Monthly Archives: April 2012

State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of

Several weeks back, State/OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The US Ambassador to Vietnam is career diplomat, David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. The Consul General at Ho Chi Minh City is An T. Le who arrived at post in August 2010. The Consular Chief in Hanoi is Deborah Fairman who arrived at Embassy Hanoi in August 2009 and became section chief in July 2011, according to the OIG report. The Consular Chief at CG Ho Chi Minh City is not named in the report.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 7 and 27, 2011; in Hanoi, Vietnam, between October 20 and November 2, 2011, and between November 19 and 21, 2011; and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between November 2 and 18, 2011. The names of the members of the inspection team have been redacted.

U.S. Ambassador David Shear opens safe medicine exhibition in Hanoi
(Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Some of the key judgments, so very well couched you got to read between the lines:

  • The Ambassador in Hanoi, the consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and their respective deputies, should be at the forefront of an effort to more effectively coordinate embassy and consulate general operations. Increasing and formalizing regular, planned working visits of American and local employees between the two posts are a necessary step.
  • Embassy Hanoi’s reporting is generally comprehensive and of high quality, although staffing gaps and the loss of a position have adversely affected Hanoi’s output. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City has not reported frequently enough or in sufficient detail on the official activities, meetings and policy views of the consul general.
  • Overall management operations at Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City are effective, although stronger cooperation and teamwork between the two are necessary.
  • The need for heightened involvement by embassy management in the mission’s management controls program is evident. Management control procedures at both Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City need to be carefully reviewed to ensure that employees at every level are fully aware of their responsibility for ensuring that controls are in place to protect assets and to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

    U.S. Consul General Le An at Long An Province during a visit to USAID flood relief beneficiaries
    (Photo from USAID Vietnam/Flickr)

Ambassador Shear arrived at post about couple months before this OIG inspection.  The previous Chief of Mission at US Embassy Hanoi was career FSO, Michael W. Michalak who left post on February 14, 2011. Some of the finer points from the report:

  • The Ambassador also has engaged decisively with the embassy’s sole constituent post: the large and influential Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). On his introductory visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the Ambassador stressed to the American and Vietnamese staff that, as Chief of Mission, he values the important role of the consulate general and expects the embassy and consulate general staffs to function as “one mission, one team.” His message was especially welcome in view of a number of legacy issues, including Ho Chi Minh City’s continuing role as the economic and commercial hub of the entire country, the persistent cultural and historical differences between Vietnam’s North and South, and the symbolic significance that today’s consulate general is located on the site of the former embassy.
  • Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, until recently, have operated more like two, separate missions than one, cohesive entity. The embassy has not provided, nor has the consulate general sought, regular guidance as to how the two posts can best operate together. With the arrival of new staff in summer 2011, both the embassy and the consulate general have started thinking about ways to project a “one mission, one team” face to the government and people of Vietnam and to the respective mission staffs. A necessary step to improving the mission’s cohesiveness will be increasing and formalizing a process whereby American and local employees conduct working visits between the two posts, for consultations and training.

There is no “I” in team, and hey, what about those pol reports?

  • The consul general is fluent in Vietnamese and has a deep understanding of the host country’s culture and norms. However, he only infrequently writes cables regarding his meetings outside the consulate general. It is important that he include other officers in all meetings related to political and economic affairs, human rights, the environment, energy, adoption concerns, treatment of minorities, and other matters relevant to their respective portfolios. The expertise of these officers should be called upon, even if it means relying on interpreters in some situations. (The Vietnamese language is notoriously difficult; even language-qualified officers sometimes require assistance from native speakers in unscripted situations.) The officers could act as note takers, and write cables or provide other information coming out of these meetings. In a closely controlled political environment such as Vietnam, no post official, including the consul general himself, should meet with Vietnamese officials unaccompanied. As an added benefit, in a culture that venerates seniority and status, including officers in meetings would enhance their ability to develop contacts and follow up independently on important issues.
  • The consulate general has produced some valuable and insightful reporting, but generally there is far less reporting than would be expected of a post of its size. Material provided by a consulate general often ends up in cables from the embassy, and there is a vibrant, informal exchange between the respective political and economic sections. More telling, however, is the lack of emphasis upon reporting by the consul general, who does not routinely report on his own activities nor provide comprehensive readouts. For example, a single cable reported on his visits to 6 provinces over the course of 7 months. This disinclination both eliminated a major source of reporting, as compared to previous years, and undercut the ability of other officers to follow up on his meetings. The inspection team counseled the consul general and his deputy to follow standard reporting practices.

iPads with no wi-fi, because folks will, of course pay for 4G in Vietnam – wait, what?!

  • For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads. The OIG team discussed this situation with the embassy’s information management (IM) section, but due to the technical complexity of the issues, no decisions had been made by the end of the inspection. It is important that the mission continue to research ways to resolve these issues and still comply with Department regulations in 5 FAM 790-792.

