Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 13, 2018

Watchdog One – Week in Review – Saturday, January 13, 2018
By Jason Mojica

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CITY UPON A HILL
The Trump administration started the week by ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for roughly 200,000 Salvadorans living in the US, and ended it with the President calling their country a shithole. It’s not like Salvadorans  helped rebuild the Pentagon or anything.

– Here’s a good breakdown TPS holders and how they got here: TPS Holders Are Integral Members of the U.S. Economy and Society (Center for American Progress)

JANUS-FACED
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it had revoked the naturalized US citizenship of a New Jersey man– the department’s first denaturalization as part of its Operation Janus, which targets individuals who shouldn’t have been able to successfully secure citizenship in the first place due to having been deported or removed under another identity.

WAIT, WHAT?
From the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton, commenting on the CBP’s December Southwest Border Migration numbers:

The final border apprehension numbers of 2017, specifically at the southern border, undeniably prove the effectiveness of President Trump’s commitment to securing our borders. This administration has overseen a 40 percent decrease in 2017 compared with the last year of Obama’s presidency. US Border Patrol apprehensions in Fiscal Year 2017 were at the lowest level in 45 years. The significant increase over the last month in the number of family units and unaccompanied children coming across the border illegally highlights the dire need for Congress to immediately adopt responsible pro-American immigration reforms.

So which is it? Is Trump’s master immigration plan leading to a decrease in border crossings, or an increase? As Tal Kopan reports at CNN, the answer is: yes.

– A CPB officer was sentenced to prison on Wednesday on one count of conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States. A DOJ release said that US District Judge Micaela Alvarez “noted that one of his specific job responsibilities was to ensure that individuals who were not authorized to come into the U.S. were prevented from doing so, and he did the exact opposite.” Read more from the DOJ here.

TO SO BADLY SURVEIL
Here’s how folks in the House voted Thursday on reauthorizing FISA. Send your cheers or jeers to your member of congress accordingly.

NOBODY LIKES AN AUDIT
Growing up watching the teevee, most of us have a romantic idea of what listening in on the bad guys looks like. Maybe it’s a former industrial space converted to a high-tech listening post, or maybe its a massive government facility filled with super-nerds. In reality, it’s more likely that this work is being done at an anonymous suburban office park near you, and by third-party government contractors.

The quality of the work being done on one of those contracts and the degree of oversight the Drug Enforcement Agency maintained over it is the subject an audit published on Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The contract, which had a $135mm ceiling, was one of two awarded to Conduit Language Specialists in 2012. The job was to provide analytic linguist services for the DEA’s Denver and Phoenix Field Divisions – which primarily involves listening in on and translating Title III wiretaps that are used in Federal criminal investigations.

The OIG found that the DEA allowed some of Conduit’s linguists to work on the sensitive contract without completed background investigations or signed non-disclosure agreements. In addition, the OIG found that Conduit allowed some linguists to work on the contract without required language proficiency test results, and that the DEA spent almost $2.9mm in taxpayer money on linguists that didn’t meet this prerequisite.

During the course of the OIG’s audit, the DEA downplayed these proficiency test results as an “administrative detail.” The OIG responded that, “without the language proficiency results, the DEA cannot ensure it received the required level of service as stipulated in the contract. This disregard for contract requirements affects the credibility and reliability of linguist work, which increases the risk of negatively impacting its investigations.”

In the end, the DEA concurred with most of the report’s recommendations, but the folks at Conduit Language Services remain “disappointed” by the outcome, and challenged the work of the OIG. A Conduit representative told Watchdog One that “this audit didn’t benefit the DEA or our company. It put us both in a very negative light. They don’t have expertise, they look at everything from a far off vantage, and not from where boots are on the ground. It’s easy to have an opinion when you don’t know what the job is.”

The Conduit rep took particular issue with the proficiency test, which she called “expensive and unnecessary.” She explained that that the company’s own methods of determining whether a translator is up to the particular task at hand are superior to the standardized test. “The proficiency requirements don’t validate the job that we do. There are people who say this and mean that. There is no schooling for the type of lingo that you’re going to learn on the street. That’s what the majority of [our work] focuses on, and it goes again to proving that they don’t know the job.”

Conduit’s rep also took issue with the company being held accountable for things that they felt were the DEA’s responsibility. However, the OIG’s report was clear in reminding the contractor that while “the DEA is responsible for ensuring that non-disclosure agreements and security background investigation contract requirements are enforced and completed. Nevertheless, Conduit also had a contractual responsibility to provide the DEA with linguists compliant with the contract terms and conditions in these areas.”

