Foreign Service Members Offer Candid Views of @StateDept Mental Health Services (via FSJ)

Posted: 3:04 am EDT

 

The January issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. The issue is focused on mental health care for the Foreign Service.  Dr. Samuel Thielman,  a recently retired regional medical officer/psychiatrist for the Department of State writes about how MED’s mental health program has grown and evolved over the years to address the unusual needs of FS employees and their families serving overseas in The Evolution of State’s Mental Health Services. Chantay White, the chief of the Employee Assistance Program with the State Department Employee Consultation Services and Paulette Baldwin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker write about Mental Health and ECS—What You Should Know. Dr. Stephen A. Young, the director of Mental Health Services for the State department since September 2015, writes about The Face of Mental Health Services Overseas.

One part of the bureaucracy that is glaringly missing here is, of course, Diplomatic Security.  A majority of these comments express concern about DS and security clearance. The most instructive part is probably the section on MED/MHS Checkup: Foreign Service Members Weigh In that offers very candid views from people in the field.

The FSJ writes that the compilation includes 45 responses from FS members in Washington, D.C., and overseas, some entry-level and a few retired, from the foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID. The gender split was about even. “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and known concerns about privacy, we took the unprecedented step of offering to print comments without attribution,” the editors write.

Some excerpts below, each paragraph selected from a separate FS member response.  The last one It’s No Joke is in full; the contributor appears to be part of US Mission Libya following the 2012 attacks. The full comments are available to read here.

“Dealing with the bureaucracy after having sought mental health treatment is itself enough to cause PTSD.”

“Senior officers, in particular, need to set the example by ensuring that their employees understand that a mental health issue, like any ailment, is best addressed early. Until they do, we will all still sign notes like this as… Anonymous.”

“During a rough patch in a relationship, my partner and I sought couples counseling. When my security clearance was up for renewal, I was grilled by the investigator regarding this counseling. I had to defend myself for wanting counseling, and the harsh and critical tone she took for me wanting to do what I needed for my relationship was upsetting. I got the clearance, but it was a stressful process.”

“After service in Iraq, there is no doubt in my mind that I suffered from PTSD. Now (several years later), I see my symptoms as both classic and obvious. At the time I was suffering, however, I hid my symptoms out of fear that knowledge that I suffered from PTSD would harm my career. That concern was heightened by the intense questioning I endured by a Diplomatic Security agent conducting a security clearance update when I was serving in Iraq. When it became known that I had sought mental health care, I was hassled and forced to repeat the content of a private discussion with a mental health professional to a DS agent with zero mental health training. I found the entire episode both distasteful and inappropriate.”

“My mistake—I was told by MED that I’d be given a Class 2 because of seeking continued therapy. I thought that showing that I’d made arrangements for my mental health would ensure a Class 1, but instead that’s what gave me the Class 2. Geez, why be honest with MED—it could have cost me my assignment.”

“I met with a therapist who told me he never wrote anything down because all of his FS clients were terrified of getting caught seeking assistance for their stress-related problems. It’s sad. Concerns about security clearances have a big effect on whether or not I seek mental health care.”

“I feel that if I had declared myself an alcoholic I would have gotten more attention from MED than when I was traumatized and sat in my office working, feeling like an isolated zombie.”

“Once I joined the Foreign Service, I could easily understand why there is an impression that the Service has an alcohol abuse problem—it’s self-medication that is easy to hide from a clearance process. I find that distressing and disturbing and extremely unsupportive.”

“Despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message a few years ago telling employees that their clearance will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment, that is not what happens in practice. DS investigators zero in on this, considering it a red flag, as if mental health were any different than physical health.”

“No matter what management says about the importance of mental health, if there are no real changes, then the Foreign Service will continue to be an ineffective and unsupportive mental health environment.”

“You also do not know who the regional psychiatrist’s client really is: you or the State Department? Does a psychiatrist see you as a patient who needs help or just a problem for the Foreign Service best remedied by removing you from post?”

“The mandatory out brief improved between the time I returned from Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012, when I returned from Iraq. However, both times I was told that the symptoms in the PTSD questionnaire are normal for six months and not to worry unless they persist. (And I was offended when taken aside after the briefing and asked how pervasive I thought infidelity was in Baghdad.)”

