State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in Georgia

Posted: 1:41 pm EDT
Updated: 8:09 pm PDT
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A State Department employee based at the U.S. Embassy in London  was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is now facing charges of interstate threats, computer fraud, wire fraud, and cyberstalking. The employee identified by news reports and court documents as Michael C. Ford reportedly has a home in Alpharetta, Georgia but has worked at the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009. Typical State Department assignments are normally 3 years, sometimes with one-year extensions. The complaint does not say what work Ford has done at Embassy London or his category of employment.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that the individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service.  She also said that as of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy.
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The Affidavit (pdf) executed by Eric J. Kasik, Special Agent of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) says that on or about April 2015, DSS began investigating a target, later determined to be a U.S. Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford (“FORD”), for allegedly engaging in a computer hacking, cyber stalking, and extortion.  We should note that the affidavit is intended to show that there is sufficient probable cause to support the complaint.

According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Diplomatic Security “identified the specific State Department computer that is located at a workstation cubicle located in the U.S. Embassy in London. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in London told me that the only person who sits at that workstation cubicle and uses that computer is Michael C. Ford. FORD is a U.S. citizen who has worked as an Embassy employee in London since 2009.”

Item #25 on the complaint reiterates what folks already know — that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in any communications or data transiting or stored on the information system of the State Department.

DSS computer specialists have apparently obtained copies of specific documents or files that were allegedly stored on the employee’s computer in London. Court documents cited one document as example: “a spreadsheet that appears to summarize some of FORD’s more recent criminal activities. Along the far left hand column of the spreadsheet is a list of account names for approximately 250 e-mail addresses.” Special Agent Kasik says that “DSS agents have determined that several of the accountholders appear to attend the same college in Indiana, where they belong to the same sorority. One is a 17-year-old. This leads me to believe that FORD may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S.”

The alleged MO is described in item #16 of the Kasik affidavit:

16. The target initially sent Jane Doe Two an e-mail message to her Google e-mail account, posing as a Google representative and claiming that Jane Doe Two’s Google e-mail account was going to be deleted unless she provided her password. Jane Doe Two provided her password, as directed. The target then apparently hacked into Jane Doe Two’s Google account, presumably using the stolen password. He then obtained, presumably from Jane Doe Two’s hacked accounts, two or more private photographs of Jane Doe Two of a sexual nature. He also obtained other PII about Jane Doe Two, including her first and last name, her address, where she worked and went to school, and her parent’s first and last names and e-mail addresses. The target then sent Jane Doe Two several threatening e-mail messages to her Google e-mail account. He admitted that he had obtained sexual photographs of Jane Doe Two and sent her the photographs as proof. He then demanded that she provide her current home address and her parents’ contact information and other PII. He warned her that, if she refused, he would e-mail the photographs of her to a list of others, listing the first and last names of several of her acquaintances. The target also threatened to post her photographs online.

The affidavit is available here (pdf) via patch.com/georgia.

WSB-TV2 Atlanta reports that Ford will be in federal court in Atlanta today for a bond hearing and that his attorneys declined to comment at this point in the case.  Click her to read the report via AP.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

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Howard W. French on Gayle Smith’s Appointment as USAID Administrator

Posted: 1:29 am EDT
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We’ve previously posted about the nomination of Gayle Smith as the next USAID administrator on May 5 (see Gayle Smith: From National Security Council to USAID Administrator.  What if every nominee gets a thorough treatment like this?

Excerpt from Mr. French’s piece over at FP:

When President Obama recently nominated Gayle Smith to be the next administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, many members of the country’s small Africa-related foreign policy community howled.
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Smith’s critics, myself included, have objected to the fact that over the years, this former journalist has been a conspicuous backer of authoritarian regimes in places like Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Rwanda. When I first made this point publicly, a former White House staffer offered a disconcertingly ambivalent response: “I’m not sure if there were more compelling candidates out there,” he said.

He may well be right – and the reason for the lack of qualified personnel is a direct consequence of Washington’s long failure to devise a coherent policy toward Africa.
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Gayle Smith should certainly not stand alone to answer for this horrible record, for which the American foreign policy establishment has never given anything like a proper reckoning. One of the reasons for that, though, is the persistence of people like Smith, and her patron, Susan Rice, in positions of high authority. Another, equally pernicious, is the general disinterest that Africa receives from the foreign policy thinkers.

