Monthly Archives: November 2012

Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities/Personnel: Funding, Sequestration, Affordability and Risks

Secrecy News has just posted a November 26, 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service on diplomatic security and notes that “In almost every year since 2007, Congress appropriated less money for diplomatic security than had been requested.  In FY2012, the State Department sought $2.9 billion for security, and Congress enacted $2.6 billion.”

The CRS report itself described the funding as following a “boom and bust” cycle:

“Observers have suggested that funding for embassy security follows a “boom and bust” cycle, in which major attacks are followed by a sudden influx of resources that may be difficult to expend in a well-planned manner. An influx of security-related resources in the 1980s was followed by a lull in the 1990s when diplomatic security funding was greatly reduced prior to the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. The subsequent State Department Accountability Review Board suggested that the preceding years of reduced spending for embassy security was a contributing factor to the vulnerability of the targeted embassies.”

If Congress stays true to form, the boom is already starting.  The Hill reports:

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday that would place more Marines at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment. He said the amendment was important to preventing more deaths overseas, referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012….

McCain said his amendment, 3051, would also ask the Department of Defense to reassess the rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates so they could engage in combat when attacked.

The amendment authorize a 1,000 person increase in the size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S. embassies and consulates. More here. While I do think we should revisit our use of force policy at our overseas post, the Democracy Arsenal takes up the other side of this amendment — why there is a push to increase Marine presence instead of increasing Diplomatic Security agents:

“Just to be clear, this is not so say that the Marines do not play an important role in diplomatic security. Clearly they do both in terms of information protection and protection of dignitaries and personnel. However, it is strange that Sen. McCain would advocate so forcefully for increasing the Marines presence with no mention of the forces primarily tasked with the mission, especially since his colleagues have repeatedly decreased funding.”

More from the CRS report:

The United States maintains about 285 diplomatic facilities worldwide.1 Attacks on such facilities, and on U.S. diplomatic personnel, are not isolated instances. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, after armed individuals attacked and burned buildings on the main mission compound and subsequently attacked a second annex site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated.

Five other U.S. ambassadors have died by violent acts in the line of duty, although none since 1979.2 In addition to this total, 38 U.S. diplomats who were not ambassadors have been killed in the past 30 years.3 There were 39 attacks against U.S. embassies and consulates and official U.S. personnel overseas between 1998 and 2008, excluding regular attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.4
[...]
The inability to provide perfect security, especially against the evident threat of mob violence, has focused particular scrutiny on the deployment of diplomatic personnel in high-threat environments. The Department of State currently maintains a presence in locations faced with security conditions that previously would likely have led State to evacuate personnel and close the post.

Under reciprocal treaty obligations, host nations are obligated to provide security for the diplomatic facilities of  sending states. However, instances in which host nations have been unable or not fully committed to fulfilling this responsibility have sometimes left U.S. facilities vulnerable, especially in extraordinary circumstances. U.S. facilities therefore employ a layered approach to security, including not only the measures taken by a host country, but also additional, U.S.-coordinated measures, to include armed Diplomatic Security agents, hardened facilities, U.S.-trained and/or contracted local security guards, and sometimes U.S. Marine Security Guard detachments (whose principal role is securing sensitive information).

The rapid growth in the number of U.S. civilians deployed in high-risk environments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan spurred significant investment in recent years in the Department of State’s capacity to provide security in dangerous areas through its Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), while simultaneously placing unprecedented burdens on DS’s capability to carry out this mission successfully there and in other challenging locations. With greater focus on these frontline states, funds for other U.S. facilities could be strained.
[...]
As Congress examines whether enough funding has been provided or more is needed for properly securing American personnel, embassies, and information around the world, it will do so in a climate of shrinking budgets; any proposed funding increases are likely to be met with calls for offsetting cuts elsewhere.

Also of near-term concern is the possible effect that the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25) sequestration could have on diplomatic security funding. If across-the-board spending reductions occur as scheduled on January 2, 2013, currently estimated at about 8.2% of funding, security funding could be reduced as well. Those who consider embassy security funding to be insufficient would find the problem exacerbated by sequestration. The combined effects of a sequestration in 2013 and a half year Continuing Resolution that ends in March 2013 could generate concerns about diplomatic security funding in the months and years ahead.

Some foreign policy experts are concerned that, with limited available dollars for foreign affairs overall, war-related costs in frontline states may be drawing funds away from needs in the rest of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. With the recent Arab Spring uprisings, for example, U.S. personnel located in those countries may be more vulnerable than those located in the frontline states where the embassies were built and heavily fortified recently. Some observers wonder if the rapidly evolving changes in Arab Spring countries may have contributed to difficulties in achieving and maintaining adequate diplomatic security there. Possibly adding to the difficulty is the unpredictability in the timing of funding bills being passed by Congress.

Fiscal years may not be in sync with new increasing needs or with contracts. Furthermore, when Congress is unable to pass funding bills until well into the new fiscal year, or passes continuing resolutions in place of spending bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, the agency is left to guess what annual funding they can expect and has fewer months to spend the funds once received.