“During the onward assignments process, MED refused to consider my needs as identified by my therapist, instead assigning me to a post where there was no one in-country who could serve as an appropriate psychiatrist. There, I raised an issue of concern with the health unit nurse, who in turn shared it with the management officer, who then told my supervisor that I was “nuts.” This was not only a violation of my privacy; it reflected total ignorance on the management officer’s part of what PTSD and its symptoms are.”

“I would rate the mental health support at 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best. Working in a high-stress post that was not a “high-threat” post, my colleagues and I were given limited support in a time of crisis.”

“I am grateful for the mental health assistance available to me. If it weren’t for grief counseling, I would have qualms about seeing the RMO/P, because I’d need to disclose this in the five-yearly security update. And while that disclosure might not affect my security clearance, I still think there’s a stigma attached to the fact that I needed mental health assistance.”

“As a veteran of two priority staffing post (PSP) tours—one in Iraq (2007–2008) and the other in Afghanistan (2013–2014)—my experience with transition support has been abysmal. Just getting authorization to attend out briefings and to access mental health services was impossible.”

“I am not concerned about medical and security clearances as they relate to mental health care. Most people have seen a therapist at one time or another, and I don’t think it would affect a security clearance. But corridor reputation is a concern. Even when people need to talk to a mental health professional, they’re more worried about their corridor reputation and often won’t seek help due to the stigma of being “weak.”

“In my final post, when I had finally had enough bullying from my fourth bully boss (three of whom were DCMs and one a GS-15), I worked with the regional psychiatrist who prescribed two anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and a sleeping pill to help me cope. I sought assistance from the ombudsman, but received no help, so I resigned.”

“I had discussed my mental health with the regional psychiatrist during his visits, but he just gave me Xanax and told me panic attacks were normal. He asked me about work-related stress, but reported the results of our meetings with post leadership, contributing to my stress.”

“When State does not actively intervene in cases of abusive behavior, managers are given the impression that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Even if victims get mental health care afterwards, the damage has been done. From what I hear, the problem is getting worse and more widespread. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending out feel-good cables on workplace atmosphere and bullying, put policies in place that have real teeth. A zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullies, administered neutrally and enforced by D.C., would lead to an instant decrease in unacceptable behaviors and the resulting damage they cause.”

It’s No Joke

The first MED-directed mental health intervention that was provided in Tripoli after the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, was a video conference in April 2013, conveniently less than a week before the Director General arrived for a visit to Libya. Prior to that, the only service provided was a discussion with the nurse about “fostering resiliency” several months after the attack…hardly a useful assist.

The half-day course for those returning from hardship posts is a joke. I took it after my first (!) unaccompanied tour (UT), and both the instructor and some of the other students made fun of me for enrolling, since at the time my tour was seen as one of the “cupcake UTs,” without an active war going on outside the embassy walls. I refused to take the course after my second UT. No one from HR or my bureau asked if I’d taken it or even how I was doing after the second UT.

An RMO/P made fun of some of my coworkers in a high-stress, high-threat post that happened to be a popular destination for American tourists. He told them that they had no idea what serving in an actually difficult post was like, comparing it to the regional city where he was based. Never mind the fact that almost every person at that highly desirable but still challenging post got there via a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have neither respect for nor faith in MED’s mental health efforts. As long as MED is staffed with people who see mental health as an inconvenience, supported by State leadership (from the very top down) who barely pay lip service to mental health and a work-life balance, there’s no hope for anyone who suffers in the aftermath of an emotionally catastrophic tour abroad. At least there is solidarity among those who survived terrible times abroad.

Read in full the candid views from the filed via the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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Spying Case Against Robin Raphel Fizzles; AG Lynch’s “Houston, We Have a Problem” Moment

Posted: 2:05 am EDT

 

We blogged about the Robin Raphel case in September (see The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?.

In November 2014, we also blogged this: Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.

On October 10, the NYTimes reported that officials apparently now say that the spying investigation has all but fizzled. This leaves the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.

The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.

If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.
[…]
Some American investigators remain suspicious of Ms. Raphel and are loath to abandon the case entirely. Even if the government cannot mount a case for outright spying, they are pushing for a felony charge related to the classified information in her home.

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In the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work.  Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.

Are we going to hear soon that the federal officials handling the Raphel case also made some fundamental mistakes and misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft?  At least two of these officials leaked the probe to the news media even if no charges were filed against Ambassador Raphel.

