Category Archives: Realities of the FS

Stocking Stuffers: Are you making a list, and checking it twice?

– Domani Spero

 

The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants
by Laurence Pope

The author’s retired friend from the Foreign Service emailed to say that he has been approached about running a very major embassy, yet again and Ambassador Pope asks what we’ve all been thinking, “What would we say if over and over the Navy couldn’t find an admiral on active duty to run a carrier battle group?”

Laurence Pope is a retired American diplomat who lives in Portland, Maine. He is the author of several books, including François de Callieres: A Political Life (2010), a biography of the first proponent of professional diplomacy. He was previously  the U.S. Ambassador to Chad from 1993 to 1996 and was the US Chargé d’Affaires to Libya following the Benghazi attack.  The author said in an interview with PDC that “At the State Department history is just one damn thing after another.  Its culture is profoundly hostile to ideas and theory, remarkable for such a smart group of people.  (That is why nobody has read the QDDR —my book takes it apart so you won’t have to.)“The QDDR is 242 pages long, this is shorter!

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Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service, Second Edition
by Harry Kopp

An insider’s guide that examines the foreign service as an institution, a profession, and a career, written by an FSO with a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service. The second edition published in 2011 addresses major changes that have occurred since 2007: the controversial effort to build an expeditionary foreign service to lead the work of stabilization and reconstruction in fragile states; deepening cooperation with the U.S. military and the changing role of the service in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the growing integration of USAID’s budget and mission with those of the Department of State. We’ve previously written about this author here: Career Diplomacy | Life and Work in the Foreign Service, 2nd Edition – Now OutForeign Service, Civil Service: How We Got to Where We Are (via FSJ).

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Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years
by Ron Capps

We have previously blogged about the author here (see Call in the Civilians. Pray Tell, From Where?!Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD).

Seriously Not All Right is a memoir that provides a unique perspective of a professional military officer and diplomat who suffered (and continues to suffer) from PTSD. One FSO writes that this book should be required reading for everyone in A100, the orientation training course for all diplomats when they first begin their careers.

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The Diplomat’s Dictionary
by Chas Freeman, Jr.

On the caution of diplomats: “The training and life of a foreign service officer are not apt to produce men well fitted for the task [of innovating policy]…The bureaucratic routine through which foreign service officers must go produces capable men, knowledgeable about specific parts of the world, and excellent diplomatic operators. But it makes men cautious rather than imaginative.” (Dean Acheson, p.84).

The Diplomat’s Dictionary is an entertaining and informative collection, with lots of gems — from career diplomat Chas Freeman ( I don’t leave home without it). The 2010 expanded second edition contains 476 new entries, including definitions for selected up-to-date terminology and hundreds of additional quotations from across cultures and centuries. Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., has been a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He was a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in 1994-95 and is also the author of Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy (USIP Press). We previously blogged about Ambassador Freeman here, see Ambassador Freeman on American statecraft — It’s hard to think of anything that has gone right.Protecting Diplomats Post-Embassy Attacks: More Fortresses or Rethinking Fortresses?Who’s Gonna be Kicked Around Next?).

 

 

The State Department: More Than Just Diplomacy
(The Personalities, Turf Battles, Dangers Zones For Diplomats, Exotic Datelines, Miscast Appointments, the Laughs — and Sadly, the Occasional Homicide) by George Gedda

This is a book by an AP reporter who covered the State Department for about 40 years and travelled with nine secretary of state to more than 80 countries. Bound to have lots of interesting stories and quips like “He’s the only guy I know who can strut while sitting down.” Bwa-ha-ha! Or when the then Cuba desk officer meet Fidel Castro. He asked if she was there as a spouse of a member of the American delegation, and she replied, “I’m head of Cuban Affairs.”  “Oh,” said Castro. “I thought I was.” The book has a people’s index so you can start there!

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Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 1 & 2
by Patricia Linderman (Author), Melissa Brayer Hess (Author), Marlene Monfiletto Nice (Author)

It has been said that the Foreign Service is more than a profession; it is a way of life. As much as it is fulfilling to most people I know and a grand adventure to all, it is not for everyone. And if you have a spouse or a partner interested in pursuing his/her career, consideration on the trade offs you both are willing to make or what you are willing to give up must make for serious conversation. Here are a couple of books that anyone considering a career in the Foreign Service should read. The Realities books are published by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) a non-profit organization that represents Foreign Service spouses, employees and retirees. The AAFSW volunteers have been around forever, supporting multiple evacuations and assisting members of the Foreign Service community. Its tireless volunteers even supported somebody we know who was not a paying member of the group.

