Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Ambassador John Tefft Presents Letter of Credence in Moscow

– Domani Spero

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin received the letters of credence from Ambassador Tefft together with  fourteen new ambassadors to Moscow from Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Poland, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ghana, Vietnam, Zambia, Turkey, Tanzania, Hungary, Peru, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.

Mr. Putin also gave a speech during the event and his MFA specifically highlighted the following in the English text of the speech:

We take the view that Russia and the United States of America bear special responsibility for maintaining international security and stability and combating global threats and challenges. We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in all different areas, based on the principles of respect for each other’s interests, equality and non-intervention in domestic affairs.

Full speech in English here.

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Former Ambassador and Pakistan Expert Under Federal Investigation as Part of CounterIntel Probe

– Domani Spero

 

Late breaking news today concerns Robin Raphel, a retired Foreign Service officer, former ambassador, and most recently, a senior coordinator at the State Department’s  Af/Pak shop as being under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe.

Via WaPo:

A veteran State Department diplomat and longtime Pakistan expert is under federal investigation as part of a counterintelligence probe and has had her security clearances withdrawn, according to U.S. officials.

The FBI searched the Northwest Washington home of Robin L. Raphel last month, and her State Department office was also examined and sealed, officials said. Raphel, a fixture in Washington’s diplomatic and think-tank circles, was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week.
[...]
Details of federal counterintelligence investigations are typically closely held and the cases can span years. Although Raphel has spent much of her career on Pakistan issues, it was unknown whether the investigation, being run by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, was related to her work with that country.
[...]
“We are aware of this law enforcement matter,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “The State Department has been cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues.”
[...]
“She is no longer employed by the State Department,” Psaki said.

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Her appointment at the S/RAP office did not come without some controversy. Here is an article from 2009:

 

We were able to locate two previous posts here from 2009 (see A Strategy for that $7.5 billion Pakistan Aid) and 2010 (see BLT on Former Ambassador Robin Raphel). In 2010, the Blog of Legal Times was tracking the news on lobbying disclosures concerning Ambassador Raphel.  She was at the time, already a member of Richard Holbrooke‘s team as the Special Representative to the Af/Pak region.  Her formal title was Senior Coordinator for Economic and Development Assistance.  Ambassador Raphel is a career diplomat who served as Ambassador to Tunisia (1997-2000).  In August 1993, during the Clinton Administration she was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs (1993-1997). Her Wikipedia entry says she retired from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service. Below is her outdated bio from her tenure as A/S for South Asian Affairs from the 1990s:

Ms. Raphel was sworn in as the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs on August 6,1993.

Ms. Raphel was born in Vancouver, Washington, and spent all of her childhood on the West Coast. Graduating from high school in Longview, Washington in 1965, she went on to the University of Washington to study history and economics. She spent her junior year at the University of London studying history. She returned to England after graduating for a year at Cambridge University before taking a teaching job at a woman’s college in Tehran, Iran. After leaving Iran in 1972, Ms. Raphel returned to the U.S. to study economics at the University of Maryland. After finishing her Masters of Arts degree, she first went to work for the federal government as an economic analyst at the CIA. From there she went to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she joined the Foreign Service and worked on detail to USAID as an economic/financial analyst.

Upon returning to Washington in 1978, Ms. Raphel worked in the State Department in several capacities — Economist in the Office of Investment Affairs, Economic Officer on the Israel Desk, Staff Aide for the Assistant Secretary for the Near East and South Asian Affairs, and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. In 1984 she was posted to London where she served in the U.S. Embassy as a Political Officer covering Middle East, South Asia, African and East Asian issues. She moved to South Africa in 1988 as Counselor for Political-Affairs at the U.S. Embassy. From August 1991 until August 1993, Ms. Raphel was the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Ms. Raphel is married to Leonard Ashton. They have two young daughters.

