US Embassy Kinshasa Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members of USG Employees

Posted: 3:47 pm ET
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On September 29, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It also announced the evacuation of family members of U.S. Government employees assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Below is an excerpt:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of continued instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The potential for civil unrest is high in parts of Kinshasa and other major cities.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, family members of U.S. government personnel have been ordered to leave the country beginning September 29.  Most official U.S. government travel to the DRC has been halted.  The U.S. Embassy is able to provide limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the DRC.  This replaces the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2016.

On September 19 and 20, violent clashes around the election process erupted between security forces and demonstrators, resulting in the loss of life and the destruction of property. Very poor transportation infrastructure throughout the country and poor security conditions make it difficult for the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services anywhere outside of Kinshasa. 

Armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces continue to operate in:

  • North Kivu
  • South Kivu
  • Bas-Uele
  • Haut-Uele
  • Ituri
  • Tanganyika
  • Haut-Lomami

These groups kill, rape, kidnap, pillage, steal vehicles, and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians can be indiscriminately targeted. Kidnapping for ransom is common, particularly in areas north and west of Goma, North Kivu. Congolese military and United Nations forces operate throughout North and South Kivu and near the DRC’s borders with the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, particularly in and around Garamba National Park. Travelers in the region may encounter troop movements, armored vehicles and attack helicopters.

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly trained security forces at official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings throughout the country, especially near government buildings and installations in Kinshasa. Be cautious if you are stopped by security forces. Requests for bribes are extremely common, and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refuse to pay. In the past year, several U.S. citizens have been illegally detained by government forces or robbed of their valuables while being searched.

Read in full here.

Plus this:

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Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

Posted: 7:01 pm ET

 

This is not a new case but we have not been aware of this case until we started digging around.  In 2009, a Policy Analyst with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked as a liaison to the State Department (the Agency).

According to EEOC records, in and around May 2009, the DHS employee (Complainant) was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was a State Department contractor. The incident took place in a State Department-leased apartment in Prague, Czech Republic. The EEOC decision dated June 16, 2011 notes that the accused individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency.

The complainant had to make several attempts to report the sexual assault. She was eventually directed to contact the EEO office at DHS, who took no action, and refused to take her case because the attacker was not a DHS employee. She was sent to the Violent Crimes Unit of Diplomatic Security, who investigated the case and referred it to DOJ for prosecution. DOJ took no action. A DS investigator advised her to contact State/OCR. She interacted with that office for 6-7 months but these “activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications” according to the EEOC.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Then State/OCR dismissed the case for failure to state a claim and untimely contact with an EEO counselor.

Sexual assault is a crime punishable by law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same.  Sexual assault describes the catch-all crime that encompasses unwanted sexual touching of many kinds, with links to state penal code and federal law on related crimes.  It includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts.

FindLaw notes that Federal law directs judges to examine a number of factors, including the defendant’s criminal history and his or her acceptance of responsibility, when setting a punishment. The federal law criminalizing sexual assault sets a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and also provides for fines. In addition, federal law provides that those convicted of sexual assault must compensate their victims for any expenses directly related to the crime. This can include costs for medical care, physical or occupational therapy, attorney’s fees, and other related expenses.

But first, you’ve got to investigate, charge the perpetrator and find him or her guilty.

The complainant here alleged that she was sexually assaulted in USG-leased housing, why did people send her to an Equal Employment Opportunity office for godsakes? Why did DOJ take no action? If there was probable cause for Diplomatic Security to refer this case to DOJ for prosecution, how did the contractor become a State Department employee? This incident happened in 2009, the victim did not get to file her case until a year later, and the EEOC did not make a decision until 2011. At some time during this lengthy process, the victim resigned from federal service. The unnamed alleged attacker may still be in the bureaucracy.

Sure, we could call this abysmal systems failure.

But just about every part of this process was deplorably bad. And the people who worked in the system made it so.

Excerpts below from the EEOC decision (we underlined some parts for emphasis):

Reporting sexual assault — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

In and around May 2009, Complainant was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was an Agency contractor.1 This individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency. The record does not indicate in what capacity he was employed or the date his employment began.

After making several attempts to report the sexual assault and being redirected to various components in DHS, Complainant was eventually directed to contact DHS’ EEO office, which she did on June 1, 2009. The record suggests that DHS engaged in limited EEO counseling, but took no action to process Complainant’s allegations as a potential EEO complaint.  Instead, approximately a week after her June 1 contact, DHS effectively dismissed Complainant from the EEO process, concluding that it could not entertain her issues because the alleged attacker was not its employee.  DHS then advised Complainant to contact the Agency, which she did on June 11, 2009.

Soon thereafter, a criminal investigation was initiated by the Violent Crimes Unit of the Agency’s Office of Diplomatic Security. Complainant was cautioned to refrain from discussing the May 10 incident until the investigation was complete. In October 2009, the Agency referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution upon finding probable cause to believe Complainant’s allegations were true. For reasons not reflected in the record, DOJ took no action.

