State Dept Appoints Senior Diplomat Michael Ratney as New U.S. Special Envoy for Syria

Posted: 12:58  am EDT

 

On July 27, Secretary Kerry announced the appointment of career diplomat Michael Ratney as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria.

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Michael Ratney as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria. I have come to know Michael well in his most recent role as U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, and am impressed by his keen intellect, deep knowledge of the region, and policy judgment.

Michael is a Senior Foreign Service officer who is fluent in Arabic and whose distinguished career has spanned Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, and beyond. I am confident he will continue the important work led by his predecessor, Daniel Rubinstein, to shape our response to the complex and devastating conflict in Syria.

Michael’s leadership and counsel will be critical as we confront the significant challenges posed by more than four years of suffering, bloodshed, and destruction in Syria. We remain committed to reaching a negotiated political transition away from Bashar al-Assad, working to counter the shared threat of terrorism, supporting the moderate opposition, and addressing the humanitarian disaster and its impact on Syria’s neighbors.

Special Envoy Ratney will soon travel to the region to begin consultations with Syrians and other stakeholders seeking an end to the violence and a future of freedom and dignity for all Syrian people.

Mr. Ratney was the Consul General in Jerusalem from July 2012 until this appointment. Below is a quick bio:

Prior to assuming his duties in Jerusalem, Mr. Ratney was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Media, leading efforts in the Bureau of Public Affairs focused on foreign communications and media engagement. From 2010 to 2011, he established and served as the first Director of the Office of International Media Engagement, where he managed State Department initiatives to ensure accurate and positive coverage of U.S. policy by foreign media. In this capacity, Mr. Ratney oversaw the State Department’s six Media Hubs in London, Brussels, Dubai, Johannesburg, Tokyo, and Miami.

From 2009 to 2010, Mr. Ratney served as Spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Prior to returning to Washington in 2009, Mr. Ratney served from 2006 to 2009 as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Doha, Qatar. Mr. Ratney was the Deputy Economic Counselor at the American Embassy in Mexico City from 2003 to 2006. In 2004, he served in Iraq, first as a Political Advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, and then as the first Regional Coordinator at the Regional Embassy Office in Basrah.

Mr. Ratney has a B.S. in Mass Communication from Boston University and an M.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. His languages are Arabic, French, and Spanish.

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Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT

 

This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

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The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

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On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

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SFRC: Iran Nuclear Agreement Review, July 23, 10am – With Kerry, Moniz, and Lew

Posted: 4:24  am EDT
Updated: 4:21 pm EDT

 

Date: Thursday, July 23, 2015
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: Senate Dirksen G50
Presiding: Senator Corker

Witnesses

  1. The Honorable John F. Kerry
    Secretary Of State
    U.S. Department of State
    Washington , DC
  2. The Honorable Ernest Moniz
    Secretary
    U.S. Department of Energy
    Washington , DC
  3. The Honorable Jacob Lew
    Secretary
    U.S. Department of the Treasury
    Washington , DC

Prepared statements and video of SFRC hearing should be available here on July 23.

Update: Here is the Secretary of State:

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Ex-Gov Who Wanted Ambassadorship to India Just Got 5 of 18 Counts Thrown Out by Appeals Court

Posted: 12:24 am EDT

 

In December 2008, then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested for what U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald called a “political corruption crime spree” that included attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.  He was accused of talking on FBI recordings about plotting to extract a $1.5 million campaign contribution from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.—in exchange for appointing Jackson to Obama’s vacated seat. Via Politico:

A federal criminal complaint detailed Blagojevich’s attempt to cash in on his power to appoint Obama’s replacement by first attempting to arrange a presidential cabinet appointment. When that failed, Blagojevich hoped for an ambassadorship.

Specifically, India or South Africa …er, no, India.

Via Lapham's Quarterly

Via Lapham’s Quarterly

Just to show how little Blago and his chief of staff knew about the diplomatic service. Blagojevich in one recording says, “How much would you think a position like that would pay? I mean, again, this requires a lot of travel, it’s a lot of work. A reasonable…”  The chief of staff responds, “Well, I mean you’d get an expense account. So it’s not all in pay.”

