FSO Jennifer Davis’ Security Clearance Revocation, a Very Curious Leak

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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“A top aide to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked, according to two people familiar with the matter.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.
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.
December 2017: U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row
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.

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GAP and VOA Whistleblowers Call For Investigation of Ex-USAGM Chief Michael Pack

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On March 18, Government Accountability Project on behalf of federal whistleblowers called for an investigation of the former head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack who reportedly spent nearly $2 million in federal funds investigating Voice of America employees. Excerpt below:
…On behalf of anonymous whistleblowers, alerted Congress and federal whistleblower agencies to new details about sole source, no bid contracts awarded to two law firms by Michael Pack to investigate the employees at the agency he headed, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is the parent agency of Voice of America (VOA). Until ordered to resign by President Biden on Inauguration Day, Mr. Pack—a Trump administration political appointee—was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAGM.
[…]
After alerting the Congress and the federal whistleblower agencies (the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) to Mr. Pack’s misconduct, Government Accountability Project used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain additional details about the sole source, no-bid law firm contracts.
GAP provided a link to USAGM materials released via the latter’s FOIA, available here. Government Accountability Project also sent a supplemental analysis to Congress, OSC, and State/OIG.
Cited among its findings:
  • The total value of all services rendered by McGuireWoods and Caplin & Drysdale (billed and unbilled) was approximately $1.776 million.
  • Over four months, McGuireWoods billed approximately $1.625 million in fees and disbursements based on 5,093 billable hours, an average of approximately $320 for each billable hour.
  • The three activities responsible for over 90 percent of McGuireWoods’ billable hours were: “Document Production” (2,998.10 hours); “Analysis/Strategy” (1,053.40 hours); and “Fact Investigation/Development” (655.80 hours).
  • Over four months, Caplin & Drysdale billed approximately $66,000 in fees and disbursements based on 84.4 billable hours, an average of over $780 for each billable hour.
GAP urge the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate, State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel “to specifically investigate the authority invoked and the representations made by Mr. Pack and others in order to pay these law firms, and any other contractors Mr. Pack hired during his brief and controversial tenure.”
The letter is available to read here.


 

 

 

Jamaica: A U.S. Ambassador’s Apology and One Convoluted Story About That Twitter Wrestling

 

The Twitter Wrestling news out of Jamaica continue to distract us from our never ending woes, (see Top US Diplomat in Jamaica Wrestles With Random People on Twitter).  The tweets have now been deleted with no explanation.
We have it in good authority that the Jamaicans were plenty upset about this. The Twitter spectacle apparently resulted in a telephone call between the Jamaican Foreign Affairs Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith and Ambassador Tapia.  The Foreign Minister also tweeted “I have spoken with the Ambassador and he is aware that the engagement was not appropriate for a diplomatic representative.”
Ouch!
Ambassador Tapia on the other hand has now given an interview to Cliff Hughes Online where he said “I take full responsibility for what took place”  but that it wasn’t him who did the wrestling on Twitter.  That sounds a lot like “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault” doesn’t it?   It wasn’t the intern either, thank goodness! The ambassador, a political appointee, also told the interviewer that the individual, (a he) will be “leaving shortly, because it was inappropriate” according to the interview with Cliff Hughes Online posted here.
In that interview, Ambassador Tapia discussed the employee who purportedly sent the offensive tweets under his account and was asked “What do you mean by rotating him out?”
Ambassador Tapia responded with extreme helpfulness (pardon our attempt at transcription, the zigzagged response made us frankly, dizzy):
“Which means that he will be leaving by going back to the U.S.”
Then Ambassador Tapia added, “He just got here, just about 3 or 4 weeks ago …. so he will normally stay …. he’s married … he goes home … we tried to rotate him every two months so that he can go home and be with his family but he will be, I will say he will be leaving sooner than the rotation.”
What the what?
So we are to believe that a Public Affairs officer (typically in charge of media), a career employee trained in media and public relations just decided one day to throw his career to the Caribbean winds, and go on an insult spree directed at his host county nationals?
Seriously? Why would he do that?
And that now this purported rogue officer is to be rotated out? Rotated out after four weeks in country?
If the employee assigned to Embassy Jamaica just got there 3 or 4 weeks ago and is now directed to return to the United States, that’s not called a rotation. That’s a curtailment, a shortening of the assignment, and presumably an involuntary one.  An ambassador can initiate that if he/she declares loss of confidence on any employee.
How it is that this employee just got to post 3 or 4 weeks ago, but that they  also “tried” to rotate him every two months so that he can go home and be with his family? How did that work?  And pray tell, what kind of employment schedule is this?
We’re not liking this story one bit, folks; it’s not hanging well together even at the thin seams.

