Where One FSO, Two FSO, Red FSO, Blue FSO — Bravely Attempts to Save the Blog

Some readers have written us in the last couple of weeks offering to help keep the blog online.  I have told them as I’ve told you that we will not go the route of crowdfunding again. I suck at raising funds, I do not want to disappoint the blog’s core supporters and it would make walking away harder. See  4,000th! And now, the end is near …

A blog pal who is funny,and brave, also known as OneFSO has decided to set up a fundraising page via the GoFundMe website: http://www.gofundme.com/savediplopundit. AnotherFSO who is thoughtful, and persistent is  working to “bundle” pledges on the blog’s behalf.  These friends are working together in an attempt to keep the blog alive.  And yes, I know them but for prudent reasons we’ll go by their campaign nicknames.  I’m letting them run with it with one request that they do an “All or Nothing” campaign. It would help keep the peace in my house.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15

If you have sent donations to this blog via PayPal in the last couple of weeks, I have not accepted and will decline those funds.  However, if you are still thinking of helping the blog, you may support OneFSO’s Keep Diplopundit Alive campaign instead of using PayPal. If the campaign does not reach its funding goal, it will not collect any funds.

Okay, that’s it for housekeeping updates. Hey, look — catzilla!  – Domani Spero 

Updated: Thanks for the shoutout James Bruno of Diplo-Denizen and Sadie Abroad!  I want that water cooler convo included in my obit , Jim.

From prguitarman.tumblr.com via Giphy

Fix the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Of course! I’m the only one who agrees with everything she writes all the time.   From prguitarman.tumblr.com via Giphy

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Video Round-Up: Do You Hear What I Hear? Introducing the New Ambassadors

– Domani Spero

 

These ambassador introduction videos are the product of State/IIP, under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. From best we could tell, these videos started slowly in 2010 but has now become standard fare for almost all chiefs of mission before the ambassadors get to post. They more or less come from one script — a thank you to President O, a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, a mention of any prior visit to host country in college or any connection to the host country, a visit to some Washington,D.C. memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.

If you feel bad about these videos, you’re not alone. One ambassador has choice words to say about these videos: “The Youtube videos newly minted ambassadors make are downright embarrassing.  They give an impression of proconsular self-regard which is in bad taste.  Diplomacy is premised on a world of sovereign states.  The State Department’s  fascination with social media suggests that it no longer thinks that is the world we live in, a strange notion for a foreign ministry.”

And the band marches on. These videos we must say are looking better than the previous ones but they still come across as somewhat artificial and forced at times. And that holding hands and picnic scene in the bottom clip below cracked us up. The best ones are those where the COM delivers the entire intro in the language of his/her host country, and appears naturally before the camera. Take a look and see!

 

Michael Hoza, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon.
In French.

 

Ted Osius III, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam.
In Vietnamese.

 

Kevin Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia.
In Spanish.

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John Bass, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

 

Scott Rauland, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Belarus

 

Douglas Silliman, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait

 

Tom Kelly, U S Ambassador to Djibouti.
Subtitled in French.

 

Alice Wells, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan.
Subtitled in Arabic.

 

Joan Polaschik, U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.
Subtitled in Arabic and French.

 

Andrew Schapiro, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic

 

Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco

 

Bruce Heyman, U.S. Ambassador to Canada

 

Kevin O’Malley, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland

 

Suzi Levine, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland & Liechtenstein

 

Robert Sherman, U.S. Ambassador to Portugal

 

One ambassador is not in this video series.  Ambassador John Tefft, our current ambassador to Moscow, who was previously ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania (was also chargé d’affaires in Moscow from 1996-1997) did not jump into the bandwagon. Newsweek notes that he has been “handed diplomacy’s version of “cleanup on aisle 6!” Ambassador Tefft’s operating style as a “traditional” diplomat with old-school, low-key professionalism,” is considered “a huge asset in Moscow, and perhaps the only style that can work” in the current situation, according to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.  The embassy confirmed that Ambassador Tefft did not cut an intro video, but with four ambassadorships under his belt, he’s not a stranger.

