Ron Capps: Seriously Not All Right, Five Wars in Ten Years (Excerpt)

Posted: 5:23 pm PT

 

Ron Capps is a U.S. Army veteran and a former Foreign Service officer. He served in the military from 1986 until the early 1990’s. In 1994, he moved to the Army Reserved and joined the Foreign Service. His FS assignments took him to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Between 1996-2002, he also deployed as an intelligence officer in Uganda and Zaire for the U.S. Army.  According to his online bio, after the September 11 attacks, he served with XVIII Airborne Corps and the Defense intelligence Agency in Afghanistan as a soldier. Later, he was also deployed to Darfur and Chad as a soldier, and Iraq and Darfur (again) as a Foreign Service officer. “Throughout his career of service, Capps was often working in close proximity to murder, rape, and genocide. He suffered from regular and intense nightmares; he was diagnosed by an Army psychiatrist with PTSD and depression, and prescribed Prozac. In 2006, he nearly committed suicide. He was medically evacuated from service by the Regional Medical Officer of the State Department.”

He retired from government work and pursued a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. In 2012, he founded the Veterans Writing Project, a non-profit organization that hosts free writing workshops and seminars for veterans and service members, as well as their adult family members.  VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can support the group with a tax-deductible donation or through the Amazon Smile program.

Ron Capps is the author of the book, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, which details his own experiences with PTSD.  To mark June as PTSD Awareness Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from Mr. Capps’ book with you (courtesy of Amazon Kindle).

Via Amazon/Kindle

Click on image to read an excerpt or buy the book  Book cover via Amazon Kindle

 

Related posts:

@StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs

Posted: 1:49 am ET

On June 2, State Department spokesperson, John Kirby sent a message to the staffers of the Bureau of Public Affairs concerning the deliberate tampering of a DPB video, an official State Department record. The message was sent on June 2 but is effective on June 1st upon its announcement at a morning meeting:

Colleagues,

As you know, we learned that on at least one occasion this bureau edited a portion of the video of a daily press briefing before posting it to our YouTube channel and the Department’s website.

Upon learning of this, I immediately directed the video to be restored in its entirety with the full and complete copy that exists — and had existed since the day of the briefing — on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website.  I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also posted on the Department website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing.

To my surprise, PA did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Now we do.

All video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently uploaded in their entirety on publicly accessible platforms.  In the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected or classified national security information, they will only be made with the express permission of the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and with an appropriate level of annotation and disclosure.

This new policy took effect yesterday. And I have tasked Susan Stevenson to lead an effort to create new language for the Foreign Affairs Manual to institutionalize this approach.

I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.  While the actions taken in relation to the editing of this video broke no protocol — since none existed — they clearly were not the appropriate steps to take.

I ask for your help going forward in ensuring that the content of any video or transcript from daily press briefings is not edited or altered in any way without my specific permission.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication.  We’re a great team with a great mission.

There’s nothing in this message that has not been reported in the press earlier but it iss worth noting what he says in this message. “I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.”

But how can he know that?

Pardon for raining on a perfectly good message but since Mr. Kirby’s internal investigation is at a “dead end” and had not been able to determine who was responsible for this deliberate act — how can he know that everyone he’s writing to shares his “commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability?” An official at the PA bureau directed the tampering of the video, we don’t know who or why but that individual has not come forward and is obviously not big on accountability.  So, how can he says “I know ….?”

That’s quite a whodunit, hey?

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Interagency People to SIGAR: Hit the road John and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more …

Posted: 2:26 am PT

 

Last year, the NYT covered SIGAR’s John Sopko.

This past Labor Day, there was this big splash, quite an effort here from a dozen or so folks from three agencies:

Detractors describe Sopko as “egomaniacal,” “petty,” “a bully” and “the Donald Trump of inspectors general.” But Sopko has publicly brushed off — even relished — the criticism, arguing that it’s his job to shine a light on mistakes made by “bureaucrats” who would prefer that his reports “be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day.”

