Senators Grassley and Cotton Now Have 25 @StateDept Nominations Glued Down, and Going Nowhere

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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In early August, Senator Chuck Grassley  (R-IA) placed a hold on the nomination of David Malcolm Robinson, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who was nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the floundering Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau. He also placed a hold on 20 Foreign Service mid-level nominees, something we don’t often see (see Senate Judiciary Sets Sight on Allegations Over Huma Abedin’s State Dept Employment, Senate Hold OnSenator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry).

On September 30, Senator Grassley added a hold on the nomination of Brian Egan, the nominee for Legal Adviser at the State Department. The previously confirmed Legal Adviser was Harold Hongju Koh who left the State Department in early 2013. Mr. Egan has now waited at least 636 days for his senate confirmation.

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On October 5,  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) added to the confirmation logjam by placing a hold on three ambassadorial nominees, apparently until “the administration shows it is taking steps to punish Secret Service staff involved in leaking unflattering information about a lawmaker.” According to WaPo, Cotton also said he will consider blocking more nominees if the administration refuses to fully investigate and discipline the Secret Service staff.

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You might wonder what do these ambassadorial nominations have to do with the Secret Service? Why, nothing at all.  The Secret Service is under the Department of Homeland Security and the subject of the Cotton hold are nominees for the State Department.  That distinction hardly matters in today’s Washington, D.C.. Remember in July last year when Senator Cruz deployed a blanket hold over the FAA’s prohibition of U.S. airlines flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport? (See The Fault in Our Skies: Senator to Deploy Blanket Senate Hold Over DOS Nominees Cuz FAA). Right.  The Cotton hold are on three political appointees who have been waiting for senate confirmation between 141 days to 836 days.

There apparently is also a secret hold for the USAID administrator nominee but no one has officially filed a notice of his/her intent to object to the Gayle Smith’s nomination. Devex reported back in July that her nomination has hit a snag. Below is a list of nominees who are subject to a hold.

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Here is an updated list of nominees waiting for a full Senate vote as of October 1, 2015:

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When the Boss Is Last to Know: Chaffetz Snoops at the Secret Service

Posted: 1:06 pm EDT
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The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has completed its independent investigation into allegations that one or more Secret Service agents improperly accessed internal databases to look up the 2003 employment application of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Inspector General has confirmed that between March 24 and April 2, 2015, on approximately 60 different occasions, 45 Secret Service employees accessed Chaffetz’ sensitive personal information. The OIG concluded that only 4 of the 45 employees had an arguable legitimate need to access the information.

Here is the IG’s conclusion:

This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them. It also reflects a failure by the Secret Service management and leadership to understand the potential risk to the agency as events unfolded and react to and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by their workforce’s actions.

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All personnel involved – the agents who inappropriately accessed the information, the mid-level supervisors who understood what was occurring, and the senior leadership of the Service – bear responsibility for what occurred. Better and more frequent training is only part of the solution. Ultimately, while the responsibility for this activity can be fairly placed on the shoulders of the agents who casually disregarded important privacy rules, the Secret Service leadership must do a better job of controlling the actions of its personnel. The Secret Service leadership must demonstrate a commitment to integrity. This includes setting an appropriate tone at the top, but more importantly requires a commitment to establishing and adhering to standards of conduct and ethical and reasonable behavior. Standards of conduct and ethics are meaningful only if they are enforced and if deviations from such standards are dealt with appropriately.

It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here – by dozens of agents in every part of the agency – was simply wrong. The agents should have known better. Those who engaged in this behavior should be made to understand how destructive and corrosive to the agency their actions were. These agents work for an agency whose motto – “worthy of trust and confidence” – is engraved in marble in the lobby of their headquarters building. Few could credibly argue that the agents involved in this episode lived up to that motto. Given the sensitivity of the information with which these agents are entrusted, particularly with regard to their protective function, this episode is deeply disturbing.

