No Comparator Case For DS Agent With PTSD — Failure to Follow Regs, Lack of Candor Charges Came 2 1⁄2 Years Late

Posted: 3:12 am  EDT

 

This is a case of a DS Agent charged with lack of candor and failure to follow regulations for incidents that took place in 2010 related to his PTSD.   The State Department issued a final decision to  suspend the agent for 12 days.  According to the ROI, the deciding official at the agency level grievance “also considered the mitigating factors and gave grievant credit for having no past formal disciplinary record and a satisfactory work history. The deciding official also noted grievant’s potential for rehabilitation, while recognizing that grievant clearly was embarrassed by his diagnosis of PTSD, and feared that he might be stigmatized by the label, or that he might even lose his job with the Department.”

A couple things striking about this case.  Following grievant’s military service in Iraq in 2006, he started having panic attacks and severe anxiety, for which he was prescribed several medications – none of which he says worked very well. His symptoms became worse over time. In 2009 he was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The incidents that ultimately led to the two charges occurred in November 2010; yet the Department did not propose disciplinary action until April 24, 2013 – a span of 29 months. The ROI does not explain the delay.

Grievant reportedly denied during the interviews with that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, saying instead that he had been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. And yet, according to the ROI, grievant avers that “he discussed his PTSD diagnosis in considerable detail with the DS investigators, and authorized release of his medical records.”

Grievant admits he did not comply with Department regulations requiring him to report that he had been prescribed psychiatric medications, but claims he was unaware of the policy requiring him to do so. He claims that he was not alone in being unaware of this requirement, as many other DS officers to his knowledge were also unaware of the regulation.

Since grievant is a DS agent, the Department has also cited 12 FAM Exhibit 023 2.5, its Deadly Force and Firearms Policy (which we can no longer read online, as it’s now behind the firewall). 12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 appears specific to prescription medication.  The State Department showed, and the FSGB agreed that there are no similar cases that presented the same set of circumstances as in this grievant’s case.

The Board held that grievance be granted in part and denied in part. The Board remanded the case to the Department to consider an appropriate penalty in view of their decision not to sustain two specifications of one of the two charges.

Summary:

Grievant faces two charges – Lack of Candor and Failure to Follow Regulations – that were leveled against him because of statements he made during a Department investigation about incidents that took place while he was in the U.S. on leave in 2010. He is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent who was admitted to the hospital on two occasions (on consecutive days) after he drank alcohol heavily and took an unknown quantity of prescription medications after he became upset about the breakup of his engagement to be married. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the information grievant gave to investigators and that found in his medical records. Records show that grievant suffers from PTSD and that he had not reported this fact to the Department. The investigation report claims that grievant denied during interviews that he had ever been diagnosed with PTSD or that he was ever in a treatment program to address the condition. His records also show that he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications, and contained no evidence that grievant had reported to the Department either the PTSD diagnosis, or the prescription medicines which are required to be reported under the agency’s Deadly Force and Firearms policy. The Department’s final decision provided for a 12-day suspension without pay.

Grievant denies the majority of the specifications cited in the charges. He claims to have discussed his PTSD diagnosis in detail with the investigators and avers that he responded candidly to all of the questions posed to him during two DS interviews. He admits that he did not report the prescription medicines, but argues that he was unaware he needed to do so. Grievant also claims that the charges are untimely, having been brought after a very long delay – nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the incidents, and that the delay has prejudiced his ability to present his case. He claims to have been particularly disadvantaged in that he is unable to find witnesses who could corroborate his positions or shed light on the quantity of medications he took prior to the 2010 incidents. He also argues that the proposed penalty, in any case, is overly harsh in light of penalties the Department has imposed for like offenses. He requests that those charges/specifications the Department is unable to establish should be overturned, and the 12-day suspension should be mitigated.

Click on the image or the link below to read ROI in pdf file. The file is redacted and originally published online by the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

2014-020 - 04-29-2015 - B - Interim Decision_Redacted-2-02

FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case                         (click image to read in pdf)

2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B – Interim Decision_Redacted-2

The regs apparently say that “a DSS Special Agent who is taking prescription medication to notify his supervisor and submit a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable documentation of the prescription … to the Domestic Programs Division of the Office of Medical Services immediately after beginning the medication.” We don’t know what happens to DS agents who self report as required by regulations.  Are their USG-issued weapons removed? Are they subject to reassignment? Is there a perception that this is an embarrassment?

Given that many Diplomatic Security personnel have now done multiple tours to war zones and high threat posts, is this really an isolated case of not self-reporting both the PTSD diagnosis and the use of prescription medication?

We sent this individual to Iraq in 2006. He came back with unseen wounds. And here he is in 2015, still fighting his battle.   What can the State Department do to make employees with potential PTSD less fearful of being stigmatized in coming forward and acknowledging they need help? What can the Bureau of Diplomatic Security do more for its agents? How can this be made into a less lonely fight?

