Advertisements

Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues

Posted: 2:55 pm PT

 

Via BuzzFeed’s John Hudson:

After an intense battle with the White House over his first choice to become the top US diplomat to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering a new candidate with a deep resumé in business and economics but little diplomatic experience…
[…]
Olin Wethington, a former Treasury Department official and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, is now a contender for the nomination of assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, four individuals familiar with the matter said.
[…]
Tillerson originally wanted the job to go to Susan Thornton, a veteran diplomat who speaks Mandarin Chinese, two US officials told BuzzFeed News. But White House officials opposed her due to concerns that her views were out of step with the president’s agenda — a claim State Department officials deny.
[…]
Ultimately, in shifting to Wethington, Tillerson appears to be acquiescing to the White House, which has shown a preference for appointments with a strong business background over career diplomatic experience.

Read in full the John Hudson scoop below.

For more of the rumored nominee, see this and this.

Secretary Tillerson once took a few minutes to “communicate” his  “high regard for the men and women of the State Department.

He promised that as secretary of state he would “deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient ways possible, and that he would “depend on the expertise of this institution.”

“Your wisdom, your work ethic and patriotism, is as important as ever. And as your Secretary, I will be proud to draw upon all these qualities in my decision-making,” he told his employees not too long ago.

When asked once what inspires him when he comes to work at the State Department every day, Secretary Tillerson said that “the men and women of the State Department inspire me, my colleagues – their professionalism, their commitment, their patriotism.”

As recently as last month, during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee defending the gutted budget of his agency, he repeated that “My colleagues at the State Department and USAID are a deep source of inspiration, and their patriotism, professionalism, and willingness to make sacrifices for our country are our greatest resource.”

Despite his “high regard” for the men and women of the State Department, and his promise to “depend on the expertise of the institution” he is now leading, and despite the fact that he declared them a “deep source of inspiration” to him, he apparently does not have any control over his staffing, or for that matter, how his building is run.

And seriously, if Tillerson “loves” the AA/S for EAP Susan Thornton, a career diplomat with deep expertise in the former Soviet Union and East Asia, but could not hire her because she has not sworn a blood oath to the kool aid special, what hope is there for other career professionals in Foggy Bottom?

So the next time, Secretary Tillerson talks about his high regard for his people at the State Department, or how he is inspired by his people’s patriotism, professionalism and their sacrifices, remember that Foggy Bottom is now the “Real Post of the Month” and will remain to be so in the foreseeable future.  Also don’t forget to check your playbook to see what’s next in dramatic plays over in Foggy Bottom. We understand that the plays, Another Load of Old Crap With the Word Inspiration in the Title;  Margaret, Don’t Eat the Government Cheese; and Gone to Texas are all on repeat on BNET.

Please, clap.

#

Advertisements

@StateDept “Listening Tour” Survey Leaks, So Here’s Your Million Dollar Word Cloud

Posted: 4:34 pm PT

 

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, Senior Pentagon Reporter covering national security for Jane’s obtained a copy of the internal survey sent out at the  as part of Secretary Tillerson’s “listening tour” through Insigniam.

And then John Hudson, who used to be with  and now the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for  writes that the survey feels like Office Space, so he came up with all sorts of GIFs (must see, by the way). We thanked John for the GIFs; frankly, we don’t know where to store our laughing teardrops.

John Hudson also asked the State Department for comments, but the now famous Mark Stroh — who is just doing his job — and whose press shop now refuses to acknowledge or respond to inquiries from this blog — came back with an exclamation point!

What if you can’t come up with a word cloud?  To borrow what FBI Director Comey said the other day on teevee, “Lordy, that would be really bad.” So we’ve decided that we all deserve a million dollar word cloud. Here you go. You’re welcome!

