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Sullivan Report on Embassy Security Flaws Leaks Out — Uh-oh, It’s Not/Not Diplomatic

— By Domani Spero

The NYT just reported that an independent review panel headed by Mark Sullivan, a former Secret Service director has concluded that with American embassies and consulates facing an increasing threat of terrorist attacks, the State Department office overseeing diplomatic security is mired in the agency’s sprawling bureaucracy and must be elevated in importance.

The panel’s new findings, which have not yet been publicly released, do not specifically address the department’s handling of the Benghazi attacks. But they implicitly criticize Mr. Kennedy’s office as not paying enough attention to the bureau that oversees security at 275 installations, and recommends “as a matter of urgency” establishing a new under secretary job to give security matters more clout within the department’s highest policy-making circles.
[…]

Creating the latest review panel, which was led by Mark Sullivan, a former Secret Service director, was one of 29 recommendations proposed by Mr. Pickering’s inquiry, called the Accountability Review Board. Mr. Sullivan’s five-member panel was charged with identifying “best practices” used in the public and private sectors to address security, intelligence, accountability and risk management, all problems at the State Department.

The panel provided its report to the department late last week. A copy was given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

Continue reading here.

Trevor Aaronson writing for Al Jazeera America has more details:

Among the most damning assessments, the panel concluded that the State Department’s failure to identify worsening conditions in Libya and exemptions from security regulations at the U.S. Special Mission contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi. Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy approved using Benghazi as a temporary post despite its significant vulnerabilities, according to an internal State Department document included with the report.

The panel cataloged a series of failures by State Department officials to address security issues and concluded that many Foreign Service officers are unclear about who is in charge of security.

The panel, chaired by former U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, was convened on the recommendation of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which investigated what happened in Benghazi. Sullivan’s panel evaluated State Department security at high-threat diplomatic missions around the world and issued 40 recommendations linked to safety issues at overseas missions.

Among the problems Sullivan’s panel identified in the report:

  • The State Department’s management of its security structure has led to blurred authority and a serious lack of accountability. The undersecretary for management oversees security issues while also handling many other responsibilities. A newly created undersecretary for diplomatic security would allow the State Department to better focus on security issues affecting diplomatic posts around the world, according to the report. Left unaddressed, the control problem “could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.”
  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the State Department security arm created following the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, does not have a review process in place to learn from previous security failures. Inexplicably, Diplomatic Security officials never conducted what is known as a “hot wash” debriefing of Benghazi survivors to learn from their experience.
  • No risk management model exists to determine whether high-threat posts, such as the one in Benghazi, are necessary given the danger to U.S. officials. Risk decisions are made based on “experience and intuition,” not established professional guidelines.
  • None of the five high-risk diplomatic facilities the panel visited in the Middle East and Africa had an intelligence analyst on staff, described as a “critical” need.
  • Diplomatic security training is inadequate, with no designated facility available to train agents to work at high-risk diplomatic posts.
  • Even low-risk diplomatic posts are vulnerable. The Obama administration, concerned about potential attacks, ordered the closure of diplomatic posts in the Middle East and North Africa in August 2013. Of the 19 posts closed, only four were designated as high threat.

The panel added: “It is unlikely that temporary facilities, in areas such as Benghazi, will ever meet Inman standards. The Department therefore identifies missions with special terminology to avoid its own high, but unattainable, standards and then approves waivers to circumvent those standards, thus exposing those serving under Chief of Mission authority to an unacceptable level of risk.” 

Continue reading:  Exclusive: Benghazi report details security flaws at US diplomatic posts.

Update @7:29 am PST:  The report as well as related documents are now online at Al Jazeera America.

Is it just me or does it feel like somebody was making sure the Sullivan panel’s report gets a public reading?  Trying to hunt a copy of the report.

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Foreign Service Grievance Board 2012 Statistics — Up/Down Whatever Percent From 2011

— By Domani Spero

On June 19, 2012, we blogged this: Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board 2011 Statistics, Up 25% from 2010.  The annual report is  submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations at the United States Senate (SFRC), the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the House of Representatives (HFAC) and the Director General of the Foreign Service at the State Department (DGHR).

Eight annual reports are posted online with the exception of the 2012 report.  While all congressional submissions were dated in February and March of the previous years, there is no indication when these reports were made available online.  We regularly visit fsgb.gov, a website from  “yabba dabba doo!” When we posted about the 2011 report last year, we just discovered it in a dig done in June 2012.

  • 2004 – submission date: March 23, 2005
  • 2005 – submission date: March 23, 2006
  • 2006 – submission date: March 27, 2007
  • 2007 – submission date: March 27, 2008
  • 2008 – submission date: February 27, 2009
  • 2009 – submission date: February 26, 20120
  • 2010 – submission date: February 28, 2011
  • 2011 – submission date: February 28, 2012

It’s now almost fall and the 2012 annual report is still unavailable; a June 2013 email inquiry to the Board remains unacknowledged.  As of October 1, 2011, Garber Davidson is the Chairman of the Foreign Service Grievance Board. Elliot Shaller is the Deputy Chairman.  Mark S. Johnsen assumed his duties as the Executive Secretary to the Foreign Service Grievance Board on March 11, 2013. But wait, the FSGB website also says that Christopher Wittmann is its current Executive Secretary.  Can you please, please get the real Executive Secretary to step forward? Why? Well, because … it looks … it doesn’t look too good that the FSGB can’t even sort out who is its executive secretary.

While waiting for the 2012 report to make its online appearance, let’s make do with the 2011 stats. Pardon me? You want permission to bring up/down the grievance rate until the 2012 report escapes from Bedrock’s primitive typewriter?  Who are you, Fred Flintstone?

 

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Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

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