Keeping Up With the State Department Spox’s Explainer on the Clinton Separation Statement

Posted: 12:42 am EDT

 

The hunt for Secretary Clinton’s OF-109 Separation Statement was all over the news last week, although it seemed, oh, so much longer.  Fox News was searching for it. The Daily Caller found a whistleblower who alleged double standard.  Media Matters  called out the conservative media’s own double standard. Add the official spokesperson of the State Department and we got a free roller coaster ride plus coupons.

It looks like 12 FAM 564.4 is the relevant regulation um, excuse me, “recommendation” in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Waiting for the spox to clarify that although the briefing is mandatory, signing the separation statement is really optional and voluntary!

12 FAM 564.4 Termination
(TL:DS-88; 02-13-2003) (Uniform State, AID, OPIC, TDP)
a. A security debriefing will be conducted and a separation statement will be completed whenever an employee is terminating employment or is otherwise to be separated for a continuous period of 60 days or more. The debriefing is mandatory to ensure that separating personnel are aware of the requirement to return all classified material and of a continuing responsibility to safeguard their knowledge of any classified information. The separating employee must be advised of the applicable laws on the protection and disclosure of classified information (see 12 FAM 557 Exhibit 557.3) before signing Form OF-109, Separation Statement (see 12 FAM 564 Exhibit 564.4).

 

Via DPB, March 17, 2015 with State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki:

QUESTION: So when you say – it is my understanding that all employees – and I think you even alluded to this when it first came up, that all employees were required to sign this document on completion of their government service. Is that not the case?

MS. PSAKI: Required is not the accurate term. It’s – we’re looking into how standard this is across the federal government and certainly at the State Department. But there’s no – we’re not aware of any penalty for not signing it.

QUESTION: Well, at the State Department, though, is it – it is common practice, though, is it not, for employees, at least employees below the rank of Secretary of State to sign such a thing – to sign such a document when they leave? Is it not?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I just don’t want to characterize how common practice it is. Certainly, I understand there’s been a focus on this form. We’ve answered the question on whether or not Secretary Clinton signed the form, and we’ll see if there’s more statistics we can provide about how common it is.

QUESTION: It’s your understanding, though, that not completing this form is not a violation of any rule or regulation?

MS. PSAKI: It’s not a violation of any rule, no.

QUESTION: And when you said that you have found no record of her two immediate – was it her two immediate predecessors?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

 

Continue reading

Clinton Email Saga: How do you CTRL+F 55,000 pages of paper?

Posted: 12:43  am EDT

 

Marc Perkel who runs a spam filtering service has an interesting addition to the Clinton email saga, something to do with what happens to emails that go through a  spam filtering service.  But he also wrote this:

But – and this is a very important point – is HOW the emails were turned over. She printed each one out on paper one by one and handed over boxes of paper with the email printed. Thus those email can’t be searched electronically. So if someone wants all emails to some individual or emails about a subject then someone has to hand search these emails and they are likely to miss something.

It would have been far easier to copy all the emails onto a thumb drive and hand that over to the State Department where they could be electronically imported into the system and electronically searchable like all the other emails are. But she chose to go to great trouble to deliberately make things difficult for the State Department to process those emails.  And that indicates an act of bad faith. She’s just giving all of us the virtual finger.

This from a a guy who writes that if Clinton is the candidate,  he “would still vote for her in the general election over any Republican.”

Also see  Attn: Delivery Man Schlepping Boxes With 55,000 Pages of Emails to Foggy Bottom, You’re Wanted at the Podium! (Corrected)

When asked why these documents were not provided to State in electronic format for better searchability, the official spox said, “Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done.”  I don’t know what kind of precedent she is talking about.  Has anyone ever had to produce  55,000 pages of emails before from a private email server? How do you search that? Control+D for smart not?

This is basically 110 reams of paper at 500 sheets per ream, or 11 bales of paper.  And if the Clinton folks instead used a thumb drive for these 55,000 pages of email, it probably could have spared a tree or two!

