Category Archives: AFSA

US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies

– Domani Spero

On May 22, the AP reported that an explosion in a nine-story apartment building on Kutuzovsky Prospektin central Moscow believed to have been caused by natural gas has injured four people including a U.S. Embassy Moscow diplomat.

On the same day, the US Embassy in Moscow released the following brief statement:

The U.S. Embassy confirms that a U.S. diplomat was injured in a reported gas explosion at an apartment building on Kutuzovskiy Prospect today. While few details are currently available, we are closely monitoring the situation and appreciate the support shown for our employee’s quick recovery.

The State Department spokesperson also made the following statement:

A U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow was injured in a reported gas explosion at an apartment building in Moscow earlier today. The employee has been hospitalized and is receiving medical treatment. Other employees who lived in the building have been evacuated. Our thoughts, of course, are with the Embassy employee and her family. We appreciate the support we have received from Russian authorities, including first responders. And beyond that, of course, there are just few details available about the cause.

 

ITAR-TASS reported that a female U.S.citizen injured in the explosion was brought to a hospital in a helicopter of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry (EMERCOM).

The Moscow Times, citing law enforcement authorities also  reported that the embassy worker received burns on up to 80 percent of her body. Investigators have reportedly opened a criminal case into the explosion on charges of violating construction safety regulations, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years.

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

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

What about that gas explosion?

We were told that the victim lived in an apartment building that housed over a dozen other US embassy staffers. The explosion happened in the morning and most of the other diplomats were out of the building.  She was supposedly waiting for the repair crew to come and take care of a reported gas leak.  All other mission employees have been relocated elsewhere and are awaiting to either get permission to return to their apts or get a new housing assignment.  The State Department fire inspector arrived this week and is supposedly working with the Russians to ascertain who is at fault. Word has it that the Russians have been exceptionally helpful throughout and are cooperating with the investigation.

This is not the first gas explosion involving embassy housing.  There was another gas explosion late last year in an embassy owned house.  We were told that the family reportedly escaped in time in that incident. Unconfirmed rumors at this time: 1) That the residents had complained for awhile about the smell of gas prior to this incident; 2) Some allegations related to US appliances rigged to Russian gas mains. Perhaps the current investigation would help shed light whether these rumors are true or not. But wait, how are we going to learn about it when there’s …

An information blackout?

The Russian press  continued covering this incident following the blast, but there apparently was radio silence inside the mission for almost three days following this accident. And now there’s very little talk about this incident or the death of the employee, why?  Blame that to the  June 2 ALDAC cable that went out to all diplomatic and consular posts with “fairly strict instructions” not to share too much information about this with the “public.” Our chargé d’affaires (CDA) in Moscow has reportedly cited privacy to the embassy staff as the main reason for this instruction. We understand that the CDA also told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome.  Let’s watch out for that. Our email inquiry to US Embassy Moscow got lost in a  sink hole and from the looks of it, is still lost.

As an aside — we really do think the State Department should be compelled to report deaths of official Americans overseas. Why? Because they went overseas on USG orders. DOD identifies its casualties, why not State? At a minimum there ought to be  a reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel under chief of mission authority.

Sec. 204(c) of P.L. 107-228, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, mandates that, to the maximum extent practicable, the Department of State collect and make available on the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site certain information with respect to each United States citizen who dies in a foreign country from a non-natural cause. Unfortunately, the numbers available do not appear to include deaths of embassy personnel and family members on official orders.   For instance, George Anikow, a US Marine and spouse of US Embassy diplomat was murdered in the Philippines in November 2012. CA Bureau’s death records for the Philippines indicate zero death for November 2012. The AFSA memorial plaque only includes Americans “who lost their lives under heroic, other inspirational circumstances, or otherwise in the line of duty.” As far as we can tell, the plaque excludes certain deaths like suicides and is not an exhaustive list of all personnel lost year to year.

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A State Department Under Secretary for Security? Our Readers Wade In

– Domani Spero

 

Last week we blogged about AFSA’s opposition to the creation of an Under Secretary for Security position, a position that had been recommended and approved but never implemented following the East Africa Embassy Bombings in 1998.  (See Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!).

The Independent Panel (Sullivan Panel, 2013) tasked with looking into the Best Practices on security after ARB Benghazi (2012) has again recommended the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

Related item: The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013(pdf) via Al Jazeera

The previous recommendation in 2000 was for the creation of a new position for Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism. This to us, appears to make the most sense, instead of having just one for security as the Sullivan Panel recommended.  That said, we are not optimistic this would happen anytime soon.  An expanded bureaucracy is, of course, a legitimate concern.  But to a certain extent, that has already happened with the creation of the DAS for High Threat Posts, except that the internal shuffles only happened within Diplomatic Security, and had not remedied the U/S for Management’s span of control over thirteen bureaus.

About HTP, we understand that it now stands for ‘High Threat Programs’?  Here’s an explanation from a blog pal in the know (Thanks T!) on HTP and danger posts:

“That term “High Threat Posts” was a very poor choice for the name of the new DS office, since it seems to say that high threat levels alone are enough to qualify a post for special security interest. They’ve now changed the name to “High Threat Programs,” but that’s just as bad. It’s actually a combination of high threat levels,  low host government willingness and/or capability to provide security support,  and a really bad mission physical security platform that puts a post on the list. That’s why the HTP list doesn’t correlate with the danger pay list, and why it doesn’t include even some posts that have a history of attacks. “

Diplomatic Security Great Seal

Diplomatic Security Great Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In any case, we’ve invited readers to send us their thoughts for or against the creation of an Under Secretary for Security. Below is a selection of the feedback we received:

