Category Archives: Questions

State Dept Responds to an FOIA Two Years After Request — Confusion and Hilarity Follows

– Domani Spero

One of our blog readers asked us about the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA). Nope, we don’t know much about it except the (b)(6) exemptions which resulted on the redactions of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  In  October 2013, State/OIG finally started disclosing the names of inspectors in publicly available reports, so yay for that.

But because we’re a curious cat, we wanted to know why he was asking us about the FOIA. It turned out, our reader submitted a FOIA request to the State Department in 2012.  He wanted to know about “Meetings between Jeff Gorsky and the AILA.”  Mr. Gorsky is the Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion Section of the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and AILA is the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association of more than 13,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Our reader, Mr. Requester, shared the confirmation of his FOIA request from 2012:

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After repeated inquiries and prodding, and after almost two years of waiting, a response finally arrived in Mr. Requester’s mail box this year. Note that the subject of the FOIA request is “Jeff Gorsky and the AILA” and the official State Department response to the FOIA request came from Mr. Gorsky himself. Take a look:

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What the hey?

Is it normal or routine that the subject of the FOIA request is also the signatory of the letter that basically says we found 42 documents but they all contain information that is “personal in nature?”

I don’t know, is it?  Help me out here.  These are presumably from work emails, how can they all be “personal in nature?”

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Note: FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Is it bizarre or is it just totally expected that the responding office (b)(6)’ed just about every name that appears on the documents released?  In handwritten notations that look messy and all?  What’s the use of filing an FOIA if all you get are these scrawny (b)(6)s?  The email above concerns a meeting request on “L1 Visas in Singapore.” So, the names of all  pertinent parties to that meeting are also “personal in nature?”

Processing … processing ….screeeccch bang kaplunga!  Ugh! I don’t get it; I must be, like… like….like, a malfunctioned magnet*.

Folks, the White House publishes online its Visitor Access Records, and heavens help them, there are lots of names listed there; some even include middle names!

On March 16, 2009, just as the new president came to office, the State Department’s Bureau of Administration released an FOIA Guidance from the Secretary of State to the department employees.  In says in part:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed two memoranda on openness in government – one ushering in a new era of transparency in government, the other ordering a presumption of disclosure in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department will be at the forefront of making this commitment a reality.
[…]
As a Department, we should respond to requests in a timely manner, resolve doubts in favor of openness, and not withhold information based on speculative or abstract fears.
[…]
We need every Department employee to manage the challenge of informing the public and protecting information in a way that fulfills the President’s strong commitment to transparency.

Well, what about that, huh?

In any case, the Department of Justice FOIA Guide on Exemption 6 notes that “Personal privacy interests are protected by two provisions of the FOIA, Exemptions 6 and 7(C). … Exemption 6 permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (1)

The Guide also says that “In some instances, the disclosure of information might involve no invasion of privacy because, fundamentally, the information is of such a nature that no expectation of privacy exists. (49) For example, civilian federal employees generally have no expectation of privacy regarding their names, titles, grades, salaries, and duty stations as employees (50) or regarding the parts of their successful employment applications that show their qualifications for their positions.” (51)

Also this: “if the information at issue is particularly well known or is widely available within the public domain, there generally is no expectation of privacy. “

You should know that we have no expertise on FOIAs. But the State Department on this FOIA case managed to use the (b)(6) exemption to redact the names of the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular and that “Desk Officer for Singapore Visa matters.”

Here’s a person of the street question: Why would anyone think that disclosing Janice J. Jacobs‘ name as Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consulate Consular Affairs (she is on Wikipedia, by the way) would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy?” 

C’mon, folks, you gotta admit, this is totally hilarious!

 

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Let’s compare this to the  emails released under FOIA on the Keystone XL meetings. Also redacted but as you can see on the emails here, the State Department did not use the (b)(6) exemption and instead used (b)(5) which 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.” But look how this is marked:

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Click on image to read the released emails.

The FOIA super ninja we consulted (thanks J!) suggested that an immediate appeal be filed.  Mr. Requester told us he already sent in an appeal.  We just hope the response to his appeal would not take two years, and would not include scrawny (b)(6)s for decorations.

Seriously. Do you realize  that if the State Department continue to slap (b)(6)s on FOIA’ed docs so thoughtlessly like this, that the agency will be at the forefront of making President Obama’s commitment to “transparency in government” and “presumption of disclosure” a laughing matter? Pardon me, it is already a laughing matter?  Well, a  competition then on who will be at the forefront.  

Folks, you need to fix this or we may be forced to start a rock band called Twisted Hilarity.    

