Anything Can Be Sold Campaign: Try ‘Afghanistan, Always An Adventure’ — The Pomegranate Peace (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

rashmeeRashmee Roshan Lall started with The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, made a brief foray into publishing as editor of Rupa and HarperCollins India, and then took up broadcasting with the BBC World Service in London. She presented ‘The World Today’, BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs program. She was subsequently The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe. Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. A Foreign Service spouse, she previously spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. She also spent six months in Washington, D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election.  Visit her website at www.rashmee.com.

The Pomegranate Peace is a work of fiction.  The author of that dark dramedy on Iraq clearly see this book as art imitating life.  Five million dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, handed over to an Afghani-Canadian contractor resident in Vancouver to grow pomegranates instead of poppy? Check.  Peter Van Buren  writes that “one could retitle Pomegranate Peace as We Meant Well, Too and not be too far off the mark.”   And we have to agree.  The excerpt below is Chapter 11 of the book; we imagine this is how you brand a country — with a PR flak, lots of money and a small shot glass topped with magic and imagination.  Read more via Amazon, HuffPo, the Good Book Corner.  Thanks to Rashmee, Piers  and Arcadia Books for permission to share the following excerpt with our readers.

pomegranate peace cover

Reprinted from The Pomegranate Peace by Rashmee Roshan Lall by arrangement with Arcadia Books Limited. Copyright © 2013 Rashmee Roshan Lall. Available as an ebook from any ebook platform.

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Mr Khayber Ahmad, veteran of regime change, was not the only one thinking ahead to yet another transition. Over at the embassy, we were obsessed with plans for departure. Our president had set a date, or at least the year: 2014. We had 700 days to shape up and ship out. I was on the Transition Planning Team (Small), otherwise known as TPTS, or Tippets if you wanted to run everything together because you had run out of time, or patience, or the desire to be accurate.

Tippets was born of Tipple, the Transition Planning Team (Large) or TPL. The smaller group had a hundred people; the large was twice as big. Tippets was supposed to think, plan, do (TPD). That is how ‘Campaign Afghanistan’ began. Out of two acronyms and a string of alphabets. I was there. I saw it come into existence. I watched it take shape and I was present when it was launched.

It took a little while for Campaign Afghanistan to become the new standard for management courses taught at American universities. But it happened because of Sam Starkowsky’s excellent and highly readable book, The Donkey in the Dark. The book became a bestseller and Little Sam was anointed the world’s favourite management guru. But at the time, no one could have imagined that Little Sam would turn the 30-million-dollar ‘Campaign’ into the American version of Rumi’s 700-year-old story ‘The Elephant in the Dark’. And a solid business theory to boot, one which is routinely cited as the essential philosophy of creative problem-solving.

Everyone now knows the way in which Professor Starkowsky reprised Rumi. The original had a group of men touching an elephant in a dark room and offering wildly differing reports on the creature. The one who touched the trunk said it had to be a hosepipe; the man who felt the beast’s ear thought it was surely a fan; the third ran his hand over the animal’s leg and pronounced it a pillar and the fourth caressed the elephant’s wide back and decided it was a throne. Just as Rumi used the story to illustrate the limits of individual perception, Little Sam’s modern fable about a dozen Americans and a donkey underlined the importance of seeing the whole, not just parts of a problem. I have to hand it to Little Sam. I never knew he had it in him. He seems to have been the only one at a Tippets meeting to see the big picture.

It seemed such a good idea at the start even though the memo that set it off was the usual bureaucratese:

Agenda for TPTS:

TPD for APA – Sustainability. Selling Afghanistan to tourists, businessmen, the world.

To decode, this meant that the Transition Planning Team (Small)’s Think, Plan, Do strategy for Afghanistan-Post-America was all about selling the country as a brand.

As a former journalist, I was on the Tippets Working Group, which was smaller – just 25 people. We spent a whole day talking ‘Afghanistan, the idea’. Much of the time we debated the images that come to mind when the name Afghanistan is said out loud. Mountains, brave men, weapons, war, beautiful but benighted women. What, if any of that, to sell? Could it be sold at all?

Opinion on the working group was mixed. Little Sam thought that anything could be sold. Anecdotally, even refrigerators to Eskimos.

‘And in the real world, plots of land on the moon are sold,’ he said gravely. ‘And what about the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you send a check for a mere ten bucks to a certain address? Dreams can be sold,’ he added persuasively, ‘though sometimes they might be dud.’