“My job is to call balls and strikes,” Sopko once told NBC News. “Nobody likes the ump.”

Here’s SIGAR Sopko previously discussing his media strategy:

Then here’s one view from Afghanistan:

John F. Sopko was appointed Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on July 2, 2012 by President Obama. In his last congressional post, Mr. Sopko was Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), during the 110th Congress.

In the fall of 2010, a bi-partisan group of senators and POGO called for the removal of Mr. Sopko’s predecessor. At that time, POGO reported that “the SIGAR office has largely been considered a disappointment, and numerous deficiencies in its operations and audit reports have been identified.” The POGO investigator also said at that time that the “office has produced milk-toast audits that have not inspired congressional confidence.”  In January 2011, the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned, per WaPo “after a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

In accordance with Government Auditing Standards, SIGAR is required to undergo a periodic external quality control review (peer review). SIGAR’s latest peer review, which was conducted by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) was publicly released on March 30, 2016:

The NASA Office of Inspector General reviewed the system of quality control for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Auditing Division in effect for fiscal year 2015. As indicated in our February 25, 2016, report, we assigned SIGAR a “pass” rating. During our review, we found three issues that were not of sufficient significance to affect our opinion on this rating but that require your attention. We believe these issues could be addressed through simple revisions to the policy manual.

So SIGAR was reviewed by IG peers and got a pass rating!  Imagine that.

Mr. Sopko’s deputy famously said once,“Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos. They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.”

We should note that when we request information from SIGAR, we always get a response. When we request information from US Embassy Kabul, our emails just get swallowed by black holes of indifference.

 

Related item:

Letter of Comment on the System of Quality Control for the Audit Organization of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (PDF) March 2016

 

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Kerry Stands By Linick as Clinton Campaign Goes the Full Monty on @StateDept Inspector General

Posted: 1:38 pm EDT

 

Well, thank heavens not the Full Monty like the men of Sheffield but certainly with HRC presidential campaign chairman John Podesta, and with HFAC Dems attacking the watchdog and alleging bias, the Office of Inspector General is getting the works … the whole enchilada… the whole shebang … you get it. And we get to use the full monty in our blog post, teh-heh!!

But this is perplexing, if one wants a “more prestigious appointed position” we know where the kiss-assing is happening. Unless DIG DiSanto is running for national office, this charge doesn’t even make sense.

This started last year, and will only continue to get louder.

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The State Department was asked about this on March 2 and here is the official response:

QUESTION: Does the inspector general’s office have the confidence of the current leadership in the State Department, including the Secretary? And do you think it’s appropriate for the campaign to be complaining?

MR TONER: Well, as you know, the inspector general’s office operates independently from the State Department – rightfully so, given their mandate to look into these kinds of issues. They need to have that kind of freedom. But I believe the Secretary has every confidence in the inspector general’s ability to carry out his mission. I’m just – I haven’t seen those specific allegations, but I doubt we’d really comment on them given that the IG’s role is really to operate independently, look into the – whatever matters they’re looking into.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the question is: Does the building share the – given that it is an independent operation and you do not speak for them, does the Secretary, does the building —

MR TONER: But I did say – I said the Secretary has confidence in the inspector.

QUESTION: Yeah. So you do not share the same concerns as Mr. Podesta?

MR TONER: Again, we have confidence in his abilities to conduct independent investigations.

 

Related posts:

 

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Let’s dispel this fiction that an Obama appointed Inspector General is on “fishing expeditions”

Posted: 12: 34 am EDT

 

In January, we posted about a Clinton ally going after a senior advisor of the Inspector General of the State Department (see It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells).

Politico recently reported this:

The State Department’s internal watchdog office subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last fall for records about projects the foundation was involved in during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state as well as records related to longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin, a foundation representative confirmed Thursday.
[…]
A spokesman for Inspector General Steve Linick declined to comment on the subpoena or the scope of the office’s inquiry. Lawyers for Abedin did not respond to messages seeking comment on the development.