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US Embassy Cairo FSN Ahmed Alaiba Detained Since 1/25–State Dept Still Seeking “Clarity”

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

– Domani Spero

Cairo Post reported on February 11 that Egyptian National Security arrested a local employee on Jan. 25 who works for the U.S. embassy in Cairo.  On February 12, NYT’s David Kirkpatrick has additional details:

Security forces have detained an Egyptian employee of the United States Embassy who worked as a liaison to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian news reports said Wednesday, stirring fears of pressure on Western diplomats who communicate with the Islamist opposition.

Embassy officials said the employee, Ahmed Alaiba, was detained on Jan. 25, the third anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising here, and he has been held without charges since then.
[...]
An Egyptian government official briefed on the case said Mr. Alaiba was under investigation for both participating in an illegal demonstration and “communicating with an outlawed group.”
[...]
Mr. Alaiba, an Egyptian citizen, has no diplomatic immunities. But some Western diplomats said that the leaks to the Egyptian news media about his arrest appeared to convey a message to them as well. Many diplomats were already wrestling with fears of possible retribution from the military-backed government if they continued meeting with Brotherhood officials as they did before the takeover.

Questions about Mr. Alaiba’s arrest made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. This FSN has been detained since January 25. Besides repeating what has already been reported in the news media, Ms. Harf could only promise to “see if we have more clarity on this.” Eighteen days after the embassy employee was detained, Ms. Harf could not even say what was this employee’s job at the embassy?!

Typically, the local employees who do work overseas like Mr. Alaiba’s are political assistants or political specialists. These are fairly common jobs in diplomatic missions.  We do want to know what the former DCM, now  Chargé d’Affaires Markc Sievers is doing about the detention of a member of his embassy’s staff?  Yes, he’s Egyptian, and a local employee, and he’s one of ours.  If uncorrected, this could become a dangerous precedent. Anyone who works for the U.S. government in Egypt who talks to MB officials or supporters or other opposition figures could just be thrown into jail without charges or some spurious ones.

In some dark corners of the net, the conspiracy theorists are already busy. This is apparently proof of President Obama’s secret support for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Which just shows how little people know about what our official representatives do overseas.  Our diplomats and local employees talk to host country governments and opposition parties/figures around the globe.  What they learn help inform the decisions that our government makes.  This happens whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. Some of the folks our officials talk to are not very nice, some are corrupt, some would not even think twice about stabbing us in the back. But that’s the world we lived in.  To expect that our government officials should only talk to the government in power is idiotic, that gives us only half the story. It also makes it impossible for our people to do substantial work when the levers of power change hands.  So, do think about that when you hear about these nutty stuff.

Now, can we please have somebody at the podium who wears a hat or sash that says, “Clarity is my name” whether it snows or not?

Excerpt below from the greatest mid-day show in town:

QUESTION: I wanted to start by asking about the Embassy employee in Cairo who was arrested for his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood. First off, what is the reaction of the State Department? What’s being done, I assume, to have him released, if he hasn’t been released already? And then if you could talk a little more broadly about whether or not the State Department or the Administration believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, and what this says about dealing with a government in Cairo that is refusing to recognize such a significant part of the population in Egypt.

MS. HARF: Absolutely. So we can confirm that a locally employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy was detained on January 25th and that, as far as we understand, he has been held without charges since then. We have been in touch with the Government of Egypt and have requested additional information about his case. The locally employed staff member was detained, I think, over a weekend on January 25th while off-duty, as I think maybe you mentioned.

The United States does not – has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. We have been very clear in Egypt that we will work with all sides and all parties to help move an inclusive process forward. We’ve also repeatedly, both publicly and privately, called on the interim government to move forward in an inclusive manner. That means talking to all parties, bringing them into the process. We’re not saying what the future government should look like specifically other than that it should be inclusive. That, of course, includes the Muslim Brotherhood. We will continue talking to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of our broad outreach to the different parties and groups there.

QUESTION: So if he was arrested or detained anyways off-duty, is it your understanding he was – he is being detained because of his liaison with the Muslim Brotherhood, or was there another reason to your understanding?

MS. HARF: Let me see if we have more clarity on this. I’m not sure we have entire clarity about the reasons for his continued detention. Let me check with our folks and see. Again, I’m not sure if we know exactly why he’s being detained.

QUESTION: Because otherwise, I mean I’m sure other employees at the Embassy are – would be reluctant to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood or any opposition groups that the current government in Cairo seems to not look upon favorably. And –

MS. HARF: Let me see – oh, sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, and so I just wonder, as you say, how the Obama Administration and the State Department is going to continue reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood. How will they do that if employees are being arrested and there’s certain penalties that people have to face in doing so.

MS. HARF: Well – yeah. No, it’s – to be clear, I’m not saying that that was the reason for his detention. I would need to confirm that with folks.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I actually haven’t heard that, so let me check and see that.

