State Dept’s Wibbly Wobbly Jello Stance on Use of Private Email, Also Gummy Jello on Prostitution

Posted: 1:38 am EDT

 

We’ve added to our timeline of the Clinton Email saga (see Clinton Email Controversy Needs Its Own Cable Channel, For Now, a Timeline).

On August 24, 2015, State Dept. Spokesman John Kirby told CNN:  “At The Time, When She Was Secretary Of State, There Was No Prohibition To Her Use Of A Private Email.” Below is the video clip with Mr. Kirby.

Okay, then. Would somebody please get the State Department to sort something out. If there was no prohibition on then Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email, why, oh, why did the OIG inspectors dinged the then ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration for using commercial email back in 2012? (See OIG inspection of US Embassy Kenya, 2012).

Screen Shot 2015-08-25

Oh, and here’s a more recent one dated August 25, 2015. The OIG inspection of U.S. Embassy Japan (pdf) says this:

In the course of its inspection, OIG received reports concerning embassy staff use of private email accounts to conduct official business. On the basis of these reports, OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects conducted a review and confirmed that senior embassy staff, including the Ambassador, used personal email accounts to send and receive messages containing official business. In addition, OIG identified instances where emails labeled Sensitive but Unclassified6 were sent from, or received by, personal email accounts.

OIG has previously reported on the risks associated with using commercial email for official Government business. Such risks include data loss, hacking, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. Department policy is that employees generally should not use private email accounts (for example, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and so forth) for official business.7 Employees are also expected to use approved, secure methods to transmit Sensitive but Unclassified information when available and practical.8

OIG report referenced two cables, we’ve inserted the hyperlinks publicly available online: 11 STATE 65111 and 14 STATE 128030 and 12 FAM 544.3, which has been in the rules book, at least since 2005:

12 FAM 544.3 Electronic Transmission Via the Internet  (updated November 4, 2005)

“It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

This section of the FAM was put together by the Office of Information Security (DS/SI/IS) under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, one of the multiple bureaus that report to the Under Secretary for Management.

Either the somebodies were asleep at the switch, as the cliché goes, or somebody at the State Department gave authorization to the Clinton private server as an Automated Information System.

In any case, the State Department’s stance on the application of regulations on the use of private and/or commercial email is, not wobbly jello on just this one subject or on just this instance.

gummy-bears-o

dancing jello gummy bears

On October 16, 2014, State/OIG released its Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. This review arose out of a 2012 OIG inspection of the Department of State (Department) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). At that time, OIG inspectors were informed of allegations of undue influence and favoritism related to the handling of a number of internal investigations by the DS internal investigations unit. The allegations initially related to eight, high-profile, internal investigations. (See State/OIG Releases Investigation on CBS News Allegations: Prostitution as “Management Issues” Unless It’s NotCBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

One of those eight cases relate to an allegation of soliciting a prostitute.

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) provides that disciplinary action may be taken against persons who engage in behavior, such as soliciting prostitutes, that would cause the U.S. Government to be held in opprobrium were it to become public.1

In May 2011, DS was alerted to suspicions by the security staff at a U.S. embassy that the U.S. Ambassador solicited a prostitute in a public park near the embassy. DS assigned an agent from its internal investigations unit to conduct a preliminary inquiry. However, 2 days later, the agent was directed to stop further inquiry because of a decision by senior Department officials to treat the matter as a “management issue.” The Ambassador was recalled to Washington and, in June 2011, met with the Under Secretary of State for Management and the then Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Secretary of State. At the meeting, the Ambassador denied the allegations and was then permitted to return to post. The Department took no further action affecting the Ambassador.

OIG found that, based on the limited evidence collected by DS, the suspected misconduct by the Ambassador was not substantiated. DS management told OIG, in 2013, that the preliminary inquiry was appropriately halted because no further investigation was possible. OIG concluded, however, that additional evidence, confirming or refuting the suspected misconduct, could have been collected. For example, before the preliminary inquiry was halted, only one of multiple potential witnesses on the embassy’s security staff had been interviewed. Additionally, DS never interviewed the Ambassador and did not follow its usual investigative protocol of assigning an investigative case number to the matter or opening and keeping investigative case files.

Department officials offered different justifications for handling the matter as a “management issue,” and they did not create or retain any record to justify their handling of it in that manner. In addition, OIG did not discover any guidance on what factors should be considered, or processes should be followed, in making a “management issue” determination, nor did OIG discover any records documenting management’s handling of the matter once the determination was made.

The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a “management issue” based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission. The provision, applicable to Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials, states that when “exceptional circumstances” exist, the Under Secretary need not refer the suspected misconduct to OIG or DS for further investigation (as is otherwise required).2 In this instance, the Under Secretary cited as “exceptional circumstances” the fact that the Ambassador worked overseas.3

DS managers told OIG that they viewed the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct as a “management issue” based on another FAM disciplinary provision applicable to lower-ranking employees. The provision permits treating misconduct allegations as a “management issue” when they are “relatively minor.”4 DS managers told OIG that they considered the allegations “relatively minor” and not involving criminal violations.

Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.5

OIG questions the differing justifications offered and recommends that the Department promulgate clear and consistent protocols and procedures for the handling of allegations involving misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior officials. Doing so should minimize the risk of (1) actual or perceived undue influence and favoritism and (2) disparate treatment between higher and lower-ranking officials suspected of misconduct.6 In addition, OIG concludes that the Under Secretary’s application of the “exceptional circumstances” provision to remove matters from DS and OIG review could impair OIG’s independence and unduly limit DS’s and OIG’s abilities to investigate alleged misconduct by Chiefs of Mission and other senior Department officials.

In the SBU report provided to Congress and the Department, OIG cited an additional factor considered by the Under Secretary—namely, that the Ambassador’s suspected misconduct (solicitation of prostitution) was not a crime in the host country. However, after the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary advised OIG that that factor did not affect his decision to treat the matter as a “management issue” and that he cited it in a different context. This does not change any of OIG’s findings or conclusions in this matter. 

After the SBU report was issued, the Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)). 

During the course of that review, State/OIG said it discovered some evidence of disparity in DS’s handling of allegations involving prostitution. Between 2009 and 2011, DS investigated 13 prostitution-related cases involving lower-ranking officials.

The OIG apparently, found no evidence that any of those inquiries were halted and treated as “management issues.”

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Also, have you heard?  Apparently, DEA now has an updated “etiquette” training for its agents overseas.

That’s all.

Is there a diplomatic way to request that the responsible folks at the State Department culture some real backbone in a petri-dish?

No, no, not jello backbone, please!

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State Dept Releases New 3 FAM 4170 aka: The “Stop The Next Peter Van Buren” Regulation

Posted: 3:41 am EDT

Congratulations!  This is almost three years in the making!

We’ve previously covered the Peter Van Buren case quite extensively in this blog (see After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata Peter Van Buren). The State Department officially retired Mr. Van Buren on September 30, 2012. He left with full retirement. In December 2012, we were informed by inside the building sources that the Department was rewriting its 3 FAM 4170 rules on official clearance for speaking, writing, and teaching. (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair).

On July 27, 2015, two months short of Year 3 since Mr. Van Buren retired, the State Department without much fanfare released its new 3 FAM 4170 rules in 19 pages. For the FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations” crowd, we hope you folks have great lawyers.

My! Look who’s covered!

The updated FAM, same as the old FAM, is divided into two meaty parts — official capacity public communication and personal capacity public appearances and communications.  The new version of 3 FAM 4170 is all encompassing, covering the following (not exhaustive list):

— all personnel in the United States and abroad who are currently employed (even if in Leave Without Pay status) by the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), including but not limited to Foreign Service (FS) employees, Civil Service (CS) employees (including schedule C appointees and annuitants returning to work on temporary appointments on an intermittent basis, commonly referred to as “While Actually Employed (WAE)” personnel), locally employed staff (LE Staff), personal service contractors (PSCs), employees assigned to fellowships or details elsewhere and detailees or fellows from other entities assigned to the Department, externs/interns, and special government employees (SGEs).

— Former Department of State employees (including former interns and externs) must seek guidance from A/GIS/IPS for applicable review process information. Former USAID employees (including former interns and externs) must consult the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs for applicable review process information.

— Employee testimony, whether in an official capacity or in a personal capacity on a matter of Departmental concern, may be subject to the review requirements of this subchapter. Employees should consult with the Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser or USAID’s Office of the General Counsel, as appropriate, to determine applicable procedures.

In practical terms, we think this means that if you get summoned to appear before the House Select Benghazi Committee and is testifying in your personal capacity as a former or retired employee of the State Department, these new regulations may still apply to you, and you may still need clearance before your testimony.

Convince us that we’re reading this wrong, otherwise, somebody poke Congress, please.

Also, does this mean that all retired FSOs who contribute to ADST’s Oral History project are similarly required to obtain clearance since by its definition, “online forums such as blogs” and “a person or entity engaged in disseminating information to the general public” are considered media organizations under these new rules?

Institutional interest vs. public interest

We are particularly interested in the personal capacity publication/communication rules because that’s the one that can get people in big trouble, as shown in the Van Buren case. Here’s the equivalent of our bold Sharpie.

3 FAM 4176.4 says:  “A principal goal of the review process for personal capacity public communications is to ensure that no classified or other protected information will be disclosed without authorization. In addition, the Final Review Office will evaluate whether the employee’s public communication is highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the efficiency or mission of the Department, such that preventing those consequences outweighs the employee’s presumptively high interest in communicating and the public’s interest in receiving the communication.”

