Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct: Is it only the little people who are taken to task?

Posted: 12:48 am EDT
Updated: 3:07 pm EDT

 

In March 2012, AFSA’s General Counsel Sharon Papp reported about a State Department proposal related to the “state of affairs” in the Foreign Service ….no, the other kind of affairs:

In 2011, the State Department proposed disciplinary action against a handful of employees for off-duty conduct that it had not sought to regulate in the past (i.e., extramarital affairs between consenting adults). 

When we reviewed several sex-related grievance cases in 2012, we came to the conclusion that from the agency’s view, widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service. Further, the potential for embarrassment and damaged to U.S. interests seems as weighty as actual embarrassment and damage. See: Sex, Lies, and No Videotapes, Just Cases for the Grievance Board

We recently received the following in our mailbox (edited to remove the most identifying details):

The married DCM at the embassy of a major Middle East ally slept with a married ELO whose husband worked for him. He blamed his alcoholism. As “punishment,” he was assigned as DCM at a significant high risk/high threat post. Next up? One of the top jobs at an embassy located in a Western European country.  Where’s the accountability at State? Is it only the little people that are taken to task? 

Well, that is an excellent question given another allegation we’ve received about another front office occupant involved in domestic violence overseas (another story we hope to write another day).

Extra-marital affairs, of course, are not mentioned anywhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual but below is what the regs say on sexual activity (pdf) and what constitutes, “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Both sections were last updated in 2012, and applies to Foreign Service employees at State and USAID:

3 FAM 4139.1 Sexual Activity
(CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees) 

The agencies recognize that, in our society, there are considerable differences of opinion in matters of sexual conduct, and that there are some matters which are of no concern to the U.S. Government. However, serious suitability concerns are raised by sexual activity by an individual which reasonably may be expected to hamper the effective fulfillment by the agencies of any of their duties and responsibilities, or which may impair the individual’s position performance by reason of, for example, the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. The standards of conduct enumerated in 3 FAM 4138 are of particular relevance in determining whether the conduct in question threatens the mission of the employing agency or the individual’s effectiveness.

3 FAM 4139.14 Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct
(CT:PER-673; 04-27-2012) (Uniform State/USAID) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees) 

Notoriously disgraceful conduct is that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor. Disqualification of a candidate or discipline of an employee, including separation for cause, is warranted when the potential for opprobrium or contempt should the conduct become public knowledge could be reasonably expected to affect adversely the person’s ability to perform his or her own job or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. Evaluators must be careful to avoid letting personal disapproval of such conduct influence their decisions.

One might argue that an extra-marital affair between two consenting adults is a private matter.  And in most cases, it is; who wants to be the sex police?  But. If the allegations are true, can you really consider it private, particularly in a case that involves the second highest ranking public official at an embassy and an entry level officer (ELO) assigned under his command? Even if the DCM is not the ELO’s rating or reviewing officer —  how does this not affect the proper functioning of the mission? Can anyone exclude undue influence, potential favoritism or preferential treatment?  Which section chief would give a bad performance review to a junior officer who slept with the section chief’s own reviewing officer? Even if not widely known outside the Foreign Service, can anyone make a case that this is not disgraceful or notorious?  For real life consequences when a junior officer has a “special relationship” and “unrestricted access” to an embassy’s front office occupant, read the walking calamity illustrated in this case FSGBNo.2004-061 (pdf).

Look … if widespread notoriety is not required to demonstrate an adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service for the lower ranks, why should it be a requirement for the upper ranks?  It’s not? Well, how else can we explain a good number of senior officials who allegedly looked the other way?


Can’t you see I’m busy? Besides I did not/did not see anything!

 

We went and looked up the Foreign Service Grievance Board cases related extra-marital affairs or related to notoriously disgraceful conduct. Here are some quick summaries.

