Category Archives: Technology and Work

Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Pakistan, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, USAID

Quote of the Day: “Take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk … Mm…hmm

– Domani Spero

Here is Doug Frantz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs via nextgov.com:

“Social media is an interactive platform, so if you wait to come back to the State Department to get clearance on how to respond to a question over Twitter it will take days if not weeks and the conversation will be over,” Frantz said. “So you want people to be engaged. You want them to be willing and able to take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk and try to change our policy on Iran, but if you’re behaving responsibly, we can expect small mistakes.”

In many ways, the department is vulnerable to those risks whether or not officials are actively engaging on social media.

Frantz cited the case of a diplomatic security officer and his wife who were expelled from India after making derogatory comments about the country on their personal Facebook pages. “I tell people never tweet anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post,” Frantz said.

We should be impressed at this enlightened approach of employees being allowed to afford small mistakes.  Except that elements of the State Department continue to harass Foreign Service bloggers who write in their private capacity on blogs and other social media sites.  Remember my Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft?  Different folks get on and off the bus, but this is just as real today.

Harassment, as always, is conducted without a paper trail unless, it’s a PR nightmare like Peter Van Buren, in which case, there is a paper trail.  So an FSO-blogger’s difficulties in obtaining an onward assignment has nothing to do with his/her blog, or his/her tweets. Just bad luck of the draw, see?  Oh, stop doing that winky wink stuff with your eyes!

Anybody know if there is an SOP on how to intimidate diplo-bloggers into going back into writing in their diaries and hiding those under their pillows until the year 2065? Dammit! No SOP needed?

So, no witnesses, no paper trail and  no bruises, just nasty impressive stuff done under the table.  Baby, we need a hero –

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AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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Filed under AAFSW, Defense Department, Diplomatic Life, Facebook, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Realities of the FS, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work, Trends, U.S. Missions

IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!

– Domani Spero

On February 14, an anonymous Foreign Service officer got on Reddit, the “front page of the Internet” and did an AMAA  (Ask Me Almost Anything). We don’t know if this is the first AMA ever by a U.S. diplomat on Reddit, but we have not seen or heard about any AMA done by the State Department. We know from the AMA exchange that the FSO is in his 40′s serving overseas with eight posts under his belt, he has a family who moves around with him, and is bidding for a western European post.  And he did not vote for President Obama.

Via imgur.com

Via imgur.com

This AMAA has 3,452 comments so far.  The anonymous FSO who calls himself “anFSO” on Reddit comes across as smart, witty, and somebody with a sense of humor.  Seems like a guy you want to hang out with.  The State Department via careers.state.gov ought to pay this guy’s overtime.

Here is his intro via Reddit:

Hi. I’m a US diplomat currently serving overseas. Here is my well-worn diplomatic passport with a personal note for you all. AMAA – I will be as open as I can.

The opinions I express here are my own, and are not representative of the views of the US government. They should not be misconstrued as official statements by any means.

Edit: A few FAQs:

• I didn’t donate anything to get my position, as I am not an appointee.

• If you are interested in becoming a Foreign Service Officer, head over to careers.state.gov. You can read about the process to join there, which starts with the FSOT. There are no formal education requirements to join, and you don’t need prior language skills.

• I’ve never had to use my diplomatic immunity, and I don’t know anyone who has had to use it. Sorry – boring, I know.

Thanks to everyone who was reasonable in their comments. To those whose constructive comments & questions I did not get to today I will do my best to get to them tomorrow. Keep them coming!

Edit2: I went through and responded to most of the questions earlier today. Those comments I didn’t respond to were either trolls (gotta love Reddit) or things I can’t discuss. This was fun and hopefully I’ll do it again sometime – I didn’t expect this big of a response. Safe travels and don’t forget to vote! ~anFso

Reddit has over 100 million unique visitors a month. It has a 5.4 billion page views a month with over 700 active communities.  You want to know what the American public wants to know about you, read the AMA.  We have culled some of the more amusing, amazing, and interesting exchange below:

Reddit user: Diplomatically, tell me to fuck off
anFSO: “Sorry, that’s not something the United States can support.”

Reddit user: Which country throws the best national day party?
anFSO: France.

Reddit user: Telegrams……are they delivered by a hundred year old dude in old-timey clothes?
anFSO: No. It’s all electronic now – basically just an e-mail with a bunch of funny headers.

Reddit user: What is one interesting fact about your work that many people may not know?
anFSO: It’s not all parties and schmoozing. Working in an embassy is actually fairly mundane.

Reddit user: Why is the Peace Corps in China? Really. Why?
anFSO: I don’t really know. The Peace Corps is in some strange places.

Reddit user: How many different nationalities of strange have you planted “Old Glory” in?
anFSO: If I told you, I’d probably be accused of being an imperialist.

Reddit user: What was your most proud to be American moment?
anFSO: Every time there’s a change of administration it’s a good feeling. I have had contacts ask me how it’s possible to change leaders so peacefully.

Reddit user: So you couldn’t use “Diplomatic Immunity” like the dude in Lethal Weapon II did?
anFSO: No. Shockingly real life is not like the movies.

Reddit user: I think you need to fill out a Visa form and give us a 2 x 3 x 3 photograph to enter reddit.
anFSO: I’ll make sure I don’t smile…

Reddit user: What if a child of a Diplomat is born in the current country the person is serving in?
anFSO: Then the diplomat is a proud new parent!

Reddit user: How does it feel working for the devil? Just kidding please don’t drone strike me.
anFSO: I’ve never felt that way, and don’t worry – I won’t.