Reseed’s strategy is prevention and remediation — not only can we curb deforestation by encouraging consumers and retailers to adopt e-receipts, but we can also reverse some of the damage with the money saved. Forgoing 55,000 receipts can spare an entire tree, and it only takes a dollar in donations for Reseed to plant a tree.

Going Paperless: The Hidden Cost of a Receipt
Part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative 

Oy! What’s that?

The ACLU writes that the politics swirling around the Clinton email scandal obscure real problems:

As the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has documented at length, various Bush White House officials used Republican National Committee accounts to communicate with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in what would become the scandal over the hiring and firing of United States attorneys that the Department of Justice later found to be the inappropriately politicized.

The decision by Secretary Clinton to use “clintonemail.com” exclusively for official business disregards these historical examples. Unfortunately, officials can face the strong temptation to hide official business out of the reach of Freedom of Information Act requests. And as the new retention rules recognize, that’s unacceptable for our democracy.

 

On March 17, twelve open government organizations also wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry and David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States asking that the Clinton emails containing federal records be transferred to the Department of State in their original electronic form:

Because it is of the utmost importance that all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails are properly preserved and transferred back to the State Department for accountability and historical record purposes, we are asking that you verify that Secretary Clinton’s emails containing federal records are transferred to the Department of State in their original electronic form, so that all such emails may be accessible pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The Archivist and State Department are authorized by the Federal Records Act to seek the recovery of records that may have been improperly removed, and the task of determining which emails constitute federal records should not be left solely to Mrs. Clinton’s personal aides. Rather, the Archivist and State Department should oversee the process to ensure its independence and objectivity. To the extent that it is ascertained that any record emails were deleted, they should be retrieved if technically possible.

The letter available online here (pdf) was signed by Cause of Action, Defending Dissent Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, MuckRock, National Coalition for History, National Security Archive, National Security Counselors, OpenTheGovernment.org, Pirate Times, Project on Government Oversight (POGO),  Society of Professional Journalists and The Sunlight Foundation.

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Ex-Chief Information-Disclosure Guru on Hillary’s Email Defense and the Folks Asleep at the Switch

Posted: 12:40  am EDT

 

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Dan Metcalfe spent more than thirty years working at the U.S. Department of Justice where he served from 1981 to 2007 as director of the Office of Information and Privacy. He was responsible for overseeing the implementation of the FOIA throughout the entire executive branch. He now teaches secrecy law at American University’s Washington College of Law. His deconstruction of the former secretary of state’s explanation on her exclusive use of private email is probably the best one we’ve seen so far. There is also an analysis here from the National Security Archive.

Below is an excerpt from the op-ed piece Mr. Metcalfe wrote for Politico:

[T]here is the compounding fact that Secretary Clinton did not merely use a personal email account; she used one that atypically operated solely through her own personal email server, which she evidently had installed in her home. This meant that, unlike the multitudes who use a Gmail account, for instance, she was able to keep her communications entirely “in house,” even more deeply within her personal control. No “cloud” for posterity, or chance of Google receiving a congressional subpoena—not for her. No potentially pesky “metadata” surrounding her communications or detailed server logs to complicate things. And absolutely no practical constraint on her ability to dispose of any official email of “hers,” for any reason, at any time, entirely on her own. Bluntly put, when this unique records regime was established, somebody was asleep at the switch, at either the State Department or the National Archives and Records Administration (which oversees compliance with the Federal Records Act)—or both.

[…] as Secretary Clinton might like to claim personal “credit” for this successful scheme when talking with her friends about it within the privacy of her own home—perhaps while leaning against her private Internet server in her basement—the fact is that she didn’t invent this form of law circumvention; she just uniquely refined it. Yes, it was the Bush administration—specifically, the White House Office of Administration in concert with Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee—that likewise succeeded with wholesale email diversion back in the pre-smartphone days of freewheeling Blackberry usage.

