#OPMBreach: Back to Paper SF-86s, No More Social Media at OPM, Scary Movie Chinese Edition

Posted: 2:15 pm EDT

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OPM Announces Temporary Suspension of the E-QIP System For Background Investigation

Posted: 12:19 am EDT

 

On June 29, OPM announced the temporary suspension of the online system used to submit background investigation forms.  The system could be offline from 4-6 weeks.  Below via opm.gov:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Office of Personnel Management today announced the temporary suspension of the E-QIP system, a web-based platform used to complete and submit background investigation forms.

Director Katherine Archuleta recently ordered a comprehensive review of the security of OPM’s IT systems. During this ongoing review, OPM and its interagency partners identified a vulnerability in the e-QIP system. As a result, OPM has temporarily taken the E-QIP system offline for security enhancements. The actions OPM has taken are not the direct result of malicious activity on this network, and there is no evidence that the vulnerability in question has been exploited. Rather, OPM is taking this step proactively, as a result of its comprehensive security assessment, to ensure the ongoing security of its network.

OPM expects e-QIP could be offline for four to six weeks while these security enhancements are implemented. OPM recognizes and regrets the impact on both users and agencies and is committed to resuming this service as soon as it is safe to do so.  In the interim, OPM remains committed to working with its interagency partners on alternative approaches to address agencies’ requirements.

“The security of OPM’s networks remains my top priority as we continue the work outlined in my IT Strategic Plan, including the continuing implementation of modern security controls,” said OPM Director Archuleta. “This proactive, temporary suspension of the e-QIP system will ensure our network is as secure as possible for the sensitive data with which OPM is entrusted.”

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Meanwhile, on June 22, AFSA sent a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta with the following requests:

Screen Shot 2015-06-29

via afsa.org (click for larger view)

 

On June 25, AFSA is one of the 27 federal-postal employee coalition groups who urge President Obama to “immediately appoint a task force of leading agency, defense/intelligence, and private-sector IT experts, with a short deadline, to assist in the ongoing investigation, apply more forceful measures to protect federal personnel IT systems, and assure adequate notice to the federal workforce and the American public.”  (read letter here: AFSA Letter sent in conjunction with the Federal-Postal Coalition |June 25, 2015 | pdf)

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“M” Writes Update to State Department Employees Regarding OPM Breach

Posted: 1:36 pm EDT

 

It took 18 days before I got my OPM notification on the PII breach. Nothing still on the reported background investigation breach. OPM says it will notify those individuals whose BI information may have been compromised “as soon as practicable.”  That might not happen until the end of July! The hub who previously worked for State and another agency has yet to get a single notification from OPM. We have gone ahead and put a fraud alert for everyone in the family. What’s next? At the rate this is going, will we soon need fraud alerts for the pets in our household? They have names and passports, and could be targeted for kidnapping, you guys!!

And yes, I’ve watched the multiple OPM hearings now, and no, I could not generate confidence for the OPM people handling this, no matter how hard I try. Click here for the timeline of the various breaches via nextgov.com, some never disclosed to the public.

Still waiting for the White House to do a Tina Fey:

you're all fired

via giphy.com

On June 25, the Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy sent a message to State Department employees regarding the OPM breach. There’s nothing new on this latest State update that we have not seen or heard previously except the detail from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov (pdf) on how to protect personal information from exploitation (a tad late for that, but anyways …) because Foreign Intelligence Services and/or cybercriminals could exploit the information and target you.

Wait, what did OPM say about families? “[W]e have no evidence to suggest that family members of employees were affected by the breach of personnel data.” 

Via the NCSC:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26

no kidding!

Screen Shot 2015-06-26

you don’t say!

Here is M’s message from June 25, 2015 to State employees. As far as we know, this is the first notification posted publicly online on this subject, which is  good as these incidents potentially affect not just current employees but prospective employees, former employees, retirees and family members.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to provide you an update on the recent cyber incidents at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which has just been received.

As we have recently shared, on June 4th, OPM announced an intrusion impacting personnel information of approximately four million current and former Federal employees. OPM is offering affected individuals credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance with CSID, a company that specializes in identity theft protection and fraud resolution. Additional information is available on the company’s website, https://www.csid.com/opm/ and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (international callers: call collect 512-327-0705). More information can also be found on OPM’s website: www.opm.gov.