 

The WaPo report cites the FBI’s Washington Field Office as the entity running the investigation. Makes one wonder what is Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence role in this investigation. It is the State Department office tasks with conducting “a robust counterintelligence program designed to deter, detect, and neutralize the efforts of foreign intelligence services targeting Department of State personnel, facilities, and diplomatic missions worldwide.”

We should also note that two U.S. officials described the federal investigation to WaPo as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. The report, however, also  says that “the exact nature of the investigation involving Raphel remains unclear” and that “she has not been charged.”

We’ll have to wait and see how this investigation ends.

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State Dept Spox: U/S Sherman has superhuman abilities in diplomacy, no/no costume

– Domani Spero

 

A bunch of back and forth during the Nov. 3 Daily Press Briefing on U/S Sherman being dual-hatted as “D” and “P,” who is also one of the top eyeballers of the ongoing Iran negotiation. This is the official word, and the State Department spokesperson never did offer an understandable reason why despite the agency being previously informed that Bill Burns was leaving, and the fact that his retirement was twice postponed, no successor is exactly ready to be publicly announced at this point. Excerpt below:

 

QUESTION: – and the announcement that was just made about Ambassador Sherman taking over, at least temporarily, as deputy. Does the President or does the Secretary intend to have a permanent – someone nominated and confirmed by the Senate to take over from retired Deputy Burns?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: So not necessarily her?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of any process or speak about personnel from here, which should come as no surprise, unless we’re ready to make an announcement.

QUESTION: Okay, I didn’t ask that.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I just asked if this means that she is going to be eventually nominated, or is anyone going to be eventually nominated to take over that position?

MS. PSAKI: This means that Under Secretary Sherman will be the acting Deputy Secretary of State. There is every intention to nominate a –

QUESTION: Okay. Which may or may not be her?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: All right. And then how long does one stay – I mean, doing two jobs, both of which are pretty big, is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do, nor the most efficient, probably. I’m not taking anything away from her skill, but I mean, being the number two and the number three at the same time, it will be taxing, to say the least. So do you have any idea about how long it will be before either she is nominated and someone else takes over as number three, or a new permanent number two is nominated and she can go back to only dealing with the under secretary job?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a prediction on timing. I will just say that the fact that she was named Acting Deputy Secretary of State just reflects the Secretary’s trust in her, the trust of the building, the trust of the President, and obviously, her wealth of experience on a range of issues. So –

QUESTION: Jen, isn’t it just a time-space –

MS. PSAKI: – of anyone, she can certainly handle it.

QUESTION: But that’s a time – it’s just about a time-space continuum. I mean, Deputy Secretary Burns had a full portfolio and Under Secretary Sherman has a full portfolio. So just to Matt’s point, I mean, how long can this Department run on one person being the kind of Secretary’s second and third in command?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, you all know Under Secretary Sherman. She has superhuman abilities in diplomacy and obviously, I’m not going to get ahead of a personnel process or the timing on that.

QUESTION: Can I ask a process –

QUESTION: She has superhuman abilities? (Laughter.) Does she wear a costume too? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: She does not. She is a very talented and experienced diplomat. That was – I was kidding.

QUESTION: It’s not about her diplomatic skills.

QUESTION: But can you assure us that she is not going to be taking her eye off the Iran nuclear ball?

MS. PSAKI: I can assure you. And as you also all know, Deputy Secretary Burns, Senior Advisor Jake Sullivan, and there are a couple of others who are very involved in the Iran negotiations as well.

QUESTION: There’s something I don’t understand about this, Jen, and I realize this is – that it’s the White House that nominates, but Secretary – Deputy Secretary Burns, his departure, first of all, it came as no secret. The President had to talk him into staying and the Secretary did.

