworn federal law enforcement officer who was responsible for the security of Foreign Service personnel, property, and sensitive information throughout the world.

Below is an excerpt from the State/OIG investigation. We regret if this is going to make you puke, but here it is:

The second DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerned a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment. DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.

However, at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked. A 2006 DS investigation involving similar alleged misconduct led to the RSO’s suspension for 5 days.

OIG found that there was undue delay within the Department in adequately addressing the 2011 misconduct allegations and that the alleged incidents of similar misconduct prior to 2011 were not timely reported to appropriate Department officials.7 OIG also found that, notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.8 Notably, the DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.

The agents also encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO. For instance, the agents were directed to interview another DS manager who was a friend of the RSO, and who was the official responsible for selecting the agents’ work assignments. During the interview, the manager acted in a manner the agents believed was meant to intimidate them. OIG also found that Department and DS managers had described the agents’ investigation as a “witch hunt,” unfairly focused on the RSO. Even though OIG did not find evidence of actual retaliation against the investigating agents, OIG concluded that these circumstances, including the undue delay, created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning DS’s investigation and the Department’s handling of the matter.

Ultimately, in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

 

The State/OIG report cleared Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, for allegedly interceding in an investigation by the Diplomatic Security Service concerning a nominee to be U.S. Ambassador. The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security incumbent referred to below had been snared in the Benghazi-fallout, and resigned in December 2012:

The third DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism involved the unauthorized release in mid-2012 of internal Department communications from 2008 concerning an individual who was nominated in early-2012 to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. (The nominee’s name was withdrawn following the unauthorized release.) DS commenced an internal investigation related to the unauthorized release of the internal communications. The then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State was alleged to have unduly influenced that investigation.

OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor. However, OIG did find that the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of DS had delayed for 4 months, without adequate justification, DS’s interview of the nominee, and that delay brought the investigation to a temporary standstill. OIG concluded that the delay created the appearance of undue influence and favoritism. The case was ultimately closed in July 2013, after the nominee was interviewed and after DS conducted additional investigative work.

No Undue Influence or Favoritism in Four Cases 

OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed, and, in two of those four, determined that no further discussion was warranted. However, two cases are discussed further in this review because OIG found one common issue in both cases that requires remedial action—the failure to promptly report alleged misconduct to the DS internal investigations unit for further review.

Three DS special agents allegedly solicited prostitutes in 2010 while serving on the security detail for the Secretary of State. Although managers on the security detail learned of some of the alleged misconduct at or near the time it occurred, they did not notify the DS internal investigations unit, which normally handles such matters. A DS internal investigations agent only learned about the three cases while conducting an unrelated investigation. As a result, no action was taken to investigate the misconduct allegations until October 2011, 18 months after the first alleged solicitation occurred. As a result of the investigation then conducted, the three agents were removed from the Secretary’s security detail, and their cases were referred for further disciplinary action. One agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against the other two agents were not sustained.9

A DS special agent who worked in a domestic field office allegedly falsified time and attendance records over a 17-month period between January 2011 and May 2012. DS management in the domestic field office knew about the allegations but did not promptly report them to the DS internal investigations unit. In May 2012, during the course of an unrelated investigation involving the DS special agent, the DS internal investigations unit learned of the allegations of false time and attendance reporting. An internal investigation was then commenced, and the DS special agent subsequently resigned. DS also referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which declined prosecution of the case.

One footnote:

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG noted that one agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against a second agent were not sustained; and the third agent had initiated a grievance proceeding, which was pending, challenging the discipline determination. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Department advised OIG that the third agent’s grievance proceeding was resolved with a finding by the Foreign Service Grievance Board not sustaining the charges.

One Review Ongoing 

The eighth DS internal investigation reviewed by OIG concerned the use of deadly force during three incidents that took place during counternarcotics operations in Honduras in 2012. OIG has commenced a joint review with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The investigation remains under review, and OIG will issue a separate report on the matter.

