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State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s Not

— Domani Spero

 

In June last year, CBS News’ John Miller reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off at the State Department. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.

Memos showed that probes included allegations of:

  • A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
  • Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
  • An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
  • The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
  • Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
  • “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.

You may revisit that CBS News report here. At that time, State/OIG told us that “On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.” In a statement to CBS News, State/OIG also said about the investigation: “We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.”

We’ve blog about this previously:

Yesterday, State/OIG finally released its long-awaited report to this investigation, excerpt below:

The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. […]

In three of the eight internal investigations, OIG found that a combination of factors in each case created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism by Department management. The appearance of undue influence and favoritism is problematic because it risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders.

This review assesses the Department’s handling of those eight investigations. OIG did not reinvestigate the underlying cases. In conducting this review, OIG interviewed Department employees, examined case files, and reviewed 19,000 emails culled from the Department’s electronic communications network. OIG’s findings are not necessarily indicative of systemic issues affecting all DS cases. However, they reveal issues with current Department policies and procedures that may have significant implications regarding actual or perceived undue influence.

Handling “management issues” relating to a U.S. Ambassador

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.
[…]
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3 (underlined for emphasis)

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6

But the footnotes!

2* 3 FAM 4322.2 states that incidents or allegations involving Chiefs of Mission that could serve as grounds for disciplinary action and/or criminal action must be immediately referred to OIG or DS to investigate. This section further states that “[i]n exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management…may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.” No guidance exists describing what factors to consider in determining what constitutes “exceptional circumstances.”

3* In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter.

4* 3 FAM 4322.3.a provides that a management official “must initially determine whether he, she, or another management official should be the investigating official, or whether the matter should be referred to” OIG or DS for further action. This section further provides that if the official determines that the “alleged misconduct is relatively minor, such as leave abuse or failure to perform assigned duties, that official or another management official may handle the administrative inquiry” and need not refer the matter to OIG or DS.

5* After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

6* During the course of this review, OIG discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials. OIG found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

OIG to M’s “exceptional circumstances”  — what the heck is that?

“…OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

Well, it’s shocking that M, DS and the Legal Adviser could not agree on a simple thing. We do think the OIG is exactly right here. Why have an oversight and investigation arm if some higher up can declare no investigation necessary under an “exceptional circumstances”clause, that’s not even spelled out.

The Inspector General is ranked equivalent to an Assistant Secretary.  According to the regs, he reports directly to the Secretary, the Board, the Commissioner and the head of any other organization for which the OIG is assigned oversight responsibility, or to the extent such authority is delegated, to the officer next-in-rank. But 1 FAM 053.2-2 Under Secretary for Management (M) (CT:ORG-312; 07-17-2013)  put in place before the current OIG assumed office, also has this to say:

The Under Secretary for Management (M) is the Secretary’s designated top management official responsible for audit and inspection follow-up and the Secretary’s designee for impasse resolution when Department officials do not agree with OIG recommendations for corrective action.

We’ll have to watch and see how this turns out.  Must add that nowhere in the Foreign Affairs Manual does it say that the Inspector General may not/not investigate matters considered “management issues” under  “exceptional circumstances.”

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

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Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?

— Domani Spero

We last blogged about the US Consulate-related slayings in Ciudad Juarez in February 2014. The victims of that tragic incident were El Paso County sheriff’s detention officer Arthur Redelfs, his wife Lesley Ann Enriquez Redelfs, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juárez, and Jorge Salcido Ceniceros, husband of Hilda Salcido who also worked at the consulate (see US Consulate Ciudad Juárez Murder Trial Now On Going in El Paso).

On April 22, SpyTalker Jeff Stein has Murders in Juárez in Newsweek with disturbing allegations.

David Farrington, a U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) service agent, has been vexed by a troubling question for the past several years. He has reason to suspect a colleague deliberately failed to warn an American working at a U.S. consulate in Mexico that she was targeted for assassination by a drug cartel.

