Category Archives: Spectacular

Tweet of the Day: Commemorating the White House Burning, Sorry!

– Domani Spero

 

First the good news!  The British diplomats in D.C. enjoy a smokin’ good barbecue.  Apparently, they had a  a ‘White House BBQ’ to mark the 200th anniversary of a ‘rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations.’   The embassy even had a huge White House cake to commemorate the burning. Then tweeted about it:

 

In related news, the embassy’s social media ninjas in D.C. shortly thereafter had to apologize for their tweet. It looks like some in the Twitterverse did not appreciate the joke even if it came 200 years later with cake.  Some complained that this was  bad form, some blamed David Cameron.  No, no one has thought of blaming the Queen yet.

We hope they’re not going to fire the intern. Anyone from Foggy Bottom attended the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues

– Domani Spero

 

Yesterday, we posted about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  During the Daily Press Briefing, yesterday, the State Department officially stated that it believed the root cause of the problem was “a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility issues.” According to the deputy spokesperson, the servers are getting back online but that they are coming back in a queue and that fixes are not being done on a country-by-country basis. And by the way, it’s not just the peak summer travel season, there’s also the Africa Summit in D.C. next week.

“Obviously, there’s actually a huge crush right now because of the Africa Leaders Summit, so obviously that’s a huge priority for us to make sure everybody gets their visas for the Africa Leaders Summit. We do believe that a vast majority of the travelers who have applied for visas for the summit have been issued.”

CA’s FB folks have been regularly answering questions from angry complaints posted on its Facebook page and have announced that they will continue to monitor and respond to consular clients at 9:00 EDT tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Late yesterday, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also posted a new Frequently Asked Questions on Facebook and on its website (not easily accessible from the main visa page) concerning the CCD performance issues and the steps taken to address those issues. Perhaps the most surprising is that its back-up capability and redundancy built into the CCD were both affected killed by the upgrade that hobbled the system.  Something to look forward to by end of calendar year — CA is upgrading the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software and that plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems. We are republishing the FAQ in full below.

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Information Regarding Ongoing Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Performance Issues and Steps Taken| JULY 30, 2014

The Department of State continues to work to restore our visa system to full functionality.

We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity.

We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, including adoption cases.  So far, we have been able to issue most cases with few delays.

Nearly all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What caused the system performance issues?  Hardware, software, or both?  Details?

On July 20, to improve overall system performance and address previous intermittent performance issues, we updated software as recommended. Our database began experiencing significant performance issues shortly after this maintenance was performed.

A root cause has not been identified at this time.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.  Once that has been accomplished, resources will be applied to determine the root cause.

Q:  What steps did we take to mitigate the performance issues?

Since July 20, our team has worked to restore operations to full capacity.  On July 23, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) was brought back online with limited capacity.

The Department of State is working with Oracle and Microsoft to implement system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing ongoing performance issues.

We are incrementally increasing the number of processed cases as our systems will allow.

Q:  Has the Bureau of Consular Affairs experienced these types of outages in the past?

CA has experienced minor outages in the past, but never of this magnitude.  We have a plan in place to mitigate these occurrences in the future.

Q:  Is the software to blame?  Are contractors at fault?  Why was this allowed to happen?

We have been working to improve our services through upgrades while maintaining existing operations worldwide.  However, we are limited by outdated software and hardware.

Q:  Why did those steps not work?  What’s the next step?

We have not determined why the problems occurred.  We are working with our contractor and the software vendor to address the problems.

We are bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.

Q: Why wasn’t there a back-up server?

There was back-up capability and redundancy built into the system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.

Q: What steps are being taken prevent this from happening again?

CA has a plan in place to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software by the end of the calendar year.  We are working to ensure the existing system will remain fully functional until the new database is up and running and thoroughly tested.  The plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems.

Q:  If CA is fee funded, why can’t it build a robust database that doesn’t fail?

The database has grown dramatically, in both quantity of data and functionality, and vastly improved border security.  In addition to checking names against databases, we review fingerprints and perform facial recognition.

