— By Domani Spero
In March 2013 we posted this: State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall.
The OIG recommends that the Office of the Deputy Secretary (presumably the incoming D/MR who succeeds Mr. Nides) should “restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.”
At that time we thought it would have been interesting to know which cases were alleged to have been interfered with. Now, we may be close to knowing or something.
And because it’s Monday, here’s the news that could totally wreck your day if you work in Foggy Bottom.
CBS News’ John Miller reports that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.
Memos showed that probes included allegations of:
- A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
- Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
- An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
- The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
- Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
- “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.
Apparently, DSS agents told the Inspector General’s investigators that senior State Department officials told them to back off; a charge that Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator with the State Department’s internal watchdog agency, the Inspector General, told Miller is “very” upsetting.
It would have been nice if this were corroborated by somebody who worked at DSS. Oh, hey, look:
John Miller spoke with Mike Pohelitz, a retired Senior Agent at the DSS who was involved in one of the cases listed in the Inspector General’s memo. Pohelitz said he was told to stop investigating one of the cases and that the order likely came from the upper ranks of the DSS.
“I got the information through my DS channel,” he told Miller. “But it had to come from somebody higher than DS, I’m sure.”
Read the full CBS report here.
Below is the published report the CBS news is referring to; dated February 28, 2013 and posted online on March 15, 2013, sanitized for public consumption:
-02/28/13 Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics (ISP-I-13-18) [330 Kb] DS/CI/SID (ISP-I-13-18)
Here is an excerpt from that report:
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases.
In all matters relating to investigative work, the investigative organization needs to be free, in fact and appearance, from impairments to independence in both organization and attitude. Such independence is essential so that an organization’s decisions about obtaining evidence, conducting interviews, and making recommendations will be impartial and viewed as such by knowledgeable third parties. The credibility of the Department’s investigative organizations and disciplinary system depends on that independence, yet the perception exists among knowledgeable parties that external influences have negatively affected some SID investigations.
SID is one of many offices that report up the normal chain to the principal deputy assistant secretary and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Foreign Service special agents in SID, 80 percent of whom are junior in rank, ordinarily serve only one tour as an investigator. Subjects of their investigations may include more senior DS agents; other senior DS agents are sometimes hostile witnesses for interviews. The SID supervisors also are in the DS mainstream and subject to regular “up or out” assignment and promotion processes. During inspection interviews, nearly every SID special agent acknowledged being aware that one or more suspects, witnesses, or senior Department officials could one day serve on a promotion board or on a DS assignment panel that would decide the investigator’s career prospects. Although most investigators said that they had not experienced career pressure in any particular cases, some had indeed felt such pressure. Several special agents in SID observed that Civil Service agents with sufficient rank are less susceptible to such pressure, as their careers do not depend on DS assignment panels or Foreign Service promotion boards.
Inspectors observed that the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Justice, and U.S. Secret Service internal affairs investigative offices all have protections in place to insulate sensitive internal investigations from even the perception of interference. The current SID structure does not foster independence from career pressures and creates significant potential for undue influence, favoritism, and potential retribution. Various corrective mechanisms may be possible. U.S. Government investigative experts from outside the Department could offer helpful structural benchmarks.
We checked with the OIG for comments and this is what we received:
- The final report on DS/CI/SID (ISP-I-13-18) was published, distributed and posted on the OIG Website in February 2013 (http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/206520.pdf) (Note: Actually posted online on March 15, 2013, see link above)
- During the course of an OIG audit or inspection, if allegations of misconduct are received, it is standard procedure to refer them to OIG’s Office of Investigations.
- It is OIG policy not to comment on on-going work.
- On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.
- OIG has staffed the review appropriately and independently.
- OIG wants to emphasize the sensitive nature of OIG inspection information, particularly when it pertains to individuals and may be incomplete or contain unverified, raw data. Fairness and due process preclude OIG from further comment.
So that’s the official word.
But see, now you know why the missing firewall was a big deal. It’s the only thing “missing” that can either haunt you or go kaboom.
The tricky thing here is the whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, is a former investigator with the State Department’s internal watchdog agency, the Inspector General. While we would like to know why she is now a former investigator after 22 years of service, that is not nearly as important as the alleged manipulation of investigative cases.
And even as the “OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations” on its “own initiative,” we do not think that it would be the appropriate for the Office of the Inspector General to be investigating the alleged cover-ups of these investigations.
- CBS News: U.S. State Department Cover-Ups Range From Prostitution Charges To Drug Rings (washington.cbslocal.com)
- State Department memo reveals possible cover-ups, halted investigations (cbsnews.com)