Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?

Posted: 2:40 am EDT


Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? That’s the question asked during the August 31 press briefing at the State Department.

QUESTION: Two other quick things. One is: Do you believe as a general matter that the Secretary of State, whomever he or she may be, is bound by the rules in the Foreign Affairs Manual or not? I mean, it may be that they’re not, that they have sort of a status that’s different and that therefore they have the rights to not follow it.

MR TONER: I mean, I would just say that every State Department employee from the Secretary on down takes the handling of classified information very seriously and is aware of the rules surrounding those classification standards.

In reading these excerpts, it is useful to remember the  State Department’s Most Candid Nugget.  A bit later, another one tried asking this again:

QUESTION: On the thing that everybody is obliged to – I mean, can you not address squarely whether the Foreign Affairs Manual applies to the Secretary of State or not?

MR TONER: I mean, I can say that, again, we, from the Secretary on down, take the handling of classified materials and the rules surrounding those – so I mean in that sense, including the Foreign Affairs Manual but also other regulations, stipulations, training that we undergo in how to handle classified and confidential information.

QUESTION: You take them —

MR TONER: Seriously. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’re bound by them?

MR TONER: We’re all bound by – how we treat classified information is, as I said, an important component of the work we do, but I’ve also made clear that when you look at classified material it is not an exact science, it’s not black and white, it’s not always clear, so there’s strong feelings and different beliefs about when something is classified, whether it’s born classified, whether it should be classified later. These are all questions that are being answered in a deliberative and a thorough way that we’re looking at that’s not somehow some cabal of people in a small room somewhere making these decisions. It’s an interagency process. It involves the IC, it involves other agencies as it touches their equities. So that’s our focus.

QUESTION: Mark, since you just said those —

MR TONER: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: — rules and standards are so important that everyone in this building has to follow them, can you say from that podium categorically that Secretary Clinton followed the rules and the law?

MR TONER: I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function in this regard in releasing these emails. Our goal and our sole purpose when we look at these emails is to decide – well, first to publish them according to the FOIA request that we have received. But in doing that, looking at them and deciding whether any of that material needs to be redacted and subsequently classified.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a little odd that the State Department can’t state categorically that the Secretary of State followed the rules?

MR TONER: All I can say is that there are – and I’ve alluded to there – I’ve not alluded to it, I’ve said as much to Arshad: There are other reviews, and that’s really for the inspector general and other entities who are out there looking at some of these broader questions.

Click here for the DPB | August 31, 2015.

The first question starts with “Do you believe …”  They can pin Mr. Toner to the wall with giant thumb tacks but we doubt very much if they can pry a straight answer out of him on this one.  What he believes is immaterial. What the building believes is what counts. And for that, we think you’d have to go ask the Legal Adviser.

Oops, wait! Brian Egan nominated to succeed Harold Hongju Koh is still stuck in the Senate confirmation process. Originally nominated in September 2014, Mr. Egan has now waited 347 days for his Senate confirmation. He had been renominated once before on January 16, 2015 when his nomination was not acted by the Senate last year.

While the Office of the Legal Adviser (without a Senate-confirmed Legal Adviser) has not released an opinion on this subject, it apparently told the OIG that the Foreign Affairs Manual‘s disciplinary provisions do not apply to political appointees as they are “not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.”

The January 2015 OIG report Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (pdf) includes the following:

[The] Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

According to the OIG report, the Under Secretary for Management disagrees with this interpretation:

[T]he Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

Hey, if there’s a shootout between “L” and “M”, who wins?

Okay, first, how can Legal only cites the FAM’s disciplinary provisions? The Foreign Affairs Manual is the rules book for the agency. If the disciplinary provisions do not apply to political appointees, what other parts of the FAM do not apply to them?

Can they ship construction materials with their household effects, for instance? Can they change their workdays so they only have to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and have four day weekends every week? Can they travel first class without using U.S. air carriers? Are they obligated to account for their own conduct, whether on or off their jobs? Are they allowed to accept and retain gifts given to them by foreign governments? Can they speculate in currency exchange? Can their spouses work anywhere they want? Are they allowed to invest in real estate in their host countries? And on and on and on.