In 2015, the caps for Senior Foreign Service pay is between $172,074 – $183,300. He would have received hardship and COLA differentials. They’re currently 20% + 10% respectively of basic pay for FS employees assigned in New Delhi. The ambassador’s expense account? Teh-heh! Best read Bloomberg’s The Economics of Being a U.S. Ambassador.

Poor sod probably did not realize that the Indian monsoon would also ruin his properly combed hat.

In any case, for those who were hoping that Blago’s case would temper similar arrangements in the future will be disappointed. On June 22, the United  States  District  Court  for  the Northern  District  of  Illinois dismissed five of the 18 counts and ordered that the former governor be resentenced. Below is an excerpt from the Appeals Court ruling dated July 21, 2015.

Blagojevich now asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming. To the extent there are factual disputes, the jury was entitled to credit the prosecution’s evidence and to find that Blagojevich acted with the knowledge required for conviction.

But a problem in the way the instructions told the jury to consider the evidence requires us to vacate the convictions on counts that concern Blagojevich’s proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate in exchange for an appointment to the Cabinet. A jury could have found that Blagojevich asked the President-­‐‑elect for a private-­sector job, or for funds that he could control, but the instructions permitted the jury to convict even if it found that his only request of Sen. Obama was for a position in the Cabinet. The instructions treated all proposals alike. We conclude, however, that they are legally different: a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment.

Because the instructions do not enable us to be sure that the jury found that Blagojevich offered to trade the appointment for a private salary after leaving the Governorship, these convictions cannot stand. Compare Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957), and United States v. Rivera Borrero, 771 F.3d 973 (7th Cir. 2014), with Griffin v. United States, 502 U.S. 46 (1991). (Perhaps because the jury deadlocked at the first trial, the United States does not seriously contend that any error was harmless; a one-­line statement in the brief differs from an argument. Cf. Hedgpeth v. Pulido, 555 U.S. 57, 60–62 (2008) (an error of this kind is not “structural”).)

McCormick describes the offense as a quid pro quo: a public official performs an official act (or promises to do so) in exchange for a private benefit, such as money. See also United States v. Sun-­Diamond Growers of California, 526 U.S. 398, 404– 05 (1999); United States v. McDonnell, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 11889 (4th Cir. July 10, 2015). A political logroll, by contrast, is the swap of one official act for another. Representative A agrees with Representative B to vote for milk price supports, if B agrees to vote for tighter controls on air pollution. A President appoints C as an ambassador, which Senator D asked the President to do, in exchange for D’s promise to vote to confirm E as a member of the National Labor Relations Board. Governance would hardly be possible without these accommodations, which allow each public official to achieve more of his principal objective while surrendering something about which he cares less, but the other politician cares more strongly.

A proposal to appoint a particular person to one office (say, the Cabinet) in exchange for someone else’s promise to appoint a different person to a different office (say, the Senate), is a common exercise in logrolling. We asked the prosecutor at oral argument if, before this case, logrolling had been the basis of a criminal conviction in the history of the United States. Counsel was unaware of any earlier conviction for an exchange of political favors. Our own research did not turn one up. It would be more than a little surprising to Members of Congress if the judiciary found in the Hobbs Act, or the mail fraud statute, a rule making everyday politics criminal.

Let’s work this through statute by statute. Section 1951, the Hobbs Act, which underlies Counts 21 and 22, forbids interference with commerce by robbery or extortion. Blagojevich did not rob anyone, and extortion, a defined term, “means the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right” (§1951(b)(2)). The indictment charged Blagojevich with the “color of official right” version of extortion, but none of the evidence suggests that Blagojevich claimed to have an “official right” to a job in the Cabinet. He did have an “official right” to appoint a new Senator, but unless a position in the Cabinet is “property” from the President’s perspective, then seeking it does not amount to extortion. Yet a political office belongs to the people, not to the incumbent (or to someone hankering after the position). Cleveland v. United States, 531 U.S. 12 (2000), holds that state and municipal licenses, and similar documents, are not “property” in the hands of a public agency. That’s equally true of public positions. The President-­elect did not have a property interest in any Cabinet job, so an attempt to get him to appoint a particular person to the Cabinet is not an attempt to secure “property” from the President (or the citizenry at large).