On October 23, 2009, pursuant to the advice of the Violent Crimes Unit investigator, Complainant contacted the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). During the next six or seven months, she interacted with various OCR representatives whose activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications.  On May 24, 2010, Complainant filed a sparsely worded formal complaint which contained a single averment of discrimination relating to the sexual assault and several items of requested relief.

In a September 28, 2010 FAD, the Agency dismissed the May 24 complaint upon finding that it failed to state a claim and that Complainant failed to timely contact an EEO counselor.  The instant appeal followed. We note that Complainant is pro se.

Contentions on appeal

In a statement accompanying her appeal, Complainant argues that the chronology of relevant events belies the Agency’s finding that she was untimely in initiating EEO counseling. She also appears to raise questions regarding the trustworthiness of the FAD (final agency decision) by noting several errors of fact reflected in the Agency’s reasoning. The Agency filed no response.

EEOC reversed the State Department’s dismissal

The Agency does not dispute that the alleged assault occurred on May 10, 2009.  Nor does it dispute that Complainant first sought counseling on June 1, 2009 with DHS. The Agency’s finding that Complainant was untimely is premised on the apparent view that her DHS contact had no significance under subsection 105(a)(1). We conclude that it did. To rule otherwise would require the Commission to ignore the plain wording of the subsection, which provides only that aggrieved individuals contact “a” Counselor within the stated time. There is no requirement that the Counselor be from the agency that receives the complaint.3  In this case, Complainant logically initiated contact with a Counselor in the agency where she was employed.

It is self-evident that June 1, 2009 is within 45 days of May 10, 2009. We, therefore, find that Complainant’s counseling contact was timely and reverse the Agency’s dismissal on this ground.

Alleged perpetrator went from contractor to employee

The Commission’s regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1) authorizes an agency to dismiss a complaint that fails to state a claim that can be remedied through the EEO process.  In its FAD, the Agency concluded that Complainant failed to assert a remediable claim because neither she nor her alleged attacker was functioning in work status when the “event in question” occurred. The non-work status of Complainant and her alleged attacker, on May 10, 2009,  would likely be dispositive of this appeal were we to find that the “matter” in question, when the complaint was filed, was clearly confined to the alleged assault.4 Such a finding cannot be made, however, on the basis of the current record.

We are mindful, initially, that the counseling process was unduly erratic and prolonged in this case. Indeed, more than a year had elapsed before Complainant was provided the opportunity to file a formal complaint. Several events occurred, in the interim, which are potentially relevant to the sufficiency of her complaint.

For instance, by the time the complaint was filed, there had been a change in status of the individual the Agency believed had “probably” assaulted Complainant. He went from being an Agency contractor to an Agency employee. Although it is not clear whether, as a DHS “liaison” to the Agency, Complainant had (or would have)  been required to work with (or for) this individual, we find it significant that, at some point prior to filing the complaint, Complainant resigned from federal service. The record suggests that the resignation was under duress and may have related to a requirement that she refrain from discussing her ordeal.  See Complaint File, April 21, 2010 email from Complainant to named Agency official (“I don’t want to be forced to keep [the attacker’s] secret when I’m the one being hurt and losing.”)

At this juncture, we do not know how (if at all) Complainant’s employment may have been affected by the May 2009 incident. The record is wholly undeveloped in this regard. However, we can say that, if the Agency had directed Complainant to remain silent in order to protect the alleged attacker or facilitate his employment, it could hardly be found (as the Agency did) that the incident did not “involve” any term or condition of her employment. Without suggesting that the known facts in this case, by necessity, implicate a potential claim of “sexual harassment,” it is relevant to note that the Commission has recognized that harassment which occurs outside of work may state a claim when the effect of the off-duty incident creates an “intolerable influence on the employee’s working conditions.” Kokangul v. Department of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A61380 (July 6, 2006)

Deficient EEO processing — looking at you S/OCR

We make no finding with regard to the existence of a viable discrimination claim arising from the May 2009 incident. We merely find that deficiencies in processing, as well as the record, render it impossible to determine the full measure of the concerns Complainant sought to pursue through the EEO process.  The quality of the EEO counseling, provided by the Agency and DHS, left much to be desired in terms of ensuring the record would be adequate to assess the sufficiency of any formal complaint that Complainant might file.

Incomplete files

It is unclear, for example, why the Complaint File does not include the Violent Crime Unit’s report, given its obvious relevance to the matter that prompted Complainant to seek EEO counseling. Also inexplicably missing from the record is a “statement” Complainant apparently prepared during the course of the counseling process.6 The absence of this and other information renders the record insufficient to determine the nature of any claim Complainant may have sought to assert.

Should have – what, whose contractor?

Finally, we note that the Agency also relied on 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a) as a ground for dismissing the complaint, finding that Complainant should have filed it against DHS because the alleged attacker was a DHS contractor.7 This ground is also found to be without merit. There is nothing in the record that contradicts the statements made by Complainant and others that her attacker was a contractor (and later an employee) of the Agency—not DHS.

