Video of the Week: Did You Know 4.0

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In Afghanistan. We are the tourists.

The Tourist is PassiveImage by B Tal via Flickr

Air Force Reserve Major Richard C. Sater was activated for a one-year tour of duty in support of the war on terrorism in May 2003. He was initially assigned to 4th Air Force, March Air Reserve Base, California. In September 2003, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, assigned first to Combined Joint Task Force 180 at Bagram Air Base; and later to Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, Kabul. He kept a journal during the deployment, from which the following is extracted. On the civilian side, he has been a college professor of English and the arts and a classical music announcer for a National Public Radio affiliate station.

Notes from a JournalAfghanistan, 11 Sept 2003-7 Apr 2004 was published in War, Literature & the Arts Journal (public domain material). Richard C. Sater is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

I know nothing about their calendar. But then, so much of the culture here remains absolutely foreign to me.

We are the tourists.

We employ local Afghan men to work on our posts and camps. Hundreds every day, skilled (carpenters, masons, electricians) and unskilled. They work always under guard, a bored junior-ranked soldier or airman seated close by to keep an eye out for sedition. But there is none. The men need work and, in exchange, endure our ignorance.

Bearded black, swarthy, as thin and hard as want, their utter commonness in Afghanistan still seems exotic to me. They wear the traditional loose-fitting robe called a khalat and equally loose-fitting trousers that match; a rolled felt hat, a pakol; a patterned square scarf, and a fringed wool blanket that serves as cloak and protection from dust and winter’s instructive cold.

I can’t even speak to them beyond “salaam,” which equals hello, and “tasha­kor,” approximating thanks. The men will return my gaze but rarely my smile.

I watch them; they regard me with similar curiosity. Sometimes, guilty, I will show them my camera and raise my eyebrows, a mute question. May I? They shrug, nod. My greedy machine snaps the images with more clarity than I can decipher when I view the pictures later, each worth a thousand untranslatable words.

Their faces reflect the bewildering hard times they live in. They could be a hundred years old or a thousand, though many of those I see are probably younger than I. These are handsome men, dignified men, resigned to traveling a hard road. We have pledged something better. Schools, clinics, clean water, jobs, a stable and safe country, a viable national army that will protect it. The men mark the days—twenty-four hours by anyone’s calendar—and wait for us to keep the promise.

No amount of book-learning will fill the chasm between what I understand about this place and what truly is.

Rodearmel v. Clinton: Dismissed

On October 29 the three-judge panel composed of Karen Lecraft Henderson, Reggie B. Walton and James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the US Government’s motion to dismiss Rodearmel v. Clinton “pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and denies FSO, David Rodearmel’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

The plaintiff, David Rodearmel, a Foreign Service Officer in the United States Department of State (State Department), brought suit against the defendants, Hillary Clinton in her official capacity as Secretary of State and the State Department, alleging that Clinton’s appointment and continuance in office as Secretary of State violates article I, section 6, clause 2 of the United States Constitution.

The court’s ruling says “we dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

The allegations:

Count I: “Clinton’s appointment and continuance in office as U.S. Secretary of State violates [the Ineligibility Clause]” and that he “is suffering and will continue to suffer significant, irreparable harm by reason of Defendant Clinton’s unconstitutional appointment and continuance in office.”

Count II: Rodearmel alleges that the defendants “are violating [his] rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by depriving [him] of his property right to continued employment as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State without due process of law.”

The ruling says in part:

“Rodearmel’s general interest as a citizen in the constitutionality of Clinton’s appointment does not give him standing. Nor does his employment as a Foreign Service Officer provide a basis for standing. He points to no specific duty or responsibility he has as a Foreign Service Officer that has been impaired—or even affected—by Clinton’s appointment.”

“Assuming Clinton unconstitutionally holds office as Secretary of State, it does not follow that a Foreign Service Officer generally serving under, taking direction from and reporting to Clinton performs an unconstitutional act thereby, especially in the absence of any allegation that his service is in any way different from what it was under Clinton’s predecessors in office.”

