The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer

Posted: 1:04 am EDT

 

Former FSO Michael T. Sestak was arrested in Thailand on May 7, 2013. He was initially arraigned on September 13, 2013 and pled guilty on November 6, 2013.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 before Judge John D. Bates at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The USG is recommending (#303) that Mr. Sestak be sentenced to a term of 84 months of incarceration followed by 3 years of supervised release.

The USG in its memorandum in aid of sentencing writes:

The U.S. State Department is dedicated to administering its visa programs fairly and without graft or corruption. SESTAK and his co-conspirators damaged the reputation of the U.S. State Department by tainting the process and likely preventing deserving applicants from obtaining visas.

This was not a momentary lapse in judgment for any of the conspirators, including SESTAK. This was a sophisticated scheme that exploited a system and made millions of dollars after months of careful planning and substantial efforts to cover their tracks.
[….]
SESTAK has provided substantial assistance to the government from the time of his initial detention on May 9, 2013. On that date, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed. During this initial interview, the defendant acknowledged his guilt and provided investigators with information regarding the conspiracy, including details about how the scheme actually operated and how the proceeds were laundered and moved out of Vietnam. While SESTAK was somewhat naïve and uninformed about the full extent of the conspiracy and the deep involvement of Binh Vo’s family members, he never minimized his own critical role in the scheme.

Mr. Sestak’s lawyer, Gray B. Broughton in his court filing argues that as of August 14, 2015, Mr. Sestak will have already forfeited over twenty-seven (27) months of his liberty in facilities designed for short-term detention and that a thirty-three (33) month sentence will serve as adequate punishment. “As a result of his indictment and conviction, Michael lost his job with the State Department and will never again be able to work in a similar capacity in public service. Even worse than the incarceration and job loss is Michael Sestak’s loss of reputation. The amount of shame and contrition that Michael Sestak continues to carry with him cannot be overstated. The loss of one’s profession and reputation is a severe punishment that serves the retributive goals of sentencing.” 

We will keep tabs on the sentencing set for Friday morning. Meanwhile, below is an excerpt from the court filing which is instructive, particularly, the emails exchanged by some of the conspirators.  If you’re a consular officer and somebody wants to make you an “honorary” brother, or sister, some other pretend relative, or fairy godparent, you gotta run as fast and as far away as possible!

This is what a purposeful and targeted cultivation of a relationship with a consular officer overseas looks like.  Note that this is an excerpt from the defense filing:

When Michael arrived in Vietnam, he had hit a personal low. Michael had become dissatisfied working for the State Department and had contemplated resigning at the end of his assignment to Poland. Michael had witnessed others being promoted who he believed were less deserving than he was. To make matters worse, Michael’s involvement in the fruitless search for WMD throughout Iraq shook his previously unwavering trust in the United States Government.
[…]
Most significantly, when Michael arrived in Vietnam, his personal life was totally unfulfilling. Within his first year assigned to Vietnam, Michael turned 40. Michael was unmarried, had no children, and no serious prospects for finding someone to share life together.  One aspect of being a Foreign Service Officer was that Michael changed countries every two years, usually coming back to Washington D.C. for several months in between for training. In both Spain and Poland, Michael had a girlfriend that he met towards the end of his tour. Unable to further develop these relationships in such a short amount of time, Michael arrived at his next assignment unaccompanied. It was during these transitions that Michael began to question the meaning of life and finding true happiness.
[…]
It was during this time and with this personal baggage that Michael first met Binh Vo. They met at Michael’s very first Consulate event in Vietnam in August 2010. Binh Vo and a Vietnamese businessman approached Michael and started talking. Binh Vo and Michael were approximately the same age; similarly, Binh Vo was American and well-educated.
[…]
Binh Vo slowly became Michael’s closest confident. Their friendship developed to the point where they met almost daily for meals or coffee. Binh Vo introduced Michael to his siblings, who went out of their way to include Michael in “family-only” functions. Binh Vo’s siblings referred to Michael as an honorary “Vo” brother. This circle of new-found friends constituted roughly 80% of Michael’s social activity in Vietnam. As described above, Michael was unable to develop any real friendships with American employees at the Consulate and he didn’t really have any Vietnamese friends; the few Vietnamese men that Michael met who ran in the same circles would ultimately harass Michael for visa “favors.” For the first year and four months of Michael’s time in Vietnam, Binh Vo was the only single male with whom he could communicate and socialize without reporting requirements because Binh Vo was American. Additionally, Binh Vo was always available, had a comparable level of education, and didn’t ask any favors.

Michael felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon a great relationship with Binh Vo and his family. Michael was unaware that Binh Vo and his family had targeted Michael from the onset and that every coffee, meal, family dinner, and drink was an orchestrated, results-driven event with the end goal of executing Binh Vo’s scheme to fraudulently sell non-immigrant visas to Vietnamese citizens.

As the Government stated in its sentencing memorandum for Binh Vo, Binh Vo “purposefully cultivated a relationship with Sestak in order to recruit him to approve visas for the conspiracy.” Government Mem., Doc. 289 at 8. Binh Vo exploited the weakness that Michael tried to hide, but some easily saw.
[…]

The Government’s sentencing memorandum illustrates how Binh Vo and his family preyed on Michael’s weakness and transformed him from a law-abiding officer and government official into a willing participant of the Vo’s scheme to enrich themselves:

The defendant [Binh Vo] orchestrated the visa fraud conspiracy from beginning to end. During the summer of 2011, according to electronic communications between the defendant [Binh Vo]’s sister and another co-conspirator, [Binh Vo] cultivated a relationship with [Michael] Sestak in order to get Sestak to approve visas for their family and acquaintances.

In a Google chat dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to an acquaintance:

[L]ast night we went out with this guy who works at the consulate — he’s the one that approves peoples visas… and he’s this single guy who wants to find someone to be wth [sic]… and my brother knows that – so he’s been trying to get this guy out and introduce him to people… so then later he can do him favors like … have him approve visas for people.

