State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims

 

We recently posted about State/CSO DAS Mina Chang following an NBC News investigation (see Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?). NBC News reported on November 18 that Ms. Change has resigned from the State Department “two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.”

Senior Trump administration official Mina Chang resigned from her job at the State Department two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.

NBC News had previously reported that Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, had embellished her resume with misleading claims about her educational achievements and the scope of her non-profit’s work — even posting a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it.

“It is essential that my resignation be seen as a protest and not as surrender because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country,” Chang wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Indeed, I intend to fight for those things as a citizen in the days and years to come.”

Chang said she had been “unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise.”
[…[
The newly discovered false claims include misrepresenting a trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission, listing an academic who says he never worked for her nonprofit as an employee, claiming a nonexistent degree from the University of Hawaii, inflating an award and claiming to be an “ambassador” for the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO.

Her bio page at state.gov now display a “We apologize for the inconvenience…” page.
We still want to know how she got to Foggy Bottom. That has implications not just with the vetting process but also Diplomatic Security’s security clearance process.

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Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

 

As far as we know, no one starts a job at the State Department without a security clearance. Diplomatic spouses working security escort or mailroom jobs are not even allowed to start work without a security clearance or an interim clearance.
So when NBC News Investigation reported that a senior political appointee at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations — a deputy assistant secretary (she’s one of the top three senior bureau officials)  made false claims and exaggerations, we were wondering what this means to the thoroughness of the background investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security? Were the adjudicators aware of these issues prior to the issuance of the clearance? If not, why not? If yes, well, what in guacamole’s name happened here?

A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background — even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it — raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department.

An NBC News investigation found that Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her educational achievements and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit’s work.

Whatever her qualifications, Chang had a key connection in the Trump administration. Brian Bulatao, a top figure in the State Department and longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended a fundraiser for her nonprofit in Dallas and once donated $5,500 to her charity, according to a former colleague of Chang’s.

As of this writing, her biography is still up on state.gov. Her Twitter account appears to have disappeared but her Instagram account is still online. Back in July 2019, she was also rumored to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, a report that was officially denied by US Embassy Manila.
The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS headed by Director Todd J. Brown), an office which resides under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (headed by Michael T. Evanoff), under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Management (headed by Brian Bulatao), conducts personnel security background investigations for the Department of State and other federal agencies. After determining the candidate’s national security eligibility, DSS contacts the appropriate hiring authority.
According to Diplomatic Security, the national security eligibility determinations take into account a person’s:
  • Stability
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability
  • Discretion
  • Character
  • Honesty
  • Judgment
  • Unquestionable loyalty to the U.S.
The organization she once served as CEO, Linking The World, has now posted a lengthy message on its website primarily defending its former CEO. It claims that “Mina has undergone 4 independent agency reviews, including the FBI, and ultimately garnered both Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances.”
Item #8 says:

Mina obtained her position at the State Department on her own merit, at no time was Brian Bulatao part of her nomination / recruitment / review process.  An auction bid from 2015, is a despicable example of correlation with no foundation.  Anyone who reads her online articles would know that she has both supported and been critical of the current administration.  

Career diplomat George Kent who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) in the European and Eurasian Bureau and testified on Wednesday at the Impeachment Hearings — now, he obtained his position as a DAS at the State Department on his own merit.
A political appointee gets  a job through a political connection. Ms. Chang is a political appointee; are we to understand that she got her job on her own merit by knocking on Foggy Bottom’s door?  Or did she apply through USAjobs.gov? Should be interesting to know how she got to Foggy Bottom.
According to Linking the World, Ms. Chang’s nomination was also “not withdrawn by the Administration of anyone other than herself.”

“Mina’s nomination was not withdrawn by the Administration, or anyone other than herself.  Simply, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been rather busy with other activities and all nominees were subject to extensive delays.  Mina loves her position at State and decided to withdraw herself from the process to focus on stabilization operations.  Again, anyone who reviewed her recent past, with work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia, would know that this decision makes absolute sense.

This is, of course, contrary to reporting and public records that indicate the nomination was withdrawn by the President.  Ms. Chang was nominated in 2018 to be Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Jonathan Nicholas Stivers (see PN2528).  On January 03, 2019 the nomination was  “Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.” The renomination was received by the Senate on January 16, 2019 (see PN115). On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Senate “Received message of withdrawal of nomination from the President.”
Deputy assistant secretaries do not require Senate confirmations. Appointments are typically not publicly announced.
So, now we’re left wondering if this case is an exception, or if there are any more cases like this in Foggy Bottom?

Pompeo Talks About the Only Two Active FSOs in Foggy Bottom’s Top Ranks, Yay!