Reddit user: Are prostitutes a primary source of entertainment for most international diplomats?
anFSO: No

Reddit user: any facepalm moments about your country’s behaviour you can share that made your job at the time a lot harder?
anFSO: Wikileaks made things difficult, but only because candid opinions were out in the open for the first time in such quantity. I don’t think the reporting officers had anything to be ashamed of – they reported honestly and with integrity. As a diplomat should.

Reddit user: how many people have u killed so far ?
anFSO: None that I know of.

Reddit user: Have all Embassies been upgraded since the infamous Jason Bourne incident in 2002 when he scaled the walls and escaped?
anFSO: If I told you I’d probably have to … report it :-\

Reddit user: Do you get tailor made clothes as work clothes or do you have to foot the bill yourself?anFSO: All work clothing is the employee’s responsibility.

Reddit user: Ever had to deal with a crashed UFO in whatever country you were working in?
anFSO: No – the UFO landed safely.

There was an elevated conversation concerning the use of toilet paper. Dear god, yesterday Venezuela and then TP on Reddit, our day’s complete!

Reddit user: As a toilet paper enthusiast polling American poopers, prior to wiping, do you fold your TP in a neat square or do you crumple it into a ball shape and then wipe?
anFSO: Crumple it.

Vigorous discussion on crumpling versus wiping followed, of course. There were questions whether diplomats get a special rate if they stay at the Embassy Suites and whether anyone will get a sniper bullet for taking a picture of an embassy.  After a Reddit user called him a “handsomely paid PR-guy” and he denied it, there was a discussion whether anFSO is paid well, handsome, a guy, not a guy, or a reptilian overlord. Very enlightening.

Questions about money and ambassadors were asked and answered:

Reddit user: Are you doing this while on my dime?
anFSO: No

Reddit user: What do you do that I should consider worth my tax dollars? That’s an actual benefit to most Americans?
anFSO: We keep you from having to spend a lot more tax dollars in a shooting war.

Reddit user: How much did you pay to be a diplomat? I hear you can pay $500,000 and be confirmed as an ambassador to a country. And, you don’t even have to know anything about the country you’re “ambassadoring” to.
anFSO: $0. Anyone who pays any amount of money for my job is an idiot. At least if you get an Ambassadorship you get the title for life and an embassy to lord over for a few years.

Reddit user: Are you a rich person who is friends with someone in the federal government or did you legitimately earn your assignment?
anFSO: If I was rich, I wouldn’t be working for the government.

Reddit user: I don’t know why you’re being down voted. That’s how you get these positions. It may not have been Obama, but it was someone he raised money for that got him the job.
anFSO: My position is not politically appointed. Most Foreign Service positions are not politically appointed.

Reddit user: How much did that gig cost you?
anFSO: More than 10 years and less than 25 away from family members, in places without reliable electricity or a safe water supply, countless hours on airplanes/in airports, missed birthdays, school plays, family reunions, and major events in our friends’ lives. Other than that, nothing.

Reddit user: Do you agree with the current Spoils system used to appoint US ambassadors? Should there me a more rigorous set of requirements to hold such positions?
anFSO: No. The Constitution gives the power to appoint Ambassadors to the President.

Reddit user: What do you mean by diplomat? Ambassador?
anFSO: I am not an Ambassador.

Reddit user: How much did you know about your host country before you went? Had you been there? I ask in relation to recent ambassadorial nominations and their seemingly complete lack of knowledge about their nominated posts.
anFSO: My first few tours I went in cold. As my career has progressed I find myself dealing with issues and countries I am more familiar with.

Reddit user: The Daily Show did a bit two (three?) days ago about how allegedly, ambassadors who might not be best for the job …. Have you experienced this? Where top diplomats and/or ambassadors seem completely incompetent and seem to have bought their way in? Or did Jon Stewart only find a few rare exceptions?
anFSO: “Best for the job” is highly subjective. If a nominee for an ambassadorship was a campaign donor and that gives them access to the President, is that a bad thing? It’s the President’s decision and the President is specifically empowered to appoint Ambassadors by the Constitution. I’m not really one to second-guess.

Reddit user: Jon Stewart recently talked about new US ambassadors being chosen for the job because they raised money for the election ….. What is your opinion on this?
anFSO: My opinion is that access to the President, no matter how it is obtained, is a valuable thing for any Ambassador. It really doesn’t bother me if they know nothing about the country they are in or have never worked in the Department before. Some of those turn out to be the best Ambassadors.

Reddit user: Can you give an example of someone who got their Ambassadorship in this manner and turned out to be one of the “best”, as you put it?
anFSO: Amb. Charles Rivkin.

There were a few questions about Benghazi and Argo, as if those were the only attacks that occurred at our overseas posts.  The questions show they are the only ones that stuck in the public’s memory.

Reddit user: Have you ever feared that you would be trapped in an Argo-like situation?
anFSO: Yes. There are a few seminal events that all diplomats talk about from a security standpoint – Tehran, East Africa, and now Benghazi. Each resulted in major changes to embassy security.

Reddit user: What’s your take on the Benghazi incident? How have you and your counterparts reacted as a whole?
anFSO: I think it’s shameful how the political firestorm overshadowed the memory of the 4 who gave their lives for their country.

Reddit user: What are your thoughts on the events at Benghazi? Is there concern about other attacks on US diplomatic outposts among people like yourself? What can you tell us about security measures before and after that event?
anFSO: I never went to Benghazi, but the men & women of Diplomatic Security generally do an excellent job of keeping us safe. From what I’ve heard, everyone there was willing to accept a great amount of personal risk to complete the US Mission to Libya’s goals. Tragically they paid the ultimate price. Even more tragically, the memory of those who lost their lives were overshadowed by the political firestorm that followed.