The above case was cited in the USA Today report:

“The Diplomatic Security Service said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “gave the impression” that a probe of the shooting deaths of four Hondurans involving the Drug Enforcement Administration should not be pursued. The case remained open when the memo was written, as the DEA would not cooperate.”

OIG Recommendations – open and unresolved

  1. The Department should take steps (as previously recommended in OIG’s report on the 2012 inspection (ISP-I-13-18)), to enhance the integrity of DS’s internal investigations process by implementing safeguards to prevent the appearance of, or actual, undue influence and favoritism by Department officials.
  2. The Department should clarify and revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and should promulgate and implement additional protocols and procedures, in order to ensure that allegations of misconduct concerning Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials are handled fairly, consistently, and independently.

The end.

 

Related posts:

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s Not

– Domani Spero

 

In June last year, CBS News’ John Miller reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off at the State Department. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.

Memos showed that probes included allegations of:

  • A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
  • Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
  • An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
  • The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
  • Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
  • “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.

You may revisit that CBS News report here. At that time, State/OIG told us that “On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.” In a statement to CBS News, State/OIG also said about the investigation: “We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.”

We’ve blog about this previously:

Yesterday, State/OIG finally released its long-awaited report to this investigation, excerpt below:

The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. [...]

In three of the eight internal investigations, OIG found that a combination of factors in each case created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism by Department management. The appearance of undue influence and favoritism is problematic because it risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders.

This review assesses the Department’s handling of those eight investigations. OIG did not reinvestigate the underlying cases. In conducting this review, OIG interviewed Department employees, examined case files, and reviewed 19,000 emails culled from the Department’s electronic communications network. OIG’s findings are not necessarily indicative of systemic issues affecting all DS cases. However, they reveal issues with current Department policies and procedures that may have significant implications regarding actual or perceived undue influence.

Handling “management issues” relating to a U.S. Ambassador

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
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The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3 (underlined for emphasis)

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

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

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6

But the footnotes!

2* 3 FAM 4322.2 states that incidents or allegations involving Chiefs of Mission that could serve as grounds for disciplinary action and/or criminal action must be immediately referred to OIG or DS to investigate. This section further states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management…may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.” No guidance exists describing what factors to consider in determining what constitutes “exceptional circumstances.”

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

4* 3 FAM 4322.3.a provides that a management official “must initially determine whether he, she, or another management official should be the investigating official, or whether the matter should be referred to” OIG or DS for further action. This section further provides that if the official determines that the “alleged misconduct is relatively minor, such as leave abuse or failure to perform assigned duties, that official or another management official may handle the administrative inquiry” and need not refer the matter to OIG or DS.

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

6* During the course of this review, OIG discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

OIG to M’s “exceptional circumstances”  – what the heck is that?

“…OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

Well, it’s shocking that M, DS and the Legal Adviser could not agree on a simple thing. We do think the OIG is exactly right here. Why have an oversight and investigation arm if some higher up can declare no investigation necessary under an “exceptional circumstances”clause, that’s not even spelled out.

The Inspector General is ranked equivalent to an Assistant Secretary.  According to the regs, he reports directly to the Secretary, the Board, the Commissioner and the head of any other organization for which the OIG is assigned oversight responsibility, or to the extent such authority is delegated, to the officer next-in-rank. But 1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M) (CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)  put in place before the current OIG assumed office, also has this to say:

The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action.

We’ll have to watch and see how this turns out.  Must add that nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual does it say that the Inspector General may not/not investigate matters considered “management issues” under  “exceptional circumstances.”

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

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Argentina Prez Calls Embassy Message “A Provocation,” Claims ISIS, No, U.S. Plans to Bump Her Off?

– Domani Spero

 

Don’t look now but it appears as if the situation in Argentina is about to get more than touchy serious.  On September 29, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires released a Security Message for U.S. Citizens on General Security Awareness (pdf):

The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens living and traveling in Argentina that in recent months, U.S. citizens have reported a number of crimes to the embassy. Crimes reported include petty crime, taxi scams (especially at international airports), mugging, snatch-and-grab robbery involving motorcycles and bicycles, and occasionally more serious crimes such as express kidnapping, home invasion, carjacking, assault, and sexual assault using date rape drugs. We recommend that U.S. citizens traveling and living in Argentina always be aware of their surroundings, maintain a high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security. Please consult reliable sources for information on transportation, lodging, and the general security of areas you are visiting.