MS. PSAKI: Twice, yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Right. Second, you guys put out an announcement, I think it was six months ago, explicitly stating that he was going to be leaving in October. It would be one thing if the Administration had nominated somebody and the Senate was sitting on it, as it has so many other of your nominees. But it just – it doesn’t make sense to me why, when you knew he was leaving, you had at a minimum six months’ public notice about the date that he was leaving, why it was – has not been possible to come up with a plausible candidate and put them forward.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think it’s a reflection of not being able to come up with a plausible candidate. In fact, there are many talented candidates, and obviously –

QUESTION: Why haven’t they been nominated then?

MS. PSAKI: – there is a process that works through the interagency, as you know, that is not just the State Department. I’m not in a position to give you any more details on that process.

QUESTION: I didn’t think that presidential nominations were an interagency process. I thought it was the White House that decided who the President would nominate.

MS. PSAKI: We work with the White House. Obviously, the Secretary has a great deal of input as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean it’s – but it does make – like, why isn’t someone ready to be nominated? I mean, why does – I think Arshad’s question is: Why is the process only starting now? I mean –

MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t take it as a reflection of that. There’s an on – been an ongoing process.

QUESTION: For six months?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not in a position – I’m not going to detail for you when that process started.

QUESTION: My question is, well, why isn’t the process over by now given that you’ve known about this for half a year?

MS. PSAKI: I would just assure you that we have somebody who is very capable who will be in this position as acting deputy, and when we have an announcement to make, we’ll make the announcement.

QUESTION: Would you say that the – not – I won’t – I don’t want to use the word delay, but the reason that a nomination rather than a – the reason that there was a designation as an acting instead of a nomination as a permanent is because vetting of the potential candidates is still going on?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to outline it any further.

 

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GOP Takes Control of the Senate — Keep Calm But Don’t Pack Your Bags!

– Domani Spero

 

This happened last night, and pretty quickly, too.

 

The Nation lists Staffing the Executive Branch as one of the possible problematic area after the GOP take-over of the U.S. Senate:

For much of the Obama presidency, Republicans in the Senate stymied up literally hundreds of presidential appointments to cabinet slots big and small, as well as nominations to the federal bench. Harry Reid implemented filibuster reform one year ago, and nominations have been handled more quickly—but with Republicans in charge, expect them to grind to a halt. Republicans blocked nominees reflexively under the old filibuster rules, many times without offering a single actual objection, and that’s very likely to resume now.

The recent Yahoo article about the State Department being top heavy with political picks, also include the following nugget:

A top GOP aide, asked what would happen to the stalled “ambassadonor” nominations, signaled that those would-be diplomats shouldn’t pack their bags.

When it comes to confirmations of Obama nominees in a Republican Senate, the aide said dryly, “partisan picks and Obama bundlers won’t be at the top of the list.”

So — in real terms, that means no one can pack their bags or schedule any packout. Maybe, we’ll see some confirmation of career diplomats to ambassadorial positions this year.  Or maybe not. What might be more problematic, of course, would be the confirmation of presidential bundlers nominated as ambassadors to some of our overseas posts. If the clock runs out and none of these nominees get confirmation this year, President Obama will have to resubmit these nominations to the next Congress in January 2015. A GOP-controlled Senate may or may not act on these nominations.

keep-calm-but-don-t-pack-your-bags

The following are the ambassadorial nominees currently pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar. They have all been cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but could not get voted on in the full Senate:

Ambassadorial Nominees: Career Diplomats

  • Karen Clark Stanton, of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
  • Donald Lu, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Albania
  • Amy Jane Hyatt, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Palau
  • Arnold A. Chacon, of Virginia, to be Director General of the Foreign Service
  • Luis G. Moreno, of Texas, to be Ambassador to Jamaica
  • Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Theodore G. Osius III, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  • Leslie Ann Bassett, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Paraguay
  • George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • James D. Pettit, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova
  • Allan P. Mustard, of Washington, to be Ambassador to Turkmenistan
  • Erica J. Barks Ruggles, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda
  • Earl Robert Miller, of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Botswana
  • Judith Beth Cefkin, of Colorado, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu
  • James Peter Zumwalt, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau
  • Craig B. Allen, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam
  • Barbara A. Leaf, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates
  • Virginia E. Palmer, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Malawi
  • William V. Roebuck, of North Carolina, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Pamela Leora Spratlen, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan
  • Donald L. Heflin, of Virginia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Cabo Verde
  • Robert T. Yamate, of California, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Union of the Comoros
  • Gentry O. Smith, of North Carolina, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an Assistant Secretary of State (African Affairs), to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation for the remainder of the term expiring September 27, 2015
  • Michele Jeanne Sison, of Maryland, to be the Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador, and the Deputy Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations
  • Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia

 

Ambassadorial Nominees: Non-Career Political Appointees

  • George James Tsunis, of New York, to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway
  • Colleen Bradley Bell, of California, to be Ambassador to Hungary
  • Robert C. Barber, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland
  • Mark Gilbert, of Florida, to be Ambassador to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Independent State of Samoa
  • John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Brent Robert Hartley, of Oregon, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia
  • Cassandra Q. Butts, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
  • Noah Bryson Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador to the Argentine Republic
  • Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica
  • Charles C. Adams, Jr., of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Finland
  • Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance)
  • Catherine Ann Novelli, of Virginia, to be United States Alternate Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (currently Under Secretary for State/E)
  • David Nathan Saperstein, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
  • Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

 

We’ll have to see what happens next.

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Ex-USAID/OIG Pakistan: Finding fully developed for final report, whatchatalkinbout?

– Domani Spero

 

We previously blogged recent items about USAID (see below):

In response to WaPo’s Oct. 23 article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports,” USAID/OIG has released a two-page statement dated October 24 citing its “extensive track record of providing independent, robust oversight.” It has tweeted that October 24 statement multiple times since it was first linked to on Twitter on October 27.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03

 

Yesterday, WaPo published a letter to the editor from Joseph Farinellaa senior FSO who was USAID/OIG director in Pakistan:

The Oct. 23 front-page article “USAID watchdog said to alter reports” cited a Sept. 30, 2012, inspector general’s report on an audit of a U.S. Agency for International Development assistance program in Pakistan. I was the inspector general director in Pakistan whose office conducted the audit. The article cited a draft audit finding placed in a confidential “management letter” rather than in the final published report. The inspector general’s chief of staff said that this was done because our work was not supported by evidence and more time was needed to develop information for a final report.

I recently retired as a senior Foreign Service officer with more than 40 years of worldwide audit experience in several organizations. Our finding on the program not operating efficiently and effectively was fully developed for inclusion in the final report. We provided examples of funds not used for main program goals, why this happened and the negative effect on the program.

Instead of a fully developed finding with recommendations in a published audit report, information was provided to the mission director in a letter. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said it all: “That’s ridiculous. The finding shouldn’t have been removed.”

Okay, maybe the USAID/OIG or his chief of staff would like to take a stab at this again?

Once more with feelings.

It seems to us that there is an easy remedy here for USAID/OIG if it really wishes to put these allegations to rest.

  • First, release all the draft audit reports as a companion to each of the final reports that are the subject of these allegations. It will give us, the paying public, a way to gauge just how much sanitation work were or were not done with these reports.
  • Second, USAID/OIG can release all the confidential “management letters” or “management alerts” it issued to USAID management, and all follow-up actions.  The October 24, 2014 USAID/OIG statement  says that “OIG’s current policy and practice is to post all management letters on its public Web site. This policy has been applied to management letters issued from April 2014 forward.” Okay, but that’s not any help with these allegations as there’s no way to tell how many “management letters” have actually been issued by USAID/OIG previous to April 2014. The allegation is that audit findings were placed on management letters that are not accessible to the public. So let’s see those management letters online and see which audit findings were not supported by evidence.

These allegations go to the heart of USAID/OIG’s mandate as an independent overseer of the people’s money.  Here now, we have an ex-auditor for a specific program publicly contradicting USAID/OIG’s official spin, not to mention the multiple whistleblowers who also came forward. Sorry, but a two-page statement touting the office’s “independent and robust oversight” will not be good enough to shut this down.

