Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?

One of our readers from a post that will remain unnamed recently wrote a note with the following heads-up, “…our Front Office has gone on an anti-social media rampage of late.”

Something about slamming worker bees for not using Facebook or Twitter responsibly?  Apparently, using our universal idiotic translator, that means anyone at post using FB or Twitter was not/not using it responsibly.

These folks have been sequestered inside the mission (before sequestration was a DC rage) due to well, reasons and are not allowed to meet their contacts outside the embassy compound. But our diplomats can continue their host country engagement despite the security hindrances in country X or Y because there now are plenty of social media tools. Except that embassies are not democracies, and when the Front Office is of the opinion that staffers who use these tools are not using it responsibly – what do you get?  What kind of work can our diplomats realistically do when they cannot travel outside the embassy compound?  What kind of host country outreach can be expected of them  when even the mere use of social media tools is considered  irresponsible use by their bosses?

And so the State Department’s social media schizophrenia continues, on background in that region over there.

This gives us an excuse to revisit the social media hubbub from last year about the change in the clearance regs, also known as the 2-day clearance for tweets scandal that gave everyone  ants in their pants —

Screen Shot 2013-02-28

Anyway — rumor has it that when Condolezza Rice’s book was submitted for clearance at the State Department a year or so ago — the Executive Secretariat sent that around with very tight short fuze clearance taskers so that the 30 day timeline could be respected.   This is the book where she reportedly congratulated herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field.

Sometime last year year, we published in this blog a short piece on PTSD by an active FSO, and we understand that the clearance for that came through, shockingly enough within 24 hours.

So when the clearance system works, it rocks, but it does not always work as intended.

The current rules says that if the designated review period of 30 days run out without a response, that an employee may go ahead and publish the submitted material with a couple of caveats (no classified or protected info used).  Which is good because it makes the clearance office accountable; officials cannot just sit on the submitted material for no reason than to stall publication. There is the risk, of course, that the Dept will go after you when you take that option.  Prime example of this is retired FSO Peter Van Buren who wrote a comical and depressing account of reconstruction in Iraq in his book, We Meant Well.

That book was submitted for clearance, went beyond the 30 day timeframe and the author took the risk and published the book.  The State Dept did go after him for purported use of classified information in the book, which did not wash or perhaps more appropriately, washed with bad streaks all over it. After a lengthy semi-public battle, Mr. Van Buren retired from the State Department with full benefits.

We must note that the need to get a book cleared is not a laughing matter. The USG once purchased all copies of a book and had a book burning event (see Operation Dark Heart).  In spring last year, a US court ruled that a CIA-connected author may forfeit any future money he earns from a book (see “The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture”)

James Bruno, a retired FSO and author of political thrillers Permanent Interests, Chasm, Tribe and the latest, still waiting clearance, The Havana Queen, had to wait an average of six month for the State Department to review his books. Mr. Bruno  wrote about this in his blog:

“My book manuscripts must undergo government security review before I can even show them to a book agent or a publisher. Those I published before 2000 were cleared quickly and with little interference from the censors. The Bush-2 administration, however, tightened the process up greatly. It took almost six months to get clearance for my latest novel, “Tribe.” Upon completion of the manuscript, I phoned State to ask to whom I should send it. In return, they faxed me a letter stating, “Everything you write will be considered classified until cleared by this office.”

Ugh! In another blog post, Mr. Bruno wrote:

“This week, I shipped off to the U.S. State Department my fourth book for security review as required by nondisclosure rules binding on all active duty and retired government personnel who have held top secret security clearances. Taking an average of six months per review, my books will have sat a total of two years with the green eye-shaders in Washington. That’s two years of not being published. Two years of royalties not flowing into my bank account.”

If the 30-day timeline is to be respected for a former Secretary of State, it should be respected for all employees, active or retired, otherwise why have the rules in placed when there is selective application of the rules? Pardon me? That’s exactly why there are rules in place so exceptions can be made?

Well, dammit, that hurts our head!

Lost in noise of the 2-day clearance for tweets (which reportedly ain’t gonna happen!) is the central point that under the proposed rules, the State Dept endeavors to control much more firmly its employees speaking, writing, and media engagement, particularly on matters considered “of official concern,” that is, all matters of concern to the State Department.  To put it bluntly, the gag works but did not work as well as evidenced by the Van Buren case.  So an update is needed to make sure it works perfectly, silly.

While Alec Ross put his own spin on this, you might check out this flowchart on the review of State employees public communication whether done in their official or private capacity (h/t to John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review and We Meant Well.