We are working towards modernization of our software, hardware, and infrastructure.  Demand for our services outpaced our modernization efforts.

Consular Affairs has, and has had, a redundant system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.  This is one of the issues we are urgently addressing now.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a passport applicant?

Almost all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a visa applicant?

Visa applicants they can expect delays as we process pending cases.  We remain able to quickly process emergency cases to completion.

We are working urgently to correct the problem to avoid further inconveniencing travelers.

We are posting updates to the visa page of travel.state.gov, and our embassies and consulates overseas are communicating with visa applicants.

In addition to communicating through our websites, e-mail, and letters, we are also reaching out to applicants via Facebook and other social media sites, such as Weibo, to relay the latest information.

Q:  Why hasn’t the Department been more forthcoming until now?

We have experienced CCD outages in the past, but they have never disrupted our ability to perform consular tasks at this magnitude.

We informed the public as soon as it was apparent there was not a quick fix to bring the CCD back to normal operating capacity, and are briefing Congressional staffers regularly.

Q:  What is the outlook for Non-immigrant visas?  When do we estimate the backlog will be processed?

That will depend on a number of factors.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.

We must also continue processing new requests.  We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible, but we want applicants to know that we will continue to be operating at less than optimal efficiency until the system is restored to full functionality.

Q:  Is the Department going to reimburse applicants who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?

We sincerely regret any delays, inconvenience, or expense that applicants have may have incurred due to the CCD performance issues.

While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand.  Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas.

The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees.  The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.

Q:  What impact will this have on SIVs?

We have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel.  We are committed to helping those who have helped us.  While issuances of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis have been impacted, as have visa issuances around the world, SIV processing continues and remains a high priority.

Q: How is this impacting student visas?  They are scheduled to start the fall semester soon.

We are committed to issuing visas to all qualified students and exchange visitors.  Issuance of student and exchange visitor visas has been impacted in the past few days, but visa processing continues.

We understand the importance to international students and exchange visitors, their families, and their U.S. host institutions of timely visa issuance in order to facilitate travel and to ensure all students and exchange visitors may begin their programs on time.

Q: What about situations where the student won’t arrive to school on time?

Students should contact their educational institution’s Designated School Official (F and M visas) or designated U.S. sponsor’s Responsible Officer (J visas) and discuss with them what arrangements they can provide for you to begin your program after the start date on your Form I-20 (F and M visas) or Form DS 2019 (J visas), should such a circumstance become necessary.

Q:  Will this have any impact on the Diversity Visa program in September?

While issuances of all immigrant visas, including diversity visas, have been impacted in the past few days, IV processing continues and remains a high priority.  The Department expects to have used all numbers for DV-2014 when the program year ends on September 30, 2014.

Q:  What impact do we anticipate this will have on the U.S. economy?

Tourism and students have a major impact on our economy.  Last year, it was estimated that international visitors spent $180.7 billion and supported 1.3 million American jobs.  International students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the Department of Commerce.

We recognize the significant impact that international travel and tourism has on the U.S. economy, and are taking all possible steps to ensure that the economic impact is minimal.

People traveling under the Visa Waiver Program are not affected at all; nor are those whose previously-issued visas remain valid.

We routinely advise applicants needing new visas to make appointments well in advance of their planned travel, and not to book their travel until they have their printed visas in hand.

The original post is available here.  If CA is reading this, it would be helpful if a link to the FAQ is posted on the main visa page of travel.state.gov and in the News section.  We were only able to find the FAQ from a link provided in Facebook and not from browsing around the travel.state.gov website.

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience

– Domani Spero

 

The first announcement about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) went out on Wednesday, July 23:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system.  This issue is worldwide and is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.  We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or visa at this time. We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect our system to be fully operational again soon.

The AP reported on July 23 that unspecified glitches have resulted in performance issues since Saturday, which would be July 19.

On July 25, CA announced:” Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.”

A State Department official speaking on background told us the same day that this issue was not/not caused by  hackers. We were told that the CCD crashed shortly after maintenance was performed and that the root cause of the problem is not yet known.