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June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT

Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005″ and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.

 

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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.

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Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?

 

Burn Bag: Ding! Ding! Ding! This Is Your ‘More Than Just Stupid’ Warning!

Via Burn Bag:

“A director of a regional diplomatic courier office has openly expressed he does not want to hire “women of childbearing age”. He achieves this by carefully examining candidates’ resumes when hiring to fill an EFM position. BBag, can you stop this stupidity, considering it’s from an FS-1?”

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EFM – eligible family member
FS01 – the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, last step before the Senior Foreign Service; equivalent to a full Colonel in the military

Why this is more than just stupid? SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer’s fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.

The Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. holds that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex plus other factors such as having school age children. In practical terms, EEOC’s policy forbids employers from using one hiring policy for women with small children and a different policy for males with children of a similar age.

In Gibson v. West, the Supreme Court endorses EEOC’s position that it has the legal authority to require that federal agencies pay compensatory damages when EEOC has ruled during the administrative process that the federal agency has unlawfully discriminated in violation of Title VII.

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Terrorist Attacks Rock France, Tunisia, Kuwait: Three Countries. Three Continents. All Soft Targets.

Posted: 4:41  pm EDT

 

Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait today. At least 37 people including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisia, one person was reportedly decapitated in France at a US-owned factory, and at least 25 people were killed at a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kuwait. Three countries, three continents and  all soft targets.
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The US Embassy Paris released the following security message on 

The U.S. Embassy in Paris informs U.S. citizens that a terrorist attack took place at approximately 10 AM today at a U.S.-owned factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Isere, France, southeast of Lyon, at a large industrial park. One person was killed and two others were reported injured. None of the deceased or injured was a U.S. citizen. The motivation for the attack is unknown, and one suspect is in French government custody.   The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Following the January 2015 terrorist attacks, the Government of France raised the “Vigipirate” level and continues to evaluate its security posture on a regular basis. Up-to-date information is available on the “Vigipirate” website in French.

 

Under this system, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe.

 

U.S. citizens in France are encouraged to remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places, or any other suspicious activities, to French law enforcement authorities. French authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

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The  US Embassy in Tunis released the following  message:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia around the Kantaoui area at the Imperial Riu Marhaba and Soviva hotels in Sousse.   The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Kantaoui area and surrounding vicinity. The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants.

U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur.  Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security.

Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of the country should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.  In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.  Also, travel to either border should be avoided if possible given the periodic security incidents along the border regions.

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The US Embassy in Kuwait issued this: Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City – Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

The embassy also released a statement calling the explosion “a senseless terrorist attack on worshipers in the Al-Imam Al-Sadiq Mosque”, condemning the attack and says that “the United States stands ready to assist our friend and ally Kuwait in any way possible.”
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Below is the WH statement on the three attacks:

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US Embassy Burundi: Students Broke Into Embassy Grounds Seeking Refuge (Updated)

Posted: 2:32 am  EDT
Updated: 3:05 PM EDT

 

Update via US Embassy Bujumbura on the students who entered the embassy compound:

After the Burundian National Police broke down the student camp at the construction site yesterday, the university student who sought refuge at the U.S.Embassy were allowed to stay for the afternoon and provided with water. The students remained in the Embassy parking lot until approximately 7:30 pm when they departed of their own free will after speaking with Ambassador Dawn Liberi. There was no effort to forcibly remove them.

The students relocated to a refuge run by a religious entity. The U.S. Embassy continues to work with the Government of Burundi to fully resolve this issue and has also been in contact with humanitarian organizations on behalf of the students.

Last month, the US Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi went on ordered departure (see New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure).

On June 25, this happened:

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The US Embassy released the following statement on June 25:

At approximately 1:15 pm Burundian National Police entered a construction site adjacent to the U.S. Embassy where university students set up camp seeking refuge when violence broke out in Bujumbura at the end of April and the national university was closed. The students dispersed from the site in an orderly manner and some entered the Embassy parking lot. Approximately 100 students peacefully remain in the visitor parking lot of the U.S. Embassy.

The police and students had no physical confrontation. The police officers did not resort to violence; no shots were fired and tear gas was not used. Four people suffered minor injuries during the movement. All embassy staff members are safe and accounted for.

The U.S. Embassy has contacted the Government of Burundi and urged them to find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

We understand that the students went into a lot that is outside the real embassy perimeter (as per standard embassy design). We’re also told that the gap below the gate is probably due to ground settling over the years since construction.

We should note that the embassy occupied the new embassy compound in October 2012. According to the OIG report, the embassy occupies a modern compound with an electrical generating capacity equal to that of the entire national grid. The capital cost of the new embassy compound, $137 million, is 25 percent of the national government’s annual budget.

