Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT

 

The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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Secretary of State’s Security Detail Who Asserted He Was Drugged, Robbed, and Kidnapped Gets 14 Day Suspension

Posted: 2:31 am EDT

 

This case is about a member of the security detail of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who asserted that he was drugged, kidnapped and robbed during a trip overseas in June 2012. The State Department says that “the grievant consumed nine alcoholic beverages the night before the meeting and the flight, left his hotel alone at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the meeting and flight, and remembers nothing after that until he allegedly awoke at 10:15 a.m. in a car with three strangers in a wooded area 25 km. from his hotel.”  

Public records indicate that the then secretary of state was on foreign travel to Oslo and Tromso, Norway from June 1-2, 2012.

The following is excerpted from the Record of Proceeding from FSGB No. 2014-043:

Grievant joined the Department in 2011. The instant grievance arises from events on the evening of June 1 and morning of June 2, 2012, in and around (REDACTED), while grievant was assigned to temporary duty (TDY) as a member of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Security Detail (SD) during the Secretary’s official visits to (REDACTED) and (REDACTED).
[…]
Grievant, an untenured Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, grieved the Department’s Decision to suspend him for 14 days without pay and place a discipline letter in his Official Personnel Folder for Failure to Report for Duty. The Department charged him with failure to report for a morning meeting and missing a flight from REDACTED to REDACTED on June 2, 2012, while a member of Secretary Clinton’s Security Detail. As aggravating factors, the Department cited the fact that grievant consumed nine alcoholic beverages the night before the meeting and the flight, left his hotel alone at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the meeting and flight, and remembers nothing after that until he allegedly awoke at 10:15 a.m. in a car with three strangers in a wooded area 25 km. from his hotel. Grievant was removed from the Security Detail and sent home from REDACTED, with other members of the Detail picking up his assignments in REDACTED. Grievant asserted the affirmative defense that he was drugged, kidnapped, and robbed, making it impossible for him to report for scheduled duty. He further complained that the Department’s investigation of the incident was biased and procedurally flawed, that he has been improperly harmed by the Report of Investigation, that the Department mischarged him, that his “off-duty” conduct should not constitute an aggravating factor, and that the penalty was unreasonably harsh and inconsistent with penalties meted out for similar or lesser offenses in recent years.
[…]
Grievant states that at approximately 10:15 a.m. on June 2, he awoke in the rear passenger seat of a car parked in a wooded area with three other sleeping men whom he could not identify but who looked “vaguely familiar.” He exited without waking the others and followed a path to a road. At approximately 11:00 a.m., grievant contacted an SD team member and was instructed to flag down a public bus and proceed to the nearest railway station. After being picked up by the ASAIC, the Assistant Regional Security Officer, and a local national, grievant stated that he felt very groggy, “more than just hung over.” They took him to a local medical center for evaluation, and then to a police station, where grievant filed a report of the incident, noting that $80 and a credit card were missing from his wallet (though other credit cards and grievant’s BlackBerry were still in his possession).

As the circumstances of grievant’s disappearance were unclear, and his report of feeling groggy raised questions about his neurocognitive condition, the Department removed him from the SD and ordered him to return to the U.S. Blood and urine tests from the medical center came back negative for the substances screened (so-called “date-rape drugs” Oxazepam, Benzodiazepine, and Creatine), and the (REDACTED) police ultimately dismissed grievant’s complaint that he had been robbed “by unknown perpetrator” for lack of evidence.  (Note: Grievant argues in the FSGB case that “although tests at the medical center detected no drugs in his system, the tests did not screen for common “date rape” drugs GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol and thus do not disprove that he was drugged.)”
[…]
On the other hand, the Department asserts that grievant has produced no evidence in support of his affirmative defense (i.e., that he was “likely” the victim of a crime that prevented him from reporting for duty). There is no witness testimony establishing that he was kidnapped, drugged, and robbed. The tests performed at the medical center produced no evidence that grievant was drugged, and grievant’s complaint that the screening was not comprehensive for all common “date rape” drugs, even if true, in no way establishes that he was in fact drugged (italics added).

Wait, but if he was tested for all common date drugs, and it shows, wouldn’t that have provided some evidence that something happened to him beyond just the alcoholic drinks?

The Foreign Service Grievance Board says that “consistent with its obligation to promote the efficiency of the Service, the Department must have latitude to determine how best to conduct an investigation and frame an ROI. We are not persuaded by the evidence or arguments submitted by grievant that the Department abused its discretion or violated applicable law or regulation in carrying out its investigation of grievant’s failure to report for duty or in formulating its conclusions in the ROI.”

