US Mission Mexico: Mexican Federal Cops Shot at Embassy SUV and Kept Shooting

You’ve heard the news. Two US Embassy Mexico employees were wounded in the shooting of an embassy SUV with a diplomatic plate on August 24.  The wounded were described as “US Embassy officials” here. The LAT calls them “U.S. government employees” here. CNN originally described the injured as “three U.S. Marines” here.

We’ve been waiting for an official statement from the US Embassy in Mexico.  A statement finally came out late August 24, 2012. See below:

Mexico City, August 24, 2012 – This morning two U.S. Government personnel and a Mexican Navy captain were in a U.S diplomatic vehicle driving to a training facility, when they were ambushed by a group of individuals.

The vehicle attempted to escape, was pursued and sustained heavy damage.  They called for assistance from the Mexican armed forces, who responded.  The two U.S. wounded personnel were taken from the scene, given medical treatment and are in stable condition.  The Mexican Navy captain sustained no serious injuries.

The Government of Mexico has acknowledged that members of the Federal Police were involved and fired on the U.S. Embassy vehicle.  The Government of Mexico has begun an investigation and detained members of the Federal Police who were involved.

The Government of Mexico has stated it will conduct a full and thorough investigation of this incident.  The Embassy has been cooperating closely with the Mexican authorities and will assist in every way possible.

The Reuters report cites a Mexican government security official saying that the federal police had thought the vehicle belonged to a group of suspected kidnappers they were pursuing, and had opened fire on it.

“This was all because of a mix-up,” the official said.

CNN has more details:

The incident occurred at 8 a.m. Friday, when the two embassy employees and the Mexican were en route through the mountainous area to a navy facility in the municipality of Xalatlaco, according to a statement issued Friday by the Mexican Navy, which gave the following account:

The black SUV bearing a diplomatic license plate had just left the main highway that connects Mexico City with Cuernavaca and were driving on a dirt road that connects the small towns of Tres Marias and Huitzilac when a vehicle approached. When the occupants brandished firearms, the driver of the diplomatic vehicle tried to evade them and return to the main highway. At that point, the occupants sprayed bullets into the black SUV with diplomatic plates.

Moments later, another three vehicles joined the chase and fired shots at the embassy vehicle. The Mexican in the SUV called for help from the Mexican Navy personnel in nearby El Capulin who arrived after the shooting had ended and cordoned off the area.

Federal police, who were in the area working on a criminal investigation, participated in these acts, the statement said, but did not specify which vehicle or vehicles they were in.

Both embassy employees were taken — under federal police guard — to a hospital.

Photographs of the SUV showed the embassy vehicle pockmarked with more than a dozen holes and at least three of its tires flat.

Click on image to see video report

Potential to Get Swept Under the Rug?

Sylvia Longmire, a drug war cartel analyst and author of “Cartel: the Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars” told CNN that the long-term impact of the shooting will depend on how aggressively the Mexican government pursues the investigation.

“I’m somewhat skeptical that anyone will be brought to justice in this attack,” she told CNN Saturday. “Remember, nobody knows who shot the Americans. They’re still going to have to do ballistic reports.”

Though federal police have a reputation for being among the least corrupt of Mexico’s security forces, “I’m concerned that there is a potential for this to get swept under the rug,” she said.

Read in full here.

Attacks on USG Personnel in the Last 3 Years

This is not the first incident involving shooting and death of US mission personnel in Mexico.

In February 2011, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was killed and another wounded while driving through northern Mexico.

In March 2010, three individuals connected to the US Consulate in Ciudad Juarez were killed in broad daylight. The AP says that the 2010 incident as “A drug-gang shooting in 2010 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez [that] killed a U.S. consulate employee, her husband and another man.” We still haven’t been able to connect those dots. The Barrio Azteca leader was extradited from Mexico in June this year, but the case remains toner dark.

How, where, when U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a U.S. Consulate employee were dot–connected to a drug-gang that caused their deaths, we still don’t know.

And we may never know.

Domani Spero

 

Related posts:

In a War That Must Not Be Named, Leadership and Security On the Line.

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Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

We were not always happy with Ambassador Crocker’s often glass is full assessment of what was going on in Afghanistan when he was the Ambassador there, but the following news is not one we were hoping to read on his second post-retirement.