 

#

The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight

Posted: 5:04 am ET

 

FP’s John Hudson recently wrote a profile of the the State Department’s powerful Under Secretary for Management (M). The official spox, John Kirby is quoted in the article, as well as former acting assistant secretary for NEA Beth Jones, and former assistant secretary for CA Janice Jacobs. Just about everyone quoted in the profile, even those with complimentary quips, spoke anonymously to avoid getting into hot water

John Hudson’s profile starts with the line — “In a town infamous for throwing bureaucrats under the bus, Patrick Kennedy’s survival is the stuff of legend.”

Here are some of the quotes extracted from the profile:

“Pat Kennedy is the most powerful guy you’ve never heard of,” said a former diplomat, who like many others spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the influential government boss.

“The guy has nine lives” a former diplomat said of Kennedy, who has spent more than 40 years at the State Department.

“No one works harder and cares more about the day-to-day management of diplomacy,” said a foreign service officer.

“Pat Kennedy is one of the main gateways to getting an ambassadorship,” said a career foreign service officer. “He comes to people’s aid or demise depending on what they’ve done for him.”

“Like Stalin, his power comes from his understanding and control over the bureaucracy,” said a former State Department official.

“He needs to groom a successor, but he hasn’t done that,” said one foreign service officer.

“He’s an extraordinary public servant and a pillar of this Department,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

“Kennedy is the quintessential bureaucrat,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

“When anything happens in the world, someone at the White House is going to call Pat first,” said Beth Jones, the former acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs.

Jones, a longtime Kennedy ally, volunteered during an interview: He knows “where all the bodies are buried.”

“If the next secretary of state asks him to stay on, I bet anything he’ll say yes,” said Jones, a longtime acquaintance of Kennedy and his wife.

“Quite frankly, I’m not sure what Pat would do in retirement. He gives a new definition to the word workaholic,” said Janice Jacobs, a former assistant secretary of state for Consular Affairs and the Department’s current Transparency Coordinator.

Read the entire piece below:

We should add that as of November last year,  U/S Kennedy became the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department. He is apparently 67 years old. That’s two years past the mandatory retirement age for ordinary FSOs.  Sec. 812 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 does says that “Any participant who is otherwise required to retire under subsection (a) while occupying a position to which he or she was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, may continue to serve until that appointment is terminated.” So there’s that, save by section (a).

He certainly has admirers and critics, even from readers of this blog. When the Hudson profile  came out, half a dozen folks sent us the link to the FP article.

One complaint we’ve heard is that rather than ask, “what’s good for the mission?”management type folks allegedly say things like “Pat would like that” or “Pat wouldn’t like that!”   A State Department staffer who would only speak on background said that “It’s not healthy for an organization when people associate one man with the organization itself.”

The Under Secretary of State for Management serves as principal adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on matters relating to the allocation and use of Department of State resources (budget, physical property, and personnel), including planning, the day-to-day administration of the Department, and proposals for institutional reform and modernization. Specific duties, supervisory responsibilities, and assignments have varied over the years according to history.state.gov.  There is no/no other position in Foggy Bottom that has a more significant impact on the day to day lives of employees and family members than the Under Secretary of State for Management.

Since 2009, the State Department was authorized a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR), the third highest ranking position at the agency.   Jack L. Lew stayed from January 28, 2009 – November 18, 2010, before moving on to better jobs. Thomas R. Nides was in from January 3, 2011 – February, 2013, then rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman.  Heather Anne Higginbottom joined the State Department in 2013 after a stint at OMB. One or two or all of them may show up again if there is a Clinton White House. Or an entirely new crew will show up if there is a Trump White House. Forgive us for imagining that nightmare (by the way, 121 GOP National Security leaders wrote an open letter in opposition to a Donald Trump presidency).

Michael Singh writing about The Dysfunction Exposed by the Clinton Investigation in the State Department and Beyond notes that “the State Department now has two deputy secretaries instead of one, meaning that resolving the tension between resource constraints and policy priorities is now organizationally the responsibility of the secretary rather than a deputy.” Heh!  The thing is, Secretary Kerry is almost never home and his deputy is also often on the road. You’d think that D/MR would be running the agency, that is, if she, too, is not traveling.  But, you can probably guess who actually runs the building.

