Category Archives: Pakistan

Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Pakistan, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, USAID

U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

– Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[...]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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Filed under Construction, Diplomacy, Follow the Money, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, State Department, U.S. Missions

USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Consul Generals, Diplomatic Attacks, Foreign Service, Locally Employed Staff, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?

-- By Domani Spero

 

Below is the State Department’s High Stress Assignment Outbrief Implementation Guide – the FSI/MED Model.

Background of the High Stress Outbrief Program via fbo.gov

The High Stress Assignment Outbrief program was developed after the first groups of employees began coming back from assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 – posts that would have beenin evacuation status in more normal times. Returnees asserted that coming back from those posts wasn’t at all like coming back from a regular foreign affairs community assignment – that theDepartment needed to help with this particular transition in some way. Med’s Office of Mental Health Services asked the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center to assist in the development of a prototype training event, which was piloted in 2003. MED/Mental Health convened an Iraq Out-briefing Conference on July 29 & 30, 2004 at the Foreign Service Institute. The Outbrief program was reviewedand discussed by the full cadre of RMO/Ps, Dr. Robert Ursano and Dr. James McCarroll, from theUniformed Services University for Health Sciences, Dr. Carol North, Washington University (St. Louis),with guest presentations by (then) Director General of the Foreign Service Amb. Robert Pearson and others.

The program was endorsed by MED leadership and has run as a partnership between the FSI’sTransition Center and MED/Mental Health Services since then. All subsequent Directors General of the Foreign Service have mandated that all returnees from Iraq (and later Afghanistan) who have served for 90 days or longer be required to attend either a group or individual Outbrief upon return to CONUS.The realities of the Foreign Service assignment system brought complications – many officers had TDY-ed to Iraq or Afghanistan and were returning directly to their former posts. Others PCS-ed directly to follow-on assignments around the world. Clearly, a purely Washington-based program would not be effective in providing the service to all of our employees. Furthermore, many participants did not fit traditional Foreign Service employee profiles – special hiring authority hires (3161s), civil service employees, and third country nationals all stepped up to serve in those war zones. RMO/Ps were instructed to deliver Outbriefs at posts or during post visits, and to communicate the name of the Outbrief participant, date, and place back to the Transition Center for entry into the Department’sofficial training registration database to certify compliance.

Read more below:

 

I’ve requested help in understanding the usefulness of the Outbrief session and received a few responses below:

Comment #1: (from a twice-deployed employee)

“I have taken that half-day course twice in 2009 and 2013.  The class was almost the exact same.  They basically tell you to get sleep and try to adjust back and if needed, see someone.  The class I took in 2013 was 8 months after I returned because HR would not pay to send me to DC before home leave then I was in language training for six months.  If it was really important, HR would allow people to take it as early as possible otherwise, it must not be that important.”

Comment #2 (a State Department employee who served in Iraq and Pakistan)

“The description of the outbrief program seems reasonably accurate – although it’s been a while since I attended (in 2008 after Iraq, but not subsequently after Pakistan).  There’s a certain value to spending a bit of time (three hours?) with people that have been through similar experiences – probably including someone that you knew or at least shared acquaintances with.  It gives you a chance to talk with people who better understand your experiences.   It’s possible that some of our feedback made it back to decision makers in aggregated form.  For example, one of the themes of our discussion was that the Department (USG?) was doing itself no favors by sending warm bodies that lacked core qualifications (e.g. basic competence and a desire to be there.)  I think that the Department is now requesting 360s [360 degree feedback] for everyone that they send – although that may just be part of the general trend towards requesting 360s.  My memory is a bit hazy, but I think a key element was describing what other resources (e.g. clinical/therapeutic) might be available for those that needed them.”

Comment #3 (somebody once posted in Iraq— added at 6:48 am PST)
The high stress outbrief  is, as you noted, just an example of CYA– look, we have a program! A couple of voluntary hours with some contractor at cozy FSI with no follow-up, and especially no mandatory individual session is worthless. Many symptoms of PTSD evolve over time, and many returning-to-DC-stresses only become apparent after you have in fact returned to work and gotten the lay of the land in a new office. Speaking out in front of a group is not a core FS trait, and not something any person with real problems does easily. Imperfect as it is, the military does require formal screening and a brief one-on-one session with a counselor. Follow up care (imperfect) is available. At State, you’re told to “get help” without much help in getting it. After all, MED is not responsible for healthcare in the U.S.
 
Still not sure? Check with officers who were MEDEVACed for anything, not necessarily PTSD, and see if any of them got any follow-on from MED other than a new, career-crushing clearance status.

