Stranded in Yemen: Americans left to find own way out, but exactly how many more AmCits are left there?

Posted: 7:01 pm EDT

 

Via CNN:

“My son served in the army for four years. In Iraq. He served because we love our country. As we should. Now look at us?”
[…]
Muna is from Buffalo in upstate New York. Her family is among the dozens of Americans caught in the crossfire of warring parties in Yemen. And although many other countries evacuated their citizens, India most notably ferrying out around 5,000, the United States has said it is too dangerous for them to directly evacuate American nationals.

screenshot of CNN video

screenshot of CNN video

For Muna, her ordeal ended at Djibouti Port where Christina Higgins, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, was among the embassy staff waiting to meet them. I asked Higgins about the sense of abandonment Muna and many of the other Americans trapped in Yemen said they felt.

“We have one of the branches of al Qaeda that’s especially active. There’s the Houthis — neither of these two groups friendly to U.S. citizens. We’ve had to weigh very, very carefully what is the safest way, the best way for us to help them.”

Higgins said ultimately each U.S. citizen is going to have to judge what is best for themselves and their families.

“For many U.S. citizens, that’s going to mean sheltering in place. For other U.S. citizens, we’re actively working at getting information to them on different avenues for travel out of Yemen.”

Read in full here.

Also read: After hours at sea, chaos and desperation at Yemeni city

 

IOM announced today that it has temporarily suspended is evacuation operations in Yemen. It also says, “To date, operations continue to be hampered by unacceptable demands in regard to the identity of passengers to be evacuated by IOM. Security conditions within and around Sana’a airport have also worsened, affecting the ability of IOM staff to operate on airport grounds.”

 

Meanwhile in Djibouti:

 

Also this one on the DPB on April 20, we’re not sure which email is this referring to:

QUESTION: — between a Yemen – or a U.S. citizen stuck in Yemen.

MS HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: I know you can’t comment on the specific case —

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — but just the language of that email that she had the exchange with, is that the kind of language that Americans still stuck in Yemen can expect?

MS HARF: Yes, I saw that email exchange. I think a couple points on that. The first is if you look at a majority of that email, it’s really the same messages I’ve been giving from the podium about the fact that we have been warning for some time, that we are trying to do things to assist. And we have a number of people – we’ve actually increased our consular staff in Djibouti to help consular services to Americans who have been able to leave Yemen. But we have consular officers who are working around the clock in Djibouti and elsewhere doing so.

I think, look, that language is probably not typical of the services we’re providing to Americans, candidly. I probably wouldn’t have used it. But I think looking at our broader efforts in terms of the consular support we’re giving to Americans, even in a very difficult operating environment where we don’t have an embassy, where we have been warning, we – our consular officers really are working very hard to get them what they need even, again, under very difficult circumstances.

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The State Department to date has refused to give an estimate a guesstimate on the American citizen population in Yemen. The OIG report back in 2010 estimated that the Yemeni-American community was about 55,000. Our source from Consular Affairs who is not authorized to speak for the bureau indicates that the most recent estimate is actually much higher than that OIG number.

Odd thing about this? There was a congressional hearing on Yemen several days ago. The congressional reps did not ask about this. The NEA principal deputy assistance secretary of state on that hearing did not talk about this.  And so far, we haven’t heard from the angry old men in the Senate chamber screaming over the abandonment of U.S. citizens in foreign country.

In related news, last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filedlawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of dozens of Yemeni-Americans trapped in Yemen for failure to evacuate them.  Today, a San Francisco man has sued the State Department in federal court, claiming that American embassy officials in Yemen illegally revoked his passport and left him stranded in that country for more than a year. This passport revocation case is just the latest in a string of lawsuits alleging improper revocation of passports by the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Norland climbs Georgia’s chapel-on-a-rock

Posted: 11:27 am EDT

 

Via US Embassy Tbilisi from Ambassador Richard Norland:

“Georgia is an amazing combination of rich cultural and religious traditions. Mary and I were in Batumi over the weekend, attending the Georgian Muslim Union’s International Forum on Religion and Peace. On our way home, we drove through Chiatura — a hardy mining community finding its way forward by drawing on a combination of Soviet-era infrastructure and modern investment including from the U.S. firm Georgian-American Alloys.

En route, we happened upon the 1000-year old church at Qatskhi, and the amazing chapel-on-a-rock nearby, where Father Maksim carries on a centuries-old tradition of residing alone atop the huge stone promontory. With Father Maksim’s blessing, my security guard and I scaled the iron ladder planted into the side of the rock. Wet with rain, steep and narrow, it was an unforgettable trip up — and down! At the top, the solitude of the small ancient chapel and the monk’s simple quarters was inspiring.”

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Image via US Embassy Tbilisi/FB

Active link added above.  The Katskhi Pillar photo is by Levan Nioradze http://bit.ly/1bfkfDn Levan Nioradze’s Photoworks.  It is a natural limestone monolith located at the village of Katskhi in the western Georgian region of Imereti, near the town of Chiatura. It is approximately 40 metres (130 ft) high, and overlooks the small river valley of Katskhura. Read more here. Click here for more photos from US Embassy Tbilisi.

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US Embassy Rwanda Remembers 26 Local Employees Killed in 1994 Genocide

Posted: 12:25 am EDT

 

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To read about the frustrations of dealing with inaction from Washington, see Ambassador Prudence Bushnell interview, A Soul Filled with Shame via ADST. Below is an excerpt:

Once the RPF took over Rwanda, I was sent to check things out. It was yet another surreal experience. The countryside of one of the most populous countries in the world was literally deadly quiet. Berries ready to harvest were rotting on the coffee trees; houses stood vacant. The man who served as the ambassador’s driver drove us. When we were stopped by child soldiers at checkpoints, I learned never to look them in the eye. As we drove we heard the story of how the driver had hidden and what happened to some of the other embassy employees. Many were dead.

