USAID requested delay on wiping device of agency employee killed in Israel by off-duty cop

A request brought to light in a USAID email exchange viewed by FedScoop raises questions about government devices and foreign law enforcement investigations.
A UN worker takes a box containing sanitation kits and soap provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) being stored at a UN school before a distribution to Palestinian displaced people on August 15, 2014 in Gaza City. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Several days after a longtime USAID employee was killed in Jaffa by an off-duty Israeli police officer, a staff member in the region reported his government device “confiscated” to the development agency’s information technology office, stating that the iPhone was with local law enforcement. But an official within the agency’s Israel/West Bank Mission also requested that the team delay wiping the device amid an ongoing police investigation, according to an exchange viewed by FedScoop. 

Jacob Toukhy —  who had worked for USAID for more than two decades and was described by local media as an Arab Muslim who volunteered with the Israeli ambulance service — was shot during a traffic dispute by an off-duty Israeli police officer, who has since been arrested, according to reports. The killing in Jaffa, a city along Israel’s central coast, was caught on video.

USAID’s response to the incident raises questions about policies regarding devices obtained by foreign police forces and governments, particularly during criminal investigations, and in times of heightened tensions and during war. USAID policy states that devices with sensitive information that are no longer in organizational control should be sanitized, but FedScoop was unable to identify a specific policy for situations in which another country’s law enforcement comes to possess a U.S. government device. 

A former USAID employee told FedScoop that the known protocol at the agency is to immediately report lost devices, and that these devices are most likely wiped. The agency did not comment on its protocol for interactions with law enforcement in other countries. Notably, a chapter on Information Systems Security in the USAID Automated Directives System — a guide for the agency’s operations and programs — includes details on USAID’s “electronic media sanitization standards,” which state that any information system storage media containing sensitive information must be “sanitize[d]” prior to “release out of organizational control.”  It’s not clear under what category this situation would have fallen or if any portion of the ADS would have applied. 


The emails viewed by FedScoop indicate that, as part of the ongoing investigation, both Toukhy’s personal and official phones were with the Israeli police. The document also suggests that the State Department’s Regional Security Office was involved in the investigation. 

“We are devastated by the death of our colleague and friend Jacob Toukhy, who was fatally shot and killed in Jaffa by an off-duty police officer,” a spokesperson for USAID said in a statement to FedScoop. “The U.S. Embassy in Israel and USAID have long-established relationships with Israeli law enforcement and are in contact with them regarding their investigation into his death. Due to the ongoing investigation, we cannot comment on specifics.”

USAID did not answer a series of questions from FedScoop about the procedure for these kinds of situations. The State Department did not respond to FedScoop’s questions. A request for comment sent to a fundraiser to honor Toukhy’s life did not receive a response. 

Dolev Ben Shetrit, a spokesperson for Israel’s Department of Internal Police Investigations, told FedScoop that the DIPI did not have Toukhy’s device, but did not clarify if another component of Israeli law enforcement did or if DIPI previously had Toukhy’s iPhone. 

“The investigation in question has been concluded,” Shetrit said. “Therefore, in the upcoming days, the Department of Internal Police Investigations in the Office of the State Attorney will review the findings of the investigation in order to decide if there is sufficient evidence to file an indictment against the police officer in question. The mobile phone or any other digital possesions [sic] of the late Jacob Toukhy are not in possession of the Internal Police Investigations.”


In April, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said in a statement that it was “heartbroken to report that one of our own, Jacob Toukhy, was tragically killed last night in Jaffa,” adding that “Jacob was a valued member of our embassy community for over two decades.” A video honoring him was also shared by the embassy. Jack Lew, the American ambassador to Israel, said that Toukhy “was known by his colleagues as someone who was infinitely kind and compassionate, wholeheartedly dedicated to making the world a better place.”

Local media reported that there was a protest focused on delays by Israeli police in moving Toukhy’s body, citing Muslim burial practices.

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