Another, perhaps longer-term related aspect of the funding debate is whether the United States can afford to maintain facilities and adequate security everywhere, especially in nascent democracies that are often unstable and unpredictable. If embassy security is the responsibility of the local government, but that government does not have the capability required to keep American personnel safe, the U.S. government must weigh the security risks of keeping a U.S. presence in such environments.

Continue reading, Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues.

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US Embassy Cairo at Reduced Staffing: Suspends Services and Makes Another Twitter Splash

On Monday, November 26, the US Embassy in Cairo announced that it was ‘open for full operations,” this despite the clashes near Simon Square and the Embassy’s North Permimeter which reportedly persisted through the night.

In its security message the same day, the embassy informed US citizens in the country that due to the likelihood of heavy traffic congestion as well as the potential for violence, that it would be operating at reduced staffing levels on Tuesday. It also announced the closure of visa and American citizen services and the early dismissal of all employees at USCG Alexandria:

Clashes are continuing today in the area of the Embassy’s North Gate, as rock and Molotov throwing youth confront police positioned just outside the North Gate. Police have also used tear gas in attempts to drive the youth back toward Tahrir Square. Because of this ongoing violence, the Embassy is discouraging visitors to the Embassy until the situation settles, and U.S. citizens with appointments for routine services in the American Citizen Services section have been rescheduled for Thursday, November 29. Those with appointments have been sent email notifications.

Today, November 29, it announced the suspension of arrivals/departures to and from the embassy until further notice due to a blockade by protestors and the cancellation of ACS services on December 2:

The Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens that as of 1030 hours local time access into and from the Embassy is currently blocked by protestors.  Police and protestors are clashing in the area of the Corniche checkpoint on Lazoughly Street, including on al-Shams and Osiris Streets.  The Regional Security Office has instructed that no departures or arrivals from the Embassy will be permitted until further notice.  The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Garden City area at this time.

Looking ahead to the weekend, media reports indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for a “million man march” on Saturday, December 1 to culminate in Tahrir Square.  While there is no indication that the Embassy is a target of these protests, the Embassy’s proximity to Tahrir Square, as we have seen this week, exposes it to any violence that develops.  The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid Garden City this weekend.  All appointments for routine American Citizen Services have been cancelled for Sunday, December 2, and those with appointments scheduled for that day will be contacted by email with a rescheduled appointment on another day.

Meanwhile @USEmbassyCairo is once more making news. A tweet on democracy and Egypt ignites a debate between the embassy’s Twitter handler and Egyptian Twitter users, reported by AhramOnline here.

WaPo’s coverage of the new Twitter splash says: “The U.S. Embassy in Egypt has earned a reputation for going rogue on Twitter, and with this latest bout of political unrest, @USEmbassyCairo is at it again.”

The Cable’s headline on this one screams, “Cairo Embassy tweeter warns of ‘dictatorship’ in Egypt.”

The Cable asked Edgar Vasquez, spokesperson for the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau, whether the Cairo embassy’s tweet reflected administration policy.

“Let’s not take too much liberty with this tweet,” he said. “Our position is and has been that one of the aspirations of the Egyptian revolution was to ensure that power is not overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution. That is essentially what the tweet is saying in tweet speak.”

The last time @USEmbassyCairo made a big splash … remember that?  See PAO Larry Schwartz Thrown Under the Bus Over “Inappropriate Apology”

Over in Facebook, a user named Noor Zein has sprinkled the embassy’s FB page with a wacky accusation that Secretary Clinton is “using illegal hypnosis and MK Ultra mind control to turn Morsi into mind control slave for her and that she ordered him as his master to sign illegal papers to give away Egypt for Israel and Qatar…”  whaaat?

And it comes complete with graphics of the purported mind waves, but no dancing gifs, maalasef.  On the demonstrations, more are reportedly planned throughout Egypt on November 30 and December 1, 2012.

Um …anyone knows what’s an “MK Ultra” mind control and where we can buy it?

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George Anikow Murder: “A Macho Against Macho Issue” Says Philippine Police

The Marine Corps Times has additional details about George Anikow, a US Marine and spouse of US Embassy diplomat, Laura Anikow who was killed in Makati last weekend.

Anikow, of Monmouth, N.J., served eight years as an infantry officer on active duty after his commissioning in 1994 and was working as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee in a joint billet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Maj. Kate S. Vanden Bossche, a Marine Forces Reserve spokeswoman in New Orleans. The assignment allowed him to drill as a reservist and work in the Philippines, she said.
[...]
In recent years, Anikow was mobilized twice as a civil affairs officer, including a nine-month combat tour in Afghanistan in 2009, according to Marine Corps records. While there, he served with the 4th Civil Affairs Group. During his earlier active-duty time, Anikow deployed on the amphibious assault ship Guam during the 1996 operations Joint Endeavor and Assured Response.