Again, he was a locally employed staff member. Our folks that are on the ground there have been talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups as well. So let me see two things if I can get a little more clarity about the reason for his detention and also what his job was at the Embassy. I just don’t have all that clarity.

QUESTION: Okay. So would an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo be able to liaise with the Muslim Brotherhood? I assume they have been.

MS. HARF: Well, they certainly have been. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: And again, I’m not sure that was the reason for his detention. So before we sort of take this – I’m happy to check and see if we just have some more clarity on that.

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State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974

– Domani Spero

Last week, ProPublica posted this: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? It Won’t Say.  We blogged about it here: Who Are State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has more on the subject. And after months of giving one reason or another to the reporters pursuing this case, the State Department is down to its Captain America shield  – the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below excerpted from POGO: State Dept. Won’t Name Advisers Already in Government’s Public Database:

They’ve all been selected to advise the State Department on foreign policy issues. Their names are listed on the State Department’s website.

So why won’t the Department disclose that these individuals are special government employees (SGEs)?

For four months, State has refused to name its SGEs, ProPublica reported last week, leaving the public to guess which outside experts are advising the Department on matters that affect the public’s interest.

Yet, the Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers identified as SGEs in an online government database. In other words, some of the information that State has been refusing to provide is hiding in plain sight.
[...]
State has refused to identify any of its special employees, even though most agencies contacted by ProPublica were easily able to provide a list of their SGEs.

First, a State spokeswoman told ProPublica her agency “does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

When ProPublica filed a request seeking the list of names under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it was told the agency doesn’t keep such a list, and State’s FOIA office refused to track down the information because it would require “extensive research.”

In September, ProPublica told State it planned to report that the Department was refusing to provide a list of names. In response, State said the FOIA request “was being reopened” and that the records would be provided “in a few weeks,” according to ProPublica.

“The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list,” ProPublica reported last week. “It has been four months since we filed the original request.”

On Friday, a State official told The Washington Post that the Department is “diligently working to resolve” the FOIA request. The official cited concerns about “maintaining employee protections of privacy.”

State’s posture over the past several months is at odds with POGO’s finding: why can’t the Department give the press the same information it already supplied to a public database?

“Disclosure of certain employee information is subject to the Privacy Act of 1974,” Alec Gerlach, a State spokesperson, told POGO. “That some information may already be publicly available does not absolve the Department of Privacy Act requirements. Whether someone is an SGE is Privacy Act-protected information that we would not release except through the FOIA process.”

However, one of the authors of ProPublica’s story questioned why State hasn’t turned over the requested records. “I think anytime a government agency won’t reveal information, it raises questions about why they aren’t,” Liz Day, ProPublica’s Director of Research, told POGO.

Holy mother of god of distraught spoxes!  Okay, please, try not to laugh. It is disturbing to watch this type of contortion, and it seems to be coming regularly these days from Foggy Bottom.

Seriously.  If this is about the Privacy Act of 1974, why wasn’t ProPublica told of this restriction four months ago? And does that mean that all other agencies who released their SGE names were in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974?

Also, State/OIG was told that “The number of special government employee filers was given as 100.”  A State Department spokeswoman told ProPublica that there are “about 100” such employees.  But what do you know?  The Project On Government Oversight was able to find more than 100 of the advisers (excel download file) identified as SGEs in an online government database. Are there more? How many more?

The list does not include the more famous SGEs of the State Department previously identified in news report.

New message from Mission Command:  “Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of very Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

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Filed under Huh? News, Leaks|Controversies, People, Privacy, ProPublica, Public Service, Questions, State Department

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

– By Domani Spero

On September 5, Gordon Lubold writing for Foreign Policy reported on USAID’s first known war-zone-related suicide and asks if America is doing enough to assist its relief workers. Excerpt below:

On Aug. 15, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that one of its employees had died suddenly. The agency didn’t mention that Michael C. Dempsey, a senior field program officer assigned as the leader of a civilian assistance team in eastern Afghanistan, killed himself four days earlier while home on extended medical leave. However, the medical examiner in Kent County, Michigan, confirmed to Foreign Policy that Dempsey had committed suicide by hanging himself in a hotel-room shower. His death is USAID’s first known suicide in a decade of work in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. And what makes the suicide particularly striking is that it came a year and three days after Dempsey’s close friend and colleague was killed in an improvised-explosive-device attack in Afghanistan.