KXLY.com of Spokane, Washington (h/t to The Cable’s Josh Rogin) reported that Ambassador Ryan Crocker was arrested at 2:05 in the afternoon on August 14 by the Washington State Patrol for hit-and-run and driving under the influence in Spokane Valley. The report cited the State Patrol saying that Ambassador Crocker crossed two lanes of traffic, clipped a semi and damaged the passenger side of the Ford Mustang he was driving. He was pulled over, taken into custody and transported to the Spokane Valley Precinct where he received a sobriety test. He reportedly had a .16 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) on one test, twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test reportedly indicated a .152 BAC.

“It was fairly obvious that Mr. Crocker was highly intoxicated ,” Briggs [Washington State Patrol Trooper] said, adding that the arresting trooper said that Crocker was very cooperative throughout the incident.

The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. The WSP added Thursday there is no way Crocker could have crossed two lanes of traffic, hit the semi and continued to drive without knowing it.
[…]
On Aug. 15, the day following his arrest, Crocker pled not guilty to the hit and run and DUI charges. Both charges carried a $1,000 bail.
[…]
His next court appearance is scheduled for September 12.

Read in full here.

Just a day before this incident, Yale News reported that Ambassador Crocker has been named Yale’s first Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy and was scheduled to teach both undergraduate and graduate students during the 2012-2013 academic year.

In his long career with the State Department, Ambassador Crocker served as ambassador six times.  He was the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to July 2012. He was also previously  United States Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, to Syria from 1998 to 2001, to Kuwait from 1994 to 1997, and to Lebanon from 1990 to 1993.

Of course, prior to becoming ambassador he served in a host of other places like Qatar and Iraq.  In 2003, he was also a political officer at the US Embassy in Lebanon when it was hit by a suicide car bomb. A total of 63 people were killed in the bombing: 32 Lebanese employees, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passersby.

Almost all mention of Ambassador Crocker’s name also mentions some of the most dangerous hotspots where he served since joining the Foreign Service in the early 1970’s.  We don’t stop and pause often enough to ask if we can send our diplomats to all these dangerous places in the world over and over and over again without any personal consequences on their part. What part of themselves did they lost in Beirut or Peshawar? We never really ask and they did not tell, except sometimes, decades later.

Kristin K. Loken was a Foreign Service officer with USAID who worked at the US Embassy in San Salvador for two years in the late 1970s during El Salvador’s brutal civil war was later diagnosed with “post-traumatic shock syndrome,” (the term used for PTSD in the early 1980s):

“I went to my boss and told her I thought I was going through some postwar emotional problems and asked if the State Department or USAID had some counseling services available. She said she was sympathetic but thought senior people would probably frown on my having emotional problems, and advised that disclosing my condition might negatively affect my eventual tenuring with USAID. So it would be best to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Her advice was to see a private therapist, for which she would give me as much administrative leave as I needed.”

In her 2008 FSJ article on PTSD (Not Only for Combat Veterans (p.42)), she writes about subsequently working on the Lebanon program and the 1983 US Embassy Beirut bombing:

In April 1983, I had just left the city and arrived back in the U.S. when the embassy was blown up. In the bombing, I lost my mission director, Bill Mc-Intyre, our Lebanese secretary and many other colleagues and good friends with whom I had worked for the last year.
[…]
I noticed that many of the symptoms of the previous PTSD episode returned at this time, but I felt that if I were patient, they would pass as they had the first time.
[…]
More than two decades after I first experienced PTSD, the symptoms have for the most part passed — except when I am overcome by exhaustion, physical pain, illness or stress. Then I can feel myself slipping back into a bad place.

We cannot presume to know what is ailing Ambassador Crocker or if he has been screened for PTSD.   We can only hope that he gets better.  An unnamed official told CNN that “the serious health problem he had in Iraq came back, so he is forced to leave a year early for genuinely serious health reasons.” The State Department Spokesman also confirmed this to the press last May without additional details when news first broke that Ambassador Crocker is stepping down from his post at the US Embassy in Kabul.

We note that Ambassador Crocker was reportedly arrested at 2:05 p.m. with a .16 BAC, twice the legal limit in Washington State.  USVA’s PTSD page notes that PTSD and alcohol use problems are often found together.  Below is a a description of what happens when an individual has a BAC of between .12 to .15:

.12-.15 BAC = Vomiting usually occurs, unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance to alcohol. Drinkers are drowsy.

