Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy

Posted: 12:39 EST
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In 1979, John Limbert was a new FSO posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by Iranian students. He was one of the fifty-two U.S. personnel who spent 444 days as Iran hostages from 1979-81. Later in his career, he was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He currently serves as Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy.  In yesterday’s issue of the Guardian, Ambassador Limbert writes that “there is a remarkable parallel between denunciations of Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress and of a possible nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Those who condemn the former haven’t heard it; and those who condemn the latter haven’t seen it.”  Excerpt:

[H]is words will not matter. What will matter is the obvious symbolism of his presence in a partisan and political event. Netanyahu will denounce Iran and its evil ways, but behind these denunciations his real target lies elsewhere. The speech will be a divisive event, in which, for his own reasons, Netanyahu has entered the American political arena and thrown in his lot with President Obama’s opponents. In this political mêlée, Iran becomes the means to weaken him.

Such a bizarre piece of diplomacy may play well with the far right in the United States and with Netanyahu’s own constituency in the coming Israeli elections. In the process he does not seem to care how many dishes he breaks or how much he damages Israel’s relations with the president of its most important ally.
[…]
If Netanyahu dislikes and distrusts the Islamic Republic, fair enough. In his negative views he has lots of company. But does Iran’s being difficult mean that there should be no deal to limit its nuclear program? Shouldn’t the P5+1 negotiate the best possible, but perhaps imperfect, agreement? In 1981, the Iranians and Americans reached a deal that brought me and 51 of my embassy colleagues home after 14 months’ captivity in Iran. The deal stuck, although the United States neither liked the Iranians, nor trusted them. At times it is necessary to talk to unattractive regimes and to negotiate agreements that deliver outcomes less than ideal. Rejecting a nuclear deal with Iran – before such a deal has been reached – will do nothing to bring about a better outcome.

Continue reading, Netanyahu’s supporters (and critics) don’t really care what he says to Congress.

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State/OIG Challenges: Access and OIG Network Vulnerabilities

Posted: 01:42 EST
Updated: 3/3/2015 @1051 PST
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Update: In response to our inquiry, State/OIG informed us that the 128 debarment and suspension referrals it made to the State Department “were accepted by the Department and action was taken.” However, we were also informed that the OIG actually “made more referrals, but no action has been taken by the Department to date.”*

As to the issue of OIG’s IT independence and integrity, “a memorandums of understanding have been executed in which the Department has agreed to obtain prior approval from OIG before accessing its network. In addition, we are engaging a third party to explore options to enhance the independence of our network system.”**

 

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Last week, the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick appeared before the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on the Senate panel’s hearing on improving the efficiency, effectiveness and independence of inspector generals.  State/OIG has oversight of an agency with more than 72,000 employees (includes locally employed staff) in over 280 overseas missions and domestic entities, the BBG and the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. These agencies’ total annual appropriated funding includes approximately $15 billion, nearly $7 billion in consular fees and other earned income, and full or partial oversight of an additional $17 billion in Department-managed foreign assistance.

Some highlights:

  • Although the Department has made improvements on overseas security, challenges remain. Through our inspection and audit work, OIG continues to find security deficiencies that put our people at risk. Those deficiencies include failing to observe set-back and perimeter requirements and to identify and neutralize weapons of opportunity. Our teams also uncover posts that use warehouse space and other sub-standard facilities for offices, another security deficiency. Our audit of the Local Guard Program found that firms providing security services for embassy compounds were not fully vetting local guards they hired abroad, placing at risk our posts and their personnel. In other audits, we found that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (responsible for setting standards) and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (responsible for constructing facilities to meet those standards) often do not coordinate adequately to timely address important security needs.
  • We found that follow-through on long-term security program improvements involving physical security, training, and intelligence-sharing lacked sustained oversight by Department principals. Over time, the implementation of recommended improvements slows. The lack of follow-through explains, in part, why a number of Benghazi ARB recommendations mirror previous ARB recommendations.
  • The Department’s obligations in FY 2014 equaled approximately $9 billion in contractual services and $1.5 billion in grants, totaling approximately $10.5 billion. However, the Department faces challenges managing its contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements. These challenges have come to light repeatedly in OIG audits, inspections, and investigations over the years. […]In FY 2014, more than 50 percent of post or bureau inspections contained formal recommendations to strengthen controls and improve administration of grants.
  • OIG’s assessments of the Department’s cybersecurity programs have found recurring weaknesses and noncompliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) with respect to its unclassified systems.[…] Our work in the information security area is ongoing. Since my arrival, OIG has arranged for penetration testing of the Department’s unclassified networks in order to better assess their vulnerability to attack.

