Category Archives: Courage

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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Filed under Courage, Foreign Service, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Regional Bureaus, Regulations, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under AFSA, Courage, Dissent, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Lessons, Public Service, Quotes, Realities of the FS, State Department

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 state.gov

 

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Courage, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Ten Years Ago Today: FSO John Brown Quit the Foreign Service Over Iraq

March 10, 2003

Dear Mr. Secretary:

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.

Sincerely,

John H. Brown
Foreign Service Officer

Via  John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

Two other American diplomats quit over Iraq:   John Brady Kiesling,  the first of three U.S. foreign service officers to resign, on February 25, 2003, to protest the invasion of Iraq.  Mr. Kiesling’s letter is here.   Mary Ann Wright submitted her resignation letter to then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on March 19, 2003, the day before the onset of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Ms. Wright’s resignation letter is here.  
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Filed under Courage, Dissent, Foreign Service, FSOs, Realities of the FS, Resignations, State Department, Uncategorized

Silenced: Civic Courage on Film, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

“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.
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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?

More on The Espionage Act here.

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.”

Read more here.

Peter Van Buren wrote:

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.
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Filed under CIA, Courage, Federal Agencies, FSOs, Leaks|Controversies, Lessons, Obama, Peter Van Buren, State Department

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

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 called the movie “a fictionalized version of real events.”

In addition to The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (William Morrow and Company, 1999. 351 pages), Mendez has also just released the book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Viking Adult, September 13, 2012. 320 pages).  That’s 320 pages of details on how the escape came down from the perspective of the chief exfiltrator.

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.

Via The Star:

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.

But Mark J. Lijek, one of the Argo six has written a detailed memoir of his experience in The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery.  The book is available in digital edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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:

Our Man in Tehran: The True Story behind the Secret Mission to save Six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Foreign Ambassador Who Worked with the CIA to Bring Them Home by Robert A. Wright

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden

 

 

 

 

 

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JFK Profile in Courage Award Honors U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert S.Ford

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.”

Read the full announcement here.

Domani Spero

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Will the State Dept Declare FSO Peter Van Buren Persona Non Grata For His Book on the TragicComedy of PRT Iraq?

In April, I wrote New FS Blog: We Meant Well, Plus a Book Coming Out This Fall  

In July, I wondered out loud, Peter Van Buren: Oh, dude — WHO did you get “more than upset” at the State Department?

It’s now September. Next Tuesday, the 27th, his book,“We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” (Metropolitan Books, 2011) will hit the stores.

And a tsunami is forecast to hit Peter Van Buren at his cubicle in Foggy Bottom.

DiploPundit will try to cover the event when it happens. Although if State is smart, as it is full of smart folks, it probably should not order a tsunami on the same day that the book comes out. People might think the tsunami is intentional wrath from god.

I had the opportunity to read the book this weekend.  I’ll post my review separately.  I can, however, tell you that the 267-page book carries the following notice:

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the US government. The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170.

The Department of State does not approve, endorse, or  authorize this book. With the exception of historical figures (e.g., President Bush, General Odierno), I have changed all names. The events depicted in this book are true, however, although some details have been changed and the timing of some events has been altered or obscured. Except as noted, I was present at any event reported on and at any conversation repeated.

Information from the SIGIR Web site is in the public domain and may be used without further permission, provided such use is not reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by SIGIR. SIGIR did not approve, endorse, or authorize this book.

The curious phrase, “The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170.”

Which could mean a couple of things. 1) Somebody at State had reviewed this book and found it free of classified materials. Which is well and good, no tsunami will be ordered. Somebody has read the book and the Spokesman can say something like, let’s see — “We know this books is coming out. We do not agree with Mr. Van Buren’s views but his views are his own. We have nothing further to say about this issue.” This would be bad for the folks who want Peter Van Buren’s head on a platter.

