The internal memo, dated June 9 is marked SBU or “sensitive but unclassified.” It was drafted and approved by Richard A. Stengel, the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs (State/R) and a former managing editor of Time magazine. The memo addressed to Secretary Kerry is cleared only by one person, Susan Stevenson, from Stengel’s own Front Office; there are no other addressee. It’s hard to say how far this memo traveled in 4-5 days before it was leaked but the source could not be too far away from Stengel and Kerry’s offices.
The question now is motive. Who leaked that memo and why? Is it to garner support from higher ups like those in the WH or is it to torpedo Stengel’s “big proposal and immediate improvement” before it get legs. Who gains, who losses from this leak?
Pardon me, you’re waiting for the SBU leaker to get caught? We’ll, we’re also waiting for the trap doors for the leakers of the 2010 secret cables sent by then Ambassador Eikenberry on the Afghanistan strategy, and the 2012 top secret cable by then Ambassador Crocker on Pakistani havens. To-date, none of those leakers have been caught. So, catch the SBU leaker? Good luck!
Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post. The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff. The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”
The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this — there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.
And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ”
A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:
The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.
The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires
Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection. The OIG inspectors write:
The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.
Some other good news:
1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey. 3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.
Now for that American Center boondoggle:
According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062). The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation. But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.
A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.
Welcome to the new American Center. In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen. It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect. It will not be your traditional cultural center. This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program. It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar. I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible. VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen. Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe. We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center. While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free.
This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the 2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?
I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies
The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014. At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:
[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.
Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?
As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.
The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.
No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center
According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.
A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.
Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):
Twenty-five 46-inch televisions ($21,500) and six 70-inch televisions ($24,600).
A motorized theater curtain system ($7,150).
Twenty iMacs ($22,935), 16 HP TouchSmarts ($14,247), 20 Wii stations ($4,230), 20 Apple TVs ($1,920), and 10 iPods ($1,790).
Fifty home theater chairs ($26,600).
A replica of the Seattle Space Needle, painted wall mural, and totem pole ($4,810).
Decorations, including more than a dozen fish and turtle sculptures ($5,400).
Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?
The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:
No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.
Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding
The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation. Who signed them out? Who approved these loans? What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”
As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.
Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.
Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?
Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:
The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.
Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection. The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.
Ambassador Colleen Bell at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match. See related story over at the USA Water Polo website.
Dr. Dénes Kemény of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation (http://ow.ly/J3r6T), invited Ambassador Colleen Bell to be his guest during last night’s match between the U.S. and Hungary at the 2015 Volvo Cup. The American team (http://ow.ly/J3rbu) lost to their Hungarian hosts, but they played a great game according to the US Embassy! Photo by US Embassy Budapest/FB
These ambassador introduction videos are the product of State/IIP, under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. From best we could tell, these videos started slowly in 2010 but has now become standard fare for almost all chiefs of mission before the ambassadors get to post. They more or less come from one script — a thank you to President O, a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, a mention of any prior visit to host country in college or any connection to the host country, a visit to some Washington,D.C. memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.
If you feel bad about these videos, you’re not alone. One ambassador has choice words to say about these videos: “The Youtube videos newly minted ambassadors make are downright embarrassing. They give an impression of proconsular self-regard which is in bad taste. Diplomacy is premised on a world of sovereign states. The State Department’s fascination with social media suggests that it no longer thinks that is the world we live in, a strange notion for a foreign ministry.”
And the band marches on. These videos we must say are looking better than the previous ones but they still come across as somewhat artificial and forced at times. And that holding hands and picnic scene in the bottom clip below cracked us up. The best ones are those where the COM delivers the entire intro in the language of his/her host country, and appears naturally before the camera. Take a look and see!
Michael Hoza, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon.
Ted Osius III, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam.
Kevin Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia.
Joan Polaschik, U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.
Subtitled in Arabic and French.
Andrew Schapiro, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic
Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco
Bruce Heyman, U.S. Ambassador to Canada
Kevin O’Malley, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland
Suzi Levine, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland & Liechtenstein
Robert Sherman, U.S. Ambassador to Portugal
One ambassador is not in this video series. Ambassador John Tefft, our current ambassador to Moscow, who was previously ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania (was also chargé d’affaires in Moscow from 1996-1997) did not jump into the bandwagon. Newsweek notes that he has been “handed diplomacy’s version of “cleanup on aisle 6!” Ambassador Tefft’s operating style as a “traditional” diplomat with old-school, low-key professionalism,” is considered “a huge asset in Moscow, and perhaps the only style that can work” in the current situation, according to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. The embassy confirmed that Ambassador Tefft did not cut an intro video, but with four ambassadorships under his belt, he’s not a stranger.
Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?
* * *
The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:
This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.
If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.
We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.
Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.
But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.
On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:
And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us.
Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.
This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).
“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight. We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”
Earworm ALERT! The US Embassy in Armenia funded this video produced in collaboration with the US Alumni Association of Armenia back in April. The video is directed by Artyom Abovyan and features US ambassador John A. Heffern as well as several Armenian celebrities who were alumni of U.S. programs in the country. The embassy is trying to get to 300K views and here is Ambassador Heffern trying to get Montel Williams‘ attention.
Oh, the stuff you can do these days with energy and imagination. The U.S.Consulate General in Toronto did a Reddit AMA last week, answering questions on visas and Amcit services. While the AMA response was modest, we believe this is the first time a consular post did an AMA on Reddit. USCG Toronto processes over 500 nonimmigrant visas a day. In 2008, Consulate General Toronto already had the largest NIV section in Canada. The inspection report at that time noted that about half of all new immigrants to Canada chose the greater Toronto area for their place of residence.
USCG Toronto, Canada Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB
Below is an excerpt from the AMA conducted by FSOs, Nausher Ali, Visas Chief and Kathryn Porter,American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto:
We are U.S. Foreign Service Officers from the Consular Section of U.S. Consulate Toronto, and we want to answer your questions about non-immigrant visas and U.S. citizen services! We’ll give as much information as we can in order to help you understand how we work. Hopefully, this conversation will help you be better prepared for a visa interview and/or allow us to help you more efficiently if you are a U.S. citizen living or traveling abroad.
Please note, we are UNABLE to talk in detail about specific cases or “pre-adjudicate” your specific case. We also cannot answer questions on immigrant visas for this particular thread. Any questions that deal more with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will either not be answered or we will link you to their relevant websites for more information. Finally, we cannot answer questions about life in the U.S. Foreign Service for this thread either. There are already a few other threads that do that quite well! That said, we’ll try to respond to as many of your questions as possible!
Our team that is answering your questions consists of the following people:
•Nausher Ali, Consul and Visas Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto
•Kathryn Porter, American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto
Victoria from reddit will be here with us today as well. Ask Us Anything!
Edit: Thank you everybody for your questions. We really enjoyed this today. Sadly, we have to take off. Happy travels!
Questions include topics such as H1Bs, asylum, discrimination, moving, immunity, moving to Canada, Spain vs Chile. Somebody wanted to know the officers’ favorite snacks! Answer:”Poutine! Mission Canada! How could you NOT like Poutine? I like sautéed mushrooms on mine” and “timbits.” No, timbits are not/not doughnut holes!
Here are some of the Qs asked and answered:
Q: What’s the actual intention for visa interview? I mean it hardly last for not even a minute.
Nausher: Visa interviews do usually last a few minutes because the consular officers are well-trained in quickly determining whether or not the applicant is eligible for a visa. Once they’ve determined that, there’s no reason to continue the interview. Here in Toronto we interview more than 500 people a day.
Q: Questions: How can a person aged 18-19 get an internship with an office like this? Sounds interesting for the experience and Can you explain what you guys/gals do there all day?
Nausher: we actually have an intern program for both American interns and Canadian residents. Most US Embassies and Consulates have a page that talks about their internship program, including ours. And here’s the link. The work depends on what section the internship is in. But typically a lot of interns will get to experience a lot of variety during their internship because a lot of what we do varies from day to day. For example, today we’re conducting an “Ask me Anything.”
Kathryn: And what we do all day depends. Every embassy has multiple sections, including political, economic, consular, public diplomacy, and management. Officers in each section do various activities to advance US interest and work together with the host country towards shared goals. And for our internships, it’s all over the place. We are more likely to get people from international relations, political science.
Nausher: but we are always looking for different backgrounds. Most of our interns are local kids – we have 4 Canadian interns across 3 separate units. We are just looking for enthusiasm and interest in working at a diplomatic mission.
Q: I heard law of land does not apply inside the embassy. Is that true?
Nausher: It’s very complicated and really a question for a lawyer, but we are still on Canadian territory, but consulates and embassies are guaranteed certain immunities and protections under the relevant Vienna Conventions.
Q: If you were a character in George R R Martin’s books, what house would you choose to belong to, and why?
Kathryn: I feel like in Canada, it has to be House Stark! Winter is always coming! This is specific to Mission Canada. Here in Mission Canada we would be House Stark.
Q: What’s your opinion on Mayor Ford?