Unfortunately for all of us, the competition for perverse “honors” in the world of circumventing both the letter and the spirit of federal records laws is indeed quite stiff.

Read more here in Politico Magazine.

An internet security expert tells Quartz  that a home server is “kind of like putting your money in your mattress.”

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It did, did’t it? Lockbox.

Then there’s this guy who in 1994 was a 22 year old who worked as a computer programmer for a company called Information Management Consultants tasked with sorting through presidential docs in 1993.  He wondered if the Clinton team included technical wizards who designed a flawless keyword search when combing through her emails:

If so, she should release technical documentation of the search algorithm, the test procedure, and the test results — assuming they tested it. Without that information, we have no basis for sharing Hillary Clinton’s “absolute confidence” that the State Department has received all her work-related email communication.

Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to know who should get a large medal for being asleep at the switch at the State Department on this? Asleep at the switch doesn’t sound very good but perhaps it is a kinder version for whatever it was that happened at HST.

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Old Diplomats’ Almanac Question of the Day: So you want to be an American Ambassador?

Posted: 00:07  PDT

 

Rabbit Hole News: State Dept’s Private Email Usage Policy, Plus Attn: State/OIG – Firecracker Coming Your Way

Posted: 01:47 EST
Updated: 11:19 EST
Updated 15:14 EST

 

Shortly after the NYT broke the story about the former secretary of state’s exclusive used of a personal email account to conduct government business, we sent an inquiry to the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. We don’t know if they could comment about it but we wanted to ask anyway.  We’ve looked at the regs but the FAM is silent on the use of private email, or at least we thought it was. It almost seem as if the rule makers presumed that all employees will be using official email, thus, the rules only spell out the requirement for the preservation of records.

If Secretary Clinton was using a private email account and if her close advisers were also using private email accounts, we wanted to know how is this reconciled with the ability of individuals to FOIA government documents. We were also interested how this would keep other senior or even regular employees from using Yahoo or Gmail to conduct official business.

State/OIG’s response was, “we are not in a position to comment at this time.”

Actually, we asked the wrong questions.

In 2012, we blogged about the OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. (See State/OIG Releases Ambassador Scott Gration’s Embassy Report Card – And Look, No Redactions!). We mentioned in passing the ambassador’s use of commercial email for official government business. In light of these news reports that Secretary Clinton exclusively used nongovernment email during her four year tenure as secretary of state, the old 2012 report is getting some legs again.

 

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Below is an excerpt from that 2012 report specifically addressing the ambassador’s use of commercial email for daily communication of official government business. The ambassador was also slammed for using “a government-owned laptop that is not physically or electronically connected to the Department’s OpenNet network.”  

Mission Leadership Challenge 

Very soon after the Ambassador’s arrival in May 2011, he broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff. Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business. The Department email system provides automatic security, record-keeping, and backup functions as required. The Ambassador’s requirements for use of commercial email in the office and his flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy have placed the information management staff in a conundrum: balancing the desire to be responsive to their mission leader and the need to adhere to Department regulations and government information security standards. The Ambassador compounded the problem on several occasions by publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions. These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Authorized Automated Information Systems 

The Ambassador uses a government-owned laptop that is not physically or electronically connected to the Department’s OpenNet network. Authorized Department OpenNet email systems are available on the Ambassador’s office desktop. According to 12 FAM 544.3 and 11 State 73417 (from the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security to the Ambassador), it is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized information system, which has the proper level of security controls. The use of unauthorized information systems increases the risk for data loss, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information. The use of unauthorized information systems can also result in the loss of official public records as these systems do not have approved record preservation or backup functions. Conducting official business on non-Department automated information systems must be limited to only maintaining communications during emergencies.