I participated in a memorial service for the FSNs [local Foreign Service employees] who were killed. I will never forget looking into the stony faces of employees who had been abandoned by the U.S. government. American officers who came up to speak would weep, to a person. The Rwandans just looked at us. I can only imagine what they were thinking and the trauma that was still with them.

She was asked what was the rationale for not getting involved:

“We had no interest in that country.” “Look at what they did to Belgian peacekeepers.” “It takes too long to put a peacekeeping operation together.” “What would our exit strategy be?” “These things happen in Africa.” “We couldn’t have stopped it.” I could go on….

I could and did make the argument that it was not in our national interest to intervene. Should we  send young Americans into a domestic firefight, possibly to be killed on behalf of people we don’t know in a country in which we have no particular interest? From the perspective of national interest, people like Richard Clarke will argue we did things right.

In terms of moral imperative there is no doubt in my mind that we did not do the right thing. I could have a clear bureaucratic conscience from Washington’s standpoint and still have a soul filled with shame.

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Burn Bag: State/CSO gets a new mission statement but remains a bureau in fundamental crisis

Via Burn Bag:

As of Friday morning’s announcements of the new mission statement and the bureau town hall (from which most everyone left more confused than informed) to discuss the new organization chart, we remain a bureau in fundamental crisis. Everyone scratching their heads about what they do and exactly whom they support.

CSO’s contractors continue to be an internal force just as the OIG report cited. Worse yet, we already have total supervisory overhead (civil service, foreign service, and third party contractors’ employees) of almost 1:1 with “doers” and despite what the bureau told Congress. Lots of editing and reviewing and pontificating takes place but very little drafting or other original work. It reminds me of a third world state run enterprise!

Should the new name now be the Bureau of Conflict Analysis and Atrocity and Violent Extremism Prevention and J Undersecretary Pet Issues (CAAVEPJUPI)?

tumblr_inline_when you do stuff

via canadian foreign service problems

 

Related posts:

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Suspicious” Category

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

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

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

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

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

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

The Blank Screens

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

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

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

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Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated)

Posted: 9:24 am PDT
Updated: 10:41 am PDT

 

Media reports say that a car bomb went off at 5:40 pm local time in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Irbil, in northern Iraq today.  An unnamed senior State Department official told ABC News it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Other reports say the target was the local cafe near the consulate. The AP reports that no consulate personnel or local guards were wounded. There are local casualties but the number has not been officially released. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Iraq reports that “the entrance to the consulate appeared to have been struck by a bomber on foot.”

U.S. Consulate Erbil (Irbil) is headed by FSO Joseph Pennington who assumed his duties as Consul General in northern Iraq in July 2013.

 

 

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Snapshot: Obama’s Female Ambassadors, Highest Percentage Appointments at 31.6%

Posted: 1:24 am EDT

 

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The first female ambassador was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first term. She was the first female member of U.S. Congress and the daughter of the 41st Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.

Owen, Ruth (Bryan) (1885-1954) | Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Denmark 1933-1936 (see Wikipedia entry).

During his second term, President Roosevelt appointed a second female ambassador, this time to Norway.

Florence Jaffray (Hurst) Harriman (1870-1967) Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary July 1, 1937-1940 (see Wikipedia entry).

It was not until 1953 under President Eisenhower when the first female Foreign Service Officer was appointed ambassador.  Frances E. Willis was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland in 1953, Ambassador to Norway in 1957, and Ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1961. She was the first female FSO conferred  with the rank of Career Ambassador  on March 20, 1962.

Thanks to Philip for sharing his charts!

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Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT

 

Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?

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Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on Monster.com five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.

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Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, USAJobs.gov also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The monster.com announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via monster.com:

 

A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.
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Doomsday Go: The Brink, Nuclear Apocalypse Dark Comedy With Tim Robbins and Jack Black (Video)

Posted: 12;56 am EDT

 

It looks like Nacho Libre‘s “Friar Storm” was reassigned from Mexico to Pakistan and we’re going to get Foreign Service officer Alex Talbot in a business suit. The Brink,  is coming to HBO on June 21 with Jack Black playing FSO Alex Talbot and Tim Robbins, apparently playing the philandering or kinky (take your pick) Secretary of State Walter Larson.  Aasif Mandvi, of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” plays Rafiq Massoud, a Pakistani employee of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.  TV.com says that the dark comedy focuses on a geopolitical crisis (some rogue general took over somebody’s nukes) “through the eyes of three disparate, desperate men” who must “pull through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III.”  Sounds so totally not Madam Secretary.

 

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We understand that if it catches on, we could be watching The Brink tackle different crises in different parts of the world for its next seasons.   We would like to make a public appeal now that  Alex Talbott put in Venezuela top of his bidlist so the next season will be set in the Western Hemisphere.

The Brink’s 10-episode season premieres June 21 at 10:30PM on HBO.  Get your funny bones ready, or if you don’t have one, stay away from teevee this summer.

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Burn Bag: On security clearance … leave it alone or the process will become “more” problematic?

Via Burn Bag:

“We have many EFM clearances – and interim clearances were requested by HR and rejected by DS for all of them – which are still pending. The oldest one is 15 months, the next is 13 months, etc. etc. (we have many). These people will PCS [permanent change of station] and still not have their clearance completed. The only statements from DS – other than implying to leave them alone or the process will become “more” problematic are that USDH [U.S. direct hire] clearances are first in line. Some missions depend on EFMs.”

image via imgur

image via imgur

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Related post:
Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not!