So if we follow the Office of Legal Adviser’s opinion to its logical conclusion, the Secretary of State, if a political appointee is also not subject to the FAM, yes?

That’s a dreadful opinion, by the way. It puts a politically appointed secretary of state and politically appointed American ambassadors in the enviable position of rallying the troops with “follow what I say, not what I do.” Because, if that’s the case, political appointees can do anything — fundraise overseas, for example — and not have consequences, while regular employees doing exactly the same thing could be penalized.  Or they/their spouses can ship goodies for private gain using the diplomatic pouch and not have any penalty while a career FSO’s spouse would surely be penalized for doing the same thing. And if political appointees are not subject to the Foreign Affairs Manual because they “are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service” the questions then become 1) why are they in the Foreign Service or Civil Service pay scale? and 2) if not the FAM, which rules are they supposed to adhere to?

Of course, this could also mean that if a Foreign Service officer is appointed Secretary of State, he/she would then be subject to the FAM because he/she is a career member of the diplomatic corps. Not that there’s any great danger of that happening. Lawrence Eagleburger is the only career Foreign Service Officer to have served as Secretary of State (appointed Secretary of State on December 8, 1992, and continued in that position until January 19, 1993). But see why that L opinion is troubling?

In any case, we do think this is an important question that ought to have a simple answer.

Except that it doesn’t.

Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual? 

During the September 1 DPB, a reporter revisited this once more:

QUESTION: It’s a question that I asked the other day and I’d like to ask if the State Department will take a policy decision on this, not with regard to Secretary – former Secretary Clinton, but with regard to current and past secretaries of state, and that is whether it is the view of the Department that the Secretary of State is bound by the rules laid out in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

MR TONER: Okay. I mean, I —

QUESTION: As a general principle, do they apply to the Secretary of State or not, or do they apply selectively? That’s the question.

MR TONER: Okay. I will get you an answer for that.

We await with great interest Mr. Toner’s answer to this very straightforward question. We hope the reporters would keep asking this question. Every day until we all get an answer.


Related posts:




American Diplomacy: What Went Wrong and What Can Be Done About It? (WhirledView)

Posted: 1:16 am EDT


Via WhirledView with Patricia H. Kushlis:

What ever happened to the professional American diplomat?  Or can the world’s second oldest profession even still be considered a profession in these United States?

Is the State Department, the country’s oldest cabinet department which is tasked with the recruitment, training, education and professional development of America’s diplomats, run by the gang who can’t shoot straight or a corrupt in-crowd of long time bureaucrats entrenched in the department paying just enough tribute to the proliferating number of political bosses to stay in power far past their prime?  Or are they one and the same?

The story told in the recent Academy of American Diplomacy report “American Diplomacy at Risk” is that of a once venerable department that has lost much of its relevancy and expertise in the making and implementing of US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War encroached upon by the National Security Council, the US military, the CIA, the National Security Agency and even the Foreign Commercial Service.

Much has been made of “diplomatic readiness” – but how “ready” are American diplomats today?  A wise linguist once told me that “it takes twenty years to grow a tree and it also takes twenty years (or more) to develop the skills required to be a consummate diplomat.”

Nearly 60% of the Foreign Service today is composed of officers who have had less than ten years experience and their first three years are spent working entry-level positions often on the Visa Line or in the war zones of Afghanistan or Iraq. What kind of expertise – or diplomatic readiness – does that translate into?

Continue reading “American Diplomacy: What Went Wrong and What Can Be Done About It?”



Burn Bag: Dissent Awards — How low can we go?

Via Burn Bag:


Well, how about this:  Dissent Awards without any real dissent.  In fact, three out of four don’t have any and it’s a reach for the entry-level one! How low can we go?


Burn Bag: If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?