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Burn Bag: Fly the Friendly Skies Via Helo For 2.2 Miles Between Embassy Kabul and Kabul International Airport

Via Burn Bag:

“After nearly 14 years, $1 trillion, and more than 2,300 lives, the security situation in Kabul is such that the Embassy is using helicopters to transport its staff the 2.2 mile distance to the international airport.”

via giphy.com

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The U.S. Embassy of Curtailments — Hurry! Nominations Now Open

Posted: 12:44 am  EDT

 

One political ambassador went though five DCMs during his tenure as President George W. Bush’s ambassador in paradise. The whole two Bush terms. We even wrote a tanka about it.  Another political ambassador went through seven permanent and temporary DCMs in less than one term at US Embassy Luxembourg under President Obama.

There is no shortage of criticisms when it comes to the appointments of political ambassadors, of course. But let us point out to something good here. The political ambassadors know when to exit the stage, and that’s a good thing. Even if we’ll never know for sure how hard or how lightly they’re pushed to exit right, we know that they will not be candidates in the State Department’s well-oiled recycling program.

So, what should we make about news of curtailments from an embassy headed by a career ambassador when the official report is handled with such a, um… soft touch?

  • Embassy Tallinn’s single-officer consular section suffered successive curtailments of assigned officers in the 20 months between February 2013 and September 2014. During that period, eight temporary duty officers provided approximately 10 months of management coverage.
  • Management operations at Embassy Tallinn were recently disrupted for a 6-month period because of curtailments in the management and general services officer positions.

Wait — that’s three positions, aren’t we missing a few more? The consular section had successive curtailments? Like — how many? There was a year-long gap in the political officer position; was that gap a result of another curtailment?

The IG report on Embassy Tallinn does not answer those questions and does not elaborate the reasons for these personnel gaps and curtailments, which we are told are “old news.”

But see — people do not take voluntary curtailments lightly. Not only do they need to unpack, repack, unpack again their entire household, kids have to be pulled out of schools, pets have to be shipped and there may be spouses jobs that get interrupted.  And most of all, in a system where assignments are made typically a year before the transfer season, curtailments mean the selection for the employee’s next assignment back in DC or elsewhere contains pretty slim pickings.   The employee may even be stuck in a “bridge” assignment that no one wants. So, no, curtailments are not easy fixes, they cause personal and office upheavals, and people generally avoid doing them unless things get to a point of being intolerable.

In any case, we like poking into “old news” … for instance, we are super curious if the curtailed personnel from Tallinn similarly decamped to Baghdad or Kabul like those curtailments cited in the OIG report for US Embassy Luxembourg? No? Well, where did they go … to Yekaterinburg?

Did they curtail for medical reasons, that is, was post the cause of their ailments? And no, we have it in excelent authority that no one has microwaved Embassy Tallinn like the good old days in Moscow.

The report says there were curtailments and that “stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to Department of State rules and regulations are necessary.”

Also that the “most significant findings concern the need for stronger leadership from the Ambassador and his greater adherence to ethics principles, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) guidelines, and security policies.”

Wow!  This report is mighty short on details, what happened?

We take special note on the use of the following words: Strong-er. Great-er.  Both comparative adjectives, see? Suggesting that chief of mission (COM) already has strong leadership and great adherence to principles and policies.

And this is the report’s most significant findings? That the COM just need to move the dial a notch up?

Are the fine details on  ethics, EEO, security flushed out to the Classified Annex of this report, to entertain a limited readership with “need to know” badges? And their inclusion in the annex is for national security reasons?

Strong-er. Great-er.  Sorry folks, but it must be said, a heck of a crap-per. Additional post to follow.

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Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Posted: 2:19 am  EDT


What if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?
– Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

Ambassador Chas Freeman is a career diplomat (retired) who served as U. S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.  Ambassador Freeman worked as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires in the American embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984) and was Director for Chinese Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in 1972.  He is the author of Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige,at Just World BooksAmerica’s Misadventures in the Middle East,at Just World BooksArts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy, at US Institute of Peace bookstore and The Diplomat’s Dictionary, at US Institute of Peace bookstore. We have previously blogged about him here, here, here, and here.

The following piece is the speech he delivered at the Academy of Philosophy and Letters on June 13, 2015.

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

by Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

The late Arthur Goldberg, who served on our Supreme Court and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, once said that “diplomats approach every question with an open . . . mouth.”  No doubt that’s often true at the U.N., where parliamentary posturing and its evil twin, declaratory diplomacy, rule.  But the essence of diplomacy is not talking but seeking common ground by listening carefully and with an open mind to what others don’t say as well as what they do, and then acting accordingly.