  • In 2011, the State Department handed down a 30-day suspension to a junior officer for “off-color and offensive emails about women he dated, which were widely disseminated” after his private email account was hacked.  State said this constituted “notoriously disgraceful conduct.” (pdf)
  • Another case in 2011 involves an FSO who was told by the State Department: “Given the nature of Foreign Service life, you are aware that you are on duty 24/7. These multiple extramarital affairs involving sexual relations with an estimated 13 women during two separate assignments overseas without your spouse’s knowledge show poor judgment for a Foreign Service Officer.” (pdf) (note: two separate assignments could mean 4-6 years; untenured tours at 2 years, tenured tours typically at 3 years).
  • A Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent was suspended for three days for Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct arising from a domestic violence incident with his spouse. (pdf)
  • A married FP-04 Information Management Specialist (IMS), received a 20-day suspension, subsequently reduced to 10 days, for improper personal conduct and failure to follow regulations. The employee served at a critical threat post, and admitted having an extramarital relationship with a local embassy employee as well as engaging in sexual relations with two “massage techs.” (pdf)
  • An untenured FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was disciplined for poor judgment and improper personal conduct. The employee brought a  woman to his hotel room and engaged in sex with her. Although the employee voluntarily disclosed the incident and asserted that the woman was not a prostitute, the Department contends that the incident at a minimum gave the appearance of engaging in prostitution and as such violated 3 FAM 4139.14 or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
  • A married FS-02 Information Management Officer (IMO) with seventeen years in the Department, with numerous awards and no disciplinary record, was found in his personal vehicle that was parked in an isolated area, and in a dazed condition with injuries suggesting he had been assaulted. He stated that during the prior night he had picked up a woman unknown to him, shared wine with her while driving, pulled over to the side of the road and then had no recollection of what followed, presumably because she had introduced a substance into his drink. During the ensuing investigation, the employee revealed he had picked up four or five women on previous occasions over a four-month period and had sex with them without the knowledge of his wife.  As a result, the Department proposed a ten-day suspension based on the charges of Poor Judgment and Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct. (pdf)
  • An FP-04 Diplomatic Security (DS) agent was given a five-day suspension without pay on the charge of Improper Personal Conduct. The charge is based on an incident in a criterion country in which employee (an unmarried person) engaged in consensual sex with a local woman and gave her $60.00 after the sexual activity had concluded. There was no evidence that the woman was a prostitute and there were no witnesses to their encounter. The employee self-reported the incident immediately to his supervisors, who took no disciplinary action. Eighteen months later, the Department opened an investigation and eventually suspended the employee. The deciding official concluded that employee’s conduct had violated two regulations governing behavior subject to discipline: 3 FAM 4139.1 (Sexual Activity) and 3 FAM 4139.14 (Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct). (pdf)

So —

We have so far been unable to locate FSGB cases of “notoriously disgraceful conduct” involving senior Foreign Service officials; certainly nothing at the DCM or COM level. It could be that 1) our search function is broken; 2) the folks are so risk-aversed and discreet that there are no cases involving a single one of them, or 3) potential such cases were swept under the rug, nothing makes it to the public records of the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

Which.Is.It? Will accept breadcrumbs …

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ProPublica: As Hollywood Lobbied State Department, It Built Free Home Theaters for U.S. Embassies

by Robert Faturechi ProPublica, July 2, 2015, 5:15 a.m.

This story was co-published with The Daily Beast.

Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.

Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.

That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.

The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled “U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room.” It credited “a generous donation” from the MPAA.

Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.

“Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities,” said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines.”

Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year 2013 London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren’t intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.

Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. “The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions,” she said.

The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn’t provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn’t say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.

There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris in 2011. “This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations,” the spokesman said.

State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for “embassy refurbishment, ” provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there’s no conflict or possible “embarrassment or harm” to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can’t come with a promise or expectation of “any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government.”

Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio’s chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note 2013 Keith Weaver 2013 sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn’t be improper.

“The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed,” reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.

“The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible.”

Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.

The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation’s capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner 2013 a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.

Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA’s interests don’t always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.

The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.

For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting “fair use” protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be “extremely controversial and divisive.” Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.

“They’re basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent,” said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship.”

The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.

This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to “expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries.”