Sekhar v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2720 (2013), shows that the phrase “obtaining of property” in the Hobbs Act must not be extended just to penalize shady dealings. Sekhar holds that a recommendation about investments is not “property” under §1951(b)(2) for two principal reasons: first, in the long history of extortion law it had never before been so understood (similarly, political logrolling has never before been condemned as extortion); second, the making of a recommendation is not transferrable. The Court restricted “property” to what one owner can transfer to another. By that standard a job in the Cabinet (or any other public job) is not “property” from the employer’s perspective. It is not owned by the person with appointing power, and it cannot be deeded over. The position may be filled by different people, but the position itself is not a transferrable property interest. A position is “held” or “occupied” but not “obtained,” and under Sekhar something that cannot be “obtained” also cannot be the subject of extortion.

Section 666, the basis (through a conspiracy charge) of Count 23, forbids theft or bribery in publicly funded programs (of which the State of Illinois is one). Count 23 relies on §666(a)(1)(B), which makes it a crime for an agent of a covered organization to solicit “corruptly … anything of value” in connection with a transaction worth $5,000 or more. “Corruptly” refers to the recipient’s state of mind and indicates that he understands the payment as a bribe or gratuity. United States v. Hawkins, 777 F.3d 880, 882 (7th Cir. 2015). It would not be plausible to describe a political trade of favors as an offer or attempt to bribe the other side.

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So if a Governor appoints someone to a public commission and proclaims the appointee “the best person for the job,” while the real reason is that some state legislator had asked for a friend’s appointment as a favor, then the Governor has committed wire fraud because the Governor does not actually believe that the appointee is the best person for the job. That’s not a plausible understanding of §1346, even if (as is unlikely) it would be valid under the First Amendment as a criminal penalty for misleading political speech. And no matter what one makes of the subject, the holding of Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010), prevents resort to §1346 to penalize political horse-­trading. Skilling holds that only bribery and kickbacks violate §1346. So unless political logrolling is a form of bribery, which it is not, §1346 drops out.

The prosecutor insists, however, that Blagojevich’s situation is different and uncommon because he sought a post in the Cabinet for himself. It isn’t clear to us that this is unusual. The current Secretary of State was appointed to that position from a seat in the Senate, and it wouldn’t surprise us if this happened at least in part because he had performed a political service for the President. Ambassadors, too, come from the House or Senate (or from state politics) as part of political deals.

Some historians say that this is how Earl Warren came to be Chief Justice of the United States: he delivered the California delegation at the 1952 Republican convention to Eisenhower (rather than Senator Taft) in exchange for a commitment to appoint him to the next vacancy on the Supreme Court.

[…]

If the prosecutor is right, and a swap of political favors involving a job for one of the politicians is a felony, then if the standard account is true both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the United States should have gone to prison. Yet although historians and political scientists have debated whether this deal was made, or whether if made was ethical (or politically unwise), no one to our knowledge has suggested that it violated the statutes involved in this case. (Whether it might have violated 18 U.S.C. §599, and whether that statute is compatible with the First Amendment, are issues we do not address.)

Read in full here (pdf).

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The Best Lines From “10 Ways to Fix America’s Ailing State Department”

Posted: 1:56 am EDT

 

Joseph Cassidy served 25 years in the Foreign Service. He joined the Service in 1989 and previously served in Georgetown, Nairobi, Windhoek, OSCE, USUN and Baghdad. He also served at IO, DRL, the WH, and as Special Assistant to P, INR and the Executive Secretariat. His most immediate assignment prior to retirement this past spring is Director of Policy and Regional and Functional Organizations at the Bureau of International Organizations.  He pens 10 fixes for America’s ailing State Department in Foreign Policy’s Argument column.

