JW v. @StateDept: Ambassador Lewis Lukens Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 12:02 am ET
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Last week, Judicial Watch released the deposition transcript of Ambassador Lewis Lukens, former executive director of the State Department’s executive secretariat.  The transcript is available here.  Amb. Lukens’ deposition is the first of seven allowed by the court as part of the discovery granted to Judicial Watch by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in response to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit involving HRC’s non-government email system (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-01363)). Also see An Invitation to a Deposition: DC Court Judge Approves Extraordinary Procedure in FOIA CaseJudicial Watch Submits Plan to Depose Top Ranking @StateDept Officials and 30 (b)(6) WitnessesCourt Grants Request to Interview Clinton Aides and @StateDept Officials Under Oath Over Email Saga.

Following his assignment at S/ES, Ambassador Lukens was appointed as US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.  He is currently diplomat-in-residence responsible for for recruitment and outreach for the State Department in Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

You may read the transcript of the deposition below:

 

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Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT
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The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
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But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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Now This — A WH Petition to Remove Amb to Thailand Kristie Kenney For Twitter Selfies

— Domani Spero
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On May 24, 2014, somebody named T. D. from Garden Grove, CA created a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to remove Ambassador Kristie Kenney from her post in Thailand. Below is the purported justification for the petition:

 

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Our ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but career ambassadors typically serve three years at their foreign posts. Sometimes, they’re extended for another year.  Ambassador Kenney has been in Bangkok since December 2010.  She is due for a reassignment not because of a petition but simply because that’s how the Foreign Service works.

We do not know Ambassador Kenney personally but we have followed her tenure in this blog and this seems not only unfair but steams from misunderstanding of an ambassador’s role.  Career ambassadors in particular are not rogue operators.  They do not originate an administration’s policy, they do not act on whims, they implement and defend the policy of the administration of the day and follow the instructions from the State Department. And when they can no longer do that, they quit as Ambassador Robert Ford did.

It looks like the petitioners were especially incensed by Ambassador Kenney’s  “never-ending Twitter selfies.” Are we proposing recalling our various ambassadors for conducting selfie diplomacy?  The thing is — ambassadors have marching orders for public engagement in social media. Some are more active and have better reach than others. @KristineKenney, one of the early adopters of Twitter among chiefs of mission currently has over 50K followers.  When Bush 43’s Karen Hughes talked about “a rapid response unit, ” Twitter was at its infancy.  Today, you have a chief of mission responding to rumors as quickly as you can say boo!

 

 

We looked at the ambassador’s timeline on Twitter, just because.  The recent selfies  had to do with  cotton and bagels, which may seem petty and all except that this is cotton USA and the bagels were from a partly US-owned business during American Restaurant Week in Bangkok.  We should note that economic diplomacy is the buzzword in Foggy Bottom — this includes not only in attracting direct private investment to the United States but also in helping to expand foreign markets for U.S. businesses.  In fact, State is proud to tout that it generates $150 billion in trade and even has a map that shows how the work of the Department benefits each U.S. State, and all for about 1% of the Federal budget.

So how can we fault her for these?

Photo via Instagram

Photo via Instagram

 

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In some places, commercial promotion becomes the main priority for chiefs of mission (see US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”).  And while this photo below is not a selfie but obtained via Flickr, note that we even promote U.S  beef in Africa.

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

 

The US Mission in Bangkok has about 10 social media platforms including Ambassador Kenney’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Not sure what is its total reach like, but here’s a shoutout to its American Citizens Services @ACSBKK tweeting security updates, curfew reminders, as well as IRS, voting, and other relevant  and timely information to overseas Americans. No, we do not expect ACS anywhere to live-tweet a coup, good gracious!

 

 

We’re sure that our folks overseas, like most of us would probably like some quiet time to read a book or have a private dinner with family and friends. Instead — they’re promoting U.S. businesses because that’s part of the job.  Oh yeah, how would you like to be that guy promoting beef?

Whether the signature threshold in the WH petition is reached or not, Ambassador Kenney is expected to rotate out of Bangkok in the near future. We, however, imagine that the WH may opt to keep her at post for the full fourth year, precisely because of the petition. Thailand is a country of over 66 million people. Still, we do not think the WH would like to see a perceived precedence that a petition could unseat a president’s personal representative by way of a petition. But should this petition reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it is assured an official response from the Obama Administration.

Note that thousands of people petitioned the White House to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” It got an official response but sorry, we’re not gonna build a Death Star.

 

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