Or 2) Somebody at State forgot that the manuscript of this book was in his/her inbox and did not take action during the “reasonable period of review” indicated in the FAM “not to exceed thirty days.” In which case, there are taskers now on what the Spokesman should say about the contents of the 200-something page book. And no, you can’t read my copy.

I’d like to believe it is the former, but I would not be surprise if it is the latter. That said, 3 FAM 4172.1-7 on the Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review appears clear enough:

“An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).”

Because clearly, it’s not like they want to gag anyone, particularly on a contentious subject like Iraq that has been sucking up the U.S. Treasury, right?

Of course, what is clear to you and me, may not always be clear to the officially-paid interpreter of regulations. Remains to be seen what happens. After all, State’s cousin, the DOD back in 2010 reportedly bought some 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s 299-page memoir “Operation Dark Heart” after its publication was green lighted by the Army Reserve Command then proceeded to burn them. Burn all the books, seriously.  So then you know, nobody could ever read that book ever again. 

Pardon me? WikiLeaks has obtained a copy of the unredacted book?  Oh, dear.  Okay, sorry, I meant to say, they have bought and burned 9,499 copies of the Colonel’s book.

Peter Van Buren book carries a special acknowledgement of “Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who led an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoned us there.”  

A visit from the new SecState in 2009 made it into the special acknowledgement page, too:

“On our last day of PRT training, the facility was put into lockdown for a visit from the new Secretary of State (it’s cool that when she visits her own staff the Secretary’s security puts us into lock-down). She greeted and congratulated the Afghan PRT class down the hall from us Iraqis, then left. We didn’t even rate a walk- on. Our war no longer really mattered, though it would take me a long year in the desert and writing this book to fully figure that out.”

I understand from a couple of news interviews online that Peter Van Buren is now subject of internal investigations at the State Department.

So since it appears that Peter Van Buren went through the clearance process as required by the FAM, and if it turns out that the somebody in the higher pyramid pay-grade have not done the actual reading and clearance thingy, would that then be the author’s fault? Really?

I get searches in this blog for “Who hates Peter Van Buren?” Seriously.

Apparently there is also a rumor going around in the FS community that the reason Foreign Service bloggers are having a tough time these days is, you guess it — Peter Van Buren!

Well — there was a 7.3 earthquake in the Fiji region four days ago, must have been Peter Van Buren’s fault, too!

And that all made me think that the somebodies may have a tsunami order on speed-dial specifically for Van Buren’s cubicle. Which would be very bad for Peter Van Buren, indeed, but would certainly be great for book sales.

I must add here that although I have a digital copy of the book, I am buying additional copies to send to my State Department pals for the holidays, at least those still talking to me. 

I’ve never meet Peter Van Buren in person but this seems like the least I could do for a public servant whose career will most certainly be over, and who will be ostracized by most folks big and small in the Big House.  If I see him down some corridor, I will not take the nearest exit or pretend to be busy with my phone thingy.  It is not hard to imagine that not too long ago, he is like all other wide-eyed newbies in A-100 hoping to change the world. Iraq has been our mess since we broke it, Peter Van Buren did not break it. I would thank him for putting his career on the line to tell these stories that the American public needs to know. Perhaps if we learn all the details, we’d demand next time that our elected representatives think harder, ask serious questions, and have the spine to have convictions before allowing our country to blunder into another war.

Any how, I’d definitely love to be wrong on this one, the tsunami and all, including the stealthy shunning.

I would also like to formally request (that is, if the tsunami doesn’t get him), that they send Mr. Van Buren to Afghanistan so he can write about PRT-Afghanistan, too. I seem to be developing gastroesophageal reflux disease every time I consume something served by the US Embassy Kabul on Facebook and Prilosec is no damn help!

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Filed under Courage, FSOs, Iraq, Peter Van Buren, PRTs, Public Service, War

People Power in Tunisia: A Warning for Other "Forever" Rulers

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of TunisiaImage via WikipediaAfter 23 years in office, Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country on Friday after days of mass protests in one of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes.