 

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U.S. Embassies Warns of Threats to American Residences in Pakistan, Potential Targets in Afghanistan, Mali, Ethiopia

– Domani Spero

 

On December 19, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert concerning potential threats during the holiday period.

The lone wolf attack in Sydney, Australia on December 15, 2014, resulting in the deaths of two hostages, is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious, maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.  This Travel Alert expires on March 19, 2015.

An analysis of past attacks and threat reporting strongly suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship, and schools, among other targets, during or coinciding with this holiday period. ­U.S. citizens abroad should be mindful that terrorist groups and those inspired by them can pose unpredictable threats in public venues.  U.S. citizens should remain alert to local conditions and for signs of danger.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on December 19 is also warning of terrorist threats to American residences by groups that may be purporting to be service providers to gain access to the properties:

The Embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen  residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers. U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future. Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan Government response may raise the possibility for future threats.[…] The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile is  warning of potential attacks on western NGOs in Kabul:

As of early December 2014, militants were planning to attack a Western, possibly American, non-government organization (NGO) in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Surveillance had been completed and the attack was likely to take place within 2-4 weeks. The NGO office was possibly located close to the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan Passport Authority in Kabul City. There was no further information regarding the timing, targets, or methods of the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued a security message for places typically visited by Westerners:

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also issued a security reminder for U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country.  The targets for these attacks, according to the message, could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and places of worship.

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Senate Returns Ambassadorial Nominations to the President

– Domani Spero

 

Nominations that are pending when the Senate adjourns or recesses for more than 30 days are returned to the President unless the Senate, by unanimous consent, waives the rule requiring their return (Senate Rule XXXI, clause 6). If a nomination is returned, and the President still desires Senate consideration, he must submit a new nomination to the Senate. On November 17, the following Executive Nominations were returned to the President, pursuant to Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate:

Nominees for Ambassadors

  • PN2098    Sweden | Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.
  • PN2073    South Sudan | Mary Catherine Phee, of Illinois, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of South Sudan.
  • PN2072    Mali | Paul A. Folmsbee, of Oklahoma, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Mali.
  • PN1993    Latvia | Nancy Bikoff Pettit, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the  United States of America to the Republic of Latvia.
  • PN2070    Mexico | Maria Echaveste, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the United Mexican States.
  • PN1990    Kyrgyz Republic | Sheila Gwaltney, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • PN1935    Guyana | Perry L. Holloway, of South Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign  Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and  Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
  • PN1869    Finland | Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland.
  • PN1843    Costa Rica | Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Costa Rica.
  • PN1416    The Bahamas | Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
  • PN1143    Trinidad and Tobago | John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • PN1124    Norway | George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.

Nominees for International Organizations

PN2027    UNITED NATIONS | Leslie Berger Kiernan, of Maryland, as an Alternate Representative of the United States of America, to the Sixty-ninth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN2026    UNITED NATIONS | Carol Leslie Hamilton, of California, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-ninth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN2023    UNITED NATIONS | Ronald H. Johnson, of Wisconsin, to be a Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-ninth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN2022    UNITED NATIONS | Benjamin L. Cardin, of Maryland, to be a Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-ninth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN1975    DEPARTMENT OF STATE | Mari Carmen Aponte, of the District of Columbia, to be Permanent Representative of  the United States of America to the Organization of American States, with the rank of Ambassador.

Nominees for the State Department 

  • PN2071    STATE/L | Brian James Egan, of Maryland, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State.
  • PN2018    STATE/CA | Michele Thoren Bond, of the District of Columbia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Consular Affairs).
  • PN1991    STATE/OES | Jennifer Ann Haverkamp, of Indiana, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
  • PN1648    STATE/DS | Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service.

On November 12, the WH also officially withdrew the following nomination:

PN1094    USIAD/OIG | Michael G. Carroll, of New York, to be Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development. Received message of withdrawal of nomination from the President.

 

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The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

– Domani Spero

 

The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.

Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.