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Pomegranate Peace [Kindle Edition]
by 
Rashmee Roshan Lall

Rashmee Roshan Lall was The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe.  Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India.She spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and six months in Washington,D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election. This book is kind of We Meant Well,Also in Afghanistan, only it’s fiction. The protagonist’s boss quotes from Alice in Wonderland: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.’ And there’s Little Sam, “the Haiku poet laureate on the frontline of a war no one could properly explain any longer.” In the novel, Little Sam could churn out fourteen syllables for every mission objective, every ambassadorial platitude – Rule of Law; Transparency and Accountability in Government;etcetera, etcetera.

It’s war, but we spend like peacetime
Blood, treasure,
Strewn. Yours, mine.

The protagonist who is also a former journalist, manages a  Pomegranate Grant, which had been previously approved with the following rationale: ‘Pomegranate production can sustain the Afghan economy. This Afghan-led grant proposal will persuade farmers in the highly kinetic Kandahar area to change from the habit of poppy production.’ “The grantee,” the author writes, “lived in Canada all his life and seemed unwilling to change his address of record.” Jeez, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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The Foreign Circus: Why Foreign Policy Should Not Be Left in the Hands of Diplomats, Spies and Political Hacks [Kindle Edition] by James Bruno

Via Amazon: An ambassador orders his staff into the lawless interior of a civil war-torn country as guerrillas are targeting foreigners for assassination. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S.-bought weaponry are channeled to Afghan religious fanatics, the future Taliban. White House players leak classified information to the media, then blame the leaks on career civil servants. Diplomats succumb to the temptations of exotic overseas sexual playgrounds. Political hacks and campaign money bundlers are rewarded with ambassadorships in a diplomatic spoils system that hearkens back to the Robber Baron age. Computer nerds Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning steal a veritable Croesus of sensitive national security information and give it away free to our adversaries.  What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

We previously blogged about the author here: Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful. James Bruno is also the author of  Havana Queen, Tribe, Chasm and Permanent Interests.

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US Embassy Manila on Anikow Murder: Nobody “served a day for that brutal crime.”

– Domani Spero

 

In November 2012, we blogged about the murder of a spouse of a U.S. diplomat assigned to the US embassy in the Philippines (see US Embassy Manila: George Anikow, Diplomatic Spouse Killed in Early Morning Altercation; and George Anikow Murder: “A Macho Against Macho Issue” Says Philippine Police).

In an interview last week with Philippine media, Ambassador Philip Goldberg expressed disappointment over the disposition of the murder case:

In an interview with ANC, Goldberg said nobody “served a day for that brutal crime.”  The diplomat is referring to the murder of US Marine Major George Anikow’s killing on November 24, 2012 at a security checkpoint in Bel-Air. The incident was partly captured in a security camera. Charged were Juan Alfonso Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Galicano Datu III, and Crispin de la Paz.

Goldberg noted only two suspects were convicted of homicide “but were given probation” by the trial court. The two others got scot free from any charges. […] He said it’s been hard explaining to the family as to “why this happened in a case of very brutal murder.”

The Philippine Justice Department had reportedly filed murder charges previously against the four suspects who, according to reports, come from well-to-do families — Juan Alfonso Abastillas, 24; Crispin dela Paz, 28; Osric Cabrera, 27; and Galicano Datu III, 22.

News report from the Philippines indicate that the victim’s sister, Mary Anikow and his 77 year-old mother traveled to Manila to observed the trial in 2013.  “The United States is not perfect; everyone knows this. But most people generally don’t get away with murder,” Ms Anikow said.

Ambassador Goldberg in the ANC interview said that the Philippine Department of Justice promised the embassy there could be something done with regard to the probation. “But it has been appealed once, and it was denied. So it looks like it’s the end of the road,” he said.

‘Well-to-do kids accused in murder of American diplomat’s husband get visas to study in the United States’ — please, can we at least make sure we don’t end up with a headline like that?