However, a spokesman for Clinton’s presidential campaign suggested the inquiry was unfounded and unnecessary.

“It’s very hard, to be honest with you, for me personally to keep track of all the fishing expeditions that this IG office has conducted,” spokesman Brian Fallon said on CNN.
[…]
“This is the same office that launched an investigation into one of Secretary Clinton’s top aides over maternity leave and when the Justice Department refused to go along with that fishing expedition they had to give it up and, now, ever since, they’ve had to look for other things,” Fallon told CNN . “That was ridiculous and the Justice Department laughed at it when the IG made a referral over there and rightfully so.”

Brian Fallon previously worked as spokesman for Eric Holder at the Justice Department and has been the press secretary for the Clinton Campaign since April 2015.

Isn’t it weird that the campaign spox knew that the Justice Department “laughed at it?”

Whenever there is a leak of a State/OIG work product, some folks assume that the leak can only come out of Foggy Bottom. Because obviously, accusing the folks in Congress of leaking an official report is really nutty, hey?  That never happens, right?

Let’s dispel with this fiction that State/OIG Steve Linick appointed by President Obama is out to get the democratic frontrunner and that these investigations are “fishing expeditions.”

The  Inspector General Act of 1978 imposes a dual reporting requirement on inspectors general to both their agency heads and to the Congress.

(5) to keep the head of such establishment and the Congress fully and currently informed, by means of the reports required by section 5 and otherwise, concerning fraud and other serious problems, abuses, and deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations administered or financed by such establishment, to recommend corrective action concerning such problems, abuses, and deficiencies, and to report on the progress made in implementing such corrective action.

The OIG’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress no longer includes a summary of congressional requests made to the inspector general but we know from media reports that Senator Chuck Grassley of the Judiciary Committee wrote to the State Department on June 13, 2013 and August 15, 2013 regarding the Department’s use of Special Government Employee (SGE) designations. In March 2015, Senator Grassley asked (PDF) State/OIG to look into SGEs and related issues to Huma Abedin.  IG Linick’s response is here (PDF).

On March 25, 2015, Secretary Kerry requested (PDF) IG Linick for an expedited review of the State Department work “to preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy, consistent with federal laws and regulations.” Note  that the Kerry request is available through archives.gov and not through state.gov.

Presumably, these are not the only requests but even if the Secretary of State or members of Congress were not asking for investigations, there are issues related to the Clinton tenure that no inspector general worth his/her salt can simply afford to ignore.

Imagine all the uproar going on related to State Department emails, email server, SGEs, FOIA, classifications, big donors, family foundation, potential conflicts of interest and blah, blah, blah.

Now, imagine an inspector general ignoring all that and focusing his attention elsewhere safe like oh, auditing expenditures for FSI’s furniture.

Is that the inspector general we need?

In this election season, any investigation related to the former secretary of state is a political landmine. The easy way would have been to hide under a rock and not come out until well, November 10, 2016.  The fact that the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department is working as it should even when there are political IEDs everywhere is a sign of courage under fire.  And it’s only going to get rougher from hereon.  Hat’s off to you, folks, for doing what you’ve publicly sworn to do — to faithfully discharge the duties of the office you’ve entered.

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Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT

 

The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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US Embassy Beirut: A Form Letter Response, Please, That’s Cold

Posted: 2:50 am EDT

 

The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria suspended its operations on February 6, 2012, and is not open for normal consular services.  The Travel Warning for Syria was last updated on August 27, 2015. Yes, these folks should have left Syria when it was still a possibility, but they probably knew that already, and blaming them now is not going to help. For folks interested in learning what the U.S. Government can and cannot do in a crisis overseas, please click here.

Look, we understand that there is not much that the USG can do in terms of consular services in an active war zone.  But. While it may not be much, forwarding the inquiry in this case to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus might have, at a minimum, alerted the Section of this family’s existence.  Two, when one is in a life and death situation, receiving a form letter from the U.S. government is probably one of the coldest manifestation of the bureaucracy.