Diplomacy is how a nation advances its interests and resolves problems with foreigners with minimal violence.  It is the nonbelligerent champion of domestic tranquility and prosperity.  It promotes mutually acceptable varieties of modus vivendi between differing perspectives and cultures.

Diplomacy is the translation of national strategy into tactics to gain political, economic, and military advantages without the use of force.  It is the outermost sentry and guardian of national defense.  Its lapse or failure can bring war and all its pains to a nation.

But diplomacy is not just an alternative to war.  It does not end when war begins.  And when war proves necessary to adjust relations with other states or peoples, it is diplomacy that must translate the outcome of the fighting into agreed adjustments in relationships, crafting a better peace that reconciles the vanquished to their defeat and stabilizes a new status quo.  By any measure, therefore, excellence in diplomacy is vitally important to the power, wealth, and well-being of the nation.

At its deepest level, diplomacy is a subtle strategic activity.  It is about rearranging circumstances, perceptions, and the parameters of international problems so as to realign the self-interest of other nations with one’s own in ways that cause them to see that it is in their interest to do what one wants them to do, and that it’s possible for them to do it without appearing to capitulate to any foreign power or interest.  Diplomacy is about getting others to play our game.

Judging by results in the complex post-Cold War environment, diplomacy is something the United States does not now understand or know how to do.  I want to speak with you today about some of the beliefs and practices that account for America’s bungling of foreign policy in recent years.  I will end by offering a few thoughts about how we might do better.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union liberated Americans from our fear of nuclear Armageddon, the foreign policy of the United States has come to rely almost exclusively on economic sanctions, military deterrence, and the use of force.  Such measures are far from the only arrows in the traditional quiver of statecraft.  Yet Americans no longer aim at leadership by example or polite persuasion backed by national prestige, patronage, institution building, or incentives for desirable behavior.  In Washington, the threat to use force has become the first rather than the last resort in foreign policy. We Americans have embraced coercive measures as our default means of influencing other nations, whether they be allies, friends, adversaries, or enemies.

For most in our political elite, the overwhelming military and economic leverage of the United States justifies abandoning the effort to persuade rather than muscle recalcitrant foreigners into line.  We habitually respond to challenges of every kind with military posturing rather than with diplomatic initiatives directed at solving the problems that generate these challenges.  This approach has made us less – not more – secure, while burdening future generations of Americans with ruinous debt.  It has unsettled our allies without deterring our adversaries.  It has destabilized entire regions, multiplied our enemies, and estranged us from our friends.

South America no longer defers to us.  Russia is again hostile.  Europe questions our judgment, is audibly disturbed by our belligerence, and is distancing itself from our leadership.  A disintegrating Middle East seethes with vengeful contempt for the United States.  Africa ignores us.  Our lust for India remains unrequited.  China has come to see us as implacably hostile to its rise and is focused on countering our perceived efforts to hem it in.  Japan is reviewing its inner samurai.  Some say all these adversities are upon us because we are not sufficiently brutal in our approach to foreign affairs and that, to be taken seriously or to be effective, we must bomb, strafe, or use drones to assassinate those with whom we disagree and let the collateral damage fall where it may.  But what we have actually proved is that, if you are sufficiently indifferent to the interests of others and throw your weight around enough, you can turn off practically everybody.

Outside our own country, American military prowess and willingness to administer shock and awe to foreign societies are nowhere in doubt.  In Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places, Americans have provided ample evidence of our politico-military obduracy and willingness to inflict huge casualties on foreigners we judge oppose us.  As a nation, we nonetheless seem to doubt our own prowess and to be obsessed with proving it to ourselves and others.  But there is no credibility gap about American toughness to be remedied.  That is not the issue.  The issue is whether our policies are wise and whether military campaign plans dressed up in domestically appealing rhetoric equate to strategies that can yield a world more congruent with our interests and values.

In recent years, the United States has killed untold multitudes in wars and counterterrorist drone warfare in West Asia and North Africa.  Our campaigns have spilled the blood, broken the bodies, and taken or blighted the lives of many in our armed forces, while weakening our economy by diverting necessary investment from it.  These demonstrations of American power and determination have inflicted vast amounts of pain and suffering on foreign peoples.  They have not bent our opponents to our will.  Far from yielding greater security for us or our allies, our interventions – whether on the ground or from the air — have multiplied our enemies, intensified their hatred for us, and escalated the threat to both our homeland and our citizens and friends abroad.

It is a measure of the extent to which we now see the world through military eyes that the response of much of America’s political elite to the repeated failure of the use of force to yield desired results has been to assert that we would have succeeded if only we had been more gung ho and to argue for the use of even greater force.  But what we have been doing with our armed forces has not halted dynamic change in the global and regional distribution of economic, military, and political power.  There is no reason to believe that greater belligerence could yield a better result.  Most Americans sense this and are skeptical both about the neoconservative agendas the military-industrial-congressional complex seeks to impose on our nation and the wisdom of staking our future on the preservation of a rapidly crumbling post-Cold War status quo.