The Court further says that “We note that Rodearmel remains employed by the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer and his future loss of that position—whether by actual discharge or resignation under circumstances constituting constructive discharge—is entirely speculative. Thus, any injury to Rodearmel’s property right in continued employment, to the extent such a right exists, is not “actual or imminent” and does not support his standing. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (internal quotations omitted). To the extent he
has a property right in the “terms and conditions” of his employment and assuming thm to Courtese include the right not to be required to violate the Constitution, Rodearmel’s claim fails because, as noted, he has not asserted any action he either has taken or must take that is itself alleged to be unconstitutional.”

I guess I was wrong; we did not have to wait for 2012. Read the decision here.

Related Item:
Civil Action No. 09-171: Rodearmel v. Clinton | October 29, 2009
Memorandum Opinion.

Related Post:

U.N. Can’t Account for Millions Sent to Afghan Election Board

Afghan Elections 2009 (Kandahar City) / Électi...Image by Canada in Afghanistan / Canada en Afghanistan via Flickr

By T. Christian Miller and Dafna Linzer, ProPublica – October 29, 2009 9:15 am EDT | Reprinted under Creative Commons license)

The United Nations cannot account for tens of millions of dollars provided to the troubled Afghan election commission, according to two confidential U.N. audits and interviews with current and former senior diplomats. (Read both [1] audits [2].)

As Afghanistan prepares for a second round of national voting, the documents and interviews paint the fullest picture to date of the finances of the election commission, which has been accused of facilitating election fraud and operating ghost polling places. The new disclosures also deepen the questions about the U.N.’s oversight of money provided by the United States and other nations to ensure a fair election in Afghanistan.

“Everybody kept sending money” to the elections commission, said Peter Galbraith, the former deputy chief of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. “Nobody put the brakes on. U.S. taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a fraudulent election.” Galbraith, a deputy to the senior U.N. official in Afghanistan, was fired last month [3] after protesting fraud in the elections.

The audits come as President Barack Obama is struggling to craft a war policy for Afghanistan that would establish a stable government in a country with few democratic traditions. Senior aides have made clear that Obama will not commit to sending additional troops until there is a legitimately elected government in Kabul. On Wednesday, insurgents stormed [4] a housing compound primarily occupied by U.N. election officials, killing eight people, including two election workers.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission initially reported that President Hamid Karzai had won the majority of votes in the August election. A recount was ordered after another U.N.-backed panel uncovered evidence of widespread fraud. After weeks of prodding from the Obama administration, Karzai agreed last week to a runoff.

The U.N. audit reports, which are near completion but still in draft form, are likely to fuel debate over the Afghanistan election commission’s ability to carry out the new round of voting. Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has suggested he may boycott the elections unless Karzai dismisses the chairman and two other commissioners.

In interviews, senior U.S. and U.N. officials said that U.N. leaders had ignored warnings as far back as 2007 that the election commission was a pro-Karzai body with few internal controls.

Another top official in the U.N.’s Afghanistan mission, Robert Watkins, acknowledged in an interview that some commission employees had contributed to the fraud in the first round of voting.

“It’s clear that some of the people” working for the commission at the polling centers “were complicit in fraud,” Watkins said. “Some of the staff hired were not working in the best interests of impartial elections.”

But Watkins said the United Nations is working to improve the commission’s performance in the runoff. He said the U.N. planned to slash the number of poll workers and blackball any that may have been implicated in fraud in the August elections.

As of April 2009, the U.N. had spent $72.4 million supporting the commission, with $56.7 million of that coming from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the audit said. Total election costs are now estimated at greater than $300 million, with the U.S. providing a third to half the total funding, according to one senior U.N. official familiar with the elections process.

The draft audit reports indicate that as many as one-third of payroll requests from the Afghan commission to the United Nations included “discrepancies,” such as incorrect names or amounts.

In another instance, the U.N. Development Program paid $6.8 million for transportation services in areas where no U.N. officials were present. Auditors found that the development agency had “inadequate controls” over U.S. taxpayer money used to fund the commission.

Continue reading here.

Related Item:
U.N. Development Agency Audit of Afghan Elections and Development Spending
Original Document (PDF)

US Visas for $12,000 in Ukraine?

Old handcuffsImage via Wikipedia

The FBI Cleveland office has just announced the arrest and charges filed in a lengthy investigation involving members of a criminal organization that trafficked in fake documents and fraudulent US visas in Ohio and Ukraine.

