Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

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The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

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So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Pakistan, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, USAID

Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

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Meanwhile in Santo Domingo: Ambassador Brewster’s Husband Not Invited ‘Cuz He’s Not a “Wife”

– Domani Spero

Ambassador James (Wally) Brewster was officially sworn in as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic by Vice President Biden on November 22, 2013. He is now at post, accompanied by his partner of 25 years, Bob Satawake.  Prior to departing for the Dominican Republic, the couple celebrated their 25th anniversary together and got married in  Washington, D.C. (see Officially In: James “Wally” Brewster, Jr. to the Dominican Republic, an Island of Grace and Tolerance).

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Blabbeando, the blog of LGBT-rights advocate Andrés Duque has covered the controversy over his appointment as ambassador to the Dominican Republic from the start.  Apparently,a month after assuming charge of the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, Ambassador Brewster did a reception at the embassy for the Dominican LGBT community with his husband in attendance.  According to Blabbeando, even before the Ambassador’s meeting with LGBT leaders, “Reverend Luis Rosario staged a press conference to say that the arrival of the new ambassador and his husband sent an “extremely negative message” to the Dominican people.”

“It’s a very sad state of affairs we are living at this moment,” Rev. Rosario added, “and it makes our nation seem like a great hospital for the sexually ill.”

Is this the same guy who called unnamed “sexual stimulant drugs” a time bomb?

This week, Blabbeando reports on his blog an earlier kerfuffle over a cancelled January 22nd diplomatic event in honor of Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina. Ambassador Brewster’s husband was reportedly not invited to that event because he was not considered a “wife.” Consequently, several diplomats reportedly refused to attend and the event had to be “suspended.”

And here is the most interesting part via Blabbeando:

Organized by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the gathering was meant to be a private opportunity for diplomats and their spouses to honor the President but, as Acento reported yesterday, the Dean himself raised objections about extending an invitation to Ambassador Brewster’s husband and made a personal call to ask the Ambassador for his understanding and consideration.

From a private letter sent to all diplomats after questions were raised about the decision as translated from Spanish:

1. Reasons why the partner of the U.S. Ambassador was not invited to the Diplomatic Cocktail in honor of the President of the Dominican Republic: The partner of the U.S. Ambassador is not accredited as a “wife” but, instead, as a “dependent” of the Ambassador. In the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, same sex marriages are not recognized. Thus the Dominican authorities cannot officially recognize him as his “wife.”

2. This explains why he was not invited to accompany the Ambassador.

3. It would be incorrect and in some ways offensive to the entire Diplomatic Body to go against the Constitution and, worse yet, in front of the President of the Republic and in the presence of representatives from all the Diplomatic Missions accredited by the Dominican Republic.

4. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps has spoken to the U.S. Ambassador regarding this impasse and has asked for his understanding regarding this question, particularly about its delicate nature as he well knows.  We expect the Ambassador to accept this calmly and with due consideration. The use of prudence would insure a proper way to handle this issue.

5. This does not imply any prejudice in the understanding, respect and tolerance the Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps have towards the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. James W. Brewster.

6. An authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry called on Saturday, January 18th, to express that the “Foreign Affairs Ministry” has no objection regarding to the attendance of the partner of the U.S. Ambassador. Naturally, the responsibility then falls on the Diplomatic Body.

7. Later, speaking to an authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, it was acknowledged that the largest obstacle still remained: The fundamental question raised by the Constitution. The Dean reaffirmed that it would be completely wrong for the Heads of the Missions to go against the Constitution in front of the President. The ministerial authority immediately recognized the severity of the circumstance and how local media might make an issue out of it.

Since when have spouses been accredited by foreign governments?  Spouses, straight or gays are not employees of the U.S. government and do not receive official accreditation.  This is a damn cocktail for god’s sake. We imagine no girlfriends, live-in partners, or people living in sin are also invited to the diplomatic receptions there?