Notifications to individuals affected by this incident began on June 8th on a rolling basis through June 19th. However, it may take several days beyond June 19 for a notification to arrive by email or mail. If you have any questions about whether you were among those affected by the incident announced on June 4, you may call the toll free number above.

On June 12th, OPM announced a separate cyber intrusion affecting systems that contain information related to background investigations of current, former, and prospective Federal Government employees from across all branches of government, as well as other individuals for whom a Federal background investigation was conducted, including contractors. This incident remains under investigation by OPM, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigators are working to determine the exact number and list of potentially affected individuals. We understand that many of you are concerned about this intrusion. As this is an ongoing investigation, please know that OPM is working to notify potentially affected individuals as soon as possible. The Department is working extensively with our interagency colleagues to determine the specific impact on State Department employees.

It is an important reminder that OPM discovered this incident as a result of the agency’s concerted and aggressive efforts to strengthen its cybersecurity capabilities and protect the security and integrity of the information entrusted to the agency. In addition, OPM continues to work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other elements of the Federal Government to enhance the security of its systems and to detect and thwart evolving and persistent cyber threats. As a result of the work by the interagency incident response team, we have confidence in the integrity of the OPM systems and continue to use them in the performance of OPM’s mission. OPM continues to process background investigations and carry out other functions on its networks.

Additionally, OMB has instructed Federal agencies to immediately take a number of steps to further protect Federal information and assets and improve the resilience of Federal networks. We are working with OMB to ensure we are enforcing the latest standards and tools to protect the security and interests of the State Department workforce.

We will continue to update you as we learn more about the cyber incidents at OPM. OPM is the definitive source for information on the recent cyber incidents. Please visit OPM’s website for regular updates on both incidents and for answers to frequently asked questions: www.opm.gov/cybersecurity. We are also interested in your feedback and questions on the incident and our communications. You can reach out to us at DG DIRECT (DGDirect@state.gov) with these comments.

State Department employees who want to learn additional information about the measures they can take to ensure the safety of their personal information can find resources at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at http://www.ncsc.gov. The following are also some key reminders of the seriousness of cyber threats and of the importance of vigilance in protecting our systems and data.

Steps for Monitoring Your Identity and Financial Information

  • Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.
  • Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year. Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, www.ftc.gov.
  • Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.Identitytheft.gov. The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.
  • You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name. Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert. TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

Read in full here.

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State Department to Get a Holodeck to Train U.S. Diplomats, Star Trek Replicator Not Included

Posted: 2:17 am  EDT

 

The Foreign Service Institute will soon have an  Immersive Virtual Environment to train our diplomats.  The solicitation calls it a “Holodeck Projection Solution” and it is an intended addition to the school’s Innovation Lab.

Really, something like this?

 

In early 2014, Wired reported that the Army Contracting Command issued a Sources Sought notice for companies interested in demonstrating “mature technologies” for military training.  The report noted that Northrop Grumman thinks its Virtual Immersive Portable Environment (VIPE) Holodeck just may be the answer.  The VIPE Holodeck 360 degree virtual training system provides users with a high-fidelity immersive environment with a variety of mission-centric applications, including simulation and training, mission rehearsal and data visualization. The VIPE Holodeck can support live, virtual and constructive simulation and training exercises including team training, cultural and language training and support for ground, air and remote platform training.

The U.S. Army required  white paper and demo from interested companies with the requirement spelled out here.

The announcement said that the Army lacked the capability to rapidly assess, adapt and replicate the complex nature of the operational environment and applicable Joint, Interagency, International, Multinational (JIIM) enablers to conduct realistic training and develop adaptive Leaders at Home Station. Associated Areas of interest for NIE 15.1 Include:

Provide an Augmented Reality (AR) capability that can be utilized by individual Soldiers or Small units (Company & below) to integrate (simulated) Joint and other combined arms enablers (e.g., indirect/FA fires, aerial delivery of supplies, CAS) during live training events, (with the ability to support multi-echelon training at Home Station when required).

