SFRC Website Finally Gets a Make Over, Sort Of

Screen Capture of New SFRC Website

The much awaited make-over of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee page is finally here. The new website looks classy, has a better layout than the previous one and much better photos (except that they’re still using Senator Lugar’s old photo). The main page includes a welcome message from the SFRC Chairman, photos of both the chairman and the ranking member on its landing page, as well as the names of committee members and the list of subcommittees. It has links to the hearings page, and the press sites for both the chairman and the ranking member. The “About” page includes links to Committee History and Committee Rules and Jurisdiction.

There is a link to the contact page at the very bottom of each page. But don’t get your hopes up because it looks like a “cut and paste” thingy from the previous website:

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

446 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225

Majority Phone: (202) 224-4651 Minority Phone: (202) 224-6797

For internship information with the Majority Office,
please send email to

For internship information with the Minority Office,
please send email to

Back in February Brian Young, the new webmaster on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff had a piece on TPM about updating the SFRC website. Part of what he posted at TPM below:

Because we’re not just looking to spruce up the website, drag it into the 21st century with links to press releases, video of hearings, etc, etc. We want to do more than that; we want to create a website worthy of the Committee. Of all Committees in Congress, this is the one most suited for a powerful, interactive website.

This is a priority for Senator Kerry. He hired me with this in mind. He wants a site that creates a portal into the foreign policy deliberations this nation needs to have to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

This site will be designed to involve people in a conversation about the future of this country’s foreign policy.

I don’t know if this site has been officially rolled out. My old link just went dark and so I had to look this up. I can find the links to the prepared testimonies but can find no links to the hearing videos at this time nor any of the promised “interactive” thingies.

Something that would also not make the general constituents happy is the absence of a a real contact page for the committee staff. I hope this is still a work in progress.

Recently somebody wrote to us about a certain ambassadorial nomination. When told to contact the SFRC, the writer complained that he/she had already contacted the senator representing his/her state. And that trying to contact the chairman or the ranking member of the SFRC was almost impossible. The offices wanted to know if you’re a constituent before they talk to you. I can understand the need for this when it comes to the individual offices of the senators. But the Committee has its own staff; can’t they – you know, assign a catch-all email or a fax number for the interested public?

Related Post:
SFRC Website Make Over – When?

Hard Skills Training Center at Old Smelting Plant Site?

The emblem of, the official site ...Image via Wikipedia

Our blog friend TSB over at The Skeptical Bureaucrat recently had an interesting post on the Contaminated Industrial Site Proposed for Diplomatic Security Training Center.

A local official was quoted saying “Given that Eastalco was there smelting aluminum and there was enough of a buffer,” the 150-acre training center in the middle of a 2,000-acre site shouldn’t be a problem.”

TSB’s translation: “By which he apparently meant that the training center’s presence shouldn’t bother local residents because the center will be right smack in the middle of the hazardous waste left behind by decades of aluminum smelting, and not close to them. Whether that should be a problem for the hundreds of DSS employees who would work and train at the center, Delegate Weldon didn’t say.”

The site can be cleaned up for a mere cost of roughly $200 million — “sufficiently to use it as a landfill.” Politicians are getting into the act, lobbying for the center to be built in their own backyards. Read TSB’s whole post here. Also read this on Eastalco’s plan on marketing the site for new uses.

The State Department is overseeing $600 million of investment for seven projects and a funds transfer to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The training center at issue here is the Hard Skills Training Center, one of its seven projects. The plan calls for its location within 150 miles of Washington, D.C., The Eastalco site is located about 45 miles from D.C.

Here is State Department’s summary for the training center:

Construct a training facility capable of supporting hard skills security-related training for the Department and the wider foreign affairs community. The existing security training infrastructure is not sufficient to meet current and projected training needs. Recovery Act funds along with regular Worldwide Security and Protection (WSP) appropriated funds will enable the Department to construct a hard skills training campus that meets the increased demand for security training and makes the delivery of security training more efficient than the current arrangement of 15 separate locations throughout the United States. Specifically, the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course, already mandated for federal employees assigned to only five specific posts, will be expanded to include all critical and high threat posts worldwide. This project will enable the Department to provide vital security training to law enforcement and security staff and all foreign affairs employees; especially those assigned to critical and high threat posts.

