Emails Brief as Photos, But Where Are The Interesting Bits? #ClintonEmails

Posted: 9:06 am PDT

 

So the day before the three day Memorial Day weekend, this happened.

 

Where else would State dump these but at the foia.state.gov website, a slow and notoriously difficult to search website:

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But there’s help from the Wall Street Journal, which offers a faster loading site than the FOIA website.  It also allows you to tag any of the 800+ pages of emails.

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Yo! There’s no smoking gun, and everyone’s like whaaat? Teh-heh!

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What are we learning from this first batch of emails?

1) The document dump is not arranged or ordered in any useful way. The emails from 2011 are mixed with 2012. Some of the emails are included more than once. Some of the redactions are rather odd, given that some of these emails were already published via the NYT.  The former secretary of state is not referred to as HRC, only as “H.” The emails show an extremely small number of gatekeepers – Mills, Sullivan, Abedin, plus a couple of folks routinely asked to print this or that.

2) Sid, Sid, Sid — there are a good number of memos from “friend of S” or “HRC’s contact,” Sidney Blumenthal, who apparently had his own classification system. The memos he sent were marked “Confidential” although he was no longer a USG employee at the time he sent them and presumably, no classifying authority. Imagine the COM in Libya and NEA folks chasing down this intel stuff. Right. Instead of “OGA” for other government agency, State got “FOS”or “friend of S” as intel source.

3) “Pls. print” one of the former secretary of state’s favorite response to emails sent to her.

4) When former Secretary Clinton finally addressed the firestorm of her use of private email, she said: “I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” a self-assured Clinton told more than 200 reporters crowded into a U.N. corridor. (via Reuters). It looks like she had more than one email address, and we don’t know how many devices. The email below was sent from an iPad.

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5) HRC gave a speech on September 12, 2012  Remarks on the Deaths of American Personnel in Benghazi, Libya at the Treaty Room of the State Department.

Here is Harold Koh, the State Department Legal Adviser later that day thanking HRC for her “inspirational leadership.”

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6) On September 14, 2012, HRC delivered her  Remarks at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya atAndrews Air Force Base; Joint Base Andrews, MD. Video at: http://bcove.me/r4mkd76v.  Below are some of the ‘thank you’ emails sent to her, but mostly to HRC through Ms. Mills:

From Deputy Secretary Bill Burns to H:

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From State/CSO Rick Barton to Mills:

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From NEA’s Brett McGurk to Mills:

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From NEA/PD “blown away” to somebody to Mills:

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From Protocol to Mills to Protocol:

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7) On October 10, 2012, there was a congressional hearing on the Security Failures of Benghazi. “Did we survive today?” HRC asked.  The “Pat” referenced to in this email is most likely Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary for Management who testified at that hearing (see Security Failures of Benghazi: Today’s Hearing).

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8) In November 2012, the House Intelligence Committee had a closed hearing that reportedly had the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Matt Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, CIA Acting Director Michael Morell and the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.  Those could be the Matt and Pat in this email:

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9) There was a meeting at the WH Situation Room on Nov 26, 2:35 pm on Benghazi. The invitation was for the Secretary +1, and if she was unable to attend, an invitation for one representative only. The then Executive Secretary John Bass (now US Ambassador to Turkey) asked Mills if she’d prefer “Pat” to attend or “Dan.” Dan is State’s former counterterrorism guy, replied “Pat should go” in reference to Patrick Kennedy. Mills asked HRC if she’s good with Pat going and she replied “I think I should go w Pat.”

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10) On December 17, 2012, then State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland (now A/S for the EUR bureau) confirmed that the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi had concluded its work, and that the report went to Secretary Clinton that day (see ARB Concludes Work, Unclassified Report May Be Publicly Available on Wednesday).  The following email is between Burns and Mills dated December 18, 2012. It mentions three names, Eric, Pat, and Greg Starr.  We are guessing that the Eric in the email is Eric Boswell, the then Assistant Secretary of Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and Pat is the Under Secretary for Management. The portion referencing Greg Starr was redacted except for Burns’ “I like the Greg Starr idea.”

The ARB report was released the same day this email was sent (see Accountability Review Board Singles Out DS/NEA Bureaus But Cites No Breach of Duty; also see Accountability Review Board Fallout: Who Will be Nudged to Leave, Resign, Retire? Go Draw a Straw. Mr. Boswell was one of the four employees thrown under the bus. On February 1, 2013, Gregory B. Starr was sworn in as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Mr. Starr also served as Boswell’s successor as acting DS Assistant Secretary until he was formally nominated by President Obama in July 2013.