It’s not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater’s debut in February, the ambassador’s guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington 2013 the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

Related stories: For more coverage of politics and influence, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on secret political dealings by Sony, a reversal by the higher ed lobby and an imploding super PAC.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Republished under Creative Commons.
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Burn Bag: Ding! Ding! Ding! This Is Your ‘More Than Just Stupid’ Warning!

Via Burn Bag:

“A director of a regional diplomatic courier office has openly expressed he does not want to hire “women of childbearing age”. He achieves this by carefully examining candidates’ resumes when hiring to fill an EFM position. BBag, can you stop this stupidity, considering it’s from an FS-1?”

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EFM – eligible family member
FS01 – the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, last step before the Senior Foreign Service; equivalent to a full Colonel in the military

Why this is more than just stupid? SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer’s fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.

The Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. holds that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex plus other factors such as having school age children. In practical terms, EEOC’s policy forbids employers from using one hiring policy for women with small children and a different policy for males with children of a similar age.

In Gibson v. West, the Supreme Court endorses EEOC’s position that it has the legal authority to require that federal agencies pay compensatory damages when EEOC has ruled during the administrative process that the federal agency has unlawfully discriminated in violation of Title VII.

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Supreme Court Throws Out 2002 ‘Born in Jerusalem’ Passport Law

Posted: 12:04 pm EDT

Excerpt from the SCOTUS  6-3 decision from ZIVOTOFSKY, BY HIS PARENTS AND GUARDIANS, ZIVOTOFSKY ET UX. v. KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE (pdf):

Petitioner Zivotofsky was born to United States citizens living in Jerusalem. Pursuant to §214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, his mother asked American Embassy officials to list his place of birth as “Israel” on, inter alia, his passport. Section 214(d) states for “purposes of the registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel.” The Embassy officials refused to list Zivotofsky’s place of birth as “Israel” on his passport, citing the Executive Branch’s longstanding position that the United States does not recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. Zivotofsky’s parents brought suit on his behalf in federal court, seeking to enforce §214(d). Ultimately, the D. C. Circuit held the statute unconstitutional, con- cluding that it contradicts the Executive Branch’s exclusive power to recognize foreign sovereigns.

Quick background of this long-standing practice: Place of birth was first added to the U.S. passport designed in 1917. An October 4, 1963 staff study by the Passport Office on “Place of Birth” information in the United States Passport reflects “the passport used during World War I was the first in which including the place of birth of the passport holder was mandatory as part of the identification of the bearer, probably was a wartime travel control measure. The item was included in all subsequent revisions of the passport format, down to and including the present issuances.”

For United States passport purposes, the Department of State has defined the term “bearer’s origin” to be the bearer’s place of birth as it is presently recognized. That entry is included to assist in identifying the individual, not the individual’s nationality. The passport very clearly states that the bearer is a United States national or citizen.

7 FAM 1360: Birthplace in Jerusalem (pdf):

For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem. For applicants born before May 14, 1948 in a place that was within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, enter JERUSALEM as their place of birth. For persons born before May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, enter either PALESTINE or the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation. For persons born after May 14, 1948 in a location that was outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits and later was annexed by the city, it is acceptable to enter the name of the location (area/city) as it was known prior to annexation.

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Most Apt Question on #ClintonEmails: “Simply put, where was everyone?”

Posted: 2:36 am EDT

 

“I remain mystified by the fact that the use of a private e-mail account apparently went either unnoticed or unremarked upon during the four-year tenure in office of the former secretary” […] ”Simply put, where was everyone? Is there any record indicating that any lawyer, any FOIA officer, any records person, any high-level official ever respectfully confronted the former secretary with reasonable questions about the practice of sending e-mails from a private account? It is unfathomable to me that this would not have been noticed and reported up the chain.”

Jason Baron
Former Director of Litigation, NARA
Source: HRC Emails: Federal officials voiced growing alarm over Clinton’s compliance with records laws, documents show

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Congress Threatens to Benghazimazi State Dept Funding Over Clinton Emails

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

First, the State Department told the court that the Clinton emails won’t be released until next year.

But US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras rejected the proposal and ordered to State Department to get on with it on a rolling basis.