This is why. Where does the buck stops?

The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.

Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028

Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.

The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:

HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.

There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:

“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”

Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:

- “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”

- “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”

- “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”

The OIG inspection team leader wrote:

REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.

The best part of this decision is this:

What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
[…]
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.

The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.

The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.

The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.

Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Senate Confirmations: Jess Baily, Robert Cekuta, Margaret Uyehara, Richard Mills Jr., Frank Rose and More

– Domani Spero

 

The following nominees for the State Department were confirmed on December 16, 2014:

  • PN1840 *      Macedonia
    Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Republic of Macedonia.
  • PN1842 *      Azerbaijan
    Robert Francis Cekuta, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service,  Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan.
  • PN1847 *      Montenegro
    Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Montenegro.
  • PN1852 *      Armenia
    Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia.
  • PN1099 *      State  Department (Verification and Compliance).
    Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance).

The U.S. Senate also confirmed the nominations of Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID, and Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID. It also confirmed Karen Kornbluh, of New York, to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for a term expiring August 13, 2016.

On December 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

PN1377-3      FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for Sharon Lee Cromer, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

PN1567        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1568        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1569        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, which 456 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record| on April 10, 2014.

PN2137        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for James D. Lindley, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 13, 2014.

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Tony Blinken Confirmed as State Department #2

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state on December 16 just before Congress adjourned. In early December, Newsweek reported that Senator John McCain was blocking the nomination, citing sharp disagreement with the nominee’s past statements on Iraq.

Via HuffPo: Blinken, whose nomination was nearly derailed by Republican opponents, skates into the office on a 55-38 vote as Democrats pushed dozens of President Barack Obama’s nominations through the upper chamber before losing their majority in the next Congress. The approval was thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz‘s (R-Texas) staunch opposition to the government spending bill, which kept senators in Washington for an extra few days before adjourning.

 

 

 

On November 7, President Obama released a statement on his nomination of Mr. Blinken:

I’m proud to nominate Antony Blinken to be our next Deputy Secretary of State. I’ve known and worked closely with Tony for the past decade, starting when I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he was its Staff Director. For the past six years, I’ve relied on Tony in the White House, where I’ve come to have extraordinary respect for his knowledge, judgment, and inclusive approach to developing and implementing our foreign policy. As everyone who knows and works with Tony can attest, he is a person of enormous integrity, with a tireless work ethic and deep love of country. He is exactly the type of person who we want to represent the United States of America overseas. If confirmed by the Senate, I know he will continue to do a great job on behalf of my Administration, Secretary Kerry and the American people.

The WH also released the following brief bio:

Antony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, a position he has held since 2013.  From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor in the Office of the Vice President.  Previously, he was Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.  From 2001 to 2002, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In the Clinton Administration, he served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Speechwriting.  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State.  Mr. Blinken received a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Mr. Blinken’s spouseEvan M. Ryan is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Here is additional biographic details when he was appointed a key member of the Obama National Security Team after the 2008 presidential elections:

Antony “Tony” Blinken was appointed Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2002.  From 1994 to 2001, Mr. Blinken served on the National Security Council staff at The White House.  He was Senior Director for European Affairs (1999-2001) and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and NSC Senior Director for Speechwriting (1994-1998).  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1993 – 1994), and was a lawyer in New York and Paris.  Mr. Blinken was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2001 to 2002) and a Senior Foreign Policy adviser to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign.  He has been a reporter for The New Republic magazine and has written about foreign policy for numerous publications, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs Magazine.  He is the author Ally Verses Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis (1987).  Mr. Blinken is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School.

Of the four key members of the Obama National Security Team announced in 2008, only Tom Donilon has not assumed a key position in the State Department. James B. Steinberg was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2011, and Jack Lew was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2010.  Mr. Donilon previously worked as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 1993 to 1996, and served as the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State’s chief of staff.

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Related posts:

Obama Officially Nominates WH Adviser Tony Blinken as State Dept #2

State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary

Officially In: Steinberg and Lew, the New “D”

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U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

– Domani Spero

 

I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

 

 

 

 

 

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Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude

– Domani Spero

 

In the next couple of weeks, we will try to revisit some of the topics that we have blogged about in the past but did not get a chance to follow-up.

