This is a Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lawsuit involving an African-American Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security who joined the State Department in 2002. In September 2013, he joined State’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD). Excerpt below from the May 31, 2020 Memorandum of Opinion by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to Hill, it alleges facts to support all three elements of this type of race discrimination claim. First, it alleges that “Hill and Whitaker were the only African American Team 2 members and that the Caucasian Team members had been complaining about them, admitting they did not respect them, and requesting transfers to get away from them since the month after Hill took over as Team Leader.” Compl. ¶ 118. The complaint enumerates multiple instances where the Caucasian team members complained about Hill, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, and sought his removal from his leadership position, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 45, 46, 49. And the ongoing dispute over the Caucasian team members’ use of the baboon logo and their joking references behind Hill’s back to the baboon logo as “racist,” id. ¶ 19, give rise to a reasonable inference that the Caucasian team members’ treatment of Hill was racially discriminatory. Second, “State admits it removed Hill based on the complaints from the Caucasian Team 2 members, making their complaints the proximate cause of the actions taken against Hill.” Id. ¶ 117. Third and finally, a fair inference can be drawn that Collura and Rowan, Hill’s supervisors, should have known that the Caucasian team members’ complaints were racially motivated. See id. ¶ 120. The complaint alleges: (1) a clear fissure between Hill and Whitaker and the Caucasian team members from the very start of Hill’s tenure, see id. ¶¶ 19–29; (2) that Hill complained to his supervisors about team members defying his order not to use the racially offensive baboon logo, see id. ¶ 47; and (3) that several of the Caucasian team members’ complaints about Hill had a questionable basis, see, e.g., id. ¶ 37, 43; yet, (4) “[m]anagement acted on the Team’s accusations against Hill without investigating the facts,” id. ¶ 120. Accepting all of these allegations as true, Collura and Rowan acted negligently by not investigating the Caucasian team members’ complaints before removing Hill from his leadership role.3 And because Collura and Rowan acted negligently with respect to the information the Caucasian team members provided, the racial bias of the team members is imputed to them. See Vasquez, Inc., 835 F.3d at 276. Accordingly, the Court will deny the Secretary’s motion to dismiss the race discrimination claim based on Hill’s removal from his leadership position. 4
4 In contesting this conclusion, the Secretary places heavy reliance on Tallbear v. Perry, 318 F. Supp. 3d 255 (D.D.C. 2018). In that case, the Court dismissed a Title VII race discrimination claim by a plaintiff who alleged that her co-workers had continued to use the word “Redskins” in spite of her objection to the term. Id. at 260–61. But Tallbear’s co-workers used the term in the context of discussing the Washington Redskins, a local professional football team, and there was no indication that they used the word as a racial slur or directed it at Tallbear herself. Id. at 261. Here, in stark contrast, Hill has alleged that his team members explicitly referred to the baboon logo as “racist” and ordered hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon-branded gear behind his back after he, the team leader, explained why the logo was offensive and ordered the team to stop using it. Compl. ¶ 19. Moreover, and more importantly, Hill’s co-workers engaged in extensive and targeted efforts to remove him from his supervisory role, see id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, 45, 46, 49, and those efforts ultimately succeeded, id. ¶ 56.
Background excerpted from court record:
The Office consists of several teams of agents who deploy worldwide to provide specialized training to overseas personnel, as well as security support for potential and actual crises. Id. ¶ 10. At all times relevant to this case, Hill’s first-level supervisor was Justin Rowan, and his second-level supervisor was Nicholas Collura, Deputy Director of the Office. Id. ¶ 11. Both Rowan and Collura are Caucasian. Id.
In March 2014, Hill was assigned to Team 2 of the Office as its Team Leader. Id. ¶ 12. Another Special Agent, Steven Whitaker, was assigned to Team 2 at that same time. Id. ¶ 15. Both Hill and Whitaker are African American. Id. When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, the team consisted of four members, all of whom were Caucasian. Id. ¶ 14. The four Caucasian team members described themselves as close friends. Id.