VietNamNet has a pretty straightforward explanation – the new iPad has the advantage of having a 4G connection. However, that advantage has no use in Vietnam, where no mobile network has provided 4G services. So if you can’t use the new iPads at the American Center because there is no wireless access and there is no 4G service in Vietnam, the embassy clearly bought itself some pretty expensive mousepads.

The OIG inspectors, blessed their hearts recommends “that Embassy Hanoi explore the feasibility of establishing wireless Internet access or otherwise maximizing the usability of the Hanoi American Center’s iPads.”

Visa Referral System for national interests and who else?

  • The consulate general executive office, including both American and local staff, frequently contact the consular section to pass on information about specific visa applicants. For instance, they might ask the section to review a case; tell why they believe an applicant is qualified; or ask the consular chief or another manager to conduct a second interview. These practices violate the Department’s worldwide referral policy, which mandates that no information on specific cases be passed to the section outside of formal referrals. It is appropriate for the executive office to forward relevant correspondence to the consular section, but it should not ask for special treatment of visa applicants or advocate on their behalf outside the referral system. Shortly before this inspection, the deputy principal officer told local staff to stop sending cases directly to the consular section.
  • There are several issues regarding the way the referral system is handled at the consulate general. Not all referrals indicate how that referral directly supports U.S. national interests; they also do not specify the nature and degree of contact the person making the referral has had with the applicant, as is required by 9 FAM Appendix K.
  • The inspectors counseled the consul general and the deputy principal officer on the Department’s referral policy. They suggested having cards printed, explaining that visa eligibility is determined by strict legal requirements and that the consulate general’s leaders cannot influence the decision. This card, which could be given to anyone inquiring about visas, also could refer applicants to the consulate general’s Web site for additional information. The consul general accepted this suggestion.
  • The mission’s referral policy is out-of-date. As stated above, the referral practices conflict with Department policy on what constitutes a legitimate referral. The consular officers at the consulate general have not been trained on the Department’s policy. Because compliance has been an issue, it will be important for the Ambassador to review a monthly report on all referral cases, including information on any email or other contacts that circumvent the policy.

Wait, wait, our memory may be foggy but at some point in 2009 or 2010, we understand that there was a notice that went out to all missions requiring that the chief of the consular section provide a copy of the Worldwide Visa Referral Policy to mission staff and conduct a referral briefing to each officer who is authorized to utilize the mission referral system, before that officer submits and/or approves any visa referrals.  Actually it is in  9 FAM APPENDIX K, 102 WORLDWIDE VISA REFERRAL POLICY.  Now, this is not optional; the regs even say that “If an officer has not attended a referral briefing and signed the Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement, he or she may not authorize or approve a referral, regardless of his or her position.”

That includes everyone, including Chiefs of Missions and Consul Generals, no doubt.

If there’s one thing that the State Department is really good at, it is writing and sending cables.  So if these senior officers had to be counseled by the OIG on the Department’s worldwide referral policy what are we to think? That they don’t read their incoming cables? Or were folks aware of the referral policy but were too scared to rock the boat?

We don’t know this for sure but we imagine that Vietnam as a communist country is considered a critical threat post for human intelligence. So, if those visa referrals did not indicate how each directly supports U.S. national interest, how come no one is asked to review all of them?

Consular managers missing on the visa line

  • The mission has a policy called “self clearing” that permits experienced, entry-level officers to send, without a manager’s review, memoranda requesting revocation of a petition. Given the sensitivity of these memoranda and the need for consistency, a manager should review all of them before they are sent to the National Visa Center for transmission to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Some officers indicated that managers spend little time on the visa line. The inspectors emphasized the importance of managers spending some time adjudicating on the line, both to understand any systemic problems and to regularly see the types of cases that officers encounter.

Ugh!  And where’s the lead by example and all that feel good stuff about holding self accountable and modeling the leadership tenets? This is the kind of thing that makes newbies get jaded rather quickly. “Lead by example” but what if they’re learning the bad example?

FSI language training fail or who the heck talks nuclear proliferation with visa applicants?

  • Consular officers also indicated the language training at the Foreign Service Institute did not help them conduct consular interviews; many were more comfortable talking about nuclear nonproliferation than about family relationships.
  • The criteria for designating language study for a particular position (per 13 FAM 221 b.(l)) is that “only those positions where language proficiency is essential, rather than merely helpful or convenient, should be designated…” Language training, although useful, is expensive and time consuming. As such, it should provide officers with the particular language skills needed to adequately perform their job.

Oh dear, like how difficult is this really – you ask, Bạn có bao nhiêu trẻ em? or Urani bao nhiêu bạn có trong căn nhà của bạn? You can just ask the visa applicant how many kids do you have or how much Uranium do you have in your house? Or what kind of heavy water do you use in your laundry? Or are you or anyone in your family ever employed by A.Q Khan? The possibilities are endless, so really there’s no need to have a consular-centric vocabulary to adequately perform a consular job.