He received numerous military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal, two awards of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, three awards of the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

According to the Philippine Inquirer, the Makati police denied reports that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation  is conducting a parallel probe on this murder.  The Makati police chief, by the way, is reportedly a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia:

“There is no parallel investigation. The FBI is not meddling in the case,” Lukban said, adding that a US government official had just contacted him about minor details, such as the transport of Anikow’s body to the United States.

He said the US government had also promised technical assistance, including enhancing the CCTV footage the police had obtained.

The Philippine presidential office said it hoped the Anikow incident would not lead to a travel advisory against the Philippines. It’s Department of Foreign Affairs called the incident an “isolated case,” saying there is no reason for foreign diplomats in the country to feel unsafe.

A Diplomatic Security report indicates that from January to November 2011, the Philippine National Police recorded 230,817 crime incidents. This number represents a significant reduction in crimes compared to the reported total in 2009 which is 333,416. For 2011, physical assault and theft were the two largest contributors to the total number of incidents in a country of 7,100 islands inhabited by 94,852,030 people.

News from Manila seems to indicate that male pride was the motive behind the killing George Anikow outside an upscale subdivision.

“The suspects, being male, their pride was stepped on by another man. That’s the very simple reason for the incident,” Makati police chief Senior Supt Manuel Lukban explained during an interview.

“It seems their manhood was challenged. It became a macho against macho issue,” said Senior Superintendent Lukban.

Apparently the victim tapped on the car and that irked one of the alleged attackers. We have thought about the notion that a wounded male pride can lead to a murder and could not quite wrap our mind around that. Is life so cheap there that a perceived offense could not be resolved without spilling blood?  But this is also a country where you reportedly can even hire tandem hitmen for a little more than a couple hundred dollars.

Below is an excerpt from Get Real Philippines, a blog that should be part of FSI’s Overseas Briefing Center resources for FS employees researching about prospective assignment to the Philippines.

George Anikow murder: Violence is a broad and profound cultural condition in Philippine society

Again we encounter another instance of the violent nature of Filipinos — a people expats have for so long warned one shouldn’t cross as they (1) don’t fight fair and (2) hold deadly unshakable grudges. Last night saw the murder of George Anikow, a former US Marine officer and spouse of a US Embassy staff member allegedly in the hands of a gang of enraged Filipino men at the gate of posh Makati village Bel Air. What was initially a mild altercation between Anikow and the party of four young men reportedly turned into a brawl that left Anikow mortally wounded from stab wounds.

One can understand getting beat up in a brawl. But to wield a knife in one is just so, well, Pinoy. For a nation that idolises boxers, one wonders why the idea of fighting fair mano-y-mano seems lost in the typical Filipino male.
[..]
This is after all a nation where assassins riding tandem on motorcycles can be hired for a hit for no more than Php10,000 (a little more than USD200). It is quite amazing that the Philippines is not on Uncle Sam’s permanent travel ban list. The simplest misunderstanding, misconstrued look, or unintended slight can provoke a massive feudal vendetta that could last generations. It seems to all stem from the world-renowned pipsqueak ego of the Filipino…
[...]
The Filipino’s taste for petty violence has spawned lively viral video circuses many times. Recall the Thrilla in NAIA involving Ramon Tulfo, Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto, Robert Carabuna vs the MMDA, and other such nuggets of Pinoy class. Perhaps there is something to be said about the way Filipino men are raised — or not raised as the case may be for the entire generation of Filipinos absentee-parented by the modern-day “heroes” of this sad nation, the Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW).

Read in full here. Given that the presidential palace’s immediate reaction concerned a travel advisory, the Get Real Philippines blog post just sent Malacanang into an apoplectic shock.

Rappler.com noted that the Anikow killing is the first of a foreign diplomat’s family member in the Philippines since the famous Hultman-Chapman case.  That’s the case where Claudio Teehankee Jr., son of the late chief justice Claudio Teehankee, was convicted of murdering two people, one of them the son of a US Embassy employee, inside Dasmariñas subdivision also in Makati.  Teehankee Jr. served 17 years in jail and was granted a presidential pardon in 2008.

 

 

 

 

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The Susan Rice Roller Coaster Ride – “Softened” Senators Now “Significantly Troubled” and “Disturbed”

So we heard that Senator McCain has “softened” a tad about the possible Susan Rice nomination.  He told Fox News Sunday that he was willing to hear her out. Asked whether there’s anything Rice can do to change his mind, McCain responded:

“Sure, I give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’ll be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her. Why did she say that Al-Qaeda has been decimated in her statement here on this program? Al-Qaeda hasn’t been decimated, they’re on the rise…So, there’s a lot of questions we have for Ambassador Rice, and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this with her.”

The CSM explains why GOP opposition to Susan Rice is no longer white-hot. The news about what’s softening even made the  international news.  And then the AP reported that “With congressional opposition softening, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could find her name in contention as early as this week to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.”

Yesterday, it was widely reported that the U.N. Ambassador would have a Tuesday meeting with the three key Republican senators, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The meeting was reportedly at the request of Ambassador Rice’s office.

So today the folks had their meeting. And then the softened senators are quickly back to their old selves.  What more, they  are now “significantly troubled,” “more troubled, not less” and obviously “disturbed.”