 

The 70th Secretary of State talks about the only two active FSOs in Foggy Bottom’s senior ranks: the Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale and the Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez  Mr. Pompeo has so much respect for the career service that there are no active FSOs in the geographic and functional bureaus of the State Department.

Via state.gov:

QUESTION:  Last question on these hearings, Mr. Secretary:  A couple of news outlets have attempted to create a narrative that you are at cross purposes with career staff and morale is low at the State Department.  I know morale at the State Department because my son works there.  I always disclose that when I talk to you.  But your support for the career staff has never been in doubt in my mind.  What do you make of these stories?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  More Washington insider-y stuff, a long history of the press reporting about unhappiness at the State Department, especially, frankly, in Republican administrations.  The truth of the matter is my team, my senior team, which includes folks like David Hale and Carol Perez, very capable senior Foreign Service officers, are doing good work investing in the future of the institution, investing in our diplomacy, working hard to deliver good outcomes for the American people.  I’ll leave it to others to characterize morale.  It’s a big organization.  I’m sure there’s lots of different thoughts, but suffice it to say the American people should be comfortable knowing that we are continuing to do the hard work to deliver good policy outcomes for President Trump and the United States.

 

USDOJ: Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

 

Via USDOJ:

Armenian Citizen Pleads Guilty for His Role in For-Profit U.S. Visa Fraud Scheme

A man residing in Glendale, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to unlawfully bring in aliens and visa fraud for his role in a multi-year visa fraud scheme that brought Armenian citizens into the United States for profit.

Hrachya Atoyan, 32, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara in the Eastern District of New York.  Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie.  According to the indictment, Atoyan allegedly participated in a transnational network of co-conspirators who engaged in a widespread visa fraud scheme to bring Armenian citizens into the United States by fraudulently claiming to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the Armenians were members of performance groups, and thus qualified for P-3 “Culturally Unique Artist” visas.

“Exploiting the P-3 non-immigrant visa classification system for culturally unique artist and entertainers makes a mockery out of the legitimate performers for whom that visa was intended,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “We will work hand in hand with our law enforcement partners to rid the system of fraudsters, like Mr. Atoyan and his co-conspirators, who seek to take advantage of and profit from our immigration system.”

“Atoyan’s guilty plea brings down the curtain on an elaborate visa fraud scheme to falsely portray applicants as artists and entertainers in order to circumvent our country’s P-3 visa program,” said U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York.

“The Diplomatic Security Service builds strong teams overseas and in the United States to protect the integrity of all U.S. visas and travel documents – especially those, like the P-3 visa, which allow for entertainers to visit the United States to perform in culturally unique events and deepen our understanding of different cultures,” said Todd J. Brown, Director of the Diplomatic Security Service.  “DSS values our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies around the world to prevent and jointly combat U.S. passport and visa fraud. Deterring, detecting, and investigating U.S. passport and visa fraud is essential to safeguarding our national security.”

[…]

The P-3 nonimmigrant visa classification allows foreign nationals to temporarily travel to the United States to perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, under a program that is culturally unique.  A U.S. employer or sponsoring organization is required to submit a USCIS Form I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker, along with supporting documentation, attesting that the performances in the United States are culturally unique.

In February 2018, Stella Boyadjian of Rego Park, New York; Atoyan; and Diana Grigoryan, aka “Dina Akopovna,” 42, of the Republic of Armenia were charged in a 15-count indictment with visa fraud and with conspiracy to: defraud the United States, commit visa fraud, and illegally bring aliens into the United States.  Boyadjian and Grigoryan were also charged with related money laundering charges, and Boyadjian was charged with aggravated identity theft.  Boyadjian previously pleaded guilty on March 4, 2019 in the Eastern District of New York.

As alleged in the indictment, Boyadjian ran a non-profit organization called Big Apple Music Awards Foundation (BAMA) based in Rego Park, New York.  Boyadjian used the Big Apple Music Awards Foundation as well as formal and informal music industry contacts in the United States and Armenia to perpetuate the scheme.  Atoyan, Boyadjian, and others solicited Armenian citizens who wanted to come to the United States and charged them between $3,000 and $10,000 to be included on the Form I-129 Petitions.  Boyadjian and other associates in Armenia then acquired fraudulent performer certificates and organized staged photo sessions where the aliens wore traditional Armenian folk outfits to make it appear as though they were traditional Armenian performers.  After being trained how to defeat U.S. visa interviews, the individual aliens presented these certificates and photos to U.S. consular officers during their visa interviews.  Once the Armenians entered the United States, some would pay Boyadjian and her associates additional money to be included in another fraudulent petition asking for P-3 visa extensions.  As alleged in the indictment, Atoyan himself came to the United States on a P-3 visa obtained in connection with a Form I-129 submitted by BAMA.