Farrington, a former Marine and 10-year veteran of the State Department’s security service, was the first agent to get to the scene of the March 13, 2010, Juarez murders—another car carrying a consulate employee was attacked as well—and caught the case, as they say in police lingo. But his revulsion quickly turned to consternation, and then obsession, when he began asking questions about the whereabouts of the consulate’s chief security officer that day. Eventually, he was taken off the case, according to State Department emails obtained by Newsweek, relieved of his badge and gun, and ordered to undergo a psychological fitness review. But he hasn’t given up.
[…]
Documents show that the Juarez case was just one of a slew of episodes in which investigators charged that senior State Department officials deep-sixed investigations to protect careers or avoid scandal. In June 2013, CBS News aired a report by John Miller, a former FBI chief spokesman, based on an internal IG memo citing instances in which “investigations were influenced, manipulated or simply called off” by senior department officials.

Ugh! More allegations of nasty bizness here.

According to NYT, that OIG report became public “as a result of a civil suit filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”

For more of that case, see Higbie v. Kerry, Dist. Court, ND Texas 2014.

On June 10, 2013, the DOJ lawyers representing Secretary Kerry filed a Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents (Doc. 79) — that OIG report. Court doc explains:

These alleged improperly-obtained documents relate to the Office of Inspector General’s (“OIG”) inspection of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) offices. Defendant contends that these documents are privileged and irrelevant. Additionally, Defendant argues that these documents are not related to the Dallas Resident Office; rather, these documents concern the “policies, resources, and management controls of the DS office that conducts criminal investigations worldwide.”

However, on March 14, 2014, the District Court of Texas granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and denied as moot Defendant’s Motion to Exclude Improperly-Obtained Documents saying that “The court reviewed the alleged improperly-obtained documents and determined that nothing contained in the documents would change its ruling regarding Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

The last time we checked, State/OIG still has that CBS charges on deep-sixed investigations “under review.” In November 2013, State/OIG put out an ad for one senior investigative counsel for complex/sensitive allegations.  This latest allegation may put that review on the front burner.

(Also see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal)

The Newsweek report says that “Farrington’s bosses quietly returned his badge and gun. Nothing more was said about his FFDE, but his applications for a new assignment—even in the most unpopular places—have all been turned down.”

But it also says that Cary Schulman, a Dallas lawyer who has represented Farrington (also Higbie and Fedenisn) had faxed over 100 pages of internal emails and other materials related to Farrington’s case to the House oversight and Senate foreign relations committees.

Let’s see what happens.

On April 24, DOJ announced that Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, aka “Benny,” “Farmero,” “51,” “Guero,” “Pecas,” “Tury,” and “86,” 35, of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Barrio Azteca Lieutenant who ordered the March 2010 murders of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, was sentenced  to serve life in prison.

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Howard v. Kerry: USCG Naples EEO Case Now a Civil Lawsuit in Federal Court

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— Domani Spero

Kerry Howard’s allegations against the former Consul General in Naples made the news last year (see NYPost – State Department swept sex scandals under the rug and Whistleblower accuses consul general of trysts with subordinates and hookers).

Kerry Howard’s LinkedIn profile indicates that she has been in Naples, Italy since January 2008.  The court document also says that she is the spouse of an FSO who was employed as Consulate General Naples’ Community Liaison Officer from February 2010 to May 2012.  Ms. Howard has now filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT):

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on race, color, religion,  sex or national origin. (42 USC 2000e-2(a)  and its anti retaliation provision forbids discrimination against an employee or job applicant who inter alia has “made a charge,  assisted or participated in a Title VII proceeding or investigation. Section 2000e-3(a)

An employer which creates or tolerates a work environment  permeated with discriminatory intimidation,  ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment and which creates an abusive work environment is in violation of Title VII.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 10.36.20 PM

The NYPost currently has a screaming headline that runs, American diplomat ran consulate like party pad: suit. The report says that the official “has since been reassigned from the Italian post to a position at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, which is also administered by the State Department.” Huh?