*

The complainant here would have been under chief of mission authority in Germany where she was assigned a tour of duty. We don’t know what would have been her status in the Czech Republic where the alleged attack took place. But the incident occurred in a State Department-leased apartment. So we expect that the State Department would have been the investigating authority.  This case happened in 2009 and decided by the EEOC in 2011.  This got us thinking on what procedure is in place for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We’ve spent the last several days trying to locate the Foreign Service Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook for the procedure in reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, but have been unsuccessful, so far. We were able to find 7 FAM 1940  REPORTING CRIME VICTIM CASES, but this section only apply to non-official, private Americans and the reporting covers only crimes reported to a consular officers abroad by victims, their families or by the host country government and which result in a consular officer or officers providing substantial assistance to the victim.

We’ve asked the State Department for its sexual assault regs and guidance; we’ve received a response but it deserves a separate post.

link

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Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

According to court filings, Josephine Chien is currently assigned as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) overseas. In early August, she filed a lawsuit against the U.S Department of State alleging race and sex discrimination under Title VII, hostile work environment & harassment, and retaliation.  The court filing says that Ms. Chien has been an employee of the U.S. Department of State since 1999. Since the case talks about her being denied tenure in 2012  and eventually obtaining tenure in 2013, we suspect that 1999 is an incorrect year.

Excerpts below from the court filing:

Josephine Chien by and through her undersigned counsel bring this action for race discrimination under Section 1981 and Title VII; a hostile work environment under Title VII and retaliation under Section 1981 and Title VII against the Defendant John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, for the U.S Department of State. Chien has been an employee of the State Department since 1999. She is an Asian female of Taiwanese-American descent. In 2011, during her assignment in Libya, her supervisors assigned tasks to her in a discriminatory manner, whereby certain tasks were given to males as opposed to females. This again occurred in 2012 during her tour in Pakistan. In late 2012 and mid 2013, when after again complaining about discriminatory behavior, she was again retaliated against when she was not selected for foreign assignments.

March 2010-January 2011 deployment in Los Angeles

In March 2010, she was employed at the Los Angeles (L.A) satellite office in West L.A. Her supervisor was Michael Lodi. Lodi would frequently communicate with her disparagingly shouting and screaming at her. Chien found this demoralizing as Lodi would not communicate in this manner with other non-Asian members of the staff or male members of the staff. Her colleague and special agent Bret Newton (Caucasian male) told her that he was aware of the prejudice from Lodi and encouraged her to file a complaint against Lodi. Her colleague and special agent John Ming Chen, also observed Lodi’s demeaning treatment of Chien and that Lodi was unprofessional towards Chien.

Lodi also refused all training requests and overseas assignments to Chien. Chien had asked Lodi for hardship assignments to Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be told that because she was the duty agent, she could not be assigned overseas.

Consequently sometime in November 2010, Chien approached assistant special agent in charge Whitney Savageau seeking a transfer to the L.A Field Office1. Around December 1, 2010, Chien also had a meeting with Savageau whereby she stated her concerns about Lodi, in that he was treating her differently and discriminating against her. Chien also informed Savageau that Lodi had denied her training and assignments. Chien told Savageau to keep the matter private and also told her specifically to not inform Lodi of her discussions with her (Savageau). Savageau told Chien to discuss her concerns with Chief Jeff Lefter. Chien did so on the same day or on December 1, 2010. She again reiterated her conversations with Savageau with Lefter

Barely 24 hours later or on December 2, 2010, Lodi had a meeting with Chien. Lodi informed Chien that Savageau had a conversation with him about her complaint. Lodi told Chien that “it was not a smart move as I am still writing your evaluation.” He then proceeded to engage in a monologue whereby Lodi informed Chien that she “should know how the system works” and that her transfer sought to the L.A. Field office would “poison the office.”

Upon the conclusion of the conversation, Chien immediately contacted Lefter by email. She again asked for a transfer, and told Lefter that she felt that Lodi had threatened her by saying that “I am still writing your evaluation.” Lefter contacted Chien by telephone and told her that he will speak with Savageau about Lodi.

Chien then contacted the “Human Resources Career Development and Assignments” and sought advise and transfer. She was finally transferred in January 2011.

In the interim, and true to form, post December 2, 2010, or sometime on June 3, 20112, Lodi gave Chien a negative performance evaluation, accusing her of lacking in communication and interpersonal skills. There were no facts to corroborate these allegations. This negative evaluation prevented Chien from being granted tenure within the Agency.

The tenure board in turn, denied her tenure in 2012, citing to Lodi’s comments regarding her lack of interpersonal and communication skills.

In March 2013, Chien challenged/appealed this evaluation by Lodi. Her challenge was successful and in July 2013, Lodi’s 2011 evaluation of Chien was overturned. She was granted tenure soon after. (Note: we’re trying to locate the FSGB case).

