• Those ‘Resignations’: What Really Happened at the State Department

    January 26, 2017 // 99 Comments »




    Yesterday at the State Department five officials resigned or retired. Another one today.

    The media has gone near-insane, claiming State is crumbling in protest under the Trump administration. This is not true. What happened at State is very routine.

    Leaving the Department are head of the Management Bureau Pat Kennedy (above), Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, arms control official Tom Countryman, and Victoria Nuland.

    Here’s the story:

    — No one at the State Dept resigned in protest.

    — No one was formally fired.

    — Six people were transferred from or retired from political appointee positions. Technically those who did not retire can be considered to have “resigned,” but that is a routine HR/personnel term used, not some political statement. The six are career Foreign Service career personnel (FSOs) They previously left their FSO job to be appointed into political jobs and now have resigned those (or retired out of the State Department) to return to career FSO jobs. A circle. They are required to submit a letter of resignation as a matter of routine when a new president takes office.

    — As for perspective: only one Under Secretary of State (Alan Larson) stayed through the transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. It is routine for senior officials to leave or be reassigned.

    — Several of the six are connected to the Clinton emails and/or Clinton’s handling of Benghazi. One of these people, Pat Kennedy, played a significant role in both, as well as many other controversial issues during Clinton’s term. Sources tell me that although officially Kennedy “retired,” he was more or less required to do so by the Trump administration.

    — I have no information on the others, whether they were asked to retire, or just part of a reshuffling of positions and will routinely be reassigned. Most likely the latter, as such reshuffling is very common as administrations change. As everywhere in the government, the new administration fills its own political appointee slots.

    — Some of the six will hit mandatory retirement age on January 31 anyway.

    — Reports that these people represent “senior management” at State confuse terms. Because of the odd way State is organized, four of the six work in the Management Bureau, M in State talk. Kennedy was the head of the Bureau. The four play varying roles and collectively are not the senior management of the State Department. Two work in other parts of the Department (Countryman and Nuland) and are more directly tied to policies likely to change under the new administration.

    — All six persons come from offices with a deep bench. It is highly unlikely that any of the work of the State Department will be impeded by any of these changes. Every office has a second, third, fourth, etc., person in charge who will step up pending formal replacements to be nominated and confirmed. This is all part of the standard transition process.

    — As an example, I worked in the Bureau of Consular Affairs for most of my 24 years at State, including working with/for Michele Bond, one of the resignees. I personally know the people in the next rank below her, and all have equal experience and tenure as Bond. There will be no gap in experience or knowledge as some press reports have fretted. There will be no “void.” A slightly more dire, but responsible take, here.

    — There will very likely be more, similar, “resignations” and reshuffling at State. New political appointees will bring in their own staff, for example. But unless and until an employee holds a press conference to announce s/he is resigning out of protest, the media should take care to calm down, verify facts, and report accurately.

    — The Washington Post stated these changes were part of an “ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.” I am not aware of any other noteworthy departures (two lesser officials left earlier this month in circumstances not clearly connected to Trump) and as stated above, the six did not resign in protest. Regardless, eight people in any context do not constitute a mass exodus.

    — The Post article is, in my opinion, grossly alarming. It reflects a reporter apparently unfamiliar with transitions at State.




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    How Clinton’s Handling Foreign Government Info Went Very Wrong

    September 10, 2015 // 15 Comments »

    hillary clinton

    There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.

    That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.

    Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.

     

    The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.

    Let the spin begin.

    “The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”

    Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.

    (Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)

    There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.

    In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.

    Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.

    Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”

    It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.

    Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”

    That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.

    The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.

    Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”

    With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.

    The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.

     

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    Clinton Email Markings Changed to Block Documents’ Release

    September 3, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    State Department building


    We’re going to get a little deeper into the way classified material and its disclosure is handled here, but stick with the details. They show the cleverness of Clinton’s people in manipulating existing processes to mask classified material contained in her emails.



    FOIA in Theory

    In theory, all U.S. government documents, including Clinton’s emails, are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A classified document can still be, in theory, declassified and released, perhaps after enough time has passed that the information is no longer sensitive, as in the case, for example, of WWII messages about planned invasions and the like.



