Category Archives: FSOs

U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

– Domani Spero

 

I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Congress, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Obama, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

– Domani Spero

 

 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Related post:

 

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Filed under AFSA, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Peter Van Buren, Public Diplomacy, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, Updates

Academy of Diplomacy’s Pickering and Neumann Warns Secretary Kerry About Risk Avoidance At All Cost

– Domani Spero

 

The American Academy of Diplomacy’s chairman, Ambassador  Thomas Pickering and its president, Ambassador Ronald Neuman wrote a letter last week to Secretary Kerry urging his “support to get America’s diplomats into the field and back into contact with local societies.” The group is concerned that the demand that civilian officers operate “at or near zero risk” undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and America’s national security interests.

Excerpt below:

As terrorist attacks have grown, security restrictions have become more intense. This has been necessary but is now too dominant in decision making. Many of us have run critical threat posts. We have no illusions about the need to calculate and mitigate risk. But ultimately we must all judge the relative risks of any action against its benefits to the national interest. What we see happening in far too many places are decisions reflecting Washington guidance to avoid risk at all cost. This approach is spreading from critical threat posts to other less threatened posts and personnel, creating a chilling effect for our diplomats attempting to carry out their missions through travel and contacts across a wider range of security environments.

The demand that civilian officers operate at or near zero risk undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and, by extension, America’s national security interests. Engaging with the local population and its leaders is crucial to the knowledge essential to sound policy. Failure to do so adequately is a short-term loss for the conduct of diplomacy and a long-term loss for policy formulation. We support the view taken by senior Department officials who have acknowledged the need for accepting prudent risk in the conduct of diplomacy. However, we believe that your own leadership must be engaged to reinforce these statements and the concrete actions need to convey to the field some acceptance of measured risk taking.

The Academy urge more training on risk management not just for officers but also for Chiefs of Mission:

Foreign Service Officers accept worldwide assignment and that includes a measure of risk; that idea needs reinforcement. More tradecraft training for officers borrowing from the best the US government has to offer may be useful. Greater education in risk management certainly is needed for Chiefs of Mission who must be empowered to make critical decisions. Chiefs of Mission are already charged with securing their staffs but need much more training in how to make security judgments. More resources need to be devoted to all these areas. Security officers need to believe that their task is to enable mission performance as safely as possible but not to avoid all risk.

The group believes that “a focused conversation with Congress is required to gain acceptance for the realities of the decisions needed” and tells Secretary Kerry that it is prepared to help in a dialogue with Congress but needs a “specific direction” from the secretary of state for current practices to change.

The American Academy of Diplomacy is currently working on a major study of what is needed to improve the professionalism of American diplomacy and the capacity of Foreign Service Officers.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Org Culture, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Trends, U.S. Missions

High Drama in Hungary Awaits New American Ambassador

– Domani Spero

 

This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:

The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.

The U.S. takes corruption seriously.  The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.

Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.  This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004.  Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue.  U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.

No one is above the law.  The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption.  Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency.  The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.

The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called   a “neo-fascist dictator.  And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.

Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.

 

 

Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.

“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.

Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.

Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend.  According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.

 

 

The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia.  Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera.  The Review suggests that these protests against an  increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.

Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.

 

Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”

As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.

Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Ambassadorships, DCM, Diplomacy, Diplomatic Immunity, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, FSOs, Political Appointees, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas

James Gibney: Obama Sells Out U.S. Diplomats (Bloomberg View)

– Domani Spero

 

Former FSO, James Gibney writes editorials on international affairs for Bloomberg View. He was previously features editor at the Atlantic, deputy editor at the New York Times op-ed page and executive editor at Foreign Policy magazine. He was a speechwriter for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and President Bill Clinton. His latest below on State Department appointments:

The confirmation last week of two spectacularly unqualified political nominees to head U.S. embassies in two budding autocracies (Hungary and Argentina) prompted some predictable tut-tutting.