 

Institutional interest trumps public interest? Where do you draw the line? You can still write a dissent cable as the “3 FAM 4172.1-3(D). No Review of Dissent Channel Communications” included in the 2009 version of the FAM survives as 3 FAM 4171 (e) in the current rules:

Views on matters of Departmental concern communicated through methods of internal communication (including, for example, the Department’s internal dissent channel) or disclosures made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(B) are not subject to the review requirements of this subchapter.

Which is fine and all, except — who the heck gets to read your dissent cable except the folks at Policy Planning? The State Department is not obligated to share with Congress or with the American public any dissenting opinions from its diplomats. One might argue that this is appropriate, after all, you can’t have diplomats second guessing in public every foreign policy decision of every administration. So, the American public typically only hears about it when a diplomat quits.  But given the two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the American public best served by this policy?  And by the way, candid opinion like the case of the six-page memo, entitled “The Perfect Storm,” in the lead up to the Iraq War, is still classified. Why is that?

The new regs also say this:

“To the extent time and resources allow, reviewers may assist the employee in identifying possible modifications or other adjustments to avoid the inclusion of non-classified but otherwise protected information, or the potential for adverse consequences to the Department’s mission or efficiency (including the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties effectively in the future).”

If we weigh the Van Buren book against these parameters, how much of the book’s 288 pages would survive such “modifications” or “adjustments.”

There goes the book, We Meant Well in Afghanistan, Also.

The Peter Van Buren Clause

We’ve come to call “3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review as the Peter Van Buren clause. Below is the original language from the 2009 version of the FAM:

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).

That section of the FAM appears to survive under the current 3 FAM 4174.3 Final Review Offices, underlined for emphasis below.

c. To ensure that no classified information is improperly disclosed, an employee must not take any steps to proceed with a public communication (including making commitments to publishers or other parties) until he or she receives written notice to proceed from the Final Review Office, except as described below. If, upon expiration of the relevant timeframes below, the Final Review Office has not provided an employee with either a final response or an indication that a public communication involves equities of another U.S. Government entity (including a list of the entity or entities with equities), the employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of Departmental concern that have been submitted for review so long as such materials do not contain information described in 3 FAM 4176.2(a) and taking into account the principles in 4176.2(b). When an employee has been informed by the Final Review Office that his or her public communication involves equities of another U.S. Government entity or entities, the employee should not proceed without written notice to proceed from the Final Review Office. Upon the employee’s request, the Final Review Office will provide the employee with an update on the status of the review of his or her public communication, including, if applicable, the date(s) on which the Department submitted the employee’s communication to another entity or entities for review. Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal capacity public communications whether or not such communications are on topics of Departmental concern.

The Van Buren clause appears to survive, until you take a closer look; italicized below for emphasis:

3 FAM 4176.2 (a) Content of Personal Capacity Public Communications

a. When engaging in personal capacity public communications, employees must not:

(1) Claim to represent the Department or its policies, or those of the U.S. Government, or use Department or other U.S. Government seals or logos; or

(2) Disclose, or in any way allow the public to access, classified information, even if it is already publicly available due to a previous unauthorized disclosure.

3 FAM 4176.2 (b) Content of Personal Capacity Public Communications

b. As stated in 3 FAM 4174.2(c)(1), a purpose of this review process is to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization. Other protected information that is or may be subject to public disclosure restrictions includes, but is not limited to: 

(1) Material that meets one or more of the criteria for exemption from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(b), including internal pre-decisional deliberative material; 

(2) Information that reasonably could be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings or operations;

(3) Information pertaining to procurement in violation of 41 U.S.C. 2101-2107;

(4) Sensitive personally identifiable information as defined in 5 FAM 795.1(f); or

(5) Other nonpublic information, when used in a manner as prohibited by 5 CFR 2635.703.

Can one make the case that the conversations between the writer and his boss in the Van Buren book are “internal pre-decisional deliberative material?” Or that any conversation between two FSOs are deliberative? Of course. State can make a case about anything and everything.  Remember, it did try to make the case that the book contained classified information. (see “Classified” Information Contained in We Meant Well – It’s a Slam Dunk, Baby!). Also, we should note that documents marked SBU or sensitive but unclassified are typically considered nonpublic information.  Under these new rules, it’s not just classified information anymore, anything the agency considers deliberative material or any nonpublic material may be subject to disclosure restrictions.

 

3 FAM 4174.2 Overview (2015): Waving the ‘suitability for continued employment’ flag

c. Employees’ personal capacity public communications must be reviewed if they are on a topic “of Departmental concern” (see 3 FAM 4173). Personal capacity public communications that clearly do not address matters of Departmental concern need not be submitted for review.

(1) The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).