This  was not a harmless leak. She lost her security clearance, and her job at the State Department without ever being charged of any crime. And in the court of social media, just the news that she is reportedly the subject of a spying investigation is enough to get her attacked and pilloried for treason. Perhaps, the most disturbing part in the report is that the authorities appear to have no case against her for spying, so now they’re considering slapping her with a felony charge under the Espionage Act.

Now, why would they do that?

Perhaps to save face and never having to admit that federal authorities made a mistake or lack an understanding of international statecraft? They could say —  see, we got something out of a year’s worth of investigation, so it was not completely useless.

Or perhaps because American investigators still viewed Ambassador Raphel’s relationships with deep suspicion?

Because, obviously, “deep suspicion” is now the bar for an espionage charge?

We should note that the hydrologist, Sherry Chen was cleared of spying charges but was notified in September that she will be fired by the National Weather Service for many of the same reasons the USG originally prosecuted her. Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University had been charged with “four counts of wire fraud in the case involving the development of a pocket heater for magnesium diboride thin films.” The USG asked to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning it could be revived, according to philly.com.

Unlike the Chen and Xi cases, Raphel was never charged and was not afforded the right to defend herself in the court of law.  What we have in one case may have been a misunderstanding, a second case, may well have been a mistake, but a third case is certainly, a trend.

This is AG Loretta Lynch’s  “Houston, we have a problem” moment.

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The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?

Posted: 2:26  am EDT

 

On November 6, 2014, WaPo reported that Robin Raphel, a retired Foreign Service officer, former ambassador, and most recently, a senior coordinator at the State Department’s  Af/Pak shop was under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe. The report cited the FBI’s Washington Field Office as the entity running the investigation (see Former Ambassador and Pakistan Expert Under Federal Investigation as Part of CounterIntel Probe). In late November 2014, we blogged this: Robin Raphel, the Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.

The Guardian reported in December 2014 that officials took “the extraordinary step in late October of searching Raphel’s house, finding classified documents that should not have left the State Department.” Raphel’s security clearance had reportedly been revoked and her job at the office of the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan terminated.

In January 2015, WaPo also reported that the FBI has been pushing to resolve several high-profile investigations that have lingered for months and in some cases years.

In addition to the case involving Petraeus and Broadwell, the bureau wants the Justice Department to decide whether to pursue charges against veteran State Department diplomat Robin Raphel and retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, who until 2011 was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright was the target of a Justice Department investigation into the leak of information about the Stuxnet cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear program. The details of Raphel’s case remain murky, but officials have said classified information was found at her home.

In her only public statement on the matter, Ambassador Raphel has expressed confidence that the affair will soon be resolved,  according to the Guardian in December 2014.

In late April 2015, General Petraeus was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine for sharing classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. To-date, Ambassador Raphel has not been charged.  We have been unable to find any new development on this case and that is troubling. It appears that 34 years in government service does not afford one an opportunity to face charges beyond the court of public opinion. It does not even afford one the ability to defend oneself in a court of law. How did we come to this?

We’ve compiled a list of the things we still don’t know:

— According to WaPo, two U.S. officials described the investigation as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. We don’t know who were these officials or their motives for leaking a counter-intel probe to the news media.

— The investigation reportedly was ongoing when the story broke; didn’t the media spotlight jeopardize the investigation?

— Was somebody out to get Robin Raphel? Why?

— Does the classification controversy surrounding the Clinton emails complicate this case? How?

— Who was the  Pakistani official in this case? Was he/she aware that USG agents were eavesdropping? If he/she/they were not aware of the eavesdropping before this, didn’t they become aware of it when the story broke?  How was the leak helpful in the investigation? Have we kicked out any Pakistani diplomat for his/her alleged role in this case?

— We understand that by the time a case like this goes overt, the government has  all the information it needs.  It was not apparent if that was the case here. If we presumed that the USG went overt because it had all the evidence, how come there are no charges 10 months on?  If they could not sustain the charges, how come she has not been cleared?

— The government not only must charge an individual suspected of a crime, it also must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged. That has not happened here. Why?

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Who signed off on Secretary Clinton having a private server? Over there – go fetch!

Posted: 1:19 am EDT


Via
DPB, September 1, 2015

QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I mean —

QUESTION: Did anybody?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so —

QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

QUESTION: And just —

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.

QUESTION: But —

MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and —

MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.
[….]
QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.