15108470106_e49fa7939b_z

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for photo at the groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Diplomacy Center with former Secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker, III, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine K. Albright, and Colin L. Powell at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 3, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Here is a quick timeline of U/S Kennedy’s career with some of the more significant events the State Department confronted through the years:

1973 | Kennedy joined the Foreign Service

1973 – 1993 | he served in a number of positions in Washington and overseas, including as Management Counselor at the Embassy in Cairo and Executive Director and Deputy Executive Secretary of the Executive Secretariat.

1993 – 2001 | he became Assistant Secretary of State for Administration (State/M/A) during President Clinton’s two terms in the White House from 1993-2001.

— concurrently from August 1996 to August 1997 he served as the Acting Under Secretary for Management

— in 1998 he served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

— from 1997 to 2001, he served as the coordinator for the reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies.

February 2000 | he was nominated as Representative of the U.S.A. to the European Office of the United Nations (Geneva); nomination was not acted upon by the Senate (see)

September 2001 – May 2005 |  he was U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador.

— During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq

— From May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq

February 2005 to April 2005, | he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)

April 2005 to May 2007 | he was Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Management (ODNI/M)

May 2007 – November 2007 | he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (State/M/PRI)

November 2007 | he was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M). He was one of the three appointees as “M” in the GWBush tenure, and the first career diplomat. He followed Grant S. Green, Jr. who served in the Bush’s first term under Secretary Powell, and  Henrietta H. Fore, who served from 2005-2007 in the Bush’s second term under Secretary Rice. U/S Kennedy was kept on as “M” during the first Obama term under Secretary Clinton, and continued in the same position under Secretary Kerry.

In November last year, U/S Kennedy became the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department.  Besides Ronald Ian Spiers who served as “M” from 1983–1989, Kennedy would be the only other  Foreign Service Officer appointed to this position.

One of the first incidents that publicly featured U/S Kennedy occurred in November 1993.  Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher dismissed two mid-ranking State Department employees, apparently for their role in searching the personnel files of 160 former Bush Administration officials. The NYTimes named two officials who were political appointees rewarded with State Department jobs for their work in Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the transition to the White House. According to the DPB at that time, the Assistant Secretary for Administration Patrick Kennedy “had immediately taken custody of the cartons of files in  question and had put them in a place where they could be reviewed by the  Inspector General;” within 24 hours reportedly of the initial account appearing in the news.

It’s no wonder that we’ve heard Mr. Kennedy dubbed as the State Department’s Mr. Fix-It.  In October 2007, Mr. Kennedy was also involved in the investigation into the behavior of Blackwater Worldwide following the Nisour Square shooting during Secretary Rice’s tenure (see Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq). Diplomatic Security’s Richard Griffin resigned in the wake of that deadly shooting and amidst growing questions about the State Department’s use of private contractors to protect diplomats in Iraq.

In March 2008, the State Department fired two employees and reprimanded a third for improperly opening electronic information from the passport file of then Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Kennedy talked about the unauthorized accessed of Obama passport records of yet another on-the-record briefing.

In September 2009, allegations surfaced via POGO on the shortcomings in Kabul embassy security and in State Department oversight of a guard force supplied by ArmorGroup, North America (AGNA), owned by Wackenhut Services, Inc. U/S Kennedy was once again in Congress on behalf of the State Department.

In October 2012, U/S Kennedy made one of his appearances in Congress concerning the Benghazi attack. See Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers.

In August 2013, U/S Kennedy testified in the Bradley Manning case on the release of classified diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks website.