What’s happening in FY2015? The following were specifically identified in IG Linick’s testimony (pdf):

  • Planned FY 2015 security audits include an audit of the approval and certification process used to determine employment suitability for locally employed staff and contracted employees, an audit of emergency action plans for U.S. Missions in the Sahel region of Africa, and an audit of the Vital Presence Validation Process (VP2) implementation. VP2 is the Department’s formal process for assessing the costs and benefits of maintaining its presence in dangerous locations around the world. Note: The VP2 is a result of the tragedy in Benghazi.
  • The DS/International Programs Directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is up for inspection. Note: This is  one of the main bureaus in aftermath of the Benghazi attack that came under congressional scrutiny. Charlene Lamb has now been succeeded by Christian J. Schurman who was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Director for International Programs on September 15, 2014. DAS Schurman is a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent with 27 years of service who was recently promoted to the rank of Minister Counselor in April 2014.
  • In FY 2015, OIG plans on issuing, among others, audits involving non-lethal aid and humanitarian assistance in response to the Syrian crisis, the Iraq Medical Services Contract, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement’s Embassy Air Wing Contract in Iraq.
  • ESP is conducting a joint review with the Department of Justice’s OIG of the handling of the use of lethal force during a counternarcotics operation in Honduras in 2012.

 

IG Linick also highlighted new OIG initiatives to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of OIG’s independent oversight of the Department’s programs and operations including:

  • the issuance of issue Management Alerts and Management Assistance Reports
  • the creation of the Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP), and using ESP to improve OIG’s capabilities to meet statutory requirements of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012
  • new oversight of overseas contingency operations specifically for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR)—the U.S.-led overseas contingency operation directed against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
  • data and technology enhancements
  • suspension and debarment:  between 2011 and 2014, OIG referred 128 cases to the Department for action *
  • new offices in Charleston, South Carolina, where one of the Department’s Global Financial Services Center resides, and in Frankfurt, Germany, the site of one of the Department’s Regional Procurement Support Office.
  • co-locating an OIG attorney-investigator as a full-time Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSAs) in the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in order to prosecute more quickly and effectively cases involving fraud against the Department of State

 

This hearing followed a well -publicized accessibility issues the Peace Corps and EPA OIG had with their own agencies. In his prepared testimony, IG Linick stated that “unfettered and complete access to information is the linchpin that ensures independence and objectivity for the entire OIG community.

He was careful to note “the importance of forging productive relationships with Department leadership and decision-makers” and cited the Department notice issued by Secretary Kerry at the start of his tenure over a year ago “outlining OIG authorities and obligations under the IG Act and advising staff of our need for prompt access to all records and employees.”  He then shared with Congress the OIG’s two main challenges:

  • Access: Generally, most of our work is conducted with the Department’s full cooperation and with timely production of material. However, there have been occasions when the Department has imposed burdensome administrative conditions on our ability to access documents and employees. At other times, Department officials have initially denied access on the mistaken assumption that OIG was not entitled to confidential agency documents. In these instances, OIG ultimately was able to secure compliance but only after delays and sometimes with appeals to senior leadership. These impediments have at times adversely affected the timeliness of our oversight work, resulting in increased costs for taxpayers.Delays in responding to document requests also occur because the requested information has not been maintained at all or in a manner to allow timely retrieval. Such disorganization of information may negatively impact not only OIG audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations but also the integrity of Department programs and operations. For example, an OIG Management Alert identified missing or incomplete files for contracts and grants with a combined value of $6 billion.
  • OIG Network Vulnerabilities:  Vulnerabilities in the Department’s unclassified network also affect OIG’s IT infrastructure, which is part of the same network. We noted in our November 2013 information security Management Alert that there are literally thousands of administrators who have access to Department databases. That access runs freely to OIG’s IT infrastructure and creates risk to OIG operations. Indeed, a large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge. OIG has no evidence that administrators have actually compromised OIG’s network. However, the fact that the contents of our unclassified network may easily be accessed and potentially compromised unnecessarily places our independence at risk. We have begun assessing the best course of action to address these vulnerabilities. **

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What’s the diplomatic translation of “I don’t want to hear any more of his dribble”?