 

Holy Molly Guacamole!

See here? I don’t have enough fingers to count the verbal calisthenics the public is subjected to these days from the official podium of the oldest executive agency in the union.

He’s just doing his job, like … what would you do?

Pardon me? You’re embarrassed, too? Well, I suggest wearing a brown paper bag when watching the Daily Press Briefing from now on.

Are we ever going to reach a point when the career folks at the State Department will say “Enough, I’m not doing this anymore?

Hard to say. Hard to say. Although that did happen in Season 1, Episode 15 of Madam Secretary, so there is a clear precedent.

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The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer

Posted: 1:04 am EDT

 

Former FSO Michael T. Sestak was arrested in Thailand on May 7, 2013. He was initially arraigned on September 13, 2013 and pled guilty on November 6, 2013.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 before Judge John D. Bates at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The USG is recommending (#303) that Mr. Sestak be sentenced to a term of 84 months of incarceration followed by 3 years of supervised release.

The USG in its memorandum in aid of sentencing writes:

The U.S. State Department is dedicated to administering its visa programs fairly and without graft or corruption. SESTAK and his co-conspirators damaged the reputation of the U.S. State Department by tainting the process and likely preventing deserving applicants from obtaining visas.

This was not a momentary lapse in judgment for any of the conspirators, including SESTAK. This was a sophisticated scheme that exploited a system and made millions of dollars after months of careful planning and substantial efforts to cover their tracks.
[….]
SESTAK has provided substantial assistance to the government from the time of his initial detention on May 9, 2013. On that date, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed. During this initial interview, the defendant acknowledged his guilt and provided investigators with information regarding the conspiracy, including details about how the scheme actually operated and how the proceeds were laundered and moved out of Vietnam. While SESTAK was somewhat naïve and uninformed about the full extent of the conspiracy and the deep involvement of Binh Vo’s family members, he never minimized his own critical role in the scheme.

Mr. Sestak’s lawyer, Gray B. Broughton in his court filing argues that as of August 14, 2015, Mr. Sestak will have already forfeited over twenty-seven (27) months of his liberty in facilities designed for short-term detention and that a thirty-three (33) month sentence will serve as adequate punishment. “As a result of his indictment and conviction, Michael lost his job with the State Department and will never again be able to work in a similar capacity in public service. Even worse than the incarceration and job loss is Michael Sestak’s loss of reputation. The amount of shame and contrition that Michael Sestak continues to carry with him cannot be overstated. The loss of one’s profession and reputation is a severe punishment that serves the retributive goals of sentencing.” 

We will keep tabs on the sentencing set for Friday morning. Meanwhile, below is an excerpt from the court filing which is instructive, particularly, the emails exchanged by some of the conspirators.  If you’re a consular officer and somebody wants to make you an “honorary” brother, or sister, some other pretend relative, or fairy godparent, you gotta run as fast and as far away as possible!

This is what a purposeful and targeted cultivation of a relationship with a consular officer overseas looks like.  Note that this is an excerpt from the defense filing:

When Michael arrived in Vietnam, he had hit a personal low. Michael had become dissatisfied working for the State Department and had contemplated resigning at the end of his assignment to Poland. Michael had witnessed others being promoted who he believed were less deserving than he was. To make matters worse, Michael’s involvement in the fruitless search for WMD throughout Iraq shook his previously unwavering trust in the United States Government.
[…]
Most significantly, when Michael arrived in Vietnam, his personal life was totally unfulfilling. Within his first year assigned to Vietnam, Michael turned 40. Michael was unmarried, had no children, and no serious prospects for finding someone to share life together.  One aspect of being a Foreign Service Officer was that Michael changed countries every two years, usually coming back to Washington D.C. for several months in between for training. In both Spain and Poland, Michael had a girlfriend that he met towards the end of his tour. Unable to further develop these relationships in such a short amount of time, Michael arrived at his next assignment unaccompanied. It was during these transitions that Michael began to question the meaning of life and finding true happiness.
[…]
It was during this time and with this personal baggage that Michael first met Binh Vo. They met at Michael’s very first Consulate event in Vietnam in August 2010. Binh Vo and a Vietnamese businessman approached Michael and started talking. Binh Vo and Michael were approximately the same age; similarly, Binh Vo was American and well-educated.
[…]
Binh Vo slowly became Michael’s closest confident. Their friendship developed to the point where they met almost daily for meals or coffee. Binh Vo introduced Michael to his siblings, who went out of their way to include Michael in “family-only” functions. Binh Vo’s siblings referred to Michael as an honorary “Vo” brother. This circle of new-found friends constituted roughly 80% of Michael’s social activity in Vietnam. As described above, Michael was unable to develop any real friendships with American employees at the Consulate and he didn’t really have any Vietnamese friends; the few Vietnamese men that Michael met who ran in the same circles would ultimately harass Michael for visa “favors.” For the first year and four months of Michael’s time in Vietnam, Binh Vo was the only single male with whom he could communicate and socialize without reporting requirements because Binh Vo was American. Additionally, Binh Vo was always available, had a comparable level of education, and didn’t ask any favors.

