What happens when you contravene the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy? It depends.

Posted: 4:08  am EDT
Updated: 2:29 pm EDT

 

Our State Department friends have a favorite response to most questions. “It depends.”

About 10 years ago, State/OIG conducted a review of the Visa Referral Process in Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudication.

By law neither an ambassador nor a DCM can direct a consular officer to issue a particular visa. Even the Secretary of State has no authority to override a consular officer’s deci­ sion, pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC 1104. Recognizing the importance of the visa process both as a bilateral diplomatic issue and as a legitimate diplomatic tool for achieving U.S. aims, and considering the importance of providing as much information as possible to consular officers, the Department has long understood the need for a policy and system to allow all elements of the mission to benefit from the visa system and to protect consular officers from inappropriate pressure. After September 11, 2001, this system has been signifi­ cantly strengthened.
[…]
Based on the results of the survey, observations in the field, and discussions in Washington, OIG concluded that most ambassadors and DCMs appear to under­ stand the importance of their personal oversight of the referral system and that there are serious repercussions, including removal from post, in the most egregious cases of abuse. While Department oversight of referral systems is important, entrusting chiefs of mission with local supervision and responsibility is still appro­ priate and necessary, just as the Department entrusts chiefs of mission with the lives of all employees and dependents in their missions, the management of top secret information, and the conduct of key bilateral relations with the host country.
[…]
Clearly most missions’ front offices are overseeing the referral system as intended by the Department, sometimes after a little persuasion. For example, an officer at a post that was having problems said, “Our recent OIG inspection was helpful in making the front office realize the impact of their interventions with us and the appearance of undue influence. Despite our education of the front office, they have been incredulous that their good causes may pose us problems under the law.” One of the areas of emphasis for OIG inspection teams is border security readiness, which includes oversight of the referral program.

The survey, however, did reveal some disillusionment with the available recourses in those instances when the front office was itself exerting undue influ­ence. One officer at a post in the Near East said, “In general the consular section feels pressure to act simply as a rubber stamp to visa referrals by chiefs of section and above.” Another stated,“The front office is the only section that has ever tried to influence decisions in referral cases. If I were to refuse the case, then I would be hurt in the employee evaluation report (EER) process as my rater is the DCM and the Ambassador is the reviewing officer.”

It’s an instructive read from 2005, see in full here (PDF).

Let’s fast forward to two cases in 2015 specifically mentioned by State/OIG. The following is from the State/OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan (PDF). The IG report lists Susan M. Elliott as COM, and Robert G. Burgess as DCM.

The Offices of Visa Services and Fraud Prevention Programs, the Consular Integrity Division, and the front office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs all expressed concern about the embassy’s contravention of the worldwide visa referral policy. In the latter half of 2013, the Ambassador in seven cases and the DCM in two cases contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy by submitting noncompliant referrals and improperly advocating for issuance.

Complications arising from noncompliance with the policy led to deteriorating relations between the consular officer and other embassy offices, perceptions of intimidation and isolation, and increased involvement of and intervention by various offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In response to revised guidance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on referral policy, dated January 13, 2014, Embassy Dushanbe issued a management notice on January 17, 2014. On October 15 and 17, 2014, the embassy conducted briefings for referring officers and obtained current compliance agreements reflecting the revised policy guidance. The OIG team met with the front office and the consular officer, and they confirm that they understand and are committed to continuing to comply with the policy going forward.

How is it that this consular officer did not get the Barbara Watson Award for demonstrating courage?

C’mon!

The “Worldwide Visa Referral Policy Problems” below is from the State/OIG report of the U.S. Embassy in Armenia (see PDF). According to the IG report, the ambassador at that time was John Heffern:

In at least 15 documented cases, the Ambassador contravened the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy (9 FAM Appendix K, Exhibit I) by contacting the consular chief to communicate information about visa applicants instead of providing referral forms for the applicants. The referral policy states, “Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” Some of the cases involved previously refused applicants. Referral policy permits requesting assistance via referral on behalf of previously refused applicants only in extremely limited circumstances. Few, if any, of the violations involved applicants who would have been eligible for visa referrals. The consular chief did not take adequate steps to stop the Ambassador’s inappropriate communications or to report them to the Department, as required by Department referral polices.
[…]
The embassy provides no formal, detailed briefing (“referral school”) as recommended in the worldwide policy. The consular chief gives informal referral briefings on an individual basis to new arrivals at the embassy. Lack of a formal understanding of the referral policy and process can cause misunderstanding or abuse.