In an email dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to her boyfriend:

This guy who works for the US consulate here came out and joined us for dinner. He’s the guy that approves Visas for Vietnamese people to go to the United States so he’s a really good connection to have. My brother plans on using him to get [a sister-in-law’s] Visa to go to the States so [the sister-in-law] will most likely travel back with me in August . . . he just likes to people watch — he does this with the consulate guy (Mike) and they check out girls.

In a Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo again discussed the sister-in-law referenced in the above paragraph.

I applied for her Visa … so her interview is July 13th … and i told the consulate guy … so he said he’ll pull her file … but now he knows our family … so he’s more trusting … but she’ll most likely get accepted this time … because Mike will pull up her file … and he considers Binh like his best friend.

In another Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo discussed Sestak:

I have to go out now… it’s freaking 11P and Binh forgot it was Mike’s birthday… this loser guy who works for the consulate but we have to go out because he’s going to help us get [the sister-in-law’s] visa ugh

The USG in its court filing says that “the conduct that led to the present charges appears to be significantly out of character for the defendant.” It has also credited Mr. Sestak for accepting responsibility for his actions and for expression of remorse:

As far as the government is aware, prior to these offenses SESTAK had an unblemished record first as a as a police officer, then a Deputy United States Marshal, a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer, and finally as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The fact that he immediately accepted responsibility for his actions at the time of his initial detention and agreed to cooperate with the government from that day forward supports the government’s belief that the defendant is not a career criminal. The defendant’s cooperation has included numerous meetings and debriefings and significant assistance with the sale of the condominiums in Thailand that he purchased with the illegal proceeds from the scheme. Since the time of his initial detention in May 2013, the defendant has repeatedly expressed shame and genuine remorse for his actions.

Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The USG is asking for 84 months or 7 years and three years of supervised release. Defense is asking for 33 months. We’ll have to wait until August 14 to hear Judge Bates’ decision.

We’ve posted a couple of the publicly available Sestak documents in the forum’s Document Dump for friends of the blog. Click here to login. It looks like all of Mr. Sestak’s cooperation with the government is related to the cases against the other conspirators and the disposal of properties purchased through illegal proceeds.  We want to know how can the next Sestak be prevented from happening; he maybe in the best position to answer that question. We’ve requested to do an interview with him after the sentencing.  Will keep you posted.

#

State/IRM blocked this blog’s evil shadow diplopundit.com, and it’s a good thing!

Posted: 7:24 pm EDT
Updated: 4:06 pm EDT

 

Last week we blogged about some reported issues with accessing this blog from the State Department. There were reports of this blog displaying as a blank page, and another of this blog being categorized as “suspicious.”

Two things to remember — first, if you’re connecting to this blog from a State Department network and you get a blank screen, check if you’re using Internet Explorer 8. If you are, you need to switch to Chrome if you want to read this blog.

Second, if you get the “suspicious” prompt or a block that prevents you from connecting to Diplopundit, make sure you are connecting to the correct URL – the one that sounds rhymy — diplopundit.NET, and not/not its evil shadow diplopundit.COM.

Here is the back story.  We thought it was a question of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it wasn’t that. Nothing to do with the tigers either. So our apologies for thinking that.  The firewall did bite but it was not done out of any wicked reason. It was merely a coincidence of two unrelated issues that occurred around the same time.

After we’ve blogged about issues with access from State, Ann from State/IRM’s Information Assurance office reached out to us to help see what’s going on.

“Suspicious” Category

So folks who attempted to access Diplopundit but typed .COM instead of .NET were blocked by state.gov, and will continue to be blocked access. And that’s a good thing.

image002-4

IRM/IA’s Ann did some sleuthing and discovered that somebody is domain camping on diplopundit.com, a domain registered out of Australia under protected status, so it’s not clear who owns it. Apparently, it is a very common attack to buy up domain names that are similar to a popular one, with different endings, common typos, etc, and then camp malware on them. She notes that “It’s especially awesome to do this to sites that have a high likelihood for targeted visitors, like, oh, maybe Department of State and other governments.” Running the domain through some site reputation lookups came back “suspicious.”

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

http://www.isithacked.com/check/www.diplopundit.com : Suspicious returns

IRM/IA tried to access diplopundit.com and the site is redirecting to another site that tells users their computers are infected and to click on “ok” to begin the repair process. DEFINITELY malicious.  IRM/IA’s IT ninja concludes that not only did the State Department’s security systems work as needed, someone is using the reputation of Diplopundit to try to infect users who type the wrong URL.

Ugh!  So watch what you type.  She’s not sure if this is targeted or just criminal botnet activity but whatever it is, stay away from diplopundit.COM.  Also, make sure you’re not sending any email to diplopundit.COM, as that email would end up with whoever owns that shadowy domain.

The Blank Screens

Internet Explorer  (IE) is the browser compatible with the Department of State’s IT system. A couple of years ago, Chrome became an optional browser. IE8 and other old browsers are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, and other security issues. It also doesn’t support a lot of things including HTML5 and CSS codes used in WordPress. In fact, we’re told that WP’s support for this browser version was dropped a while back.  Microsoft has also reported that they will end support for it themselves. So it’s not about what script is in this blog, it’s more about the IE8 browser not playing nice with the blogs. This blog displays properly on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and on Internet Explorer 9. Our tech folks suggested that IE8 users upgrade to IE9 if at all possible.

Our readers from State can’t just do that on their own, so we asked IRM. The word is that the State Department will probably skip IE9 due to resource constraints on testing each incremental version. The good news is, it will move everyone directly to Internet Explorer 11 in December. That may sound a long way off but we’re told that the move forces everyone from 32-bit to 64-bit servers, which is not an insignificant jump for all the developers (including those for Consular Affairs and the financial services). So there is that to look forward to at the end of the year.

Our most sincere thanks to State/IRM especially to IA’s Ann who pursued this issue to the end and also WP’s Grace and her team for helping us understand what’s going on. Merci.

#

State Dept on Former DAS Raymond Maxwell’s Allegations: Crazy. Conspiracy Theory. What Else?

— Domani Spero

 

AP’s Matt Lee revisited the question of Raymond Maxwell’s Benghazi-related allegations during the September 16 Daily Press Briefing with State Department deputy spox, Marie Harf.