“I guess their job is to read the book and ask if everybody’s doing it according to the book,” said the Conduit representative. “A lot of times, you know, we do what we have to do.”

ADD “PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION” TO YOUR VOCABULARY
Human Rights Watch published a 77-page report this week on the “secret origins of evidence in US criminal cases,” with a special focus on the DEA’s Special Operations Division (and its Darth Vader challenge coin).

“Through a practice known as “parallel construction,” an official who wishes to keep an investigative activity hidden from courts and defendants—and ultimately from the public—can simply go through the motions of re-discovering evidence in some other way. For example, if the government learned of a suspected immigration-related offense by a person in Dallas, Texas, through a surveillance program it wished to keep secret, it could ask a Dallas police officer to follow the person’s car until she committed a traffic violation, then pull her over and start questioning her—and later pretend this traffic stop was how the investigation in her case started.”

Read the full report at HRW.

IF THIS IS A CONSULAR SHIP, WHERE IS THE AMBASSADOR?
With the diplomatic breakthroughs between North and South korea coming fast and furious, the US State Department’s Heather Nauert issued a statement saying that the US “welcomes” the meeting between the DPRK and the ROK “aimed at ensuring a safe, secure, and successful Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.” The statement goes on to remind everyone that the ROK is on the hook for making sure that North Korea’s participation in the games doesn’t violate sanctions, which means no Nike swag bags for the North Korean delegation. What would be even more useful than a statement from a State Department spokesperson would be if the US Ambassador to South Korea could chime in directly… except that there isn’t one.

US Ambassador to South Korea is just one of 245 positions that President Trump currently has no official nominees for. James Hohmann at the Washington Post breaks them all down.

We say no official nominees, because former Bush administration official and North Korea expert Victor Cha has been rumored to be in the running for the gig since August. Reports emerged last month saying that President Trump “will” nominate Cha, but in the month since then things have been quiet. As they say, 김치국부터 마시지 말라

GLAD WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME PAGE
We’re coming up on the 19th year of the nation’s largest nuclear waste cleanup at the Hanford Site in Washington state. The Department of Energy’s Undersecretary of Science, Paul Dabbar, started the new year by making his first visit to the Hanford site, where he declared that “progress can’t happen at the sake of safety.”

Dabbar, the former Managing Director of J.P. Morgan, was put in charge of the DOE’s environmental and legacy management missions in a reorg that was announced last month, just a week after 6 workers may have been exposed to radiological contamination at the site’s decommissioned plutonium finishing plant. On Thursday, the Tri-City Hearald reported that “Hanford regulators have ordered the Department of Energy not to restart demolition of the nuclear reservation’s highly radioactively contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant until regulators agree the work can be done safely.”

– Related: Who’s Watching Hanford? EPA Presence Dwindling (Anna King – NW News Network)

MISOGYNY IN THE MILITARY
Dan Lamothe in The Washington Post profiles Marine Col. Scott Jensen, whose efforts a few years back to combat online misogyny, harassment, and retaliation within the military died a death of a thousand bureaucratic cuts. This week he’s been announced as the CEO of the nonprofit Protect our Defenders, which will give him a chance to continue to push for reform, but from the outside.

The move effectively puts Jensen in a position in which he will be speaking out against some of his old bosses.

Jensen acknowledged that some in the military may see that as a betrayal, and said he took the job in part because of his own disappointment with how the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military officials have handled misogyny in the ranks.”

Read more at The Washington Post.

NO GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD FOR TRUMP DONOR
Private prison outfit GEO group, who gave generously to the Trump campaign and hired two of Jeff Sessons’ former aides as lobbyists, was not able to make an Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC) lawsuit go away. Or rather, the EEOC announced this week that it’s going to cost them $550,000 to settle the suit, which alleged sexual harassment and retaliation at two of GEO’s facilities.

FLORIDA MAN
Brandon Clint Russell, a Neo-Nazi National Guardsman from Tampa, Florida was sentenced Tuesday to five years in Federal prison on explosives charges, according the the Justice Department. “In Russell’s bedroom, officers found neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda, including a framed picture of Timothy McVeigh on his dresser.  Russell’s closet contained his own military uniform, firearms and ammunition, and camouflage military-type gear containing the name and symbols of “Atomwaffen.”  Law enforcement officers also located various books, military gear and flags throughout the apartment that are commonly associated with white supremacist extremist organizations.”