On July 27, CA released an update:

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

On July 29, CA posted this on FB:

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to make progress restoring our nonimmigrant visa system to full functionality. Over the weekend, the Department of State implemented system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing the challenges we have faced. We are now testing our system capacity to ensure stability. Processing of immigrant visas cases, including adoptions, remains a high priority. Some Embassies and Consulates may temporarily limit or reschedule nonimmigrant visa interview appointments until more system resources become available to process these new applications. We sincerely regret the inconvenience to travelers, and are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov as more information becomes available.

 

The CA Bureau’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments. There were complaints that at one post the visas were printing fine and then they were not. There were complains from people waiting for visas for adopted kids, for fiancees, for family members, for family waiting at the border, for students anxious to get to their schools, people worried about time running out for diversity visas, applicants with flights already booked, and many more.  One FB commenter writes, “I feel that the problem most people have is not that the system broke, but the lack of clear, meaningful information so people can make appropriate plans.

Other than what the CA Bureau chose to tell us, we cannot pry any substantial detail from official sources.  We, however, understand from sources familiar with the system but not authorized to speak for the bureau that the CCD has been having problems for sometime but it got worse in the last couple weeks.   If you’re familiar with the highs and lows of visa operation, this will not be altogether surprising.  Whatever problems already existed in the system prior to this “glitch” could have easily been exacerbated in July, which is the middle of the peak travel season worldwide. A source working in one of our consular posts confirmed to us that the system is back running, but not at the normal level and that the backlogs are building up. Another source told us that Beijing already had a 15k NIV backlog over the weekend.  We haven’t yet heard what are the backlogs like in mega visa-issuing posts like Brazil, Mexico and India.

We understand that everyone is currently doing all they can to get the process moving, but that some cases are getting through the system, while some are not. No one seems to know why this is happening. These machine readable visas are tied to the system and there are no manual back-ups for processing these cases (more of that below).

 

So who owns CCD?

The Consular Systems and Technology (CA/CST) manages the CCD.  We have previously blogged about its troubled past:

CST is currently headed by a new Director, Greg D Ambrose who reports to the CA Bureau’s Assistant Secretary.  It looks like despite the 2011 OIG recommendation, the CST deputy position remains vacant. We should also note that the  Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired this past April.  No replacement has been nominated to-date and Michele T. Bond has been Acting Assistant Secretary since Ms. Jacobs’ departure.

Last September, Mr. Ambrose was with FedScoopTV and talked about Consular One, the future of consular IT.

 

CST Just Got a New Data Engineering Contract

In Many 2014, ActioNet, Inc., headquartered in Vienna, Virginia,announced a 5-year task order for data engineering, supporting CST.

ActioNet, Inc. announced today the award of a five (5)-year task order entitled Data Engineering (DE) in support of Department of State (DOS). This task order will provide data engineering and database infrastructure support services necessary for planning, analysis, design, and implementation services for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  These service also include contract and program management support to ensure that innovation, efficiency, and cost control practices are built into the program. [...] The Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) within the Bureau develops, deploys and maintains the unclassified and classified IT infrastructures that help execute these missions. The Bureau currently manages over 800 servers worldwide, in order to comply with the fast paced changes inherent to data processing and telecommunications, CST requires that contractor services provide for rapid provisioning of highly experienced and trained individuals with the IT (information technology) backgrounds and the security clearances required of CA’s environment of workstation-based local and wide-area network infrastructures.

Due to limited information available, we don’t know if the new Consular One and/or the new DE contract are related to ongoing issues or if there are hardware issues, given the multiple legacy systems, but we do know that CST has both an impressive and troubled history. Let’s take a look.


Records Growing by the Day

The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  According to the PIA, in December 2009, the CCD contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day. The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

That was almost four years ago.


A Critical Operational and National Security Database with No Back-Up System?

