DS/Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate Gets Downy April Fresh OIG Treatment

Posted: 1:22 am ET
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The Bureau of Diplomatic Security created its Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate  in March 2008 by combining the following offices under the TIA Directorate umbrella:

  • Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis (ITA)
  • Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
  • Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations (PII)

It has a staff of about 200 employees. Below is the current org chart but some of the names may already be outdated, via State/OIG:

Screen Shot

State/OIG inspected the TIA Directorate from February 5 to March 7, 2016. The report dated September 20, 2016 went online on September 30. The IG Inspection teams include Team Leader, Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes; Deputy Team Leader, Paul Cantrell, and members, Ronald Deutch, Gary Herbst, Leo Hession, Vandana Patel, and Richard Sypher.

This is the first inspection of this DS directorate, the first ever in eighth years.  It is a fairly thin report with just 12 pages. Here is the quick summary and some details below:

  •   The Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate was accomplishing its stated mission “to protect life safety.”
  •   The Directorate’s decision to shift to a proactive approach to threat management expanded its mission and workload without a commensurate increase in human resources.
  •   Coordination and communication were effective at senior levels of the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, but senior managers did not communicate consistently with mid-level staff members, adversely affecting the Directorate’s ability to efficiently meet its defined objectives and goals.

Taskings Up Approx 300%

The IG report says that the directorate’s taskings were up approximately 300% since 2010 but that it remained effective in achieving its core objectives. But then immediately after that, the report says that in the absence of increased staffing, the office was in danger of not meeting its basic responsibility.

Folks, you can’t have this both ways.

Despite taking on new responsibilities without additional staff and facing a high turnover among existing personnel, the Directorate achieved its mission. It had, however, requested additional staff to alleviate the burden on its employees. ITA told OIG that since 2010, its taskings had increased by approximately 300 percent; PII stated its mission to provide more proactive security had increased the agent workload “exponentially;” DSCC stated that watch officer responsibilities had steadily increased, especially in the post-Benghazi period. Despite these challenges, the Directorate asserted—and OIG agreed, based on input from the Directorate’s customers and OIG’s review of its products—that it remained effective in achieving its core life safety objectives.

The Directorate requested additional staff in January 2016, when Directorate leadership told the Assistant Secretary that in the absence of increased staff, it was “in danger of not meeting our basic responsibility to analyze, assess, investigate and disseminate threat information and the myriad of other duties for which we are responsible.” This theme was repeated in memoranda prepared for OIG and in personal interviews OIG conducted throughout the Directorate.

Oops! Is it just us or does this look like there’s lots of word padding in this report? Can’t they put these citations of GAO standards, FAM, etc in the footnotes? A third to a half of these sample paragraphs below are just descriptions of what’s in the manual or guidance. C’mon, the folks drafting this report can do better than this, right? And by the way, this is not the only report that has these word paddings.  See below:

Management Challenges

OIG found that increased staffing alone would be insufficient to address the Directorate’s management challenges. For example, a lack of coordination and communication between its offices and officers was unrelated to staffing shortfalls. OIG learned that mid-level officers were unfamiliar with the work of other Directorate offices; they did not have a clear understanding of how their work related to that of the Directorate overall; and they did not understand how their functions complemented those of similarly situated staff in other Directorate offices. This lack of familiarity created a risk that staff members would miss opportunities to work more efficiently. Moreover, it was sometimes difficult for them to prioritize tasks and define their audiences in an organization where everything related to the broad mission of protecting life safety. Mid-level staff members also cited the need for greater top-down and lateral communication. Principle 14.02 of the Government Accountability Office Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government emphasizes that management should communicate quality information throughout an entity using established reporting lines and to communicate down, across, up, and around reporting lines to all levels of the entity.

Tone at the Top

The Directorate’s DAS retired on March 4, 2016, days before the end of this inspection. The DS front office chose the ITA office director to replace him. OIG did not evaluate how the new DAS set the tone at the top—leading by example and demonstrating the organization’s values, philosophy, and operating style—because he started the position at the close of the inspection. However, OIG expressed the concern that his direct and forceful communication style, as demonstrated during his tenure as ITA office director, risked inhibiting the free flow of communication in a directorate that was, as discussed above, already challenged by communications issues. OIG advised the new DAS of the importance of adhering to the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 b(4). These address the need for leaders to express themselves clearly and effectively, offer and solicit constructive feedback from others, and anticipate varying points of view by soliciting input.

