Category Archives: Huh? News

Churn News — Conflict & Stabilization Bureau’s Top Official to Step Down

– Domani Spero

 

Secretary Kerry was still on his around the world trip when his office released the following August 13 statement on Rick Barton’s resignation as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO).

After five years in the Administration, the last three as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), Ambassador Rick Barton has announced his resignation, effective September 30.

Assistant Secretary Barton has provided bold leadership in establishing a new bureau to prevent and respond to conflict and crises worldwide, laying the groundwork for civilian-led efforts to break cycles of violence. Under Rick’s stewardship, CSO took on some of the toughest cases from Syria and Somalia to Honduras, Burma, Kenya and Nigeria. CSO delivered practical solutions through sound management that used the taxpayers’ money efficiently.

Rick will leave behind a legacy of impact and innovation, harnessing data-driven analysis and leveraging partnerships with local groups to tackle the root causes of destabilizing violence. His focus, creativity and optimism have made him a most welcome presence on my team as we work with our allies to resolve seemingly intractable conflicts.

I thank Rick for his vision and leadership, and I look forward to continued partnership with the stabilization team he has built at State.

More information on the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations is available on Twitter and Facebook. For more background on the State Department’s work on civilian security, democracy, and human rights, follow @civsecatstate or visit www.state.gov/j.

 

Wow, who writes this stuff?

Mr. Barton was actually confirmed on March 29, 2012 as Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. He assumed office on April 3, 2012. Previous to assuming his CSO position, he was with ECOSOC (See Officially In: Frederick Barton to UN ECOSOC).

His official bio says that in 2013, he received a Distinguished Honor Award from the Department “in recognition of your groundbreaking work to create the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, promote peacebuilding and empower women, youth and other change agents seeking peaceful change in their communities and societies.”

In March 2014, the Office of Inspector General released its blistering inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The report gave us a sad and we blogged about it here. (See QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?).  The 2014 OIG report famously noted CSO’s top management philosophy of “churn” to prevent people from staying in CSO for more than 3 years.

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Filed under Assistant Secretary, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Reorganization, Resignations, State Department

Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos)

– Domani Spero

 

Today is the last day of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. According to the White House, this is the first such event of its kind: “the largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government.”  The August 4-6 Summit is intended to advance “the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlights America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”

While Africa’s worst human rights abusers did not get their invitations, repressive leaders who have been in power for some twenty-years or more did, and are also in town to network with CEOs and talk about peace, regional stability, investing in Africa’s future and  enhancing governance. Jeffrey Smith, a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Todd Moss, a former senior U.S. State Department official argues that “A robust U.S.-Africa policy for the 21st century cannot be built with these remnants of an old guard who play the terrorism or oil card to deflect legitimate criticism and stifle democracy.” Read more of that here. WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog has an interesting table of African leaders invited to attend the summit, sorted by their country’s most recent Polity IV scores, which characterize how democratic or autocratic a state is.

These remnants of the old guard, of course, brought their first ladies with them.How can we ignore them? Here are the six members of that thankfully, shrinking club:

Mrs. Chantal Biya
President Paul Biya has been President of the Republic of Cameroon since 1982

32 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon, and Mrs. Chantal Biya, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

The second wife of President Paul Biya of Cameroon has a fashion style that refused to be ignored. Her pink gown and headdress are enchanting, we dare you to look away. She has a community fan page on Facebook that has more colors than an HTML color chart. Check her out here in 1994 when she married President Paul Biya.  How things have changed.  Her hair now makes news when she comes to town and it even has its very own Tumblr page at http://chantalbiyahair.tumblr.com.  In 2011, PEN USA ran a campaign to protest the imprisonment of author, Bertrand Teyou who wrote the book, La belle de la république bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais (The belle of the banana republic: Chantal Biya, from the streets to the palace). He was sentenced to a two-year imprisonment for ‘insulting’ the president’s wife.

This couple has been married for 20 years but her husband has been president of Cameroon for much longer; since 1982, so 32 years to be exact. Gosh, remember 1982?  The Falklands War, Menachem Begin & Anwar Sadat in Washington DC.; also ABBA’s final public performance? In any case, she’s here in awesome pinkness. The world has not seen such flamboyance since Imelda Marcos made a splash.