One of our readers commenting on mental health support suggested the following:

“While I know it wouldn’t solve everything, I think that anyone coming out of a post with danger pay should have some sort of mandatory sessions with some sort of licensed therapist. That would take away the stigma of the therapy and maybe get some people some help before they take out their PTSD on themselves or someone else.”

 

Remember the US Embassy Malta road rage meltdown that made the news? (US Embassy Malta Gets a Viral Video But — Not the Kind You Want).  We don’t know this individual nor his story, or which post he previously came from. But assignments to European posts like Malta have typically gone to employees who did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.   We don’t know if this individual came from an AIP posts. Even if he did, it’s not an excuse for such a behavior, but it might help us understand his demeanor.  American diplomats normally do not go around looking for a fight.

Our concern is simple. We are sending people out to the war/danger zones.  The State Department touts its mandatory High Stress Outbrief, an educational program that only requires presentation/delivery skills from whoever delivers the program.  Less than 60 percent of returnees attend the program, and there are no consequences for non-compliance.  Who does the follow-up? Anybody?

Is it fair to say that the State Department does no follow-up beyond the Outbrief session and expects employees to simply self-report any mental health issue? And because no one fears the social stigma of seeking mental health help and nobody suffers from the fear of losing one’s security clearance over a mental health issue, everyone in the Service can be counted on to self-report if/when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in one’s head?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Iraq, Leadership and Management, MED, Mental Health, Org Culture, Pakistan, State Department, War

US Consulate General Lahore Now on Ordered Departure For Non-Emergency Personnel

Domani Spero

On August 8, theState Department issued a new Travel Warning for Pakistan warning U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to that country and announcing the ordered departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan.  In addition to USCG Lahore and the embassy in Islamabad , we have consulate generals in Karachi and Peshawar.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated April 9, 2013, to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Pakistan.

On August 8, 2013, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan. The Department of State ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the U.S. Consulate in Lahore.

The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets. Attacks have included armed assaults on heavily guarded sites, including Pakistani military installations. The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit. Terrorists and criminal groups regularly resort to kidnapping for ransom.

Protests against the United States are not uncommon and have the potential to turn violent. U.S. citizens in Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid all protests and large gatherings.

Recent Attacks

There have been many terrorist attacks in recent years targeting civilians and security personnel. On March 3, 2013, a bomb attack in a predominately Shiite area of Karachi destroyed several buildings and killed over 50 people. In January and February 2013, two bomb attacks in Quetta targeted members of the Hazara community; each killed over 80 people. On September 3, 2012, unidentified terrorists attacked a U.S. government vehicle convoy in Peshawar, injuring U.S. and Pakistani personnel. On April 24, 2012, an explosion at the Lahore Railway Station killed three people and injured at least 30.

The Governor of the Punjab province and the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs were assassinated in Islamabad in January and March 2011, respectively.   Targeted killings continue unabated in Karachi as a result of ethno-political rivalries. Targeted attacks against government officials, humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees, tribal elders, and law enforcement personnel continue throughout the country, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces. Suicide bomb attacks have occurred at Islamabad universities, schools, rallies, places of worship, and major marketplaces in Lahore and Peshawar.

Members of minority communities have been victims of targeted killings and accusations of blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty in Pakistan. Foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, on valid missionary visas have encountered increased scrutiny from local authorities since early 2011.

Travel Restrictions for Government Personnel

U.S. government personnel travel between the Embassy and Consulates might be restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles.  Embassy staff are permitted to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.

U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Only a limited number of official visitors are placed in hotels, and for limited stays. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off limits to official personnel. Official U.S. citizens are not authorized to use public transportation and are sometimes asked to restrict the use of their personal vehicles in response to security concerns.

Access to many areas of Pakistan, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, and the area adjacent to the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed territory of Kashmir, is restricted by local government authorities for non-Pakistanis. Travel to any restricted region requires official permission from the Government of Pakistan. Failure to obtain such permission in advance can result in arrest and detention by Pakistani authorities. Due to security concerns, the U.S. government currently allows only essential travel within the FATA by U.S. officials. Travel to much of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and Balochistan is also restricted.

Read in full here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5926.html

No diplomatic posts in Pakistan were closed as a result of the August 4 or the August 5-10 closures.  It is not clear if this is related to the previously announced closures or if this is an altogether different threat stream.  Nina Maria Fite who succeeded Carmela Conroy assumed charge as the US Consul General in Lahore on September 20, 2011.

