FSGB Case: Revocation of Top Secret Security Clearance and Separation

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Via FSGB Case No. 2020-002:

Held – The Grievance Board found that because the security clearance of the charged employee had been revoked after final agency review, the Department of State established that the proposed separation of the charged employee was for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the Foreign Service.

Case Summary The charged employee, a Diplomatic Security Special Agent, was notified that his Top Secret security clearance was suspended for failure to cooperate in certain medical assessments. The charged employee’s clearance subsequently was revoked. The charged employee appealed the revocation to the Department’s Security Appeals Panel, which sustained the revocation after consideration of the written submissions of both the charged employee and the Department. Because a Top Secret security clearance is a condition of employment for the charged employee and because the revocation of his clearance was final, the Department proposed to separate the employee for cause. After a hearing on the issue, the Board concluded that the Department had established cause for the separation and evidence that the separation would promote the efficiency of the Service.

Background

On July 11, 2014, the Director of the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS/SI/PSS), notified the charged employee, via memorandum that his “continued access to classified information was not clearly consistent with the interests of national security.”1 Accordingly, his Top Secret security clearance was suspended pending the outcome of “ongoing Department medical review.” 2 The charged employee held a position as an FS-02 DS Special Agent who required a Top Secret security clearance to perform his duties.

On October 7, 2015, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Domestic Operations notified the charged employee by letter that his Top Secret security clearance was revoked. The employee was afforded 30 days to request a review of this decision. It appears that a review was requested because on March 13, 2019, the Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, on behalf of the Security Appeals Panel (Panel) notified the employee by letter that the Panel voted to sustain the decision of DS to revoke his Top Secret security clearance. This letter noted that the Panel had convened on February 19, 2019; that the charged employee had appeared and answered questions; and that the Panel took into account his responses, as well as written materials provided by the employee, his private counsel, DS.3

On August 20, 2019, the Director General notified the charged employee that the Department proposed to separate him for cause, under Section 610 of the FSA as amended, in order to promote the efficiency of the Service. The separation proposal stated that all Foreign Service positions require a Top Secret security clearance because all FS positions are “critical sensitive.” 4 Thus, because his security clearance had been revoked after all final reviews, the charged employee could no longer maintain a condition of his employment.

The charged employee responded by email on September 3, 2019 to the proposed letter of separation, stating, “Separating me from the Department does not seem right to me.” 5 The charged employee offered no other written or oral response to explain, rebut, or mitigate the separation proposal.

On January 6, 2020, the Department submitted the transmittal containing the separation proposal to the FSGB. On February 25, 2020, the Board conducted a pre-hearing conference (PHC) with the parties by telephone, during which the Board, the charged employee and the Department agreed upon procedural ground rules and a schedule of events prior to the hearing.6

The Department indicated at the PHC that beyond the documents submitted with the Department’s separation file in this case, the agency did not intend to submit any other exhibits or call any witnesses at the hearing. The charged employee indicated that he did not wish to call any witnesses or submit any documentation to the Board at the hearing. Thereafter, the parties reached an agreement on joint stipulations of fact to be presented at the hearing.7

On April 2, 2020, a hearing was convened by the Board on the separation proposal. The hearing was held telephonically, due to the CoVid 19 coronavirus pandemic, the President’s order to maximize the use of telework and the Governor of Virginia’s “stay at home” emergency order. At the start of the hearing, the Board advised the parties that it had determined that there was no need for a video-conferenced hearing because the parties had advised that they intended to offer no witness testimony. Neither the charged employee nor the Department objected to the use of a telephonic hearing process.

The Board found that a Top Secret security clearance is required for the employee’s position; therefore, the agency established that the charged employee failed to maintain a mandatory condition of employment. The Board concluded that the Department established cause for the separation on a single charge of Failure to Maintain a Condition of Employment and that separation of the charged employee will promote the efficiency of the Foreign Service.

3 According to the Principal Deputy Legal Adviser’s letter, “the Panel focused in particular on concerns relating to guideline I (‘Psychological Condition’). … [T]he Panel took note of the fact that [the charged employee] did not appear at the medical evaluation which [he] had agreed to undergo, [his] email of November 2, 2018, and [his] unwillingness during [his] appearance before the Panel to offer information that it could use to determine whether DS’s concerns had been mitigated.” The record does not reveal any additional information about the predicate for the security clearance suspension or revocation.