U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests. The majority of crimes reported to the Embassy occur in the major metropolitan areas but U.S. citizens should use an equal level of caution outside large population centers. While crimes happen at all times of day and night, they are significantly more frequent after dark.

The Embassy does not have evidence that victims have been targeted because of their U.S. citizenship. If you are the victim of a crime, please report it immediately to the police and inform American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy.

The message went out a few days after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints president David P. Robertson, of the Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission, was robbed and briefly held on the night of September 24. According to El Dia cited by a Provo newspaper, Robertson was driving his Toyota truck when he was stopped by armed bandits at an intersection in Ciudadela, a city in the Buenos Aires area. The assailants reportedly took his wallet, cell phone and vehicle, and then released him on the street.

The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or CFK), called the security message, “a provocation” and she knew exactly who to blame. Below via mercopress:

“The note is a provocation. Usually, when the embassy issues this type of warning messages, it focuses on specific events such as political rallies or hostage situations which can be dangerous to US citizens,” the Argentine president explained.

“In this case, the threat is not specific. It describes Argentina as if we were living in the far-west,” she added, and went on to doubt US interim ambassador in Buenos Aires Kevin Sullivan’s intentions with the note.

“We know who wrote it: the same person who announced the country was in default,” CFK said, referring to Sullivan’s remarks about the country needing “to exit default as soon as possible”.

“Maybe he thought: ‘I can provoke her with this statement, escalate tension and then they’ll kick me out of the country’. But we are not going to do this… because the person who comes to fill his position may be even worse. We know this one; we know who he is. I always say: If you know them, better leave them where they are,” the President stated.

Let’s see if we can get this straight …the Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan wrote the Consular Section’s security message to upset the host country president so that he, CDA Sullivan can be kicked out of the country where he has been boss-man at the U.S. Embassy since June 2013?  That make perfect sense, right?  If true, this might just be one of the nuttiest way of getting out of what we’d call a plum assignment in the diplomatic service.  Anybody out there who has successfully got himself/herself PNGed using this strategy?

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Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan (center) with Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Palacio Bosch, Argentina (photo via US Embassy Buenos Aires/FB)

Back in May, Diplomatic Security actually released its 2014 Crime and Security Report on Argentina where it calls crime a serious problem in the country. “Street and residential crime appears to be increasingly common,is more violent than in the past, and is often perpetrated with a firearm or other deadly weapon.“But the report also says that “Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience anti-American sentiment.”

Unless Mr. Sullivan is pulling double duty as the Regional Security Officer  (RSO) at Embassy Buenos Aires, we’re pretty confident that he also did not write that crime and security report.

We should note that the nominee to be the next permanent resident of Palacio Bosch is Obama bundler, Noah Mamet.  Mr. Mamet one of the more controversial political appointees is still stuck in the Senate.  If Mr. Mamet gets through the confirmation process, CFK may have to get to know him, too. Mr. Mamet speaks a little Spanish but has never been to Argentina, so there’s an opportunity for some work there.

In the meantime, as if all this is not convoluted enough, the  Guardian reported that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner  has now“claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.” Whaaaat? Excerpt below:

[S]he gave a rambling televised address in which she claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.

“If something should happen to me, don’t look to the Middle East, look to the North,” Fernández said during the address on Tuesday night, in which she alluded to an alleged plot against her by local bankers and businessmen “with foreign help”.

Fernández had previously claimed to have received death threats from Islamic State (Isis) because of her friendship with Pope Francis. In last night’s speech, however, she seemed to suggest the threats against her, received in three emails to Argentinian security officials, had come from the US.

Her claim comes in the wake of a rapid deterioration of Argentina’s already rocky relationship with the US after the country went into default in August.