Drinkers display emotional instability, loss of critical judgment, impairment of perception, memory, and comprehension.

Lack of sensor-motor coordination and impaired balance are typical. Decreased sensory responses and increased reaction times develop. The vision is significantly impaired, including limited ability to see detail, peripheral vision, and slower glare recovery.

Here are other important details on PTSD and alcohol use from USVA:

  • Having PTSD also increases the risk that an individual will develop a drinking problem.
  • Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma report drinking problems.
  • Up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems.
  • Alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain.
  • Sixty to eighty percent of Vietnam Veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems.

We don’t know that we’ll hear from Ambassador Crocker, himself. But we hope he speaks out.

In any case, when my best friend in the Foreign Service retired, he got a signed certificate from the Secretary and once or twice a year, he gets a statement of pay from some office at State and that’s about it. He gets more correspondence on military news, pay, benefits, etc. from the U.S. Armed Forces from where he retired prior to joining the State Department.

What support can Ambassador Crocker expect from the State Department?

We’ll shortly find out.

Domani Spero

Update:  Seattle’s kirotv.com covers this here.   CNN is reporting that he was charged, car impounded then released on his own recognizance.  According to CNN conditions of his bail, as outlined August 15, include “refraining from committing any crimes and consuming alcohol or drugs except as prescribed by a doctor, the court docket states. Crocker was also ordered to go to a drug testing office within 24 hours and undergo alcohol testing twice a month.”

 

 

 

Mystery Playboy: Consul General Behaving Badly – Just Stop Already!

The Consul General in a constituent post in Country X carried on with the consulate’s instructor then made her life miserable after they broke up — all without informing Mission management of this relationship with a subordinate.  As the CG apparently thinks his only job is to be a “playboy,” he delegated the running of the consulate to a “tyrannical” subordinate officer.

Quick quiz here:

Consensual relationship policy applies even to playboys
True or False

Several people curtailed
True or False

Embassy Front Office, nice folks but dysfunctional
True or False

The OIG has ignored all complaints about these problems
True or False

When one complains to the OIG’s hotline, they refer the complaints to the regional bureau! (exclamation point not mine)
True or False

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) accept calls at (202) 347-1122 and complaints here but advises that you do not use government phone, fax or computer.
True or False

When everything else fails — Al Kamen, the top afflictor of official Washington since 1993 entertains emails at intheloop@washpost.com and at kamena@washpost.com.
True or False

via Wikipedia

Now you, sir — over there – need to leave that girl alone.

If you have not read the consensual relationship policy see 3 FAM 1527(d)) ASAP.   The policy as we understand it was set up to avoid: (1) an appearance of impropriety; (2) creation of doubt regarding a supervisor’s objectivity: (3) actual or perceived preferential treatment; and (4) adverse effect on office morale and efficiency.  In addition, the policy is designed to avoid “relationships [that] may lead to allegations of sexual harassment.”

😯  … um, yes, we’re watching you.

Domani Spero

 

 

 

US Embassy Sudan and Those Critical Pool and Picnic Resources

Every now and then we get tips for blog post ideas, sometimes offline, via email or sometimes via social media as was the case a few days ago:

@tradeaidmonitor
Hope @Diplopundit catches “U.S. State Dept. Sending Critical [Pool & Picnicking] Resources to Sudan” http://www.tradeaidmonitor.com/2012/08/state-dept-resources-sudan.html

Sometimes we catch the toss, sometimes we don’t, primarily because we have some time constraints.  But this one, we thought we’d catch because in a place like our US Embassy in Khartoum, pool and picnic resources are critical resources in our view.  And we’ll tell you why.

Let’s start off with Sudan as the third largest country in Africa.  Slightly less than a quarter the size of the continental United States. It achieved independence on January 1, 1956 from the British, and has been at war with itself for more than three-quarters of its existence.

The USG designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and the U.S. Embassy operation in Khartoum was suspended in 1996. According to the no longer updated Background Notes in October 1997, the U.S. imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions against the Sudan. In August 1998, in the wake of the East Africa embassy bombings, the U.S. launched cruise missile strikes against Khartoum. The last U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan, Ambassador Tim Carney, departed post prior to this event and no new ambassador has been designated since.