Follow the leader, it works

  • The consul general in Ho Chi Minh City circumvented host government importation restrictions by bringing in a vehicle that was more than 5 years old. There have been no reported repercussions. The stated reason behind the importation was to encourage the host government to relax this importation requirement, but the matter has not gained any momentum. It has not been followed up with a diplomatic note, nor was the issue raised with the Office of Foreign Missions. No other exceptions to the rule have been attempted, though some officers were encouraged to also import vehicles older than 5 years.

And so there you have it …. and life goes on….

The names of the accountable, responsible principal officers are all in the OIG reports and a matter of public record.  We hope to save our reading folks time from having to dig them up.

Domani Spero

Related item:

Inspection of Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report Number ISP-I-12-11A, February 2012

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Filed under Ambassadors, Consul Generals, Consular Work, Countries 'n Regions, Flickr, FSI, Govt Reports/Documents, Languages, Org Culture, Org Life, U.S. Missions, USAID

FSTube Trends: Ambassador Video Cards from Washington, D.C.

In the past, we have seen a smattering of ambassador video greetings usually posted on  embassy websites, urging host country nationals to visit the website and check out embassy services.  Like this welcome message by then U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Roderick W. Moore, which is noisy and and could stand some improvement.

In December 2010, then U.S. Ambassador-designate to Thailand Kristie Kenney sent a video message greeting the people of Thailand, while she was still in Washington, D.C.. The video is in English with Thai subtitle; approximately 16,000 views.

On Dec 9, 2011, Ambassador Adrienne O’Neal also sent a video message to the people of Cape Verde prior to her arrival in the country, in Portuguese; some 385 views.

According to a recent OIG report, before the Ambassador’s arrival in Hanoi, he recorded “a video of his preliminary thoughts and goals for his tenure in Hanoi, some of it in Vietnamese, for a television interview. An estimated 20 million viewers watched the interview. Another 6 million people viewed it after it was posted on the Internet.”  We have not been able to find a video of that interview.   In August 2011, Ambassador David Shear did have a video greeting for the people of Vietnam (some Vietnamese, English with subtitle) posted in the mission’s YouTube channel; it has 8,310 views.

On Jan 12, 2012, US Embassy Moscow posted Ambassador Michael McFaul’s introduction video, in English with Russian subtitle; some 76,500 views.

On April 3, 2012, the US Embassy Bridgetown and the Eastern Caribbean posted an video message from Ambassador Larry Palmer, who was confirmed by the Senate on March 30. Video in English, approximately 200 views.

On April 16, 2012, the US Embassy in New Delhi followed with a video greeting from DC by Nancy Powell, Ambassador-Designate to India, also done prior to her arrival at post; 4,301 views.

Last week, it was US Embassy Cambodia’s turn with a video on YouTube of Ambassador-Designate William Todd introducing himself to the Cambodian people; some 3200 views.

This appears to be a video trend in the Foreign Service, no doubt created in Foggy Bottom.  You can tell from looking at these videos that they have become more sophisticated. The sounds are better, the graphics are more snazzy, the editing more professionally done, etc. New shop at Foggy Bottom busy with these videos, huh?

We do wonder what kind of views would be considered a satisfactory return of investment for the production of these videos? We’re not saying these intro videos are bad, we are simply pointing out that it cost staff hours (also known as manhours in govspeak) and money to produce and edit these videos. At what point are they considered successful – at 200 views, 500 views, a couple thousand views?

Is this something that the Evaluation & Measurement Unit (EMU) under Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R/PPR) even looks at?  We know not. But this is the unit that “advances the culture of measurement in U.S. public diplomacy.” 

Domani Spero

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Filed under Ambassadors, Digital Diplomacy, Functional Bureaus, Snapshots, U.S. Missions, Video of the Week

Photo of the Day: Clinton-Baird Hockey Bet Settled, Look Who’s Wearing the Jersey

On April 12, Secretary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister Baird placed a friendly hockey bet in Washington. D.C.


On April 27, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird makes good his bet with Secretary Clinton and wore a Rangers jersey in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird
Photo from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

Here is a brief statement:

The Ottawa Senators lost a heartbreaking Game 7 in their series against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

The wager between Clinton and Baird was made when they met with their G-8 counterparts in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Baird also congratulated the Senators on their success this season in the House of Commons during today’s Question Period.

Domani Spero

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Filed under Countries 'n Regions, Hillary, People, Photo of the Day, Secretary of State

U.S. Senate Confirms Adam Namm as Ambassador to Ecuador – Finally!

On April 26, the U.S. Senate finally confirmed Adam Namm as the new Ambassador to Ecuador. Ambassador Namm’s nomination made it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in November last year.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at that time announced his intent to oppose the nominees for WHA, including Namm’s due to what he called this Administration’s policy towards Latin America defined by “appeasement, weakness and the alienation of our allies.”

PN887 *       Ecuador
Adam E. Namm, 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 Ecuador.