Reddit user: Are you worried about being abandoned by the current administration and left to die like the four diplomats murdered in Benghazi?
anFSO: No

Lots of questions on hiring/applications, all referred to careers.state.gov website. Some diplobrats and possibly DOS-connected Reddit users showed up during the AMA. One posted that he/she is “a Foreign Service brat for the past decade or so, Dad is currently on a leave of tour to work in Iraq, nice to see FSOs get some attention on here!”

Another user asked, “Are you insane doing an AMA? Either you will say something and get fired or you can’t answer anything.”

Yet another complained: “You’re not really a diplomat, you describe yourself as an FSO but you haven’t mentioned any specific posts or jobs you’ve held. Both my parents served a combined 50 years in the Foreign Service and never have I met a single person in the service who answers questions the way you do even if in a casual online setting.”

And because no good deed goes unpunished, another Reddit user armed with the FAM rages: “Have you read 5 FAM 777, 3 FAM 4170, or 3 FAM 4172.1-3(A)? The reason you should not be doing this without clearance isn’t because it might damage your corridor reputation but because of how your numerous downvoted comments can make the USG, FSOs, and other USG officials appear.” The discussion on this thread includes  how to report anFSO to the Feds. Two users said they reported him to the FBI, one suggested reporting him to Diplomatic Security. Somebody supplied the email for DS.

We’re not sure what they reported — one of your diplomats is on Reddit explaining what you do, get a duct tape?

We thought anFSO responded to questions appropriately and then very politely disengaged when necessary. Some Reddit were suspicious and wanted to make sure anFSO was “confirmed by the moderators.” Some were convinced he was “either a troll, or some intern who’s biggest responsibility is making coffee and zeroxing.”

And then there’s this comment:

“This Diplomat does not appear shady enough for a truly entertaining AMA.”

Four years of 21st century statecraft and for the American public, our diplomats still might as well be aliens from Mars.

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Diplomat Drops “Fuck the EU” in Private Chat — Cover Your Ears, It Might Ruin You Forever!

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland was caught on tape with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine working the diplomatic sausage over the Ukraine crisis.  The private conversation was recorded and uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous user/s who made an effort to include a photo collage of the individuals referred to in the conversation. The leaked recording is available here and has been viewed 485,122.

The State Department spokeswoman was asked if this call is “an authentic recording of an authentic conversation between Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt?”  As can be expected, Ms. Psaki replied:

“Well, I’m not going to confirm or outline details. I understand there are a lot of reports out there and there’s a recording out there, but I’m not going to confirm private diplomatic conversations.”

Hilarious exchange followed:

QUESTION: As related to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s comments about the European Union, do – are the United States and the EU on the same page on what to deal – how to deal with the situation in Ukraine and how best to resolve the crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, we work incredibly closely with the EU and with representatives of the EU, and Assistant Secretary Nuland certainly does as it relates to Ukraine. And she’s been in close contact with EU High Representative Ashton. Also, let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologized. But –
QUESTION: What did she apologize for?
MS. PSAKI: For these reported comments, of course.
QUESTION: So you’re not confirming that the comments are accurate? She’s –
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to a private diplomatic conversation, Arshad, but I’m obviously speaking to the content of the reports.

Ukraine’s Security Service has reportedly declined to comment on a leaked recording of this telephone conversation.

The Guardian says that Germany condemns the comments made by Assistant Secretary Nuland:

The German spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said Merkel appreciated the work of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who had tried to mediate between the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and protesters who have taken to the streets. “The chancellor finds these remarks totally unacceptable and wants to emphasise that Mrs Ashton is doing an outstanding job,” Wirtz said.

Meanwhile, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski tweeted his support:

@sikorskiradek  Critics of @VictoriaNuland worldwide: let him who has never used strong language in private cast the first stone.

In Kiev, Assistant Secretary Nuland also refused to comment “on a private diplomatic conversation” except to say “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.” And so here we are:

GIF_prettyimpressivetradecraft

Check out Bloomberg View’s James Gibney (@jamesgibney) with count your blessing, that’s not one of our bumbling hacks – but:

And as to those who are shocked, just shocked, by the U.S. attempt to manipulate Ukraine’s opposition, this is exactly what diplomats at higher levels try to do: All the foreign ambassadors in Washington worth their pensions have salty, Machiavellian conversations with their superiors and colleagues about how to shape votes of the U.S. Congress. If you’re an American, be glad that pros such as Nuland are on the job, and hope that your other diplomats aren’t sitting around munching cucumber sandwiches in between demarches.

That said, here is one scandal that this intercepted call does point to, however: Were Nuland and Pyatt speaking, as they should have been, on the kind of encrypted phone designed for such discussions? If not, that’s a major diplo-no-no. If they were, and some foreign power still managed to crack the code, then Uncle Sam needs to invest in some new phones ASAP.

Continue reading Sometimes Diplomacy Needs the F-Word.

This is a congressional hearing just waiting to happen.  Where did you learn such language?  Who did what, where, when with these phones and how come you did not know that you were bugged?  Congress is always curious about those things.

Now, please do us a favor and stop sending us hate mail for Ms. Nuland.

