State Dept Advises POTUS to Plastic Wrap His Luggage During Philippine Visit! #bulletscam

Posted: 4:18 pm EDT


President Obama is traveling to Turkey, the Philippines, and Malaysia from November 14-22, 2015. He arrived in the Philippines last night where he will participate in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit.  It looks like the last several weeks, the Philippines has also been roiled with allegations of a bullet planting scheme at its international airport to extort money from  travelers.  It has even spawned a highly-popular mobile app game, in which users play as a “victim” at the Manila airport who has to navigate carefully to avoid bullets from being dropped onto the traveler’s luggage. Oy!

The BBC reports that the scam called locally as “tanim bala” (planting bullets) meant that passengers have been faced with fines, charged with the illegal possession of ammunition or had to cancel their flights. Just last week, Philippine media reported that airport cops allegedly asked P30K (about $600) from an American missionary who entered the Philippines and was alleged to have a bullet in his luggage.

8List Philippines notes that anyone can fall victim to this scam including Japanese touristsforeign missionaries65 year old grandmothers and Philippine overseas workers returning/departing the Philippines.

Over 30 cases of unlawful possession of ammunition have been reported from January to early November of this year, a spike from last year’s low of only 12 cases. The scandal took off when the media picked up the story of a 56 year old OFW travelling back to Hong Kong being detained for two days after being apprehended by the Office for Transport Security (OTS), which is directly under the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).


Today, we found this report from The AdoboChronicles:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Adobo Chronicles) –  U.S. President Barack Obama is just one of the many dignitaries confirmed to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit to be held this month in Manila, Philippines.

Recent  developments at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have sent chills to the international community and has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory to Americans traveling to the Philippines, including Obama.

NAIA has been in the headlines recently because of a scheme called laglag bala  or tanim bala in which incoming and outgoing passengers at NAIA are being detained for bullets found in their luggage as they pass through airport security.  It is alleged that the bullets are being planted by airport personnel with the intent of extorting money from the unsuspecting passengers.

Obama is known to want to carry his own overnight bag and briefcase whenever he travels to other countries.


President Obama carrying his own luggage that still needs plastic-wrapping service.

The State Department has therefore advised Obama to wrap his briefcase with plastic when he arrives in and departs from Manila so that he is not victimized by the laglag bala schemers.

Many passengers flying in and out of NAIA have resorted to wrapping their luggage and carry-on bags with plastic to prevent the schemers from planting bullets without their knowledge.


Although based in the Bay area, The Adobo Chronicles appears to be the Philippine version of The Onion, America’s finest news source.

Now that you’re done laughing, Embassy Manila apparently did warn about carrying bullets through the Manila airport but that warning is not posted anywhere on its website or its social media arms. We’ve asked about it but have not heard anything back.



Meanwhile, the Filipinos are busy online:










@StateDept’s Problematic Information Security Program and Colin Powell’s Wired Diplomatic Corps

Posted: 2:10 am EDT



Via the AP:

Clinton approved significant increases in the State Department’ information technology budgets while she was secretary, but senior State Department officials say she did not spend much time on the department’s cyber vulnerabilities. Her emails show she was aware of State’s technological shortcomings, but was focused more on diplomacy.
Emails released by the State Department from her private server show Clinton and her top aides viewed the department’s information technology systems as substandard and worked to avoid them.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20

click here to view pdf file

The report does not include specific details on the “significant increases” in the IT budget. Where did it go? Why did the Clinton senior staff suffer through the State Department’s antiquated technology without any fixes?

In contrast, here is Colin Powell’s Wired Diplomatic Corps:

Another disturbing aspect of State Department life prior to 2001 was the poor condition of its information technology (IT). Independent commissions warned the organization’s computer networks were “perilously close to the point of system failure” and “the weakest in the U.S. government.” Inadequate funding, concerns over IT security, and simple bureaucratic inertia were all contributing factors. Powell came to an institution in which his employees relied on an antiquated cable messaging system, slow, outdated computers and as many as three separate networks to do their daily work. At several posts diplomats did not enjoy full access to the Internet or the department’s classified network. Such realities were troubling for a new secretary of state, who had served on American Online’s board of directors and considered Internet access an indispensable resource in his own daily life. Powell believed effective twenty-first diplomacy necessitated a modern communications system at State and made its establishment a top priority.