President Obama announced his nomination of Adam Namm on September 2011. We missed that announcement; below is the brief bio released by the WH:

Adam E. Namm is the Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) at the State Department.  A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor, Mr. Namm joined the Department of State in 1987.  His most recent overseas assignment was as Management Counselor in Islamabad, with prior tours in Bogota, Dhahran, and Santo Domingo.  His domestic assignments have included Executive Assistant in the Bureau of Administration, Director of the Office of Allowances, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Management, and both Desk Officer and Post Management Officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Mr. Namm holds an A.B. magna cum laude in International Relations from Brown University and an M.S. in National Security Strategy from the National War College.

Ambassador Louis Susman (left), Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Adam Namm (right), and architect James Timberlake (middle) examine the new U.S. Embassy London model.
(U.S. Embassy London photo by SJ Mayhew/Via Flickr)

Ambassador Namm will assume charge of the US Embassy in Quito from Timothy Zúñiga-Brown who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Quito since July 2011, and is currently acting as Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Mr. Zúñiga-Brown previously he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Nassau, The Bahamas.

The previous US Ambassador to Quito, career diplomat, Heather M. Hodges was appointed Chief of Mission on October 2, 2008. She departed post in April 2011 after Ecuador asked her to leave the country “as soon as possible” following the wikileaked of a diplomatic cable alleging widespread corruption within the Ecuadorean police force.

Domani Spero

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UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On April 4, 2012, William Hague, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave a speech where he talked about the role of the British consular services:

Excerpts:

[...] I want to describe what we are doing in a vital area of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but one which rarely receives so much attention: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy.
[...]
[L]ast year in Bangladesh, Foreign Office staff rescued four girls from forced marriage in a single day and returned them safely to Britain, including one girl who had been kept chained to her bed.

As these stories show, consular work is a very personal business.

It touches the lives of British citizens in difficult and sometimes extreme circumstances.

It is the only way most people come into contact with the Foreign Office, and it is one of our main responsibilities as a Department.
[...]
Britons make more than 55 million individual trips overseas every year, and at least 6 million of our nationals live abroad for some of or all of the time. In the space of a year, approximately 6,000 Britons get arrested, and at any one time more than 3,250 British nationals are in prison around the world. At least 10% of all the murders of Britons in the last two years took place overseas, and on average more than one hundred British nationals die abroad each week.

As you can imagine, this produces an immense demand for our services. In fact, just under two million people contact the Foreign Office for some form of consular assistance each year: that is more than 37,000 people a week.

When you are aware of these vast numbers, you can understand why it is that Embassies cannot pay your bills, give you money or make travel arrangements for you, and why we cannot arrange funerals or repatriate bodies. We try to look after everybody in the same way, and to be consistent in how we help people whether they are rich or poor, famous or unknown.

We also have to observe the law. That means we cannot help you enter a country if you do not have a valid passport or necessary visa. We cannot get you better treatment in hospital or prison than is given to local people, and we cannot get you out of prison. We cannot resolve your property or other legal disputes for you. We cannot override the local authorities, such as police investigating crimes. And we cannot give you legal advice: consular staff are not lawyers.

There are also cases where members of the public waste time and scarce resources with ludicrous requests.

It is not our job, for example, to book you restaurants while you are on holiday. This is obvious, you may think. But nonetheless it came as a surprise to the caller in Spain who was having difficulty finding somewhere to have Christmas lunch.

If like a man in Florida last year, you find ants in your holiday rental, we are not the people to ask for pest control advice.

If you are having difficulty erecting a new chicken coop in your garden in Greece as someone else was, I am afraid that we cannot help you.

Equally, I have to say that we are not the people to turn to

  • if you can’t find your false teeth,
  • if your sat nav is broken and you need directions,
  • if you are unhappy with your plastic surgery,
  • if your jam won’t set, if you are looking for a dog-minder while you are on holiday,
  • if your livestock need checking on,
  • if you would like advice about the weather,
  • or if you want someone to throw a coin into the Trevi fountain for you because you forgot while you were on holiday and you want your marriage to succeed.
  • And our commitment to good relations with our neighbours does not, I am afraid, extend to translating ‘I love you’ into Hungarian, as we were asked to do by one love-struck British tourist. There are easier ways to find a translation.

These are a just a few examples of bizarre demands that get put to our staff overseas.

Criticism that is sometimes levelled against us should be viewed in that light. An effective consular service does not mean a nanny state.

So we ask British nationals to be responsible, to be self-reliant and to take sensible precautions.

Bullets and italics added above for emphasis.  Read the full text here.

Sounds like a reasonable request, unless you’re the one who has to erect the chicken coop. Tee-hee!

We think Secretary Hague did a good job explaining the consular work of his FCO staff.  That’s important as it helps the public manage their expectations of the Service. We can’t ever remember a U.S. Secretary of State trying to school the American public on what the embassy can/cannot do for them overseas. No wonder, they mostly think our folks are in perpetual happy hour when in fact, a lot of our consular folks around the world do not get home at 5 o’clock. We have over 260 posts overseas, and we can assure you that somewhere in the world, at any given night, a consular officer is awake assisting an American in distress. Sometimes, like clock work, our compatriots overseas need assistance at 4:45 pm on Friday afternoons. Or a few might decide to leave abusive foreign spouses or partners at midnight on a weekend, several weekends a year. Many times, they have to hold the hands of duty officers who have never assisted an American in distress before, or get their ears burn when a duty officer give their home phone numbers to an irate American on the phone. They have to deal not just with visa applicants, but also victims of crimes, death, and notification of next of kin, morgue visit, and things like that.