Wow! And the consular section chief got harshly treated by the … the um alphabet, which did not quite line up to say he/she was at fault but you get the idea.

It is not clear what kind of repercussions are suffered by chiefs of mission who contraven the worldwide nonimmigrant visa referral policy.   According to a FAM update last November 2015, Consular Affairs has now added a NIV Referral Program Ombudsman (see 9 FAM 601.8-8(C).

Oh, wait, there’s more.

There’s an FSGB case where an FP-03 Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent (SA) with the Department of State (Department) was warned that there were strict prohibitions against anyone attempting to influence the visa process. The State Department later proposed to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained by the Grievance Board on March 3, 2015.

On October 5, 2010, a family friend of his (REDACTED), a (REDACTED) national, applied for a B1/B2 non-immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED. His stated purpose for the visa request was to visit with grievant in the U.S.  When the application was denied, grievant sent an email on that same date from his State Department account to REDACTED, the Deputy Consular Section Chief in REDACTED voicing his disappointment that his friend’s visa application had been turned down. In the email, grievant asked for assistance, provided additional information on behalf of his friend and cited his own experience as a DS officer who had collaborated with consular officials investigating fraud cases. All of grievant’s emails contained his electronic signature and identified him as “Special Agent, REDACTED, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” In response to this email, re-interviewed and approved his visa application. REDACTED subsequently visited grievant in the US.

To make the long story short, grievant was investigated (PDF) by DS for his efforts to procure visa approvals for his friend.

The Department reviewed the DS report of investigation (ROI) and determined that between 2010 and 2012, grievant used official communication channels to contact consular officials in the U.S. Embassy in and identified himself as a DS Special Agent in order to influence favorable decisions on visa applications submitted by his friend. On December 2, 2014, grievant received notice of the Department’s proposal to suspend him for four days on a charge of Misuse of Position. The proposal was sustained on March 3, 2015.

So. Right.

It depends.

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Foreign Service Members Offer Candid Views of @StateDept Mental Health Services (via FSJ)

Posted: 3:04 am EDT

 

The January issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. The issue is focused on mental health care for the Foreign Service.  Dr. Samuel Thielman,  a recently retired regional medical officer/psychiatrist for the Department of State writes about how MED’s mental health program has grown and evolved over the years to address the unusual needs of FS employees and their families serving overseas in The Evolution of State’s Mental Health Services. Chantay White, the chief of the Employee Assistance Program with the State Department Employee Consultation Services and Paulette Baldwin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker write about Mental Health and ECS—What You Should Know. Dr. Stephen A. Young, the director of Mental Health Services for the State department since September 2015, writes about The Face of Mental Health Services Overseas.

One part of the bureaucracy that is glaringly missing here is, of course, Diplomatic Security.  A majority of these comments express concern about DS and security clearance. The most instructive part is probably the section on MED/MHS Checkup: Foreign Service Members Weigh In that offers very candid views from people in the field.

The FSJ writes that the compilation includes 45 responses from FS members in Washington, D.C., and overseas, some entry-level and a few retired, from the foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID. The gender split was about even. “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and known concerns about privacy, we took the unprecedented step of offering to print comments without attribution,” the editors write.

Some excerpts below, each paragraph selected from a separate FS member response.  The last one It’s No Joke is in full; the contributor appears to be part of US Mission Libya following the 2012 attacks. The full comments are available to read here.

“Dealing with the bureaucracy after having sought mental health treatment is itself enough to cause PTSD.”

“Senior officers, in particular, need to set the example by ensuring that their employees understand that a mental health issue, like any ailment, is best addressed early. Until they do, we will all still sign notes like this as… Anonymous.”

“During a rough patch in a relationship, my partner and I sought couples counseling. When my security clearance was up for renewal, I was grilled by the investigator regarding this counseling. I had to defend myself for wanting counseling, and the harsh and critical tone she took for me wanting to do what I needed for my relationship was upsetting. I got the clearance, but it was a stressful process.”