As with embassy construction and security, Powell successfully garnered the financial resources to make substantial quantitative and qualitative improvements in the organization’s information technology. For instance, a secure unclassified computer network with full Internet access was extended to 43,500 desktops during his tenure, making the State Department a fully wired bureaucracy for the first time in its history. This goal was reached in May 2003, under budget and ahead of schedule. Shortly thereafter a modernized classified network was installed at 224 embassies and consulates — every post that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security deemed eligible for such technology. In addition, a Global IT Modernization (GIT-M) program was launched to ensure that all computer hardware is kept state-of-the-art through an aggressive, four-year replacement cycle. Other changes equipped the institution with cutting-edge mainframes, updated secure telephones, and wireless emergency communication systems. Most recently, the State Department began under Powell’s leadership to replace its decades old cable and e-mail systems with one modern, secure, and fully integrated messaging and retrieval system.

These impressive technological changes were complemented by the creation of a new 10-person office for e-Diplomacy in 2002. The unit was established to support State’s information revolution by finding ways to increase organizational efficiency through information technology, making the newly installed systems user-friendly, and continuing to identify new ways to send, store and access information. Furthermore, IT security was enhanced considerably. One department report indicated that by August 2004, 90.4 percent of State’s operational systems had been fully authorized and certified, earning the department OMB’s highest rating for IT improvement under the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). In part, achievements of this type were facilitated through Powell’s hiring of 530 new IT specialists (while controlling for attrition). Through an aggressive recruitment and retention program based on incentives and bonuses, the department’s vacancy rate for such positions, which was “over 30 percent five years ago, [was] essentially eliminated.” As with congressional relations and embassy construction and security, State’s information technology was enhanced significantly under Powell’s leadership.

Read in full here via American Diplomacy — The Other Side of Powell’s Record by Christopher Jones.

So, among the more recent secretaries of state, one stayed home more than most. Secretary Powell knew the IT systems were substandard and he went about making the fixes a priority; he did not hand it off to “H” to lobby Congress or simply talked about the State Department’s “woeful state of civilian technology.” 

Below is a clip from OIG Steve Linick’s Management Alert for recurring information system weaknesses spanning FY2011-FY2013.  The actual FISMA reports do not seem to be publicly available at this time:

Screen Shot 2015-10-20

The FISMA audit dated October 2014 says:

[T]he Chief Information Security Officer stated that the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Office of Information Assurance (IRM/IA), received a budget of $14 million in FY 2014, an increase from $7 million in FY 2013.6 A majority of the budget was used for contractor support to improve FISMA compliance efforts.

We identified control deficiencies in all [Redacted] (b) (5)  of the information security program areas used to evaluate the Department’s information security program. Although we recognize that the Department has made progress in the areas of risk management, configuration management, and POA&M since FY 2013, we concluded that the Department is not in compliance with FISMA, OMB, and NIST requirements. Collectively, the control deficiencies we identified during this audit represent a significant deficiency to enterprise-wide security, as defined by OMB Memorandum M-14-04.

We have been unable to find the FISMA reports during all of Rice, Clinton and Kerry tenures. We’ll keep looking.



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.







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

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.


Ex-Staffer Pours Fuel to the Benghazi Select Committee House Fire

Posted: 5:18 pm EDT
Updated: October 11, 3:26 pm EDT





Several days ago, before House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the speaker’s race, he did this:


CNN reports that Major Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve who describes himself as a conservative Republican, told CNN that the committee trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton after the revelation last March that she used a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Podliska served nearly 10 months on the committee before he was fired in late June.  According to CNN, Podliska plans to file the lawsuit next month after a 30-day mediation phase required under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act passes. The spokesperson for the House Select Committee for Benghazi has released a 5-paragaraph statement in response to the ex-staffer’s allegation.

Major Bradley Podliska’s exclusive TV interview with CNN will air Sunday at 9 a.m. on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Updated, PowerPoint as obsession:


@StateDept Officials on Clinton Private Email Debacle: Yo! Had Been Caught Off Guard? Ay, Caramba!

Posted: 11:25 am EDT



Excerpt below with annotation:

“When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again,’ ” Clinton said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And we provided all of them.”

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they *first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before **the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
She has said repeatedly that it was “permitted” by the State Department and widely known in the Obama administration.