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New Biden Nominations: DGHR, EUR, NEA, AF, IO, DS and CSO

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On April 15, President Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals for top positions in the geographic and functional bureaus of the State Department.
  • Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat to be Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service (DGHR)
  • Karen Erika Donfried to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR)
  • Barbara A. Leaf to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
  • Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (AF) and Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation (AFD)
  • Michele Jeanne Sison to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (IO)
  • Gentry O. Smith to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (DS)
  • Anne A. Witkowsky to be Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization
For the geographic bureaus, President Biden previously nominated Ambassador Brian Nichols to be A/S for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink for  the East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). With these new nominees for EUR, NEA, AF and IO, we are now waiting for just SCA to complete the line up under the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P). The nominee for “P”, Victoria Nuland had her confirmation hearing before the SFRC on 4/15/21.
If all these nominees are confirmed, it looks like at the regional bureaus, Foggy Bottom will have  one non-career appointee (EUR), one retired FS (NEA), four active career FS (WHA, EAP, AF, IO) , and one as yet unknown for SCA. During the previous administration, these top geographic bureau positions were all filled with non-career appointees (the assistant secretary for the AF bureau was a retired FS). This is a hopeful start.
The WH released the following brief bio:
Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service

Marcia Bernicat, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as the Senior Official for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment and as Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs of the Department of State.  Previously, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department.  She also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Barbados and Malawi and as Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, Morocco. Bernicat earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service Degree at Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s Degree at Lafayette College.  Her foreign languages are French, Hindi and Russian and she is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award.

Karen Erika Donfried, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Dr. Karen Donfried currently serves as President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).  Before assuming this position in April 2014, Donfried was the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.  Prior to that, she served as the National Intelligence Officer for Europe on the National Intelligence Council.  She first joined GMF in 2001 after having served for ten years as a European specialist at the Congressional Research Service.  When she was at GMF from 2005 to 2010, she first served as senior director of policy programs and then as executive vice president.  From 2003-2005, she worked in the Policy Planning office at the U.S. Department of State, handling the Europe portfolio.  Donfried has written and spoken extensively on German foreign policy, European integration, and transatlantic relations.  She is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.  The King of the Belgians awarded the Commander of the Order of the Crown to her in 2020 and she became an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2018.  Additionally, she received the Cross of the Order of Merit from the German Government in 2011 and a Superior Service Medal from the National Intelligence Community in 2014.  She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Council on Germany.  Donfried has a Ph.D. and MALD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a Magister from the University of Munich, Germany and holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University.  She is fluent in German. 

Barbara A. Leaf, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Barbara A. Leaf is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa Affairs on the National Security Council.  Prior to this, she was the Ruth and Sid Lapidus Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Director of the Beth and David Geduld Program on Arab Politics.  She previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Arabian Peninsula in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq at the State Department.  She directed the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Basrah, Iraq and was the Department’s first Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs.  Leaf also has served in Rome, Sarajevo, Paris, Cairo, Tunis, Jerusalem and Port-au-Prince.  She speaks Arabic, French, Italian and Serbo-Croatian.  Leaf has a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia. 

Mary Catherine Phee, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation

Mary Catherine Phee, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, currently serves as Principal Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department.  She was U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan from 2015 to 2017.  Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and as Chief of Staff in the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.  She also was the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs and Deputy Security Council Coordinator at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, handling UN engagement in Africa for both portfolios.  Earlier in her career, Phee served as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council and as Senior Civilian Representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority to Maysan Province, Iraq.  She began her career in Amman, Jordan and also worked at U.S. Embassies in Cairo, Egypt and Kuwait City, Kuwait.  She received the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, the James A. Baker, III-C. Howard Wilkins, Jr. Award for Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission, the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Order of the British Empire Award, and a Presidential Rank Award.  She speaks Arabic.  A native of Chicago, she is a graduate of Indiana University and holds a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

Michele Jeanne Sison, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Michele Jeanne Sison, a five-time Ambassador, has extensive experience in advancing U.S. interests through multilateral diplomacy.  Sison has served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti since 2018.   She also served as Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations (with the rank of Ambassador) from 2014 to 2018, where she helped build global coalitions to counter transnational threats to peace and security and advocated for a more effective, efficient, and accountable UN and multilateral system.  She also has long experience with UN peacekeeping and the UN entities responsible for development, humanitarian relief, and human rights in the field.  Previously, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Assistant Chief of Mission in Iraq, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan.  Her earlier tours include India, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Haiti, and Washington.  Sison received a B.A. from Wellesley College and is the recipient of numerous State Department awards, including the Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Service.  She holds the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Gentry O. Smith, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Gentry O. Smith leads The Gentry Group, LLC, a security consulting firm.  A former career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, he served as the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Countermeasures in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Director of Physical Security Programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department.  Other State Department postings include assignments as Regional Security Officer at the U.S.  Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, Deputy Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma.  Smith also served as a Special Agent in the Criminal Investigative Liaison Division, Special Agent on the Secretary of State Protection Detail, and Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  He earned a B.A. in political science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Anne A. Witkowsky, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization

Anne A. Witkowsky most recently served as the Co-Director of the Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism, a partnership of Freedom House, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the McCain Institute.  She has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon and as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Coordinator, and Deputy Assistant Coordinator, in the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.  Witkowsky was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC and earlier served as Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council Staff at the White House.  She earned a Master in Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree from Yale. She has been recognized with a number of awards including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.

