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Former State/OIG IT Contractor Pleads Guilty to Theft and Embezzlement of USG Computers

 

On March 7, 2019, USDOJ/U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that a former IT contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General pled guilty to theft and embezzlement.

A former federal contractor pleaded guilty today to theft and embezzlement of up to 16 government computers from the U.S. Department of State.

According to court documents, Andrew W. Cheveers, 31, of Bowie, Maryland, was an Information Technology contractor for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. In this role, Cheveers held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain sensitive information, and he was responsible for configuring the computers prior to the devices being distributed to U.S. government personnel.

Through the course of his criminal conduct, Cheevers admitted to stealing up to 16 Microsoft Surface Pro laptop computers. Cheveers then sold the stolen computers on Internet websites such as Craigslist and eBay from approximately July 2016 through February 2017 in order to profit from his fraudulent scheme.

Cheveers faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on June 21. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Celeste are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-64.

The announcement is available here.

Emergency Messages During Government Shutdown

A tsunami hit the coastal areas around the Sunda Strait in Indonesia (between the islands of Java and Sumatra) on December 22, 2018. It affected the Pandeglang, South Lampung, and Serang districts (as well as the resort area of Anyer). As of this writing, the tsunami death toll is now 373, with 128 missing and 1,459 injured.

The location of the tsunami is about 108 kilometers from the capital city of Jakarta. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (with constituent posts in Surabaya, Medan, and a Consular Agency in Bali) issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Jakarta – Tsunami on the West Coast of Banten and Lampung on Sun, 23 Dec 2018.

The Embassy Alert to U.S. citizens provides the following actions to take and contact information for those requiring assistance:

Actions to Take:

  • Carefully consider travel plans and avoid nonessential travel to tsunami affected areas.
  • Review the Travel Advisory for Indonesia
  • Review information about what to do in the event of a tsunami.
  • Notify friends and family of your well-being.
  • Review information from the Government of Indonesia’s agency for disaster managementhere (Indonesian language only) and here.
  • For regular updates, follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.

Assistance:  

The Alert message is currently on travel.state.gov and the embassy’s website, but it is not pushed on to social media due to the government shutdown. The State Department’s deputy spox says that they “are not aware of any U.S. citizens directly affected, but stand ready to assist as needed.”

The Alert message suggests that for regular updates people should “follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.” But those feed are no longer updated regularly due to the lapse in appropriation.

Our Foreign Service posts in Jakarta say “visit @StateDept for updates.” We note of only two official tweets to-date: one tweet from @TravelGov calling the tsunami a “Weather Alert” (though tsunami can be caused by weather when the atmospheric pressure changes very rapidly, this tsunami is believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano), and one tweet from the State Department through the deputy spox. While the multiple deaths and injuries in the Indonesia tsunami did not appear to include American citizens, disasters and calamities (besides the one unfolding in Washington, D.C.) could happen anytime.

See US Embassy Jakarta’s tweet:

One of the last few tweets sent by US Consulate Surabaya was about the tsunami before it announced that its Twitter feed will not be updated due to the lapse in appropriation.

The former strategic planner for the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) cited a policy cable from 2013, adopted formally as guidance in the Foreign Affairs Handbook which explicitly states that overseas missions using social media “should continue to do so in a crisis.” https://fam.state.gov/FAM/10FAH01/10FAH010060.html …. He rightfully noted that we are at an era when gov’t communication via social media is expected, particularly from a US embassy during a crisis affecting its host country. We agree that the use of social media to facilitate emergency communications with the public must be a prime consideration, rather than an afterthought. Posts’s feeds were the first place we looked up when we saw the tsunami alert online. We are sure we’re not the only one looking for information.

Just as we were about to post this, Reuters is reporting that Italy’s Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted on December 24, and causing the closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast. The social media accounts of US Embassy in Rome and its constituent posts in Florence and Naples have not been updated since the government shutdown took effect on December 22. Consulate Milan appears to be updating with holiday tweets as of nine hours ago. There does not appear to be any update from @StateDept concerning the Etna eruption.

