US Embassy Tajikistan: Orders Shelter in Place and Temporary Closure

Posted: 5:38 pm EDT




Insider Quote: State Department’s Most Candid Nugget

Posted: 3:41 pm EDT

The following is an excerpt from an exchange with John Kirby, the State Department Spokesperson during the Daily Press Briefing of August 18, 2015:

QUESTION: John, if I can change quickly. Just a clarification I wanted to get from the State Department on Secretary Clinton’s emails. Is it still the position of the State Department that no emails that came through the server were classified at their origination on the server, as opposed to being retroactively classified?

MR KIRBY: It is still our view that we have no indication that any of the emails that have been upgraded —

QUESTION: That’s not what he’s asking. So he’s talking about the ones that were —

MR KIRBY: But I don’t have to answer the question you ask. I just have to respond the way I want to. (Laughter.) So let me finish, and then if I don’t get at it – I wasn’t even through my first sentence and you challenged me.


Former FSO Michael Sestak Sentenced to 64 Months In Visas For Dollars Scheme

Posted: 1:41 pm EDT

Former FSO Michael T. Sestak was sentenced today to 64 months imprisonment for receiving over $3 million in bribes in exchange for visas at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. The sentence is under the 84 months asked by the USG but over the 33 months pled for by the defense. This concludes the over two-year case that started with the former consular officer’s arrest in the spring of 2013.  Binh Tang Vo and his sister, Hong Vo, both American citizens have also been convicted and sentenced respectively to 8 years and 7 months in prison.  The Vos’ cousin, Truc Tranh Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen was previously sentenced to 16 months of incarceration. Vo’s wife, one of the alleged co-conspirators was not charged. We will have a follow-up post later. Video below of the Vos wedding via Thanh Nien Daily:

Via USDOJ: Former U.S. Consulate Official Sentenced to 64 Months in Prison for Receiving Over $3 Million in Bribes in Exchange for Visas | Vietnam-Based Scheme Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes. 

A former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 44, was sentenced today to 64 months in prison on federal charges in a scheme in which he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen, Jr. of the District of Columbia and Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

Sestak pleaded guilty on Nov. 6, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud and to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity.  He was sentenced by the Honorable John D. Bates. Following his prison term, Sestak will be placed on three years of supervised release.

Under the plea agreement, Sestak agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation and the prosecution of other conspirators.  He also agreed to the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crimes, which includes the sale of nine properties that he purchased in Thailand with his ill-gotten gains.

Three others have pled guilty to charges in the case.

“As a Foreign Service Officer, Michael Sestak should have been upholding his responsibilities to the United States, not illegally cashing in by collecting over $3 million in bribes to short-circuit our visa process,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen.  “Because of this defendant’s selfish greed, nearly 500 foreign nationals were able to enter the United States without the proper screening.  This sentence reflects the seriousness of his corrupt conduct.”

“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime related to passport and visa fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Director Miller.  “When a public servant in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony such as passport fraud, we vigorously investigate claims of corruption.”

Sestak, a former police officer and Deputy U.S. Marshal, was arrested on May 13, 2013, and has been in custody ever since.  According to the government’s evidence, he and his co-conspirators in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and elsewhere, created and/or submitted approximately 500 fraudulent applications for non-immigrant visas to the United States.  The overwhelming majority of these applications were subsequently approved.

The others who have pled guilty include Binh Tang Vo; his sister, Hong Vo, both American citizens who had been living in Vietnam; and their cousin, Truc Tranh Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen.

Binh Tang Vo, 41, was sentenced in July 2015 to eight years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud, bribery of a public official and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  His plea agreement also called for forfeiture of nearly $5.1 million.  Hong Vo, 29, was sentenced in March 2014 to seven months in prison and three months of home detention.  Truc Tranh Huynh, 31, was sentenced in February 2014 to 16 months of incarceration.

According to the government’s evidence, the criminal activity took place while Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.  His responsibilities included reviewing visa applications, conducting in-person interviews of visa applicants and issuing visas when appropriate.  While at the State Department, Sestak held a sensitive position.

In pleading guilty, Sestak admitted that he and Binh Tang Vo met in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 and began a personal friendship.  They ultimately came up with a plan to obtain money in exchange for facilitating the approval of non-immigrant visas from Vietnam to the United States.  Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers to the visa scheme.  Before they appeared at the consulate for visa interviews, Sestak would be informed of the identities of foreign nationals who agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining visas.  He then attempted to issue a visa to each foreign national who had agreed to pay for obtaining a visa, often disregarding the veracity of the information on the application.