Sadly, President Barack Obama’s approach to State Department appointments has deeper problems than garden-variety patronage. Political hirelings have been insinuated much lower into the department’s bureaucracy. And after trumpeting tough ethics rules, the administration has carved out loopholes for hiring former lobbyists and “special government employees” who can earn outside income while in their official posts. Never mind the impact this breach of boundaries has on Foreign Service officers’ dreams of future policy greatness. It’s a recipe for flawed, and potentially corrupt, policy making.

Of course, even the uber-diplomatic George H. W. Bush had his undiplomatic appointments. My favorite: Peter Secchia, a Michigan building magnate who, before arriving to take up his post in Rome, said, “I saw the new Italian Navy. Its boats have glass bottoms so they can see the old Italian Navy.”

Read in full here.

For a companion read, check out State Dept Assistant Secretary Positions: How Far Back is “Recent Memory?”

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Filed under Ambassadors, Appointments, Assistant Secretary, Foreign Affairs, FSOs, Obama, Political Appointees, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department

Theodore Osius III Sworn-in as New U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via state.gov

Theodore Osius III, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Associate Professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. on detail from the Department of State. Deeply experienced in Asian Affairs, he was among the first officers in Hanoi, opened the post in Ho Chi Minh City and has held critical senior executive positions in the region. Known as a talented leader and expert manager, he uses his public affairs and electronic outreach savvy to reach important audiences. He has a strong grounding in commercial advocacy that delivers concrete trade results. He will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Vietnam, a key nation in Southeast Asia for American diplomacy.

Previously, Mr. Osius served the Department of State as a Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C. (2012-2013), Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia (2009-2012), Political Minister-Counselor, Embassy New Delhi, India (2006-2009), Deputy Director, Office of Korean Affairs (2004-2006), Regional Environment Officer, Embassy Bangkok, Thailand (2001-2004), Senior Advisor on International Affairs, Office of the Vice President (1998-2001), Political Officer, Consulate General, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (1997-1998), Political Officer, Embassy Hanoi, Vietnam (1996-1997), Staff Aide/Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, New York (1993-1995), Political/Management Officer, Embassy Vatican, Holy See (1992-1993) and Political/Consular Officer, Embassy Manila, Philippines (1989-1991). He was also Legislative Correspondent, Office of Albert Gore, Jr., U.S. Senate (1985-1987) and Presidential Intern, American University, Cairo, Egypt (1984-1985). He is a Founding Member of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

Mr. Osius earned an A.B. from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1984 and a M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. in 1989. He is the recipient of two Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and three Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State. He speaks Vietnamese, French, Italian, Basic Arabic, Basic Hindi, Basic Thai, Basic Japanese and Basic Indonesian.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, John F. Kerry, Staffing the FS, U.S. Missions

Senate Confirmations: P. Michael McKinley (Afghanistan), Richard Verma (India)

– Domani Spero

 

On December 9, the U.S. Senate slowly winding its business in town, confirmed the ambassadorial nominees for Afghanistan and India. There’s still a long list of nominees awaiting confirmation, but  the candle is growing short here; we don’t think many more will make it through this Congress. But here are the nominees who made it through the confirmation obstacle course on December 9:

 

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Ambassador McKinley is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan. A two-time Ambassador and four-time Deputy Chief of Mission, he is known for his gifted leadership and management abilities. A consensus builder with demonstrated interpersonal skills, broad expertise in high-level foreign policy negotiations and detailed knowledge of the region, he will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Afghanistan, a nation of unsurpassed foreign policy importance to the United States Government in a critical region of the world.

Previously, Mr. McKinley served in the Department of State as Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia (2010-2013), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru (2007-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium (2004-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Washington, D.C. (2001-2004), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium (2000-2001), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda (1997-2000), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1997), Political Officer, U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom (1990-1994), Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1989-1990), Political Officer, Office of Southern African Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1987-1989), Political Officer, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Washington, D.C. (1985-1987) and Consular and General Services Officer, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (1983-1985).