But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

***In the spring and summer of 2014, while it was in the process of trying to find records sought by the newly formed House Select Committee on Benghazi, the State Department’s congressional affairs office found Clinton’s personal e-mail address listed on a few records in a batch of Benghazi documents but no government e-mail account for her.

“We realized there was a problem,” said a State Department official who until that moment had not been aware of Clinton’s private e-mail setup. The official, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.

The agency is releasing those e-mails in batches, in accordance with a court order stemming from a public-records lawsuit.

The issue has led to frustrations within the State Department in recent months, as some officials have grown tired of having to answer for a political controversy not of their making, according to three senior officials.


Ay, caramba!

If the State Department had first contacted her in the summer of 2014, we have yet to see that correspondence. It was potentially sent sometime in August 2014, three months before the letters to Clinton and predecessors went out in November 12, 2014 from “M” (see below).  Three months is an early call?  C’mon! Secretary Clinton left State in February 2013.

As to the notion that officials had been “caught off guard” upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account, do spin doctors seriously expect us to buy this on a double discount?

The NYT broke the news that Secretary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state on March 2, 2015.

It took six months for three senior State Department officials to tell WaPo that they “had been caught off guard” by the secretary of state’s exclusive use of a private account?  These officials “were concerned by the practice”, so much so that they issued a three month-“early call” in the summer of 2014, 1 year and 6 months after the end of the Clinton tenure.  And we’re only hearing about this concern now, 2 years and 7 months after Secretary Clinton left office? Yeah.

Dates of note:

December 11, 2012: NARA Chief Records Officer Paul M. Wester Jr. Email to NARA’s Margaret Hawkins and Lisa Clavelli on how they “should delicately go about learning more” about the transition plans for Secretary Clinton’s departure from State. Concerns that “there are or maybe plans afoot to taking her records from State to Little Rock.” Invokes the specter of the Henry Kissinger experience vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton (view email in pdf). So there were discussions within NARA about the Clinton records as early as December 2012. It appears that NARA’s main contact (pdf) at State is Margaret P. Grafeld, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services (A/GIS).It should be interesting to see how or when the Clinton federal records were discussed between NARA and State.

* August 28, 2014: State Department U/S for Management sends memo to department principals on Senior Officials’ Records Management Responsibilities (view memo pdf). See State Department issued instructions for Preserving Email of Departing Senior Officials (view memo p.13 pdf)

** November 12, 2014Letter to Hilary Clinton’s representative, Cheryl Mills re: the Federal Records Act of 1950, November 12, 2014; to Colin Powell, to Condoleezza Rice; to Madeleine Albright;

*** August 11, 2014: The State Department sends its first group of documents to the new Select Benghazi committee, a partial response to a previous subpoena. The production contains a few — less than 10 — emails either to or from Clinton. Committee staffers notice immediately that the emails are from a previously unseen address, Meanwhile, the committee presses State to meet its legal obligation to fully respond to the pair of subpoenas originally issued in August 2013. (Via Washington Examiner)


Amb. John Tefft “Attends” 9/20 Moscow Rally and Apollo 11 Moon Landing Wearing the Same Trench Coat!

Posted: 1:23 am EDT


Russian television network REN-TV reported yesterday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, attended a Moscow rally of opposition activists. It apparently included a photograph purporting to show Ambassador Tefft at the event. Below via RFE/RL:

But there was one major problem with the report by the Kremlin-loyal national television network REN-TV: Tefft was not at the protest in Moscow’s outer Marino district. And the image showing Tefft talking to reporters against the background of the September 20 demonstration was a fabrication.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow responded snarkily to the report on REN-TV’s website, saying Tefft had spent the day at home and publishing photoshopped images showing Tefft speaking to the same reporters against the background of famous historical events — including U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines in 1944 and the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.






Apparently, REN- TV  first edited the report to state that it is “unknown whether these images are real or a common photo montage.” According to RFE/RL, later in the day, REN-TV followed up with an item conceding that the photograph was a fake circulated on Twitter and apologized. RFE/RL notes that the image of Ambassador Tefft used in the photo mashup was taken from an interview he gave on February 28 at the site near the Kremlin where Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead the previous day:

RFE/RL says that REN-TV is majority-owned by National Media Group, a pro-Kremlin media conglomerate controlled by Yury Kovalchuk, one of numerous influential businessmen and officials sanctioned by the United States in response to Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict. Read more here.