Related posts:

More from Mr. Lobold’s A Death in the Family:

Shah left unspoken the issue of suicide that USAID must now confront. With Dempsey’s death as the first known suicide from either of USAID’s Afghanistan or Iraq programs, the suicide forces the agency to deal with an inescapable problem: how to help its employees who deploy to the same war zones as the military but who don’t always have access to the same kind of assistance. Civilian culture may not have the military’s taboo against seeking mental-health assistance, but unlike the Defense Department, which has struggled to arrest the vast suicide problem within its ranks, civilian agencies such as USAID and the State Department are governed by different privacy rules that hamstring those agencies as they try to help employees who may be suffering from post-traumatic anxiety, depression, or worse.
[...]
USAID has deployed more than 2,000 “direct hires” through Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Many of them, like Dempsey, are considered “foreign service limited” (FSL) officers. That means they enjoy many of the same benefits of Foreign Service officers, but can’t be promoted or moved to other offices or departments. About 150 FSL officers are in Afghanistan currently. After each deployment, each one gets a “high-stress outbrief,” but due to privacy concerns, USAID isn’t able to contact any of them after they leave federal service to ensure that they aren’t suffering from deployment-related issues or other maladies, like alcohol abuse or depression. After a deployment, supervisors may only hear about those kinds of problems unofficially, through the bureaucratic grapevine, because of the way privacy regulations govern civilian agencies. And even then, if a problem is identified, USAID, unlike the Defense Department, can’t force an employee to undergo treatment.

Click here for the memorial page of Michael Cameron Dempsey (May 26, 1980  -  August 11, 2013) where you may leave a note or share a photo with his family.

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Something about that “each one gets a “high-stress outbrief,” but due to privacy concerns, USAID isn’t able to contact any of them …” seem odd.

According to the State Department, Foreign Service and Civil Service employees from the State Department and USAID who have spent more than 90 days in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, or Libya are required to attend its High-stress Assignment Outbriefing Program. Any State employee serving at any high stress post is also highly encouraged to attend.

However, a review of the program by State/OIG in July 2010 indicates that fewer than 60 percent of returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan for whom this is mandatory attend the High Stress Assignment Outbrief.   Apparently, very few employees from other high stress posts for whom it is voluntary take it.  State/OIG also stated that “If efforts to increase attendance fail, the Department will need to adopt stronger measures and a follow-up mechanism.”  Now, why would State/OIG propose the adoption of stronger measures to increase the Outbrief attendance if there were “privacy concerns?”

In any case, the Outbrief is mandatory but more than 40% of returnees mandated to attend it do not take it. FSI’s Transition Center admits that “compliance remains a difficult issue:”

“Compliance remains a difficult issue. While the program has received support and validation from a number of internal and external stakeholders, the unique requirement of a post-deployment “de-brief” coupled with a cultural reluctance in the workforce to deal with mental health or stress related issues mitigate against full participation. Since the essence of the program is to provide help to returning employees – and their family members – more rigorous measures to ensure compliance were seen as undesirable (e.g., holding up onward assignments or limiting or temporarily suspending clearances) and counterproductive.”

In a recent document published in conjunction with a solicitation for a High Stress Assignment Outbrief provider also states that the Outbrief “is a two-way educational program” and it is “not a clinical session or intervention.”  Asked by potential provider about “sources/citations for the interviewing methodologies utilized in the High Stress Assignment Outbrief”, the official response is as follows:

“The interview methodology was developed by trainers and psychiatrists working for the Foreign Service Institute and the Office of Medical Services of the Department of State. The interview protocol is not designed as a therapeutic intervention; it’s purpose is to have participants reflect on their experiences, offer advice to the Department, and to provide a conduit for such aggregated information for Department decision makers.”

The Outbrief implementation guide posted by FSI’s Transition Center at fbo.gov also states that “the Department is responsible for keeping track of compliance” and that there is a need (for the selected provider) to make sure that “accurate records are kept of who attended, when, and where.”

In short –

The Outbrief is not/not a clinical session.

It is not/not a therapeutic intervention.

It is mandatory but not everyone attends it.

The Department kept accurate records of who attended it, where and when.

But due to “privacy concerns” USAID isn’t able to contact any of them to ensure that they are not suffering from deployment-related issues.

Also a new contract was awarded to a new Outbriefer in May 2013 for $46,400 (Base and Option Years Estimate).

You know, I’ve lost my brain today. I just don’t get this. If you’ve been through the Outbrief session would you kindly write me and help me understand how this is helpful to returnees from high stress-high threat assignments.

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State Dept Now Has 27 High-Threat, High-Risk Posts — Are You In One of Them?

By Domani Spero

 

Two top Diplomatic Security officials went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the July 16 hearing on S.980, The Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act of 2013:  The guy who currently holds three jobs, Gregory B. Starr (Acting Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service) and Bill Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts.