Here is the short version:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 5.54.23 PM

 

Below is the video clip followed by an excerpt from the transcript where the official spox of the State Department called the allegations of one of its former top officials “a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret.” Crazy. Conspiracy. Of course!  Now stop asking silly questions and go home.

Over 20 years of service in the Navy and the diplomatic service and his allegation is reduced to a sound bite.  Mr. Maxwell is lucky he’s retired, or he would have been made to work, what was it, as a telecommuter?  Pay attention, there’s a lesson here somewhere.

In The American Conservative today, Peter Van Buren writes:

Maxwell impresses as a State Department archetype, dedicated to the insular institution, apolitical to the point of frustration to an outsider, but shocked when he found his loyalty was not returned.

He has revealed what he knows only two years after the fact. People will say he is out for revenge. But I don’t think that’s the case. As a State Department whistleblower who experienced how the Department treats such people, I know it’s not a position anyone wants to be in.
[…]
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn your own life, and that of your family, upside down, risking financial ruin, public shaming, and possibly jail time. It is a process, not an event.

 

 

 

QUESTION: You wouldn’t – you would probably disagree, but anyway, this has to do with what Ray Maxwell said about the AR – the preparation to the documents for the – for submission to the ARB. You said yesterday that his claims as published were without merit and showed a – I think you said lack of understanding of the process, how it functioned.

MS. HARF: How the ARB functioned, a complete lack of understanding, I think I said.

QUESTION: Complete lack of understanding, okay.

MS. HARF: Not just a partial lack of understanding.

QUESTION: Okay. So what was it that – presuming he’s not making this story up about coming into the jogger’s entrance and going to this room where – I mean, I presume there’s nothing really sinister about collecting documents for the – for whatever purpose, but it —

MS. HARF: There may have been a room with documents —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — being collected and – yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So what did he see if he did not see —

MS. HARF: I have no idea what he saw.

QUESTION: Was there, that you’re aware of – and I recognize that you were not here at the time and this was a previous Secretary and a previous Secretary’s staff, likely all of them previous although I don’t know that to be true, so you may not know. But I would expect that you have asked them for their account of what happened.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: So was there some kind of an effort by member – that you’re aware of or – let me start again. Was there some kind of effort by State Department officials to separate out or scrub down documents related to the – to Benghazi into piles that were – did not – piles into – into piles that were separated by whether they made the seventh floor look – appear in a bad light or not? I’m sorry. I’m not – asking this in a very roundabout way. Were there —

MS. HARF: It’s okay, and we’re – and he was referring, I think, to the ARB process. Is that right?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.

But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: Could they – could a group of people operating in this room in preparing for the ARB to look at the documents – could a group of people have been able to segregate some documents and keep the ARB from knowing about them —

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: — or seeing them?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: So it’s —

MS. HARF: The ARB, again, has said – and everything I’ve talked to everybody about – that they had unfettered access to what they needed.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you can’t need what you don’t know about, kind of, right? Do you understand what – see what —

MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access —

QUESTION: So they got to see —

MS. HARF: — to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: So there were no documents that were separated out and kept from the ARB that you – but you —

MS. HARF: Not that I’ve ever heard of, not that I know of. I know what I know about the ARB’s access. We have talked about this repeatedly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: And I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I think, as there often are with Benghazi, a number of conspiracy theories out there being perpetrated by certain people. Who knows why, but I know the facts as I know them, and I will keep repeating them every day until I stop getting asked.

QUESTION: Okay. And does this apply to documents that were being collected in response to requests from Congress?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a different process, right. It was a different process. And obviously, we’ve produced documents to Congress on a rolling basis. Part of that – because it’s for a different purpose.

QUESTION: Well, who – what was this group – well, this group of people in the – at the jogger’s entrance —

MS. HARF: In the – I love this – sounds like some sort of movie. Yes.

QUESTION: Well, whatever it sounds like, I don’t know, but I mean, we happen to know that there was an office that was set up to deal with this, understandably so because it required a lot of effort.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: But that room or whatever it was, that office was only dealing with stuff for the ARB?

MS. HARF: I can check if people sat in the same office, but there are two different processes. There’s the ARB process for how they got their documents. There’s the Congressional process –we’ve been producing documents to them on a rolling basis —

QUESTION: I understand.

MS. HARF: — part of which in that process is coordinating with other agencies who may have equities in the documents, who may have employees who are on the documents. So that’s just a separate process.

QUESTION: Okay. So the people in that office were not doing anything with the Congress; they were focused mainly on the ARB?

MS. HARF: I can see who actually sat in that office. I don’t know. But what we’re focused on is the process, right, and the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The congressional process – as you know, we have been producing documents to Congress on a rolling basis —

QUESTION: Well, I guess that this mainly relates to the —

MS. HARF: — and there’s just different equities there.

QUESTION: This – the allegation, I think, applies to the ARB. But you are saying —

MS. HARF: Right, and I’m talking about the ARB.

QUESTION: — that it is impossible for a group of people to collect a stack of documents that say something that they don’t like and secret them away or destroy them somehow so that the ARB couldn’t get to them? Is that what you’re saying? It’s impossible for that to happen?

MS. HARF: I’m saying I wasn’t here then. What I know from talking to people here who were is that the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.

QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether there wasn’t —

MS. HARF: It does answer the question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well – no, no, no, no. No, no, no. One of his allegations is that there were people who were separating out documents that would make the Secretary and others —

MS. HARF: So that the ARB didn’t have access to them.

QUESTION: Right, but – that put them in a bad light.

MS. HARF: But I’m saying they had access to everything.

QUESTION: Okay. But —

MS. HARF: So —

QUESTION: — do you know even —

MS. HARF: — I’m responding.

QUESTION: But even if it would’ve been impossible for them to keep these things secret, was there a collection of —

MS. HARF: This is a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret. The ARB had unfettered access.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, Marie, I appreciate the fact that you’re taking that line. But I mean, there is a select committee investigating it.