USEU Ambassador Gordon Sondland in the News: Drip …Drip … Drip…

 

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and a central figure in the Ukraine nightmare is scheduled to appear for a deposition on Thursday, October 17. As far as we could tell there are currently three streams of reporting concerning Sondland: Ukraine. the late breaking news of the renovation of the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR), in Brussels, and the reported ongoing boycott of his Portland-based hotel properties, Provenance Hotels. The Oregonian citing Oregon Public Broadcasting also said that “the popular local ice cream company Salt & Straw had severed its professional ties with Provenance, a chain of upscale hotels across the country, including six in Portland.”
We imagine that if his testimony is favorable to his boss, that we would likely see him tweeted as, oh, who knows … superman or the greatest ambassador ever. Or he could end up spending more time with his family. We should know soon.
WaPo on the $1 million official residence renovation:

The State Department defended the renovations, saying they were part of a “regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.” The renovations were funded in April, after Sondland’s confirmation, a spokesman said. “Other minor renovations currently underway” were reviewed and approved by staff at the U.S. mission and funded in fiscal 2019, which began in October, after Sondland was confirmed.

Remember when a political ambassador was not pleased with the condition of the official residence mattress, or when embassy staff members spent several days to locate and purchase an umbrella for the official residence patio? Those were way cheaper than  a “family kitchen,” at a cost of just under $223,000. Not sure why he was not allowed to spend his own money. Anyone remember Ambassador Ronald Spogli and the $1.1M wine cellar donated to Villa Taverna in Rome? Also Ambassador Thomas Foley who reportedly spent $500,000 of his own money restoring the US ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park in Dublin?
By the way, we’d like to know what other official residences are on State/OBO’s docket for renovations. These renovations are not unheard of but these are often scheduled years in advance. We’ve looked for the fiscal year projection for the USEU official residence in Brussels going back to FY2016, and so far have not been able to locate it.  But we see that the “major rehabilitation” of the Chief of Mission Residence Paris is on the expected to be awarded list for FY 2019. Cost for that should be interesting.

Related posts:

Diplomatic Security Investigating as Many as 130 Former/Current @StateDept Officials Over Clinton Emails

 

In May 2016, State/OIG released its report on Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements.
WaPo recently reported about the investigation of email records by some 130 current and former State Department during Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State includes a quote from an unnamed senior State Department official denying this has anything to do with who sits in the White House.

“This has nothing to do with who is in the White House,” said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing probe. “This is about the time it took to go through millions of emails, which is about 3½ years.”

Is this senior SDO anyone we know from Public Affairs?
Secretary Clinton left the State Department in 2013, over six years ago.  And the SDO said that This has nothing to do with who is in the White House?” 
Did the SDO say it with a straight face?
A side note, folks reading statements out of the State Department should be aware that the agency has ground rules for interviewing its officials. The ground rules are not new, but given the track record of this administration, it is worth taking a pause when they volunteer information.
SDO adds that “This is about the time it took to go through millions of emails, which is about 3½ years.” And yet, the letter received by a former State Department employee was apparently received this past August, and begins with “Recently, the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducted a classification review of emails … (see letter below). What does “recently” actually means? What’s the timeline for this troubling project by Diplomatic Security? During Secretary Kerry’s tenure? At the beginning of Secretary Tillerson’s tenure? At the start of Mike Pompeo’s tenure? 
The WaPo report also includes an item about Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman who served as US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from August 2009 to June 2012, and went on to become Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the United Nations (2012-2018):

“I’d like to think that this is just routine, but something strange is going on,” said Jeffrey Feltman, a former assistant secretary for Near East Affairs. In early 2018 Feltman received a letter informing him that a half dozen of his messages included classified information. Then a few weeks ago he was found culpable for more than 50 emails that contained classified information.

“A couple of the emails cited by State as problems were sent after my May 2012 retirement, when I was already working for the United Nations,” he said.

Below is a link to a letter sent out by Diplomatic Security and posted on CNN’s website. CNN notes that “A former US official who left the State Department in 2012 received a letter in August informing him that dozens of his emails that had been sent to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were now being recategorized as classified.”
They’re doing retroactive classification and penalizing people for it.
They’re also asserting that a then UN official was  covered by US security classification?  Is this what a diplomatic squeegee looks like?
The letter published by CNN came from a little known office called “Program Applications Division” (APD) under Diplomatic Security’s Office of Information Security Programs. 
An earlier update of May 19, 2017 of 12 FAM 221.4 DS Personnel Authorized to Conduct Investigations notes:

Special agents of the Diplomatic Security Service, credentialed security specialists assigned to the Programs Application Division (DS/IS/APD), and credentialed special investigators assigned to the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS) conduct investigations as authorized by statute or other authority. DS authorizes special agents in the field offices and RSOs abroad to open investigations and provides direction and guidance for conducting those investigations.”