    FOIA Exemptions

    However, the FOIA provides for nine specific exemptions, conditions under which information can be withheld, classified or not. The full list is here, but we’ll focus on just two in the context of the Clinton emails: B1 and B5.

    B1 is simple: the document contains properly classified material and cannot be released until the material is declassified, if ever. A no-brainer example would be a list of undercover CIA agents. That is never going to see daylight.

    B5 refers to deliberative process, the details of how the government makes policy, the back-and-forth principals receive, the “how” of how decisions are made. Such information does not necessarily have to even be classified, and marking it as B5 does not in any way imply it is classified.

    The theory behind the existence of B5 is that advisors need to be able to share advice fully and frankly, throwing out at times odd ideas, playing devil’s advocate, and the policy maker free to engage in a full discussion of options, without concern that all that messy process will become public. Some in government also feel exposing the processes by which decisions are made assists America’s adversaries.

    B5 is near-constantly misused by government to block information that should be released, but we’ll stick with theory for the time being.

    Changes in Clinton Email Exemption Categories

    Reports suggest at least four Clinton emails had their exemption markings changed to a category that shields the content from the public, in what some believe is an effort to hide the true extent of classified information on the former secretary of state’s server.

    The emails in question were originally redacted under exemption B1, meaning the information in them was withheld because that information was properly classified. The impact of that on Clinton was two-fold: it confirmed that the emails held classified contrary to her claims, and it set up release of the information simply by someone with the authority to declassify it.

    Changing the exemption to B5, which was done by State Department lawyers (more below), removed the stigma of classified material in unclassified emails. Perhaps more importantly, it placed the authority of release on State itself. The Courts have long upheld the right of agencies to withhold B5 exempted information indefinitely, meaning State could deep-six the information in those emails forever.

    See what they did there?



    The Process

    The process by which the Clinton emails were remarked, if true, speaks to additional naughty acts, centered again around State’s primary political troubleshooter, Patrick Kennedy.

    According to congressional testimony, at least one of the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, where the changes were made, is Catherine Duval, who also handles the release of documents to the Benghazi Select Committee. She previously was the attorney in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s email production to Congress. And small world; Duval once worked for the same firm as Clinton’s private attorney, David Kendall.

    Anyone see any pattern here?

    Fox News was told there were internal State Department complaints that Duval’s work, and that of a second lawyer also linked to Kendall, created a conflict of interest during the email review.

    The disagreement between some State employees and Duval over the changed exemption markings grew so heated that a final decision had to be kicked upstairs.



    Pat Kennedy, Again

    Now wait for it — that decision made upstairs, in favor of Clinton, the B5 exemption, was made by Undersecretary of Management Pat Kennedy, State’s own pointman briefing Congress on State’s proper handling of the entire Clinton email affair. Kennedy is also very likely the most senior State official under the secretary to have approved her use of a private email server.

    Judicial Watch is now seeking a deposition of Kennedy in a case scrutinizing Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s status as a special government employee. “All these issues fall under his responsibility,” Judicial Watch said.

    Asked to respond to the allegations, a State Department official added that the lawyers do not have the final say on the codes, emphasizing it is a “multi-step review.”

    Indeed, a multi-step review, albeit one that ends with Pat Kennedy.



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    Follow the Money? Not with Hillary, Follow Pat…

    August 28, 2015 // 19 Comments »

    pat kennedy


    The old adage, “follow the money,” is still not a bad way to suss out wrongdoing. Originated during the Watergate era, the term says if you follow the trail of money through an organization or a caper, you’ll find the guilty people at the end.

    With the State Department and Hillary Clinton, the advice should read: “Follow Pat Kennedy.”



    Meet Pat Kennedy

    The name of long-time State Department Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, pictured, is unknown to most journalists and nearly all of the public, but he in fact is present at every significant public issue State confronts. Take a look…



    Kennedy and Manning

    Do a little Googling around, and there’s Pat helping drive nails into Chelsea Manning’s coffin, testifying at his trial about the “grave damage” done to America’s national security. Kennedy in September 2013 admitted his testimony “contained misstatements,” which he said were “inadvertent.” Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on Wikileaks’ impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online.