Here are the best lines, in no particular order, from his FP piece; in technicolor font, of course, because, why not?

1. “[I]t’s not clear what authority remains for State, other than delivering the diplomatic mail.”

2. “The regional bureau assistant secretaries occupy sixth floor offices beneath the secretary, and the functional bureau assistant secretaries fight like cats in a bag for the next best real estate.”

Image from xlestatx72.tumblr.com via buzzfeed

Image from xlestatx72.tumblr.com via buzzfeed

3. “There are certain exceptions to the rule that upper floors are closer to God (including some temporarily semi-powerful special envoys slumming it on the lower floors), but employees below the sixth floor can’t help but feel like passengers berthed in steerage on the Titanic.”

4. “This centralization of diplomatic interactions by senior officials who are not subject matter experts is a particular temptation at State because high-level diplomacy is, well, fun.”

5. “It is no wonder that senior officials are reticent, even if unconsciously, to devolve responsibility down, or that too many “kiss-up, kick-down” style mid-level managers covet that high-level life and manage as if their subordinates exist only to make them look good.”

6. “Limiting their numbers, and cutting the large number of semi-independent special envoys, can help restore a more sustainable hierarchy, instead of what we have now, which is like fielding a soccer team with nine strikers clustered around the opponent’s goal, and a goalie and single defender lonely in the backfield.”

7. “If the intent is to simultaneously demonstrate haughty disdain and weaselly incompetence, the midday press briefing ritual — badgering reporters cornering a backpedaling, defensive State spokesperson — is the perfect vehicle.”

YouTube is littered with fine examples

8. “[D]ecisions by the sorting hat don’t always match an officer’s interests and experience. And, like trying to move from Hufflepuff to Ravenclaw, changing one’s cone can be as unpleasant as the semiofficial department term for it: “conal rectification.”

9. “The department does have senior leaders with broad talents. But we also have too many who write beautifully but couldn’t organize a grade school lunch line. Others can speak authoritatively, but lack reporting experience beyond writing an annual holiday card, or can balance a budget but possess diplomatic skills more likely to produce enemies than allies for the United States.”

10. “Gryffindor’s quidditch team didn’t operate on the principle of “One Team, Multiple Systems” and neither should State.”

11. “Like the pack dogs in the movie Up constantly distracted by squirrels, too many senior officials spend too much time preoccupied with the urgent rather than the important.”

12. “State’s organizational culture is antiquate and inefficient, concentrating decisionmaking in the hands of a few extremely overburdened top officials.”

via Canadian FS Problems

via Canadian FS Problems

13.  “Every large organization should be on guard against groupthink among key leaders and morale problems stemming from their isolation from average employees.”

14. “We need to unlearn the harmful axiom that only senior State officials with broad mandates can and should think strategically.”

Read the full article at FP here (registration maybe required).

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Some reaction via Twitter:

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Thank You, Switzerland … Good Morning, American Embassy Havana!

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

As announced on July 1st, the U.S. and Cuba will officially re-establish diplomatic relations today, July 20. This is the day when both interest sections will become embassies. A State Department official who gave a special briefing on the re-opening of embassies last week told reporters that there is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, so that will not happen until Secretary Kerry travels to Havana later this summer:

Secretary will be there to officiate for these very important events of raising the flag and unveiling the signage for the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He does – his presence there is ceremonial. It’s important, it’s historic, but legally the embassy will be functioning on Monday, July 20th. There is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, and we wanted the Secretary to be there to oversee these important events.

There will also be a flag installation in Foggy Bottom but this is apparently a “routine installation with no public or media component.”  All American employees of the interest section in Havana will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy but there will be no new additional employees at this time.