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11) On December 20, 2012, the State Department’s two deputies, William Burns and Thomas Nides went before Congress instead of Secretary Clinton (see Clinton Recovering, Top Deputies Burns and Nides Expected to Testify Dec.20). Thank yous all around with HRC saying thank you to Burns and Nides. Thereafter, Cheryl Mills sent an email praising HRC’s email as being “so nice.”  This was then followed with more thank yous from Nides and Burns.

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12) So nothing surprising in the emails except the parts that may give some of us toothache. And the missing parts.  This is only the first batch of emails although our understanding is that this constitutes the Benghazi-related emails. If that’s the case, it is striking that we see:

a) No emails here to/from Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

b) No emails directly related to the other three employees put on administrative leave, Diplomatic Security’s Charlene Lamb and Steve Bultrowicz, and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell (although he is on a few courtesy copy emails) see The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up).

c) No emails to/from Gregory Hicks who was Embassy Tripoli’s DCM at the time of the attack and who would have been attached by phone/email with Foggy Bottom (Hey! Are telephone conversations recorded like Kissinger’s?)

d) Except for an email related to one of the ARB panel member, there are no emails related to setting up the ARB, the process for the selection of ARB members, the assistance requested by the ARB, the support provided by the State Department to the panel, etc.  What happened to those emails?

(By the way, we also have not forgotten that Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleged Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

13) Then Secretary Clinton was using at least two emails from her private server according to these released emails. It does not look like anyone from the State Department could have just sent her an email by looking her up on the State Department’s Global Address List (GAL). But certainly, her most senior advisers including the experienced, career bureaucrats at the State Department must have known that she was using private email.

Seriously, no one thought that was odd? Or did everyone in the know thought it was beyond their pay grade to question the practice? Let’s imagine an entry level consular officer conducting official business using a private email server. How long would that last? Right.

So what happened there? Ugh! Pardon me? You were just doing your job? That CIA briefer also was just doing his job.

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Congress Threatens to Benghazimazi State Dept Funding Over Clinton Emails

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

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

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

And then — oh, look!


According
to NYT, here’s what happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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Also, on May 21st, this happened:

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

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Twin Brothers and Co-Conspirators on Alleged Scheme to Hack State Dept to Obtain Passport Information

Posted: 2:16 am EDT


Via
USDOJ:

Twin brothers Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, 23, of Springfield, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, access of a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to access a government computer without authorization, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment, beginning in or about March 2014, the Akhter brothers and coconspirators hacked into the website of a cosmetics company and stole its customers’ credit card and personal information.  They used the stolen information to purchase goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations, and attendance at professional conferences.  In addition, the brothers and coconspirators devised a scheme to hack into computer systems at the U.S.  Department of State to access network traffic and to obtain passport information.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:15-cr-124.

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

Posted: 5:04  pm EDT

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

image from state.gov

image from state.gov click for larger view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bringing Cellphones to Work Ends For Federal Employees in 22 Domestic Passport Offices

Posted: 3:19  pm EDT

 

 

WaPo reported last week that federal employees responsible for reviewing and processing U.S. passports are now prohibited from bringing their cellphones to work.  The new rule would affect the 1,200 government workers and 1,000 private contractors in passport offices across 22 domestic locations. What started this off? Who knows except that there apparently was a contractor in Houston:

“The rumor among passport workers is that a contractor in Houston was taking pictures of private information on passports.”

A State Department official confirmed the new policy to WaPo:  “The Department has a serious and important obligation to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of U.S. citizens applying for passports,” the official said. “Prohibiting cellphones throughout our Passport Agencies, where employees review and process passport applications, is an effort to further protect passport applicant’s PII.”  

The National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide is not happy.  The union wondered what use is getting these employees secret clearances if they can’t be trusted with the information?

Read in full here.

Our own source at the Consular Affairs bureau declined to confirm the rumor but did confirm the ban on cell phones.

The last time the Passport Agency made a huge splash was back in 2008 when illegal access of politician and celebrity passport records were discovered.  Nine State Department employees and contractors were charged and pleaded guilty in that case.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Suspicious” Category

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

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

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

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

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

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

The Blank Screens

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

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

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

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The Great Firewall of State Bites, State/IRM Now Considers Diplopundit “Suspicious.” Humph!

Posted: 11:43 am EDT

 

The cornerstone of the 21st century statecraft policy agenda is Internet freedom. The policy contains three fundamental elements: the human rights of free speech, press, and assembly in cyberspace; open markets for digital goods and services to foster innovation, investment, and economic opportunity; and the freedom to connect—promoting access to connection technologies around the world. A third of the world’s population, even if they have access, live under governments that block content, censor speech, conduct invasive mass surveillance and curb the potential of the Internet as an engine of free speech and commerce.