While the lawsuit is against Secretary Kerry as head of the agency, if this go to trial, there presumably will be a long list of witnesses from the who’s who at USCG Naples and US Embassy Rome a the time when this incident is alleged to have occured.  The court filing includes the names and positions of several officers in Naples, Rome and the State Department, including the then Deputy Chief of Mission in Rome, the then FLO director, and an FS couple who was alleged to have been “blacklisted” for services at post and alleged to have been subsequently “involuntarily curtailed” from Naples.

Remember last summer’s CBS scoop on allegations by OIG investigator Aurelia Fedenisn over interference of politically delicate investigations at the State Department?  According to NYT,   that report became public as a result of  … that’s right, another civil suit, this one filed in 2011 by Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent who accused the State Department of blocking his career. “His lawyers sought the department’s internal documents after Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator who worked on the inspector general’s report, complained that the final draft had been toned down.”   We can’t imagine what stuff will come out of this case which includes allegation that the State Department “indifference” to a senior official’s misconduct  “gave consent to the creation of working conditions for women which could be so difficult, unpleasant or intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.”  

In a 19-page complaint demanding jury trial, Ms. Howard asks for reinstatement, full value of compensation and provide the retroactive benefits including those incident to full year service rights to other government positions she would have received had she not been the victim of unlawful discrimination,” compensatory and liquidated damages in the amount of $300,000, and the costs and expenses of litigation including reasonable attorney’s fees and witness fees.

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State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations

— By Domani Spero

In early October, State IG Steve Linick was joined at the Inspector General Office by two former officials from FHFA-OIG; the office also had a partial make over of its top ranks.   See New Faces, Old Faces — State Dept’s Office of Inspector General Gets a Make-Over.  Now State/OIG has announced job openings for three other positions.

Criminal Investigator
OIG-2014-0008
GS-1811-12/13
Closes: November 24, 2013

Attorney Adviser- General (Senior Investigative Counsel)
OIG-2014-0006
GS-0905-15
Closes: December 11, 2013

Director (Congressional and Public Affairs)
OIG-2014-0007
GS-0301-15
Closes: December 12, 2013

Well, what are you waiting for?  Active links added for those interested in applying for those jobs.

The Attorney Adviser position caught our eyes.  According to usajobs.gov, this position is specifically responsible for the following (not full list, see job announcement here):

  • Receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct involving senior DOS/BBG employees that may involve violations of law, DOS/BBG regulations, or applicable standards of conduct;
  • Undertaking investigations to pursue such allegations either alone or as part of an OIG team. Drafts public and non-public reports of investigative findings or conclusions;
  • Identifying significant violations of policies or procedures that become evident in the course of investigations, evaluations, and other special projects, and submitting recommendations for corrective action;
  • Personally handling matters assigned by the IG/DIG that involve sensitive, highly visible issues;

The job is a full-time permanent  GS-15 position with a salary range of $123,758.00 to $155,500.00/per annum.

In any case, we got curious about this so we asked the IG office, and here is what we’re told:

“While the Director, Congressional & Public Affairs is an established position that has recently become vacant, the Investigative Counsel is a new position for the State OIG. The IG envisions hiring an individual with legal and/or prosecutorial experience to enhance OIG’s ability to pursue civil and criminal penalties and to investigate complex and sensitive allegations of employee misconduct.

In addition, this individual would be assigned to conduct special reviews and projects for the OIG.  This approach has been used successfully at the Department of Justice OIG, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General.”

They do have complex and sensitive allegations to tackle over there.

Remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly ”influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

There were eight cases alleged in that memo.  None of those cases appeared on the OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress.  We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation.