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain told reporters after the meeting.

“I am more disturbed now than before,said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (video).

Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said she’s “more troubled, not less,” after talking with Rice and top U.S. intelligence officials about the attacks.

Over at USUN, Ambassador Rice released a statement about her meeting with the three senators saying, “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them” and that she and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell stressed that there was no intention to mislead. Here is part of the statement:

“In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”

 

This is looking more and more like a rough ride. And if Susan Rice does get the nomination and  the Senate confirmation dashed with a brutal fight, there will be an extreme ride way ahead. Brutal fights tend to generate intense, unforgettable memories …so, there may be a rumble with every new nomination particularly related to the State Department.

We’re scrapping the bottom for good news on this one — but there is at least this:  with Senator McCain and his prospective ranking Republican spot in the Indian Affairs Committee next year, the new Congress should be far from boring.  It’ll be nice if they get something done, too, but that would be asking too much.

 

 

 

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Foggy Bottom Race: The Susan Rice Noise Gets Louder, Thanks to Senator McGrouchy

You’ve already heard Senator John McCain firing the opening salvo on the State Department’s (maybe) future Secretary Rice. Susan Rice has not even been announced as a nominee yet but hey,  this the pre-emption doctrine at work.

In any case, we are reminded of his take on this Rice and not that Rice. Senator McCain argued that  Susan Rice is “not qualified” to be the next secretary since she said the Benghazi attack began spontaneously and promised to block her nomination. In 2005, Mr. McCain argued that Condoleezza Rice was qualified to be the next secretary of state, despite her testimony about those WMDs in Iraq.

So then the newly reelected prez says come after me, dudes!

And Senator McCain took him up on that offer, so then the GOP wants a special select committee ala Watergate to investigate the attack in Benghazi.

Thereafter, just like in the movies, Nevada’s Harry Reid came out with a three-barrel page turner written with a scathing .44 Magnum pen.

Oops!  But what’s this we hear? Is it true that in January, the Arizona senator will lose his top-ranking committee seat due to term limits?  And that the only ranking Republican spot available to him next session will be on the Indian Affairs Committee?

What’s this world coming to?

The jaded part of me says born or made, politicians are bound to disappoint.

* * *

Maureen Dowd over in the NYT waded into the matter and asked, Is Rice Cooked?  I dunno, is she?

Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. [..] Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.”

In WaPo, Robert Kagan, prominent neoconservative writer with the Brookings Institution and husband of State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said that  “the idea that Rice should be disqualified because of statements she made on television in the days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, strikes me as unfair. [...] I haven’t seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice’s statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack.”

Also in WaPo, Dana Milbank wrote about  Susan Rice’s tarnished resume with inside the building stories from unnamed witnesses (ah yes, the knives are out!):

“Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
[...]
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses.
[...]
But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.”

After weeks of being the Benghazi punching bag, and with 97 House Republicans (who have no role in confirming a cabinet secretary) co-signing a letter to  President Obama about being “deeply troubled” that Susan Rice is under consideration as possible successor of Hillary Clinton (claiming  she “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world”), and just one day before Thanksgiving, the subject of so much online ink finally spoke up to defend herself:

She said she respects Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of her, but says “some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”

One wonders why she is speaking out now? Is that “appropriate time” during an expected nomination hearing?

Also this past weekend, Reuters has an item that says Susan Rice battles critics over style, substance, perceptions with mostly unnamed diplomats complaining about blunt language and what appears to be a double standard when it comes to breaking eggs.

Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council privately complain of Rice’s aggressive negotiating tactics, describing her with terms like “undiplomatic” and “sometimes rather rude.” They attributed some blunt language to Rice – “this is crap,” “let’s kill this” or “this is bull___.”

“She’s got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude,” one Western diplomat said. “She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries.”
[...]
“She’s not easy,” said David Rothkopf, the top manager and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine. “I’m not sure I’d want to take her on a picnic with my family, but if the president wants her to be secretary of state, she’ll work hard.”
Indeed, along with a “no-nonsense” style, Rice has the most important ingredient for a successful secretary of state – a close relationship with the U.S. president, Rothkopf said.
[...]
Rothkopf, who was an official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, cited James Baker and Henry Kissinger as exemplary secretaries of state.

They were “tough infighters who broke a few eggs and made some enemies. They are admired for their toughness, and (Rice) is attacked for her abrasiveness,” he said.

And New York Magazine’s John Heilemann in State of War offers at least five reasons why Obama will appoint Rice to succeed Clinton and also why she will be confirmed.  One of the reasons for this prediction with “a 79.4357 percent probability” is that “McCain is being a jackass—and Obama is sick of it.”