(2) The purposes of the review are limited to those described in paragraph (1); the review is not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action related to their communications, or otherwise provide assurances to employees on matters such as suitability for continued employment (see, e.g., 3 FAM 4130 for foreign service personnel and 5 CFR 731 for civil service personnel). Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal capacity public communications whether or not such communications are on topics of Departmental concern.

 

More 3 FAM 4170 Fun: Not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action

3 FAM 4176.1(e) General

e. As stated in 3 FAM 4174.2(c)(1), the review process is limited to three purposes. (See also 3 FAM 4176.4.) Therefore, completion of the review process is not a Department “clearance” or “approval” of the planned communication, and is not meant to insulate employees from discipline or other administrative action related to their communications, including for conducting personal capacity public communications that interfere with the Department’s ability to effectively and efficiently carry out its mission and responsibilities, by, for example, disrupting operations, impairing working relationships, or impeding the employee from carrying out his or her duties. Ultimately, employees remain responsible for their personal communications whether or not the communications are on topics of Departmental concern.

 

3 FAM 4176.3 Employee must disclose his/her identity to Department reviewers

a. PA reviews all personal capacity public communications on matters of Departmental concern by senior officials at the Assistant Secretary level and above, including Chiefs of Mission. For all other employees wishing to communicate publicly in their personal capacity on matters of Departmental concern, there are two review processes available:

(1) Individuals may, as a first step, submit their requests for review to the Final Review Office (as described in 3 FAM 4174.3(a)). For employees submitting a request to PA, such requests should be submitted via PAReviews@state.gov. The Final Review Office will then consult with the employee’s immediate supervisor(s) and any other offices concerned with the subject matter in accordance with 3 FAM 4176.4(c). The Final Review Office will then make the final determination; and

(2) Alternatively, employees may initially submit their requests for review to their immediate supervisor(s), the Public Affairs Office in their bureaus or posts, and any other Department offices concerned with the subject matter. The materials must then be submitted to the Final Review Office, noting all such reviewers and any comments received. The Final Review Office will then verify those reviews, assess whether other reviews are needed, and make the final determination.

b. Supervisors, Public Affairs Offices, or any other offices involved in the review process must flag for the Final Review Office any view that the proposed public communication may:

(1) Contain classified or other protected information;

(2) Result in serious adverse consequences to the efficiency or mission of the Department; or

(3) Be or become high impact or high profile, for example communication that is controversial, or otherwise involves a sensitive Department priority; and

(4) The Final Review Office will then apply the standard described in 3 FAM 4176.4(a).

c. In all cases, an employee must disclose his or her identity to the relevant Department reviewers.

d. If another U.S. Government entity seeks Department review of a personal capacity public communication by that entity’s employee, the Department office in receipt of such request must coordinate with PA.

 

3 FAM 4177 Noncompliance may result in disciplinary action, criminal prosecution and/or civil liability.

a. Failure to follow the provisions of this subchapter, including failure to seek advance reviews where required, may result in disciplinary or other administrative action up to and including separation. Violations by USAID employees may be referred to the Deputy Administrator for Human Resources or USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (see 3 FAM 4320). Disciplinary action will be pursued consistent with applicable law, including 5 U.S.C. 2302

b. Publication or dissemination of classified or other protected information may result in disciplinary action, criminal prosecution and/or civil liability.

This is the part where we must remind you that what the former State Department spokesperson said about the FAM being recommendations is a serious bunch of hooey!

Oh, hey, remember the 2-day clearance for tweets …’er scandal?

We wrote about it here and here, and the “ain’t gonna happen 2-day clearance” for social media posting is now part of the Foreign Affairs Manual.  Apologies if the 2-working day review timeframe below for social media postings is too shocking for 21st century statecraft innovation purists. These are the rules, unless you can get the current State Department spokesperson to say from the podium that these are merely recommendations that employees/retirees/interns/charforce are free to ignore. We must add that the 2009 version of these rules, required that materials of official concern submitted in the employee’s private capacity must “be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days.” The old rules made no distinction whether the submitted material is a book manuscript, an article, a blogpost or a tweet.
screen grab from 3 FAM 4172

screen grab from 3 FAM 4170

Yo! What’s Missing?

The new regs emphasized the need for official clearance for official and private communication “to ensure that no classified information is improperly disclosed.” It however, does not include any guidance on the use of a private server for emails and social media postings where classified information could be improperly disclosed.

A Much Better FAM Version, Hey?

From the organizational perspective, some folks would say that this is a “much better” version of the FAM.  We’d call this a much better plug. An insider could argue that this is a “very fine sieve.”

Okeedokee, but what do you think will be its consequences for the rank and file? No one will officially admit this as the intent, but after reading this new version of 3 FAM 4170, this is what we think it really says:

The updated regs also says that “In light of the rapid pace with which many social media platforms are used, all offices, sections, or employees who routinely post to such platforms in their official capacity are encouraged to seek advance blanket authorization to engage for their social media communications, in accordance with 3 FAM 4175.1(c).”