State/OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

A separate case involving allegations about the U.S. Consulate General in Naples did make it to the OIG semi-annual report ending March 31, 2013:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

State/OIG explained that the way its Office of Investigations (INV) works is that all incoming complaints and/or allegations are processed through the Hotline.  OIG INV then “assesses each incoming complaint and/or allegation individually to determine the most appropriate course of action based on the facts of the matter.”  This Naples case was referred out of the IG and is reportedly ongoing in the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights.   We have to say that this is a case that already got ugly but can get a whole lot uglier.

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Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days

— By Domani Spero

President Obama nominated Steve A. Linick as State Department Inspector General back in June filling a 1,989-day vacancy. (After 1,989 Day-Vacancy — President Obama Nominates Steve Linick as State Dept Inspector General). He will succeed Howard J. Krongard who announced his resignation on December 7, 2007.   Mr. Linick went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30, 2013 (see video here).  During his confirmation hearing, he made the following pledges:

From a strategic and leadership perspective, I understand that the responsibilities of the position to which I have been nominated are great. Based on the significant issues facing the Department of State, it is clear to me that assuming the leadership role of Inspector General will be challenging and rewarding. I look forward to this task, if confirmed.

If confirmed, I pledge to: 

  • Ensure that the Department of State Office of Inspector General (OIG) is an independent and objective organization that provides timely, robust, fact-based oversight, transparency, and accountability to the programs and operations of the Department of State; 
  • Consult stakeholders regularly (including the Government Accountability Office and affected communities)
  • Efficiently and effectively deploy OIG resources to those areas that present the highest risk to the Department of State; 
  • Collaborate with other inspectors general who have potentially overlapping interests, jurisdiction, and programs; 
  • Ensure whistleblowers have a safe forum to voice grievances and are protected from retaliation; and
  • Aggressively protect taxpayer funds against fraud, waste, and abuse.

 

On September 17, after a wait of almost three months, the Senate finally confirmed Mr. Linick. So for the first time in 2,066 days, the State Department has a Senate-confirmed watchdog.

Today, September 30, will reportedly be Mr. Linick’s first day at work as Inspector General of the oldest executive department in the union.

While we have not been following his work as IG for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), we understand that he was not shy in questioning publicly the large compensation packages for executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also told them off the bat that he would be no ordinary Washington regulator.  We are pleased with this appointment as State/OIG primarily because of that and because he is from outside The Building with limited Foreign Service connections.  With him as new watchdog in Foggy Bottom, we hope to see some changes in the way the OIG conducts its business.  We think our wishlist below is pretty reasonable.

1.  Redactions

One of our pet peeves, especially in the last several years is the redaction of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  The controversial OIG report on the IIP Bureau (Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28), similarly was stripped of names on who conducted the inspection.  The copy we were furnished did include the names of the team leader and deputy team leader but the rest of the names of the inspection team members were redacted.

When we inquired from State/OIG about this, we were told:

“It is marked as FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Now, that there alone gave us a terrible headache. The OIG inspectors are conducting official business in the name of the American public. Why would it be an invasion of privacy if their names are revealed?

So we asked “Why”? And this is what we were told by State/OIG:

“There is recent case law that specifically protects inspectors and investigators from having their information disseminated. However, there is concomitant protection for auditors – so, we continue to release their names.”

Protects them from having their “information disseminated” — as if we were asking for their home address.  We just want the names public. So we tried again asking State/OIG for the case law and date that their official FOIA lawyer is citing.

State/OIG who is actually quite good with response time sent us a disappointing reply:

“I’m afraid I don’t have it – and today was her last day.”

Look, there is a a reason why the inspectors’ names should not/not be redacted.  Retired and active FS officers are part of the OIG staff.  Active FS officers who become IG staff eventually has to bid for other rotational Foreign Service jobs.  Since 1978, the Government Accountability has questioned the use of FSOs detailed to the OIG  office since they bid and return to regular FS assignments.