“After service in Iraq, there is no doubt in my mind that I suffered from PTSD. Now (several years later), I see my symptoms as both classic and obvious. At the time I was suffering, however, I hid my symptoms out of fear that knowledge that I suffered from PTSD would harm my career. That concern was heightened by the intense questioning I endured by a Diplomatic Security agent conducting a security clearance update when I was serving in Iraq. When it became known that I had sought mental health care, I was hassled and forced to repeat the content of a private discussion with a mental health professional to a DS agent with zero mental health training. I found the entire episode both distasteful and inappropriate.”

“My mistake—I was told by MED that I’d be given a Class 2 because of seeking continued therapy. I thought that showing that I’d made arrangements for my mental health would ensure a Class 1, but instead that’s what gave me the Class 2. Geez, why be honest with MED—it could have cost me my assignment.”

“I met with a therapist who told me he never wrote anything down because all of his FS clients were terrified of getting caught seeking assistance for their stress-related problems. It’s sad. Concerns about security clearances have a big effect on whether or not I seek mental health care.”

“I feel that if I had declared myself an alcoholic I would have gotten more attention from MED than when I was traumatized and sat in my office working, feeling like an isolated zombie.”

“Once I joined the Foreign Service, I could easily understand why there is an impression that the Service has an alcohol abuse problem—it’s self-medication that is easy to hide from a clearance process. I find that distressing and disturbing and extremely unsupportive.”

“Despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message a few years ago telling employees that their clearance will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment, that is not what happens in practice. DS investigators zero in on this, considering it a red flag, as if mental health were any different than physical health.”

“No matter what management says about the importance of mental health, if there are no real changes, then the Foreign Service will continue to be an ineffective and unsupportive mental health environment.”

“You also do not know who the regional psychiatrist’s client really is: you or the State Department? Does a psychiatrist see you as a patient who needs help or just a problem for the Foreign Service best remedied by removing you from post?”

“The mandatory out brief improved between the time I returned from Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012, when I returned from Iraq. However, both times I was told that the symptoms in the PTSD questionnaire are normal for six months and not to worry unless they persist. (And I was offended when taken aside after the briefing and asked how pervasive I thought infidelity was in Baghdad.)”

“During the onward assignments process, MED refused to consider my needs as identified by my therapist, instead assigning me to a post where there was no one in-country who could serve as an appropriate psychiatrist. There, I raised an issue of concern with the health unit nurse, who in turn shared it with the management officer, who then told my supervisor that I was “nuts.” This was not only a violation of my privacy; it reflected total ignorance on the management officer’s part of what PTSD and its symptoms are.”

“I would rate the mental health support at 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best. Working in a high-stress post that was not a “high-threat” post, my colleagues and I were given limited support in a time of crisis.”

“I am grateful for the mental health assistance available to me. If it weren’t for grief counseling, I would have qualms about seeing the RMO/P, because I’d need to disclose this in the five-yearly security update. And while that disclosure might not affect my security clearance, I still think there’s a stigma attached to the fact that I needed mental health assistance.”

“As a veteran of two priority staffing post (PSP) tours—one in Iraq (2007–2008) and the other in Afghanistan (2013–2014)—my experience with transition support has been abysmal. Just getting authorization to attend out briefings and to access mental health services was impossible.”

“I am not concerned about medical and security clearances as they relate to mental health care. Most people have seen a therapist at one time or another, and I don’t think it would affect a security clearance. But corridor reputation is a concern. Even when people need to talk to a mental health professional, they’re more worried about their corridor reputation and often won’t seek help due to the stigma of being “weak.”

“In my final post, when I had finally had enough bullying from my fourth bully boss (three of whom were DCMs and one a GS-15), I worked with the regional psychiatrist who prescribed two anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and a sleeping pill to help me cope. I sought assistance from the ombudsman, but received no help, so I resigned.”

“I had discussed my mental health with the regional psychiatrist during his visits, but he just gave me Xanax and told me panic attacks were normal. He asked me about work-related stress, but reported the results of our meetings with post leadership, contributing to my stress.”

“When State does not actively intervene in cases of abusive behavior, managers are given the impression that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Even if victims get mental health care afterwards, the damage has been done. From what I hear, the problem is getting worse and more widespread. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending out feel-good cables on workplace atmosphere and bullying, put policies in place that have real teeth. A zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullies, administered neutrally and enforced by D.C., would lead to an instant decrease in unacceptable behaviors and the resulting damage they cause.”