According to publicly available information, the CCD’s chief functions are 1) to support data delivery to approved applications via industry-standard Web Service queries, 2) provide users with easy-to-use data entry interfaces to CCD, and 3) allow emergency recovery of post databases.  The CCD also serves as a gateway to IDENT and IAFIS fingerprint checking databases, the Department of State Facial Recognition system, and the NameCheck system. It  provides access to passport data in Travel Document Issuance System (TDIS), Passport Lookout Tracking System (PLOTS), and Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS).  The OIG says that the CCD serves 11,000 users in the Department and more than 19,000 users in other agencies, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and various law enforcement elements, and is accessed more than 120 million times every month.

Given that the CCD is considered “a critical operational and national security database,” there is surprisingly no redundancies or any back-up system.


Resurrect the Standard Register protectograph aka: `Burroughs visas’?

No one is actually suggesting that but when the CCD system is down, there is no manual way to issue a visa. No post can  handprint visas  because security measures prevent consular officers from printing a visa unless it is approved through the database system. Here is a quick history of the handprinted ‘Burroughs visas’ and the machine readable visas via the GPO:

November 18, 1988, mandated the development of a machine-readable travel and identity document to improve border entry and departure control using an automated data-capture system. As a result, the Department developed the Machine Readable Visa, a durable, long-lasting adhesive foil made out of Teslin.

Before MRVs, nonimmigrant visas were issued using a device called a Standard Register protectograph, otherwise known as a Burroughs certifier machine. It produced what was colloquially known as a “Burroughs visa,” an indelible ink impression mechanically stamped directly onto a page in the alien’s passport. Over time, Burroughs machines were gradually replaced by MRV technology, which is now used exclusively by all nonimmigrant visa issuing posts throughout the world.

Burroughs visas contained a space in which a consular employee was required to write the name of the alien to whom the visa was being issued. An alien’s passport might also include family members, such as a spouse, or children, who also had to be listed on the visa. In March 1983, in order to expedite the issuance of nonimmigrant visas and to improve operational efficiency, the Department authorized the use of a “bearer(s)” stamp for certain countries so that consular officers would not have to spend time writing in the applicant’s name (and those of accompanying family members). MRVs, however, must be issued individually to qualified aliens. Consequently, the “bearer”annotation has become obsolete.

The problem with the old Burroughs machine, besides the obvious, was maybe — you run out of ink, the plates are ruined/broken or you need it oiled. We could not remember those breaking down. With the MRV technology, all posts are connected to a central database, and the new machines by themselves cannot issue visas.  Which brings us to the security of that system.

 

Management Alert on Information System Security Program

The State Department PIA says that “To appropriately safeguard the information, numerous management, operational, and technical security controls are in place in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002 and information assurance standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).” Must be why in November 2013, the Office of the Inspector General issued a Management Alert  for significant and recurring weaknesses found in the State Department’s Information System Security Program over the past three fiscal years (FY 2011-2013).

In 2011, State/OIG also issued a report on CA’s CST division and has, what appears to be a lengthy discussion of the CCD, but almost all of it but a paragraph had been redacted:

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.40.37 AM

That OIG report also includes a discussion of the Systems Development Life Cycle Process and notes that decision control gates within CST’s SDLC process are weak. It cites a couple of examples where this manifested: 1) the development of the Consular report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) system. “The ownership of development and deployment shifted throughout the process, and the business unit’s requirements were not clearly communicated to the development team. As a result, CST designed and tested the CRBA for a printer that did not match the printer model identified and procured by the business unit;” 2)  the Crisis Task Force application, for which CST was tasked to enhance its Web-facing interaction. “The deployment of this application has been challenged by the lack of project ownership and decision controls, as well as by the incomplete requirements definition. The use of incorrect scripts that were provided by the CM group has further delayed the Crisis Task Force application’s deployment.”

 

If there’s somethin’ strange in your CCD, who ya gonna call? (Glitchbusters!)

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) is central to all consular operations. It is run by CST where according to the OIG, “the smooth functioning of every part of the office depends on its contractors.” And because it runs such an important element of U.S. national security systems, if all CST’s contractors, all 850 of them quit, this critical consular data delivery to the State Department and other Federal agencies would screech to a a halt.