And then — oh, look!


According
to NYT, here’s what happened:

In the five-minute session with reporters, Mrs. Clinton also addressed questions about her exclusive use of a personal email address while at the State Department, saying she wanted the department to release the emails she had sent and received from her private account sooner rather than the estimated release in January 2016.

“They belong to the State Department, so the State Department has to go through its process,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But as much as they can expedite the process, that’s what I’m asking them to do.”

Because Mrs. Clinton exclusively used a personal email account while at the State Department, much of her correspondence has been shielded from federal records requests, creating a firestorm from Republicans investigating her handling of the 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya.

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Someday, somebody will helpfully calculate the labor cost of 12 employees doing this for 5 weeks; something that could have been avoided if the responsible people were doing their jobs responsibly in the first place.

In any case, Congress has now threatened to benghazimazi the State Department funding, not all of it, just some, of course. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for State and foreign aid told The Hill that funding could be withheld from the agency’s programs and efforts “unless it relates to our own national security or our allies.” According to The Hill, GOP sources said divisions such as Legislative Affairs and Public Affairs and the Office of the Secretary could be affected.  Whether this would be a tame who will blink first contest or a real pissing contest, remains to be seen.

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Also, on May 21st, this happened:

About 350 pages of the Clinton emails obtained by The New York Times and now available online, represent about a third of the roughly 850 pages of emails from Secretary Clinton’s personal account that have been turned over to the Select Committee on Benghazi. The emails seemed to be all Sid, Sid, Sid, but there are also emails from the former Ambassadors to Libya, Chris Stevens (p.116, p.138, p.341) and Gene Cretz (p.70, p.346), former A/S for NEA Jeff Feltman (p.68, p.71), Cheryl Mills, State Department management go-to guy, Pat Kennedy (p.330), among others.  Click here to read it or download the pdf file here.

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FOIA and Clinton Aides: Some Shock and Awe at the Foggiest Bottom

Posted: 1:02 am EDT

 

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That WSJ article above has this to say about the Keystone-related documents subject to FOIA and the rapid dominance doctrine in the halls of Foggy Bottom:

The Keystone documents Ms. Mills objected to were all either held back or redacted, the same person said. After Ms. Mills began scrutinizing documents, the State Department’s disclosure of records related to Keystone fell off sharply, documents that include a court filing show.

Two others with knowledge of State Department records procedures said political appointees were allowed greater say than the FOIA experts thought was appropriate. It was hard to push back against the political staff, one said.

The pipeline project was so sensitive that an expert on FOIA was invited to a State Department policy meeting to advise on how to prospectively shield documents from disclosure, such as by marking them as involving the “deliberative process,” said a person who attended.

That’s the infamous exemption for the “deliberative process,” otherwise known as the “b-5.” In early May, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring an Informed Citizenry: Examining the Administration’s Efforts to Improve Open Government.” Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, as well as Chief FOIA Officer for the Department of State was one of the witnesses and made news for reportedly saying that Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email account for official business was “not acceptable.” Too late much?

One other witness at that hearing was Thomas S. Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Below is from his prepared statement on the “b-5″ exemption, also known as the “withhold it if you want to” exemption.

One reason why FOIA does not work is the abuse of the most discretionary exemption in the FOIA, the fifth or “b-5” on deliberative process. This exemption also includes attorney-client privilege, and every lawyer in this room shivers at the idea of infringing on that. Yet, I would point out that the Presidential Records Act dating back to 1978 has eliminated the b-5 exemption as a reason for withholding records 12 years after the President in question leaves office. Through the PRA, we have conducted a 35-year experiment with putting a sunset on the deliberative process exemption, and the facts show us no damage has been done with a 12-year sunset. Yes, some embarrassment, such as the junior White House lawyer who vetted (and rejected) a certain Stephen Breyer for a Supreme Court nomination back in the 1990s. But no new spate of lawsuits. No re-opened litigation. No damage to the public interest. Embarrassment cannot become the basis for restricting open government. In fact, embarrassment makes the argument for opening the records involved.