 

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Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet

Posted: 1:23  am EDT

 

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We’ve used the USAID OIG website but it does not have a smart nor responsive search function. We wanted to know how many inspections, audits, whatev reports the Office of the Inspector General at USAID did on IRD over the years.  If they were rigorous in their oversight and USAID and  the State Department did not do anything about it, that is an important component to this story.  And if that is true, we wanted to see just how rigorous based on the reports the oversight office put out through the years, because how else can we tell but by the number and quality of their output?

We sent a direct message to USAID OIG via Twitter and we got a response back:

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For specific inquiries, please contact our office directly http://oig.usaid.gov/content/contact-usaid-oig

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You click on that link and you’re told that “for media or general information inquiries, contact the OIG’s Immediate Office by mail, telephone, or fax. Whoa!  The Immediate Office, apparently, is not immediate enough.

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Late last year, following a Washington Post report on a USAID program in Pakistan, USAID OIG released (pdf) a statement with the following:

OIG is committed to providing products and information that are responsive to the needs of external customers and stakeholders. In responding to questions posed by Members of Congress and congressional staff, OIG has always endeavored to provide complete and accurate information based on the documentation and information available to us.

This is USAID’s largest nonprofit contractor.  According to WaPo, USAID suspended IRD this past January from receiving any more federal work. The suspension came in the wake of allegations of misspending highlighted in a Post investigation in May 2014.  USAID told the Post that they are cracking down on contractors who misspend tax money.

Hookay. So let’s start with finding out what type of oversight USAID OIG provided on IRD contracts since 2006. This is one time when those USAID OIG Fact Sheets would really be helpful.

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Related items:

USAID Suspends Big Contractor IRD: What Took So Long? (NonProfit Quarterly)

Doing well by doing good: The high price of working in war zones (WaPo, May 2014)

 

Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case

Posted: 1:0808 am EDT

 

We didn’t know this but former FSO Joan Wadelton was joined by non-profit organization, Truthout in her FOIA lawsuit (pdf) against the State Department. Her formal complaint includes the following:

Over the past decade, Wadelton has collected evidence demonstrating that the type of treatment she received from HR was not unique to her, but instead was the product of a systematic manipulation of the selection board promotion process by a circle of current and former high-level HR managers to advantage themselves and their allies and to disadvantage those they did not favor.

See more here.

Since this is a FOIA case, the Clinton emails made their first walk-in part. We expect that these emails will be cited in many more cases in the court system before too long.

Via Politico:

The saga stemming from revelations about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state made its way into a federal courtroom in Washington Wednesday afternoon in an ex-foreign service officer’s lawsuit for records related to her dismissal.

The discussion of the State Department’s email issues—including a disclosure last week that the agency did not automatically archive the email of many top officials until February of this year—came at a hearing on a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by former State employee Joan Wadelton.
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“The State Department has proposed filing a motion for summary judgment in August 2015, stating it requires nearly six months to compile a Vaughn index for approximately 450 documents. The Court is not convinced, without a further and clearer showing of necessity, that six months is needed to complete this task,” wrote Chutkan, an Obama appointee. She ordered the government to offer a written explanation by March 30 of why that many months are needed.

Wadelton’s complaints about favoritism and irregular employment practices at State have been covered by various diplomacy-related blogs and news outlets, including here at the Atlantic.

The Vaughn Index is an itemized index, correlating each withholding with a specific FOIA exemption and a justification for that justification. This document is prepared by the agency, in this case, the State Department, to justify any FOIA withholdings made.

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Related posts:

Joan Wadelton: Time To Fix The State Department (via WhirledView)

Joan Wadelton’s Appeal Makes it to FSGB 2011 Annual Report to Congress (diplopundit.net)

Joan Wadelton’s Case: That’s One Messy Promotion Scorecard, Next Up – It’s GAO Time! (diplopundit.net)

GAO Examines Foreign Service Promotion Process — Strengthened But Documentation Gaps Remain) (diplopundit.net)

U.S. District Court for the Court of the District of Columbia | Wadelton v. State Department, 4/25/13 (pdf)

Wadelton Case | The FOIA Project

WADELTON et al v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE | Complaint 4/1/2013 (pdf)

 

U.S. Embassy Uganda Warns of Possible Terrorist Threats to Western Interests

Posted: 9:15 pm PDT

 

Via U.S. Embassy Kampala, March 25, 2015

The U.S Embassy has received information of possible terrorist threats to locations where Westerners, including U.S. citizens, congregate in Kampala, and that an attack may take place soon.  Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Mission has cancelled some non-essential events scheduled at local hotels in the coming days.  U.S. citizens staying or visiting hotels should expect increased security sweeps and delays when entering or exiting hotel areas.

