Category Archives: Leaks|Controversies

USAID’s undercover Latin youth — whose brainchild is this, pray tell (video)

– Domani Spero

 

Read more here. Documents about this program is at http://apne.ws/UxJ05x.

Whose brainchild is this, pray tell.

Alan Gross, the  65-year-old American citizen mentioned in this article has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. His family has mounted a petition demanding Mr. Gross’ “immediate release” and  that “the Cuban and U.S. governments sit down and resolve Alan’s case.”

This morning, USAID released a statement about what it calls, the AP’s “sensational claims,”excerpt below:

Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to “tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.” But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

USAID remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies–particularly in places where we do not have a USAID mission and governments are hostile to U.S. assistance–with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments. In the end, USAID’s goal is to continue to support democracy, governance and human rights activities in multiple settings, while providing the maximum transparency possible given the specific circumstances.

A couple of items from that USAID statement: 1)   “the Cuban people and many others in the global community,” does that mean this happened in Cuba and elsewhere?; 2) “with our commitment to transparency” — USAID’s Cuba programs data available publicly at foreignassistance.gov only covers FY2013 and 2014 and not the years covered by the AP report. USAID also would not tell the AP how much the Costa Rica-based program cost.

These young “aid workers” from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru sent to Cuba could have been arrested and jailed for 10 years for the work they did for USAID, and the agency would have been able to claim that these are not USG employees.  The US has not been able to effect the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross, would it be any more successful intervening for the release of foreign nationals who are not?  Also, the notion that you can run democracy promotion operations like this in certain parts of the world and that it will not have a dangerous blowback against USAID employees advancing development work in other parts of the world, is frankly, lunacy.

Does USAID have a scenario planned for what happens after a ‘Cuban Spring’unfolds in Cuba? Is it publicly available at fomentingchange.gov?

Just a reminder, the nominee for USAID OIG, in case you’re wondering has been waiting for Senate confirmation since July 2013 (see Officially In: Michael G. Carroll – From Deputy IG to USAID/OIG).

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US Embassy Ghana’s Errant Tweet Sparks Social Media Rumpus, Demo on July 25

– Domani Spero

 

 

Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet.  One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”

SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”

Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:

“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”

According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”

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The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack

– Domani Spero

Big scoop via WaPo today:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assaults has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured Sunday near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Read in full: U.S. captures Benghazi suspect in secret raid.

The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also released the following statement:

 I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15 the U.S. Military — in cooperation with law enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

Below is a collection of tweets on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently was not shy about giving interviews to the media in the past year or so:

 

Here is also a Reuters interview from 2012 —  Mystery deepens about US enemy No. 1 in Libya. Yesterday, a day after Khattala was captured,but before it was publicly released, there apparently was an ugly Benghazi panel over in D.C. WaPo’s Dana Milbank reports about that here. Politico wades in, also the Daily Beast here.

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Peter Spiro: Donor diplomats are embarrassing. Let’s get rid of them — Wait, What?

– Domani Spero

In 2009, David Rothkopf, a former Clinton deputy under secretary of commerce for international trade policy asked: “If a job is meaningless enough to be entrusted to someone who is unqualified to do it, do we really need to fill that post?”  Mr. Rothkopf is currently the CEO and Editor of the FP Group.  In an interview with NBC then, Mr. Rothkopf gave a two-pronged argument for nixing these posts: “First, if you can appoint someone who has no experience for the job, you can’t really value that job —someone else, who knows what’s going on, is doing the real work of the embassy; and Second, the job is outdated, created hundreds of years ago to bring sealed missives from one country to another.”

