Category Archives: Huh? News

Burn Bag: CG Sighting! CG Sighting! Near Window #36, the Consular Section, Now!

Via Burn Bag

“The CG [consul general] of our very large consular section was recently on leave for several weeks, not that anybody noticed.  She interacts with her staff so rarely that we’ve begun to make jokes about “CG sightings” in the consular section (Note:  she’s up to six after a year here).  Apparently, however, this was simply too much interaction and she has convinced CA [Consular Affairs] to create a Deputy CG position.  Huh?”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

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Short and boring lives of the G222 Planes in Kabul — from $486M to scrap at 6 cents a pound!

– Domani Spero

 

We’re late on this, but last week, SIGAR released two letters to Secretary Hagel and to Air Force Secretary Deborah L. James concerning the  failed G222 aircraft program for the Afghan Air Force.

Starting in 2008, DOD apparently initiated a program to provide 20 of these Italian-made aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.   The Defense Department spent $486 million for these airplanes, which according to the SIGAR, “could not meet operational requirements in Afghanistan.” Sixteen of these aircraft were recently destroyed at Kabul International Airport,  scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency, and the remains were sold to an Afghan construction company for about $32,000 total.  SIGAR calculates that the scrap was sold at roughly 6 cents a pound. The remaining four airplanes are reportedly stored at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, presumably to help fight the Taliban at some later date?

Here are the $486 million airplanes you paid for:

Photo via SIGAR

Photo via SIGAR

 Here are the scrapped beauties at 6 cents a pound:

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Photo via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Here are the links to the letters:
http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-04-SP_IL_G222%20Disposition%20Notf%20Req_03Oct2014_Redacted.pdf

http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-02-SP_IL_Scrapping%20of%20G222%20Fleet_03Oct2014_amd_Redacted.pdf

According to Defense Industry Daily:

The G.222/C-27A was not known as an easy aircraft to maintain, but it does feature outstanding short runway performance, and offers proven performance in hot weather and high altitudes. That seemed to make it well-suited for work in Afghanistan. Was it well suited to the Afghans?

That would depend on whether the Afghans could keep them in the air. The USAF tried to address the spares and maintenance issue through the program’s structure, paying for extensive training through the US military, an initial spare parts inventory, ground support equipment, technical publications in English and Dari, and 3 years worth of contractor logistics support.

But it didn’t work.

These are not the only aircraft DOD purchased for the Afghan Air Force. Defense Industry Daily has a rundown of the timeline and the contracts here.

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Snapshot: State Department, Foreign Ops and Programs = 1% of Total Federal Budget

– Domani Spero

 

Via CRS:

Congress annually appropriates funds for the security of diplomatic personnel and facilities within the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriation, which is about 1% of the total federal budget. Security funding amounts to about 9% of that appropriation.

via CRS

via CRS

Congress has not enacted a stand-alone State Department appropriation prior to the start of the fiscal year since 1995 and has not passed a stand-alone Foreign Relations Authorization law since 2002.6 Both could have been legislative vehicles for debate regarding Administration of Foreign Affairs, including diplomatic/embassy security funding and priorities. Instead, Congress has provided ongoing security funding within Continuing Resolutions (CRs) that have delayed by several months the full-year appropriation eventually provided. Funding within a CR is usually based on the previous year’s funding levels. Furthermore, if spending was not in the previous year’s appropriation (as was the case with Benghazi in 2012), it would not be funded by a CR. Only after the final appropriation is passed by Congress and signed into law by the President would State Department officials know what level of funding they can allocate on a daily/weekly/monthly basis over the 275 worldwide diplomatic posts (or 1600 work facilities)7 and over the remainder of the fiscal year.

Read in full here (pdf).

International affairs is important but apparently not important enough to merit the right interest in Congress in the last two decades when it comes to appropriating funds. There’s enough blame to go around going back to 1995, spanning three administrations, all the way back to the 104th Congress and every congressional session thereafter.

Remember that the next time you see an elected representative shed tears on teevee or blow fire from his ass about somebody or another not doing enough for the diplomats our country send overseas.

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

– Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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Argentina Prez Calls Embassy Message “A Provocation,” Claims ISIS, No, U.S. Plans to Bump Her Off?