Pompeo’s #Swagger Got Jimmy Kimmel’s Attention, Plus Mocking All Around #GetSwaggerOrElse

AND NOW THIS FROM A SMART TERRIER —

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@StateDept’s Immigrant Visa Processing Portal #CEAC Down For 10 Days Now

Posted: 1:15 pm PT
Update: July 31, 2:32 | It looks like the CEAC website is once again functional as of today.  

 

The State Department’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) for immigrant visas has been down since at least July 20th.  We can confirm that the service affected is specific to immigrant visa applicants and does not affect nonimmigrant visa applications.  We understand from a source that  the National Visa Center (NVC) that is using the website to allow applicants to send their paperwork to the consulates doesn’t have any information about the reasons or the possible timeframe on when it will be back on. We were told although we’re unable to confirm that “appointments have been canceled this time as well and it affected every consulate in the world that is using the new “faster” digital processing system.”

On July 26, we requested clarification from the Consular Affairs bureau if this is a scheduled maintenance and if they have a time frame when this will be completed. The following is a comment we received from a State Department official on background in response to our inquiry:

The Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) Immigrant Visa web portal is currently unavailable due to maintenance. During this time, IV applicants will be unable to access/login to the CEAC Immigrant Visa Agent (DS-261), Online Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260), or the Immigrant Visa Fee Payment portal. The CEAC Immigrant Visa application Status Check and Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) are not impacted by this maintenance. For urgent cases that are already at an overseas post, applicants may be asked to complete a paper-based immigrant visa application (DS-230), which will be provided by the local consulate or embassy. We regret the inconvenience to travelers and recognize the hardship for those waiting for visas, and in some cases, their family members or employers in the United States, during this maintenance period.

A quick scan of a few u.s. embassies’ visa webpages indicate no announcement of the system’s unavailability, however, travelstate.gov does have a highlighted announcement at the top of its page that says:

Immigrant visa forms and fee payments are currently unavailable in the Consular Electronic Application Center. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to resolve this and hope to have the system fully functional as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Apparently, some attorneys who made inquiries were told that a planned weekend update to the system resulted in an unexpected “catastrophic failure.” On July 27, travel.state.gov tweeted the following but we’re nowhere near in learning if this was a regularly scheduled update that gone bad, if there are other technical issues, or what is the time frame for bringing this system back online.

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Wait – @StateDept Has a Deputy “M” Again, a Position Discontinued by Congress in 1978

Posted: 2:30 pm  PT

 

With vacant offices and multiple departures from members of the Foreign Service and the State Department, it is hard to keep track sometimes of what’s happening amidst the opportunities and chaos in Foggy Bottom.

Bill Todd, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary & Acting Director General of the Foreign Service & Acting Director of Human Resources apparently has a fresh new title to add to his Twitter profile: Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management, a position discontinued by Congress in 1978.

How did that happen?

Apparently somebody convinced the now outgoing Secretary of State to sign a memo reconstituting this title on March 4. Did anyone bother to inform Secretary Tillerson that the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued specifically since Congress established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management in 1978? And if nobody informed him …

Yo. This is sad.

Since the discontinued title/position was made “live” again a couple of weeks ago, there were people wondering why this title was resurrected now, and without any official announcement. Today, of course, a day before Tillerson is set to exit Foggy Bottom, the first memo sent under this office is out, so it’s not a secret anymore (bland, routine memo with A Message From Deputy Under Secretary for Management Regarding Planning for a Potential Lapse in Appropriations). And our inbox lighted up from folks with “Whoa, did you see this?” or “State has a Deputy M? or “When was the last time the State Department had a Deputy Under Secretary for Management?”

Whoa, indeed! Not since 1978, my dears.

What we want to know is if Congress is okay with this given that it purposely killed this position when it created the  permanent”M” by legislation decades ago.

Trump’s nominee as the next Under Secretary of State for Management Eric Ueland was nominated last year, renominated earlier this year and was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February. The last Senate-confirmed “M” Patrick Kennedy retired in 2017 in the mass departures of top officials following the arrival of Secretary Tillerson and his aides in Foggy Bottom.  If Mr. Ueland’s nomination survives the current churn, he would be wise to seek assistance from Kennedy during his transition. Whether you like Patrick Kennedy or not, he was the longest serving M at State and no one who knows him questions his dedication to the institution. He also made Foggy Bottom run. The new secretary of state cannot focus his attention on the business of diplomacy if his own building and the people in it are in disarray.