 

 

US Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman on Reported “Favor” to Help Trump Reelection

 

Excerpt from HFAC letter to Ambassador Todd Chapman, a career diplomat who has been COM at the US Embassy in Brazil since March 2020. He was previously Ambassador to Ecuador from 2016 – 2019:

“We are extremely alarmed by a report in Brazilian newspaper O Globo yesterday which stated that while lobbying your counterparts on reducing ethanol tariffs, you raised “the importance for the Bolsonaro government of maintaining Donald Trump as U.S. President.” The article further stated, “Iowa is the largest ethanol producer in the United States…and could be a key player in Trump’s election. Hence the importance – according to Chapman – for the Bolsonaro government to do the U.S. a favor.”

These statements are completely inappropriate for a U.S. ambassador to make, and if true, would be a potential violation of the Hatch Act of 1939. We ask that you respond in writing by 5:00 p.m. EST on August 4th as to whether the allegations in the aforementioned article (attached to this correspondence) are true. Specifically, please provide us with a complete description of all conversations that you have had with Brazilian government officials in the executive and legislative branches with regard to ethanol tariffs and the U.S. presidential election. If you deny these allegations, please provide complete and unredacted copies of any and all documents referring or related to any discussions you have had with Brazilian government officials in the executive and legislative branches with regard to ethanol tariffs, to reassure Congress and the American people that our Ambassador to Brazil is truly representing the interests of the United States and not the narrow, political interests of President Trump.

The Des Moines Register printed a denial from the State Department:
“Allegations suggesting that Ambassador Chapman has asked Brazilians to support a specific U.S. candidate are false,” said a department spokesperson. “The United States has long been focused on reducing tariff barriers and will continue to do so.”
Allegations suggesting that the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine …. oh, wait, that was different, silly.
But as Pompeo’s new motto insistently says dear ones, “distrust and verify”.
So what motivated the Brazilians for making this public? More than one source reported this on Brazilian media. Is Foggy Bottom saying they’re making this all up? To what end?
Look, Ambassador Chapman is a Senate confirmed career diplomat. As such, he has an obligation to respond to questions that U.S. senators may have on this issue.  But the  SFRC under GOP Senator Jim Risch doesn’t seem at all interested in asking further questions. No surprise there. The HFAC is asking questions, however, and we hope the ambassador answer those questions.
For folks in the FOIA business, if/if there were instructions related to this, there would have to be a paper trail from the State Department’s WHA bureau, the home bureau of U.S. Mission Brazil.  Ambassadors typically get their marching orders from their home bureau.

Uh-oh! @StateDept’s Travel Provider Gets Hacked, Pays $4.5M in Bitcoin

 

Reuters reported last week that CWT (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel) was hit with a strain of ransomware called Ragnar Locker, which encrypts computer files and renders them unusable until the victim pays for access to be restored. “Hackers who stole reams of sensitive corporate files and said they had knocked 30,000 computers offline.”
Elsewhere it is reported that the hackers “may have stolen 2 terabytes of data, allegedly including thousands of global executives credentials. This is particularly worrisome given CWT provides travel services to as much as 33% of the Fortune 500.”
ITNews notes that “CWT, which posted revenues of US$1.5 billion last year and says it represents more than a third of companies on the S&P 500 US stock index, confirmed the attack but declined to comment on the details of what it said was an ongoing investigation.”
The news mainly talks about the 2 terabyte of sensitive files exfiltrated which supposedly include global executive credentials, but a CWT division, CWTSatoTravel is one of two contractors awarded a master contract by GSA “responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients.” Government clients include the State Department where Carlson Wagonlit manages its travel management center.
According to GSA, the U.S. Federal Government is the largest consumer of travel services in the world.  ETS2, the government’s current Travel & Expense management solution, serves an active user base of over 1 million Civilian Government employees, and was used for 86 percent of all civilian agency travel in 2017.

ETS2 is a competitively bid master contract with two vendors providing agencies travel and expense software, hosting, and support services based on fixed-price transaction fees, which is a unique program within the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS).