The investigation was reportedly started in December of 2007 when information was received that individuals in the Cleveland Ukrainian community were involved in a scheme to bring foreign nationals to Cleveland, Ohio and help them fraudulently obtain real Ohio driver’s licenses for a fee, issued by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) by a Deputy Registrar working for this criminal organization.

The FBI says that an undercover FBI agent was able to fraudulently obtain a real Ohio Driver’s License in August of 2008 for $3000 from this criminal organization. The investigation showed that this criminal organization operated for at least four years, charging foreign nationals, most of whom are unlawfully present, between $1,500 and $3,000 for Ohio driver’s licenses, and Ohio state identification cards using either fraudulent documentation or none at all.

The FBI also says that during the course of the US-based investigation, the investigators in Cleveland discovered evidence that the criminal group in Ohio were working with criminal counterparts in Ukraine. Together, they fraudulently obtained United States non-immigrant visas for Ukrainian nationals who then traveled to Ohio and other points in the United States. The visas were obtained from the United States Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, allegedly through corrupt Ukrainian national employees of the US Embassy.

The investigative team from Cleveland, the FBI’s Legal Attaché’s Office in Kyiv, and Diplomatic Security Service Special Agents assigned to the US Embassy in Ukraine investigated the Ukrainian criminal group jointly with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Organized Crime Department over the course of many months. The criminal group allegedly charged each visa applicant $12,000.00. As a result of the joint international investigation, seven members of the Ukraine-based criminal organization, including two Embassy employees, were officially detained today in Ukraine by investigators of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs for violation of Ukrainian laws.

I inquired from the press office of US Embassy Kyiv if they have an official statement, but zip, nada. Usually comes with the territory for bloggers in pjs, btw. From my experience, only the press office at US Embassy Kabul is accommodating. Even when they can’t give you the info you want, they at least, take the time to write back. End of rant, moving on.

Read the whole thing here.

Related Item:
Inspection of Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine
OIG Report Number ISP-I-07-17A | March 2007

Call in the Civilians. Pray Tell, From Where?!

Ron Capps is a peacekeeping program manager at Refugees International. According to FP, he served in Afghanistan as a soldier and in Iraq as a Foreign Service officer. He writes about Washington’s treatment of “civilian support as an afterthought” in the post 9/11 world. As a result, he writes, “the State Department’s ranks have been depleted and overstretched to the core. And the civilian half of warfare has suffered.” Read Call in the Civilians (Foreign Policy | October 26, 2009).

Excerpt below:

Development and diplomacy, like defense, are clearly defined and specialized fields. No one would task a USAID agricultural economist with helping develop Afghanistan’s or Iraq’s internal defense strategy. But with the current deficit of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) at the State Department and USAID, the government routinely tasks U.S. special operations forces with implementing development and public diplomacy tasks. One exasperated officer asked me, “How am I, as a military professional, supposed to know what’s best for the development of this country? That’s USAID’s job.” But there is no USAID officer in the area, so she soldiers on.

Worldwide, the State Department and USAID need about 5,000 new FSOs to conduct core and public diplomacy, oversee foreign assistance, and manage stabilization missions. The State Department has been hiring about 700 new officers a year, a rate that barely beats attrition in the rapidly graying Foreign Service. USAID is 75 percent smaller than it was a generation ago, and despite bringing in 300 officers a year, it is still not meeting the global demand for development specialists.

A rapidly graying Foreign Service, for sure. It doesn’t help that the State Department kicks you out as soon as you turn 65 … Well, whatever. They must know what they’re doing.

He also writes that “Colin Powell, for example, increased the Foreign Service by about 1,000 people a year. But most of these newbies went to consular and diplomatic security positions, not core and public diplomacy jobs. Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for 1,100 more FSOs annually, but she got considerably fewer.”

Consular are not core jobs?

Excuse me — Madam le Consul, we need you here, right now!

Okay, I will only politely quibble with the examples —

Actually, former Secretary Powell’ Diplomatic Readiness Initiative that began in 2001 hired 1,158 people above attrition.