McClatchy reports that the officials told the Senate that fifteen diplomatic posts in high-threat areas fail to meet safety standards 10 months after the Benghazi attacks.  Mr. Starr was quoted saying, “We cannot retrofit many of our buildings to withstand blasts or direct attacks without the ability to move to a new location . . . and build a new facility.”

The Starr testimony is here, and the Miller testimony is here.

AA/S Star’s testimony includes this:

DS is hiring 151 new security professionals this and the next fiscal year, many of whom will directly serve at or provide support to our high-threat, high- risk posts. We are also working very closely with the Department of Defense (DOD) to expand the Marine Security Guard program, as well as to enhance the availability of forces to respond in extremis to threatened U.S. personnel and facilities. We recently worked with DOD and the U.S. Marine Corps to elevate personnel security as a primary mission of the Marine Security Guards. Each of these efforts enhances the Department’s ability to supplement, as necessary, the host government’s measures in fulfilling its obligations under international law to protect U.S. diplomatic and consular property and personnel.

Missions overseas with some exceptions typically get one RSO and one ARSO. According to a March 2013 statistics, Diplomatic Security has 1,951 Security Officers (diplomatic couriers, engineers and techs excepted). It is slated to grow by 151 in FY2013 and another 151 in FY2014 to a total of 2,253. This is the crew that staff eight field offices in the United States, most of 284 posts overseas, the expanded DS offices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and the newly designated high-threat, high-risk posts that now numbers 27. These are the same folks that provide security to the Secretary of State seven days a week, 24 hours a day, everywhere he travels in the world, as well as protective security details for cabinet-level foreign dignitaries who visit the United States.

We have some two months left in the fiscal year. Whoever is hired or will be hired for the remainder of this fiscal year and next year still has to undergo required training.  At this point, can we really count on those additional 151 new security professionals to serve or provide support to these 27 high threat posts?

In May 2013, in its announcement of the ARB Benghazi recommendation implementation, the Department said this:

“All high threat posts now have a minimum of a one-year tour of duty. We are planning to ensure overlap between incumbent and incoming positions to facilitate continuity of operations at high threat posts. Temporary duty assignments are set at a minimum of 120 days.”

That looks good on paper but you can’t do overlap if you can’t staff positions with incoming personnel. There is a limited pool of available agents with high-threat tactical training, and a good number of them are probably deployed to AIP posts. Some have also done back to back one-year postings between Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there’s Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and all that …

From our burn bag: “Another round of TDY requests for high-threat posts went unfilled with exactly ZERO DS agents volunteering. DS is now at the point where they’re threatening to direct agents to these high-threat locations for periods of 45 to 60 days.”

Even if DS is successful in ordering TDY directed assignments to high threat locations for 45-60 days, that is only half the duration State had previously cited as a minimum TDY length on its the Benghazi ARB implementation. And it would be exactly the same as the Libya TDYs, which, according to RSO Eric Nordstrom were 8-weeks duration or 56-day temporary duty assignments.

The Department also said that it “established a High Threat Board to review our presence at High Threat, High Risk posts; the Board will review these posts every 6 months.”

May 20, 2013 see State Dept Announces Implementation of 24 Out of 29 ARB Benghazi Recommendations

Fast-forward to July 2013, there are now 27 posts which fall under the high- threat, high-risk designation. And the DAS for the High Threat bureau just told Congress that the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed.

After the September 2012 attacks on our facilities in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, and Egypt, the Department reviewed its security posture and created my position, the Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts, also known as HTP, along with a staff of security professional to support high-threat, high-risk posts. The Department assessed our diplomatic missions worldwide and weighed criteria to determine which posts are designated as high- threat, high-risk – there are now 27 posts which fall under this designation. This designation is not a static process and the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed. As emergent conditions substantially change, for better or for worse, at any post worldwide, high-threat, high-risk designations will shift, and missions will be added or deleted from this category. The HTP Directorate I oversee will lead the security operations in these high- threat, high-risk posts around the world, coordinate strategic and operational planning, and drive innovation across the broad spectrum of DS missions and responsibilities. We continue to work closely with the Regional Bureaus to ensure that everyone has visibility of the security threats at our posts.

We do not have a complete list of the high threat posts except the 17 posts already reported by the National Review Online in November 2012 from a State Department announcement, and CBS News here in December 2012 with a “senior State Department official” as source. See New Diplomatic Security Office to Monitor 17 High Threat Diplomatic Missions (With ARB Update) Dec 8, 2012 and State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts Dec 9, 2012.

As of this writing, the positions of Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (formerly held by Eric Boswell), Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs (formerly held by Charlene Lamb) and Director for the Office of Foreign Missions (formerly held by Eric Boswell) remain vacant.