We think that the consular career track is probably the most under appreciated cone in the Foreign Service.  The members of the American public who have the misfortune to need their assistance are often unhappy about what services are afforded them. “You will hear from my congressman!” is a common enough threat within embassy walls ranging in reasons from bad prison food, crowded jail cell, some gentleman’s inability to take his/her spouse back to the United States asap, etc. Those whose problems overseas are happily resolved, are too happy to leave and be back in the United States that they often times do not bother to tell their congressional representatives how our embassy helped them overseas.

Of course, we often hear high level officials talk about the protection of Americans overseas as one of the most important function of the State Department when they go before Congress for budget hearings. But when we look at the annual promotion statistics of the Foreign Service, we’re still seeing officers who do one of the most important function of the agency being beaten promotion wise and in ambassadorial appointments by the jaw-jaw guys. Which is curious and all given that it is an important function ….

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Zero-Tolerance Policy on Prostitution, Read it in the FAM or the Grievance Board

Well, it was not Secretary Panetta’s fault. He was on an official trip, which occasionally means a press conference.  And of all the questions that local reporters could have asked, one has to bring up that one about prostitutes in Brasilia and the U.S. Marines. So the journos got busy and over at the State Department, the official spokesperson got even busier.

Via the State Department Daily Press Briefing, April 25:

QUESTION: I have a question on South America –

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: — for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.

QUESTION: When you say that none of the people involved are still in Brazil, does that imply that the Embassy employee is an American?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: And does that person still work for the U.S. Government?

MS. NULAND: I do not have the answer to that. I believe so. But as you know, we don’t talk about our personnel for privacy reasons.

QUESTION: What is the policy? Much has been made about the Secret Service reviewing its standards of behavior for its employees when they’re detailed overseas. What is the standard for the State Department and its employees and how they’re expected to behave, conform to local laws overseas?

MS. NULAND: We have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of conduct of the kind that was of – that involves prostitution or anything of that nature. I can give you the Foreign Affairs Manual regulations, if that’s helpful to you.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. NULAND: Not only for the reasons of morality and local law, but also because any kind of conduct of that kind exposes our employees to blackmail and other things.

QUESTION: Even though that a country like Colombia may have legalized activity in this (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Just a couple things on that. What about the description that you were read of the incident isn’t correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, Ros talked about somebody being thrown out of a car and this kind of thing. That is not what happened in this case.

QUESTION: What did happen?

QUESTION: Because that’s the description that the Secretary of Defense offered to reporters who were traveling with him. So –

MS. NULAND: Our information is that after four Embassy personnel left the club, the – a woman involved in this incident attempted to open a car door and get into a closed and moving vehicle. She was not able to do so. She fell and she injured herself. All of the Embassy personnel involved in this incident were interviewed by the Brazilian civil police. We have also conducted our own investigation into the incident, and we’ve taken all the appropriate steps regarding the individuals involved consistent with our laws and our regulations.

QUESTION: Did these – did any of these – in particular, the Embassy employee, did they violate any rule?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I said, they haven’t been charged by Brazilian authorities.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean any of the FAM rules.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to get into the precise adjudication of the case for reasons of privacy with regard to our employee.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you said that none of the people are still in the country.

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: But someone can be moved without being punished. I mean, you could be transferred just simply because this person – for another reason. So do you know if there was any – was there any reprimand or punishment handed out, and was there any reason to? Did they – did these people do anything wrong?

MS. NULAND: Again, my information is that we conducted our own investigation of this issue, and we took the appropriate steps. What I’m not at liberty to get into is what steps those might have been, given the privacy issues involving the employee. And that’s our policy that we don’t talk about disciplinary steps taken with employees.

QUESTION: Well, the Secret Service didn’t either until just recently.

MS. NULAND: I understand that.

QUESTION: Well, that’s why it’s important to know whether they actually did something wrong or they were just transferred or moved to – or demoted or whatever. I mean, maybe – I mean, the description that you just read, it sounds like it could be perfectly plausible that these people didn’t do anything wrong at all. So that’s –

MS. NULAND: And it may well be. I just don’t have information with regard to the case beyond what I’ve just given you.

QUESTION: Well, I would suggest that the Department might want to come clean on this, considering the interest in the – in that. The other thing is that in the FAM, it talks about – it said “notorious behavior” or something like that. But it only talks about that being a problem if it were to become publicly known.

MS. NULAND: Well, I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I think I should get it for you.

QUESTION: So I’m not sure I – okay. But I’m not – I’m curious as to – you say it’s a zero-tolerance policy, but it’s not clear to me that it is, in fact, zero tolerance if the only way it gets you into trouble is if other people find out about it.