To carry out its mandate, CST must provide uninterrupted support to 233 overseas posts, 21 passport agencies, 2 passport processing centers, and other domestic facilities, for a total of 30,000 end users across 16 Federal agencies and in nearly every country. CST faces 24/7/365 service requirements, as any disruption in automated support brings operations to an immediate halt, with very serious implications for travelers and the U.S. image.
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CST is led by a director and is staffed by 68 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (62 Civil Service and 6 Foreign Service). There are 12 positions (3 Foreign Service and 9 Civil Service) currently vacant. CA recently authorized CST 19 additional FTE positions. There are also more than 850 contractors operating under nearly 30 different contracts. In FY 2010, CST’s annual operating budget was approximately $266 million.

If CCD is compromised for a lengthy period such as the last couple of weeks, what is the back up plan to keep the operation going?  Obviously, none. It’s either down or running under limited or full capacity.  No one we know remember CCD problems persist this long.  Right now, we know from a reliable source that the system is not down, and some cases and going through but — what if the CCD is completely down for two weeks … four weeks … wouldn’t international travel come to a slow stop?

What if CCD goes down indefinitely whether by hardware or software glitch or through malicious penetration by foreign hackers, what happens then?

Currently, it appears nothing can be done but for folks to be patient and wait until the fixes are in.  We know they’re working hard at it but there’s got to be a better way.   Perhaps we can also agree that this has very serious national security implications on top of disgruntled travelers and a grave impact on the U.S. image overseas.

 

 Related items:

May 2011 |  Inspection of The Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) Report Number ISP-I-11-51

-11/30/13   Audit of Department of State Information Security Program (FISMA) (AUD-IT-14-03)  [3610 Kb]  Posted January 29th, 2014

-01/13/14   Management Alert on OIG Findings of Significant, Recurring Weaknesses in Dept of State Info System Security Program (MA-A-0001)  [6298 Kb]  Posted on January 16, 2014

 

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U.S. Congressman Loves Bollywood, Mistakes U.S. Officials for Indians Visiting Congress

– Domani Spero

 

You’ve probably seen this last week, but if you haven’t, here is a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Florida’s 19th district, who the Miami Herald called, the “latest inductee to the Sunshine State’s face-palming club. USAToday notes that the congressman won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust.

Via The Cable’s John Hudson:

House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.  The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.

 

The hearing was on U.S.-India Relations Under the Modi Government.  Nisha Biswal is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the State Department.   Prior to her appointment as State, she was with USAID. Previously, she also served in the House of Representatives,  as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee (HACFO) and as professional staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where she was responsible for South Asia.  Arun Kumar is the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

According to USAToday, Mr. Clawson said, “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize.  I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.”  He has reportedly apologized to both A/S Biswal and DG/FCS Kumar according to Tampa Bay Times. On Saturday, A/S Biswal tweeted this:

 

 

Still, doesn’t that make you wonder — he wasn’t “fully briefed?”  What was he doing there?   He wasn’t listening to the introductions?  He had a “dog ate my homework” moment?  He never meet U.S. officials of color before?

Peter Beinart writes that the silly gaffe is revealing of our society where whiteness is still a proxy for being American.

He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.

In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
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There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.

A couple related posts that you might want to check out  —  Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from? and  Video of the Week: “But we’re speaking Japanese” 日本語喋ってるんだけ

Maybe we’ll start a series of getting to know our official USG representatives.

As a side note, these Indian-American officials do not have it easy. When they go to India on behalf of the U.S. Government, they’re told“It is a bad idea for the U.S. to send Indian-American diplomats here. They end up having to prove their loyalty to the U.S. more than others, and it doesn’t help us.” 

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US Embassy Ghana’s Errant Tweet Sparks Social Media Rumpus, Demo on July 25

– Domani Spero

 

 

Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet.  One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”

SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”

Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:

“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”

According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”

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Filed under Africa, Ambassadors, Digital Diplomacy, Facebook, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Leaks|Controversies, Questions, Social Media, Spectacular, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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Bureaucratic Pique: When an ambassador suggested an exhaustive anatomical examination

– Domani Spero

 

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. The author, David A. Langbart is a senior archivist in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives.  He specializes in the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies.  We have previously excerpted his work here and here in 2013 and most recently this year on the women in the Foreign Service. Excerpt from his piece, Bureaucratic Pique:

An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad.  Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program.  Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly.  In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.