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State Dept Issues Burkina Faso Travel Alert (Expires on January 29, 2015)

– Domani Spero

 

We’ve previously blogged about Burkina Faso here (see Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still OnUS Embassy Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso Now on Martial Law; Embassy Staff Shelters in Place; Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos).

Yesterday, after three days of chaos, the State Department issued a Travel Alert informing U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Burkina Faso following the fall of the government of  President Compaore:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to or residing in Burkina Faso and recommends U.S. citizens defer all non-essential travel.  This Travel Alert will expire on January 29, 2015.

On October 31, Burkina Faso’s President Compaore resigned.  The status of a transitional government remains unclear.  There are incidents of looting throughout the capital city of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and other parts of the country.

The situation is dynamic and closures or openings of border and airports are likely to change and remain unpredictable for some time.  Currently, land and air borders have been closed.  U.S. citizens should stay informed and abreast of local media reports for land border and airport updates.

U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso may find that at times sheltering in place may be the only and best security option.

U.S. citizens residing in Burkina Faso should remain vigilant and utilize appropriate personal security practices.  Avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations; maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment; be alert and remain aware of your surroundings; and stay abreast of the situation through media outlets.

Read in full here.

Meanwhile –

 

 

 

Yesterday, the State Department expressed concern over the transfer of power in Burkina Faso:

The United States is concerned about the unfolding events in Burkina Faso.  We regret the violence and the loss of life in Burkina Faso and call on all parties to avoid further violence.  We reiterate our call for all parties to follow the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power and holding of democratic elections following the resignation of former President Blaise Compaore.  We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process.

According to Vice News, Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, who assumed power has been a member of the military for more than 20 years, and served as the second in command of the ex-president’s security regiment. This is apparently, the seventh time a military officer has seized power since Burkina Faso won its independence from France more than 50 years ago. If history is any indication, he may still be around in 2022 in the “land of upright people.”

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Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still On

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso. The messages are dated but typically do not carry a timestamp:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore announced in a televised address that he will continue dialogue to form a transitional government after which he will transfer power to a democratically elected president.  He reiterated the message that the government is dissolved and announced that the state of martial law is lifted in all of Burkina Faso.

However, there is currently a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew nationwide.

The city of Ouagadougou currently appears to be calm, however protesters continue to gather at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, and at the Place Tiefo Amoro (Station Square) in Bobo-Dioulasso. Crowds and spontaneous protests may also form elsewhere.

Embassy staff continues to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same and to make movements for essential purposes only.

At this time we do not know if civilians have access to the Ouagadougou International Airport. We are monitoring the situation but it is unclear whether flights continue to operate.

 

Meanwhile, today, Burkina Faso said bye-bye Blaise:

 

Enter armed forces chief General Honore Traore:

 

The people celebrates:

 

Former-Prez to Ghana?

 

Meet the new boss:

 

Consequences?

 

Except for the Emergency Message from Embassy Ouagadougou, there is no Travel Warning or Alert issued on Burkina Faso as of this writing. The latest State Department statement is dated October 30, and obviously had been overtaken by events.

The United States welcomes President Compaore’s decision to withdraw a National Assembly bill which would have amended the constitution and allowed him to run for an additional term of office. We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor. We look forward to that transition taking place in 2015. We regret the violence and the loss of life today in Burkina Faso, and call on all parties to avoid further violence. We underscore our commitment to peaceful transitions of power through democratic elections and emphasize neither side should attempt to change the situation through extra-constitutional means.

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Poor MidLevel Official Writes #Ebola Memo That Never Went Anywhere — Oy!

