OIG recommends precondition for continued TDY of Media Information Support Team (MIST) in Addis Ababa

In the mistImage via Wikipedia

Here we continue peeling off the 91-page onion provided us by the Office of the Inspector General on US Embassy Addis Ababa.  

In 2009, AFRICOM released a Fact Sheet on MIST:

Military Information Support Teams (MISTs) are funded by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCCOM) and support Department of State and U.S. Embassies by augmenting or broadening existing public diplomacy efforts. The MIST’s partnerships with their respective U.S. Embassy Country Teams have demonstrated their ability to successfully provide advice and assistance to partner nations in the development of information activities. Synchronized with embassy goals and objectives and with Country Team oversight, the teams articulate USG messages by informing, clarifying and persuading foreign audiences. MISTs primarily work in coordination with partner nation agencies in support of U.S. and partner nation’s objectives, policies, interests and U.S. Africa Command Theater Security Cooperation objectives.

Sounds good on paper. Not to mention the funding they get which dwarfs PD funding at the embassy level.

The most recent OIG report on US Embassy Addis talks about DOD’s Media Information Support Teams (MIST) in Ethiopia:    

Reflecting the increased U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, Embassy Addis Ababa currently has a four-person Department of Defense media information support team. Members of the team are not covered under the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 38 process and are in Addis Ababa under a long-term but purportedly temporary arrangement. They report locally to the Defense attaché and ultimately to their command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Office space for the team has become contentious in that there is no room for them as temporary employees in the already overly subscribed-for new embassy compound, and their current quarters are slated for destruction. The team appears to have limited understanding of chief of mission authorities and would benefit from tighter oversight and integration into the mission. For example, they believe that only the chief of mission can instruct them and thus that there is no need for approval of their projects by the public affairs officer. Without at least informal coordination with the public affairs officer, however, the OIG team believes that the military information support team will continue not to fully factor into their proposals and activities the sociocultural context of Ethiopia. The OIG team left an informal recommendation that the chargé d’affaires meet with the military information support team to discuss better coordination with the public affairs section, as a precondition for continued temporary duty in Ethiopia. Further, the Ambassador could insist that the team take direction from the public affairs officer, who would submit formal input for their annual performance reviews. This practice has worked well at other missions with a military information support team.

A further OIG team concern is that the military information support team spends significant time and resources in identifying and developing projects – and leading local contacts to assume they will be awarded a contract – before vetting proposals with relevant mission elements. With such sunk costs, other embassy offices generally pass these projects on with only minor edits rather than a serious review. A better practice would be to coordinate the projects with the public affairs and political/economic sections earlier on.

“Limited understanding” of chief of mission (COM) authority, of course, can spell big trouble for the country effort. Ambassador Charles Ray (formerly to Cambodia) has an informative piece (with real examples) and some interesting questions on Defining Lines of Authority in a 2009 issue of the Armed Forces Journal:

During nearly 47 years of combined military and civilian service, I have noted that conflicts over who is in charge arise from two main causes: lack of understanding by both military and civilian about each other’s cultures, and lack of clearly stated lines of authority in nontraditional situations.
Military units, particularly those deployed abroad for short-term missions like NEOs, cannot be expected to be sensitive to or even aware of the foreign policy situation. But then, that is why the president has vested authority for coordination in the COM.

In 2008, Ambassador Robert Gribbin (formerly to Rwanda and Central African Republic) also wrote in American Diplomacy about COM authority:

“[T]he ambassador has absolute authority over personnel and operations in his or her country of assignment. We should think about and treat non-resident AFRICOM personnel exactly as we considered previous command elements. Visitors need country clearances. JCET (exercises), IMET and ACOTA (training), FMS (sales), TSCTP (anti-terrorism), and other programs, training, and exercises are subject to ambassadorial approval. Only CJTFHOA (Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa) forces — 1500 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti — fall under the operational command of a CoCom (formerly called a CINC), which is currently CENTCOM (as the shift to AFRICOM control has yet to be effected). In accordance with existing practice such combat elements enjoy a separate chain of command, even though their in-country, non-combat activities — drilling wells in Djibouti for example — remain subject to ambassadorial oversight. Since aside from CJTFHOA, AFRICOM does not anticipate stationing additional combat personnel on the continent, i.e., no other bases, exceptions to chief of mission authority should not occur elsewhere.

In addition to misinterpretation of lines of authority and cultural disconnect, we have to recognize the elephant in the room — funding inequities.  I don’t know how much MIST has for Addis Ababa but the OIG report indicates that the embassy’s actual FY 2009 budget for public diplomacy was $529,100 (with public diplomacy representation at $6,800). However much it is, you can be sure that the MIST money is more than the embassy’s PD budget (see page 39).  Just an example, in Somalia, the Embassy reportedly had $30,000 to spend on public diplomacy while the MIST team had $600,000.  Let’s think about that for a moment. Over there, DOD gets to spend 20 times more than the Embassy on public diplomacy efforts.  Tell me again, that money has nothing to do with the bad equation.

Related Item: 
OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010