Now, Peter Spiro has written an op-ed against ambassadors.  He’s not even asking, he’s just giving it to you straight up — donor diplomats are embarrassing, get rid of them. Excerpt below:

For anyone looking to take a cheap shot at Washington, ambassadors are the gift that keeps on giving. In every administration — Republican or Democrat — individuals of no particular talent beyond their prodigious fundraising skills are picked and sent off to represent the United States in posh locales. Inevitably, some of them will manage to embarrass themselves, either before they leave or, worse, after they arrive.
[…]
Embassy appointments will be decoupled from patronage only after they are turned into less appealing prizes. And in many places, we don’t need ambassadors anymore at all. So here’s a modest proposal: Let’s just get rid of them.
[….]
So, how do we get rid of ambassadors? The drawdown should start with the posts coveted by incompetent fundraisers: Paris, London, Rome. Embassies in key friendly states do have visas to process and play some continuing role coordinating run-of-the-mine policy at the staff level. But the largely ceremonial function of the ambassador has become dispensable. Would our relationship with countries like the United Kingdom, France and Canada be damaged if no ambassador were in residence? Probably not. Ambassadors in those cushy posts are more in the business of cutting ribbons and hosting cocktail parties than toughing it out on the diplomatic front lines. Political ambassadors are like minor royalty — harmless, until they do something silly.

The top job in our European delegations could be rebranded as a minister position, a lower-ranked diplomatic status also recognized under international law. That’s what U.S. envoys were called until 1893, when Congress first authorized the appointment of ambassadors. Ambassador, on the other hand, is a title for life.

This is a tad extreme but would a rich car dealer be happy with a title for life that says “minister” instead of “ambassador?”  Maybe not, doesn’t come with the same dazzle dazzle. Read in full here.

Peter Spiro is the Charles R. Weiner Professor of Law at Temple University.   A former law clerk to Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Spiro specializes in international, immigration, and constitutional law. He is the author of “Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization.” (Oxford University Press 2008).  In the 1990’s, he was an attorney-adviser in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser.

We must note that any downgrade in positions for the political ambassadors, would similarly downgrade it for the career diplomats.  We imagine that this would not be a popular proposal for the professional diplomatic service.  It’s like, look this bathwater is dirty, let’s throw away the bath and the baby, too.  Of course, in Congress, there where things occasionally gets done, and where our politicians are already lining up for 2016, this would be double dead on arrival.

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State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It

– Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association was in the news yesterday after announcing that it will file a suit against the State Department if, by end of business day today, it does not get the certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees (see AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

The topic made it to today’s Daily Press Briefing with the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answering questions about AFSA’s FOIA requests for these documents which were reportedly filed on July 29, 2013 and a second request filed on February 28, 2014.  Ms. Psaki refused to make a prediction of whether State would respond to AFSA’s request by the close of business today.

At about 3pm EST, ABC News tweeted that AFSA is giving the State Department until tomorrow morning to furnish the requested “Certificates of Documented Competency” for ambassador nominees.

When you look at that AFSA FOIA request delay of 7 months and a week, it might be useful to note that in FY2012, the State Department’s total requests in backlog is 10,464.   In fact, according to foia.gov, State has one of the highest backlogs, second only to DHS. In FY 2011, the average number of days to process a simple case was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years (see State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).  The oldest pending request, as you can see below is 1,922 days.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

Here is the short version of the March 6, 2014 DPB:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

via Word It Out

Below is the long version from the March 6, 2014 DPB:

QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 –

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are –

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so –

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that –

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand –

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and –

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they –

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one –

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one –

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed –

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it –

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

Ali.

QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that –

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process –

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So –

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally –

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So –

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request –

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that –

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o’clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but –

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o’clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Well, then, tomorrow, maybe  — or we’ll wonder who’ll stop the rain …

 

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Filed under 2011, 2012, AFSA, Ambassadorships, Foreign Service, Leaks|Controversies, Obama, Political Appointees, Realities of the FS, State Department, Video of the Week

AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”

– Domani Spero

We’ve been hearing about the AFSA ambassador guidelines for a while now.  We were prepared to be amazed but frankly, given that AFSA has largely ignored the termination of ambassador report cards, we tried hard to contain our expectations (see State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

Last week, the State Department’s favorite columnist over at WaPo writes, “The cringe-inducing performances in recent weeks by some of President Obama’s ambassadorial nominees have raised expectations that the American Foreign Service Association will weigh in next week with some revolutionary guidelines to revamp the nomination process.  Don’t count on it. Thoughtful, yes. Explosive, hardly. Our sense of the guidelines, which AFSA began working on last summer, is that they’re fairly anodyne suggestions, not a call for stricter criteria.”