Posted: 10:31 am EDT

Via Burn Bag:

“If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?  What if it crushes a local national contractor working on a USG facility— will anyone mention the man’s death, or can we expect radio silence as usual?  It’s becoming clear that no one back home really cares about what’s going on over here….it’s like 2004 all over again.”

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009. Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick

Note: “T-Walls” or Texas barriers can reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet. According to, t-walls of the larger variety became symbols of life in Iraq although several variations of shapes and sizes also abound around Iraq.  Read more here.


Foreign Service Kids Grill Secretary Kerry During Take Your Child to Work Day

Posted: 12:40  pm EDT


Secretary Kerry and his dog, Ben F. Kerry attended the Take Your Child to Work Day ceremony at the State Department today. Secretary Kerry said he wanted to  “take a moment to maybe answer any questions that some of you have, which is always very, very dangerous – (laughter) – and could put my entire job at risk.”   So the Foreign Service kids get to ask their parents’ boss a few questions during the Q&A:

  • When do you have time to relax?
  • What do you do as your job?
  • Why do you have to wear suits to work?
  • Is it fun being Secretary of State?
  • When did you get your dog?
  • Is this your first time being Secretary of State?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • What inspired you to be the Secretary of State, and what age did you decide?
  • How tough was it to become what you are?
  • Do you like to do chores? 

You can add all these questions to an 11-year old’s who apparently asked Secretary Kerry, “Who are you and what do you do?” See video here. Click here for the transcript.


IOM Seeks $10M Initial Funds For Humanitarian Evacuation of 11,000+ Fm Yemen, And Wassup With the F-77?

Posted: 12:29  pm EDT


On April 6, the US Embassy Sana’a informed Americans in Yemen of the Indian government’s  offer to assist U.S. citizens who want to depart for Djibouti (see For U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen).

The Indian-assisted evacuation is not the first time Americans are evacuated by a foreign mission. According to the GAO, in 2004, about 400 American citizens from West Africa  were evacuated on foreign government-arranged aircraft. That unnamed post “extensively coordinated and communicated with foreign missions”  presumably because its operation had not been suspended or its staff relocated elsewhere, unlike the case in Yemen.  Although not identified by the GAO report, we think this was the French Government-assisted evacuation from the Ivory Coast in 2004.


A second embassy update on April 6 indicates another departure option from Yemen though the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Below is part of the message:

April 6, 2015 | The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is planning to arrange a flight from Sana’a to Djibouti the week of April 6. U.S. citizens in Yemen who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity should contact the Mr. Anwar Alhakami of the IOM at or 967-7155-55033. The Department of State cannot guarantee that all U.S. citizens seeking to depart via an IOM flight can be accommodated. All U.S. citizens seeking to depart require valid U.S. passports.

image via IOM

image via IOM click for larger view

According to IOM, while a number of governments have taken steps to evacuate their nationals from Yemen, whether by sea or air, many have not been able to do so, and have instead called on IOM’s assistance to extract their nationals who remain stranded there.  As of 1 April, over 11,000 such requests had been received by IOM.  IOM is now seeking an initial USD 10 million in funds to enable it “to deliver humanitarian evacuation assistance to a first caseload of 5,000 stranded and vulnerable migrants.”

Except below (source-pdf):

To date, IOM has received requests to support the humanitarian evacuation of over 11,000 nationals from 22 governments.

Responding to Member States’ requests for IOM’s assistance, the Director General has approved the mobilization of the Organization’s Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism (MEFM) with an initial loan towards the initiation of evacuation operations. The MEFM, however, does not have sufficient resources to meet the requirements presented by the scale of the operation that would need to be established.

IOM’s Humanitarian Evacuation Cell has been activated and surge support has been deployed across the region to help coordinate and organize these efforts. IOM has identified air charter service providers who are able to operate between Yemen and concerned countries. All-inclusive, per capita air transportation costs, for such an operation amount to approximately USD 1,100, based on quotations so far received from aircraft operators, though at this stage IOM continues to consider all potential options, including air and land routes.