In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay.  The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.

The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away.  In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title.  The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.”  Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 1 

And because nothing is ever resolved quickly in a bureaucracy, stuff happens.  Ambassador Sullivan would have been spectacular on Twitter!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27

Read the whole thing here.

 

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State Dept Wants To Protect Labor Rights in the Global Market Place – Smart Power in Action, Really …

– By Domani Spero

 

To mark Labor Day, Barbara Shailor, the State Department’s Special Representative for International Labor Affairs blogged on September 2 over at DipNote about “Protecting Labor Rights in the Global Market Place.”  We also marked labor day with a blog post on the State Department’s refusal to talk about granting labor rights to its local embassy employees worldwide (see State Dept on Embassy Workers Unionization: Yo! Could Put U.S. National Security at Risk).

We should admit upfront that Ms. Sailor’s blog post is definitely the most worthwhile read of the two.  After all, who can argue against “protecting the dignity of workers everywhere” as “the right investment?” Or fault the “history of the labor movement in the United States — and of workers everywhere — [... ] the story of courageous men and women who persevered and risked their lives to bring dignity to their work?”  This American value is a laudable export to the  global market place. Last year, Ms. Shailor also had a labor day message for everyone.

This year, we again applaud the State Department’s commitment  “to doing everything we can to advance labor rights in the global economy.” We are republishing Ms. Shailor’s blog post in full in appreciation of smart-power pretense affectation.

For over a century, we’ve set aside a day to honor the contributions of workers. The cookouts, shopping sales, and parades are end of summer American rituals.  But the significance of Labor Day — advocating for the dignity of work — is, and always will be an American value.

Promoting labor rights and improving working conditions is a smart economic investment — essential to driving growth, ensuring its benefits are broadly shared, and delivering decent jobs for the American people.

Protecting the dignity of workers everywhere is also the right investment.  The goal is to create not just more growth, but better growth.  That means ensuring all workers enjoy certain universal labor rights, including the freedom to associate and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, and prohibitions against the worst forms of child labor and forced labor, and employment discrimination.

Much of the world is still experiencing high unemployment, a lack of opportunities for youths, discrimination towards women, disabled persons, and LGBT individuals, and the growth of disenfranchised migrant workers and refugees.  This exacerbates already volatile situations in many countries.

By combating the root causes of poverty and helping countries provide a prospect for decent work we can better hope to achieve our foreign policy goals: stability, security, democracy, and prosperity for all.  We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization.

Secretary Kerry captured the importance of protecting rights in the global market place in his address at the University of Virginia, where he said:

“I’m here because our lives as Americans are more intertwined than ever before with the lives of people in parts of the world that we may have never visited. In the global challenges of diplomacy, development, economic security, environmental security, you will feel our success or failure just as strongly as those people in those other countries that you’ll never meet…it also gives us many more rivals determined to create jobs and opportunities for their own people, a voracious marketplace that sometimes forgets morality and values.”

The history of the labor movement in the United States — and of workers everywhere — is the story of courageous men and women who persevered and risked their lives to bring dignity to their work.

Today, we celebrate the sacrifices and successes of workers everywhere, and commit to doing everything we can to advance labor rights in the global economy.

 

Excellent example of talking the walk but not walking the talk.  Brava! Can we have more, please? File under the “hypocrasy” tag. And no, that’s not a misspelling.

😳

 

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Bangkok’s Irrestibly Charming Happy 2013 Greeting

Below is US Embassy Thailand’s charming and totally cute video greeting for the new year. With Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, and her DCM Judith B. Cefkin joined by various sections of the embassy, other embassy officers (watch out for the embassy spokesperson), the U.S. Marines, the chauffeurs, the cafeteria staff (with their ladles), USCG Chiang Mai and USAID, the video notes that 2013 celebrates 180 years of friendship between the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand.  Don’t miss the bloopers!