Recommendation 57: Embassy Nairobi should cease using commercial email to process Department information and use authorized Department automated information systems for conducting official business. (Action: Embassy Nairobi)

Source:  Inspection of Embassy Nairobi, Kenya | Report Number ISP-I-12-38A, August 2012 | pdf

 

We should point out that the 2012 report was issued prior to the tenure of IG Steve Linick and Secretary Clinton tenure at the State Department ended in February 2013.  But with 2016 just around the corner, this email debacle will not die a quiet death.

The unclassified cable  STATE 065111 on securing email accounts sent to all overseas posts on June 28, 2011 only says “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal email accounts.”

See the magic word there? It did not say you can’t, only that you shouldn’t.

So for the second day in a row, the subject of the Clinton emails was featured in the Daily Press Briefing. The State Department’s deputy spox, Marie Harf was impressive when she said that “There was no prohibition” on the use of personal email.  She emphasized that “There was not then and there is not now a prohibition on using a personal email for official business, and at the time she was in office, there was no time requirement for when those needed to be preserved as records.”

Entertainment value? High.

In any case, the question that we probably should have asked the OIG is this — if an ambassador was “hammered” for his use of nongovernment, private email, can we presume that ordinary bureaucrats would get a similar treatment? And if this is so  — don’t we then have a set of rules that applied to everyone but the head of the agency?   We originally cited 5 FAM 440 (pdf) as the rules governing  Electronic Records, Facsimile Records, and Electronic Mail Records in the State Department.  But wait —  the 2012 OIG report on Kenya cited 12 FAM 544.3 Electronic Transmission Via the Internet (pdf), a section of the FAM that has been in the rules books since 2005. It says in part:

It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized AIS [automated information system], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information. The Department’s authorized telework solution(s) are designed in a manner that meet these requirements and are not considered end points outside of the Department’s management control.
[…]
c. Employees should be aware that transmissions from the Department’s OpenNet to and from non-U.S. Government Internet addresses, and other .gov or .mil addresses, unless specifically directed through an approved secure means, traverse the Internet unencrypted. Therefore, employees must be cognizant of the sensitivity of the information and mandated security controls, and evaluate the possible security risks and then decide whether a more secure means of transmission is warranted (i.e., secure fax, mail or network, etc.)

d. In the absence of a Department-provided secure method, employees with a valid business need may transmit SBU information over the Internet unencrypted after carefully considering that:

(1) SBU information within the category in 12 FAM 541b(7)(a) and (b) must never be sent unencrypted via the Internet;

(2) Unencrypted information transmitted via the Internet is susceptible to access by unauthorized personnel;

(3) Email transmissions via the Internet generally consist of multipoint communications that are routed to their destination through the path of least resistance, which may include multiple foreign and U.S. controlled Internet service providers (ISP);

(4) Once resident on an ISP server, the SBU information remains until it is overwritten;

(5) Unencrypted email transmissions are subject to a risk of compromise of information confidentiality or integrity;

(6) SBU information resident on personally owned computers connected to the Internet is generally more susceptible to cyber attacks and/or compromise than information on government owned computers connected to the Internet;

(7) The Internet is globally accessed (i.e., there are no physical or traditional territorial boundaries). Transmissions through foreign ISPs or servers can magnify these risks; and

(8) Current technology can target specific email addresses or suffixes and content of unencrypted messages.

 

General policies, of course, can have exceptions and if that’s what happened here, wouldn’t it be nice to know who were granted exceptions to use private email accounts besides the secretary of state and why? And did the Legal Advisor or somebody else signed off on those exceptions? Was the clintonemail.com server an authorized AIS [automated information system] of the State Department, and if so, who authorized it?

We cannot predict where this email controversy is going to end, but some Internet sleuth is digging up Dubai, Denmark, Luxembourg in what seems to be an already convoluted matter.  If you read the link below there is an interesting question whether the Clinton e-mail server was hosted for some period of time by an outside hosting firm.  If the hosting firm was based overseas at an external location in Texas or elsewhere,  wouldn’t this be an added headache for cybersecurity and something the OIG’s new Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP) might be interested in?