— 21st Century Statecraft
U.S. Department of State

 

We’ve made references in this blog about the Great Firewall of State, most recently, when we blogged about the FS promotion stats on race and gender (see 2014 Foreign Service Promotion Results By Gender & Race Still Behind the Great Firewall of State),  What we did not realize is that there is an entire operation at the State Department running the firewall operations from Annex SA-9.  It is run by the Firewall Branch of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations,  Office of Enterprise Network Management, Perimeter Security Division (IRM/OPS/ENM/PSD/FWB).

Sometime this week, some folks apparently were no longer able to access this blog from the State Department’s OpenNet.  OpenNet is the Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU) network in the Department. It provides access to standard desktop applications, such as word processing, e-mail, and Internet browsing, and supports a battery of custom Department software solutions and database management systems.

At this time, we believe that the block is not agency-wide and appears to affect only certain bureaus.  Not sure how that works. We understand that some employees have submitted “unblock requests” to the State Department’s Firewall Operations Branch and were reportedly told that http://www.diplopundit.com/ has been categorized as “Suspicious.”

via giphy.com

Holy moly macaroni!

We don’t know what constitute “suspicious” but apparently, under State’s Internet policy, this gives the agency the right to block State Department readers from connecting to this blog and reading its content.

But … but … this is the blog’s 8th year of operation and State has now just decreed that this blog is “suspicious”? Just for the record, this blog is hosted by WordPress, and supported by the wonderful people of Automattic. Apparently, the State Department’s DipNote also uses WordPress. Well, now that’s a tad awkward, hey?

Unless …

Was it something we wrote? Was it about the journalists who ran out of undies? NSFW? Nah, that couldn’t be it.   Was it about the petty little beaver? Um, seriously? Maybe that nugget about the aerial eradication in Colombia was upsetting? Pardon me, it’s not like we’re asking folks to drink the herbicide. Come again? You have no expectation of privacy when using the OpenNet? Well, can you blink three times when we hit the right note?

What should we call our State Department that’s quick to criticize foreign governments for blocking internet content for their nationals then turns around and blocks internet content for its employees?

Wass that?  The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing? Blink. Blink. Blink.

We sent a couple emails to the IRM shop — cio@state.gov and Dr. Glen H. Johnson, the senior official in charge of IRM ops asking what’s going on.  It seems the emails were chewed to bits, and we haven’t heard anything back.  Looking for Vanguard contractors to blame? Blink.Blink.Blink.  We’ll update if we hear anything more.

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State Dept Awards $2.8M “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” IT Contract to VMware

Posted: 12:53 am EDT

 

On March 31, 2015, the State Department awarded a $2.8 million “High Availability and Disaster Recovery Services” contract to VMware.  The contract awarded on behalf of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations, Systems Integration Office, Enterprise Server Operations Center or IRM/OPS/SIO/ESOC is for 12 months, and appears to be a modification of a prior task order.  The J&A document posted online justifying “other than full competition” indicates “only one source capable” in handwritten notation. “Persistent security concerns,” “changing strategic landscape” and  “heightened vulnerability” all appear in the limited source justification for the award.  VMware is located in Palo Alto, CA and Reston, VA.

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Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!

Posted: 12:46 am EDT

 

According to Diplomatic Security’s FAQ, the general time to process security clearance averages about 120 days. But the Department of State has apparently initiated a goal to render a security clearance decision in 90 days.   We have, however, heard complaints that eligible family members (EFMs) overseas waiting to start on jobs have been caught in a security clearance logjam with some waiting much longer than four months. We’ve also heard rumors that DS no longer issue an interim security clearance.

So we thought we’d ask the Diplomatic Security clearance people. We wanted clarification concerning interim clearances and the backlogs, what can post do to help minimize the backlogs and what can EFMs do if they have been waiting for months without a response.

We sent our inquiry to Grace Moe, the head of public affairs at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). We did not get any response. Three days later, we sent a follow-up email to her deputy, and the group’s security clearance mailbox. Shortly, thereafter, an email popped up on my screen from the Security Specialist at DS’s Customer Service Center of the Office of Personnel Security/Suitability:

“Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…”

Somebody suggesting they send Diplopundit to the FLO? Let’s not.    We’re not privy to the preceding conversation on that email trail.  But seriously, a straight forward  inquiry on security clearance should not be pushed over to the Family Liaison Office (FLO) just because it’s related to family members.

So we told DS that we sent the security clearance inquiry to them for a very good reason and that we would appreciate a response unless they want to decline comment.

The lad at the Customer Service Center wrote back with a lame response that they will answer, but he was not sure about our email because it ends with a .net. Apparently, we’re the only one left in the world who has not moved over to dot com.  And he asked if it would be possible to obtain a name from our office.

Whaaaat? The next thing you know, they’ll want a phone date.