  • ▶︎ As an active DS Agent, I fully support the creation of the U/S position. DS should have a preeminent role in the security decisions facing our diplomats. It is a complete travesty that this recommendation was made 14 years ago and still hasn’t been implemented.
  • ▶︎ I support an U/S for Security position.  It signals that the Department actually takes the safety and security of our foreign service personnel seriously. An organization chart reflects the priorities of the organization. The senior security professional should be place as high as possible within the organization and should report directly to the senior executive in the organization. The DoS currently shows they don’t take security seriously when the head of security for the organization reports to the U/S for Management instead of reporting directly to the Secretary.
  • ▶︎ A DS U/S would be a dedicated security and law enforcement  professional with the ability to ensure that security considerations are given fair discussion.
  • ▶︎ AFSA and the Department hold FSOs up as the main decision makers on everything even though they usually aren’t the best qualified. Could you imagine the uproar if we created a working group of DS Agents to decide our political or economic policies? Yet, they convene a panel of FSOs to decide security policy and no one bats an eyelash.
  • ▶︎ I’m worried that if the U/S for Security becomes a reality the Department would fill it with a political appointee or someone outside of DS which I think would be completely unfair. Could you imagine the FBI or Secret Service filling their top position with someone outside their respective agency?
  • ▶︎ While I can think of several good reasons to have, I think all will be outweighed by the fact that this will end up being a political appointee position that would have no insight into State Department operations, no knowledge or understanding of DS operations and no true experience in security operations on the global scale within which DS operates.
  • ▶︎ Our FSO colleagues can write and they can  move US policy forward. But most are completely clueless when it  comes to security and law enforcement. I see it every day. ‘Nobody  would hurt me. I’m here to help. ‘ A DS U/S would mirror the  overseas environment where other sections partner with RSOs to get  things done.  I always tell my colleagues that you tell me what you want/need to do and I’ll figure out a way to do it. It may not be exactly as they were thinking (sometimes the ideas are simply wacky), but we’ll get the work done.
  • ▶︎ Why shouldn’t there be an U/S for DS?  Start with the Finding on page 17 of the “Green Report.”  (Like the Sullivan Report, not distributed within or outside the Department, but — also like the Sullivan Report — available on Al-Jazeera’s website.)  Then read the rest of the report.
  • ▶︎ In support of a U/S for DS, INR and CT, the Secretary would be in a position to nominate an experienced, credible and respected leader such as retired Generals John R. Allen or Stan McCrystal.  This type of person would be influential and provide advise on how to best mesh security with diplomatic engagement, along with oversight for DS, INR and CT = a true model for how to break the shackles of DS under the M paradigm.

 

And then here’s this one from an FSO:

  • ▶︎ As someone who has recently served in one of the most dangerous posts in the world, I fully support the Foreign Service union’s message.  I, along with many of my colleagues, often felt extremely frustrated by the security restrictions that the Regional Security Office imposed on us diplomats.  We only rarely left our compound.  And after the fallout from Banghazi, we often couldn’t even go to other Embassies for social functions.  However – other embassy personnel – the ones who carried guns – didn’t have to follow the same rules.  As a result, they became the faces of the embassy to both the public and to the rest of the international community while we – the diplomats – stayed cloistered in our compound.  Often we felt like mere fig leaves or window dressing, present in a country only for cover to the military and security types, even though many of us would have willingly accepted the same risks that they did for the sake of our mission.  I strongly believe that the work we diplomats do abroad is equally important to the national interest as the work done by the military and other agencies.  Why then, should we not take the same risks as they do?

We’ve done away with the comments section in this blog for a while now, but it’s open today if you have additional thoughts to share.

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Ambassadors Certificates of Demonstrated Competency Now Online: Better Formatted Than Ever Before! (Updated)

– Domani Spero

In March this year, WaPo reported on AFSA’s demands that the State Department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials. (See AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

In early April, AFSA announced that it was given the documents but declined to make them public until the State Department did so. Below is an excerpt from the announcement:

We concluded that more transparency would benefit all: publication of the certificates of demonstrated competence – prior to a nominee’s hearing – together with an effort to write the certificates to specifically address the criteria in the AFSA Guidelines, would open up the process to the public and address directly the issues of qualifications for all nominees. We proposed this to the White House. They agreed that, going forward – as part of the Transparency in Government initiative and a forward looking legacy – the State Department will publish more detailed certificates on state.gov in real time. These revised documents will use the AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas:

  • Leadership, Character and Proven Interpersonal Skills
  • Understanding of High Level Policy and Operations
  • Management
  • Understanding of Host Country or Relevant International Experience

Media response to AFSA’s Chiefs of Mission initiative has been very favorable, and has helped raise our public profile.

Updated 5/9/14 1:14 pm PST: AFSA has now posted the certificates released by the State Department under FOIA.

On Thursday, we noticed that the ambassadorial nominees’ “Certificates of Competency” have now been posted online at state.gov:

“Under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Certificates of Competency must be presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each candidate nominated by the President to serve as a bilateral Ambassador overseas and for the candidates for Ambassador to the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).”

As of this writing, there are only two files online.

On May 1, President Obama announced the following nominees:

  • Gentry O. Smith – Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service, Department of State
  • George Albert Krol – Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Department of State
  • Mark William Lippert – Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Department of State
  • James D. Nealon – Ambassador to the Republic of Honduras, Department of State
  • Dana Shell Smith – Ambassador to the State of Qatar, Department of State

We don’t quite know what “real time” means anymore.

In any case, President Obama announced the nomination of Alice Wells, to be the next ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan on April 10, 2014. The WH released the following brief bio:

Alice G. Wells, Nominee for Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Department of State

Alice G. Wells, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.  Ms. Wells served as an assessor at the Foreign Service Board of Examiners in 2013.  She was Special Assistant to the President for Russia and Central Asia in the White House from 2012 to 2013 and Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton from 2011 to 2012.  She served as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns from 2009 to 2011, and previously served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia from 2006 to 2009.  Ms. Wells was Director of Maghreb Affairs and Acting Director of Egypt and North African Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2003 to 2005.  She served as Senior Desk Officer for Egyptian Affairs from 2002 to 2003, Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 2001 to 2003, and Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan from 1998 to 2000.  Prior to that, Ms. Wells served as a Political Officer and a Political-Military Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as well as a Political and Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Ms. Wells received a B.A. from Stanford University and a joint M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles/Rand Corporation.

Below is Ms. Wells’ “Certificate of Demonstrated Competency” available here via state.gov.

 Screen Shot 2014-05-08

The certificate for the nominee for Djibouti is  here.

The “revised documents” were touted as “more detailed certificates” that will use the “AFSA Guidelines to illustrate nominees’ experience in the four key areas.”

By coincidence and some would say perfect timing, Yahoo News has just published the competency certificate of President Obama’s nominee for Norway, George Tsunis.

Via Yahoo News

Via Yahoo News

 

It looks like Yahoo News has also obtained the certificates for the nominees to Hungary (Bell) and Argentina (Mamet) and who knows how many more.

Folks, you know who won this round, right?  Okay, that’s it, enjoy the new format!

 

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Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service union recently released its Security Recommendations from its QDDR Security Working Group.

The recommendations available here includes the following number one item:

“We are opposed to the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security. Cross cutting decisions involving security and achieving other national priorities need to be consolidated, not further divided.”

Whaaaaat?  Here is how the AFSA Security Working Group explains it:

Non-concurrence with Decision to Create new Under Secretary for Security 

The Benghazi ARB, the Report of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, and the OIG Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process all focus on the need to tighten and better focus responsibility for security at senior levels. The independent panel report recommends the creation of a new undersecretary level position for security. We disagree.