MS. HARF: Well, it happens to be true. And tomorrow there will be an open hearing on ARB implementation, where I’m sure all of this will be discussed with Assistant Secretary Greg Starr.

QUESTION: Okay. And they will have – they will get the same answers that you’ve just given here?

MS. HARF: Let’s all hope so.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. HARF: Yes, of course.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Rogin’s Exclusive: Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Raymond Maxwell Speaks Out — Duck and Cover!

Whoops! Too late!

Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
[…]
“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” said Maxwell, who has now filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s human resources bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign-service officers. The other three officials placed on leave were in the diplomatic security bureau, leaving Maxwell as the only official in the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job.

“I had no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi,” he said.
[…]

Since the leave is not considered a formal disciplinary action, Maxwell has no means to appeal the status, as he would if he had been outright fired. To this day, he says, nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline. He has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report, where all of the details regarding personnel failures leading up to Benghazi are confined. He also says he has never been shown any evidence or witness testimony linking him to the Benghazi incident.

Maxwell says he had planned to retire last September, but extended his time voluntarily after the Sept. 11 attack to help the bureau in its time of need. Now, he is refusing to retire until his situation is clarified. He is seeking a restoration of his previous position, a public statement of apology from State, reimbursement for his legal fees, and an extension of his time in service to equal the time he has spent at home on administrative leave.

“For any FSO being at work is the essence of everything and being deprived of that and being cast out was devastating,” he said.
[…]

The decision to place Maxwell on administrative leave was made by Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, according to three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the events. On the day after the unclassified version of the ARB’s report was released in December, Mills called Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and directed her to have Maxwell leave his job immediately.

“Cheryl Mills directed me to remove you immediately from the [deputy assistant secretary] position,” Jones told Maxwell, according to Maxwell.
[…]
But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Read  John Rogin’s  Exclusive: Hillary’s Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Speaks Out from his new home at the Daily Beast.

The somebodies appear to have miscalculated that folks would just go away quietly …

And it’s all a coincidence, of course, that on the same day that this came out, the State Department released its Benghazi Accountability Review Board Implementation and Secretary Kerry showed up at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia to deliver Remarks to the Foreign Service Institute Overseas Security Seminar  (dear heavens! it’s open to the press and cameras!). We can’t recall a secretary of state ever showing up for that overseas seminar, can you?

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wants to Be Known as a Serial Blog Killer, Anyway?

English: Serial Killers Gallery at the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it goes.

And Kolbi’s blog is resurrected a second time. Which is almost as shocking as Newt Gingrich’s come back after his Aegean cruise.

Anyway, she disappeared on February 13, and we moved the blog to the blogmetery. We spent most of February 14 rounding up the usual suspects on paper. Why? Because that’s what we do when somebody disappears or when a 2010 victim of a Serial Blog Killer is victimized once again. Think Criminal Minds for blogs searching for a Serial Blog Killer’s “signature.”

So on our whiteboard we have listed the possible “suspects” below:

  • The blogger-spouse’s FSO’s section chief at post
  • FSO’s section chief’s boss at post, the Principal Officer
  • Principal Officer’s boss in Beijing, usually the DCM
  • DCM’s boss in Beijing, that’s the Ambassador
  • Ambassador’s boss in DC besides President Obama, the EAP bureau
  • EAP’s boss in DC, that would be “P” (way up on the 7th Floor, tsk! tsk!)

On our side column, we listed the following who may have been offended by the blog or other people of interest we should talk to:

  • the UNSUB or “unknown subject” – could be the janitor or secretary, who knows?
  • DGHR – because human resources has hands in almost all the embassy pies
  • Alec J. Ross, because he is the 21st Century Statecraft guru at State

We were just in the middle of collecting photos to go with the names of the usual suspects when we were told that Kolbi’s blog is back up talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shuuuung!

We are happy, of course, to move her out of the blogmetery (admittedly, one depressing sidebar).  But the blog was gone slightly more than 24 hours. And very few, if ever, make it back. That she escaped the certainty of a blog death a second time around is nothing short of a miracle.

Is the Serial Blog Killer now playing a different game?  Or is there a lesson here, somehow? We don’t know yet. We’re studying the victimology in the hope that it would help others survive similar attacks. We’re asking questions such as: What did she write about? Who did she piss? What interest of the United States did she jeopardize?

Wait – you think it’s because nobody wants to be known as the Serial Blog Killer?

Don’t know. But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, “If you can’t do something right, do something smart.”

Well, getting off the news before it hits the frontpage is definitely smart, boys!

Domani Spero

Democratic Pakistan Bans BBC World News Over "Secret Pakistan" Documentary

Deutsch: Logo des Fernsehsenders BBC World News.Image via WikipediaAccording  to BBC News, Pakistani cable television operators have begun blocking the BBC’s international news TV channel, BBC World News. This move was apparently due to a critical documentary broadcast entitled Secret Pakistan. Excerpts:

The BBC said it was deeply concerned by the move, and called for its channel to be speedily reinstated.

“We condemn any action that threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service,” a BBC spokesperson said.

“We would urge that BBC World News and other international news services are reinstated as soon as possible.”

The two-part BBC documentary questioned the country’s commitment to tackling Taliban militancy.
[…]
The decision to block BBC World News and other international news channels comes after a media uproar in Pakistan over a Nato air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border at the weekend.

The All Pakistan Cable Operators Association announced on Tuesday that all foreign news channels airing “anti-Pakistan” content would be barred from Wednesday.

The operators called on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) “to revoke the landing rights of foreign channels” if they are found to be “propagating” information harmful to the country.
[…]
Correspondents say it is not possible to see BBC World News in most Pakistani cities, with the ban expected to be extended to rural areas by Wednesday.

Cable Operators Association spokesman Khalid Arain said that no foreign anti-Pakistan channel would “ever” be broadcast in the country.

“We want to send them a strong message to stop this. If they don’t stop this, then it is our right to stop them,” he said.

Correspondents say the Pakistani government is likely to have put pressure on the operators to impose the ban.

Active link added above.  Read in full here.

The two-part documentary is, of course, now available on YouTube for everyone to see and unless pulled by BBC for copyright issues, available to anyone with access to the web. 