    Kennedy and Benghazi

    And at the Congressional Benghazi hearings, there’s Pat testifying Clinton did no wrong, that State as an institution did no wrong, and helping throw a few lesser officials under the bus in hopes of making it all go away.

    One of those officials Pat helped deep six later came out as a whistleblower, suggesting Clinton’s staff skimmed incriminating documents off the pile turned over to Congress.

    Kennedy also was the one who hand-picked the members of State’s internal Accountability Review Board that failed in December 2012 to find any senior official at fault for any wrongdoing in the run-up to Benghazi. That Review Board chose not to interview Secretary of State Clinton about her role in Benghazi.



    Kennedy and Child Prostitution Cover-Up

    It was Pat who helped former American Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman retire in order to curtail a public investigation.

    A State Department investigator asserted Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hiring prostitutes. According to an internal memo prepared by the State Department Inspector General in October 2013, Kennedy personally called off an investigation.



    Kennedy and Iraq

    Pat was also one of the primary justifiers for the $3.5 billion spent on building America’s largest embassy in the world, in Baghdad. He oversaw parts of the Blackwater investigation and contracting.

    Kennedy was also the central figure in the First Amendment struggle over my Iraq book critical of the State Department, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People



    Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    There’s more, but you get the picture. When dirty deeds need to be done dirt cheap to protect Clinton and State, Pat’s your man.

    So it is little surprise that media reports now tell us that the Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is now in charge of running interference on Capitol Hill regarding the Clinton email controversy.

    Kennedy reportedly visited lawmakers in July and argued that the Abedin email along with another one sent in 2012 by another Clinton aide, Jake Sullivan, are not classified. The Under Secretary also argued that the information in the emails was already public.

    However, one source said that it was odd that Kennedy wanted to discuss the matter in a secure facility for classified information while simultaneously arguing that the Abedin email was not classified.

    The source also said that Kennedy cited a report from the Irish Times in 2011 as evidence, but that the details were not comparable. Kennedy also said that someone from the CIA agreed with his conclusion. However, the CIA was not the agency that sent the email.



    The Fixer

    Kennedy likely has more in the fire with the Clinton emails than his usual dollops of blind institutional loyalty.

    Given his role at State, Pat Kennedy is very likely to be the most senior official below the Secretary of State’s own staff to have either signed off on Hillary’s email server or passively fended off concerns from the rank and file about it. There are no doubt interesting emails with his name on them to be FOIAed or subpoenaed about all that. Pat no doubt hopes like hell a Democrat wins the presidential election or he is toast.

    So, mark this down: when Pat Kennedy steps into the picture, State/Clinton knows it is in real trouble and is calling in its Fixer of Last Resort. Journalists would be wise to keep on eye on Kennedy’s schedule over the coming months.



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    State Department Sleaze Accumulates without Real Response

    June 16, 2013 // 56 Comments »


    Breaking Bad! Two new sleazy State Department actions– a sweetheart consulting deal for one of Hillary’s best buds and accusations of an affair and hookers for a senior State official. See below!

    Attempted suicide after a harsh interrogation? Hiring armed guys with criminal backgrounds? Senior officials having sex with subordinates, prostitutes and minors? Investigations into all of the above covered up or halted? That’s the news, not from Gitmo or some banana republic, but from your U.S. Department of State. Better get out the hand sanitizer, this blog post gets filthy fast.

    A Sad Pattern of Sleaze from America’s Diplomats

    Ever since the story broke on CBS News that the State Department covered up numerous allegations of wrong-doing to protect its public image, the details of said wrong-doing have been leaking out.

    The reasons to care about this are many, and all the Hillary-love and attempts to just call it (just) a Republican witch hunt are a smokescreen. The obvious reason to care is that these people represent America abroad, and we need to ask what image they are projecting. In addition, such crimes and personal traits as alleged below make them vulnerable to blackmail, either by other members of the USG (promote me, give me a better assignment, or else…) or foreign intelligence (turn over the secrets or the photos go to the press). The fact that the organization apparently cannot police itself internally raises questions about competence (and the former SecState saying she was wholly ignorant of all this sludge is not a defense that actually makes her look presidential), and about what if anything it is accomplishing on America’s behalf.