The problem is not just security but finding the balance between risk, resources, and the accomplishment of national foreign policy objectives. The result, as the OIG report notes (pg. 4), is that contrary positions tend to be “represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management.” Creating a new undersecretary for security will do nothing to resolve this problem and, in fact, is likely to prioritize security over our reason for being in risky locations in the first place. The need is for a single location to reconcile the two perspectives and take responsibility for the resulting decisions. This could either be in the U/S for political affairs or, as the IG recommends, at the level of the Deputy Secretary level but it should not be in a new U/S devoted exclusively to security.

All three reports note the 14-year failure at consistent implementation of similar recommendations made previously. A significant challenge for Department leadership will be to put in place and maintain effective implementation mechanisms. Almost as important will be to convince its personnel that it continues to pay attention once the political heat dies down.

Can we just say that we disagree with AFSA’s disagreement? You really want the policy folks to have the last say on security?  Really?

We have reached out to AFSA to determine who were the members of this Working Group but have not heard anything back. (Have not heard back because no one wants to hear more questions about The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate?)  We understand from interested readers that AFSA is reportedly saying these are not “policy prescriptions” and that “The papers were reviewed and approved by the AFSA Governing Board before they were submitted to the QDDR office at State.”

What is clear as day is that the diplomats union is now on record not just in non-concurrence but in opposing the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security.

Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Gregory B. Starr was asked about this new position during his confirmation hearing, and here is what he said:

Prior to Mr. Starr’s nomination and subsequent confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, he was appointed to a non-renewable term of five years as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security in 2009. As head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (DSS), he reported directly to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Starr’s response to the question on elevating Diplomatic Security to an under secretary position is perhaps not totally surprising.  In the org structure DS reports to M; M being one of the six under secretaries in the State Department.  Can you imagine how it would have been received in Foggy Bottom had he publicly supported the creation of the U/S for Diplomatic Security at the start of his tenure?

Meanwhile, Congress which is now on its 4,487th hearing on Benghazi and counting, has also not been a fan of elevating DS to the under secretary level.  Last year, this is what the HFAC chairman said:

“I won’t endorse a new undersecretary position until the State Department provides the committee with a compelling rationale,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “More bureaucracy is not synonymous with effective security.”

Mr. Starr talks about access to the Secretary and his deputies, Congressman Royce talks about an expanding bureaucracy, and AFSA talks about “consolidation” at “P” or the Deputy Secretary level. The Dems think Pfftt and the GOP is basically still talking about those darn “talking points.”

No one is talking about fixing the “span of control” or the “organizational structure” that needs work.

We’re afraid that we’ll be back talking about this again, unfortunately, at some future heartbreak.

Diplomatic Security: Things were a changin’ in the 1980s

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State, by administrative action, established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by a Director holding a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State on Nov 4, 1985. The creation of the new Bureau followed recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (the Inman Panel), which studied means of protecting Department personnel and facilities from terrorist attacks. Congress authorized the Bureau, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of Aug 27, 1986 (P.L. 99-399; 100 Stat. 856).

What state.gov does not specifically say on its history page is that the creation of the DS bureau was a direct result of the bombing of the Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.

This.

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut. (Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut.
(Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

In the short history of the bureau, there had been four FSOs appointed as assistant secretary and three non-career appointees.  The current assistant secretary, Mr. Starr is the first career security official to lead the DS bureau. Since its inception, the bureau has been relegated to the administrative and management bureaus.  FSO Robert Lamb who was Administration A/S in 1985 assumed duties as Coordinator of the Office of Security. He was designated Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Nov 4, 1985 and appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security on March 12, 1987.

According to this, Diplomatic Security is responsible for this:

Diplomatic Security  protects the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. employees under Secretary of State and Chief of Mission authority worldwide, as well as the lives of approximately 70,000 family members of these employees. An additional 40-45,000 locally engaged staff (LES) are also protected during working hours. In sum, with 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel and other critical staff, DS successfully protects almost 150,000 employees and family members during business hours, and about 100,000 U.S. employees and family members around the clock. Approximately 275 foreign service posts abroad, comprising thousands of buildings and residences, also fall under the Department’s responsibility and the DS protective security purview.

Currently, the DS bureau is one of thirteen bureaus including Budget and Planning, Human Resources, Overseas Buildings Operations under the “M” family of offices in the Under Secretary for Management. In essence, the top security official at State is not a security official but a management official.

Badda bing badda boom – Reorganization Sorta Done

The State Department has now created a DAS for High Threat Posts.  The State Department could argue that it has done “DS reorganization” with the creation of a new DAS for High Threat Posts.

The new DAS position for High Threat Posts was announced in November 2012, even before ARB Benghazi issued its report. Did it show the State Department’s quick response  ahead of the curve? Absolutely. The ARB report would later call the creation of the DAS HTP as a “positive first step.” 

Congress was partially mollified, something was being done.  

Just because something is being done doesn’t mean what is being done is what is needed or necessary.

We’ve learned in the Nairobi and Tanzania bombings that those missions were not even high threat posts when they were attacked. Also, in the August 2013 closure of posts in the Middle East and North Africa due to the potential for terrorist attacks, only four of 19 were designated as high threat posts.  And when we last blogged about this, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts  have zero danger pay.  

So why an office and a new DAS for HTP?

We think that the creation of a new DAS for HTP was a band-aid solution that everyone could get behind.  It did not encroach on anyone’s turf, no one had to give up anyone or anything, it did not require new money from Congress, it’s a new desk in the same shop, under the same old structure. It could be done cheaply and fast. Add a well-respected DS agent as A/S and tadaaaa — badda bing badda boom – reorganization sort of done!

 

Elevating Diplomatic Security — A 14-Year Old Idea Comes Back

Elevating Diplomatic Security in placement and reporting  within the State Department is not a new idea. The Accountability Review Board following the twin bombings of the the US Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania recommended  in January 1999 that “a single high-ranking officer [be] accountable for all protective security matters.”

13. First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of US diplomatic personnel abroad. It is essential to convey to the entire Department that security is one of the highest priorities. In the process, the Secretary should reexamine the present organizational structure with the objective of clarifying responsibilities, encouraging better coordination, and assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the Secretary’s behalf such activities within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

The ARB Nairobi/Tanzania was not talking about an assistant secretary, since that position was already in existence since 1985. It clearly was talking about a higher ranking official accountable for security.

August 1998:  The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

In fact, in the aftermath of the East Africa twin bombings, there was a move to consolidate security and threat intelligence functions under one entity, the Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism and having Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary of State.