It held that “the Department has met its burden of proving that the charged misconduct (Failure to Report for Duty) occurred, that a nexus exists between grievant’s misconduct and the efficiency of the Service, and that the proposed punishment is proportionate to the offense. Grievant has failed to meet his burden of proof with respect to the affirmative defense he asserted” and denied the  grievance appeal by the special agent.

Read in full here:

If the document embed does not display in full, the FSGB file is accessible here as PDF.

 

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Pentagon to Offer Voluntary Relocation to DOD’s Pregnant Family Members in Areas With Zika Virus

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
Updated Feb 3 3:03 pm EDT

 

According to Military Times, pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees assigned to areas affected by the Zika virus will be offered voluntary relocation.

The State Department issued a Zika virus information for travelers based on CDC information. We have yet to hear any update on what happens to pregnant family members of Foreign Service personnel in affected areas and whether the State Department will offer them voluntary relocation.  The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  There is apparently an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medevac from posts affected by Zika, we don’t have the ALDAC number but check with MGT or MED at post, if you are overseas and have not seen it.

The CDC has confirmed active Zika virus transmission in the following 26 foreign countries and territories:

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Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT

 

On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

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Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

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February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

Screen Shot

Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

Screen Shot

 

Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw

 

Real Life, the Way It Is – No Goggles and Plenty of Loose Ends

 

One of our donors recently wrote to say that we are performing “an invaluable service” but that as a former FSO, our blogposts have often left him dismayed.

We wrote to thank him for his support and apologize that we have often been the bearer of not so happy news. We like to think of this as a mission to keeping it real.

For those who’ve been with us for quite a bit, it is no secret that we write about the good, the bad and the ugly. So why do we write/publish stuff that you can’t read in the official or trade publications?

There’s a good reason for that.

Real life is not like the glossy pages of an in-house magazine. If the American public only reads about the successes and the fun stuff, it will have a skewed view about what still remains a misunderstood institution. And when we only hear the happy talk, well, it disrupts the order of the universe.  As they say, if the pendulum swings one way, it must always swing back the other way. In monitoring the worldwide available universe, we see yin and yang, the oscillations, the back and forth swings of life.

So we are on a mission on looking at life, the way it is, without goggles and often times with loose ends, with questions but no answers. It’s not for every one; some folks may not necessarily want to read what we write, but it’s a free country, we’re fine with that.

We’re the last stop in this corner, come by for a chat, hang around, poke us to help us do better, and we’ll try not to bore you to tears.

A quick GFM II update — we’ve reached the 3rd week mark today with $9,461 of $34k or 28% of our set goal. We still have 5 weeks to go and the highs and lows are to be expected. We’ll see where we are when we reach the halfway mark at the end of next week.

Thanks for sticking with us! — D

We’re at GFM Go Diplopundit until March 10, 2016.

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USAID: That time when an employee wrote to Rajiv Shah and said, “Do us a favor and quit…” #ClintonEmails

Posted: 12:42 am EDT

 

The email addressed to then USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah was sent in October 2010 by a USAID employee. It was shared by Dr. Shah with senior USAID and State Department officials and forwarded to HRC by Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.  Dr. Shah was USAID Administrator from January 7, 2010 to February 19, 2015. He was succeeded by Gayle Smith as USAID Administrator in December 2015.

Shah writes that he was “somewhat amazed” that somebody actually sent such a letter to him and says that he “really believe our overall narrative lacks credibility and do believe the qddr will need be a key document in terms of trying to win over the building.”

He also writes that, “For everyone one (sic) of these totally crazy emails/people there are 100 moderate people that we need to win over – and they are watching with skepticism right now.”

HRC’s response is to first “do a background check on who she is,”  referring to the USAID employee.  She calls the email “a typical DC bureaucratic rant,” and says it reminds her of “some of the town hall questioners I’ve had.”  

The email below from a USAID employee whose name is redacted is pretty brutal, calling the then administrator of less than a year, “a patsie,” and “a puppet” while urging the USAID boss to “quit with at least some dignity…”

We have not been able to find a trail on what if ever was USAID or State’s response.  Mills writes to HRC that she wants “to be helpful and creative in thinking through a response.”  This document is part of the latest Clinton email dump.

 

 

Related items:

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Burn Bag: US Embassy Madrid’s Wise Use of Taxpayer Funded Employee Time?

Via Burn Bag:

“Last year and the year before, Embassy Madrid hosted the biggest (or one of the biggest) July 4th celebration with roughly 4,000 guests.  Plans for this year call for a bigger celebration.  Wise use of taxpayer funded employee time?”

Madrid_4Juk16

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