The Guardian reported that Ben Ali, 74, had been in power since 1987. On Thursday he announced he would not stand for another presidential term in 2014, but Tunisia had been radicalised by the weeks of violence and the killings of scores of demonstrators.

Al Jazeera also reported that the prime minister,Mohammed Ghannouchi has taken over control of the government, citing chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution as the article by which he was assuming power.

Maltese air traffic controllers have apparently told Al Jazeera that Ben Ali is bound for Paris, though the Maltese government has denied any knowledge of Ben Ali’s plane having stopped in Malta after having left Tunis.

IPS News added that like many other Western-backed Arab rulers, he ruled with an iron fist, leading to massive human rights abuses, widespread corruption and lack of democracy.

“When a young street hawker named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in mid-December to protest unemployment and corruption in the central town Sidi Buzeid, Western capitals didn’t react. Ben Ali, it was assumed, was sure to crush the protests that followed in no time.”

It did not.

Sounds awfully familiar.

Uganda’s Idi Amin who came to power in 1971 was forced to flee into exile by helicopter by 1979. He died and was buried in Jeddah, Saud Arabia.

Mobutu Sese Seko who was in power in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1965 was overthrown by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997 (who himself was assassinated by his bodyguards in 2001). Mobuto went into exile and died in Morocco in 1997.

Ferdinand Marcos
who was came to power in the Philippines in 1965 fled the country in 1986 after three days of “people power.” He lived in exile in Hawaii where he died in 1989. 

Former Haitian strongman Jean-Claude Duvalier or “Baby Doc” who was handed power by his father in 1971, retired to the south of France after a popular uprising in 1986.  He reportedly lost most of his wealth with his 1993 divorce and now live in Paris.

Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam who came to power in 1977 ended up in Zimbabwe after his ouster in 1987. Found guilty of genocide in 2006, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court in 2008 sentenced him – in absentia – to death.

Hissene Habré of Chad was in power from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990. He fled–reportedly with looted millions–to the West African nation of Senegal.  Recent news report says that Senegal has demanded that the international community donors provide 27 million euros (36 million US dollars) up front before it starts the process of trying Habré for war crimes.

We hope the news currently unfolding are giving the following “forever” rulers not just indigestion but also really scary nightmares.

If they reform now, well, they may still get a chance to grow old and die in the countries that they loved. If they don’t, a time will come soon when their people will simply decide that the game has gone on for far too long and kick them out of their countries. 

Then one day in a distant far away country, they will simply die of loneliness and heartbreak in a cold, foreign land among strangers.       


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State Dept IRM’s IT Consolidation Gets a Screaming "F"

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A lot of stuff in the bureaucracy gets started that often ends up with bureaucrats working like hamsters on wheels; lots of energies expended with no forethought or real planning.  As the saying goes, it is about the journey, not the destination, a most apt description in the bureucracy.  It is about getting there but not so much about where or what “there” is.  Former Secretary Rice’s transformational diplomacy and global repositioning programs were just two of the grand wheels that generated much energy and  press ink.  But recently, the OIG released its report on IRM’s IT Consolidation efforts at the State Department.  

I almost fell off my chair when I read the report, except that I now have my seat belt on when I read reports on management reforms (oops, sorry, that’s my jaded slip showing).  In the private sector, if you had no defined project requirements to measure project progress, how do you even get funding or keep your job?  How could a project like this even crawl forward when it has holes all over the place? If this were a boat, this would have sunk already before the somebodies left their 7th floor gigs! Oh, but it’s not a boat, just sorta management reform flavor of the month, dudes. 