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While the Inspector General of the State Department might not be in a position to comment about this issue publicly at this time, or might not want to wade into the rabbit hole with this political firecracker, it may not have much of a choice.  Even our apolitical neighbors were dismayed by this.  The perception that the rules may have been applied selectively, based on rank undermines the Service.  That in itself is an excellent excuse to review the entire practice and determine to what extent exceptions were made.  The Republican National Committee has reportedly already asked the Office of Inspector General to look into whether Clinton’s practices led her or the department to violate the Federal Records Act.

It’s only a matter of time before there is a formal congressional request. Heads up State/OIG, this firecracker is heading your way.

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Related post:
So wait — Hillary Clinton never got a state.gov email? What does the FAM say?

Related items:

State Department June 28, 2011 Unclassified Cable 065111 on Securing Email Accounts via (foxnews)

NARA Bulletin 2014-06 | September 15, 2014 – Guidance on Managing Email

NARA Bulletin 2013-03 | September 9, 2013 – Guidance for agency employees on the management of Federal records, including email accounts, and the protection of Federal records from unauthorized removal

NARA Bulletin 2011-03 | December 22, 2010 – Guidance Concerning the use of E-mail Archiving Applications to Store E-mail

OMB | Managing Government Records Directive requires that Federal agencies manage all their email electronically by December 31, 2016.

 

 

 

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy

Posted: 12:39 EST

 

In 1979, John Limbert was a new FSO posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by Iranian students. He was one of the fifty-two U.S. personnel who spent 444 days as Iran hostages from 1979-81. Later in his career, he was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He currently serves as Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy.  In yesterday’s issue of the Guardian, Ambassador Limbert writes that “there is a remarkable parallel between denunciations of Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress and of a possible nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Those who condemn the former haven’t heard it; and those who condemn the latter haven’t seen it.”  Excerpt:

[H]is words will not matter. What will matter is the obvious symbolism of his presence in a partisan and political event. Netanyahu will denounce Iran and its evil ways, but behind these denunciations his real target lies elsewhere. The speech will be a divisive event, in which, for his own reasons, Netanyahu has entered the American political arena and thrown in his lot with President Obama’s opponents. In this political mêlée, Iran becomes the means to weaken him.

Such a bizarre piece of diplomacy may play well with the far right in the United States and with Netanyahu’s own constituency in the coming Israeli elections. In the process he does not seem to care how many dishes he breaks or how much he damages Israel’s relations with the president of its most important ally.
[…]
If Netanyahu dislikes and distrusts the Islamic Republic, fair enough. In his negative views he has lots of company. But does Iran’s being difficult mean that there should be no deal to limit its nuclear program? Shouldn’t the P5+1 negotiate the best possible, but perhaps imperfect, agreement? In 1981, the Iranians and Americans reached a deal that brought me and 51 of my embassy colleagues home after 14 months’ captivity in Iran. The deal stuck, although the United States neither liked the Iranians, nor trusted them. At times it is necessary to talk to unattractive regimes and to negotiate agreements that deliver outcomes less than ideal. Rejecting a nuclear deal with Iran – before such a deal has been reached – will do nothing to bring about a better outcome.

Continue reading, Netanyahu’s supporters (and critics) don’t really care what he says to Congress.

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Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST

 

Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

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Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

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Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

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Snapshot: U.S.-Funded Democracy/Governance Activities Over Egyptian Govt Objections

– Domani Spero

 

Imagine if a country, say China, sends some of its foreign aid funds to foreign non-government groups in the United States to help us repair our roads and bridges or learn about their people’s congress. What if its National People’s Congress dictates that its embassy in Washington, D.C. does not have to take into account the wishes of the U.S. Government as to where or how that money is spent; that the specific nature of Beijing’s assistance need not be subject to the prior approval by the United States Government. What do you think will happen? If we were up in arms (looking at you Texas) over the UN election monitors, imagine what it would be like if a foreign government starts something crazy like this.