USAenCuba/FB

USAenCuba/FB

Our DCM in Havana, Conrad Tribble tweeted just minutes ago:

 

July 20 also marks the day when the agreement with Switzerland as the “protecting power” of the United States  in Cuba is terminated.  That will require a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been the United States’ protecting power for many years, and that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade from interest sections to embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB

 

 

The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. will hold its ceremonial re-opening in the morning of July 20 with very limited attendance by a U.S. Government delegation to be lead by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson.
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In the early afternoon Secretary Kerry will meet his counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, at the State Department for an historic meeting. Afterward at 1:40, they will have a joint press conference, “sort of the first historic joint press conference between the Secretary of State and the Cuban Foreign Minister,” according to the State Department.

Excerpt below from the special briefing:

QUESTION: Thank you. So starting Monday, what changes, what is different at the now-U.S. Embassy in Havana? Can anyone go? Is it like other embassies in the world where you have to have a previous appointment? What is going to happen with U.S. diplomats? Do – starting Monday, are they free to roam the country as they haven’t been before? Can you be more specific on the logistics please?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Yes, on Monday they will – all of the employees of the – the American employees of the interest section will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy. So it is an upgrade in status for the – for all the U.S. employees there. The chief of mission will be upgraded to charge d’affaires, and they will be then entered as a member of the diplomatic corps in Havana, and that will mean that they are invited to diplomatic functions just like any other country. That has not been the case previously. And yes, there are conditions that we have talked about previously, about – when we made the agreement to open the embassies. And there will be some – those conditions will all be active and effective on July 20th and will begin to function under those new conditions. Those new conditions do include greater freedom for U.S. diplomats to travel throughout Cuba.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Quickly, will the charge d’affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, be in Havana, and will he do anything in Havana on Monday? Did you get the new employees that you asked for and will they be there start this – starting next week? And you said they get an upgrade of employees that are at the Interests Section. Do they also get a pay upgrade?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – actually, Jeff DeLaurentis will be – and I should have mentioned that earlier – he will be in the delegation that is here in Washington, and that’s a fairly standard practice and especially for a historic meeting that our representative in the embassy would come back for that meeting. So he will be here in Washington. And so our deputy chief of mission in Havana will actually on that day be in charge of the post. And again, there is no other activity other than we’re going to have a statement put out by the embassy announcing that they have indeed elevated status to an embassy that morning.

There also will be a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been providing us protecting power for many years, and that will now be – that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade.

As for the employees, there may be some confusion in that the discussion of personnel and staffing that we had with the Cubans referred specifically to American employees, and that’s a personnel issue that we’ll work out in the months to come. So on that day, we would not get new employees. In fact, the employees at the Cuban Interests Section will be the same employees and they – as I understand it, they’re excited about becoming (inaudible) of the U.S. embassy.

Read more here.

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Related Posts:

 

 

State Department Appoints 3rd Special Envoy For Guantanamo Closure in Six Years

Posted: 1:35 am  EDT

 

On June 30, Secretary Kerry announced the appointment of Lee Wolosky, as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure:

Today, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Lee Wolosky, as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Lee will lead our ongoing diplomatic engagement to make possible the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility in a timely manner, consistent with American interests and the security of our people.

Lee Wolosky is a highly-skilled and experienced attorney who served as the National Security Council’s Director for Transnational Threats under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. He is ideally qualified to continue the hard diplomatic engagement that is required to close Guantanamo in accordance with President Obama’s directives. Lee will assume lead responsibility for arranging for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees abroad and for implementing transfer determinations, and overseeing the State Department’s participation in the periodic reviews of those detainees who are not approved for transfer.

In so doing, he will engage directly with America’s overseas friends and partners, while consulting closely with other interested U.S. agencies and with the appropriate committees of Congress.

I am very pleased at Lee’s decision to return to government service and look forward to working closely with him in his new position.

The State Department says that the incoming special envoy has not yet visited the detention facility at Guantanamo but that Mr. Wolosky, whose new appointment does not require Senate confirmation, “intends to visit the detention facility and meet with the detention facility leadership very soon.”