The Government of the Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz. U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan: AmmanACS@state.gov; +(962) (6) 590-6500.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

@StateDept Issues Worldwide Travel Alert on Top of Worldwide Caution, Message Fatigue Next?

Posted: 2:03 am EDT

 

On November 23rd, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert:

Here is part of the Worldwide Caution it issued in July:

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. In August 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

What’s the difference between a Worldwide Alert and Worldwide Caution?

Alerts are time-bound, true, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. Worldwide Caution is updated at least every six months.

The Fear Department is on it:

Here’s more:

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The Worldwide Travel Alerts and Worldwide Caution are parts of the State Department’s Consular Information Program (CIP). Below from the FAM:

The CIP “is not mandated by statute, but several statutes are relevant to the Department’s performance of this function: Section 505 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 requires the Secretary to notify Congress whenever the Department issues a Travel Warning because of a terrorist threat or other security concern (22 U.S.C. 2656e). Section 321(f) of the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, Public Law 101-604 (49 U.S.C. 44905), prohibits the notification of a civil aviation threat to “only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” See 7 FAM 052, No Double Standard Policy. See also 22 CFR 71.1, 22 U.S.C. 2671 (b)(2)(A), 22 U.S.C. 4802, and 22 U.S.C. 211a.”

Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. government sources. The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there. By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations. Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, nor how that information is to be presented.

Who is responsible for the issuance of the travel information program?

Within the State Department, that would be the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele T. Bond who is responsible for supervising and managing the travel information program.  But the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services has primary day-to-day supervisory responsibility for the program. That’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services Karen L. Christensen.

Within OCS, Michelle Bernier-Toth, the Managing Director in the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) is responsible for the day-to-day management and issuance of travel information, including coordinating the preparation of all Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, Worldwide Cautions, Messages, and Fact Sheets before their release.

Here are a few things to know about the Travel Alerts:

  • If a threat evaluated as credible, specific, and non-counterable is aimed at a broad group (e.g., U.S. citizens/nationals and/or U.S. interests generally), the Department will authorize the relevant post(s) to issue a Message, and may also issue or update a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or Worldwide Caution.
  • The Department issues Travel Alerts to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens/nationals. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations/violence, and high profile events such as an international conference or regional sports event are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
  • Travel Alerts are issued for a specific period, usually 90 days or less, and expire automatically at the end of the prescribed period unless extended by the Department. If conditions warrant, the Department may cancel a Travel Alert before the end of the prescribed period via All Diplomatic and Consular Posts (ALDAC) cable and press release.

According to regs, CA/OCS reviews the Worldwide Caution continually and updates it at least every six months to ensure the most current general and regional safety and security information is shared with the U.S. citizen public.

The State Department admitted that it’s not offering a different advice from what it has been been saying for over 10 years in Worldwide Caution.  And folks have certainly wondered if the threats evaluated in this current Travel Alert are “credible, specific, and non-counterable” as directed by its rules book, or just one more CYA exercise; that is, if CA doesn’t issue a warning/alert and something happens, you already know where the fingers will be pointed, but …

The Worldwide Caution already cites the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Worldwide Alert says that “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.” That’s not a short-term condition. And yet, the alert is only good until February 24, 2016.  If the State Department issues an alert not based on credible and specific threats but simply on a belief that attacks could happen during a specific timeframe, how useful is that really?

The other concern, of course, is message fatigue. How long before folks stop taking this seriously?

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PSA: No More Extra U.S. Passport Pages After Dec 31, 2015

Posted: 12:31 am EDT

 

We’ve previously blogged about this back in April (see Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016).  The US Embassy Bangkok below has a reminder, that extra pages will no longer be available after December 31, 2015. Check your nearest embassy or consulate if you need additional pages before then.

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State Dept: “In the process of updating” its new rules for speaking and writing. Again.

Posted: 1:23  am EDT

 

In December 2012, we were informed by inside the building sources that the State Department was rewriting its 3 FAM 4170 rules on official clearance for speaking, writing, and teaching. (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair).