According to Al Kamen, the AFSA board reportedly approved the draft guidelines on a 17 to 5 vote, with all four former ambassadors on the board voting against the guidelines, “apparently feeling the new ones watered down the 1980 Foreign Service Act’s useless section on ambassador selection.”  We also heard complaints that while AFSA has been working on these guidelines since last summer, the AFSA membership reportedly did not get a chance to provide comments and input until Friday last week. What the hey?!

Below is the relevant section of the Foreign Service Act of 1980

SEC. 304 – APPOINTMENT OF CHIEFS OF MISSION

(a)(1) An individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country in which the individual is to serve, and knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people.

(2) Given the qualifications specified in paragraph (1), positions as chief of mission should normally be accorded to career members of the Service, though circumstance will warrant appointments from time to time of qualified individuals who are not career members of the Service.

(3) Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.

We are confident that various administrations since 1980 had their own definitions of what “from time to time” actually means.

So what’s the purpose of releasing these guidelines now?  AFSA says that it offers “this Guidelines paper as a resource to inform the executive and legislative processes of nominating and confirming U.S. chiefs of mission. Chiefs of mission are the president’s envoys to foreign countries and multilateralinstitutions, usually carrying the title of ambassador. They lead our engagement with foreign governments and act as the CEOs of U.S. overseas missions and embassies.”

One retired ambassador who is not an AFSA member asked why ambassadors are even described as CEOs  since they are not — having no bottom line, no shareholders, and no board of directors?  Without all that, we wonder who gets to fire these CEOs to improve “corporate” governance at our overseas missions?

Some of the folks we know who are retired members of AFSA are opposed to the practice of appointing bundlers as ambassadors citing Section 304 of the FSA 1980.   Some see this issue as key to defining an American profession.  Others strongly believe that AFSA as the professional association representing career Foreign Service diplomats, “must–like Cicero–at least take a stand and call out the current system for what it is–plutocratic  corruption.”

Just saw WaPo reporting that AFSA “may oppose Obama ambassador nominees” but that AFSA President Robert Silverman reportedly also “noted that there may be a feeling that AFSA might not “want to get into the middle of a dogfight” while it’s in progress.”

Whose dogfight is this, anyways?  Does AFSA really think that these guidelines would change the current practice of nominating ambassadors ?

At the DPB yesterday, a reporter asked if the State Department believe that an association or the union for current and retired professional diplomats should have any say in the nomination process.  The official spokesperson Jen Psaki replied, “I’d have to check and see … if we have an official U.S. Government position on that question.” Prior to that question, she did say this:

“Obviously, the nomination process, as you well know, happens through the Executive Branch, which has been a traditional process, and input and thoughts comes from a range of resources. And certainly, we support freedom of speech by anyone in terms of what they view nominees should be able to – should – criteria they should meet. But again, these decisions have traditionally been made out of the White House.”

Seriously now, are you hearing what she’s saying?

AFSA says that the Guidelines are “drawn from the collective experience of a group of distinguished former chiefs of mission, both career and non-career, and from legislative and regulatory sources.” Ten ambassadors, all retired; including Ambassador Donald Gips, our former ambassador to South Africa who also served  as head of the WH office for Presidential Personnel.  In that role, Ambassador Gips managed “the selection of several thousand political appointments for the Obama Administration” prior to his appointment to South Africa.  The working group surprisingly did not include a single member of the active Foreign Service.   How well or how badly these missions are managed have a direct impact on the life and work of our diplomats. So we’re curious — how much input did the active membership provide in finalizing the guidelines that the association issued on its behalf?  

AFSA says that the paper is “non-partisan in nature” and offers the following guidelines:

Under “Leadership, character and proven interpersonal skills,” the Guidelines says “A key skill is the ability to listen in order to better understand the host country’s perspectives.”

You know that every bartender worth his/her salt, actually could do this one just as well, right?

