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On April 9, Politico published an odd piece about the revocation of a Foreign Service officer’s security clearance.
“A top aide to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Jennifer Davis, the de facto chief of staff to Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is a career Foreign Service officer who has worked at the State Department for 18 years, with previous postings in Colombia, Mexico and Turkey.”
The report says that the revocation came after a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Davis served a three year tour as Consul General in Istanbul, Turkey from August 2016 to August 2019.
“In that role, she had a conversation with a reporter, Amberin Zaman of the Middle Eastern-focused news outlet Al-Monitor, about the problem of local staff being hassled and detained by Turkish authorities, according to the person close to her.
Zaman reported at the time that the Turkish pressure campaign was likely to expedite U.S. government plans to use visa sanctions to block certain Turkish officials from visiting the U.S. and said that a list of such officials had been drafted, citing “sources close to the Donald Trump administration.” Not only did she speak to Zaman with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior, according to the person close to Davis, the information she shared was “not at all sensitive” and was declassified soon after their discussion.”
The report further states that Davis spoke to Zaman “with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior” citing a person close to Davis. And that the information Davis shared “was not at all sensitive” and it was reportedly declassified soon after the discussion occurred.
Security clearance revocations do not make news very often. The investigating office is often mum about the revocation and the subject of the security clearance investigation/revocation is often not able to talk about it. Unless they write about it. Or unless officials leaked it to the press, of course.
At least three people spoke to Politico: the “two people familiar with the matter” and “a person close to Davis who said that “Davis will “strongly contests the determination” and is “going to aggressively appeal this decision as quickly as possible.”
Nearly 1.4 million people hold “top secret” clearance. So why is the Davis case news? We do not know, as yet, who stands to gain by the public revelation of this revocation. But see, this is making us well, perplexed and very curious.
Let’s try and see a public timeline of what happened prior to the reported revocation.
October 2017: In the fall of 2017, Turkey arrested a local national working at the US Consulate General Istanbul.
- Oct 2017: Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”
- Oct 2017: U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee
- Oct 2017: U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey during the first two arrests of US Mission employees (one in Adana, one in Istanbul) was John Bass who served from October 2014 to October 2017. Prior to the conclusion of his tenure in Turkey, the US Mission suspended visa services, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey. Ambassador Bass issued a statement about the arrests of two veteran employees of the U.S. Government in Turkey.
October 2017 – Chief of Mission to Chargé d’Affaires in Turkey
Philip Kosnett assumed the duties of Chargé d’Affaires in October 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ assignment in Turkey. He began his assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey in July 2016. In July 2018, he was nominated by Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September 2018, and presented his credentials in Pristina in December 2018. That’s still his current assignment. Kosnett’s tenure as Chargé d’Affaires at US Mission Turkey was from October 2017 to on/around July 2018.
November 2017: Michael Evanoff was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security under the Trump Administration. He served in that capacity until his resignation in July 2020.
January 2018: A second local employe of U.S. Consulate General Istanbul was arrested.
On January 31, 2018, USCG Istanbul local employee Nazmi Mete Cantürk turned himself in to Turkish authorities and was placed under house arrest. It was previously reported that in 2017, his wife and child were detained Oct. 9 in the Black Sea province of Amasya for alleged links to the Gülen network. He was the third USG employee arrested by the Government of Turkey.
The two arrests in Istanbul followed a previous arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Adana in February 2017. Turkish authorities detained Hamza Uluçay, a 36-year veteran Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate on unsubstantiated terrorism charges.
February 2018: Journalist Amberin Zaman published an article via Al-Monitor.
On February 1, 2018, a day after a second Consulate employee was put under house arrest by the Turkish Government, Zaman published “Turkey resumes pressure on US Consulate staff” for Al-Monitor. This was the article that reportedly spurned the investigation. Excerpt below:
“Turkey has reneged on its pledge to not hound locally employed staff at US missions on its soil, with police interrogating a Turkish citizen working for the US Consulate in Istanbul yesterday, Al-Monitor has learned. The move could likely accelerate the US administration’s plans to apply targeted visa sanctions against Turkish officials deemed to be involved in the unlawful detentions of US Consulate staff, provided that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives final approval, sources close to the Donald Trump administration told Al-Monitor.”