In the last several years, we’ve covered  the deaths of State Department and Foreign Service personnel due to terrorist attacks, natural calamities, suicide, violent crime, and accidents (see In the Foreign Service: Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Here are some of the blogposts we did,this is not an exhaustive list:

While we did receive a screaming owler one time when we were asking questions about a death in Afghanistan, not once have we ever received an email from a family member of a deceased employee asking us not to mention that their loved ones who died overseas worked for Uncle Sam, or refrain from noting the passing of loved ones who died in the service of our country. Not once.

In June this year, we blogged about a Foreign Service employee at the US Embassy in Moscow who was killed in a gas explosion there:

Two State Department sources confirmed that the employee, an OMS on official orders working at the embassy had died. After the embassy employee was heloed to a local Russian hospital, she was reportedly airlifted by the State Department soon thereafter to a special burn hospital in Linkoping, outside of Stockholm where she died a few days later.

A former co-worker at another post was concerned that there has been no public  statement about the employee’s death. “I would think the death of a diplomat would get something from AFSA or State, even if it was from an accident.”  We sent out several inquiries but no one would speak on the record.  Since the name has not been officially released, and no obit has yet been published, we will refrain from identifying the victim at this time.

This past August, a brief obituary of that employee appeared on State magazine, the official trade publication of the State Department and we blogged about it. Shortly after that, we received an email from an individual using a hotmail account:

Hi, Durron’s family did not want this information to be disclosed to the press. Please honor their request. Personally I share your view, but also honor the family’s wishes.

Moscow is hard post to serve, and the Embassy community was very shocked by this news. I personally know many people who lived in the apartment complex where she died (MFA apartment housing), and I was also shocked by this news. I can’t say any more about this unfortunately. The past year was very hard for Embassy Moscow, especially in light of the death of an FSN who was very much loved by all who worked there. 

The request, as you can see, is polite, even volunteering that the writer shares the blog writer’s view. Then the “guilty hook,” asking that we “honor the family’s wishes.” The writer did not/not present himself as a government  official, and seemed to only appear as an interested third party purporting to pass on the wishes of the deceased employee’s family.

Our correspondent, who could not get the deceased employees straight (Durron was the Consular Affairs employee who died in Florida), was in fact, an embassy official, basically asking us not to make a public connection to the death of the  USG employee who died in Sweden to the gas explosion in a USG (Russian MFA) housing in Moscow. We only knew that the individual is a USG official because of …Googles! Not sure the individual is still at post at this time.

Our gut feeling was that this is legitimate news; we blogged about the fact that an employee of the U.S. Government was injured in Moscow, and subsequently died from those injuries in Sweden. And we waited until there was an official obituary before we put the information together and named the deceased individual.  Three months after the incident.

Deceased individuals are not covered by the Privacy Act. That said, if a USG employee die overseas for whatever reason, should we be obligated to not/not report it if his/her family ask that it not be reported for privacy reasons? That’s not exactly the case here because we were only told second hand that the deceased’s family did not want it reported in the press (except that the death was reported in the publicly available State magazine). But the “what-if” was a dilemma we spent considerable time thinking about for a period of time.

How do you balance the public’s right to know with a family’s request for privacy?

We’ve consulted with a professional journalist we admire, and an authority on media ethics at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.   All agreed that 1) employees sent overseas are on official duty, and that any life-threatening mishap or death they suffer is by definition of public interest, and 2) that we ought to consider the request if it comes directly from a family member, and pull the blogpost down only if the family makes a compelling case that publication caused them or somebody else harm.  One surmised that the request received may have more to do with the State Dept’s own reasons or some fear of official embarrassment.