Every nation’s political culture is a product of its historical experience.  The American way in national security policy, like that of other countries, is steered by unexamined preconceptions drawn from the peculiarities of our history.  In the aggregate, these convictions constitute a subliminal doctrine with the authority of dogma.  Legions of academics now make a living by exploring applications of this dogma for the United States Department of Defense.  They have produced an intellectual superstructure for the military-industrial complex in the form of an almost infinite variety of ruminations on coercion.  (No one looks to the Department of State for support for research on less overbearing approaches to international relations.  It has neither money nor a desire to vindicate its core functions by sponsoring the development of diplomatic doctrine.)

Americans are right to consider our nation exceptional.  Among other things, our experience with armed conflict and our appreciation of the relationship between the use of force and diplomacy are unique – some might say “anomalous.”  So, therefore, are our approaches to war, peace, and foreign relations.

War is the ultimate argument in relations between states and peoples.  Its purpose is sometimes the conquest and subjugation of populations.  More commonly, however, war is a means to remove perceived threats, repel aggression, restore a balance of power, compel acquiescence in a shift in borders, or alter the bad behavior of an adversary. Since war is not over until the defeated accept defeat and accommodate their new circumstances, other people’s wars usually end  in negotiations directed at translating military outcomes into mutually agreed political arrangements that will establish a  stable new order of affairs.  Not so the wars of the United States.

In our civil war, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, the U.S. objective was not adjustments in relations with the enemy but “unconditional surrender,” that is a peace imposed on the defeated nation without its assent and entailing its subsequent moral, political, and economic reconstruction.  The smaller wars of the 20th century did not replace this idiosyncratic American rejection of models of warfare linked to limited objectives.  We fought to a draw in Korea, where to this day we have not translated the 1953 armistice into peace.  We were bested in Vietnam.  In Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, and Iraq in 2003, we imposed regime change on the defeated, not terms for war termination and peace.

So Americans have no recent experience of ending wars through negotiation with those we have vanquished, as has been the norm throughout human history.  Our national narrative inclines us to equate success in war with smashing up enemies enough to ensure that we can safely deny them the dignity of taking them seriously or enlisting them in building a peace.   Our wars are typically planned as military campaigns with purely military objectives, with little, if any, thought to what adjustments in foreign relations the end of the fighting might facilitate or how to exploit the political opportunities our use of force can provide.  As a rule, we do not specify war aims or plan for negotiations to obtain a defeated enemy’s acceptance of our terms for ending the fighting.

The absence of clearly stated war aims for U.S. combat operations makes it easy for our politicians to move the goal posts.  Our wars therefore almost invariably entail mission creep.  Our armed forces find themselves in pursuit of a fluid set of objectives that never solidifies. With victory undefined, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines cannot say when they have accomplished their missions enough to stand down.

Our habit of failing to define specific political objectives for our military also means that, in our case, war is less “an extension of politics by other means” (as Clausewitz prescribed) than a brutally direct way of punishing our foes linked to no clear conception of how they might take aboard the lessons we imagine they should draw from the drubbing we give them.  Our chronic inattention to the terms of war termination means that U.S. triumphs on the battlefield are seldom, if ever, translated into terms that reward military victory with a stable peace.

The U.S. armed forces are highly professional and admirably effective at demolishing our enemies’ power.  But their expectation that civilian policymakers will then make something of the political vulnerabilities they create is almost always disappointed.  The relevant civilian policymakers are almost all inexperienced amateurs placed in office by the spoils system.  Their inexperience, the theories of coercive diplomacy they studied at university, the traditional disengagement of American diplomats from military operations, and our now heavily militarized political culture converge to assure that American diplomacy is missing in action when it is most needed – as the fighting ends.

Thus, our military triumph in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait was never translated into terms to which Saddam Hussein or his regime were asked to pledge their honor.  Instead, we looked to the United Nations one-sidedly to pass an omnibus resolution imposing onerous restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty, including inspections, reparations, and the demilitarization of portions of Iraq’s territory.  Saddam assumed no explicit obligation to comply with these dictates.  To the extent he could get away with ignoring them, he did.  The war never really ended.  In our 2003 re-invasion of Iraq, U.S. planners assumed apolitically that military victory would automatically bring peace. No competent Iraqi authority was left in place to accept terms and maintain stability.  Subliminal doctrine instead prevailed.  The U.S. government devised no mechanism to translate its success on the battlefield into a legitimate new order and peace in Iraq.