But apparently, that’s exactly what we did in Egypt, thanks to then Senator Sam Brownback’s amendment.

Via GAO:

In 2004, the U.S. government began discussions with the Egyptian government regarding a program to directly fund NGOs and other organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in Egypt outside of the framework of an implementing assistance agreement. From September to November 2004, the two governments worked to outline a process by which the United States would directly fund such activities. Further information on this process can be found in the sensitive version of our report.

Shortly thereafter, Congress approved an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (the Brownback Amendment), which provided further direction regarding assistance for democracy and governance activities in Egypt. The Brownback Amendment stated, “That with respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” 

In fiscal year 2005, USAID began using some democracy and governance assistance to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities, rather than working with the Egyptian government under the implementing assistance agreement. Soon after USAID started to directly fund NGOs and other types of organizations to implement democracy and governance activities in fiscal year 2005, the Egyptian government raised objections. Among other things, the Egyptian government stated that USAID was violating the terms of the process that the two governments had outlined in a 2004 exchange of letters. However, the U.S. government officials responded that they were interpreting their commitments based upon the conditions applied by the Brownback Amendment and agreement in diplomatic discussions on direct funding to NGOs.

 

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The Egyptian government strongly objected to some of the U.S. government’s planned assistance for democracy and governance after the January 2011 revolution, including the award of funding to unregistered NGOs.9 These concerns led to the Egyptian Ministry of Justice questioning officials from several NGOs about their activities in late 2011. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Egyptian police raided the offices of four U.S. NGOs that were implementing U.S.-funded democracy and governance activities—Freedom House, ICFJ, IRI, and NDI. In February 2012, the Egyptian government charged employees of these four organizations and a German organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with establishing and operating unauthorized international organizations, according to government documents.10 At the time of the charges, all four U.S. organizations reported that they had submitted registration applications to the Egyptian government.11 In June 2013, an Egyptian court convicted a total of 43 employees from the four U.S. NGOs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, of these charges and the NGOs had to close their operations in Egypt. Table 1 provides a summary of the grants the U.S. government awarded after the January 2011 revolution to the four U.S. NGOs that were prosecuted. All of the American staff from the NGOs were allowed to leave Egypt before the convictions.

And we end up with this: USAID Egypt: An Official Lie Comes Back to Bite, Ouchy!

An FSO offers some perspective:

You imply that the United States would never allow assistance of the kind we provide to Egypt in terms of democracy assistance.  This is not the case.  We do restrict the ability of foreign nations to influence our elections, but foreign nations have both the ability and the right to influence policy decisions in the United States.  Two days ago, I was reading a blog on foreignpolicy.com sponsored by the UAE Embassy.  But much more importantly many foreign governments hire lobbyists, engage in informational campaigns, or provide grants to NGOs in the United States and all of these activities are protected by U.S. law.  
 
To return to Egypt, I have worked on many authoritarian countries including Egypt where the government has done everything possible to squeeze organizations and individuals standing up for human rights and individual freedoms.  Just as we allow foreign countries to engage in policy advocacy in the United States, I see no reason why we should engage in unilateral human rights disarmament and allow the objections of the Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, Chinese, and Burmese among others about their sovereignty prevent us from aiding individuals and organizations these governments are seeking to crush.  Having said this, I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that our assistance does not endanger the individuals and organizations we are seeking to support and protect.  It’s a tough line to walk, but I have sought to walk it many times in my Foreign Service career. 

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Revisiting the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act

– Domani Spero

 

In December last year, we urged your support for a bill in Congress intended to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to a surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government killed overseas in the line of duty (see Please Ask Congress to Support the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act).

This Act may be cited as the “Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act”.

SEC. 2. SPECIAL IMMIGRANT STATUS FOR CERTAIN SURVIVING SPOUSES AND CHILDREN.

