As Ukraine Opens Probe Into Yovanovitch Surveillance, Foggy Bottom Remains Mute as a Mouse

Update 1:37 pm PST: Mid-day on Friday, CNN reports: After more than 48 hours of silence, Pompeo says State will investigate possible surveillance of ex-US ambassador

On January 14, we blogged about the Parnas documents indicating a possible surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch while she was posted as U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv (see Parnas Materials: Surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in Kyiv).
According to NBC News reporter Josh Lederman, Robert F. Hyde reportedly dismissed the Parnas texts as “colorful texts” from when they’d “had a few pops way back when I used to drink” (see). When asked about Hyde’s claims of tracking Ambassador Yovanovitch, Lev Parnas in his first TV interview also said, “Well, I don’t believe it’s true.”  He added, “I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn’t take it seriously.”
Since we have not heard anything from the State Department or Secretary Pompeo, are we to understand that the State Department is just taking their words that they’re joking around or drunk as claimed in their worrisome exchange? Given subsequent reporting on the Hyde character, that’s possible, of course. But if there was something there, anyone really expect that these individuals would admit to some nefarious intent publicly?
On January 16, Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior announced that it opened an investigation on the possible surveillance:

Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America. However, the published references cited contain a possible violation of the law of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of the foreign country.

Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state.

Also on January 16, NBC News reported that the FBI paid a visits to Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde’s Connecticut home and business.  FBI spokesperson told The Hill, “There is no further information that can be shared at this time.”  But as former DOJ staffer Matthew Miller points out, DOJ has had these messages for months. They’re investigating this claimed surveillance just now.
As of this writing, neither Pompeo nor the State Department has released any statement of concern on the possibility that one of its ambassadors was under surveillance for unknown reasons by people directly connected to Rudy Giuliani, the shadow secretary of state.
When State officials and Pompeo talk about protecting and supporting our diplomats in their town halls and chitchats, do they still say that loud with straight faces? Really, we’re curious.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch

 

 

CRS: How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts from possible Iranian retaliation?

 

CRS: U.S. Killing of Qasem Soleimani: Frequently Asked Questions January 8, 2020
How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts in the Middle East and elsewhere from possible Iranian retaliation?

Secretary Pompeo has said that although U.S. personnel in the Middle East are safer following the removal of Soleimani from the battlefield, there remains “an enormous set of risks in the region” and that the United States is “preparing for each and every one of them.” 78 Secretary Pompeo has also remarked that the United States will ensure that its overseas diplomatic facilities are as “hardened as we can possibly get them” to defend against possible Iranian action.79 Following the December 31 blockade of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, 100 Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response–Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) were deployed at the State Department’s request to reinforce the Embassy. Analysts note that this Task Force, which was created after the 2012 attack on a U.S. post in Benghazi, is capable of providing compound defense through the use of air, ground, and, when necessary, amphibious operations.80 These additional forces augment the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment and other security personnel already present at the Embassy. MSGs have worked with the State Department to protect and safeguard U.S. overseas posts for over 60 years. Neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense disclose the number of MSGs serving at each overseas post. Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley has expressed confidence regarding Embassy Baghdad’s security, stating that it is unlikely to be overrun and warning that air and ground capabilities there mean that anyone who attempts to do so “will run into a buzzsaw.” 81

Some analysts maintain that because Iran and its proxies have previously demonstrated their capability to perpetrate attacks throughout the world, the State Department must mitigate risks to the safety of U.S. personnel not only in the Middle East but worldwide.82 State Department regulations enable the Principal Officer at each overseas post (at an embassy, this would be the ambassador), Regional Security Officer (or RSO, the senior Diplomatic Security Service special agent serving at post), and the post’s Emergency Action Committee, with the support of Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel in Washington, DC, to evaluate threats and develop and implement security policies and programs.83 Some analysts have suggested that past Iranian behavior indicates that the State Department should give special consideration to the threat posed by kidnapping or attacks focused on so-called “soft targets,” which include buildings such as schools, restaurants, or other public spaces that often are frequented by diplomats or their families.84

The State Department could also choose to close or change the status of an overseas post in response to evolving threat assessments. This occurred previously in Iraq, when in September 2018 the State Department announced that the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah would be placed on ordered departure, meaning that all U.S. personnel would be evacuated from post.85 Secretary Pompeo has stated that the State Department is continuing to evaluate the appropriate overseas diplomatic posture for the United States given the Iranian threat.86

 

Pompeo’s New Songs Bring Back the Old Times With #BaghdadBob

 

 

Iraqi Protesters Breach U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s Compound

Media reports indicate that Iraqi protesters, identified as Iraqi Shiite militia members and their supporters, stormed the U.S. Embassy Baghdad on December 31, in protest of the deadly air strikes conducted by U.S. forces over the weekend. Reports note that the Sunday strikes killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
On December 30, SecDef Mark Esper announced that “the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group.  The targets we attacked included three targets in Western Iraq and two targets in Eastern Syria that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kata’ib Hezbollah.”
On December 27, a rocket attack at an Iraqi base killed one U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. troops. See 
According to the AP, the State Department has stated that all U.S. personnel at Embassy Baghdad are safe and that there are no plants to evacuate.
This morning, U.S. Embassy Baghdad issued a security alert advising “U.S. citizens not to approach the Embassy.  U.S. citizens should keep in touch with family members.  In an emergency, U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.”

