State Dept OIG Reports: Oh, Redactions, Is Double Standard Thy True Name?

On June 21, 2012, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) posted the following report: Compliance Followup Review of Embassy Islamabad and Constituent Posts, Pakistan (ISP-C-12-28A)  [563 Kb] dated 05/31/12.

It made the news cycle for a couple of days because it contains the following:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation [(b) (5) REDACTED] The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.

That’s about all that was reported in the mainstream press.  But enough to rile everyone up.  Our officials being harassed by officials in Pakistan, the same country which is the recipient of one of the largest aid bucket in recent years.  That’s just really offensive.  Of course, the extra fine details of that official harassment had been extensively redacted in the published report. Which is understandable. With both countries trying to hold on to this extremely difficult marriage, do we really need to pour more fuel to what is already a raging fire.  So we’ll even accept that the redactions were necessary.

We’re slowly catching up with our reading and noticed one other key judgement in that report, as follows:

In the management section, a highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight from the front office, has had a detrimental impact on the functioning of the mission and the timely delivery of administrative services.

Okay, that doesn’t sound good, particularly because the management section holds almost all the keys to the proper and effective functioning of any overseas mission. An effective management section can help mitigate the fall out from a dysfunctional front office. But a dysfunctional management section can undermine even the best front office; although if it’s really the best, the management section should not be dysfunctional for long.

And then there’s this:

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Um, excuse me, but why should a delegation of authority from the Front Office of the US Embassy in Islamabad (Ambassadors Munter and DCM Hoagland) to the Management Counselor require the redaction above?

And then there’s this:

The management section is led by an experienced and highly motivated management counselor, serving in her third successive hardship tour. She supervises a cadre of well-qualified and experienced unit chiefs, many recruited by her personally. This team has worked hard to improve management controls and strengthen delivery of ICASS to all mission elements, and the effect of its efforts is palpable in every aspect of management at this mission.

The DCM, as he has with other senior counselors, delegated significant responsibilities to the management counselor.

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Jeez! Even the recommendation had been redacted!

The meat in the OIG’s teaser  of a “highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight” was effectively erased for public consumption. Because, obviously, the American public cannot handle the truth about bad leadership and management.

We heard talks and separate unconfirmed rumors that the draft report actually included a rather serious recommendation.  The Under Secretary for Management‘s name had been mentioned as well as something about the officer with the redacted name having “a stellar reputation in D.C.”

 

 

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都 Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews! Don’t you just hate that? No wonder these bad managers get recycled more often than bottle caps.

US Embassy Beirut Inspection Report: Similar Redactions on DCM:

This is, of course, not the first time that we’ve seen such redactions particularly in reference to the performance of career diplomats. Early this year, the OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy in Lebanon. The section on the embassy’s deputy chief of mission (or deputy ambassador, if you will) was also extensively redacted. According to the IG report, the US Embassy in Beirut is encumbered by US Ambassador Maura Connelly who arrived in September 2010 and DCM E. Candace Putnam who arrived in June 2011. Wait, it looks like Richard M. Mills arrived in March 2012 as the new DCM at the US Embassy in Beirut, the same month the IG report was released online.

Here is the key item:

Embassy Beirut performs its core policy and operational missions well. However, its substantive strengths are undercut by front office leadership shortcomings [REDACTED].

That’s not the only redaction. Here are a few more:

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And below is one of our favorite portions, because it shows how artfully the inspectors can understate somebody’s micromanagement skill; intense front office attention almost sounds like a talent.

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Frankly, we can’t help but feel sorry for this poor sod working as the management counselor at the US Embassy in Beirut. And unlike the embassy’s CLO (an eligible family member) who called it quits, the management officer is a career employee and must sucked it up if he/she wants to continue his/her career with the State Department.

Because Bureaucratic Life Just Isn’t Fair …

Given the harsh OIG report on the management style of then US Ambassador to Luxembourg Cynthia Stroum (a report that obviously needs more redactions were it not a European post) we asked the OIG about the Lebanon redactions on the DCM’s performance and received the following response:

Whereas the Embassy Luxembourg report dealt with many of the same issues, the geopolitical situation in Lebanon is quite different from that in Luxembourg, and our Freedom of Information Act analysis led to more extensive redactions.

A couple other political ambassadors have also received crazy red ratings here and here.

O-kay! So technically, you can be an ass at any of the priority and hardship posts and the OIG will cover up your performance in blackouts under the guise of something called a “geopolitical situation”?

We want to make sure we got this thing right. So last night, we sent off another email to the OIG asking about the redactions specific to the Pakistan report. We haven’t heard anything; we will update this post if we get a response.

Our main concern about this is twofold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs.  Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. Can’t fix the faulty bottle caps if you just recycle the faulty bottle caps, simple as that.

The OIG slams hard the performance of political appointees and puts it all out to hang for the pundits and their neighbors. And yet when it comes to career appointees, the OIG slams them somehow less hard? Don’t know, maybe the OIG slams career diplomats just as hard in their reports (we want to believe that) but that is hard to know since the details are effectively removed from the reading consumption of the American public with thick, black Sharpies.  As if somehow, we need to be protected from such grainy details.

