Photo of the Day: Tillerson Meets with Bureau of Administration Folks

Posted: 2:43 am ET
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The Bureau of Administration provides support programs to the Department of State and U.S. embassies and consulates. These programs include: procurement; supply and transportation; diplomatic pouch and mail services; official records, publishing, and library services; language services; setting allowance rates for U.S. Government personnel assigned abroad and providing support for Department assisted overseas schools; domestic real property and facilities management; domestic emergency management; support for White House travel abroad; and logistical support for special conferences.

On August 16, the State Department released a photo of Secretary Tillerson with S/P Brian Hook meeting with unidentified representatives of the Bureau of Administration, an office located under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Management. A nominee for “M” has been announced but has not been confirmed. No nominee has been announced for the Bureau of Administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with representatives of the Bureau of Administration, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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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.
[…]
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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Most Apt Question on #ClintonEmails: “Simply put, where was everyone?”

Posted: 2:36 am EDT
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“I remain mystified by the fact that the use of a private e-mail account apparently went either unnoticed or unremarked upon during the four-year tenure in office of the former secretary” […] ”Simply put, where was everyone? Is there any record indicating that any lawyer, any FOIA officer, any records person, any high-level official ever respectfully confronted the former secretary with reasonable questions about the practice of sending e-mails from a private account? It is unfathomable to me that this would not have been noticed and reported up the chain.”

Jason Baron
Former Director of Litigation, NARA
Source: HRC Emails: Federal officials voiced growing alarm over Clinton’s compliance with records laws, documents show

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FOIA and Clinton Aides: Some Shock and Awe at the Foggiest Bottom

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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That WSJ article above has this to say about the Keystone-related documents subject to FOIA and the rapid dominance doctrine in the halls of Foggy Bottom:

The Keystone documents Ms. Mills objected to were all either held back or redacted, the same person said. After Ms. Mills began scrutinizing documents, the State Department’s disclosure of records related to Keystone fell off sharply, documents that include a court filing show.

Two others with knowledge of State Department records procedures said political appointees were allowed greater say than the FOIA experts thought was appropriate. It was hard to push back against the political staff, one said.

The pipeline project was so sensitive that an expert on FOIA was invited to a State Department policy meeting to advise on how to prospectively shield documents from disclosure, such as by marking them as involving the “deliberative process,” said a person who attended.

That’s the infamous exemption for the “deliberative process,” otherwise known as the “b-5.” In early May, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring an Informed Citizenry: Examining the Administration’s Efforts to Improve Open Government.” Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, as well as Chief FOIA Officer for the Department of State was one of the witnesses and made news for reportedly saying that Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email account for official business was “not acceptable.” Too late much?

One other witness at that hearing was Thomas S. Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Below is from his prepared statement on the “b-5” exemption, also known as the “withhold it if you want to” exemption.

One reason why FOIA does not work is the abuse of the most discretionary exemption in the FOIA, the fifth or “b-5” on deliberative process. This exemption also includes attorney-client privilege, and every lawyer in this room shivers at the idea of infringing on that. Yet, I would point out that the Presidential Records Act dating back to 1978 has eliminated the b-5 exemption as a reason for withholding records 12 years after the President in question leaves office. Through the PRA, we have conducted a 35-year experiment with putting a sunset on the deliberative process exemption, and the facts show us no damage has been done with a 12-year sunset. Yes, some embarrassment, such as the junior White House lawyer who vetted (and rejected) a certain Stephen Breyer for a Supreme Court nomination back in the 1990s. But no new spate of lawsuits. No re-opened litigation. No damage to the public interest. Embarrassment cannot become the basis for restricting open government. In fact, embarrassment makes the argument for opening the records involved.

According to Mr. Blanton, the Justice Department’s use of the “withhold it if you want to” exemption is at an all-time high this year, invoked 82,770 times to withhold records that citizens requested. The same exemption used by the CIA to withhold volume 5 of a 30-year-old internal draft history of the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. This is the same exemption used by the FBI to censor most of the 5,000 pages it recently “released” on the use of the Stingray technology to locate individuals’ cell phones.  Apparently, this is the exemption that the administration also used to keep the Office of Legal Counsel final opinions out of the public domain according to Mr. Blanton.

So, are we terribly shocked yet?

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OIG: Only 41,749 State Dept Record Emails Preserved Out Of Over a Billion Emails Sent

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
Updated: March 12, 9:29 pm PST
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State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN that since the inspector general is independent from the department “they will have to speak to the timing and details of releasing this report, which they control.”

So we asked the IG and we’re told that “the timing of the release of this report (ISP-I-15-15) was purely coincidental to the recent email issue.”

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State/OIG did a review (pdf) of the Department’s State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) and Record Email in Washington, DC, between January 24 and March 15, 2014. According to the OIG, in 2013, Department employees created 41,749 record emails. These statistics are similar to numbers from 2011, when Department employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Department officials have noted that many emails that qualify as records are not being saved as record emails.