In June2016, he was deposed in connection with an FOIA litigation related to the Clinton email server. See JW v. @StateDept: Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s Testimony (Transcript)

Perhaps, one of the most notable case, in the history of the State Department came in 1998. In 1998, the twin embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam occured; the ARB Report dated January 1999 is online here. Mr. Kennedy who was then the Assistant Secretary for Administration (A) — having relinquished his acting capacity in Diplomatic Security, but nevertheless an authoritative spokesman on issues related to security and the recent bombings in Africa” according to the State Department spokesman — was the point man.

Prior to the attack, in December 1997, the then U.S. ambassador to Nairobi, Prudence Bushnell expressed her concerns over the vulnerability of the embassy. She apparently requested a security assessment team and stated her desire to have a new building. In the DPB of August 14, 1998, the press wanted to know who did Ambassador Bushnell write to express her concerns. Mr. Kennedy’s response at that time is worth noting:

“Bonnie Cohen, the Under Secretary for Management, who would be the Under Secretary that an ambassador would communicate with on something that involved security, logistics, construction, management.”

Bonnie Cohen was a non-career appointee who served as “M” from August 1997 to January 2001 under Madeleine Albright.

In the July 9, 2012 cable (12 TRIPOLI 590), Ambassador Stevens reported that, “Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent clashes in Tripoli and other major population centers.” The cable requested continued TDY security support for an additional 60 days, through mid-September 2012. The request also said that 13 security personnel would be the “minimum” needed for “transportation security and incident response capability.”

In his on-the-record briefing following the Benghazi attack, U/S Kennedy said:

I’ve been confirmed, I think, three or four times. Every time you’re confirmed, you tell the Congress that you will appear before the Congress for hearings. I regard it as both an honor and a privilege to be called. The Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government is incredibly important, and it is my job as a confirmed official to appear before them. They had a lot of questions. We answered lots of their questions. I regard that as my job.

That’s after a long grilling in Congress.

We came up with a bureaucrat’s motto — always willing and ready, and never, ever show an angry face.

What remains striking to us is that one assistant secretary, and three DASes, including one from the NEA bureau with no direct security responsibility for Benghazi was where “the rubber hits the road.”  

Inside Harry S. Truman’s building, named after the president noted for his motto, the buck stops here, it seems that the buck stopped everywhere and nowhere.

Ah — bonus email from Senator BAM of Maryland, the longest-serving woman in the history of the United States Congress via the email dump at foia.state.gov:

Screen Shot

 

#

Near, far, wherever you are, Benghazi will go on and on … oh, but do you want to buy a Benghazi thong?

— Domani Spero

The 60Minutes’ Benghazi segment with Lara Logan aired on Oct. 27, 2013 and reignited the Benghazi controversy once again. It included interviews with former US Embassy Libya DCM Gregory Hicks, and Green Beret Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood. We’ve heard from Mr. Hicks previously and blogged about it here: “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Features Former Embassy Tripoli DCM Gregory Hicks and Benghazi Hearing: No Kaboom as Promised, But More Details Fill Up the Dark Space of Sadness.

We’ve also heard from Colonel Wood once before: Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers

But we haven’t heard previously from this Morgan Jones fellow. That’s apparently a  pseudonym used by a former British soldier who has been “helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade.” He was reportedly the “security chief for Blue Mountain Security” in charge of the Libyan guard force.

Shortly after the segment aired, Media Matters cited Fox News correspondent Adam Housley as having said that he had previously spoken to the man “a number of times and then we stopped speaking to him when he asked for money.”

The same day that the 60 Minutes segment aired, Los Angeles Times’ Richard A. Serrano reported that two of theDOJ’s key witnesses in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack were summoned to the Oversight Committee earlier in October and “grilled for hours in separate legal depositions” conducted in “a highly guarded and secret interviews.”  The report identified the Diplomatic Security agents as Alec Henderson, who was stationed in Benghazi, and John Martinec, then based in Tripoli. Henderson was reportedly interviewed on Oct. 8 for eight hours and Martinec was interviewed for five hours on Oct. 10.  The report further says that Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa earlier had also demanded access to a third agent, David Ubben, who was seriously injured in the Benghazi attack. According to LAT, Mr. Issa learned the identities of the three agents from Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, who testified before the committee in spring.