Oh wait, it’s not really us they  are protecting … but dammit, who …?

Domani Spero

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Photo of the Day: President Karzai Awards Afghanistan State Medal to US Ambassador Crocker

On July 16, President Karzai awarded Ambassador Ryan Crocker “the Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal for strengthening the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan.”

Photo by ARG via US Embassy Kabul/FB

Here is the official statement from the presidential palace:

July 16, 2012- President Hamid Karzai awarded, in line with Item 19, Article 64  of Afghanistan Constitution, the “Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal” to Ryan Crocker, outgoing US Ambassador in appreciation of the praiseworthy services he has delivered in further strengthening Afghan-US relations and for accurately introducing Afghanistan to the people of America and the international community.

The special ceremony held on Monday to this end was attended by Dr. Zalmai Rasul Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Spanta National Security Advisor to the President and Abdul Karim Khuram Presidential Chief of Staff.

Ryan Crocker, whose diplomatic mission currently ended, has served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan from July, 2011 till now.

The palace statement did not say who is Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan for which this state medal is named after.  As best we could tell, this is Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani also listed in the Wikipedia entry as “Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani” a political activist and Islamic ideologist born in 1838.  The Afghan Wiki has the following entry:

Al-Afghani is often described as one of the most prominent Islamic political leaders and philosophers of the nineteenth century. He was concerned with the subjection of the Muslim world by Western colonial powers, and he made the liberation, independence and unity of the Islamic world one of the major aims of his life. He provided a theoretical explanation for the relative decline of the Islamic world, and a philosophical theory of history which sought to establish a form of modernism appropriate to Islam.

Click here to read more.  Apparently in the 1880s, “Jamaluddin while in London encouraged the British to declare war on Tsarist Russia, and to get a Muslim Jehad in favor of the British, When he failed to achieve this aim, in 1887 he asked the same thing from Tsarist Russia to declare war on the British. Afghani knew well, since, Muslims and Asians cannot, match the military and economic power of Europeans, he wanted to get the support of the British or Tsarist Russia in order to fight the colonial powers.”

How come that sounds familiar …

Domani Spero

Officially In: James B. Cunningham – from Kabul to Kabul

On July 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador James B. Cunningham as the next Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador James B. Cunningham, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, is Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Prior to his post in Kabul, Ambassador Cunningham served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011.  From 2005 to 2008, he was U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong.  Previous assignments include: Ambassador and Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1999-2004); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rome (1996-1999); Director of the State Department’s Office of European Security and Political Affairs (1993-1995); and Chief of Staff to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General (1989-1990).  Earlier assignments include posts with the U.S. Mission to NATO, as well as posts at the U.S. Embassies in Rome and Stockholm.

Ambassador Cunningham received a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.

If confirmed, Ambassador Cunningham would succeed Ambassador Ryan Crocker currently doing the press rounds as he prepares to return to retirement a full year before his two year tenure was to end due to health reasons.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador gives remarks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham, Afghan Minister of Education Abdul Rahim Wardak and visitng former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad officially inaugurated the newly rebuilt Ghazi High School in West Kabul October 23, 2011. Former alumni of the school include both Ambassador Khalilzad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The school was destroyed during 30 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and was refurbished by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Department of State)
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As noted in his brief bio, Ambassador Cunningham was the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Israel prior to his assignment in Kabul in 2011.  So we dug up the OIG report during his tenure in Israel, which has some really good things to say about his three-year assignment in Tel Aviv:

  • The Ambassador has forged productive relationships with senior Israeli and Washington officials, adding significant value to one of the United States’ most sensitive and central bilateral relationships.
  • Given the intersection of U.S. foreign policy objectives, high-profile domestic attention to Israel, and historically intransigent issues, Embassy Tel Aviv’s leadership faces challenges matched in intensity in only three or four other world capitals. The Ambassador performs commendably in this context and has advanced the U.S. relationship with the Israeli Government in the 2 years since his arrival.
  • Because few bilateral relationships attract the attention of as many senior American officials as the relationship with Israel, the Ambassador has a unique opportunity to interact daily or weekly with the President; National Security Adviser; Secretary of State; top legislators, military figures, and their senior staffs; the SEMEP; the general who heads the Roadmap Monitoring Mission; and the general who acts as the USSC.
  • Embassy section heads described the Ambassador as a masterful briefer of Members of Congress and senior U.S. military officers; his astute grasp of the forces at play in Israel helps shape their views and programs.
  • The heads of U.S.agencies at the embassy were unanimous in their appreciation for the Ambassador’s support for and involvement in their work.

The report has the following item, too, which if uncorrected would make managing one of the largest embassies in the world a double challenge:

Communication within the mission is limited. The Ambassador is respected for his intellectual ability but rarely interacts with employees below the most senior ranks.

He is reportedly a persuasive speaker; we’re looking forward to his confirmation hearing and see if he’ll make us feel any better about our prospects in Afghanistan.

Domani Spero

Related items:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-31A – Inspection of Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel – March 2011

July 17, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts