There were threats against US Diplomats along the Mexican border?

This one from the NYT: “The killings followed threats against American diplomats along the Mexican border and complaints from consulate workers that drug-related violence was growing untenable, American officials said. Even before the shootings, the State Department had quietly made the decision to allow consulate workers to evacuate their families across the border to the United States (read Two Drug Slayings in Mexico Rock U.S. Consulate).
I don’t know when the State Department had “quietly made the decision” or why “quietly” for the authorized departure of family members but the Department is required to adhere to the “no double standard” policy on important security threat information, including criminal information. Basically it means that if such information, if shared by the Department with the official U.S. community, generally should be made available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.
Since the Travel Warning was officially released on March 14, 2010, that seems to indicate that the decision to go on authorized departure happened on or about March 13, the day of the shooting. 

The State Department has now authorized the departure of the dependents of U.S. government personnel from U.S. consulates in the Northern Mexican border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros until April 12.
Below is Secretary Clinton’s statement released on March 14:

Today the men and women of the Department of State are mourning the murder of three people connected to the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. One American employee of the consulate was killed along with her husband, and the husband of a Mexican employee was also killed. I offer my deepest sympathies to the family, loved ones and colleagues of these victims. The safety and security of our personnel and their families in Mexico and at posts around the world is always our highest priority. I have spoken with our Ambassador in Mexico and we are working with the Government of Mexico to do everything necessary to protect our people and to ensure that the perpetrators of these horrendous acts are brought to justice.

These appalling assaults on members of our own State Department family are, sadly, part of a growing tragedy besetting many communities in Mexico. They underscore the imperative of our continued commitment to work closely with the Government of President Calderón to cripple the influence of trafficking organizations at work in Mexico. This is a responsibility we must shoulder together, particularly in border communities where strong bonds of history, culture, and common interest bind the Mexican and the American people closely together.

The US Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pacual has also issued a statement on the March 13 killings of US Consulate staff in Ciudad Juarez saying in part:  

“Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have affirmed that this tragedy underscores the absolute need for our continued commitment to work closely with the Calderon Administration to end the influence of drug trafficking organizations and the violence that they spawn. […] Together with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, I have pledged to our entire U.S. diplomatic community to work tirelessly, in full concert with our partners in the Government of Mexico, to do everything necessary to assure the security of our personnel and their families in Mexico and to ensure that the perpetrators of these horrendous acts are brought to justice.

Read Ambassador Pascual’s full statement here.



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Coming Soon: More Visa Security Officers?

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report dated March 8, 2010 for the members of Congress on Visa Security Policy: Roles of the Departments of State and Homeland Security. The report is short but it includes current issues for congressional consideration, including — a summary of competing interests between the proponents for moving the visa function to DHS and proponents for DOS continuing to play the lead role, the Visa Security Program/Unit, and visa security funding for both agencies. Excerpt below:      

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to take down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009, has refocused attention on the assignment of roles and responsibilities to ensure visa security. The 23 year-old Nigerian national allegedly tried unsuccessfully to ignite an explosive device on an incoming flight to Detroit. U.S. consular officers in London, where Abdulmutallab was a student at the University College London, had issued him a multi-year, multiple-visit tourist visa in June 2008.40 The suspect’s father had reportedly contacted U.S. officials to indicate his concern about his son’s welfare and involvement in Islamic fanaticism. State Department officials reported that the father came into the Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19, 2009 to express his concerns about his son and that the consular officials at the Embassy in Abuja sent a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).41 They relied on the standard interagency procedures for screening suspected terrorists, referred to as Visa Viper.42
Competing Interests