It looks like, the U.S. Army was actually looking not only into the capability gaps, it also knows what that immersive virtual environment will be used for.

We can’t say the same for the State/FSI solicitation for a holodeck.

FSI will have an  Immersive Virtual Environment to train our diplomats but it does not say what kind of immersive training it will be used for. It requires vendor to “provide any necessary training” but does not identify what training content is required.  Is this for an immersive congressional hearing environment?  Language training? Death notification simulations for non-consular officers working as duty officers? Will our diplomats be doing intergalactic diplomatic negotiations on alien planets?  The solicitation does not say.  What’s next?  A follow-up solicitation for vendors to write virtual environment simulations for diplomats? A solicitation for the script for those simulations?

Here’s a clip from The Void, a company that says “you will walk into new dimensions and experience worlds without limits. From fighting intergalactic wars on alien planets, to casting spells in the darkest of dungeons, THE VOID presents the future of entertainment. Only limited by imagination, our advanced Virtual-Reality technologies allow you to see, move, and feel our digital worlds in a completely immersive and realistic way.”

Folks, please let us know when the FSI cafeteria gets a replicator.

 

Via fedbiz:

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the Federal Government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington. At the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC), the FSI provides more than 450 courses, including some 70 foreign languages, to more than 50,000 enrollees a year from the State Department and more than 40 other government agencies and the military service branches.

The NFATC is seeking to have an Immersive Virtual Environment display capability added to its Innovation Lab classroom.

Holodeck Projection Solution

FSI has a space that has three walls arranged in a U-shape with 90° angles between each wall. Each wall is approximately 15ft long by 8ft in height. The vendor will provide a solution to project images on three walls (surfaces) in order to produce an immersive space for training.

The solution must include the following:

• A source computer capable of processing, rendering, and outputting high-end digital video and graphics.

• The source computer must have the ability to have a WiFi network connection, run on latest version of its operating system, and be capable of outputting four (4) video feeds each 1920×1080 or greater; three for the walls/surfaces and one for local monitoring.

• Video processing must…

* Accommodate to the angles in the U shape layout and adjust for the perspective change (i.e. a “wrapped” image). The system must display images from the perspective of a viewer standing in the center of the U as they look around them.

* Be able to show content independently and in a variety of combinations. (i.e. a separate image on each surface simultaneously; two images split between the three surfaces; and other combinations.)

• An audio solution for the immersive space driven from the controlling PC.

• The walls painted or finished with a suitable projection surface.

• Projectors placed so as to minimize shadows from people standing in the immersive environment.

•Projectors with a native resolution of 1920×1080 or greater and a contrast ratio of 2000 to 1 or greater.

This requirement will include all necessary projection equipment, mounts, PC, installation, cabling, wall plates, video processing and wall surface paint/material for a turnkey room.

• Vendor will document all cabling & design and present to FSI in an editable electronic & printed format when the work is completed.

• Vendor will document all equipment serial information and present to FSI in an electronic format (MS Excel or equivalent) when work is completed.

•  Vendor shall provide any necessary training.

Paging Starfleet, is this all you need for a holodeck?

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Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT

 

Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by devex.com lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?

Via USDOJ:

The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).

 

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NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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Menendez Indictment: Visas for Girlfriends, Consular Affairs, INL, and Whatabout “H”?

Posted: 5:29 pm PDT

 

Today, a federal grand jury indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on corruption charges. According to the WSJ, Mr. Menendez, 61 years old, has said “he didn’t do anything wrong and plans to fight the charges.” The indictment is the culmination of a lengthy inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the relationship between the New Jersey senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.” Wait, can you use constituent services as defense if the constituent lives in another state?

New Jersey editorials have now called on the senator to resign. Media reports says that he will step down as ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) because of the indictment. The good senator from New Jersey is reportedly “outraged” by the indictment. He condemned the corruption case against him saying, “I am not going anywhere… I’m angry and ready to fight.” And he is, by god!

 

 

We’ve read through the indictment. We have excerpted the parts below that include the visas for girlfriends initiative (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ukraine), the back and forth with Consular Affairs,  the visa refusals that were overturned, and the back and forth with the INL bureau on a port contract.