The blanket authorization as far as we can tell only applies to those who are engaged in social media platforms in their official capacities, it makes no similar provision for employees in social media platforms in their private capacities.

Fun With Fido or Grumpy Cat

The new regs helpfully notes that “Employees who, in their personal capacity, wish to communicate publicly on matters that are clearly not “of Departmental concern” (see 3 FAM 4173) need not seek Department review under the procedures outlined herein, and need not use the personal capacity disclaimer discussed below in paragraph (b).”

So, basically, if you blog, tweet or write a book about Kitty Kat or Fidodog, or about their travels and adventures in Baghdad, Kabul, Sanaa, and all the garden spots, you don’t need to seek Department review. That is, as long as Kitty Kat is not secretly arming the rodent insurgents and tweeting about it and Fidodog is not flushing government money down the toilet and blogging about it.

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Related items:

Read the new 3 FAM 4170 July 27, 2015 | REVIEW OF PUBLIC SPEAKING, TEACHING, WRITING, AND MEDIA ENGAGEMENT

Download it here (pdf).

 

Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse

Posted: 2:55 am EDT

 

We’ve previously featured Donna Scaramastra Gorman in this blog. She writes the Email From The Embassy blog and she’s out with a book! Check out Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse.

2015_07_Donna_Kindle

Click on image to see the book on Amazon

One reviewer on Amazon writes, “The first few paragraphs have me smirk, scoff and snort. It’s about time the Foreign Service has a guide that doesn’t bullsh*t. FS life is cool and fascinating but it’s not always pretty. Nor glamourous.”

Teh-heh!

By way of introduction, Donna writes this:

There is a saying in the State Department: “It depends.”[…] It’s terrifying, in a way, that the answer to every question you have about the Foreign Service can be summed up with those two little words.

That’s the State Department’s unofficial motto. We’ll entertain an alternative unofficial motto, but we don’t think you’ll find one.

Ambassador John Ordway (former ambassador to Armenia and Kazakhstan) gave the book five stars on Amazon and writes:  “With 40 years living the Foreign Service life under my belt, I found myself chuckling with fond recollection on nearly every page. Based on her years of experience trotting the globe for the U.S. State Department, Donna Gorman explains (and predicts) some of the lessons we’ve all learned — and maybe wish we had not learned. No matter where you’re coming from or where you’re headed, I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a new arsenal of useful tips for things to do, and not do, as you contemplate the Foreign Service life.”

We enjoyed reading this book. It feels familiar but also informal like the author is chatting with a friend who doesn’t yet know anything about the Foreign Service.  It is a fun read but also painful in some parts. We remember — boy, we’re old — back in 2007, Donna also lost her hearing on the right ear due to a viral infection when her family was posted in China.  Anyway, yup, cried over Chapter 27 of this book, probably the hardest part to read.  Will this book scare off people interested in the Foreign Service? Can’t tell, of course, but we’d say it would be best to know more and learn to manage one’s expectations, than know so little that one expects a charmed life abroad.

Here’s a brief bio:  Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, the Foreign Service Journal, the Seattle Times, Parade Magazine, the Insider’s Guide to Beijing and several other outlets.  Gorman is a Foreign Service spouse, married to a federal agent with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. They and their four children have been posted together in Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, China, Jordan and the U.S. Gorman also spent a year as a single parent while her husband completed a tour in Baghdad.  They are currently posted in Moscow.

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Tales from a Small Planet Announces New Executive Director, Director of Social Media

Posted: 12:09 pm EDT


Tales From a Small Planet
‘s chair of the Board of Directors, Francesca Kelly and its outgoing Executive Director, Victoria Hess announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director and Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media.

Tales from a Small Planet, a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization and premier expat resource website, has announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director. Leslie will fill the vacancy created by Victoria H. Hess, long-time Executive Director and Board Member. The selection was made following a worldwide search and selection process, during which Leslie stood out for her extensive background in sales and enthusiasm for all things expat.

Leslie’s resume includes over 10 years of sales and business development in a wide range of sectors from banking to Internet technology, and she is currently a small business owner navigating the intermittently challenging task of operating a small business while living abroad.

Tales from a Small Planet is also thrilled to announce the addition of Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media. Outside of volunteering with Tales, Ásgeir’s paying job is with the American Foreign Service Association, where he is the Director of New Media. He has many years of experience within the Foreign Service/expat world, and also brings a deep understanding of engaging audiences through social and other online media. Ásgeir is originally from Iceland, and definitely considers himself an expat.

