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.”
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.
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.
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.
Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:
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.
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.)
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?
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.
“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.”
I am joining my colleague John Brady Kiesling in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service (effective immediately) because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush’s war plans against Iraq.
The president has failed:
–To explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time;
–To lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties;
–To specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans;
–To clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror;
–To take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.
Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president’s disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.
I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it.
“Allowing ourselves to become a nation of silent, secretive, timid citizens is likely to result in a system of democracy and justice that is neither very democratic nor very just.”
― Dahlia Lithwick
James Spione’s new film SILENCED follows a group of high-profile former feds who questioned official national security policy in post 9-11 America, and have endured harsh consequences. It features former NSA senior executive Tom Drake, former CIA officer John Kiriakou, former Justice Department lawyer Jesselyn Radack and former State Department diplomat Peter Van Buren.
John Kiriakou is currently serving a 30 month prison term at a Federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Here is a short blurb:
Over the past several years, an arcane WWI era law called The Espionage Act has been used six times to bring charges against whistleblowers, not for revealing information to a foreign government, but for talking to the press. In fact, the current administration invoked this law more times than all previous administrations combined.
[snip] The targeting of whistleblowers raises profound questions that have implications far beyond the fates of the individuals profiled in this film. In an age where the spectre of terrorism is deemed an appropriate reason for the Executive branch to claim greater and greater powers, can the United States government maintain a commitment to the rule of law? How can a democracy that purports to champion human rights simultaneously attempt to quash criticism from within its ranks? What is the effect on our First Amendment right to dissent–and on the whole idea of a free press–when those in power single out whistleblowers for prosecution?
James Spione teamed up with producer Daniel Chalfen and executive producer Jim Butterworth of Naked Edge Films to make this new documentary. The group has reached their funding goal of $35,000 with 300 funders via Kickstarter. The funds will be used for post production and the film is expected to be finished by end of the year.
From now until March 14th, you can still support them on Kickstarter here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1…. The group states that additional Kickstarter funds raised in the final days will be put to good use– “some critical upgrades to editing equipment, beginning work with composer Emile Menasché, and spending more time in the edit room assembling all of these individual stories into a powerful narrative about the importance of whistleblowers to American democracy.”
While all of us in this important film have given interviews before, none of us has opened up, in depth, the way we did with Jim. It is also important to note that none of us are profiting from this film or the Kickstarter campaign, unless you consider the telling of truth on a large and public scale to be our reward.
Mission accomplished “M”! If you have not done it yet, you may now give meritorious and superior awards to the Van Buren Project hounders from DS and DGHR.
In 1980, PBS aired a 54:02 video about the escape from Iran by 6 Americans who were United States Embassy employees. The “Canadian Caper” as it is known is the rescue effort by the Canadian Government and the Central Intelligence Agency of six American diplomats who evaded capture during the seizure and hostage taking of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. If you watch the video below, you will note that there is no mention of the CIA. The closely guarded secret of the CIA’s role was only revealed in 1997 as part of the Agency’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Two years later, in the Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000), the CIA’s former chief of disguise, Tony J. Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) wrote A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood. You can read it online here.
The six rescued American are as follows:
Robert Anders, 34 – Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agriculture Attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular Assistant
The Ben Affleck film, Argo reportedly borrows from the memoir of Tony Mendez, “The Master of Disguise,” which originally details how he devised an incredible escape from Tehran for American diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew. According to Mendez’s website, http://www.themasterofdisguise.com/ Warner Brothers and George Clooney optioned the rights to his book “The Master of Disguise” following a May 2007 “Wired Magazine” article on Tony’s rescue operation during the Iranian hostage crisis. The script was written by Chris Terrio who reportedly also drew on that 2007 Wired Magazine article and calledthe movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”
In any case, Argo had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, and who was not invited? For godsakes this is Toronto as in Canada! Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran who sheltered the six Americans, that’s who, and our next door neighbors were not too pleased.
Friends of Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Iran, are shocked and upset by the way he was portrayed in Argo …. The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.
A separate piece had this quote from the former ambassador:
“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” he said. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”
Ambassador Taylor was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1980. In his remarks on presenting the medal, then President Reagan described not only “Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.”