Additionally, it is especially ironic, and troubling, that the Director of the Secret Service was apparently the only one in the Secret Service who was unaware of the issue until it reached the media. At the March 24th hearing, he testified that he was “infuriated” that he was not made aware of the March 4th drinking incident. He testified that he was “working furiously to try to break down these barriers where people feel that they can’t talk up the chain.” In the days after this testimony, 18 supervisors, including his Chief of Staff and the Deputy Director, were aware of what was occurring. Yet, the Director himself did not know. When he became aware, he took swift and decisive action, but too late to prevent his agency from again being subject to justified criticism.

Read the full report here. Check out Appendix 1 for the chronological access to the Chaffetz record which includes multiple field offices, including the London office. Appendix 2 is the timeline of record access.

We can’t remember anything like this happening in the recent past.  There was the 1992 passportgate, of course, which involves a presidential candidate, but that’s not quite the same. In 2009, the DOJ said that a ninth individual pleaded guilty for illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, although it was for what’s considered “idle curiosity.”

Whether the intent of the Chaffetz record breach was to embarrass a sitting congressman or curiosity (not everyone who looked at the files leak it to the media), the files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by employees is strictly limited to official government duties. Only 4 of the 45 employees who did access the Chaffetz records had a legitimate reason to access the protected information. If the DOJ pursued 9 State Department employees for peeking at the passport records of politicians and celebrities, we can’t imagine that it could simply look away in this case. Particularly in this case.  Winter is definitely coming to the Secret Service.

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Secret Service Interviews 28 in San Salvador, Strippers Bombshell a Dud?

On April 26, we blogged about the escándalo prostitutas in Colombia which appeared to spread to Brasilia and El Salvador (see Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar).

Then there was that claim from Seattle’s Kirotv.com, an “exclusive” about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.  It was an annoying, rather empty drip, drip, drip news focused on alleged visits to the Lips Strip Club in San Salvador.

Well, now the owner of the business purportedly patronized by Secret Service agents in San Salvador had given a sworn written statement to USSS investigators that “he had no knowledge or any other information that any Secret Service personnel had been to his business” and that “at no time had he told anyone that Secret Service personnel had ever been to his place of business.”

Below is an excerpt from Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan’s statement for the record at the May 23, 2012 hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs United States Senate:

In the midst of our internal investigation, allegations were made that similar misconduct may have occurred in other foreign countries on previous protective assignments. Specifically, allegations were made that Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct in San Salvador, El Salvador in March 2011. Although, no case of similar misconduct had been reported to our RES, I directed Secret Service Inspectors to travel to San Salvador, El Salvador to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations made. After several days in San Salvador ‘and conducting 28 interviews with hotel managers and employees, individuals from the U.S. Department of State, other government agencies and contract employees assigned to assist the Secret Service with the visit, no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations.

During our investigation in San Salvador several hotel managers and employees were interviewed, along with individuals from the U.S. Department of State and other government agencies. During those interviews, none of the 28 people interviewed had any personal knowledge, records or any other information to indicate that Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct while in San Salvador, El Salvador in March of 201 1.

Additionally, while Secret Service Inspectors were in San Salvador they interviewed the owner of a business where purportedly Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct. The owner of the business provided a sworn written statement that he had no knowledge or any other information that any Secret Service personnel had been to his business or information about misconduct by Secret Service personnel. This individual informed Secret Service Inspectors that at no time had he told anyone that Secret Service personnel had ever been to his place of business.

Not sure if USSS investigators also interviewed the individual called by kirotv a whistleblower. But unless kirotv has more than pictures of half naked dancing girls, or complaints for non-payment of services rendered, that bombshell from El Salvador is probably not going to stick much.

Domani Spero

Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar

Even under a rock, we managed to hear about the 24 Secret Service and military personnel accused of misconduct in the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

Then on April 25, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told the panel that the incident involving as many as 20 women appeared to be an isolated case. She said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had never received previous complaints in the past 2 1/2 years. We don’t know why 2 1/2 year is significant.  But it’s good to know since apparently, according to the Secretary Napolitano, the Secret Service has provided protection on more than 900 foreign trips and 13,000 domestic trips.