We’re sorry to inform you but this Customer Service not only shovels inquiry elsewhere but it also cannot read and see contact names on emails. So days later, Customer Service is still waiting for us to provide them a name that’s already on the email we sent them.  That kind of redundant efficiency is amazing, but we hate to waste any more of our time playing this game.

So we asked a DS insider, who definitely should get double pay for doing the Customer Service’s job. But since the individual is not authorized to speak officially, try not to cite our source as your source when you deal with that DS office.

Anyway, we were told that it is not/not true that DS no longer issue interim clearances.  Apparently, what happens more frequently is that HR forgets to request an interim clearance when it makes the initial request. So you paperwork just goes into a big pile. And you wait, and wait, and wait.  So if you’re submitting your security paperwork, make sure you or your hiring office confirms with HR that they have requested an interim clearance.

We were going to confirm this with HR except that those folks appear to have an allergic reaction to our emails.

In any case, the logjam can also result from the FBI records checks. If the FBI has computer issues, that, apparently, can easily put tens of thousands of cases behind because without the results of the FBI check, “nothing can be done.” There’s nothing much you can do about that except pray that the FBI has no computer issues.

We also understand that the Office of Personnel Security/Stability or PSS is backed up because of a heavy case load. “Posts seem to be requesting clearances with reckless abandon.”  We were cited an example where an  eligible family member (EFM) works as a GSO housing coordinator. The EFM GSO coordinator has access to the same records as the local staff working at the General Services Office but he/she gets a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines whether a Department of State position will require a security clearance, as well as the level required, based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. So in this example, HR may determine that the EFM GSO housing coordinator needs a clearance because he/she knows where everybody lives – including people from other agencies.  Again, that same information is also accessible to the  Foreign Service Nationals working as locally employed staff at GSO and HR.

Not sure which EFM jobs do not require a security clearance.  We understand that HR routinely asks for it when hiring family members.  Of course, this practice can also clog up the process for everyone in the system.  Routinely getting a clearance is technically good because an EFM can take that security clearance to his/her next job.  The Department of State will revalidate a security clearance if (1) the individual has not been out of federal service for more than 2 years and (2) if the individual’s clearance is based on an appropriate and current personnel security clearance investigation.  So the next time an EFM gets a job in Burkina Faso or back in Foggy Bottom, the wait won’t be as long as the clearance only requires revalidation.

And there is something else. Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, which enables them to be appointed non-competitively to a career-conditional appointment in the Civil Service once they return to the U.S. A security clearance and executive order eligibility are certainly useful when life plunks you back in the capital city after years of being overseas.

There is no publicly available data on how many EFMs have security clearances. But we should note that EFMs with security clearance are not assured jobs at their next posts. And we look at this as potentially a wasted resource (see below). EFMs who want jobs start from scratch on their security package only when they are conditionally hired. So if there’s an influx of a large number of new EFMs requesting security clearance, that’s when you potentially will have a logjam.

Back in 2009, we blogged about this issue (some of the numbers below are no longer current):

We have approximately 2,000 out of 9,000 family members who are currently working in over 217 missions worldwide.  Majority if not all of them already have, at the minimum, a “Secret” level clearance. And yet, when they relocate to other posts, it is entirely possible that they won’t find work there. The average cost to process a SECRET clearance has been reported to run from several hundred dollars to $3,000, depending on individual factors. The average cost to process a TOP SECRET clearance is between $3,000 and about $15,000, depending on individual factors. Given that most FS folks spend majority of their lives overseas, the $3,000 for a Secret clearance process for EFMs would be way too low. But let’s assume that all the EFMs currently working only have a Secret level clearance – at $3,000 each that’s still 6Million USD right there. Even if only 500 of them lost their jobs due to regular reassignment, that’s 1.5M USD that’s not put to effective use.

So here’s the idea – why can’t we create an EFM Virtual Corps? The EFMs who are already in the system could be assigned a specialization based on prior work experience within the US Mission. When not employed at post, their names could be added to the EFM Virtual Corps, a resource for other posts who require virtual supplementary or temporary/ongoing support online. Their email and Intranet logon should be enabled to facilitate communication while they are on a float assignment and their reporting authority should be a straight line to a central coordinator at Main State and a dotted line to the Management Counselor at post.  I know, I know, somebody from HR probably have a ready list of reasons on why this can’t be done, but – how do we know if this works or not if we don’t try? The technology is already available, we just need organizational will and some, to make this work.

Here’s our related post on this topic: No Longer Grandma’s Foreign Service. You’re welcome to post this on the leadership site behind the State Department firewall. Hey, the somebodies already post our burn bag entries there, so why not this one?

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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.

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Image: Tumblr, perfectedflaw via Mashable

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