Blabbeano notes that the letter was signed by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo who is the new envoy from the Vatican to the Dominican Republic.  Bishop Okolo replaced Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski as Vatican Ambassador in the DR after the later was forcibly removed by Pope Francis amid a sex abuse investigation.

But somebody has been leaking internal correspondence over there. Yesterday, accent.com.do published  a January 20 letter from Steven M. Fisher, the British Ambassador to the DR to Bishop Okolo calling the discrimination of Ambassador Brewster’s husband  “unjustifiable.”

Le reitero la sugerencia que le hice en mi correo del 18 de enero de modificar la invitación para que podamos incluir a todos de manera igualitaria.

En caso de que se mantenga la decisión de no tratar a todos por igual, respetando su estatus civil, lamentablemente me temo que no participaría en el cóctel.

Ambassador Fisher urged that the invitation be modified to be more inclusive and if not, then he would not be in attendance. We are glad that the event was cancelled.

The Dominican Republic’s foreign ministry reportedly had no objection to the attendance of Mr. Satawake.  So, of course, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, had to defend DR’s constitution because it would be “completely wrong” for a gay person to attend an event where the president of the republic is also in attendance.

Because what –  Mr. Satawake might bite President Medina?

Had this event went through as planned, Mr. Satawake, the husband of President Obama’s top representative in Santo Domingo would have been excluded from subsequent diplomatic functions for similar reasons.

Yo! Bishop Okolo, you keep at this, you’ll end up with lots of stale canapés the next couple of years.

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Dear Congress: You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Secretary Kerry’s Asia Pivot Shirts

– By Domani Spero

The cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia lent to hyperventilating descriptions about the president’s “Asia Pivot” — “falters,” “in shambles,” “goes pffft,” “in jeopardy” and such.

Well, frankly, not sure where that is going. But we could certainly imagine the political hay that would have been expended over POTUS trip to Asia during a government shutdown.

In any case, Secretary Kerry took the trip instead.

Dear Congress, this is what happened to America in Bali, Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

 

So you’re not allowed to make fun of that shirt or any other shirts, kapish?

We actually think that purple batik suits him well.  Had they asked him to put on a gray one, he would have worn it too, even if he would have looked wash out in it.  Because he’s our top diplomat. Yes, diplomats are known to wear (and eat) things that their compatriots often find strange or weird. (See Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

These are way tamer in comparison to what President Bush had to wear during his tenure.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Nari caused the cancellation of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Philippines, so we are missing Secretary Kerry wearing the country’s famous Barong Tagalog.

Anyhow, we understand that Australia continues to host annual six-month training deployments of US Marines to its base in the Northern Territory. Australia’s Courier News reports today that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to accommodate the expected presence of a 1000 U.S. Marines set to train there next year. The government is preparing to construct additional accommodations at two bases in Darwin.

So there’s that.

Then we heard that we are helping the Philippines develop Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island into a port for naval frigates and eventually for American warships?  All, of course, overlooking the disputed South China Sea.  But given all that’s happening in Washington, D.C….

No wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the later’s 61st birthday “quaffing vodka and wolfing down cake”:

“It was 11:00 pm. I offered our Chinese friends to raise a shot of vodka,” Mr Putin said, according to Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.

“They did not refuse, so we did just that.” As for the cake: “We wolfed it down successfully”. Needless to say, Mr Putin described his meeting with Mr Xi as “very warm” and “friendly”.

We can’t say if Secretary Kerry was in attendance for that “quaffing” and “wolfing” event.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom:  The East Asia Pacific bureau has six deputy assistant secretaries, twice as many as in 2004, and a deputy assistant secretary-level U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. State/OIG reports that “the bureau needs to streamline front office staffing” — top heavy structure for the second smallest regional bureau in the house needs fixing.  Why? Because as in other bureaus, “the proliferation of DASes has diminished the role of office directors and reduced responsibility at every level.” Also this:

The administration’s rebalance toward Asia has not been matched by additional financial or human resources. A Congressional Research Service memorandum notes that “[new] initiatives have not, however, been accompanied by a significant increase in the State Department or USAID’s programmatic resources devoted to East Asia.” Foreign assistance to the region in FY 2013 is 19 percent below the FY 2010 peak. U.S. military resources for the region have increased, but sequestration may impact future plans.