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U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul Blogs Farewell (Updated)

– Domani Spero

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael A. McFaul announced on his blog that he is stepping down from his position in Moscow after the Olympic Winter Games. He will soon rejoin his family in California at the end of the month.  He writes that “after more than five years working in the Obama administration, it is time to go home.”  Ambassador McFaul’s wife and two sons moved back to California last summer.   His lengthy blog post details his accomplishments during his two-year tenure as chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Quick excerpt below:

I also am proud of some of the diplomatic innovations that our embassy has initiated during my time in Russia, especially regarding public diplomacy. Before I came to Moscow as ambassador, I had never seen a tweet. Yet, I now interact everyday with 60,000 followers on Twitter and more than 13,000 “friends” on Facebook, and our Tweetchats can reach hundreds of thousands in a matter of minutes. I also engaged with Russian audiences on many of your television and radio programs and in print media, believing that even though we will not always agree on every issue, we must at least try to understand each other’s point of view. Conducting lengthy interviews in my flawed Russian on TV Dozhd, Ekho Moskvy, or Vecherniy Urgant was not easy. Yet, I always felt it was best to show my respect for Russia by speaking in your language. Live interviews also tend to be more direct and open, features I tried to bring to my diplomacy every day.  I also enjoyed giving lectures in Russian to thousands of university students, complete with slides (that also may be a diplomatic first here!). And some of my most memorable public interactions were at standing-room-only sessions at American Corners in Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok, Volgograd, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. Thousands of Russians showed up to engage with me on everything from Syria to my broken finger. These were not gatherings of just officials or elites, but a real cross-section of Russian society. The only qualification for attending these meetings was a curiosity about America.  I truly loved the spirit of these gatherings. They made me very optimistic about the future of cooperation between our two societies.
[...]
I also am very pleased with how well our mission performed in the comprehensive assessment of our activities conducted by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) during my tenure in Russia, a review that occurs at embassies around the world every five years.  There is no greater honor than to be judged positively on your professionalism as diplomats by some of the most experienced diplomats we have in the State Department.  Every day that I walk into the embassy, I feel so lucky to be part of such an excellent team of Americans and Russians. Perhaps more than anything else, I will miss my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Read the full blog post here. For another view on his tenure, see Foreign Policy’s No More Mr. Nice Guy (FP, Feb 5, 2014).

Photo via U.S. Embassy Moscow/McFaul blog

Photo via U.S. Embassy Moscow/Ambassador McFaul’s blog

Sheila Gwaltney, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission at U.S. Embassy Moscow since 2011 will presumably take charge of the embassy pending the confirmation and arrival of the next ambassador who is yet to be announced. Mission Russia has a standard 2-year tour of duty but hopefully, this was planned ahead so the embassy’s top two officials are not leaving around the same time.  will  reportedly leave this summer. She will be replaced by SCA Deputy Assistant Secretary Lynne Tracy.  We’re now hearing that the ambassdor will depart shortly after the Olympics –so anytime in late February to mid March (if he leaves after the paralympics).

State/OIG’s 2013 inspection report on U.S. Embassy Moscow and constituent posts in Russia is available here. Among its key judgments, “Embassy Moscow is effectively advancing a broad policy agenda important to the highest levels of the U.S. Government. The interagency team, under the leadership of the Ambassador and deputy chief of mission, is strong and cohesive.”  The OIG report also praised Ambassador McFaul as an “impressive communicator—informal but substantive, with good humor and a human touch. He has also maintained a high public profile including extensive use of social media, as access to traditional media has become more difficult and less useful.”

The report notes that across Mission Russia (includes consulates general in St. Petersburg,Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok and a consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk), employees face “intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War.”

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Related item:
-09/30/13   Inspection of Embassy Moscow and Constituent Posts, Russia (ISP-I-13-48A)  [940 Kb]  Posted on November 13, 2013

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State/OIG Issues Alert on Recurring Weaknesses of State Department’s Computer Security

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– By Domani Spero

In November 2013, Inspector General Steve Linick issued a management alert memo to the State Department’s Management Control Steering Committee concerning the “significant and recurring weaknesses” of its information system security program over the past three fiscal years (2011-2013).

The recurring weaknesses identified were in six areas: Authority to Operate (ATO), Baseline Controls, Scarming and Configuration Management Controls, Access Controls, Cyber Security Management, and Risk Management and Continuous Monitoring Strategies.

A backgrounder from the OIG report:

The Department of State (Department) is entrusted to safeguard sensitive information, which is often the target of terrorist and criminal organizations. Cyber attacks against Government organizations appear to be on the rise,’ including state-sponsored efforts to exploit U.S. Government information security vulnerabilities. The Department is responsible for preserving and protecting classified information vital to the preservation of national security in high risk environments across the globe. The Department also undertakes significant numbers of financial and other transactions, including, for instance, the daily collection of millions of dollars in consular fees. In addition, the Department maintains records on approximately 192 million current passports,5 which contain such sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) as dates of birth and social security numbers. To protect this information, the Department must ensure that its Information System Security Program and management control structure are operationally effective.

Some of the examples of weaknesses cited include the following:

  • In FY 2013, OIG found another instance of access control weakness. Specifically, OIG reported that 36 employees assigned to the [Redacted] (b) (5).  Pursuant to 12 FAM 232, those systems can only be accessed by individuals possessing appropriate clearances. The 36 employees did not possess such clearances.
  • On August 20, 2013, the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) reported that the Department had a total of 6,369  system administrators. According to IRM officials, system administrators are given network-wide permissions to allow them to collaboratively manage and troubleshoot issues.“ However, such broad access by large numbers of system administrators also subjects the system to risk. The recent, highly-publicized breach of information pertaining to national security matters by Edward Snowden, a contract systems administrator, starkly illustrates the issue.”
  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security did not have the administrative credentials needed for Demilitarized Zone servers  to perform periodic scanning.