– Domani Spero

 

In September, we blogged that the State Dept Awarded $4.9 Million Contract to Phoenix Air for Air Ambulance Evacuation #Ebola.  Apparently, the last couple of days there was a flap over a State Department memo on a plan to bring non-Americans with Ebola to U.S. soil for treatment. The memo labeled Sensitive But Unclassified – Predesicional is available to read here and notes USG obligation to non-U.S. citizen employees and contractors of U.S. agencies (USAID, CDC, etc.) and programs as well as NGOs and private firms based in the United States.

The  Washington Times identified the memo’s author as Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the Office of International Health and Biodefense (OES/IHB). The Office of International Health and Biodefense is the primary State Department policy office responsible for a variety of international health issues. It takes part in U.S. Government policymaking on infectious disease, environmental health, noncommunicable disease issues, global health security, antimicrobial resistance, and counterfeit and substandard medications.  A clearance sheet attached to the memo reportedly says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

The memo did make it to the Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. Excerpt below:

QUESTION: And then the last one on this is: There was a report last night and again this morning about this memo that was – the State Department memo –

MS. PSAKI: Sure, let me address that.

QUESTION: — about bringing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. One, just factually, the document referenced was drafted by a midlevel official but not cleared by senior leaders. It never came to senior officials for approval. And any assertion that the memo was cleared by decision-makers is inaccurate. There are no plans to medevac non-Americans who become ill with Ebola to the United States. We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third countries subject to reimbursement and availability. But we’re not contemplating bringing them back to the United States for treatment.

QUESTION: So the – but essentially, what you’re saying is that one guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI: Correct. It’s also weeks old and the memo isn’t current because European – our European partners –

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — have addressed this matter by providing their own guarantees, but go ahead.

QUESTION: One problem that – I mean, that I see is that a week ago, the Pentagon and the White House was insisting that, no, no, no, there is no overall quarantine order and it’s just this one commander, or these guys who are in Italy. And now all of a sudden, today we have Secretary Hagel saying no, it’s going to be – it’s Pentagon-wide and it’s going to go to all of the troops that are there. What is there to prevent this memo from coming back to life, as it were –

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think with this –

QUESTION: — and becoming policy? Has it been flat out rejected or is it just kind of sitting on a shelf someplace and maybe could be implemented at some point?

MS. PSAKI: It’s sitting on a shelf or on a computer – since we use computers nowadays – by the individual who wrote it, I suppose. I think the important point here is that our European partners, since several weeks ago when that was written, have addressed this by providing a guarantee to international health workers that they would either be flown to Europe or receive high-quality treatment on the spot. So it’s not applicable at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, in general, why was this never approved? I mean, it seems – I mean, you could make the argument that the U.S. has great healthcare facilities, that no one who has contracted the disease in the United States has actually died. So I think there might be some who could make the argument that why not bring people?

MS. PSAKI: Sure, but many countries have decided to make that decision to deal with it themselves, and we’ve certainly been discussing with them how to do that.

QUESTION: So this has been discarded as unnecessary rather that rejected –

MS. PSAKI: It was never discussed at any levels, in any serious level with decision-makers. So I don’t – wouldn’t say it was discarded, but –

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Along the lines of what Matt was saying, on page 5 of the memo, it says that it was approved by Nancy Powell, the head of the Ebola Coordination Unit. Doesn’t that suggest it was fairly further along in the process?

MS. PSAKI: I’m happy to look at the approval memo. As I understand, and just so you know, sometimes there are people listed. It doesn’t mean they cleared it. It just means there are people who need to clear a memo. So I will check and see if there was anybody who actually cleared it.

“One guy somewhere in this building came up with this idea and put it on paper, but it never went anywhere?” And the official spokesperson, without blinking said, “correct.”

Don’t you just hate it when they say things like that and throw some midlevel official under the medevac plane?