Posted: 01:32 EST
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Edward W. Clark started his career in the State Department as a diplomatic courier in 1941. In 1973, he was the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In his oral history interview for ADST, he recalled then Ambassador Robert McClintock during the military dictatorship in the country. Excerpt below is from his interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on April 29, 1992

“They expropriated the oil companies and Averell Harriman was sent down to take care of the situation because he used to play polo with some of the people in the Argentine. We had several meetings there with ministers. I remember one we had in the Embassy. Rob McClintock hosted a dinner and then we all sat around a big table. The Minister of Labor was there for some reason. He was a very talkative individual and made no sense. McClintock was translating back and forth. Finally Harriman said to McClintock, Tell that man down there to shut up. I don’t want to hear any more of his dribble.” McClintock turns to him and translates, “The Ambassador says he appreciates very much the information you have given him, thank you very much.

Mr. Clark noted in his interview that this was just before the dictatorship took over the oil companies. Ambassador Harriman apparently was sent down there “to see that they didn’t.” According to Mr. Clark, Harriman was en route home when they actually took it over and “all hell broke loose.”

Read more here (pdf).

Note:  One of our readers pointed out that the word “dribble” here must be “drivel” as in silly nonsense.  We imagine this was a result of mistranscription from the oral history interview.

So wait — Hillary Clinton never got a state.gov email? What does the FAM say?

Posted: 01:05 EST
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Via NYT—  from Michael S. Schmidt

Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department. Mrs. Clinton stepped down from the secretary’s post in early 2013.

Continue reading, Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules

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And then this:

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Oops, what’s that?

 

Holy moly sugar and macaroni!

Hey, what happens to State employees who ditch their state.gov emails for hotmail or gmail to conduct government business?

Let’s see —

5 FAM 443.1 Principles Governing E-Mail Communications:
(TL:IM-19; 10-30-1995) 

a. All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and  preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq). In addition, Federal regulations govern the life cycle of these records: they must be properly stored and preserved, available for retrieval, and subject to appropriate approved disposition schedules.

5 FAM 443.2 Which E-Mail Messages are Records
(TL:IM-19; 10-30-1995) 

a. E-mail messages are records when they meet the definition of records in the Federal Records Act. The definition states that documentary materials are Federal records when they:

  • —are made or received by an agency under Federal law or in connection with public business; and
  • —are preserved or are appropriate for preservation as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government, or because of the informational value of the data in them.

[snip]

c. Under FRA regulations (36 CFR 1222.38), principal categories of materials, including E-mail, that are to be preserved are:

  • —records that document the formulation and execution of basic policies and decisions and the taking of necessary actions;
  • —records that document important meetings;
  • —records that facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office;
  • —records that make possible a proper scrutiny by the Congress or other duly authorized agencies of the Government; and
  • —records that protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the Government’s actions.

According to 5 FAM 440, e-mail messages that may constitute Federal records include: (1) E-mail providing key substantive comments on a draft action memorandum, if the E-mail message adds to a proper understanding of the formulation or execution of Department action; (2) E-mail providing documentation of significant Department decisions and commitments reached orally (person to person, by telecommunications, or in conference) and not otherwise documented in Department files;  (3) E-mail conveying information of value on important Department activities, e.g. data on significant programs specially compiled by posts in response to a Department solicitation, if the E-mail message adds to a proper understanding of Department operations and responsibilities.

What else?

The FAM also says that the Department’s Records Management Office (OIS/RA/RD) conducts periodic reviews of the records management practices both at headquarters and at overseas posts. “These reviews ensure proper records creation, maintenance, and disposition by the Department. These periodic reviews now will include monitoring of the implementation of the Department’s E-mail policy.”

Okay, OIS/RA/RD, you’re about to get your 15 minutes of fame.

 

Related item:

5 FAM 440  ELECTRONIC RECORDS, FACSIMILE RECORDS, AND ELECTRONIC MAIL RECORDS 
(CT:IM-158; 12-29-2014) (Office of Origin: A/GIS/IPS)

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