Mr. Wolosky is the third appointee to this position since it was created in 2009.

In January 2013, the NYT reported that Daniel Fried, the first special envoy for Gitmo closure was reassigned, his office closed, and his former responsibilities “assumed” by the office of the department’s legal adviser.   Via NYT:

Mr. Fried’s special envoy post was created in 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office and promised to close the prison in his first year. A career diplomat, Mr. Fried traveled the world negotiating the repatriation of some 31 low-level detainees and persuading third-party countries to resettle about 40 who were cleared for release but could not be sent home because of fears of abuse.

But the outward flow of detainees slowed almost to a halt as Congress imposed restrictions on further transfers, leaving Mr. Fried with less to do. He was eventually assigned to work on resettling a group of Iranian exiles, known as the M.E.K., who were living in a refugee camp in Iraq, in addition to his Guantánamo duties.

But in June 2013, the AP reported that President Obama had chosen a high-powered Washington lawyer Clifford Sloan to reopen the State Department’s Office of Guantanamo Closure, shuttered since January 2013 and folded into the department’s legal adviser’s office “when the administration, in the face of congressional obstacles, effectively gave up its attempt to close the prison.”

Sixteen months later, Secretary Kerry announced the departure of Special Envoy Clifford Sloan on December 22, 2014:

I’d like to have about a hundred Cliff Sloans. He’s the real deal. He’s the model of someone very successful on the outside who comes in to the State Department and builds relationships instead of burning bridges, gets people on board with a tough assignment, masters the inter-agency process, and just keeps his head down and proves the doubters dead wrong.
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Now the results are clear. We’ve made huge progress thanks in large measure to Cliff. This guy promised me 18 months, and he delivered maximum effort for each of those 18 months. Cliff was very skillful negotiating with our foreign partners and allies, and it’s a big part of why we moved thirty-four detainees on his watch, with more on the way. Cliff also played a major role in our successful efforts to reform the Congressional restrictions on foreign transfers, and in launching the new Periodic Review Board process.

The NYT reported that the resignation of Mr. Sloan, apparently a close confidant of Secretary Kerry, came as officials at the State Department and the White House increasingly expressed frustration with the Defense Department’s slow pace of transferring approved prisoners. In an interview, Mr. Sloan denied that he was leaving because he was frustrated by foot-dragging at the Pentagon. He said he had always intended to stay a maximum of 18 months, noting that he was right on schedule.

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Fobs For Everyone: 624,000 More Hours of Productivity at the State Department! Woohoo!

Posted: 4:33 pm EDT

 

Not too long ago, State Department EFM Jen Denoia wrote about the reasonable expectation of family members to have access to the department’s online resources:

Eligible Family Members (EFMs) such as myself are still mired in the same backwards technology that existed when our family joined the State Department 15 years ago. Despite advances such as the development of fobs, a device many employees use to generate passwords for intranet access from off-site computers, EFMs have not been granted access to such tools. While we tend to do most of the post research, we are still reliant upon non-State resources in order to retrieve bidding information when we need it the most.

A year after Secretary Clinton arrived at State (and to this day), there is still no decent online access for family members of State Department employees.  The Foreign Service version of MilitaryOneSource for family members may remain only a dream for the foreseeable future.  In 2009, a senior adviser at the State Department helped justify the “fobs for everyone” by citing that the program “will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year.”

On May 12, 2009, CIO Susan Swart wrote an email to Alec Ross, then State Department senior advisor for innovation:

I met with Pat today and we did discuss expansion of the fob program. He is supportive and asked that we do a decision memo to him. WE need this get decision on funding and longer term strategy but I don’t see this as slowing down an announcement the Secretary might make, we just need to coordinate timing.

A couple days later, Alec Ross sent an email to Cheryl Mills and Jake Sullivan:

We’re going to forward with the doubling of mobile access to email and productivity tools. It’s INSANE that fewer than 1 in 5 state Department are able to access their email or documents when they’re away from their desk.