Mary Jeffers, a senior State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy currently detailed outside Foggy Bottom had a piece on this in the takefiveblog. She writes:

Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that.  And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.

(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).

And you can always pick up the phone to follow-up clearance requests to multiple offices, email them or if needed, walk your text to the clearance office.  So what’s the real hubbub here? Ms. Jeffers with her pulse on the ground writes:

  • … in situations where the reason people might read your blog article or listen to your speech is that you work for State, but you want to use your own words and speak your own thoughts.  And of course there’s a broad spectrum of such situations, ranging from invitational speaking that all State officers ought to do as part of their work (on one end) to whistle-blowing (at the other); and,
  • Close a loophole that indicated if State PA doesn’t respond to a request for clearance within a certain deadline, one is free to publish.

Those two items sit right at the heart of the matter.

The 3 FAM 4170 current rules applies to “all public speaking, writing and teaching materials of “official concern” whether done in official or private capacity.  We suspect that the greatest impact on the proposed rules would be felt by employees speaking, writing, teaching and doing any sort of public engagement in their private capacity.

So all FB, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Ning, other social media platforms users who are State people, talking online about bidding, Iraq, assignments, promotions, housing, officially issued furniture, etc. etc. the proposed new rules are not going to be any better or easier despite official speechifying to the contrary.  So you better stick with toucans.  Look, the 30- day clearance will be shrunk to 2-5 days for social media posts.  Apparently, the public thinks that’s unacceptable for official communication. Does that mean it is also unacceptable for employees communicating in their private capacity? Stay tuned.

Also as we’ve have blogged previously, the catch all language of the proposed new rules is troubling particularly on not violating “standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216” — those standards are not even spelled out in the cited regulation!  Oh, hey, did we hear right that this draft regulation was done by an intern?

In any case —  all that and the proposed closure of the loophole contained in 3 FAM 4172.1-7 makes us think that tighter control of employee speech, particularly those done in a private capacity, is the main goal of the proposed new rules. It does not matter that there is now a new secretary of state. The building marches at its own tune. If the FAM update is not yet out (it’s not), it’s only because too much public attention probably made it suddenly shy.

As to the complaint overheard down that corridor that we should not be commenting on a draft reg — sorry folks, we could not help it.  Once the regulation is finalized, it does not get any further hearing for a couple years or so.  That’s way too long.  This particular piece of the FAM has potentially significant repercussions to employees speaking in their private capacity. The mere fact that it leaked means others inside the building have significant concerns about it.  Had management posted it in the spirit of true collaboration on the Sounding Board for comments, we probably would not have heard about it.

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How about an EER Survivor Reality Show via BNET? C’mon, It’ll Be Fun!

We recently got a reminder in our “burn bag” about EERs. Basically, a reminder that it’s a new year, so there will be Employee Evaluation Reports to do this year, just like every year.

There used to be lots of EER talk on the blogosphere prior to April.  But not so much this year. Maybe it’s still early but … anyway, if you’re not terribly familiar about EERs, they’re like taxes and root canals, not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination but gotta be done.

In any case, a whole bunch of folks now write their own EERs.  We wondered briefly if anybody ever give themselves a poor evaluation — such as “this officer take on so much work he makes everyone looks bad;” or “this officer takes mentoring at a new level, acting like a mother hen to new chicks just hatched that she should be promoted at the earliest opportunity.”

Now, you may not know this but this is all very, VERY serious business.  The future of the new global order hinges on this.  Imagine if our future best Paranoidistan negotiator could not get promoted to fulfill his/her destiny because his/her boss did not know how to make him walk on water?  Um, excuse us, because he/she did not know how to make himself/herself walk on water in DS-1829 or DS-5055 or whatever the form is called these days.  Imagine destiny denied due to bad writing.  Yes, that would be awful.  Still, just between us, we happen to think that something drastic needs to be done about this process.  Because — see, how can everyone all be performing in an absolutely outstanding manner? Even that screamer.  Even that micromanager.  Even that arse-kiss ….

And that’s not all — apparently “a misplaced comma or misused word can [snip] rile a promotion panel to the extent that it passes over the employee for promotion.”

So you work your arse off and is absolutely showing potential for the next higher responsibility but because of a misplaced comma on your EER, the promotion panel toasts you crazy? Like — yo, misplaced comma, you’re so busted! They’re also the comma police?

Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews!

A recreation of the logo for the first America...