It’s No Joke

The first MED-directed mental health intervention that was provided in Tripoli after the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, was a video conference in April 2013, conveniently less than a week before the Director General arrived for a visit to Libya. Prior to that, the only service provided was a discussion with the nurse about “fostering resiliency” several months after the attack…hardly a useful assist.

The half-day course for those returning from hardship posts is a joke. I took it after my first (!) unaccompanied tour (UT), and both the instructor and some of the other students made fun of me for enrolling, since at the time my tour was seen as one of the “cupcake UTs,” without an active war going on outside the embassy walls. I refused to take the course after my second UT. No one from HR or my bureau asked if I’d taken it or even how I was doing after the second UT.

An RMO/P made fun of some of my coworkers in a high-stress, high-threat post that happened to be a popular destination for American tourists. He told them that they had no idea what serving in an actually difficult post was like, comparing it to the regional city where he was based. Never mind the fact that almost every person at that highly desirable but still challenging post got there via a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have neither respect for nor faith in MED’s mental health efforts. As long as MED is staffed with people who see mental health as an inconvenience, supported by State leadership (from the very top down) who barely pay lip service to mental health and a work-life balance, there’s no hope for anyone who suffers in the aftermath of an emotionally catastrophic tour abroad. At least there is solidarity among those who survived terrible times abroad.

Read in full the candid views from the filed via the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.

[…]

There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.

 

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Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East

 

Mills’ Transcript Features FSO Ray Maxwell: 35 Years Working For Uncle Sam, and Yo! What the Frak?

Posted: 3:52 am EDT

 

On October 21, the Benghazi Democrats released the full transcript of Cheryl Mills interview with the Select Benghazi Committee (click here to read the full transcript).

One of the questions asked Ms. Mills, Secretary Clinton’s former chief of staff was the allegation made by former NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell about a document scrub (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

Ms. Mills says this (per transcript):

“I might have had an encounter with him when he was being hired. I don’t know. Meaning, ensuring that he was in a place where he could be appointed or hired. I don’t know. But I don’t — I never had an encounter with Ray Maxwell around Benghazi.”

In a follow-up question, clipped below, Ms. Mills basically gave a word salad about the “hiring” of Mr. Maxwell. What the frak? We should note that Mr. Maxwell, at the time he was thrown under the Benghazi bus, had served 21 years in the career Foreign Service in addition to 6 years enlistment in the Navy Nuclear Power program. He earned a Naval Reserved commission then completed two division officer tours in the guided missile destroyer, the USS Luce (DDG-38); a total of about 14 years in the Navy, before joining the Foreign Service.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21

We have extracted the parts where Ms. Mills talked about Mr. Maxwell with the Committee.  Available to read here: Mills Transcript-RayMaxwell Extract.

Last year, we wrote The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?).

Sometime after that, we were able to read for the first time, the original grievance Ray Maxwell wrote on April 3, 2013 (pdf) addressed to State Department HR official Linda Taglialatela. Maxwell writes:

On December 18, 2012, the ARB Report was released. When I returned to my office after lunch, A/S Beth Jones’ OMS told me to meet with her at 2 pm. At 2:20 A/ S Jones returned to the office and summoned me. She invited me in and closed the door. She told me the ARB report had been released and that it was not complimentary to the Department, to NEA, or to me. She said PDAS Elizabeth Dibble was reading the classified report in the SCIF, and that she had not yet seen it. Then she said she had been instructed by Cheryl Mills to relieve me of the DAS position, that I was fired, and that I should have all my personal belongings out of the office be close of business that same day. She said PDAS Dibble would identify a place where I could keep my belongings, and that I would remain in the Bureau as a senior adviser. She said the Bureau was going to take care of me and that I didn’t need to “lawyer up.”

Just like that.

Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote about this previously here:

Maxwell impresses as a State Department archetype, dedicated to the insular institution, apolitical to the point of frustration to an outsider, but shocked when he found his loyalty was not returned.

He has revealed what he knows only two years after the fact. People will say he is out for revenge. But I don’t think that’s the case. As a State Department whistleblower who experienced how the Department treats such people, I know it’s not a position anyone wants to be in.
[…]
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn your own life, and that of your family, upside down, risking financial ruin, public shaming, and possibly jail time. It is a process, not an event.

