Category Archives: Interagency Cooperation

Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
[…]

In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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Filed under Congress, Consular Work, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Hearings, Interagency Cooperation, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Visas

FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?

– Domani Spero

 

The June 2014 issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes an article, Publishing in the Foreign Service by FSO Yaniv Barzilai, who is serving in Baku on his first overseas posting. He is the author of 102 Days of War—How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2013).  Below is an excerpt from that article with a prescription for the improvement of the pre-publication clearance process in the State Department.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the pre-publication clearance process. First and foremost, State must do a better job of adhering to the regulations it has set forth in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Anything short of that standard is unfair to everyone involved. 

Second, the department should establish clear guidelines on how it distributes material internally and across the interagency community. That threshold should have nothing to do with terms as vague as “equities.” Instead, offices and agencies should have the opportunity to clear on material only if that material is the result of “privileged information”: information that employees acquire during the discharge of their duties that is not otherwise available.

Third, State needs to ensure that former employees receive treatment comparable to current employees. A significant gap exists between the attention given to current employees by PA and that former employees receive from A/GIS/IPS/PP/LA. 

As that lengthy acronym suggests, former employees are relegated to an obscure office in the Bureau of Administration when they seek pre-publication clearance. In contrast, the PA leadership is often engaged and provides consistent oversight of the review process for current employees. This bifurcation not only creates unnecessary bureaucratic layers and redundancies, but places additional burdens on former employees trying to do the right thing by clearing their manuscripts. This discrepancy should be rectified.

These short-term fixes would go a long way toward improving the pre-publication clearance process for employees. In the long term, however, the State Department should consider establishing a publication review board modeled on the CIA’s Publication Review Board. 

A State Department PRB would codify a transparent, objective and fair process that minimizes the need for interagency clearance, ensures proper and consistent determinations on what material should be classified, and reduces the strain on the State Department at large, and its employees in particular.

Ultimately, State needs to strike a better balance between protecting information and encouraging activities in the public domain. The pre-publication review process remains too arbitrary, lengthy and disjointed for most government professionals to share their unique experiences and expertise with the American public.

Read in full here.

We totally agree that a publication review board is needed for State. Instead of parcelling out the work to different parts of the bureaucracy, a review board would best serve the agency.  We have some related posts on this topic on the Peter Van Buren case as well as the following items:

The rules and regulations for publishing in the Foreign Service can be found in the infamous Foreign Affairs Manual 3 FAM 4170 (pdf).  Last June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

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

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. We’ll have to wait and see if 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause survives the new version.

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Filed under AFSA, Book Notes, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Interagency Cooperation, Learning, Lessons, Peter Van Buren, Public Service, Realities of the FS, State Department

Photo of the Day: Secretary Kerry in Traditional Scarf Ceremony in India

– Domani Spero

Via state.gov

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry is in New Delhi for the 5th U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue,and is accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Other members of the interagency trip include Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Francis Taylor, and NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien. The State Department’s does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary for its Bureau of Energy Resources. Ambassador Carlos Pascual who announced he was stepping down as special envoy and coordinator for energy affairs has been succeeded by Amos Hochstein as acting special envoy and coordinator and Mr. Hochstein is accompanying Secretary Kerry to New Delhi.

Additional details of the trip available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Foreign Service, India, Interagency Cooperation, John F. Kerry, Regional Bureaus, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

QDDR II Walks Into a Bar and Asks, What Happened to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

– Domani Spero

The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is “a sweeping assessment of how the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats, but also new opportunities.” 

In July 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department, for the first time ever, will conduct a QDDR. The report from a 17-month review was released in December 2010.

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry, joined by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and recently appointed Special Representative for the QDDR, Thomas Perriello launched the State/USAID review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR II). Special Rep Thomas Perriello was appointed top QDDR II honcho by Secretary Kerry in February 2014. Previously, Mr. Perrielo served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014 (state.gov photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the public launch of the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) review process for the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) April 22, 2014
(state.gov photo)

Also yesterday at the DPB, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that The 2014 QDDR builds on the foundation established by the 2010 review as a part of Department and USAID’s processes of continuous improvement.” And because AP’s Matthew Lee was in attendance, it was quite a show (see Erik Wemple’s AP reporter scorches State Department spokeswoman on Hillary Clinton initiative over at WaPo).