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New Front in Regional Chaos: Saudi Arabia Launches Air Strikes Against Houthis in Yemen

Posted: 6:15 pm PDT

 

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State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?

Posted: 3:35  am EDT

 

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Somebody just wrote us a note saying “It’s not clear why the Department has such a hard time with the facts … Colombian academics and others have offered convincing evidence that spraying roundup in their country is a major health issue and yet the Department resorts to ad hominem attacks rather than dealing with the facts.”  

Two academics were allegedly “treated poorly” when they tried to discuss their findings with the INL staff at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá in 2013. We have no way of confirming this either way but given the recent news from the World Health Organization, we wanted to know what happens now.   The embassy’s aerial eradication page appears to be outdated by several years.  Its Public Affairs Office does not have a publicly listed contact email. We have reached out to a couple of offices in Foggy Bottom but have not heard anything back.

In 2012, Jenny O’Connor wrote a piece in CounterPunch about Colombia’s Agent Orange. She noted that a core element of U.S. anti-drugs policy in Colombia has been the destruction of coca fields by aerial chemical fumigation thus impacting the cocaine trade at its source.  She cited the Chaco Government investigation in 2010 where its report found that “since the use of glyphosate based herbicides began in 2002 the communities most exposed had experienced an alarming increase in birth defects, spontaneous abortion and leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphomas in children under the age of 15.”

In 2013, WOLA described the coca fumigation in Colombia:

Aircraft, mostly piloted by contractor personnel, fly over coca-growing zones spraying “Round-Up Ultra,” an herbicide including the active ingredient glyphosate, over about 100,000 hectares per year of Colombian territory. Between 1996 and 2012, aircraft have sprayed herbicides over 1.6 million hectares of Colombia—an area equivalent to a square 80 miles on each side. The corners of such a square would stretch from the Washington suburbs to the Philadelphia suburbs. That’s the equivalent of one hectare sprayed every 5 minutes and 29 seconds since January 1, 1996.
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While fumigation has contributed modestly to reduced coca growing, it has done so at a steep cost, both in dollars and in goodwill toward Colombia’s government in conflictive territories where it is most needed.
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Testimonies of health and environmental damage from fumigation have proliferated, but are hard to verify. Still, the damage to the government’s credibility is already done when the local population believes them to be true. And nearly everyone in affected zones can cite a case of legal food crops destroyed by spraying, forcing families to confront hunger.

 

It looks like the last certification posted online on the Secretary of State’s certification on the aerial eradication is dated August 10, 2007.

Memorandum of Justification Concerning the Secretary of State’s 2007 Certification of Conditions Related to the Aerial Eradication of Illicit Coca in Colombia

The Secretary of State determined and certified in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment. After previous consultations with EPA, the Department of State and the Government of Colombia have incorporated all EPA recommendations to strengthen spray program controls and ensure increased protection against adverse effects to humans and the environment. The Department of State is not aware of any published scientific evidence of risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment that have surfaced since the 2006 certification. Included below is a brief review of the conditions that allow the Secretary to recertify to Congress in 2007 that the herbicide mixture, in the manner it is being used, does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment.

In the 2004 EPA report, EPA offered the following assessment of human health concerns related to the spraying of coca in Colombia: “Despite an aggressive search for cases, there does not appear to be any evidence that glyphosate aerial spraying has resulted in any adverse health effects among the population where this spraying takes place.” EPA also concluded “that an aggressive program to identify glyphosate poisoning has been implemented in the areas of Colombia where illicit crop eradication spraying programs are prevalent.” A significant number of health care providers have received training and additional training is under way or planned.

We have been unable to locate a more recent justification for the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying.  If there is a more recent one, please send us a link.