    Here’s a roundup to date:

    — As a special shout-out to We Meant Well regulars, USA Today claims it has a memo detailing how Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, allegedly interceded in an investigation by Diplomatic Security into an affair between failed-Iraq ambassador-designate Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon.

    — Cheryl Mills again: Mills, a longtime confidante of Hillary, reportedly played a key role in the State Department’s damage-control efforts on the Benghazi attack last year and was also named in accusations that department higher-ups quashed investigations into diplomats’ potential criminal activity. Cheryl Mills, who served in a dual capacity in recent years as general counsel and chief of staff to Clinton, was accused of attempting to stifle congressional access to a diplomat who held a senior post in Libya at the time of the attack.

    — U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” The ambassador “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to documents obtained by NBC News. State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy ordered an end to the investigation. “The ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detection team [Note: A State Department team that conducts counterespionage surveillance, watching State Department officials to see if they are being watched by foreign spies] . . . were well aware of the behavior.”

    The ambassador explained that sometimes he fights with his wife, needs air and he goes for a walk in the park because he likes it. The Atlantic reported that the park Gutman trolled, Parc Royal Warandepark, was well-known as a place to pick up adult homosexual and adolescent boy prostitutes.

    A Belgian newspaper described the park: “I see young children go to adult waiting. Later, another adult waits, often to extort money from the victim after. I’ve been awakened by cries and my terrace, I saw someone being beaten. I had my legs were shaking. Time to call the police, I saw the victim painfully get up and go.”

    — A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards. State’s former regional security officer in Beirut, Chuck Lisenbee, allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Justine Sincavage, then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought, according to USA Today.

    — Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” a problem the report says was “endemic.” Three members of Clinton’s security detail admitted to hiring prostitutes while on foreign trips and were given suspensions of one day. An investigator for Diplomatic Security launched an investigation into similar allegations against four other members of Clinton’s security detail but was ordered by Kimber Davidson, chief of the special investigations division, and Rob Kelty, his deputy, to shut down the investigation.

    — The State Department has hired an “alarming number of law-enforcement agents with criminal or checkered backgrounds” because of a flawed hiring process, a stunning memo obtained by The New York Post reveals. “Too many people entering the [Diplomatic Security and Information Management] communities end up as subjects of [Special Investigation Division] investigations and HR adjudications, become Giglio-impaired and can play only limited roles thereafter,” according to the memo. “Giglio” refers to a US Supreme Court case dealing with jury notification that witnesses have made deals with the government to induce testimony. Some Diplomatic Security field offices “have major problems just waiting to be discovered,” the memo adds.

    — In one case, aggressive interrogation techniques by Diplomatic Service agents “drove an employee to attempt suicide” when accused of raping his maid in Bangkok, Thailand, a memo suggests. “After “being told he would end up in a Thai prison, his wife would lose her job and his children would be pulled out of school, [the man] attempted suicide by jumping out of the 16th-story window at a hotel in Bangkok.” The guy lived, and was flown back to Washington for in-patient psychiatric care, where the agents continued to harass him. The rape charges were ultimately dropped.

    — The same Diplomatic Security memo cites eight cases involving Diplomatic Security agents who resorted to “false, misleading or incomplete statements in reports,” “privacy-act violations” or “lack of objectivity” in investigations.

    — Diplomatic security agents learned that James Combs, a senior diplomatic security agent in Baghdad and formerly of the DS Office of Professional Standards, was having an extramarital affair with a subordinate and had numerous affairs with men over a 30-year span without the knowledge of his wife. This presented “counterintelligence concerns,” but the investigation never reached a conclusion.

    — A security contractor in Baghdad died of an overdose of methadone, which he was taking to counteract an addiction to the painkiller oxycodone. An underground drug ring may have been supplying the drugs, but State’s regional security officer did not allow a special investigations agent to pursue that possibility.

    — In Miami, agents investigating a car accident by diplomatic security agent Evelyn Kittinger learned that she had been claiming full pay for several years “but had actually only worked very few hours.” State Department supervisors told the investigator to advise her to resign to avoid facing criminal charges and a major fine.