 Mrs. Hinda Deby Itno

Idriss Deby Itno has been the President of the Republic of Chad since  1990

24 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Idriss Deby Itno, President of the Republic of Chad, and Mrs. Hinda Deby Itno, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

 WaPo called the current Mrs. Deby, “the “fourth lady” of Chad or the 13th, depending on whom you ask.” She married President Deby in mid-2000s and “captivated the capital in a way unseen before in this male-dominated society.”Educated in Morocco, France and a college in Montreal, she was reportedly friendly with Brahim, Deby’s son, who “dabbled in college courses.” That’s the presidential son who was killed in Paris in 2007. If this president remains in power until 2019, he’d be in office for 29 years, her age when they got married. Under Deby’s leadership, Chad has been persistently ranked as one of the world’s most poverty-stricken countries, despite abundant natural reserves of oil, uranium and gold according to CBS News.  Mrs. Deby is reportedly known for being well-spoken and for her flowing designer gowns and matching head scarves. Meet the First Lady of Chad in her gorgeous gold and electric blue gown.

 

 Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang

Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in office since 1979

35 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, and First Lady Constancia Mangue de Obiang, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

Who’s Africa’s worst dictator? Probably not Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe but Equatorial Guinea’s very own “whose life seems a parody of the dictator genre,” according to Peter Maass. He is as much as a “nightmare” as Robert Mugabe, except that his country has oil, lots of oil, and ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Chevron, and other firms have apparently invested more than $10 billion to extract the black gold. Read his page on CBS’ The World’s Enduring Dictators, he’s a real cupcake. Mrs. Obiang was born in 1952 in the town of Angong, near Mongomo, and according to this, she studied in the school run by nuns in Bata. She was reportedly a graduate of the Martin Luther King University School of Teacher Training. Last year, she was proclaimed “the epitome of perfection”, and “Mother Africa” by a New York-based group. She attended the WH dinner in an embroidered blue caftan.

Chantal Compaoré

Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987

27 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, and Mrs. Chantal Compaoré, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

CBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants).  His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) Wow! Who’s been editing Mrs.Compaoré’s Wikipedia page? The couple has been married since 1985, so way before that October 1987 coup d’état that killed his predecessor.  Mrs Compaoré attended the WH dinner in her lemon and gold caftan.

Queen Inkhosikati La Mbikiza

King Mswati III has been the leader of Swaziland since 1986

28 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Majesty King Mswati III, Kingdom of Swaziland, and Her Royal Highness Queen Inkhosikati La Mbikiza, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

In 2011, The Times of India reported: “King Mswati III has a Rolls Royce, 13 palaces and 14 wives, and just received a pay increase, even as a cash crisis forced Swaziland to slash spending, feeding anger against his regime.”The World’s Enduring Dictators notes that “His most heinous act appears to be living an opulent lifestyle “fit for a king” while his country languishes in extreme poverty.”According to BBC News, Queen Inkhosikati La-Mbikiza, is the king’s third wife and was chosen at a reed dance where apparently, no one can object to the king’s choice.That BBC News story and this apple green-black ensemble made us weep.

Mrs. Zineb Jammeh

Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh has been the President of the Republic of The Gambia since 1994

20 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia, and Mrs. Zineb Jammeh, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

President Yahya Jammeh took control of the country in a military coup in 1994 and has won four re-elections since then. According to her official profile, Mrs. Jammeh was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1977 to Ambassador Soumah, “a well respected career diplomat from the distinguished Guinean Soumah family and Mrs. Soumah who hails from Morocco.” Next year, President Jammeh will be in power for 21 years, Mrs. Jammeh’s  age when they got married.  Her profile says: “Madam Jammeh who holds a Diploma in International Systems and Management is currently involved in an extremely busy career as the Gambia’s beloved First Lady.” Mrs. Jammeh attended the WH dinner in her very understated long, blue dress, overshadowed by her husband’s sparkling white kaftan. We understand that those kaftans had to be “waxed and beaten with wooden mallets to create a stiff shiny cloth” before such clothing can be born.

See the rest of the photos from the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit White House dinner here.

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Filed under Africa, Countries 'n Regions, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Huh? News

State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
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CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

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Filed under Bugs, Consular Work, Contractors, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Legacy, Security, Spectacular, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology, Technology and Work, Visas

U.S. Congressman Loves Bollywood, Mistakes U.S. Officials for Indians Visiting Congress

– Domani Spero

 

You’ve probably seen this last week, but if you haven’t, here is a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Florida’s 19th district, who the Miami Herald called, the “latest inductee to the Sunshine State’s face-palming club. USAToday notes that the congressman won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust.

Via The Cable’s John Hudson:

House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.  The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.