According to Mr. Blanton, the Justice Department’s use of the “withhold it if you want to” exemption is at an all-time high this year, invoked 82,770 times to withhold records that citizens requested. The same exemption used by the CIA to withhold volume 5 of a 30-year-old internal draft history of the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. This is the same exemption used by the FBI to censor most of the 5,000 pages it recently “released” on the use of the Stingray technology to locate individuals’ cell phones.  Apparently, this is the exemption that the administration also used to keep the Office of Legal Counsel final opinions out of the public domain according to Mr. Blanton.

So, are we terribly shocked yet?

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State, Local, Tribal/Territorial Govt Employees Traveling Abroad on USG Duties Will Soon Get Official Passports

Posted: 1:40 am EDT

 

The Federal Register has published the interim final rule amending passport rules that will allow the State Department to issue an official passport to an official or employee of a state, local, tribal, or territorial government traveling abroad to carry out official duties in support of the U.S. government.

22 CFR 51.3(b) provides that an “official passport” may be issued to: an official or employee of the U.S. government traveling abroad to carry out official duties; spouses and family members of such persons; and, when authorized by the Department of State, U.S. government contractors traveling abroad to carry out official duties on behalf of the U.S. government.

Increasingly, the federal government utilizes officials or employees of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments in support of federal activities, both domestically and overseas, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. When required to travel internationally in support of such federal activities, these individuals are not currently eligible for official passports. Issuance of an official passport to such individuals signifies to foreign governments that they are carrying out official duties in support of the U.S. government. The activities undertaken by these officials are often of pressing national security, law enforcement, or humanitarian importance and occur with little advance notice. It is in the U.S. government’s interest to provide these individuals the travel documents necessary to allow them to travel in a timely manner.

Under 22 U.S.C. 211a et seq., the Secretary of State has the authority to make rules for the granting and issuance of passports. The Department is amending section 51.3(b) of 22 CFR to authorize issuing official passports to an official or employee of a state, local, tribal, or territorial government traveling abroad to carry out official duties in support of the U.S. government.

The blue tourist passport is the only passport that can be used by U.S. citizens for leisure travel abroad. A no-fee passport looks identical to a tourist passport, but it can only be used for dependents who are traveling with their sponsor to an overseas duty station. Turn to page 26. If there is an amendment in the back of the passport, it is a no-fee passport. No-fee, official and diplomatic passports cannot be used for personal travel.

The blue tourist passport is the only passport that can be used by U.S. citizens for leisure travel abroad. A no-fee passport looks identical to a tourist passport, but it can only be used for dependents who are traveling with their sponsor to an overseas duty station. Turn to page 26. If there is an amendment in the back of the passport, it is a no-fee passport. No-fee, official and diplomatic passports cannot be used for personal travel.          (via army.mil)

Revise paragraph (b) of §51.3 to read as follows:
§51.3 Types of passports.
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(b) Official passport. When authorized by the Department, an official passport may be issued to:

(1) An official or employee of the U.S. government traveling abroad to carry out official duties, and family members of such persons;

(2) A U.S. government contractor traveling abroad to carry out official duties on behalf of the U.S. government; or

(3) An official or employee of a state, local, tribal, or territorial government traveling abroad to carry out official duties in support of the U.S. government.

Click here (pdf) for the current rule.

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Burn Bag: A weekend on lockdown, whataboutyou?

Posted: 12:01 pm  EDT

Via Burn Bag:

While the Danger Pay Working Group contemplates denying Danger Pay to Mexico border posts, consulate staff in Guadalajara spent the weekend on lockdown and the narco violence related security incidents in Matamoros have gone up fourfold.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05

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Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT

 

Below is from the official proposal to be published on the Federal Register tomorrow eliminating the visa page insert (VPI) service for regular fee U.S. passports:

The Department proposes eliminating the visa page insert service for regular fee passport book holders beginning January 1, 2016. The expected effective date of this rule coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book. The Department routinely updates the technology used to produce U.S. passport books so that U.S. passport books use the most current anti-fraud and anti-counterfeit measures. The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.

