Meryl Streep launches film series at Ambassador’s residence

US Embassy Paris Photo

On September 6 after a presentation at the Deauville Film Festival, ‘Julie and Julia’ opened Ambassador Rivkin’s new series of avant-première showings at his residence in Paris with the film’s director Nora Ephron and star Meryl Streep.

From the US Embassy press release: This film has particular significance for the U.S. Mission to France given Julia Child’s uniquely American relationship both with the Foreign Service and with France (DS: Julia was once an EFM). The President of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, which Julia Child attended in the early 60s, presented Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron with honorary diplomas.

The 100 guests included food opinion leaders and critics, young French and American chefs, and close friends of Julia and Paul Child. This showing celebrated Franco-American friendship in light of Julia Child’s unique relation with France, and moved forward the embassy’s agenda for deconstructing America’s “fast food” image and showing the interest of Americans in fine cuisine.

Related articles by Zemanta

US Embassy Bern Happy But …

An aerial photo of Bern.Image via Wikipedia

Even places like Switzerland get inspected by the Office of the Inspector General. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 5 and 27, 2009; in Bern, Switzerland, between March 2 and 12, 2009; in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 4, 2009; and in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 5, 2009. The report states in part:

Officers and their accompanying family members are happy to be working at Embassy Bern. Negative quality of life issues tend to be outside of the control of the Embassy and include issues with cold winter weather, the extraordinarily high cost of living, and the lack of employment opportunities for family members. The Embassy runs an active EFM program, and several such positions were in the process of being filled during the inspection. As more and more EFMs come with advanced degrees and extensive career experience, the kind of positions available, security escorts for example, falls short of expectations. […]
Other expansions of the EFM program, if justified, would contribute to morale among EFMs at post, keeping in mind that the positions would best be structured to take into account the high level of education and experience that EFMs currently possess.

Excerpted from
OIG Report No. ISP-I-09-31A, Inspection of Embassy Bern, Switzerland
June 2009 | PDF

Nixon on Cleaning Up That State Dept

Image via Wikipedia

January 7, 1969

At the beginning of a new Administration I believe that an analysis of the qualifications of all of our Ambassadors abroad, career as well as non-career, should be made. While the great majority of career men will probably be retained in their present posts, the beginning of a new Administration is a good time to move some of the dead wood out and to move some of the unqualified men from one post to a less sensitive one.

In my travels abroad I have, of course, seen the usual number of political appointees who weren’t qualified for the job they held, but I have also seen a number of career men who were pretty inadequate and who should be replaced.

I think a very hard-headed analysis should be made just as soon as we take over on January 20 so that any changes can be made within the first two or three months that we are in office. If we delay beyond that point we will be subject to the charge of being vindictive, personal or political. Changes at this time, of course, will be expected.

Memorandum From President-Elect Nixon to Secretary of State-Designate Rogers

From Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Secretary Rogers Files: Lot 73 D 443, Personal Papers of William P. Rogers. No classification marking. A copy was sent to Kissinger. Printed from an unsigned copy.

On the day of his re-election as President, November 7, 1972, Nixon had a long discussion with his Assistant H.R. Haldeman about changes in administration personnel for the second term. “His feeling is that he’s ambivalent—to a degree at least—about Rogers, whether he will keep him or not, although he realizes that he shouldn’t,” Haldeman noted in his diary entry for November 7. “Doesn’t really know what he wants to do at State, if he does let Rogers go.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition).

Two days later Haldeman had dinner with John Ehrlichman and Henry Kissinger and, according to Haldeman’s diary entry for November 9, “we went through the whole question of State and Defense and foreign policy with Henry. It comes down to his general agreement that we should go ahead with [Kenneth] Rush at the State Department, because you have to get a man who basically functions according to the orders he gets, as the P’s man, rather than an independent Secretary of State.” (Ibid.) Speaking of Rush during an Oval Office meeting with Kissinger on November 13, the President said: “I am going to tell him: I am going to take the responsibility for cleaning up that State Department and I want him to be my man.” Just prior to that comment Nixon had asserted that his “one legacy is to ruin the foreign service. I mean ruin it—the old foreign service—and to build a new one. I’m going to do it.”

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976

347. Editorial Note
(National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, November 13, 1972, Oval Office Conversation No. 814–3) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.