 

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Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer

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The questions below were sent to the State Department on March 16, 2021 for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the newly designated  Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force (officially called  the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) .  She was appointed with direct reporting responsibility to the Department’s senior leadership. The State Department’s media arm confirmed receipt of these questions on March 17.
To-date, the State Department has not responded to these questions despite our follow-up. It looks like the PA leadership has fed our questions to their email-chewing doggo. Poor bow wow!!! PA folks still sore about this, hey? Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Oh, dear!
Anyways. If you’re the unofficial kind and have some answers to these questions, please send your howlers here or via Twitter and we’ll get back to you. We’ll write as many follow-up posts as needed.

 

Task Force: 

—1. The State Department spokesperson said that there is an individual on the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. The individual was not publicly named. I understand that the 41 recognized victims apparently also have no idea who this individual is or who are the members of the task force. Shouldn’t the State Department be transparent and name all the people on the task force? How do potential victims, (including spouses and foreign nationals) contact the individual tasked with engaging with them?
—2. The ARB Cuba report clearly demonstrates the botched response to these incidents in Havana. It was also an interim report. In addition, we have received allegations that the Department’s response to the incidents in China was much worse. Are there plans to convene an ARB for China? Is there a plan to expand the time frame and places of possible incidents covered in this investigation? We are aware of at least one case that occurred much earlier than December 2016. How many reported cases of mystery illness were excluded by State? With so many varied symptoms, and many unknowns, is it fair to rule out anyone without the full constellation of symptoms? How did the State Department determine that Patient Zero, widely reported to have been injured in December 2016, is really Patient Zero and not Patient Two, or Patient 10 or Patient 20? 
—3. What is the status of the implementation of the ARB Cuba recommendations?
—4. Can you confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?
—5. There were employee/s who suffered grievous treatment in the aftermath of these incidents (e.g. alleged retaliation, uncovered medical expenses). Is Amb Spratlen willing to meet with employees suffering from  medical and bureaucratic chaos brought about by these incidents?

 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report:

—6. I recognized that there is new leadership at State but the HIRTF has been there since 2018. Why did State sit on the NAS report of August 2020 and only released it in December 2020? It is an unclassified report, so national security concerns should not have been an issue.
—7. Has the State Department accepted that the illness is due to microwave exposure? If so, how are employees protected from the next attacks? Why hasn’t State fully implemented the recommendations in the NAS report?

Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

—8. Why is Diplomatic Security still acting (and conducting searches in apartments) as if the cause could be toxic chemicals when NAS ruled out chemical exposure as a cause and pointed to the reported signs, symptoms and observations as consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy?
—9. Why is Diplomatic Security still conducting briefings that “only one person was found by State/MED to be affected in China” when USG has officially diagnosed 15?
—10. How many employees who complained of unexplained illness to MED or DS were told to undergo psych evaluations or told to “get their act together” by the bureaus tasked with protecting their welfare? How many mystery illness were reported globally by employees, family members and local employees before State took them seriously?

 

3 FAM 3660 Implementation

—11. 3 FAM 3660 has been in the Foreign Affairs Manual since May 2020 but we’ve heard reports that State is blocking implementation of the prescribed benefits for employees from other agencies. Can you discuss where the responsibility for adjudicating cases under the provisions of 3 FAM 3660 falls? What is the processing time for requests made under these regulations for State and non-State employees? 
—12. There are numerous employees and family members as you know who still have symptoms but because they are not in the group of 41, they do not qualify for the 3 FAM 3660 provisions and therefore are on their own.  What are the treatment options for the hundreds of employees/family members who were medevaced but were not enrolled like the 41 cases in the UPenn study and designated by Department of Labor to get workers compensation benefits?
—13. How many foreign nationals connected with USG missions/residences where the attacks occurred reported similar symptoms as USG American employees and family members? What support and treatment options were available to them? 
—14. As you know, under 3 FAM 3660, a covered employee is an employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State. What other countries have been designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666 to-date?  
—15. Members of the 41 officially diagnosed say State has caused irreparable harm with a “see no evil” response and just wants the problem to go away. Do you recognize the harm of State’s botched past response and lack of transparency?
—16. A” being the highest and “F” being failing, how would you grade the previous State Department leadership’s response to the health incidents?