Top Managers Not Held Accountable for Internal Control Assurance Process

The Directorate’s DAS and office directors did not provide annual internal control assurance statements for the Department’s annual Management Control Assurance Process2. Although lower-level Directorate staff completed the survey questionnaires DS used to confirm compliance with internal control requirements, Directorate managers did not complete assurance statements—as required in 2 FAM 024 of all office directors and higher level officials—due to lack of understanding of the requirements. As a result, DS had no documentation showing that Directorate leaders confirmed adherence to internal control requirements. The Department’s FY 2015 annual Management Control Assurance Process memorandum advised that, “Just as the Secretary’s statement will rely on your assurance statement, your assurance statement must be supported by input from your managers reporting to you.”

If you read the report, you will note that the director of ITA, one of the components was promoted as the new head of the DS/TIA directorate. So we looked at the performance of that component. The report says that 1) ITA lack top-down communication, 2) the office cannot evaluate its products without customer feedback and 3) new program to assign Intelligence Analysts to embassies proves unworkable. Two striking things:

FSOs as Intel Analysts?

“An ITA initiative that sought to place Foreign Service officers trained by ITA as intelligence analysts at embassies in countries designated as high risk for terrorism. Directorate leaders told OIG that after considering lessons learned in this first year, they concluded that the program was unworkable for a variety of practical and logistical reasons. Among them were the difficulty the Directorate faced recruiting employees with the requisite intelligence experience and challenges in arranging for appropriate secure embassy workspaces.”

The notion that FSOs would work overseas as intel analysts for Diplomatic Security is head-shaking painful. If they’ve spent some serious planning on that, they would have known how unworkable that is.  Which career ladder are you going to be on as an intel analyst? Was DS thinking of intel analysis as a collateral duty for FSOs overseas? What career track would that be on? What posts are intel analysts going to be on? What kind of onward assignments can you expect? As for recruitment, why would people with requisite intel experience leave their agencies and join a small office that’s not even hooked up to the intel community? The report did not show how much this unworkable program costs, and what lessons were learned here. The inspectors did not seem interested in all that.

A keen observant told us:  “I don’t see much digging: poor planning associated with these pet projects: deployed analyst program and the new “everything but the kitchen sink” division within ITA.” 

Oh, we want to know more about this “everything but the kitchen sink” division. Then there’s this:

Nonmembership in US Intel Community?

“ITA analysts were unaware of leadership’s decision on membership in the U.S. Government Intelligence Community. Of the 23 ITA analysts interviewed, half cited advantages of membership, including the increased access to information and training that they believed it would bring. ITA leadership, however, told OIG that it had already concluded that it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community but had not informed the staff of its decision.”

Did you hear the guffaws over there?

ITA is tasked with analyzing all-source intelligence on terrorist activities and threats directed against chief of mission personnel and U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas. The office also monitors threats against the Secretary of State, U.S. Government officials, foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, and U.S.- based foreign diplomats and missions.  ITA leadership told OIG that “it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community.” More advantageous to be walled off from the IC? How? The report does not discuss what “membership” means and what it entails, nor the advantages/disadvantages from nonmembership. It just accepts the director’s assessment that “it was more advantageous.” Folks, that’s stenography!

Overheard: “DS seems to think that the Intelligence Community is a round wooden table in a sealed-off room – a skull and bones-type membership. They talk about it in the report like they are debating on whether to have a pizza party.” We think that’s a well-deserved criticism.

Another directorate component PII took on additional workload without increasing its staff. Further, the report offers no dicussion on the Rewards for Justice Program which is also under PII. State.gov says that the Rewards for Justice program continues to be one of the most valuable U.S. Government assets in the fight against international terrorism. Okay. But how effective is RJF? This OIG report doesn’t say.

PII also expanded its support of DS coverage of special events, such as the World Cup. OIG reviewed the number of hours agents (but not intelligence analysts) devoted to these duties during 2015 and found this additional travel took agents away from the office for approximately 3,380 person-days. This equated to roughly one- third of PII’s deployable agents, leaving the remaining agents to accomplish what a significantly larger staff had previously done.

Quick takes on the other three components of the TIA Directorate

Office of Protective Intelligence and Investigations (PII)
–Expanded Workload Strains Manpower
— Supervisors do Not Readily Know the Status of Investigative Cases
–Taskings are Not Coordinated

Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
–No Metrics for Gauging Customer Satisfaction
–Overuse of the Law Enforcement Sensitive Caveat Limits Dissemination of Information

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
–Short-term Extensions for Third Party Contractor Employees Create Challenges

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We’re Adding Our Thumbs Up for @OSAC!