Secret Pakistan : Documentary by BBC Part 1
(Double Cross) | Length: 59:03

http://youtu.be/qSinK-dVrig

from BBC: In May this year, US Special Forces shot and killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Publicly Pakistan is one of America’s closest allies – yet every step of the operation was kept secret from it.


Filmed largely in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this two-part documentary series explores how a supposed ally stands accused by top CIA officers and Western diplomats of causing the deaths of thousands of coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. It is a charge denied by Pakistan’s military establishment, but the documentary makers meet serving Taliban commanders who describe the support they get from Pakistan in terms of weapons, training and a place to hide.

This first episode investigates signs of duplicity that emerged after 9/11 and disturbing intelligence reports after Britain’s forces entered Helmand in 2006.

Secret Pakistan : Documentary by BBC Part 2
(Backlash) | Length: 58:59

http://youtu.be/G5-lSSC9dSE

from BBC: The second film in this timely and enthralling two-part documentary series reveals how Britain and America discovered compelling evidence that Pakistan was secretly helping the Taliban and concluded they had been double-crossed.


It tells the story of how under President Obama the US has waged a secret war against Pakistan. Taliban commanders tell the film makers that to this day Pakistan shelters and arms them, and helps them kill Western troops – indeed one recently captured suicide bomber alleges he was trained by Pakistani intelligence.

Chillingly, the film also reveals that, based on some evidence, Pakistani intelligence stands accused of sabotaging possible peace talks. Pakistan denies these charges, but relations between Pakistan and America now verge on hostility.

Since it is inevitable that some clips of this documentary will bleed into prime time news, I suspect that a host of foreign channels will also be banned for “propagating information harmful to the country.”

Perhaps, the cable operators would like to use the following programming filler – a music video, titled “Zindagi Hai Yahan.”  This has been created to showcase the treasures of the beautiful valley of Swat and promote it as a premium tourist destination in Pakistan, with assistance from USAID and the people of the United States of America:


Read more on Tourism Takes On Taliban (IPS) and USAID Support to Tourism in Swat

A week of WikiLeaks and not one mention of the State Department’s "cookie pushers"

Apparently coined by US diplomat Hugh S. Gibson in 1924, the term Cookie Pusher has been applied as a reference to diplomats in general and members of the United States Foreign Service in particular, and not in a good way.

Whenever the State Department diplomats made the news in our 24 hour news cycle, some journalists, commentators and opinion makers more often than not, bring up the pejorative term to refer to our diplomats.

Former Ambassador and former “P,” R. Nicholas Burns, once lamented:

We are also the victims of an unfortunate caricature of our profession. That is, a lot of people think we are pin-striped cookie pushers. I know that because I am a regular guest, for better or worse, on the Ollie North Show. His listeners often tell me that I’m a pin-striped cookie pusher. So we have got to find a way to communicate to the public what it is we do and who we are and why we’re worth supporting.

I think another part of this caricature of the Foreign Service is that they think that we go to cocktail parties and that we negotiate grand treaties. Well, we do both of those things. But we also — especially the modern foreign service — spend a lot of time trying to stop drugs from coming into the United States; trying to combat terrorist groups around the world; trying to deal, as Tim Wirth I’m sure told you, deal with the global problems, environmental problems that are increasingly at the forefront of our diplomatic agenda. It doesn’t leap to the mind of most people in this country that career diplomats, or political appointees who are diplomats, undertake those challenges for the United States just as we undertake the challenges of throwing a good reception-if you’re an ambassador-public representation or negotiating treaties.

Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Wendy Chamberlin was quoted here:

The American press, not known for its gentle touch, refers to diplomats as cookie pushers, or more charitably, as the stripe pants set. My mission today is to make a plausible case that the newest gladiators in the international crime arena are the diplomats.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on this stereotype:

…[W] we all know the other stereotype, about cookie-pushers, just isn’t true, in the sense that our colleagues, regardless of what “cone” or office they may be in are putting their lives on the line for the American people every day, just like all of you are. In this Department of State family, we have the privilege of working with some of the most talented and dedicated people in this nation and we are all in this together. The pinstriped stereotype is also untrue in another sense. The people who actually execute the diplomacy, the ones who negotiate treaties and write reporting cables, they are actually a very small part of our overall workforce. Approximately 11 percent, I believe. Moreover, they could not accomplish their duties without the other 89 percent. …

This past week, after days of classified embassy cables dripping out of selected news outlets and the WikiLeaks servers when they were not under denial of service (DoS) attacks, there was no single mention of US diplomats as “cookie pushers.”

Not one single one.

Of course, NYT’s Mark Landler in From WikiLemons, Clinton Tries to Make Lemonade, made up for the media’s oversight by describing our diplomats as “pinstriped authors who pour their hearts and minds into cables that are filed to Washington and often not even read by desk officers, let alone senior diplomats or the secretary herself.”

But — still no mention of the “cookie pushers …”

Fareed Zakaria writes, “the sum total of the output I have read is actually quite reassuring about the way Washington – or at least the State Department – works. [,,,]When foreigners encounter U.S. diplomats and listen to their bland recitation of policy, they would do well to keep in mind that behind the facade lie some very clever minds.

David Rothkopf writes in FP: “The leaked cables for the most part show professional diplomats doing their job with intelligence, wisdom, candour and even humour.

Here is Leslie Gelb:
“Our diplomats were doing a good job. […] U.S. policymakers and diplomats are shown, quite accurately, doing what they are supposed to do: ferreting out critical information from foreign leaders, searching for paths to common action and struggling with the right amount of pressure to apply on allies and adversaries. And in most cases, the villain is not Washington, but foreign leaders escaping common action with cowardice and hypocrisy.”

From the other side of the pond, Timothy Garton Ash: “my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches….[…[ what we find here is often first rate.”

Roger Cohen in NYT: “Let’s hear it for the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service! They are, to judge from the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million of their private or secret cables, thoughtful, well-informed and dedicated servants of the American interest who write clear, declarative English sentences. I’ve not heard much in the torrent of Wiki-chatter about these admirable career diplomats whose diplomacy is now condemned to be unquiet. Yet it is they whose lives have been upturned.”