Michael felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon a great relationship with Binh Vo and his family. Michael was unaware that Binh Vo and his family had targeted Michael from the onset and that every coffee, meal, family dinner, and drink was an orchestrated, results-driven event with the end goal of executing Binh Vo’s scheme to fraudulently sell non-immigrant visas to Vietnamese citizens.

As the Government stated in its sentencing memorandum for Binh Vo, Binh Vo “purposefully cultivated a relationship with Sestak in order to recruit him to approve visas for the conspiracy.” Government Mem., Doc. 289 at 8. Binh Vo exploited the weakness that Michael tried to hide, but some easily saw.
[…]

The Government’s sentencing memorandum illustrates how Binh Vo and his family preyed on Michael’s weakness and transformed him from a law-abiding officer and government official into a willing participant of the Vo’s scheme to enrich themselves:

The defendant [Binh Vo] orchestrated the visa fraud conspiracy from beginning to end. During the summer of 2011, according to electronic communications between the defendant [Binh Vo]’s sister and another co-conspirator, [Binh Vo] cultivated a relationship with [Michael] Sestak in order to get Sestak to approve visas for their family and acquaintances.

In a Google chat dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to an acquaintance:

[L]ast night we went out with this guy who works at the consulate — he’s the one that approves peoples visas… and he’s this single guy who wants to find someone to be wth [sic]… and my brother knows that – so he’s been trying to get this guy out and introduce him to people… so then later he can do him favors like … have him approve visas for people.

In an email dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to her boyfriend:

This guy who works for the US consulate here came out and joined us for dinner. He’s the guy that approves Visas for Vietnamese people to go to the United States so he’s a really good connection to have. My brother plans on using him to get [a sister-in-law’s] Visa to go to the States so [the sister-in-law] will most likely travel back with me in August . . . he just likes to people watch — he does this with the consulate guy (Mike) and they check out girls.

In a Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo again discussed the sister-in-law referenced in the above paragraph.

I applied for her Visa … so her interview is July 13th … and i told the consulate guy … so he said he’ll pull her file … but now he knows our family … so he’s more trusting … but she’ll most likely get accepted this time … because Mike will pull up her file … and he considers Binh like his best friend.

In another Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo discussed Sestak:

I have to go out now… it’s freaking 11P and Binh forgot it was Mike’s birthday… this loser guy who works for the consulate but we have to go out because he’s going to help us get [the sister-in-law’s] visa ugh

The USG in its court filing says that “the conduct that led to the present charges appears to be significantly out of character for the defendant.” It has also credited Mr. Sestak for accepting responsibility for his actions and for expression of remorse:

As far as the government is aware, prior to these offenses SESTAK had an unblemished record first as a as a police officer, then a Deputy United States Marshal, a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer, and finally as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The fact that he immediately accepted responsibility for his actions at the time of his initial detention and agreed to cooperate with the government from that day forward supports the government’s belief that the defendant is not a career criminal. The defendant’s cooperation has included numerous meetings and debriefings and significant assistance with the sale of the condominiums in Thailand that he purchased with the illegal proceeds from the scheme. Since the time of his initial detention in May 2013, the defendant has repeatedly expressed shame and genuine remorse for his actions.

Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The USG is asking for 84 months or 7 years and three years of supervised release. Defense is asking for 33 months. We’ll have to wait until August 14 to hear Judge Bates’ decision.