Some have expressed the view that DOS retains too much power and control over visa issuances. They maintain the Homeland Security Act intended DHS to be the lead department and that DOS was to merely administer the visa process. They warn that consular officers are too concerned about facilitating tourism and trade to scrutinize visa applicants thoroughly.43 Some argue that visa issuance is the real “front line” of homeland security against terrorists and that the principal responsibility should be in DHS, which does not have competing priorities of diplomatic relations and reciprocity with foreign governments. Not long after the attempted bombing of Flight 253, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Senator Joseph Lieberman, stated: “I believe, incidentally, that we ought to take a look at taking the visa application and admission responsibility from the State Department. It doesn’t really fit with foreign policy anymore.” The Chairman continued, “And in an age of terrorism, I think the Department of Homeland Security ought to be handling visas abroad.”44 Others are recommending further deliberation before changing the law, observing that today’s visa security policies grew out of lessons learned from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.45 The Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Senator Patrick Leahy, stated “After Congress passed major legislation in 2004 to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, and after the country invested significant resources to upgrade security systems and reorganize our intelligence agencies, the near tragedy on Christmas Day compels us to ask what went wrong and what additional reforms are needed.”46 Proponents of the current division of responsibilities argue that it strikes the proper balance between the two departments and reflects the bifurcation envisioned in the Homeland Security Act. They maintain that it plays off the strengths of the two departments and allows for refinement of the implementation in the future.47 Proponents of DOS playing the lead role in visa issuances assert that only consular officers in the field have the country-specific knowledge to make decisions about whether an alien is admissible and that staffing approximately 250 diplomatic and consular posts around the world would stretch DHS beyond its capacity.48
Acceptance of VSP in Consular Posts

The statutory language of §428(d) of P.L. 107-296 makes clear that authority of the chief of mission remained intact despite the added authorities given to DHS.49 It states that nothing in that provision may be construed to alter or affect the authority of a chief of mission under §207 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.50 Ultimately, it is the DOS chief of mission at a particular consular post who determines whether to accept a VSP unit.51 A 2008 report of the DHS Office of Inspector General discussed tensions between DOS and DHS in establishing VSP units abroad.
Some DOS headquarters officials have said that ICE special agents do not need to be posted overseas to conduct their visa security activities. The DOS officials said ICE special agents are able to access the law enforcement databases and information systems used in the screening and vetting process remotely. VSP managers said that experienced law enforcement agents assigned overseas provide unique added value at overseas posts. ICE special agents assigned to VSUs [shorthand for VSP units] use their expertise in immigration and nationality law, investigations, document examination, intelligence research, and counterterrorism to complement the consular visa adjudication process with law enforcement vetting and investigation. In addition, ICE special agents assigned to VSUs at post focus on identifying “not yet known” terrorists and criminal suspects…. 52 More recently, top-level DOS leadership has stated they are fully supportive of the VSP and are coordinating with DHS to expand the units to additional consular posts. 53
DOS Visa Processing and Security Funding

The adjudication and issuance of visas are largely fee-based, rather than a government service funded by direct appropriations. For the most part, prospective immigrants and nonimmigrants cover the costs of visa processing. The Consular Affairs immigrant visa application processing fee is $355, and the nonimmigrant processing fee is $131.54 Moreover, the 107th Congress permanently authorized the collection of Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fees at $65—or the cost of the machine-readable visa service if higher—and a $10 surcharge for machine-readable visas in nonmachine-readable passports. These MRV fees are credited as an offsetting collection used by DOS to recover costs of providing consular services.55
In the FY2011 Budget Request of the President, DOS presents the Consular Affairs visa
operations as part of its Border Security Program. As Table 1 indicates, DOS is requesting an increase in its Border Security Program from $1.8 billion in FY2010 to $2.6 billion in FY2011, and would rely on the use of additional fee receipts to increase the overall funding. “The FY 2011 budget request includes a proposal that would allow the Department to retain all user fees collected from the provision of consular services for FY 2011 and all future years to cover the full cost of immigration, passport, and other consular services.”56 The question of whether DOS is adequately funded to process visas expeditiously while maintaining visa security procedures may arise as the FY2011 budget is debated.
DHS Visa Security Program Funding