Nicholas Kralev who has written quite a bit about the Foreign Service has this: “The silver lining for U.S. diplomats of this week’s WikiLeaks release of secret State Department cables is that there is more buzz about their work than there has been in years.[…] Members of the U.S. Foreign Service often complain that it’s an unknown entity to the very people diplomats represent abroad. My extensive research in the last seven years confirms that concern. Most Americans have no idea what their representatives do every day — and many have no interest in learning about it, either.”

An unnamed foreign diplomat in WDC’s Embassy Row was quoted here saying: “If I had been the author of some of them, I’d be proud. They’re good quality, professional products, and they show these diplomats doing precisely what they’re supposed to be doing — providing unvarnished assessments to headquarters from the front lines.” 

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson says “We’ve always prided ourselves in the foreign service that in order to succeed, you had to be a talented stylist as well. Writing a great cable is a bit of a lost art, and it’s great to see the Americans restoring it.” 

Of course, there’s also Kashmir Hill in Forbes.com on the sexy factor in all this: “Cablegate may be for the State Department what Top Gun was for the Air Force — a great recruitment tool. This is the sexiest the State Department has been since then-Secretary of State Condi Rice strapped on knee-high black boots in Wiesbaden…”

Well, I don’t know about ’em boots but we agree that this might be the sexiest State has been since …. well, in a long while.  And it’s the US Navy – TOPGUN is for the US Naval Aviators (Marine and CG also) not the Air Force. 
 
Perhaps one of the strangest thing to come out of this — is that in releasing these diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks have succeeded in redrawing the “unfortunate caricature of our profession” in the words of Nick Burns, into a fuller picture of what it is to be an American diplomat — the “thoughtful, well-informed and dedicated servants of the American interest” — dealing with problems in a global scale.

I’m sure this was not the intention of WikiLeaks, and we’re not about to pen a thank you note to Julian Assange, but it is what it is — the unintended consequences of WikiLeak’s action is its inadvertent education of a disinterested American public about foreign affairs and the building blocks in our country’s foreign policy.     

 

 


BP’s Crisis Communication Needs a Heck of a Make-Over

Don't Panic Guide to Crisis Communications - L...Image by stedavies via Flickr

You’d think that a company as big as BP should have been prepared in dealing with crisis management, particularly  crisis communication. Not just the company itself or its spokesperson but also its top officials (e.g. Tony Haywood) who may be called upon to explain and communicate its crisis response to the public. To the contrary, its forays into the media are so bad that it’s hard not to cover your eyes every time its officials say something on camera.  They’re like walking disasters, no?

Before the big media outlet started emblazoning the tee-vee screen with “Disaster in the Gulf” and similar catchy titles, the company could have done more, but did not.

Who could forget BP CEO Tony Hayward who infamously informed tee-vee audiences worldwide, “I’d like my life back?”

This, after another screamer where he said, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”  Really, now.

How about — “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest,” Hayward also told reporters.

A couple of days after saying he’d like his life back CNN reported that BP has hired a PR firm outside Madison Avenue for its new ad campaign:

Energy giant BP has hired a Washington-based, bipartisan political consulting firm to produce its new aggressive national advertising push, including a national TV spot released Thursday, CNN has learned.

Sources familiar with the arrangement say that Purple Strategies, headed up by veteran political consultants Steve McMahon, a Democrat, and Alex Castellanos, a Republican, produced new advertisements now running on both television and in newspapers.

The sources say that BP hired Purple Strategies to produce what will likely be a series of advertisements as part of BP’s attempt to rehabilitate its battered image.

Purple Strategies is working alongside the Brunswick public relations firm, which has had BP as a client for some time. Its Washington office is run by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
[…]
The lobbying firms working for BP are among the most influential in Washington, including the Podesta Group (headed by Tony Podesta, one of Washington’s top lobbyists and the brother of former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta) and the Duberstein Group (headed by former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein). They were originally hired to represent BP’s interests as major energy and financial legislation moves through Congress.

However, sources involved in BP’s lobbying efforts, say that since the April 20 oil rig explosion, the lobbying firms have had an all-hands-on-deck approach in trying to help BP deal with the myriad of congressional inquiries.

ABC News later reported that “Independent analysts estimate the cost of the public relations and ad campaign as at least $50 million.”

Hey, big guys — that $50 mil ain’t doing a great job.

I’ve seen that $50mil ad every day I watch the update on the Gulf Oil Spill. Aggressive it may be, but I don’t think it helps rehabilitate BP’s image. Personally, I cringe, every time BP’s Tony H. comes on. My co-viewers actually shouts at the tee-vee every time Tony’s ad is on.  I’m still surprised no one has yet thrown away the tee-vee out my window.  But really — doesn’t that ad only serves to emphasized the disconnect that the company has with the ongoing environmental disaster?

Especially, when that spot comes on right after graphic photos of death unfolding in the Gulf?

Another day, CBS reported about the local residents’ difficulties in getting assistance from BP. The news highlighted an individual who has a restaurant and could not connect with the BP folks for the last four days. Until CBS News came calling, that is. Then suddenly, he got an appointment. And then, a BP assistance center staff, caught on tape puts paper over the network’s camera barking something like you can’t bring a camera here.

Nice. You’d think that after such bad press about slow assistance that the company would like to show that indeed its assistance center is off and running and ready to help. Instead, tee-vee audiences get a peek at an arrogant employee pulling down the shade. Of course, they’re just doing their jobs; but they’re doing it rather badly.   

Who can blame Jason Linkins for concluding that BP is better at stemming journalists than oil wells?

In Mother Jones’ case, Mac McClelland could not even see Elmer’s Island unless he gets a BP escort. The reporter was told “BP’s in charge because “it’s BP’s oil.”  Are they going to start a trend here for embed oil spill journalists now? 

Some two weeks after the BP CEO said he wanted his life back, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg finally heard him.  The Chairman has unceremoniously announced that Tony Hayward will no longer be managing the day-to-day operations of the Gulf cleanup effort.