With this appeal, IOM aims to launch immediate evacuation operations in a manner that complements efforts so far undertaken by concerned governments, and has set an initial target of 5,000 stranded and vulnerable migrants to be transported from Yemen to their respective countries of origin. IOM will be working closely with authorities in receiving and transit countries, airlines, civil aviation and military authorities of involved countries, and consular authorities in both Yemen and countries of origin to ensure that assisted migrants have adequate documentation, are registered (manifested), are able to depart from Yemen and return to their countries of origin in a seamless manner.

Provisions are also being made to cover the provision of pre-departure assistance within Yemen through the mobilization of IOM’s 200+ staff within the country. Assistance will include ground transportation, medical assistance and basic supplies for migrants awaiting departure and logistical support at points of embarkation. In countries of origin, assistance will need to include onward transportation from ports of entry to final in-country destinations. This additional assistance is estimated to amount to USD 400 per capita.

IOM also says that  among its lessons learnt from the Libya evacuation in 2011 is the critical importance of “establishing adequate support measures in countries of origin to receive migrants at ports of entry and provide basic support packages on arrival and, in partnership with country-based stakeholders and authorities, address prevalent reintegration challenges. In so doing, IOM considers in-country on-arrival assistance an intrinsic part of humanitarian evacuation operations, while also taking into account reintegration challenges in areas of return to ensure the sustainability of returns, prevent secondary displacement and mitigate potential social tension that may arise.”

An American who recently fled Sana’a estimated that there are “perhaps 300 Americans” stranded in Yemen. According to the Guardian, the State Department said it cannot estimate how many Americans are in Yemen.

Asked if the State Department has a sense of how many U.S. citizens are in Yemen,  State’s acting spokesperson Marie Harf told the press corps yesterday, “We don’t.”  She also explained that the State Department has issued 24 Travel Warnings on Yemen in the last 10 years, “so this is not a surprise that the security situation was a poor one.”  As of April 6, the United States does not have a third party in Yemen to act on its behalf as protecting power.

Ms. Harf may not know this but we should note that the State Department requires overseas posts to produce estimates of the number of private American citizens in country.  When surveyed by the GAO in 2007, more than three-quarters of posts said their last estimate was, at best, only somewhat accurate. State officials also told the GAO that these estimates were best guesses and not based on a particular methodology.

The annual State Department report of potential evacuees from each post overseas is called the F-77. In the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon evacuation of over 15,000 Americans, a State official told the GAO that State was in the process of updating the instructions for producing F-77 reports to improve the preparation of estimates of American citizens at post.  If an estimate is not available, does that mean Embassy Sana’a did not have an updated F-77 prior to its suspension of operation in February 2015? Or does that mean, the challenges identified in 2008 for estimating U.S. citizens at post continue to this day: fluctuation of citizen population, non-registration, dual nationals? Or — does it simply mean that the State Department is not willing to make public its estimate of potential evacuees from Yemen?

SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime

Posted: 12:45 pm EDT


The question is why? Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) demanding that our diplomats self-certify that they have not committed a felony within the last seven years? The form says “disclosure of this information is voluntary.” But also that “failure to provide the information requested may result in delay or exclusion of your name on a Foreign Service nomination list.”

Career members of the Foreign Service must be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service by appointment of the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This self-certification is reportedly also required for employees who are up for commissioning and tenuring at the Foreign Relations committee.

So basically in bullying our diplomats into signing this witless self-certification, the SFRC will be able to provide better advice to President Obama?


All Diplomats Must Hold and Keep Top Secret Clearances

The American diplomatic profession requires the issuance of a security clearance. All Foreign Service officers must hold and keep an active Top Secret security clearance.