The VSP has been growing in terms of funding as well as units located abroad. The FY2009 budget request (the final year of President George W. Bush’s Administration) was $11.8 million for the VSP, with $3.4 million to create two additional overseas VSP units in high-risk locations.57 Congress almost doubled President Bush request of $11.8 million to $22.4 million in FY2009. Funding in FY2010 fell short of President Barrack Obama’s Administration request of $32.2 million, as Congress appropriated $30.7 million for the VSP.58 DHS has reported expanding the number of VSP units in high-risk consular posts by two each year in FY2009 and in FY2010, but acknowledges that Congress has required DHS to use the remaining two-year enhancement funds of $3.4 million it received for expansion by the close of FY2010 pursuant to its five-year expansion plan (discussed above) or the funds will be lost.59 DHS also stated that 63 ICE special agents were trained to become Visa Security Officers in FY2009.60
The Obama Administration is requesting that the VSP be funded at the same level in FY2011 as Congress funded it in FY2010—$30.7 million. The modest size of the VSP with 67 full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) has led some to question how many VSP units DHS will be able to realistically staff. Some Members of Congress are questioning how long it will take DHS to staff the 40 consular posts it deemed “high-risk” locations with the current level of funding. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight, has called for Congress to shift funding from DHS administrative functions to the VSP.61 As discussed above, however, others note that the expansion of the VSP has been stymied as much by questions of how much added value it brings and the inter-department negotiations, as it has been by funding.62 For example, several Republican Senators reported that the application for Yemen has been pending since September 2008, and applications for Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Frankfurt and Amman have been waiting for approval since September 2009.63
I’m not sure I quite understand the reasoning  that “DHS does not have competing priorities of diplomatic relations and reciprocity with foreign governments,” — it is still part of the United States Government, isn’t it?  For instance if DHS, decides to collect DNA from all visa applicants, you don’t think that would become a reciprocity issue with foreign governments?

It seems to me there are two options here — give Consular Officers access to the DHS database (which DHS does not like) or expand the VSP to more posts where approval of additional personnel is under State’s Chief of Mission authority and subject to the National Security Decision Directive-38.

For instance, according to this, US Embassy Cairo received formal NSDD-38 requests for an additional 25 positions and has approved 23 of them—19 positions for the Department OIG regional office, three positions under the USAID development leadership initiative, and one for the global publishing solutions operation. The FY 2011 MSP includes requests for significantly more positions, including 20 from the Department, and 79 for other agencies, the latter total including 32 positions under USAID’s development leadership initiative. 

But expanding personnel overseas is perhaps easier said than done. It is not just a question of funding those positions, the embassy also has to allocate offices, and procure additional housing for employees and their families. So ….

Related Items:
  • Visa Security Policy: Roles of the Departments of State and Homeland Security | CRS | March 8, 2010 PDF (via www.fas.org)
  •  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Visa Security Program | OIG 08-79 | July 2008  | PDF


New Public Diplomacy and a Bureau "Realignment"

Under Secretary Judith McHale went before the SFRC last week on the future of U.S. Public Diplomacy.  Testimony is here. She cited Pakistan as a case study on the new approach. Reprinted below: 

The New Approach: a case study — Pakistan

Last summer, my office worked closely with our Embassy in Islamabad, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, USAID, and DoD to draft the Pakistan Communications Plan, a copy of which has been provided to the Committee.

The Pakistan Plan has four broad goals: expand media outreach, counter extremist propaganda, build communications capacity, and strengthen people-to-people ties. Our plan links elements of traditional public diplomacy with innovative new tools. For instance, recognizing that extremist voices dominate in some of Pakistan’s media markets, we instituted a rapid response unit and a 24-hour multilingual hotline for the Embassy to respond to attacks, threats, and propaganda from the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their sympathizers. This approach reversed a previous approach of not actively countering such propaganda. It has been an uphill battle but, as our voice gets more frequent play, the impact on the discourse in Pakistan’s media has been noticeable.
As we strengthen our people-to-people ties with Pakistanis, our aim has been to increase positive American presence on the ground in Pakistan. To do this we are focusing on more exchanges, more presence, more Lincoln Centers, more face-to-face meetings with engaged citizens in Pakistan, and more non-official contacts between Pakistanis and Americans in Pakistan.
Secretary Clinton’s October 2009 visit to Pakistan was planned and executed in coordination with the themes of our strategic plan. Her focus on issues of education, jobs, and reliable electric power responded to what we had identified as central concerns of Pakistanis. Her extensive series of public engagement activities carried out the Plan’s emphasis on rejuvenating our personal, face-to-face diplomacy. Her visits to historical and cultural venues underscored American respect for and desire for partnership with the people of Pakistan. Perhaps the most telling moment came during a press conference during which Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi stated that the Secretary’s visit had been a success precisely because it had manifested a “policy shift” toward a focus on “people-centric” relations. This was and is precisely our message.
While very few countries will require plans on the order of Pakistan, henceforth we will ensure that our public diplomacy strategic plans for each Mission incorporate rigorous strategic analysis to drive focus and coordination at the post level.
Aren’t you a tad curious about what’s in that PCP? I am, but it doesn’t look like it’s available online.
In related news, the NYT reported that “A tour of the United States arranged by the State Department to improve ties to Pakistani legislators ended in a public relations fiasco when the members of the group refused to submit to extra airport screening in Washington, and they are now being hailed as heroes on their return home.”
That same NYT report also quoted Larry Schwartz, the “senior communications adviser at the American Embassy in Islamabad.”
I can’t keep track of all these new titles anymore. 
David Ensor recently came onboard as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the US Embassy in Kabul. I wonder if he and Larry have an equivalent at the US Embassy in Baghdad. No, not the PAO, silly – somebody with an updated title like them.   
Also see Ms. McHale’s Public Diplomacy: Strengthening U.S. Engagement With the World (must see document for the “realignment” of the “R” bureau).  
Ambassador Richard LeBaron, formerly our Ambassador to Kuwait is heading to Global Strategic Engagement Center (R/GSEC) under “R” where he will be a “DAS” unless they also give him a new title. 