Talesmag.com offers expats the unique opportunity to share information about experiences abroad, expat to expat. Our Real Post Reports and Real School reports offer a “one stop shop” for the information expat families need in order to make informed decisions when choosing the next adventure.

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 Related post:
Tales From a Small Planet Needs New Blood, Now Volunteers Needed!

Fobs For Everyone: 624,000 More Hours of Productivity at the State Department! Woohoo!

Posted: 4:33 pm EDT

 

Not too long ago, State Department EFM Jen Denoia wrote about the reasonable expectation of family members to have access to the department’s online resources:

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) such as myself are still mired in the same backwards technology that existed when our family joined the State Department 15 years ago. Despite advances such as the development of fobs, a device many employees use to generate passwords for intranet access from off-site computers, EFMs have not been granted access to such tools. While we tend to do most of the post research, we are still reliant upon non-State resources in order to retrieve bidding information when we need it the most.

A year after Secretary Clinton arrived at State (and to this day), there is still no decent online access for family members of State Department employees.  The Foreign Service version of MilitaryOneSource for family members may remain only a dream for the foreseeable future.  In 2009, a senior adviser at the State Department helped justify the “fobs for everyone” by citing that the program “will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year.”

On May 12, 2009, CIO Susan Swart wrote an email to Alec Ross, then State Department senior advisor for innovation:

I met with Pat today and we did discuss expansion of the fob program. He is supportive and asked that we do a decision memo to him. WE need this get decision on funding and longer term strategy but I don’t see this as slowing down an announcement the Secretary might make, we just need to coordinate timing.

A couple days later, Alec Ross sent an email to Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan:

We’re going to forward with the doubling of mobile access to email and productivity tools. It’s INSANE that fewer than 1 in 5 state Department are able to access their email or documents when they’re away from their desk.

It has contributed to the 9:00-5:00 culture here and exacerbates the disconnection between D.C. and the missions. This is a good short-term win and by my estimates will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year one which I think is extremely conservative – it assumes just 1.5 additional hour online per employee per week.

Given that those being given the tools are principally foreign service officers and people more senior than the mean average DoS employee, I think this is very reasonable. Will put an evaluative instrument into this to see if I’m correct.

More detail on all this below if you want it.

I should point out that Pat Kennedy and the CIO have been great. This has been one of several instances where they listened, they got it, and they’re moving forward. The CIO said she’d thought of it before, just didn’t know if she could handle the politics. I’m not going to spend a ton of time on our “corporate IT” but in obvious cases like this I’ll keep jumping in.

Last thing — this idea got a lot of attention on The Sounding Board. I propose that HRC respond to the staff (maybe in a quick 60 second video that we post there) saying in effect – Thank you for sharing your thinking. I heard you. Because of you we’re doing this.

Re-enforce that HRC is still listening to the staff.

That same day, Cheryl Mills forwarded the email to HRC:

FYI – we’re going to get a short video from you that we’ll put on our site announcing this. It’s also one of the ideas we can use for how we are reforming the department for the reform committee.

Secretary Clinton replied:

Sounds great but you’ll have to explain to me!

So then Ms. Mills sent the following:

sure — bottom line – you need a special security code to get on line from a computer outside the building. Only 1 in 5 of our employees has gotten the device (fob) that allows you to do this access.

This effort is making sure they get fobs into the hands of more (or all) employees so folks can work from home thereby increasing productivity substantially since the 4 in 5 essentially do no work from home once they leave the building until they get in again b/c they don’t have access to their email.

On May 14, 2009, at 10:20 PM, the Secretary replied:

Got it. Is the other matter fixed. Anything else going on?

Whatever it was she was asking about,  Ms. Mills told her, it was “fixed.”  The rest of the email chain is redacted. Click C05761923 (pdf) to read this emails via foia.state.gov.

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ProPublica: As Hollywood Lobbied State Department, It Built Free Home Theaters for U.S. Embassies

by Robert Faturechi ProPublica, July 2, 2015, 5:15 a.m.

This story was co-published with The Daily Beast.

Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.

Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.

That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.

The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled “U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room.” It credited “a generous donation” from the MPAA.

Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.

“Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities,” said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines.”

Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year 2013 London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren’t intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.

Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. “The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions,” she said.

The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn’t provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn’t say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.

There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris in 2011. “This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations,” the spokesman said.

State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for “embassy refurbishment, ” provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there’s no conflict or possible “embarrassment or harm” to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can’t come with a promise or expectation of “any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government.”

Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio’s chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note 2013 Keith Weaver 2013 sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn’t be improper.

“The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed,” reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.

“The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible.”

Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.

The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation’s capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner 2013 a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.

Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA’s interests don’t always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.

The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.

For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting “fair use” protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be “extremely controversial and divisive.” Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.

“They’re basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent,” said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship.”

The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.

This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to “expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries.”