Per 1 FAM 262.7-1(A), updated in September 2018, DS/IS/APD administers the Department’s information protection program. It also notes that it:

Administers the Department’s Security Incident Program and coordinates cases subject to disciplinary actions with the Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER), the DS Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS) and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarding security clearance and special access concerns.”

A December 17, 2018 update of 12 FAM 558 marked Criminal Laws  say that Incidents involving intentional or grossly negligent release or mishandling of classified information may result in criminal penalties.  An illustrative list of criminal statutes establishing penalties of fine and imprisonment for the release of classified information is in 12 FAM Exhibit 558.”  

 

@StateDept Contracting Officer Zaldy N. Sabino Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

 

This is a follow-up to our post on April 16, 2019 @StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud.  On October 4, 2019, the Justice Department announced the conviction of State Department Contracting officer Zaldy N. Zabino of  13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

State Department Contracting Officer Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

A contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State was convicted today of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Marc Meyer of the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General and Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Zaldy N. Sabino, 60, of Fort Washington, Maryland, was convicted of 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.  Sentencing has been set for Feb. 14, 2020.

Sabino was indicted in April 2019.  According to the indictment, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm allegedly engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $239,300 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million dollars in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino allegedly concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General, led by Steve A. Linick, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

#

Pompeo Now Concerned About Improper Treatment of “Distinguished Professionals”

 

Secretary Pompeo who has not done much about the improper treatment of career professionals
— such as inappropriate practices including disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest — despite the departure of some 50 employees from a bureau with 300 staffers —
is now concerned about “attempt to intimidate, bully, & treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career FSOs” from congressional committees exercising their oversight function.
Oopsie! We almost peed from laughing so hard!
Also, late breaking news says that State/OIG Steve Linick will be holding an “urgent” briefing Wednesday afternoon for staffers from several House and Senate Committees apparently “to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” The reported source of the documents is the Acting Legal Adviser.
The most recent Senate-confirmed Legal Adviser was Jennifer Gillian Newstead who served from January 22, 2018 to May 31, 2019 and is now the General Counsel at Facebook.
Marik A. String assumed office as Acting Legal Adviser on June 1, 2019. Mr. String state.gov’s bio says that he has 15 years of legal, policy, and military experience at the Department of State, Department of Defense, United States Senate, think tanks in the United States and overseas, and in private legal practice.” He also previously served as Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Prior to private law practice, Mr. String served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he held responsibilities as Deputy Chief Counsel and Senior Professional Staff Member. Mr. String, an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve was educated at Georgetown University (J.D., Global Law Scholar), where he was an editor for The Georgetown Law Journal and at the University of Vienna (M.A., Fulbright Scholar). See Just Security’s piece on this appointment from June 2019.

Pompeo Announces Departure of Andrea Thompson as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security

On December 13, the WH announced Trump’s intent to nominate retired U.S. Colonel Andrea L. Thompson to be the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (State/T).  She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote on April 26, 2018.  She succeeded Rose Eileen Gottemoeller who served from 2014–2016, and was subsequently appointed to NATO (see Rose @Gottemoeller Moves to @NATO as First Female Deputy Secretary General).  More about Thompson here.
On September 20, about 17 months into her tenure, Secretary Pompeo announced Thompson’s departure without detailing the reason she is leaving one of the top senior jobs in Foggy Bottom. So the T bureau is once more vacant, as well as the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance which does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary as of this writing (office is currently headed by Thomas DiNanno as Senior Bureau Official and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defense Policy, Emerging Threats, and Outreach). The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs both have Senate-confirmed assistant secretaries, presumably one of them would be up as Acting “T” until a a new nominee is identified and confirmed. How long that would take, that’s a guessing game we all can play while chaos marches on.

Related post:

New @USUN Ambassador Kelly Craft Enters World Stage, Also Get Ready For #UNGA74

 

On September 12, new USUN Ambassador Kelly Craft presented her credentials to the UN Secretary General. The U.S. Senate confirmed her as US Ambassador to the United Nations in a 56-33 vote on July 31, 2019.  On September 10, she was also confirmed to be Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations in a 56-38 vote.

The 74th session of the General Assembly opens on Tuesday, 17 September 2019. For more information, see the Provisional Agenda of the Session. The first day of the high-level General Debate will be Tuesday, 24 September 2019.