Under “Understanding of high level policy and operations, and of key U.S. interests and values in the country or organization of prospective assignment,” the Guidelines says of the  nominee: “He or she demonstrates the capacity to negotiate, and has the proven ability to take on various challenges, including working with U.S. and foreign business communities and other nongovernmental interests, and providing services to U.S. citizens.”

One could argue that Mr. Tsunis, the hotelier nominated for the U.S. Embassy Norway can demonstrate this just as well. As CEO of Chartwell Hotels, LLC which owns, develops and manages Hilton, Marriott and Intercontinental hotels throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, he presumably worked with U.S. and foreign business communities and provide services to American citizens. Every. Single. Day.

The third item in the Guidelines is Management.  The President of the Garden Club of Oz, as well, “possesses experience in setting goals and visions, managing change, and allocating resources.”

The fourth and last item listed is “Understanding of host country and international affairs.“The Guidelines says of the nominee: “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages.”

Experience as a foreign exchange student count, right?

To be clear, your blogger’s household does not pay any dues to AFSA, so we are not a member of any standing.   But after reading  the AFSA Guidelines officially titled, “Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission,”we also had to wonder — what was AFSA thinking?  Yes, it is doing something, but is it doing the right thing?

In fact, we think folks could wave these AFSA Guidelines around to defend even the most controversial ambassadorial nominees.  Let’s try it.

For example, according to Wikipedia, Colleen Bell, producer of The Bold and the Beautiful, graduated with high honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics. She spent her junior year abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.   Scotland is not Hungary but that is a foreign culture, is it not? You don’t think this is enough for AFSA Guidelines #4?  Doesn’t it say on paper, “of other foreign cultures or languages?” She also produced the world’s most-watched soap opera, viewed in over 100 countries. The show serves 26.2 million viewers, including U.S. citizens. You don’t think that has anything to do with management and understanding of international affairs?

As a taxpayer with a vested interest in the effective functioning of our overseas missions, we have followed AFSA and the Foreign Service closely.  While we are not a voting member of this association, we would have wanted, instead, to see two things from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.  The end.

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Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway

– Domani Spero

We didn’t know that  Minnesota has the largest Norwegian-American population in the United States. Apparently, it is also home to major Norwegian groups like the Sons of Norway International.  According to MinnPost, days after George Tsunis, the nominee to be ambassador to Norway bungled his appearance at his SFRC confirmation hearing, a group of Minnesotans took up the cause of preventing the hotel magnate from getting the assignment. Twin Cities attorney T. Michael Davis has organized a campaign to either win Norway a new nominee, or, if that does not work, see that the Senate votes down Tsunis’ appointment.

We want the American citizens to have a qualified ambassador in Oslo, and we want the government in Oslo to be dealing with a qualified ambassador,” said Davis, a member of the state’s Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce. “This is just basic common sense.”

Davis and his allies have penned a Star Tribune op-ed on February 12, pushing for the Senate not to approve this nominee (See Obama-Tsunis: Selection for ambassador to Norway cannot stand):

“In a time of hyperpartisanship in Congress — and extreme voter fatigue with respect to party-line loyalties, a bipartisan Nordic community has always had greater hopes and expectations. We, thus, ask our senators to encourage President Obama to withdraw the Tsunis nomination or, barring such, we ask them to work hard in coming days to convince key Senate colleagues to act in the nonpartisan interests of the United States and its taxpayers, and in the interest of our valued ties with Norway, and unanimously reject the nomination of George J. Tsunis.”

Mr. Davis reportedly also wrote White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough directly about the nomination, and he and his allies have been making lots of noises in the Senate.

An online petition at charge.org has also been launched by Tom Lundquist asking for President Obama “to withdraw the Tsunis nomination or, alternatively, that the Senate act in the interests of the U.S., taxpayers, and ties with Norway, thus, rejecting the nomination.” The petition has 308 supporters as of this writing with 192 signatures still needed.