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Heroism Awards: Clifton Jeffery, Matthew Perry, Philip Rand and Christopher Bilodeau

— By Domani Spero

May 20, 2011 –Peshawar, Pakistan | “At approximately 8:28 a.m., a two-vehicle motorcade transporting six U.S. Consulate General officers from the University Town housing area to the Mission was the target of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). As the lead car made a right turn onto Abdara Road, a VBIED detonated on the left side of the roadway. The lead Consulate vehicle was heavily damaged and rendered inoperable. The two officers inside the vehicle sustained minor injuries. The two occupants in the lead vehicle were evacuated to the second, undamaged Consulate vehicle, which then returned to the housing cluster. A post-blast investigation revealed that a motorcyclist was killed during the explosion and 11 other passersby were injured, including one who died later. The group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was perpetrated in revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-24

In February this year, four of those officers were awarded the State Department’s Heroism Award for their “courageous actions during a terrorist attack on a motorcade in Peshawar, Pakistan—one of the most dangerous high-threat cities in the world.”

“All four of the DS Special Agents performed masterfully in one of the most significant terrorist attacks against Foreign Service personnel in recent years,” said Bill Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts, Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “They were instrumental in coordinating the movements of the security team during the crisis as well as executing the proper response. The agents’ actions reflect not only their laudable physical courage, but also the highest traditions of the Diplomatic Security Service.”

Clifton Jeffery |  is the son of Clifton Jeffery, Sr., and Christine Jeffery, both residents of Vicksburg. He spent most of his early life in Mississippi—attending Warren Central High School, Tougaloo College, and Mississippi College School of Law, where he earned a JD degree. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and U.S. Army Reserve from 2001 to 2007. Jeffery became a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service, in 2007.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Jeffery has served in the DS Houston Field Office and is currently an Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy Gaborone, Botswana.

Matthew Perry | is the son of Lawrence and Julie Perry, currently residing in Longwood. He attended the University of Central Florida where he received at B.S. in Psychology, then earned a M.A. in Forensic Psychology from Marymount University in 2006. Perry became a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service in 2008. In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Perry has served in the DS New York Field Office and on a temporary duty assignment in Baghdad Iraq. He is now an Assistant Regional Security Officer in Pretoria, South Africa.

Philip Rand | is the son of Philip and Jane Rand from Plymouth and the son-in-law of Dr. Albert and Sharon Dunn of East Bridgewater. He attended Brockton High School, Bridgewater State College, and Western New England College where he received a BS degree in Criminal Justice. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years after graduating from high school, then reenlisted with the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 2002 and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005 as a sergeant. A police officer in the Town of Bridgewater for 10 years, Special Agent Rand joined the U.S. Department of State in 2008 as a Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Rand served in the DS Boston Field Office and is currently an Assistant Regional Security Officer in Bangkok, Thailand.

Christopher Bilodeau |  son of the late Doris Bilodeau, attorney, and Douglas Bilodeau, owner of Douglas Auctioneers in South Deerfield, spent most of his early life in Western Massachusetts. He graduated from Frontier Regional School, attended Greenfield Community College, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Western New England College. He has made his life’s work in public safety, serving as a volunteer fire fighter and paramedic for Deerfield and South Deerfield as well as working full time in Springfield as a paramedic and in Agawam as a fulltime firefighter before becoming a Deerfield police officer.  Bilodeau left the Deerfield Police Department in 2008 to become a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Bilodeau has served in the DS Boston Field Office and is currently assigned to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security headquarters office in the Washington, D.C., area.

*(^O^)*

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Snapshot: Top 10 Recipients of US Foreign Assistance in FY2012 Actual and FY2014 Request

Extracted from the CRS: The FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request, April 18, 2013 via Secrecy News:

The list is dominated by strategic allies in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as top global health program recipients in Africa. Israel would continue to be the top U.S. aid recipient, at $3.1 billion, a $25 million increase over FY2012 funding. Afghanistan would again rank second among recipients, though with a slightly smaller allocation compared to FY2012. Iraq would drop out of the top five, with elimination of the Police Development Program driving a 55% funding cut, while Nigeria would move up to number five with a proposed allocation of $693 million, or 7% more than actual FY2012 funding. Together, the top 10 recipients would account for about 37% of total bilateral economic and security assistance funds in the FY2014 budget proposal.

Screen Shot 2013-05-22

 

 

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US Mission Iraq: War Over, Danger Pay and Hardship Pay Go Down, Oh, But It’s Confusing

According to the State Department’s allowances website, all State Department posts in Iraq have been designated 35% danger pay and 35% post (hardship) differential pay posts.  The US mission in Iraq designation at the top 35% danger/35% hardship pay bracket has been in effect since March 5, 2006.  All of 2004 and 2005 it was at 25%/25%.  All of 2003, it was between 20%-25%.