We do have a Special Envoy to Sudan —Ambassador Lyman since 2011; he succeeded Ambassador Gration who was appointed to office in 2009.

The U.S. Embassy is headed by a series of Charge d’Affaires. Joseph D. Stafford, III, a career Foreign Service Officer has been Charge’ d’ affaires in Khartoum since June 2012. The US Embassy reportedly continues to re-evaluate its posture in Sudan, particularly in the wake of the January 1, 2008, killings of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officer John Granville and local USAID employee, Abdel Rahman Abbas.

(see How much does a US diplomat’s life worth? About $1,800 US dollars, and look there’s no raging mob…)

The U.S. Mission in Sudan has declared disasters due to the complex emergency on an annual basis since 1987. On October 1, 2009, President Obama renewed the Sudan complex emergency disaster declaration for FY 2010.

Sandstorm Over the Nile
(Photo by US Embassy Khartoum/Picasa)

So let’s just agree that it’s not a very nice, cushy place when its dry. And it’s not a very nice place when it’s wet.

In fact, it’s one of those places where family members of embassy personnel under age 21 are not allowed to reside.  State Department employees in Sudan also get a 30% cost of living allowance, a 25% hardship differential and a 25% danger pay differential, and for good reasons.

Cost-of-living allowance (COLA) is granted to an employee officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C.

Hardship differential is established for any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place.  Living costs are not considered in differential determination

Danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.

So in a country where Al Qaeda has a long history, what do people do to entertain and de-stress themselves?  You can go to a fitness club where the monthly fee for adults is $192.50 (or 352.94 % more than what you’d pay in WashDC) according to numbeo.com. Or you can eat out where the combo meal similar to McDonald’s is $11.14 (except that you’re a real moving target).  Or you can go to the movies for $5.00, certainly cheaper than DC but do you want to be in the dark with people with guns? Probably not.

You can stay home and surf online; 6 Mbps Internet is at $67.50 a month whether it works or not. Or have a roaring pool party. Maybe. And invite even people you can’t stand. In which case you need to shop for party food.  You can shop for chicken breasts which at $8.00/kilogram is actually cheaper in Khartoum than in DC. You can also buy 12 pack eggs at $2.93, and a kilogram of fresh cheese at $16.33. Beer, the 0.5 liter bottle is reportedly $5.00. And there goes your COLA.

Then there’s the haboob, a small one or a big one, it doesn’t matter, it gets into everything. And they don’t have haboob days like snow days back in WashDC, which frankly, isn’t fair.   We terribly missed our undiplomatic diplomat from Facts Are Strictly Optional; you betcha she would have had insightful things to say about these critical resources.

The patio furniture below is similar to those required under the solicitation mentioned above and posted by US Embassy Khartoum at fedbiz. The complete solicitation is here: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/b8deabb7df3866417121ac528cf8a837.

Wave Square 4 Seater Set”Weatherproof, Rust-Free Guaranteed, 5 Year Warranty, Durable, UV Resistant, Powder Coating, Door to Door Free Delivery, All prices include VAT.
Manufactured by Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading as HomeGarden.co.za, South Africa
(Photo from Golden Barley Garden Furniture Trading) 

Rust-fee, weatherproof, five year warranty – what’s not to like? More to the point, and this is important — you can hose them down after a dust storm, they’re too heavy to fly away in a sandstorm and they are deliverable from South Africa, just 2900 miles from the Sudan instead of some 6,000 miles from the United States.

So frankly, we cannot find it in our hearts to quarrel with these pool and patio furniture. All that dust and sand would probably drive us nuts ala The Shining if we live down there.  And anyways — what use is a pool if you cannot sit down or lounge or have a picnic with people you see every single day at work and at play?

Dear US Embassy Khartoum – we hope you folks enjoy your new pool and patio furniture. The bronze ones look really lovely.

The end.

Domani Spero

 

 

State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead

Back in July, we mentioned in passing in this blog the State Department’s contract to purchase lots of Kindles from Seattle’s Amazon.

You should hear the back story about that multimillion, excuse me, $16.5 million multi-year Kindle acquisition.  Secretary Clinton and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos were supposed to hold hands on the 7th floor, but it never happened.  I bet you want to know how come that’s indefinitely postponed. No, it’s not because she was traveling, silly!

