K. Hamster’s Spot Report From the #BigBlockofCheeseDay Event With @StateDept Deputies

Posted: 1:48 am EDT

 

The State Department’s two deputies, Tony Blinken and Heather Higginbottom joined the White House for its third #BigBlockofCheeseDay on January 13 (see @StateDept to Join @White House’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay — Have Your Policy Qs and Bad Cheese Puns Ready!).

Most of the questions are posted  under Secretary Kerry’s tweet (see below). Fair warning, most of the questions are  um, interesting to put it mildly. It’ll give you a window at the misconceptions out there on what diplomacy is and is not (also if you’re multi-tasking, you’re not doing your job), and the expectations the public hoards for our public officials (why don’t you have a magic wand, those sailors should have been home yesterday?).

The questions posted for Deputy Secretary Blinken are answered on his TL here: https://twitter.com/ABlinken. The questions and answers for Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom are posted on her TL here: https://twitter.com/hhigginbottom.

Below is Kissinger Hamster’s spot report from the Big Block of Cheese Day event.

He’s not perfect but what do you think? Should we keep him as a stringer?

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@StateDept Spox Talks About K-Visas Again … C’mon Folks, This Is Not Fun to Watch

Posted: 2:57 am EDT

 

This is a follow-up to our post Dear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing. On December 14, State Department spokesman John Kirby got his turn to answer questions about K-visas at the podium.  Prior to the exchange below, Mr. Kirby told the press that “Again, I’m not an expert on process… we can get somebody who’s much better at this than me to walk you through how that’s done, okay?”

Folks, you need your expert there last week!  C’mon, this is not fun to watch.

dosomething

 

QUESTION: John, another visa question. The Wall Street Journal has just put out an alert saying that the United States is working on a plan to scrutinize social media in visa reviews. And in the text of their story, they say that the Department of Homeland Security is working on such a plan. I have myself never fully understood the different responsibilities between the State Department, which issues the visas and conducts the interviews, and DHS, which performs some kind of a review prior to the issuance of a visa. So, I guess, two questions: One, can you explain to me the difference between those roles? And two, given that the State Department already has the option to scrutinize social media, why DHS is just kind of cottoning onto this?

MR KIRBY: Well, I won’t speak for DHS and decisions that they might be making. I think – I have not seen that report, but it’s very much consistent with what I think I’ve been saying here, that we are also looking at the use of social media in the visa application process.

Again, with my vast experience here at the State Department, I’ll do the best I can to try to summarize this, and I’ll ask Elizabeth, who’s been a consular officer, to jump if she thinks I get this wrong. And I mean that, you should. As I understand it, we are the overseas arm here. DHS is the homeland arm of the process of an individual who wants to come the United States for whatever legal reason – marriage, want to cover a story, whatever. So somebody applies for a visa over there, and our embassy or consuls will examine that application and make certain decisions about whether it’s going to be permitted or not – approved or not. And again, that process can take any – a different, variant amount of time based on the individual. And again, it’s all done by case – case by case.

The simple act of a consular officer saying, “Okay, it’s approved; you can travel to the United States,” doesn’t actually mean that the individual is going to be able to complete that travel, because there’s – DHS does help in this process. But where they really are important is at port of entry here in the United States. So when an individual – and all of us have traveled overseas. You go up to the customs desk and then they are the – they’re the final point at which an individual is allowed to enter or not, and that’s where DHS is most critical is at the port of entry and doing yet another validation of the permission, the – which is what a visa is. It’s basically us saying you are permitted to travel, where they get that sort of final vote in validating that permission.

So it’s got to be – and as I understand it, it’s not a simple, clean handoff either. I mean, there’s constant coordination and communication between State and DHS throughout the process of one’s application. But ultimately DHS gets the final say when an individual gets to the United States.

Did I cover that well enough? Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: DHS must get involved before they simply show up on American shores?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, as I said, it’s not a clean handoff. It’s not like the State Department says okay, here’s —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I mean we work with DHS throughout the application process and approval.

QUESTION: And are you saying that the DHS and the State Department may have different standards and policies as it applies to, for instance, scrubbing social media?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – I don’t know what DHS’s policies are, so I can’t speak for that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But it is a factor in our process.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR KIRBY: And in light of what happened in San Bernardino, I can assure you that we’re going to continue to look at social media practices and platforms going forward. And we’re going to do this – we’re doing this review in concert with DHS, and I think it’s safe to assume that as we conduct the review, when we learn things – if there’s things that we can do better, we’ll do it better as a team, not individually.