Libya Assignment March – May 2011

Around May 2011, Chien was now assigned to the U.S Embassy in Libya. She was part of the protective detail to the Special Envoy to Libya, Chris Stevens. She was employed at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) answering telephones, monitoring traffic and issuing equipment to other TOC agents on the ground.

Upon her arrival, Chien was told that all agents initially served at TOC, and after a few weeks, they would be sent to the field. All the other TOC agents in Libya were male.

After two (2) weeks of her arrival in March 2011, she asked her shift leader if she could be sent to the field, as part of the security detail for a motorcade. She was told by her supervisor, that she would remain as a TOC agent, and that there were no plans to rotate her.

Consequently sometime in March/April 2011, Chien asks the Agent in Charge, Scott Moretti that she be assigned to a field position. Moretti says, “We don’t do rotations.” Barely an hour later, Agent Joel Ortez asked Moretti, if he can be rotated from a limousine driver to another position, because Ortez had been a limousine driver for weeks and needed a new rotation/assignment. Moretti’s immediate reply to Ortez was, “Sure Buddy!”

Soonafter, Chein also learned from Mr. Khamprasong Bounkong, that when management had learned a female agent was being assigned to Libya, one of the bosses said, “Why would they send a female from headquarters to a Muslim country?”

Chien was deeply displeased by the Agency’s discriminatory assignments of tasks to male agents, as she had undergone similar firearms training, emergency and critical thinking training. She felt that the only reason she was being denied rotation to the field, was because she was a female. This was made all the more concerning to her, when as part of her single “protective detail” she was awarded a “Group Meritorious Award” for a bombing occurring on June 1, 2011.
[…]
Finally on or about August 12, 2013, after bidding on 18 overseas NOW positions and being denied for all of them, her supervisor Mr. Ollie Ellison informed Chien that he was informed by Mr. Kearns, Chien was being denied for foreign assignments because “it has to do with something out of L.A.”

February 2012-March 2013: Pakistan Assignment

As the ARSO and under the direction of Krajicek she oversaw the Surveillance Detection Program3, the Local Guard Force (LGF) Residential Program, the Residential Security Program (RSP), the Logistics / Procurement Program, and the Information / Cyber Security Program.

Chien alleges that the removal of her programs was motivated by racial or sexual animus, as the programs of other Caucasian males were not removed by either Krajicke or Thiede.

Upon her return from Pakistan to the United States, or sometime in March/April 2013, Chien learned from her colleagues George Terterian & Alexa Landreville, that the security investigators had asked them if Chien had ever complained about work place harassment, a hostile work environment, discrimination or retaliation. Chien believes that this extra scrutiny during her January 2013 clearance interview was a result of her prior EEO activities and therefore in retaliation to her protected activities.

Under Count II, the complaint says that “Defendant created a hostile work environment and/or harassed Plaintiff because of her race and sex; the offending conduct was unwelcome, was based on race and/or sex and was sufficiently severe or pervasive when it altered the conditions of her employment and created an abusive work environment and was imputable to her employer the U.S. Department of State.”

Under Count III, the complaint alleged that “As a result of her protected activity and opposition to practices made unlawful under Title VII, Plaintiff was subjected to multiple adverse employment actions, up to and including a negative performance evaluation, denial of tenure, over-scrutinization of her security clearance and/or denial of foreign assignments.”

Ms. Chien demands a jury trial and requests that the Court award economic damages.

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Related posts:

 

OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET

 

The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

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HOGR Democrats Invoke 1928 Statute Then Release in Full Colin Powell’s Email Tips to #HillaryClinton

Posted: 1:45 am ET

 

Remember when former Secretary of State Colin Powell said this:

On September 7, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR), publicly released an email exchange between former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009 on the use of blackberry and personal email. The bit about official records is going to drive FOIA advocate nuts.

According to Cummings’ press release, he obtained the email exchange between Secretary Powell and Secretary Clinton through a unique statutory provision known as the “Seven Member Rule” in which any seven members of the Oversight Committee may obtain federal records from federal agencies.

The Seven Member Rule is unique authority passed by Congress and signed by the President in 1928 that requires any executive agency to “submit any information requested of it relating to any matter within the jurisdiction of the committee” when requested by seven members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Members requested the Powell-Clinton emails by September 6, 2016. Two emails were produced by the State Department to the House Oversight Committee on September 6, 2016, and clearly marked “NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE.”  But of course, it was publicly released in full on September 7, 2016 with only one redaction; presumably, Secretary Powell’s AOL email address.

 

Read directly via the House Oversight Committee here (PDF).

 

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@StateDept: Attack Not Specific Targeting of Americans Diplomats, #SouthSudan Guards “A Little Trigger-Happy”

Posted: 12:03 am ET

 

We blogged about FP’s piece on the targeting last July of American diplomats in Juba, South Sudan (see #SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba). On September 7, the State Department was asked about this incident during the Daily Press Briefing.  The Department’s assessment, according to the deputy spox is that “the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces” and did not specifically target American diplomats. The presidential guards who opened fire at the embassy convoy,  those soldiers were just “a little trigger-happy.”