Folks, somewhere, some heads of state are laughing their heads off.

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Snapshot: Afghan Opium Produced and Seized (2008-2012)

Via SIGAR

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War in Syria: Wading Into Chaos But What Happens After?

– By Domani Spero

A few days ago, in a letter to a member of Congress, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama’s chief military adviser reportedly writes that “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” he said. “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favour. Today, they are not.”

Today, unnamed US officials told reporters military strikes on Syria could come “as early as Thursday.”  Syrians must appreciate the 48-hour heads up announced via unofficial press statements, and without a formal declaration of war.  Because we don’t do that anymore.  The last time we have formally declared war was World War II.

In this brave new world, warning now comes in a newsflash.  And the ‘we’re going to war’ news is on a furious march today. We we’re going to say this is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Oops, we’ve already been told the when — “as early as Thursday.”

McClatchy’s Michael Doyle explains Why the US won’t declare war on Syria.

Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic writes in A Brief Argument Against War in Syria:

Hawks are most interested in humanitarian causes that can be carried out by force. There is no reason the rest of us should share their world view, given how many times it has resulted in needless slaughter on a massive scale. It’s impossible to know for certain what war would bring. That is the strongest case against going to war.

Franklin C. Spinney in Counterpunch writes in Syria in the Crosshairs that the political marriage between coercive diplomacy and limited precision bombardment is a loser, and a lesson not learned:

However, instead of leading to a divorce, subsequent events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia have reinforced Kosovo’s lesson not learned, and the result is what is now a clear psychopathic marriage of two fatally-flawed ideas.

1. Coercive diplomacy assumes that carefully calibrated doses of punishment will persuade any adversary, whether an individual  terrorist or a national government, to act in a way that we would define as acceptable.

2. Limited precision bombardment assumes we can administer those doses precisely on selected “high-value” targets using guided weapons, fired from a safe distance, with no friendly casualties, and little unintended damage.

This marriage of pop psychology and bombing lionizes war on the cheap, and it increases our country’s  addiction to strategically counterproductive drive-by shootings with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs.

Oh, and we’d love James Fallows more if he stop resisting the “double the proof” threshold from certain quarters.

[T]here should be a very strong burden of proof on people calling for strikes, to show that this is the only answer (not just the easiest one), and that it will do more good than harm. I will resist proposing that the burden of proof be doubled for people who recommended war in Iraq. 

Meanwhile, WH spokesman Jay Carney said this week via CNN that “…. the use of these weapons on a mass scale and a threat of proliferation is a threat to our national interests and a concern to the entire world.” 

Whatever happened to “… You don’t roll out new products in August?

Waiting for experts to tell us this is a “slam-dunk” case. Still waiting.

And — how do we get out, again?

We haven’t heard that one.

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Murder in Khartoum — Remembering Ambassador Cleo Noel and DCM Curtis Moore

This Memorial Day we remember and honor two diplomats who were killed serving their country long before we gave terrorism its own acronym in our political discourse.  On December 23, 1972, President Nixon appointed Ambassador Cleo Noel as U.S. Ambassador to Sudan.  He would be the first full-fledged U.S. ambassador in Khartoum since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The outgoing Charge d’Affairs, George Curtis Moore was asked to stay on as Deputy Chief of Mission until Robert E. Fritts, the new DCM arrived in March.

On March 1, 1973 the Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdullah al Malhouk held a farewell dinner for DCM Moore who had been in Sudan for the last three years. Around 7 pm that night, seven men from the Palestinian terrorist group Black September Organization  attacked the embassy villa armed with automatic weapons.  On March 2, 1973, 26 hours after being taken hostages, Ambassador Noel and DCM Moore were executed by the terrorists.

