10 Afghans Still AWOL but Gibbs is on the job!

NCIS - Leroy Jethro GibbsImage via Wikipedia

I don’t know if you’ve seen this news bit.  San Antonio News reported the other day that seventeen Afghan military officers and enlistees have gone AWOL from a Lackland AFB language school over the past 18 months.  Excerpt below:

The troops, enrolled in the Defense Language Institute English Language Center, were among 21 foreign military service personnel to go absent without leave since 2009, with one — an Iraqi — reappearing in Houston, where he sought political asylum.
Gary Emery, chief spokesman for the 37th Training Wing at Lackland, said he didn’t know. He said 16 Afghans went AWOL in 2009 and one vanished this year.

Some likely had finished their Lackland courses and were on their way to training elsewhere when they disappeared, Emery said.
Disappearances like the ones at the DLI haven’t been uncommon. But Emery noted that around 3,400 international students attended the Lackland school last year, including 228 from Afghanistan. Of those, the 16 Afghans went AWOL along with the Iraqi and one from Djibouti. Two from Tunisia have gone missing this year along with another from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

Asked why the Air Force hadn’t revealed that Afghan troops had gone AWOL, Emery said the disappearances occurred gradually. “I don’t know if I consider that particularly newsworthy,” he said, adding, “it hasn’t been all at once.”

Continue reading Afghans at language school go AWOL. The names of the Afghan nationals who went AWOL are listed here.

FoxNews also reported that the Afghan officers and enlisted men have security badges that give them access to secure U.S. defense installations, according to the lookout bulletin, “Afghan Military Deserters in CONUS [Continental U.S.],” written by Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Dallas and obtained by FoxNews.com.

The Be-On-the-Lookout (BOLO) bulletin was distributed to local and federal law enforcement officials on Wednesday night.

On June 18, FoxNews has a follow up report saying that 10 of 17 Afghan military deserters who walked away from a training program on a U.S. Air Force base in Texas remain at large, but that seven of the men have been accounted for. Excerpt:

The 17 deserters went AWOL from Lackland Air Force Base, where foreign military officers who are training to become pilots are taught English, according to a “Be-on-the-Lookout” (BOLO) bulletin issued on Wednesday.

Sources said that as of November 2009, one of  the deserters was in Canada, one is now a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., one has left the country and another four are in federal custody and in removal proceedings. The other 10 remain unaccounted for.

Never mind that the “disappearances occurred gradually” but how can we bring in military folks like this for training and then allow them to simply disappear?  They must receive pay and allowances for undergoing such trainings.  Who keep tabs on them and their allowances?  And when their training concludes, aren’t they supposed to hand back their security badges? 

Even with a BOLO issued, officials seem to be understating the issue. “I don’t know if I consider that particularly newsworthy,” the spokesman said regarding the staggered disappearance of the Afghan trainees.  The fact that they disappeared and cannot not be located is not newsworthy?  Holy mother of goat!  And if they started disappearing in 2009, how come we’re just hearing about this now? It is, of course, possible that these guys just do not want to return to a war zone but that they are unaccounted for is a still a gap in the national security blanket. Sure they are friendlies, and have been vetted, but what if ….  if, you know …
The IFs are enough to make you stay awake nights, right?  Except that NCIS is on it.  And of course, we all know that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs always get the job done. 

Pardon me?

What do you mean that’s not real life?      

BP’s Crisis Communication Needs a Heck of a Make-Over

Don't Panic Guide to Crisis Communications - L...Image by stedavies via Flickr

You’d think that a company as big as BP should have been prepared in dealing with crisis management, particularly  crisis communication. Not just the company itself or its spokesperson but also its top officials (e.g. Tony Haywood) who may be called upon to explain and communicate its crisis response to the public. To the contrary, its forays into the media are so bad that it’s hard not to cover your eyes every time its officials say something on camera.  They’re like walking disasters, no?

Before the big media outlet started emblazoning the tee-vee screen with “Disaster in the Gulf” and similar catchy titles, the company could have done more, but did not.

Who could forget BP CEO Tony Hayward who infamously informed tee-vee audiences worldwide, “I’d like my life back?”

This, after another screamer where he said, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”  Really, now.

How about — “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest,” Hayward also told reporters.

A couple of days after saying he’d like his life back CNN reported that BP has hired a PR firm outside Madison Avenue for its new ad campaign:

Energy giant BP has hired a Washington-based, bipartisan political consulting firm to produce its new aggressive national advertising push, including a national TV spot released Thursday, CNN has learned.

Sources familiar with the arrangement say that Purple Strategies, headed up by veteran political consultants Steve McMahon, a Democrat, and Alex Castellanos, a Republican, produced new advertisements now running on both television and in newspapers.

The sources say that BP hired Purple Strategies to produce what will likely be a series of advertisements as part of BP’s attempt to rehabilitate its battered image.

