Sunday, October 16, 2016

Give the Hackers a Hand

So John Podesta used a public wi-fi system on AMTRAK (see Re: My John.podesta account) to do his business with the world?

I'm starting to suspect it did not really take Russian super-hackers to get the podesta emails that Wikileaks is pushing out. His poor security practices alone can account for that.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

That's Fortress Embassy Number 133

Image from U.S. Embassy Paramaribo's flicker page

My good friends in the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations have opened another new U.S. embassy, this one in Paramaribo. It was designed by ZGF Architects and built by general construction contractor BL Harbert International, has 5,348 gross square meters of space, and cost $164 million.

From the press release, United States Dedicates New U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname:
As a symbol of our enduring relationship with Suriname, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador Edwin R. Nolan, and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) Principal Deputy Director William Moser, alongside local officials, dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo on October 5.

The multi-building complex, on an 8-acre site in the Morgenstond development, includes a chancery, support buildings, and facilities for the Embassy community. The new complex will provide embassy employees with a safe, secure, and sustainable workplace.

-- snip --

Since 1999, as part of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program, OBO has completed 133 new diplomatic facilities and has an additional 53 projects in design or under construction.

Did I read that last part correctly? OBO has 53 more projects currently in design or under construction? Maybe they mean under planning, design, or construction. But no matter. By placing 133 U.S. diplomatic missions in "safe, secure, and sustainable" new office buildings, and to have even low double digits more in some phase of replacement, means that OBO has turned a very significant corner. When you include the 22 new embassies that were built in the Inman program era, it means that, for the first time ever, a majority of our missions are now in Fortress Embassies. The norm for U.S. diplomatic facilities is now a Fortress, for better or worse.

How many U.S. diplomatic missions are there? If you use the most expansive list available, there are 294 of them, but that includes missions to international organizations. It's more like 274 if you count just the bilateral missions. Whichever number you use, more than half of them are in Fortresses.

That is a big, big, change from the situation at the time of the East Africa embassies bombings, when nearly all of our missions were highly vulnerable to attack. Those bombings prompted Congress to provide a continuing program of capital funding for new embassy construction. Unlike in the Inman '80s, when the steam ran out of Congress's interest in embassy security after a few years, this time they were as good as their word. So, yea for Congress!

Image from

There's the old embassy in Paramaribo, all flimsy ticky-tack and too close to the street. Not safe, secure, or sustainable. Or even especially functional. Good riddance.

Here's a travel tip. The city of Paramaribo is way more enjoyable than I would have guessed. The Dutch colonial influence and a lot of history make up for the miserable climate. Should you visit, be sure to take a trip out of town to see Joden Savanne, a World Heritage site located in the jungle but only a moderate drive outside the city. Starting in the 1630s, Sephardi Jews from the Netherlands, Portugal, and Italy attempted to resettle in part of Dutch Guiana and create a plantation economy along the Suriname River. It was one of the earliest attempts at European settlement in South America, and one of the few by a group fleeing persecution. It was ultimately unsuccessful, but the ruins of Joden Savanne's synagogue and cemetery have been preserved. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Perfect Casting for the Remake of Miss Bala

One of the more interesting and unlikely characters to emerge in the 2016 Presidential election is the one-time Miss Universe and now Hillary voter Alicia Machado. If Machado has an agent, and I'm sure she does, I hope he or she is pitching her for the Sony Pictures remake of Miss Bala.

Miss Bala was a terrific independent Mexican picture from 2011 which was inspired by the true story of a Mexican beauty queen who became hooked up with a drug cartel boss. Machado seems perfect for the role if you credit the details in this CBS commentary on the curious case of Alicia Machado:
[T]there is little mention of how a Venezuelan judge once alleged on live TV that Machado had threatened to kill him. Or how the Mexican attorney general’s office later said she was the girlfriend of a major narco trafficker, and that she he had a child with him, according to Univision and other outlets. Or how a government witness who reportedly testified about their affair was later shot to death.
That Univision story (here) is from 2010, so it predates the emergence of Machado as a figure in the gringo election. CNN Latino also named her around then in a story about celebrities running with drug bosses. In fairness, Machado has kinda-sorta denied that her child was fathered by this guy, whom the U.S. State Department described as "a key member of the [Arturo Beltran-Leyva] drug trafficking organization ... [who] coordinated the movement of illegal narcotics into the United States and oversees the repatriation of narcotics-related proceeds" when it offered a $2 million reward for his capture.

So, what's the truth? If you google it, you can find a Miami city document - which has not been validated so far as I know - establishing the child's domicile in Miami and listing a patronymic that agrees with the name of the drug boss. There was no DNA test conducted - so far as I know - when Alicia Machado filed for U.S. citizenship for herself and her daughter, despite the legal implications of the Kingpin Act which prohibits U.S. persons, such as the then legal permanent resident Alicia Machado, from “engaging in any transaction or dealing in property or interests in property of [specially designated narcotics trafficker]s and from engaging in any transaction that evades or avoids the prohibitions of the Kingpin Act." The purported baby daddy was listed as a Kingpin by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2008. If Machado had any financial transactions with him, and I'm not saying she did, should that have prevented her from receiving U.S. citizenship this year? I don't know.

But, back to Miss Bala. It was an innovative movie about the horrible situation in Mexico today, shown entirely from the point of view of a naif waif would-be beauty queen who is snatched up by narcos. If even half of what criminal justice officials in Venezuela and Mexico have alleged is true, then Alicia Machado can understand that character.