QUESTION: Right. I just wonder if people are pointing fingers right now saying, “No, you were supposed to check that; that was your deal.” Whose deal is it?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any finger pointing that’s going on inside the interagency right now. What we want to do is cooperate with investigators, learn as much as we can about how this happened, and do whatever we can to try to prevent it from happening again. And I can tell you – again, I don’t like speaking for another agency, but I think I’m on safe ground saying that Secretary Johnson shares Secretary Kerry’s concern that we work in concert and as a team as we both cooperate with the investigation and conduct this review.

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NEA and SPP Language Divisions Moving Out of the Foreign Service Institute?

Posted: 12:47 am EDT

 

The Foreign Service Institute is located at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC) in Arlington, Virginia.  An expansion of facilities on FSI’s 72-acre campus in 2010 added 100 classrooms. About 2,000 students are on campus daily.

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It looks like that expansion is not enough.  There is apparently a lot of rumors circulating that the SPP and NEA language divisions will be moving out of SA-42 (FSI) to “a new space somewhere along the Orange line.”  We understand that this topic has lighted up the Secretary’s Sounding Board, never mind that JK is traveling.

This rumored move, if true, would reportedly affect 1) the Division of Near East Central, and South Asian Languages (FSI/SLS/NEA) which directs, designs and conducts proficiency-based language training for Arabic, Near Eastern, Turkic, Central and South Asian languages; and 2) the Division of Slavic, Pashto, and Persian Languages (FSI/SLS/SPP) which directs, designs, and conducts proficiency-based language training for all Slavic languages including Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Ukrainian, Pashto and Persian languages including Dari, Tajiki, and Farsi.

People are apparently not happy about this rumored move. Some are posting questions on the Board, and hoping to find some clarity on what to expect next. Here are some of the employees’ concerns over the future of language training at FSI:

  • Looking for transparency:  “Given the massive number of employees this change will impact, both students and instructors, can we get a little transparency on what’s going on?”  One commenter writes that many find it “odd that language studies, arguably the priority purpose of FSI, would see such a huge change with little to no public discussion or outreach from FSI.”
  • Long-term vs. short-term: Why was the decision made to move long-term language studies (9-12 months in length in many cases) instead of short-term and intermittent courses (leadership, regional training, stability operations, area studies, world languages, etc.)?
  • Co-location: Will the new facilities be co-located with language division administration? This is a big deal in the event that a student has to make changes with class assignment).
  • Transportation/Commute/Parking : How will people commute to the new facilities? Is there a bus? Is there equally priced parking available nearby? Concerns that transportation issue affect not just students but also many of the language instructors and staff who live quite far from FSI and even further from Rosslyn, where there is a shuttle.
  • Language Lab/Tools: Are the language learning tools available at the new facilities? Language labs are a big part of reaching proficiency standards, will students have to go back to FSI in order to access labs?
  • Daycare: For personnel with kids, employees are interested whether they will have access to daycare. When transferring or rotating assignments, Foreign Service personnel with young kids rely heavily on the availability of reliable and accessible childcare at FSI. “The provision of childcare has always helped alleviate some of the stresses associated with the rigors of intensively learning a new language.” Depending on the new location, there is also the potential for disruption in the Oakwood housing program.
  • Town Hall: One requested a town hall meeting with the FSI administration for current and future students in the languages affected “so people can ask questions and get more information as they begin to plan for language training.”

 

We should note that both the NEA and SPP language divisions are part of FSI’s School of Language Studies (SLS). The School of Language Studies (SLS), with 684 staff members, 3 overseas schools, and 11 regional language programs, offers training and testing in more than 70 languages.   According to the OIG, SLS is the largest of FSI’s schools, with a base budget of $33.5 million in FY 2012 and a total budget of $46.7 million, which includes $5.5 million in reimbursements from other agencies.

In December 2012, SLS had 684 staff members: 374 direct-hire employees and 310 full-time equivalent contractors. SLS is managed by a dean and two associate deans and is composed of a testing division, five language divisions, a Curriculum and Staff Development division, and an administrative section. SLS trains employees of the Department, USAID, and other agencies in 70 languages ranging from Spanish to super hard languages such as Korean.

In any case, there is a slow train for consolidation humming in the State Department. One of Diplomatic Security’s arguments for building the FASTC in Virginia instead of Georgia is so all the training programs can be in one location.  Just recently, the IRM training located in Warrenton, VA had also been moved to the FSI campus. If the NEA/SPP move is true, is this SLS’ initial move at dispersing its divisions?

If true, the question then becomes “why”?