MS. NULAND: But the problem – but this is the problem. This is why you have to have a zero-tolerance policy, because at any given time, if you open yourself up to such behavior, it could become known. And you can’t, as somebody engaged in behavior of that kind, predict when that might happen. And so you’re immediately vulnerable, and so is the U.S. Government. So that’s why we have the regulations that we have.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we –

QUESTION: Is there a lawsuit pending against the U.S. Government?

MS. NULAND: As I said, we have – I have information to indicate that there have been no charges filed by the – in Brazil.

QUESTION: FAM stands for foreign manual?

QUESTION: Wait, wait. I just want to make sure that you understand that – what I’m trying to get. I want – basically, I want to know if the people involved in this violated that FAM regulation.

MS. NULAND: I understand that, and I – my expectation is that we are not going to talk about an individual personnel case from the podium.

QUESTION: I’m just curious as to what FAM stands for.

MS. NULAND: Sorry. Foreign Affairs Manual, which are our published rules and regulations for ourselves. But anybody who’s interested in those, we’ll get them for you. I did have them a couple of days ago. I don’t have them here.

The April 26 DPB is here where Ms. Nuland gave a shout-out to all the Take Your Kids to Work kids and the Columbia University students who attended the Daily Press Briefing before wrestling with more non-G rating questions.

MS. NULAND: I can’t, based on one press article, evaluate what a “business like this” is. I’m not sure what this establishment involves itself with, what else might go on there. But what I can tell you is, as we discussed yesterday, under the Foreign Affairs Manual, members of the Foreign Service are prohibited from engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct, which includes frequenting prostitutes and engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations or engaging in sexual activity that could open the employee up to the possibility of blackmail, coercion, or improper influence. So the degree to which any employee requires investigation, that’s the standard that they’re held to. And what a subject to be talking about on Bring Your Kid to Work Day. (Laughter.)

The relevant regs that govern this appears to be 3 FAM 4130 STANDARDS FOR APPOINTMENT AND CONTINUED EMPLOYMENT, the only one we could find that mentions “prostitutes” (moral turpitude issues for visas excluded).  More specifically 3 FAM 4139.14 Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct, which states:

“Notoriously disgraceful conduct is that conduct which, were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the United States. Examples of such conduct include but are not limited to the frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts the employee could not pay, or making use of one’s position or immunity to profit or to provide favor to another (see also 5 CFR, Part 2635) or to create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor. Disqualification of a candidate or discipline of an employee, including separation for cause, is warranted when the potential for opprobrium or contempt should the conduct become public knowledge could be reasonably expected to affect adversely the person’s ability to perform his or her own job or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities. Evaluators must be carefully to avoid letting personal disapproval of such conduct influence their decisions.”

On April 23, Reuters reports that–

A 2008 State Department cable to overseas missions said “people who buy sex acts fuel the demand for sex trafficking” and that “irrespective of whether prostitution is legal in the host country, employees should not in any way abet sex trafficking or solicit people in prostitution.”  Using prostitutes is grounds for disciplinary action, which may include firing, the State Department said. Adultery can also be a disciplinary offense if the spouse is unaware, and it exposes the employee to potential blackmail.

Ms. Nuland talks about the Department’s “zero-tolerance policy for any kind of conduct of the kind that was of – that involves prostitution or anything of that nature.”

We are not into lawyering but zero-tolerance indicates the imposition of automatic punishment for infractions of an articulated rule or regulation with the goal of eliminating such infractions.  Our favorite resource says that “zero-tolerance policies forbid persons in positions of authority from exercising discretion or changing punishments to fit the circumstances subjectively; they are required to impose a pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history.” Which to us, means it does not matter if engaging with a prostitute happens once or half a dozen times, the punishment is the same for a little or a whole lot.

And while a Diplomatic Security Director was once quoted saying that the  State Department considers engaging prostitutes a “heinous event, ” the FAM only says one could be subject to discipline including firing.

We have located three prostitution-related cases in the Foreign Service Grievance Board all available publicly online, where the penalties range from a three-day suspension without pay to separation from service.

  • In 2007, an FSO with 20 years in the Foreign Service, with every overseas posting at a hardship post was charged for off-duty misconduct — over a seven-year period he engaged the services of prostitutes 30-40 times in {post 2}, where it is a crime, and 10-20 times in {post 1}.  The Department identified as an aggravating factor that the misconduct could have caused embarrassment and damaged U.S. interests had the FSO been arrested.  The Grievance Board (FSGB) held that a penalty of three-day suspension without pay for improper personal conduct is appropriate under the circumstances (FSGB No. 2007-011).
  • In 2008, the Department proposed the separation of an FS-02 Diplomatic Security (DS) Officer’s based on a charge that carried four specifications, all related to engaging with prostitutes including one who was allegedly an underage girl. At the time of these encounters, officer was posted overseas as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at a U.S. Embassy (FSGB No. 2008-048). The FSGB held that the Department met its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that DS Agent, should be separated from the Service based on a charge of engaging in “notoriously disgraceful conduct.
  • Last year, an FP-03 FSO who served as Deputy Principal Officer in [City, Host Country] (a two-person American Presence Post), was charged with having an extra-marital relationship without his wife’s knowledge; creating the appearance that he had engaged the services of a prostitute while on official in-country travel; denying the extramarital affair when first interviewed by a federal law enforcement officer; and taking the woman with whom he was having the affair back to her place of work in a USG vehicle after restaurant lunches (FSGB Case No. 2011-009). The FSGB held that “The Department met its burden of proof that FSO engaged in the acts of misconduct underlying the charges [...] that there was a clear nexus between his behavior and the efficiency of the Service, and that the proposed penalty of a ten-day suspension is reasonable.”