The personnel security background investigation begins after an individual has been given a conditional offer of employment and has completed the appropriate security questionnaire, usually a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, and other required forms.  Once the security package is received by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, it is reviewed for completeness. National agency record checks and scanned fingerprint checks are then conducted. A case manager will direct the background investigation to cover key events and contacts from the individual’s past and present history.   Once the investigators have completed a report, highly trained security clearance adjudicators will weigh the results against existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. A critical step in the background investigation is the face-to-face interview the individual will have with a DS investigator. This interview usually occurs within a few weeks of an individual submitting a complete security clearance package. Security clearances are subject to periodic reinvestigation every 5 years for TS clearance, and every 10 years for a Secret clearance.

When there is derogatory information, even based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, the security clearance is suspended.  Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty status at diplomatic facilities abroad and may not be retained in positions requiring a security clearance until the investigation is resolved.

The names of those with pending investigations are automatically removed from the promotion list.  It goes without saying …. oops, maybe it does need saying — diplomats who have pled guilty or convicted of a crime will not be able to hold a security clearance, much less have his/her name included in the promotion list.

Let’s give you an example — Michael Sestak, an FSO who pled guilty in a visa fraud-bribery case. He is currently sitting in jail. He’ll be sentenced in April.  When he comes out of prison, he will not/not have a job to return to at the State Department. Does anyone at the SFRC really think that somebody like Mr. Sestak can slip through federal employment again, get on the promotion list and somehow make it through the most deliberative body in Congress. No? So why would anyone in the Senate think that this self-certification is anything but idiotic?


8,042 Diplomats Targeted

On March 2012, cited 2,102,269 as the total number of executive branch employees.  Of those, however, only 1,877,990 are full-time, permanent employees. These numbers reportedly do not include uniformed military personnel, or data on the Postal Service and excludes legislative and judicial branch employees.

Out of the 2.1 million employees, the State Department has  a total of 71,782 employees which includes 47,110 Foreign Service National (FSN) employees; 10,871 Civil Service (CS) employees and 13,801 (FS) Foreign Service employees as of December 2014 (see stats here-pdf.)

Of the total 13,801 Foreign Service employees, 8,042 are considered “Generalists” and 5,759 are “Specialists.”  The “Specialists which include DS agents, and HR, IT professionals are not subject to Senate confirmation.  The “Generalists” are the Foreign Service Officers  whose tenure and promotion are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate.

The Senate majority in the Foreign Relations Committee appears to be targeting only Foreign Service officers.  FSOs, and FSOs alone have been asked to self-certify that they have not been “convicted of or pled guilty of any crime” in the last seven years. As far as we are aware, this requirement does not extend to nominees who are political appointees.

What makes career diplomats special, pray tell?

The White House Knows About This? You Gotta be Kidding.

This self-certification form which is not available at and does not include an official form number says that “The information collected and maintained in this form will be used as part of the vetting process for Foreign Service Lists submitted to the White House for eventual nomination to the Senate.”

An informed source told us that this self-certification had been negotiated between a representative of AFSA, a staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department.

No, there were no photos.

Apparently, there also was no White House representative involved, although you might missed that when reading the unclassified State Department 14 STATE 98420 cable dated Aug 12, 2014, which says in part:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) now requires additional vetting before it considers nominees for confirmation in all of the above-mentioned categories. Effective immediately all employees in those categories who have been nominated on or after April 1, 2014 must file a self-certification form certifying that they have not been convicted of a crime or pled guilty in any court over the past seven years, regardless of whether the record in the case has been sealed, expunged, or otherwise stricken from the court record. HR will notify those employees who are up for commissioning, tenure and SFS promotion that they must submit the form, available at:  [Note: we redacted sbu link] and which must be submitted to
Please note: failure to submit the form will mean that HR will not/not forward your name to the White House for nomination to the Senate. There is no waiver of the SFRC requirement. For those individuals who are unable to make the certification, and wish to provide information relevant to any conviction or guilty plea in the last seven years, they may report the information in the space provided on the form. Further investigation may be made on the basis of any additional information provided. The Department may then be required to provide this information to the SFRC.


AFSA and the State Department must realized that this is a meaningless and coersive made-up document, but both rolled over and played dead.  No other nominees of any agency of the U.S. government are obliged to sign such a certificate, which is essentially, again, meaningless in the context of a profession in which an active security clearance is a prerequisite to the performance of a job.