A recreation of the logo for the first American Survivor season, Survivor: Borneo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pardon?  Oh, housemate wants to know what planet have moi been living in the past 30 years. After all people have been complaining about this like forEVER, so he’s fairly sure that nothing will be done about this. Why? ‘Cuuz — during the last go-round, they reportedly made the performance appraisal more efficient and user-friendly (oh, hello ePerformance, you wonderful bureaucratic nightmare!). There’s no mention on making the process effective; just efficient. Something you gotta love!

The EER issue makes a routine appearance on the trade publication.  One September issue of the Foreign Service Journal had something on this. One of the letters (Through the Looking Glass, September 2009) was a comment on a previously published article on the journal (EERs: The Forgotten Front in the War for Talent). The letter writer whose name was withheld by request is a Foreign Service employee at an unnamed post in Africa. That in itself is quite telling:

This spring, I proofread many Employee Evaluation Reports and did not see a single negative statement — even in the one for my office’s former Office Management Specialist, whom I’ll call “Janet.” Janet was assigned to cover the phones in our busy office, but spent half the day in the hall chatting with friends. When she was at her desk, surfing the Web was one of her prime activities. She worked with us until the head of our office told the human resources director at post that he never wanted to see her again. HR moved Janet to another office, where she has continued to be unmotivated and uncaring.

Janet’s EER rater joked to me that he’d had to include her participation in a local 5K race as an achievement because it was so difficult to come up with anything good to say about her work. Apparently, being nice is much more important than being truthful.

After only one year with the Foreign Service, I’ve come to a depressing conclusion: because FS personnel aren’t actually evaluated, we are just like Soviet factory workers — lacking any incentive to excel.

Soviet factory workers, huh? A little outdated and a tad harsh, but we understand the sentiment.

A more recent Speaking Out piece, also in the Foreign Service Journal calculated the hours spent on EERs for each employee at 15 hours and the cumulative hours spent on EERs by the entire agency at 180,000 hours a year; the equivalent of 22,500 workdays, 61 calendar years or 90 working years.  You can read yourself scared silly about that on the FSJ September 20012 issue [See Overhauling the EER Process).

The FSO who wrote the article helpfully points out:

We need a system that significantly reduces the amount of time and energy it takes to produce a review, freeing up that time to pursue the important work of diplomacy and development. It should also accurately and fairly evaluate employees and, without overstating their accomplishments, produce EERs that enable promotion panels to identify high-performing employees.

Please do not think that there are no great workers out there. There are. And it is a disservice to them and all who spend far too much time making things work and doing things right (as oppose to just doing things) not to have an effective performance evaluation system. The heart of the problem is that supervisors with some exceptions lack the spine to do the right thing when it comes to performance evaluation. They’d rather let things slide than document a bad performance (let the next guy deal with dat) or conduct real counseling, cuz that can get complicated, and you might end up in the grievance board, or some elsewhere place you don’t really want to be. Or if they have the spine and they don’t play the game, their ratees suffer as a consequence since others then play the inflationary board game much better. See the problem there?

The performance review, if you look under the rug is an exercise in artful rhetoric.

Did you hear about that one where Front Office executives gave a Section Chief a glowing EER complete with fireworks, only to be contradicted with a firehose by an inspection evaluation review from the OIG?  The Front Office rater and reviewer talked about ratee as a big deal mentor and leader, and almost everyone else at post unfortunately, told the OIG inspectors the exact opposite. As you might imagine, the case ended up as part of the Grievance Board statistics.

On a related note, over at Foreign Policy (registration required), commenters on Nicholas Kralev’s recent piece  had some fun:

Geo Frick Frack:  “… The successes are exaggerated, and the failures are obscured or explained away. Yet most have wonderful evaluations and the occasional award….”

SKB: Go ahead and give yourself a Franklin Award.  This round is on me.  😉

Geo Frick Frack: Thanks. I’ll repay the favor with a Group MHA.

Anyway —  in keeping with belt tightening and the “Bank of Afghanistan R Us” spending bandwagon, let’s introduce one  money saver here — what if EERs become “Energy Expended Ratings” without the calorie counter in a pedometer?  Wouldn’t it be perfectly normal and acceptable to rate the energy expended in a 5K race, surfing the web, etc. ? Just think — no more excessive time wasted on drafting, revising, reviewing, beautifying, soliciting global input from  friends on the other side of the world on EER texts, or editing, finalizing, what have you, tinkering with these reports.