This hard skills training facility will use both ARRA stimulus funds and WSP funding. Currently, the Department has $105.5 million programmed to support this project ($70 M ARRA, $17.55M FY 2009 WSP, and another $18M in WSP) in FY2009. Subsequent phases of the project will be funded through WSP. The FY 2010 budget request seeks an additional $12.5M to bring annual WSP funding for this project to $30 million/year. As requested in the joint explanatory statement accompanying the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2008 (Div. J, P.L. 110-161), the Department produced a report in May 2008 outlining the Department’s increased need for security training and provided the initial project concepts for a training facility as part of a consolidated security training complex. The report called for the development of a master plan starting with an Architectural & Engineering (A&E) study to help frame the project scope, cost and timelines. Those initial project studies will be completed with ARRA and WSP funds.

In addition, ARRA and FY 2009 WSP funds will be used to complete Phase 1 of the training facility. The consideration and funding of any possible future phases will be subject to annual funding availability and prioritization in the annual budget process. The project concept is to deliver functioning training facilities at the completion of each phase of the project and not have any partially completed training venues.

The State Department is also using ARRA funds for a Data Center – “The Data Center program ($120 million) will build an enterprise data center in the western United States and consolidate all domestic servers into four enterprise data centers.”

I wonder if anyone is interested in pitching for that…

Warning on Espionage Got China’s Attention

Non-Imperial Chinese dragon in ShanghaiImage via Wikipedia

AP report: China Slams US Report Warning Of Spying By Beijing (via HuffPo). The report that got the sleeping dragon’s attention is the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s Annual Report to Congress which was released last week. The Report cites trends for U.S. economic and national security interests, and offers 42 recommendations for Congressional action. On US-China trade and economic relationship, the report says:

“China’s trade surplus with the United States remains near record levels, despite the global economic slowdown that has reduced imports from other nations. While the U.S. trade deficit in goods with China through August 2009 was $143.7 billion, representing a decline of 17.6 percent over the same period in 2008, China now accounts for an increasing share of the U.S. global deficit in goods. By September 2009, China had accumulated more than $2.27 trillion in foreign currency reserves.”

Not really surprising, is it? But the part that presumably offended China appears to be the following conclusions from the Committee report:

China’s Human Espionage Activities that Target the United States, and the Resulting Impacts on U.S. National Security

  • The intelligence services of the Chinese government are actively involved in operations directed against the United States and against U.S. interests. China is the most aggressive country conducting espionage against the United States, focusing on obtaining U.S. information and technologies beneficial to China’s military modernization and economic development.

  • Some of the espionage carried out on behalf of China is conducted by nonprofessional collectors. These nonprofessional collectors may be motivated by profit, patriotism, feelings of ethnic kinship, or coercion. Even in many cases where there is no obvious direct state involvement in the theft or illegal export of controlled technology, the Chinese government encourages such efforts and has benefited from them.

  • Recent cases of espionage involving China show evidence of more focused efforts at information collection employing sources outside of the Chinese-American community.

  • Chinese operatives and consular officials are actively engaged in the surveillance and harassment of Chinese dissident groups on U.S. soil.

The AP report did not say if the Chinese also protested on the Commission’s report on its cyber activities:

China’s Cyber Activities that Target the United States, and the Resulting Impacts on U.S. Security Interests

  • The quantity of malicious computer activities against the United States increased in 2008 and is rising sharply in 2009; much of this activity appears to originate in China.

  • The direct attribution of such activities targeting the United States presents challenges due to hackers’ ability to conceal their locations. Nonetheless, a significant and increasing body of circumstantial and forensic evidence strongly indicates the involvement of Chinese state or state-supported entities.