Music: Ruen Rerng Ta-lerng Sok by Soontaraporn
[Lyrics below]

วันนี้วันดี ปีใหม่
Today is the New Year’s Day
(Wannee wan dee pee mai)

ท้องฟ้าแจ่มใสพาใจสุขสันต์
The blue sky makes us joyous
(Thong fah fam sai pah jai sook san)

ยิ้มให้กันในวันปีใหม่
Give each other a smile to welcome the New Year
(Yim hai gun nai wan pee mai)

โกรธเคืองเรื่องใดจงอภัยให้กัน
And forgive each other, don’t hold any grudges
(Grode kueng rueng dai chong ah pai hai gun)

หมดสิ้นกันที ปีเก่า
Enough with the old year
(Mode sin gun tee pee khao)

เรื่องทุกข์เรื่องเศร้าอย่าเขลาคิดมัน
Stop thinking about all the sadness and sorrow
(Rueng took rueng sao yah klao kid mun)

ตั้งต้นชีวิตกันใหม่
Let’s start anew together
(Tang ton chee wit gun mai)

ให้มันสดใสสุขไปทั่วกัน
With days full of happiness
(Hai mun sod sai sook pai tua gun)

เฮ เฮ เฮเฮ้เฮเฮเห่ สุขไปทั่วกัน
Hey hey hey hey…. Happiness is all around
(Hey hey hey… Sook pai tua gun)

รื่นเริง เถลิงศกใหม่
Let’s celebrate the New Year!
(Ruen rerng ta lerng sok mai)

ช่า รื่นเริง เถลิงศกใหม่
Cha! Let’s celebrate the New Year!
(Cha! Ruen rerng ta lerng sok mai)

รวมจิตร่วมใจ ทำบุญร่วมกัน
Put our minds together and do some good
(Ruam chit Ruam chai thum boon ruam gun)

ทำบุญกันตามประเพณี
Honor our tradition and make merits
(Tham boon gun tam pra pay nee)

กุศลราศรีบรรเจิดเฉิดฉัน
And the best will come our way
(Ku son ra see bun cherd ched chan)

พี่น้อง ร่วมชาติเดียวกัน
Our brothers and sisters
(Pee nong ruam chad diew gun)

พี่น้อง ร่วมชาติเดียวกัน
Our brothers and sisters
(Pee nong ruam chad diew gun)

ขอให้สุขสันต์ ทั่วกัน เอย
We wish you all a Happy New Year.
(Kor hai sook san tua gun ei)

นอย ทิงนองนอย น้อยหน่อยนอยน้อย หน่อยทิงนองนอย
La la la la la la ….
(Noi noi noi noi noi…)

You guys are spectacular! Cha! Ruen rerng ta lerng sok mai! And may 2013 be a better year for us all!

domani spero sig

 

 

 

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State Dept’s Blog Roll Fail: The Nipples Have Landed and They’re Not Shy

Yesterday, we blogged about this — Breaking News: State Dept Does Not/Not Like Nipples Nor Damn ACLU Letter.

We can’t find anyone willing to talk on or off the record on what went on behind the blog roll snafu over there. So, below is how we imagined it went down during the brainstorming of some unnamed characters, obviously too smart to handle (adapted from  Behind ‘Charlie’s Angels’ 2004 TV Movie):

The issue is nipples.

Nipples?

Actually breasts and nipples.  She’s writing about nipples. Nipples come with breasts.  

We’re reading nipples. We can’t put a blog with nipple blog posts in our blog roll. Too personal.

You think? We counted seven blog posts and nineteen instances in which nipples were mentioned. Also, word association? Nipples = Protrude. Not good.

We must stop nipple talk and protrusion on FS blogs. Godsakes, our readers are future diplomats!

Yeah, who cares about nipples in a Foreign Service blog, anyway?

Just to be clear, we were not hiding behind the desk eavesdropping, this is just imagination not hard at work.  But we’re wondering if something similar transpired over there, and if we can now use this incident as an example of “groupthink.

