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FSO Jennifer Davis’ Security Clearance Revocation, a Very Curious Leak

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On April 9, Politico published an odd piece about the revocation of a Foreign Service officer’s security clearance.

“A top aide to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Jennifer Davis, the de facto chief of staff to Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is a career Foreign Service officer who has worked at the State Department for 18 years, with previous postings in Colombia, Mexico and Turkey.”

The report says that the revocation came after a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Davis served a three year tour as Consul General in Istanbul, Turkey from August 2016 to August 2019.

“In that role, she had a conversation with a reporter, Amberin Zaman of the Middle Eastern-focused news outlet Al-Monitor, about the problem of local staff being hassled and detained by Turkish authorities, according to the person close to her.

Zaman reported at the time that the Turkish pressure campaign was likely to expedite U.S. government plans to use visa sanctions to block certain Turkish officials from visiting the U.S. and said that a list of such officials had been drafted, citing “sources close to the Donald Trump administration.” Not only did she speak to Zaman with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior, according to the person close to Davis, the information she shared was “not at all sensitive” and was declassified soon after their discussion.”

The report further states that Davis spoke to Zaman “with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior” citing a person close to Davis. And that the information Davis shared “was not at all sensitive”  and it was reportedly declassified soon after the discussion occurred.
Security clearance revocations do not make news very often. The investigating office is often mum about the revocation and the subject of the security clearance investigation/revocation is often not able to talk about it. Unless they write about it. Or unless officials leaked it to the press, of course.
At least three people spoke to Politico: the “two people familiar with the matter” and “a person close to Davis who said that “Davis will “strongly contests the determination” and is “going to aggressively appeal this decision as quickly as possible.”
Nearly 1.4 million people hold “top secret” clearance. So why is the Davis case news?  We do not know, as yet, who stands to gain by the public revelation of this revocation. But see, this is making us well, perplexed and very curious.
Let’s try and see a public timeline of what happened prior to the reported revocation.
October 2017: In the fall of 2017, Turkey arrested a local national working at the US Consulate General Istanbul.
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey during the first two arrests of US Mission employees (one in Adana, one in Istanbul) was John Bass who served from October 2014 to October 2017. Prior to the conclusion of his tenure in Turkey, the US Mission suspended visa services, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey. Ambassador Bass issued a statement about the arrests of two veteran employees of the U.S. Government in Turkey.
October 2017 – Chief of Mission to Chargé d’Affaires in Turkey
Philip Kosnett assumed the duties of Chargé d’Affaires in October 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ assignment in Turkey. He began his assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey in July 2016.  In July 2018, he was nominated by Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September 2018, and presented his credentials in Pristina in December 2018. That’s still his current assignment. Kosnett’s tenure as Chargé d’Affaires at US Mission Turkey was from October 2017 to on/around July 2018.
November 2017: Michael Evanoff was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security under the Trump Administration. He served in that capacity until his resignation in July 2020.
December 2017: U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row
January 2018: A second local employe of U.S. Consulate General Istanbul was arrested.
On January 31, 2018, USCG Istanbul local employee Nazmi Mete Cantürk turned himself in to Turkish authorities and was placed under house arrest.  It was previously reported that in 2017, his wife and child were detained Oct. 9 in the Black Sea province of Amasya for alleged links to the Gülen network. He was the third USG employee arrested by the Government of Turkey.
The two arrests in Istanbul followed a previous arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Adana in February 2017. Turkish authorities detained Hamza Uluçay, a 36-year veteran Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate on unsubstantiated terrorism charges.
February 2018: Journalist Amberin Zaman published an article via Al-Monitor.
On February 1, 2018, a day after a second Consulate employee was put under house arrest by the Turkish Government,  Zaman published “Turkey resumes pressure on US Consulate staff” for Al-Monitor. This  was the article that reportedly spurned the investigation. Excerpt below:

“Turkey has reneged on its pledge to not hound locally employed staff at US missions on its soil, with police interrogating a Turkish citizen working for the US Consulate in Istanbul yesterday, Al-Monitor has learned. The move could likely accelerate the US administration’s plans to apply targeted visa sanctions against Turkish officials deemed to be involved in the unlawful detentions of US Consulate staff, provided that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives final approval, sources close to the Donald Trump administration told Al-Monitor.”

March 2018: Rex Tillerson, the 69th Secretary of State was fired.
A few weeks after the publication of the Zaman article, Rex Tillerson was fired from the State Department and left Foggy Bottom for the last time on March 22, 2018. His inner circle staffers followed him to the exit by end of that month. Also see Trump Dumps Tillerson as 69th Secretary of State, to Appoint CIA’s Pompeo as 70th SoS.

