Proof of Special US-PAK Relations: Pakistan to consider change in building laws just for the United States

…to restrict the US Embassy in Islamabad from building what is reportedly a new seven-storey embassy.

Apparently, the seven-storey, excuse me nine-storey , oh, never mind — insert number of storey-building here is just too high, or too suspicious, or both and my, why do you need such a tall building to put in way too many people to oversee way too much aid money there?  Around the interwebs, concerns include fears that there will be spies eating potato chips at such a high perch, giving them something like a “whole of government” view of Islamabad.  If built according to plans, would the seven-storey US Embassy get the moniker as the tallest building in Islamabad? In which case, the surveillance aircraft the USG gave to Pakistan could be put to good use.

We have posted about the NEC construction in Pakistan previously, the following from the publicly available fedbiz:

Islamabad, Pakistan NEC:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a New Embassy Office (NOB), new office annex building (NOX), Marine Security Guard Quarters (MSGQ), general services offices and warehouse, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, compound access facilities, and demolition of existing buildings on the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 168,000 square meters
New buildings area: 79,000 square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $530 – $630 million

Islamabad, Pakistan Housing:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a permanent staff housing buildings, recreation and support structures, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, and compound access facilities on newly acquired property for the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 48,600 square meters
New buildings area: 75,000 gross square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $140 – $200 million

After the plan had been reportedly approved by the  Capital Development Authority, the chairman of the same agency is quoted in a local newspaper saying,  “As the construction of the new complex of US embassy is in its initial stage – its first storey is being constructed – the US authorities can be asked to follow our new guidelines.”

We do feel sorry for the contractor who will need a daily dose of migraine meds from this day onward…. because something else will surely come up. Walls too tall? Projected perimeter lights too bright … what else need new guidelines?

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of...

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of a old milling building in Dresden, Plauen district. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The report also quotes the US Embassy Spokesman, “The embassy is proceeding according to the approved building plan and has not received any notice that CDA is changing the plan.”

We have a bad feeling about this. What if the notice or whatever is sent via snail mail, and is taking the circuitous route from Islamabad to Washington via the Mariana Trench (oh, hello James Cameroon!) and six times back and around, they may need a wrecking ball for the top three floors of the building, by the time this is over ….

On the other hand —

… if the Government of Pakistan kept changing its building laws, perhaps somebody will put a light brake on this project, something that was utterly missing when we built the US Embassy in Baghdad.  After all, if the US Embassy in Baghdad ever transitions to what you and I would consider a “normal” embassy, what are they going to do with all that building space? (Al Kamen’s contest winners suggested turning it into something called the Fertile Crescent Community College or into “America’s Last Resort” with full spa experience). Perhaps we should be asking the same question in the case of the new US Embassy in Islamabad? When all the aid money is disbursed and when US military operation in Afghanistan winds down in 2014, what are they going to do with all that space?

Domani Spero

Officially In: Brett H. McGurk, from Senior Advisor to Iraq Ambassadorship

On March 26, 2012, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Brett H. McGurk as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq. The WH released the following brief bio:

Brett H. McGurk is currently senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.  Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Christopher Hill in Baghdad.  From 2005 to 2009, Mr. McGurk served on the National Security Council, initially as Director for Iraq and later as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan.  Prior to 2005, he was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  He also worked as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.  From 2001 to 2002, he served as a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Previously, Mr. McGurk was a law clerk for Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge Gerard Lynch of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

He received a B.A. from the University of Connecticut and a J.D. from Columbia University.

We have previously posted about Mr. McGurk here after Laura Rozen of The Envoy got the scoop of this appointment in early March.  Here is a brief clip of Mr. McGurk and Ambassador Crocker with Christiane Amanpour via

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk married the former Caroline Wong, an advertising account manager in New York in 2006.  The wedding announcement includes the following personal details:

Mr. McGurk, 32, was a legal adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq beginning in 2004 and later held the same post at the United States Embassy in Baghdad. In 2001 and 2002, he was a law clerk to the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Mr. McGurk graduated from the University of Connecticut and Columbia Law School.

He is the son of Carol Ann Capobianco Cogan and the stepson of Jeremy Cogan of West Hartford, Conn. The bridegroom’s mother teaches art at the Aiken Elementary School, and his stepfather is a social studies teacher at Hall High School, both in West Hartford. The bridegroom is also the son of Barry McGurk of Hartford, who retired as an adjunct professor of English at the University of Hartford.

If confirmed, Mr. McGurk would succeed career diplomat, James Jeffrey who was appointed Ambassador to Baghdad in 2010. He will only be the second political ambassador ever appointed to Iraq (the first was Zalmay Khalilzad in 2005).

At 38, he will also hold the record as the youngest chief of mission ever appointed to the US Embassy in Iraq, which just happens to be the largest embassy in the world undergoing significant challenges.  Despite senior advisorships to Ambassadors Crocker, Hill and Jeffrey, Mr. McGurk has never managed an embassy, especially one with thousands of staff.  We are a tad anxious about this appointment for obvious reasons … but we’ll look forward to his SFRC hearing.

Domani Spero


Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | March 26. 2012
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State Dept Anticipates Spending $25 Million on Internet Freedom This Year

What kind of Internet freedom support has the State Department provided in the Middle East region? The official non-response says an average of $19 million from 2008-2011 but did not break it down by region. And in 2012, despite the budget cuts, Internet freedom programming is up by 7 million in the Middle East and worldwide. Below is the official State Department response to that question:

ANSWER: Advancing Internet freedom is a priority for this administration. From 2008 through 2011, the State Department and USAID have spent $76 million on Internet freedom programming. This year, at a time when we are making significant budget cuts in many areas, we anticipate spending $25 million in Internet freedom programming. Through these programs, we provide training and tools to civil society activists, in the Middle East and throughout the world, to enable them to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies.

Across the Middle East, we have seen that access to technological tools enables people to tell their story to the world when they are otherwise silenced by repressive governments. Our Internet freedom programming is aimed at making sure that voices for peaceful democratic reform in the region can be heard.

As Yusuf (CatStevens) sings it – “Oh baby baby it’s a wild world, it’s hard to get by just upon a smile.” You need spending money, too. Absolutely!