Well played @WBStevens, well played!


Congress Eyes @StateDept’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators

Posted: 2:27 am EDT


In June this year, Senator Bob Corker [R-TN] introduced Senate bill S. 1635: Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016.  On June 18, the SFRC issued a report to the full chamber and the bill was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar (Calendar No. 123). Only about 1 in 4 bills are reported out of committee. Govtrack also notes that only about 21% of bills that made it past committee in 2013–2015 were enacted. It gave this bill a 44% chance of being enacted.

While S.1635 may not be going anywhere right now, we know that Congress, at least, is eyeing with interest the mushrooming population of Foggy Bottom’s special reps, special envoy, advisors and coordinators. If this bill passes, the secretary of state will be asked to account for these 7th Floor denizens. Here is the relevant section of the bill:

204. Special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees on special envoys, representatives, advisors, and coordinators of the Department, which shall include—

(1) a tabulation of the current names, ranks, positions, and responsibilities of all special envoy, representative, advisor, and coordinator positions at the Department, with a separate accounting of all such positions at the level of Assistant Secretary (or equivalent) or above; and

(2) for each position identified pursuant to paragraph (1)—

(A) the date on which the position was created;

(B) the mechanism by which the position was created, including the authority under which the position was created;

(C) the positions authorized under section 1(d) of the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 2651a(d));

(D) a description of whether, and the extent to which, the responsibilities assigned to the position duplicate the responsibilities of other current officials within the Department, including other special envoys, representatives, and advisors;

(E) which current official within the Department would be assigned the responsibilities of the position in the absence of the position;

(F) to which current official within the Department the position directly reports;

(G) the total number of staff assigned to support the position; and

(H) with the exception of those created by statute, a detailed explanation of the necessity of the position to the effective conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.


As of September 18, the State Department has officially listed 59 special advisors, envoys, and representatives. The list below is extracted from the list here but it’s not a complete list.  We’ve counted at least 69 appointees in this category.  We’ve added and highlighted in blue the appointments that had been announced but not added to the official list.  Entries without hyperlinks are copied as-is from the State Department list.  Hey, we’re still missing entries under FJ, K, U, V, W, X, Y, Z!


State Department’s Special Envoys, Representatives, Advisors, and Coordinators


Afghanistan and Pakistan, Special Representative
Arctic, Special Representive
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), U.S. Senior Official


Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Issues, Special Representative
Burma, Special Representative and Policy Coordinator


Center for Strategic Counterterrorism, Special Envoy and Coordinator
Central African Republic, Special Representative
Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, Senior Advisor
Climate Change, Special Envoy
Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility, Special Envoy
[Colombia Peace Process, Special Envoy]
Conference on Disarmament, Permanent Representative
Commercial and Business Affairs, Special Representative
[Counterterrorism, Coordinator]
Cyber Issues, Coordinator


Department Spokesperson


[Ebola Response, Special Coordinator]



Global Coalition against ISIL, Special Presidential Envoy
Global Food Security, Special Representative
Global Health Diplomacy, Special Representative
Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Special Representative
Global Partnerships, Special Representative
Global Women’s Issues, Ambassador-at-Large
Global Youth Issues, Special Advisor
Great Lakes Region and the D.R.C., Special Envoy


Haiti, Special Coordinator
Holocaust Issues, Special Adviser
Holocaust Issues, Special Envoy
[Hostage Affairs, Special Presidential Envoy]
[Human Rights of LGBT Persons, Special Envoy]


[International Civil Aviation Organization, U.S. Representative]
International Communications and Information Policy, Coordinator

International Disability Rights, Special Advisor
International Energy Affairs, Special Envoy and Coordinator
International Information Programs, Coordinator
International Information Technology Diplomacy, Senior Coordinator
International Labor Affairs, Special Representative
International Religious Freedom, Ambassador-at-Large
[Iran Nuclear Implementation, Lead Coordinator]
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, U.S. Security Coordinator
Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Special Envoy


[Libya, Special Envoy]


Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Special Envoy
Mujahideen el Khalq Resettlement, Special Advisor
Muslim Communities, Special Representative
[Middle East Transitions, Special Coordinator]