According to NEA officials interviewed by the House Oversight Committee, decisions about security  policy and security resources rested firmly within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, not  NEA.   PDAS Elizabeth Dibble, told the Committee that Maxwell had no responsibility for security measures and should not have been held accountable by the ARB.  Lee Lohman, the Executive Director for NEA told the Committee, When I looked at Ray Maxwell’s situation, I had a much better sense of how much he was or was not involved in this, and it struck me as being unfair.
Below is an excerpt from the House Oversight Committee majority report:
Therefore, the ARB’s finding that Maxwell lacked “leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi” is puzzling. Maxwell himself denied having any formal role in determining the appropriate security posture or evaluating security requests by the U.S. mission in Libya.


The ARB’s approach to assigning accountability within NEA for the failures that led to 
the Benghazi tragedy is puzzling. The ARB identified “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” within NEA. It seems obvious that a “systemic failure” within a large organization such as NEA could only result from a widespread failure throughout the system, either to recognize the challenges posed by the inadequate security  posture of the Benghazi mission in a deteriorating environment, or else to take the appropriate steps to rectify it in order to safeguard American lives. Yet within the entire NEA Bureau, the ARB singled out only Raymond Maxwell, for conduct his own supervisor contended was not “material” to what happened in Benghazi. 

If Ambassador Jones and others are right, and the intelligence Maxwell stopped reading was not material because NEA was essentially powerless to affect the actions of DS in Benghazi, it is unclear why the ARB blamed Maxwell for not reading it. If the intelligence did provide some kind of insight which could have prevented the failures of Benghazi, it is further unclear why Maxwell was held accountable for not reading it, but Ambassador Jones and others within  NEA were not held accountable for having read it and taken no effective steps to remedy the shortcomings of the Benghazi compound’s security posture before it led to a loss of life?

So about 31 35 years working for Uncle Sam, and one day, one is conveniently fired. And expected to lay back and play dead until the Benghazi train passes by.

Playing dead is needed for the proper functioning of the Service?

Excuse me, I need to throw up. Again.

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Related posts:

Canadian Caper’s Ken Taylor, an American hero dead at 81

Posted: 2:51 am EDT

Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Tehran known for his role in the Iran hostage crisis, has died, CBC News reported Thursday. He was 81 years old. We’ve previously blogged about Ambassador Taylor when the movie “Argo” first came out. In 1980, he was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Below is an excerpt from President Reagan’s remarks on June 16, 1981 at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the former Canadian Ambassador to Iran.

We’re today honoring another act of courage, this one with a happier ending in which the courage and ingenuity were rewarded by success after 79 days. I’d like to sketch briefly the events of those 79 days, to describe not only Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.

Four days after the storming of the American Embassy, Ambassador Taylor received a call from five Americans who had escaped from the Embassy when it was overrun. They were hiding, but they were afraid that they’d soon be discovered and captured. Ambassador Taylor immediately recommended to his government in Ottawa that Americans be given shelter. Without any hesitation, the Canadian Government granted the permission. Two days later, the Americans were taken to Ambassador Taylor’s residence and that of another Canadian Embassy family, the John Sheardowns. Two weeks later, another American joined his five compatriots. For 79 days, they lived there pretending to be visitors. I understand they’re the best-read and the most skilled Scrabble players in all of North America.

There were several tense moments in the weeks that followed. At one point, an article was imminent in a Montreal paper which would have disclosed the story of the sheltered Americans. In an admirable display of responsibility, the journalist who had written the article agreed to withdraw it from publication. However, from this article, and more immediately from an anonymous phone call to the Taylor’s residence asking to speak to two of the escapees, Ambassador Taylor knew that the chances of his guests being discovered were high.

At this point, the Canadian Government in Ottawa and the Embassy began the ingenious preparations for an escape. The Canadian Government agreed to issue fictitious passports to the Americans. The Canadian Embassy staff began making flights in and out of Tehran to establish a travel pattern and to learn airport procedures.

Finally, on January 28th, 1980, the Americans packed the bags that were given them by their Canadian hosts with the clothes also given to them. Using their Canadian passports, they flew out of the country. Ambassador Taylor and three others of his staff saw them off and then left themselves. Even this brief outline of those 79 days highlights what a team effort it was.