March 2018: Rex Tillerson, the 69th Secretary of State was fired.
A few weeks after the publication of the Zaman article, Rex Tillerson was fired from the State Department and left Foggy Bottom for the last time on March 22, 2018. His inner circle staffers followed him to the exit by end of that month. Also see Trump Dumps Tillerson as 69th Secretary of State, to Appoint CIA’s Pompeo as 70th SoS.
April 2018: Michael Pompeo was sworn-in as 70th Secretary of State.
Pompeo’s pet project at State at the beginning of his tenure was the creation of “professional ethos.” There were rumors that the first drafts included language alluding to leaks, and to NDAs, but those apparently got killed somewhere along the way. (Also see Pompeo Unveils “New Professional Ethos” For @StateDept One Glorious Day, Touts “Enormous” Success). In 2017, while CIA director Pompeo said that the Trump administration is focused on stopping leaks of any kind from any agency and pursuing perpetrators. “I think we’ll have some successes both on the deterrence side — that is stopping them from happening — as well as on punishing those who we catch who have done it,” Pompeo said.
The Politico report says that the revocation came after a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Which means that the investigation must have been started sometime in 2018, potentially before Tillerson was fired or at the beginning of Pompeo’s tenure.
The reported classified information that the USG could use targeted visa sanctions against Turkish officials for hounding/harassment of local employees may have worked. There were no further arrest of local employees in Turkey as far as we are aware.
Davis is a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service. According to her official bio: a 2016 Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. National War College, where she received the George Kennan Award for Excellence in Strategic Writing. From 2012-2015, she served as the Executive Assistant to U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She also has served as the Deputy Political Counselor at Embassy Bogota, Acting Deputy Political Advisor and Political Officer at USNATO, Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Watch Officer in the State Operations Center, and Consular Officer and Special Assistant to the Ambassador in Mexico City. Before joining the Foreign Service, she was a corporate attorney specializing in media and banking law. She clerked for the Honorable Judge James C. Fox in the Eastern District of North Carolina. She has a B.A. with distinction and J.D. with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BCL (LL.M.) in international law from the University of Oxford in England.
Revocation of a security clearance has serious consequences. All FSO jobs require a TS clearance. If that’s revoked, an individual loses access to classified information, which in turn prevents the individual from doing his/her job and precludes an individual from “bidding” on a job/obtaining another FS assignment. There’s more. If a TS clearance is a condition of employment and the revocation of clearance becomes final, the Department could then proposed the separation of the employee for cause.
It is likely we won’t have additional details about this case unless it ends up in the grievance system or in court. But as readers inevitably would point out, leaks happen all the time. Whatever happened to Diplomatic Security’s investigation to the leak of two secret 2009 Eikenberry cables to NYT in 2010? Or the 2012 leak of Ambassador Crocker’s top-secret cable to Washington?
So. This begs the question why, doesn’t it? Why did this case become a three-year investigation which culminated in a security clearance revocation which has now been leaked to the public? What makes this a case of special attention? Given the information allegedly shared, the punishment seemed excessively harsh.
12 FAM 230 provides for an appeal on revocation cases. The appeal goes to the Security Appeals Panel which is comprised of the Under Secretary for Management, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Global Talent Management, and an Assistant Secretary or Deputy, or equivalent, from a third bureau designated by the Under Secretary for Management. The regs says that a representative from the Office of the Legal Adviser and a representative from DS will serve as non-voting advisors to the Appeals Panel. According to 2 FAM 234.3 updated in June last year, the panel’s decision shall be the final decision of the Department. But see 12 FAM Exhibit 230; there appears to be exceptions; we just don’t know how that works. (It looks like the SAP has the final word but revocation cases do end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board).
We should note that the Under Secretary for Management is currently encumbered by an official in an acting capacity. There’s no official actually appointed as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary position for the Bureau of Global Talent Management. The top ranks in the rest of the State Department are mostly still filled by officials in their acting capacity.
SCOOP: Jennifer Davis, the de facto chief of staff to U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked following a 3 year leak investigation, two people familiar with the matter told me. https://t.co/J2EtI2Jg9Y
— Daniel Lippman (@dlippman) April 9, 2021