We recently learned that the State Department has nudged four Iraq regions down for both danger and hardship pay:

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Our understanding is that these new rates are now in effect but the Allowances website has yet to catch up.  This would be the first time in almost 7 years that US Mission Iraq is not at the top danger/hardship differential bracket.  This would also leave just the posts in two countries at the top danger rate bracket of 35%, one officially a war zone, while the other is not:

  •  Afghanistan: Kabul, Others
  •  Pakistan: Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi (except Quetta which remains at 25%)

The State Department’s Office of Allowances does say on its website that “since conditions at Danger Pay posts are reviewed periodically to ensure that the Danger Pay continues only during the existence of conditions justifying such payment, it is possible for the Danger Pay designation to be removed or modified at any time.”

The when of that is what is curious.

We have previously blogged about the perplexities with State’s danger pay designation (see Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal … and  State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts).

Below is a table of Iraq casualties between 2003-2012

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Danger Pay Rate

2003   3004  2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012

20%     25%     25%     35%     35%       35%     35%     35%      35%     35%

We understand that State has its own danger pay factors and since we have no access to that, we’ll have to make do with publicly available information on just how dangerous Iraq was since 2003 based on casualties.  Note that when casualties in Iraq started going up in 2003, the danger pay rate was between 20-25%.  It remained at 25% the entire year of 2005.  It went up to the maximum rate of 35% in March 2006 and remained at the top bracket until this year. The U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in December 2011.  The casualties that year and 2012 remained above 4,000 but below the 12,000 casualties at the beginning of the war. The danger rate stayed at 35%.

Screen Shot 2013-02-24

While the casualties have gone down, the country remains dangerous.  Here is what the embassy’s  2012 Crime and Security Report had to say about Iraq:

Iraq is rated as a critical threat for terrorism and political violence by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Despite the general decline in terrorist-related violence, the security situation in Iraq remains fluid. In December 2011, U.S. forces completely withdrew from Iraq. Terrorists and insurgent groups continue to conduct large-scale, lethal attacks that often target personnel and facilities associated with both American organizations and the Government of Iraq.  Insurgents also continue to carry out effective small-scale attacks throughout Iraq that cause fewer casualties but hinder free movement and influence public opinion regarding safety and security.
/snip/
While total attacks against U.S. personnel have decreased over the last three months, the threat of kidnapping, rocket attack, and small arms fire against U.S. interests in Iraq remains high and subject to flux based on domestic political, regional, and international developments.
/snip/
Since the U.S. military has withdrawn from Iraq, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Iraq have an extremely limited ability to assist Americans in the event of an emergency. Many services which many existed in the past, such as U.S. military-provided medevacs, transportation, convoy support, lodging, Quick Reaction Forces response to incidents, and monitoring of Personnel Security Details, are not generally available via the U.S. Embassy or Consulates.

In August 2012 IRIN/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had this to say about the situation in Iraq:

Assessments of security trends in Iraq vary wildly depending on who you speak to, how you count the statistics, and which period of time you study. But one thing is clear: bomb blasts, targeted killings or improvised explosive devices are still a daily occurrence in Iraq.

Last week’s coordinated attacks – leaving more than 100 people dead – set a record for the highest number of deaths in a single day in more than two years, displaying the continued ability of insurgent groups to strike. A double bombing in the capital yesterday brought July’s death toll to 245, according to a count by Associated Press.

While the US and the Iraqi government insist that security gains have been made in recent years, UN and independent analysts characterize the situation as having stabilized at an unacceptably high level of violence, albeit now concentrated in more specific areas.

One might argue that the departure of the U.S. military has made working in Iraq more challenging, thus justifying keeping the mission at 35% in 2011 and 2012. But the U.S. military has not returned to Iraq in 2013, so what has changed to merit bumping down the rates?

Is the reason the danger rate is a notch lower due to improved security? Really?  Or is this due to the looming sequestration? Whatever it is, it is muddy as heck.

Here is another interesting example — Yemen.

The US Embassy in Sana’a was a 20% danger post in 2006,  2007 and part of 2008.  On September 17, 2008, the embassy was attacked which resulted in 19 deaths and 16 injuries.  According to Wikipedia, six attackers, six Yemeni police and seven civilians were killed.   On October 26, 2008, the embassy’s danger rate went up to 30% where it remained to-date.