During the same hearing, Mr. Starr, according to McClatchy told senators that Secretary Kerry was reviewing those on administrative leave, as well as the circumstances of the attack but went on to praise the reprimanded officers.

“These are people that have given their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State, and I have a great deal of admiration for them,” Starr said. “It does not excuse the fact that we had a terrible tragedy in Benghazi . . . (but) all through the years that we’ve had multiple attacks in Yemen and in Afghanistan and in Iraq, those people performed admirably.”

It’s been almost seven months to the day three DS and NEA officials were put “on administrative leave pending further action.” Are these positions open because these officials will potentially return to these jobs after their administrative investigations conclude or is it because the government’s case is not going anywhere? Also, Secretary Kerry has been on the job for about six months now and on travel for over two months (68 days on travel since assuming post), visiting 27 countries, logging 134,691 miles along the way.

When does he even get the time?

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HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Demands Explanation Over Alleged Misconduct and Interference of DSS Investigations

– By Domani Spero

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded an explanation from Secretary of State John Kerry regarding allegations of misconduct within the State Department and interference by senior State Department officials in the subsequent investigations.

“I am deeply troubled by the allegations made in a recent CBS News story that senior State Department officials prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating reports of administrative and criminal misconduct within the Department.  This story further alleged that the Department’s Office of Inspector General produced an October 2012 memorandum that contained eight specific instances in which DSS investigations were “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off.” 

Congressman Royce writes that in light of the possibility that the Department interfered with the independence of DSS investigations, he asked that Secretary Kerry provide the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff with a briefing as soon as possible and answer the following questions in writing:

1.      Did any State Department official instruct the Diplomatic Security Service not to pursue any of the eight cases identified in the October 2012 OIG memorandum?

2.      If so, please indentify the individual(s) and the nature of their influence on these DSS investigations.

3.      Has the Department taken any actions in response to either the OIG February 2013 Inspection report and/or the CBS News report?  If so, please detail them.

Please also produce all documents and communications referring and/or relating to the eight cases cited by the October 2012 OIG memorandum.

The congressional request comes with a deadline no later than 5:00 p.m. on June 25, 2013.

The full letter is here.

 

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Thursday Inbox: Is it appropriate to send a retired general to be ambassador to USNATO?

From our inbox, a question about the recent nomination to NATO:

I don’t know Doug Lute.  And I have no reason to doubt that he is a smart and very accomplished person, who has earned the President’s trust.  However, that’s not the issue.  What *is* an issue is the fact that Lute is a military man.  And I think there need to be some probing questions asked asked about the appropriateness of sending a retired general to be ambassador USNATO.

The U.S. Ambassador to NATO is actually a shorthand title — s/he is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council (NAC).  The NAC is NATO’s political decision-making body.

The United States has, of course, had veterans in the USUN job before, but never, to the best of my knowledge, a retired career military person.  Indeed, the whole point of the North Atlantic Council is that it is run by civilians.  That’s why it is the top and sovereign body in NATO.

Those responsible for this appointment either don’t know or care about the history of NATO and why the NAC exists.

Sending a career military man to [USUN] USNATO is similar to, although different in degree, naming a Secretary of Defense who is a retired general.  In the United States, we have civilian control of the military.  These kinds of appointments blur that distinction in a dangerous way.

By the way — lest anyone make the argument that, since Lute is retired, we really should just ignore his whole military career and view him as a civilian, that is a laughable argument on two fronts:

(1) The only thing that makes him a candidate for any senior government job is that very military experience; and

(2) The White House even calls him *General* Lute in their announcement of the nomination!  So much for the civilian stuff.

A final note:

There is actually a quasi-counterpart to the North Atlantic Council for military reps at NATO — the NATO Military Committee.

Can one assume that, when the current 3-star who is the U.S. rep on the Military Committee leaves, he will be replaced by some just-retired FSO?  Of course, the answer is no.

- * -

Below via history.state.gov | The Chief of Mission has the title of U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Prior to 1 July 1967 the Representative on the Council of NATO was the Chief of the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nad European Regional Organizations at Paris.

 

Since post was created, only five six of those appointed as ambassador to USNATO were career diplomats from the U.S. Foreign Service. One of those FSOs and the sole female appointee is Victoria Nuland, former State spokesperson and current nominee to be Assistant Secretary for the EUR Bureau. Update: One of our readers wrote to inform us that although Kurt Volker was a “non-career appointment” to the USNATO position he actually was a career FSO for a number of years. We understand that he was not in the Senior Foreign Service when appointed ambassador. Whether by mistake or oversight, both Volker and Nuland are listed by history.state.gov as non-career appointees.  Since Volker was in the FS and Nuland is currently in the FS (just promoted to FE-CM in 2012) we’re listing them both as FSOs in this blog post.