On July 27, 2015, two months short of Year 3 since Peter Van Buren retired, the State Department without much fanfare released its new 3 FAM 4170 rules in 19 pages. (see State Dept Releases New 3 FAM 4170 aka: The “Stop The Next Peter Van Buren” Regulation).

The new 3 FAM 4171.b says (see pdf):

 Former Department of State employees (including former interns and externs) must seek guidance from A/GIS/IPS for applicable review process information. Former USAID employees (including former interns and externs) must consult the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs for applicable review process information.

On September 3, we asked the State Department for guidance on pre-publication requirement for former/retired employees under the new 3 FAM 4170.

Last Friday, after a second inquiry, we finally got a response from a State Department spokesman as follows:

 The Department is in the process of updating the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) guidance relating to the pre-publication obligations of former employees.  Former employees’ obligations will vary based upon the non-disclosure agreements they may have signed. For example, they may have obligations under the Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement (SF-312) or the SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) Non-Disclosure Agreement (Form 4414).

If employees have signed a non-disclosure/secrecy agreement with another agency, then they may also have pre-publication review obligations with those agencies as well. This obligation is separate from any requirement for pre-publication review that an employee may have with the State Department but the Department can provide the coordination with those other agencies, if requested.

SF-312 Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement via GSA.gov specifically contains the following paragraphs:

3. I have been advised that the unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling of classified information by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation. I hereby agree that I will never divulge classified information to anyone unless: (a) I have officially verified that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it; or (b) I have been given prior written notice of authorization from the United States Government Department or Agency (hereinafter Department or Agency) responsible for the classification of information or last granting me a security clearance that such disclosure is permitted. I understand that if I am uncertain about the classification status of information, I am required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before I may disclose it, except to a person as provided in (a) or (b), above. I further understand that I am obligated to comply with laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

5. I hereby assign to the United States Government all royalties, remunerations, and emoluments that have resulted, will result or may result from any disclosure, publication, or revelation of classified information not consistent with the terms of this Agreement.

8. Unless and until I am released in writing by an authorized representative of the United States Government, I understand that all conditions and obligations imposed upon me by this Agreement apply during the time I am granted access to classified information, and at all times thereafter.

Sensitive Compartmented Information Non-Disclosure Agreement Form 4414 via NCSC (pdf) contains the following:

4. (U) In consideration of being granted access to SCI and of being assigned or retained in a position of special confidence and trust requiring access to SCI, I hereby agree to submit for security review by the Department or Agency that last authorized my access to such information or material, any writing or other preparation in any form, including a work of fiction, that contains or purports to contain any SCI or description of activities that produce or relate to SCI or that I have reason to believe are derived from SCI, that I contemplate disclosing to any person not authorized to have access to SCI or that I have prepared for public disclosure. I understand and agree that my obligation to submit such preparations for review applies during the course of my access to SCI and thereafter, and I agree to make any required submissions prior to discussing the preparation with, or showing it to, anyone who is not authorized to have access to SCI. I further agree that I will not disclose the contents of such preparation with, or show it to, anyone who is not authorized to have access to SCI until I have received written authorization from the Department or Agency that last authorized my access to SCI that such disclosure is permitted.

5. (U) I understand that the purpose of the review described in paragraph 4 is to give the United States a reasonable opportunity to determine whether the preparation submitted pursuant to paragraph 4 sets forth any SCI. I further understand that the Department or Agency to which I have made a submission will act upon it, coordinating within the Intelligence Community when appropriate, and make a response to me within a reasonable time, not to exceed 30 working days from date of receipt.

9. (U) Unless and until I am released in writing by an authorized representative of the Department or Agency that last provided me with access to SCI, I understand that all conditions and obligations imposed on me by this Agreement apply during the time I am granted access to SCI, and at all times thereafter.

Whoa! Is there a way out?