In Iraq, we were guided by the historically induced, peculiarly American presumption that war naturally culminates in the unconditional surrender and moral reconstruction of the enemy.  The Department of State was excluded from all planning.  The notion that a political process might be required for war termination on terms that could reconcile the enemy to its defeat never occurred to the White House or DOD.  Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya offer different but analogous examples of Washington’s blindness or indifference to the utility of diplomacy in translating battlefield results into political results.  As a result, our military interventions have nowhere produced a better peace.  We Americans do not know how to conclude our wars.

American confusion about the relationship between the use of force and political order-setting extends to our approach to situations that have the potential to explode in war but have not yet done so.  Our country learned how to behave as a world power during the four-decade-long bipolar stalemate of the Cold War.  The Cold War’s strategy of containment made holding the line against our Soviet rivals the central task of U.S. diplomacy.  Americans came to view negotiated adjustments in relations as part of a great zero-sum game and as therefore, for the most part, infeasible or undesirable, or both.  After all, a misstep could trigger a nuclear war fatal to both sides.

The Cold War reduced diplomacy to the political equivalent of trench warfare, in which the absence of adjustments in position rather than advantageous maneuvering constituted success.  It taught Americans to deter conflict by threatening escalation that might lead to a mutually fatal nuclear exchange.  It conditioned us to believe that it is often wiser to stonewall – to freeze a situation so as to contain potential conflict –  than to waste time and effort exploring ways of mitigating or eliminating it.

We Americans have yet to unlearn the now largely irrelevant lessons of the Cold War.  We still respond to adverse developments with threats of escalating pressure calculated to immobilize the other side rather than with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issues that motivate it.  We impose sanctions to symbolize our displeasure and to enable our politicians to appear to be doing something tough, even if it is inherently feckless.  Sometimes we decline to speak with our adversary on the issue in question until it has agreed to end the behavior to which we object.  But, almost invariably, the core of our response is the issuance of deterrent military threats.

The ostensible purpose of sanctions is to coerce the targeted country into submission.  But, once imposed, sanctions invariably become ends in themselves.  Their success is then measured not by how they modify or fail to modify the behavior of their targets but by the degree of pain and deprivation they are seen to inflict.  There is no recorded instance in which the threat or actual imposition of sanctions not linked to negotiations about a “yes-able” proposition has induced cooperation.  Sanctions do not build bridges or foster attitudes that facilitate concessions.  They harden and entrench differences.

And, in many ways, sanctions backfire.  They impose the equivalent of a protectionist wall against imports on the target nation.  This often stimulates a drive for self-sufficiency and induces artificial prosperity in some sectors of its economy.  Sanctions hurt some U.S. domestic interest groups and benefit others.  Those who benefit develop a vested interest in perpetuating sanctions, making them hard to use as a bargaining chip.

Perversely, sanctions also tend to boost the political authority of the leaders of the countries they target.  They place decisions about the distribution of rationed goods and services in these leaders’ hands.  To the extent that sanctions immiserate populations, they unite nationalist opposition to the foreigners imposing them.  As the examples of north Korea, Mao’s China, and Cuba attest, sanctions prolong the half-life of regimes that might otherwise fall from power as a result of patriotic resistance to their misrule.  Eventually, as we now see with Cuba (and China before it), sanctions have the ironic effect of transforming the places we have walled off into exotic tourist destinations for Americans.

The pernicious effects of sanctions are magnified by the American habit of combining them with diplomatic ostracism.  Refusal to talk is a tactic that can gain time for active improvement of one’s bargaining position.  But meeting with another party is not a favor to it.  Insisting on substantive concessions as the price for a meeting is self-defeating.  Diplomatic contact is not a concession to an adversary but a means of gaining intelligence about its thinking and intentions, understanding and seeking to reshape how it sees its interests, looking for openings in its policy positions that can be exploited, conveying accurate messages and explanations of one’s own reasoning, manipulating its appreciation of its circumstances, and facilitating concessions by it.

Efforts at deterrence invite counterescalation by their target.  Controlling this risk necessitates reassuring one’s adversary about the limits of one’s objectives.  Reassurance requires accurate messaging.  That cannot be assured without direct communication with the other side.  This underscores the importance of the diplomatic relations and contacts we sometimes unwisely suspend.  It is a sound rule that one should never lose contact with an enemy on either the battlefield or in the diplomatic arena.

Our frequent violation of this rule is a special problem for our practice of deterrence, now virtually the only technique of statecraft in our kit other than sanctions and military assault.  To avert perceived challenges to our interests or those of the nations we have undertaken to protect, we declare that attempts by another country to seek unilateral advantage will invoke retaliation to  impose unacceptable levels of loss.  The penalties we promise can be political and economic.  But, in the case of the contemporary United States, they are almost invariably military.