Amidst the noise generated by rumors of this possible nomination, perhaps Stephen Walt over in Foreign Policy articulated the best argument against the Rice nomination as the next secretary of state. He writes:

I fear that unlike Hillary Clinton, Rice is too much of an Obama insider and too dependent on the president’s patronage to be an ideal Secretary of State. As a result, her appointment will reinforce the growing lack of intellectual diversity within the administration.
[...]
Rice, by contrast, has no independent power base. She did serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton administration (to no great distinction), but signed up early with Obama and was a key foreign policy advisor during the 2008 campaign. She obviously has Obama’s confidence, but her current ascendancy depends solely on the president’s backing. Maintaining his personal support will be critical to her effectiveness, which makes her much less likely to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear or that cut against the thrust of existing policy. Although Rice has the reputation of being a forceful advocate with sharp elbows, her relationship to the president runs the risk of making her more of a courtier than a counselor.

The danger of an administration suffering from groupthink is certainly real. Hello Iraq! But with Susan Rice as an Obama insider, no foreign leader will doubt her closeness to this president.

Of course, if the secretary of state is too independent or too much of an outsider, he or she could end up marginalized by White House insiders.  Remember Cordell Hull during the Roosevelt years and of course, there is Colin Powell, during the first George W. Bush term.

In addition to Walt’s point, there are two things that we hope might be included in the calculation of nominating the next secretary of state.

One – somebody with enough stature and relationship with Congress who can help shore up support for the State Department budget, which is often an attractive candidate for pirate raid in this world of shrinking federal resources. In this dangerous world, the State Department cannot continue to do more with less. It should either be funded for the work that needs to be done or it should consolidate some of its overseas presence into regional hubs with appropriate support, staffing and funding.

Two – somebody with the right sauce who can help right the listing ship of the U.S. Foreign Service. The new norm of deploying diplomats into war zones which started during Condi Rice’s tenure has gone on for years now and into the Clinton tenure with no end in sight.  At the same time, assignments to non-war zone areas where there is continuing threats of physical harm or imminent danger to FS employees, including unaccompanied assignments (UT) which continue to expand.  As an aside, I’ve heard that there is one/one UT program specialist at the State Department to “support” 800 UT family members and partners. Is that as family friendly as it gets?

Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan continue to tax the shrinking resources of a small agency.  For example, in spring this year, the USG planned a presence of 11,500 personnel at 11 diplomatic sites in Iraq. According to the GAO, between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, Diplomatic Security (DS) operations in Iraq required approximately 36 percent of Diplomatic Security’s entire budget.  DS like the rest of the State Department had to draw staff and resources away from other programs.  Then there’s Afghanistan after 2014 where State will do Iraq all over again.

Of course, AIP posts have absolutely nothing to do with the persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, which have not diminished since 2008. And the persistent issues on assignments, performance evaluation and promotion just rage on.

Ambassador Rice has been at the helm of USUN since 2009 and her performance as chief of mission there has not lead us to believe that she is the right person who can inspire followers or provide the needed leadership to help the listing ship at State.  Here is part of the OIG report:

…  neither the mission’s leadership nor individual section chiefs have given sufficient attention to management of the mission’s people and processes.

Ø For many years USUN has focused few resources and little attention on training mission staff, leaving some in jobs for which they lack sufficient skills and others without an opportunity to upgrade or refresh their knowledge.

Ø USUN has not had a strategic approach to workforce planning and has refilled vacancies without considering mission priorities and reprogramming options.

That’s not the best starting point.  If you can’t manage people and processes, you are in a constant crisis mode. Which is not a good thing because — sooner or later people will burn out, stick their finger in a socket and mistakes will happen.

I actually would like to see Secretary Powell return to State. I do believe in second chances, and some of the work he started there needs revisiting.

President Obama, of course, has the prerogative to pick his cabinet secretary.  But I also think that despite Senator McGrouchy’s dare, President Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice. But not because of Benghazi. And not because of her sharp elbows.

 

 

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US Embassy Manila: George Anikow, Diplomatic Spouse Killed in Early Morning Altercation

Citing the Information Officer of the US Embassy in Manila Tina Malone, Rappler.com reported that the husband of an American Embassy employee was killed in Makati City, in the Philippines on Saturday, November 24.  Ms. Malone declined to disclose more details about the incident but did say that the Philippine National Police (PNP) have suspects in custody and that “The US Embassy appreciates the cooperation of the Philippine authorities, and will work closely with the PNP in their investigation.”

An ABS-CBN report identified the victim as George Anikow, who was allegedly killed by 4 suspects at around 4 am, Saturday, in front of the gate of Bel-Air Subdivision.  Elsewhere local reports also indicate that US embassy press attache Tina Malone confirmed the incident but refused to give out the name of the victim for “privacy reasons.” Various news reports spelled the victim’s name as Anico.

The alleged attackers, young men who reportedly come from well-off Filipino families, ranged in age from 22 to 28 and are publicly named by the news report here.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported this incident:

George Anikow, 41, an inactive US marine officer, died on Saturday morning after he was mauled and fatally stabbed at the back and left shoulder in an event so random he and the other men hardly knew each other, Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban, Makati police chief, said in an interview.
[...]
The victim, a dependent of one of the officers of the US Embassy, was awaiting order from the US Marine to be called to duty, the police said.