So unlike what you’d expect under zero tolerance, the punishments above were not pre-determined but appears to fit the cases and circumstances subjectively. And that’s why we thought this DPB is interesting and all.

When we blogged about these cases last March, we thought out loud that it does not seem as if widespread notoriety is even required to demonstrate adverse effect on the efficiency of the Service. The potential for embarrassment and damage to U.S. interests seems as weighty as actual embarrassment and damage.

So if you engage the services of the prostitute and you self report, you get in trouble; if you don’t report it and you’re found out (because eventually they will find out), you get in trouble; if you don’t report it and you’re found out in the press, you get in trouble; if you don’t report it and there’s no press, you still get in trouble for potential damage to the service.

It also appears that the FSGB does not consider misconduct that takes place on non-working hours as a mitigating factor for any of these grievance cases: “Because of the uniqueness of the Foreign Service, employees are considered to be on duty 24 hours a day and must observe especially high standards of conduct during and after working hours and when on leave or travel status.”

And so we end up just as confused — does zero tolerance means that every transgression of this type will have a penalty, but not all transgression of this type is a firing offense?  And if that is so, wouldn’t that make this a flexible zero tolerance plus?

Domani Spero

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Photo of the Day: Let The Wind Blow Back Your Hair

U.S. Consul Tim Cipullo and Commercial Attaché Cindy Biggs in front of the wind tunnel during a tour of the GE Engine Testing facility at the the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on April 16. The facility is used for cold weather certification of new jet engines.

GE Engine Testing Facility Visit via Flickr/US Mission Canada

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Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar

Even under a rock, we managed to hear about the 24 Secret Service and military personnel accused of misconduct in the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

Then on April 25, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told the panel that the incident involving as many as 20 women appeared to be an isolated case. She said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had never received previous complaints in the past 2 1/2 years. We don’t know why 2 1/2 year is significant.  But it’s good to know since apparently, according to the Secretary Napolitano, the Secret Service has provided protection on more than 900 foreign trips and 13,000 domestic trips.

In a closely watched developing news, Defense Secretary Panetta was in Brazil on April 24 and had a joint presscon with Brazilian Minister Amorim in Brasilia.  They entertained three questions and the first one was about U.S. Marines from the US Embassy in Brasilia allegedly injuring a prostitute in December last year.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon Jr. greets U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta upon his arrival in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile to discuss an expansion of defense and security cooperations (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

A reporter from TV Global asks: “Is the U.S. government going to act to punish the Marines involved here in Brasilia with prostitutes?”

Here is Secretary Panettta’s response:

“With regards to what you mentioned, obviously this incident was fully investigated and those that were involved have been punished and held accountable.  They are no longer in this country.  They were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior.  I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world.  And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Brazil’s News G1 globo.com has a report of this incident (in Portuguese) and aired a video with an interview of Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, the alleged victim and the subject of the question posted to Secretary Panetta.

From best we could tell from translated text, the woman was allegedly assaulted by officers of the U.S. Embassy at the end of last year. The case occurred four months ago after she met four embassy staffers in a nightclub where she worked as a dancer. The woman reportedly had an argument with the driver and she got dumped off the car and she fell and was injured.

Globo.com also says that the U.S. embassy through a statement (which we have difficulty locating online) acknowledge the case, said it had cooperated with the investigation and that the Americans involved in the case are no longer in Brazil. No charges were reportedly filed by the Brazilian authorities. The Foreign Ministry said it was not notified about the case.

VOA reported here that Defense officials say three U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Brazil and an embassy staffer picked up two prostitutes at a nightclub last December. One of the prostitutes says the men pushed her out of the car, and when she tried to re-enter the vehicle, she fell to the ground and was injured.

According to Secretary Panetta the Marines were “were reduced in rank.” The VOA report says that the U.S. embassy staff member was removed from his post and that injured prostitute has filed a lawsuit against the embassy in the wake of the Cartegena scandal.

The Brasilia incident, of course, made it to the Daily Press Briefing of April 25.

QUESTION: — for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.

We’ll come back to the DPB later in a separate post because it is interesting all in itself.

This story has now taken on a life of its own like, well, like a fast-sprouting magic tree with many limbs.

Late Wednesday, Kirotv.com out of Seattle claims it has an exclusive about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.

