• Advisor Huma Abedin’s Job Arrangement under Hillary Investigated by State Department

    April 15, 2015 // 13 Comments »

    huma



    The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has agreed, only two years after the fact, to investigate a program that allowed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to hire one of her key personal advisors, Huma Abedin, for government work even as she was also employed by a private firm.



    Conflict of Interest?

    Inspector General Steve Linick said he is looking into whether those employed as Special Government Employees (SGE), the designation Clinton gave to Abedin, are following the law, and avoiding conflicts of interest. The idea is if you are being paid by two organizations, where your loyalty lies can come into question. Never mind the potential misuse of sensitive information you might acquire at the Secretary of State’s side.

    “The OIG intends to examine the department’s SGE program to determine if it conforms to applicable legal and policy requirements,” Linick said in response to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley.

    Clinton approved hiring Abedin, her long-time assistant, as an SGE, which allowed her to collect a government salary while also continuing to work for Teneo, a private firm. Teneo is a global advisory firm that helps with investments and other financial needs for many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations. Knowing a bit about upcoming U.S. government decisions and plans would make someone quite a valuable asset in such a company.



    Not the Right Order of Things

    In addition to the conflict of interest issue, Senator Grassley also questioned whether Abedin was qualified to be designated an SGE at all.

    The designation of someone as a Special Government Employee is supposed to be used to entice someone already in the private sector to split his or her time in order for the government to tap “special knowledge and skills.” However, in Abedin’s case, she was already working for Clinton. It was only after Clinton unilaterally designated her as an SGE that she moved to take an outside job, Grassley said.

    In other words, the SGE program is designed to bring outside experts in to assist the government, not allow State Department employees to launch second careers in the private sector while remaining tied to the Department.

    State Department records show that a half-dozen of Clinton’s political allies were also granted the special designation status during her tenure.


    How Much Did She Make, and Why Can’t We Know?

    There is no legal prohibition against State Department employees having an outside job per se, but they cannot be seen as taking advantage of their official position, and they must report their outside income to the Department.

    Abedin, however, did not report her income. “Ms. Abedin did not disclose the arrangement — or how much income she earned — on her financial report,” the New York Times discovered. “An adviser to Clinton, Philippe Reines, simply said that Abedin was not obligated to do so.”

    No explanation was given, and the State Department did not question the unique arrangement.



    All Roads Lead Back to the Clinton Foundation

    Abedin is a busy woman. In the midst of her multiple jobs, she also found time to, you guessed it, serve as a consultant to the Clinton Foundation.

    Abedin only ended her private sector consulting practice to move on to become director of Clinton’s transition office out of State. She now, of course, works for the Hillary campaign.

    Abedin is married to former Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal that involved photos of his penis and the use of false name, “Carlos Danger.”




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    State Department Cannot Account for Six Billion of Your Tax Dollars

    April 11, 2014 // 26 Comments »

    When I wrote my book about waste, fraud and grotesque mismanagement by the U.S. Department of State in the Iraq War Reconstruction, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, the task was at least sporting.


    State bitterly maintained at the time that its work rebuilding Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy was successful absent the occasional car bomb, and somnolent media played along. Now the job of showing State can’t keep track of its money with both hands isn’t much more than a simple cut ‘n paste job. Let’s watch:






    The State Department’s own Office of the Inspector General (OIG) basically writes today’s article for us. In a “management alert” actually posted online, the OIG said:

    Specifically, over the past six years, OIG has identified Department of State contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all. The failure to maintain contract files adequately creates significant financial risk and demonstrates a lack of internal control over the Department’s contract actions.

    Hilarious side note: About those six years of contract shenanigans. The State Department had been without an inspector general position for the past five years, the longest IG vacancy in the government’s history.

    Lack of Dollars and Sense from the OIG Alert

    — An audit of contracts from the U.S. embassy in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files, representing $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files that the embassy somehow did have on hand did not contain all required documentation for spending an additional $2.1 billion.

    — Files for a Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract Baghdad, with an estimated total cost of $1 billion, were either not accessible or complete.

    — A $52 million contract was awarded to the spouse of the employee overseeing the contract (this one?)

    — In another case, a State Department contracting officer falsified government technical review information and actually provided the contractor with internal contract pricing information, then tried to hide the $100 million contract from investigators.

    — In a separate investigation, a State Department employee allowed the payment of$792,782 to a contractor even though the contract file did not contain documents to support the payment.

