State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s Not

— Domani Spero
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In June last year, CBS News’ John Miller reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off at the State Department. 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.

You may revisit that CBS News report here. At that time, State/OIG told us that “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.” In a statement to CBS News, State/OIG also said about the investigation: “We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.”

We’ve blog about this previously:

Yesterday, State/OIG finally released its long-awaited report to this investigation, excerpt below:

The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. […]

In three of the eight internal investigations, OIG found that a combination of factors in each case created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism by Department management. The appearance of undue influence and favoritism is problematic because it risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders.

This review assesses the Department’s handling of those eight investigations. OIG did not reinvestigate the underlying cases. In conducting this review, OIG interviewed Department employees, examined case files, and reviewed 19,000 emails culled from the Department’s electronic communications network. OIG’s findings are not necessarily indicative of systemic issues affecting all DS cases. However, they reveal issues with current Department policies and procedures that may have significant implications regarding actual or perceived undue influence.

Handling “management issues” relating to a U.S. Ambassador

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
[…]
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3 (underlined for emphasis)

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6

But the footnotes!

2* 3 FAM 4322.2 states that incidents or allegations involving Chiefs of Mission that could serve as grounds for disciplinary action and/or criminal action must be immediately referred to OIG or DS to investigate. This section further states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management…may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.” No guidance exists describing what factors to consider in determining what constitutes “exceptional circumstances.”

3* In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter.

4* 3 FAM 4322.3.a provides that a management official “must initially determine whether he, she, or another management official should be the investigating official, or whether the matter should be referred to” OIG or DS for further action. This section further provides that if the official determines that the “alleged misconduct is relatively minor, such as leave abuse or failure to perform assigned duties, that official or another management official may handle the administrative inquiry” and need not refer the matter to OIG or DS.

5* After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

6* During the course of this review, OIG discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

OIG to M’s “exceptional circumstances”  — what the heck is that?

“…OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

Well, it’s shocking that M, DS and the Legal Adviser could not agree on a simple thing. We do think the OIG is exactly right here. Why have an oversight and investigation arm if some higher up can declare no investigation necessary under an “exceptional circumstances”clause, that’s not even spelled out.

The Inspector General is ranked equivalent to an Assistant Secretary.  According to the regs, he reports directly to the Secretary, the Board, the Commissioner and the head of any other organization for which the OIG is assigned oversight responsibility, or to the extent such authority is delegated, to the officer next-in-rank. But 1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M) (CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)  put in place before the current OIG assumed office, also has this to say:

The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action.

We’ll have to watch and see how this turns out.  Must add that nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual does it say that the Inspector General may not/not investigate matters considered “management issues” under  “exceptional circumstances.”

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014