The Canadian Department of External Affairs in Ottawa and the Canadian Cabinet responded with speed and decisiveness to help an ally. Ambassador Towe is here today representing the Canadian Government. The U.S. State Department is represented today by Ambassador Stoessel, and there were others who were working at the State Department during the crisis who played a part with discretion and skill. And here today also is Representative Daniel Akaka, the sponsor, and several of his cosponsors, of the legislation which resulted in the gold medal which I am going to present today.

Also present today is Lee Schatz, one of the six whom the Taylors rescued, as well as Bruce Laingen and Victor Tomseth, who had to wait a little longer before they could come home.

Mrs. Taylor is here with her husband and was directly involved with him in this deed. She shared the risks. She did much of the work. It was at her residence that several of the Americans were actually staying. And, finally, it’s my great honor to present the medal to Kenneth Taylor whose valor, ingenuity, and steady nerves made possible this one happy chapter in the agony of those 444 days of hostage crisis.

Major Kline. The medal is inscribed by an “Act of Congress, March 6, 1980. Entre amis, appreciation for the noble and heroic effort in the harboring of six United States diplomats and safe return to America. Thank you, Canada.”

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Related posts:

Canadian Caper’s John Sheardown Who Sheltered U.S. Diplomats During Hostage Crisis Dies at 88

Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

Insider Quote: “If there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter …”

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

 

Amelia Shaw joined the Foreign Service (public diplomacy cone) in 2014 after careers in journalism and public health. She is currently doing consular work in Tijuana, her first post. She is the 2015 recipient of the W. Averell Harriman Award for Constructive Dissent. Below is an excerpt from Deconstructing Dissent, FSJ | September 2015:

“I am proud that I found a constructive way to take a stand on an issue that matters to me. But I can’t help wondering what the department would look like if there were more of us willing to speak up about issues that matter, large and small, regardless of whether or not we think we can actually change anything. Or as one senior officer pointed out to me, we dissent every day—but the difference is whom we dissent to and how far we are willing to go with it. At heart, it’s a question of integrity. Sometimes just adding your voice is enough.”

— Amelia Shaw
Foreign Service Officer

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US Embassy Paris: Three Americans in France, “Don’t just stand by and watch.”

Posted: 5.25 pm EDT

 

Via France 24:

The three Americans, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler who overpowered a heavily-armed gunman in a train, and have been hailed as “heroes” had a press conference at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris over the weekend.

The alleged attacker, 25-year-old Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani, boarded a high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris on Friday carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, an automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.

“The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. I want that lesson to be learned. In times of terror like that to please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”

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June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.

 

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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.

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Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?

 

FSO Robyn McCutcheon: A proud woman of transgender experience serving her country

Posted: 12:13 EDT

 

In 2012, we wrote about FSO Robyn Ann Jane Alice McCutcheon, the first transgender diplomat serving in the State Department. Prior to joining State, Robyn worked for a NASA contractor where she was on the Hubble project before it was officially named after American astronomer Edwin Hubble.  See What Do Uranium and a Transgender Foreign Service Officer Have in Common?

Robyn has served in the last ten years in Washington, Russia, Uzbekistan, Romania, and Kazakhstan.  Her journey had not been easy.  “It included failed transition attempts, a week in a psychiatric ward and, more than anything else, years and decades of deep hiding and attempts to make it go away.”  She writes“I’m writing here because I have a debt to pay.”  Her story is one with a happy ending and we are  very pleased to see her as part of NYT’s Transgender Today series that just launched.

Via NYT’s Transgender Today series.

A message from Robyn McCutcheon, a trans* woman serving as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State who transitioned openly while serving overseas at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, in 2011. (Part of the N.Y. Times Series, “Transgender Today,” at nytimes.com/trans-today.)

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Senior Official’s Spouse Uses Diplomatic Pouch for Personal Business, How’s That Okay?

Domani Spero

 

We’ve heard reports that a spouse of a senior official at a European post is allegedly using the diplomatic pouch for personal business use. One of the perks for diplomatic spouses? Oh, goodness, who said that?

What does the … whatchamacallit, the bureaucratic bible for regular employees/senior officials say about this?