State/OIG made three recommendations including directing the Office of the Chief Information Officer to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing to further evaluate the Information System Security Program and outline a range of technical and procedural countermeasures to reduce risks.

On December 13, 2013, James Millette, the chairman of the Steering Committee and the State Department’s Comptroller who also heads the State Department’s Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) sent the OIG a written response which says  that they “respectfully disagree on the level of severity these weaknesses collectively represent.” Part of the response also includes the following:

Your memo recommended that the MCSC direct IRM to employ the services of the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct independent penetration testing. The Committee believes that DS, like the OIG, has direct lines to the Secretary and has the capability to be independent in these matters. In addition, DS assured the Committee that they have the capability and work with and have the confidence of NSA in these matters. We believe OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing. However, we fully understand the issue of perception of independence. Therefore the MCSC is supportive of DS and IRM having further discussions with the OIG on this matter to determine the best plan of action to perform penetration testing that meets the needs of the OIG and Department management. In addition, at the meeting, we suggested that there may be other alternatives to NSA, such as using a 3rd party to review the methodology used by DS.

That’s an old timer at the State Department telling the new IG that the Committee believes that Diplomatic Security (DS)  like the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has “direct lines” to the Secretary?  Really!  It is a fact that DS reports to “M” or the Under Secretary for Management  and not directly to the Secretary.  (Unless, the Committee thinks the OIG also reports to “M” just like DS)?  OIG is one of the ten offices at State that reports directly to the Secretary.  If  the Secretary in practice delegates that authority, he has two deputies above the under secretaries, and one of them is for management and resources.

On Jan 13, 2014, the Inspector General sent another memo to the Management Control Steering Committee. The memo indicates closure of one recommendation but left the other two issues “unresolved.” This is also where the OIG patiently explains to the Committee what it means by “independence.”

OIG considers Recommendation 3, pertaining to independent penetration testing, unresolved. The MCSC indicated that it is supportive of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and IRM having further discussions with OIG on this matter, but it further stated that “OIG would not disagree that DS has the capability to adequately perform the testing.” The issue, however, is not about DS’s “capability” but its independence and perceived independence.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

An independent assessor is any individual or group capable of conducting an impartial assessment of security controls employed within or inherited by an information system. Impartiality implies that the assessor is free from any perceived or actual conflicts of interest with respect to the development, operation, and/or management of the information system or the determination of security control effectiveness.

Because DS is actively involved in the Department’s Information System Security Program, it cannot be considered an independent, impartial assessor. The recommendation will remain open until OIG reviews and accepts documentation showing that independent penetration testing has been implemented. The penetration testing must be performed by the National Security Agency or an equally qualified organization independent of the Department and approved by OIG.

The NSA is already conducting pentest on critical U.S. infrastructures among other things.  Why is State thinking only DS, or third party and not NSA?

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Related item:

-01/13/14   Mgmt Alert on OIG Findings of Significant and Recurring Weaknesses in the Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]

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U.S. Embassy Juba: 4 US Troops Wounded in South Sudan Evacuation

– Domani Spero

Following an outbreak of violence in South Sudan, the U.S. Embassy in Juba closed on December 16 and temporarily suspended routine American Citizen Services.  Within 24 hours, the State Department suspended normal operations at Embassy Juba and authorized the ordered departure of non-emergency staff. On December 18, the U.S. Embassy in Juba facilitated the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the world’s newest country.

On December 18,  DOD announced that at the request of the State Department, the Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate 120 personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. According to the DOD spokesman, the department also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint quick-response team formed after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

U.S. Soldiers support South Sudan evacuation Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint team, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. DoD also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the EARF. (U.S. Army Africa photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. . Micah Theurich, Released by U.S. Africa Command)

U.S. Soldiers support South Sudan evacuation
Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint team, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. DoD also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the EARF. (U.S. Army Africa photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. . Micah Theurich, Released by U.S. Africa Command)

Later that day, the State Department confirmed the successful evacuation of three groups of U.S. citizens from South Sudan. “Two Department of Defense C-130 aircraft and a private charter flight departed Juba at 0530, 0535, and 0940 EST, respectively, carrying non-emergency Chief of Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and third country nationals.”

Ambassador Susan D. Page said that “On the ground the violence appears to be taking on a very clear ethnic dimension.” On December 20, Secretary Kerry called for the violence to stop and sent U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth to travel to the region and “support regional efforts already underway.”

The US Embassy in Juba subsequently organized the evacuation flights of U.S. citizens from Juba in the last several days. As of today, the embassy has evacuated  at least 450 American citizens and other foreign nationals from the capital city.  It said that it had hoped to start evacuation from Bor, a town located some 200km north of the capital.  However, the evac flight came under fire, preventing the evacuation attempt. Four U.S. Service members were injured during the attack.

CIA Map

CIA Map
For an alternative map of Jonglei state in the Greater Upper Nile region of northeastern South Sudan, click here.

 

AFRICOM released the following statement:

Dec 21, 2013 — At the request of the Department of State, the United States Africa Command, utilizing forces from Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), attempted to evacuate U.S. citizens from the town of Bor, South Sudan, today.  As the aircraft, three CV-22 Ospreys, were approaching the town they were fired on by small arms fire by unknown forces.  All three aircraft sustained damage during the engagement.  Four service members onboard the aircraft were wounded during the engagement.

The damaged aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the wounded were transferred onboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 and flown to Nairobi, Kenya for medical treatment.