When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, each of them found a printed image of a baboon—the team’s unofficial logo—at their new desks. Id. ¶ 16. Both Hill and Whitaker were offended by the logo. Id. When Hill officially took over as Team Leader in May 2014, Hill held a team meeting. Id. ¶ 18. At this meeting, Hill explained that he found the baboon logo offensive because of the history of racially derogatory references to apes. Id. Hill instructed the members of Team 2 to stop using the baboon as the team logo. Id.
The Caucasian members of Team 2 continued to use the baboon logo nevertheless. Id. ¶ 19. After Hill banned the logo, the Caucasian team members used their government email accounts to order hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon coins, badges, stickers, and hats. Id. They jokingly referred to the baboon logo and the word baboon as “racist.” Id. They did not tell Hill or Whitaker that they were ordering the baboon gear. Id. Hill soon discovered that his team members were disregarding his order, though; one agent’s phone lock screen was the baboon image and another agent was handing out baboon coins to soldiers and local contacts. Id. ¶ 20
We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously “I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C. included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D
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Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security. Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS. Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue. My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful. At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office. They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat. Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this. I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto. It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.” While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told). What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)? At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia. I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight. How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training. Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum. Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission. I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost. Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked. This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture. I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.
Via email received from Foggy Bottom:
I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism even at the federal level. While most of my time was spent overseas doing meaningful work alongside some amazing people, the first three months of my long initial training was at the federal law enforcement training center in Brunswick, GA– coincidentally the very same town in which Ahmaud Arbery was killed. It was eye opening, and often not in a positive way.
That massive academy in southeast Georgia trains everyone from DS and the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Bureau of Prisons. It was all too common to hear horribly racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic comments while in the chow hall, the gym, or most egregiously at the campus bar. If this was how some new recruits viewed the world, how could anyone expect them to behave impartially and fairly. Fairly young at the time with no prior experience in weapons or tactics, the advice given to me when I started was “keep your mouth closed and your head down.” That I did, although looking back, shamefully so.
When I finished training and made it to the field office, I thought I had escaped those types of officers. In DS, the average new hire had at least a Masters degree and fluency in a foreign language, not to mention had to pass rigorous interviews and assessments. Months into my first assignment we had a presentation from a Diplomat in Residence (DIR) – who spoke to our field office about the next generation of employees. She spoke of the Foreign Service reputation as “too male, Yale, and pale” and gave a fantastic rundown of diversity recruitment programs.
The following day while eating lunch after a law enforcement operation with about a half dozen new agents who had just graduated from BSAC, one expressed his disgust at the Ambassador’s remarks and more notably, referred to this Senior Foreign Service DIR as a “Black b****.” That wasn’t even the worst of what he said. I was horrified. His beliefs – spoken in a public restaurant in a major city – were blatantly racist and more troublesome, represented what I believed to be dangerous when held by someone carrying a gun and a badge. I walked out of the restaurant alone mid-meal shaking from what I heard but didn’t have the strength to confront him. I was ashamed that someone like that wore the same badge and swore the same oath in front of the Secretary of State as me.
I ultimately left law enforcement several years later for a better fit for my family. I worked with overwhelmingly good people, many whom I remain friends with and who have expressed their own horror and condemnation over these last few days. The best agents I know do not hesitate to confront the small cadre of morally repugnant bigots. These are the men and women who I still look up to, despite no longer working in their field.
