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:

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.



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.


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.”









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



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.”






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, 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 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.


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



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, 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


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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Insider Quote: Integrity and Openness – Requirements for an Effective Foreign Service

Kenneth M. Quinn, the only three-time winner of an AFSA dissent award, spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador to Cambodia from 1996 to 1999. He has been president of the World Food Prize Foundation since 2000. In the September issue of the Foreign Service Journal, he writes about integrity and openness as requirements for an effective Foreign Service. Except below:

I can attest to the fact that challenging U.S. policy from within is never popular, no matter how good one’s reasons are for doing so. In some cases, dissent can cost you a job—or even end a career. And even when there are no repercussions, speaking out may not succeed in changing policy.

Yet as I reflect on my 32 years in the Foreign Service, I am more convinced than ever how critically important honest reporting and unvarnished recommendations are. And that being the case, ambassadors and senior policy officials should treasure those who offer different views and ensure that their input receives thoughtful consideration, no matter how much they might disagree with it.

Read in full here.







Burn Bag: Post Closure — O Courage, Where Art Thou?


Via Burn Bag:

“This place will be closed. It’s inevitable because it’s just too dangerous. We’ve got only a skeleton staff of direct hires here now because of the danger. But the bureaucracy is, it seems, incapable of having the courage to make the decision that will result in the flag being lowered once and for all. A week passes. And then another. Still, no decision. So we raise the flag every day. And wait. We live in limbo–and fear of another attack. Fingers crossed we don’t get killed while waiting.”

Photo via


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