Only one previous appointee is a retired former military official - William Henry Draper Jr. who served during World War II as a major in the infantry, left and became a banker but stayed in the Army Reserves.  He later became a brigadier-general after World War II,  was promoted to major-general, and became the first under secretary of the Army from September 18, 1947 to February 28, 1949.

General Lute graduated from West Point in 1975 and left active duty in 2010.

Lieutenant General David R. Hogg is currently the United States Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee (USMILREP).

Updated to clarify details on Volker and Draper. Thanks to readers who helped!   

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James Hogan Case: Wife Gets One Year and A Day Imprisonment Plus $1,000 Fine

This blog has followed the James Hogan Case since September 2009 when the Foreign Service officer was first reported missing in the Netherlands Antilles.  In March 2012, USDOJ announced that James Hogan’s wife, Abby Beard Hogan, 50, pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Florida for her role in the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband while stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Curaçao.

We missed the news of the sentencing but on February 15, 2013, USDOJ did announce that Abby Hogan was sentenced to serve one year and one day in prison for her role in “the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband.”

In addition, she was sentenced to 2 years supervised release; $1,000 fine; and was required to self-surrender by noon on March 18, 2013. Court records indicate that the fine was paid and entered on record on March 19, 2013.

 

Via USDOJ:

Florida Woman Sentenced to Prison for Obstruction of Justice in Relation to Her Husband’s Disappearance

A Gainesville, Fla., woman was sentenced today to serve one year and one day in prison for her role in the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband, then an employee in the U.S. Consulate in Curacao, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh for the Northern District of Florida, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service ( DSS) Gregory B. Starr and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office Michael B. Steinbach.

Abby Beard Hogan, 50, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida.   In addition to her prison term, Hogan was sentenced to two years of supervised release.   On March 29, 2012, Hogan pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones to one count of obstruction of justice.

According to court documents, on the night of Sept. 24, 2009, Abby Hogan’s husband, James Hogan, an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Curacao, a Caribbean island that was part of the Netherlands Antilles, left his home on foot and subsequently disappeared.   In the early hours of Sept. 25, 2009, James Hogan called his wife and spoke for approximately three minutes.   The next day, when James Hogan failed to report to work, the U.S. government and Dutch and Antillean law enforcement launched an island-wide search and opened an investigation into Hogan’s disappearance.   On Sept. 25, 2009, a diver located James Hogan’s blood-stained clothing on a local beach.

According to evidence submitted in Abby Hogan’s sentencing hearing, she repeatedly provided false information to U.S. law enforcement about the time period before James Hogan’s disappearance and withheld relevant information. Abby Hogan initially told investigators that, before his disappearance, she and her husband had an argument. She subsequently modified that statement and claimed that there had been no argument, just a minor disagreement over her husband’s next assignment for the State Department.  Abby Hogan further told U.S. law enforcement agents that James Hogan had been in a “good mood” prior to leaving for his walk on the evening of his disappearance. She repeatedly denied that there had been any marital problems or that her husband had been upset or depressed in any way.  Abby Hogan further stated that she could not remember the full three-minute conversation before her husband disappeared because she was sound asleep when her husband called. She claimed she fell back asleep after the call, and did not awake until the following morning. In fact, all of these statements were false, as established by the deleted emails and other computer forensic evidence , which was submitted to the court.

According to court documents, after law enforcement interviews, between Sept. 30, 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010, Abby Hogan deleted more than 300 emails from her email account.    These emails contained information that Abby Hogan knew was relevant to specific questions she had been asked by U.S. law enforcement.   The emails also contained information that she had either previously misrepresented or knowingly omitted during her interviews with law enforcement, including that she was engaged in an extramarital affair; the night James Hogan disappeared, the couple had argued, and he left the house angry and upset; and that she did not want law enforcement to know what had happened that evening.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Teresa Wallbaum of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Williams for the Northern District of Florida.   The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.   The case was investigated by DSS and the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Legal Attaché Office in Bridgetown, Barbados.   Assistance was also provided by Curacao law enforcement authorities.

While this concludes this part of an almost four-year saga, we are no closer to understanding what happened to James Hogan that September night in Curaçao.

–DS

 

 

 

 

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Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.

Excerpt:

The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
[...]
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.

 

Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here: joshuafoust.com; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Department’s Worldwide Caution, Etcetera — #Benghazi, So Soon Forgotten

On February 19, 2013, the State Department issued a Worldwide Caution to update everyone on “the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world.” The notice replaced the one issued on July 18, 2012 “to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.”