Lukban said the Makati police opted to file murder, a non-bailable offense, instead of homicide since the attackers chased the victim “with the intent to kill.”

We emailed the US Embassy Manila last night but have yet to receive a response (which may or may not come).  We’ve also seen the public affairs arms of embassies do this often enough citing “privacy reasons” for the deceased in refusing to release or confirm the identity of victims.  They ought to know better than that since the privacy rules no longer cover the dead. Would be a lot more understandable if they decline to provide details due to sensitivity to the next of kin rather than privacy rules.

While we have been unable to confirm this, it looks like the FSO in this case is a first tour officer on a consular assignment to the US Embassy in Manila.  Public records also indicate that the US Embassy in Manila back in August solicited a quotation for a service apartment for this FSO and her family (spouse,  three children 12, 10 and 6 and a 50 lb Labrador) for 40 nights ending on September 24, 2012. Which seems to indicate they were in temporary housing until late September.  And if that’s the case, then they have just moved in to Bel-Air within the last two months, a private subdivision and gated community in Makati where the victim was reportedly a resident.

The latest Crime and Security Report issued by the Regional Security Office of the US Embassy says that crime is a significant concern in urban areas of the Philippines. Typical criminal acts include pick pocketing, confidence schemes, acquaintance scams, and, in some cases, credit card fraud. It also says that carjacking, kidnappings, robberies, and violent assaults sporadically occur throughout metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

 

 

 

 

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Retired Ambassador Ryan Crocker Takes Plea Bargain in DUI Charge

After three postment of his DUI hearing in Spokane, Washington (originally scheduled for September 12, then postponed to October 10 and later to November 5), Ambassador Crocker finally had his court hearing on Nov. 21.  According to the Spokesman.com, the former ambassador pleaded guilty to “a reduced charge of reckless driving in connection with a drunken auto accident” this past summer. Excerpt:

The 63-year-old retired diplomat accepted the plea bargain this afternoon in Spokane County District Court. He faced a drunken-driving charge following a collision with a semitruck at a busy Spokane Valley intersection on Aug. 14. He drove away as a witness tailed him, authorities said. No injuries were reported in the collision.

“Your honor … I’m extremely sorry for what I did,” Crocker told District Court Judge Sara Derr. “I failed in my responsibilities to my community and to myself. I can assure you, it will never happen again.”

Crocker declined comment following the hearing.

The Spokesman also reported that Ambassador Crocker’s attorney, Julie Twyford, told Judge Derr that her client recently had brain surgery to treat a subdural hematoma. The judge accepted the plea recommendation, which came from the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.  Ambassador Crocker must pay a fine of $1,000 and his driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days as part of his sentence according to the report.

A webmd lookup says that a subdural hematoma is a collection of blood outside the brain and that this is usually caused by severe head injuries.  The bleeding and increased pressure on the brain can be life-threatening. While in some cases the condition stop and resolve spontaneously, others require surgical drainage.  More here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Day 2012: Foreign Service Roundup

At US Embassy Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), the American staff and family members home cooked and served a real American Thanksgiving lunch for the embassy’s Malaysian employees.  Ambassador Paul Jones who helped serve lunch gave a shout out via FB to Victoria Station — “especially chef Haji Jean-Luc Lundy, Alex Lee and Vivian Low, for complementing our home cooked meal with delicious halal Thanksgiving dishes so that everyone could enjoy the occasion together.”

Photo from US Embassy KL/FB

The Thai-American celebrity chef Tommy Tang and Ambassador Kristie Kenney of  US Embassy Bangkok (Thailand) prepared a Thanksgiving feast together for the children at Duang Pratheep Foundation. The foundation founded in 1978 to address the problems that have its roots in poverty and deprivation.  Its permanent building which opened in 1992 is reportedly Thailand’s first comprehensive and resource center for the slum community.

Photo by US Embassy Bangkok/FB

Ambassador David Huebner of US Embassy Wellington (New Zealand)  at the annual Thanksgiving lunch with the Downtown Community Ministry.

Photo via US Embassy NZ/Flickr
(click on photo to view the slide show in Flickr)

At US Embassy Jakarta (Indonesia) Ambassador Scot Marciel and his wife Mae hosted around 100 young Indonesian alumni of U.S. exchange programs for Thanksgiving dinner at their residence.

Photo via US Embassy Jakarta/Flickr

At US Embassy Seoul (South Korea), Ambassador Sung Kim shares Thanksgiving dinner with English Teaching Assistants in The Fulbright Program.

Photo from US Embassy Seoul/FB

I hope you all have a good Thanksgiving week with loved ones and friends.  To readers, followers, friends and champions of this blog, thank you for your thoughtfulness and continued support. I learn something from you everyday. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ambassador Cameron Munter, Drone Policy Casualty Corrects Record, Talks Yellow Card and Drone War

Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter departed Islamabad this past summer after a two-year tenure and retired from the Foreign Service.  He is currently  a visiting professor at Columbia Law School. In a May 2012 article in the NYT,  Ambassador Munter reportedly complained that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy in the country and that “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,”  according to an unnamed colleague.