On a related note, did you hear that Senator Graham is exceptionally pissed about Benghazi and has promised to block “every appointment in the US Senate” until the Benghazi survivors are produced?   Apparently, he did not know that two DS agents were right next door on October 8 for legal depos that lasted for altogether 13 hours.  Pardon me? Is it purely coincidental that there are bad news in the polls, and that a primary is potentially a headache? Well, is it?

Screen Shot 2013-10-28

In any case, on October 28, Julia Frifield, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs responded to Senator Graham’s previous September 24 letter concerning the Benghazi survivors availability.  Read the response here.

On October 29, Mr. Morgan’s book, The Embassy House published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster went on sale; available in hardcover, Kindle and Audible; the cheapest edition via Kindle currently selling at $10.99.

Previously, in September 2013, Deadline reported that Thunder Road has acquired The Embassy House to use as the basis for a feature about the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya,

“The film will be written by Taylor Sheridan, whose adaptation of Comancheria has Marc Forster attached. Thunder Road is producing Sheridan’s script Sicario, and they’ve set him to script a look at Benghazi that is one part Black Hawk Down and another Lawrence Of Arabia. //UK-based Luke Speed of the Marjacq Agency repped the book and Gersh’s Bob Hohman and Bayard Maybank and Elevate repped the scribe. Thunder Road used its own resources to buy the book and will fund development, and hasn’t yet enlisted a studio.”

Also in September, The Hollywood Reporter says that HBO has optioned another book, Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, with Jerry Weintraub on board to executive produce.  Under Fire is authored by former DSS Agent and Stratfor VP Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz and is “Based on the exclusive cooperation of eyewitnesses and confidential sources within the intelligence, diplomatic, and military communities” according to the book’s Amazon page.

If they start filming soon, will the movies be ready in time for the 2nd anniversary of the attack or the 2014 election?

On October 31, WaPo’s Karen DeYoung threw some more fuel on the Benghazi fire:

“[I]n a written account that Jones, whose real name was confirmed as Dylan Davies by several officials who worked with him in Benghazi, provided to his employer three days after the attack, he told a different story of his experiences that night.

In Davies’s 2 1 / 2-page incident report to Blue Mountain, the Britain-based contractor hired by the State Department to handle perimeter security at the compound, he wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, “we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.”

On November 1, The Cable’s John Hudson reported that Star Benghazi ‘Witness’ May Not Have Been an Actual Witness:

“In contrast with the 60 Minutes account, which saw him knocking out terrorists with the butt end of his rifle and scaling a 12-foot wall the night of the attack, the Blue Mountain report has Jones at his beach-side villa for the majority of the night. Despite an attempt to make it to the compound, Jones wrote that “we could not get anywhere near … as roadblocks had been set up.”

Further The Cable points out that “the book titled The Embassy House was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation, which owns 60 Minutes — a fact not disclosed in the 60 Minutes story.

Oh, dear …. is that what’s called cross promotion or something?

On November 2, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported that Dylan Davies, aka: Morgan Jones denied writing the incident report cited by Karen DeYoung’s report in WaPo.  The Daily Beast had obtained a copy of the Blue Mountain Group 4-page incident report that lists Dylan Davies, “PM” as the “Name of Person Reporting.” The report is dated 13:00 hours, September 14, 2012, unsigned and the published copy does not include any indication whether the report was emailed or faxed to the Blue Mountain Group. See for yourself here via Josh Rogin/ScribD.