We’ve posted a couple of the publicly available Sestak documents in the forum’s Document Dump for friends of the blog. Click here to login. It looks like all of Mr. Sestak’s cooperation with the government is related to the cases against the other conspirators and the disposal of properties purchased through illegal proceeds.  We want to know how can the next Sestak be prevented from happening; he maybe in the best position to answer that question. We’ve requested to do an interview with him after the sentencing.  Will keep you posted.

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State/IRM blocked this blog’s evil shadow diplopundit.com, and it’s a good thing!

Posted: 7:24 pm EDT
Updated: 4:06 pm EDT

 

Last week we blogged about some reported issues with accessing this blog from the State Department. There were reports of this blog displaying as a blank page, and another of this blog being categorized as “suspicious.”

Two things to remember — first, if you’re connecting to this blog from a State Department network and you get a blank screen, check if you’re using Internet Explorer 8. If you are, you need to switch to Chrome if you want to read this blog.

Second, if you get the “suspicious” prompt or a block that prevents you from connecting to Diplopundit, make sure you are connecting to the correct URL – the one that sounds rhymy — diplopundit.NET, and not/not its evil shadow diplopundit.COM.

Here is the back story.  We thought it was a question of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it wasn’t that. Nothing to do with the tigers either. So our apologies for thinking that.  The firewall did bite but it was not done out of any wicked reason. It was merely a coincidence of two unrelated issues that occurred around the same time.

After we’ve blogged about issues with access from State, Ann from State/IRM’s Information Assurance office reached out to us to help see what’s going on.

“Suspicious” Category

So folks who attempted to access Diplopundit but typed .COM instead of .NET were blocked by state.gov, and will continue to be blocked access. And that’s a good thing.

image002-4

IRM/IA’s Ann did some sleuthing and discovered that somebody is domain camping on diplopundit.com, a domain registered out of Australia under protected status, so it’s not clear who owns it. Apparently, it is a very common attack to buy up domain names that are similar to a popular one, with different endings, common typos, etc, and then camp malware on them. She notes that “It’s especially awesome to do this to sites that have a high likelihood for targeted visitors, like, oh, maybe Department of State and other governments.” Running the domain through some site reputation lookups came back “suspicious.”

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

http://www.isithacked.com/check/www.diplopundit.com : Suspicious returns

IRM/IA tried to access diplopundit.com and the site is redirecting to another site that tells users their computers are infected and to click on “ok” to begin the repair process. DEFINITELY malicious.  IRM/IA’s IT ninja concludes that not only did the State Department’s security systems work as needed, someone is using the reputation of Diplopundit to try to infect users who type the wrong URL.

Ugh!  So watch what you type.  She’s not sure if this is targeted or just criminal botnet activity but whatever it is, stay away from diplopundit.COM.  Also, make sure you’re not sending any email to diplopundit.COM, as that email would end up with whoever owns that shadowy domain.

The Blank Screens

Internet Explorer  (IE) is the browser compatible with the Department of State’s IT system. A couple of years ago, Chrome became an optional browser. IE8 and other old browsers are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, and other security issues. It also doesn’t support a lot of things including HTML5 and CSS codes used in WordPress. In fact, we’re told that WP’s support for this browser version was dropped a while back.  Microsoft has also reported that they will end support for it themselves. So it’s not about what script is in this blog, it’s more about the IE8 browser not playing nice with the blogs. This blog displays properly on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and on Internet Explorer 9. Our tech folks suggested that IE8 users upgrade to IE9 if at all possible.

Our readers from State can’t just do that on their own, so we asked IRM. The word is that the State Department will probably skip IE9 due to resource constraints on testing each incremental version. The good news is, it will move everyone directly to Internet Explorer 11 in December. That may sound a long way off but we’re told that the move forces everyone from 32-bit to 64-bit servers, which is not an insignificant jump for all the developers (including those for Consular Affairs and the financial services). So there is that to look forward to at the end of the year.

Our most sincere thanks to State/IRM especially to IA’s Ann who pursued this issue to the end and also WP’s Grace and her team for helping us understand what’s going on. Merci.

#

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

— Domani Spero

 

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

Here is the short version:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 5.54.23 PM

 

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

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

In The American Conservative today, Peter Van Buren writes:

Maxwell impresses as a State Department archetype, dedicated to the insular institution, apolitical to the point of frustration to an outsider, but shocked when he found his loyalty was not returned.