Submitted Questions:

 –17.  Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html

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Related posts:

 

 

Snapshot: Top Five Bureaus & Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints (2014-2017)

Via State/OIG:

Related post:
State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

 

 

 

Burn Bag: Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC), a Logistical Nightmare For Students

Grumpy Agent writes:

“The Diplomatic Security Service’s brand new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) on Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia is a disaster for those attending the academy. Incoming agents and those who have to attend advanced training should buckle up for a very rough ride due to a lack of planning, poor accommodations, and general haywire.

Most incoming students are housed at the Holiday Inn Express in Farmville, Virginia. Due to Covid-19, everyone is forced to remain at this little gem, conveniently located in the middle of an open field, for exactly two weeks. State calls it a “quarantine,” but no restrictions are enforced. So, the two-week lockdown is really just a waste of time and money for all parties involved. Since there is no way to keep anyone in their rooms, there is still the possibility that students could arrive at FASTC infected with Covid-19, begging the question: why bother with a fake isolation period?

Additionally, adults who are cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end with nothing to do seem to revert back to their college years of binge drinking and general debauchery. Class advisors at FASTC have openly complained that they have really gotten to know police officials in the rural one-cop town of Farmville.

Those who choose not to engage in such antics remain in their rooms with little to do but scan the 9 channels on the hotel-provided basic cable system. For an organization that purports to have a renewed focus on mental health and morale, this feels like a crisis in the making, particularly for those RSOs who are arriving from overseas posts and do not have personal transportation readily available. Walking anywhere from the hotel is not ideal unless you’re comfortable going for a stroll on the shoulder of a major highway.

As for food, take-out is really the only option, unless you’re comfortable visiting one of a few bar/restaurants that are no better than Applebees. The hotel provides no meal accommodations. If you’ll be there for a few months, expect to gain a little more than the “quarantine 15.” Also, if you have dietary restrictions, this place is not for you, unless fried chicken fingers are part of your preferred menu items.

Once your two-weeks of faux-quarantine are over, you’ll commute 45 – 60 minutes (one way) to FASTC. Students are required to shuttle themselves in government-issued vans each morning and evening. No more than five to a van (for Covid-19 safety reasons). However, many have reported cramming up to 10 in a van simply for convenience and split training locations.

The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center is a state of the art facility. The technology, instruction, resources, and training quality are unmatched by any agency and the Department should be commended for that. However, the logistical nightmare for the students must be addressed. This is unacceptable for those new to State but is probably tolerated because they don’t know any better. However, for those seasoned employees, this is categorically unsatisfactory. State and more specifically DS needs to get its act together soon and focus more on the employee rather than touting the perks of a brand new facility that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

DS already has retention and quality of life problems. Do we want to make it worse?”

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is one of the 13 bureaus and offices under the direct oversight and supervision of the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. 
The Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff resigned from his post in July 2020. It doesn’t look like a nominee has been announced to succeed Evanoff. According to state.gov, Todd J. Brown, a special agent and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor was appointed to serve as Acting DS Assistant Secretary on August 1, 2020.  
 

FASTC Map

Map of the high-speed driving track at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Blackstone, Va. (Department of State Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inbox: Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C.  included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D

~ * * * ~

Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security.  Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS.  Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue.  My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful.  At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office.  They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat.  Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this.  I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto.  It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.”  While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told).  What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)?  At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.  
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia.  I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight.  How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training.  Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum.  Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission.  I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost.  Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked.  This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture.  I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.   

Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff Resigns

 

WaPo’s John Hudson is reporting that DS Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Michael T. Evanoff has informed DS employees of his resignation with an expected departure next week. He reportedly has a new job at a “multinational company.  Mr. Evanoff who was a career special agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security from 1985 to 2011 was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (DS) on November 3, 2017. Prior to his return to State in 2017, he was the Vice President for Asset Protection & Security for Walmart International, Inc. in Arkansas. He also previously served as Chief Security Officer at Coca-Cola HBC, in Zug, Switzerland and Athens, Greece, and as Global Director of Security at Och-Ziff Capital Management Group in New York.
This is the top security position at State so we hope a new nominee is announced and confirmed quickly but it is also likely that we may not see a new nominee until next year.  When DS appointee David Gordon Carpenter’s appointment ended in June 29, 2002, his successor, Francis Xavier Taylor  did not assume charge until November 18, 2002. Similarly, when DS appointee Richard J. Griffin‘s ended his appointment on November 1, 2007, his successor, career appointee Eric J. Boswell did not assume charge until July 8, 2008.
Traditionally, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) who is also the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) assumes charge of the bureau in an acting capacity. That would be Todd J. Brown who has been in the bureau’s number two position since March 2018. However, given the appointment practices in this administration, we’ll have to wait and see who will actually becomes interim bureau head. We should note that despite the proliferation of political appointees in Foggy Bottom, DS is one bureau where the top leadership ranks are career officials (or former career officials). 