Today, WaPo picked up the story: Foreign Service spouse finds her blog no longer has a home on State Department Web site.  Here is an excerpt:

Yesterday she received an e-mail explanation from a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency.

“Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies,” the employee wrote, “and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS [Foreign Service] life overseas.”

“Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees have to share.”
[...]
“It really shook me to the core,” she said in an interview from her home in Annandale, where her husband, Peter, is getting ready to move to Afghanistan for a year on an unaccompanied tour.

A State Department spokesman said Wednesday night he is looking into the issue but did not have enough information yet to comment.

Read the whole thing here.

Pleaasssee! Somebody please bring this up in the Daily Press Briefing!

Because they’ve done it now.  They’ve put it in black and white — only happy talk blogs are welcome!  They’re looking for the mini-versions of State Magazine’s Happy Post of the Month and mini-versions of DipNote.

Perhaps they should hire Foreign Service spouses and pay them to blog about their happy lives overseas instead of using them as “bait” for free. Then, State at least, can improve the job opportunities of diplomatic spouses, and the spouses will be too preoccupied with happy write ups, they won’t have time to think or blog about their real lives.

Yes, you may post this suggestion to the Secretary’s Sounding Board.

As I was posting this, one of our regular readers saw that Jen’s WaPo story is now in the Drudge Report. And there it is with the N-word.

Also these:

Jezebel | U.S. State Dept. Takes Issue With ‘Nipple Cozies’

The Raw Story | State Dept. boots breast cancer survivor from blogroll over ‘nipple cozies’

Folks will be on strategery meetings for the rest of the day.

In the meantime — it turns out a lot cares about nipples and much more in the Foreign Service, most especially the bloggers.

Blog pal Kolbi of  A Daring Adventure writes Too Little and Too Much (Regarding Blogging, the ACLU, and NIPPLES). She deserves special mention; she is the only FS blogger who had been clubbed twice by the Serial Blog Killer and survived to tell about it:

Being on The Official Blog List actually painted an even bigger bulls eye on my back. And not just on my back, but on the backs of other State bloggers on The List. To date, to my knowledge, at least three State bloggers (and perhaps even up to five) on The List have since been shut down. And there were probably, oh, I don’t know, only about a dozen or so blogs on that List when it began. So, you know, not the best odds of bloggy survival.

So, basically, to recap: The pro-blogging side of State puts The Official List together and encourages bloggers to write tons and tons of State-themed blog posts, and then the anti-blogging side of State goes and… shuts those blogs down because they’re writing about State-themed stuff.

And here are some more of them –

Tuk & Tam | What the Nipple?

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic | Nipples, Censorship, and Other Matters

Cyberbones | Nipples! Boobs!

Spectrummy Mummy | N is also for Nipples

We Meant Well | Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem.

Noble Glomads | Don’t tell us who is relevant to us

The Wandering Drays | “Nipped” in the Blog

Mom2Nomads | Nipplegate 2012

Four Globetrotters | Nipples, Nipples, Everywhere

We Meant Well | State Department Does Not Care for Breast Cancer Talk

Whale Ears and Other Wonderings | Not FS Enough

Sadie Abroad | Nippletastic: A Rant For FS Bloggers

Well That Was Different | It’s the Little Things

dp’s Blog | I Guess I’m Not As Important As I Once Assumed

Mom2Nomads | You’re Just Not Quite FS Enough…

Life After Jerusalem | What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

Dinoia Family | Wanted: Stories of the ‘Real’ Foreign Service

Dinoia Family | Did you know?

And we hear that somebody is now trying to organize a “kick me off your official list” movement … and if successful, there won’t be anyone for show and tell on State’s “inclusive atmosphere and collaborative environment,” except maybe …. well, one of our alert readers write with a simple enough question:

…. and yet it’s okay to blog about strip clubs and how your nickname on the consular line is Visa Molester? somehow this one is still linked to the official blog roll. go figure.

Oh dear!  There are official standards employed here, but obviously it’s hard to figure out.

Domani Spero

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