“Cleo and I will die bravely and without tears as men should,” Curt Moore wrote in the closing sentence of his letter to his wife.*

After a joint funeral on March 7 at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., Cleo Noel, Jr. and Curtis Moore were buried with military honors next to each other at Arlington National Cemetery.

Ambassador Noel’s wife, Lucille died of a stroke on Feb. 14, 2010 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.  She was 91 years old.  Mr. Moore’s wife Sarah Anne Stewart Moore  who shared a 23 year career with her husband in the Foreign Service passed away in 2007 and is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Plot: Section 5, Lot 134

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Plot: Section 5, Lot 135

The following account is an excerpt from the Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), an independent nonprofit organization founded to advance understanding of American diplomacy and training of foreign affairs personnel.

The BSO demanded the release of Arab militants. President Nixon said in a March 2 news conference that the U.S. would “not pay blackmail.” Ambassador Noel, Moore, and the Belgian were allowed to write final letters to their wives; they were killed 12 hours later. Demands for a plane were rejected, but the terrorists surrendered after three days to Sudanese authorities and were later put on trial, but justice was not served. Robert E. Fritts recalls how he was brought in from Washington to replace Moore as DCM, how he helped reestablish morale among the distraught embassy staff, and the frustrating pursuit of justice against the BSO. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in September 1999.

Foreign Affairs Oral History Project - Robert E. Fritts (Excerpt):

The embassy occupied the upper floors of a commercial office building adjoined by others on the main street. Because of the haboob [dust storm], power was out and also, I think, the Sudanese Government cut power to the Saudi embassy, and the area included us. I thus climbed five or six floors up the back steps, carrying my suitcase and my garment bag over my shoulder. The only lighting on the stairway was battery-operated dual emergency lights–very dim. I finally came to the floor where the embassy began. The administrative officer, Sandy Sanderson, was standing there with his glasses on a string hanging around his neck. I couldn’t quite see his face as he was back lighted by the emergency lamps, but I could tell he was crying. He said, “We’ve heard there was gunfire in the Saudi embassy. They may be dead. You’re in charge.”

My next thought was how could I be most useful? Others might behave differently, but I decided it was not to come in and take a high profile approach. I told Sanderson to remain in charge as he had been for the past two days, that I didn’t know the embassy, the staff, or even the city. Nor did I know Sudanese government officials, nor they me. The American embassy staff was very small: only a half-dozen American officers, two or three secretaries, all in shock and without rest. Most of our Sudanese FSNs [Foreign Service Nationals] were hunkered down at their homes. I decided the best thing I could do initially was just do whatever was helpful….

The Department and Embassy Khartoum were linked by a crude direct TTY [teletype] line that printed letter by letter. It was very slow and limited to only several sentences at a time. While talking with Sandy and others, I saw the TTY keyboard and small screen on a table with a chair in the corridor. It was unmanned and only glanced at intermittently when an officer happened to pass by. I knew how thirsty the Department was for information and its frustration with the dead time between questions and responses. So I said, “I’ll start with this.” Because of consultations, I knew who was who in the Department and thought I knew what they needed or would need. I manned the TTY for most of the next 36 hours. It became our embassy cockpit. It also freed up those who needed to be operational with the Foreign Ministry, the police, the Army, the media etc. I developed an increasingly in-depth dialogue with the Department, including sets of short evaluations, impressions, what next, etc. Versions were also being passed to Macomber, who was still in Cairo.

The haboob was still howling. They normally last hours; this one lasted three days. Even the following noon it was black. Dust and grit were everywhere, in your eyes and teeth. Every flat surface was layered. We were covered in gritty dust. The dim embassy lights were still battery powered.  It was a scene from hell.