According to AFSA, former Secretary Rice made the following staffing requests below. Note that these are not at “1,100 more FSOs annually.” She did not get to that solid round number until her last year in office:

FY-06: 221 requested, zero funded (140 created out of reprogrammed funds)
FY-07: 102 requested, zero funded
FY-08: 262 requested, eight funded
FY-09: 1,095 requested, unknown number funded (I’ll have to look this up)

In one staffing debacle in the 90’s that you may or may not remember, there were hundreds of unfilled positions in the State Department. The agency’s response was to smartly eliminate all the vacant positions. Yep, even then there was smart power at work — so then no more staffing holes. End of news story.

The 1990’s were lean years for the Foreign Service. This report says that deep staffing cuts under Secretary Christopher and Secretary Albright forced drastic reductions in professional and language training. Sure, we had a deficit but it had been steadily declining in the early part of the decade. In 1998, for the first time in 29 years, we enjoyed a $69 billion surplus. In FY2000, the estimated surplus was at least $230 billion.

But it was not about the money. 1991 also saw the end of the Soviet Union. And the peace dividend reared its ugly head, had USAID for starters, then ate USIA as one of the main courses in 1999.

The Foreign Affairs Council Task Force Report in 2003 says that seven blue-ribbon panels between 1998 and January 2001 detailed the disastrous impacts of 1990s budget cuts that reduced funding for the administration of foreign affairs from $5.05 billion in 1994 to $3.98 billion in 1996 to $3.64 billion in 2000 (expressed in constant 1996 dollars). Ambassador Bill Harrop writes in American Diplomacy that the “neglect in the 1990s allowed our diplomatic system to erode nearly to dysfunctionality.”

You’d think it could not possibly get worse. And then it did. The decade of GWOT saw not just 9/11 seared forever into our collective memories but also two wars, one now going on its 7th year, the other on its 9th year. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan which started in October 7, 2001 has now costs us $230,174,475,000.00. The Iraq invasion in March 20, 2003 and post-war reconstruction has now cost us $695,004,700,000.00. By the time I finished writing this, it’ll be much more –see here.

At the State Department, Colin Powell initiated a hiring surge in 2001. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) was reportedly the brainchild of then Foreign Service Director General Marc Grossman. It was a three-year push to hire 1,158 employees over and above those hired to fill gaps created by attrition. This report has the hiring breakdown:

FY 2002:

467 Foreign Service Officers hired (229 in FY2001)
680 Foreign Service Specialists hired (298 in FY2001)
633 Civil Service employees hired (473 in FY2001)

399 DRI positions

399 DRI positions

By 2004 of course, the Iraq mess was in full swing.

Fast forward to 2006 – on January 18 that year, Secretary Rice outlined her vision for diplomacy changes that she referred to as “transformational diplomacy” to meet the 21st Century world. This new kind of diplomacy was about democracy-promotion overseas. The CRS reported that changes were made under existing authorities, but no legislation or new authority was requested from Congress.

I wrote previously about transformational diplomacy and the devils in the details here. A big deal was made about the global repositioning of Foreign Service personnel then. But on the fiscal year when this new transformational initiative was announced, Secretary Rice requested just 102 positions. None were funded by Congress. Without new funding or staffing, I thought of TD/global repositioning as nothing more than, frankly, avoiding the manholes in the global chessboard.

2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.

In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”

In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?

And when we call in the civilians …and they’re nowhere around, we start thinking, “how could that be?They must be here somewhere, surely, they must be … just hiding somewhere? ... After all, to admit that they’re not here and were never around in the first place, is to open a whole can of critters that can bite just about everyone up and down this sorry road.

Related Post:
Separating Fact From Myth II: For the Record

Related Items:

One Hand Clapping: The Sound of Staffing the Foreign Service

BlogNotes: Diplopundit on Twitter

Just figured out how to do a few things on Twitter. Don’t be misled by the photo. That’s cropped from Lorenzo Lott’s oil on canvas work c.1550 (public domain). I was going to put up Ben Franklin, or my cat’s mug, or a barking owl’s – but in the spirit of a semi-tamed vanity (gods help me), I finally settled on Lott’s.

Matthew Hoh in His Own Words

Matthew Hoh, the US official who resigned in protest over the Afghan war did a Q&A over at the Washington Post. It’s unfortunate that the issues he raised seemed to have been overshadowed by his employment status. But the Q&A is a good start. Why are we in Afghanistan and how long we should be there ought to be part of a broader discussion about this “good war.” You can read the whole thing here.