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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“Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 3:55 pm ET
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The State Department’s Dissent Channel was created “to allow its users the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues, when such views cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures, to the attention of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department officials in a manner which protects the author from any penalty, reprisal, or recrimination.”  Note that management, administrative, or personnel issues that are not significantly related to matters of substantive foreign policy may not be communicated through the Dissent Channel according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

There is a reason we don’t hear often about the messages sent through the “dissent channel”:

Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users is strictly enforced; officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be subject to disciplinary action.  Dissent Channel messages, including the identity of the authors, are a most sensitive element in the internal deliberative process and are to be protected accordingly.

Neither the identity of a Dissent Channel user nor the contents of any Dissent Channel message may be shared with anyone outside of the procedures as outlined in 2 FAM 074.1paragraph (b)

We understand that in 1977, the Executive Secretariat logged in some 32 Dissent Channel messages. By contrast, in 2005, you apparently could count by the fingers of one hand the number of Foreign Service professionals who used the Dissent Channel.

In 2009, USA TODAY (October 12, 2009) publicly reported the use of the dissent channel on a USAID program in Pakistan (see Dissent Channel: USAID/Pakistan Program.

Probably, one of the more famous use of the dissent channel was one signed by 20 diplomats on the U.S. policy toward East Pakistan, also known as the Blood Telegram, the subject of the book by Gary Bass.  Archer Blood was our top diplomat in Bangladesh.  He was the Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan and was famous for sending the strongly-worded dissent telegram protesting against the atrocities committed in the Bangladesh Liberation War. [See cable: Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable (PDF); Also see Wanted: Patron Saint for Dissenting Diplomats).

On June 16,  NYT’s Mark Lander reports that dozens of diplomats have signed a dissent memo over the administration’s Syria policy, and that a State Department official provided a draft of the dissent memo to the newspaper:

More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

So, what happens next?

According to the regs, the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P) is responsible for management of the Dissent Channel, including receipt, storage, distribution, and acknowledgment of all Dissent Channel messages received, and drafting, clearance, and timely transmission of all Dissent Channel responses.  Note that Jon Finer, is Secretary Kerry’s Chief of Staff and also the Director of Policy Planning

Immediately upon receipt of all incoming Dissent Channel messages, S/P distributes copies to the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary (Blinken), the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (Higginbottom), the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon), the Executive Secretary, and the Chair of the Secretary’s Open Forum (who is not identified on the state.gov website). The director of S/P may distribute the dissent message to other senior officials in the Department, both for information purposes and for help in drafting a response.  No additional distribution may be made without the authorization of the S/P director.

The Director of Policy Planning is also responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.  At the discretion of the Director of the Policy Planning, S/P may also clear replies with other senior Department of State officials.

Will this change the policy on Syria? Don’t count on it.

According to Kal Bird in Dissent in the Foreign Service, the first dissent cable was filed by Jack Perry, protesting the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, on the eve of the Nixon-Brezhnev summit. Perry’s arguments had no impact on the Nixon-Kissinger Vietnam policy. Also this:

The first major test of the dissent channel as a means of not only venting views, but changing policy, came in Cyprus in 1974. In that year of the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat in Nicosia, Thomas Boyatt filed a dissent cable protesting Kissinger’s interventionist policy. Within days Boyatt was fired from his position as director of the Office of Cypriot Affairs. His dissent cable was not answered for five months, and even then, the response was merely an acknowledgment of receipt.

(Note: The Blood telegram is dated April 6, 1971, so while we do not have a date for the Perry cable protesting the 1972 bombing of North Vietnam, the Blood dissent appears to predates the Perry dissent).

Mr. Bird’s article notes that “precisely because few dissent cables have ever changed policy, use of the dissent channel is considered a desperate last resort.”

A “desperate last resort” and might just be the reason why this dissent channel memo was leaked to the New York Times.

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What a dissent cable looks like — read Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable via National Security Archive/GWU:

 

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Leaks in the Department of State in 1963, and a Scolding on Leaks in 2015

Posted: 1:40 am EDT
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Foreign Policy’s John Hudson recently did a report on Secretary John Kerry admonishing State Department employees about making unauthorized disclosures to the press.

In a tense Monday meeting about leaks, which was promptly, well, leaked to Foreign Policy, Kerry told staff to keep a lid on internal deliberations or find a new place to work.
[…]
“In slightly more polite words, Kerry said if you want to leak, you can get the f— out,” a State Department official said.

Asked about the meeting, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at no time did Kerry “discourage anybody at the State Department not to talk to the media.”

Read more  (registration may be required):

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The National Archives,  did a blogpost on Leaks in the Department of State, 1963 on March 17, 2015. That post includes an 8-page memo to President Kennedy on how Under Secretary of State George W. Ball (then the Department’s #2 official) plan to deal with the issue.

On April 28, Mr. Langbart posted additional documentation on what led to that memorandum in his post,  Leaks in the Department of State, 1963: Antecedents.

By early September 1962, President Kennedy and Under Secretary Ball were discussing how to handle relations with the press.  To brief the Under Secretary and provide him with food for thought, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert Manning to sent Ball a long memorandum.