This is the president of over 41 million Argentines who says “the first thing I demand is respect.” 

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

According to the Guardian, Elisa Carrió, the UNEN party presidential candidate has called President Fernández “completely out of touch with reality”. “

“Since she doesn’t resist reality, with unemployment, high inflation, the rising dollar, she says it’s no longer Isis trying to kill her, but the US,” said Carrió. “She’s inventing conspiracies.”

In related news, CFK on September 30, also publicly criticized the country’s Central Bank “for allegedly leaking inside information” according to Bloomberg News. Central Bank President Juan Carlos Fabrega officially resigned yesterday which resulted in deepening Argentine bond and stock markets losses.

No, it’s not useful to revisit that INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) cable; that one only has questions, and none of the answers. And we’d really like to know who is CFK going to suggest of plotting to kill her next.

Hey, what’s gong going on with Arturo, the only polar bear in Argentina?

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State Dept on Former DAS Raymond Maxwell’s Allegations: Crazy. Conspiracy Theory. What Else?

– Domani Spero

 

AP’s Matt Lee revisited the question of Raymond Maxwell’s Benghazi-related allegations during the September 16 Daily Press Briefing with State Department deputy spox, Marie Harf.

Here is the short version:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 5.54.23 PM

 

Below is the video clip followed by an excerpt from the transcript where the official spox of the State Department called the allegations of one of its former top officials “a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret.” Crazy. Conspiracy. Of course!  Now stop asking silly questions and go home.

Over 20 years of service in the Navy and the diplomatic service and his allegation is reduced to a sound bite.  Mr. Maxwell is lucky he’s retired, or he would have been made to work, what was it, as a telecommuter?  Pay attention, there’s a lesson here somewhere.

In The American Conservative today, Peter Van Buren writes:

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.

 

 

 

QUESTION: You wouldn’t – you would probably disagree, but anyway, this has to do with what Ray Maxwell said about the AR – the preparation to the documents for the – for submission to the ARB. You said yesterday that his claims as published were without merit and showed a – I think you said lack of understanding of the process, how it functioned.

MS. HARF: How the ARB functioned, a complete lack of understanding, I think I said.

QUESTION: Complete lack of understanding, okay.

MS. HARF: Not just a partial lack of understanding.

QUESTION: Okay. So what was it that – presuming he’s not making this story up about coming into the jogger’s entrance and going to this room where – I mean, I presume there’s nothing really sinister about collecting documents for the – for whatever purpose, but it –

MS. HARF: There may have been a room with documents –

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: – being collected and – yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So what did he see if he did not see –

MS. HARF: I have no idea what he saw.

QUESTION: Was there, that you’re aware of – and I recognize that you were not here at the time and this was a previous Secretary and a previous Secretary’s staff, likely all of them previous although I don’t know that to be true, so you may not know. But I would expect that you have asked them for their account of what happened.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So was there some kind of an effort by member – that you’re aware of or – let me start again. Was there some kind of effort by State Department officials to separate out or scrub down documents related to the – to Benghazi into piles that were – did not – piles into – into piles that were separated by whether they made the seventh floor look – appear in a bad light or not? I’m sorry. I’m not – asking this in a very roundabout way. Were there –

MS. HARF: It’s okay, and we’re – and he was referring, I think, to the ARB process. Is that right?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.

But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: Could they – could a group of people operating in this room in preparing for the ARB to look at the documents – could a group of people have been able to segregate some documents and keep the ARB from knowing about them –

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: – or seeing them?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: So it’s –

MS. HARF: The ARB, again, has said – and everything I’ve talked to everybody about – that they had unfettered access to what they needed.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you can’t need what you don’t know about, kind of, right? Do you understand what – see what –

MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access –

QUESTION: So they got to see –

MS. HARF: – to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: So there were no documents that were separated out and kept from the ARB that you – but you –

MS. HARF: Not that I’ve ever heard of, not that I know of. I know what I know about the ARB’s access. We have talked about this repeatedly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I think, as there often are with Benghazi, a number of conspiracy theories out there being perpetrated by certain people. Who knows why, but I know the facts as I know them, and I will keep repeating them every day until I stop getting asked.