 

State/INL’s 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) includes the following details:

Colombian Ministry of Defense authorities reported seizing over 207.4 MT of cocaine and cocaine base in 2014, and eliminated tons of additional potential cocaine through the combined aerial and manual eradication of 67,234 ha of coca over the year.
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In areas where Colombia allows aerial eradication, coca fields are less productive than they were when eradication operations began in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, illicit cultivation continues and is increasing in Colombia’s national parks, indigenous reserves, the department of Norte de Santander, and within a 10-kilometer zone along the border with Ecuador, where Colombian law or international and regional agreements prohibit aerial eradication.

In late 2014, the governments of Colombia and Ecuador implemented an agreement to reduce the border exclusion zone to 5 kilometers which permits expanded aerial eradication along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. Colombia aerially eradicated 55,532 ha of coca in 2014, surpassing its goal of 55,000 ha. Colombia manually eradicated 11,702 ha of coca in 2014, falling short of its goal of 14,000 ha. Numerous local level protests blocking access roads to coca fields were a major obstacle to manual eradication’s ability to operate in major coca growing regions.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the EPA concluded in a 2012 study that glyphosate meets safety standards for human health when used in keeping with its label. The agency is reportedly conducting a scheduled review of glyphosate in conjunction with Canadian regulators.

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Only 1 in 6 Employees Believe State Dept Senior Leadership Understands FS Work/Life Challenges

Posted: 3:01  am EDT

 

Via afsa.org:

In 2014, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) commissioned a third-party survey to better understand members’ views of AFSA as a professional association and union, as well as their opinions on AFSA’s advocacy and labor management priorities.  Of the nearly 3,500 responses, 1,600 came from active-duty State members who responded to State-specific questions.

The infographics made available by AFSA (pdf) notes that 40% agree or strongly agree that slowing promotion rates, limited career advancement, or a lack of professional development opportunities is causing them to consider leaving the Foreign Service. It also notes the membership opinion on quality of work and life issues as well as security issues.

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We are still hunting down a copy of the full membership survey.  We should note that AFSA is the professional association and labor union of the United States Foreign Service with more than 16,345 dues-paying members. According to its 2014 annual report, it has 10,664 members who are in active-duty with the State Department and 3,717 members who are retired employees. Looks like 15% of the active service members and 51% of retired members participated in this survey.

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IT Consultant Using Identity Of Deceased Infant Snagged During Passport Application

Posted: 2:08  am EDT

 

Via USDOJ:

Computer Industry Consultant Convicted For Using Identify Of Deceased Infant

BOSTON – A former Boston computer industry consultant was found guilty following a five-day jury trial on March 6, 2015, of assuming the identity of an infant who died in 1966 and using that identity to obtain a Social Security number.

Steven Nolte, 51, was convicted of passport fraud, aggravated identity theft, and use of a falsely-obtained Social Security number.  U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for May 28, 2015.  He remains detained pending sentencing.

Nolte was born in Arizona in 1963 as Steven Nolte, but in 1997, he assumed the identity of a four-day-old infant who died in 1966.  At the time Nolte adopted this identity, he was in the process of stealing over $571,000 from a real estate company for which he had provided computer consulting services.  Nolte then obtained a passport in the assumed identity and traveled to Costa Rica, where proceeds of the theft had been wire-transferred.  Nolte thereafter traveled extensively in the South Pacific and ultimately settled in the Boston area, where he worked in the computer industry for many years under his assumed identity.  In 1999, he applied for a Social Security number by using the same false identity.  Nolte’s true identity was discovered in May 2012 when he submitted an application for a replacement passport in Boston under his assumed name.  State Department officials realized that the Social Security number Nolte was using had not been issued to Nolte in the assumed name until he supposedly was 33 years old.  Upon further investigation, agents learned of the infant’s death in 1966, and ultimately uncovered Nolte’s true identity.

The charge of making false statements in a passport application provides for no greater than 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release; the charge of using a falsely-obtained Social Security number provides for no greater than five years in prison and three years of supervised release; and the charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory two years in prison, and one year of supervised release.  All three charges provide for fines of up to $250,000.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  Sentenced are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; David W. Hall, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Boston Field Office; and Scott Antolik, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Pérez-Daple and Robert E. Richardson of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.

Original announcement is here.

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Munns v. Kerry: Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Policies on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

WaPo covered the ambushed and abduction of  four Americans and an Austrian employed by Crescent Security Group, a small private security firm in Iraq in July 2007.  In March 2008, U.S. authorities were reported to be in possession of five severed fingers, four of which belong to private security contractors.  In May 2008, the FBI identified the remains of the kidnapped contractors. This case was originally filed on March 22, 2010, Munns et al v. Clinton et al; case number 2:2010cv00681.