So, there. Tony finally gets his life back. Just a few hours ago, AP reported that Tony H. is attending a yacht race off the Isle of Wight in southern England. Must be quite a change from being grilled in DC.  

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, himself has some issues on what to call the victims of this environmental disaster. Stay in your seats, this is far from over.

From now on, I supposed, Bob Dudley (who will replace Tony H. as BP’s point man in the oil clean up) as new diplomatic director of disaster operations will have no life, too. Poor Bob.  Newsweek calls him BP’s new clean-up czar. I hope he is a real one with supreme powers to deal with this nasty oil spill.

Some more on Mr. Dudley from Businessweek:  He has been Executive Director of BP plc since April 6, 2009. He also serves as Executive Vice President of BP plc and has been its Head of Disaster Management Unit since June 2010. He and his wife of 29 years, Mary, have two children.  He has a BA in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He received his MIM from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and also holds an MBA from Southern Methodist University.

Perhaps that is good news. He’s American, speaks without a British accent, and may be more attuned to the American public. Can he help BP rebrand itself? Don’t know. But first on his list, should be to ditch that $50mil ad with Tony H. which looks and sounds fantastically bad. Perhaps they can take a lesson from Edward Murrow. The former director of the USIA once said: “Truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”    

Yep, as simple as that.

The bad news, of course, and there is always one — is that this is the same Mr. Dudley who said “I think Tony’s doing a fantastic job,” in Meet the Press on May 30th …

So, let’s wait and see ….

In any case, methinks rebuilding corporate credibility is more than a $50 million job.  Remember the Exxon Valdez spill?  Then there’s the Tylenol Crisis of 1982. One now hauls ore, the other made it through and back, and continues to be a top seller brand.  Of course, the media landscape in 1982 (with three TV networks) and 2010 (with new and social media on 24/7) are worlds apart. But I don’t think this has to do with the money you pour into a media campaign. It’s all about engagement at minute speeds (not hours, not days, not weeks), about anticipating the sticky curve down the road, and above all, connecting with the audience at the emotional level.  Saying you’d like your life back is tacky considering that thousands more affected by the spill may never get the lives as they knew it, back.  Calling folks affected by the disaster “small people,” even as you profess to care for them is like building a brick wall instead of a bridge.    

I wonder if BP’s ad has a money back guarantee.


UN Undiplomatic Mess Refuses to Go Away

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Emblem_of_th...Image via Wikipedia
Where the saga of former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Kai Eide, and the United Nations continue …

December 10
| According to Peter Galbraith, he initiated a wrongful dismissal action against the United Nations.

December 11
| The Guardian reported that Kai Eide, the top United Nations official in Afghanistan who was criticised for his handling of allegations of fraud in the country’s presidential election, will not be renewing his contract.

December 11
| Inner City Press had this piece: Galbraith Claims Disclosed Oil Interest to UN, Eide Leaked Before Leaving? | “Inner City Press has asked the UN if Galbraith disclosed the oil interest. UN Ethics Officer Robert Benson responded that Galbraith filed a form, but that its contents will not be disclosed, even to the UN’s executive 38th floor, apparently. The financial disclosure forms are filed with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It is unclear who in the UN system vets them for conflicts of interest. […]Still, UN officials have bad mouthed Galbraith both on and off the record. At a press conference at UN headquarters, the number two official of UN Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet said that Galbraith had an ulterior motive which would later be revealed. And a senior UN official from the 38th floor called UN correspondents to make them aware of the Norwegian stories.”

December 14
| Josh Rogin of The Cable interviewed Galbraith | Galbraith: Eide was fired | “Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, was forcibly removed and did not resign voluntarily as he claims, according to his former deputy and “frenemy,” Peter Galbraith. “This was involuntary and inevitable, ever since the end of September,” said Galbraith in an interview with The Cable. Relaying information from his discussions with U.N. staff on the ground in Kabul, Galbraith said that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has made it clear that he wants to announce Eide’s successor during January’s London conference on Afghanistan.”

December 16
| NYT | U.N. Officials Say American Offered Plan to Replace Karzai | “As widespread fraud in the Afghanistan presidential election was becoming clear three months ago, the No. 2 United Nations official in the country, the American Peter W. Galbraith, proposed enlisting the White House in a plan to replace the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to two senior United Nations officials.”
The two senior UN officials were Kai Eide, Norwegian diplomat and the topdog at UNAMA in Kabul who is feuding with Galbraith and Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. According to the report, Nambiar was aware of Mr. Galbraith’s proposal to go to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and later learned of Mr. Karzai’s anger over the episode. Mr. Nambiar said it played a role in Mr. Galbraith’s firing.

December 17
| NYT | Diplomat to Challenge Dismissal by U.N. After Afghan Vote | “Peter W. Galbraith, the American diplomat who was dismissed by the United Nations after exposing voter fraud this fall after the Afghan presidential election, has decided to challenge his dismissal.”

December 18
| From the UN Spokesperson | Spokesperson: “This was circulated quite widely, I believe. The reason Peter Galbraith’s appointment as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was terminated was because the Secretary-General determined that such action would be in the interests of the Organization. And then we added, further elaboration would not be appropriate at this time since Mr. Galbraith has chosen to challenge the termination of his appointment. That’s what we said.”

December 19: Inner City Press: As UN Dodges Questions on Galbraith, Stonewalling or Whistleblowing? | “I’m sick of Peter Galbraith,” a senior UN official told Inner City Press on December 18. “It’s over. I don’t think we should be commenting on it anymore.” Compared to the bloodshed in Afghanistan, the firing of one UN official does seem small. But at times it appears that the “it” being avoided is the indisputably fraudulent election of Hamid Karzai, and the UN’s role in it.”


December 21
| Peter Galbraith | Special to Sphere: ‘I Never Proposed to Oust Karzai’ | Readers deserve context in order to understand a complex story. In this case, the Times deliberately excluded information that would have presented the accusations in a much different light. The truth is that I never proposed to oust Karzai, but instead tried to resolve a looming constitutional crisis caused by Karzai’s maneuvering to stay in office a year beyond the end of his legal term — without submitting himself to the inconvenience of an election.
[…]
It strains credulity to believe that I proposed a plot to oust Karzai to a lesser embassy official (as the Times reports) and he never informed his ambassador or Holbrooke. To be clear, I never proposed to oust Karzai to anyone in the U.S. government, and any discussion would have been about the constitutional issues involved in holding a runoff in May 2010. (Note: NYT reported that Galbraith discussed his plan with Frank Ricciardone, the deputy American ambassador in Kabul).
[…]
Mr. Eide is quoted in the Times as saying President Karzai was “deeply upset” about my supposed plan but fails to disclose how Mr. Karzai would have learned of this very private conversation between Mr. Eide and myself.

December 21:
Gerard Russell Former British and United Nations Diplomat | Afghanistan’s Elections: How Dr. House Can help: “UN internal division between Kai Eide and Peter Galbraith being still in the news, though, it’s impossible for me to forget it. (I am also reminded of it every time I look at my bank balance, since my unhappiness with that process and its aftermath led me to resign from the UN before I started to receive a stipend from Harvard. And as the poet Juvenal said, integrity is all very well, but it doesn’t pay your bills.) I am happy to pass over the Eide-Galbraith story, which was an unpleasant enough experience at the time without my re-living it here. But the fact that Galbraith has been the only person to have lost his job as a result of the fraud in those elections — this is not about past history. It’s about over $200 million in donor funds that were, in part, misused. This was an Afghan election, an exercise which was rightly led by Afghans (even if the Electoral Commission’s head was appointed by one of the candidates, which was always an obvious flaw in the process). But it was also a donor-funded project, and donors have the right — even the duty — to verify that taxpayers’ money was well spent.” (Um, ‘xcuse me, side quiz — where was SIGAR on this?).
Mr. Galbraith reportedly said that he has begun UN legal proceedings not to get his job back – but to get justice.
Well, this is bound to be a painful experience for the United Nations going into the new year. Who’s running this show from the 38th floor, anyways? They may not realize this yet, but every time their officials disses Peter Galbraith, readers and viewers are also reminded of that inglorious Afghanistan election conducted under UNAMA’s watch.

I wonder if there’s anyone out there who’ll get out of this meze fight with a clean shirt?

The 111th Congress – A Make or Break for the Foreign Service?

Photo by F.Malotaux from wikipedia
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5
The 111th United States Congress was sworn in yesterday. There are 256 Democrats, 178 Republicans and 1 vacant seat (vacated by Rahm Emanuel) in the U.S. House of Representatives and 55 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independents (who plan to caucus with Democrats) and 2 disputed seats in the U.S. Senate. Hopefully, the writers of the Illinois and Minnesota Senate soap operas will not go on strike and will discover a fitting conclusion to the real-life drama unfolding before our eyes. My sense is if you’re 71, you probably don’t really want to be a junior senator. You don’t get preferential treatment, your desk is nowhere near the front in the Senate chamber, you don’t get that corner office, and nobody really cares what you think, only how you vote. Where’s the fun in that? Now, for the Minnesota race, would the loser please just concede already; it’s the most gentlemanly thing to. Would you really want to go down in history as the sorest loser of all time? Get over it already.

(:-) Don’t blame me if I want the writers to include these in their scripts. I’d like my 111th to get to work already. And don’t really want the riddikulus and rictumsempra exhibited in tandem right there on the Hill. I mean it.

At the risk of sounding too dramatic, the 111th Congress is probably a make or break for the Foreign Service particularly in terms of funding and revitalizing the Service at this crucial point. Well, sure, the FS is a bureaucracy and it will live on whether it is appropriately funded or not; but the “we get what we pay for” maxim is nowhere truer than here and now. That and the actual possibility of real experience sailing out into the sunset in the next 5 years should be worrisome to our leadership. Until scientists discover an embeddable chip for diplomatic skills or a wearable universal translator, additional staffing also means training time. Those 1,076 new positions that they like talking about — we’ll be lucky if they’re deployed overseas by the end of 2010; if they get funded this year, that is.
I don’t know who is in line to replace Matthew Reynolds as Assistant Secretary at “H” but whoever he/she will be might want to read up a bit on the Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection. I think what Ambassador MacArthur says about dealing with Congress is both insightful and instructive:

[…] after I was well into two years of my life on Capitol Hill as Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, I took a canvas of about 180 senators and congressmen about how much time they spent on foreign affairs. The consensus of those 180-odd gentlemen was that with the exception of people on special committees like the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House, the average congressman and senator spent less than 2% of his time on foreign affairs.
If I may, I’d like to talk about the importance of congressional relationship–that is, a relationship between the Department of State, particularly, and the Congress, because of this very reason, whereas local or national issues are the issues on which the Congress at that time spent the overwhelming majority of its time and were well informed. They were not so well informed and didn’t spend so much time, less than 2%, on international affairs.
I think the most important principle that anybody that deals with the Congress for the executive branch to observe is honesty and frankness with the members of the Congress. They never forgive somebody from the executive branch that misleads them, lies to them, and gives them an impression which later turns out to be quite incorrect. In my dealings with the Congress, this is the reason why I explained to Secretary [Dean] Rusk that I must be in on the inner circle, because I could deliberately mislead members of the Congress if I didn’t know the direction in which the thinking was going, even if the final decision had not been made. When you go over to Congress, they say to you, “What about this article I read in such and such a paper this morning about the administration doing this in the field of foreign affairs?” And if you don’t know what’s happening and the direction in which the Department is leading in a discussion of that article, you might undeliberately mislead them.

Source: Ambassador Douglas MacArthur, II
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs (ADST)
Oral History Project │ Interview on December 15, 1986

There really are some great learning stories in that collection. You can read more here. Of course, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of “H” can only go so far in Congress. I think that the Secretary of State’s leadership and persuasion skills plus personal relationships with members of Congress is what it all comes down to in the end. Her effectiveness is absolutely tied to her resource gathering talents and effective diplomatic engagement in Capitol Hill. Without juice, you could flap all you want – nothing gets off the ground.