Purple Strategies is working alongside the Brunswick public relations firm, which has had BP as a client for some time. Its Washington office is run by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
The lobbying firms working for BP are among the most influential in Washington, including the Podesta Group (headed by Tony Podesta, one of Washington’s top lobbyists and the brother of former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta) and the Duberstein Group (headed by former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein). They were originally hired to represent BP’s interests as major energy and financial legislation moves through Congress.

However, sources involved in BP’s lobbying efforts, say that since the April 20 oil rig explosion, the lobbying firms have had an all-hands-on-deck approach in trying to help BP deal with the myriad of congressional inquiries.

ABC News later reported that “Independent analysts estimate the cost of the public relations and ad campaign as at least $50 million.”

Hey, big guys — that $50 mil ain’t doing a great job.

I’ve seen that $50mil ad every day I watch the update on the Gulf Oil Spill. Aggressive it may be, but I don’t think it helps rehabilitate BP’s image. Personally, I cringe, every time BP’s Tony H. comes on. My co-viewers actually shouts at the tee-vee every time Tony’s ad is on.  I’m still surprised no one has yet thrown away the tee-vee out my window.  But really — doesn’t that ad only serves to emphasized the disconnect that the company has with the ongoing environmental disaster?

Especially, when that spot comes on right after graphic photos of death unfolding in the Gulf?

Another day, CBS reported about the local residents’ difficulties in getting assistance from BP. The news highlighted an individual who has a restaurant and could not connect with the BP folks for the last four days. Until CBS News came calling, that is. Then suddenly, he got an appointment. And then, a BP assistance center staff, caught on tape puts paper over the network’s camera barking something like you can’t bring a camera here.

Nice. You’d think that after such bad press about slow assistance that the company would like to show that indeed its assistance center is off and running and ready to help. Instead, tee-vee audiences get a peek at an arrogant employee pulling down the shade. Of course, they’re just doing their jobs; but they’re doing it rather badly.   

Who can blame Jason Linkins for concluding that BP is better at stemming journalists than oil wells?

In Mother Jones’ case, Mac McClelland could not even see Elmer’s Island unless he gets a BP escort. The reporter was told “BP’s in charge because “it’s BP’s oil.”  Are they going to start a trend here for embed oil spill journalists now? 

Some two weeks after the BP CEO said he wanted his life back, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg finally heard him.  The Chairman has unceremoniously announced that Tony Hayward will no longer be managing the day-to-day operations of the Gulf cleanup effort.

So, there. Tony finally gets his life back. Just a few hours ago, AP reported that Tony H. is attending a yacht race off the Isle of Wight in southern England. Must be quite a change from being grilled in DC.  

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, himself has some issues on what to call the victims of this environmental disaster. Stay in your seats, this is far from over.

From now on, I supposed, Bob Dudley (who will replace Tony H. as BP’s point man in the oil clean up) as new diplomatic director of disaster operations will have no life, too. Poor Bob.  Newsweek calls him BP’s new clean-up czar. I hope he is a real one with supreme powers to deal with this nasty oil spill.

Some more on Mr. Dudley from Businessweek:  He has been Executive Director of BP plc since April 6, 2009. He also serves as Executive Vice President of BP plc and has been its Head of Disaster Management Unit since June 2010. He and his wife of 29 years, Mary, have two children.  He has a BA in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He received his MIM from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and also holds an MBA from Southern Methodist University.

Perhaps that is good news. He’s American, speaks without a British accent, and may be more attuned to the American public. Can he help BP rebrand itself? Don’t know. But first on his list, should be to ditch that $50mil ad with Tony H. which looks and sounds fantastically bad. Perhaps they can take a lesson from Edward Murrow. The former director of the USIA once said: “Truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”    

Yep, as simple as that.

The bad news, of course, and there is always one — is that this is the same Mr. Dudley who said “I think Tony’s doing a fantastic job,” in Meet the Press on May 30th …

So, let’s wait and see ….

In any case, methinks rebuilding corporate credibility is more than a $50 million job.  Remember the Exxon Valdez spill?  Then there’s the Tylenol Crisis of 1982. One now hauls ore, the other made it through and back, and continues to be a top seller brand.  Of course, the media landscape in 1982 (with three TV networks) and 2010 (with new and social media on 24/7) are worlds apart. But I don’t think this has to do with the money you pour into a media campaign. It’s all about engagement at minute speeds (not hours, not days, not weeks), about anticipating the sticky curve down the road, and above all, connecting with the audience at the emotional level.  Saying you’d like your life back is tacky considering that thousands more affected by the spill may never get the lives as they knew it, back.  Calling folks affected by the disaster “small people,” even as you profess to care for them is like building a brick wall instead of a bridge.    

I wonder if BP’s ad has a money back guarantee.