The Cohen-Albright memo proposed combining pertinent security and threat intelligence units into one single unit within the new DS (operational threat intelligence functions of Intelligence & Research (INR), DS Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), and the threat analysis unit of Counter—Terrorism (S/CT). The rationale for this?  That “this will ensure that we have one single entity within the Department responsible for all operational security and threat intelligence, and it also establishes clear, formalized lines of communication and accountability on threat matters with the IC and the Department.”Currently, INR continues to reports directly to the Secretary, CT reports to (J) and ITA remains at DS.

One change that did happen as a result of the twin bombings  was the relocation of RSOs reporting authority from Management Counselors to the Principal Officers at overseas posts.  The (M) at that time, Bonnie Cohen instructed posts that RSOs must now report to, and be evaluated by, DCMS or Principal Officers, rather than their current reporting relationship to administrative counselors. In her memo to Secretary Albright, she wrote: “This will elevate the role of security at posts, ensure that senior post management are engaged in the decision making process of security/threat issues, and establish clear lines of accountability, responsibility and communication. This will correct a number of problems that have arisen by having DS personnel part of the administrative section at post.” See the Cohen to Albright memo here (pdf).

The May 5, 2000 action memo from DS which was approved by Secretary Albright called for placement of  the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) , International Narcotics and Law Enforcement(INL) and the then Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (CT) under this newly created Under Secretary. INL and CT currently reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). The new under secretary position proposed and approved in 2000, an election year, never materialized. Secretary Albright was in office until January 19, 2001.  A new administration came into office and in January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.  See the Carpenter to Albright memo here (pdf).

Similarly, following the Benghazi attacks, the Accountability Review Board Benghazi made the following recommendation in December 2012:

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

 

The Independent Panel on Best Practices was the result of the ARB Benghazi recommendation that the State Department established a Panel of outside independent experts with experience in high threat, high risk areas to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, identify best practices from other agencies and countries and regularly evaluate security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  The panel headed by former USSS Director Mark Sullivan made one thing clear:

“One clear and overarching recommendation, crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

Aaand, we’re back exactly where we were in the late 1990s when  Booz Allen was asked to look under the rocks on all security concerns about the Department cited in the Inman Panel Report and Admiral Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards and tasked with providing recommendations and best practices to the State Department.

Do you get a feeling that we’ve been going round and round in circle here?

 

Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security – Signed, Sealed, Delivered – and Ignored?

We should note here that the  Independent Panel on Best Practices (IPoBP) report is not locatable at the State Department’s website.  The August 2013 report is available here via Al Jazeera. U.S. taxpayers paid for the Panel members to  go look under the rocks, interview hundreds of people, write up their report, and the report is only retrievable from AJAM? Seven months after the report was issued, the State Department’s Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom met with members of the Best Practices Panel on March 26, 2014.

These two items tell us the clear importance placed by the bureaucracy on the recommendations of outside independent experts. It’s like — it’s done, now go away.

We suspect that had the Independent Panel on Best Practices report did not make it to AJAM, we may not have been able to read it. A copy was also given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

The Best Practices report says that “crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

If this position is created, it would be the seventh under secretary position at the State Department. It would join two other “Security” bureaus: Arms Control and International Security (T) and Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). It would be at par with its previous home, Management (M). It would be on equal footing with Political Affairs (P). It would control a significant security budget and about 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel , other critical staff and contractors. It could draw bureaus from other under secretaries, similar to the ones approved in 1999 and never implemented, into the DS orbit.  Most importantly, it would report directly to the Secretary of State:  one accountable security official with the authority necessary to manage on the Secretary’s behalf security matters  within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

That’s a lot of change. There will be tooth and nail fights on lots of corridors.  The new Deputy Secretary Higginbottom will have lots of friends who will borrow her ears. And the bureaucracy will go on self-preservation mode.

One good news if this happens?  There will be no pointing fingers at each other when something horrible happens.  We’ll have one accountable official to drag before Congress.

Speaking of “T” and “J”, a diplomatic security agent asked, “Does that mean we give more importance to ‘international security’ and ‘civilian security’ than we give to our own personnel?”

Does it?

 

DS Doesn’t Need to be in the Room?

At posts overseas, the Regional Security Officer reports to the Ambassador not the Management Counselor (see the Cohen  to Albright memo here).  The Best Practices report notes that this  “direct line of authority from the Ambassador to the RSO, utilizing the Country Team and Emergency Action Committee when necessary, was seen as critical to effective post security management and responding to dynamic threats.”In part, the report says:

[A]t the headquarters level, the same clear lines of authority and understanding of responsibilities are not as well defined or understood. This has led to stove-piped support to posts and lack of understanding of security related coordination requirements among DS, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Regional Bureaus, as noted by the Benghazi ARB. In fact, some senior Foreign Service officers and DS Agents who met with the Panel identified the Under Secretary for Management (M) as the senior security official in the Department responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.
[...]
Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based both on policy and security considerations. “
[...]
Diplomatic Security is only one of eleven diverse support and administrative functions reporting to the Under Secretary for Management. This is a significant span of control issue and, if unaddressed, could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.

 

So moving DS into an under secretary position under S simply mirrors what is already happening at posts overseas. Except that like everything else in a bureaucracy, it’s complicated.

AFSA says that creating a new under secretary for security will not resolve the contrary positions that typically resides between Management (M) and Political Affairs (P) and would “likely result in prioritizing security” over the reason for being in risky locations in the first place.

A DS agent who supports the creation of a U/S for DS explained it to us this way:

“What they really mean is that security considerations raised by a DS U/S would have to be given equal  weight to the other reasons for being in a risky location.”

What we’re told is that all the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries have to do right now is convinced “M” that they need to be at location X.  They do not need to work with DS at all. “When  D is getting briefed, DS doesn’t even have to be in the room.” 

Now, that might explain why DS professionals have very strong feelings about this.

So what if it’s going to be a three-way bureaucratic shootout?

You might have heard that Benghazi has flared up once more.  Take a look at this screen grab from one of the emails recently released via FOIA by the State Department to Judicial Watch.  Who’s missing from this email?

Screen Shot 2014 email fogarty

A Staff Assistant to the Secretary, received an update from the A/S NEA about Benghazi and passed on the update to the senior officials in Foggy Bottom. You’d expect an update from a diplomatic security official, but as you can see in the email header, neither the sender nor the source of this email is even Diplomatic Security.