On The Daily Beast yesterday, the reporter writes that Ambassador Munter agreed to meet with her to “tell his side of the story, explaining that the Times had been wrong about him. It made him sound like a softie, he said, a mischaracterization that he wanted to correct.”

Via The Daily Beast (excerpt)

Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, looked suntanned, but not rested, as he sat in a Foggy Bottom bar a few blocks from the State Department on a fall evening. He placed an Islamabad Golf baseball cap on the table, a souvenir from a decades-long career that had recently ended in a public flameout.

This past May, it was announced that Munter would be leaving his post. At the time, a State Department spokesman said he had made “a personal decision” to step down. But a few weeks after the announcement, The New York Times—in an article about counterterrorism policy—quoted one of Munter’s colleagues saying the ambassador “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”
[...]
What Munter did want, however, was a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “What they’re trying to portray is I’m shocked and horrified, and that’s not my perspective,” he said, referring to The New York Times article. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”

“What is the definition of someone who can be targeted?” I asked. “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” Munter replied. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”
[...]
Following the strike, President Obama set up a more formal process by which diplomats could have input into these strikes. “I have a yellow card,” Munter recalled, describing the new policy. “I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”

It was a limited victory for Munter, but his relationship with Washington remained difficult.
[...]
During our interview, Munter criticized the way White House officials approached Pakistan. “They say, ‘Why don’t we kick their ass?’ Do we want to get mad at them? Take their car keys away? Or look at the larger picture?” He leaned back in his chair and recalled his last National Security Council meeting: “The president says, ‘It’s an hour meeting, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan for 30 minutes and then Pakistan for 30 minutes.’ Seventy-five minutes later, we still haven’t talked about Pakistan. Why? Because Pakistan is too fucking hard.”

Read in full – A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out.

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, CIA, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Obama, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why

State/OIG recently published its inspection of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) located in the Bureau of Administration.   IPS is responsible for the Department’s records management and related technologies, including public access to information under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, privacy information and protection and classification management and review, including declassification. The IPS office according to the OIG inspectors has no overseas locations. A director leads a staff of 358 employees, including 152 Civil Service employees, 184 when actually employed (WAE) staff members, and 22 student interns.

The OIG notes that IPS plays a critical role in the Department’s communication with the public:

“By providing citizens access to the Department’s records, the office is instrumental in maintaining openness and transparency in the conduct of foreign affairs.”

Openness and transparency okay but nothing about promptness

“The Department’s FOIA process is inefficient and ineffective. IPS’s backlog of 6,950 cases continues to grow. A relatively small staff is processing the heavy volume of requests and dealing with new software. Delays in responses from other bureaus, offices, and agencies contribute to the problem. The Department receives among the highest number of FOIA requests in the U.S. Government. In FY 2011, IPS reported that it received 14,262 requests, in addition to the 21,252 requests already pending at the beginning of the year. IPS employees processed 26,802 requests during the year, leaving 8,712 pending. IPS reported that in FY 2011, the average number of days to process simple cases was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years.”

According to http://www.foia.gov/ the State Department is second only to DHS in its ranking of federal agencies with the highest FOIA request backlog.  State/IPS average response time to a simple FOIA request in FY2011 is 156 days, its highest number of days to respond is 1,603.  The highest response time for complex cases is 2,460 days and for expedited cases is 1,802 days.

POGO points out that it takes State and USAID “on average seven times longer to process a simple FOIA request than the 20-day legal limit for simple requests” because as “they have to gather records from “hundreds of posts throughout the world” and “missions in over 80 countries.”

If it would make you feel better, click here for the Department of State FOIA Backlog Reduction Plan way back in 2008 with colorful graphics.

Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • Leadership and management practices contribute to problematic morale and poor communication across the Bureau of Administration, Global Information Services, Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS). Management controls in IPS are insufficient, indicating leadership and management deficiencies in many parts of the organization.
  • The main responsibilities of IPS include managing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and declassification programs, administering the Privacy Act, and conducting records management. Lack of cooperation from the Department of State (Department) and internal weakness hamper IPS’s performance of these duties.
  • IPS handles one of the largest FOIA workloads in the Federal Government. However, IPS’s lack of a sound process to develop its information systems led to delayed and flawed deployment of the Freedom of Information Document Managing System 2 (FREEDOMS 2), IPS’s key software for managing cases, resulting in significant backlogs.

This is the same system that State’s Annual FOIA Report dated March 2012 says is “designed to more efficiently and effectively perform case processing functions.”

State’s Chief FOIA Officer is Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Administration. IPS is headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Margaret P. Grafeld who assumed post on September 2010. The director and deputy director of IPS are Sheryl L. Walter and Alex Galovich respectively.