In General.–Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)) is amended in subparagraph (D)– (1) by inserting “(i)” before “an immigrant who is an employee”; and (2) by inserting the following: “(ii) an immigrant who is the surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government abroad killed in the line of duty, provided that the employee had performed faithful service for a total of fifteen years, or more, and that the principal officer of a Foreign Service establishment (or, in the case of the American Institute of Taiwan, the Director thereof) in his discretion, recommends the granting of special immigrant status to the spouse and children and the Secretary of State approves such recommendation and find that it is in the national interest to grant such status;”. (b) Effective Date.–This Act and the amendments made by this Act shall take effect beginning on January 31, 2013, and shall have retroactive effect.

Check out this page showing support for H.R. 1781. Warning, reading the comments posted against this bill will melt your brain and make you want to throw your shoes at somebody.

A comment from a Maine voter says it all:

Some of the ignorant comments I have seen regarding this case make me ashamed. We have an obligation to the families of these guards who make the ultimate sacrifice, and a few nice words and a flag just don’t cut it. We need to do the right thing here.

So, on June 14, 2013, this bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.  As of 12/13/2014 no related bill information has been received for H.R.1781 – the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act.  The majority of the bills die in committee, and that apparently happened to this one, too.

The 114th Congress will be seated on January 3, 2015 and will run until January 3, 2017.  The GOP has taken control of both the Senate and the House. It is a worthwhile cause to urge our congressional representatives to revisit this bill again when they return in January, with great hope that it will pass this time.

We think it is important to emphasize that this bill, hopefully reintroduced in the 114th Congress, has a very narrow coverage — only for a spouse or child of a USG employee killed in the line of duty, and only if the employee has performed faithful service for at least fifteen years. It also needs the recommendation of the principal officer at post and the approval of the Secretary of State.

If Congress can allocate 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States (see “Lottery” Diversity Visas), we can find no reason why it cannot allocate visas to the next of kin of persons who actually died while protecting United States government officials and properties.

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Contact Congress: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/US-Congress.shtml

We believe this site will also update when the 114th Congress is seated and can be used to contact congressional representatives next year: http://www.contactingthecongress.org

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George J. Tsunis’ nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Norway ends

– Domani Spero

 

This past August, we blogged about the social media campaign opposing the nomination of George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway (see Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign). At that time we wrote:

Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would?  But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration.  That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.

It took a while but today, it finally happened.

“It is over,” Tsunis said in a telephone interview with Newsday’s Tom Brune. He did not withdraw his nomination, the Senate clock simply ran out, but he did say he would decline to be nominated again for the 114th Congress. President Obama now has an opportunity to pick a new nominee as ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.The White House Office of Personnel needs to find a new nominee, and hopefully that will happen fairly quickly and with more thought put into it.

More below:

A Senate aide confirmed Tsunis was out. Senate Democrats had attempted to wrap many unconfirmed nominees into a package for approval, Tsunis said, but the final measure left out his nomination.
[…]
Tsunis said he was grateful to be considered and went through a “tremendous life-learning experience.”
[…]
Tsunis said he would decline to be nominated again in the next Congress.

“I don’t think anybody would think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Norway has been without an ambassador for two years and the overarching thing should be: Let’s get them a first-rate ambassador.”

Read in full here.

Among the three most controversial nominees this cycle, two had already been confirmed. The one difference with the Tsunis nomination is that unlike the Mamet and Bell nominations, there were people who active lobbied Congress not to confirm this nomination. It turned out that the Norwegian-Americans in Minnesota and the Dakotas were pretty hard headed once they got their mind on one thing. And they nagged their elected representatives. Once the entire congressional delegations of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota went on the record to oppose this nomination,this was on life support.

The most recent ambassador to Norway, Barry White departed post in the fall of 2013. We should note for the record that we haven’t had a career ambassador appointed as US Ambassador to Oslo since President Lyndon Johnson appointed Margaret Joy Tibbetts, a career FSO sent there in 1964 and served until 1969.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, pay attention.

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