In a closely watched developing news, Defense Secretary Panetta was in Brazil on April 24 and had a joint presscon with Brazilian Minister Amorim in Brasilia.  They entertained three questions and the first one was about U.S. Marines from the US Embassy in Brasilia allegedly injuring a prostitute in December last year.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon Jr. greets U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta upon his arrival in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile to discuss an expansion of defense and security cooperations (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

A reporter from TV Global asks: “Is the U.S. government going to act to punish the Marines involved here in Brasilia with prostitutes?”

Here is Secretary Panettta’s response:

“With regards to what you mentioned, obviously this incident was fully investigated and those that were involved have been punished and held accountable.  They are no longer in this country.  They were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior.  I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world.  And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Brazil’s News G1 globo.com has a report of this incident (in Portuguese) and aired a video with an interview of Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, the alleged victim and the subject of the question posted to Secretary Panetta.

From best we could tell from translated text, the woman was allegedly assaulted by officers of the U.S. Embassy at the end of last year. The case occurred four months ago after she met four embassy staffers in a nightclub where she worked as a dancer. The woman reportedly had an argument with the driver and she got dumped off the car and she fell and was injured.

Globo.com also says that the U.S. embassy through a statement (which we have difficulty locating online) acknowledge the case, said it had cooperated with the investigation and that the Americans involved in the case are no longer in Brazil. No charges were reportedly filed by the Brazilian authorities. The Foreign Ministry said it was not notified about the case.

VOA reported here that Defense officials say three U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Brazil and an embassy staffer picked up two prostitutes at a nightclub last December. One of the prostitutes says the men pushed her out of the car, and when she tried to re-enter the vehicle, she fell to the ground and was injured.

According to Secretary Panetta the Marines were “were reduced in rank.” The VOA report says that the U.S. embassy staff member was removed from his post and that injured prostitute has filed a lawsuit against the embassy in the wake of the Cartegena scandal.

The Brasilia incident, of course, made it to the Daily Press Briefing of April 25.

QUESTION: — for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.

We’ll come back to the DPB later in a separate post because it is interesting all in itself.

This story has now taken on a life of its own like, well, like a fast-sprouting magic tree with many limbs.

Late Wednesday, Kirotv.com out of Seattle claims it has an exclusive about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.

The bar owner reportedly told kirotv’s investigative reporter Chris Halsne (oh, he got names) that his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting FBI and DEA agents. The owner says his reputation for “security” and “privacy” makes him a popular strip club owner with “those who want to be discreet.”  Kirotv.com says it is currently writing and editing-together a series of television stories for air beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

Next stop, the Where Else Bar … but hey, there’s a mad cow in California!

Domani Spero

 

Update: 4/16@10:18 pm
We’ve now seen the KiroTV exclusive – hey, they’re squeezing the juice out of that San Salvador trip; it’s like a drip, drip, drip of the same story. It is rather annoying.  It blares “New evidence expands Secret Service scandal” here. In Chris Halsne Reveals More on Secret Service piece, we get to see an interview with a retired Secret Service agent who boils this down to terrorism, and of course, there has to be footage of half naked dancing girls because it is the Lips Strip Club, and you just gotta show them half naked people doing the boogie. Sorry, no pole dancing included.

The reporter is shown talking to the strip club’s Salvadoran guard in English, he responds in Spanish, and we’re left to imagine what he said to the reporter.  The source is reportedly a bilingual subcontractor of the U.S. Secret Service whose identity has been kept confidential. Obviously, if he was a subcontractor of the Secret Service, they know who he is, so what’s the motive for his anonymity?  His face is fuzzy, and he’s now called a whistleblower. The news report also cites multiple witnesses but we only hear from the sub-contractor. We’re told that the owner of the strip club is an American named, DJ Ertel, who gave an interview but did not allow video footage. Since the club has a reputation for “security” and “privacy” and prides itself for being discreet, the interview does seem like reverse public relation.  The report did not even include important details such as hours of operation: 12:00pm-2:30am, daytime cover: $3.50; nighttime cover: $7.00; dance prices: $9; drink prices: $3. So no free advertising there (we did note that all prices are under $28).

As for the strip club not being too far from the embassy — if I heard it right, Lips is located on Paseo General Escalon, one of the main areas in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. It’s so small that you can drive from end to end in a matter of hours! So yeah, the embassy and the club are practically neighbors. The end.