The State Department says that its “concern” about the FP article was that “it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles.” In the spox words, “And again  — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.”

The spox also indicated in the DPB that there is reportedly an ongoing South Sudan investigation, and that Diplomatic Security is also conducting its after-action review of the incident but that ” they’re still looking at other details.” The spox says that in light of this incident, the State Department has made modifications to its security posture such as adjusting its curfew and the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in Juba. The South Sudan Travel Warning dated July 10, three days after this security incident does not include any detail about curfews.

Below is the DPB segment on South Sudan, September 7:

QUESTION: Do you have a response to reports that seven American diplomats traveling in a convoy in Juba, South Sudan, were fired on by government troops? This was – apparently happened on July 7th —

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: — just days before that brutal attack on the hotel, the westerners at the hotel there.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And that in this shooting on the convoy, one of the cars was disabled and had to be essentially rescued by a Marine reaction force. What happened there?

MR TONER: Sure. So – and John Kirby spoke to this in the immediate days after the – this incident, and I would just reiterate from the top our condemnation of this attack on what was a U.S. embassy convoy by South Sudanese Government troops. I can walk you through the events as we understand them to have happened, but I can say that we do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted in the attack. It’s our assessment that the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces, and we have demanded that the Government of South Sudan investigate this incident and punish and hold accountable those responsible for it.

But just to walk you through the events, again, as we understand them: So on the evening of July 7th, I think at around 2100 local time, two embassy vehicles were returning to the residential compound and passed, as part of their route, the presidential palace. About an hour earlier, forces that were loyal to the government – or rather, to Machar, rather – had clashed with forces loyal to President Kiir. And government troops stationed near the presidential compound, to put it mildly, were very tense. So the two embassy vehicles approached the soldiers on the road outside the presidential palace. When they moved toward the vehicle – they, the troops, moved toward the vehicles and tried to open their doors – the vehicles, the embassy vehicles appropriately, we believe, began to speed away from the scene. And at that time, the soldiers opened fire. Fortunately, the vehicles were armored and no one was injured. And the next day, July 8th, Ambassador Phee met with President Kiir and demanded that the government carry out a full investigation of the incident and hold those responsible for the incident accountable for their actions. President Kiir, it’s worth noting, did make clear that U.S. embassies were – embassy vehicles were not specifically targeted, and he vowed at that point in time to stand up a committee to investigate the incident.

Now, I don’t have anything to read out to you in terms of what that committee may have found or may be investigating or what the deadline is for them to reach an end to the investigation.

QUESTION: And you’re not saying that the – that the troops didn’t know who they were firing on. It was clear they knew they were firing on Americans. You’re just saying you don’t believe it was ordered by —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is just —

QUESTION: — Kiir to shoot American —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is we don’t believe that they necessarily knew. I mean, there were some – and I – we know —

QUESTION: Why do you not – why do you think that? I mean, it —

MR TONER: It’s just in our assessment. I mean, this is not something that we —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what is that based on? Because it would seem if they got close enough to try to open the doors that they would probably know who they were dealing with at that point.

MR TONER: Well, first of all, the windows were tinted as they often are in these kind of – in these vehicles.

QUESTION: And marked with American flags likely as well?

MR TONER: A very small laminated flag, and it’s not clear whether they would have even recognized the plates. I know that’s another thing that the story states.

Look, all I can do is offer our assessment of the situation. We’re not forgiving it and we’re certainly not overlooking it or saying, “Hey, not your bad. It was your” – look, we’re talking about here is the fact that they opened fire on an embassy convoy, and that is inexcusable. But what we believe were the factors of the environment around that was that they – there had been an altercation, fighting in the run-up to this convoy passing, and that they were very tense, and if I could say it, a little trigger-happy.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: So your investigation concluded that these soldiers made a mistake. Did the investigation conclude anything about the advisability of driving through a republican — presidential palace checkpoint?

MR TONER: So we did – we did and conducted, as you note, an internal investigation, and that – an after-action review is in progress, but we have modified our procedures around the travel of convoys of our personnel.

QUESTION: Because it was a mistake to drive in between two opposing forces within an hour of a clash.

MR TONER: That’s – clearly, that’s – we have made modifications to our security posture.

QUESTION: What – what have you changed?

MR TONER: Well, we, for one thing, adjusted our curfew and we also adjusted the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in light of the event, and obviously, in light of subsequent violence in Juba.

QUESTION: So it’s an earlier curfew now?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yeah.

QUESTION: And how are the rules for the movement of embassy been changed?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just can’t. I mean, that’s talking about our security posture, which we don’t do.

QUESTION: Why was it appropriate for them – this was a checkpoint, correct?

MR TONER: Not 100 percent sure. I – my understanding is that they passed in front of the presidential palace. Obviously, there were forces out there. I don’t know that it was a formal checkpoint.

QUESTION: Okay. And why was it appropriate for them not to open the doors?

MR TONER: Because they believed that – their assessment was that these forces were, again, trigger-happy, or shall we say – I’ll put it more diplomatically and say tense, and they felt threatened, clearly. And one of the standard procedures is if you feel threatened is to get the heck out of dodge.