  • In 1978, GAO reviewed the IG’s inspection reports and questioned the independence of Foreign Service officers who were temporarily detailed to the IG’s office and recommended the elimination of this requirement.
  • In 1979, the GAO noted that Foreign Service officers detailed as inspectors for temporary tours of two years and then reassigned to activities which they may recently have evaluated has negative as well as positive aspects.
  • In 1982  GAO continued to question the use of Foreign Service officers and other persons from operational units within the department to staff the IG office. It told Congress that it believes the IG’s extensive use of temporary or rotational staff affects the IG office’s independence because (1) these staff members routinely rotate between the IG office and management positions within the organizations they review, and (2) major decisions affecting their careers are determined by the State Department rather than by the IG office.
  • In 1991, GAO examined whether the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General (OIG): (1) omitted references to itself in an annual oversight report to Congress in a deliberate attempt to conceal internal problems; and (2) inappropriately hired and paid experts and consultants.
  • In 2007 GAO reported to Congress that it continue to identify concerns regarding the independence of the State IG that are similar to concerns they reported almost three decades ago. GAO concerns include (1) the appointment of line management officials to head the State IG in an acting capacity for extended periods, and (2) the use of ambassador-level Foreign Service staff to lead inspections of the department’s bureaus and posts even though they may have conflicts of interest resulting from their roles in the Foreign Service.
  • In 2011, the GAO noted some improvements, specifically noting that while State/OIG continues to assign Foreign Service officers at the ambassador level as team leaders for inspections, four of the six officers are rehired annuitants unlikely to rotate to State Department Foreign Service positions. GAO remains concerned, however, about the OIG’s use of Foreign Service officers and the State Department’s need to rely on acting IGs for extended periods of time.

In 1986, Congress made the State IG a presidentially appointed inspector general subject to the Inspector General Act and prohibited a career member of the Foreign Service from being appointed as the State IG. That change did not prohibit the appointment of a career member of the FS as acting IG or deputy IG.  According to the GAO in 2011, State/OIG implemented a change to the succession planning for acting IG positions to exclude Foreign Service officers.

We have yet to see that in action.

While we have not been able to confirm the relevant case law that State/OIG cited in withholding the identities of inspectors, we were told that this “doesn’t sound implausible.”  Steven Aftergood (@saftergood on Twitter) who runs Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists posits that even if such an exemption from disclosure exists (which it probably does), then it would be discretionary, not mandatory.  It means that State/OIG would be “at liberty to disclose it even if there was no compelling legal obligation to do so.”

Given the nature of the assignments/rotations in the Foreign Service, and the persistent questions of potential impairments to independence, we look on Mr. Linick to lean on the side of disclosure. Mr. Aftergood suggests that “such disclosure would be a good practice to adopt, particularly in light of the variability of State OIG career tracks and the potential for subsequent conflicts of interest.” 

2.  Recusals

The GAO report dated April 2011 indicates that to address independence impairments the State/OIG relies on “a recusal policy where Foreign Service officers must self-report whether they have worked in a post or embassy that is subject to an inspection and therefore presents a possible impairment.”  The GAO insist that they “continue to believe that the State OIG’s use of management staff who have the possibility of returning to management positions, even if they are rehired annuitants or currently report to civil service employees in the OIG, presents at least an appearance of impaired independence.”

We have never seen any of the published OIG reports indicate whether any recusal was filed related to an inspection or audit.  We would like to see that information included in State/OIG reports and audits.

3.  A Note on Black Sharpies 

Remember the hard-hitting OIG reports on Luxembourg, Kenya, Malta? All made the news. All also have one other thing in common — the chiefs of mission at these three posts were all political appointees.  Then there were two other OIG reports on Pakistan and Lebanon that caught our attention, both under career diplomats, and both severely redacted, including one that talks about the leadership shortcomings in the front office. (State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?).  We were told that the redactions in one case had to do with the “geopolitical situation” at one post.  Our main concern about this as we have said here in the past is two-fold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. We would like to see State/OIG apply one standard on its reviews of chiefs of mission performance. Not whether they are effective political appointees or effective career appointees but whether they are effective representatives of the President regardless of their appointment authorities.