I supposed we I should not complain too much about these new titles as long as these folks get things done. It’s not their fault that I can’t keep track of these new titles (note to self: need faster microprocessor).

But what’s wrong with “Public Affairs Officer?”

Update:
The Public Diplomacy: Strengthening U.S. Engagement With the World document is nolonger available from the state.gov website. Thanks to Kona The Dog who pointed us to an archive copy here:  http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/us_public_diplomacys_flimsy_new_framework/
Document is here in PDF format.


A Cautionary Tale: Real Life Interrupted

I don’t know in what universe I was in when this aired in 2008.  I don’t remember seeing this. But the late Anne Pressly of Channel 7 News in Little Rock, Arkansas did this series. I bumped into this material on YouTube; I do not have an update on this case; I do not know if this was resolved. It looks like from a quick look online that George Word is listed as an RSO in Baghdad, but that information is not dated.  Two years ago, this DSS agent from Arkansas battled with the State Department on behalf of his wife.  I think of this as a cautionary tale.

“George Word says his wife, Connie didn’t get the health care promised by the State Department when she suffered a debilitating brain injury. Connie Word is in a persistent vegative state. She has been for 6-years, but her husband says were it not for the negligence of the federal government, Connie could have had a nearly full recovery from her brain injury and a chance at a normal life.

George wants accountability from the state department, something his U.S. senators have been able to help him get, despite their repeated efforts. While Connie Word is fighting for her life, her husband, George, is fighting one of the most powerful bureaucracies in the world, the U.S. State Department. Connie suffered a heart attack while George was serving as Chief Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe. The 44-year-old was walking the couple’s children to the school bus stop when she collapsed.”

(Word) “The medical director said you can’t say for a fact that your assignment to Zimbabwe had anything to do with Connie’s current condition.”

So George hired an attorney to help determine his rights as an employee. Turns out, the state department does have an avenue for disputing denied payments. It’s called an administrative review. All decisions are final as foreign affairs manual says there are no appeals. George was able to get an administrative review. The department decided they wouldn’t pay for Connie to go back to Baptist, but they would pay for her nursing home expenses, on one condition.

(Word) “Out of a humanitarian gesture, the State Department is willing to pay for Connie’s nursing home care for the rest of her life if you’ll sign a non-disclosure statement, more or less saying this never happened, and just walk away.”

Against the advice of his attorney, George refused the offer and instead went to his senators for help, who immediately started writing letters on George and Connie’s behalf.

(Word) “I’ll gladly give up by career to get changes so people receive the protection they’re due. They’re covering it up is what they’re doing. And I’m not going to let them get away with it.”

George says despite his refusal to sign a non-disclosure, the State Department continues to pay for Connie nursing home care, though he say’s he has no idea how long that will last. 

Soon, George will be heading to Washington to meet with the Assistant Secretary of State. He says after years of trying to get time before department officials, the reaction to this story has not been limited to our nation’s capital, there has also been an overwhelming response in Arkansas about George and Connie Word’s story, everyone from friends of Connie who knew her in Little Rock before she married to a businessman who’s involved in starting a Hyperberic Oxygen Facility for people, like Connie, whose insurance carrier refuses to pay for treatment.
Transcript of video series below:
Part 1: State Department Agent Blames Government for Wife’s Plight | Jan 30, 2008
Part II | State of Care | Jan 31, 2008
Part III | State of Care | February 2, 2008