All four service members were treated and are in stable condition.

The Sudan Tribune reported that Army defectors had taken control of Bor earlier this week but that the spokesperson for the South Sudanese army (SPLA) reportedly said today that they had regained control of the town.

Evacuation on Social Media

This is the first embassy evacuation of Amcits that has fully utilized Facebook and Twitter, both in reaching out to Americans at post, and in providing as timely an information as possible.  When @modernemeid20 Dec  complained that “The U.S. embassy has been incredibly unhelpful. My cousin’s passport expired, they’re just leaving her hanging” @USMissionJuba was quick to respond. “@modernemeid please call us at 0912157323 for assistance.” When somebody tweeted “all evacuation planes diverted” following a plane crash on the Juba airport runway, @USMissionJuba responded swiftly, “not quite true. At least two evac flights departed after the runway cleared.”  We later asked for the number of evacuees, and the number shortly became available; tweeted, of course.  In addition to answering questions about evac flights procedures, @USMissionJuba also organize a texting campaign to alert American citizen friends and family about the emergency evac flights.

Here’s a shoutout to @USMissionJuba’s Twitter and evac ninjas for being timely and responsive and for their tireless work under very difficult circumstances.  Don’t ignore the fatigue factor and stay safe, folks!

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CyberSecurity Month PSA: Installing Mozilla Firefox Could Be Hazardous To Your Career …

– By Domani Spero

On September 30, President Obama proclaimed October 2013 as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  In light of that proclamation, we’re highlighting a grievance case by a Foreign Service officer who downloaded and installed the Mozilla Firefox browser which potentially cost him a promotion.  The State Department proposed to issue him a Letter of Reprimand. The officer filed a grievance challenging the issuance of a Letter of Reprimand. For relief, he asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the discipline letter be removed from his Official Personnel File (OPF). In addition, he requests that the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him be given immediate effect, and that he be reimbursed for attorney’s fees. The Department denied his grievance on March 13, 2012. He appealed that decision to the Foreign Service Grievance Board on May 14, 2012.  On December 2012, the Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

This case is available publicly (pdf) from the newly relaunched fsgb.gov.  (BTW, the site is now searchable, yay!) As far as we are aware, the State Department still only allows two browsers for official use — Internet Explorer and more recently during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, Google Chrome was approved for department-wide use.   According to the browser stats maintained by w3schools.com, Internet Explorer’s downward use continues to hover around 12% in 2013, while Chrome continues to climb above 50 percent. Firefox’s usage remains at around the 27% mark.

Now some details on this case extracted from the record of proceeding:

Grievant, an FS-03 Officer, installed a software application, Mozilla Firefox Browser, on his workstation in August 2010. Grievant admitted that he installed the software because he was concerned that his savings accounts may have been the subject of identity theft and he wanted to check his credit union account on-line with what he thought was a safer web browser. The Mozilla software was found to be an executable application so that by downloading it grievant violated the Department’s Cyber Security Policy, and such action could have led to disruption of the Department’s cyber infrastructure. Grievant argued that he was unaware that the Mozilla Browser was an executable file when he installed it, and therefore, did not have the intent to violate the policy. The Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

Anyone with questions about executable files should check the list here and best consult post’s information systems security officer (ISSO).

Also it might not be bad to get acquainted with 12 FAM 590 CYBER SECURITY INCIDENT PROGRAM if you haven’t already.

The government’s charge:

The Department charged the grievant with violating the directives and procedures for Cyber Security contained in 12 FAM 592.2b 8. The charge is based on grievant’s action in downloading the Mozilla Browser on his workstation on August 9, 2010. A revised cyber security program was implemented in 2007 throughout the Department. The Department asserts that grievant’s failure to comply with the cyber security policy could have resulted in damage or risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure. The Mozilla Browser could compromise the integrity of the system and introduce a virus or malicious code.

Grievant was informed on December 22, 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that the installation of the Mozilla Browser by him was a violation of the regulation. Grievant was further advised that the violation determination would be forwarded to the Bureau of Human Resources. Grievant was advised of his right to appeal the finding of a violation by the Bureau of Security, but chose not to do so. He did submit a Statement of Understanding acknowledging receipt of the December 22, 2010 letter and the Department’s security policies.

The Department dismisses grievant’s argument that his action in downloading the Mozilla browser required “mens rea” or a ”deliberate” act on his part to download an application that he knew was not authorized for installation. In his view, the Department has failed to prove that he made such a deliberate decision. He asserts that he did not actually know that the software was not authorized, and that his actions were inadvertent. He explains that he was ignorant that the software was an executable application that was not authorized. He states that he “lacked the knowledge of the difference between a search engine website and web browsing software.” He contends that the Department’s decision to not charge him with the downloading of the Shockwave program demonstrates that his action was not deliberate.

The FSO’s defense and argument:

Grievant has admitted that he installed Mozilla to assist himself with issues concerning his personal savings accounts. He could have used his personal computer to deal with the “spoofing” problems he was having with the possible identity theft matters. Finally, grievant should have reported the “spoofing” problems to the ISSO and checked with that office to determine if he could download Mozilla.

Grievant asserts that the proposed Letter of Reprimand should be rescinded because he lacked the intent necessary to violate the regulation. In 2009 – 2010, grievant was the victim of identity theft. He lost several thousand dollars to the thief, had to cancel his credit cards on two occasions, and was informed that his medical records were among those stolen from an Office of Medical Services database. On August 9, 2010, he received on his agency email four “spoofing” messages purporting to be from his credit union and his retirement fund.