In 2012, an interagency working group tasked with overseeing the development and deployment of Next Generation Passport books found that visa page inserts could compromise the effectiveness of security features of the new passport books that are intended to provide greater protections against fraud and misuse. To maximize the effectiveness of the Next Generation Passport that is expected to be issued to the general public in 2016, the Department considered whether visa page inserts could be phased out at the time that the Department begins to issue the new passport books.

As part of this study, the Department considered the extent of the public’s usage of visa page inserts, costs to the Department of eliminating the service, and whether any inconvenience to the public could be minimized. A study of a sample of visa page insert applications revealed that a significant majority of those applying for visa page inserts had them added to 28-page passport books, rather than to the larger 52-page books. A set of visa page inserts is 24 pages. Accordingly, a 52-page passport book is the same size as a 28-page book with a set of extra visa pages. The Department determined that the demand for additional visa pages would be substantially reduced by issuing only the larger 52-page passport books to overseas U.S. passport applicants. Accordingly, the Department has begun issuing the 52-page book to overseas applicants, who are the most likely to apply for extra visa pages, at no additional cost. This should further reduce the already limited demand for visa page inserts, thus making the rule’s impact on the public very minimal. Individuals who apply for U.S. passports within the United States will continue to have the option to request a 52-page passport at no additional charge.

Each version of the Next Generation Passport book contains two fewer pages total, but the same number of visa pages as the passport books currently in circulation. Accordingly, after the Department begins issuing the Next Generation Passport book, all domestic passport book applicants will still have the option to choose between a 26-page passport book and a larger 50-page passport book, but the larger 50-page passport books will be automatically issued to people applying overseas.

The Department believes the limited demand for visa page inserts is outweighed by the importance of ensuring that the Next Generation Passport provides the maximum protection against fraud and misuse. Furthermore, the Department must monitor unused inventories of passport products, and the elimination of visa page inserts would facilitate more secure inventory controls. Accordingly, the Department proposes eliminating visa page inserts in passport books issued to the general public beginning January 1, 2016.

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

When news about the elimination of passport page inserts first surfaced in late March, we went looking for answers.  A State Department official responded to our inquiry as follows, with emphasis on security and other interesting details:

The Department’s highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens and this includes our commitment to ensure the U.S. passport remains the most secure travel document in the world. As we look forward to the next version of the U.S. passport, an internal focus group determined that supplemental visa pages pose vulnerabilities to both the physical security of the passport and the issuance process. While the United States is the only country to offer the option of adding additional visa pages to passports, below is some additional data which helped us arrive at our decision:

  • The total demand for additional visa pages is quite small. In FY 2012, we saw approximately 168,000 requests for additional pages compared to 12 million passport issuances.
  • For years have we have offered two passport book sizes to the American public: 28 pages and 52 pages. In FY2013 we estimated that 97% of all passport renewals used fewer than 18 visa pages, a strong indication that the current book sizes we offer meet the needs of the majority of American travelers.
  • To meet the needs of frequent travelers, we began issuing the 52-page passport books at all overseas posts which is where most requests for additional visa pages are processed.
  • Customers can renew their passports via expedited service both domestically and overseas at U.S. consulates and embassies.

We realize some frequent travelers may have concerns about this decision, but it is our duty to implement policies that reinforce and maintain the security of the passport. The United States allows travelers to enter into the country with a valid visa in an expired passport, as long as both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) are from the same country and type. Many other governments have similar regulations. However, we recommend that travelers obtain the latest information on visas and entry requirements from the nearest embassy or consulate of destination country before traveling.

According to CA, after the proposed rule is announced on the Federal Register, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct outreach to educate the public on the elimination of visa pages insert (VPI), the effects of this decision, and alternative consular services.

Interested parties may submit comments for 60 days starting April 29, by any of the following methods:

  • Visit the Regulations.gov web site at: http://www.regulations.gov/index.cfm and search the RIN 1400-AD76 or docket number DOS-2015-0017.
  • Mail (paper, disk, or CD-ROM): U.S. Department of State, Office of Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT), Attn: CA/PPT/IA, 44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1227, Sterling, Virginia 20166-1227.

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