4. Cobwebs Over Troubled OIG Memo

Finally – remember this past summer when there was a big kaboom in Foggy Bottom ? (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal.  The Cable’s John Hudson had an exclusive with Aurelia Fedenisn, a former State Department inspector general investigator Exclusive: Whistleblower Says State Department Trying to Bully Her Into Silence.  Some real serious allegations were made about cases that were reportedly “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” in the State Department.  State/OIG released a statement to CBS News here.

On June 10, 2013, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was on the podium answering questions about the CBS report:

QUESTION: First, what – I guess we can begin most broadly simply by asking what comments you have about the report that aired on CBS News this morning concerning State Department OIG Office.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.

[…]

QUESTION: — to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.

QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.

The back and forth went on and on to a point of total uselessness.  But the official spokesperson of the State Department did confirm that all the cases mentioned in the CBS report were “thoroughly investigated or under investigation.”

So imagine our confusion when the State/OIG submitted its Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013 which was posted online on June 19, 2013?   We could not find any of the eight cases alleged in the CBS news report. None are listed as either an ongoing or a completed investigation in this semi-annual report; they’re not in the report submitted six months earlier either. What happened to them?

The report to Congress ending on March 31, 2013 lists investigations on bribery, theft and embezzlement, false claims, and grant fraud. It includes four investigations under employee misconduct: 1) a DCM repeatedly used his government resources for non-official purposes; 2)  a passport specialist used her official position to access personal information of personal acquaintances from official passport databases; 3) a Foreign Service officer responsible for award and oversight of the grants failed to follow grant policy; and 4) a Department employee who was overpaid for workers’ compensation leave (WCL) after a work-related injury.

Any of that remotely resembles the cases described in the October 2012 memo reported on the news?

The report did include under Congressional Mandates and Requests the following item which also made the news at around the same time as the CBS news:

“On November 2, 2012, OIG received a request from Senator Rand Paul to investigate allegations of staff misconduct at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy. In its response, OIG noted that the complaints were referred to the appropriate offices in the Department and that the complainants were provided contact information for the offices to which the complaints were referred.”

So —

We would like to suggest that among Mr. Linick’s first order of business, and we expect that he will have a full plate, is to personally look into what happened to these eight cases alleged to have been deep-sixed.  If these cases had been “thoroughly” investigated as claimed, then there should be records.   If the individuals were cleared, there should also be records.  If these allegations were never investigated, or there are no records, then one needs to ask why. Of course, there is another “why” that we are interested in. Why would a retired investigator of the Service turn against her old office in the most public way?

How aggressively Mr. Linick tackle these cobwebs and get some answers would help tell us what kind of junkyard dog he is going to be.

Whew! That’s sorta long. We’ll stop here and get some sleep and see what happens, okay?

(o_o)

Related reports:

CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal

— By Domani Spero

In March 2013 we posted this: State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall.

The OIG recommends that the Office of the Deputy Secretary (presumably the incoming D/MR who succeeds Mr. Nides) should “restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.”

At that time we thought it would have been interesting to know which cases were alleged to have been interfered with.  Now, we may be close to knowing or something.

And because it’s Monday, here’s the news that could totally wreck your day if you work in Foggy Bottom.

CBS News’ John Miller reports that according to an internal State Department Inspector General’s memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. The memo obtained by CBS News cited eight specific examples.

Memos showed that probes included allegations of:

  • A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards
  • Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”
  • An “underground drug ring” was operating near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and supplied State Department security contractors with drugs.
  • The case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
  • Investigation into an ambassador who “routinely ditched … his protective security detail” and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”
  • “We also uncovered several allegations of criminal wrongdoing in cases … some of which never became cases,” said Aurelia Fedenisn, a whistleblower and former investigator for the Inspector General.

Apparently, DSS agents told the Inspector General’s investigators that senior State Department officials told them to back off;  a charge that Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator with the State Department’s internal watchdog agency, the Inspector General, told Miller is “very” upsetting.