We understand that until last year, embassy personnel were driving their own vehicles, traveling around the country, taking taxis, and living in their own apartments.  For security reasons, they now  live in the old Sheraton Hotel Sanaa (apparently also known as the New Green Zone Sanaa) which has been leased by the US Embassy reportedly until January 2018.  The staff is not allowed to travel anywhere with one exception and only with armored vehicles.  Of course, the embassy lost a good number of its armored vehicles during the mob attack.  Unlike the US Embassy Tunisia where there were publicly available photographic evidence of the damages, the US Embassy Sanaa reportedly kept a tight lid on photos of the embassy damages in the aftermath of the attack.  For what reason, we do not know.  Perhaps they did not want to upset the host country?  In the meantime, the U.S. ambassador and American soldiers at post have a bounty on their heads until June 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen: AQAP Offers Gold Bounty for Ambassador Feierstein). And the danger rate remains at 30%.

Can somebody please grab the tail on what’s going on here? People need to understand the whys of this process. Whether they volunteered or were voluntold, they deserve a good explanation. C’mon guys, don’t make this rocket science.

Also we’re hearing that the priority bidding season for Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan or AIP is about to expand to include Libya and Yemen. One of our blog sources wondered out loud if the new bidding season might be called iPLAY.

sig4

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Filed under Afghanistan, Compensation, Counting Beans, Foreign Service, Iraq, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, Security, State Department, U.S. Missions

Photo of the Day: President O with Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson

Via WH/Flickr

President Barack Obama meets with Rick Olson, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, in the Oval Office, Sept. 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Click on image above to view intro video by Ambassador Olson

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Filed under Ambassadors, FSOs, Obama, Pakistan, Photo of the Day

Alec Ross, State Dept Bundle of Joy Visits Pakistan for Twittersation on Innovation

One of the State Dept’s media digs recently announced that Alec Ross, the State Department’s Senior Advisor on Innovation has a presentation in Islamabad on “Developing a Culture of Innovation at Universities in Pakistan.”

Alec Ross and Pakistani innovators reportedly also got together for a “Twittersation” in Islamabad where the former answered questions about media freedom, innovation, entrepreneurship and other hot topics.

Photo from US Embassy Pakistan/FB

Wow, I’m almost speechless.

First there was Secretary Clinton’s “Townterview” in … gosh I forgot where now.  And now we have a “Twittersation”?

For those not terribly active online reading this, that’s a conversation consisting entirely of 140 character-or-less “tweets”on Twitter?.  What a great way to converse, but dammit :roll: “Twittersation” is messing up with my auto-correct again.

Obviously, developing a culture of innovation is exactly what is needed in the aftermath of the widespread protests in Pakistan which includes angry mobs attempting to storm our diplomatic compounds in the country.

And clearly, in a country where three-in-four Pakistanis (74%) consider the the United States an enemy, developing the country’s culture of innovation should be our priority item there.

Never mind the cultural misconnection in the world where we lived in; or explaining the idea of freedom of speech, even the freedom to insult religion, any religion as one of our fundamental rights (see Anti-Islam Protests: Monica Bauer explains the cultural misconnection in the world as it is).  The last few weeks showed us that a large swath of the Muslim world lack a basic understanding on why we tolerate even our nutty expressions in speech, in art, in crappy videos/movies, etc. or why we protect even the ugliest speech. And here we are talking about innovation. Right.

Below are sample of comments generated via FB:

Amer Rai @Alec Ross……you talk of freedom of expression but USCG Lahore blocked my id without prior warning ,yes i did violation ,i talked some racist but that was not very serious

Shahbaz Haider Most of the participants playing with there cell fones, lolz

Nasim A Sehar wat is the result??will drawn attacks stop?or taliban will stop doing bomb blasts?this situation is very difficult for pakistan.

Abbas Khan not just tweeting … do some thing man.

Shazy Ahmed Khan i want to come america but i have ot much money so help me

Ali Raza we hate america.america is a big terirost of the world

Farook Janjua Help us in getting our public transport system organized.

Aftab Alam we need people to people friendships and equallity between pak and usa

There were several more comments over there. And because social media is about “engagement”, the US Embassy Pakistan’s FB moderator did just that … with one.

U.S. Embassy Pakistan Aftab Alam we agree

Go ahead and talk about innovation, nothing to do until the next mob attacks. You never know when you get to chat up on innovation again. Jeez! I’m getting a stomach-achy feeling that this 21st century statecraft/internet freedom is just full of yabadabadoooo!

No?  Okay, well, then would you please whisper loudly to the somebodies upstairs to wake the foxtrot up because this looks utterly hyper-ridiculous?  Thank you.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Facebook, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Huh? News, Pakistan, Rants, Social Media, State Department