One more thing –we have occasionally heard what goes on at posts before it goes on evacuation. At one post, the Front Office did not want to go on evac because it was concerned it would become an “unaccompanied post” and thereafter limit the quality of bidders it would get during the assignment season. The decision whether post should go on authorized or ordered departure does not reside with the security professionals but with management and geographic officials.

So basically, if this  U/S for Security position becomes a reality, instead of a bureaucratic shootout between P and M, there would be a three-way shootout between P, M and DS.  In addition to policy  and resource consideration, the bureaucracy will be expected to give security considerations equal  weight when standing up a presence in a risky location or on any matter with a security component.  If the three could not sort it out, the Deputy Secretary or the Secretary would have the last say.

The Best Practices Panel says that “An effective security function must be co-equal to the other organizational
components and have a “seat at the table” to ensure strategic accountability, common understanding of risk, and corresponding mitigation options and costs.

Frankly, we cannot find a reason to argue with that, can you?

Are we doing this again in 2025?

Here is a blast from the past:

The Under Secretary would coordinate on your behalf all operational threat intelligence and security issues with other USG agencies.[...] This reorganization offers better command, control and accountability of Departmental security functions and responsibilities; streamlines the flow of security and threat intelligence information with DS as the focal point for the intelligence agencies; sends a strong signal to the Hill and others that we are taking security seriously by this reorganization; addresses the ARBs‘ findings; and institutionalizes the security apparatus at State to reflect a robust, progressive and disciplined approach to security, which is unaffected by political or personal preferences.

 That reorganization was never implemented. And here we are back to where we were some 14 years ago.

Are we going to do this again in 2025?

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P.S. We’d be happy to put together the top ten reasons for and against the creation of an Under Secretary of  for Security. Send your contributions here by this Friday. The names of contributors, for obvious reasons, will not be published. If we get enough submissions, we’ll blogit.

 

Related items:

Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 | January 1999: http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/arb/accountability_report.html

Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report on Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012 (pdf) (Unclassified) December 2012 | More documents here: http://www.state.gov/arbreport/

The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013 (pdf) via Al Jazeera

 

 

 

 

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The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate

– Domani Spero

We recently blogged about the hold on the commission, tenure and promotion of 1,705 career Foreign Service employees at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?).

We wondered then if this was one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuclear” option.

Here’s what we were told by AFSA:

“FYI – this has nothing to do with the nuclear option – its strictly about State’s vetting process.”

AFSA then sent us a link of its April 1 notice to its membership: Ask the Senate to Support Foreign Service Employees!

After reading that, we were struck by the following line:

“We urge the SFRC to address issues regarding vetting of names for criminal background checks collaboratively. Simultaneously we ask the SFRC to grant these men and women the commissioning, tenure and promotions for which they’ve been recommended.”

Huh?

We asked AFSA again — what sort of vetting are we talking about here? All these nominees pending on the SFRC have Top Secret clearances and have been vetted by Diplomatic Security.

We got the following response:

“There are some differences in what the State Department does and what DoD does both in substance and information provided to oversight committees. […] it does NOT have to do with DS vetting and TS clearances.  There may be some periods of time and activity that are not being captured by current vetting process and I think State is amenable to working with committee to resolve.”

We did the underline there.  We don’t know what the heck that means!

So nothing to do with the nuclear option.

Nothing to do with Diplomatic Security vetting.

And nothing to do with TS clearances.

Wow!

What a strange mess! Anybody know what this is really all about?

Again from your elected AFSA official:

“Both the State Department and DoD vet/scrub the lists with internal and external agencies before they send the list to the Senate and its respective committees – SFRC, SASC.  This vetting/scrub is what is being discussed.”

Arghhh! Arff! Arff!

AFSA’s letter to the SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Bob Corker does not explain how this mess started in December 2013 but provides some details on the groups impacted by the Senate hold:

Now 1800 FS Employees Stuck at the SFRC

“[W]e are writing to convey our deep concerns about the impact that the delayed confirmations of tenure and promotions for career Foreign Service employees is having on U.S. diplomatic operations and U.S. national interests. When we raised this matter back in December 2013, nearly 1,300 individuals were affected by the holds. As of this time, there are approximately 1,800 members of the Foreign Service from four foreign affairs agencies (Department of State, USAID, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service) who await Senate confirmation of appointment, tenure, or promotion.”

200 FS Employees Waiting to Officially Join the SFS

“Of these, over 200 employees of all four agencies are awaiting confirmation of their promotions into or within the Senior Foreign Service. These members are affected financially in two distinct ways. First, the pay increases earned as a result of their promotions cannot be paid until attestation by the president, nor can the promotions be back-dated so as to overcome this loss of remuneration. Second, unless the promotions are confirmed and attested before April 15, 2014, they are not eligible to be reviewed for, or to receive, performance pay. In addition, uncertainty besets the onward assignments of these 200 members. Failure to confirm these officers as members of the Senior Foreign Service affects the ability of consulates, embassies and USAID missions to conduct the business of the United States overseas.”

Over 900 Waiting for FSO Commissions

“Over 900 of the remaining officers are awaiting commissioning as Foreign Service officers and secretaries in the diplomatic service, almost half of whom have been waiting close to a year. Several of them are approaching the limit of their 5-year Limited Career Appointments. If that expires without their being commissioned, they are supposed to leave the Foreign Service in accordance with Section 309 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 USC §3949.) Moreover, as untenured officers, they are ineligible to receive some pay differentials for positions, which they currently encumber. Overall, this is having a severe effect on their morale and their eligibility for onward assignments. Unfortunately, this prolonged wait and uncertainty is coloring their impressions of public service at the beginning of their careers.”

Over 600 FSOs Without Consular Commissions

“Finally, over 600 new Foreign Service officers, just starting their Limited Career Appointments, have not yet received commissions as consular officers. Without a Consular Commission, these entry-level officers are technically not authorized to adjudicate visas and perform other consular work. In addition, the possession of a Consular Commission is generally a prerequisite to the granting by a host nation of all necessary diplomatic privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention.”

 

So, when we read this, our immediate reaction was where is the State Department leadership in all this? We know that Secretary Kerry and his top officials are often traveling but  there’s a whole lot of ranking officials in Foggy Bottom who could interface with the leadership and staff of the SFRC. Where is the Under Secretary for Management? Where is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources?

But see – what we heard from insiders is that the State Department reportedly said: “AFSA had the lead on fixing this.” 

Well, that’s terribly odd, isn’t it?

Secretary Kerry was at the SFRC on April 8, and made passing mention of the nominations, but we sorta think he’s talking about the top ranking nominees.  We don’t even know if he’s aware that 1,800 of his employees are stuck in the committee:

“I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee.”