Competitively bid ETS2 contracts were awarded to:

      • Concur Technologies, Inc., of Redmond, WA, in June 2012; and
      • CWTSatoTravel, of Arlington, VA, in September 2013.

CWTSatoTravel is the division of Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients. CWT is a global leader specialized in managing business travel and meetings and events.

The 2019 DOS Financial Report describes its Travel Systems Program

In 2016, the Department successfully transitioned to the next generation of the E-Government Travel Services (ETS2) contract with Carlson Wagonlit Travel. In 2016, the Department also implemented the Local Travel module allowing for the submission of local travel claims for expenses incurred in and around the vicinity of a duty station. The Department expanded the use of the Local Travel feature to also accommodate non-travel employee claims previously submitted through an OF-1164. In the Local Travel module, approvers will electronically approve claims and provide reimbursement to the employee’s bank account via EFT. The Department has completed this implementation for 118 posts overseas.

The Department continues to work with our bureaus and posts to identify improvements that can be made to the travel system. The Department also participates with other agencies to prioritize travel system enhancements across the Federal Government landscape. The Department worked with Carlson Wagonlit Travel to enhance the functionality of the Local Travel feature to more closely align with the temporary duty travel functionality for foreign currency and approver expense reduction options. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support integration improvements with our financial systems. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support the implementation of the Local Payments module domestically and has initiated work to implement mobile capabilities for approvals and reservations.

Somebody asked if anyone has  publicly acknowledged that the initial hack may imply a massive potential personally identifiable information  (PII) leak on the scale of the eQIP compromise.” 
The company released a statement to The Register saying “we have no indication that PII/customer and traveller information has been affected.”
Has Foggy Bottom said anything?

 

Open Technology Fund, et.al v. Michael Pack: Where the Accountability Rests – At the Ballot Box

 

OPEN TECHNOLOGY FUND, et al., Plaintiffs, v. MICHAEL PACK, in his official capacity as Chief Executive Officer and Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Defendant
For nearly 80 years, international broadcasting sponsored by the United States has served as a trusted and authoritative global news source, a forum for the expression of diverse viewpoints on the most pressing topics of the day, a model of journalistic excellence and independence, and a beacon of hope for those trapped within authoritarian regimes. Despite being funded by American taxpayers, U.S. international broadcasting has typically remained free of governmental interference. Indeed, its autonomy and its commitment to providing objective news coverage has often been viewed as key to its ability to advance the interests of the United States abroad. Our country’s commitment to this model of cultural export has largely been viewed as a rousing success, helping to undermine and topple some of history’s most oppressive regimes—including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union—by spreading freedom and democracy around the globe. The current Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of the United States Agency for Global Media (“USAGM”)—the defendant, Michael Pack—is accused of putting this legacy at serious risk. Since taking office less than a month ago, Pack has upended U.S.-sponsored international broadcasting. Most relevant to the current dispute, on June 17, 2020, Pack unilaterally removed the operational heads and directors of four USAGM-funded organizations—Open Technology Fund (“OTF”), Radio Free Europe (“RFE”), Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (collectively, “Networks”)1—and replaced the directors with five members of the current Trump Administration as well as an employee of Liberty Counsel Action, a conservative advocacy organization.
[…]
Pack’s actions have global ramifications, and plaintiffs in this case have expressed deep concerns that his tenure as USAGM CEO will damage the independence and integrity of U.S.- sponsored international broadcasting efforts. If they are correct, the result will be to diminish America’s presence on the international stage, impede the distribution around the world of accurate information on important affairs, and strengthen totalitarian governments everywhere. Yet, Congress has decided to concentrate unilateral power in the USAGM CEO, and the Court cannot override that determination. If Pack’s actions turn out to be misguided, his appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate points to where the accountability rests: at the ballot box. Based on an evaluation of plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the solution is likely not in this Court.
Read in full here:

https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2020cv1710-22

Foggy Bottom’s ‘Pot Meet Kettle’ Happy Hour #PleaseScreamInsideYourHeart

 

US Embassy Sofia: What’s Happening in Bulgaria?

Via Embassy Sofia/FB:
The challenge is on! Ambassador Mustafa and her diplomat band perform a favorite Bulgarian song, and challenge 3 Bulgarian musicians to respond. Who got the challenge? What’s the song? Will the challenge be accepted? Find out in our video!