QUESTION: Okay. And does this apply to documents that were being collected in response to requests from Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a different process, right. It was a different process. And obviously, we’ve produced documents to Congress on a rolling basis. Part of that – because it’s for a different purpose.

QUESTION: Well, who – what was this group – well, this group of people in the – at the jogger’s entrance –

MS. HARF: In the – I love this – sounds like some sort of movie. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, whatever it sounds like, I don’t know, but I mean, we happen to know that there was an office that was set up to deal with this, understandably so because it required a lot of effort.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But that room or whatever it was, that office was only dealing with stuff for the ARB?

MS. HARF: I can check if people sat in the same office, but there are two different processes. There’s the ARB process for how they got their documents. There’s the Congressional process –we’ve been producing documents to them on a rolling basis –

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. HARF: – part of which in that process is coordinating with other agencies who may have equities in the documents, who may have employees who are on the documents. So that’s just a separate process.

QUESTION: Okay. So the people in that office were not doing anything with the Congress; they were focused mainly on the ARB?

MS. HARF: I can see who actually sat in that office. I don’t know. But what we’re focused on is the process, right, and the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The congressional process – as you know, we have been producing documents to Congress on a rolling basis –

QUESTION: Well, I guess that this mainly relates to the –

MS. HARF: – and there’s just different equities there.

QUESTION: This – the allegation, I think, applies to the ARB. But you are saying –

MS. HARF: Right, and I’m talking about the ARB.

QUESTION: – that it is impossible for a group of people to collect a stack of documents that say something that they don’t like and secret them away or destroy them somehow so that the ARB couldn’t get to them? Is that what you’re saying? It’s impossible for that to happen?

MS. HARF: I’m saying I wasn’t here then. What I know from talking to people here who were is that the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether there wasn’t –

MS. HARF: It does answer the question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well – no, no, no, no. No, no, no. One of his allegations is that there were people who were separating out documents that would make the Secretary and others –

MS. HARF: So that the ARB didn’t have access to them.

QUESTION: Right, but – that put them in a bad light.

MS. HARF: But I’m saying they had access to everything.

QUESTION: Okay. But –

MS. HARF: So –

QUESTION: – do you know even –

MS. HARF: – I’m responding.

QUESTION: But even if it would’ve been impossible for them to keep these things secret, was there a collection of –

MS. HARF: This is a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret. The ARB had unfettered access.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, Marie, I appreciate the fact that you’re taking that line. But I mean, there is a select committee investigating it.

MS. HARF: Well, it happens to be true. And tomorrow there will be an open hearing on ARB implementation, where I’m sure all of this will be discussed with Assistant Secretary Greg Starr.

QUESTION: Okay. And they will have – they will get the same answers that you’ve just given here?

MS. HARF: Let’s all hope so.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes, of course.

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Tomorrow’s News Today: This Week Could Potentially Be a Heck of a Mess!

– Domani Spero

 

 

The Googles tell me that For the Record is an investigative news magazine on TheBlaze. The show was created by Glenn Beck to “restore the truth” in journalism. We’ve never watched it but just so you know, the show is coming back this week.  It has released two three teasers on YouTube and Twitter; one on September 10, a second one on September 15 and another one on YouTube today.  All flashy clips alleging cover-ups and corruption in the State Department. If you’re an old time Foggy Bottom watcher, you will recognize many of the faces and the names. in these clips.

 

 

 

Here is one posted today on YouTube:

 

It appears from the short clips that this is related to the Richard Higbie case (see Higbie v. Kerry) and the still unresolved? non-public? ongoing? investigation on the CBS News allegations (see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

In November last year, the OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

This past spring, we’ve revisited this investigation without much success. (see Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?). Also  State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations and State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

Today, State/OIG told us that as per OIG policy, the office has no comments to make on the status of any possible, pending, on-going or future investigation.