– Domani Spero

 

Don’t look now but it appears as if the situation in Argentina is about to get more than touchy serious.  On September 29, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires released a Security Message for U.S. Citizens on General Security Awareness (pdf):

The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens living and traveling in Argentina that in recent months, U.S. citizens have reported a number of crimes to the embassy. Crimes reported include petty crime, taxi scams (especially at international airports), mugging, snatch-and-grab robbery involving motorcycles and bicycles, and occasionally more serious crimes such as express kidnapping, home invasion, carjacking, assault, and sexual assault using date rape drugs. We recommend that U.S. citizens traveling and living in Argentina always be aware of their surroundings, maintain a high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security. Please consult reliable sources for information on transportation, lodging, and the general security of areas you are visiting.

U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests. The majority of crimes reported to the Embassy occur in the major metropolitan areas but U.S. citizens should use an equal level of caution outside large population centers. While crimes happen at all times of day and night, they are significantly more frequent after dark.

The Embassy does not have evidence that victims have been targeted because of their U.S. citizenship. If you are the victim of a crime, please report it immediately to the police and inform American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy.

The message went out a few days after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints president David P. Robertson, of the Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission, was robbed and briefly held on the night of September 24. According to El Dia cited by a Provo newspaper, Robertson was driving his Toyota truck when he was stopped by armed bandits at an intersection in Ciudadela, a city in the Buenos Aires area. The assailants reportedly took his wallet, cell phone and vehicle, and then released him on the street.

The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or CFK), called the security message, “a provocation” and she knew exactly who to blame. Below via mercopress:

“The note is a provocation. Usually, when the embassy issues this type of warning messages, it focuses on specific events such as political rallies or hostage situations which can be dangerous to US citizens,” the Argentine president explained.

“In this case, the threat is not specific. It describes Argentina as if we were living in the far-west,” she added, and went on to doubt US interim ambassador in Buenos Aires Kevin Sullivan’s intentions with the note.

“We know who wrote it: the same person who announced the country was in default,” CFK said, referring to Sullivan’s remarks about the country needing “to exit default as soon as possible”.

“Maybe he thought: ‘I can provoke her with this statement, escalate tension and then they’ll kick me out of the country’. But we are not going to do this… because the person who comes to fill his position may be even worse. We know this one; we know who he is. I always say: If you know them, better leave them where they are,” the President stated.

Let’s see if we can get this straight …the Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan wrote the Consular Section’s security message to upset the host country president so that he, CDA Sullivan can be kicked out of the country where he has been boss-man at the U.S. Embassy since June 2013?  That make perfect sense, right?  If true, this might just be one of the nuttiest way of getting out of what we’d call a plum assignment in the diplomatic service.  Anybody out there who has successfully got himself/herself PNGed using this strategy?

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Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan (center) with Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Palacio Bosch, Argentina (photo via US Embassy Buenos Aires/FB)

Back in May, Diplomatic Security actually released its 2014 Crime and Security Report on Argentina where it calls crime a serious problem in the country. “Street and residential crime appears to be increasingly common,is more violent than in the past, and is often perpetrated with a firearm or other deadly weapon.“But the report also says that “Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience anti-American sentiment.”

Unless Mr. Sullivan is pulling double duty as the Regional Security Officer  (RSO) at Embassy Buenos Aires, we’re pretty confident that he also did not write that crime and security report.

We should note that the nominee to be the next permanent resident of Palacio Bosch is Obama bundler, Noah Mamet.  Mr. Mamet one of the more controversial political appointees is still stuck in the Senate.  If Mr. Mamet gets through the confirmation process, CFK may have to get to know him, too. Mr. Mamet speaks a little Spanish but has never been to Argentina, so there’s an opportunity for some work there.

In the meantime, as if all this is not convoluted enough, the  Guardian reported that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner  has now“claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.” Whaaaat? Excerpt below:

[S]he gave a rambling televised address in which she claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.

“If something should happen to me, don’t look to the Middle East, look to the North,” Fernández said during the address on Tuesday night, in which she alluded to an alleged plot against her by local bankers and businessmen “with foreign help”.

Fernández had previously claimed to have received death threats from Islamic State (Isis) because of her friendship with Pope Francis. In last night’s speech, however, she seemed to suggest the threats against her, received in three emails to Argentinian security officials, had come from the US.