The Secretary did not specifically mention that  Ambassador Carlos Pascual who was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources on February 17, 2012 has been stuck in committee with Super Glue for 760 days.

Secretary Kerry also did not specifically mentioned the blanket senate hold during the April 8 hearing that affects about 10% of his agency’s workforce. And really — what do you do with 600 consular officers without their Consular Commissions? Have they been adjudicating visas without their Consular Commissions, and if so, what kind of immunity and diplomatic privileges are afforded these officials overseas?

But wait, like on teevee — there’s more!

We are now also hearing disturbing allegations that the genesis of this mess started long before December 2013, even going back to 2012.

It is alleged that this all started with one name on the promotion list. The original initiator (who apparently is not/not a stranger to AFSA and the State Department) allegedly brought a specific name on the promotion list to the attention of a Senate staffer. It is alleged that the action was taken using personal connections cultivated in the Senate. The key question at that time allegedly revolved around the security clearance of one — one specific individual and resulted in the removal of  this individual’s name from the promotion list.

Now, why would anyone do that?

If we could hire Veronica Mars, she’d definitely bug this  Mr. Initiator guy then we’d have the full story.

It is further alleged that  subsequent to the removal of that one name from the promotion list, the same SFRC staffer also identified several other FSOs who were subjects of “investigations” at some point in their careers. In most cases, these investigations reportedly were in the medium to distant past (as much as 10 or 15 years ago). Our source, clearly frustrated says that the fact that these investigations occurred in the past has not deterred the senator’s office pursuit of these FSOs.

This year’s senate hold reportedly started with an assertion by one senator’s office that the military vets people better than State does, and that the State Department list is “riddled with people” whose actions had been questioned “by OIG and others.”  We don’t know who consists of “others.” Our source familiar with this matter but speaking on background said that one senator reportedly vowed “not to approve any FS name until the matter was resolved.” The same SFRC staffer allegedly involved in the initial promotion list snafu works for this one senator. Senior State Department officials have reportedly demonstrated that, unlike the military, all State employees have TS clearances which include name checks. We’re told that at the senate’s request, the SOP on vetting at the State Department now goes “further” than what is required by the military. We do not know what “further” or additional layers of vetting were added.

The following areas were supposedly contentious:

#1. The automatic exclusion of any employees with criminal convictions.
#2. The separate nomination of any employees with “problems.”

Say, wait — how many State Department employees with criminal convictions have been able to hold on to their Top Secret clearance? One, two, a hundred, five hundred?

The number is .. wait for it …. ZERO.

How many State Department employees under investigation or with criminal convictions have been able to keep their names on the promotion list? Hey, don’t they yank your name from that promotion list as soon as there is an investigation with your name on it?

Employees who previously faced investigations and have successfully prevailed/survived the investigations will now be singled out on the promotion list? Why? Should they also be required to wear  “NOT GUILTY BUT” t-shirts to work?

If these employees have been cleared of wrongdoing, why is the Senate hardballing them?

We do not know the full story about this Senate hold involving some 1,800 FS employees but AFSA and the State Department should know who were the names targeted from the promotion lists and why. And if they don’t know the why, then they should find out, of course. If a Senate staffer who has worked in Congress for years just got out of bed one day and decided he/she wants to put a hold on 1,800 names because the “vetting” and “scrubbing” of names have been unsatisfactory all this time — we should all ask why.

Because.  Motive, motive, motive.

Let’s start at the very beginning… oh, where is Sherlock when you need him?

If  the allegation is true, that this whole merry go round mess was initiated by one Foreign Service insider and got out of hand … now then, you’ve got a mess, Houston. One FS person was initially targeted by another FS person using contacts in the Senate. That’s pretty personal.

It looks like you’ve got a petty little beaver who never left hight  high school …

And he’s representing the United States of America.

On Friday, April 11, AFSA released this: Senate Confirms Tenure and Promotion!

 

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Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?

– Domani Spero

 

Do you know how many Foreign Service members are currently awaiting approval for commissioning, tenuring and promotion in the U.S. Senate? 1,705. That’s 1,705 regular folks  in the career service, excluding the ambassadorial nominees.

Some of these names have been submitted since January, and they are all still pending in a dark cauldron brewing in the SFRC.

In a message to its members on March 18, AFSA writes that it “has worked diligently for months on this issue and we would like to alert you that last week, important progress was made in resolving the holds, through the leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Senator Bob Corker (R-TN).   AFSA is confident that both sides have demonstrated the good will necessary to move the process forward and looks now to an amicable and expedited solution to this situation in the coming days.”

The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.

The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

End of the month and here we are.  Neither the Chairman nor the Ranking Member of the SFRC has anything to say about this logjam on their website.

These employees are waiting Senate attestation so they are officially commissioned, tenured and promoted. And you know what, the Foreign Service “bidding season” is fast eating up the days in the calendar.

Why this can get complicated?

A good number of these employees pending at the SFRC will be “bidding” for their next assignments.   The Foreign Service is a rotational, rank-in-person system.  As a consequence, there will be “real” FS-01s, for example and “FS-02s” who are supposed to be treated as 01s but who technically are 02s.

The State Department reportedly is telling folks looking at bids to treat “02” bidders as “01s” and so on and so forth because of inaction from the Senate.

Oh crap, how do you sort them all out?

One frustrated official writes, “I can’t see how this won’t have a major impact as we’re evaluating employees.”

Not only that, we imagine that the bump in pay and associated hardship/danger/COLA allowances (a percentage of basic compensation) will also not get taken care of until the Senate officially blesses these names.

Since bad news comes in threes — you should know that Ambassador Arnold A. Chacon’s nomination as Director General of the Foreign Service got out of the SFRC in February 2 but has been stuck since then waiting for a full vote in the U.S. Senate.

WaPo recently reported that President Obama may have learned how to finally break through the months-long Senate logjam on his ambassadorial nominations: he or Vice President Biden must travel to the countries where nominees would be headed.

Unfortunately for the Foreign Service, neither President Obama nor VP Biden has DGHR listed in their immediate schedule.