Deterrence substitutes military confrontation designed to freeze risk for diplomacy directed at eliminating its underlying causes.  It sets off a test of will between the two sides’ armed forces as each considers how best to demonstrate its resolve while causing the other to back down.  Deterrence can, of course, be the starting point for a diplomatic effort to resolve conflicts of interest.  But, if deterrence is not paired with diplomacy, such conflicts are likely to fester or intensify.  Then, too, with the end of the Cold War, the danger of escalation to the nuclear level has lessened.  The threats of escalation inherent in deterrence are now less intimidating and more likely to face challenge.

In our attempts to limit uncertainty through deterrence alone, without diplomatic efforts to resolve the underlying crises that generate the uncertainty, Americans preserve the status quo, even when it is disadvantageous or evolving to our disadvantage.  But by assuming that the immensity of our power makes deterrence in itself an adequate response to threats to our interests as we see them, we inadvertently perpetuate the danger of armed conflict, store up trouble for the future, and give potential adversaries time to increase their power relative to ours.  This is the approach we are currently applying to China in the East and South China Seas and to Russia on its western borders.  It is no more likely to succeed now than on the multiple occasions in the past in which it failed.  The same is true of our latest attempt to apply military technical solutions to the political problems of a disintegrated Iraq.

This brings me to the question of whether and how we can learn from our mistakes.  George Santayana famously warned that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  He was right.

But what if every four or so years, you administered a frontal lobotomy to yourself, excising your memories and making it impossible to learn from experience?  What if most aspects of your job were always new to you?  What if you didn’t know whether something you propose to do has been tried before and, if so, whether it succeeded or failed?  To one degree or another, this is what is entailed in staffing the national security functions of our government (other than those assigned to our military) with short-term political appointees selected to reward not their knowledge, experience, or skill but campaign contributions, political sycophancy, affiliation with domestic interest groups, academic achievements, success in fields unrelated to diplomacy, or social prominence.

Alone among major powers, the United States has not professionalized its diplomacy.  Professions are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  Their expertise reflects the distillation into doctrine – constantly refreshed – of what can be learned from experience.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  They are constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

By contrast, Americans appear to believe that the formulation and conduct of foreign relations are best entrusted to self-promoting amateurs, ideologues, and dilettantes unburdened by apprenticeship, training, or prior experience.  The lower ranks of our diplomatic service are highly regarded abroad for their intellectual competence and cross-cultural communication skills.  With some notable exceptions, our ambassadors and the senior officials atop the Washington foreign affairs bureaucracies are not similarly admired.  The contrast with the superbly professional leadership of the U.S. armed forces could not be greater.  It should surprise no one that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines often wait in vain for guidance and support from the civilian side of the U.S. government’s national security establishment.  Current trends suggest they may have to wait a long time for their civilian counterparts to shape up.

The post-Cold War period has seen major expansion in the numbers of political appointees and their placement in ever lower foreign policy positions along with huge bloat in the National Security Council staff.  This has progressively deprofessionalized U.S. diplomacy from the top down in both Washington and the field, while thinning out the American diplomatic bench.  Increasingly, the U.S. military is being thrust into diplomatic roles it is not trained or equipped to handle, further militarizing U.S. foreign relations.

In the absence of major curtailment of the spoils system, the prospects for improved U.S. diplomatic performance are poor.  Amateur ambassadors and senior officials cannot provide professional mentoring, yet the United States invests little in training its career personnel in either the lore or core skills of diplomacy.  No case studies of diplomatic advocacy, negotiation, reporting and analysis, or protection of overseas Americans have been compiled.  There is no professional framework for after-action reviews in American diplomacy and they seldom occur.  (To the extent examining what went right or wrong and why might reflect adversely on ambitious political appointees or the administration itself, it is actually discouraged.)  This ensures that nothing is learned from experience even if there were career diplomats in senior positions to learn it.

Diplomacy, as such, is not part of civic education in the United States.  A large percentage of our political elite has no idea what diplomats do, can do, or ought to do.  Not for nothing is it said that if you speak three or more languages, you are multilingual.  If you speak two languages, you are bilingual.  If you speak only one language, you are American.  And if you speak only one language, have never studied geography, and do not have a passport, you are probably a member of Congress.

It is also said that, if we can’t get our act together at home, there is little reason to hope that we will get it together abroad.  But we cannot afford not to.  We are entering an era of strategic fluidity in which there are no fixed lines for Cold War-style diplomacy to defend, there is declining deference to our leadership, and there are ever more challenges that cannot be solved by military means.  We need to raise the level of our international game.

It is time to rediscover the deep diplomacy that creates circumstances in which others become inclined out of self-interest to make choices and do things that serve our interests and that advance those interests without war.  It is time to rediscover non-coercive instruments of statecraft that can persuade others that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us.  It is time to exempt the foreign affairs elements of our national security policy apparatus from the venality and incompetence that the spoils system has come to exemplify.  It is time to staff our diplomacy, as we have staffed our military, with well-trained professionals and to demand from them the best they can give to their country.   Our country.

