US ConGen Chennai: "Dirty and Dark" Tamil Remark Lands US Diplomat in Very Hot Water

The Times of India recently reported that a US diplomat was caught in a very public row over her insensitive and thoughtless remark about Tamils during a speech at a local university in Chennai, India. 

“I was on a 24-hour train trip from Delhi to Orissa. But after 72 hours, the train still did not reach the destination… and my skin became dirty and dark like the Tamilians,” US vice-consul Maureen Chao said in a speech at the SRM University on Friday. Chao also said, “Some 20 years ago, I was a student and had an opportunity to do a semester abroad. I chose India, fascinated by its culture and religion. I was amazed at the graciousness of the people.”

Oh dear. I wish she did a rehearsal before she went to that talk. She could have started with “Some years ago …..” and we won’t be talking about this today.

There is seldom a Take 2 in diplomatic life. 

The “dark and dirty” remark was first reported on Friday, August 12.  On Saturday, August 13, the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai issued its quick reaction statement:

Yesterday at a Study Abroad Orientation Program at SRM University, Vice Consul Maureen Chao gave a speech describing positive memories from her own study abroad experiences in India 23 years ago. During the speech Ms. Chao made an inappropriate comment. Ms. Chao deeply regrets if her unfortunate remarks offended anyone, as that was certainly not her intent.

As Secretary Clinton recently noted, the U.S.-India partnership is based on our shared values of democracy, liberty, and respect for religious and cultural diversity. The U.S. Consulate in Chennai and the U.S. Mission in India are committed to upholding these shared values.

I should note that this incident has overshadowed the arrival of the new Consul General Jennifer McIntyre who assumed her duties in Chennai on August 3, 2011. I expect that the new CG will make the rounds of introducing herself to the officials in her consular district.  But instead of more substantial conversations and building new relationships, she now has to start her tour with a round of apologies.

Also on August 13, Reddiff carried the news that the Tamil Nadu government on Saturday condemned the ‘dark and dirty’ remark, alleging that it smacked of racism and was an affront to all Tamilians.

On August 14, the Times of India reported that PMK founder S Ramadoss demanded that the Union government expel the US diplomat for her controversial comments on Tamils.

“Its highly condemnable. While Tamils have been excelling in many fields, including Information Technology and surprise many including Americans, a US official saying this cannot be tolerated,” Ramadoss said in a statement.

“People like her should not be allowed to stay in Tamil Nadu. The ministry of foreign affairs should call her in person to express its opposition and expel her immediately from the country,” he said.

According to ConGen Chennai’s website, Maureen Chao is a Vice Consul with the U.S. Consulate General Chennai. She earned a Bachelor degree in International Studies, a Master degree in Education, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Vietnam, conducting research in education. Prior to joining the State Department she worked with international education programs for fifteen years, as well as in the social services field with foster children, refugees and immigrants and low-income/homeless populations.

Presumably, she is on her first tour assignment in Chennai.

U.S. diplomats are on 24/7, 365 days a year.  Even the lowest ranked, most junior  U.S. diplomat is a representative of the United States Government.The press, and host country nationals in fact, will have high expectations even on the newest vice-consul.  If there is a lesson to this, it is that no matter how junior a diplomat the individual might be, what he/she says and does reflect on the United States. The press, local or otherwise, will not make allowances that this is a diplomat’s first assignment or whether or not he/she had lessons in public affairs and public diplomacy. 

In a very competitive service, entry level officers often try to set themselves apart from the pack. Most volunteer for additional assignments, others use their portfolio assignments to stand out; in a pack of highly educated, talented newbies, they mostly want to be memorable to their bosses. But it can sometimes backfire.

In the last several years, there has also been a pushed for new officers to be out there. Even “newbies” on their first tours in consular sections are being asked to conduct consular public diplomacy outreach with radio, television and the print media.  The State Department culture often presumes that a Foreign Service Officer, a generalist can do just about anything, whether they are trained for it or not.  Some officers are indeed talented in dealing with the general public and the media; but others are not so.

In another life — in at least one consular section, I have seen a Consul General tasked entry level officers with extremely limited press training to go out and deal with the media in the section’s public outreach. And it was not optional. The result was a group of new officers who desperately wanted to excel on something they were set to fail. For those naturally talented or PD-coned, the task was manageable; if you have the knack for it, you can get by by the skin of your teeth. For those who are non-PD coned, or those with no substantial experience dealing with foreign publics–some not always friendly to the United States, it was often like amateur hour.  Why would a senior manager do something like this? Rumor had it that the Consul General was trying to impress somebody from his/her home bureau with an “innovative” program for new officers which carry no training cost. It was a shitty program but the junior officers were too afraid to complain or demand appropriate training.

I am not saying this was the case with Ms. Chao.  But entry level officers who are on overseas assignment for the first time ought not deal with the foreign public/media without specific guidance/training from post’s Public Affairs Officer. Some sections where bosses are not too addled with the illness known as promotiontitis, the officers get to do murder boards before they show up for public engagements. Despite what the name implies, a murder board does not involve actual murder and gets its origin from the U.S. Army’s extensive training system; it simulates the actual presentation where the audience (usually colleagues) engaged in a role play including asking difficult and gotcha questions that the target group is likely to ask.  It is a practice session that not only allows newbies to make mistakes in a learning environment; if handled effectively with appropriate feedback, it also help the new officers improve their persuasion, presentation and public speaking skills.

More importantly, it minimizes very public undiplomatic gaffes. See link below on murder boards.