    — A $2.5 million Bureau of Information Resources Management contract lacked status reports and a tally of the funds expended and remaining on the contract.

    Sloppy Contracting… Like a Fox?

    State’s horrible disregard for the most basic of accounting is likely just another sad chapter in the saga of comically inept mismanagement that underlies much of what the State Department is anymore.



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    Over-Classification at State

    November 6, 2013 // 8 Comments »

    Over-classification in our government is real.

    Designed primarily to hide the actions of the peoples’ government from the people, federal agencies now routinely slap a classified label on just about everything; the Department of Defense recently classified a memo about over-classification. Obama even signed (albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back) the Reducing Over-Classification Act, which required various parts of the federal government to (you guessed it) reduce over-classification. As part of implementing this law, federal inspectors general are supposed to “evaluate” the classification policies of the organizations.

    As a public service to inspectors general, may I suggest you take a look over at the State Department?

    State, which about a year ago sought to fire me, in part, for “revealing” a document that was labeled Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU), snail-mailed me an SBU document. That document was a form letter, appropriately classified because, why not? Let’s be a touch civilly disobedient and have a look at it:



    Like most of you (“the internet”) I have no security clearance. I am pretty sure my mail carrier does not have a security clearance, nor does the youngster at my home who first opened the mail yet there, all pink and naked, lies an actual SBU document. Now of course it is a form letter about income taxes with a rubber stamp signature, but dammit, don’t your eyes burn? Now look away! FYI, my financial information, included in the envelope, did not carry any classification. The youngster has been appropriately punished.

    Of course the whole concept of “Sensitive But Unclassified/SBU” is a bit of a joke; technically no such category of actual US Government classification actually exists. The State Department and others just sort of made up “SBU” after 9/11 in an attempt to include basically every document and email created inside Foggy Bottom in some sort of restricted category. In a report prepared by the Library of Congress, the authors wrote “Although there is growing concern in the post 9/11 world that guidelines for the protection of SBU are needed, a uniform legal definition or set of procedures applicable to all Federal government agencies does not now exist. Regulations are reported to be under development in the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security.”

    State itself self-defines SBU as “information which warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure.”

    So all you inspectors general out there, can you tell we people out here exactly what in the State Department’s form letter about taxes “warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure”? ‘Cause if you can’t find anything, then maybe State is just a little bit heavy-handed with its classification policies.

    At least I hope so. Otherwise, somebody at State just sorta leaked an SBU document into the mail system. OH NO!


    BONUS: It is apparently of no interest to law enforcement when someone high up in the State Department leaks an actual Secret document to the media, at least when said leak was designed to benefit the Department.


    BONUS BONUS: Since State willfully sent a classified document to me, knowing I have this blog, were they hoping I’d expose it here? Is the State Department whistleblowing on itself in some odd national security act of autoeroticism?



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    State Department Post-Manning Information Security Report: D-

    July 22, 2013 // 23 Comments »

    Website Cryptome brings us the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) Report on the State Department Bureau of Information Resource Management, Office of Information Assurance (IRM/IA). The Report is timely, as IRM/IA is responsible for the Department’s cyber security program. The head of IRM/IA is the State Department’s chief information security officer.

    In other words, these guys are responsible for the State Department’s computer security stuff. After letting some Army private in remote Iraq run WGET against ten years of cables, all apparently unlogged and unmonitored, why would anyone care about computer security at State? After having its cables database posted all shiney and naked on the internet, in a post-Manning era, what could be more important to the organization?

    What’s Wrong at IRM/IA?

    Well, apparently many things, because here are some summary points from the report:

    The Bureau of Information Resource Management, Office of Information Assurance (IRM/IA) was established to address the information security requirements of the E-Government Act. The office does not fulfill all those requirements.

    — The current workload of IRM/IA does not justify its organizational structure, resources, or status as an IRM directorate.

    — The mishandling of the certification and accreditation (C&A) process and contract by IRM/IA has contributed to expired authorizations to operate 52 of the Department’s 309 systems.

    — No single Department bureau has full responsibility for the information systems security officer (ISSO) program, resulting in confusion among personnel on requirements and waste of personnel resources.

    — IRM/IA lacks adequate management controls to monitor its contracts, task orders, and blanket purchase agreements, approximate value of $79 million.