It’s hard to say if these efforts would derail the confirmation of Mr. Tsunis as the next ambassador to Norway.  On February 4, Mr. Tsunis got one step closer to becoming ambassador when the SFRC endorsed his nomination.  The last step in the process is the final vote by the full Senate.

There is, of course, a logjam of nominees over there.  Some have been waiting since January for their confirmation votes.  Given that the votes for these nominations are going in stops and spurts these days, it is likely that Mr. Tsunis’ nomination will be in the waiting line for a while. However, we are guessing that the nomination will squeak by quietly in late spring or early summer when we’re all busy with summer vacations and whatnots.

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

– Domani Spero

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

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

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

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

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

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

And here is the most interesting part via Blabbeando:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because what –  Mr. Satawake might bite President Medina?

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

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

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Diplomat Drops “Fuck the EU” in Private Chat — Cover Your Ears, It Might Ruin You Forever!

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland was caught on tape with Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine working the diplomatic sausage over the Ukraine crisis.  The private conversation was recorded and uploaded to YouTube by an anonymous user/s who made an effort to include a photo collage of the individuals referred to in the conversation. The leaked recording is available here and has been viewed 485,122.

The State Department spokeswoman was asked if this call is “an authentic recording of an authentic conversation between Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt?”  As can be expected, Ms. Psaki replied:

“Well, I’m not going to confirm or outline details. I understand there are a lot of reports out there and there’s a recording out there, but I’m not going to confirm private diplomatic conversations.”

Hilarious exchange followed:

QUESTION: As related to Assistant Secretary Nuland’s comments about the European Union, do – are the United States and the EU on the same page on what to deal – how to deal with the situation in Ukraine and how best to resolve the crisis?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, obviously, we work incredibly closely with the EU and with representatives of the EU, and Assistant Secretary Nuland certainly does as it relates to Ukraine. And she’s been in close contact with EU High Representative Ashton. Also, let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course, has apologized. But –
QUESTION: What did she apologize for?
MS. PSAKI: For these reported comments, of course.
QUESTION: So you’re not confirming that the comments are accurate? She’s –
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to a private diplomatic conversation, Arshad, but I’m obviously speaking to the content of the reports.

Ukraine’s Security Service has reportedly declined to comment on a leaked recording of this telephone conversation.

The Guardian says that Germany condemns the comments made by Assistant Secretary Nuland:

The German spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said Merkel appreciated the work of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who had tried to mediate between the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and protesters who have taken to the streets. “The chancellor finds these remarks totally unacceptable and wants to emphasise that Mrs Ashton is doing an outstanding job,” Wirtz said.

Meanwhile, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski tweeted his support:

@sikorskiradek  Critics of @VictoriaNuland worldwide: let him who has never used strong language in private cast the first stone.

In Kiev, Assistant Secretary Nuland also refused to comment “on a private diplomatic conversation” except to say “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.” And so here we are:

GIF_prettyimpressivetradecraft

Check out Bloomberg View’s James Gibney (@jamesgibney) with count your blessing, that’s not one of our bumbling hacks — but:

And as to those who are shocked, just shocked, by the U.S. attempt to manipulate Ukraine’s opposition, this is exactly what diplomats at higher levels try to do: All the foreign ambassadors in Washington worth their pensions have salty, Machiavellian conversations with their superiors and colleagues about how to shape votes of the U.S. Congress. If you’re an American, be glad that pros such as Nuland are on the job, and hope that your other diplomats aren’t sitting around munching cucumber sandwiches in between demarches.

That said, here is one scandal that this intercepted call does point to, however: Were Nuland and Pyatt speaking, as they should have been, on the kind of encrypted phone designed for such discussions? If not, that’s a major diplo-no-no. If they were, and some foreign power still managed to crack the code, then Uncle Sam needs to invest in some new phones ASAP.

Continue reading Sometimes Diplomacy Needs the F-Word.

This is a congressional hearing just waiting to happen.  Where did you learn such language?  Who did what, where, when with these phones and how come you did not know that you were bugged?  Congress is always curious about those things.

Now, please do us a favor and stop sending us hate mail for Ms. Nuland.

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