The most recent OIG inspection of FSI is dated March 2013. That report notes that “SLS needs organizational and programmatic changes to strengthen pedagogy, coordination, and strategic planning. Outside review of a portion of recorded language test samples and other steps are required to address the inherent conflict of interest of SLS instructors serving as testers.” The report made 79 recommendations and 23 informal recommendations, however, we could not locate one specifically related to NEA/SPP, or the school’s expansion or spin off location outside of FSI.

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Senator Grassley Eyes Linda Howard Case, Seeks Answers on TIP Policy and @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:45 am EDT

 

On October 20, 2011, State/OIG issued a report entitled Audit of Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Compliance with Trafficking in Persons Requirements (AUD/IP-12-02 – pdf). The audit found that Department employees were not uniformly aware of key matters relating to Trafficking in Persons (TIP), including what constitutes TIP activity, the penalties for TIP violations, and where to report allegations of violations. The OIG report notes that although the Department’s code of conduct prohibited employees from acquiring a commercial sex act and using forced domestic labor, it did not specifically address TIP or require employees to report suspected TIP violations.

Based on the report’s findings, OIG made four recommendations to State’s J/TIP. Of these four recommendations, OIG closed Recommendation 3 on July 23, 2013, based on the Department’s decision to designate OIG to receive reports of TIP violations. However, according to its follow-up report of September 2015 (pdf), the other two recommendations —  enclosure of the U.S. Government’s TIP policy in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), and an expanded code of conduct for employees to cover conduct with respect to TIP activities — remained open.

State/OIG concludes that “by not implementing the recommendations or J/TIP providing an acceptable alternative to fulfill the intent of the open recommendations, the Department is not well-positioned to hold employees accountable for violations of TIP or ensure TIP policies and requirements are understood and followed.”

We missed this — but in September when State/OIG released the follow-up report(officially called Management Assistance Report) related to TIP, Senator Chuck Grassley also fired off a letter to Secretary Kerry asking questions sepcific not just to the OIG report but also the Linda Howard case (see Ex-State Dept Employee Settles Housekeeper’s Claim Over Slavery and Rape).

According to Senator Grassley’s letter, the Howard case “raises questions about the Department’s commitment to holding itself to the same standard by which it judges other countries in assessing their compliance with anti-trafficking standards in its annual TIP report.” Hey, we made it to the footnotes!

Screen Shot 2015-11-15

(click image to read the Grassley letter or click 2015-09-17 CEG to State (Trafficking in Persons)

Among the questions Senator Grassley asked Secretary Kerry are the following:

  1. Regarding the two TIP-related OIG recommendations that remain outstanding since 2011:
    1. Why did the Department fail to implement these recommendations?
    2. Who is responsible for the failure to implement them?
    3. Was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, HumaAbedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of these recommendations, decisions, or findings? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If the Secretary and her senior staff were not informed, please explain, why not.
  2. How does the Department ensure that its foreign service officers treat the domestic workers they hire or sponsor in accordance with the TVPA?
    1. As of the date of this letter, how many domestic workers are employed by Department employees worldwide?
    2. Do Department employees stationed abroad need to obtain approval from the Chief of Mission, the Regional Security Officer (RSO), or any other Department official before recruiting and hiring domestic workers? If so, whose approval is needed and what controls exist to ensure the security and safety of those workers as well as national interests? If not, why not?
    3. Is there an independent and confidential reporting mechanism by which these domestic workers may file a complaint with the Department for alleged abuses by Department employees? If not, will you consider adopting such a mechanism?
    4. Do you think implementing OIG’s 2011 recommendations would help Department employees identify and report suspected instances of TIP violations that may be occurring within their own ranks and housing complexes?

The senator is also asking questions specifically related to the State Department’s handling of the Howard case including:

— Did DS or the Department refer these allegations to any other entity, such as the OIG, or any other law enforcement agency? If so, on what date and to whom?

— At any point in time, was Under Secretary of Management Patrick Kennedy, who oversees DS, apprised of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, when, and what was his response? Please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

— At any point in time, was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

There is an FSGB grievance case (read online) that may or may not be related to the Howard case (names have been redacted) but the timeframe and circumstances appears similar, and it looks like DOJ declined to prosecute the case in 2011:

REDACTED (grievant) is a twenty-year Foreign Service employee of the Department of State (Department, agency). While assigned to the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED, she and her husband, an REDACTED national, were the subjects of a Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation based on allegations by a household worker of sexual abuse and related crimes. This investigation began in June 2009 and ended with a declination of prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in March 2011.1 Grievant agrees that she curtailed from post in June 2009 for unrelated reasons.

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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.

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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?”

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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?

via giphy.com

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 army.mil, 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.
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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 iomsanaaoperations@iom.int 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?
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