The Daily Beast report described Jones/Davies as a “Benghazi Whistleblower” and says that “Davies said he did not know who leaked the report to the Post but said he suspected it was the State Department, an allegation that could not be independently corroborated.” More below:

“A State Department official confirmed it matches the version sent to the U.S. government by Davies’s then-employer Blue Mountain Group, the private security company based in Britain, on Sept. 14, 2012, and subsequently provided to Congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks.
[…]
Davies said he believed there was a coordinated campaign to smear him. This week, Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, sent a public letter to CBS News asking it to retract the 60 Minutes Benghazi piece on the basis of the Washington Post article. On the Fox News Channel, reporter Adam Housley claimed on air this week that Davies asked for money in exchange for an interview. Davies denied this charge. 60 Minutes has stood by its reporting.”

Continue reading  Benghazi Whistleblower Says He Was Smeared.

Media Matters and Fox News in a coordinated smear campaign?  If I were drunk at 10 o’clock in the morning, that still sounds crazy bad.

The Blue Mountain Group was snared early on in the Benghazi controversy. Remember that time when the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said this three days after the attack: “I can tell you that at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya – at no time.”  That turned out to be false. This was covered by Danger Room in September 2012:  Feds Hired British Security Firm to Protect Benghazi Consulate.

The contract is a curious one, of course, since security in the State Department falls under the Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) program which has core funding for the protection of life, property, and information of the agency. WSP funding supports not just domestic facilities but also  worldwide guard force protecting overseas diplomatic missions and residences.  Defense Industry Daily has a list of contractors for the 5-year $10 billion WPS security contract inked in 2010.  The Blue Mountain Group is not on that list.  One wonders, given the presence of OGA in Benghazi, if this was in fact an OGA contract, though  the paperwork does say it is a State contract. Or it is possible that none of the WPS contractors are allowed to operate in Libya, so State had to procure services from another provider?  But then, that does not explain why three days after the attack, the State spokesperson was adamant that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-02

A redacted copy of the Blue Mountain Group contract has now been released after a FOIA by Judicial Watch and can be read/downloaded here.

One thing more. On October 14, 2012, UK’s The Telegraph reported about Blue Mountain, described as a small British firm based in south Wales:

“Blue Mountain, which is run by a former member of the SAS, received paper work to operate in Libya last year following the collapse of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. It worked on short term contacts to guard an expatriate housing compound and a five-star hotel in Tripoli before landing the prestigious US deal.
[…]
But Blue Mountain’s local woes appears to have hampered a coordinated response by the compound’s defenders when the late assault kicked off.

Darryl Davies, the manager of the Benghazi contract for Blue Mountain, flew out of the city hours before the attack was launched. The Daily Telegraph has learned that relations between the firm and its Libyan partner had broken down, leading to the withdrawal of Mr Davies.
[…]
Abdulaziz Majbiri, a Blue Mountain guard at the compound, told the Daily Telegraph that they were effectively abandoned and incapable of defending themselves on the night of the attack.”

So far, no one has gone back to clarify or straighten out that story.

And because the Benghazi controversy simply refuses to die, CNN is reporting that a CIA operatives will testify behind closed doors at a classified Benghazi hearing on the week of November 11.

Then yesterday, Politico reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz  “slammed the source behind a report that revealed the real name of a British security agent in Benghazi, which was published in The Washington Post.”

“I don’t know who did it, but to release a covert agent’s name to endanger his life should be an absolute outrage in this town,” Chaffetz said Monday on Fox New’s “Fox and Friends” when asked if he thought the White House was behind the leak.

I was seriously looking for something like this to pop up because … hey, it’s too attractive to pass up if you want some screen time.  But now Morgan Jones/Dylan Davies is not only a “whistleblower”  he is also a “covert agent”?

Well, I’ll be …. the Oversight Committee hearing is coming soon.

Have you noticed that Benghazi is not only a popular subject with politicians, it has also gained popularity in the Amazon marketplace? The Benghazi tragedy has spawned not just books but also bumper stickers, a Benghazi album from Moon Records, Cover Up (The Benghazi Song), a Benghazi Memorandum Book,a Benghazi Record Book, whatevs.  There are also Benghazi cartoons, mousepads, coffee mugs, coasters, bottles, tshirts, a pinback button, and a Benghazi memorial license plate. There are more Benghazi-branded products available via Cafepress.com including  Benghazi underwear and panties; don’t  miss the Benghazi Blame and Good Riddance classic thongs. Benghazi products are also available at Zazzle.com; don’t miss the doggie clothing line.