Nonproliferation and Arms Control, Special Advisor 
Northern Ireland Issues, Personal Representative
North Korean Human Rights Issues, Special Envoy
North Korea Policy, Special Representative
Nuclear Nonproliferation, Special Representative of the President


Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palistinian Negotiations
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, Special Representative
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Special Envoy


Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters, Senior Advisor
Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, Special Envoy

Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, Special Representative


Religion and Global Affairs, Special Representative


Sanctions Policy, Coordinator
Science and Technology, Special Advisor

Secretary Initiatives, Special Advisor
[Security Negotiations and Agreements, Senior Advisor
Senior Advisor to the Secretary
Six-Party Talks, Special Envoy
Somalia, Special Representative
Sudan and South Sudan, Special Envoy
Syria, Special Envoy


Threat Reduction Programs, Coordinator 
Tibetan Issues, Special Coordinator
Transparency Coordinator








Special suggestions to complete this list:

F – FOIA, Special Expert Advisor
J – Japan-U.S. Cyber Dialogue, Special Advisor
K –  Kenya and Djibouti Refugee Situation, Special Advisor
U –  University Youth Events (Domestic), Senior Advisor
V-  Venezuela-Colombia Border Dispute, Special Representative
W – Weapons, Autonomous, Presidential Special Envoy
X-  Xenon Gas Release, Special Advisor
Y – Yemen Stabilization After Saudi Coalition Bombings, Special Envoy 
Z – Zamunda, Special Envoy to the Royal Kingdom

Related post:
While You Were Sleeping, the State Dept’s Specials in This “Bureau” Proliferated Like Mushroom

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

Posted: 1:19 am EDT

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.


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.


Holy Mother of FAM!!! Oh, Mr. Toner, What Have You Done?

Posted: 2:39 am PDT


On August 31, the State Department’s deputy spox was asked if the Secretary of State is bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). On September 1, the question was asked again and Mr. Toner promised to get an answer.

On September 3, the question was revisited for the third time, and here is the delightful exchange:

QUESTION: I have a – I’d asked you a question the other day and you said you’d get me an answer to it —

MR TONER: Did I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — and the question was whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to secretaries of state? Does it?

MR TONER: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I did do some research into this, as did others. It is – the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants. So – and what do I mean by that? I mean it’s not – for example, there’s things in there about reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle. Certainly, that doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department.

So it’s – what’s contained in the Foreign Affairs Manual – and this is – I apologize but this is a kind of an in-the-weeds question – all of that is not necessarily relevant to, for example, ambassadors or secretaries of state or senior Department officials. I mean, if I can say what I think the essence of your question was, and I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but was whether they are bound by the responsibility to protect classified information. That certainly is true, that any Secretary of State, any senior State Department official is bound by that. And I spoke to this the other day, is that any individual, whether you’re the Secretary of State on down, takes that responsibility seriously.

QUESTION: But my question —


QUESTION: I mean, I really – I was not asking whether they were bound by every aspect of it, including those that are not relevant to them. It was whether they’re bound – basically whether they’re bound by the things that are relevant to them.

So to take the one that you raised, which is not whether they’re bound to protect classified information or to take seriously the responsibility to protect classified information, the question would be then, since you raised that as a specific: Are they bound – are secretaries of state bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual with regard to the handling of classified information?

MR TONER: I would say, as they are pertinent to the – and again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me – but as they are pertinent to the responsibility to protect and safeguard classified information, and we’ve talked about this, frankly, ad nauseum about the gradations and how we classify stuff and how we look at it. But as those rules – they apply to everyone in the State Department, including, for example, politically appointed ambassadors, and certainly by a secretary of state who is appointed by the President and, frankly, serves at the pleasure of the President and is not a Foreign Service officer in that regard or a civil servant.

QUESTION: So insofar as the regulations of the Foreign Affairs Manual touch on the protection of classified information, they apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have it in front of me but – and I’m not trying to parse this, but in a sense I am. Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we go back —

QUESTION: That didn’t seem like a parse to me.


Selective application, amirite?

First, Mr. Toner says, “So I did do some research into this…” Excuse me, why the heck is he doing the research on this? What’s the use of the Office of Legal Adviser, if you can’t get them to issue a formal opinion on this matter?

Then he says, “the Foreign Affairs Manual is – it is not comprehensive in, nor is it a bible for all Foreign Service officers or civil servants.”