We did send a response to our “non-official” correspondent basically declining the request since he was not a member of the family.  We informed the writer that we would consider pulling the material down if we hear directly from the family and only if there is a compelling reason for the request. We also offered to write directly to the family if the official would provide us a contact email.  We certainly did not want to be insensitive and we understand that the incident occurred  at a challenging post, but the death of a Foreign Service person abroad is of public interest. That’s the last we’ve heard from that official via hotmail. And we would have forgotten about this except that it came to our attention  that the USG had been more aggressive about sanitizing this information than we first thought.

A journalist from a large media organization subsequently told us that he/she was privately admonished after asking publicly why the State Dept had not expressed condolences on the death of the employee in Moscow. The admonishment came from a USG official who again, cited the family’s privacy. From best we could tell, these contacts/admonishment to the journalist and to this blog came from two separate officials. How many other journalists (not just blogger in pjs, mind you) had been similarly admonished to not report about this death citing the family’s request for privacy?

In the aftermath of this incident in May 2014, we sent an email inquiry to the public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  Our email got lost in a sink hole and we never heard anything back. We must note that this incident occurred after the departure of then Ambassador McFaul. It also predates the arrival of John Tefft, the current ambassador to Moscow and his the new public affairs officer there.

It goes without saying — but we’ll repeat it anyway —  that we clearly understand that accidents happen. And we’re not looking for a cover-up at every post unless it has to do with the furniture!  But, because there’s always a but — accidents do not absolve the embassy or the State Department from answering questions about the circumstances surrounding an employee’s death or at a minimum, publicly acknowledging that a death of an employee occurred overseas. We will be sensitive and respectful as we have always been, but we will ask questions.

What bothered us about this?  By citing the deceased family’s purported request for privacy, the State Department and Embassy Moscow basically shut down any further questions about the incident. How is it possible to have something of an information blackout on the death of an employee we sent overseas on the country’s behalf?

Whatever happened to that promised investigation?

We understand that then chargé d’affaires (CDA) in Moscow, Sheila Gwaltney  told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome. We sent an email inquiry to the analysis division of OBO’s Office of Fire Protection (OBO/OPS/FIR) requesting for an update to the fire inspector investigation. We received the following response on October 23 from Christine Foushee, State/OBO’s Director of External Affairs:

Thanks for your inquiry.  The investigation you’ve referenced is still ongoing, so we are not in a position to comment on results.

Per 15 FAM 825:

a. As soon as possible after being notified of a fire, OBO/OPS/FIR, will dispatch a team of trained fire/arson investigators to fires that resulted in serious injury or death; those where the cause is arson or is of a suspicious nature; those causing extensive damage or significant disruption to official activities; or those deemed to be of special interest to the Department of State.

b. Fire-related mishaps involving injury, illness, or death that meet criteria for Class A or B mishaps under Department of State policy will be investigated and reported using 15 FAM 964 requirements. An Office of Fire Protection official, in OBO/OPS/FIR, will be assigned to any Class A or B board conducted by OBO’s Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management, in the Directorate for Operations, (OBO/OPS/SHEM). In addition to addressing the root causes of the fire event, the mishap board report must evaluate the impact of Department of State organizational systems, procedures, or policies on the fire event. The report also could contain recommendations for specific modifications to such procedures and policies. Both OBO/OPS/FIR and OBO/OPS/SHEM receive copies of the report, and OBO/OPS/SHEM coordinates with the Department of State’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Official (DASHO) to meet 15 FAM 964 requirements. OBO/OPS/FIR reports findings and recommendations for corrective action to the Director of OBO, who informs the Accountability Review Board’s Permanent Coordinating Committee. (See 12 FAM 032.)

We sent another follow up email this week to State/OBO.  The explosion happened in May 2014. Here we are at the end of the year and we don’t know what happened to that investigation. Is this length of time typical of these types of investigations? We will update this blogpost if we hear from the fire people with something to say.

We think this a good opportunity as any to call on the State Department to voluntarily release an annual report of deaths of official Americans overseas.  DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?  At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under Chief of Mission authority. Diplomatic Security already publishes an annual report,would it be too much to ask that they be allowed to include this information?

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Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

– Domani Spero

 

 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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