Here’s part of what the OIG said:          
On July 18, 2007, the former Secretary of State announced the decision to consolidate the Department of State’s desktop computer services and support under the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) within 2 years. This decision was one of a series of eight major management reforms made by the former Secretary intended to improve the Department’s information technology (IT) effectiveness. According to IRM, IT Consolidation will allow for an optimized and cost-effective IT infrastructure supporting agency missions and customer-centric services. Included in the stated goals of the IT Consolidation initiative are improving customer service, enhancing IT security, and reducing IT costs.
During recent reviews and inspections, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) became aware of frustrations from the executive offices and IT management of various bureaus regarding the implementation of the IT Consolidation Project. According to the IRM IT Consolidation Schedule, 25 bureaus and offices had consolidated their services as of October 1, 2009. Consolidation for the remaining participating bureaus and offices was intended to be completed by the fourth quarter of FY 2009; however, IRM has experienced delays attributable to bureaus’ resistance in consolidating their desktop services and to moving forward with the discussion process. IT Consolidation for the remaining nine bureaus is now expected to be completed by the second quarter of FY 2010.

The IT Consolidation Program Management Office (PMO) stated that its number one priority in pursuing IT Consolidation was customer service. However, OIG found a significant level of customer dissatisfaction among bureaus about the quality and timeliness of IT services after consolidation. OIG was unable to substantiate these claims because the Department did not maintain customer service baseline information prior to consolidation and bureaus did not have documentation to support their claims of better customer service prior to consolidation. Because of the inability to have a customer service baseline, OIG distributed customer service surveys to bureau executives, IT staff, and end users. Of more than 700 survey comments received by OIG on its survey from executive directors and users, more than 80 percent of respondents reported that they were more satisfied with the IT support provided by their respective bureau IT staff prior to consolidation.
OIG found that the Department did not have actual or comparative cost information to demonstrate whether consolidating services resulted in reduced costs for desktop support services and systems maintenance, which was one of the primary goals of the Project. The inconsistent manner in which bureaus accounted for IT services costs was one element hindering IRM’s ability to make a comparative cost analysis. The limited cost analysis performed by IRM prior to bureau consolidation and the lack of transparency between bureaus and the IT Consolidation PMO further contributed to cost data shortcomings.
As a result of these issues, the Department has not met some of its intended consolidation goals—improving customer service and reducing IT costs. For example, with the perception of poor customer service, end-users addressed service problems by using resources within their own bureaus rather than by requesting assistance from IRM. Therefore, IRM may have an inaccurate sense of bureau satisfaction with consolidation efforts, as well as an inaccurate picture of staffing requirements and IT costs, which ultimately affects the bureaus. Further, the IT Consolidation PMO cannot ensure that the consolidation effort is and remains aligned with Department goals, since there are no defined Project requirements to measure Project progress. The lack of a thorough understanding of costs by bureau officials and staff has diminished the staffs’ overall support and commitment to the IT Consolidation Project.



Holy molly guacamole!

It’s not that I do not understand the need for reform.  I’m not that dumb, okay?  I do get it, I really do — belt-tightening and all that “doing more with less” chip that has been embedded in my head since the 80’s methinks. What I don’t understand is how these things get done flying by the seat of the somebodies’ pants.  But I see how this can happen.  Not too long ago, one new officer under pressure from his/her boss to deliver “a project” necessary for the boss’ impression management strategery was once overheard saying, “I don’t care if it’s done right, I just want it done.” It was sad; that new offficer was overseas on a first tour, barely six months and all; but a very quick learner on how things are badly done.  Multiply that by a dozen, a couple dozen, more — there’s the boss as a force multiplier, and did not even realized it!? An MHA in this corner, please! 

In any case, this IT consolidation seems like another flavor of the month management reform that has become too sour to enjoy. Perhaps it could have been avoided if somebody had the courage to say “hey, this idea is full of sh*t.” But that’s only like, well like committing career hara-kiri, and nobody does that too often in the bureaucracy. Because when you “die” in a bureaucracy, you don’t necessarily get kicked out, you just get ignored in your cubicle until you, well — dry out, crisp as autumn leaves and get swept out by the char force one night when nobody is looking…. 

Never be the first to say that an idea is bad,” is already memorialized in the bureaucrats’ corridors of influence.

Only idjits do things like that, see?

And like Albert Einstein once said, “If A equals success, then the formula is  A = X + Y + Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.”    


Must admit that is charming!



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