So upfront we must tell you that we don’t know the disposition of these investigations. What we know is that the show will go on tomorrow, September 17 at 8 pm. Due to the titillating and salacious contents of the CBS allegations, we suspect that this will attract enough eyeballs to make it to next day’s news cycle.

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State Department Denies Raymond Maxwell’s Document Scrub Allegations. Peeeeriod!!!!

Domani Spero

 

We did a blog post yesterday on former NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Raymond Maxwell and Benghazi (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

A Fox News report cited State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach denying the allegations:

“That allegation is totally without merit. It doesn’t remotely reflect the way the ARB actually obtained information,” he said in an email. He explained that an “all-points bulletin”-type request went out department-wide instructing “full and prompt cooperation” for anyone contacted by the ARB, and urging anyone with “relevant information” to contact the board. 

“So individuals with information were reaching out proactively to the Board. And, the ARB was also directly engaged with individuals and the Department’s bureaus and offices to request information and pull on whichever threads it chose to. The range of sources that the ARB’s investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information,” Gerlach said. He further noted that the leaders of the ARB have claimed they had unfettered access to information and people. 

Looks like that’s the press guidance.  Below is a clip of  the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, Marie Harf, responding to a question on Maxwell’s allegations using similar words — full indirect access, completely without merit, completely ill-informed, ARB co-chairs are of impeccable credentials, period. So she did not call the State Department’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State a liar, she just called him “completely uninformed.” Except that only one of the them was in that room.

Here is the text:

MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. Any accounts to the contrary, like that one you mentioned, are completely without merit, completely ill-informed. It was – these reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned. It collected its own documents directly from anybody in the Department. There was a Department-wide call for information to be given directly to the ARB; that’s what happened. The ARB’s co-chairs, Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, both public servants of impeccable credentials, have both repeated several times that they had “unfettered access” to all the information they needed, period.

 

One could argue that until he was dragged into this Benghazi mess, Mr. Maxwell, a career diplomat of over 20 years was also a public servant of impeccable credentials.  One who initially did not even have access  to what was written about him in the classified report of ARB Benghazi.

Of course, as can be expected, the GOP is embracing this new revelation, and the Dems are simply shrugging this off as old news.  We know that Mr. Maxwell had a grievance case that was dismissed in June this year, we blogged about it. (See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?).  But the allegation about this scrub had apparently surfaced about a year ago.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confirmed to FoxNews.com on Monday that Maxwell told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year about the attacks and their aftermath. Folks will question that because Mr. Chaffetz is not the most impartial individual to collaborate that story. But if there were Democrats present in that interview, would anyone be wiling to say anything, anyway?

Media Matters deployed its rapid response ninja calling Mr. Maxwell a “dubious source”:

Maxwell himself is a dubious source. He was placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board’s investigation found a “lack of proactive leadership” and pointed specifically to Maxwell’s department, saying some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.” A House Oversight Committee report released findings from the classified version of the ARB report, which revealed that the ARB’s board members “were troubled by the NEA DAS for Maghreb Affairs’ lack of leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi.”

 

Damn, where is that NEA DAS office for staffing and security issues in Benghazi here?

Extracted from DIPLOMATIC SECURITY | Overseas Facilities May Face Greater Risks Due to Gaps in Security-Related Activities, Standards, and Policies – GAO-14-655 June 2014 (click on image for larger view)

 

This will unfold with Raymond Maxwell either demonized or hailed a hero.   We don’t think he’s either; he’s just a dedicated public servant unfairly tainted by Benghazi who wants his good name back.  It looks like he’ll have to walk through fire before he gets a chance to do that.

We’ve heard about this document scrub allegation this past summer. We understand that there were others who were told about this incident last year. Some NEA folks reportedly also heard this story.

So why now?

Only Mr. Maxwell can answer that.  We hope he gets to tell his full story under oath before the Select Committee.

While we refused to see a conspiracy under every rug in Foggy Bottom, and we did not  support the creation of the Benghazi Select Committee, this changes it for us.

We just hope the Committee can keep its adult pants on and not turn the Benghazi hearings into a clownsport.

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