Grievant was concerned that his savings accounts might have been stolen and his Department computer may have been compromised. He installed the Mozilla Firefox browser on his workstation instead of other browsers, such as Google, because he thought that Mozilla was a safer web browser. He was quickly informed by ISSO that Mozilla was not allowed to be downloaded on the Department’s system since it was an executable file. Grievant explained his concerns about his savings accounts and the reason that he downloaded the browser. He stated on several occasions that he did not know Mozilla was an executable file in violation of the regulation, and believed it to be a secure web-based browser. Grievant apologized and accepted responsibility for what he believed was an “inadvertent download of an executable file”.

Grievant argues that he should not be disciplined for downloading the Mozilla browser. In his view, the Department must show that it was his conscious object to download an executable file on to the Department’s network. He admits that his action was prohibited by the FAM, and that he exposed the Department to serious risk by downloading the browser on his workstation. However, he argues that the FAM requires specific intent to violate the regulation, which he did not have when the downloading took place. Grievant argues only deliberate acts, not negligent ones, are punishable under the regulation. He believes it is unjust to punish “a deliberate act that was believed would cause only a permissible result.” His action was negligent and he acted out of ignorance believing Mozilla to be a web based application rather than an executable file. In essence, he states that he believed that he was doing nothing more than accessing a website and that he lacked the knowledge required to make his action of downloading a deliberate violation of the regulation.

Grievant is remorseful and admits that he is fully responsible for his action. He did not know that he was downloading an executable file, and lacking that knowledge he did not have the mental state required by the regulation. Among other things, grievant asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the Letter of Reprimand be removed from his OPF. In addition, he asks that the Department give immediate effect to the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him.

The FSGB was not persuaded:

Grievant intended to install Mozilla on his workstation. He engaged in a deliberate act. The fact that he was ignorant that it was an executable file in violation of the regulation does not obviate or lessen his culpability. As the Department points out, his action could have resulted in damage or significant risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure, which could have caused major disruptions and loss of sensitive information. His admitted ignorance or lack of knowledge about Mozilla being an executable file does not excuse his action or his culpability for that action.

This is grievant’s first incident of any kind that caused him to be disciplined. As noted, his record is one of success and accomplishment. Grievant believes that discipline in this case is unjust. However, the proposed Letter of Reprimand is consistent with the penalties imposed in prior cases, and is reasonable under the facts of this case.

One related item, the agency’s cybersecurity was most recently in the news with a BuzzFeed exclusive report that the State Department Lacks Basic Cybersecurity. The report alleges that  “the State Department cable and messaging system, built and maintained — like the troubled ObamaCare system — mainly by large IT contractors, has routinely failed to meet basic security standards.” It further alleges that “There is hackable backdoor access to servers and the potential for spillage of classified information in the unclassified enclave.”  BuzzFeed says that it has  internal docs although those do not appear to be posted online at this time.  Read more here.

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State/OIG: Organized Fraud Rings “Have Taken Control” of the Green Card Lottery Program in Ukraine

- By Domani Spero

– and the Bureau of Consular Affairs needs a program “to address widespread diversity visa fraud!” If about 80% of the cases are questionable and that’s just from the western part of the country, we can’t imagine any kind of program short of shutting it down can cut the fraudsters out, can you?

One of the lengthier section of the State/OIG inspection report on US Embassy Ukraine pertains to the Diversity Visa program aka: the “green card visa lottery” program handled by Embassy Kyiv. Apparently, organized fraud rings “have taken control” of the diversity visa program in the country.  State/OIG made a recommendation that the “Bureau of Consular Affairs should implement a program to address widespread diversity visa fraud in Ukraine.” That seems lame — a program to correct another program?

As well, just as Embassy Kyiv started handling diversity visas in 2012, its FSO-03 fraud prevention manager position was downgraded to entry-level.  We would not be shocked if this position is also a 6-12 month rotational position, as is often the case with entry level positions.  The State Department’s own Crime and Safety Report in 20112012 and 2013 repeatedly noted that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Ukraine a hotbed of cyber crime activity. And that “in recent years, U.S. law enforcement (the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security) pursued a number of important joint cyber crime/identify theft investigations with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities.”

And still, Embassy Kyiv got an entry level fraud prevention (FPU) manager supervising seven locally employed staff working with an Assistant Regional Security Officer for Investigations (RSO-I) to assist.  A nine-person fraud unit versus organized fraud rings operating in a country of 46 million. That must seem like a tsunami despite the dedicated efforts by the FPU staff to combat fraud. Prior to the downgrading of the FPU manager position and the use of the RSO-I  at the US Embassy in Kyiv,   the Government Accountability Office released a report on the State Department’s visa fraud prevention.  Take a look at Table 2 below from the GAO report and see if that 1:959 ratio of FPU staff to cases at US Embassy Ukraine doesn’t blow your mind.  This is our first line of defense, folks; and this does not make us sleep well at night.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26

Screen grab from GAO 12-888 report

Excerpt from the OIG report:

In March 2012, Embassy Kyiv began processing Ukrainian diversity visas previously handled by Embassy Warsaw. The program allows citizens of eligible countries to enter a lottery for a chance to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa. The consular section has scheduled approximately 2,000 diversity visas for interviews in 2013. Painstaking work by the fraud prevention unit and the assistant regional security officer for investigations has produced a detailed portrait of a pervasive and sophisticated fraud scheme affecting the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine.

Organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine. They buy, steal, or obtain from public sources personal information about Ukrainian citizens, especially those living in western Ukraine. They use this information to enter these citizens’ names in the online Diversity Visa program Web site, often without their permission or awareness. In addition, other Ukrainian citizens willingly provide personal information to the fraud rings for entry into the program but are usually unaware that the fraudulent “agencies” continue to enter them year after year.

Department practice is to provide applicants with a confirmation number once they complete the diversity visa entry form online on the Department-run electronic diversity visa Web site. The instructions state that the applicant should use this number to check on the status of the entry, typically after May 1 of the program year. In Ukraine, since the fraud ring makes the entry into the online system, only the fraud ring has the confirmation number and can check to see if the entry was selected to participate in the Diversity Visa program. The fraud ring then contacts hundreds of Ukrainian selectees and requires them to sign a contract promising to pay up to $15,000 to obtain the confirmation number and to pursue an immigrant visa application. If the selectee is interested but cannot pay, the fraud ring may insist that he or she enter into a sham marriage with a person who has expressed interest in immigrating to the United States. In such a case, the “spouse” pays the agency a substantial amount of money to be paired with a diversity visa selectee.

A fraud ring may also require legitimately married diversity visa winners to obtain divorce certificates, engage in a sham marriages, and leave minor children behind in order to emigrate to the United States. Eventually, the diversity visa winners may petition for the real spouse and children to join them. Kyiv’s immigrant visa unit sees many similar cases, indicating that this practice has been occurring for years. The fraud ring enters the names of a significant percentage of the population of western Ukraine (Embassy Kyiv estimates as much as 80 percent), effectively preventing interested individuals from filing their own applications, since the Diversity Visa program prohibits duplicate entries, a function partially performed by the Department’s computer system that can automatically search for and delete duplicate applications.

The fraud ring’s involvement continues after the selectee enters the United States. The fraud ring applies for the selectee’s social security card and retains both the card and the social security number for misuse. Selectees are required to sign a contract (legally binding in Ukraine) with the fraud ring, stipulating a continuing obligation to pay the fraud ring or to work essentially as an indentured servant to repay what is “owed.” Failure to pay has led to threats against family members in Ukraine.

The consular section, in coordination with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, has taken a number of steps to combat this fraud. The embassy’s fraud prevention unit investigates all diversity visa cases. The assistant regional security officer for investigations keeps a file of Internet protocol addresses associated with fraud rings, but the organizations continually change their Internet protocol addresses to foil these efforts. In order to provide less time for fraud rings to arrange sham marriages, the consular section no longer allows applicants for diversity visas to reschedule the appointment set for them by the Kentucky Consular Center.

Interviews of diversity visa applicants are detailed and lengthy and follow a frequently-varied script, in an effort to stay one step ahead of the fraud rings’ careful coaching of the applicants. Despite these efforts, which have had a significant deleterious effect on the efficiency of the section, fraud continues. The Diversity Visa program is reviewed yearly by the Bureau of Consular Affairs resulting in a number of changes to the program in an attempt to deter fraud.

Fraud rings have exploited the automated process used to notify applicants that they have been selected for the Diversity Visa program in the Ukraine. One possible solution would be for the Department to send confirmation numbers only to the consular section in Kyiv for Ukrainian selectees, with the consular section then notifying those selected for the program. This process would add work for the consular section but less than is now required to combat fraud. The consular section estimates that between 50 and 80 percent of applicants do not have their correct address listed on their application (because of the fraud rings’ actions), but the section can use existing online resources in Ukraine to locate and notify selectees.

Even if the Consular Section can use existing online resources to locate and notify selectees, that downplays the reality that majority of the program registrants in the country are tainted by fraud.  Or that many have provided their personal information to these fraud rings in the first place.

Shouldn’t the State Department be allowed to suspend the lottery program in any country if the level of fraud is deemed to be at a certain level?  All regs are odd in their own way; can’t say if suspension is allowed in the regs, but ought not the State Department request this authority from Congress when fraud is this massive?  Even if only 20% of all 2,000 diversity visas at post are tainted by fraud, that’s 400 cases too many.

Dear Congress, what do you think?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 diversity visas available annually, drawn from random selection among entries of individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.  Before you get upset that the State Department is giving away visas, please note that this is a congressionally mandated program. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. For fiscal year 2015, 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) will be available.

Actually, according to DHS, the “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines the regional DV limits for each year according to a formula specified in Section 203(c) of the INA. USCIS will announce these numbers once these calculations are completed. The number of visas that will eventually be issued to natives of each country will depend on the regional limits established, how many entrants come from each country, and how many of the selected entrants are found eligible for the visa.  No more than seven percent of the total visas available can go to natives of any one country.”

So there, does that make you feel good?  The list here shows the countries whose natives are eligible for DV-2015, grouped by geographic region. Online registration will conclude on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4).

This latest report on widespread fraud in one country alone can potentially add fuel to the repeal of the diversity visa program.  Section 2303 of S.744  which passed the Senate in June this year does just that.  The Senate bill which passed with 68 – 32 votes was sponsored by Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] and co-sponsored by the likes of Sen Durbin, Richard [IL], Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] and Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC] and Sen McCain, John [AZ].  If the House agrees, and it becomes law, this will take effect on October 1, 2014 and no alien may be allocated such a diversity immigrant visa for a fiscal year after fiscal year 2015.

To read more, see CRS: Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Issues (2011) via fas.org. See the State/OIG  Memorandum Report: Review of the FY2012 Diversity Visa Program Selection process, ISP-I-12-01 after the FY2012 lottery errors. To read the 2012 GAO report, click State Could Enhance Visa Fraud Prevention by Strategically Using Resources and Training.

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