Snapshot: Foreign Service Family Member Employment by Bureau and Geographic Distribution

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

 

Via state.gov/flo (updated as of November 2015)

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Bidding Season: An Ambassadorship to 1) Germany, 2) Sri Lanka, or 3) Somewhere in Africa But No French, Please

Posted: 2:43 am EDT

 

via foia.state.gov:

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Anne C. Richard was Vice President, Government Relations & Advocacy, International Rescue Committee in March 2012 when this email was sent. She was appointed State Department Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) in April 2012.

The FOIA released email is available to read here (PDF).

 

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Senator Cruz Blocks @StateDept Nominees While on Campaign Trail

Posted: 2:19 am EDT

 

Last week —

So that’s now the third time for the last several days and counting. Duck Dynasty commander and Senator Ted Cruz has pledged to block State Department nominees over the Iran nuclear deal. He had previously conveyed his threat to hold all State Department nominations over the Iran deal in July 2015 (see letter to POTUS here – PDF). He wants the oval office, we don’t think a duck gumbo would work here.

 

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From Oslo: Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending an ambassador

Posted: 3:37 am EDT

 

Agenda Magasin, an online magazine for political analysis and commentary based in Oslo recently published, “Congress, send Norway an ambassador” by Thor Steinhovden. Below is an excerpt:

Norway has never gone this long without an American ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending a representative, three years too late.
[…]
In September 2013 the American Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, completed his posting and left the country. 840 days later the United States has yet to send a replacement. That’s more than 120 weeks, or over two years and three months. Now, Norway risks having to wait until spring 2017. In other words, our closest ally will then have neglected to send a presidential representative for over three years.

The story behind this failure is complicated, but illustrates a political situation in the U.S. that is crippling the president’s ability to effectively carry out foreign policy. The story includes a failed nomination, “The Nuclear Option”, the P5+1 Iran deal, and not at least, the race for 2016.
[…]
For many Norwegians it probably seems both odd and incomprehensible that one of the world’s superpowers cannot manage such a simple task as to deploy an ambassador to a close ally like Norway. It becomes more incomprehensible when one considers the fact that the hold-up is not related to neither the candidate, nor the bilateral relationship.

If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz then occupy the White House, Norway may find itself welcoming a completely different character than Sam Heins. I believe most Norwegians agree with me that it is probably best for all of us if we avoid that scenario. It is time: Congress, send Norway an ambassador!

Read in full here.  A Norwegian-language version of this commentary is also available.

The article is a pretty good account of what happened to the nominations dating back to 2013 when the initial nominee melted down on C-SPAN.

We don’t know if the Heins nomination will  make it through the Senate, but even if it does get a full vote, and Mr. Heins gets to Oslo, this is an election year. There will be a new occupant in the White House come January 2017. All ambassadors –including Mr. Heins if he gets confirmed this year — resign their positions following a change in Administration. The resignations of career ambassadors are typically almost always refused, while those of political appointees are almost always accepted.  Which means, unless the nominations of political ambassadorships get confirmed soon, the window of opportunity is winding down. At some point, it becomes a waste of resources to pack and ship an ambassador designate’s household effects if he/she gets to serve as chief of mission for only a few months; that is, only to pack out again after the November 2016 elections.  Of course, it can be done, we just can’t recall an example, but would folks really subject themselves to such a relocation for a short-term ambassadorship? We’ll have to wait and see.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’mon!

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

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

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

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

Oh, wait, there’s more.

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

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

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

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

So. Right.

It depends.

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

Posted: 2:52 am EDT

 

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

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

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

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

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT

 

According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

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

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

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

 

Burn Bag: US Embassy Madrid’s Wise Use of Taxpayer Funded Employee Time?

Via Burn Bag:

“Last year and the year before, Embassy Madrid hosted the biggest (or one of the biggest) July 4th celebration with roughly 4,000 guests.  Plans for this year call for a bigger celebration.  Wise use of taxpayer funded employee time?”

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