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Filed under Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Foreign Service, FSOs, Hall of Shame, Media, Realities of the FS, Spectacular, Spouses/Partners, State Department, U.S. Missions, Visas

U.S. Embassies Warns of Threats to American Residences in Pakistan, Potential Targets in Afghanistan, Mali, Ethiopia

– Domani Spero

 

On December 19, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert concerning potential threats during the holiday period.

The lone wolf attack in Sydney, Australia on December 15, 2014, resulting in the deaths of two hostages, is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious, maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.  This Travel Alert expires on March 19, 2015.

An analysis of past attacks and threat reporting strongly suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship, and schools, among other targets, during or coinciding with this holiday period. ­U.S. citizens abroad should be mindful that terrorist groups and those inspired by them can pose unpredictable threats in public venues.  U.S. citizens should remain alert to local conditions and for signs of danger.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on December 19 is also warning of terrorist threats to American residences by groups that may be purporting to be service providers to gain access to the properties:

The Embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen  residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers. U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future. Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan Government response may raise the possibility for future threats.[…] The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile is  warning of potential attacks on western NGOs in Kabul:

As of early December 2014, militants were planning to attack a Western, possibly American, non-government organization (NGO) in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Surveillance had been completed and the attack was likely to take place within 2-4 weeks. The NGO office was possibly located close to the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan Passport Authority in Kabul City. There was no further information regarding the timing, targets, or methods of the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued a security message for places typically visited by Westerners:

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also issued a security reminder for U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country.  The targets for these attacks, according to the message, could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and places of worship.

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The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

– Domani Spero

 

The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.

Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.

This is why. Where does the buck stops?

The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.

Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028

Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.

The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:

HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.

There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:

“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”

Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:

- “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”

- “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”

- “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”

The OIG inspection team leader wrote:

REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.

The best part of this decision is this:

What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
[…]
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.

The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.

The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.

The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.

Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

– Domani Spero

 

I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Congress, Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Obama, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude

– Domani Spero

 

In the next couple of weeks, we will try to revisit some of the topics that we have blogged about in the past but did not get a chance to follow-up.

In the last several years, we’ve covered  the deaths of State Department and Foreign Service personnel due to terrorist attacks, natural calamities, suicide, violent crime, and accidents (see In the Foreign Service: Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Here are some of the blogposts we did,this is not an exhaustive list:

While we did receive a screaming owler one time when we were asking questions about a death in Afghanistan, not once have we ever received an email from a family member of a deceased employee asking us not to mention that their loved ones who died overseas worked for Uncle Sam, or refrain from noting the passing of loved ones who died in the service of our country. Not once.

In June this year, we blogged about a Foreign Service employee at the US Embassy in Moscow who was killed in a gas explosion there:

Two State Department sources confirmed that the employee, an OMS on official orders working at the embassy had died. After the embassy employee was heloed to a local Russian hospital, she was reportedly airlifted by the State Department soon thereafter to a special burn hospital in Linkoping, outside of Stockholm where she died a few days later.

A former co-worker at another post was concerned that there has been no public  statement about the employee’s death. “I would think the death of a diplomat would get something from AFSA or State, even if it was from an accident.”  We sent out several inquiries but no one would speak on the record.  Since the name has not been officially released, and no obit has yet been published, we will refrain from identifying the victim at this time.

This past August, a brief obituary of that employee appeared on State magazine, the official trade publication of the State Department and we blogged about it. Shortly after that, we received an email from an individual using a hotmail account:

Hi, Durron’s family did not want this information to be disclosed to the press. Please honor their request. Personally I share your view, but also honor the family’s wishes.

Moscow is hard post to serve, and the Embassy community was very shocked by this news. I personally know many people who lived in the apartment complex where she died (MFA apartment housing), and I was also shocked by this news. I can’t say any more about this unfortunately. The past year was very hard for Embassy Moscow, especially in light of the death of an FSN who was very much loved by all who worked there. 

The request, as you can see, is polite, even volunteering that the writer shares the blog writer’s view. Then the “guilty hook,” asking that we “honor the family’s wishes.” The writer did not/not present himself as a government  official, and seemed to only appear as an interested third party purporting to pass on the wishes of the deceased employee’s family.

Our correspondent, who could not get the deceased employees straight (Durron was the Consular Affairs employee who died in Florida), was in fact, an embassy official, basically asking us not to make a public connection to the death of the  USG employee who died in Sweden to the gas explosion in a USG (Russian MFA) housing in Moscow. We only knew that the individual is a USG official because of …Googles! Not sure the individual is still at post at this time.