Below is the list of nominations pending in committee:

  • Feb 10, 14     PN1419    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott S. Sindelar, and ending Christine M. Sloop, which 6 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Feb 10, 14     PN1418    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Mark L. Driver, and ending Karl William Wurster, which 59 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 10, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1384    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Beata Angelica, and ending Benjamin Beardsley Dille, which 381 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1383    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kevin Timothy Covert, and ending Paul Wulfsberg, which 277 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1382    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Matthew D. Lowe, and ending Wilbur G. Zehr, which 242 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1381    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Gerald Michael Feierstein, and ending David Michael Satterfield, which 196 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1380    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kate E. Addison, and ending William F. Zeman, which 121 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1379    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Kathleen M. Adams, and ending Sean Young, which 112 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1378    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Julie Ann Koenen, and ending Brian Keith Woody, which 94 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1377    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Susan K. Brems, and ending Ann Marie Yastishock, which 45 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1376    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Scott Thomas Bruns, and ending Janelle Weyek, which 23 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1375    Foreign Service Nominations beginning James Benjamin Green, and ending Geoffrey W. Wiggin, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 30, 14     PN1374    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Christopher David Frederick, and ending Julio Maldonado, which 3 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.
  • Jan 09, 14     PN1317    Foreign Service Nominations beginning Ranya F. Abdelsayed, and ending Fireno F. Zora, which 135 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January  9, 2014.

We can’t help but think that this is one more  unintended consequence from the Senate’s “nuklear” option.  This WaPo piece on President Obama’s inability to fill many of his administration’s most important jobs is not even hopeful.

Doesn’t this remind you of  wreck ‘em Plants v. Zombies, the DC edition?

 

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2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awardees

– Domani Spero

According to AFSA, a generous bequest from retired Foreign Service officer Mathilda W. Sinclaire established a program since 1982 honoring Foreign Service employees who excel in the study of hard languages.  The purpose of Ms. Sinclaire’s bequest was to “promote and reward superior achievement by career officers of the Foreign Service [...] while studying one of the Category III or IV languages under the auspices of the Foreign Service Institute.” The guidelines were reportedly amended and updated in October 2001 to expand eligibility for the awards to any career and career-conditional member of the Foreign Service from the Department of State, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS.  The 10 winners of the 2013 Mathilda W. Sinclaire Language Awards are as follows:

  • Miriam R. Asnes – Arabic
  • Sonnet A. Frisbee – Czech
  • Paul F. Narain – Greek
  • Jacob M. Rocca – Hebrew
  • Timothy Shriver – Hungarian
  • Robert Silberstein – Lithuanian
  • Alan J. Smith – Russian
  • Adam T. Stevens – Vietnamese
  • Matthew Wilson – Bulgarian
  • Bryan G. Wockley – Persian/Dari/Afghan

 

We received an email on this noting … “all but one of whom appear to be men. What’s with that?”  We looked at the list of winners from the previous four years and must note that in 2012 seven of the ten awardees were female.

2012: Anne Casper (Kinyarwanda), Vanna Chan (Lithuanian), Rebecca Danis (Pashto), Spencer Fields (Albanian), Christina Le (Greek), Dan McCandless (Dari), Robert Mearkle (Arabic), Nina Murray (Lithuanian), Roshni Nirody (Japanese), Kristen Pisani (Greek) M/F -3/7

2011: Nancy Abella (Dari), Eric Collings (Uzbek), Sarah Grow (Persian/Farsi), James Hallock (Mandarin), Rebecca Hunter (Albanian), Theresa Mangione (Vietnamese), E. Jerome Ryan, Jr. (Japanese), David Vincent Salvo (Serbian/Croatian). M/F-4/4

2010: Daniel Heath Bailey (Latvian), Eric M. Frater (Vietnamese), Melanie Harris Higgins (Indonesian), Bradley Hurst (Hungarian), Andrew J. Partin (Georgian), Daniel Rakove (Mongolian), Stuart Madgett Smith (Greek), Thomas Venner (Tagalog), Vaida Vidugiris (Greek). M/F-7/2

2009: Joshua Baker (Arabic), Laura Brown (Arabic), Zachary Harkenride (Dari), Vincent Traverso (Dari), Meredith Rubin (Icelandic), William M. Coleman (Japanese), Alan Clark (Mandarin Chinese), Scott Hansen (Mandarin Chinese), Denise Shen (Mandarin Chinese), Alfred Boll (Serbian), Adam Hantman (Thai). (Laura Brown was a previous winner for Bosnian in 2003.) M/F-8/2

Arabic as official language

Arabic as official language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It looks like candidates to the Sinclaire Language Awards may be nominated by the language-training supervisors at the FSI School of Language, the language instructors at field schools, or post language officers. According to AFSA’s website, winners are selected by a committee comprising the Dean of the FSI School of Language Studies (or designee), members of the AFSA Governing Board, AFSA Awards Committee and general AFSA membership. Each winner receives a check for $1,000 and a certificate of recognition signed by the AFSA President and the chair of the AFSA Awards committee.

The nomination requires the submission of DS‐651 Language Training Report or DS ‐1354 Language Proficiency Report if appropriate. In addition to the submission of the S/R (speaking/reading) scores, it also requires a nominating statement (not to exceed one page); and, of course, somebody who’s willing to write up and submit the nomination.

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15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina

– Domani Spero

On March 5, 2014, the AFSA Governing Board resolution says that “AFSA will send letters to the Senate and the White House expressing concern that the recent nominations for chief of mission positions in Norway, Hungary and Argentina appear to be based primarily on their status as financial contributors to political campaigns, which is in violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.” 

On Friday, March 7, fifteen former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Senators Reid, McConnell, Menendez, Corker, Franken, Klobuchar, McCain, Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, Kaine, Whitehouse  and others, urging the non-confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Norway, Hungary and Argentina.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from their letter:

Among the nominees for ambassadorships currently under consideration by the Senate, three have generated considerable public controversy: George Tsunis (Norway), Colleen Bell (Hungary), and Noah Mamet (Argentina). The nominations of Mr. Tsunis and Ms. Bell have been forwarded to the full Senate by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and trade union of career members of the Foreign Service, we urge you to oppose granting Senate consent to these three candidates. Although we have no reason to doubt that the nominees are conscientious and worthy Americans, the fact that they appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns, with minimal demonstrated qualifications for their posts, has subjected them to widespread public ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad. As a result, their effectiveness as U.S. representatives in their host countries would be severely impaired from the start. Their nominations also convey a disrespectful message, that relations with the host country are not significant enough to demand a chief of mission with relevant expertise.

These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.”  Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
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During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama recognized the appropriateness of these guidelines, and promised to respect them. The time for the Senate to begin enforcing its own guidelines set forth in law for U.S. diplomatic chiefs of mission is now.  The nation cannot afford otherwise.

The signatories of the letter are Marshall Adair, Thomas Boyatt, Kenneth Bleakley, Theodore Eliot, Franklyn A Harris, William Harrop, Dennis Hays, J. Anthony Holmes, Lars Hydle, Susan Johnson, Alphonse La Porta, John Limbert, John Naland, Lannon Walker, and Theodore Wilkinson.