Sestak admitted that between February 2012 and September 2012, he caused visas to be approved for people whose applications were part of the scheme.  Payments made by applicants to the conspirators in exchange for visas ranged from $15,000 to $70,000.  Many of the individuals who received visas had been previously denied visas for a variety of reasons.

The entire scheme generated at least $9.78 million.  Of this, Sestak personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand.  In an attempt to hide the illegal proceeds of the scheme, Sestak purchased nine real estate properties in Thailand worth over $3 million.  As part of his plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell these properties and forfeit the proceeds in order to satisfy a portion of the money judgment of at least $6 million that will be entered against him.

The case was investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson, Alessio D. Evangelista of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly and Jennifer Ambuehl of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, as well former Assistant U.S Attorneys Christopher Kavanaugh and Mona N. Sahaf.


This $10 million bribery case seems to have fallen off the radar screen of U.S. media. Extra reading below from Calvin Godfrey who appears to be the only one still covering this case for Vietnamese news.


State Dept’s Bureau of Counterterrorism Writes to “Correct the Record” on GAO Report That Needs No Correction

Posted: 9:45 am PDT


On July 23, we blogged about the GAO report on the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (GAO-15-684 | pdf – State Should Evaluate Its Countering Violent Extremism Program and Set Time Frames for Addressing Evaluation Recommendations). You may read the blogpost here: Bureau Tasks With Countering Violent Extremism: 96 Authorized Employees, Running on 17-23% Vacancies.

At mid-day on July 23, we received the following email from Rhonda Shore, the Spokesperson for the Bureau of Counterterrorism (published in full):


The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) at the State Department would like to respond to the 7/23 Diplopundit article by Domani Spero about the GAO report on the CT Bureau.  The article was incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing and we would like to correct the record. (We would also like to suggest that you contact us in the future when writing about our bureau and/or programs so we can assist with the latest information. You can reach us by email at

Regarding full-time employees (FTEs), as of today (July 23, 2015), the CT Bureau is authorized 83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs (101 total FTEs). We have 13 civil service vacancies; of those 13, 10 have been selected from various vacancy announcements and all 10 are in the process of obtaining clearances to be officially appointed. Once on board, the CT vacancy rate will be less than four percent. In addition, CT is in the process of having the remaining three civil service positions classified and will advertise to fill those vacancies in the next 30-60 days.

As far as evaluating the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, the CT Bureau has robust procedures in place to ensure the monitoring all of assistance programs, including CVE. While we have conducted evaluations of select CVE projects, State agrees with the recommendation to undertake a more comprehensive evaluation.  We are currently assessing what programs would most benefit from third-party evaluation during the upcoming fiscal year and expect CVE to be included in our final determination. As GAO rightly notes, previous consideration of conducting a comprehensive evaluation of CT Bureau CVE programming had resulted in a determination that the programs had not been underway for a sufficient amount of time. The CVE Program in CT was established in 2010, and CT Bureau received only limited funding for CVE activities the first several fiscal years. At this stage, we now have a number of programs that have been underway for a sufficient amount of time to benefit from an assessment of cross-cutting lessons learned.

It is also important to recognize that CT builds monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into each of our projects systematically; in fact, we require each implementing partner to elaborate an M&E plan for each project and dedicate a percentage of the project budget to implementing its respective M&E plan.  CT has also developed standardized CVE results indicators that it shares with embassies and implementing partners.


The report we cited and linked to in this blog is a written product publicly released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dated July 2015. The report also says in part, the following:

“The Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism testified before Congress on June 2, 2015 that the CT Bureau had reduced its FTE vacancies to 11 positions. However, we have been unable to verify that 4 of the reportedly filled positions have been filled because State has not provided sufficient documentation.”

We note that State/CT’s “correction” says it is authorized 101 FTEs (83 Civil Service FTEs and 18 Foreign Service FTEs) whereas the GAO says the  bureau is authorized 96 FTE positions. So we asked Ms. Shore about that. We wanted to know if the additional numbers, happened after the GAO finalized its report this month and the bureau responded, “yes.”

Further we note that even as the bureau is in the process of filling in those vacancies, the GAO illustrates the number of vacancies from FY2011-FY2015 between 17-23%.  The bureau is telling us that our blogpost is “incorrect in its assessment of CT Bureau staffing” so we asked if it is contesting that those GAO staffing numbers are incorrect since we are only passing on the GAO data?

After 4pm, we received a response from the bureau spox saying she’s not sure if her colleagues who can answer our questions are still there and and would get back to us if not on July 23, early the next day.