The real-life incident that inspired the movie was reported by the WaPo in 2008: Busted: Mexico's Miss Sinaloa and the 7 Narcos.

That's Miss Sinaloa, skinny jeans and all, along with some of the seven suspected narco traffickers, $53,000 in cash, two AR-15 rifles, three handguns, 633 rounds of ammo, and 16 cellphones which were in the truck with her when Mexican police arrested her in 2008.

And that's the movie poster for Miss Bala, in a scene depicting a narco boss using her to repatriate narcotics-related proceeds smuggle his cash back into Mexico.

Alicia Machado, you were made for that role.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Benghazi and HRC's Culpability, the SECCA Time Around

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Gregory Hicks, the former DCM in Tripoli, now retired, has written an opinion piece for Fox News with the very election-year-sounding title of "What the Benghazi Attack Taught Me About Hillary Clinton."

Far be it from me to defend HRC, however, Mr. Hicks repeats a mistaken impression concerning security waivers that was debunked by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report (here) but which has been flogged repeatedly by his legal counsel, the frequent Fox News contributor Victoria Toensing (bio here). It ought to be corrected, although of course it won't be so long as it has political utility.

Here are excerpts from Hicks' opinion piece:
Last month, I retired from the State Department after 25 years of public service as a Foreign Service officer. As the Deputy Chief of Mission for Libya, I was the last person in Tripoli to speak with Ambassador Chris Stevens before he was murdered in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on our Benghazi post. On this, the fourth anniversary of the Benghazi tragedy, I would like to offer a different explanation for Benghazi’s relevance to the presidential election than is usually found in the press.

Just as the Constitution makes national security the President’s highest priority, U.S. law mandates the secretary of state to develop and implement policies and programs "to provide for the security … of all United States personnel on official duty abroad.”

-- Snip --

The Benghazi Committee’s report graphically illustrates the magnitude of her failure. It states that during August 2012, the State Department reduced the number of U.S. security personnel assigned to the Embassy in Tripoli from 34 (1.5 security officers per diplomat) to 6 (1 security officer per 4.5 diplomats), despite a rapidly deteriorating security situation in both Tripoli and Benghazi. Thus, according to the Report, “there were no surplus security agents” to travel to Benghazi with Amb. Stevens “without leaving the Embassy in Tripoli at severe risk.”

Had Ambassador Stevens’ July 2012 request for 13 additional American security personnel (either military or State Department) been approved rather than rejected by Clinton appointee Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy, they would have traveled to Benghazi with the ambassador, and the Sept. 11 attack might have been thwarted.

To digress a bit, that is not really what the former RSO in Tripoli, Eric Nordstrom, said in his testimony to the House Oversight Committee. You can read his prepared statement here courtesy of
Let me say a word about the evening of September 11th. The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.

The minority side lead on the Oversight Committee came back to that statement during his question period. You can read it in the hearing transcript:
Mr. Cummings: I just want to go back to something that you wrote in your statement, Mr. Nordstrom, in reference to the question that the chairman just asked you. And I quote you. I am reading from page 2. You said, ``Having an extra foot of wall or extra half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.''

Did you write that?

Mr. Nordstrom. Yes, I did. And I still believe that.

Mr. Cummings. Thank you.

But back to that misleading impression of HRC's supposed illegality. It concerns whether SecState Clinton did or did not approve a waiver of public law. Hicks wrote:
U.S. law also requires the secretary of state to ensure that all U.S. government personnel assigned to a diplomatic post abroad be located at one site. If not, the secretary — and only the secretary — with the concurrence of the agency head whose personnel will be located at a different location, must issue a waiver. The law, which states specifically that the waiver decision cannot be delegated, was passed after the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, when deficient security was blamed for that debacle under Bill Clinton's presidency.

The law in question is the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act (SECCA). As anyone can read for himself in the publicly available online 12 Foreign Affairs Manual 310 (right here), paragraph 313 b says:
For purposes of the application of SECCA, a U.S. diplomatic facility is any chancery, consulate, or other office notified to the host government as diplomatic or consular premises in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, or otherwise subject to a publicly available bilateral agreement with the host government (contained in the records of the United States Department of State) that recognizes the official status of U.S. Government personnel present at the facility.

So there it is. SECCA applies only to declared diplomatic premises, which neither of the two facilities in Benghazi were, according to the findings of the Benghazi Accountability Board, specifically in its second key finding (" ... the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government, even though it was also a full time office facility ... resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted from office facility standards and accountability under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act ...").

Mr. Hicks is repeating Victoria Toensing’s misguided deduction from testimony at a Benghazi Select Committee hearing, which I posted about before (here). Maybe she knows better, maybe she doesn't. Either way, this is a politically convenient line in an election year, so it won't go away soon, if ever.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Night Document Dump (Hillary's FBI Interview)

Annnd it's a big one, Hillary Clinton's FBI interview records tipped out of the FBI records vault today.

Clinton could not give an example of how classification of a document was determined ... Clinton stated that she did not pay attention to the ‘level’ of classified information.” 

And did she and her staff really lose as many as 13 personal electronic devices, including a laptop and thumb drive that were used to back up her emails and were lost in the mail?? The U.S. Postal Service type of mail. Who mails a laptop?

It will take a big chuck out of the three-day weekend to read through these.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday

"Follow the three Rs: 1, Respect for self. 2, Respect for others. 3, Responsibility for all your actions." - 18 Rules of Living, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama

And this will be the Dalai Lama's last word of advice for practitioners of defensive gun use. You are always responsible for yourself, for others, and - most especially - for all your actions.

Carry that weapon accordingly.