According to Reuters, both Affleck and writer Chris Terrio maintain that the broad thesis of the film is based on actual events, although traditional Hollywood dramatic license includes a climax scene where Iranian police chase a jumbo jet down a runway. In his presscon after the TIFF premier, Affleck was quoted saying: “Because we say it’s based on a true story, rather than this is a true story,” he said, “we’re allowed to take some dramatic licence. There’s a spirit of truth.”
Things could still have gotten messy but did not. Affleck apparently changed the offending postscript at the end of the movie, which Taylor’s friends regarded as an insult both to him and to Canada, was removed and replaced by a new postscript: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”
Ambassador Taylor and his wife were invited by Affleck to Los Angeles and attended a private screening of Argo on the Warner Bros. lot. They were also invited to the Washington DC premiere during a private screening at the Regal Gallery cinemas in downtown Washington on October 10, 2012. Click here for a video of Affleck addressing a packed auditorium during the screening that included embassy staff, lawmakers, former CIA and former hostages.
Ambassador Taylor and his wife have reportedly taped a commentary for the extra features on the DVD version of Argo, but this will not be released until 2013.
Meanwhile, the film has now also upset the British diplomats who helped our diplomats in Iran.
I should note that among the six Americans featured in Agro, one is still in the Foreign Service. Joseph D. Stafford, III is currently assigned as Charge’ d’ affaires at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. Except for a brief mention that he joined the FS in 1978 and that he had earlier assignments in Algiers, Kuwait, Cairo, Palermo, and Tehran, there’s no mention of that daring scape from Tehran in his official bio.
After Tehran, Mark J. Lijek went on to assignments in Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Warsaw, Frankfurt and several tours in Foggy Bottom. On his website, he writes that the Iran experience remained a constant in his life but that while media interest came and went, he never forgot the selfless help provided by Canadian Embassy personnel during the crucial months following the takeover. He writes that remained in touch with several of the Canadians and served as the US-side coordinator for the periodic reunions hosted by the Canadian side. He and his wife, Cora, apparently also continued their friendship with Tony Mendez who masterminded their rescue. Both have been involved on the margins with the film which he calls “a dramatized version of Tony’s escape plan.”
Click here for Mark’s photos in FB from his Escape From Iran Album and the Argo Six Hollywood experience.
If you want to have a rounded view of what happened behind the Argo rescue and the hostage crisis, you may also want to read a couple more books:
US Ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford was presented with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ on May 7 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library by Caroline Kennedy . He was honored for his bold and courageous diplomacy which has provided crucial support to Syrians struggling under the brutal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford
Below is excerpted from the JFK Library announcement:
Robert Ford, United States Ambassador to Syria
Robert S. Ford began serving a recess appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Syria in January 2011. A few short weeks after his arrival, a wave of prodemocracy protests swept through the Middle East and public protests in Syria launched an uprising against the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A former Peace Corps volunteer and then career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ford’s robust diplomacy on the ground in Syria centered on a strong show of support for the Syrian opposition movement. At personal risk, he traveled all over the country, talking with the Syrian people and using social media to encourage dissidents to embrace forms of non-violent protest against government-backed brutality.
Ford’s courageous support for the opposition garnered global attention in July 2011, when he visited the city of Hama in advance of planned demonstrations there. Ford’s physical presence in Hama, without official sanction from the Syrian government, functioned as a visible statement of support for the demonstrators and an unambiguous rebuke of the government-backed violence against them. In an August 2011 interview with ABC News, Ford spoke resolutely against the government’s violent crackdown: “I don’t particularly care [if Syria is angry], because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protestors. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to…I’m going to keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.” This and other explicit displays of solidarity with the Syrian people stretched the usual bounds of formal diplomacy and put his own safety at risk.
After his visit to Hama, the Associated Press reported assaults on Ford’s residence and convoy. Despite such attacks, Ford continued to support the opposition by attending protestor funerals, speaking with Syrians on the ground and through social media, and educating Americans via satellite images and descriptions of the conflict on the embassy’s official Facebook page. On February 6, 2012, as the violence in Syria worsened, the United States closed the American embassy and removed Ambassador Ford from the country. Robert Ford continues to serve his post from Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Ford is one of the four recipients of the 2012 award. Three former Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were removed from office by Iowa voters after joining a unanimous decision to legalize same-sex marriage in that state were also presented with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today. “Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and former justices David Baker and Michael Streit were chosen in recognition of the political courage and judicial independence each demonstrated in setting aside popular opinion to uphold the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution.”
About the Award: “The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award™ in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday.”