The State Department has  several student paid/unpaid internship programs.  The program’s eligibility requirement includes the ability to receive either a Secret or Top Secret clearance (pdf). So, does a student who receives a one-year internship at State be in the hook for life when it comes to obtaining clearance for speaking, writing, teaching and all media engagement as it is written under 3 FAM 4170? Are the interns/externs aware of their obligations under these rules before they sign up for these internships?

Where can interns/externs obtain a release in writing from a State Department representative?  We originally sent our inquiry to A/GIS/IPS cited as the contact office, but could not even get a response from there. There is no easily available email box to send the request either for a clearance or to request a release.

NOTE: For current employees, the reviewing office is the Bureau of Public Affairs (paclearances[at]state.gov). It looks like State/PA also has The PA Clearances Database accessible online. You need to sign up to register for an account to allow the online submission of clearance requests to the Bureau of Public Affairs. The site says “Using this site will expedite your clearance request.”

For former and retired State Department employees, how far back is the USG going to reach back? For life?

On December 29, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13526 which prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information.  “No information may remain classified indefinitely,” the order says.  The default declassification date, is 10 years. After 25 years, declassification review is automatic, with nine narrow exceptions that allow information to continue to be classified. Classifications beyond 75 years require special permission.

Given the default declassification at 10 years, can retired and former employees get an automatic release from these obligation at 10 years after they leave their jobs at the State Department?

For employees who are no longer attached in any capacity to the State Department, and haven’t been for 20 years, and have no interest in pursuing consulting or WAE appointments at the agency, ought they not be able to obtain a release from their obligations under these nondisclosure provisions?

Perhaps it’s time for State to put together its own Publication Review Board (PRB)? The CIA has one, and this article by John Hollister Hedley, the Chairman of the PRB on former CIA employees seeking to become published authors is instructive:

The courts have held that this signed agreement is a lifetime enforceable contract.(3) The courts also have noted that the secrecy agreement is a prior restraint of First Amendment freedom. But they ruled it a legitimate restraint, provided it is limited to the deletion of classified information and so long as a review of a proposed publication is conducted and a response given to its author within 30 days.(4)
[
…]
The important thing is for us to be reasonable and professional about what we protect. It does not take a genius to know what information requires a hard look: for example, in an age of terrorism and for privacy act considerations, we have to protect identities not already in the public domain. Also taboo–because they impact adversely our ability to conduct our business, most of it necessarily in secret–are cover arrangements, liaison relationships, covert facilities, and unique collection and analytic capabilities. These constitute the sources and methods that truly need protection. For the most part, they can easily be avoided without keeping an author from telling a story or restricting an author’s opinion on a variety of intelligence subjects.

In prepublication reviews, we have to show we know the difference between what truly is sensitive and what is not. We do not earn respect just by saying “no,” but neither do we earn respect just by giving away information. Our unique role is to judge whether a denial of disclosure would stand up in court, whether we could make a compelling case in a court of law that specific damage to US national security would result. We can have it both ways: we can protect that which needs to be protected, while being forthcoming about intelligence activities in a way that can help educate, inform, enlighten, and even entertain the general public. That is the cost of doing business in this free society we help to preserve; trying to have it both ways is a challenge that comes with the territory.

The article is focused on pre-publication review of manuscripts but notes that the submissions ranges “from 1,000-page book manuscripts to one-page letters to the editor. There are speeches, journal articles, theses and op-eds, book reviews, and movie scripts. There are scholarly treatises, works of fiction, and, recently, a cookbook featuring a collection of recipes acquired and served by Agency officers and spouses around the world. Perhaps the most novel review (no pun intended) involved an interactive CD-ROM video spy game co-authored by former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William Colby and KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin.”

We should note that the State Department’s pre-publication review has three purposes per 3 FAM 4170:

(1) The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).

The CIA’s PRB on the other hand says that  the sole purpose of its prepublication review is “to assist authors in avoiding inadvertent disclosure of classified information which, if disclosed, would be damaging to national security–just that and nothing more.”

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Related items:

SF312-13 | Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement

FORM_4414_Rev_12_2013 | Sensitive Compartmented Information Non-Disclosure Agreement