In related news —

Stephen Akard, the nominee to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service has now been withdrawn. We are hearing that a career nominee for DGHR is forthcoming but we don’t have a timeframe for when the announcement might happen. We are guessing that the DGHR position could be among the first that will be announced in the next few weeks leading to Secretary-Designate Pompeo’s confirmation hearing.

Although Akard was a former FSO, his nomination as DGHR was fairly unpopular in the career service and even among retirees, and we understand that the State Department leadership, particularly the Deputy Secretary is aware of this. We think that the withdrawal of the Akard nomination and the announcement of a respected career diplomat as the new DGHR nominee could give the new secretary of state and the career service a fresh start without the baggage of bad feelings casting a shadow over Pompeo’s transition as the country’s top diplomat.

And for those not too familiar  with State, DGHR is one of the bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary of State for Management. We have to point out that when the next DGHR is nominated and confirmed, the Acting DGHR right now would presumably be overseeing the Senate-confirmed DGHR in his capacity as the new Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management.

Oh, lordy! We can’t wait to read all your oral histories!

image via imgur

Via history.state.gov:

Deputy Under Secretaries of State for Management

The Department of State by administrative action created the position of Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration, after Congress authorized ten Assistant Secretary of State positions (two of which could be at the Deputy Under Secretary of State level) in the Department of State Organization Act of 1949 (May 26, 1949; P.L. 81-73; 63 Stat. 111). Between 1953 and 1955, the ranking officer in the Department handling administrative matters was the Under Secretary of State for Administration. The Department re-established the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Administration in 1955, after Congress authorized three Deputy Under Secretary positions in the State Department Organization Act of Aug 5, 1955 (P.L. 84-250; 69 Stat. 536). The Department of State by administrative action changed the title of the position to Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management on Jul 12, 1971.

The position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued when an Act of Congress of Oct 7, 1978, established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management (P.L. 85-426; 92 Stat. 968).

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Can sound be used as a weapon? 4 questions answered #USEmbassyHavana

 

File 20180226 122025 13a2tfq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What happened to people inside this building, the U.S. Embassy in Havana? U.S. State Department

Kevin Fu, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Zhejiang University

 

Editor’s note: Government and academic investigators continue to probe reports from Cuba that, starting in 2016 and continuing through 2017, U.S. and Canadian diplomats and tourists may have been subjected to a “sonic weapon,” damaging their hearing, causing nausea, speech problems and potentially even mild brain injuries.

Electrical engineering and computer science professors Wenyuan Xu from Zhejiang University and Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan explain their research, which suggests a more likely scenario of sloppy engineering, and what ultrasound frequencies (which can be used to transmit information gathered by listening devices) traveling through the air can – and can’t – do.

1. What is ultrasound useful for?

The most commonly known use for ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear – is a medical device used for examining a fetus during pregnancy. But there are plenty of other uses. Many offices have occupancy sensors that use ultrasound to detect movement and keep the lights on when someone is in a space, and off when nobody is around. These sensors operate at frequencies such as 32 kilohertz, far above what the human ear can hear – which is a range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Other products use ultrasound to deliver targeted sound, for instance allowing a museum to play a recording for visitors in one area of an exhibit without disturbing others nearby. Electronic pest repellents use ultrasound to keep rodents or insects at bay. A similar product can even be used to disperse teenagers; aging tends to reduce people’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds, so a noisemaker can annoy young people without adults even noticing. (This has also let teens create smartphone ringtones their elders can’t hear.)

2. What can go wrong with ultrasound?

Airborne ultrasound is not inherently bad. But things can go wrong. A former colleague of Kevin’s used to hear strange sounds from his hearing aid when in rooms with occupancy sensors, likely because the hearing aid’s electronics improperly converted the ultrasound into audible noises. These noises were annoying, but not harmful. A similar problem tainted one of our students’ research, conducted in a room that, unbeknownst to him, had an ultrasonic room occupancy sensor in the ceiling.

