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

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

The memo, reported by CBS News’ John Miller, cited eight specific examples, including allegations that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards and the charge and that members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries” — a problem the report says was “endemic.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

No Undue Influence or Favoritism in Four Cases 

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

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

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

One footnote:

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

One Review Ongoing 

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

The above case was cited in the USA Today report:

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

OIG Recommendations – open and unresolved

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

The end.

 

Related posts:

 

Related item:

-09/30/14   Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-14-01)  [685 Kb] Posted on October 16, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

👀

US Embassy Jamaica: Ex-ARSO David J. Rainsberger Gets One Year In Prison for Accepting Gifts

— By Domani Spero

 

In February 2013, USDOJ announced that David J. Rainsberger, 32, a law enforcement officer with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, pleaded guilty to receiving unlawful gratuities while stationed at the U.S. embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, and making false statements to the United States government on a national security questionnaire required to maintain his security clearance.

Today, July 9, the AP reported that the former Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) has been sentenced to a year in prison for accepting gifts in exchange for helping a Jamaican musician gain a U.S. visa.

The unlawful gratuities include two luxury watches worth approximately $2,500 plus backstage access, free admission to nightclubs and a party hosted by an unnamed Jamaican musician.

We previously blogged about this here – see DS Agent David J. Rainsberger Pleads Guilty to Receiving Unlawful Gratuities, False Statements.

Originally scheduled to be sentenced on April 19, 2013, Rainsberger did face a maximum penalty of two years in prison on the gratuities charge and five years in prison on the false statements charge.  It looks like the false statements charge was dropped and he got one year instead of the maximum two year penalty for the gratuities charge. The prosecutors reportedly sought a sentence of about two years while the defense sought home detention.

Here is a recap from the February announcement:

According to court records, Rainsberger served as an assistant regional security officer for investigations at the U.S. embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, from 2009 to 2011.  While there, Rainsberger befriended a well-known Jamaican musician whose entry to the U.S. had been barred because of allegations of criminal conduct.  Rainsberger’s investigation of this individual resulted in the reinstatement of his visa, which allowed the individual to travel to the U.S. to take advantage of performance and recording opportunities.  On account of the assistance Rainsberger provided him with respect to his U.S. visa, the musician purchased for Rainsberger two luxury watches worth approximately $2,500.  In addition, Rainsberger received free admission to nightclubs, backstage access to concerts, and a birthday party hosted by the musician.

At the same time, Rainsberger, who was already married, became engaged to a Jamaican national and intentionally withheld disclosure of the relationship from the U.S. government on Office of Personnel Management Standard Form 86, a national security questionnaire that requires disclosure of close and continuing contact with foreign nationals.  Rainsberger also repeatedly accessed, without authority, Department of State visa and passport databases for personal purposes.

While this individual only got one year in prison,  his career with the State Department or with any law enforcement agency is definitely over.   But there is an upside to being in prison according to Bloomberg Businessweek — “prison is a wonderful place to catch up on your reading.”    Bloomberg offers a survival guide here put together with the help of three “experts.”

👀

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Security Failures of Benghazi: Today’s Hearing

Today: Security Failures of Benghazi Hearing
12:00pm in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building


Witnesses:

Ms. Charlene R. Lamb (testimony)
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

Mr. Eric Nordstrom (testimony)
Regional Security Officer
U.S. Department of State

Lt. Col. Andrew Wood (testimony)
Utah National Guard
U.S. Army

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (testimony)
Under Secretary for Management
U.S. Department of State

Video is currently streaming online. Should also be accessible after the hearing here.

Quick takes from the hearing’s Q& A:

  • RSO Nordstrom is a strong and articulate witness. DAS Lamb not so much. U/S Kennedy so-so.
  • DAS Lamb and U/S Kennedy have never been to Libya
  • U/S Kennedy defended Susan Rice’s statement on tv, wrangles with various members of the Committee including Congressman Labrador  (Idaho, first district-R) who just dot-connected Rice’s “shameful” statement to the WH.
  • RSO Nordstrom’s security request was turned down as the danger pay for post was bumped up.
  • There is a 50-minute video, other agency as source; video not yet made available to Congress
  • Offense/defense skirmishes on staffing, funding, use of classified materials in open hearing, etc. etc.
  • It looks like a classified hearing will also be held.
  • Col. Wood said he expected an attack to happen, it was only a matter of time
  • RSO Nordstrom request was called a recommendation not a request by DAS Lamb.  Confirmed phone call request prior to the cable request; identified DAS Lamb as the person who turned it down.
  • U/S Kennedy cites his 39 service as FSO including service under six Secretary of State and eight presidents since President Nixon, and on his honor declared that there was no political pressure exerted.
  • Professional malpractice?
  • Rep. Gawdy wants to drag Ambassador Rice to a hearing, cites Rep Chaffetz being emotional “by what he saw in Libya”; Rep Cummings defends.
  • Somebody’s head gonna roll; I don’t think it will be RSO Nordstrom. Can’t say the same for DAS Lamb.
  • None of the witnesses were in Libya during the attack; no one mentions RSO David Ubben who survived the attack and is in the DC area.
  • DAS Lamb just gave two other names in Diplomatic Security chain of command who has responsibility for deciding on RSO Nordstrom’s request; acknowledged decision was not her sole discretion: PDAS Scott P. Bultrowicz and Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric J. Boswell; PDAS Lamb just gave an underhanded compliment to RSO Nordstrom
  • Kennedy: “We cannot end the security risks to our for our people overseas.”
  • Nordstrom: “We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident.”
  • Nordstrom: “How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.
  • Regional Director, Near Eastern Affairs
  • Nordstrom:Wood:  “We were fighting a losing battle; we could not even keep what we had.”
  • Nordstrom: ““For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”
  • Issa:  “You don’t decrease security at the same time you are increasing hazard pay”
  • RSO Nordstrom sounded calm, DAS Lamb sounded frazzled; U/S Kennedy a seasoned congressional witness who did not hesitate to interupt.

Here are the bump up danger pay rates from June – October 2012 (first column is the rate for Tripoli, the second column is the rate for all other places in Libya, including Benghazi).  This is in addition to the hardship differential and COLA for posts. For context, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan all get 35% danger pay in the latest rates published).

June 17, 2012             25%                      25%

July 29, 2012             30%                      30%

August 26, 2012        30%                      30%

Sept 23, 2012             30%                      30%

Oct 7, 2012                 30%                      30%

Hope to have more later.

US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural,” Investigation Ongoing

On May 13, we posted here about the reported death of George Gaines, the Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados.  Over the weekend, we have also sent an email to the Public Affairs Officer of US Embassy Barbados and to the Royal Barbados Police Force. As of this writing, the embassy has not acknowledged nor responded to our query.  Neither the embassy nor the State Department has released an official statement on Mr. Gaines’ death.

The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) did confirm to us via email on May 14 that it is investigating the death of Mr. Gaines.  RBPF says that under Barbados laws, this death is being treated as unnatural and a Coroner’s Inquest will be held in the future to determine whether or not it was a suicide.  The Police also confirmed that a firearm was found at the scene and the body had a wound to the head.

Below is one of the last official photos we can locate of George Gaines, as one of the crew members of the Lancelot II during the Round Barbados Race in January 2012:

Crew of the Lancelot II included: Victor Henken, Brian Greaney, Mike Biggins, George Gaines, Bill Hobbs, Jerry Aylward, Kit Rosenstein, Fred Melton, Joe Cowan, Mark McHugh, and Stephanie Palisek.
(Photo from US Embassy Barbados website)

Via US Embassy blog and press statement, January 2012:

The Round Barbados Race dates back to the 19th century and is based upon bragging rights for the fastest “trading schooner” – a prize worth its weight in gold to captains in an era where boats competed for cargo business and the fastest cargo won a hefty premium.  The slowest boat won a consolation prize of a barrel of Mount Gay Rum, a practice discontinued after two boats remained out at sea for days, stalling to win the rum!

The modern event is held on January 21, a day celebrating Errol Barrow, Barbados’s first Prime Minister and an avid sailor.  It’s sponsored by Mount Gay Rum, and the prize for a new record in any existing class is the skipper’s weight in Mount Gay Rum Extra Old.

This year, the Embassy’s Charlie Hillyer took up the challenge from the Barbados Cruising Club’s Commodore to find a boat and a U.S. crew.  Captain Charlie found two Beneteau 40s and Shanghaied 22 sailors who, while courageous and willing, had varying degrees of sailing expertise.

[…]

Team USA, on board Lancelot II met the challenge of the open sea’s and 29 other seasoned sailing vessels, crewed by seasoned sailors in the Mount Gay Rum Round Barbados Race 2012 on Saturday January 21, to take first place in Class 60′ and under.

They bore the brunt of gusting 25 knot winds, 12 foot rollers from the North Atlantic, slippery decks and vessels that seemed to go every way but straight !!!!Even under these extreme conditions they prevailed and made a lasting mark on the sailing community of Barbados and other boats from foreign ports.

Crew of the Lancelot II included: Victor Henken, Brian Greaney, Mike Biggins, George Gaines, Bill Hobbs, Jerry Aylward, Kit Rosenstein, Fred Melton, Joe Cowan, Mark McHugh, and Stephanie Palisek.

US Embassy Barbados is a medium sized-post with approximately 60 direct hire Americans. The grief from this tragic event will be deep and painful especially for a small community like the embassy.