    — Another report states that a top State Department official stymied investigators trying to get to the bottom of four killings in Honduras involving DEA agents and local police. The incident ended in the deaths of two pregnant women and two men last year, after Honduran national police opened fire from a State Department-owned helicopter on a small boat. Honduran police said drugs were involved, but locals said the boat was full of fishermen.

    –ADDED: Sen. Charles Grassley is probing longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s employment status, asking how she got a sweetheart deal to be a private six-figure consultant while still serving as a top State Department official. Abedin, one of Clinton’s most loyal aides, is of course married to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who’s in the midst of a vigorous effort to beat off his own sexting scandal and become mayor of New York. Abedin hauled in as much as $350,000 in outside income on top of her $135,000 government salary. She was redesignated a “special government employee” who was able to haul in cash as a private contractor while still on the government dole.

    –ADDED: Consulate General Naples’ Kerry Howard says she was bullied, harassed and forced to resign after she exposed Consul General Donald Moore’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers. “When our diplomats disrespect the Italians by hiring and firing them because they have seen too much — or use them for ‘sex-ercise’ — we have to question why we have diplomats abroad at taxpayer expense,” said Howard. As a senior foreign-service officer, Moore makes as much as $179,700 a year. His first office romance supposedly occurred within days of his arrival in Italy, when he allegedly bedded a consulate employee, a single mom who fell in love with him. Moore was honored as “Consular Officer of the Year” (Barbara Watson Award) in 2005.

    — A Foreign Service Officer, Michael Todd Sestak, 41, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud. Dude was a senior visa official in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and supposedly pocketed some $2 million dollars for his work.

    It appears that Foggy Bottom has sprung multiple leaks as hard-working folks grow tired of their bosses being allowed to do just about anything without punishment. What is going on? I don’t recall this much garbage coming into the daylight ever before. I assume it was happening all the same forever, but not this much in the public eye. I think it is time for Kerry to say something about at least trying to control his organization.

    And of course someone should throw Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy out. He *may* be getting the message that in this internet age if you don’t give people a realistic internal avenue to fix things they’ll just go outside. That’s kinda what I did… So there is no doubt much more to come…


    State Department Responds

    The State Department spokesman said, “We hold all employees to the highest standards.” Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters repeatedly this week that the accusations are “unsubstantiated.”

    So that’s that apparently. No reporter has seen it useful to ask why for more than four and a half years, the State Department has had no appointed inspector general, the longest such vacancy of any federal agency. Or why, during his entire time in office, Obama has not nominated anyone to fill the slot. Or why during her four years as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not demand an inspector general for her organization.

    Hillary Responds

    A spokesman said Clinton was completely unaware of any of the investigations mentioned in the Office of the Inspector General’s reports and memos, including the case involving her personal security detail allegedly soliciting prostitutes. “We learned of it from the media and don’t know anything beyond what’s been reported.”

    It means nothing that a candidate who will no doubt cite her endless efforts on behalf of women everywhere remained unaware of sex crimes occurring, well, under her.

    Opposition researchers and taxpayers alike, once again, Hillary Clinton’s defense is that she was totally unaware of what was going on in the organization she lead and managed, up to and including the actions of her own lifelong advisor and chief of staff, as well senior officials who reported directly to her. She’ll make a great president!

    Oh wait– these are just “allegations.” They need to be investigated. Well, the problem of course is that one of the allegations is that powerful trolls inside State prevented or derailed any investigations, and indeed the over-arching allegation is that Diplomatic Security, charged with investigations, is riddled with political considerations that prevent full and transparent investigations. So that’s a pretty weak excuse to blow off everything said.

    That said, maybe some are false. OK, but if even a small number of these serious accusations are true (rape, murder, minors) then even that suggests an organization operating without internal controls and the best defense its leader can come up with is her own ignorance. Not a good thing.




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    Getting Away with Diplomatic Murder

    December 17, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    (This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)

    New records released after a four year FOIA fight between the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the web site Gawker show that mercenaries, primarily from Blackwater, shot and sometimes killed a lot of Iraqis in the name of protecting America’s diplomats. The mercs, er, the private security companies, were supposed to be operating under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s command and control but instead shot up Iraq like outcasts from the Road Warrior.