Well, the indefinite postponement became permanent now. On August 15, fbo.gov published the cancellation of that no-bid contract:

Aug 15, 2012 4:00 pm
U.S. Department of State solicitation (Request for Proposals) SAQMMA12R0272 for Amazon e-Readers, Content Management, and Logistics is cancelled and the Justification and Approval (J&A) to award contract SAQMMA12D0131 on a sole-source basis is withdrawn. The Department of State intends to conduct additional market research and re-examine its requirements for this program.

The cancelled contract was for 2,500 e-readers at a cost of $16.5 million. This works out to what — $6,600 per Kindle, including content and support services? Wait – this is a one year plus four year option contract, so if our math is correct, approximately 12,500 Kindles at $1,320 each for five years. The most expensive Kindle to-date is a Kindle DX with free 3G at $379.

This contract was done on behalf of the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). Yep, that would be under the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine who was appointed to “R” on April 5, 2012. But note that this is for overseas use, so this falls directly under the shop of Dawn L. McCall, the Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs since July 2010.

Here is what the State Department says in its justification for a base year and four (4) one-year options con tract on a sole-source basis to Amazon:

The DoS has an ongoing, repetitive requirement for e-Readers and content meeting certain key specifications, including an immediate need for approximately 2,500 e-Readers and 50 titles of content. The DoS has identified the Amazon Kindle as the only e-Reader on the market that meets the Government’s needs, and Amazon as the only company possessing the essential capabilities required by the Government[…]

An identification of the statutory authority permitting other than full and open competition: 41 U.S.C. 253(c) (1) and FAR 6.302-1: only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements.

A description of the market survey conducted and the results or a statement of the reasons a market survey was not conducted: See attached comparison matrix [Note – not attached in published document]. Other e-Readers such as the Barnes and Noble Nook, the Sony Reader Daily and Kobe e-Reader cannot provide the text to speech requirement, the long-lasting battery life and the free Wi-Fi with a global network (which is a firm requirement since all devices are to be used overseas). Additionally, the portability and durability of the Kindle is unique, and is required by the government due to overseas shipment requirements and use in public facilities by students.

Although the Apple iPad offers features that meet many of the requirements of this project it falls under the tablet/computer segment versus a single function e-reader device. The additional features are not only unnecessary, but also present unacceptable security and usability risks for the government’s needs in this particular project. Critically, the Apple iPad falls short on two requirements: the centrally managed platform for registration and content delivery, and battery life.

Any other facts supporting the use of other than full and open competition: The Kindle has been identified as the only product that will meet the DoS’ requirements as part of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs’ (R’s) efforts to globally scale e-Reader use as a tool for the DoS’ English Access Microscholarship Program (ACCESS), and also placement in DoS’ many American Spaces housed in libraries, cultural centers, reading rooms and other partnership institutions such as Bi-National Centers. Recognizing the success of previous small scale Kindle pilot programs over other e-Reader purchases by Public Affairs Sections around the world, R would like to expand this success through a centralized mechanism to make it more cost effective for the DoS. Currently, the R family of bureaus coordinates information outreach and English language activities each year to more than 6 million young people in over 800 publicly accessible American spaces and local community centers overseas. Moreover, R was approved by the Under Secretary for Management to expand e-reader content and technology applications with Amazon and other private sector companies through public-private partnerships.

R sought approval for a public-private partnership because a coordinated public-private partnership to deploy e-reader devices with access to appropriate content in programs around the world would serve to underscore America’s image as a technology leader. Also, it would deliver USG and third party content efficiently and potentially more economically to global users. Ultimately, e-readers can provide timely access to U.S. news, literature, and information not possible under traditional “hard copy” procurement and distribution methods.

The Under Secretary for Management says it’s okay, and of course, it’s okay. Note that the justification did not indicate which other companies have been approved for expansion in this public-private partnerships.

We heard from somebody familiar with the dysfunctional going ons at “R” that this program was “not supported by project planning, only seat of the pants “this sounds good” thingee.

A seat of the pants operation at $16.5 million? Folks, that’s like 6 times more shocking than Peter Van Buren’s Chicken Shit in Iraq.

And with the cancellation of the contract, State now has to “conduct additional market research and re-examine its requirements”? But … but if the appropriate market research was conducted and requirements examined in the first place, why would anyone be conducting additional market research or re-examining the old ones just two months after the original contract was announced.