The bar owner reportedly told kirotv’s investigative reporter Chris Halsne (oh, he got names) that his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting FBI and DEA agents. The owner says his reputation for “security” and “privacy” makes him a popular strip club owner with “those who want to be discreet.”  Kirotv.com says it is currently writing and editing-together a series of television stories for air beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

Next stop, the Where Else Bar … but hey, there’s a mad cow in California!

Domani Spero

 

Update: 4/16@10:18 pm
We’ve now seen the KiroTV exclusive – hey, they’re squeezing the juice out of that San Salvador trip; it’s like a drip, drip, drip of the same story. It is rather annoying.  It blares “New evidence expands Secret Service scandal” here. In Chris Halsne Reveals More on Secret Service piece, we get to see an interview with a retired Secret Service agent who boils this down to terrorism, and of course, there has to be footage of half naked dancing girls because it is the Lips Strip Club, and you just gotta show them half naked people doing the boogie. Sorry, no pole dancing included.

The reporter is shown talking to the strip club’s Salvadoran guard in English, he responds in Spanish, and we’re left to imagine what he said to the reporter.  The source is reportedly a bilingual subcontractor of the U.S. Secret Service whose identity has been kept confidential. Obviously, if he was a subcontractor of the Secret Service, they know who he is, so what’s the motive for his anonymity?  His face is fuzzy, and he’s now called a whistleblower. The news report also cites multiple witnesses but we only hear from the sub-contractor. We’re told that the owner of the strip club is an American named, DJ Ertel, who gave an interview but did not allow video footage. Since the club has a reputation for “security” and “privacy” and prides itself for being discreet, the interview does seem like reverse public relation.  The report did not even include important details such as hours of operation: 12:00pm-2:30am, daytime cover: $3.50; nighttime cover: $7.00; dance prices: $9; drink prices: $3. So no free advertising there (we did note that all prices are under $28).

As for the strip club not being too far from the embassy — if I heard it right, Lips is located on Paseo General Escalon, one of the main areas in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. It’s so small that you can drive from end to end in a matter of hours! So yeah, the embassy and the club are practically neighbors. The end.

 

 

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US Embassy Sarajevo: Prosecutors Charge Three Men with Terrorism Over 2011 Attack

On October 28, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. several rounds of gunfire were fired on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  A man armed with hand grenades and an automatic weapon opened fire outside the US Embassy in Sarajevo.  He was later wounded by the Bosnian police and other possible accomplices were arrested.

On October 28, 2011, a See the video below via RT:

The gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Mevlid Jasarevic, is accused of shooting at the embassy building in Sarajevo for at least 30 minutes, striking the building more than 100 times, and wounding a policeman guarding the facility, before a police sniper immobilized him with a shot in his leg.

According to Reuters prosecutors in Bosnia charged three men with terrorism on Monday over the 2011 attack:

The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Jasarevic, Emrah Fojnica and Munib Ahmetspahic were accused of forming a terrorist group in the northeastern village of Gornja Maoca, home to adherents of the strict Wahhabi branch of Islam.

The group aimed to improve the status of their community through violence and “terrorist activities” against state institutions and foreign diplomatic missions, the statement said. Fojnica and Ahmetspahic were charged with helping Jasarevic carry out the attack and concealing evidence.

Read in full here.

Domani Spero

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Evgeny Morozov Explains Why Secretary Clinton Should Join Anonymous

Evgeny  Morozov writes in slate.com that the State Department and the online mob are both destroying “Internet freedom.” Excerpt:

The diplomats’ problems are quite well-known by now. While Hillary Clinton likes to give speeches in which she fashions herself the world’s greatest defender of “Internet freedom,” the harsh reality is that her own government is its greatest enemy. Given the never-ending flow of draconian copyright and cybersecurity laws coming from Washington, this fact is getting harder and harder to conceal from the global public, who starts to wonder why American diplomats keep criticizing Russia or China but don’t say anything about the impressive online spying operation that the National Security Agency is building in Utah. Nor does the State Department object when America’s allies push for harsh surveillance laws; Britain, with its proposed surveillance legislation, is a case in point. America’s “Internet freedom agenda” is at best toothless and at worst counterproductive. While focusing on (and overselling) the liberating promise of social media in authoritarian regimes, it conceals a number of emerging domestic threats that have nothing to do with dictators—and everything to do with aggressive surveillance, disappearing privacy, and the astonishing greed of Silicon Valley.

Continue reading, Why Hillary Clinton Should Join Anonymous.

Evgeny  Morozov, one of the few out there who refused to jumped on the Internet Freedom bandwagon is a Foreign Policy and Boston Review contributing editor and the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Last year, he poured scalding water over Foggy Bottom’s well, net delusion:

“The State Department’s online democratizing efforts have fallen prey to the same problems that plagued Bush’s Freedom Agenda. By aligning themselves with Internet companies and organizations, Clinton’s digital diplomats have convinced their enemies abroad that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism.”

That burns, doesn’t it? Let’s see if Alec Ross will pick up the conversation on why HRC should not join Anonymous.

Domani Spero

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