Our gut feeling was that this is legitimate news; we blogged about the fact that an employee of the U.S. Government was injured in Moscow, and subsequently died from those injuries in Sweden. And we waited until there was an official obituary before we put the information together and named the deceased individual.  Three months after the incident.

Deceased individuals are not covered by the Privacy Act. That said, if a USG employee die overseas for whatever reason, should we be obligated to not/not report it if his/her family ask that it not be reported for privacy reasons? That’s not exactly the case here because we were only told second hand that the deceased’s family did not want it reported in the press (except that the death was reported in the publicly available State magazine). But the “what-if” was a dilemma we spent considerable time thinking about for a period of time.

How do you balance the public’s right to know with a family’s request for privacy?

We’ve consulted with a professional journalist we admire, and an authority on media ethics at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.   All agreed that 1) employees sent overseas are on official duty, and that any life-threatening mishap or death they suffer is by definition of public interest, and 2) that we ought to consider the request if it comes directly from a family member, and pull the blogpost down only if the family makes a compelling case that publication caused them or somebody else harm.  One surmised that the request received may have more to do with the State Dept’s own reasons or some fear of official embarrassment.

We did send a response to our “non-official” correspondent basically declining the request since he was not a member of the family.  We informed the writer that we would consider pulling the material down if we hear directly from the family and only if there is a compelling reason for the request. We also offered to write directly to the family if the official would provide us a contact email.  We certainly did not want to be insensitive and we understand that the incident occurred  at a challenging post, but the death of a Foreign Service person abroad is of public interest. That’s the last we’ve heard from that official via hotmail. And we would have forgotten about this except that it came to our attention  that the USG had been more aggressive about sanitizing this information than we first thought.

A journalist from a large media organization subsequently told us that he/she was privately admonished after asking publicly why the State Dept had not expressed condolences on the death of the employee in Moscow. The admonishment came from a USG official who again, cited the family’s privacy. From best we could tell, these contacts/admonishment to the journalist and to this blog came from two separate officials. How many other journalists (not just blogger in pjs, mind you) had been similarly admonished to not report about this death citing the family’s request for privacy?

In the aftermath of this incident in May 2014, we sent an email inquiry to the public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  Our email got lost in a sink hole and we never heard anything back. We must note that this incident occurred after the departure of then Ambassador McFaul. It also predates the arrival of John Tefft, the current ambassador to Moscow and his the new public affairs officer there.

It goes without saying — but we’ll repeat it anyway —  that we clearly understand that accidents happen. And we’re not looking for a cover-up at every post unless it has to do with the furniture!  But, because there’s always a but — accidents do not absolve the embassy or the State Department from answering questions about the circumstances surrounding an employee’s death or at a minimum, publicly acknowledging that a death of an employee occurred overseas. We will be sensitive and respectful as we have always been, but we will ask questions.

What bothered us about this?  By citing the deceased family’s purported request for privacy, the State Department and Embassy Moscow basically shut down any further questions about the incident. How is it possible to have something of an information blackout on the death of an employee we sent overseas on the country’s behalf?

Whatever happened to that promised investigation?

We understand that then chargé d’affaires (CDA) in Moscow, Sheila Gwaltney  told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome. We sent an email inquiry to the analysis division of OBO’s Office of Fire Protection (OBO/OPS/FIR) requesting for an update to the fire inspector investigation. We received the following response on October 23 from Christine Foushee, State/OBO’s Director of External Affairs:

Thanks for your inquiry.  The investigation you’ve referenced is still ongoing, so we are not in a position to comment on results.