  • The Chinese government has institutionalized many of its capabilities for computer network operations within elements of the People’s Liberation Army. The PRC is also recruiting from its growing population of technically skilled people, including those from the private sector, to increase its cyber capabilities. It is recruiting skilled cyber operators from information technology firms and computer science programs into the ranks of numerous Information Warfare Militia units.

  • China’s peacetime computer exploitation efforts are primarily focused on intelligence collection against U.S. targets and Chinese dissident groups abroad.

  • In the early stages of a conflict, the PLA would employ computer network operations against opposition government and military information systems.

  • Critical infrastructure in the United States is vulnerable to malicious cyber activity. Chinese military doctrine calls for exploiting these vulnerabilities in the case of a conflict.

The Commission has 10 key recommendations to Congress including the following:

Meeting the rising challenge of Chinese espionage. The Commission recommends that Congress assess the adequacy of resources available for intelligence, counterintelligence, and export control enforcement programs to ensure that U.S. government agencies are able to meet the rising challenge of Chinese human intelligence and illicit technology collection.

Ensuring adequate funding to respond to computer exploitation and computer attacks. The Commission recommends that Congress assess the effectiveness of and resourcing for law enforcement, defense, and intelligence community initiatives that aim to develop effective and reliable attribution techniques for computer exploitation and computer attacks.

The complete list of 42 recommendations appears at the Report’s conclusion on page 325.

The Commission was created on October 30, 2000 by the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for 2001. Its purpose: To monitor, investigate, and submit to congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action. Public Law 109-108 directs the Commission to focus its work and study on the following eight areas: proliferation practices, economic transfers, energy, U.S. capital markets, regional economic and security impacts, U.S.-China bilateral programs, WTO compliance, and the implications of restrictions on speech and access to information in the People’s Republic of China.

Related Items:

  • View the complete report. (PDF)
  • Executive Summary (PDF)

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Squirrels Are Us?

Squirrel eating nutsImage by Lynoure via Flickr

Edmund Andrews reported over the weekend on the Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government (NYT | November 22, 2009):

The United States government is financing its more than trillion-dollar-a-year borrowing with i.o.u.’s on terms that seem too good to be true.

But that happy situation, aided by ultralow interest rates, may not last much longer. Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.
The problem, many analysts say, is that record government deficits have arrived just as the long-feared explosion begins in spending on benefits under Medicare and Social Security. The nation’s oldest baby boomers are approaching 65, setting off what experts have warned for years will be a fiscal nightmare for the government.

“What a good country or a good squirrel should be doing is stashing away nuts for the winter,” said William H. Gross, managing director of the Pimco Group, the giant bond-management firm. “The United States is not only not saving nuts, it’s eating the ones left over from the last winter.”

But Nobelist Paul Krugman calls it The Phantom Menace.

Cyril the squirrel up for a challenge 15:54:50Image by exfordy via Flickr

Still — a tad scary, I supposed, when one realize a simple thing. It’s not only that we’re not saving nuts, or munching the bad ones left from last winter for that matter, but that we’re also giving “our” nuts away …

See — there’s also Jon Boone in Kabul with more worrisome news from Afghanistan. He’s reporting that we are pouring millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan (Guardian | November 22, 2009). Apparently the Special Forces are funding fighters in Afghanistan and there are fears the strategy could further destabilize Afghanistan. “According to some western officials, the US government will make a pot of $1.3bn (£790m) available for the programme, although the US embassy said it could not yet comment on CDI.” He also writes that “senior generals in the Afghan ministries of interior and defence are also worried about what they see as a return to the failed strategies of the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan.”

Wait, wait a minute! Didn’t the we armed the somebodies out there in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation? What? We’re not supposed to talk about that? The Guardian also reports that “in return for stabilising their local area the militia helps to win development aid for their local communities, although they will not receive arms, a US official said.”

How sure are we that they will not turn their aid money into arms to shoot at our guys?

This is just so, so confusing.

But I do feel sorry for squirrels like us. Are we ever going to enjoy our nuts again in peace like normal squirrels? Or is this as good as it gets?