It has contributed to the 9:00-5:00 culture here and exacerbates the disconnection between D.C. and the missions. This is a good short-term win and by my estimates will produce new fewer than 624,000 more hours of productivity by end of year one which I think is extremely conservative – it assumes just 1.5 additional hour online per employee per week.

Given that those being given the tools are principally foreign service officers and people more senior than the mean average DoS employee, I think this is very reasonable. Will put an evaluative instrument into this to see if I’m correct.

More detail on all this below if you want it.

I should point out that Pat Kennedy and the CIO have been great. This has been one of several instances where they listened, they got it, and they’re moving forward. The CIO said she’d thought of it before, just didn’t know if she could handle the politics. I’m not going to spend a ton of time on our “corporate IT” but in obvious cases like this I’ll keep jumping in.

Last thing — this idea got a lot of attention on The Sounding Board. I propose that HRC respond to the staff (maybe in a quick 60 second video that we post there) saying in effect – Thank you for sharing your thinking. I heard you. Because of you we’re doing this.

Re-enforce that HRC is still listening to the staff.

That same day, Cheryl Mills forwarded the email to HRC:

FYI – we’re going to get a short video from you that we’ll put on our site announcing this. It’s also one of the ideas we can use for how we are reforming the department for the reform committee.

Secretary Clinton replied:

Sounds great but you’ll have to explain to me!

So then Ms. Mills sent the following:

sure — bottom line – you need a special security code to get on line from a computer outside the building. Only 1 in 5 of our employees has gotten the device (fob) that allows you to do this access.

This effort is making sure they get fobs into the hands of more (or all) employees so folks can work from home thereby increasing productivity substantially since the 4 in 5 essentially do no work from home once they leave the building until they get in again b/c they don’t have access to their email.

On May 14, 2009, at 10:20 PM, the Secretary replied:

Got it. Is the other matter fixed. Anything else going on?

Whatever it was she was asking about,  Ms. Mills told her, it was “fixed.”  The rest of the email chain is redacted. Click C05761923 (pdf) to read this emails via foia.state.gov.

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Washington and Havana Formally Restores Diplomatic Relations After 54 Years

Posted: 2:17 pm  EDT

 

According to history.state.gov, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902 following the defeat of Spain in 1898.  On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba. Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba.  Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.

Today, after over 50 years, a new day. For once, instead of boots on the ground, diplomatic negotiations and engagement made this day possible. It appears that we have rediscovered the non-coercive instruments of statecraft (as Ambassador Chas Freeman spoke about so eloquently), that persuaded the Cubans that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us. A big shout-out to our diplomats who labored so hard to get us here!

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Obama Admin Official Leaks Dismal Stengel-Kerry Memo on ISIS Counter Messaging

Posted: 2:08 am EDT

 

An internal State Department memo paints a dreary view of the Obama administration’s efforts to counter messaging by the Islamic State. And somebody leaked it to the New York Times.

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Why, indeed?

The internal memo, dated June 9 is marked SBU or “sensitive but unclassified.” It was drafted and approved by Richard A. Stengel, the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs (State/R) and a former managing editor of Time magazine.  The memo addressed to Secretary Kerry is cleared only by one person, Susan Stevenson, from Stengel’s own Front Office; there are no other addressee.  It’s hard to say how far this memo traveled in 4-5 days before it was leaked but the source could not be too far away from Stengel and Kerry’s offices.

The question now is motive. Who leaked that memo and why? Is it to garner support from higher ups like those in the WH or is it to torpedo Stengel’s “big proposal and immediate improvement” before it get legs. Who gains, who losses from this leak?

The memo is made available online by the NYT.

Pardon me, you’re waiting for the SBU leaker to get caught? We’ll, we’re also waiting for the trap doors for the leakers of the 2010 secret cables sent by then Ambassador Eikenberry on the Afghanistan strategy, and the 2012 top secret cable by then Ambassador Crocker on Pakistani havens.  To-date, none of those leakers have been caught. So, catch the SBU leaker? Good luck!

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