Per 15 FAM 825:

a. As soon as possible after being notified of a fire, OBO/OPS/FIR, will dispatch a team of trained fire/arson investigators to fires that resulted in serious injury or death; those where the cause is arson or is of a suspicious nature; those causing extensive damage or significant disruption to official activities; or those deemed to be of special interest to the Department of State.

b. Fire-related mishaps involving injury, illness, or death that meet criteria for Class A or B mishaps under Department of State policy will be investigated and reported using 15 FAM 964 requirements. An Office of Fire Protection official, in OBO/OPS/FIR, will be assigned to any Class A or B board conducted by OBO’s Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management, in the Directorate for Operations, (OBO/OPS/SHEM). In addition to addressing the root causes of the fire event, the mishap board report must evaluate the impact of Department of State organizational systems, procedures, or policies on the fire event. The report also could contain recommendations for specific modifications to such procedures and policies. Both OBO/OPS/FIR and OBO/OPS/SHEM receive copies of the report, and OBO/OPS/SHEM coordinates with the Department of State’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Official (DASHO) to meet 15 FAM 964 requirements. OBO/OPS/FIR reports findings and recommendations for corrective action to the Director of OBO, who informs the Accountability Review Board’s Permanent Coordinating Committee. (See 12 FAM 032.)

We sent another follow up email this week to State/OBO.  The explosion happened in May 2014. Here we are at the end of the year and we don’t know what happened to that investigation. Is this length of time typical of these types of investigations? We will update this blogpost if we hear from the fire people with something to say.

We think this a good opportunity as any to call on the State Department to voluntarily release an annual report of deaths of official Americans overseas.  DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?  At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under Chief of Mission authority. Diplomatic Security already publishes an annual report,would it be too much to ask that they be allowed to include this information?

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Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

– Domani Spero

 

 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?

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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:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

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.

Read in full via FSJ here.

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.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

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.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Academy of Diplomacy’s Pickering and Neumann Warns Secretary Kerry About Risk Avoidance At All Cost

– Domani Spero

 

The American Academy of Diplomacy’s chairman, Ambassador  Thomas Pickering and its president, Ambassador Ronald Neuman wrote a letter last week to Secretary Kerry urging his “support to get America’s diplomats into the field and back into contact with local societies.” The group is concerned that the demand that civilian officers operate “at or near zero risk” undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and America’s national security interests.

Excerpt below:

As terrorist attacks have grown, security restrictions have become more intense. This has been necessary but is now too dominant in decision making. Many of us have run critical threat posts. We have no illusions about the need to calculate and mitigate risk. But ultimately we must all judge the relative risks of any action against its benefits to the national interest. What we see happening in far too many places are decisions reflecting Washington guidance to avoid risk at all cost. This approach is spreading from critical threat posts to other less threatened posts and personnel, creating a chilling effect for our diplomats attempting to carry out their missions through travel and contacts across a wider range of security environments.

The demand that civilian officers operate at or near zero risk undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and, by extension, America’s national security interests. Engaging with the local population and its leaders is crucial to the knowledge essential to sound policy. Failure to do so adequately is a short-term loss for the conduct of diplomacy and a long-term loss for policy formulation. We support the view taken by senior Department officials who have acknowledged the need for accepting prudent risk in the conduct of diplomacy. However, we believe that your own leadership must be engaged to reinforce these statements and the concrete actions need to convey to the field some acceptance of measured risk taking.

The Academy urge more training on risk management not just for officers but also for Chiefs of Mission:

Foreign Service Officers accept worldwide assignment and that includes a measure of risk; that idea needs reinforcement. More tradecraft training for officers borrowing from the best the US government has to offer may be useful. Greater education in risk management certainly is needed for Chiefs of Mission who must be empowered to make critical decisions. Chiefs of Mission are already charged with securing their staffs but need much more training in how to make security judgments. More resources need to be devoted to all these areas. Security officers need to believe that their task is to enable mission performance as safely as possible but not to avoid all risk.

The group believes that “a focused conversation with Congress is required to gain acceptance for the realities of the decisions needed” and tells Secretary Kerry that it is prepared to help in a dialogue with Congress but needs a “specific direction” from the secretary of state for current practices to change.

The American Academy of Diplomacy is currently working on a major study of what is needed to improve the professionalism of American diplomacy and the capacity of Foreign Service Officers.

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High Drama in Hungary Awaits New American Ambassador

– Domani Spero

 

This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:

The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.

The U.S. takes corruption seriously.  The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.

Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.  This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004.  Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue.  U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.

No one is above the law.  The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption.  Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency.  The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.

The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called   a “neo-fascist dictator.  And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.

Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.

 

 

Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.

“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.

Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.

Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend.  According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.

 

 

The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia.  Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera.  The Review suggests that these protests against an  increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.

Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.

 

Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”

As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.

Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.

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Revisiting the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act

– Domani Spero

 

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

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

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

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

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

A comment from a Maine voter says it all:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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