Category Archives: Censorship

State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?

On June 21, 2012, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) posted the following report: Compliance Followup Review of Embassy Islamabad and Constituent Posts, Pakistan (ISP-C-12-28A)  [563 Kb] dated 05/31/12.

It made the news cycle for a couple of days because it contains the following:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation [(b) (5) REDACTED] The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.

That’s about all that was reported in the mainstream press.  But enough to rile everyone up.  Our officials being harassed by officials in Pakistan, the same country which is the recipient of one of the largest aid bucket in recent years.  That’s just really offensive.  Of course, the extra fine details of that official harassment had been extensively redacted in the published report. Which is understandable. With both countries trying to hold on to this extremely difficult marriage, do we really need to pour more fuel to what is already a raging fire.  So we’ll even accept that the redactions were necessary.

We’re slowly catching up with our reading and noticed one other key judgement in that report, as follows:

In the management section, a highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight from the front office, has had a detrimental impact on the functioning of the mission and the timely delivery of administrative services.

Okay, that doesn’t sound good, particularly because the management section holds almost all the keys to the proper and effective functioning of any overseas mission. An effective management section can help mitigate the fall out from a dysfunctional front office. But a dysfunctional management section can undermine even the best front office; although if it’s really the best, the management section should not be dysfunctional for long.

And then there’s this:

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Um, excuse me, but why should a delegation of authority from the Front Office of the US Embassy in Islamabad (Ambassadors Munter and DCM Hoagland) to the Management Counselor (listed in the IG report as Sandra Muench) require the redaction above?

And then there’s this:

The management section is led by an experienced and highly motivated management counselor, serving in her third successive hardship tour. She supervises a cadre of well-qualified and experienced unit chiefs, many recruited by her personally. This team has worked hard to improve management controls and strengthen delivery of ICASS to all mission elements, and the effect of its efforts is palpable in every aspect of management at this mission.

The DCM, as he has with other senior counselors, delegated significant responsibilities to the management counselor.

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Jeez! Even the recommendation had been redacted!

The meat in the OIG’s teaser  of a “highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight” was effectively erased for public consumption. Because, obviously, the American public cannot handle the truth about bad leadership and management.

We heard talks and separate unconfirmed rumors that the draft report actually included a rather serious recommendation.  The Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy’s name had been mentioned as well as something about the redacted officer having “a stellar reputation in D.C.”

 

 

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都 Holy mother of god and all her crazy nephews! Don’t you just hate that? No wonder these bad managers get recycled more often than bottle caps.

US Embassy Beirut Inspection Report: Similar Redactions on DCM:

This is, of course, not the first time that we’ve seen such redactions particularly in reference to the performance of career diplomats. Early this year, the OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy in Lebanon. The section on the embassy’s deputy chief of mission (or deputy ambassador, if you will) was also extensively redacted. According to the IG report, the US Embassy in Beirut is encumbered by US Ambassador Maura Connelly who arrived in September 2010 and DCM E. Candace Putnam who arrived in June 2011. Wait, it looks like Richard M. Mills arrived in March 2012 as the new DCM at the US Embassy in Beirut, the same month the IG report was released online.

Here is the key item:

Embassy Beirut performs its core policy and operational missions well. However, its substantive strengths are undercut by front office leadership shortcomings [REDACTED].

That’s not the only redaction. Here are a few more:

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And below is one of our favorite portions, because it shows how artfully the inspectors can understate somebody’s micromanagement skill; intense front office attention almost sounds like a talent.

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Frankly, we can’t help but feel sorry for this poor sod working as the management counselor at the US Embassy in Beirut. And unlike the embassy’s CLO (an eligible family member) who called it quits, the management officer is a career employee and must sucked it up if he/she wants to continue his/her career with the State Department.

Because Bureaucratic Life Just Isn’t Fair …

Given the harsh OIG report on the management style of then US Ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum (a report that obviously needs more redactions were it not a European post) we asked the OIG about the Lebanon redactions on the DCM’s performance and received the following response:

Whereas the Embassy Luxembourg report dealt with many of the same issues, the geopolitical situation in Lebanon is quite different from that in Luxembourg, and our Freedom of Information Act analysis led to more extensive redactions.

A couple other political ambassadors have also received crazy red ratings here and here.

O-kay! So technically, you can be an ass at any of the priority and hardship posts and the OIG will cover up your performance in blackouts under the guise of something called a “geopolitical situation”?

We want to make sure we got this thing right. So last night, we sent off another email to the OIG asking about the redactions specific to the Pakistan report. We haven’t heard anything; we will update this post if we get a response.

Our main concern about this is twofold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. Can’t fix the faulty bottle caps if you just recycle the faulty bottle caps, simple as that.

The OIG slams hard the performance of political appointees and puts it all out to hang for the pundits and their neighbors. And yet when it comes to career appointees, the OIG slams them somehow less hard? Don’t know, maybe the OIG slams career diplomats just as hard in their reports (we want to believe that) but that is hard to know since the details are effectively removed from the reading consumption of the American public with thick, black Sharpies.  As if somehow, we need to be protected from such grainy details.

Oh wait, it’s not really us they  are protecting … but dammit, who …?

Domani Spero

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Filed under Ambassadors, Censorship, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, Pakistan, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Chinese Tigers Eat US Consulate Shanghai’s Blog? Noooooooooooo!

Via VOA News:

A social media account run by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet in China, prompting many to wonder if it is the work of government censors.

The Shanghai consulate’s account on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog service owned by SINA Corporation, was known for its sometimes witty commentary, often on Chinese political and social issues.

But as of Friday, the consulate’s account was still inaccessible, replaced by an error message that reads “temporarily unavailable” — a message similar to those seen when accounts are deleted by government censors.
[...]
Beijing defends its online censorship, dubbed the Great Firewall of China, by saying it is aimed at maintaining social stability, preventing the spread of false rumors, and blocking inappropriate material.

Read in full here.

This is just so sad, right?  Mysterious disappearances are quite common among Foreign Service blogs, ya know, and now an official blog has been eaten?  They’re there one day, they’re gone the next. We have not been able to catch the tail of the offending tiger despite tracking the blood spots.

The WSJ reports that “U.S. diplomatic staff in Shanghai woke up that morning to discover that the consulate’s Weibo account had disappeared, according to a spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said no reason was given and it was unclear whether a particular post had caused problems.”

Well! Imagine that. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?  What were they writing over there?

WaPo cites a post responding to a senior environmental official which criticized its popular Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing, a shushing emoticon: “Keep your voice low. People are still sleeping,”

See, harmless as toucans.  May be the State Department will have better luck finding out how and why the Chinese tigers really ate the consulate’s blog?

Domani Spero

 

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Consul Generals, FS Blogs, Social Media, Tigers Are Real

Learn more about the Internet Censorship Bills (SOPA/PIPA)

House takes Senate’s bad Internet censorship bill, tries making it worse
Protect The Internet
SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets A Chance to Break the Internet
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PIPA on OpenCongress

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