This is spectacular and unprecedented.

Well, not unprecedented if you count Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt and lavender scare in the 1950s.

Why roll over and play dead?

The SFRC can hold up ambassadorial nominations, senior State Dept level nominations (undersecretaries/assistant secretaries), and decide who to put first on the hearings list and who to put last (see Happy Easter Greeting: SFRC Left Town With 19 Ambassadorial Nominations Still Stuck on Glue!).  The simple act of holding up large numbers of nominees rather than passing them through at a reasonable pace wreaks havoc on State’s budget, assignments process, and people’s lives. (see Is the U.S. Senate Gonna Wreck, Wreck, Wreck, the Upcoming Bidding Season in the Foreign Service?)  Salaries, promotions, transfers, offices, authorities are money. Ambassadors who do not go to posts on time have big time resource implications in addition to political implications. People who do not have the legal authority to do their jobs (is a consular officer’s notarial legal if he/she did not receive Senate confirmation?) operate in a legal limbo presumably implying risks of all kinds.

So —


click image for larger view


Why not ‘just do it’ like Nike? It’s already done but it’s a horrible precedent, what’s next?

This is already being done. Folks have already signed this self-certifying documents and have submitted them as a requirement to their nominations.  They don’t really have a choice, do they? But where does it end?

It doesn’t.

We’ve learned that the SFRC gets information  on names recommended for promotion from the State Department “following vetting” and also directly from the OIG, including information that reportedly goes back decades.

That’s right, going back decades.

If an FSO or any employee is charged with a crime, the employee defends himself/herself in court, and if charged with an administrative matter, the employee defends himself/herself in an HR process. That’s how it works.

One SFRC staffer is now reportedly “negotiating” to gain access to OIG investigative data under the guise of allowing the Senate panel to better advise President Obama concerning the qualifications of Foreign Service Officer candidates. But what the SFRC is now “negotiating” with State and AFSA would be access to raw OIG and Diplomatic Security reports containing derogatory information without any of an employee’s mitigating, exculpatory or defensive evidence information. You okay with that?

What is Senator Corker’s SFRC going to ask for next, your diplomatic liver?

The White House seems asleep at the wheel on this. Today, it’s the State Department, tomorrow, it could be any agency in the Federal Government.

Hey, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is doing it, what’s the rest of the Senate going to ask for next?


State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?

Posted: 3:35  am EDT




Somebody just wrote us a note saying “It’s not clear why the Department has such a hard time with the facts … Colombian academics and others have offered convincing evidence that spraying roundup in their country is a major health issue and yet the Department resorts to ad hominem attacks rather than dealing with the facts.”  

Two academics were allegedly “treated poorly” when they tried to discuss their findings with the INL staff at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá in 2013. We have no way of confirming this either way but given the recent news from the World Health Organization, we wanted to know what happens now.   The embassy’s aerial eradication page appears to be outdated by several years.  Its Public Affairs Office does not have a publicly listed contact email. We have reached out to a couple of offices in Foggy Bottom but have not heard anything back.

In 2012, Jenny O’Connor wrote a piece in CounterPunch about Colombia’s Agent Orange. She noted that a core element of U.S. anti-drugs policy in Colombia has been the destruction of coca fields by aerial chemical fumigation thus impacting the cocaine trade at its source.  She cited the Chaco Government investigation in 2010 where its report found that “since the use of glyphosate based herbicides began in 2002 the communities most exposed had experienced an alarming increase in birth defects, spontaneous abortion and leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphomas in children under the age of 15.”