If you’re renovating, there is even a Benghazi light switch cover for a 2 plug outlet.

And now my grey matter is seriously hyperventilating and need to drown itself in sorrow.

 

* * *

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

— By Domani Spero

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

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

If confirmed, I pledge to: 

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

 

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

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

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

1.  Redactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have yet to see that in action.

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

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

2.  Recusals

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

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

3.  A Note on Black Sharpies 

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

4. Cobwebs Over Troubled OIG Memo

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So —

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

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

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

(o_o)

Related reports:

$630K To Buy Facebook Fans — Is That Really Such a Sin? Only If There’s Nothin’ But Strategery

◉  By Domani Spero

 

We blogged last month about the OIG report on the State Department’s IIP Bureau (See State Dept’s $630,000 Social Media “Buying Fans” Campaign,  a Success — But Where’s the Love?). At one point, we Googled $630,000 and we got 6,260 results in 10 seconds. Few of them complimentary for blowing that much dough to buy “friends.” The Daily Beast asks, “Oh, State Department, didn’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t buy your friends?”

C’mon folks, the USG buy friends all the time. It even buy frienemies, who occasionally bites it behind and in front of cameras.

Anyway, today, The Cable’s John Hudson has  this: Unfriend: State Dept’s Social Media Shop Is DC’s “Red-Headed Stepchild” where a former congressional staffer with knowledge of the bureau calls IIP or the Bureau of International Information Programs “the the redheaded stepchild of public diplomacy.”  An unnamed source also told The Cable that its main problem was finding something it actually does well. “It has an ill-defined mandate and no flagship product that anyone outside of Foggy Bottom has ever heard of.”

Actually, it used to run america.gov, an easily recognizable product created under the previous administration. But some bright bulbs decided to reinvent it into something easily memorable; you think  IIP Digital and you think, of course,  America. (see Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!).

The Cables’s piece has a quote from Tom Nides, the State Department’s former deputy secretary for management and resources who defended IIP in the wake of the OIG report:

“We have to allow our departments to be innovators and take risks. And if you’re an innovator, some things just aren’t going to work… The bureau does some really innovative and interesting stuff.” 

Like the e-reader debacle.  When somebody run something by the seat of their pants .. well, okay we’ll agree to call it interesting but please, let’s not/not call this innovative.  See What Sunk the State Dept’s $16.5 Million Kindle Acquisition? A Complaint. Plus Missing Overall Goals

Tara Sonenshine, until recently the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who oversees IIP also spoke to The Cable:

“OK, they spent time acquiring too many followers. They built up the traffic to their site. Is that really such a sin?” she asked in an interview with The Cable. “They moved quickly into social media at a time when Secretary of State Clinton said we should have 21st century statecraft. I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing.”

Is that really such a sin? Here is the problem that the OIG inspectors were not happy with:

“The absence of a Department-wide PD strategy tying resources to priorities directly affects IIP’s work. Fundamental questions remain unresolved. What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders? Which programs and delivery mechanisms work best with which audiences? What proportion of PD resources should support policy goals, and what proportion should go to providing the context of American society and values? How much should PD products be tailored for regions and individual countries, and how much should be directed to a global audience? What kinds of materials should IIP translate and into which languages? Absent a Department wide strategy, IIP decisions and priorities can be ad hoc, arbitrary, and lack a frame of reference to evaluate the bureau’s effectiveness. The 2004 OIG IIP inspection report recommended that the Department conduct a management review of PD. The Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs created an Office of Policy and Outreach but did not carry out the management review. A strategy that ties resources to priorities is essential to resolving questions of mission and organization for IIP in general and for the PD function in particular.”

Makes one wonder why not.