Below is the relevant section from the Worldwide Caution, can you spot what’s missing? (the full notice is here):

MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA:  Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa.  The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.  Terrorist organizations continue to be active in Yemen, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).     Security threat levels remain high in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  In September 2012, a mob of Yemeni protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy compound.  U.S. citizens have also been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past (though none recently) and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist there.  There are a number of extremist groups operating in Lebanon, including Hizballah, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.  Iraq remains dangerous and unpredictable.  U.S. military forces departed as of December 31, 2011, but the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens, including kidnapping and terrorist violence, continues.  In Algeria, Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active and operates throughout the country.  Terrorists sporadically attack westerners and Algerian targets, particularly in the Kabylie region, and near Algeria’s borders with Libya and Mali.  In January, terrorists attacked a natural gas facility at In Amenas resulting in the deaths of dozens, including three U.S. citizens.  Terrorists have also targeted oil processing plants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.   Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.  U.S. citizens should remain cautious and be aware that there may be a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against U.S citizens.   No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The conflict in Syria has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with many thousands wounded and over one million displaced persons.

In September 2012, civil unrest, large scale protests and demonstrations as well as violent attacks – some of which were in reaction to an anti-Islamic video and cartoons – targeted U.S. missions and schools overseas including in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen.  U.S. citizens are warned that demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violent clashes.  U.S. citizens are also reminded that demonstrations and riots can occur with little or no warning.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Frankly, we kinda stop paying attention to these notices because we pretty much follow the news, and these do not offer anything more than what is already available out there. But we recently got a note from one of our readers urging us to look for Benghazi in the latest Worldwide Caution released. Um, nuthin’ there.

A from a distant post sends:

 [T]here is not a single mention of Benghazi anywhere? The only reference is an oblique statement about generalized violence and attacks across North Africa in part related to the Mohammed videos. It does not mention Benghazi by name, nor the deaths of any USG personnel, nor explains the reasoning behind the attacks.  That seems like a startlingly blind omission given the political catfighting going on over the attacks, their cause, the timeline, and subsequent ARB.  

 It makes you wonder what the caution is supposed to be for.  Does it mean that it is safe for AMCITs to go to Benghazi? Or if it isn’t, how did this make it through the clearance process without someone saying “Uh, what about Libya? Maybe we should note that USG personnel were killed there less than 6 months ago?” 

Maybe we should. This is not crowdsourcing or anything but wouldn’t that make sense? We understand that the CA Bureau cannot be expected to cite all security threats and terrorist activities in the last six months in its Worldwide Caution notice, but given that U.S. personnel actually died there …

Dear Consular Affairs Bureau, four U.S. citizens died in Benghazi, one more than In Amenas. Shouldn’t that merit a mention in your latest Worldwide Caution?

We were also looking over its Libya Country Specific Information updated last on February 8, 2013 and below is part of what it says under the THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY section:

Recent worldwide terrorism alerts, including the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, have stated that extremist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East region. In June 2012, an unknown group of attackers detonated an improvised explosive device outside the compound of the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi. There have also been attacks on diplomatic vehicle convoys. Any U.S. citizen who decides to travel to Libya should maintain a strong security posture by being aware of surroundings, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, and varying times and routes for all required travel.

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution and comply with local regulations when traveling in desert and border regions of Libya. Terrorist attacks in Algeria, the June 2009 murder of a U.S. citizen teacher in Mauritania, kidnappings of Western tourists in desert regions of Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and 2012, northern Niger in 2010, and Mali in January 2009, and the terrorist activity of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa are indicative of a continued threat in the region.

Dear God! Has this job been outsourced to a robot with an outdated software? How else can you explain mentioning the IED attack on Benghazi in June 2012 but missed altogether mentioning the attack on September 2012.

Look it’s on Wikipedia!

The Diplomatic Security/RSO also prepared the Crime and Safety Report for Libya dated February 22, 2013 which includes three specific mention of Benghazi, but not the attack of the temporary U.S. mission there:

  • The majority of the 16,000 criminals released during the revolution remain free. Carjacking, robberies, burglaries, and thefts continue. Unlike in Benghazi, acts of terrorism, targeted assassination campaigns, and violence specifically against Westerners have not been characteristic of the Tripoli landscape.
  • Civil Unrest: Violent clashes between armed groups are possible, particularly at night. Clashes often include the use of heavy weapons. Public demonstrations occur frequently in the central squares of cities, such as Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli and Freedom Square in Benghazi.
  • Areas to be Avoided: Because of ongoing instability and violence, the Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Libya and strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid, and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra. The Department’s ability to provide consular services to U.S. citizens is extremely limited.

We don’t know about you but this is kinda hinky.   It’s as if the Benghazi attack did not even happen … have we forgotten that we took casualties there?  Or has Benghazi been purposely scrubbed clean from these products?  But why?

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