FBI’s Misunderstanding of Diplomatic Tradecraft Just Latest in List of “Misunderstandings”

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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We’ve covered Ambassador Robin Raphel’s story in this blog since it broke in November 2014. In March 2016, the Justice Department’s case fizzled and it declined to file charges against the former ambassador.

Previously, in the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have also misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work.  Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.

They misunderstood science and technology, and now, we can add misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft to the list of serious mistakes made by AG Loretta Lynch investigators.  When investigators don’t know what they don’t know, 40 years of service doesn’t mean anything. And for every hammer, everything is nothing but a nail.

WaPo’s David Ignatius writes a piece on when diplomats get punished for doing their jobs.

Via WaPo’s :

The case leaves behind some disturbing questions about how a diplomat with nearly 40 years’ experience became the focus of a career-shattering investigation — apparently without anyone seeking clarification from knowledgeable State Department officials about her assignment to open alternative channels to repair the badly strained relationship with Pakistan.

“If the Bureau had talked to senior people at State who were knowledgeable about her work, I believe they would never have launched this investigation,” argues Jeff Smith, a former CIA general counsel who was one of Raphel’s attorneys.
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The case had a “chilling effect” on other diplomats, who feared they might be next, a half-dozen State Department officials told me. But Raphel’s colleagues stood behind her, even when the investigation was still active. Beth Jones, another former assistant secretary of state, organized a legal defense fund last summer. The fund raised nearly $90,000 from 96 colleagues and friends, many of whom, recalls Jones, voiced the fear: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Diplomats often go last in our national-security parade. People cheer at ballparks when they see soldiers and sailors. They stand in line to watch movies about snipers and special-forces operators. But a diplomat’s reward for years in danger sometimes seems to be a congressional or FBI investigation for security lapses. That’s wrong. Raphel and many hundreds of colleagues deserve better support.

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Spying Case Against Robin Raphel Fizzles; AG Lynch’s “Houston, We Have a Problem” Moment

Posted: 2:05 am EDT
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We blogged about the Robin Raphel case in September (see The Murky Robin Raphel Case 10 Months On, Remains Murky … Why?.

In November 2014, we also blogged this: Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials.

On October 10, the NYTimes reported that officials apparently now say that the spying investigation has all but fizzled. This leaves the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute Ms. Raphel for the far less serious charge of keeping classified information in her home.

The fallout from the investigation has in the meantime seriously damaged Ms. Raphel’s reputation, built over decades in some of the world’s most volatile countries.

If the Justice Department declines to file spying charges, as several officials said they expected, it will be the latest example of American law enforcement agencies bringing an espionage investigation into the public eye, only to see it dissipate under further scrutiny. Last month, the Justice Department dropped charges against a Temple University physicist who had been accused of sharing sensitive information with China. In May, prosecutors dropped all charges against a government hydrologist who had been under investigation for espionage.
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Some American investigators remain suspicious of Ms. Raphel and are loath to abandon the case entirely. Even if the government cannot mount a case for outright spying, they are pushing for a felony charge related to the classified information in her home.

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In the case of Xiaoxing Xi, the Temple university professor and head of the school’s physics department, federal authorities handling the case were said to have misunderstood key parts of the science behind the professor’s work.  Mr. Xi’s lawyer said, “We found what appeared to be some fundamental mistakes and misunderstandings about the science and technology involved here.” The federal officials handling the Xi case did not know the science but went ahead and indicted him anyway.

Are we going to hear soon that the federal officials handling the Raphel case also made some fundamental mistakes and misunderstanding of the diplomatic tradecraft?  At least two of these officials leaked the probe to the news media even if no charges were filed against Ambassador Raphel.

This  was not a harmless leak. She lost her security clearance, and her job at the State Department without ever being charged of any crime. And in the court of social media, just the news that she is reportedly the subject of a spying investigation is enough to get her attacked and pilloried for treason. Perhaps, the most disturbing part in the report is that the authorities appear to have no case against her for spying, so now they’re considering slapping her with a felony charge under the Espionage Act.

Now, why would they do that?

Perhaps to save face and never having to admit that federal authorities made a mistake or lack an understanding of international statecraft? They could say —  see, we got something out of a year’s worth of investigation, so it was not completely useless.

Or perhaps because American investigators still viewed Ambassador Raphel’s relationships with deep suspicion?

Because, obviously, “deep suspicion” is now the bar for an espionage charge?

We should note that the hydrologist, Sherry Chen was cleared of spying charges but was notified in September that she will be fired by the National Weather Service for many of the same reasons the USG originally prosecuted her. Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University had been charged with “four counts of wire fraud in the case involving the development of a pocket heater for magnesium diboride thin films.” The USG asked to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning it could be revived, according to philly.com.

Unlike the Chen and Xi cases, Raphel was never charged and was not afforded the right to defend herself in the court of law.  What we have in one case may have been a misunderstanding, a second case, may well have been a mistake, but a third case is certainly, a trend.

This is AG Loretta Lynch’s  “Houston, we have a problem” moment.

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