In fact, the justification for the air ambulance evacuation contract awarded to Phoenix Air on August 18, 2014 appears clear enough as to why this was necessary:

The USG is left with only two options in supporting a CDC scientist that has a high risk exposure to an EVD patient — use the PAG capability to fly the person back to the US for observation and optimum care should disease develop, or leave the person in place where no care is available if the disease develops. The question, then, is not how many EVD patients will be moved, but rather how many contacts and EVD patients will be moved across the entire international response population (as many as three per month). Finally, from a pragmatic stand point, given the limited options for movement of even asymptomatic contacts, it has become clear that an international response to this crisis will not proceed if a reliable mechanism for patient movement cannot be established and centrally managed.

That leaked memo is not saying we’re moving Liberia’s entire infected population for treatment in U.S. hospitals, is it?  An argument can be made that the USG has an obligation to assist in the treatment of those infected in the course of their work fighting the ebola outbreak on behalf of the international community.  The State Department is not/not making that argument, of course.  The only official argument it is making is that – that memo, that never went anywhere beyond the midlevel officer’s desk.

Nothing to do with an election coming up? Sure, okay.

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US Embassy Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso Now on Martial Law; Embassy Staff Shelters in Place

– Domani Spero

 

The US Embassy in Burkina Faso has made several security messages this past week, warning U.S. citizens of a planned day of protest that started out as a “civil disobedience campaign” on Tuesday, October 28 and followed by a demonstration and an  expected sit-down strike the last two days:

On Wednesday, October 29 it is expected that a demonstration (which was originally planned before the referendum announcement) organized by the Coalition Contre la Vie Chère(Coalition Against a High Cost of Living) will be used by the political opposition as an opportunity to hold a march and gathering in downtown Ouagadougou.

On Thursday, October 30 the National Assembly will reportedly vote on the proposed constitutional change.  The opposition has called for a sit-down strike surrounding the National Assembly building to block voting members from casting their vote.

Earlier today, Embassy Ouagadougou sent out an emergency message that at 9:30 am the U.S. Embassy received reports of demonstrators breaking through police barricades at the National Assembly and that warning shots and teargas have been fired.  Embassy staff was instructed to shelter in place until further notice.

via Google

via Google

Later on October 30, the embassy released the following statement on the enactment of martial law in Burkina Faso:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore declared that he is dissolving the government, declaring a state of emergency and enacting martial law.  Embassy staff has been instructed to continue to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same.

There have been widespread reports of looting throughout Ouagadougou and other parts of the country.

The Ouagadougou International Airport is closed and all flights in and out have been canceled until further notice.

U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and to utilize appropriate personal security practices.  The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.  The U.S. Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment.  Be alert and remain aware of your surroundings.  Stay informed and abreast of local media reports.

The United States established diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) in 1960, following its independence from France.  Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987. CBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants).  His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) See Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos).

According to the State Department’s Fact Sheet, U.S. interests in the country are as follows:

U.S. interests in Burkina Faso are to promote continued democratization and greater respect for human rights and to encourage sustainable economic development. Countering terrorism and strengthening border security are of growing importance in Burkina Faso. The United States and Burkina Faso engage in a number of military training and exchange programs, including in counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance. The country is contributing to the support of U.S. efforts in the Sahel. Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program for peacekeeping and is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

This is a fast moving event that the Consular Bureau’s Travel Alert or Travel Warning is possibly running wildly down the corridors to get cleared so it can get posted online.  We’ll try to keep tabs on that.  The airport is also closed so any evacuation will have that to tackle.   The U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso is Tulinabo Mushingi, a career diplomat with extensive Africa experience.

Some clips via Twitter:

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U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

– Domani Spero

 

ABC News’ Kirit Radia wrote recently about how the US Embassy in Moscow is facing cold war-era harassment:

One American diplomat’s tires were slashed. Another’s personal email was hacked. Still others reported mysterious break-ins.

The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.

The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.

Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.
[….]
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.

Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
[…]
Ambassador McFaul was followed almost everywhere he went in an aggressive, at times threatening way by both Russian security agents and pro-Kremlin television stations, even while attending private events with his family.

In one notably flagrant episode, according to officials, McFaul was stranded in the Russian Foreign Ministry parking lot after police stopped his driver for a minor infraction and revoked his driver’s license on the spot.

Read in full: US Embassy in Moscow Faces Cold War-Era Harassment.

On October 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it believed “the allegations could have been cooked up at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department,” according to TASS and accused the United States of spying on official Russians in the United States, as well as the following:

[T]he United States is making regular attempts to recruit our diplomats by means of gross provocations involving the use of illegally obtained personal data, including information on the health of family members,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

Perhaps this is in reference to the 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam? That one where the FBI says that of the 63 births to the Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between the years 2004 and 2013, 58 of those families, or 92% were allegedly paid for by Medicaid benefits.

In any case, we can tell you that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is not alone when it comes to host country harassment.

Belarus

In Belarus where parliamentary democracy ended with the 1994 presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, both American and local nationals have also been subjected to regular harassment by the Belarusian security services.  “To visit Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments,” reports the OIG. The following is excerpted from the State/OIG inspection report from September 2013:

American staff residences have been entered surreptitiously [REDACTED]. The embassy and all U.S. and Belarusian staff are under constant physical surveillance.
[…]
Staff members operate on the assumption that everything sent on unclassified systems or spoken on the telephone is monitored by Belarusian security services and other local security agencies. See OIG, Belarus September 2013 (pdf).
[…]
In July 2012 authorities installed police checkpoints at all embassy gates and at the public affairs office. Police take personal information from both U.S. and Belarusian citizens before allowing visitors to enter. Except in rare cases, when U.S. Government officials make temporary visits to Minsk, host-country authorities require that an equivalent number of permanent American staff members leave the country to maintain the five-person limit. This restriction and persistent harassment hamper mission operations and program implementation.

Take a look at this current staffing that has been the norm for a while:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29

Pakistan

In May 2012, State/OIG noted the official harassment of US Mission Pakistan by the Pakistani Government.  We should note that Pakistan is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY2012 at $1.821B, after Israel and Afghanistan. In the FY 2014 budget request, Pakistan slipped to #4, dislodged by Egypt, but still receiving foreign assistance in the amount of $1.2B.  Below is what the OIG inspector wrote about the harassment of U.S. mission elements in Pakistan; most of the section on this topic, of course, is redacted from the report:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation (REDACTED (b) (5).  The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
[...]
Official Harassment:  U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors. (REDACTED).

The scope and impact of official Pakistani harassment and obstructionism is described in the Background section of this report.  (LOOONG REDACTION).

The good news here is that so far, except in Homeland, no ex-CIA director has yet been kidnapped and spirited out of Islamabad while locked in the trunk of a car.

Cuba

Beyond petty harassment like blocked shipments and delayed visa issuance, perhaps the worse ones are reports of harassment out of Havana, Cuba where the OIG in 2007 says that “USINT life in Havana is life with a government that “let’s you know it’s hostile.”

Apparently, retaliations at that time have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime had also gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal apparently, had been  “to instigate dissension within USINT ranks. “

C’mon, poisoning the pets?!

Fast forward to 2014 and not much have changed.  Here is what the OIG report says:

  • Mission employees face a difficult working environment. U.S. officers can meet only with certain government officials. They are allowed to travel only a limited distance from Havana without special permission. Shipments of supplies, mail, and personal effects are frequently delayed. Normal banking operations are nonexistent. Consumer goods are scarce and expensive. Communication facilities are substandard.
  • Surveillance of U.S. and local employee staff members by Cuban authorities is pervasive.
  • USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside that area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
  • Shipments of official procurements take 6 months or more to be cleared even after receiving pre-clearance from the Ministry of External Relations–another lengthy process. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
  • Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

At least there’s no more poisoning of the family pets of the U.S. Interest Section Havana staffers.  And no one, as far as we know, has been reported to accept the offer of  “*Cigars, señora?” from a handsome young man. (*from an FS spouse short fiction about life in Cuba via American Diplomacy).

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