As a region of the world, Africa is virtually alone in being consigned to people with thin expertise and little policy background or clout to shape and guide American diplomacy. Top Africa jobs have often become a kind of sop for African Americans within the bureaucracy. Celebrities like Bono, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck are looked to help set priorities and galvanize public interest. That this should be necessary must be seen as a failure of the policy establishment itself to think more creatively and with more ambition about such a large part of the world.

Read in full via FP, From Quarantine to Appeasement (registration may be required).

Ms. Smith’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. It is currently pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Howard W. French journalist, author, and photographer, as well as an associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was previously a Senior Writer for The New York Times, where he spent most of a nearly 23 year career as a foreign correspondent, working in and traveling to over 100 countries on five continents.  From 1979 to 1986, he lived in West Africa, where he worked as a translator, taught English literature at the University of Ivory Coast, and lived as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and other publications. From 1994 to 1998, he covered West and Central Africa for the NYT, reporting on wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa, with particular attention to the fall of the longtime dictator of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko.

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Burn Bag: Remind me again of the purpose of a CDO? Anyone?

Via Burn Bag:

Remind me again of the purpose of a CDO*? What is their purpose when I can set my own training and lobby my own bids, the bureaus so the handshakes and assignments. Tell me again why this power tripping office exists?

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*CDO – career development officer

FOIA and Clinton Aides: Some Shock and Awe at the Foggiest Bottom

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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That WSJ article above has this to say about the Keystone-related documents subject to FOIA and the rapid dominance doctrine in the halls of Foggy Bottom:

The Keystone documents Ms. Mills objected to were all either held back or redacted, the same person said. After Ms. Mills began scrutinizing documents, the State Department’s disclosure of records related to Keystone fell off sharply, documents that include a court filing show.

Two others with knowledge of State Department records procedures said political appointees were allowed greater say than the FOIA experts thought was appropriate. It was hard to push back against the political staff, one said.

The pipeline project was so sensitive that an expert on FOIA was invited to a State Department policy meeting to advise on how to prospectively shield documents from disclosure, such as by marking them as involving the “deliberative process,” said a person who attended.

That’s the infamous exemption for the “deliberative process,” otherwise known as the “b-5.” In early May, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring an Informed Citizenry: Examining the Administration’s Efforts to Improve Open Government.” Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, as well as Chief FOIA Officer for the Department of State was one of the witnesses and made news for reportedly saying that Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email account for official business was “not acceptable.” Too late much?

One other witness at that hearing was Thomas S. Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Below is from his prepared statement on the “b-5” exemption, also known as the “withhold it if you want to” exemption.

One reason why FOIA does not work is the abuse of the most discretionary exemption in the FOIA, the fifth or “b-5” on deliberative process. This exemption also includes attorney-client privilege, and every lawyer in this room shivers at the idea of infringing on that. Yet, I would point out that the Presidential Records Act dating back to 1978 has eliminated the b-5 exemption as a reason for withholding records 12 years after the President in question leaves office. Through the PRA, we have conducted a 35-year experiment with putting a sunset on the deliberative process exemption, and the facts show us no damage has been done with a 12-year sunset. Yes, some embarrassment, such as the junior White House lawyer who vetted (and rejected) a certain Stephen Breyer for a Supreme Court nomination back in the 1990s. But no new spate of lawsuits. No re-opened litigation. No damage to the public interest. Embarrassment cannot become the basis for restricting open government. In fact, embarrassment makes the argument for opening the records involved.

According to Mr. Blanton, the Justice Department’s use of the “withhold it if you want to” exemption is at an all-time high this year, invoked 82,770 times to withhold records that citizens requested. The same exemption used by the CIA to withhold volume 5 of a 30-year-old internal draft history of the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. This is the same exemption used by the FBI to censor most of the 5,000 pages it recently “released” on the use of the Stingray technology to locate individuals’ cell phones.  Apparently, this is the exemption that the administration also used to keep the Office of Legal Counsel final opinions out of the public domain according to Mr. Blanton.

So, are we terribly shocked yet?

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