Below are the highlights of the OIG review:

  • A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records. However, Department of State employees have not received adequate training or guidance on their responsibilities for using those systems to preserve “record emails.” In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.
  • Record email usage varies widely across bureaus and missions. The Bureau of Administration needs to exercise central oversight of the use of the record email function.
  • Some employees do not create record emails because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions.
  • System designers in the Bureau of Information Resource Management need more understanding and knowledge of the needs of their customers to make the system more useful. A new procedure for monitoring the needs of customers would facilitate making those adjustments.

Additional details from the OIG report:

The need for official records

The Department of State (Department) and its employees need official records for many purposes: reference in conducting ongoing operations; orientation of successors; defending the U.S. Government’s position in disputes or misunderstandings; holding individuals accountable; recording policies, practices, and accomplishments; responding to congressional and other enquiries; and documenting U.S. diplomatic history. Record preservation is particularly important in the Department because Foreign Service officers rotate into new positions every 2 or 3 years. Federal law requires departments, agencies, and their employees to create records of their more significant actions and to preserve records according to Governmentwide standards.

Who has responsibility for the preservation of official records?

Every employee in the Department has the responsibility of preserving emails that should be retained as official records.3 The Office of Information Programs and Services in the Bureau of Administration’s Office of Global Information Services (A/GIS/IPS) is responsible for the Department’s records management program, including providing guidance on the preservation of records for the Department and ensuring compliance. IRM administers the enterprise email system, including SMART, and therefore provides the technical infrastructure for sending and receiving emails and preserving some as record email.

What constitute official records? 

If an employee puts down on paper or in electronic form information about “the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government,” the information may be appropriate for preservation and therefore a record according to law, whether or not the author recognizes this fact. Whether the written information creates a record is a matter of content, not form. Federal statutes, regulations, presidential executive orders, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), Department notices, cables, and the SMART Messaging Guidebook contain the criteria for creating and maintaining official records and associated employee responsibilities.

Which email messages should be saved as records?

According to Department guidance referenced above, email messages should be saved as records if they document the formulation and execution of basic policies and actions or important meetings; if they facilitate action by agency officials and their successors in office; if they help Department officials answer congressional questions; or if they protect the financial, legal, and other rights of the government or persons the government’s actions directly affect. Guidance also provides a series of questions prompting employees to consider whether the information should be shared, whether the successor would find the email helpful, whether it is an email that would ordinarily be saved in the employee’s own records, whether it contains historically important information, whether it preserves the employee’s position on an issue, or whether it documents important actions that affect financial or legal rights of the government or the public.

 

The OIG report notes that it has previously examined the Department’s records management, including electronic records management, in its 2012 inspection of A/GIS/IPS. OIG found that A/GIS/IPS was not meeting statutory and regulatory records management requirements because, although the office developed policy and issued guidance on records management, it did not ensure proper implementation, monitor performance, or enforce compliance. OIG also noted that, although SMART users can save emails as records using the record email function, they save only a fraction of the numbers sent. OIG recommended that the Bureau of Administration implement a plan to increase the number of record emails saved in SMART.

That was in 2012.

The OIG team also found that “several major conditions impede the use of record emails: an absence of centralized oversight; a lack of understanding and knowledge of record-keeping requirements; a reluctance to use record email because of possible consequences; a lack of understanding of SMART features; and impediments in the software that prevent easy use.”

To show how misunderstood is the requirement to save record emails, see the following chart. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while  USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013. The only explanation here is that the folks in Singapore had a better understanding of record email requirements than the folks in our frontline posts. Given that the turn-over of personnel at these frontline posts is more frequent, this can have consequential outcome not just in the public’s right to know but in continuity of operations.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11

Again, via the OIG:

Many inspections of embassies and bureaus have found that the use of SMART and the record email function are poorly understood. This lack of understanding is one of the principal causes of the failure of U.S. embassies to use record email more often. The inspections show that many employees do not know what types of emails should be saved as record emails. The employees typically need more and clearer guidance and more training. OIG has made formal and informal recommendations to increase the use of record email, to write and distribute formal embassy or bureau guidance on record email, and to arrange for training.

The A/GIS/IPS office is under the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Administration, an office that reports to the Under Secretary for Management (M). The Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) also reports to M.

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Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities

— Domani Spero
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Via GAO

Screen Shot 2014-06-26

Extracted from DIPLOMATIC SECURITY | Overseas Facilities May Face Greater Risks Due to Gaps in Security-Related Activities, Standards, and Policies – GAO-14-655 June 2014 (click on image for larger view)

This is an excellent infographic but alas, we could not locate  former NEA DAS Raymond Maxwell’s office in this organizational chart.

 

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