Because see — new e-readers and tablets are coming out fast and furious now, so it makes sense to do additional market research, right?  Maybe do one every quarter, you never know what kind of technology enhancements are available until you look, okay? (And a comparison matrix that’s actually attached to the Justification and Approval document, would be nice, too, right?)  Yeah, additional market research would make an excellent spin.

The Digital Reader inquired about this cancellation from the State Department and here is the response:

“The Department of State continues to pursue technology that enhances our ability to provide international audiences with relevant, real-time content on U.S. society, culture, and English language learning.  In order to conduct additional market research and further explore technological options for our public diplomacy programs, the Department of State opted on August 15 to end the Request for Proposals for the Amazon Kindle in favor of proceeding with a Request for Information (RFI) process. This action will open to all vendors the opportunity to respond to the Department’s requirements for a mobile learning program.”

But see — even with the cancellation of this contract, questions remain in our head and they’re giving us real tiny headaches.

U.S. Embassy trains Pakistani Librarians how to use e-readers as part of the Embassy’s continuing support of Pakistan’s libraries. In partnership with the Director of the National Library and Resource Center Mr. Zeeshan Khan U.S. Embassy officials trained local librarians on e-readers to use in their Lincoln reading rooms, which are supported, in part, by U.S. government funds.
(Photo via US Embassy Pakistan/Flickr)

We suspect that with the continuous push for “winning hearts and minds” in the frontline states, a good number of these e-readers will end up in Pakistan, for instance.  So for starters, what achievable goals are there for this program in Pakistan or wherever this is deployed? What kind of ROI is “R” looking at in an expensive program like this? What kind of impact will 12,500 Kindles or e-readers have in an information outreach to “more than 6 million young people in over 800 publicly accessible American spaces”? How effective will Kindle or e-reader outreach have in people to people diplomacy amidst the reality of drone undiplomacy in Pakistan’s border areas? The Pakistani youths will read American classics on an e-reader while their compatriots are being bombed, is that right?

And by the way, don’t you remember that the reason the US Embassy in Vietnam got itself some rather expensive mousepads was because it got iPads for use in the American Center where security reasons precluded the use of wireless Internet access? So no wi-fi in a country with no 4G service = really expensive iMousepad.

$16.5 effing million, pardon my French, is not pocket change. So, of course, somebody with a top pay grade in Foggy Bottom has looked at the project plan for this program and has already asked the hard questions. Right? Or they’re working on it or something …

Okay — so the next time the Secretary  is scheduled to hold hands with an e-reader CEO at the Seventh Floor to celebrate this public-private partnership, there will be no postponement so folks can write up talking points or conduct additional market research.

Oh look, there’s a new RFI on this e-reader initiative.  Response date required by September 21.  The new announcement includes 162 deployment locations, all overseas except for two.  E-reader deployment locations includes Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Eritrea where Amazon says “Unfortunately, we are currently unable to ship Kindles or offer Kindle content in …..” Remember that Kindle was originally selected for its wi-fi global network.  And it does not do some of these countries in the deployment location list. So who else can do it?  It also includes the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as another deployment location, where Amazon says, “You can download books to your computer and transfer them to your Kindle via USB. Kindle wireless is not currently available in your country.” Is the USG going to make additional “support” purchases like computers so folks with no access to computer can download the materials to their e-readers?

Here’s what we don’t get.  Does it make sense to send e-Readers to all four corners of the world, including the war zones and areas under civil strife, even when the information and telecom infrastructures are barely functioning? It does?

Damn, I’m getting an e-Headache.

Domani Spero

Photo of the Day: Now Showing Rubber AK-47 Assault Rifles in Afghanistan

Given the continuing number of casualties from the ‘green-on-blue’ attacks in Afghanistan and the recent directive that all Coalition troops carry a loaded weapon at all times, we find this photo of Afghan police trainees with their rubber AK-47 assault rifles more than interesting.

The Threat Matrix blog reports that Taliban leader Mullah Omar claims that the Taliban “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year.” He urges government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as it is their religious duty to do so, and then warns that “the day is not far away that the invading enemy will flee Afghanistan.”

Obviously Mullah Omar is glossing over the fact about 2024. But this guy is more crafty than we thought. He probably learned somewhere that our politicians who hold the purse strings for all spending hate the idea of the US “fleeing” Afghanistan. Raising the specter of “fleeing” troops would help make sure that Congress will continue funding this nutty war, and in the process, the Taliban get their cut to fund their fight of a lifetime. A win-win situation except for the dead and the broken soldiers.