The Foreign Affairs Manual section 14 FAM 742.4-3 spells out clearly the “Prohibition Against Shipping Items for Resale or Personal Business Use:”   Authorized pouch users may not use the diplomatic pouch, MPS, or DPO to ship or mail items for resale or personal business use.

Authorized pouch users are typically embassy employees and family members under chief of mission authority.  MPS stands for Military Postal Service and DPO means Diplomatic Post Office.

According to the regs, the prohibition against using the diplomatic pouch for personal items includes, for example:

(1) Household effects (HHE) and unaccompanied baggage (UAB), including professional materials. See 14 FAM 610 for regulations on shipping HHE and UAB. Shipping HHE or UAB by diplomatic pouch to circumvent HHE or UAB weight limits is a serious abuse of pouch privileges and is subject to punitive action requiring the sender to reimburse the U.S. Government for transportation costs (see 14 FAM 742.4-1). (See 14 FAM 742.4-2 regarding consumables);

(2) Items for personal businesses (such as hair-dressing products);

(3) Items for charitable donation (such as school supplies for an orphanage); and

(4) Items for resale (such as cookies).

 

See … not even for orphanages, and not even something small and perishable as cookies if it’s for resale.  Section 14 FAM 726 (pdf) has the specifics for the Abuse of Diplomatic Pouch and includes where to report abuse of such privileges as well as reporting instructions under 1 FAM 053.2 when reporting to the OIG (pdf):

14 FAM 726.1 Abuse of Pouch Privileges

a. Abuse of the diplomatic pouch is generally one of three kinds:

(1) An authorized sender has sent a prohibited item;

(2) An item has been sent by an unauthorized user; or

(3) An authorized user has sent an item through an improper channel.

b. Suspected abuse of the diplomatic pouch must be reported to the pouch control officer (PCO). When abuse does occur, the PCO must take action to correct the problem. Examples of corrective action are listed below; post management must develop, implement, and publish post-specific remedies for pouch abuse:

(1) For a first offense: Oral reprimand with reminder of pouch policies and restrictions, and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the incident;

(2) For a second offense: Written reprimand with reminder of pouch policies and restrictions; and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the incident;

(3) For a third offense: Suspension and restriction of pouch privileges for a limited amount of time as determined by post management, and possible reimbursement of transportation costs IAW 31 U.S.C. 9701 after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension;

(4) For a fourth offense: Extended suspension of pouch privileges and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension; and

(5) For on-going abuse: Permanent suspension of pouch privileges, imposed by the Director of A/LM/PMP/DPM and possible reimbursement of transportation costs (see 31 U.S.C. 9701) after consulting with A/LM/PMP/DPM. The PCO must document all circumstances surrounding the suspension.

c. Pouch control officers must advise A/LM/PMP/DPM by email to DPM-Answerperson@state.gov, of pouch violations when they occur. Include the name of individual, organization, parent organization in Washington, registry numbers, classification, and a description of the item(s).

d. The Director of A/LM/PMP/DPM will assist post management in interpreting rules and regulations and making decisions if requested to do so. Abuse or misuse of the diplomatic pouch may be investigated further by appropriate law enforcement officials depending on the seriousness of the incident.

e. Employees and authorized users should report suspected or known abuse of the diplomatic pouch or mail services to the Office of Inspector General (see 1 FAM 053.2 for reporting instructions and provisions for confidentiality when reporting).

 

So if  “everyone” knows that the spouse of senior official X uses the diplomatic pouch for running a personal business, how come no one has put a stop to it?  Perhaps it has to do with the hierarchy in post management?  Who is the pouch control officer and who writes his/her evaluation report?  Who is the pouch control officer’s supervisor and who writes the supervisor’s evaluation report?  If a junior officer’s spouse starts importing spices through the pouch for use in a personal chef business, will the pouch control officer look the other way, too?

We understand that the regs apply to the most junior as well as the most senior employees of a diplomatic mission, and similarly applies to both career and political appointees, and their spouses …. or did we understand that wrong?

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Submit Your Complaint to the OIG Hotline:

Online: Click here

Email: oighotline@state.gov

Mail: Office of Inspector General, HOTLINE, P.O. Box 9778, Arlington, Virginia 22219

Phone: 202-647-3320 or 800-409-9926

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