Early on July 24, the bureau spox sent us the following response:

Those figures are an incomplete representation of the issue.  The GAO did not properly put the staffing increases and the CT Bureau’s process to fill vacancies into the context of receiving an approximately 35 percent increase in FTE, as a result of being established as a Bureau (in 2012).  This unprecedented increase in staff has been rapid and intensive over this period, and among the functions established as a result, was the creation of an Executive Office that processed much of the new hires.  As an illustrative example of the ongoing rate of hiring in CT, during the time GAO was onsite, CT filled 10 vacancies (some of which are currently pending security clearances before being registered in an officially “hired” status).

The fact that the bureau is in the process of filing in the vacant positions cited by the GAO report does not eliminate the fact that some 10 weeks before the end of the fiscal year, those vacancies are just about to be filled.  Well, once the candidates’ security clearances are obtained, those vacancies will be filled.

The bureau is contesting the assessment and proffering an anticipated 4% vacancy rate into the future; quite possibly into the next fiscal year.  This is like counting ships currently under construction; they’re not floating around and moving people and stuff around, but counted still the same as ships.

The bureau has offered an explanation to help us understand its staffing challenges but while we publish its “correction for the record” here, we are not convinced a correction is required. We do think that the GAO is correct in assessing these positions as vacancies. Since these positions are currently not officially filled, they are factually vacant authorized positions.

Perhaps, the GAO might have called these vacancies “unfilled positions?” The bureaucracies battling it out on semantics?  In any case, this appears to be an attempt by the CT bureau to correct the language used by the GAO on its reporting. If the GAO has a response (we don’t think it will), we’ll print that, too.



Joint IGs Statement on NYT Report: IG did not make a criminal referral, only security referral

Posted: 4:52 pm EDT


Related to The New York Times report of July 24, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III, have just released a joint statement below:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24



Related items:

Statement of the ICIG and OIG Regarding Review of Clinton’s Emails_July 24, 2015 (pdf)

23 July 2015_CN_Summary of IC IG support to State Department IG (pdf)

NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos

Posted: 9:45 am PDT

Related to The New York Times report Thursday night, Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account, here are the memos from the inspectors generals of the State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III.  The memos include the response from Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The memos from the IGs are cc’ed to Heather Higginbottom, the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR). The response from U/S Management contains no courtesy copies. Trying to read as fast as I could to find that section where the IGs have requested a criminal inquiry.

ESP-15-04-05 | Potential Issues Identified by the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Concerning the Department of State’s Process for the Review of Former Secretary Clinton’s Emails under the Freedom of Information Act (pdf)


Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) staff conducted a preliminary assessment of the Department’s ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process for the Clinton emails, including 296 emails publicly released by the Department on May 22, 2015. This preliminary assessment identified four areas that require immediate attention by Department leadership.

  • Attachment #A contains OIG’s and ICIG’s Memorandum, dated June 19, 2015, which makes four recommendations related to these areas.
  • Attachment #B contains U/S Patrick Kennedy’s June 25, 2015, and July 14, 2015, responses. Based on these responses, OIG and ICIG consider two of these recommendations to be closed, whereas the other two remain unresolved.
  • Attachment #C contains more detailed information about the status of each recommendation.

On June 29, 2015, OIG and ICIG sent U/S Patrick Kennedy a follow-up memorandum providing additional information supporting their concerns about the FOIA process used for the Clinton emails (see Attachment #D). Since then, ICIG has received confirmation from lC FOIA officials that several of these emails contained classified IC information, though they were not marked as classified. In addition, at least one of these emails has been released to the public and can be accessed on the Department’s FOIA website.


Burn Bag: Employment Vacancy Application System Has Systemic Flaws?

Via Burn Bag:

“It has recently come to light that the current employment vacancy application system at the State Department has profound and pervasive system-based flaws. It also appears that State Department HR and vendor are largely aware of these flaws, and are not acting to address them in a meaningful way. These flaws appear to exclude many qualified civil service applicants, and may contribute to a dysfunctional atmosphere in which hiring managers may rationalize that “back-channel” hiring practices, nepotism, patronage, and preselection are the only way to work around the systemic difficulties.”

Saudi Arabia Arrests 93 Suspected Terrorists Over Plot to Bomb US Embassy Riyadh

Posted: 3:30  pm EDT





Related posts:


New Front in Regional Chaos: Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes Against Houthis in Yemen

Posted: 6:15 pm PDT










State Department/USAID OIG Published Reports — August 2014

— Domani Spero


All reports in pdf files hosted at and A very short August list from State/OIG:

USAID/OIG August reports:


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