 

The hearing was on U.S.-India Relations Under the Modi Government.  Nisha Biswal is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the State Department.   Prior to her appointment as State, she was with USAID. Previously, she also served in the House of Representatives,  as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee (HACFO) and as professional staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where she was responsible for South Asia.  Arun Kumar is the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

According to USAToday, Mr. Clawson said, “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize.  I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.”  He has reportedly apologized to both A/S Biswal and DG/FCS Kumar according to Tampa Bay Times. On Saturday, A/S Biswal tweeted this:

 

 

Still, doesn’t that make you wonder — he wasn’t “fully briefed?”  What was he doing there?   He wasn’t listening to the introductions?  He had a “dog ate my homework” moment?  He never meet U.S. officials of color before?

Peter Beinart writes that the silly gaffe is revealing of our society where whiteness is still a proxy for being American.

He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.

In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
[...]
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.

A couple related posts that you might want to check out  —  Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from? and  Video of the Week: “But we’re speaking Japanese” 日本語喋ってるんだけ

Maybe we’ll start a series of getting to know our official USG representatives.

As a side note, these Indian-American officials do not have it easy. When they go to India on behalf of the U.S. Government, they’re told“It is a bad idea for the U.S. to send Indian-American diplomats here. They end up having to prove their loyalty to the U.S. more than others, and it doesn’t help us.” 

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US Embassy Libya: “…almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff”

– Domani Spero

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

Via state/gov/DPB/July 15, 2014:

QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?

MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.

Meanwhile in the “why are we still in Tripoli edition?”our ambassador tweets this:

 

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Headline Triggered-Senate Confirmations: Michael Lawson (Plane Down), Eunice Reddick (Drones)

– Domani Spero

 

On July 21, the Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice votes:

 

Maybe there’s a bored Hollywood film producer willing to construct multiple fake events and get this Senate moving?

It seems like this is the trend in the Senate these days.  The chance for confirmation in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” seems to jump by quite a bit, and speeds up in a hurry  when a particular country hits breaking news.   The nominations for Iraq, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Qatar … were all walked relatively quickly.  Those going to the islands may have a longer wait.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine.  This week, we finally have our ambassador to Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), freshly confirmed after a 10-month wait.

Ambassador Reddick was confirmed for the US Embassy in Niger after almost a year of wait. Excuse me, Niger, what the heck is going on there?  What —  drones in Niger?

Don’t worry if we’re now going on five months with no ambassador to Moscow.  That Russian bear has been growling rather badly, so by next week, it looks like we’ll finally get a newly confirmed ambassador for Moscow.  That is, if the Senate has been reading the news with eyes wide open.  

We expect all these officials will have chips implanted in their brains and will have no need for time to transition to their new responsibilities. They’ll just know it and do it. They may not even need to do pack out or make travel arrangements for family and pets either.   A heck of a time to move house when things are falling apart almost everywhere.  No matter.  We’ll just beam them all up to their next posts. And just like that, with a push of a button, we’ll erase all those wasted months of waiting.

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Photo of the Day: Casual Tuesday in Beijing

– Domani Spero

 

Secretary Kerry, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus visit the Great Wall of China prior to the U.S.-#China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. More photos here where our ambassador has, we’re told “clearly been cropped out of the photos …probably because he looks so ….so… really… a polo?”

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Maybe there’s a new dress code?

Photo via state.gov

Photo via state.gov

 

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

– Domani Spero

 

A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[...]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
[...]
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
[...]
The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[...]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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US Embassy Kenya: Also “Relocating” Staff to Other Countries #NotAnEvacuationEither

– Domani Spero

 

At the Daily Press Briefing on June 16, 2014, the State Department spox said this about the relocation of Embassy Baghdad personnel to Basra, Erbil and Amman Jordan (US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan):

QUESTION: Would you call this an evacuation?

MS. PSAKI: No, we would not.

QUESTION: Is it just a chance to have some members of the embassy work remotely?

MS. PSAKI: It is a situation, Lucas, where we evaluate the security and – on the ground. And at our posts and embassies around the world we made a decision that the right step here was to relocate some of our staff to other parts of Iraq and to a supporting neighboring country and so that’s the step we took and that’s why we took it.

QUESTION: And –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: — hold on. Just to follow up –

MS. PSAKI: But let me reiterate one thing: Our embassy staff and our embassy is open and operating. Our diplomatic team at the highest levels is engaged closely with the Iraqis and that will continue.

QUESTION: But it just has a fifth of the amount of personnel as it did before.

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specific numbers, but again, a range of these employees are temporarily relocating – temporarily – to some other areas in Iraq, and again a close neighboring country.

A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world's largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

MOCK EMBASSY EVACUATION | A landing craft air cushioned assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 arrives to offload vehicles supporting a mock embassy evacuation during Rim of the Pacific 2008. RIMPAC is the world’s largest multinational exercise and is scheduled biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Participants include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Pels

 

Today, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Kenya. It further announced that the Embassy is “relocating some staff to other countries” but that “the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.”  The relocation is not specifically called “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  The announcement only says “some staff”and it is not clear whether these are family members or non-essential personnel they are evacuating relocating.  We take it this is not considered an evacuation either?  Is this a new trend? When can we see this in the DSSR? (Also see US Embassy Kenya: Isn’t That Travel Warning Odd or What?).

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Kenya.  U.S. citizens in Kenya, and those considering travel to Kenya, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.  Due to the terrorist attack on June 15 in Mpeketoni, in Lamu County, the U.S. Embassy instituted restrictions on U.S. government personnel travel to all coastal counties – Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and the coastal portion only of Tana River County.

Based on the recent changes in Kenya’s security situation, the Embassy is also relocating some staff to other countries.  However, the Embassy will remain open for normal operations.  This replaces the Travel Warning of May 17, 2014, to update information about embassy staffing and current travel recommendations.

The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings – to include car bombings – kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports.  Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.  Travelers should consult the Worldwide Caution for further information and details.

Read in full here.

We should note that the State Department’s Family Liaison Office does not have any current guidance for employees on temporary relocation due to an official non-evacuation.

Makes one wonder how these employees on temporary relocation are assisted by the government. Were they all issued TDY orders to other countries? Were they sent on early R&Rs?  How about their family members?

See — an evacuation status is authorized by the Under Secretary of State for Management in 30-day increments, up to a maximum of 180 days, per DSSR 623f.  When an evacuation is declared, a Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) is given to official evacuees.  “Transitional separate maintenance allowance” TSMA is also granted to assist employees with additional costs they incur when their family members are required to occupy temporary commercial housing while establishing permanent housing in the U.S. following an evacuation and the conversion of the post to an unaccompanied status.

If this is in fact a “temporary relocation” with staffers sent on TDYs,there would be no evacuation orders, and there would be no evacuation allowances paid to staffers or family members relocated to other countries. The 180-day clock will not starting running.

If this is called a “temporary relocation” but staffers and/or family members are issued evac orders, granted evacuation allowances and the 180 day clock is on, then this is in fact an evacuation even if it’s not called that; and we’ll need a new State Department dictionary.

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Tweet of the Day: US Embassy London to Get Nap Rooms?

– Domani Spero

 

Seriously, can you imagine what this is going to do to your bidlists?

 

Via HuffPost UK

The United States embassy in London plans to install nap rooms to stop its diplomats from getting too tired, the American ambassador to Britain has indicated.

Matthew Barzun made the pledge during an event at the embassy on Monday afternoon alongside Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

During a Q&A session with embassy staff, Huffington encouraged Barzun to follow the example set by the HuffPost New York office and dedicate a space to allow staff to rest. Following enthusiastic reception from his staff, Barzun declared the suggestion was “so moved”. He added: “We’re going to look at nap room locations.”

 

Click here to see 10 successful corporations that already let employees catch some shuteye during work hours in an effort to boost employee productivity, alertness and general health. Early this year, digital marketing startup HubSpot had an office expansion, which of course, includes this nap room with a hammock!  We don’t know what’s the work hours like for these companies but a technology start-up AskforTask.com set up a nap room to help ease fatigue among its web developers who were working long hours.  Apparently some were working as long as 70 hours per week. Do we have that kind of work hours anywhere?

To balance out all that excitement, best read BBC’s Nap Rooms Gone Bad.

Oops! A search over at OPM provides zero results on nap breaks.  OPM does have this to say — Combination With Rest Periods Prohibited:  “An agency may not extend a regularly scheduled lunch break by permitting an employee to take an authorized rest period (with pay) prior to or immediately following lunch, since a rest period is considered part of the employee’s compensable basic workday.”DOL also has nothing on nap breaks. Government rules will probably need to catch up on this new trend. And yes, we can already envision the circus in Congress.

If this is implemented, the embassy’s time and attendance clerk will need a new SOP. Who will be eligible to use the nap rooms and for how long — generalists, specialists, FSNs, contractors, charforce, guards, all of the above, some of the above?  Who gets the nano-nap, the micro-nap,  the mini-nap or the power nap? The embassy may also need to hire a scheduler for the nap rooms.  Also, who will wake up employees if they oversleeps or if they get nightmares during their naps?  Would this potentially be grounds for grievance – somebody could not get a power nap, did not get a boost in productivity, hence was not promoted at the first opportunity?

Hold on, we’re on the bureaucracy’s uncharted country.

 

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