An old friend sent me screenshots of a conversation that took place [recently] in a private Facebook group for DS agents. One agent called into question the troubling experiences of her African-American DS colleague, writing in rejection to his clearly-firsthand accounts “that’s strange because I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years and never heard any of that from any of my sisters and brothers in blue.” When pressed on her naiveté, she doubled down with something so gross that I won’t even quote here but ask any of the hundreds of DS agents present on that social media page. She was appropriately shunned and humiliated by her bosses and peers for showing her true colors and will face the consequences, but anyone in law enforcement who pretends that systemic racism doesn’t exist should do the responsible thing and hand in your gun and badge now before your beliefs affect your actions. If colleagues had stood up to officers like Derek Chauvin, maybe it would have prevented a death.
Meanwhile, also in Foggy Bottom:
The following is a first person account shared by a Diplomatic Security agent who was assaulted twice by his spouse in
USG quarters temporary housing located in the Washington DC area. He wrote that he wanted to call attention to a situation he faced in the hope that “others who find themselves in similar circumstances know what to expect.” He added that “with the ongoing pandemic and quarantine other employees may find themselves in similar situations as they are trapped with their spouses under stressful circumstances.” He told us he was a DS Agent with a few years on the job. “Despite being relatively junior, I was a good agent that made tenure, had no disciplinary issues, and I received several awards.”
The individual who wrote this told us that he resigned from the State Department and is now employed by another agency in his home state.
This is his story, as sent to us. We’ve added links in [brackets] for the relevant offices:
I was assigned to an HTP [High Threat Post] post in Africa and I was there for several months. While there, a medical issue surfaced that couldn’t be treated at Post. I went on leave to my home state (which was also the location of my previous assignment and where my spouse and child lived while I was at post) and saw a specialist. While on leave, I was “caught out”-the medical condition I was diagnosed with while on leave prevented my return to post. I was told by MED [Bureau of Medical Services] that I could not return to Post, my medical clearance was downgraded, and (after what seemed like an eternity), I was eventually assigned to a position in the DC/NOVA area. Never mind that I burned through all my leave so that I could keep getting paid and the medical per diem that I was authorized didn’t pay out until the very end. I rented out my house in my home state and prepared to move my family to the NOVA area.
While in temporary housing at one of the Oakwood properties, my spouse assaulted me. Our relationship had been badly strained by the long durations apart for training and an unaccompanied tour (while at post, things got so bad that I retained a lawyer and initiated divorce proceedings). After the assault, my spouse was arrested by the local police-and after the mandatory separation period we decided to try to patch things up and try again. Thankfully our child was not present when this happened; several weeks later we brought our child to Virginia. I also started looking for a position with another agency knowing that the foreign service lifestyle was taking its toll. We wound up buying a condo in one of the suburbs and moved in.
I went on a brief TDY and this separation caused issues to resurface to in our relationship. I committed to restarting the divorce proceedings. However, court proceedings, custody issues, and property would be decided in my home state-not in Virginia. I could not afford another residence in Virginia, and I could not stay with my spouse due to the violent outbursts. I was essentially homeless. I reached out to Employee Consultation Services and my CDO [Career Development Officer] and asked about being transferred back to my home state. At least in my home state I would be able to stay with family and see the divorce through. Remaining in Virginia would mean continuing to “crash” at AirBnBs until my tour was up…another 18 months. After several weeks, my spouse assured me that it was safe to return to the condo and I wanted to see my child.
Approximately 3 weeks after returning from this TDY things again took a turn for the worse and my spouse assaulted me-this time with a weapon. I only sustained minor injuries, but my spouse was arrested and this left me responsible for taking care of our child alone. My chain-of-command was incredibly understanding and supportive and I was able to meet family and work obligations without issue. Unfortunately, or HR system was much less understanding and supportive. There were open positions in my home state that I wanted to return to. However, it seems like it takes an act of God to get an employee to one of them. I was told that my request to “the panel”…which was supported by police and court reports, and an affidavit from my attorney which explained the need to be in my home state for the divorce, may not be sufficient justification for reassignment. According to one of the CDOs I was dealing with (more on that later), the panel is concerned that people may “take advantage of (domestic violence) situations” and try to get reassigned. I guess that it is more career enhancing to just continue to get abused and windup losing custody than to transfer an employee. Thankfully, I was able to secure a position with another agency in my home state. I won’t be homeless and I can see the divorce through to the end. Although the pay cut hurts, at least I am safe and will see my child again.
Overall, DS [Diplomatic Security] was a great experience. The work and the people were great. The same goes for all of the Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with. We hire some very talented people, but we don’t do a good job retaining them. Our HR process is garbage. [HR office is now officially the Bureau of Global Talent Management].
I understand that everyone has unique circumstances but just be aware that the programs that you think can help you cannot be relied upon. By all means, try to stay with the foreign service if you like the job…had they been able to accommodate me until my issue was resolved I’d have done 20 and retired. Your DS experience, training, and security clearance make you marketable to other agencies….keep trying and one will come through. If DS (and the Dept. as a whole) were serious about retaining employees, they would fix the HR system. I am now looking to see if I have any legal recourse; others shouldn’t have to go through this. As a wise person said, “at the end of the day it is just a job”. It was an interesting and rewarding job-but still just a job. There is other good work out there. If you think things may go bad, get your applications in. Constantly have applications going with other agencies so you always have a parachute…that is what saved me.
Below are his “lessons learned,” shared for those who may be in similar circumstances:
Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got Mad; Real ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
- US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.”
- U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
- U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
- U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.” The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
- December 2017, @StateDept Spox Talks “No Double Standard Policy” and 7 FAM 052 Loudly Weeps
- August 2011, Whoops! No Double Standard Policy and US Embassy Bogota’s Threat Info Dissemination
- May 2013, A New Travel Warning for Egypt? No Comment or Howabout “There Are No Guarantees In This Business”
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:
“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.
#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:
The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.
So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy. See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community. Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers, we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.
State Department Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy
A U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse were arrested today for their role in an international conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams of the District of Oregon and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service made the announcement.
Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 53, and Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 39, were indicted by a grand jury in Eugene, Oregon, and charged with conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods. According to the indictment and other court documents, from September 2017 through December 2019, Thompson Jr. and Zhang allegedly sold counterfeit Vera Bradley handbags from e-commerce accounts to persons throughout the United States.
Thompson Jr. is employed by the U.S. Department of State as an Information Programs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea. Thompson Jr. used his State Department computer to create numerous accounts on a variety of e-commerce platforms, all from within a secure space within the Embassy designed to protect classified information. Once Thompson Jr. created these accounts, Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon. Thompson Jr. and Zhang also directed a co-conspirator in the District of Oregon to ship items to purchasers across the United States.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The Diplomatic Security Service Office of Special Investigations investigated the case with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance. Senior Counsel Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter of the District of Oregon are prosecuting the case.
At the State Department, the Information Programs Officer (IPO) manages the Information Programs Center (IPC) and is responsible for all IPC systems, programs, and telecommunications operations. According to the FAM, the IPC is primarily responsible for all classified Information Resource Management communications and systems.
Count 1 of the Grand Jury Charges is Conspiracy to Traffic in Counterfeit Goods) (18 U.S.C. § 2320(a))
“From at least in or about September 2017 and continuing until at least the date of this Indictment, in the District of Oregon and elsewhere, Defendants, GENE LEROY THOMPSON, JR., a.k.a. Eugene Leroy Thompson, Jr., and GUOJIAO ZHANG, a.k.a. Becky Zhang, a.k.a. Becky Thompson, knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with each other and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to intentionally traffic in goods, namely Vera Bradley handbags, while knowingly using on and in connection with such goods counterfeit marks, the use of which counterfeit marks was likely to cause confusion, mistake, and deception; Indictment . Page 1 Revised April 2018 Case 6:19-cr-00561-MC Document 1 Filed 12/11/19 Page 1 of 7 In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2320(a).”
Item #9 of the Indictment notes:
“On or about April 23, 2018, Vera Bradley sent cease-and-desist letters to the coconspirator’s home in Nyssa, Oregon. On or about April 26, 2018, that co-conspirator conveyed the information in the cease-and-desist letter to THOMPSON, JR. via e-mail, saying that Vera Bradley is “requesting that you immediately cease and desist from offering for sale any Vera Bradley counterfeit products and destroy any violating products.” THOMPSON, JR. replied, “OK, I thought this would happen. Stop all shipment.” THOMPSON, JR. then sent an e-mail to ZHANG stating, “Take all of the listing for VB down. VB has caught you.”
Also item #10 further notes:
“Subsequently, Defendants began creating e-commerce accounts in the name of aliases and used those accounts to continue selling counterfeit Vera Bradley merchandise.”
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.”
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.
So, whoever did Mina Chang's clearance missed a few things, it seems https://t.co/sKenrVRryh Raging dumpster fire
— james gibney (@jamesgibney) November 27, 2019
— Indivisible Austin (@indivisibleATX) November 30, 2019
On November 14, 2019, Diplomatic Security tweeted a video of the formal opening of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) located in Blackstone, Virginia.
According to state.gov, the Department of State, working with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), conducted environmental studies at Fort Pickett, which showed that the site was suitable for FASTC. In 2015, GSA purchased property and secured land use agreements for approximately 1,400 acres of publicly held land. On February 25, 2016, construction began for the FASTC project.
The final FASTC construction update notes that Hensel Phelps is the general contractor responsible for building the third and final construction phase of FASTC. The venues for this phase include the High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course (West), Explosive Simulation Alley, Venue Classroom buildings, Indoor/Outdoor Firing Range, Central Warehouse, Armory, Parking Area for Training Vehicles, and a Fitness Center. Turnover of the Contract 03 venues to the State Department reportedly began in summer 2019. The Armory, Warehouse, Mock Urban Driving Track and a Parking Area have already been turned over to State for their use according to the FASTC September newsletter.
According to Diplomatic Security, DSS will train roughly 10,000 students at FASTC, including DSS special agents, other Foreign Service personnel, other U.S. government employees assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates, and some foreign nationals. The Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course, required by Department of State personnel assigned to overseas posts was scheduled move to FASTC this year.
For more information about FASTC, visit https://www.state.gov/FASTC
WATCH: Today, DSS marked the opening of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). DSS training at FASTC will enhance U.S. diplomatic efforts by preparing the foreign affairs community to face modern security challenges. pic.twitter.com/14ctfzvqa6
— DSS (@StateDeptDSS) November 14, 2019
- @StateDept’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC): Status Update June 2017
- Spending Agreement FY2017 — Notable Elements For @StateDept and Foreign Ops Funding May 2017
- Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) Gets Some Love From Congress Jan 2016
- FASTC Fort Pickett v. FLETC Glynco: GA Senator to Hold Hearing on Diplomatic Security Training Center Oct 2015
- GAO: FASTC Fort Pickett Fully Meets Requirements, FLETC Glynco, Not Really Sept 2015
- FASTC Hard Skills Training Center: “Who owes who favors?” Sept 2015
- A Look at the DOS Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Fort Pickett and Nottoway County April 2015
As far as we know, no one starts a job at the State Department without a security clearance. Diplomatic spouses working security escort or mailroom jobs are not even allowed to start work without a security clearance or an interim clearance.
So when NBC News Investigation reported that a senior political appointee at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations — a deputy assistant secretary (she’s one of the top three senior bureau officials) made false claims and exaggerations, we were wondering what this means to the thoroughness of the background investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security? Were the adjudicators aware of these issues prior to the issuance of the clearance? If not, why not? If yes, well, what in guacamole’s name happened here?
A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background — even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it — raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department.
An NBC News investigation found that Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her educational achievements and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit’s work.
Whatever her qualifications, Chang had a key connection in the Trump administration. Brian Bulatao, a top figure in the State Department and longtime friend of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, attended a fundraiser for her nonprofit in Dallas and once donated $5,500 to her charity, according to a former colleague of Chang’s.
As of this writing, her biography is still up on state.gov. Her Twitter account appears to have disappeared but her Instagram account is still online. Back in July 2019, she was also rumored to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, a report that was officially denied by US Embassy Manila.
The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS headed by Director Todd J. Brown), an office which resides under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (headed by Michael T. Evanoff), under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Management (headed by Brian Bulatao), conducts personnel security background investigations for the Department of State and other federal agencies. After determining the candidate’s national security eligibility, DSS contacts the appropriate hiring authority.
According to Diplomatic Security, the national security eligibility determinations take into account a person’s:
- Unquestionable loyalty to the U.S.
The organization she once served as CEO, Linking The World, has now posted a lengthy message on its website primarily defending its former CEO. It claims that “Mina has undergone 4 independent agency reviews, including the FBI, and ultimately garnered both Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances.”
Item #8 says:
Mina obtained her position at the State Department on her own merit, at no time was Brian Bulatao part of her nomination / recruitment / review process. An auction bid from 2015, is a despicable example of correlation with no foundation. Anyone who reads her online articles would know that she has both supported and been critical of the current administration.
Career diplomat George Kent who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) in the European and Eurasian Bureau and testified on Wednesday at the Impeachment Hearings — now, he obtained his position as a DAS at the State Department on his own merit.
A political appointee gets a job through a political connection. Ms. Chang is a political appointee; are we to understand that she got her job on her own merit by knocking on Foggy Bottom’s door? Or did she apply through USAjobs.gov? Should be interesting to know how she got to Foggy Bottom.
According to Linking the World, Ms. Chang’s nomination was also “not withdrawn by the Administration of anyone other than herself.”
“Mina’s nomination was not withdrawn by the Administration, or anyone other than herself. Simply, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been rather busy with other activities and all nominees were subject to extensive delays. Mina loves her position at State and decided to withdraw herself from the process to focus on stabilization operations. Again, anyone who reviewed her recent past, with work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia, would know that this decision makes absolute sense.
This is, of course, contrary to reporting and public records that indicate the nomination was withdrawn by the President. Ms. Chang was nominated in 2018 to be Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Jonathan Nicholas Stivers (see PN2528). On January 03, 2019 the nomination was “Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.” The renomination was received by the Senate on January 16, 2019 (see PN115). On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Senate “Received message of withdrawal of nomination from the President.”
Deputy assistant secretaries do not require Senate confirmations. Appointments are typically not publicly announced.
So, now we’re left wondering if this case is an exception, or if there are any more cases like this in Foggy Bottom?
New: An NBC News investigation found that senior State political appointee Mina Chang has inflated her educational achievements — claiming, falsely, to be a Harvard grad — and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit's work. https://t.co/rbb9ozWG5i via @dandeluce @strickdc
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) November 12, 2019
Unclear how Chang got on to Trump Admin radar but top State Dept official Brian Bulatao and lifelong friend to @SecPompeo gave $5,500 to Mina Chang's Dallas non-profit back in 2016 according to a former employee. https://t.co/IYSY7uHN2X
— Laura Strickler (@strickdc) November 12, 2019
“Chang’s nomination to a more senior role, which would have required Senate confirmation, was withdrawn on Sept. 9 without public explanation, after Senate Foreign Relations asked her for more documents and details about her nonprofit organization and her work experience.”
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 12, 2019
— Dallas Observer (@Dallas_Observer) November 13, 2019
Seems like that might have been a red flag…
— Scott R. Anderson (@S_R_Anders) November 12, 2019
— Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) November 12, 2019
U.S. denies Mina Chang is next ambassador to Philippines https://t.co/3UNrMBZHNB
— Mara Cepeda (@maracepeda) July 10, 2019