One scenario where this might get off  the hot topics column is if the nominees themselves recognize that their confirmation hearing performance and subsequent public ridicule would have an impact on their effectiveness as President Obama’s top representatives in their prospective host countries, and withdraw their names for consideration. This would be the less messy route, but we do not anticipate this happening or it would have happened already.

Another scenario is if we get to see more Senate confirmation hearings bungled under similar circumstances, with the accompanying public uproar, and more mockery from cable news and comedians day in and day out — which might, just might make President Obama think, “enough already.” If that happens, it might also forced him to  revisit his promise that “the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.”  Well, that’s a lot of ifs and mights, so we’re not holding our breath.

There is, of course, the ultimate scenario that we have seen before, and no doubt, we’ll see again — Senators’ offices will acknowledge the former AFSA presidents’ letter and others like it, and then proceed to confirm the nominees (Senate holds for ambassadorial nominees seem reserved for nutty reasons like the case of an ancient boyfriend or the ethnic origin of the nominee’s wife). It is just a coincidence that some nominees are also contributors to the Senate Majority PAC, the party’s Senatorial Campaign, the party’s victory fund or even to the guys from the other party.  Oh, but we are extraordinarily special and exceptional that way — watch.

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State Dept Releases Part of FOIA’ed Ambo Credentials — Showing Soon Online? Mm-hmm.

– Domani Spero

On March 7, the State Department released the “certificates of demonstrated competence” requested by AFSA on July 29, 2013. The fulfilled request did not include the second FOIA request filed on February 28, 2014.  The DPB extract below also has brief FOIA data for FY2013, which we did not have when we blogged about this case yesterday (State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It.

Two sources confirmed to us that AFSA has these documents and is reviewing them. These “certificates” or “reports” are typically a page long, as previously described in our post here (AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).  It is our understanding that these docs released today are just bio data and are not confidential.  We’ll have to wait and see whether AFSA would share these “certificates” with their members, and the public by posting them as a subsection of the ambassadors page on its website.

Via DPB, March 7, 2014:

QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether you’ve given the certificates of demonstrated competence to the AFSA representatives?

MS. PSAKI: I do. We have – as I mentioned yesterday, there were two different FOIA requests. So we have fulfilled the requests meeting the July FOIA. That was from – requested from January – January 1st, 2013 to the present time, meaning to when it was – when the process of looking at it began, which means it’s through November. So that is a request we’ve met. The February request is separate. We just received it last week. As I said yesterday, and as is the case in any FOIA, we’re working to process that.

QUESTION: Now, when you say fulfilled, does that mean that you agreed and handed over those certificates –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — unredacted?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any details on that, but just to – and I know somebody asked this question yesterday, but it’s an important note here because I looked into this. These documents that they’re asking for are about a page or two pages long.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: They are certainly not reflective of the qualifications or even that extensive of a background or any – of any of the individuals.

QUESTION: Right, which kind of begs the question as to why it took so – if they’re only a page or two long, why it takes so long to go – anyway. But –

MS. PSAKI: Well, they only –

QUESTION: — when was –

MS. PSAKI: To answer another one of your questions, Matt –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — because I aim to please here –

QUESTION: Uh-huh, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — the request was not made informally or through any other channels –

QUESTION: Before?

MS. PSAKI: — but through the FOIA. Correct, through the FOIA process.

QUESTION: Would they – oh, I suppose this is a hypothetical question, but would – does it – are – could they have gotten it through an informal request? Or do you – would you have demanded that they go through the FOIA route to get them?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t answer that question. I mean, it’s impossible to answer.

QUESTION: Right. And then –

MS. PSAKI: But we do try to provide information –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — and work closely with AFSA.

QUESTION: And when was it fulfilled as – the way –

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to double check on that. I believe it was this morning, but let me double check on that and make sure that’s true.

QUESTION: It was this morning. So you missed their deadline. You were hoping for a little leeway, kind of like the Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: I’ll check and make sure, Matt. Well, they certainly know when we met it or didn’t meet it, right?

QUESTION: Well, right. I know. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a secret to them.

QUESTION: So we need to ask them if they’re satisfied with –

MS. PSAKI: And I can check – well, I can check too when – if it was last night or this morning.

QUESTION: How many tickets – how many tickets were there?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any numbers for you. It was any that were applicable in that timeframe.

QUESTION: Do you have in front of you – and I know the building has put these together, but I don’t know if it’s made its way to you – the response to the question that I asked yesterday, just to get it on the record, for how long it takes on average to respond to FOIA requests for the State Department?

MS. PSAKI: I do, Arshad.

QUESTION: I am delighted. Let’s –

MS. PSAKI: Get excited, it’s a Friday.

QUESTION: Let’s put this on the record. (Laughter.) Excellent.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. In Fiscal Year 2013, the average time to process a simple request was 106 days. In the same fiscal year, the average time to process a complex request was 533 days. To show just a factual point here on efforts to improve, in Fiscal Year 2013, the Department received over 18,000 FOIA requests and processed over 21,000. So we processed more than we received, meaning we’re trying to speed up the process.

QUESTION: So – and I had one other question about that, which is that implies that there is a big backlog that you were able to – right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

 

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State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association was in the news yesterday after announcing that it will file a suit against the State Department if, by end of business day today, it does not get the certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees (see AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

The topic made it to today’s Daily Press Briefing with the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answering questions about AFSA’s FOIA requests for these documents which were reportedly filed on July 29, 2013 and a second request filed on February 28, 2014.  Ms. Psaki refused to make a prediction of whether State would respond to AFSA’s request by the close of business today.

At about 3pm EST, ABC News tweeted that AFSA is giving the State Department until tomorrow morning to furnish the requested “Certificates of Documented Competency” for ambassador nominees.

When you look at that AFSA FOIA request delay of 7 months and a week, it might be useful to note that in FY2012, the State Department’s total requests in backlog is 10,464.   In fact, according to foia.gov, State has one of the highest backlogs, second only to DHS. In FY 2011, the average number of days to process a simple case was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years (see State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).  The oldest pending request, as you can see below is 1,922 days.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

Here is the short version of the March 6, 2014 DPB:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

via Word It Out

Below is the long version from the March 6, 2014 DPB:

QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 –

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are –

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so –

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that –

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand –

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and –

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they –

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one –

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed –

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it –

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

Ali.

QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that –

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process –

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So –

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally –

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So –

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request –

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that –

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o’clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but –

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o’clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Well, then, tomorrow, maybe  — or we’ll wonder who’ll stop the rain …

 

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