QUESTION: So you stated that an after-action review is still in progress?

MR TONER: This is within – yeah, this is – so we’ve – so two points here. One, we’ve asked the government, obviously, to carry out a full and complete investigation. That, I believe, is still ongoing. I may be wrong there, but I don’t have anything here in front of me that says that it’s been concluded. But we also, as we would in any case like this, conducted our internal review.

QUESTION: And is that still in progress?

MR TONER: That’s in progress, but I was able to say out of that review we have obviously, and frankly immediately, adjusted curfew times and other —

QUESTION: And no other people in the convoy were physically hurt, but obviously it’s a very stressful —

MR TONER: Indeed.

QUESTION: — night for them.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has anyone been evacuated from station? Has anyone received counseling?

MR TONER: We did – and we’ve talked about this before. I believe we’re on authorized departure from Juba. I believe that’s correct.

QUESTION: But do you know if any of the seven people involved in this have left?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether they’ve left or not.

QUESTION: Who or what entity is conducting the State Department’s after-action review?

MR TONER: That would be Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And from your account provided here at this briefing today, if I understand it correctly, you really cannot determine how much knowledge the presidential guard members had of who exactly was in this car. You really can’t make a determination whether they knew that there were Americans in this car or not, correct?

MR TONER: Again, I think I said we do not believe that, and I said we assess that the attack was connected more to a breakdown in command and control and not to a specific targeting. But I can’t categorically say one or – that it wasn’t.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: But you – so you can’t rule it out?

MR TONER: I can’t – yeah, as I was saying, as I – I qualified it. I said it is our assessment that —

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have – is in there about roughly how long this incident – the duration of this incident? How long did it last?

MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: But it does —

QUESTION: Can you confirm that three separate presidential guard units opened fire on the two cars?

MR TONER: I cannot. I’ll try to get – see if I can get more details about the duration and the number of —

QUESTION: It didn’t – this was quite quick. It didn’t happen over a course of hours.

MR TONER: Exactly. No, no, that I can —

QUESTION: This was something that – like, less than —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — less than several minutes? I mean —

MR TONER: I’d say, yes, within the realm of several minutes to 10 minutes. I have no idea. I can’t put a specific time to it, duration.

QUESTION: So this happened almost exactly two months ago. How long does it take to investigate or to look into a 10-minute – let’s just assume it’s 10 minutes – incident?

MR TONER: Are you talking the —

QUESTION: Both.

MR TONER: — government’s or the – look, I mean, I —

QUESTION: And are you pushing the South Sudanese Government to —

MR TONER: Yes, we are. Yes, we are. I mean, as I said, Ambassador Phee immediately the next day went to the president and demanded an investigation and we’ve been following up on that.

QUESTION: But that was July 8th.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: It is now September 7th.

MR TONER: I understand. And with regard to —

QUESTION: What’s the temperature, Matt.

MR TONER: With regard to – (laughter) —

QUESTION: In South Sudan? Hot.

MR TONER: With regard to our own internal investigation, clearly we made adjustments, immediate adjustments, to our security posture in light of that attack. But I think they’re still looking at other details.

QUESTION: You stated —

QUESTION: Any personnel involved being disciplined – U.S. personnel?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: You stated that at least one of these cars was struck by fire but fortunately was —

MR TONER: Armored.

QUESTION: — armor-protected. To your knowledge, has Diplomatic Security, as part of its after-action review, or any other U.S. personnel, made a physical inspection of these vehicles?

MR TONER: I would imagine, but I don’t – I can’t confirm that. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And the personnel – the U.S. personnel, presumably they have been interviewed as part of this after-action review, correct?

MR TONER: That would be – that would be expected, yes.

QUESTION: And that interview process took place overseas or here in Washington?

MR TONER: I don’t know. It could be either. It could be both. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And did anyone decline to cooperate with the after-action review?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak to that either.

QUESTION: It was James Donegan in the car, correct? And the car was disabled and had to be rescued by a Marine force. Is that all correct?

MR TONER: So there is – yes, so that’s an important – and I apologize I didn’t – so there was a small embassy security team basically that traveled to the vehicle and was able to recover our personnel. This happened when the vehicle was no longer under fire and there were no longer hostile forces present, when the team arrived.

QUESTION: Did any U.S. personnel discharge their firearms?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And you don’t really have any problems with how the – Foreign Policy wrote this timeline of events, right?

MR TONER: I think our concern was that it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles. And again —

QUESTION: Right, which – yeah.

MR TONER: — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.

QUESTION: So you’re making excuses, but it doesn’t excuse —

MR TONER: We good? Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have some preferred outcome for the South Sudanese investigation? Do you want to see people disciplined? Is that the —

MR TONER: Yes, unequivocally.

QUESTION: What would you think would be an appropriate discipline?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, that’s something for the South Sudanese Government to speak about, but this was clearly a serious incident that, to put it mildly, put at risk the lives of American diplomats and American citizens. So we take it very seriously and we want to see the appropriate people held accountable.