And so here we are with rubber assault rifles.

Two Afghan Uniform Police recruits practice aiming their rubber AK-47 assault rifles during a handcuff training exercise at Forward Operating Base Shank, Logar province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Austin Berner/Released)

Domani Spero

US Mission Afghanistan: New Ambassador Sworn in a Country Forgotten by Presidential Candidates

The new U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham was sworn in by Consular Officer Alissa Redmond at the U.S. Embassy on August 12 in Kabul.  Ambassador Cunningham previously served as Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ambassador James Cunningham swearing-in at US Embassy Kabul.
Photo via US Embassy Kabul/Flickr
(click on photo to view the slideshow)

If you have the time and the interest, the swearing-in video including the ambassador’s speech is here.

Meanwhile, back here at home, the presidential campaigns are in full swing. The veepstakes finally has a winner.  And the Super PACs and the gazillionaires are doing their best spending obscene amounts of money to help “speed up” the economic recovery and get their man into the White House.  Really, you don’t think this economy would have been a lot, lot worse without all that money pouring in, all that election hiring, ad campaigns, pizza, etc. etc.  Thank god for the green slime!

And then, of course, with the line-up complete and the presidential campaigns in full swing, The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins had the audacity to bring up that almost forgotten country of Afghanistan.

“How’s this for a conspiracy of silence? With less than three months to go until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have successfully avoided saying almost anything about America’s war in Afghanistan. Remember that war?”

Do we really want to remember that in August we already have 289 coalition forces dead in Afghanistan? Or that attacks on U.S. and NATO troops by Afghan security forces, the so called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks which has resulted in death is already at 34, two less than the casualties from the entire 2011? Or that 108 civilian contractors have already died in Afghanistan in the first two quarters of 2012?

We do, we do, but who’s asking the candidates? Perhaps we need Will McAvoy to ask the candidates about their state of amnesia over these affairs far, far away, including green slime growing on trees or in somebody’s bank account.

Domani Spero

Summer Reading: The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant

In a December 2011 article in NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes that 2011 has been a rough year for dictators pointing out that several of the world’s longest-serving autocrats have either died or been ousted from power: North Korea’s Kim Jong Il who died from heart failure and the leaders ousted in the Arab Spring: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

The piece also quotes Nicolas van de Walle, a government professor at Cornell University saying, “It’s not only that there are fewer dictators, but there are virtually no dictators left who don’t talk the language of democracy and turnover of executive power.”

He is absolutely right, of course. That’s right out of Chapter 10 of the The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant by Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca. The chapter includes a helpful section on Working with the Foreign Diplomatic Community, specifically on how to deploy the charm offensive.

For example, the Handbook suggests employing “the right talk”:

“Wax eloquent about democracy, transparency, decentralization, development, control of corruption, and accountability. This has worked astonishingly well for leaders who went on to practice none of those philosophies: Laurent Kabila (Congo), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), and Isaias Afawerki (Eritrea). Bill Clinton lauded these men as the “new generation of leaders” in the “African Renaissance” sweeping the nation.[26] They generally turned out to be nothing of the sort, and several of them figure prominently in this book.”

Secretary Clinton meets with President Yoweri Museveni who has been President of Uganda since 26 January 1986. He was re-elected on 20 February 2011 making him
the fifth longest serving African leader.
(Photo from August 2012 Visit via State Department)

Another suggestion is to cultivate “the right look”:

“It was true about getting put into power and remains true while you are in power; it’s true furthermore when it comes to getting funding: Westerners have a propensity for funding and supporting those leaders they feel are most like themselves. And they adore English-speaking technocrats with degrees from Western universities. If you have carefully groomed yourself on the way to power with the right accent (a British accent is well worth the trouble learning), the right look, and the right “persona,” you may be richly rewarded.”