We understand that the Deputy Secretary will also host a QDDR II Town Hall meeting in Foggy Bottom today.  Perhaps somebody could ask how the State Department is going to fix QDDR I’s offspring, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations?

Why fix it? Well, in March 2014, State/OIG posted its inspection report (pdf) of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). It looks like a huge mess and may need more than therapy.

The CSO was created in November 2011, as directed by the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to replace S/CRS and be “the institutional locus for policy and operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” as a whole of government endeavor.  CSO is one of eight bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The Under Secretary position was vacant for much of 2013— the second half of CSO’s 2-year existence.  Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • The mission of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains unclear to some of its staff and to many in the Department and the interagency. The bureau was established in 2011 but there remains a lack of consensus on whether coordination, analysis, or operations should dominate its mission.
  • The bureau does an inadequate job managing its large contingent of contractors. The inspection uncovered weaknesses in oversight, performance of inherently governmental functions, and incomplete contracting officer’s representative files. [Redacted] (b) (5)
  • Bureau practices violate basic Department regulations and procedures in several areas, including security, travel and hiring. Procedural and physical security programs require prompt attention.

But there’s more. The following bulleted items are extracted from the OIG report:

Leadership: Leading By Example

  • The Assistant Secretary’s leadership resulted in some progress toward establishing new directions for the bureau in a short time. There have been internal costs, however, as CSO struggles from a lack of directional clarity, lack of transparency, micromanagement, and re-organizational fatigue. The turnover of 54 percent of CSO staff between February 2012 and August 2013 created widespread internal suspicion and job insecurity in addition to confusion in the Department and the interagency.
  • The new noncareer leadership arrived with fresh models and analytics for conflict prevention and intervention, but some of them lacked basic understanding of the roles, responsibilities, and workings of the Department, especially of the regional and functional bureaus they are tasked to support.
  • The Assistant Secretary sought to demonstrate the bureau’s value to senior leaders in the Department and Congress in the bureau’s first year of operation. His early focus has been for CSO to operate where it can, rather than where it should. Relatively few of the bureau’s engagements to date have been in places or on issues of significant foreign policy importance.
  • In addition, the Assistant Secretary and several of his deputies promote a culture of bending and evading rules. For example, the OIG team heard in multiple interviews that CSO leadership loosely interpreted the level of bureau or embassy support for certain of its activities, arguing that doing so is justified by the urgent nature of its work and need to build a more innovative and agile bureau. Interviewees gave examples of disregard for the Department’s procedures, This laxity contributed to low staff scores for morale and leadership of some in the front office. The perceived CSO attitude that it does not have to follow [Redacted] (b) (5) rules is cited by some bureaus and ambassadors as reasons they seek to avoid working with CSO. The Assistant Secretary needs to lead by example and ensure that the deputies do the same.

Top-Heavy Bureau, Staffing “Churn” and Curtailments

  • Since the establishment of CSO, there have been curtailments in six of its 15 Foreign Service positions. The bureau had not been active in recruiting Foreign Service officers in the past, but for the past cycle it actively campaigned for candidates with some success.  Upon the departure of the remaining Foreign Service DAS, there will be no Senior Foreign Service officer in the front office.
  • Athough the bureau is new and its organizational structure in frequent motion, CSO has many relatively new, talented, and dedicated, staff who frequently impress bureaus and embassies when deployed. The staff includes Foreign Service, Civil Service , fellows, and contractors. They function in a chaotic atmosphere and sometimes lack familiarity with their portfolios and the Department.
  • The CSO front office promotes turnover among its staff to foster innovation. This philosophy creates considerable job insecurity and uncertainty. According to one study, 54 percent of CSO’s staff (direct hire and contractor) has turned over since the reorganization. The human resources team has started conducting exit interviews with departing staff to determine their reasons for leaving CSO.
  • Overseas deployments of 6 months or longer offer both opportunities and heavy responsibilities. Deployment burnout is evident as reported in interviews with staff and personal questionnaires, and the OIG team questions how long this model can endure.
  • The bureau is top-heavy. Its front office comprises the Assistant Secretary, a Civil Service Senior Executive Service principal deputy assistant secretary, two noncareer deputy assistant secretaries (DAS), a Senior Foreign Service DAS for administration, and two GS-15 senior advisors. In addition to the four DASes and two front office GS-15 advisors, CSO has 21 GS-15 and FS-01 positions.

The Traveling Band of Conflict Mitigators to Honduras, Nigeria Plus Conferences/Meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland — Oh, My!

  • In Honduras, CSO estimates the budget for its 2-year anti-violence program at $2 million. Six CSO staff in Washington support the program. According to CSO data, in FY 2013, 28 CSO staff members made 58 trips to Honduras, collectively spending 2,837 days there, at a cost of approximately $450,000. By contrast, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives employs one staff member in Washington and two in Honduras to oversee a similar but larger $12 million program.
  • In Nigeria, CSO estimates that its anti-violence program in the Niger Delta region will cost $5.6 million. The central component is a television series that will advocate nonviolent ways to address grievances. CSO estimates it will broadcast one hour of programming a week for 13 weeks. It hopes to complement the television series with support to community groups and local governments. CSO envisions maintaining three Washington-based staff members on long-term temporary duty assignments in Nigeria in FY2014 and hiring two more staff locally. It expects to devote up to eight staff—four to five full-time—in Washington to support the program. In August 2013, to prepare for the program and begin implementing it, CSO travelers spent 578 days in Nigeria at a cost in excess of $111,000.
  • Many CSO employees commented in OIG personal questionnaires and interviews that some front office travel to conferences and meetings, especially to Europe, appeared to be linked more to personal interests than to the bureau’s mission. During FY 2013, CSO employees took 17 trips to the United Kingdom, 7 trips to Belgium, and 6 trips to Switzerland. In one case, the PDAS and two other DASes were in London at the same time for different meetings.
  • Justifications provided in the approved requests for travel authorization and invitational travel often do not contain sufficient detail to link the trips directly to CSO goals. According to 14 FAM 533.4-1, authorizing officials must ensure that conference travel is necessary to accomplish agency goals. Likewise, Department policy on gifts of invitational travel in 2 FAM 962.1-8e (1) (b) states that travel must relate to an employee’s official duties and represent priority use of the traveling employee’s time. Without adequate justification, funds and staff time devoted to travel and trip support could be wasted. More transparency in the travel approval process also could increase staff understanding of the purpose of travel.

Morale needs duct tape over there!

  • OIG’s pre-inspection survey results reflected lower than normal morale among bureau staff, in terms of both personal and office morale. Ninety-six percent of CSO staff who completed personal questionnaires responded to questions on morale. The bureau average for office morale was 2.75 and for personal morale 3.09, on a 5-point scale. Bureau leadership sought to attribute these low scores to dissatisfaction among former S/CRS staff who, due to reorganization and other changes, perceived themselves as marginalized in the new bureau. The OIG team found that dissatisfaction was more widespread than this explanation suggested.
  • Comments on morale in the personal questionnaires cited many factors behind low bureau morale. The most common included cramped office space/lack of privacy (cited by 20 percent of the respondents); too many reorganizations and physical moves; pressure from senior management (including the Assistant Secretary and deputies) to bend, force, or evade Department regulations and hire favored candidates; top management’s philosophy of “churn” to prevent people staying in CSO for more than 3 years; lack of clear communication or inconsistent application of policies; shifting priorities; fear of retribution from senior management; and the residual impact of the reorganization and layoffs during the creation of CSO.
  • The status of the former S/CRS staff and the impact the reorganization had on them merits attention. Although some have been promoted to leadership positions, surveys and interviews with other S/CRS staff indicate they feel they are treated shabbily, are encouraged to leave because they no longer fit the organization’s new needs, and are not valued. CSO leadership needs to find ways to address these perceptions.

Integrated Not Replicated — Really?

  • Several Department offices and other agencies work on issues similar to CSO’s. For example, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor promotes democracy and the rule of law, including free and fair elections. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement trains police. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative manages programs that support democratic transition in the region. USAID has experience, infrastructure, and programs in place in most nations facing conflict.
  • USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has a mission statement almost identical to that of CSO. CSO and the Office of Transition Initiatives have worked together on several engagements with the participation of staff from both. The QDDR acknowledged that the capabilities of USAID and the Department often overlap. But their efforts must be integrated, not replicated. When asked about the imperative to engage in program activities overseas, many CSO staff told the OIG team that the bureau needs to implement overseas programs to be considered relevant and influential within the Department and interagency.

These are all troubling items, of course, and there’s more but this report is frankly, depressing to read. We should note that another disturbing content of the State/OIG report is the significant number of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints within CSO in the last year. The per capita rate of informal complaints from direct-hire employees according to State/OIG is five times the Department average. So the bureau tasked with “operational solutions for crisis, conflict, and instability” not only had a 54 percent turnover (see page 8) since reorganization, it also has five times the agency’s average in informal EEO complaints.

Maybe this sounds crazy — but we think that the bureau with “Stability Operations” on its name ought to have stability, steadiness and firmness in its operation before it starts “fixing”, “mitigating” or what have you in conflict areas.

Perhaps QDDR II will provide an opportunity to do just that?

If not, there’s always QDDR III in 2018.

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Filed under Contractors, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Hillary, Interagency Cooperation, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, Reorganization, State Department, USAID

Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.

Excerpt:

The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
[…]
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.

 

Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here: joshuafoust.com; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogs of Note, CIA, Congress, Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic Security, Federal Agencies, Foreign Service, Interagency Cooperation, Media, Questions, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department

US Embassy Mexico: Kept in the Dark on ATF’s Fast and Furious Escapades

Richard A. Serrano of LAT’s Washington Bureau reports that officials at the US Embassy in  Mexico raised concerns that U.S. guns were showing up at crime scenes in Mexico. But ATF officials kept the embassy in the dark about the operation to sell weapons to straw purchasers to trace smuggling routes.

If true, this is an excellent example of interagency uncooperation. Excerpt:

As weapons from the United States increasingly began showing up at homicide scenes in Mexico last summer, U.S. Embassy officials cabled Washington that authorities needed to focus on small-time operators supplying guns to the drug cartels.

Embassy officials did not know that at least some of the weapons were part of an ill-fated sting run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which illegal straw purchasers were allowed to buy guns so smuggling routes into Mexico could be traced. Ultimately, ATF lost track of an estimated 1,700 weapons that were part of the so-called Fast and Furious operation, which began in November 2009.

Active links added above. Read the whole thing here.

LAT has also obtained a copy of an SBU telegram (sensitive but unclassified) from US Embassy Mexico dated July 2, 2010 sent via SMART with the subject “Mexico Weapons Trafficking – The Blame Game.” The cable includes the names of the drafting officer, clearance officers (EXEC, POL, ATF, CBP, ICE). Click here to read the cable.

Fast and Furious was somebody’s dumb idea masquerading as a light bulb, approved by several somebodies who sign off on it. But nobody with spine and integrity has come forward to claim this exhibit in “poor judgment.” I’m waiting for a top dog to step to the podium and announced to all interested that “mistakes were made.”    

 
 
 

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State Dept OIG looked into SIPDIS captioned cables shared in the SIPRNet two years before WikiLeaks

In March 2008, the State Department’s Inspector General Office did a Review of Department of State Headquarters Cable Drafting and Distribution Process (Report Number OIG-SIA-08-03, March 2008).  It’s an unclassified report available online. You can read it here.

Nothing striking in that report which was conducted (1) to determine the adequacy of the rules and regulations that govern cable drafting and subsequent distribution and (2) to determine whether these rules and regulations are being followed. Its conclusion:

“This review found the majority of the rules and regulations governing cable drafting to be adequate. […]  It was found that cable drafting rules and regulations are being followed except for those pertaining to the protection of personally sensitive information. Nearly 12 percent of the unclassified randomly selected cables were found to contain personally sensitive information.”

This OIG review recommends that:

  • The Department of State determine and promulgate through Department Notices and the Foreign Affairs Manual the specific types of information that require protection as personally identifiable information, and
  • The Department require that individual cable access user privileges be based upon need-to-know requirements and be supervisory approved.

But here is the part of the report that I find interesting:

“This review is the first in a series of two reviews concerning the drafting and distribution of Department cables as they pertain to the protection of sensitive and classified information. The second review in this series will focus on the posting of Department cables to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) via the SIPRNet Distribution (SIPDIS) caption.”

As pointed elsewhere in the interwebs, the data sharing was a reaction to the demands of the post 9/11 world.  This paper publicly released in 2005 talks about the Net Centric Diplomacy as part of DOD’s Horizontal Fusion portfolio (Profiling and Testing Procedures for a Net Centric Data Provider by Derek Pack). The roll out at State presumably happened after 2005.   The fact that the OIG reviewed the SIPDIS captioned cables in the Net Centric Diplomacy project some time after its roll out indicate to us that there were concerns about it within the State Department.  Since the first part of the review was released in March 2008, we presume that the second part would have been concluded later that year or early in 2009.  We spent hours looking online for the second part of the review to no avail.

Before our eyeballs fell out, we decided to ask the OIG directly. Bless their souls, the press folks at the Inspector General’s Office actually respond to email inquiries, even from bloggers in tacky pjs.

Douglas Welty, State OIG’s Congressional Public Affairs Officer responded to our email inquiry with the following:

“The Office of Inspector General is closely following the current situation involving Department of State cables and WikiLeaks. As a part of our oversight responsibility, and as a follow-up to the March 2008 report you cite below, it would be appropriate for us to initiate a review of lessons learned and processes and procedures implemented to ensure the security of sensitive and classified Department information.”

Well, I thought good to know and that’s that.  But the following day we received  a follow-up response from the amazing Mr. Welty:

“I have been doing a bit more research and am able to confirm that there was an OIG report, issued in September 2008, subsequent to the one in March 2008 about which you originally inquired. It was titled “Review of the Process for Sharing Department Cables via the Net-Centric Diplomacy (NCD) Program. However, this was a CLASSIFIED report so it was not posted to our Website nor in any other way made available to the general public.”

We went and dug out the Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report to the Congress, April 1, 2008 to September 30, 2008. And it did have the following item on the Review of the Process for Sharing Department Cables via the Net-Centric Diplomacy Program (SIA-08-04):

“The Net-Centric Diplomacy (NCD) program was accomplishing its intended pur­pose of facilitating the sharing of classified and unclassified cables originating from the Department and overseas posts with other U.S. Government agencies that have Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) access. Some posts were not sharing cables with other government agencies via the SIPRNet distribution (SIPDIS) caption because of the mistaken belief that posting cables to the NCD database requires SIPRNet access. The Department had not provided adequate guidance regarding the specific types of personally identifiable information that should be excluded from cables posted to the NCD, so as to avoid the potential for violations of the Privacy Act.”

Anyway, so there, the OIG did review State’s the cable sharing with DOD two years before WikiLeaks.  But besides what we see in its publicly available report to Congress, no one can talk about its findings. And we can’t tell if there were any red flags cited because that report as Mr. Welty points out, is classified.

If you can convince State’s OIG to declassify this report, good luck!


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The downside to better information-sharing: the human factor aka rotten apple with a security clearance

Via WaPo by Ellen Nakashima: With better sharing of data comes danger: Excerpt

The American intelligence community came under heavy criticism after Sept. 11, 2001, for having failed to share information that could have prevented the attacks that day. In response, officials from across the government sought to make it easier for various agencies to share sensitive information – effectively giving more analysts wider access to government secrets.
[…]
“One of the consequences [of 9/11] is you gave a lot of people access to the dots,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former CIA general counsel. “At least one of the dots, apparently, was a bad apple.”

While WikiLeaks has not identified the source of the more than 250,000 cables, suspicions have centered on a 23-year-old Army private, Bradley Manning, who was also the suspected source of the military intelligence documents from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a series of chats with an online companion, Manning said this spring that “*someone* i know” – apparently a coy self-reference – had gained access to 260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates around the world “explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail.”

“Hilary Clinton [sic], and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public,” he said.
[…]
To prevent further breaches, the Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices. (Manning reportedly told an associate that he once copied data onto a CD labeled as Lady Gaga music.)

The Defense Department will limit the number of classified systems from which material can be transferred to unclassified systems. It will also require that two people be involved in moving data from classified to unclassified systems.

Such efforts “should have been done long ago before any of this happened,” said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. The rush to knock down so-called “stove-piping” without hardening operational security “was asking for trouble,” he said.
[…]
A former senior intelligence official said that over the past decade access to Siprnet has ballooned to about 500,000 or 600,000 people, including embassy personnel, military officials from other countries, state National Guard officials and Department of Homeland Security personnel.
[…]
He said that the answer to network breaches is not to restrict access but to improve the vetting of personnel by strengthening the clearance process.

“The fact that you’ve got someone exfiltrating information doesn’t mean you’ve got a technical problem,” he said. “You’ve got a human problem.”

Read the whole thing here.

The FS blog, Dead Men Working has an item here on the the leaks and security clearance.

We must confess that we fell off our horse when we read this item above: “Pentagon announced Sunday it had ordered the disabling of a feature on its classified computer systems that allows material to be copied onto thumb drives or other removable devices.”

Even after the previously war log leaks, the Pentagon only ordered the disabling of this function yesterday?

Holy mother of goat and all her wingnut nephews!
    
Elsewhere in the interwebs, it has been reported that Hillary Clinton has “ordered” FSOs to spy on diplomats in the UN, because see there’s a cable out there with her name at the bottom.

Ughh! Are they saying that she wrote all those cables that have her name on it?  Really? But ALL cables coming out of the State Department when the Secretary of State is not traveling will have “CLINTON” as sign-off signature, approved through multiple layers of the alphabet soup, functional and regional bureaus, etc. She does not actually write them, dudes. And when she is traveling, the sign-off signature changes to whoever is in charge of the building, like “STEINBERG” or “BURNS” (since new D/MR “NIDES” has not been confirmed yet).Yes, that building has a life of its own.

The same is true with the embassy cables. The leaked cables were the transmitted ones; they usually do not include the names of the writers.  And like the State Department cables, they all have the embassies’ chiefs of missions in the sign-off lines. Does it mean the ambassador is XYZ country wrote all those cables? Goodness, no! Would they be able to go anywhere else or do anything else if they were all tied to their desks?

We suspect that this leak will have several repercussions on process, access and and more, and most probably for the short term, make the embassy reporting jobs more difficult than they already are (Already, OMB under newly confirmed director, Jack Lew has issued a Nov 28 memorandum on WikiLeaks and the Mishandling of  Classified Information).  But after reading some of the published cables, we feel that this is middle bad, not top bad. That could quickly change if anyone, including sources named in these cables end up in a pickle, i.e. gets whacked.  Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations did call the leak “somewhere in the middle” when asked to rate this “diplomatic disaster” whether “bad, not so bad, or somewhere in the middle.” 

Benedict Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s Deputy Editor writes about the embarrassment of the leak which we thought makes some sense: 

[H]owever much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it’s a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom. Perhaps something better will pop up, but nothing I’ve read since last night’s surprises.
[…]
Effective diplomacy involves all the transgressions Wikileaks is exposing. Embarrassment is just the consequence of exposure. Perhaps the more sophisticated response is to stand firm, to assume a degree of worldiness from those involved in the world of diplomacy (who will for example enjoy seeing the US Secretary of State squirming about her UN spying operation, but only because theirs hasn’t been exposed as well), and to accept that occasional embarrassment is an occupational hazard in a 21st century marked by vast quantities of information circulating in all too accessible digital form.

True. Dat.  It’s not totally technology or system error, but also user error, the human factor aka: the rotten apple with a security clearance syndrome. Should information sharing now take a back seat for fear of rotten apples with thumb drives?  

Former diplomat and Wilson Center scholar Aaron Miller writes that “The republic will survive the WikiLeaks brouhaha; but there’s a lesson here for all of us: whether you’re in Washington or Kabul, think and think hard before you draft.” We agree about the survival of the republic but — do we really want our diplomats to be more politically correct than be brutally candid when reporting to our policy makers? What used would that be to our decision makers? 

And here the cables are called “insulting [to] world leaders.” You should read what foreign diplomats wrote about George W. and our congressional leaders.  Oh, right, you can’t — those are all in secret diplomatic channels going overseas, too.  Secret for now until WL gets there.

We do think that in the future, it would be nice if there’s a well tested fire extinguisher right over there before somebody shouts the order to bring the “stove-pipe” walls down.      

In any case, to those who are shocked, shocked at reading these leaked cables — a simple perspective on the diplomatic tradecraft:  The foreign diplomats in WashDC, the UN in NYC and elsewhere around the United States are there for the view. Really.


Update @ 8:31 pm.

The Secretary of State has just completed her 1pm EST press appearance addressing the leaks. We will post video/text here as soon as they are available.

 


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Will New Embassy Addis Ababa go on staggered lunches from 9am-3pm?

Lunch at NyalaImage by faria! via Flickr

I’m not trying to be funny. Really.  See — the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Addis Ababa is set to open later this year. It will be sub-Saharan Africa‘s largest with room for 568 mission employees. But its cafeteria apparently only fits 80 hungry folks.  Unless OBO do something, the embassy presumably will have to cope with staggered lunch hours. For the cafeteria to feed most of the working folks at the embassy, it has to have at least 7 lunch hour seatings.  Perhaps start serving lunch at 9 am and ending at 3 pm? Or they can have strict half hour lunches starting at 11:00 and ending at 2:00? What? But they all have to eat ….    

Below is an excerpt from the OIG report:

The new embassy in Addis Ababa, with space for 568 employees, will be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest. Although the facility was originally designed for 472 employees, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations enlarged it to accommodate 96 additional employees after the project was awarded. The mission had not anticipated the exceptionally rapid growth in USAID, CDC, and military and law enforcement operations when the original planning numbers were created. The new embassy project director has coordinated with each agency that will occupy the building to assign spaces and to accommodate new requirements. Space remains tight, particularly in the controlled access area, with pressure to fit in additional USAU and military positions.
[…]
The new embassy’s cafeteria has seating room for only 80 people, a serious issue in an embassy with 568 employees and no restaurants nearby. The cafeteria was sized far too small for the original 427 occupants of the building, even before an additional 96 positions were added to the building plan. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has offered no solutions to this problem, leaving it to the embassy to cope.
[…]
Embassy Addis Ababa’s 2011 Mission Strategic Plan requests only one additional U.S. direct-hire position, an information systems officer. In addition, although not reflected in the strategic plan, USAID expects to request NSDD-38 approval for 15-30 U.S. employees and 30-50 locally employed staff to manage and support the President’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. USAID Washington hopes to assign at least ten development leadership initiative positions (akin to the Depart- ment’s entry-level officer positions) to the USAID mission in Addis Ababa, including positions in contracting and finance. None of these positions has been approved via the required NSDD-38 process, nor is there space in the new embassy building for this level of growth.
[…]
The embassy does not currently require all agencies to use the NSDD-38 process to request permission to add U.S. personal service contract employees to their staff. These personnel, however, consume the same embassy resources as a U.S. direct-hire employee, including office space, housing, and other ICASS services. They also fall under chief of mission authority for security and other purposes. If the mission does not request NSDD-38 approval for U.S. personal services contractors, agencies can add positions without regard to the effect that they will have on overall mission resources.

Related Item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010


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OIG recommends precondition for continued TDY of Media Information Support Team (MIST) in Addis Ababa

In the mistImage via Wikipedia

Here we continue peeling off the 91-page onion provided us by the Office of the Inspector General on US Embassy Addis Ababa.  

In 2009, AFRICOM released a Fact Sheet on MIST:

Military Information Support Teams (MISTs) are funded by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCCOM) and support Department of State and U.S. Embassies by augmenting or broadening existing public diplomacy efforts. The MIST’s partnerships with their respective U.S. Embassy Country Teams have demonstrated their ability to successfully provide advice and assistance to partner nations in the development of information activities. Synchronized with embassy goals and objectives and with Country Team oversight, the teams articulate USG messages by informing, clarifying and persuading foreign audiences. MISTs primarily work in coordination with partner nation agencies in support of U.S. and partner nation’s objectives, policies, interests and U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Cooperation objectives.

Sounds good on paper. Not to mention the funding they get which dwarfs PD funding at the embassy level.

The most recent OIG report on US Embassy Addis talks about DOD’s Media Information Support Teams (MIST) in Ethiopia:    

Reflecting the increased U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, Embassy Addis Ababa currently has a four-person Department of Defense media information support team. Members of the team are not covered under the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 38 process and are in Addis Ababa under a long-term but purportedly temporary arrangement. They report locally to the Defense attaché and ultimately to their command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Office space for the team has become contentious in that there is no room for them as temporary employees in the already overly subscribed-for new embassy compound, and their current quarters are slated for destruction. The team appears to have limited understanding of chief of mission authorities and would benefit from tighter oversight and integration into the mission. For example, they believe that only the chief of mission can instruct them and thus that there is no need for approval of their projects by the public affairs officer. Without at least informal coordination with the public affairs officer, however, the OIG team believes that the military information support team will continue not to fully factor into their proposals and activities the sociocultural context of Ethiopia. The OIG team left an informal recommendation that the chargé d’affaires meet with the military information support team to discuss better coordination with the public affairs section, as a precondition for continued temporary duty in Ethiopia. Further, the Ambassador could insist that the team take direction from the public affairs officer, who would submit formal input for their annual performance reviews. This practice has worked well at other missions with a military information support team.

A further OIG team concern is that the military information support team spends significant time and resources in identifying and developing projects – and leading local contacts to assume they will be awarded a contract – before vetting proposals with relevant mission elements. With such sunk costs, other embassy offices generally pass these projects on with only minor edits rather than a serious review. A better practice would be to coordinate the projects with the public affairs and political/economic sections earlier on.

“Limited understanding” of chief of mission (COM) authority, of course, can spell big trouble for the country effort. Ambassador Charles Ray (formerly to Cambodia) has an informative piece (with real examples) and some interesting questions on Defining Lines of Authority in a 2009 issue of the Armed Forces Journal:

During nearly 47 years of combined military and civilian service, I have noted that conflicts over who is in charge arise from two main causes: lack of understanding by both military and civilian about each other’s cultures, and lack of clearly stated lines of authority in nontraditional situations.
[…]
Military units, particularly those deployed abroad for short-term missions like NEOs, cannot be expected to be sensitive to or even aware of the foreign policy situation. But then, that is why the president has vested authority for coordination in the COM.

In 2008, Ambassador Robert Gribbin (formerly to Rwanda and Central African Republic) also wrote in American Diplomacy about COM authority:

“[T]he ambassador has absolute authority over personnel and operations in his or her country of assignment. We should think about and treat non-resident AFRICOM personnel exactly as we considered previous command elements. Visitors need country clearances. JCET (exercises), IMET and ACOTA (training), FMS (sales), TSCTP (anti-terrorism), and other programs, training, and exercises are subject to ambassadorial approval. Only CJTFHOA (Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa) forces — 1500 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti — fall under the operational command of a CoCom (formerly called a CINC), which is currently CENTCOM (as the shift to AFRICOM control has yet to be effected). In accordance with existing practice such combat elements enjoy a separate chain of command, even though their in-country, non-combat activities — drilling wells in Djibouti for example — remain subject to ambassadorial oversight. Since aside from CJTFHOA, AFRICOM does not anticipate stationing additional combat personnel on the continent, i.e., no other bases, exceptions to chief of mission authority should not occur elsewhere.

In addition to misinterpretation of lines of authority and cultural disconnect, we have to recognize the elephant in the room – funding inequities.  I don’t know how much MIST has for Addis Ababa but the OIG report indicates that the embassy’s actual FY 2009 budget for public diplomacy was $529,100 (with public diplomacy representation at $6,800). However much it is, you can be sure that the MIST money is more than the embassy’s PD budget (see page 39).  Just an example, in Somalia, the Embassy reportedly had $30,000 to spend on public diplomacy while the MIST team had $600,000.  Let’s think about that for a moment. Over there, DOD gets to spend 20 times more than the Embassy on public diplomacy efforts.  Tell me again, that money has nothing to do with the bad equation.

Related Item: 
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010


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