Mr. McKinley earned a MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (1975-1982), and a B.A. from Southampton University, South Hampton, United Kingdom (1971-1975). He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of State, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2011), 12 Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French. via state.gov-McKinley, Michael P. – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – September 2014

 

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Richard Rahul Verma serves as Senior Counselor to the global law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as to the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC.  His practice focuses on international law and regulatory issues, with a specialization in Asia and emerging markets.  Mr. Verma also serves as a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he directs their “India 2020” initiative.  Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations.  His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the U.S.

Previously, in Washington, D.C., he served as Assistant Secretary of State (Legislative Affairs), Department of State (2009-2011), Partner, Steptoe and Johnson LLP (2007-2009), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Majority Leader (2006-2007), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Minority Leader (2004-2006), Senior Counsel, Office of the Senate Democratic Whip (2003-2004), Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Reid (2002-2003) and Associate, Steptoe and Johnson (1998-2002).  Mr. Verma served on active duty as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Air Force at Holloman, Air Force Base, New Mexico and Fort Meade, Maryland (1994-1998).  He was also Field Representative, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Bucharest, Romania (1993-1994) and Staff Assistant, Congressman John P. Murtha (1991-1992).

 Mr. Verma earned a B.S. at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1990, a J.D., cum laude, at American University in 1993 and a LL.M, with distinction, at Georgetown University Law Center in 1998.  He is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations and a Meritorious Service Medal, a Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force.  via state.gov-Verma, Richard R. – Republic of India – September 2014

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Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

– Domani Spero

 

One of our readers pointed us to this MamaCongo blogpost (thanks A!).  We’ve requested and was granted permission by the author to excerpt it here. She is the country representative of the Mennonite Central Committee,  a nongovernment organization operating in Burkina Faso, and a marvelous storyteller. In the post below, she tells us a slice of life amidst a crisis in a foreign land. Reminds us of Four Globetrotters’ blogpost about what an FSO and her colleagues went through during the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 (see Attack here).

The following post from MamaCongo is a first person account of an American expat during the recent  revolution in Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world.  According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety Report, Burkina Faso was also rocked by several months of protests, civil unrest, and lawlessness in 2011. In the event of lawlessness or protests by armed groups, including such incidents perpetrated by soldiers and police, the official advice is to seek a safe location, remain indoors, and shelter in place.  The shelter in place advice, of course, that does not work, if the house you’re in is a target for burning, and looting,, as was the case here.

 

There is a shoutout in the blogpost for Kristin, an FSO at our embassy in Ouagadougou.  For all the consular officers and duty officers out there who seldom get a mention for their work, this one’s for you. And those French, by heavens, they remain cool and collected with smokes and drinks even in a crisis?

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Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

by Sarah Sensamaust
excerpted
from MamaCongo

It’s taken us a bit of time to process Burkina Faso’s recent uprising, or revolution, or coup, or junta, or whatever you want to call it. Granted we’re not Burkinabé nor were we anywhere near the front lines, but our expat lives were a bit shaken up. I mean, we’re not in Congo anymore so life should be easy peasy for goodness sake.

In short, Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s longtime president of 27 years, decided he wanted to change the constitution to extend term limits. But folks had another idea. As in, on the day of the vote thousands of people mobilized to stop it.

On that morning, we planned to introduce the director of our organization (who was visiting from the States – perfect timing) to participants we work with at the prison. No big deal, Adam would take him in the morning before the vote results were announced. I’d stay back in the office and hold down the fort. Of course no one else was dumb enough to come to work that day. So there I sat alone while they headed off to the prison.

About the time they arrived at the prison, the city exploded. Tens of thousands of people protested and then attacked the parliament building setting it on fire. There was gunfire, then helicopters dropped tear gas. I spent the morning pacing up and down the office hallway. Convincing myself my eyes were burning from really intense dust and not tear gas. I also sent messages to Jill because how can this be happening and I have no one to talk to?!

I won’t mention how many paces it took me to remember my children playing outside a few blocks away. But I did eventually call Anastasie and ask her to take the girls inside and close the windows. Clearly she had already done this. Because tear gas.

Meanwhile at the prison, a mob had gathered outside and began banging on the doors, so needless to say, Adam and our director were stuck inside. I’ll keep this exciting part about Adam short due to his issue with reading long posts and all: Prison guards quickly change into military uniforms. Everyone running. Adam stuck inside. Me thinking it’s slightly funny he’s got himself and our director trapped in a prison during a coup. Me waiting a long time, not thinking it’s so funny anymore. Crowds getting bigger. Me making lots of phone calls and driving back and forth through protestors to attempt to free them from prison. They eventually escape with zero help from me. 30 minutes later factory across from the prison is looted and burned. Revolt later that day in the prison and 3 people killed. Us breathing sigh of relief.

The stuck in prison situation is the kind of experience I’m happy to have had when it’s over. It was equal parts tense and exciting and it makes for a good story. All’s well that ends well. We are safe and sound at home. Boy was that crazy! So glad this whole revolution thing is over. I put up a semi-clever post on Facebook with a synopsis of the day. We’re proud of ourselves for distracting our children from the gunfire. They didn’t even notice! We’re so cool. Goodnight.

Compaoré resigned the next morning and left the country in a heavily armored motorcade. A general in the military was then named interim leader. Turns out this guy was not so popular and the city erupted once again. Oh wait, this revolution thing isn’t over yet?

A tactic that proved quite effective the day before was the burning and looting of former Compaoré government official’s houses along with those of his relatives and friends. A house a few blocks in front of our’s was burned as well as another house behind us. We got word that our next door neighbor’s house, with whom we share a wall, was next on the loot and burn list. A mob was on its way. Our neighbor on the other side yelled for us to quick get out of our house.

It’s safe to say this was not my calmest moment in motherhood. I went into full panic mode and ushered my children next door – to the safe neighbor’s house. We’ve been down this leave-the-house-and-all-of-your-belongings road before in Congo, so I grabbed their growth chart off the wall, the baby quilt and the princess dresses. Because I can hide from our children the fact that our house has been burned to the ground, but they’re definitely going to notice if their princess dresses are missing.

We took shelter next door. And again the pacing sets in. At this point we crossed a line we had never crossed before. Our children were scared and crying and asking what was going on. Guards were gathered in the road. And everyone was just waiting for the inevitable to happen. It didn’t ease our minds that a document had been looted from the president’s brother’s house, photocopied in mass and distributed throughout the city listing the addresses of houses that the president had bought for his friends. Our neighbor’s house number was #2 on the list.

I kind of just wanted the looters and burners to show up so it could just happen and be over. Someone suggested I call the embassy. After 6 years in Congo, I have their emergency number on speed dial. I don’t know how many times in Kinshasa I had to call an annoyed 18-year-old Marine and explain how we got our car booted in the middle of the road again.

Here in Ouagadougou it’s a kind woman named Kristin, who bless her heart, must have been a 911 operator or worked at a suicide prevention hotline in a previous life. She was so sweet and encouraging and for the first time since this whole ordeal began, I was talking with someone to whom I didn’t need to show a brave face. I started to tear up, so I took myself into my neighbor’s garage and had a good cry with dear, sweet Kristin. (Kristin, I hope you never read this. I would like to remain the anonymous, unstable expat caller.)

For whatever reason the mob had yet to come and it’s clear that pacing at our neighbor’s house all day was not a good plan for anyone. So we scurried across the street to distract our children and let them swim at the pool of our neighborhood French compound.

And folks, I kid you not. Those Frenchies were smoking and drinking and having a grand old time behind their wall, not 20 feet away from our panic attack across the street.

Our girls soon forgot their trauma and swam and joined in the carefree French time. Meanwhile, Adam and I were poolside sending emails and making hurried phone calls to our organization’s headquarters in the States, all the while keeping an ear out for approaching angry mobs.

At this point, as if our world had not stopped already, I glanced in the pool and Ani was bobbing and gasping for air in the deep end. So naturally, I jump in the pool, in front of all those relaxed French folk – fully clothed, leather clogs and all – to pull that poor girl out.

I swear to you, at this moment another military plane buzzed overhead and after the near-burning of our house and the near-drowning of my child, I took a moment to tread water and have a mini breakdown right there in the pool. I’ll never forget Adam and our director looking down at me, offering hands to help me out. But I just stayed. And treaded water. And cried.

And then my loving husband said, “That was crazy. It was kind of embarrassing that you had to jump in the pool like that to save her, but none of these French people even noticed. No one turned their heads. How are they so cool about everything?!”

I spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool. Sopping wet. You know, because of no spare clothes due to being evacuated from my house and all. Then after the curfew set in (which is announced in the curious way of police going through the streets and shooting in the air) our house was still standing and it was deemed safe to go home.

Our neighbors in question had rallied their burliest male relatives to set up camp outside their house to protect it. We managed to fall asleep that night, but it’s practically impossible to distinguish between the noises of a mob of men guarding a house and a mob of men attacking a house.

We debriefed with the girls and asked them how they felt when we had to leave our house and run next door. Because afterall, they were upset and scared and I don’t want that coming back at us in adolescence.

They didn’t really seem to remember it, so we didn’t press it. They were too distracted and confused about why mama jumped and cried in the pool. “No really, why were you crying in the pool?” they asked, “And why didn’t you put on your bathing suit first?” A full month later, they are still talking about this. “Hey! Remember that time mama jumped in the pool with her clothes on?!”

Thank the lord they’re not asking, “Remember that time we ran screaming from our house because we thought it was going to burn down?”

There’s more.  Read the entire blogpost here via MamaCongo.

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US Embassy Yemen: How to Catch the Visa Malfeasance Pokemons? Very Quietly.

– Domani Spero

 

 

Via NY Daily News:

An employee at the embassy may have given out more than 50 sham visas to people who falsely claimed they needed to enter the U.S. to attend an oil industry conference in Texas, according to unsealed papers in Brooklyn Federal Court. The feds learned the Yemeni citizens never went to the conference. It was not clear if the fraudulent visas were connected to terrorism. The feds have uncovered a breach of security inside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen that led to bogus visas being issued, the Daily News has learned.

 

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Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

Via U.S. Consulate Amsterdam

If these visas were issued at the embassy, these are authentic visas, using real foils –issued under fraudulent reasons. What are the typical types of visa fraud? Below according to state.gov:

  • Presenting false documents to apply for a visa
  • Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, like a criminal history in the alien’s home country
  • The sale, trafficking, or transfer of otherwise legitimate visas
  • Misrepresenting the reasons for requiring a visa
  • Counterfeiting, forgery, or alteration of a visa

We must also add, procurement of authentic visa by malfeasance — bribing a consular employee.  For more on visa security, read Fred Burton’s Getting Back to the Basics here.

DSS Special Agent Bert Seay’s filed a court statement at the Eastern District of New York supporting probable cause to arrest one of those 50 individuals issued visas in Yemen:

In August 2014, DSS received information from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General (“DHS-OIG”) that DHS-OIG had received an anonymous tip that Yemeni national employees working in the non-immigrant visa unit of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen were helping other Yemeni nationals to fraudulently procure non—immigrant visas in exchange for money. Based on information provided by DHS-OIG, DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.

DSS identified the visa applications as suspicious because, in the applications, the Yemeni visa applicants purported to be employed by Yemeni oil companies and stated that their reason for traveling to the United States was to attend an oil industry conference called the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas.  However, investigation by DSS determined that, in most instances, the Yemeni oil companies listed as employers on the visa applications were fictitious and, further, that the visa applicants did not, in fact, attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” after traveling to the United States.

The DS agent statement includes a caveat that the “complaint is to set forth only those facts necessary to establish probable cause to arrest,” but does not include “all the relevant facts and circumstances.” The complaint also notes that “DSS identified one specific Yemeni employee at the U.S. Embassy who submitted over 50 suspicious Bl/B2 visa referrals for Yemeni citizens.”

The allegations involved Yemeni national employees,more than one. Suspicious cases involved over 50 visas, and law enforcement got one arrest. Alert is now broadcasted on all channels. So, how do you catch the Visa Malfeasance and Visa Fraudster Pokemons? It’s not like you can now pretend to send a local employee to FSI for training then arrest him or her upon arrival at Dulles like this or this.

Also, for non-State readers, here is what the regs say about visa referrals:

“A referral is a written request, maintained permanently, to advocate for, or otherwise assist, your contacts at post in the visa application process. Referrals are the only allowed mechanism to advocate for or assist visa applicants prior to visa adjudication.” (See 9 FAM, Appendix K, Exhibit I – pdf).

The news report actually gave us more questions than answers. Visa issuance is a specific responsibility of a Consular Officer; it cannot be issued by just any embassy official or any embassy employee. The processing and issuance process is now automated and requires specific login credentials; it’s not like anyone can just stamp a visa foil on a passport with a stamp pad.

And when did foreign national embassy employees started issuing visa referrals? Only qualified and approved individuals may make visa referrals. But here’s the thing – the regs are clear, to qualify as a visa referring officer you must:

(1) Be a U.S. citizen, direct hire, encumbering an NSDD-38 authorized position or serving in a long-term TDY role (of more than 121 days) in place of a permanently stationed direct hire who falls under Chief of Mission (COM) authority and encumbers an NSDD-38 position as defined by the Human Resources section at post;

(2) Attend a referral briefing with the consular section; and

(3) Submit a signed and dated Worldwide NIV Referral Policy Compliance Agreement to the consular section.

Not only that, the chief of section/agency head of the referring officer’s section or agency must approve each referral (and must attend the briefing and sign the compliance document in order to do so). In the absence of a section/agency head or acting head, the Principal Officer (PO) (if at a consulate), or Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), or Ambassador must approve the referral.

So, how is it possible for a Yemeni employee in this case (who has not been identified publicly or charged), to submit 50 visa referrals is seriously perplexing.

The complaint identified one defendant as ABDULMALEK MUSLEH ABDULLAH ALZOBAIDI. He allegedly submitted a visa application dated March 8, 2014 presented to an in-person interview with “a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa,Yemen on April 14, 2014.”  In his visa application, the defendant allegedly stated, among other things, that he was a “manager” of “Jaber Oil Company.” The defendant allegedly further provided the Consular Officer with a business card for Jaber Oil Company. The defendant also allegedly stated in his visa application that the purpose of his trip to the United States was to attend the “Offshore Technology Conference” in Houston, Texas for approximately 15 days.

According to court docs, in September 2014, DSS agents received information from the Yemeni Ministry of Commerce and Information confirming that the Jaber Oil Company is not a registered or legitimate company in Yemen. That Houston conference is an annual event.

Since this individual has now been charged, he will have his day in a New York court but this brings up an even troubling scenario.

According to 2009 unclassified cable published by WikiLeaks, Yemen security conditions prevent the embassy’s Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) from performing field investigations so post rely almost exclusively on telephone investigations to combat fraud.  So, if there’s a universe with 50 suspicious cases, how many were investigated by FPU prior to visa issuance? This would have been a pretty standard practice in a high fraud post like Yemen.

In a 2010 inspection review of US Embassy Sana’a, OIG inspectors noted (pdf) that “Because of staffing limitations, Embassy Sanaa is not doing the required annual reviews of its visa referral system. This important internal control is mandated by 9 FAM Appendix K 105(d). Not regularly reviewing referrals deprives consular management of important information on the adjudication process and potentially improper behavior.”

That report, although old, also noted at that time that nonimmigrant visa processing is “a relatively small part of the post’s consular workload, and it is managed successfully by one part-time officer.”

Embassy Sana’a has suffered from staffing and security limitations for many years. We can’t imagine that the staffing situation at post has grown any better since that 2010 report. Has it?

And this makes one wonder — if Sanaa is under “ordered departure”and has limited staff, why do we insist on processing visas there?  Embassy Sana’a did not respond to our inquiry on this case but says on its website that “requests for U.S. tourist and business visa appointments continues to grow.”  Also that “Visa services are an important Embassy function, and the robust demand for tourist and business visas reflects the strong continuing relationship between Yemen and the United States.”

The continuing relationship is so strong that no one has been arrested for the multiple attacks of the U.S. mission in Yemen.

According to AQAP, it has targeted US interests in Yemen three times in the last 60 days alone: shelling of compound on September 27, targeting Ambassador Tueller with IEDs on November 6, and the detonation of two IEDs on post’s northern gate on November 27. The attack last week reportedly resulted in embassy guard death/s; this has not been mentioned, confirmed, or denied by the State Department. This news has not made it to the front pages, so you know they will try again.

via UKFCO

via UKFCO

On a related note, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all travel to Yemen and strongly urge British nationals to leave the country.

Is this what we should call expeditionary consular diplomacy now?

 


 

 

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Confirmations: House Packing Officially On For Noah Mamet (Argentina), and Colleen Bell (Hungary)

– Domani Spero

 

All that hand wringing whether or not controversial Obama bundlers would get to post or not this year ends today. On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary.

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet would replace Vilma Martinez who served in Buenos Aires from 2009-2013.  He will soon take up residence at Palacio Bosch, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina designed by French architect René Sergent. The residence is considered Sergent’s finest work because of its stylistic unity and contextual relation to its environs, and according to State/OBO, was seminal to Argentine architectural taste.

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

The owner sold the residence to the United States Government in 1929 following recurrent propositions by U.S. Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss (Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933). Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., who joined the Foreign Service in 1903 also purchased some of the furnishings, which he later donated to the residence. Major renovation of the building was undertaken in 1994. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ first totally historic restoration began, using many Argentine artisans and craftsmen who were direct descendants of the original experts. 40,000 ft² palace, lots of rooms but we don’t know the state of the bathrooms.

Embassy Buenos Aires acting ambassador has been Kevin K. Sullivan who began work as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since June 2013.  A career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, he was posted previously in Argentina from 1997-2000.  The Embassy Buenos Aires is up to speed and has already announced the confirmation of the new ambassador on its website, almost as soon as it happened.

Ambassador-Designate Colleen Bell would replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who served as Ambassador to Budapest from 2010-2013. Not sure where is the ambassador’s residence there but she will soon hold office at the building at Szabadságtér 12 in Budapest’s Fifth District which has been home to the United States Legation and Embassy since 1935. It was designed by the architects Aladár Kármán and Gyula Ullman, who were hired by a commercial company called the Hungarian Hall of Commerce, Ltd., who had purchased the site on May 16, 1899.  According to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, during World War II, the Chancery Building operated under the Swiss Flag. There are stories that Jewish refugees were hidden in the lower levels of the building during the War. From November 4, 1956 to September 28, 1971, the Chancery also served as the home of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge there during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Cardinal lived in what is now the Ambassador’s office.

Embassy Budapest’s second in command is M. André Goodfriend who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission since August 2013.  He previously served as the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, from August 2009 until the embassy suspended operations in February 2012.

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