It’s not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater’s debut in February, the ambassador’s guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington 2013 the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

Related stories: For more coverage of politics and influence, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on secret political dealings by Sony, a reversal by the higher ed lobby and an imploding super PAC.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Republished under Creative Commons.
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Happy 239th Birthday America! #July4inJune

Posted: 2:14 am  EDT

 

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta generated some controversy this month when it moved its July 4th celebration to June 4th to avoid conflict with the month-long Ramadan observance in the country.  (See US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad). Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has announced Thursday, June 18 as the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.  Below is a round-up of posts that marked Fourth of July in June this year.  Our posts in Muslim countries who have yet to celebrate independence day may have to wait until after July 17th to hold their annual celebration.  If you don’t get why, click here or here.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia with Ambassador Robert Blake

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US Embassy Cairo, Egypt with Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft

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U.S. Embassy Rabat, Morocco with Ambassador Dwight L. Bush, Sr.

June 4, 2015 | ‘We celebrate tonight not only the anniversary of America’s independence, but also the longstanding and warm ties of friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco.” – Ambassador Bush at last night’s Independence day celebration here at the Embassy, which is the first such celebration at our new Embassy compound.

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco with CG Nicole Theriot

June 14 | U.S. Consul General Nicole Theriot in Casablanca, joined by Ambassador Bush to celebrate 239 years of American independence. This year’s event was a Luau (“great feast”) which incorporated fire dancers, Tiki carvings, volcanoes and delicious food showcasing the rich culture and traditions of the state of Hawaii.”

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

Image via US Embassy Rabat/FB

U.S. Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan with Ambassador Susan Elliott

June 8, 2015 | Did you know the United States gained independence 239 years ago? Here are some photos from this year’s early celebration at the Hyatt Regency Dushanbe! This year’s Independence Day commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a law securing access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation for persons with disabilities. In her address, Ambassador Susan Elliott praised U.S.-Tajik cooperation and advocated for greater collaboration to improve conditions for all Tajiks, and highlighted the importance of persons with disabilities having the same rights as non-disabled persons regardless of any disabilities that may prevent them from engaging in daily life.

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

US Embassy Dushanbe, Tajikistan/FB

U.S. Embassy Algiers, Algeria with Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik

US Embassy Algiers/FB

Ambassador Joan A. Polaschik leading the 4th of July celebration at the US Embassy in Algeria, June 15, 2015 | US Embassy Algiers/FB

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with Ambassador Joseph Yun

June 15 | This year, we celebrate our diverse heritage on the 239th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America in the beautiful island of Penang as well!

US Embassy KL/FB

US Embassy Malaysia Fourth of July celebration in Penang with Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun | US Embassy KL/FB

Time to re-up our favorite Fourth of July video from US Consulate General Milan featuring President Obama, Lady Liberty, then Ambassador David Thorne, Consul General Kyle Scott  and the USCG Milan  crew:

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US Embassies Move Fourth of July For Heat, Monsoon Weather, and Now For Ramadan — Read Before Getting Mad

–Posted: 12:12 pm EDT

 

American embassies hold Fourth of July festivities every year. This blog has followed those official celebrations through the last several years.  There is brewing controversy over the news that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta had moved its Fourth of July celebration to June 4th this year to “avoid any conflict with the month-long Ramadan celebration.” Makes perfect sense to us. Before you get all mad, read on.

The Celebration of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta’s 239th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America  Photo credit: State Dept./Erik A. Kurniawan

The Celebration of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta’s 239th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America with Ambassador Blake and guests
Photo credit: State Dept./Erik A. Kurniawan

This is certainly not the first time that an embassy had moved its Fourth of July celebration to a different date.  In 2012, the US Embassy in Oman celebrated our 236th year of independence in February that year. We were once told that heat is the reason for these early 4th of July  celebrations at various overseas posts. At one EUR  post, we heard that it was the heat and the fact that most government officials leave the capital city in July. In 2013 and again in 2014, the US Embassy in Nepal celebrated July 4th three months earlier, in March “in the hopes of escaping monsoon weather.”

So yes, our diplomatic posts overseas have moved these independence day celebrations due to heat, monsoon weather, and now, Ramadan. And this is probably not the first time an embassy has done this, and it will not be the last.

Ramadan this year begins the evening of June 17 and ends the evening of July 17.  During this time, many Muslims will observe a pre-fast meal before dawn. At sunset, they  will have their fast-breaking meal.  On July 4th, in Muslim host countries like Indonesia, the red, white and blue cake will not be first on their minds when they break their fast for their first meal of the day since dawn.

Here’s where we pause for a reminder that these Fourth of July celebrations are official functions typically hosted by our embassies for host country nationals and contacts. There is every need to accommodate local sensitivities and realities.

Or there will be no one in attendance.