Who’s Banning "Bad News" Reporting Cables?

United States Department of State headquarters...Image via Wikipedia

Nicholas Kralev of The Washington Times has an exclusive on U.S. embassies discouraging or suppressing negative reports to Washington about U.S. allies (Envoys hesitate to report bad news | September 16, 2009).

Kralev reports on an unnamed Foreign Service officer who has “decided to resign in part because of frustration with “rampant self-censorship” by Foreign Service officers and their superiors that has gone so far as to ban “bad news” cables from countries that are friendly with the United States.” Excerpts below:

The diplomat, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution against himself and colleagues, said that, in one instance under the George W. Bush administration, an embassy in the Middle East did not report local government interference in elections. Senior management censored accounts of low morale at another Middle East mission that had been the target of terrorist attacks, he said.
More than a dozen diplomats serving in Washington and abroad told The Times that they agreed with most of the officer’s critique, and that the censorship has continued to a lesser extent in the Obama administration. All asked not to be named to avoid retribution.
Current and former Foreign Service officers said the censorship reached a peak during the Bush administration. They attributed its continuation to a risk-averse institutional culture.

Ambassador Pickering
who was previously chief of mission to seven countries and was “P” from 1997-2001 is quoted in the article as saying that the criticism is “well worth paying attention to.” He also said: “What worries me – and I have heard it before – is the expectation that reporting has to be tempered to fit the expectations and not the realities. This is dangerous and unprofessional and worse.”

Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan, Francis J. Ricciardone is also quoted in the article saying that his 31-year experience in the Foreign Service “may be unusual, but in any case it has not resembled what” the resigning officer described. “Self-censorship most often is precisely that – self-imposed, from within oneself, not the larger organization,” Mr. Ricciardone said according to Kralev.

Whoops!! Sorry, I just feel fell off my chair.

Three things I’m chewing on:

One — the State Department has a dissent channel that appears to have less and less traffic as the years go by. AFSA who gives out three annual dissent awards seems to be having problems finding nominees for these awards. Few people are talking; that is, few are willing to articulate and write down their policy disagreements using the official channel. Which means one or all of the following – a) there is fear that doing so could result in a career suicide; b) that doing so would have no effect whatsoever to the final outcome, thus, an exercise in futility and, c) that the dissent channel is nothing more than a prop and nobody in the 7th floor really cares about policy disagreements from the ground. There is also the possibility that a good number of people have lost their belief that one person, that one singular voice can make a difference in a bureaucracy that seeks to change the world for the better. Isn’t this the most troubling of all?

Two – two US embassies in the Middle East are mentioned in this article. Both not identified. The culprit in the censorship of information is attributed to a risk-averse culture. But organizational culture does not exist in a vacuum. At State, especially in large sections where the most number of junior officers work, you can tell exactly the point when most of them learn that rocking the boat is bad (and they did not learn it from thin air). The last time I paid attention, it took less than six months. SecDef Gates says that, “the culture of any large organization takes a long time to change. The really tough part is preserving those elements of the culture that strengthen the institution and motivate the people in it, while shedding those elements of the culture that are barriers to progress and achieving the mission.” I would only slightly disagree. There is a tougher part — knowing which elements of the culture to preserve and nurture and which ones to shed.

Three— What is most telling is in the article itself. Apparently more than a dozen diplomats spoke to Kralev. All asked not to be named to avoid retribution. Even the officer who is resigning did not want to be identified. What does that say about this universe?

The only ones willing to be named in the article is a retired ambassador who says this is worth paying attention to (and I happen to agree with him), and a current deputy ambassador with two prior ambassadorships who says his experience did not resembled that of the resigning officer who complained about “rampant self-censorship.”

I wonder if there is anyone among our chiefs of mission and senior diplomats who would readily admit to suffering from clientitis, anyway? Clientitis for those not in the know is the affliction suffered by some diplomats when they cross the fine line separating explanation and advocacy in diplomatic reporting. How many times have you heard your boss says something like “There are enough (insert name of country)-bashers out there; we don’t need to be one, too.” Certainly, our reporting officers need not have to “bash” their host countries, but reporting is their job. Even when the news they report is not welcome at home, they must be brutally honest and forthright; otherwise, our policy makers get a lopsided view of world.