 

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#SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba

Posted: 3:22 am ET

 

On August 17, we blogged about South Sudan troops targeting Americans in the country. (see Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid). On July 8,2016, CNN citing State Department officials reported that shots were fired at U.S. embassy vehicles on July 7 and personnel at the embassy were briefly ordered to shelter in place after gunfire and explosions rocked the capital of Juba, including near the Presidential Palace. At that time, the official spox told CNN, “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted and have no indication that the security forces were instructed to fire on our vehicles. However, we condemn this attack on U.S. embassy personnel.” 

The July 7 attack described in detail below preceded the assaults and rapes that occurred in the Terrain compound on July 11 but did not become front page news until mid-August. A State Department official told FP that “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted.”  The report, however, notes that “the front windshields of the two armored SUVs held laminated cards emblazoned with the American flag. In plain sight were diplomatic license plates with the number 11, a well-known calling card in Juba that proclaims the world’s reigning superpower is passing through town.”

Via FP’s Colum Lynch:

State Department officials provided Foreign Policy with conflicting accounts of whether the department had conducted a formal investigation into the incident, with one official saying it hadn’t, and another saying it had carried out some form of investigation. But both officials said they have demanded South Sudan carry out an investigation and hold those responsible to account. The State Department has also downplayed the role of the South Sudanese in targeting U.S. diplomats, saying there was no way to know whether Kiir’s presidential guard knew who they were shooting at.

“We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted,” a State Department official told FP. “I think we can speak with certainty the people in the convoy did not identify themselves necessarily to the soldiers or say that it was an American convoy.”
[…]
Anxious that Juba was set to explode, Molly Phee, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, phoned Donegan [note: Jim Donegan, post’s DCM] and six other American diplomats at the restaurant and ordered them to cut short a farewell dinner for a colleague over beer and Indian food. The Americans’ two armored SUVs were passing by the palace when more than half a dozen presidential guards stationed at a checkpoint pulled them to the side of the road. Brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, they yelled at the Americans in a mix of Arabic and Dinka, South Sudan’s main indigenous language. At one point, the soldiers tried to force one of the car doors open, prompting the South Sudanese driver in the lead vehicle to floor it.

The second car followed as the guards opened fire from behind at both vehicles, forcing Donegan’s car to swerve into a parked car, which happened to be owned by a senior South Sudanese national security official. The trail car whizzed past, sideswiping Donegan’s vehicle as it barreled down the main thoroughfare before turning onto CPA Road — named after the U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement — and racing back to the U.S. Embassy. A second group of more than half a dozen South Sudanese troops, dressed in government military uniforms, unleashed a barrage of fire at the Americans. A third cluster of armed soldiers farther along the escape route sprayed the speeding American vehicles.

But Donegan’s vehicle had been badly crippled, temporarily stalling as South Sudanese soldiers fired into its tinted windows. The driver got the car restarted but could only hobble down the road, since two tires had blown out. They made the turn at CPA Road before coming to a second and final stop, fortunately out of sight of their would-be assailants. Donegan and his colleagues waited on the suddenly quiet road for 10 to 15 minutes, before the Marines arrived and brought them back to the embassy.

Read more below:

12 FAM 030 says that the Accountability Review Board process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.”  This is a security-related incident but as far as we are aware, no ARB has been convened.  The FAM also says that “a Board will be convened for the express purpose of investigating only that incident or those incidents specified by the Secretary.”  No announcement has been made that indicates Secretary Kerry has asked for an investigation of this incident.

An OIG review from 2013 warned that the current facility in Juba puts embassy employees at risk.  Correct us if we’re wrong on this, but we think this is the same facility occupied by the embassy to-date.  Couple a deficient facility with a host country unable to control its troops and where presidential guards have now opened fire at embassy vehicles, and you’ve got a security nightmare in the making. If that’s not enough to give you pause, scroll through the comments on Embassy Juba’s Facebook page; you might learn something about how the United States is perceived in a country that it helped gain independence in 2011.

 

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@StateDept Honors DSS Agents For Heroism in the Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 3:41 am ET

 

 

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Photo of the Day: The Room Numbers on His Arm

U.S. Embassy Bamako: Family Members on ‘Authorized Departure’ From Mali. Again.

US Embassy Mali Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

 

 

 

Another Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment

Posted: 3:42 am ET

 

We received the following via email from “Another Concerned DS Agent” in response to our post: PDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?:

After DSS* Director Bill Miller felt the need on Friday afternoon to defend the agency in a DS Broadcast message against your post titled, “Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide”, I decided I had seen enough when it came to empty lip service within the department, and specifically DS.

Director Miller’s DS Broadcast reiterated Department policy and stated “as a law enforcement organization, we are held to the highest standard of ethical conduct.” While I commend Director Miller for sending these words, this is not something that actually happens on a day-to-day basis within both State, and specifically DS. Director Miller either doesn’t know what happens within his own bureau or turns a blind eye – like much of DS leadership. The anonymous female agent hit the nail on the head – complaining leads to career suicide!