The recommended management review in 2004 did not happen under Margaret D. Tutwiler (2003-2004) not under Karen Hughes (2005-2007) not under James K. Glassman (2008-2009) or Judith McHale (2009-2011).  And it did not happen under Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-2013).

Which is how you end up with State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead.

Or how you get an odd Facebook campaigns on intellectual property theft and the importance of IP rights led by US embassies in Canada, Spain, Estonia, Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana, and Chile. (via Ars Technica). You’d think that if you do an embassy FB campaign on IP rights, you should at least target the 39 countries in USTR’s Watch List. Suriname, Guyana and Estonia did not even make that Watch List.

Or how tweets can get “bungled” and no one has the @embassyhandler’s back, not even the State Department Spokesperson.

Or how embassies create “fun” videos that cost time and money that does not fit/poorly fit an occasion or serve any real purpose (See employees around the U.S. Embassy in Manila sing and dance to the Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit song “Call Me Maybe” in December 2012, the Harlem Shake by U.S. Embassy Algiers in February 2013, or the U.S. Embassy Tashkent Navruz dance celebration in Uzbek Gangnam style in March 2013!

Look, we are not averse to seeing videos from our diplomatic posts, but they do require time and money.  Rehearsals, anyone?  We’d like to see some purpose put into them beyond just being the “in” thing to do.  (see some good ones US Embassy Bangkok’s Irrestibly Charming Happy 2013 GreetingUS Embassy Warsaw Rocks with All I Want For Christmas Is You, and US Embassy Costa Rica: La Visa Americana, Gangnam Style).
In December 2012, Ms. Soneshine gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, touting  “real success” with IIP’s FB properties:

IIP, the Bureau of International Information Programs, has had real success with its four major Facebook properties, which engage foreign audiences on issues related to innovation, democracy, conservation, and the USA.

Our metrics help us refine our understanding of the hopes and aspirations of young people in key countries, allowing us to explain our goals, policies and values in particular and responsive ways. In just 15 months, our Facebook following has expanded from 800,000 to more than 8 million, as they like, share, and retweet in their communities. And that includes young people in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Venezuela.

Ms. Soneshine did not mention how much money the USG spent to expand the number of those Facebook followers or the rate of the engagement.

In the same speech, she touted the use of “rigorous, evidence-based” work that “demonstrate the effectiveness” of the State Department programs:

[O]ur in-house staff – Statewide – includes Ph.D. social scientists, program evaluators who have worked all over the world, pollsters who left successful careers in the private sector to work for us, and other communications experts.

Our rigorous, evidence-based, social scientific work now allows us to go beyond anecdote and demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs and work in increasing foreign public understanding of U.S. society, government, culture, our values and the democratic process.

Here is what the OIG says:

The Office of Audience Research and Evaluation is charged with assessing bureau programs and conducting audience research for PD work. It is not performing either duty adequately. The coordinator brought a former colleague from the private sector into the bureau to oversee the operation, which is attached to the front office. However, that employee had no U.S. Government experience with the issues surrounding PD research or familiarity with the programs, products, and services IIP offers. At about the same time, the Office of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs transferred to IIP the responsibility for managing a PD database for tracking embassies’ work, along with the responsibility for preparing a report assessing the global impact of PD. Since the 2011 reorganization that put these changes in place, the office has accomplished little.

Zing!

In the aftermath of the release of the IIP report, Ms. Soneshine reportedly sent out a lengthy email offering to connect recipients “directly with the bureau’s leadership so that you can learn more about IIP and its great work, in addition to hearing how the bureau is proactively implementing the report’s recommendations.”

She reportedly also touted the bureau’s accomplishments and writes that “IIP is now positioned firmly in the 21st Century and will innovate constantly to stay at the forefront of modern Public Diplomacy.”

That must be why the fishes are leaping out the barrel; fishes to refer to multiple species of fish in that specific barrel.

👀

Related item:

-05/31/13   Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs  [975 Kb]