It would have been nice if this were corroborated  by somebody who worked at DSS. Oh, hey, look:

John Miller spoke with Mike Pohelitz, a retired Senior Agent at the DSS who was involved in one of the cases listed in the Inspector General’s memo. Pohelitz said he was told to stop investigating one of the cases and that the order likely came from the upper ranks of the DSS.

“I got the information through my DS channel,” he told Miller. “But it had to come from somebody higher than DS, I’m sure.”

Read the full CBS report here.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10

Click on image to go to CBS News

Below is the published report the CBS news is referring to; dated February 28, 2013 and posted online on March 15, 2013, sanitized for public consumption:

-02/28/13   Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics (ISP-I-13-18)  [330 Kb] DS/CI/SID (ISP-I-13-18)

Here is an excerpt from that report:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases.

In all matters relating to investigative work, the investigative organization needs to be free, in fact and appearance, from impairments to independence in both organization and attitude. Such independence is essential so that an organization’s decisions about obtaining evidence, conducting interviews, and making recommendations will be impartial and viewed as such by knowledgeable third parties. The credibility of the Department’s investigative organizations and disciplinary system depends on that independence, yet the perception exists among knowledgeable parties that external influences have negatively affected some SID investigations.

SID is one of many offices that report up the normal chain to the principal deputy assistant secretary and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Foreign Service special agents in SID, 80 percent of whom are junior in rank, ordinarily serve only one tour as an investigator. Subjects of their investigations may include more senior DS agents; other senior DS agents are sometimes hostile witnesses for interviews. The SID supervisors also are in the DS mainstream and subject to regular “up or out” assignment and promotion processes. During inspection interviews, nearly every SID special agent acknowledged being aware that one or more suspects, witnesses, or senior Department officials could one day serve on a promotion board or on a DS assignment panel that would decide the investigator’s career prospects. Although most investigators said that they had not experienced career pressure in any particular cases, some had indeed felt such pressure. Several special agents in SID observed that Civil Service agents with sufficient rank are less susceptible to such pressure, as their careers do not depend on DS assignment panels or Foreign Service promotion boards.

Inspectors observed that the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Justice, and U.S. Secret Service internal affairs investigative offices all have protections in place to insulate sensitive internal investigations from even the perception of interference. The current SID structure does not foster independence from career pressures and creates significant potential for undue influence, favoritism, and potential retribution. Various corrective mechanisms may be possible. U.S. Government investigative experts from outside the Department could offer helpful structural benchmarks.

We checked with the OIG for comments and this is what we received:

  • The final report on DS/CI/SID (ISP-I-13-18) was published, distributed and posted on the OIG Website in February 2013 (http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/206520.pdf) (Note: Actually posted online on March 15, 2013, see link above)
  • During the course of an OIG audit or inspection, if allegations of misconduct are received, it is standard procedure to refer them to OIG’s Office of Investigations.
  • It is OIG policy not to comment on on-going work.
  • On its own initiative, OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations referred to it by our Office of Inspections.
  • OIG has staffed the review appropriately and independently.
  • OIG wants to emphasize the sensitive nature of OIG inspection information, particularly when it pertains to individuals and may be incomplete or contain unverified, raw data.  Fairness and due process preclude OIG from further comment.

So that’s the official word.

But see, now you know why the missing firewall was a big deal. It’s the only thing “missing” that can either haunt you or go kaboom.

The tricky thing here is the whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, is a former investigator with the State Department’s internal watchdog agency, the Inspector General.  While we would like to know why she is now a former investigator after 22 years of service, that is not nearly as important as the alleged manipulation of investigative cases.

And even as the  “OIG’s Office on Investigations has been conducting an independent review of allegations” on its “own initiative,” we do not think that it would be the appropriate for the Office of the Inspector General to be investigating the alleged cover-ups of these investigations.  

(._.)