The names of the State Department officials are not included, but the indictment includes the offices at the State Department that were the receiving end of the senator’s attention and advocacy:  DAS for Visas Services, Embassy Santo Domingo  and the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

There’s also this nugget:

State 2 to Staffer 8 writes:

If H is in the room — best if the good senator from New Jersey doesn’t mention the prior private meeting they had.

Hey, that’s H, the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs whose job is to “facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” Whatsthatabout?

 

The full indictment document is available online here (pdf)

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SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT

 

The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”

Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.

So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?

How?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.

The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms.  Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.   Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.

When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended.  Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.

The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list.  It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.

Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April.  When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?

 

8,042 Diplomats Targeted

On March 2012, fcw.com cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees.  Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.

Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has  a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)

Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.”  The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation.  The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers  whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.

The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers.  FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?


The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.

This self-certification form which is not available at OPM.gov and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”

An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.

No, there were no photos.

Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at:  [Note: we redacted sbu link] and which must be submitted to HR-PasSelfCertificat@state.gov.
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.

 

AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead.  No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

Well, not unprecedented if you count Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt and lavender scare in the 1950s.


Why roll over and play dead?

The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!).  The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?)  Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.

So —

Self_certification

click image for larger view

 

Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?

This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations.  They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?

It doesn’t.

We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information  on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.

That’s right, going back decades.

If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.

One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?

What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?

The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.

Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?

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Email Episode 1472: No Dust Left on Chappaqua Server?

Posted: 11:28 pm PDT

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The New York Times also posted the letter from the former secretary of state’s lawyer David E. Kendall to House Chairman Trey Gowdy.  Excerpt below:

There is no basis to support the proposed third-party review of the server that hosted the hdr22@clintonemail.com account. During the fall of 2014, Secretary Clinton’s legal representatives reviewed her hdr22@clintonemail.com account for the time period from January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013. After the review was completed to identify and provide to the Department of State all of the Secretary’s work-related and potentially work-related emails, the Secretary chose not to keep her non-record personal e-mails and asked that her account (which was no longer in active use) be set to retain only the most recent 60 days of e-mail. To avoid prolonging a discussion that would be academic, I have confirmed with the Secretary’s IT support that no e-mails from hdr22@clintonemail.com for the time period January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013 reside on the server or on any back-up systems associated with the server.

Page 8 of this 9-page document includes a letter from the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy:

We understand that Secretary Clinton would like to continue to retain copies of the documents to assist her in responding to congressional and related inquiries regarding the documents and her tenure as head of the Department. The Department has consulted with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and believes that permitting Secretary Clinton continued access to the documents is in the public interest as it will help promote informed discussion.

Accordingly, Secretary Clinton may retain copies of the documents provided that: access is limited to Secretary Clinton and those directly assisting her in responding to such inquiries; steps are taken to safeguard the documents against loss or unauthorized access; the documents are not released without written authorization by the Department; and there is agreement to return the documents to the Department upon request. Additionally, following counsel, we ask that, to the extent the documents are stored electronically, they continue to be preserved in their electronic format. In the event that State Department reviewers determine that any document or documents is/are classified, additional steps will be required to safeguard and protect the information.

The  entire Kendall-Gowdy letter is available to read here.

Because it’s Friday, there is also this item from Gawker and ProPublica adding a stranger twist to this  email saga.

 

 

In related news, remember when Michael Schmidt broke the NYT story about  Secretary Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account during her entire tenure as Secretary of State? That was on March 2.  On March 25,  Secretary Kerry finally asked the Office of Inspector General to review email and record retention at his agency.  The letter Secretary Kerry sent to IG Steve Linick is available to read here (pdf).

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I don’t know about you but … it’s that kind of week.

Greys-Anatomy perfectedflaw

Image: Tumblr, perfectedflaw via Mashable

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Burn Bag: The situation regarding spousal employment … probably the most honest response yet

Posted: 1:40 pm EDT

 

“Yes, we devote more and better lip service to the problem every year.”  

ll1ucy_reaction gifs

Image via reactiongifs.com

— an unnamed regional bureau wag’s response when asked if the situation regarding spousal employment had improved over the years.