The original material is located at http://chasfreeman.net/too-quick-on-the-draw-militarism-and-the-malpractice-of-diplomacy-in-america/. Republished here with Ambassador Freeman’s permission.

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US Embassy N’Djamena Imposes Travel Restrictions on Embassy Staff After Suicide Bombings in Chad

Posted: 2:40 am  EDT

 

On June 15, the U.S. Embassy in Chad temporarily closed to the public due to reported explosions in the capital city.  All American citizens and their families were advised to shelter in place and not to travel around town.

 

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Late Monday, Embassy  N’Djamena released the following security message informing American citizens in the country of travel restrictions imposed on embassy personnel following the suicide attacks in the capital city:

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Travel Restrictions and Security Review – June 15, 2015

Due to the bombings in N’Djamena on Monday, June 15, U.S. Embassy personnel are required to travel in armored vehicles and are restricted from traveling after dark to public places such as bars, restaurants, and markets. U.S. citizens are encouraged to review the Travel Warning for Chad, and to remain alert for potentially dangerous situations. U.S. citizens should avoid locations frequented by foreigners, including shops, restaurants, bars, and places of worship.

U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution throughout the country, and maintain vigilance in daily affairs, even when visiting familiar locations.

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ALL Foreign Affairs Agencies Affected By #OPMHack: DOS, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS

Posted: 6:15  pm  PDT

 

AFSA has now issued a notice to its membership on the OPM data breach. Below is an excerpt:

On Thursday June 4, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) became aware of a cybersecurity incident affecting its systems and data. AFSA subsequently learned that the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of many current and former federal employees at the foreign affairs agencies have been exposed as a result of this breach.

The most current information provided to AFSA indicates the following: Most current, former and prospective federal employees at ALL foreign affairs agencies have been affected by this breach. That includes the State Department, USAID, FCS, FAS, BBG and APHIS. OPM discovered a new breach late last week which indicates that any current, former or prospective employee for whom a background investigation has been conducted is affected.

In the coming weeks, OPM will be sending notifications to individuals whose PII was potentially compromised in this incident. The email will come from opmcio@csid.comand it will contain information regarding credit monitoring and identity theft protection services being provided to those federal employees impacted by the data breach. In the event OPM does not have an email address for the individual on file, a standard letter will be sent via the U.S. Postal Service. All the foreign affairs agencies suggest that those affected should contact the firm listed below. Members of the Foreign Commercial Service may additionally contact Commerce’s Office of Information Security at informationsecurity@doc.gov.

As a note of caution, confirm that the email you receive is, in fact, the official notification. It’s possible that malicious groups may leverage this event to launch phishing attacks.  To protect yourself, we encourage you to check the following:

  1. Make sure the sender email address is “opmcio@csid.com“.
  2. The email is sent exclusively to your work email address. No other individuals should be in the To, CC, or BCC fields.
  3. The email subject should be exactly “Important Message from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management CIO”.
  4. Do not click on the included link. Instead, record the provided PIN code, open a web browser, manually type the URL http://www.csid.com/opm into the address bar and press enter. You can then use the provided instructions to enroll using CSID’s Web portal.
  5. The email should not contain any attachments. If it does, do not open them.
  6. The email should not contain any requests for additional personal information.
  7. The official email should look like the sample screenshot below.
image via afsa.org

image via afsa.org

Additional information has been made available on the company’s website, www.csid.com/opm, and by calling toll-free 844-777-2743 (International callers: call collect 512-327-0705).

Agency-Specific Points of Contact:

If you have additional questions, contact AFSA’s constituency vice presidents and representatives:

Read the full announcement here.

Amidst this never ending round of data breaches, go ahead and read Brian Krebs’ How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Security Freeze. The USG is not offering to pay the cost of a credit freeze but it might be worth considering.

Of course, the security freeze does not solve the problem if the intent here goes beyond stealing USG employees’ identities.   If the hackers were after the sensitive information contained in the background investigations, for use at any time in the future, not sure that a credit freeze, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection can do anything to protect our federal employees.

Security clearance investigations, by their very nature, expose people’s darkest secrets — the things a foreign government might use to blackmail or compromise them such as drug and alcohol abuse, legal and financial troubles and romantic entanglements. (via)

I understand why the USG has to show that it is doing something to address the breach but — if a foreign government, as suspected, now has those SF-86s, how can people protect themselves from being compromised? If this is not about compromising credit, or identities of USG employees but about secrets, credit monitoring and/or ID thief protection for $20 Million will be an expensive but useless response, wouldn’t it?

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