 

Authorized/Ordered Departures: U.S. Embassy Burkina Faso

The State Department has previously issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Bolivia on November 12, 2019 (US Embassy Bolivia Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members).
On November 26, the State Department issued a Level 4 – Do Not Travel for Burkina Faso.  The Travel Advisory was issued due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.  It also included an announcement that the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members. There are currently 14 countries with Level 4 designations.
Do not travel to Burkina Faso due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping.

Country Summary: Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools.

Kidnapping and hostage taking is a threat throughout the country.  On May 10, 2019 a hostage rescue operation freed four international hostages that had been kidnapped in Burkina Faso and in neighboring Benin.

The Government of Burkina Faso has maintained a state of emergency in the entire East and Sahel regions, the provinces of Kossi and Sourou in the Boucle de Mouhoun region, the province of Kenedougou in the Hauts Bassins region, the province of Loroum in the North region, and the province of Koulpelogo in the Center-East region.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens throughout most of the country, as U.S. government personnel are restricted from travelling to regions outside the capitol due to security concerns. The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. government personnel from personal travel to the Karpala, Balkiui and Rayongo (also known as Dayongo) neighborhoods of Ouagadougou’s Arrondissement 11 due to the potential for security operations.

On November 26, 2019, the Department ordered the departure of all minor family members of U.S. government employees, and the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

The US Embassy in Ouagadougou also posted this on its website:

Consistent with our primary responsibility to protect American citizens and consistent with the assessment that the security situation in Burkina Faso has reached a point where it is not appropriate for children to remain as part of the Embassy community at this time, the U.S. Embassy ordered the departure of U.S. mission family members under the age 21.  The U.S. Embassy remains open for all services including full diplomatic engagement and consular services, including the full range of services for American citizens.  There is no specific threat that prompted this decision, rather this reconfiguration of the U.S. Embassy staffing profile will enable refocused operations to assist Burkina Faso in its struggle against violent extremist organizations.

 

Why State/OIG Should Look Into Diplomatic Security’s Mina Chang Headache

 

NBC News did a follow up report on the Mina Change story it broke that lead to the resignation of the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Excerpt:

To secure her job at the State Department in April, Chang leveraged social connections to senior officials who could help open the doors to the administration, including Brian Bulatao, a close friend and deputy to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; a State Department official and former defense contractor who she succeeded as deputy assistant secretary, Pete Marocco; and a congressional staffer for key GOP lawmaker Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, multiple sources said. Marocco endorsed her for the job and McCaul wrote her a recommendation letter.
[…]
By the time Rep. McCaul issued the recommendation letter, Chang’s nomination was moving ahead thanks to her own contacts in the administration, said a spokesperson for the congressman, Kaylin Minton.
[..]
Chang lists just $12,000 in income before she took the State Department job and listed no salary from her charity. According to papers from her divorce case in 2011, she was due to receive nearly $1,400 a month in child support and $500 in alimony per month for a year from her ex-husband, a real estate developer. She lived in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas in a high-end apartment building, former colleagues and acquaintances said.

The updated NBC News piece also notes that “The State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service, which helps vet appointees, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Oh, dang!
State and DSS are probably hoping that this story will just go away now that she had submitted her resignation. But there is something in this story that is troubling.  If it was this easy for her to get this position despite the now revealed holes in her resume,  how many more are there in Foggy Bottom who were hired under similar circumstances? And how exactly did Diplomatic Security “missed” um …  a few things that reporters were able to easily dig up? Is this a case of Diplomatic Security “missing” a few things or a case of the security bureau being “responsive” to the 7th Floor?
Perhaps more importantly, if it was this easy to get around these “holes” and get a deputy assistant secretary position (which typically requires years and years of experience for career appointees), just how hard could it be for foreign intel services to do the same?
Now, we’re not suggesting that Diplomatic Security investigates itself on how this individual got through its security clearance process,  or see if the bureau has systemic holes in that process. We think State/OIG or a congressional panel with oversight authority should look into it.

 

Related posts:
State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims;
Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

US Embassy Seoul: Protesters Breach Perimeter of Ambassador’s Residence, 2nd Incident in 13 Months

 

 

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.”  

 

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: