Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!

Posted: 2:21 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

In August 2016, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees.  We published the entire message here, Below is an excerpt of that 2016 statement:

Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau. 

In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity. 

Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day.  It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees.
[…]
As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims. 

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department.  DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career. 

During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.

This week, we received an email from a new Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent detailing sexual language that female student-agents had to endure during Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) training. The writer expressed concern over the “worrisome behavior by senior agents conducting the training” and the apparent tolerance by others witnessing such behavior.  The writer also wrote: “One senior female agent advised me that upon receipt of this complaint, DSS Management’s first response will likely be to try to figure out who the “complainer” is . . rather than dealing with the senior agents responsible for damaging the department’s reputation.”  Our corespondent suggests that if investigators outside of Diplomatic Security want to look into this, all they need to do is talk to the female agents in BSAC’s 137, 136, and 135.

The report below is what we can share publicly.  This writer like our other correspondents in the past, is also wary of retaliation.  We’ve referred to Special Agent #1 as SA#1 although we can certainly imagine a more colorful name. Special Agent #2 is also referred below as SA#2.

ALERT! ALERT! ALEEEEERT!

Received via email from a DSS Special Agent

-START-

Here is what I witnessed:

1) During protective training, I was assigned to a follow car that was “coached” by [Special Agent #1]. During our time with [SA#1], myself and the other females in the group had to listen to [SA#1] describe in detail how during his time in Baghdad he shaved his “balls” and had problems with them “sticking.” [SA#1] then felt it appropriate to detail a trip to his doctor where he had a consultation about erectile medication. [SA#1] also made repeated derogatory comments about his wife. My memory is a little fuzzy on those comments, but they were along the line of, “the old ball and chain, etc.”

I should mention that one of the female agents present is only 22 years old. So this young agent, in her first real job out of college had to sit (literally right next to [SA#1] in the back seat / physically touching him) and listen to [SA#1] , her supervisor, go on and on about his sticky balls in Baghdad and his erectile disfunction . . .i.e. he was discussing his penis.

2) The protection portion of the training was run by unit chief [Special Agent #2]. I personally was “creeped” out by [SA#2] during the entire training as he would try to flirt with the female students in a very unprofessional manner. [SA#2] really crossed the line, however, when for some reason he decided to ask one of the female students (now an agent) for their phone and proceeded to look through it. [SA#2] found the phone number or a text message in the female student-agent’s phone for one of the male contractors working on our final exercise, and texted “I miss you” to the contractor (from the female student/agent’s phone). The female student/agent was of course mortified as it appeared she was texting “I miss you” to the contractor. Is this appropriate behavior from a Unit Supervisor in the training division?!

[SA#2’s] inappropriate behavior continued when, during a re-test he decided to switch out a male student-agent from the position sitting next to him in the exercise to the above mentioned female student-agent. [SA#2] advised the entire BSAC that he was making the switch so he could have someone to “talk to.” He was supposed to be grading the re-test, but instead decided to use the time to creepily attempt to flirt with the female student-agent.

I am sure the above behavior by [SAs #1 and #2] has been repeated in multiple BSAC’s and I hope the department conducts a thorough investigation. Honestly, however, I am not so optimistic that things will change. I know Diplopundit has documented several such sexual harassment claims in the not so distant past, and yet, the above Supervisory SAs seemed to have no compunction in openly behaving this way in front of the 20 plus student-agents!

Where are the Director and the other senior members of DSS management?!! If they cannot protect/prevent a 21 year female agent from having to listen to Supervisory SAs like [SA#1 and SA#2] while she sits in training, how can DSS Senior Management be trusted to protect that same agent from harassment while she is serving in a high threat post in a 98% male RSO shop?!

The Director came to speak to our BSAC, and within 3 minutes of our “pep” talk he told us that if we had joined DSS to use it as a stepping stone we should “get the hell out.” That is a direct quote. One day on the job, and the Director comes in and says “get the hell out” in a pep talk. I would like to turn that around on the Director. If the senior leadership in DSS cannot prevent Supervisory Agents from “creeping out” all females in a BSAC class. Or prevent female student-agents from having to listen to Supervisory SA’s conducting BSAC training discuss their “shaved balls,” maybe it is time for the Director and others to “get the hell out” and leave the bureau in more capable hands?

-END-

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 902, 29 EPD ¶ 32,993 (11th Cir. 1982) notes the following:

Sexual harassment which creates a hostile or offensive environment for members of one sex is every bit the arbitrary barrier to sexual equality at the workplace that racial harassment is to racial equality. Surely, a requirement that a man or woman run a gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and made a living can be as demeaning and disconcerting as the harshest of racial epithets.

Female agents should not have to bear and tolerate this kind of language and offensive behavior for the privilege of being allowed to work at Diplomatic Security.

Why would anyone think this is appropriate, acceptable behavior?

And when this is done by individuals in supervisory ranks during training, how do you expect new employees to step up and report this to these same supervisors? The same supervisors, by the way, who can pass/fail employees during basic training. The same supervisors, by the way, who ought to be modeling the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct for agents-in-training.

While the EEOC policy guidance on sexual harassment notes that “sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment,” it also talks about the pervasiveness and pattern of behavior.

Putting aside our previous reports on harassment at Diplomatic Security for a moment — if we’re talking about three classes to start with here, what is that if not a pattern? And if this behavior was witnessed and tolerated by people and contractors who should know better, then Diplomatic Security has a systemic problem that no broadcast message from bureau officials can fix.

The Supreme Court said in Vinson that for sexual harassment to violate Title VII, it must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.'” 106 S. Ct. at 2406 (quoting Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d at 904. Since “hostile environment’ harassment takes a variety of forms, many factors may affect this determination, including: (1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical, or both; (2) how frequently it was repeated; (3) whether the conduct was hostile and patently offensive; (4) whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or a supervisor; (5) whether the others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and (6) whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.

In determining whether unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level of a “hostile environment” in violation of Title VII, the central inquiry is whether the conduct “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance” or creates “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3). Thus, sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment.

Preventive actions per EEOC‘S Guidelines encourage employers to: “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”

Also 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(f): An effective preventive program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented. The employer should affirmatively raise the subject with all supervisory and non- supervisory employees, express strong disapproval, and explain the sanctions for harassment. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. The procedure should be designed to “encourage victims of harassment to come forward” and should not require a victim to complain first to the offending supervisor. See Vinson, 106 S. Ct. at 2408. It should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies, including protection of victims and witnesses against retaliation.

All well and good, but in the real world we have these: Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and RetaliationInbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career SuicideAnother Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment.

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is memorialized here.

Related posts:

#

Since you’re visiting us —

We have been a reader-supported blog since 2014. We want to keep this blog as open as possible and that’s the reason we don’t have a subscription fee. You know best whether our work is of value to you or not. If it is, and if your circumstances allow it, we could use your help to carry on for another year: Help Diplopundit Get to Year 10 ⚡️

 

 

Advertisements

Sex Trafficker Used @StateDept’s Summer Work Travel Program in Scheme Targeting Foreign Students

Posted: 1:52 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

On March 24, USDOJ announced the sentencing of Jeffrey Jason Cooper to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking. Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program (SWTP), falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio.   According to DOJ, he fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

Below via USDOJ/FL:

Miami Beach Sex Trafficker Sentenced To 30 Years in Prison For International Trafficking Scheme Targeting Foreign University Students

Defendant Lured Foreign Students on False Promises in Furtherance of Interstate Prostitution and Erotic Massage Enterprise

Chief United States District Court Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida sentenced Jeffrey Jason Cooper, 47, of Miami Beach, Florida, to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking and related violations arising from the defendant’s scheme to recruit foreign students on false promises of legitimate summer jobs, and then to advertise them to customers of his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. Chief Judge Moore also ordered Cooper to pay $8,640.00 in restitution to the victims.

A jury convicted Cooper on Nov. 17, 2016, of five counts of sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking by fraud, three counts of wire fraud, two counts of importing and attempting to import aliens for prostitution or immoral purposes, and one count of using a facility of interstate commerce to operate a prostitution enterprise. According to evidence presented during the four-day trial, Cooper recruited foreign university students from Kazakhstan through the Department of State’s Summer Work Travel Program, falsely promising them clerical jobs at his fictitious yoga studio. In addition to defrauding the students, Cooper fraudulently induced an educational exchange agency to sponsor the victims’ visas, and caused government officials to issue the victims temporary, non-immigrant “J-1” visas based on Cooper’s false and fraudulent offer of legitimate summer jobs.

After the victims arrived in Miami, Cooper revealed to them for the first time that the yoga studio did not exist and that he expected them to perform erotic massages for customers of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise. Witnesses testified that the victims, shocked and upset, tried to find work elsewhere but eventually gave up and began working for the defendant.

As established at trial, police began investigating Cooper after neighbors complained he was prostituting women from his apartment complex, and conducted an undercover operation that led to the recovery of the victims, one day before Cooper had scheduled them to travel to Los Angeles, California, where Cooper also operated his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise. When questioned by law enforcement, Cooper claimed that the victims cleaned apartments for him, and characterized his relationship with them as that of an “older brother.” Evidence at trial included records from Backpage.com advertising the victims’ services, and Facebook communications confirming that Cooper recruited the victims on false and fraudulent pretenses, revealing the true nature of his erotic massage and prostitution enterprise only after the victims arrived in the United States.

“The successful prosecution and decades-long sentence imposed on Jeffrey Cooper illustrate the international impact of law enforcement’s united efforts to combat human trafficking – whether by fraud, force or otherwise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to bring to justice those individuals who knowingly exploit others for their own personal profit.”
[…]
“We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this,” said Christian Schurman, acting director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “Because of our global presence, DSS is positioned to work with U.S. and foreign law enforcement to stop those that would manipulate instruments of international travel to profit from selling human beings in this way.”

The case was investigated by HSI and DSS, with assistance from the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kazakhstan; the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Astana, Kazakhstan; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Miami Dade Police Department and the North Bay Village, Florida, Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth M. Schlessinger, who was previously with the Southern District of Florida and is now with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Trial Attorney Matthew T. Grady of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.  Some of the documents including the complaint are also available online here through plainsite.org.

#

*

Diplomatic Security Highlights History, and More in 100th Anniversary Video

Posted: 12:22 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

We’ve previously blogged about diversity and harassment issues at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (See Dear @JohnKerry: One of Your Foggy Bottom Folks Is Asking — Is This Diversity?POTUS Issues Memo Promoting Diversity and Inclusion, and @StateDept Sounds Like Baghdad BobPDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?).

DS recently released a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Diplomatic Security Service.  The original investigative office was called the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. Later, the organization evolved into the Office of the Chief Special Agent, then the Office of Security (SY), then became the Diplomatic Security Service. Click here to view the newly released “DSS Then & Now – The First Century of the Diplomatic Security Service” photo history book (PDF).

The video below includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and  Director of the Diplomatic Security Service Bill MillerVictor Dikeos, former Director of Security (1974-1978), and the following DS employees in order of their appearance: Wendy Bashnan, Special Agent in Charge; Steven Antoine, Asst Special Agent in Charge; Mark Baker, Special Agent; Shane Morris, Diplomatic Courier; Kendall Beels, Special Agent; and Luis Matus, Deputy Regional Director, High Threat Program.

The DS video featured nine former and current employees including two female DS agents and one female DS courier.  DS has previously used Agent Bashnan in another PR brochure, A Global Force: Agent Profile.  Shane Morris was the Diplomatic Courier of the Year for 2011. Kendall Beels was one of the two DS agents who shut down a massive U.S. visa fraud ring operating in the tri-state area of New York City and was awarded the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation (FLEF) Investigators of the Year Award in 2006.

1916 – 2016

By the way, A Global Force: Agent Profile brochure says that “For women who choose Diplomatic Security as a career, there are no limits to how far you can go.”  Also that “Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of Diplomatic Security.”  

Folks who want to rate this in Pinocchios are welcome to do so in the comment space.

 

#

 

 

@StateDept Honors DSS Agents For Heroism in the Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 3:41 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

 

Related posts:

Shelter in Place Advisory After Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Photo of the Day: The Room Numbers on His Arm

U.S. Embassy Bamako: Family Members on ‘Authorized Departure’ From Mali. Again.

US Embassy Mali Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

 

 

 

PDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?

Posted: 4:41 am ET
Updated: 7:52 pm PST (see comments)
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Last week, we blogged about what happened at an Security Overseas Seminar and a couple of online comments at InHerSight.com (see A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue. Previously, we also posted about a controversial case State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts.

We asked the State Department about specific training for agents and bureau personnel concerning sexual harassment. We were told the following by a State Department official on background on July 29.  We held off posting it for a follow-up post. We are posting it here now since it was cited by a DSS internal message last Friday.

The Department has a zero tolerance policy for any behavior that diminishes inclusiveness in the workplace. Working to ensure the safety and security of our personnel overseas, including from sexual assault, is one of the Department’s top priorities. 

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious issues that affect both men and women in the U.S. and abroad. Diplomatic Security is committed to preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault, and condemns any comment that trivializes these activities or their impact on victims.

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the State Department. Agents receive recurring training on equal opportunity, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career.

During both the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO In-Service courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

On August 18, we posted an unsolicited item from our mailbox: Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees.   The message reproduced below in its entirety was disseminated internally to DS personnel late Friday afternoon:

Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau. 

In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity. 

Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day.  It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees. 

As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims. 

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department.  DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career. 

During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.

Every organization can do better, and we will continue our efforts to make sure sexual harassment is addressed in any and all forms. 

DS personnel need to rely on each other, and have trust in each other, to succeed in our mission.

We are pleased to see PDAS Miller’s message to the troops.  In a good number of cases, bureaus do not even bother to respond.  That said,  there’s one thing missing here that we have to point out.  The internal message says that “Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously” and that PDAS Miller is “disappointed and disturbed”  that anyone in the organization “would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.”  And that “It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.”  Butthat extreme seriousness is negated by the absence of solid actions that could help abate the stigma of reporting such conducts or help mitigate adverse career consequences.

If female agents/employees are not reporting harassment because they’re afraid that doing so would be career suicide, what should be done about it? Telling folks that “it is unacceptable” is not the answer.

Every organization can do better. We agree. We’d like to hear how before this becomes Palmerized.

 

#

 

 

NY Couple Pays $1 Million Penalty in Immigration Fraud Scheme Involving Philippine H-1B Nurses

Posted: 3:01 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

Via USDOJ/Vermont:

New York Lawyer and Wife Pay $1 Million Following Conviction on Immigration Fraud Scheme

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced today that Loreto Kudera, age 45, and Hazel Kudera, age 43, a married couple from New York, New York, who have pleaded guilty to an immigration fraud scheme, have paid the final installment of their $1 million forfeiture penalty representing ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

On June 9, 2016, the Kuderas pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired to commit immigration fraud. According to the public record, Hazel Kudera owns several medical staffing agencies in New York specializing in providing nursing professionals to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. She and her husband, Loreto Kudera, then a lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry Silberzweig, in New York, New York, provided false and fraudulent information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in St. Albans, Vermont when applying for  for foreign nurses.

The H-1B visa program permits an employer to petition on a behalf of a foreign national beneficiary to enter the United States for the specific purpose of working for the employer in a specialty occupation. There are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, and the purpose of the program is to ensure that these visas go to legitimate beneficiaries to fill specialty positions from a qualified work force. Working as a general RN or LPN is not considered a specialty occupation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Knowing this, Hazel Kudera and Loreta Kudera falsely stated that these foreign nurses, mostly from the Philippines, would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when, in fact, they were going to work as LPNs or RNs at much lower rates, mostly at nursing homes. Hazel Kudera and Loreto Kudera profited from this scheme from the filing fees they collected from the beneficiaries as well as from the health care facilities which were paying fees to the medical staffing agencies owned by Hazel Kudera. The Kuderas admitted that they submitted 100 or more fraudulent petitions as part of their scheme. As a result of their convictions, the Kuderas agreed to forfeit $1,000,000 in illegal proceeds to the United States.

The Kuderas are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2016. The maximum penalties for their conviction are five years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, or a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of gross gain, whichever is greater. The sentence will be advised by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Attorney commended the investigative efforts of the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, the United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud, and the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, in Boston, Massachusetts, who jointly spearheaded the investigation. The United States Attorney also wishes to thank the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Security Fraud Division, at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont for their assistance with the investigation.

The original announcement is available here.

#

 

Former US Embassy London Employee Pleads Guilty to Cyberstalking and “Sextortion” Scheme

Posted: 12:47 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

We’ve blogged previously about the Michael C. Ford case (see State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in GeorgiaUS Embassy London Local Employee Charged With Cyberstalking, Computer Hacking and Wire Fraud).

On December 9, USDOJ announced that the former State Department/Embassy London employee pleaded guilty to perpetrating a widespread, international e-mail phishing, computer hacking and cyberstalking scheme against hundreds of victims in the United States and abroad. More below:

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia, Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office made the announcement.

Michael C. Ford, 36, of Atlanta, was indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.  The names of the victims are being withheld from the public to protect their privacy.

Ford pleaded guilty to all charges and admitted that between January 2013 and May 2015, he used various aliases that included “David Anderson” and “John Parsons” and engaged in a widespread, international computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” campaign designed to force victims to provide Ford with personal information as well as sexually explicit videos of others.  Ford targeted young females, some of whom were students at U.S. colleges and universities, with a particular focus on members of sororities and aspiring models.

Ford posed as a member of the fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent phishing e-mails to thousands of potential victims, warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords.  Ford then hacked into hundreds of e-mail and social media accounts using the passwords collected from his phishing scheme, where he searched for sexually explicit photographs.  Once Ford located such photos, he then searched for personal identifying information (PII) about his victims, including their home and work addresses, school and employment information, and names and contact information of family members, among other things.

Ford then used the stolen photos and PII to engage in an ongoing cyberstalking campaign designed to demand additional sexually explicit material and personal information.  Ford e-mailed his victims with their stolen photos attached and threatened to release those photos if they did not cede to his demands.  Ford repeatedly demanded that victims take sexually explicit videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then send the videos to him.

When the victims refused to comply, threatened to go to the police or begged Ford to leave them alone, Ford responded with additional threats.  For example, Ford wrote in one e-mail “don’t worry, it’s not like I know where you live,” then sent another e-mail to the same victim with her home address and threatened to post her photographs to an “escort/hooker website” along with her phone number and home address.  Ford later described the victim’s home to her, stating “I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb.”  Ford followed through with his threats on several occasions, sending his victims’ sexually explicit photographs to family members and friends.

Ultimately, Ford sent thousands of fraudulent “phishing” email messages to potential victims, successfully hacked into at least 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs.  Ford sent threatening and “sextortionate” online communications to at least 75 victims.

During the relevant time period, Ford was employed by the U.S. Embassy in London.  The majority of Ford’s phishing, hacking and cyberstalking activities were conducted from his computer at the U.S. Embassy.
[…]
“When a public servant in a position of trust commits any form of misconduct, to include federal crimes such as cyberstalking and computer hacking, we vigorously investigate such claims,” said Director Miller.  “The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to investigating and working with the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners to investigate criminal allegations and bring those who commit these crimes to justice.”
[…]
U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the Northern District of Georgia scheduled Ford’s sentencing hearing for Feb. 16, 2016.

The Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI are investigating the case.  Senior Trial Attorney Mona Sedky of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali of the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in London provided assistance in this case.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

According to court records, this individual, a U.S. citizen lived in London and joined the U.S. Embassy there in 2009; which suggests that he was a locally hired employee.  The charging documents do not indicate which section of the embassy he worked in or what was his job. But he apparently used his State Department-issued computer at the U.S. Embassy in London while he did his cyberstalking and sextortion schemes.

There are a few curious things about this case. One, that there’s no mention anywhere in court records about his location of work within the embassy; 2) no explanation of how he came to target Jane Doe, an 18 year old Kentucky resident; where did he find her and his other victims? and 3) he successfully hacked 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs — how come nobody noticed? Was this guy a locally hired IT person, so spending all that time on his computer did not raise red flags? 4) Did Embassy London/HR know that this person had a prior criminal record when it hired this employee? If not, why not?

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant executed by DSS Agent Erik Kasik is available below:

#

US Embassy London Local Employee Charged With Cyberstalking, Computer Hacking and Wire Fraud

Posted: 5:50 pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

We posted about this case last May (see State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in Georgia). On August 19, the Justice Department announced that a locally employed staff member of US Embassy London,  Michael C. Ford, 36, was charged by indictment on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.  During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that as of May 18th, this individual is no longer an embassy employee.

Via USDOJ | August 19, 2015:

WASHINGTON—A former locally-employed staff member of the U.S. Embassy in London was charged with engaging in a hacking and cyberstalking scheme in which, using stolen passwords, he obtained sexually explicit photographs and other personal information from victims’ e-mail and social media accounts, and threatened to share the photographs and personal information unless the victims ceded to certain demands.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia, Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Division made the announcement.

Michael C. Ford, 36, was charged by indictment on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.

“According to the indictment, Ford hacked into e-mail accounts and extorted sexually explicit images from scores of victims,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “As these allegations highlight, predators use the Internet to target innocent victims. With the help of victims and our law enforcement partners, we will find those predators and hold them accountable.”

“Ford is alleged to have hacked into hundreds of e-mail accounts and tormented women across the country, by threatening to humiliate them unless they provided him with sexually explicit photos and videos,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn. “This sadistic conduct is all the more disturbing as Ford is alleged to have used the U.S. Embassy in London as a base for his cyberstalking campaign.”

“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the Department of Justice and our other law enforcement partners to investigate allegations of crime and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Director Miller. “When a public servant in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony such as cybercrime, we vigorously investigate such claims.”

“While the allegations in this case are disturbing, it does illustrate the willingness and commitment of the FBI and its federal partners to aggressively follow those allegations wherever they take us,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson. “The FBI will continue to provide significant resources and assets as we address complex cyber based investigations as seen here.”

According to allegations in the indictment, from January 2013 through May 2015, Ford, using various aliases that included “David Anderson” and “John Parsons,” engaged in a computer hacking and “sextortion” campaign to force numerous women to provide him with personal information and sexually explicit photographs and videos. To do so, Ford allegedly posed as a member of the fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent notices to thousands of potential victims, including members of college sororities, warning them that their accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords.

Using the passwords collected from this phishing scheme, Ford allegedly hacked into hundreds of e-mail and social media accounts, stole sexually explicit photographs and personal identifying information (PII), and saved both the photographs and PII to his personal repository.

Ford then allegedly e-mailed the victims and threatened to release the photographs, which were attached to the e-mails, unless they obtained videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then sent the videos to him.

The indictment alleges that, when the victims either refused to comply or begged Ford to leave them alone, Ford responded with additional threats, including by reminding the victims that he knew where they lived. On several occasions, Ford allegedly followed through with his threats by sending sexually explicit photographs to victims’ family members and friends.

During the pendency of the alleged scheme, Ford was a civilian employee at the U.S. Embassy in London, England. He allegedly used his government-issued computer at the U.S. Embassy to conduct the phishing, hacking and cyberstalking activities.

The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in London provided assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Mona Sedky of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kamal Ghali of the Northern District of Georgia.

Anyone who believes that they are the victim of hacking, cyberstalking, or “sextortion” should contact law enforcement. Resources regarding hacking and other cybercrimes can be found at: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber.

#

State Dept Employee Posted at US Embassy London Faces ‘Sextortion’ Charges in Georgia

Posted: 1:41 pm EDT
Updated: 8:09 pm PDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

A State Department employee based at the U.S. Embassy in London  was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is now facing charges of interstate threats, computer fraud, wire fraud, and cyberstalking. The employee identified by news reports and court documents as Michael C. Ford reportedly has a home in Alpharetta, Georgia but has worked at the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009. Typical State Department assignments are normally 3 years, sometimes with one-year extensions. The complaint does not say what work Ford has done at Embassy London or his category of employment.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 21st, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department informed the press that the individual named in this case was a locally hired administrative support employee who was not a member of the Foreign Service.  She also said that as of May 18th, the individual is no longer working at the embassy.
.

.

The Affidavit (pdf) executed by Eric J. Kasik, Special Agent of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) says that on or about April 2015, DSS began investigating a target, later determined to be a U.S. Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford (“FORD”), for allegedly engaging in a computer hacking, cyber stalking, and extortion.  We should note that the affidavit is intended to show that there is sufficient probable cause to support the complaint.

According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Diplomatic Security “identified the specific State Department computer that is located at a workstation cubicle located in the U.S. Embassy in London. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in London told me that the only person who sits at that workstation cubicle and uses that computer is Michael C. Ford. FORD is a U.S. citizen who has worked as an Embassy employee in London since 2009.”

Item #25 on the complaint reiterates what folks already know — that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in any communications or data transiting or stored on the information system of the State Department.

DSS computer specialists have apparently obtained copies of specific documents or files that were allegedly stored on the employee’s computer in London. Court documents cited one document as example: “a spreadsheet that appears to summarize some of FORD’s more recent criminal activities. Along the far left hand column of the spreadsheet is a list of account names for approximately 250 e-mail addresses.” Special Agent Kasik says that “DSS agents have determined that several of the accountholders appear to attend the same college in Indiana, where they belong to the same sorority. One is a 17-year-old. This leads me to believe that FORD may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S.”

The alleged MO is described in item #16 of the Kasik affidavit:

16. The target initially sent Jane Doe Two an e-mail message to her Google e-mail account, posing as a Google representative and claiming that Jane Doe Two’s Google e-mail account was going to be deleted unless she provided her password. Jane Doe Two provided her password, as directed. The target then apparently hacked into Jane Doe Two’s Google account, presumably using the stolen password. He then obtained, presumably from Jane Doe Two’s hacked accounts, two or more private photographs of Jane Doe Two of a sexual nature. He also obtained other PII about Jane Doe Two, including her first and last name, her address, where she worked and went to school, and her parent’s first and last names and e-mail addresses. The target then sent Jane Doe Two several threatening e-mail messages to her Google e-mail account. He admitted that he had obtained sexual photographs of Jane Doe Two and sent her the photographs as proof. He then demanded that she provide her current home address and her parents’ contact information and other PII. He warned her that, if she refused, he would e-mail the photographs of her to a list of others, listing the first and last names of several of her acquaintances. The target also threatened to post her photographs online.

The affidavit is available here (pdf) via patch.com/georgia.

WSB-TV2 Atlanta reports that Ford will be in federal court in Atlanta today for a bond hearing and that his attorneys declined to comment at this point in the case.  Click her to read the report via AP.

The case is  USA v. Ford, CRIMINAL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:15-mj-00386-ECS-1 in the U.S. District Court in the  Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).

#

State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

One of the most serious allegations contained in the CBS News report last year include a regional security officer (RSO) reportedly assigned in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” with local guards.

The memo, reported by CBS News’ John Miller, cited eight specific examples, including allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that 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.”

USA Today reported that the regional security officer in Beirut allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought.

It turns out, according to State/OIG that this RSO already had “a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked”

It boggles the mind … the RSO typically supervises the local guard force!

Seven posts! Just stop and think about that for a moment. This was the embassy’s top security officer; a sworn federal law enforcement officer who was responsible for the security of Foreign Service personnel, property, and sensitive information throughout the world.

Below is an excerpt from the State/OIG investigation. We regret if this is going to make you puke, but here it is:

The second DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerned a DS Regional Security Officer (RSO) posted overseas, who, in 2011, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct and harassment. DS commenced an internal investigation of those allegations in September 2011.

However, at the time the investigation began, the RSO already had a long history of similar misconduct allegations dating back 10 years at seven other posts where he worked. A 2006 DS investigation involving similar alleged misconduct led to the RSO’s suspension for 5 days.

OIG found that there was undue delay within the Department in adequately addressing the 2011 misconduct allegations and that the alleged incidents of similar misconduct prior to 2011 were not timely reported to appropriate Department officials.7 OIG also found that, notwithstanding the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees, an option available under the FAM.8 Notably, the DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.

The agents also encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO. For instance, the agents were directed to interview another DS manager who was a friend of the RSO, and who was the official responsible for selecting the agents’ work assignments. During the interview, the manager acted in a manner the agents believed was meant to intimidate them. OIG also found that Department and DS managers had described the agents’ investigation as a “witch hunt,” unfairly focused on the RSO. Even though OIG did not find evidence of actual retaliation against the investigating agents, OIG concluded that these circumstances, including the undue delay, created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism concerning DS’s investigation and the Department’s handling of the matter.

Ultimately, in November 2013, based on evidence collected by DS and the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department commenced termination of employment proceedings against the RSO. The RSO’s employment in the Department did not end until mid-2014, approximately 3 years after DS initially learned of the 2011 allegations.

 

The State/OIG report cleared Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, for allegedly interceding in an investigation by the Diplomatic Security Service concerning a nominee to be U.S. Ambassador. The Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security incumbent referred to below had been snared in the Benghazi-fallout, and resigned in December 2012:

The third DS internal investigation in which OIG found an appearance of undue influence and favoritism involved the unauthorized release in mid-2012 of internal Department communications from 2008 concerning an individual who was nominated in early-2012 to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. (The nominee’s name was withdrawn following the unauthorized release.) DS commenced an internal investigation related to the unauthorized release of the internal communications. The then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State was alleged to have unduly influenced that investigation.

OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor. However, OIG did find that the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of DS had delayed for 4 months, without adequate justification, DS’s interview of the nominee, and that delay brought the investigation to a temporary standstill. OIG concluded that the delay created the appearance of undue influence and favoritism. The case was ultimately closed in July 2013, after the nominee was interviewed and after DS conducted additional investigative work.

No Undue Influence or Favoritism in Four Cases 

OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed, and, in two of those four, determined that no further discussion was warranted. However, two cases are discussed further in this review because OIG found one common issue in both cases that requires remedial action—the failure to promptly report alleged misconduct to the DS internal investigations unit for further review.

Three DS special agents allegedly solicited prostitutes in 2010 while serving on the security detail for the Secretary of State. Although managers on the security detail learned of some of the alleged misconduct at or near the time it occurred, they did not notify the DS internal investigations unit, which normally handles such matters. A DS internal investigations agent only learned about the three cases while conducting an unrelated investigation. As a result, no action was taken to investigate the misconduct allegations until October 2011, 18 months after the first alleged solicitation occurred. As a result of the investigation then conducted, the three agents were removed from the Secretary’s security detail, and their cases were referred for further disciplinary action. One agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against the other two agents were not sustained.9

A DS special agent who worked in a domestic field office allegedly falsified time and attendance records over a 17-month period between January 2011 and May 2012. DS management in the domestic field office knew about the allegations but did not promptly report them to the DS internal investigations unit. In May 2012, during the course of an unrelated investigation involving the DS special agent, the DS internal investigations unit learned of the allegations of false time and attendance reporting. An internal investigation was then commenced, and the DS special agent subsequently resigned. DS also referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which declined prosecution of the case.

One footnote:

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG noted that one agent subsequently resigned; the allegations against a second agent were not sustained; and the third agent had initiated a grievance proceeding, which was pending, challenging the discipline determination. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Department advised OIG that the third agent’s grievance proceeding was resolved with a finding by the Foreign Service Grievance Board not sustaining the charges.

One Review Ongoing 

The eighth DS internal investigation reviewed by OIG concerned the use of deadly force during three incidents that took place during counternarcotics operations in Honduras in 2012. OIG has commenced a joint review with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. The investigation remains under review, and OIG will issue a separate report on the matter.

The above case was cited in the USA Today report:

“The Diplomatic Security Service said William Brownfield, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “gave the impression” that a probe of the shooting deaths of four Hondurans involving the Drug Enforcement Administration should not be pursued. The case remained open when the memo was written, as the DEA would not cooperate.”

OIG Recommendations – open and unresolved

  1. The Department should take steps (as previously recommended in OIG’s report on the 2012 inspection (ISP-I-13-18)), to enhance the integrity of DS’s internal investigations process by implementing safeguards to prevent the appearance of, or actual, undue influence and favoritism by Department officials.
  2. The Department should clarify and revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and should promulgate and implement additional protocols and procedures, in order to ensure that allegations of misconduct concerning Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials are handled fairly, consistently, and independently.

The end.

 

Related posts:

 

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