US Embassy Beirut: Lebanese Judge Bans Media Orgs From Interviewing/Hosting Amb Dorothy Shea

 

Unable to Handle Question About Bolton Book, @StateDept Mutes Reporter During Free Press Briefing

It was a darn comedy hour in Foggy Bottom on Monday. The A/S for EAP David Stilwell had a press briefing on Chinese propaganda and the free press. When asked a question about Bolton’s book and whether allies in the region have been in touch, the State Department spox asked that the line be muted. A short while later, the spox called on Nick Wadhams of Bloomberg who asked A/S Stilwell “to comment on the message you think it sends to foreign journalists and other people who would be listening to this call that you guys are not willing to take questions on the John Bolton book when you’re also talking about a message of ensuring freedom of the press in the United States?”
A reasonable and necessary question on the free press.
The State Department spokesperson later blasted the Bloomberg reporter for  what she considered a “pretty offensive question” and claimed that they “take as many questions as we can.” and “have proven to be available 24/7 to all of you and we will always answer them.” That my friends we can tell you from experience is laughable; we still have unanswered questions waiting under mysterious cobwebs. And we’re definitely not the only ones to let out a guffaw upon hearing that remark.
Excerpt:

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Finally, as Secretary Pompeo has said, we’re not just comparing apples to apples.  The U.S. system guarantees press freedom while China subordinates the press to the Communist Party.  We are formally recognizing that fact in today’s action.  That’s – concludes the formal comments.  I’ll be happy to take your questions.
[…]
MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks.  Next up in the queue, David Brunnstrom, Reuters.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you very much for doing this.  I was wondering, slightly changing the subject to former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book —

MS ORTAGUS:  Hey, David, David, that’s not what this call’s about.  If you would like to ask about our new policy action today, we’re more than happy to take the question.  If not, I can move on in the queue.

QUESTION:  Well, I just wanted to ask whether any allies in the region have been in touch with —

MS ORTAGUS:  David —

QUESTION:  — the assistant secretary on this issue for clarification.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you, David.  Okay.  AT&T, we can mute that line.  We’ll now go to Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.
[…]
MS ORTAGUS:  Okay. Thanks, Will.  Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Hi, I have two questions.  The first question is:  Can you – I think you answered this previously.  What are the specific numbers when you talk about each of the news organizations CCTV, CNS, People’s Daily, and Global Times?

And Dave, can I also get you to comment on the message you think it sends to foreign journalists and other people who would be listening to this call that you guys are not willing to take questions on the John Bolton book when you’re also talking about a message of ensuring freedom of the press in the United States?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Hey, that’s pretty easy.  This one is focused on a guy from the East Asia Pacific bureau who could speak with great fluency to the topic at hand.  If you were to ask me the other, is – my answer would be a deflecting “I really don’t know.”  I got to tell you, I am not checking that story.  I am too busy working this particular issue, so – so I – again, I would rethink that approach to how we’re handling this.  You can ask anybody, especially those who are related to this, but for the subject at hand today in the short seven minutes we have left, I would like to talk about the subject at hand.

So you asked about numbers.  We don’t know.  That’s part of what this is going to identify is that these folks, we have allowed them to come into the country as journalists.  Now acknowledging the fact that they are not, we know what companies they work for.  They will then have to identify themselves as work – that they do work for these organizations.  And then from that, we will have a better accounting for who they are, who is on their personnel rosters, and what real estate holdings they have.  So it’s pretty straightforward.

It’s – as I said before, this is housekeeping, right?  We’re just cleaning up some broken glass and stuff that we hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to in the past.
[…]
MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks.  We’re already over time, so that’s going to have to be our last question of the day.  We will have a statement out around 3 o’clock, and that’s when our embargo will be lifted.  However, before I end the call, I do think it’s – I’m going to have to address what I consider a pretty offensive question by Nick Wadhams.

We strive every day to give all of you multiple briefings a day.  The Secretary goes to the podium once a week and we take as many questions as we can.  We try to be very quick over email in responding to what all of you need.  And so if there’s any question about any books by any officials or anything you may have, we’re – have proven to be available 24/7 to all of you and we will always answer them.  We like to focus these policy briefings on the policy, but any insinuation that we haven’t made ourselves available or responsive to your questions – Nick’s insinuation is offensive and I just would like to go on the record that that’s totally inaccurate.

HA! HA! HA!  There, she said it on the record, and media folks covering the Foggiest Bottom are dying with laughter.