Michigan Ph.D. student Connor Bolton frustratingly discovers that ultrasonic noise from a ceiling-mounted room occupancy sensor had interfered with a year’s worth of sonic experiments. Connor Bolton, CC BY-ND

Both ultrasound and human-audible sound can also affect electronics. For instance, one of us has conducted research in which carefully crafted ultrasonic signals secretly activate voice-control systems, even unlocking an iPhone with a silent “Hey Siri” command, and telling it to make a FaceTime call. Sound can also affect the physical world, as when a singer shatters a wine glass. Microelectrical mechanical sensing chips – such as accelerometers used in car airbag systems and smartphones, and gyroscopes in drones – are susceptible to the same interference. Those systems can be attacked with sound, crashing a drone mid-flight, or fooling a smartphone about whether it’s moving.

Making audible sounds from inaudible ultrasounds.

3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm?

It’s well-known that sounds that are too loud can damage people’s ears and hearing. However, there’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. If you are accidentally subjected to extremely intense ultrasound (such as when holding an ultrasonic arc welder), you could experience an annoyance like a headache or temporary loss of balance. Academics disagree about safe levels of airborne ultrasound. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns of potential health risks from audible subharmonic byproducts of ultrasound, more so than the ultrasound itself. Many animals can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear higher-pitched whistles, for instance. One of our students noticed that his pet turtles would begin to dance rhythmically when he performed ultrasound experiments!

4. What might have happened in Cuba?

In early 2017, U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported hearing strange metallic sounds, and suffering hearing loss and other neurological harm. Later reports of similar effects came from Canadian diplomats and tourists from both Canada and the U.S. Possible explanations have varied: Some have alleged Cuba used an unknown sonic weapon, while others have blamed “mass hysteria.”

Our research offers a new explanation not previously considered by others: The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. We were able to use ultrasonic tones to create sounds like those that were described and recorded in Cuba. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but as with musical combination tones, combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident.

A recording of the sound some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana.

 

Further, we created a proof-of-concept eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba. We were even able to control the volume of the audible sounds by varying the strength of the ultrasonic signals. The ConversationWithout additional evidence, our research does not identify what actually happened in Cuba, but it provides a plausible explanation for what might have happened, even if the eavesdroppers were not trying to harm people.

Kevin Fu, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Zhejiang University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Snapshot: Total Non-Resident Arrivals From Canada, Mexico, Europe, Total Overseas (August 2017)

Posted: 1:35 am ET

 

Via DOC’s National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO):

click image for a larger view

Note that the NTTO’s main source of I-94 arrivals data is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who releases the I-94 arrivals data to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NTTO for a its count of all travelers entering the United States. The data reports also integrate the volume of inbound International visitors to the United States from residents of other countries using three U.S. and International government sources: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection I-94 arrivals program data, Statistics Canada’s International Travel Survey and Banco de Mexico travel data.

The preliminary data indicates a -3.6 percent decrease in overall total of arrivals in year-to-date reported at the end of the 3rd quarter in August 2017. Also a higher year-to-date dip at -6.0 percent in total overseas arrival (excluding Canada and Mexico), a -7.6 percent dip in year-to-date arrival from Mexico, and a -2.1 percent dip in year-to-date arrivals from Europe. Year-to-date arrivals from Canada is up at 4.5 percent, slightly higher than the 3.8 percent at the end of the 3rd quarter but a tad lower than the 4.6 percent in the 2nd quarter.

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US Embassy Cuba: New Mechanism For Brain Injury From an “Exposure of Unknown Origin”

Posted: 12:39 am ET

 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was selected to coordinate the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of 21 government personnel (11 women and 10 men) identified by the State Department and evaluated an average of 203 days following exposure to reported sound (described as “buzzing,” “grinding  metal,” “piercing squeals” or “humming”) and sensory phenomena (described as pressure-like or vibrating and likened to air “baffling” inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down) at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.

“It’s like a concussion without a concussion.”

“Of the 21 individuals assessed at Penn, 17 reported cognitive or behavioral problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or both. “It’s not that any patient can’t do a given task, but it requires way more effort,” said coauthor Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “They don’t have as much cognitive reserve.”

The author and his coauthors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the State Department, “so they cannot discuss whether they know more about what happened in Havana than has already been made public.”

The study concludes that “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”

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