Imagine the “personhours” saved!  Sorry, we get an itch everytime we hear “manhours” so we try to avoid using that term.

Another possible money saver?  Just do away with convening the promotion boards.  Why not just let folks toss out colleagues and bosses in an “EER Survivor” reality show via BNET? Something like “outwit, outplay, outlast.”  A real 360 degree feedback without those wacky questions; and even wackier answers from BFFs and uber friendly colleagues and subordinates.

You think this would really be more difficult than the process that is now in place? Um, don’t know. We will executive produce it if you want to try it …

What about make-up artists?

What? Oh, no, no! The EER Survivor Reality Show has no line item for make-up artists.  All wrinkles will be up close and personal;  no airbrushing allowed for mediocre performance, either.  Of course, the reality show will also have a “classified” or at a minimum, “SBU” (sensitive but classified) viewers’ ratings so members of the media, bloggers in pajamas and nosy taxpayers will not be able to use it as a date-night excuse.  But the good news is — it’ll be available for viewing at the cafeteria!

How about it — these are great money savers and fantastic ideas, if we may say so ourselves?  Anyone?  ANYONE out there?

BTW, one of our former bosses wanted to become ambassador one day and declined the invitation.

But.. but… boss, you’ll be on tee-vee!!

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P.S. No EER was harmed in the writing of this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Secretary of State Scorecard: Work Done Not Miles Flown, Please

D.B. Des Roches is an associate professor at the Near East South Asia Institute for Strategic Studies. He recently published a commentary about John Kerry’s first trip overseas and the current ‘success’ metric:

John Kerry’s first trip as secretary of state provides a good opportunity to look at how we evaluate our secretaries. Most recent secretaries have considered travel to be the measure of their terms. When Hillary Clinton returned to work from hospitalization, her staff gave her a football jersey with “112” on it – reflecting the number of countries she had visited. Republicans retorted that Condoleezza Rice still held the record for most miles logged.

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

Photo via state.gov/Flickr

This focus on secretary of state travel as a measure of dedication, efficiency and competence is dysfunctional. We should decide, as Mr. Kerry’s first trip (to Europe and the Middle East) gets underway, to abandon this harmful metric and evaluate diplomacy in a way that acknowledges its complexity.

[…]
These are real issues which require real leadership, but they are not glamorous and don’t lend themselves to photo opportunities. Our nation would be better served if those of us who watch foreign affairs look at these complicated issues of State Department capacity and measure the secretary of state by this, rather than treating him as a sort of Clark Griswold trekking around Rome checking off a list of fountains. Save the secretary of state visits for those issues which truly require a high-level visit to break up a logjam or push an agreement over the top. America needs a secretary of state who can lead, not one who can travel.

Read in full here.

The author made some excellent points that should be required reading for Secretary Kerry’s incoming team.  We sincerely hope that no one would attempt to nudge Secretary Kerry to top Condi’s miles, or Hillary’s number of countries visited or number of embassy meet and greet. That would not be original or terribly helpful to an institution that is consistently underfunded and unappreciated not just by the Congress but also by the American public.

The real challenges for the 68th secretary of state do not require an airplane ride. The sooner his Seventh Floor recognizes that, the sooner they can develop a strategy for achievable goals during Secretary Kerry’s  tenure and imprint his legacy on the institution.

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US Mission Iraq: War Over, Danger Pay and Hardship Pay Go Down, Oh, But It’s Confusing

According to the State Department’s allowances website, all State Department posts in Iraq have been designated 35% danger pay and 35% post (hardship) differential pay posts.  The US mission in Iraq designation at the top 35% danger/35% hardship pay bracket has been in effect since March 5, 2006.  All of 2004 and 2005 it was at 25%/25%.  All of 2003, it was between 20%-25%.

We recently learned that the State Department has nudged four Iraq regions down for both danger and hardship pay:

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Danger/Hardship Pay, February 2012

Our understanding is that these new rates are now in effect but the Allowances website has yet to catch up.  This would be the first time in almost 7 years that US Mission Iraq is not at the top danger/hardship differential bracket.  This would also leave just the posts in two countries at the top danger rate bracket of 35%, one officially a war zone, while the other is not:

  •  Afghanistan: Kabul, Others
  •  Pakistan: Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi (except Quetta which remains at 25%)

The State Department’s Office of Allowances does say on its website that “since conditions at Danger Pay posts are reviewed periodically to ensure that the Danger Pay continues only during the existence of conditions justifying such payment, it is possible for the Danger Pay designation to be removed or modified at any time.”

The when of that is what is curious.

We have previously blogged about the perplexities with State’s danger pay designation (see Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal … and  State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts).

Below is a table of Iraq casualties between 2003-2012

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Iraq Body Count (2003-2012)

Danger Pay Rate

2003   3004  2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012

20%     25%     25%     35%     35%       35%     35%     35%      35%     35%

We understand that State has its own danger pay factors and since we have no access to that, we’ll have to make do with publicly available information on just how dangerous Iraq was since 2003 based on casualties.  Note that when casualties in Iraq started going up in 2003, the danger pay rate was between 20-25%.  It remained at 25% the entire year of 2005.  It went up to the maximum rate of 35% in March 2006 and remained at the top bracket until this year. The U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in December 2011.  The casualties that year and 2012 remained above 4,000 but below the 12,000 casualties at the beginning of the war. The danger rate stayed at 35%.

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While the casualties have gone down, the country remains dangerous.  Here is what the embassy’s  2012 Crime and Security Report had to say about Iraq:

Iraq is rated as a critical threat for terrorism and political violence by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Despite the general decline in terrorist-related violence, the security situation in Iraq remains fluid. In December 2011, U.S. forces completely withdrew from Iraq. Terrorists and insurgent groups continue to conduct large-scale, lethal attacks that often target personnel and facilities associated with both American organizations and the Government of Iraq.  Insurgents also continue to carry out effective small-scale attacks throughout Iraq that cause fewer casualties but hinder free movement and influence public opinion regarding safety and security.
/snip/
While total attacks against U.S. personnel have decreased over the last three months, the threat of kidnapping, rocket attack, and small arms fire against U.S. interests in Iraq remains high and subject to flux based on domestic political, regional, and international developments.
/snip/
Since the U.S. military has withdrawn from Iraq, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Iraq have an extremely limited ability to assist Americans in the event of an emergency. Many services which many existed in the past, such as U.S. military-provided medevacs, transportation, convoy support, lodging, Quick Reaction Forces response to incidents, and monitoring of Personnel Security Details, are not generally available via the U.S. Embassy or Consulates.

In August 2012 IRIN/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had this to say about the situation in Iraq:

Assessments of security trends in Iraq vary wildly depending on who you speak to, how you count the statistics, and which period of time you study. But one thing is clear: bomb blasts, targeted killings or improvised explosive devices are still a daily occurrence in Iraq.

Last week’s coordinated attacks – leaving more than 100 people dead – set a record for the highest number of deaths in a single day in more than two years, displaying the continued ability of insurgent groups to strike. A double bombing in the capital yesterday brought July’s death toll to 245, according to a count by Associated Press.

While the US and the Iraqi government insist that security gains have been made in recent years, UN and independent analysts characterize the situation as having stabilized at an unacceptably high level of violence, albeit now concentrated in more specific areas.

One might argue that the departure of the U.S. military has made working in Iraq more challenging, thus justifying keeping the mission at 35% in 2011 and 2012. But the U.S. military has not returned to Iraq in 2013, so what has changed to merit bumping down the rates?

Is the reason the danger rate is a notch lower due to improved security? Really?  Or is this due to the looming sequestration? Whatever it is, it is muddy as heck.

Here is another interesting example — Yemen.

The US Embassy in Sana’a was a 20% danger post in 2006,  2007 and part of 2008.  On September 17, 2008, the embassy was attacked which resulted in 19 deaths and 16 injuries.  According to Wikipedia, six attackers, six Yemeni police and seven civilians were killed.   On October 26, 2008, the embassy’s danger rate went up to 30% where it remained to-date.

We understand that until last year, embassy personnel were driving their own vehicles, traveling around the country, taking taxis, and living in their own apartments.  For security reasons, they now  live in the old Sheraton Hotel Sanaa (apparently also known as the New Green Zone Sanaa) which has been leased by the US Embassy reportedly until January 2018.  The staff is not allowed to travel anywhere with one exception and only with armored vehicles.  Of course, the embassy lost a good number of its armored vehicles during the mob attack.  Unlike the US Embassy Tunisia where there were publicly available photographic evidence of the damages, the US Embassy Sanaa reportedly kept a tight lid on photos of the embassy damages in the aftermath of the attack.  For what reason, we do not know.  Perhaps they did not want to upset the host country?  In the meantime, the U.S. ambassador and American soldiers at post have a bounty on their heads until June 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen: AQAP Offers Gold Bounty for Ambassador Feierstein). And the danger rate remains at 30%.