    History, right? No, because those same administrators in Diplomatic Security that allowed Blackwater to run wild are in charge of 5,500 new private security contractors hired to protect the World’s Largest Embassy now that the US Army has bugged out of Iraq. Here’s what can go wrong.

    The 4500 pages just released are filled with contact/incident reports from 2004-2007. Every time a Blackwater shooter cranked off a few rounds at some Iraqi, he was supposed to file a report. Diplomatic Security would validate the shoot as having taken place under its own rules and that would be that. No attempts were made to seriously investigate anything, no attempts were made to find out what happened to any of the Iraqis popped by American hired guns and certainly no attempts to rein in Blackwater are documented. You can read the full trove, or feast on some highlights Gawker has pulled out.

    Here’s one example:

    In February 2005, a Blackwater team fired hundreds of rounds at two different “aggressive” cars during an operation in Baghdad. Team members subsequently told State Department investigators that 1) one of the cars’ occupants fired on them, striking a vehicle in the motorcade, and 2) one of the cars was on a Be on the Lookout list as a suspected insurgent vehicle. Both were lies.

    State Department investigators came to the conclusion that the Blackwater team was unjustified in firing on the cars, coordinated their stories to avoid suspicion, and lied about it later.

    When investigators briefed [the State Department Regional Security Officer, RSO] on their findings and inquired about what disciplinary actions were to occur, RSO informed the investigators that any disciplinary actions would be deemed as lowering the morale of the entire [personal security detail] entity.” No one knows if the occupants of the targeted cars were injured of killed.



    Or this email from an Embassy staffer:

    When was the last time we looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq? I’m hearing stories of quite a few PSD elements moving from Mosul to Irbil firing up to 50 rounds per move and using bullets like we use hand and arm signals, flashers, or a water bottle. [PSD = Personal Security Detachment. PSD Security teams would often toss plastic water bottles at the windshield of a suspicious car to get the driver’s attention—Ed.]



    Nisoor Square

    The public reason for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq is that Iraq refused to grant them immunity from local law, particularly immunity should they kill any Iraqi. But despite the long legacy of bloodshed which became frighteningly common place for many Iraqis, the refusal of immunity is more likely tied to one horrible, bad day in Nisour Square, where in 2007 Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department gunned down 14-17 Iraqis and wounded 20 more. Such killings occurred almost daily in Iraq, but what made this one tragically memorable is that despite almost overwhelming evidence that the victims were innocent, technicalities in U.S. law were used to prevent the shooters from being prosecuted.

    Good news: State’s current 5,500 mercs in Iraq have been granted immunity from local law, under existing diplomatic agreements. They’ll be free to do what the US military could not, kill Iraqis as needed by America.

    Hasn’t State cleaned up its command and control act since 2007?

    A now-defunct watchdog panel, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, has questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq once the US military withdraws. “Our concerns remain very much alive,” the commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement back in June 2011.

    Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment. “That response approaches the borderline of government negligence,” Shays said.

    The sole witness appearing before the panel was Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer these contracts.

    In Iraq, basically the already over-worked Regional Security Officer (RSO) will oversee any whacky hijinks of the merc army. In fact, they might even do bed checks: Kennedy stated “Collocation of contractor life-support areas on Embassy, Consulate, or Embassy Branch Office compounds will enhance after-hours oversight of contractor personnel,” so it’s lights out on time guys and no doing vodka shots off each others’ butts like in Afghanistan.

    But what will cause an already busy RSO to really focus on stopping State Department-sponsored murder in Iraq? Kennedy explained “As initial steps, this summer we plan to create a Contracting Officer Representative (COR) Award to highlight contract administration achievements, and publish an article in State Magazine highlighting the importance of contract administration and the valuable role of the COR.” Magazine article, got it, feelin’ safer already.

    But what about stuff like in 2007 when State’s Blackwater mercs gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Nisour Square? Kennedy again: “Improving the image of the security footprint through enhanced cultural sensitivity: Mandatory country-specific cultural awareness training for all security contractors prior to deployment to Iraq; Revised standards of conduct, including a ban on alcohol.”