Among the points he made were (the following are all direct quotations from Manning’s memo to Ball, 1962):

  • [O]ccasionally top officials of the government display a certain lack of reality about (a) the degree to which we can expect the day-to-day coverage of foreign policy to reflect only the assessments and characteristics that we believe are the correct ones, and (b) the degree to which we react to individual stories or pieces of speculation we do not like.
  •  [I]n almost all instances where given stories or reports seem to raise serious problems for us, experience shows that a few hours or a few days later there was, in fact, no real cause for demonstrable concern. We too often allow ourselves to react when in fact the problem would disappear — or prove to have been non-existent — if we were to just relax and move on to other matters.
  •  [W]e have to give more thought to what can be done to protect the main objective, namely the pursuit of the national interest, from harm or mischief that can be done by ill-considered reporting or ill-considered talk and gossip by government officials.
  •  I would be deeply concerned — for the government, for the Administration and for the President himself — if this concern were to provoke us into oppressive practices or other inhibitions that would not solve the problem yet might very well hamper the ability of officials to get the information they need and use it for legitimate conduct of their duties.
  •  I might give a few opinions on what produces the kind of talk and gossip and bits and pieces of fact and fancy that make up a large part of the dialogue between officials and the press in Washington.
  •  There is no doubt . . . that the official State Department position is that within the limits of national security and national interests there is supposed to be direct dialogue between officiers [sic] dealing with policy and members of the press. . . . and it is in the interests of the competent men dealing with policies to take a direct responsibility for making those policies clear to responsible correspondents.
  •  People who talk to the press are supposed to be motivated by the simple purpose of the Department policy, namely to explain policies to the American people and to make a public use of the power of the press and of public discussion to help carry its policies forward.
  •  Often, however, those who talk are propelled by other impulses:

— There are a few who get a simple personal enjoyment out of talking with newsmen, out of cultivating them, their acquaintance, their approval, and . . . out of the personal publicity and identity that can be attained by press, and . . . public attention.

 — There are the simply garrulous types who in fact enjoy being in the know and are apt occasionally to try to demonstrate this point. . . .

 — There are those who use the channel of the press to leak partial information on policies they oppose, in the hope that such publicity will defeat or amend those policies; or who, conversely, will talk prematurely in order to push a policy into the open and therefore closer to acceptance. . . .

—  There are those who in all sincerity believe they have all the facts at their command and that they have a mandate to make them clear and forthright within the confines of security practices and other restrictions.  This type represents the best and in my estimate should be protected should there be any attempt to bring the other types under control.

 — There is the person whose primary function is to talk to the press on behalf of the government in the role of information officer or public affairs adviser or spokesman or whatever you want to call him. Since this is the breed that includes . . .  myself . . . , I have a particular interest in promoting their worth and enhancing their value. . . .  I do feel strongly however that more has to be done about bringing this group or a representative of this group into the very middle of the most delicate situations. . . .   Once a correspondent knows he is talking with a person “who was there” and once he has come to trust that person, he is willing to stake his own reputation on the information he gets. . . . .

  • I do not believe that there are any simple mechanical ways in which the problem of leaks and unknowing conversations can be completely cured. I would be strongly opposed to any steps designed sharply to inhibit responsible officers from contacts with the press . . . [as they] would have unfortunate repercussions in the actual performance of officials in the Department.
  • It may be possible . . . to produce a sharper awareness of the problem and to get some useful result if you were to follow your idea of talking personally to officials . . . of the Department about the nature of this problem and the concern that is felt by you, the Secretary and the President.
  • [I]t would also be of immense help if some similar educational process could be applied to that area of the White House staff that maintains its own intimate and, frequently, very thorough intercourse with the press.

Read the original post here via Text Message.

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Obama Admin Official Leaks Dismal Stengel-Kerry Memo on ISIS Counter Messaging

Posted: 2:08 am EDT
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An internal State Department memo paints a dreary view of the Obama administration’s efforts to counter messaging by the Islamic State. And somebody leaked it to the New York Times.

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Why, indeed?

The internal memo, dated June 9 is marked SBU or “sensitive but unclassified.” It was drafted and approved by Richard A. Stengel, the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs (State/R) and a former managing editor of Time magazine.  The memo addressed to Secretary Kerry is cleared only by one person, Susan Stevenson, from Stengel’s own Front Office; there are no other addressee.  It’s hard to say how far this memo traveled in 4-5 days before it was leaked but the source could not be too far away from Stengel and Kerry’s offices.

The question now is motive. Who leaked that memo and why? Is it to garner support from higher ups like those in the WH or is it to torpedo Stengel’s “big proposal and immediate improvement” before it get legs. Who gains, who losses from this leak?

The memo is made available online by the NYT.

Pardon me, you’re waiting for the SBU leaker to get caught? We’ll, we’re also waiting for the trap doors for the leakers of the 2010 secret cables sent by then Ambassador Eikenberry on the Afghanistan strategy, and the 2012 top secret cable by then Ambassador Crocker on Pakistani havens.  To-date, none of those leakers have been caught. So, catch the SBU leaker? Good luck!

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