Her claim comes in the wake of a rapid deterioration of Argentina’s already rocky relationship with the US after the country went into default in August.

This is the president of over 41 million Argentines who says “the first thing I demand is respect.” 

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

According to the Guardian, Elisa Carrió, the UNEN party presidential candidate has called President Fernández “completely out of touch with reality”. “

“Since she doesn’t resist reality, with unemployment, high inflation, the rising dollar, she says it’s no longer Isis trying to kill her, but the US,” said Carrió. “She’s inventing conspiracies.”

In related news, CFK on September 30, also publicly criticized the country’s Central Bank “for allegedly leaking inside information” according to Bloomberg News. Central Bank President Juan Carlos Fabrega officially resigned yesterday which resulted in deepening Argentine bond and stock markets losses.

No, it’s not useful to revisit that INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) cable; that one only has questions, and none of the answers. And we’d really like to know who is CFK going to suggest of plotting to kill her next.

Hey, what’s gong going on with Arturo, the only polar bear in Argentina?

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United States Senate of Disaster. Confirmed.

– Domani Spero

 

So last night, the Senate did a few more selective confirmation, then ran out the door for the real fun stuff (see Sorry FSOs: Senate Confirms Lippert, O’Malley, Nell Crocker, Scheinman, Holleyman and Lenhardt).  There are more than 30 ambassadorial nominations pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plus nominations and promotions of career employees awaiting Senate approval.  About three dozens nominees for State/USAID/BBG are stuck on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.

No career diplomat made the confirmation cut during the Senate’s last day in session. Which means, a good number of them will have to wait for confirmation during the lame duck session. Because things will definitely change then. Or not. Failing that, they all presumably will be renominated at the start of the new Congress in 2015, and things will definitely work better then. Or not.

Perplexing thing, though … just the other day, during the Benghazi Select Committee hearing, the Republicans and Democrats in Congress exchanged so many thank-yous “it could have been the Oscars” according to WaPo’s Dana Milbank. At the end of the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) recalled the four dead Americans, “I want to adjourn in memory of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty,” he said. We missed this but according to WaPo, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D- Md.) reportedly also “embraced the theme” saying, “We are Americans … everybody trying to do the best they can to protect our people.”

We missed the group hug but see, they really do care about the career people we send out overseas. Except when they don’t.

In fairness, we must note that the Senate did a full plate of legislative business during its last session including the following:

Adopted S.Res.574: National Estuaries Week

Adopted S.Res.575: Prostate Cancer Awareness

Adopted S.Res.566: South Dakota 125th Anniversary

Adopted S.Res.420 – Naturopathic Medicine Week

Passed S.2040 – Blackfoot River Land Exchange

Passed S.2061 by voice vote – Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act

Passed S.2583 – E-Label Act

Passed S.2778 – Secretary of State Reward for Information

 

Clearly, “everybody trying to do the best they can to protect our people “… does not include protecting our people from the Congress.  One might start to think that our elected representatives do not really care about our embassies and career diplomats, they just like saying so when they want to hear themselves talk.

So what if career diplomats are stuck in the Oakwood apartments in waiting mode for a year going on two years?

So what if an embassy has not had an ambassador for over 400 days?

You think the Senate might care more if its a place they want to visit for their next CODEL like Seoul or Paris?  Maybe, but holy guacamole, who’s been on a CODEL to Albania or Timor-Leste in the last 12 months? Anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tomorrow’s News Today: This Week Could Potentially Be a Heck of a Mess!

– Domani Spero

 

 

The Googles tell me that For the Record is an investigative news magazine on TheBlaze. The show was created by Glenn Beck to “restore the truth” in journalism. We’ve never watched it but just so you know, the show is coming back this week.  It has released two three teasers on YouTube and Twitter; one on September 10, a second one on September 15 and another one on YouTube today.  All flashy clips alleging cover-ups and corruption in the State Department. If you’re an old time Foggy Bottom watcher, you will recognize many of the faces and the names. in these clips.

 

 

 

Here is one posted today on YouTube:

 

It appears from the short clips that this is related to the Richard Higbie case (see Higbie v. Kerry) and the still unresolved? non-public? ongoing? investigation on the CBS News allegations (see CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

In November last year, the OIG told us that “the eight cases to which you referred continue to be under review.”

This past spring, we’ve revisited this investigation without much success. (see Murders in Juárez …. And What About That State/OIG Report on Diplomatic Security?). Also  State/OIG Is Hiring! One Senior Investigative Counsel Wanted for Complex/Sensitive Allegations and State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

Today, State/OIG told us that as per OIG policy, the office has no comments to make on the status of any possible, pending, on-going or future investigation.

So upfront we must tell you that we don’t know the disposition of these investigations. What we know is that the show will go on tomorrow, September 17 at 8 pm. Due to the titillating and salacious contents of the CBS allegations, we suspect that this will attract enough eyeballs to make it to next day’s news cycle.

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State Department Denies Raymond Maxwell’s Document Scrub Allegations. Peeeeriod!!!!

Domani Spero

 

We did a blog post yesterday on former NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Raymond Maxwell and Benghazi (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

A Fox News report cited State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach denying the allegations:

“That allegation is totally without merit. It doesn’t remotely reflect the way the ARB actually obtained information,” he said in an email. He explained that an “all-points bulletin”-type request went out department-wide instructing “full and prompt cooperation” for anyone contacted by the ARB, and urging anyone with “relevant information” to contact the board. 

“So individuals with information were reaching out proactively to the Board. And, the ARB was also directly engaged with individuals and the Department’s bureaus and offices to request information and pull on whichever threads it chose to. The range of sources that the ARB’s investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information,” Gerlach said. He further noted that the leaders of the ARB have claimed they had unfettered access to information and people. 

Looks like that’s the press guidance.  Below is a clip of  the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, Marie Harf, responding to a question on Maxwell’s allegations using similar words — full indirect access, completely without merit, completely ill-informed, ARB co-chairs are of impeccable credentials, period. So she did not call the State Department’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State a liar, she just called him “completely uninformed.” Except that only one of the them was in that room.

Here is the text:

MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. Any accounts to the contrary, like that one you mentioned, are completely without merit, completely ill-informed. It was – these reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned. It collected its own documents directly from anybody in the Department. There was a Department-wide call for information to be given directly to the ARB; that’s what happened. The ARB’s co-chairs, Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, both public servants of impeccable credentials, have both repeated several times that they had “unfettered access” to all the information they needed, period.

 

One could argue that until he was dragged into this Benghazi mess, Mr. Maxwell, a career diplomat of over 20 years was also a public servant of impeccable credentials.  One who initially did not even have access  to what was written about him in the classified report of ARB Benghazi.

Of course, as can be expected, the GOP is embracing this new revelation, and the Dems are simply shrugging this off as old news.  We know that Mr. Maxwell had a grievance case that was dismissed in June this year, we blogged about it. (See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?).  But the allegation about this scrub had apparently surfaced about a year ago.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confirmed to FoxNews.com on Monday that Maxwell told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year about the attacks and their aftermath. Folks will question that because Mr. Chaffetz is not the most impartial individual to collaborate that story. But if there were Democrats present in that interview, would anyone be wiling to say anything, anyway?

Media Matters deployed its rapid response ninja calling Mr. Maxwell a “dubious source”:

Maxwell himself is a dubious source. He was placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board’s investigation found a “lack of proactive leadership” and pointed specifically to Maxwell’s department, saying some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.” A House Oversight Committee report released findings from the classified version of the ARB report, which revealed that the ARB’s board members “were troubled by the NEA DAS for Maghreb Affairs’ lack of leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi.”

 

Damn, where is that NEA DAS office for staffing and security issues in Benghazi here?

Extracted from DIPLOMATIC SECURITY | Overseas Facilities May Face Greater Risks Due to Gaps in Security-Related Activities, Standards, and Policies – GAO-14-655 June 2014 (click on image for larger view)

 

This will unfold with Raymond Maxwell either demonized or hailed a hero.   We don’t think he’s either; he’s just a dedicated public servant unfairly tainted by Benghazi who wants his good name back.  It looks like he’ll have to walk through fire before he gets a chance to do that.

We’ve heard about this document scrub allegation this past summer. We understand that there were others who were told about this incident last year. Some NEA folks reportedly also heard this story.

So why now?

Only Mr. Maxwell can answer that.  We hope he gets to tell his full story under oath before the Select Committee.

While we refused to see a conspiracy under every rug in Foggy Bottom, and we did not  support the creation of the Benghazi Select Committee, this changes it for us.

We just hope the Committee can keep its adult pants on and not turn the Benghazi hearings into a clownsport.

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State Department vs. Bill O’Reilly — Volleys Fired But Nothing to Do With Foreign Policy!

Domani Spero

 

Apparently, there is a war going on between the State Department and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and it has nothing to do with foreign policy or Benghazi! It all started with the following segment of the O’Reilly Factor. At the 2:04 mark, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“With all due respect, and you don’t have to comment on this,” O’Reilly told Rosen. “That woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers … it doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for that job.”

 

That did not sit well with Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman of the State Department, who fired a verbal projectile via Twitter:

 

On September 4, Ms. Harf also said this from the podium (mark 3:16 on this video clip):

“I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”

 

We are not a devotee of Mr. O’Reilly, but when the deputy spox picks a fight with the the most watched cable news program in the United States, we’ve got to ask — what was she thinking?  The deputy spokeswoman of the oldest executive agency ever, cannot have a disclaimer saying “tweets are my own.” What she says from the podium and what she tweets are as official as it gets. So this verbal tussle with Mr. O’Reilly is not between her and the cable anchor. None of the headlines says Marie Harf vs. Bill O’Reilly.  It is officially between the State Department and the cable anchor.  Some people may even infer that this is a fight that the Secretary of State signed on. Whether that is true or not, we don’t know. What we know is if it’s from the podium, it represents the official view of the agency and the U.S. government.

And because the other person in the ring is a cable anchor, this is what you get. Watch starting at mark 1:13

 

Mr. O’Reilly called the WH spox, Mr. Earnest “befuddled,” saying “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility.” Mr. O’Reilly, of course, did not say “that man looks uncertain to me.”  We hope Mr. Earnest doesn’t take it upon himself to fire his own objectiles from the White House podium.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Erik Wemple makes an important point:

“As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.”

 

Mr. O’Reilly did used the term “that woman” as opposed to saying , Ms. Psaki “looks way out of her depth over there.That Woman” is the title of the book on Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, one of the most vilified women in the 20th century. It is the title of a comedy drama movies in 1966 and in 2012.  “That woman” reminds us of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,“in the 1998 chapter of presidential history.  We can understand why that phrase may be objectionable, but the professional person at the podium does not have the luxury of becoming personally upset in public.

One commenter over in WaPo makes a lot of sense:

[N]o State Department spokesperson should wade into a verbal conflict with an American opinion show host (O’Reilly is NOT a “Fox News anchor”) …not on Twitter, and certainly not from the SD press room podium. [...] Had Ms. Harf not tweeted and her initial comments about his opinions had been in response to a press briefing question (unlikely), she could have just said, “We at State do not concern ourselves with the comments of an opinion show host. We have more important matters to attend to.” End of story; Harf looks like a pro. At this point, she looks like a teenage girl in a Facebook cat fight, and that reflects poorly on the State Department, the Obama Administration and our nation.

Ouch!

The official spokeswoman, Jen Psaki and her deputy Marie Harf came to the State Department from the Obama campaign.  Previously, Ms. Psaki was the deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Ms. Harf also worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.

People on the inside know that access means a great deal. It is not a given that assistant secretaries of public affairs and/or spokespersons see the secretaries they serve as often as they want.  The most notable exception may be Margaret Tutwiler who was Secretary Baker’s spokesperson and was famously quoted as saying, “If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

Ms. Tutwiler later contributed to ADST’s Oral History project and here is part of what she said (pdf):

“I have said before, and I firmly believe it, that podium was not my podium, I was not elected to anything, I am staff and serve at the President’s pleasure as a political appointee and the Secretary of State. …. I believed that part of the spokesman’s job is how you come through that TV screen. If you don’t look convincing and are just mouthing words, then you are not doing your job.”

 

We understand that there are folks in the building who yearn for “spokesmen and [spokes]women that used to be — the class acts that they were” — presumably, an assistant secretary-rank spokesperson speaking on behalf of the United States. Some of Ms. Psaki’s predecessors include Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Philip J. Crowley, FSO Sean McCormack , Ambassador Richard Boucher , James Rubin, and Margaret D. Tutwiler. We do recognize that a spokesperson is only as good as his/her access to the Secretary.  What good is an ambassador or AS-rank spokesman or spokeswoman if the Secretary does not trust him or her?   Secretary Kerry picked these individuals as his spokespersons, that’s his prerogative.  But they also represent the voice of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and sometimes, we fell like the spoxes never got off the campaign trail.

For instance, last year, Ms. Psaki was caught in a lie and had to release another statement acknowledging that her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  (see It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News). Asked where Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was at one point, she was unable to answer a very simple question.  The point is, even on topics, where we, the public expect a straight-forward answer, the podium is unable to do so. Did Egypt had a coup?  Transparency, anyone?  Just a very brief one on the QDDR at the top of your head?  Folks, over in YouTube, the Jen Psaki Greatest Hits is now on Episode 24. It is not/not fun to watch.

We’d like to think that they’re doing the best they can at these jobs.  Whether we approve of their performance or not, we imagine this can’t be easy work; some days it’s a tour of the world’s ever growing hotspots and spitholes of miseries.  The reporters will push to get their stories, that’s their job; and hey, that’s expected, no need to accuse them of “buying into Russian propaganda.” Of course, the spokespersons will not always have the answers that the press want.  But that’s an old story.  Perhaps, the most important point worth noting here is no matter how shitty the days may be, the official spokesperson or deputy spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State cannot, and should not be the story of the day.

Why?

If nobody is listening to them because people are talking about them, then the spoxes are not doing their real jobs, which is spoxplaining the administration’s policies.

Well … okay then, back to watching the lighthouse. Here’s Johnny Nash’s Sun-Shiny day:

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State Dept Asks A Most Important Question: Folks, the Internet Answers Are Not/Not Pretty

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, the official blog of the State Department posted the following on QDDR 2014:

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), initiated by Secretary Clinton, is an opportunity for State and USAID to look forward a generation at threats and opportunities, and ensure our capabilities, structures, and allocations of resources and personnel are maximizing our ability to advance.

Secretary Kerry has asked for the 2014 QDDR, the second iteration of this strategic review, to “be a blueprint for America’s success in this new world,” and “a product that guides a modern State Department and USAID and empowers our frontline diplomats and development professionals [to] get the job done.” As part of a process of continuous improvement, this QDDR will identify emerging policy and management priorities and the organizational capabilities needed to maximize the impact and efficiency of America’s diplomatic and development efforts.

At the request of Secretary Kerry, Special Representative Thomas Perriello joined the Department in February to conduct the 2014 QDDR and oversee its implementation. He is a former Member of Congress from Virginia who has worked extensively on transitional justice and conflict prevention overseas.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and Administrator Raj Shah serve as co-chairs to foster a participatory process that engages State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, the business community and the American public.

The State Department also posted the following video on the blog and in YouTube. Interested individuals are invited to send their ideas to QDDRideas@state.gov:

 

The State Department  then tweeted about it, and asked the Twitterverse about what it must think is a most important question.

 

The U.S. not only must right the world’s wrong, it must now also work on “improving the world?”

Oops! The AP’s Matt Lee tweeted what we were thinking.

 

A lucky thing the blog post and video went online on a holiday weekend. That said, the Internet, nonetheless, responded.  We’re sorry to report that the answers are not/not pretty. Below are the tamer selection:

 

 

 

 

Ouch!  This 21st Century public square is pretty wild. You never know who’s going to show up or what you’re gonna hear or who are going for the slug feast.  But a serious question; for purposes of the upcoming QDDR, how is this really helpful?

The current QDDR office is staffed with one special rep, Mr. Perriello, one deputy director, a staff assistant, two senior advisors and three policy analysts. This is the group tasked with engaging with State and USAID personnel, Congress, interagency partners, thought leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the business community. In addition, the same group presumably will have to comb through the submitted ideas the State Department is soliciting through QDDRideas@state.gov from the American public.  We’d like to see how much of the publicly generated ideas would make it to the QDDR 2014 report and how “a better job” would actually be measured.

We have to admit that our jaded slip maybe showing here but how come we feel as if this has a campaign flavor of sort? We’re almost afraid they’re going to ask us for $25 for a chance to have coffee with Mr. Perriello.  Sorry, that’s just us, sweet ones. If you’ve got ideas, they want it need it at QDDRideas@state.gov.

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Filed under Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Reorganization, Secretary of State, State Department, USAID