On a positive side, we should add that we are end-users of OSAC’s products and have been happy to see some improvements in the service it provides with timely maps, responsiveness, and infographic of U.S. interests overseas like the one below. OSAC folks are quite responsive when asked for additional information; occasionally even relaying our requests for confirmation.  When events are breaking overseas, our first stop is @OSAC on Twitter.  Sometimes they have the security message up before posts could even post those messages on the embassy’s website.

One thing we think they can improve is having a handler on duty 24/7 managing its Twitter account. When news break overseas affecting U.S. citizens, posts are not always ready or able to provide updated information.  But OSAC can do that on posts’ behalf.  Now if you can actually remove the stovepipe between Diplomatic Security and Consular Affairs, and at least on social media have @OSAC and @TravelGov work together, that would not only make the most sense (together they can do 24/7 coverage) but could also generate the most timely, needed updates especially during these now frequent emergencies.

The report is originally posted here (PDF) or read it below (use arrow in lower right hand corner in box below to maximize reading space).

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How many spring breakers drink too much and fall off hotel balconies? #SpringBreakingBadly

Posted: 3:22 am ET
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We don’t have the numbers but we suspect it’s enough to merit attention from a travel insurance company. The State Department’s Consular Affairs Twitter arm, @TravelGov caused an uproar recently for something it tweeted recently under the #springbreakingbadly hashtag.  There is now a parody account @Travel_Gov, by the way, though we’re still waiting for it to get to a “10” in funnies. In any case, we have to use the following because the original tweet had been deleted:

Somebody on Twitter complained, “I really don’t even get the tweet lol.”  Another tweeple explained, “It means don’t fall for people trying to flatter you because they may actually be trying to take advantage of you.”  Okay. That random person’s explanation would have gone down better than the Bo Derek reference. The reactions to the “not a 10” tweet were quick:

We’re wondering if the handlers were told to stand in that corner and not/not do the Twitters again until further notice. But, look, the folks at the CA bureau know more than most folks what happens when spring break turns bad. They’re the people who visits American citizens in jail, deliver the bad news to family members back home, assist victims of crimes overseas, identify bodies in morgues, and assist in the repatriation of remains, among other things.   If this uproar and attention, actually reaches the spring break traveling folks (18- to 24-year-old demographic) and save one or two and their families some spring break horror stories, then it might be worth standing in a corner even just for a bit.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ @TravelGov eventually apologized for the tweet.

 

We almost wished State/CA did a Spring Break Straight Talk event with real stories similar to those from the UK-FCO (see Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right? and British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More). Or something like the Top 10 Spring Break Horror Stories from the field. Oops! The “world’s most entertaining site” did one already with 10 Terrifying Real Life Spring Break Horror Stories last year. So best read that.

Anyway, we went looking for spring break crime statistics from the State Department. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs told us that they do not maintain statistics on arrests of, or crimes perpetrated against, U.S. citizens overseas during Spring Break. However, anecdotal information from its posts overseas and calls to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington indicates the most common crimes against U.S. citizens overseas are scams, robberies, and sexual assaults.

Here are some of the scenarios they want people (not just spring breakers) to be aware of:

  • Travelers who unwittingly agree to carry packages from newfound local friends which contain drugs; (note: the average age of the couriers at about 59, with the oldest known courier 87 years old according to a congressional hearing in February this year).
  • Travelers who drink too much and fall off hotel balconies (note: Travel Direct Insurance says that “Motorcycles are bad enough – throw in drink, drugs and no helmet, and you’re almost guaranteed a trip to the hospital. The same goes for jumping from third floor balconies. We witness enough tragedies as it is, so PLEASE think about your personal safety, your experience and your limits when you travel. It doesn’t matter whether you are 19 and it’s your first trip overseas or 59 and have seen half the world, don’t do things that are plain stupid.”

The bureau also points to its page on international scams which notes that scams evolve constantly, and the list includes  examples and resources will help alert travelers to the indicators of some common scams.

The bureau also offers advice to travelers for spring break here, all reasonable like obeying local laws, not carrying weapons (not even a pocketknife), avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and drugs, and other commonsense advice.

Probably the most important thing to remember while in a foreign country is the non-portability of American rights.  A U.S. citizen traveling overseas is subject to that foreign country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

Also worth noting that while Uncle Sam can provide assistance when Americans are arrested or detained abroad, consular officers cannot demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen arrested abroad or otherwise cause the citizen to be released. They cannot represent a U.S. citizen at trial, or give legal advice, or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.

 

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