Here is one who is not from Africa and has only been in power since 2004, but an English-speaking somebody the western world absolutely adores despite allegations of election fraud:

President George W. Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai shake hands after cutting the ceremonial ribbon, Wednesday, March 1, 2006, to dedicate the new U.S. Embassy Building in Kabul, Afghanistan.
White House Photo by Eric Draper

But it’s not enough to have the “right talk” and the “right look” alone.  The aspiring dictator must also have the “right political philosophy” according to the Handbook:

It’s important to know your audience when you speak, as the right words can make the cash register go ‘cha-ching!’ During World War II, when the Allies were looking for support in Africa, several African leaders managed to persuade the West they were staunchly anti-Communist even as they erected neo-communist regimes at home. Likewise, when George W. Bush announced the American ‘war on terror,’ many African leaders otherwise well-skilled in the arts of terrorism where their own people were concerned – from Charles Taylor (Liberia) to Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Omar al Bashir (Sudan) – came forward with wars against terror of their own. And they were well-funded by the Americans for it. Charles Taylor, to his (ahem) credit, even established an “anti-terrorist” unit that went on to terrorize the Liberians, and the warlords of Mogadishu formed a “Coalition Against Terrorism” in 2006, which the CIA amazingly agreed to fund.[26]

President Karimov greets General Petraeus at Oksaroy during the general’s visit to Tashkent on 08/18/2009. President Karimov is the first and only President of Uzbekistan, serving since 1990.
(US Embassy photo)

And last but not the least, the Handbook recommends “the right spouse”:

“One point in Assad’s favor was his charismatic and lovely wife Asma, raised in London and of course perfectly fluent in English. She became the “face” of what Westerners hoped was a more pro-West Syria. If you yourself are not the Western educated, fluent English speaker Western governments adore so much, it is a smart idea to marry one. She may have been the perfect spouse for other reasons as well, as she was mostly content to focus on shopping for luxury goods while her husband oversaw the extended slaughter of thousands of Syrians in 2011–2012.[102]”

The most apt part is probably what the authors call “cooperation diplomacy” with the following suggestion to all aspiring dictators:

“Couch all your relations with countries otherwise inclined to press you for reforms, in the language of “cooperation” and “dialogue.” Both are politically neutral, infinite, and respectful. Neither commits you to do anything you don’t want to do, and neither insists on reform. Dialogue can go forever, lead to nothing, and keep the money flowing.”

Randall Wood is an engineer and co-author of two books, Moon Nicaragua (a best-selling travel guidebook to Nicaragua) and Living Abroad in Nicaragua. He works for an aid agency and currently lives with his family in Senegal. He previously worked for  USAID, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Carmine DeLuca, a writer and history enthusiast, has long cultivated an interest in the authoritarians of every stripe. In part this fascination stems from his personal life – a Bonapartist father, an aunt named after the Battle of Adowa, and a grandfather and great uncle in Mussolini’s army.

I asked Randy what made him write this book.  He told me that living overseas and realizing that dictators are copying each other’s move, it started for him with a simple question — “if those douchebags are all working off the same instruction manual, what must it look like?”

And The Dictator’s Handbook, A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant was born (it took another three years of work, after his gov work “and when the kids were in bed (i.e. 8PM to 1AM on two cups of coffee)” before the book was published.  The handbook is extensive at 320 pages long, including 500 bibliographic references, 100 footnotes, and a full index. It is available both a paperback and an ebook.

You can check out and buy the book at: http://dictatorshandbook.net

Randy’s website is: www.therandymon.com.

The book also has an accompanying blog here: http://lounge.dictatorshandbook.net/

Indeed, the Dictator’s Handbook gives you a road map to tyranny, step by step. Chapters include Getting to Power, The Culture of Fear, Building Your Financial Empire, Managing Your Legacy and more.   The chapter on Strategies of Suppression: Dealing with Enemies is surprisingly quite familiar particularly if you have lived in third world countries plundered infamously so by dictators.

Domani Spero

Photo of the Day: All together now, say “queso”

U.S. Ambassadors to ASEAN nations pose for a photo with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during her visit to Phnom Penh on July 13, 2012.

Via US Embassy Manila/FB

From L-R, the US Ambassadors to the ASEAN countries: Daniel Shields (Brunei), Harry Thomas (Philippines), Karen Stewart (Laos), Derek J. Mitchell (Burma), HRC, David Carden (ASEAN), David Shear (Vietnam), Kristie Kenney (Thailand), William Todd (Cambodia), and David Adelman (Singapore).

Missing from the photo: Paul Jones of US Embassy Malaysia and Scot Marciel of US Embassy Indonesia.

Domani Spero