The little devils in the fine details

  • Personnel in Department bureaus who serve as liaisons to IPS are normally staff assistants or others for whom FOIA responsibilities are a small part of their job. Their lack of responsiveness indicates that performance in handling FOIA requests is not a significant factor their evaluations. Even if it were, the Department has not developed performance standards for responding to IPS’s requests for documents. IPS does not report to the upper levels of the Department about the responsiveness of bureaus and embassies on FOIA. To improve the Department’s FOIA performance, the Department must fix responsibility at all stages of the process.
  • Persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities and management practices has had profound consequences in IPS. The OIG team’s observations, discussions with IPS staff, and the responses to OIG’s questionnaires indicated an office with problematic morale, perceptions of favoritism, micromanagement practices, and confused lines of authority. Inspectors found failures of communication, lack of training, questionable staffing decisions, and poor time and attendance record keeping. IPS’s new director is just beginning to address the many challenges that she faces.  Many suggest that poor morale stems from frequently changing priorities and excessive workload. REDACTED
  • Communication among all levels of IPS staff is poor. Division chiefs are located on the same floor in order to strengthen communication within higher-level management. This physical arrangement limits managers from seeing what their employees are doing on a daily basis, however. IPS leadership told the OIG team that they plan to change this arrangement with the building renovation, currently in process, which will colocate managers with members of their staff.

Is it just us or does it seem like when there is a negative report, things are often just in the cusp or the verge of change?  Apparently a new director is addressing the problem and the office’s physical arrangements will be changed with the building renovation.  Which should happen soon.


Despite the huge backlog, staffers go on excursion tours … to Brazil …to Brazil

“IPS recently allowed several staffers who process FOIA requests to take excursion tours in Brazil to assist in visa processing. At a time when IPS has a large backlog of cases, it is unwise to divert staff to other duties.”

In her Chief FOIA Officer March 12, 2012 Annual Report, Ms. Barr reports that “Comprehensive quarterly training is provided to employees who review documents in response to FOIA requests.” And that “Staffing has remained the same. Any vacant positions were filled during the year.”

The OIG report on staff development, training, staffing gaps

  • IPS management has not made staff development a priority because of the heavy workload. Some employees noted that the only training they have received during their tenure in IPS is on-the-job training and that they receive minimal constructive feedback regarding performance.
  • IPS does not have a plan to manage retirements and fill vacancies promptly. Since 2009, 69 employees have retired or resigned. Three division head positions and one branch chief position were vacant at the time of the inspection, one since 2007. The deputy director, in addition to his other duties, serves as acting head for all of those offices. This situation is unacceptable. These offices handle a significant part of the workload for IPS and require consistent, full-time leadership. However, IPS used funding for these positions to hire new full-time equivalents at lower grades.

All together now — Sister Sledge sings “We are family ….”

  • IPS employs an unusually large percentage of WAEs and contractors. The presence of these experienced employees, who work under a flexible system, is a source of strength to the organization. However, the OIG team identified multiple occasions when WAEs reached their hour or salary caps, and IPS rehired them under a contract so that they could continue performing the same work. It is not permissible for an employee on a temporary appointment who reaches his or her hourly or salary cap to continue work as a contractor performing the same duties.10 This practice can result in violations of Federal employee ethical standards and related criminal laws.
  • At the time of the inspection, three former deputy directors and one former senior advisor of IPS were working as contractors. The common perception among IPS staff is that only certain employees are provided this opportunity. The OIG team found several cases of immediate family members of IPS employees working in the office. Several employees raised the issue of nepotism in questionnaires or interviews with inspectors, and staff thought that family members have an advantage in the office. Some of these same family members were interns in the IPS student program before they received a full-time position with the Department.

Trickle up Awards Program Sounds Familiar?

  • IPS has an active awards program, but many employees noted that its implementation appears unfair. A few upper-level management employees appeared to receive consistent high-dollar cash awards in the past 3 years, but division staff at lower grade levels did not receive corresponding amounts. According to staff members, many believe that only a select group of individuals in IPS receives awards each year.

More not so fun details:

  • Many position descriptions have not been updated recently, with some dating from 1990.
  • IPS cannot identify how many records the Department creates.
  • IPS cannot account for hard-copy records that domestic bureaus and overseas posts should be sending on a regular basis to the records service center.
  • Despite the large number of hard-copy documents IPS reproduces, the office lacks copy machines that can handle the volume required.
  • In the absence of an accurate inventory, AAS was only able to estimate the levels of idle equipment as between 70 and 125 workstations.
  • SMART [State Messaging and Archival Retrieval Toolset] captured 61,156 of an estimated 15 million record emails in the system that should be captured.
  • An estimated 13,000 cubic feet of retired records are past due for destruction.
  • IPS issues office-specific security badges to its own employees [...] Issuance of the IPS-specific badges is excessive and a waste of resources.

The Chief FOIA Officer reports that “Due to its global structure and the nature of its record holdings, the Department faces great challenges in achieving full compliance with the time limits of the FOIA.”  But don’t you worry, she insists in her annual report that “it remains committed to achieving the fullest possible compliance, with the greatest level of customer service.”

Related items:

Inspection of the Bureau of Administration, Global Information Services, Office of Information Programs and Services Report Number ISP-I-12-54, September 2012

State Department Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer Annual Report | March 12, 2012

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