He has revealed what he knows only two years after the fact. People will say he is out for revenge. But I don’t think that’s the case. As a State Department whistleblower who experienced how the Department treats such people, I know it’s not a position anyone wants to be in.
[…]
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn your own life, and that of your family, upside down, risking financial ruin, public shaming, and possibly jail time. It is a process, not an event.

 

 

 

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

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

QUESTION: Complete lack of understanding, okay.

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

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

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

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — being collected and – yes.

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

MS. HARF: I have no idea what he saw.

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

MS. HARF: Okay.

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

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

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: — or seeing them?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: So it’s —

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

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

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

QUESTION: So they got to see —

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS. HARF: Correct.

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

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

QUESTION: I understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. But —

MS. HARF: So —

QUESTION: — do you know even —

MS. HARF: — I’m responding.

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

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

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

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

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

MS. HARF: Let’s all hope so.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes, of course.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Rogin’s Exclusive: Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Raymond Maxwell Speaks Out — Duck and Cover!

Whoops! Too late!

Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
[…]
“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” said Maxwell, who has now filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s human resources bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign-service officers. The other three officials placed on leave were in the diplomatic security bureau, leaving Maxwell as the only official in the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job.

“I had no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi,” he said.
[…]

Since the leave is not considered a formal disciplinary action, Maxwell has no means to appeal the status, as he would if he had been outright fired. To this day, he says, nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline. He has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report, where all of the details regarding personnel failures leading up to Benghazi are confined. He also says he has never been shown any evidence or witness testimony linking him to the Benghazi incident.

Maxwell says he had planned to retire last September, but extended his time voluntarily after the Sept. 11 attack to help the bureau in its time of need. Now, he is refusing to retire until his situation is clarified. He is seeking a restoration of his previous position, a public statement of apology from State, reimbursement for his legal fees, and an extension of his time in service to equal the time he has spent at home on administrative leave.

“For any FSO being at work is the essence of everything and being deprived of that and being cast out was devastating,” he said.
[…]

The decision to place Maxwell on administrative leave was made by Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, according to three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the events. On the day after the unclassified version of the ARB’s report was released in December, Mills called Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and directed her to have Maxwell leave his job immediately.

“Cheryl Mills directed me to remove you immediately from the [deputy assistant secretary] position,” Jones told Maxwell, according to Maxwell.
[…]
But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Read  John Rogin’s  Exclusive: Hillary’s Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Speaks Out from his new home at the Daily Beast.

The somebodies appear to have miscalculated that folks would just go away quietly …

And it’s all a coincidence, of course, that on the same day that this came out, the State Department released its Benghazi Accountability Review Board Implementation and Secretary Kerry showed up at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia to deliver Remarks to the Foreign Service Institute Overseas Security Seminar  (dear heavens! it’s open to the press and cameras!). We can’t recall a secretary of state ever showing up for that overseas seminar, can you?

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wants to Be Known as a Serial Blog Killer, Anyway?

English: Serial Killers Gallery at the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it goes.

And Kolbi’s blog is resurrected a second time. Which is almost as shocking as Newt Gingrich’s come back after his Aegean cruise.

Anyway, she disappeared on February 13, and we moved the blog to the blogmetery. We spent most of February 14 rounding up the usual suspects on paper. Why? Because that’s what we do when somebody disappears or when a 2010 victim of a Serial Blog Killer is victimized once again. Think Criminal Minds for blogs searching for a Serial Blog Killer’s “signature.”

So on our whiteboard we have listed the possible “suspects” below:

  • The blogger-spouse’s FSO’s section chief at post
  • FSO’s section chief’s boss at post, the Principal Officer
  • Principal Officer’s boss in Beijing, usually the DCM
  • DCM’s boss in Beijing, that’s the Ambassador
  • Ambassador’s boss in DC besides President Obama, the EAP bureau
  • EAP’s boss in DC, that would be “P” (way up on the 7th Floor, tsk! tsk!)

On our side column, we listed the following who may have been offended by the blog or other people of interest we should talk to:

  • the UNSUB or “unknown subject” – could be the janitor or secretary, who knows?
  • DGHR – because human resources has hands in almost all the embassy pies
  • Alec J. Ross, because he is the 21st Century Statecraft guru at State

We were just in the middle of collecting photos to go with the names of the usual suspects when we were told that Kolbi’s blog is back up talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shuuuung!