Last Words

One human vignette I recall vividly is that the BSO operatives “permitted” Noel and Moore to write “last words” to their wives, who were together throughout at the residence. The murdered men’s notes, sealed in incongruously embossed Saudi embassy envelopes, were given to Sanderson by the Foreign Ministry. He asked me if I would deliver them? I said, “Sandy, I’ve never met Mrs. Noel and Mrs. Moore in my life. I’m even here as a live substitute for Moore. They’ve got enough to handle without factoring me in. You know them well, they know you. It’s better if you deliver the letters.” He left for the task in tears. He returned to say how appreciative the wives were for all everyone was doing, including me by name. And he commented that neither wife had shown any tears.

After much too long, the bodies were retrieved from the Saudi embassy basement, where they had been gunned down against a wall. Sandy identified them and he and Braun assisted in the preparation of the remains and putting them into the caskets that every embassy has for emergencies. They lay “in state” in one of our embassy houses overnight and the next day. We had a Marine Security Guard in dress blues in formal attendance, plus the American and ambassadorial flags. It was like a wake: embassy officers and Sudanese staff would come and go and come again. I think a few VIP Sudanese stopped by as well, even though the condolence book was at the embassy.

[...]

Then there was the departure ceremony. With the haboob over, Air Force One or Two, which had staged to Cairo, arrived with Macomber. We and the Sudanese arranged a tarmac exit ceremony for the coffins and the widows, attended by the government and diplomatic corps. In one of those poignant paradoxes you often see in Africa, the coffins, carried by the Marine Guards with the wives, me, and the other embassy officers following, were accompanied by Sudanese troops slow-marching to a Sudanese military bagpipe band playing Auld Lang Syne as a dirge.

In-Box Exercise, This Time for Real

You know, there’s an “in-box” exercise for Foreign Service applicants where they arrive at a post to replace an officer who’s died suddenly. They have to go through the contents of an in-box and determine priorities. Well, I now had two in-boxes and it was for real.

[...]

Among the papers in Noel’s box was a photo, taken by the desk where I now sat and developed at the embassy, of his taking the oath as ambassador on the day of his capture. He had come to the Sudan on an interim appointment and been confirmed by the Senate in absentia. Curt Moore had delivered the oath of office. The two men and their wives were wrapped in laughter and friendship. Hours later, both men were dead. If I had arrived in Khartoum directly from Jakarta, I might have been with them.

I learned later that Moore had possibly been at least vaguely aware of being under surveillance, but had discounted it. Noel had also been advised to be cautious, but, with his deep experience in Khartoum, had said that very day, “Nothing will happen to me in the Sudan.” He was right about the Sudanese, but wrong about the BSO, Libya, and, maybe, Yasser Arafat.

Among the papers in Moore’s box was a hand-written welcome letter to me. It ended with “So at the close of three and one-half of the finest years of my life, I welcome you to Khartoum and hope you will be able to make the same statement when you leave.”

Patching Up a Shattered Embassy

The small embassy was in psychological shock and depression. Although the Americans did not know Cleo Noel well, they knew his reputation. His few months at post had been impressively reassuring. They virtually revered Curt Moore. The Sudanese [Foreign Service Nationals] appreciated both men as friends of the Sudan and everyone knew that Noel and Moore were as close as brothers. The embassy was shattered, absolutely shattered.…

The first week or two was just terrible; each day worse than the one preceding. Aside from lack of knowledge and contacts, it was a challenge to resuscitate and inspire officers from such a trauma. I set initial personal and embassy goals, at first day-to-day and then longer. I soon realized the American officers found solace in focus. They also had been bonded by a crisis that encompassed me. It was March and they began to respond to my game plan of rendering honor to the fallen by having the embassy rebound as a fully functioning professional entity by July 4, 1973. If successful, we could top it off symbolically with the first formal July 4 celebration in an Arabic state since 1967. If we could do that, I would have done what I could as Charge. The embassy would then be a proven, ready, and able vehicle for a new ambassador with shoulder patch to move forward. Sounds rehearsed, but it was embedded in my mind and recallable today.

In retrospect, I consider Khartoum the formative period in my Foreign Service career. It justified the approach I had always taken of wanting responsibility and across-the-board experience. Frankly, when I left the Sudan, I felt I could handle any task the Foreign Service could assign.

Going to Court, Conviction, Release and the Big Picture

It was a tortuous process. The Sudanese Government’s initial chagrin and outrage became progressively modified by internal and foreign policy concerns. The first step, which took months, was a magisterial inquiry, sort of like a grand jury. After fits and starts and a series of our demarches to the government, the magistrate finally lodged charges of murder against the principal BSO assassins.…

[...]

Months further…they were convicted in a trial on charges of murder. The good news was that our foremost policy goal had been met: the conviction of anti-American terrorists in an Arab state. The sentence was life imprisonment, which the Sudanese Supreme Court commuted to X years. The bad news was truly bad. They were eventually turned over surreptitiously to the PLO to “impose the sentence” and spirited out by plane to Cairo. I think then-Ambassador Brewer only found out about it after the fact. The USG pressured the Egyptians not to release them and they were put in a form of progressively loose house arrest in a Nile mansion. Eventually, they evaporated. A travesty!

One of the controversies in later years was that the White House and State eased the pressure, partly for Middle East foreign policy reasons and partly because the major State principals were progressively transferred in a normal career sequence. Kissinger is cited as having a bigger picture in mind and State as viewing the matter as “an” issue, but not “the” issue it had been.…

Read ADST’s The Terrorist Attack on the Saudi Embassy – Khartoum, 1973.

You may also read the entire Robert Fritts’ interview here.

*Former FSO David Korn has written a book on this in Assassination in Khartoum.

The State Department’s Office of the Historian has now released the FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1969–1976, VOLUME XXV, ARAB-ISRAELI CRISIS AND WAR, 1973.  On page 156 is the following:

“The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the head of Fatah. When the terrorists became convinced that their demands would not be met and after they reportedly had received orders from Fatah headquarters in Beirut, they killed the two U.S. officials and the Belgian Charge ́. Thirty-four hours later, upon receipt of orders from Arafat in Beirut, the terrorists released the other hostages unharmed and surrendered to Sudanese authorities.”

Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat, and two Israelis, the Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, were named the winners of the 1994 Nobel peace prize.

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Ambassador Cameron Munter, Drone Policy Casualty Corrects Record, Talks Yellow Card and Drone War

Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter departed Islamabad this past summer after a two-year tenure and retired from the Foreign Service.  He is currently  a visiting professor at Columbia Law School. In a May 2012 article in the NYT,  Ambassador Munter reportedly complained that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy in the country and that “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,”  according to an unnamed colleague.

On The Daily Beast yesterday, the reporter writes that Ambassador Munter agreed to meet with her to “tell his side of the story, explaining that the Times had been wrong about him. It made him sound like a softie, he said, a mischaracterization that he wanted to correct.”

Via The Daily Beast (excerpt)

Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, looked suntanned, but not rested, as he sat in a Foggy Bottom bar a few blocks from the State Department on a fall evening. He placed an Islamabad Golf baseball cap on the table, a souvenir from a decades-long career that had recently ended in a public flameout.

This past May, it was announced that Munter would be leaving his post. At the time, a State Department spokesman said he had made “a personal decision” to step down. But a few weeks after the announcement, The New York Times—in an article about counterterrorism policy—quoted one of Munter’s colleagues saying the ambassador “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”
[...]
What Munter did want, however, was a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “What they’re trying to portray is I’m shocked and horrified, and that’s not my perspective,” he said, referring to The New York Times article. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”

“What is the definition of someone who can be targeted?” I asked. “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” Munter replied. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”
[...]
Following the strike, President Obama set up a more formal process by which diplomats could have input into these strikes. “I have a yellow card,” Munter recalled, describing the new policy. “I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”

It was a limited victory for Munter, but his relationship with Washington remained difficult.
[...]
During our interview, Munter criticized the way White House officials approached Pakistan. “They say, ‘Why don’t we kick their ass?’ Do we want to get mad at them? Take their car keys away? Or look at the larger picture?” He leaned back in his chair and recalled his last National Security Council meeting: “The president says, ‘It’s an hour meeting, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan for 30 minutes and then Pakistan for 30 minutes.’ Seventy-five minutes later, we still haven’t talked about Pakistan. Why? Because Pakistan is too fucking hard.”

Read in full – A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out.

 

 

 

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When Sorry is Not Enough: US Calls on Tunisia to Bring Embassy Attackers to Justice

On October 14, the one month anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. embassy and American school in Tunis, the US Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Walles released a statement calling on the Government of Tunisia to bring the perpetrators to justice. While the statement lauds the 200 year relationships between the two countries — the first agreement of friendship and trade was concluded between Tunisia and the United States on March 26, 1799; the United States was the first major power to recognize Tunisian sovereignty and established diplomatic relations with Tunisia in 1956 following its independence from France — it also reminds Tunisia of its obligation to protect its “guests.” Excerpt below:

“One month ago on September 14, 2012, a group of violent extremists attacked the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis.  These violent attacks endangered the lives of the American and Tunisian employees who were inside the Embassy during the attack. The attackers inflicted millions of dollars of damage to the Embassy compound, burned more than 100 vehicles, most of which belonged to the Embassy’s Tunisian staff, and also destroyed private property in the area near the Embassy.  At the American Cooperative School of Tunis, the attackers destroyed, looted, and burned books, musical instruments, and computers used to educate young minds from more than 70 countries.  One thing the attackers did not damage is the strong bond between the American and Tunisian people and the commitment of the United States to support Tunisia’s transition from an unjust dictatorship to a free and tolerant democracy that provides security, economic opportunity and freedom to everyone who calls Tunisia home.
[...]
I am proud of this long history of partnership, but continued cooperation and investment in Tunisia requires a safe and secure operating environment.  The Tunisian government has an obligation to provide security for its citizens and its guests – and I call on the Government of Tunisia to carry through with its investigation and to bring the perpetrators and masterminds of this attack to justice.  I also look to the Tunisian people to speak out against violence and terror and to play an active role in shaping the future you so richly deserve.”

Read the full statement here.

Here are a few things that the United States has done the last many months since the Arab Spring according to the Tunisia Fact Sheet,:

  • Since the January 2011 revolution, the U.S. has committed more than $300 million to support Tunisia’s transition, focusing heavily on technical and financial assistance to Tunisia’s economy and private sector.
  • The United States provided $100 million to pay directly debt that Tunisia owes the World Bank and African Development Bank, allowing the Government of Tunisia to instead use an equal amount for its priority programs, and to accelerate economic growth and job creation.
  • The United States is providing assistance to more than 4,500 Tunisian youth in market-relevant skills training, job placement, and access to start-up business resources.
  • A $50 million Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)  franchising facility providing working capital to Tunisian franchisees interested in working with American, European, and Tunisian franchisors; ultimately creating an estimated 10,000 local jobs for Tunisians.

You’d think that perhaps all that and more would have generated a tad of goodwill, even just enough to make people stop and think before they go berserk over there.  Alas, not. The angry protesters were not satisfied with shouting or throwing rocks. They went over the embassy walls, torched cars, set fire to several facilities within the compound, destroyed the children’s playground and even tried stoopidly to set fire to the embassy pool. And the rampage did not stop after an hour or two. It went on for hours on end.

To be blunt — it is the host country’s international obligation to protect foreign diplomats and diplomatic premises. If a country is slow or unable to provide such protection, should be even be there?  We also must wonder if this is for lack of resources, or if the host government is complicit in the attacks or indifferent to the outcome. It took several hours before local authorities were able to control the situation, after several structures within the compound have already been torched, after over 100 cars were already burned to the ground.

There has to be consequences for such abrogation of responsibility; otherwise this will happen again.

On September 21, just a few days after the embassy attack, the Tunisian Foreign Minister Abdessalem was in the Treaty Room of Foggy Bottom and said:

“I’m also here to express our regret and full and strong condemnation for the storming of the American Embassy and school in Tunisia last Friday. This event does not reflect the real image of Tunisia.[...] We already taken the necessary measures to protect the American Embassy, the American schools, and all diplomatic presence in Tunisia, members of foreign communities. It is our duty, and I’m sure that we have the ability and the capability to protect all private and public institutions in Tunisia.”

That’s good talk, too bad nobody saw this in action on September 14.

The question remains — did elements of the host country government allow the attack to happen thinking it would be a harmless demonstration only to have it spin out of control? We must not forget that the Tehran embassy takeover started as a “harmless” demonstration on a February day, and when the actual hostage taking occurred in November, the protesters knew exactly how to get in.

Say what you will about fortress embassies, but if Embassy Tunis was less than fortified, how many more flag-draped coffins would have arrived at Dover AFB that week?

As in Benghazi, there are somethings “sorry” can’t fix.  It must be said that Embassy Tunis was lucky not to have any casualty given the size and ferocity of the crowd that day.  But we might not be so lucky next time; and that next time may not be very far off.

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Alec Ross, State Dept Bundle of Joy Visits Pakistan for Twittersation on Innovation

One of the State Dept’s media digs recently announced that Alec Ross, the State Department’s Senior Advisor on Innovation has a presentation in Islamabad on “Developing a Culture of Innovation at Universities in Pakistan.”

Alec Ross and Pakistani innovators reportedly also got together for a “Twittersation” in Islamabad where the former answered questions about media freedom, innovation, entrepreneurship and other hot topics.

Photo from US Embassy Pakistan/FB

Wow, I’m almost speechless.

First there was Secretary Clinton’s “Townterview” in … gosh I forgot where now.  And now we have a “Twittersation”?

For those not terribly active online reading this, that’s a conversation consisting entirely of 140 character-or-less “tweets”on Twitter?.  What a great way to converse, but dammit :roll: “Twittersation” is messing up with my auto-correct again.

Obviously, developing a culture of innovation is exactly what is needed in the aftermath of the widespread protests in Pakistan which includes angry mobs attempting to storm our diplomatic compounds in the country.

And clearly, in a country where three-in-four Pakistanis (74%) consider the the United States an enemy, developing the country’s culture of innovation should be our priority item there.

Never mind the cultural misconnection in the world where we lived in; or explaining the idea of freedom of speech, even the freedom to insult religion, any religion as one of our fundamental rights (see Anti-Islam Protests: Monica Bauer explains the cultural misconnection in the world as it is).  The last few weeks showed us that a large swath of the Muslim world lack a basic understanding on why we tolerate even our nutty expressions in speech, in art, in crappy videos/movies, etc. or why we protect even the ugliest speech. And here we are talking about innovation. Right.

Below are sample of comments generated via FB:

Amer Rai @Alec Ross……you talk of freedom of expression but USCG Lahore blocked my id without prior warning ,yes i did violation ,i talked some racist but that was not very serious

Shahbaz Haider Most of the participants playing with there cell fones, lolz

Nasim A Sehar wat is the result??will drawn attacks stop?or taliban will stop doing bomb blasts?this situation is very difficult for pakistan.

Abbas Khan not just tweeting … do some thing man.

Shazy Ahmed Khan i want to come america but i have ot much money so help me

Ali Raza we hate america.america is a big terirost of the world

Farook Janjua Help us in getting our public transport system organized.

Aftab Alam we need people to people friendships and equallity between pak and usa

There were several more comments over there. And because social media is about “engagement”, the US Embassy Pakistan’s FB moderator did just that … with one.

U.S. Embassy Pakistan Aftab Alam we agree

Go ahead and talk about innovation, nothing to do until the next mob attacks. You never know when you get to chat up on innovation again. Jeez! I’m getting a stomach-achy feeling that this 21st century statecraft/internet freedom is just full of yabadabadoooo!

No?  Okay, well, then would you please whisper loudly to the somebodies upstairs to wake the foxtrot up because this looks utterly hyper-ridiculous?  Thank you.

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