Oh dear. Quick! If you’re in a disciplinary process, tell your lawyers.

Saying “again, I don’t have the Foreign Affairs Manual in front of me” might be a trick in the PA playbook but it’s not cute, okay?  This question has been asked since August 31st. The FAM is online, and easily retrievable.

He did say that “Insofar as those regulations apply to the protection and safeguarding of classified information, yes,” when asked if  the protection of classified information apply to everyone, including the Secretary of State per FAM.

Hey, did you know that “reimbursement of the use of your private vehicle doesn’t apply to the Secretary of State or many people within the State Department?”

Makes you wonder, for all the stuff where the FAM doesn’t cover the Secretary of State and many other people within the State Department, what alternate rules and regulations govern their workplace, and conduct on and off their jobs?  We’d like to know in case we’re tapped by  President Julian Navarro to find a successor for the libidinous Secretary Larson.

But seriously.

Per 2 FAM 1111.1 the Department of State articulates official guidance, including procedures and policies, on matters relating to Department management and personnel, known collectively as “directives,” in the Foreign Affairs Manual and Handbook Series. Directives include Department administrative organization policies and procedures. These directives derive their authority from statutes, Executive orders, other legal authorities, and Presidential directives, such as OMB circulars, and Department policies.

Per 2 FAM 1115.5-1 the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) series is a supplemental series providing guidelines and procedures for implementing policies and directives contained in the FAM. Materials published in the FAH has the same force and effect as materials published in the FAM.

These directives apply to the Department of State and its operations worldwide (2 FAM 1111.3)

These directives apply to all Department of State and other relevant personnel worldwide (2 FAM 1111.4)

Note that 2. FAM 1111.4 does not make a distinction whether an employee is a career employee or a political appointee who is employed by the State Department.  Also, every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder:

Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Pardon me?  Between 1-10, how confusing is all this? Sigh…

By the way, AFSA did ask a similar question earlier this year concerning this (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?). We understand that the State Department had issued a response in the waning days of the previously elected AFSA Governing Board. As far as we are aware, that response has not been released to the AFSA membership. And we have not been able to get a response to two questions we sent to the newly elected president and VP of AFSA.




OPM Spends $133 Million on Credit Monitoring, Still No Credit Freeze

Posted: 12:34 am PDT


On September 1, OPM announced the $133M contract for identity thief protection and credit monitoring services for the 21.5 million individuals affected by the massive OPM breach that includes security clearance data. Our go-to expert on this says that “perhaps the agency should be offering the option to pay for the cost that victims may incur in “freezing” their credit files, a much more effective way of preventing identity theft.” Excerpt from Krebs on Security:

The only step that will reliably block identity thieves from accessing your credit file — and therefore applying for new loans, credit cards and otherwise ruining your good name — is freezing your credit file with the major credit bureaus. This freeze process — described in detail in the primer, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze — can be done online or over the phone. Each bureau will give the consumer a unique personal identification number (PIN) that the consumer will need to provide in the event that he needs to apply for new credit in the future.

Here is part of the OPM announcement:

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) today announced the award of a $133,263,550 contract to Identity Theft Guard Solutions LLC, doing business as ID Experts, for identity theft protection services for 21.5 million individuals whose personal information was stolen in one of the largest cybercrimes ever carried out against the United States Government. These services will be provided at no cost to the victims whose sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, were compromised in the cyber incident involving background investigations.

“We remain fully committed to assisting the victims of these serious cybercrimes and to taking every step possible to prevent the theft of sensitive data in the future,” said Beth Cobert, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management. “Millions of individuals, through no fault of their own, had their personal information stolen and we’re committed to standing by them, supporting them, and protecting them against further victimization. And as someone whose own information was stolen, I completely understand the concern and frustration people are feeling.”

ID Experts will provide all impacted individuals and their dependent minor children (under the age of 18 as of July 1, 2015) with credit monitoring, identity monitoring, identity theft insurance, and identity restoration services for a period of three years. This task order was awarded under GSA’s Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPA) for Identity Monitoring, Data Breach Response and Protection Services which GSA awarded today.

The U.S. Government, through the Department of Defense, will notify those impacted beginning later this month and continue over the next several weeks. Notifications will be sent directly to impacted individuals.






Heard that? Crickets.