We are happy, of course, to move her out of the blogmetery (admittedly, one depressing sidebar).  But the blog was gone slightly more than 24 hours. And very few, if ever, make it back. That she escaped the certainty of a blog death a second time around is nothing short of a miracle.

Is the Serial Blog Killer now playing a different game?  Or is there a lesson here, somehow? We don’t know yet. We’re studying the victimology in the hope that it would help others survive similar attacks. We’re asking questions such as: What did she write about? Who did she piss? What interest of the United States did she jeopardize?

Wait – you think it’s because nobody wants to be known as the Serial Blog Killer?

Don’t know. But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, “If you can’t do something right, do something smart.”

Well, getting off the news before it hits the frontpage is definitely smart, boys!

Domani Spero

Democratic Pakistan Bans BBC World News Over "Secret Pakistan" Documentary

Deutsch: Logo des Fernsehsenders BBC World News.Image via WikipediaAccording  to BBC News, Pakistani cable television operators have begun blocking the BBC’s international news TV channel, BBC World News. This move was apparently due to a critical documentary broadcast entitled Secret Pakistan. Excerpts:

The BBC said it was deeply concerned by the move, and called for its channel to be speedily reinstated.

“We condemn any action that threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service,” a BBC spokesperson said.

“We would urge that BBC World News and other international news services are reinstated as soon as possible.”

The two-part BBC documentary questioned the country’s commitment to tackling Taliban militancy.
[…]
The decision to block BBC World News and other international news channels comes after a media uproar in Pakistan over a Nato air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border at the weekend.

The All Pakistan Cable Operators Association announced on Tuesday that all foreign news channels airing “anti-Pakistan” content would be barred from Wednesday.

The operators called on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) “to revoke the landing rights of foreign channels” if they are found to be “propagating” information harmful to the country.
[…]
Correspondents say it is not possible to see BBC World News in most Pakistani cities, with the ban expected to be extended to rural areas by Wednesday.

Cable Operators Association spokesman Khalid Arain said that no foreign anti-Pakistan channel would “ever” be broadcast in the country.

“We want to send them a strong message to stop this. If they don’t stop this, then it is our right to stop them,” he said.

Correspondents say the Pakistani government is likely to have put pressure on the operators to impose the ban.

Active link added above.  Read in full here.

The two-part documentary is, of course, now available on YouTube for everyone to see and unless pulled by BBC for copyright issues, available to anyone with access to the web. 

Secret Pakistan : Documentary by BBC Part 1
(Double Cross) | Length: 59:03

http://youtu.be/qSinK-dVrig

from BBC: In May this year, US Special Forces shot and killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Publicly Pakistan is one of America’s closest allies – yet every step of the operation was kept secret from it.


Filmed largely in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this two-part documentary series explores how a supposed ally stands accused by top CIA officers and Western diplomats of causing the deaths of thousands of coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. It is a charge denied by Pakistan’s military establishment, but the documentary makers meet serving Taliban commanders who describe the support they get from Pakistan in terms of weapons, training and a place to hide.

This first episode investigates signs of duplicity that emerged after 9/11 and disturbing intelligence reports after Britain’s forces entered Helmand in 2006.

Secret Pakistan : Documentary by BBC Part 2
(Backlash) | Length: 58:59

http://youtu.be/G5-lSSC9dSE

from BBC: The second film in this timely and enthralling two-part documentary series reveals how Britain and America discovered compelling evidence that Pakistan was secretly helping the Taliban and concluded they had been double-crossed.


It tells the story of how under President Obama the US has waged a secret war against Pakistan. Taliban commanders tell the film makers that to this day Pakistan shelters and arms them, and helps them kill Western troops – indeed one recently captured suicide bomber alleges he was trained by Pakistani intelligence.

Chillingly, the film also reveals that, based on some evidence, Pakistani intelligence stands accused of sabotaging possible peace talks. Pakistan denies these charges, but relations between Pakistan and America now verge on hostility.

Since it is inevitable that some clips of this documentary will bleed into prime time news, I suspect that a host of foreign channels will also be banned for “propagating information harmful to the country.”

Perhaps, the cable operators would like to use the following programming filler – a music video, titled “Zindagi Hai Yahan.”  This has been created to showcase the treasures of the beautiful valley of Swat and promote it as a premium tourist destination in Pakistan, with assistance from USAID and the people of the United States of America:


Read more on Tourism Takes On Taliban (IPS) and USAID Support to Tourism in Swat