Via Opinion from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, filed on Mar 20, 2015 (pdf):

Summary:

The panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ equitable claims due to lack of standing and their federal benefits claims due to lack of jurisdiction, and vacated the district court’s dismissal of the due process and takings claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds in an action brought against United States government officials by family members and a coworker of three Americans who were kidnapped and killed while providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq.

Opinion:

This case arises from the kidnappings and brutal killings of three Americans who were providing contract security services during the United States military occupation of Iraq. The plaintiffs, who include family members and a former coworker of these three men, brought suit against United States government officials to challenge policies governing the supervision of private contractors and the response to kidnappings of American citizens in Iraq (“policy claims”). They also claim the government is withholding back pay, life insurance proceeds and government benefits owed to the families of the deceased contractors (“monetary claims”).

The district court dismissed the policy claims for lack of standing and for presenting nonjusticiable political questions. It dismissed the monetary claims for failure to establish a waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity from suits for damages and for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. We hold that the plaintiffs have not shown they are likely to be harmed in the future by the challenged policies. They therefore lack standing to seek prospective declaratory and injunctive relief regarding those policies. We further hold that the plaintiffs have failed to allege a governmental waiver of sovereign immunity that would confer jurisdiction in the district court over their monetary claims. Finally, we hold that the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims for withheld back pay and insurance proceeds, and we direct the district court to transfer those claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1631. We thus affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

Background:

In November 2006, while working for Crescent, contractors Munns, Young and Cote were assigned to guard a 46-truck convoy traveling from Kuwait to southern Iraq. The plaintiffs allege that on the day of the convoy, Crescent issued the men substandard military equipment and ordered other security team members not to accompany them on the convoy, and that Iraqi security team members slated to join the convoy failed to show up for work, leaving only seven contractors to guard the convoy. When the convoy stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint, 10 armed men approached and, along with the Iraqi police, took five of the contractors captive, including Munns, Young and Cote. The men were held for over a year, until their kidnappers brutally executed them sometime in 2008.

The plaintiffs trace the contractors’ kidnappings and murders to Crescent’s failure to adequately prepare and supervise its personnel in Iraq. They allege Crescent’s deficient conduct was “officially sanctioned” by the Secretary of State through an unlawful order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) overseeing the U.S. occupation. CPA Order 17 allegedly gave “blanket immunity [to contractors] from all prosecution,” granting them a “license to kill” with impunity and permitting contractors to “circumvent the authority of Congress, the Courts, and the Constitution.”2 Additionally, the plaintiffs say they heard rumors that CPA Order 17, and the consequent lawless behavior of some security contractors, may have been the motivation behind the kidnappings.

Circuit Judge Reinhardt:

The more troubling and painful question is what the role of our government should be if and when terrorist groups like ISIS or Al Queda capture an American citizen and hold him hostage, and whether the government may, or should, impose any limitation on the rights of the citizen’s family or friends to communicate with that group or pay a ransom. It is significant that the government has told this court that currently there are no policies preventing private individuals from making efforts to secure the release of relatives who are held captive abroad. More important however from the standpoint of the legal rules that govern us, the parties bringing the action – relatives of contractors’ employees “brutally killed,” as Judge Fisher puts it, in the Middle East – seek no damages resulting from that policy but simply seek to have the policy declared unlawful. They ask that the government be enjoined from implementing the policy in the future. Again, even assuming that contrary to what the government tells us, such a policy exists, we cannot under well established legal rules render a decision that will be of no immediate benefit to the individuals bringing the lawsuit. Because the plaintiffs have no relatives currently in the Middle East, or currently in greater danger from terrorist groups than any of the rest of us, we again face only a hypothetical question – the kind that courts do not answer

Read in full online here or download the opinion in pdf file here.

 

Related item:

7 FAM 1820 Hostage Taking and Kidnapping (pdf)

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State Department Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken Meets With Junior Diplomats

Posted: 12:26 am EDT

In London

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken meets with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2015. To the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy London’s Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Dibble. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Paris

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken speaks with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, on March 2, 2015. Also pictured to the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy Paris Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Seoul

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim meet with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Beijing

 

In Foggy Bottom

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