Nausher: Mayor Ford has gotten a lot of attention here and internationally. But as foreign diplomats in Canada, it’s not our role to comment on domestic politicians.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, @PhillipAssis spent two years as a Rural Development Agent in Togo with the Peace Corps. Phillip has also worked at the US Energy Association and the World Bank. According to the SAIS Observer, he spent his first tour in the Foreign Service in Guyana, where he met his husband. From there, he was moved to Vatican City and is now the CAO at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan. His next tour will be back in Washington, DC.
He is trained in piano, sax, flute, and vocals, sung at Capitol Hill jazz clubs for years, and released his first album, “Since I Fell for You” on iTunes in 2006 (The album is under the name Phillip Nelson).
Assis just recorded two music videos with embassy support on property rights and peace. “Aman Ao Mina” (“Love and Peace”) is currently a popular song on the radio and music TV stations in Karachi.
Beautiful song and we love the beat! Click here to view “Aman Ao Mina” or here via Vimeo/US Embassy in Islamabad if the embedded player doesn’t play.
As can be expected, the Chicago Tribune report citing an army investigation into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013 made it to the Daily Press Briefing.
State Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says that “No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report.” Since State had concluded its “classified internal review,” how many military personnel did it interview for its report on that Zabul attack?
One, two, ten, the entire unit …how many?
We don’t know since the internal review is classified.
According to the Tribune, the army report says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.
What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.
The initial blast was cause by detonation from “a remote-controlled bomb hidden under a pallet that was leaned up against the base’s southern wall.” On PRT Zabul base’s wall. The report also slams the “failure of the State Department team to properly coordinate this trip with military leadership.”
What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.
The report says that the State Department shared too much information with Afghan officials, and the group may have been targeted because specifics on the event’s exact time and who would attend “had leaked out.”
Um….we don’t know since the internal review is classified.
An embassy email referenced to in the report said that Qalat was picked because “we think the visuals would be nice” and it is a “the perfect place for a media tour.”
Months or years from now when the media and the public have forgotten about this — are we going to find out that the U.S. Army conducted its investigation without talking to State Department personnel, and that the State Department, as well, came up with an internal review without interviewing any of the military personnel in Zabul?
The spox brought up two items that made us — whisley-tango-foxtrot!
“Afghanistan is a war zone.”
Because we all need a reminder!
“[P]eople responsible for this tragedy were the extremists.”
Holy moly guacamole! Is that the best response we’ve got every time a sapling falls in a forest?
We have excerpted the exchange below.
QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.
So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?
MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.
And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.
QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So —
MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret —
QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.
MS. PSAKI: — this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.
QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building —
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important —
QUESTION: — is it worth reconsidering?
MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.
QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.
QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have —
MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless —
QUESTION: — when they had the meeting, they decided not to there —
MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.
QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.
QUESTION: Of course.
MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.
“Media reports suggesting that the group was lost are simply incorrect. They were going to a compound across the street from the PRT,” he said in written responses to emailed questions.
Ventrell said the purpose of what he called the “mission” that led to Smedinghoff’s death was a news conference featuring the senior U.S. official in southern Afghanistan and the Zabul governor to promote a book donation project and the “growth of literacy.”
Ventrell called “highlighting Afghanistan’s ongoing progress for both national and international media” an “integral part of our work.”
“This is what we do, and we believe in it,” he said. “Our diplomats believe in getting out beyond the wire to reach people. In this case we were engaging with the people of Afghanistan AND the local government.”
According to the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, reports suggesting that the group was lost are “simply incorrect.”
The Army report now confirmed that the party “had the wrong location for the school.”
That official word from the State Department was never retracted.
So the Smedinghoff party was not/not lost, but they had the wrong location for the school? What kind of story is this? Is there another meaning for the word “lost” that we have yet to learn? We know about “get lost!” so no need to email us. Mr. Ventrell is now the Director of Communications for the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
On April 24, 2014, McClatchy’s Mark Seibel writes:
“It’s unclear whether there’s been much soul searching at the State Department. In the Tribune story, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounds unrepentant. “The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the mission,” the Tribune quotes her as saying, then adds that “a classified internal review of the day was conducted, . . . and the department determined no State rules were broken.”
We have folks who complained to us — either that the State Department or Embassy Kabul was thrown under the bus in this army report. Well, we only have the army report to go on.
Army report excepted, we know three things from the State Department: 1) they named a courtyard after Ms. Smedinghoff at Embassy Kabul; 2) there is a new checklist in place; and 3) the internal review of the Zabul incident is still classified.
In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine. The NYPost writes:
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #UnitedForUkraine @StateDeptSpox.
Psaki defended her photo.
“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.
Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats of further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.
In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:
Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss
Selfie Missing: Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.
Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan
Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips
Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez
Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor
Embassy Selfie: Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff
Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:
Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.
Oops, wait … what’s this? The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…