Last year I watched as a colleague of mine blew the whistle on a hostile work environment and a bullying supervisor. Numerous previous supervisors of the bully supervisor were aware of the bullying actions (which included screaming at subordinate employees and threatening them with written reprimands) and none of them did anything about it – they just passed the problem on to the next guy. And when the highest ranking person in the office refused to deal with my colleague’s issue, it was elevated to the Office Director. When the Office Director refused to deal with the issue, it was elevated to the DAS level. And what was the DAS’ resolution? Reassigning the whistleblower! What kind of message does that send to employees?

I commend the anonymous female agent’s courage for speaking up, as whistleblower retaliation — for any offense, sexual or otherwise — is a real problem within the Department. And so long as OSI** is the only recourse we have (since State OIG refuses to investigate employee misconduct) employees are left without protection.

 

*DSS stands for Diplomatic Security Service.  OSI** stands for the Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations, apparently also known sometimes as Professional Responsibility (PR) or the Special Investigation Division (SID).  Within Diplomatic Security, it is the  primary office that investigates employee misconduct. A separate source informed us there is a concern out there about conflicts of interest. OSI reports internally to the bureau which results in something like this: State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts. OSI employees also rotate/bid/lobby for future assignments like the rest of the Foreign Service. For more on this, read State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall.

As to the OIG — the OIG’s latest semi-annual report to the Congress indicates that 9% of the cases it closed between 10/1/2015–3/31/2016 were categorized as employee misconduct. So we know that State/OIG investigates employee misconduct. However, an overwhelming majority of cases it closed are related to contract and procurement fraud which constitutes 50% of the cases.  We don’t know what happens if somebody brings in an allegation of sexual harassment to the Inspector General, so we asked.

If somebody from DS complains to OIG about sexual harassment, what is the OIG’s response? Does it hand off the case to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) or back to Diplomatic Security (DS), or to the Director General/Human Resources (DGHR)?
We also wanted to know if there’s an instance when OIG would take on a sexual harassment complaint for further investigation? And if not, would it make a difference if there are multiple allegations?

 

Here is the OIG’s full response to our questions:

 

The OIG takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously. As a general matter, OIG refers allegations of sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity, and/or potential hostile work environment to the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR), consistent with the FAM. However if such matters appear systemic, then OIG may investigate. Indeed, in its report “Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security” (ESP-15-01) OIG examined the case of a Diplomatic Security manager with a long history of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations dating back 10 years.

Additionally, Department employees who believe they have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation may contact OIG or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OIG can help the individual in understanding their rights and may investigate the retaliation, as well as alert the Department to any illegal reprisal.

 

The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) . Which can’t be bothered to answer a simple question. Ugh! The OIG’s Whistleblower Protection page is here.  Click here for the OIG Hotline.  The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is here.

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Related posts:

 

 

PDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?

Posted: 4:41 am ET
Updated: 7:52 pm PST (see comments)

 

Last week, we blogged about what happened at an Security Overseas Seminar and a couple of online comments at InHerSight.com (see A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue. Previously, we also posted about a controversial case State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts.

We asked the State Department about specific training for agents and bureau personnel concerning sexual harassment. We were told the following by a State Department official on background on July 29.  We held off posting it for a follow-up post. We are posting it here now since it was cited by a DSS internal message last Friday.

The Department has a zero tolerance policy for any behavior that diminishes inclusiveness in the workplace. Working to ensure the safety and security of our personnel overseas, including from sexual assault, is one of the Department’s top priorities. 

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious issues that affect both men and women in the U.S. and abroad. Diplomatic Security is committed to preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault, and condemns any comment that trivializes these activities or their impact on victims.

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the State Department. Agents receive recurring training on equal opportunity, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career.

During both the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO In-Service courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

On August 18, we posted an unsolicited item from our mailbox: Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees.   The message reproduced below in its entirety was disseminated internally to DS personnel late Friday afternoon:

Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau. 

In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity. 

Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day.  It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees. 

As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims. 

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department.  DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career. 

During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.

Every organization can do better, and we will continue our efforts to make sure sexual harassment is addressed in any and all forms. 

DS personnel need to rely on each other, and have trust in each other, to succeed in our mission.

We are pleased to see PDAS Miller’s message to the troops.  In a good number of cases, bureaus do not even bother to respond.  That said,  there’s one thing missing here that we have to point out.  The internal message says that “Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously” and that PDAS Miller is “disappointed and disturbed”  that anyone in the organization “would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.”  And that “It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.”  Butthat extreme seriousness is negated by the absence of solid actions that could help abate the stigma of reporting such conducts or help mitigate adverse career consequences.

If female agents/employees are not reporting harassment because they’re afraid that doing so would be career suicide, what should be done about it? Telling folks that “it is unacceptable” is not the answer.

Every organization can do better. We agree. We’d like to hear how before this becomes Palmerized.

 

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