On Friday, there were about three articles on this incident. By late Sunday there were over a hundred articles on the same incident. Ms. Chao, as far as I can tell, may be the only entry level diplomat in memory to appear in the same news montage as former President Richard Nixon, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, current Vice President Joe Biden and SC Gov Nikki Haley. See below a video by NewsX, a 24-hour rolling news television show rated as one of India’s most watched English news channel.

Related item:
The Murder Board: The Ultimate Practice Presentation | by Larry Tracy (PDF)

Peace Corps Volunteer Jesse Osmun Charged with Sexually Abusing Children in South Africa

Via DOJ | August 4, 2011:

WASHINGTON – A Peace Corps volunteer was arrested today and charged in a federal criminal complaint with traveling from the United States to South Africa to engage in illicit sexual conduct with multiple children who were all younger than six years of age. 

The arrest and charge were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney David B. Fein for the District of Connecticut; Kathy A. Buller, Peace Corps Inspector General; and Bruce M. Foucart, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Boston.

The criminal complaint alleges that Jesse Osmun, 31, of Milford, Conn., traveled to South Africa on Jan. 29, 2010.   On March 25, 2010, Osmun was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and began service as a volunteer at the Umvoti Aids Center (UAC) in Greytown, South Africa.   The UAC is a non-governmental organization that provides support to the residents of the Greytown area affected by the AIDS virus.   UAC also provides education, food and other child development services to children between the ages of three and 15.   The UAC also has a center for the younger children often referred to as the preschool.        

According to the complaint, Osmun, while volunteering at the UAC preschool, sexually molested at least five minor girls, all of whom were under the age of six, for approximately one year.   The complaint also alleges that Osmun engaged in illicit sexual conduct with one of the girls, who is approximately five-years-old, twice a week over the course of five months.  

“Mr. Osmun is charged with a shocking breach of the power entrusted to him as a Peace Corps volunteer,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “Allegedly, he repeatedly sexually abused five minor girls under the age of six — horrific crimes.  Along with the international operation we announced yesterday — Operation Delego — this case is another example that the Justice Department will do everything in its power to bring to justice those who would exploit children, whether at home or abroad.”

“This defendant is alleged to have sexually abused very young girls, sometimes in exchange for candy, while he served as a Peace Corps volunteer at an AIDS center in South Africa,” said U.S. Attorney Fein.   “We are committed to prosecuting those who sexually exploit children, the most vulnerable in society, in this country and abroad.   I want to commend the diligent, swift and coordinated efforts of the Peace Corps’ Office of Inspector General and ICE Homeland Security Investigations in investigating this matter and arresting this individual.”

“We are committed to vigorous investigation and prosecution of those who exploit the mission of the Peace Corps to prey on innocent victims,” said Peace Corps Inspector General Buller.

“This arrest represents the very essence of the determination of federal, state and local law enforcement authorities to capture an individual whose primary objective, allegedly, was to sexually abuse vulnerable children,” said ICE HSI Special Agent in Charge Foucart.  “I hope that this arrest sends a clear message that we will continue to aggressively pursue individuals who engage in this behavior to ensure that there is no place to hide here in the United States or anywhere in the world.”

After being confronted by the UAC program manager in May 2011, Osmun resigned from the Peace Corps.   Osmun returned to the United States on June 2, 2011.

Following Osmun’s arrest today at his Milford residence, he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport, Conn., and has been ordered detained.

If convicted of the charge of traveling outside of the United States to engage in sexual conduct with a minor, Osmun faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

A complaint is an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case is being investigated by the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General and ICE HSI.   Investigative assistance has been provided by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS); ICE’s attaché office in Pretoria, South Africa; the ICE Cybercrimes Center in Fairfax, Va., and the U.S. Department of State’s regional security office in Durban, South Africa.   The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Fein, Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna R. Patel and Trial Attorney Bonnie Kane of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.

The USDOJ press statement says that Osmun returned to the United States on June 2, 2011. It looks like he was active on Twitter –!/jesseosmun and LinkedIn –; and also has a blog at; blogposts and tweets were current until August 4, the day of his arrest.

The day after his arrest, the US Embassy in South Africa released the following statement:

Statement on Arrest of Former Peace Corps Volunteer | August 05, 2011

The statement below should be attributed to Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, Spokesperson of the United States Embassy.

The United States Embassy is aware that a former Peace Corps volunteer has been arrested in connection with allegations regarding sexual abuse during an assignment in South Africa.

The Peace Corps was made aware of these allegations after the individual resigned from the Peace Corps, and departed from South Africa.

We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness. We are committed to working with South African and American authorities to investigate, and if these allegations are true, to hold the individual accountable.

As this is an ongoing criminal matter, we cannot comment on the specifics of this case. However,  we are engaging with both United States and South African authorities to determine the next steps.

For more information U.S. Embassy:  Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau | | 012-431-4217 | 079-111-8280

A graduate of Southern Connecticut State University with a BA in English (
2004)  and Colby Sawyer College where he studied Psychology from 1998-2000, this is how he describes himself in his blog:

I am a 31 year old former Peace Corps volunteer, blogger, nonprofit worker, grant writer and self-professed Africa Lover. I’m extremely passionate about helping nonprofits and new NGO’s connect with African communities and organizations in a way that is mutually beneficial. I recently spent over a year in South Africa working with a small NGO to build capacity around HIV/AIDS programming and develop as an organization. Prior to that I worked in Kenya for 10 months with orphans as well as older school children. I am currently looking for my next adventure in the world of development.