But what about American citizens, you say; can’t they just party among themselves? They can for private celebrations, of course. But the diplomatic Fourth of July celebration has an official function and purpose, which is (like all representational functions), to provide for the proper representation of the United States, and further foreign policy objectives.

The Department of State Standardized Regulations also dictates that embassy representational allowance may not be used for “expenses of recreation and entertainment solely for employees of the Executive Branch of the United States Government and their families” (5 U.S.C. 5536).  That’s right. Uncle Sam will throw a thunderbolt at an embassy that hosts representational events/functions for its American employees or American citizens alone.  Regulations require that “U.S. presence, official and private, must be less than half the total guest list.”

In fact, 3 FAM 3246.3 spells this quite clearly: “Since representation relationships are established and maintained primarily with host-country officials and private citizens, guest lists for representation events must reflect minimum guest-ratio guidelines set by the chief of mission for each type of representation function (rarely more than 50 percent U. S. Government executive branch employees) to ensure that representative cross sections are invited.”

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Related posts:

FSO Michael Dodman: No use complaining about the “10,000-mile screwdriver”

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

 

Michael Dodman, a Foreign Service officer since 1988, was consul general in Karachi from July 2012 to August 2014. He was the recipient of the 2014 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy for his work there. He is currently director of the entry-level career development and assignments section of the Bureau of Human Resources.

Michael Dodman_karachi

Photo via USCG Karachi

Below is an excerpt from a piece he wrote for the Foreign Service Journal:

The most important thing I learned from my two years leading Consulate General Karachi is this: Successful diplomacy in a high-threat post depends on understanding Washington—and, for a constituent post, the embassy as well.

There is no use complaining about the “10,000-mile screwdriver.” Today’s technology guarantees that no overseas post will ever operate with the sense of autonomy and distance from the flagpole that we once did. The key to managing and succeeding is constantly taking the pulse of Washington, and anticipating information demands—both to avoid surprises and (hopefully) head off directives you disagree with.

I thought I had done a good job meeting the key Washington players during consultations before I went to post. But events in September 2012 and later, particularly the spring 2014 attack on Karachi Airport, made me realize I hadn’t even scratched the surface in terms of everyone who had a say in operations at my post.

Success in navigating the shifting waters of Washington, particularly from a constituent post, required:

  • Regular and open communication with the desk;
  • Understanding the State Department and interagency decision points, and the importance of EAC cables and other channels of communication;
  • Earning the trust of Washington decision-makers; and
  • Building and maintaining a close partnership with the embassy front office and country team, including spending a few days every month in the capital.

Read in full here.

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‘Tales From a Small Planet’ Needs New Blood, Now Volunteers Needed!

Posted: 1:42 am EDT

 

We’re passing along a note from Francesca Kelly, one of the founders of Tales from a Small Planet, the  unofficial bidding destination for members of the Foreign Service and the expat community members with relocation in their minds.  She writes, “I know that I’m nearing my expiration date as an effective leader simply because I’ve been around too long! … We need some new blood at Tales.”

I should also add that Francesca is a freelance writer and was the website’s editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2003. You might like to read one memorable piece she did,  The Eighteen Cups: A Foreign Service Fable.  Francesca has lived in Milan, Leningrad, Moscow, Belgrade, Vienna, Ankara and Rome. She is the spouse of Ambassador Ian C. Kelly, the ambassador-designate to Georgia. And hey! A few years ago, she was with  Alex Trebek on Jeopardy.

Tales from a Small Planet was created at the turn of the millennium by a group of U.S. Foreign Service spouses who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).

Volunteers Needed!

Tales from a Small Planet, the first comprehensive web resource for expats, is seeking new volunteers to take it the next step. Critical positions to be filled include Executive Director, Social Media Director, and several Board members.

When bidding season rolls around, Tales from a Small Planet, at www.talesmag.com, is the website people visit first to research potential assignments. Our Real Post Reports have helped thousands find answers to what it’s like to live in cities from Abuja to Zagreb.

Will you need a 4WD vehicle? Where do Americans live? Tales from a Small Planet gets more than 75,000 individual page views every month from people asking questions like these. And our Real School Reports provide even more detailed answers about schools at post.

In short, ever since Tales was founded as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization in 2001, we’ve helped a lot of people find information about life abroad.  Perhaps we’ve even helped you!

Now Tales needs your help. We’re looking for a few smart, thoughtful and action-oriented people to join our staff and our board in volunteer positions that add up to only a few hours a month. You may not get paid, but you do get a spiffy title to stick on your resume, some great experience, and the chance to help a worthwhile cause.  Please contact volunteer@talesmag.com for more information about the following open staff and board positions:

Staff Openings

Executive Director

Social Media Director

Board openings:

About a half-dozen positions open. Staff and board meetings take place online, through email discussions and occasional virtual chats.

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