In 2013, WOLA described the coca fumigation in Colombia:

Aircraft, mostly piloted by contractor personnel, fly over coca-growing zones spraying “Round-Up Ultra,” an herbicide including the active ingredient glyphosate, over about 100,000 hectares per year of Colombian territory. Between 1996 and 2012, aircraft have sprayed herbicides over 1.6 million hectares of Colombia—an area equivalent to a square 80 miles on each side. The corners of such a square would stretch from the Washington suburbs to the Philadelphia suburbs. That’s the equivalent of one hectare sprayed every 5 minutes and 29 seconds since January 1, 1996.
While fumigation has contributed modestly to reduced coca growing, it has done so at a steep cost, both in dollars and in goodwill toward Colombia’s government in conflictive territories where it is most needed.
Testimonies of health and environmental damage from fumigation have proliferated, but are hard to verify. Still, the damage to the government’s credibility is already done when the local population believes them to be true. And nearly everyone in affected zones can cite a case of legal food crops destroyed by spraying, forcing families to confront hunger.


It looks like the last certification posted online on the Secretary of State’s certification on the aerial eradication is dated August 10, 2007.

Memorandum of Justification Concerning the Secretary of State’s 2007 Certification of Conditions Related to the Aerial Eradication of Illicit Coca in Colombia

The Secretary of State determined and certified in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment. After previous consultations with EPA, the Department of State and the Government of Colombia have incorporated all EPA recommendations to strengthen spray program controls and ensure increased protection against adverse effects to humans and the environment. The Department of State is not aware of any published scientific evidence of risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment that have surfaced since the 2006 certification. Included below is a brief review of the conditions that allow the Secretary to recertify to Congress in 2007 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment.

In the 2004 EPA report, EPA offered the following assessment of human health concerns related to the spraying of coca in Colombia: “Despite an aggressive search for cases, there does not appear to be any evidence that glyphosate aerial spraying has resulted in any adverse health effects among the population where this spraying takes place.” EPA also concluded “that an aggressive program to identify glyphosate poisoning has been implemented in the areas of Colombia where illicit crop eradication spraying programs are prevalent.” A significant number of health care providers have received training and additional training is under way or planned.

We have been unable to locate a more recent justification for the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying.  If there is a more recent one, please send us a link.


State/INL’s 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) includes the following details:

Colombian Ministry of Defense authorities reported seizing over 207.4 MT of cocaine and cocaine base in 2014, and eliminated tons of additional potential cocaine through the combined aerial and manual eradication of 67,234 ha of coca over the year.
In areas where Colombia allows aerial eradication, coca fields are less productive than they were when eradication operations began in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, illicit cultivation continues and is increasing in Colombia’s national parks, indigenous reserves, the department of Norte de Santander, and within a 10-kilometer zone along the border with Ecuador, where Colombian law or international and regional agreements prohibit aerial eradication.

In late 2014, the governments of Colombia and Ecuador implemented an agreement to reduce the border exclusion zone to 5 kilometers which permits expanded aerial eradication along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. Colombia aerially eradicated 55,532 ha of coca in 2014, surpassing its goal of 55,000 ha. Colombia manually eradicated 11,702 ha of coca in 2014, falling short of its goal of 14,000 ha. Numerous local level protests blocking access roads to coca fields were a major obstacle to manual eradication’s ability to operate in major coca growing regions.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the EPA concluded in a 2012 study that glyphosate meets safety standards for human health when used in keeping with its label. The agency is reportedly conducting a scheduled review of glyphosate in conjunction with Canadian regulators.


VIDEO: Late-night laughs: Hillary Clinton E-mail Edition

 Posted: 2:52 am EDT

Via PostTV

Hillary Clinton caused controversy after reports revealed she used a private e-mail account during her time as secretary of state. Late-night hosts Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon couldn’t resist a few jokes at her expense.


[grabpress_video guid=”7ebdc05049ec1cf964f05708abe166946e545cb4″]


Whoa! What happened to the Anonymous FSO on Reddit?

Posted: 11:50 EST


In February last year, we posted about an anonymous Foreign Service officer who got on Reddit, the “front page of the Internet” and did an AMAA  (Ask Me Almost Anything). (see IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!). The photo of the dip passport is still up, the questions are still up but all the answers have been deleted.   And here I thought the State Department via should have paid this guy’s overtime.