AFSA President Susan Johnson is also quoted in the article saying that one of her missions will be “revitalizing dissent.”

A good thought, for sure. But no superman or superwoman can revitalize dissent in the FS without the men and women of the Service themselves deciding that bearing bad news is a necessary function; and that rocking the boat is in fact a duty.

Easier said than done, of course, because there are consequences to such actions.

Kralev quotes State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as saying that a cable “represents the view of the chief of mission” who signs it, and that he or she therefore has ultimate responsibility for its content. And that this gives the top diplomat the power to edit a draft written by a lower-ranking officer.

In reality, a lower ranking officer drafts the cable, submits it to his/her supervisor or section chief for clearance, at times also to other section chiefs when appropriate, then it goes to the Front Office for final approval before it proceeds to Washington. The opportunity to edit the draft does not just happen at the ambassador’s desk and is not just done by the chief of mission.

Let’s say that the mission position in Agony-stan is that things are going swell. What do you do if you’re a low level political officer who learn that things are not swell, a position that contradicts the conviction of your DCM or ambassador? What do you do if you are the section chief reviewing your officer’s draft cable that reports the contrary position of the mission? What do you do if you are the approving officer of a draft cable that contradicts your own conviction about your host country?

Let’s try a live exercise – how about starting with a real Agony-stan?

And so this starts at the top — with senior leaders and managers willing to take that “to be or to do” fork in the road – to shield the messenger of bad news, at all times (if we shoot the messenger every time he/she delivers bad news, there won’t be any messenger before long); to protect the dissenters in the ranks and the outside-the-box thinkers (they keep things real); to protect the stubborn, brilliant sheep who refuses to readily follow the herd.

State Dept Contractor Electrocuted in Iraq

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute has a recent piece in The Nation on Another Mysterious Electrocution Death in Iraq.

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Hermanson who was working for State Department contractor, Triple Canopy died on September 1.

Scahill writes: “Earlier this week, Hermanson returned home on a flight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. His body was in a coffin. Hermanson was not killed by enemy fire or an improvised explosive device or even by “friendly fire.” In fact, he died in what is considered to be the safest place in Iraq for Americans–the heavily fortified Green Zone. His body, according to his family, was discovered on the floor of a shower near his quarters at Camp Olympia. It appears that Hermanson was electrocuted.”

“On Tuesday morning, the military medical examiner who performed Hermanson’s autopsy met with Hermanson’s wife, Janine. “He said that everything was still pending and that he can’t make a final [statement] because the toxicology and all that stuff has not come back yet. But he said that [the cause of death] was a low-voltage electrocution,” she told The Nation. “When I got the call I was told that he was found in a shower, and now I am getting told that there was even still electrical current on the shower floor when they found him.

Rewind to July 11, 2008 during the hearing on “Contractor Misconduct and the Electrocution Deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq.” Cheryl Harris, the mother of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth in a prepared statement says:

Since January, I have taken a decided approach to find out what actually happened to my son and why he was electrocuted in his shower at the age of 24. I have learned that my son’s electrocution was the result of the failure to correct a known electrical hazard in a building replete with electrical hazards. Moreover, because of those uncorrected electrical hazards, my son lay in electrified water until he was discovered by a fellow soldier who kicked the door down. There, lying on the ground, was my son’s body, burnt and smoldering. One of the soldiers who attempted to rescue Ryan was himself shocked because the electrical current was still running through the water and pipes in Ryan’s bathroom.

Just last month, a news release dated August 07, 2009, Army Completes Staff Sgt. Maseth Death Investigation (Revision), says that “The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Medical Examiner previously found the cause of Maseth’s death to be electrocution and the manner accidental. The completed Criminal Investigation Command death investigation concurs with those findings.”

The news release also says that “There have been 18 reported deaths due to electrocution in Iraq since March 2003, including 16 service members and two contractors.[…] Since Staff Sgt. Maseth’s death in 2008, there has not been another confirmed electrocution death of a soldier in Iraq.”

Less than a month after the final report was released …

Nobody seems to know who did the wiring at Triple Canopy’s base at Camp Olympia. Scahill reports that Triple Canopy will not comment further until the investigation is complete. The State Department reportedly did not return calls requesting comment.

Read the whole thing here.