    Of course allowing the mercs to drink in Iraq (And Christ do they drink. I saw it myself. The wildest, most debauched parties, including public nudity, cross-dressing and group vomiting ever were on the security contractor compounds and I say that having gone to a football-heavy state school) from 2003 until today has worked out, so wonder why the change now Pat?

    “We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,”

    Bottom Line

    Perhaps none of this will matter. American Ambassador James Jeffrey, in Baghdad, said that “If we move out into the Iraqi economy, out into the Iraqi society in any significant way, it will be much harder to protect our people.” Perhaps America’s diplomats will remain inside their compound and have little need to call out their guards.

    Absolutely nothing in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s public history of exercising command and control over its large mercenary army would allow one to conclude that the future looks good. Instead, the likelihood of large groups of armed men, hired to kill if necessary on behalf of America’s diplomats, will write the more significant chapters of our continued engagement with Iraq. In Iraq, 2012, God save the Iraqis who cross them.




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    State Fumbles $172.4 Million Intended For Afghan Police Training

    July 15, 2011 // Comments Off on State Fumbles $172.4 Million Intended For Afghan Police Training

    Some things just don’t go well together: hot dogs and ketchup, cats and dogs, and the State Department and contracting.

    Just doesn’t work.

    You’ll recall State Management Droid Pat Kennedy, back in early June, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer contracts.

    And then we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    Wonder why State was so shy about allowing inspections? Maybe this will clarify things.

    A new joint audit found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas, even though it was specifically designated for training the ANP.

    The report says that the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs used $22.47 million for “a United Nations contribution, the Federal Prosecutors Program, counternarcotics personnel salaries, travel costs, and a DynCorp equitable adjustment.” Some money went towards ANP salaries but not training as it was intended.

    More than $300,000 went to travel costs from Texas to Washington for DynCorp personnel to attend weekly meetings, even though DynCorp was supposed to have employees in DC who could have attended the meetings. On top of that, the report found that the transportation, hotel and flight costs were all not in compliance with contract regulations.

    One example is of an employee purchasing a round-trip ticket for $355, but then changing his ticket so many times that it ended up costing $1,931. Some travel costs were for five-day trips, even though meetings only happened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    Overall, the report found that the money was misspent because “State lacked adequate procedures for obligating, monitoring, and deobligating funds for the ANP training program.”



    Meanwhile, in other fucked up contract news, State recently signed another contract, worth $8 million, with ArmorGroup to guard the Kabul Embassy.

    ArmorGroup, you’ll recall, used to hold a contract worth an estimated $189 million to protect the embassy. But that was before the Project on Government Oversight revealed in 2009 that the guard force operated a Lord of the Flies environment, complete with pictures documenting it, of guards peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, doing vodka shots out of ass cracks, broken doors after drunken brawls, but not “jamming guys in the ass per se.”

    Onward to victory in Afghanistan!!!!!!!!!!!!



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    Drop the Oversight, Take the Cannoli

    June 14, 2011 // Comments Off on Drop the Oversight, Take the Cannoli

    Can’t have it both ways? Don’t tell the State Department, who wants several billion dollars to assume the role of occupier in Iraq while at the same time demanding little oversight into how it spends taxpayer money.

    In a previous post, we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    But better move fast Congress– SIGIR is scheduled to shut down in 18 months, so all State has to do is s-t-a-l-l.

    Last week the Commission on Wartime Contracting asked State to justify in writing any decision to overturn recommendations in favor of suspending or debarring a contractor by other State Department officials, and also for the establishment of a permanent, government-wide special Inspector General for contingency operations.

    State said no. Give us the money, stuff your oversight.

    The commissioners called State’s opposition to the first recommendation–that it would be overly burdensome–“logically dubious.” After State Department management droid Pat Kennedy could not answer how often recommendations for suspension or debarment are overturned, the commissioners asked how it could be so burdensome if State didn’t even know how frequently it occurred. We hope that gets entered into his next performance review but kinda doubt it.

    The commissioners were also skeptical of State’s opposition to a permanent, government-wide Inspector General (IG) for contingency operations. They cited historical examples of State’s history with IGs to support their skepticism of State’s position. For instance, just a few days prior to the hearing, the Washington Times published a story about attempts by State to oppose an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) based on lack of jurisdiction.