Michael T. Evanoff

@StateDept Suspends All PCS Travel Through May 31

A couple weeks ago, the State Department issued a guidance cable to all Department personnel concerning permanent change of station (PCS) travel and home leave through May 31, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing the “myriad uncertainties” and “travel and logistics restrictions”, the State Department  suspended all overseas and domestic PCS travel with very limited exceptions, effective through May 31. Transition from one Washington, D.C. assignment to another does not appear to be affected by this suspension.
This PCS suspension will reportedly be reviewed on May 20 and that this “period may be extended if the situation does not improve.”
The guidance says that exceptions to the suspension of PCS travel may be considered for certain employees like those on curtailments related to health, or mission critical employees (approved by bureau assistant secretary for certain countries, or by the Under Secretary for Management for CDC Level 3 countries or State Department Travel Advisory for Health Level 4 countries), or employees on direct to post transfers.
Diplomatic Security and medical personnel are considered mission critical and those employees are reportedly expected to PCS to their next overseas assignment, unless the Chief of Mission (COM) at the receiving post determines that “health and safety issues outweigh security concerns and prevents their arrival to post.” DS personnel are also told that they should be ready to remain at Post beyond their tour end-date if deemed necessary by their Chiefs of Mission.
The guidance encouraged employees to take their home leave between domestic and overseas assignments. At the conclusion of the home leave, employees are told to “be prepared to telework for their onward assignment at their home leave location.” The guidance further says that all employees are expected to work with their onward post and/or bureau to be assigned suitable duties for telework/remote work following Department protocols. Reiterating a prior cable, the guidance explains what supervisor can grant “weather and safety leave” to U.S. Direct Hires for those regular duty hours for which there is insufficient remote work to assign.
Additional guidance is reportedly expected to be published in the near future.

Why State/OIG Should Look Into Diplomatic Security’s Mina Chang Headache

 

NBC News did a follow up report on the Mina Change story it broke that lead to the resignation of the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Excerpt:

To secure her job at the State Department in April, Chang leveraged social connections to senior officials who could help open the doors to the administration, including Brian Bulatao, a close friend and deputy to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; a State Department official and former defense contractor who she succeeded as deputy assistant secretary, Pete Marocco; and a congressional staffer for key GOP lawmaker Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, multiple sources said. Marocco endorsed her for the job and McCaul wrote her a recommendation letter.
[…]
By the time Rep. McCaul issued the recommendation letter, Chang’s nomination was moving ahead thanks to her own contacts in the administration, said a spokesperson for the congressman, Kaylin Minton.
[..]
Chang lists just $12,000 in income before she took the State Department job and listed no salary from her charity. According to papers from her divorce case in 2011, she was due to receive nearly $1,400 a month in child support and $500 in alimony per month for a year from her ex-husband, a real estate developer. She lived in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas in a high-end apartment building, former colleagues and acquaintances said.

The updated NBC News piece also notes that “The State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service, which helps vet appointees, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Oh, dang!
State and DSS are probably hoping that this story will just go away now that she had submitted her resignation. But there is something in this story that is troubling.  If it was this easy for her to get this position despite the now revealed holes in her resume,  how many more are there in Foggy Bottom who were hired under similar circumstances? And how exactly did Diplomatic Security “missed” um …  a few things that reporters were able to easily dig up? Is this a case of Diplomatic Security “missing” a few things or a case of the security bureau being “responsive” to the 7th Floor?
Perhaps more importantly, if it was this easy to get around these “holes” and get a deputy assistant secretary position (which typically requires years and years of experience for career appointees), just how hard could it be for foreign intel services to do the same?
Now, we’re not suggesting that Diplomatic Security investigates itself on how this individual got through its security clearance process,  or see if the bureau has systemic holes in that process. We think State/OIG or a congressional panel with oversight authority should look into it.

 

Related posts:
State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims;
Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

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