Excerpts below:

Washington, D.C.: Could you explain the nature of your employment with the State Department? I understand you were hired to work in Afghanistan on a limited, one-year contract. Are there a lot of people there under similar contracts?

Matthew Hoh: Yes, I was hired as a limited non-career foreign service officer. I was sworn into the foreign service as as foreign service officer for at temporary period of time. The US government “deputizes” people in such manner to make up for shortfalls in manning or to bring in people with specialized experience. Much of the “civilian surge” that you may have read about in Afghanistan consists of temporary government hires. Although it is a contract these positions should not be confused with contractors filling various logistics, security and intelligence positions.

Washington, D.C.: Would a little more thought go into the why of going to war, if the Congress actually had to declare war and that upon a declaration of war, the military draft was reinstated for the duration of said war?

Matthew Hoh: Absolutely. As a former professional military officer I am against the draft because I don’t believe it leads to an effective military. However, as a private citizen I feel that a draft would engage our population in the debate. I don’t believe we would have invaded Iraq if we had a draft and I don’t believe we would still be in Afghanistan if we had a draft.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you know of other Foreign Service officers who also don’t think we should be in Afghanistan, but don’t have the guts to resign or even to express their reservations?

Matthew Hoh: Yes.


Related Posts:

USAID/Egypt: $181 Million Later, Impact Unnoticeable

…in indexes describing Egypt’s democratic environment

I did not know this – but apparently since FY 2004, USAID/Egypt has designed democracy and governance programs valued at $181 million to be conducted until the end of FY 2012. USAID’s OIG just released its audit report on its democracy and governance activities in Egypt.

Excerpt below from the report:

Despite USAID/Egypt awarding more than $181 million for program activities since 2004 and the mission’s acknowledgment of the restrictive political environment in which it conducts programs, the Office of Democracy and Governance has achieved limited results for 13 judgmentally selected awards. Valued at $62.3 million, the programs support rule of law and human rights, good governance, and civil society. Based on the audit results, USAID/Egypt’s Office of Democracy and Governance achieved only 52 percent of its planned results for the 13 awards and successfully completed only 65 percent of its activities during fiscal year (FY) 2008.

Based on the programs reviewed, the impact of USAID/Egypt’s democracy and governance activities was limited in strengthening democracy and governance in Egypt. Furthermore, in separate recently published reports, independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ranked Egypt unfavorably in indexes of media freedom, corruption, civil liberties, political rights, and democracy. Egypt’s ranking in these indexes remained unchanged or declined for the past 2 years. The overall impact of USAID/Egypt’s programs in democracy and governance was unnoticeable in indexes describing the country’s democratic environment.

USAID/Egypt had the authority to take corrective action when an implementer was not achieving its results. But in some instances the mission did not take appropriate action, because the staff was unaware of problems due to weak management controls.

USAID mandatory standard provisions and an acquisition and assistance policy directive establish the legal responsibility for USAID recipients to include antiterrorism clauses in all subawards and comply with a certification regarding terrorist financing. Despite the requirements, four USAID/Egypt implementers did not include mandatory clauses in agreements with subrecipients, and one implementer did not sign the antiterrorism certification. This occurred because technical representatives did not periodically verify the implementers’ antiterrorism measures to ensure that required actions had been taken. As a result, USAID/Egypt has little assurance that its programs do not inadvertently provide material support to entities or individuals associated with terrorism.

Read the whole thing here.

Related Item:
Audit of USAID/Egypt’s Democracy and Governance Activities
OIG/USAID Audit Report No. 6-263-10-001-P | October 27, 2009 | PDF

US Embassy Islamabad Suspends Consular Services

Map of PakistanImage by Omer Wazir via Flickr

Routine consular services will be temporarily suspended from Monday, October 26 through Friday, October 30.

Its latest warden message says that the Embassy will continue to provide emergency services to Americans requiring such assistance. Americans interested in routine services such as passport applications are requested to contact the Embassy on Monday, November 2. Immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews will be rescheduled.

Earlier yesterday, a separate warden message advised American citizens that the Diplomatic Shuttle into the Diplomatic Enclave would be closed for the day. Due to this, the American Citizens Services unit was also closed except for emergency services (arrests, death or injury, victims of crime, etc.).