    Commissioner Charles Tiefer questioned State’s will to hold its contractors accountable, citing the example of First Kuwaiti General Contracting and Trading. Tiefer noted that a 2009 audit by the State Department IG recommended that State recover $132 million from the contractor for its exceptionally shoddy work constructing the Baghdad Embassy. It has now been almost two years since the release of that report and as Kennedy acknowledged in the hearing, State still has not asked the company to pay up. We hope that also gets entered into his next performance review but again kinda doubt it.

    A full accounting of the problems found in the Baghdad Embassy is worth reading.

    To make matters worse, despite First Kuwaiti’s sad performance in Baghdad, the company continued to get work building for State in Saudi Arabia and Gabon as a subcontractor through an American company called Aurora, LLC, which some State Department officials suspect was established to serve as a front company for First Kuwaiti.

    So why worry, eh?

    Read more about the need for aggressive IG oversight at State in POGO’s November 2010 letter to President Obama.



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    State Department has no Plan for Mercenary Management

    June 7, 2011 // Comments Off on State Department has no Plan for Mercenary Management

    Attention Kids: When faced with a big problem, simply saying “Hey, don’t worry, everything will be fine!” only works if you are a really sympathetic Mommy or the State Department.

    I saw Pat Kennedy at the Seven Corners Home Depot on Sunday, buying garden stuff. He looked worried so I didn’t say hello. I thought maybe he had some nasty leaf mold problems, but now I know it was more serious. Sorry Pat, I hope the flowers work out, because…

    CNN reports The State Department came under sharp criticism Monday over how it hires and monitors thousands of private contractors.

    A watchdog panel, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, has questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq once the US military withdraws. “Our concerns remain very much alive,” the commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement.

    Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment. “That response approaches the borderline of government negligence,” Shays said.

    The sole witness appearing before the panel was Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer these contracts. Whew. 0

    In Iraq, basically the already over-worked Regional Security Officer (RSO) will oversee any whacky hijinks of the merc army. In fact, they might even do bed checks: Kennedy stated “Collocation of contractor life-support areas on Embassy, Consulate, or Embassy Branch Office compounds will enhance after-hours oversight of contractor personnel,” so it’s lights out on time guys and no doing vodka shots off each others’ butts like in Afghanistan.

    But what will cause an already busy RSO to really focus on stopping State Department-sponsored murder in Iraq? Kennedy explained “As initial steps, this summer we plan to create a Contracting Officer Representative (COR) Award to highlight contract administration achievements, and publish an article in State Magazine highlighting the importance of contract administration and the valuable role of the COR.” Magazine article, got it, feelin’ safer already.

    But what about stuff like in 2007 when State’s Blackwater mercs gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Nisour Square? Kennedy again: “Improving the image of the security footprint through enhanced cultural sensitivity: Mandatory country-specific cultural awareness training for all security contractors prior to deployment to Iraq; Revised standards of conduct, including a ban on alcohol.”

    Of course allowing the mercs to drink in Iraq (And Christ do they drink. I saw it myself. The wildest, most debauched parties, including public nudity, cross-dressing and group vomiting ever were on the security contractor compounds and I say that having gone to a football-heavy state school) from 2003 until today has worked out, so wonder why the change now Pat?

    So what about that little problem about not prosecuting mercs for murder in Iraq? Kennedy acknowledges that there really isn’t any law to cover things just right now as previous State agreements exempt mercs from Iraqi law, but “The Department of State strongly supports the legislative goal of passing a robust and comprehensive Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) that provides clear and unambiguous jurisdiction to prosecute non-Department of Defense personnel for overseas misconduct. We look forward to working with Congress on CEJA legislation.” And in the meantime boys, its lock and load time with no bag limit on ‘dem hajiis!

    “We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,” Kennedy said, probably wishing he worked at Home Depot.

    Bottom Line:
    A military forced into diplomacy in Iraq will be replaced by a militarized State Department equally unprepared for the task.

    Read Kennedy’s full statement if you think I am making this stuff up.

    Diplomats: Better think over who has your backs and give those bids lists one more look-over before hitting submit.



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