    — IRM/IA has no mission statement and is not engaged in strategic planning.


    More Specifically, What’s Wrong at IRM/IA?

    The basics are pure 2013 Washington: IRM/IA has more contractors than full-time staff (36 vs. 22). With the Snowden story in the news, the report worries that “contractors are performing inherently governmental functions.” With a hint of irony, the report notes that among these, it is contractors who draft responses to OIG audit reports. Not all of those worker bees are happy: during the course of the inspection alone, IRM/IA was handling one formal EEO complaint as well as two employee relations cases.

    Of course all this costs lots of taxpayer money: Funding for IRM/IA activities is $5.9 million per year, plus an annual operating budget in FY13 of about $10 million, with other funds coming from reimbursements and internal bureau transfers. For FY14 planning, the Chief Information Officer increased the IRM/IA budget
    request by an additional $8 million. The bureau runs $79 million in contracts and buys. IRM/IA is
    also supported through the broader Vanguard 2.2.1 contract valued at $2.5 billion. The OIG mentions, almost with an appended “of course,” that that contract “has not been managed appropriately.”

    Also, Some Bad Things

    So it kinda is a bad thing that the OIG says “IRM/IA is not doing enough and is potentially leaving Department systems vulnerable” which of course is the whole point of IRM/IA existing.

    Maybe it is also bad that “IRM/IA performs a limited number of information assurance functions, does not have a lead role in most of the functions it does perform and, for the most part, only compiles information generated by others.” In fact, the bureau shows a “lack of active involvement in many of its stated responsibilities.”

    And this could be a negative: “IRM/IA does not have a vision for the office and specific goals for each of its three divisions.” And so “division chiefs [lack] priorities based on defined goals. As a result, the staff is not proactive in meeting information security requirements.”

    Well, that could be that the head of the bureau “is not seen regularly in the office.”

    So, the fact that “IRM/IA is not engaged with IT strategic planning in the Department” means that the current Department IT Strategic Plan contains little mention of information assurance functions. Nor is information assurance addressed prominently in the IRM Strategic Plan. While there are references in these plans to the importance of protecting the Department’s worldwide network, the strategy and crosswalk for addressing these factors… is not detailed in the strategic or tactical plans’ goals and objectives.”

    So it is little surprise that the report notes “IRM/IA does not have an office strategic plan. There is no evidence of IRM/IA management engaging in a comprehensive strategic review to assess its current capabilities and future needs. The CISO and his division chiefs have not reviewed operations to determine what information assurance and security functions they are required to perform or are currently handling based on statutory requirements” and that “Policy and outreach in IRM/IA has been inconsistent and ineffective.”

    Most of the regs, rules and guidelines for the Department’s cyber security date from 2007 or earlier and do not mention the latest technologies. For example, there is little mention of State’s beloved social media.There is no mention of cloud computing, which the OIG coolly says “is surprising considering that cloud computing is a strategic goal for the Department overall.”

    This one is hilarious: one of IRM/IA’s “tools,” used to track security vulnerabilities, requires users to note changes by hand on a printed spreadsheet, those changes then being typed manually into a database by
    IRM/IA staff.

    In another accounting “tool,” users are held accountable for their low security scores. Why so such low scores? IRM/IA says their change in the criteria used is at fault but sent no notification to inform users of the change.

    OIG Conclusions

    The OIG concludes its report with a whopping 36 “recommendations” for improvement.

    And yet the bureau’s response to some of this is to ask for an additional deputy position and one more division, in what the report (must be tongue in cheek) calls a “realignment.” That process will require an “organizational assessment” of three months. Not surprising given that apparently contractors wrote the response. Ka-ching!

    So who is in charge of this sad failure of an organization? Guy named William Lay just took over in September 2012 and in a hopeful note the OIG says “the atmosphere in the office has improved.”

    No doubt State will say it will investigate, simply spend more money claiming that is its “solution,” or most likely just ignore this report and execute Bradley Manning.

    Still, in the spirit of public service, maybe we all can help. Why not let William Lay know what you think at CIO@state.gov? It sounds like he could use the help.



    Bonus: Cryptome.org, which was Wikileaks before there was a Wikileaks, is one of my long-time favorite websites. Since 1996 the quirky website has been a source of detailed information, typically without hype or drama, on America’s national security state. Perhaps alone on the web, Cryptome is also an avid publisher of declassified info on older, Cold War, programs. This info is precious to historians, and valuable to those wishing to speculate on where things are headed. At a time when most Americans other than James Bamforddid not even know the NSA existed, Cryptome has been on the story.



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    Leadership at State: Failing from the Top

    August 17, 2012 // 14 Comments »

    The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released one of the most scathing critiques of a sitting Ambassador most anyone has ever seen, damning Obama political appointee Scott Gration in his post as Ambassador to Kenya so completely that he resigned. After 14 months on the job.

    Even skimming the report makes your eyes burn, but to pull just a quote or three:

    The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission. Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective.

    The Ambassador’s efforts to develop and focus the mission’s work around what he calls “mission essential tasks” have consumed considerable staff time and produced documents of unclear status and almost no value to the Department in approving priorities and assigning resources. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team agreed with embassy staff that the mission essential task process added no real value to the management of the embassy.

    The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives… Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.


    Failure No. 1

    Perhaps not the State Department’s fault (they might push back a tad), many ambassadorships are handed out by the president as political patronage jobs, just like Boss Tweed did. Competence is not assessed nor does it matter; good posts go to loyal supporters who bundled big campaign contributions. Both parties do this, neither more or less than the other. No other, well, anything, is lead in such a way (over the last three decades, 85 percent of US ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.)

    Failure No. 2

    Sort of a big one here: this guy destroyed the embassy in Kenya over 14 months, and resigned only after the OIG accused him of crimes against humanity practically. Where was the State Department? The Department certainly heard reports from the field about this guy, right? Right? Even allowing for a period of sucking up where the embassy’s staff tried to hide this guy’s flaws, word no doubt made it to Washington. Where was Hillary? Why didn’t someone fire this clown?

    Failure No. 3

    If the embassy in Kenya was to serve any purpose (Kenya was one of the top ten recipients of US foreign aid in FY2012, $652 million of your tax dollars, so something must be expected), it clearly was not being accomplished in the 14 months this buffoon was ambassador. Didn’t anyone in State, the White House or anywhere care or notice?

    Failure No. 4

    Hidden in plain sight among the OIG’s criticisms of the ambassador to Kenya was the line that “Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members.”

    So despite all this, the guy in Kenya is not the worst ambassador in terms of management skills and morale? And there are two other ambassadors who in fact ranked lower overall? Who are they? Where are they working? And for God’s sake what are they doing to earn those lower rankings, actually impaling staff at noon in the lobby? And why why why doesn’t someone just freaking fire them?

    Failure No. 5

    I just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out that the State Department is funded by us, the taxpayers. We also paid for the aid payola for Kenya, the internet connection the disgraced ambassador ordered installed in his toilet and everything else. And we the taxpayers got zilch in return, just this loser wasting everyone’s money while the leaders at State and the White House sat around and watched it happen for 14 months. Then we taxpayers paid for the OIG to go out there and declare it a disaster area. These leadership failures fail us.

    Just Failure

    Leadership means stepping up, doing the harder right over the easier wrong. Hillary, it is obvious you have a crisis in leadership at (at least) several embassies. Your State staff will whine “But oh, they are political appointees, we can’t touch them!”

    You Hilary have the White House connections, the pull and the gravitas to act on behalf of your people and your organization. Plus, this is your freaking job, not just racking up frequent flyer miles and grinding on the dance floor. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Your employees know you can help, but when you don’t, that sends a very powerful message down the chain that no one cares. Apathy is contagious. So is leadership.



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    A Meditation on Irrelevancy in Kabul

    May 9, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    To further the debate on the value of social media as practiced at taxpayer’s expense by the US Embassy in Kabul, here is one of their actual Tweets:


    Robust is the Word

    But wait, there’s more. You’ll recall that thanks to a whistleblower at the US Embassy in Kabul, we learned that the State Department wasted $80 million on a new Consulate building in Afghanistan that will never open. After initially stating they would not comment on leaked documents, the Embassy press office in Kabul manned up to release this statement:

    The United States is committed to a long-term diplomatic presence in Mazar-e-Sharif. There is already a robust U.S. diplomatic presence in the City and we are evaluating our options as to how and when a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence will be established.

    Now how helpful is that? Anyone, anyone… Bueller? Not a word on the wasted $80 million, not a word on the fact that we the taxpayers only know about the wasted $80 million because of a leak and not a single piece of actual meat, but they did slip in the word “robust.” Tip for aspiring diplomats: anytime someone at the State Department uses the word “robust,” grab your wallet and run away.

    Afghanistan’s Next Generation of Law Professors Find Success at Home and Abroad

    Ok, Ok, maybe some good news from the Embassy. In another social media coup, the State Department announces that “Afghanistan’s Next Generation of Law Professors Find Success at Home and Abroad.” This little speck of taxpayer-paid fluff is all about the success of a scholarship program, written by the same person who is responsible for running the program. Objectivity builds credibility in social media ya’all! LOL!

    Unfortunately, even a puff piece like this reveals more than it should. Just by reading the propaganda, you find that the program has been running since 2004 and in eight years, all of 229 people have participated, just 28 a year from a country of over 34 million. Worse yet, of those 229 only 18 have actually graduated from the full program. As a topper, some of the law grads major in sharia law under our sponsorship. Nobody is saying how much all this cost us so far, but the best news (!) is that the entire program is going to be refunded for another five years. The measure of success, the metric used to determine whatever amount of money being spent is paying off for the US? The author and program manager herself sez “I know that these law professors and the students they teach back home will continue to reform Afghanistan’s justice system from within.” Done.

    But wait (shout State’s public diplomacists) helping lawyers in Afghanistan is not a bad thing! And even if the numbers helped are not as robust as we’d like, isn’t it better to do something instead of nothing? Doesn’t every little bit help?

    Yes, yes, the same tired rhetorical questions State trots out to justify its wandering-in-the-dark programs. The same tired response is that the US is supposedly engaged in a worldwide struggle and State is supposed to support the greater geopolitical goals of the nation. After eight years if the best you can do is say, well, it doesn’t seem harmful and maybe a few people benefited, that is a pretty piss poor justification for a program that costs millions of taxpayer dollars.

    Measuring ROL Success

    Absent self-serving resume fodder (above), the only possible attempt at assessing these so-called “Rule of Law” (ROL) efforts in Afghanistan I could locate was a 2008 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report. That report concluded, inter alia:

    — The many U.S. efforts to support ROL in Afghanistan are laudable for their professionalism and tenacity, but it is often not clear how, or even if, ROL efforts are being measured for success, and when the intense international attention wanes, whether these projects can be sustained.

    — The U.S. government, through several agencies, is funding many programs related to ROL. This inspection team found no indication that the funds are being used improperly. However, no one source seems to have a clear picture of the scope of U.S. expenditure in this field.

    I tried very hard to find out what the lawyer exchange program mentioned above cost, but failed. I did learn from the OIG report that from FY 2002 through FY 2007, the civilian side of the USG spent a whopping $110.4 million on such Rule of Law programs. It appears no one knows how much the military spent alongside the civilians on Rule of Law; the OIG report unhelpfully states

    There was no way to determine what the many different elements of DOD (some under direct DOD command, some under NATO), were spending specifically on ROL, but the current military leadership in Afghanistan briefed the team that implementing ROL programs was important to them.

    The OIG report, speaking of the civilian-military interface, not surprisingly reports that coordination is not as robust as it could be, and makes this staggering recommendation for success:

    Embassy Kabul should demonstrate its commitment to the role of the rule-of-law coordinator, through a means such as having the deputy chief of mission attend at least one meeting of the Special Committee on Rule of Law each month.

    Whooooa! No way, attend one whole meeting a month? Feeling better now?


    It’s All About Relationships

    And finally, just to clarify things, here is the actual wire diagram showing the relationships among the players in Rule of Law issues at the US Embassy in Kabul.



    It becomes clearer each day why the State Department is sinking deeper into irrelevancy. Keep at ’em boys and you’ll soon become the Vanilla Ice of foreign affairs!

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    Where’s My $132 Million Dude?

    April 25, 2011 // Comments Off on Where’s My $132 Million Dude?

    Scrooge McDuck in BaghdadAlways-entertaining blog Diplopundit wonders what happened to a $132 million refund due after the OIG found construction deficiencies at Embassy Baghdad. The world’s most expensive Embassy was built primarily by a Kuwaiti contractor because every single American firm was busy working on their Facebook pages at the time.

    At a time when Congress keeps pecking away at the carcass of State’s budget, wouldn’t it look good for the Department to show it had collected on the $132 million due?

    Wouldn’t it look bad if they had not?



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