Devastating Tsunami Hits Peter Van Buren, Security Clearance and Diplomatic PPT Swept Away in Foggy Waters

The diplomat of 23 years experience now has to use the Visitor’s Entrance of the U.S. State Department?  Well, that’s what it looks like.  Some folks are quite happy with that – to see Mr. Van Buren’s work bag inspected and Mr. Van Buren wanded every time he goes into the Big House.  I suspect that the somebodies rather that he does not show up, but so far, they have not yet figure out how to fire him. They’re pouring over the FAM on what regs to cite for that. I hate to think how much manhour-cost the taxpayers are expending just for this very important task.

The good news is, anonymous officials of the State Department can now tell their media contacts that Mr. Van Buren is officially under investigation. But don’t worry, the official spokesman will continue to say that this is an internal, personnel matter that he/she is unable to discuss publicly for privacy reasons. 

I can’t say for sure who in the Big House reads our blog. But somebody took our advice not to order a tsunami on the book launch of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well last September 27. It would have looked, you know, bad and vindictive. Well, they followed that advice until today.

On October 18, the ordered tsunami finally hit the cubicle of FSO Peter Van Buren. He was stripped of his security clearance. Well, stripped might be too strong a word. His Top Secret security clearance was officially “suspended” pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. The suspension of security clearance is, of course, not formal revocation, nor does it indicate that a revocation is in the works.  It is an ongoing investigation, you see.

They also took away his diplomatic passport. Perhaps, they were afraid, he would run away and fly back to Iraq using his black passport. That must be it.

I can’t find anywhere in the FAM the regs governing the confiscation of a diplomatic passport. Regs must be behind the firewall.  The Bureau of Consular Affairs has a special issuance unit that does just the issuance of diplomatic and official passports. But it sounds like the “somebodies” at the State Department can also demand the surrender of the black passport at any time; need not even have to be officials of the Consular Bureau.

Well, anytime, they don’t want you to run away to Iraq. It’s for your own protection. 

So after 23 years, the veteran diplomat’s ability to handle protected information is now in question. 

It has nothing to do, of course, with writing a critical book about our reconstruction boondoggle in Iraq.

Yo guys, that sounds suspiciously lame, you realized that? 

…..You don’t care?

Well, tigers must eat meat ….

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U.S. Mission China Adjudicated More Than 1 Million Visas, Visitors Add More Than $5 Billion to US Economy

Official portrait of United States Secretary o...         Image via WikipediaNew U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke recently announced a 34% increase on adjudicated visas for Chinese applicants among our consular posts in China. Chinese visitors also reportedly added more than $5 billion to the U.S. economy during the previous fiscal year:

Ambassador Gary Locke announced that the U.S. Mission to China adjudicated more than one million U.S. visas for Chinese applicants during fiscal year 2011.  The U.S. Embassy in Beijing and Consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang and Chengdu all contributed to this accomplishment, which represents a 34 percent increase over last year.

Ambassador Locke stressed the significance of this achievement, “The U.S.-China relationship is profoundly important, and welcoming Chinese visitors to the United States strengthens our cultural and commercial ties.  I am very pleased at the success we have had in significantly reducing wait times for visa appointments this year.”

According to the Department of Commerce, more than 801,000 Chinese visited the United States in 2010.  These visitors added more than $5 billion to the U.S. economy.

The U.S. Mission to China will continue to invite Chinese tourists, students, and businesspeople to visit the United States, a premier destination for travelers from around the world.  The Mission will continue to reduce visa interview wait times to the greatest extent possible by adding staff and eliminating inefficiencies wherever possible.

I have a feeling that this is going to be the start of the “counting beans” era at our overseas posts.  Consular posts overseas already are under pressure to keep the visa interview wait time, not that it makes a difference to Havana which now has 999 days wait time for visa interviews.  Posts may now be asked to calculate (or obtain the numbers elsewhere) on how much their visa applicants contribute to the U.S. economy.

So far, no one has posted readily available information on how much the U.S. Treasury is earning from visas and consular services collected at our posts overseas. I was told once that State’s Consular Bureau does not like advertising that.  Note that state.gov already post statistics of visa issuance but not visa applications.  In 2010, our consular posts worldwide issued 6,422,751 nonimmigrant visas. Even at a regular tourist visa fee of $140, that’s $899.2 million in US dollars.  Some type of visas like the petition based categories and investors/intracompany transferee visas cost more. And since a lot more applicants are refused, that $899.2 million is probably only about a third of a whole bucket.

For some, even the money generated by the visa application fees would not be enough.  There have been calls on and off about reforming the visa system to make it more “traveler-friendly.”  Expect to hear more about the visa system and how it could generate more American jobs. As two Seattle-based CEOs put it, “winning back our share of the global long-haul travel market to
2000-2001 levels would create 1.3 million new American jobs by 2020 and
add $859 billion in economic output.”

In the meantime, we’ll be in the lookout for bean-counter pressers from our posts overseas. Too early to tell if this is a trend.

Photo of the Day: If this is over $50, I’ll have to file a gift report

The photo below is from the photostream of the U.S. Embassy Kabul in Flickr. I don’t know how many folks have their hands on the embassy’s social media platforms. But for a while now, the photos uploaded to Flickr either have no captions or includes one caption for all the photos in the set. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having a photo gallery up, because viewers need to have some context on what they’re looking at. 

The photo below, as well as all the 67 photos included in the set has the following caption:

The Acting Minister of Higher Education Sarwar Danish, together with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Kolinda Grabar and U.S. Embassy Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy Eileen O’Connor, joined university chancellors and others at the Ministry of Higher Education in Kabul to celebrate the progress of the PAS-funded NATO SILK Afghanistan Program on Tuesday, Oct 11, 2011.(Department of State)

It does not matter that NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Kolinda Grabar is not in this photo. You get the idea; these folks were all there according to the caption.  During a big do on Silk Afghanistan.  I have no idea if this is a dressmaker’s program or a silkworm propagation program either, hard to know without context, see?  The Silk Road? I really don’t know.  Some 68 photos of smiling people but no photos of silk dressmakers or silkworm, or the Silk Road, for that matter, which is rather confusing to tell you the truth. 

The photo above shows the U.S. Embassy Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy Eileen O’Connor receiving a gift. I imagine she’s saying, “Thank you very much for this gift; if this is over $50, I’ll have to file a gift report.”

Of course, that’s probably not what she said to the gifter, but without context, we’re left to our own imagination.

The First Duty – One’s Obligations In Correct Order

Via Secrecy News:

The Guide explains that when you are in the Army, your first duty is not
to the Army, but to the U.S. Constitution.  “Put [your] obligations in
correct order: the Constitution, the Army, the unit, and finally,
self.”  See “The Soldier’s Guide,” Field Manual, 7-21.13, February 2004, with Change 1, September 20, 2011.