Can somebody please grab the tail on what’s going on here? People need to understand the whys of this process. Whether they volunteered or were voluntold, they deserve a good explanation. C’mon guys, don’t make this rocket science.

Also we’re hearing that the priority bidding season for Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan or AIP is about to expand to include Libya and Yemen. One of our blog sources wondered out loud if the new bidding season might be called iPLAY.

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Mario Montoya’s Mission to a Revolution Spurs Search for Stevens’ Benghazi Security Detail?

In December, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R- UT) told Breitbart News that he has been “thwarted” by the State Department from seeing any Americans who survived the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in  Benghazi.

“My understanding is that we still have some people in the hospital. I’d like to visit with them and wish them nothing but the best but the State Department has seen it unfit for me to know who those people are—or even how many there are,” Rep. Chaffetz said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know where they live. I don’t know what state they’re from. I don’t even know how many there are. It doesn’t seem right to me.”

May we just say that it’s actually a good thing that the good congressman from Utah does not know where the survivors live?  Why? Because who’s to say that a congressman running for reelection every two years would not use the survivors as props in a future campaign?  This is the same congressman who did an overnight trip to Libya (via miljet?) to do some investigation, did not go to Benghazi but did show up pretty promptly at Fox News after the trip.

Don’t know if there is a cure for it, but Opportunistic Disorder Syndrome (ODS) is a common affliction among elected officials.

Seriously, does Congress really think they could find out more the what and whys and hows from talking to the survivors, the same ones who most probably are recovering from physical, emotional and psychological trauma? And what are they going to ask the survivors? Whether or not there was a demonstration prior to the attack?  Or what was Susan Rice doing on the Sunday talk shows? Are they going to ask the survivors why they were in Benghazi? Orders! Dammit, they got orders. Why were they in Benghazi is beyond their pay grades, folks.  Didn’t Congress folks ask the OGA people what they were doing in Benghazi? For sure, they were not there for the fun of it. They were there because somebody had made the decision that it was in our national interest that they be there.  But the OGA people could not possibly be there just on their own. They needed some leafy cover.

Dear god! Senator McCain wants to see the survivors come to Capitol Hill and give their account of what happened in Benghazi on September 11.  Because obviously, the survivors have not already talked to the FBI investigators and they need to answer questions from a bunch of self-serving politicians who cannot get their heads out of their collective posteriors? Ew, apologies for that imagery.  Anyway, maybe they should served these survivors with congressional subpoenas.  Let’s see what kind of PR Congress get for dragging these survivors to a useless hearing. The same survivors who were wounded in the attack; people who have watched their colleagues bleed and die and are never the same again, even if they made it out alive.  They’re not the perpetrators but by all means, go call them to your hearing and grill them to death.

We should note that only a fraction of the Benghazi survivors, about 7 individuals are State Department folks. There were reportedly 32 survivors from the Benghazi attack. Besides the 7 State Dept employees, the rest of the survivors are OGA people; okay call them Annex people, or former Petreaus people. Why are these Hill people not screaming bloody murder that the CIA is hiding their 25 Benghazi survivors from Congress?

And then there’s a spin off. First the Benghazi survivors were “hidden” and now apparently Ambassador Stevens security detail’s identities were “suppressed”.

A few days ago, this piece went online:

State Dept. Publicized Names, Photos of Stevens’ Benghazi Security Detail Before 9/11/12; Suppressed Their Identities Afterward |  February 1, 2013

Before the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the department undertook a calculated effort to publicize the agents’ names and faces–presenting them in a State Department promotional magazine posted on the Internet. After the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks, the State Department has treated the names and faces of the DS agents who survived those attacks as if they were classified information.

On January 28, the House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, and House Oversight National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz had sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to provide them with certain documents and information relating to the Benghazi attack. Among the things the committee asked Clinton to handover was: “A complete list of every individual—including name, title, and agency—interviewed by the ARB for the December 19, 2012, report, and any documents and communications referring or relating to the interviews.”

The online publication made the following suggestion:

If the committee wanted the names of the DS agents who were in Benghazi with Chris Stevens during the 2011 rebellion—as opposed to those who were with Stevens in Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack—all they would need to do is go to the State Department’s website and look up the December 2011 issue of State Magazine.

The cover story of this official government publication is entitled: “Mission to a Revolution.” It was written by Mario Montoya, identified in the magazine as one of the DS agents who protected Stevens in Benghazi during the 2011 Libyan rebellion.

This one:

Screen Shot 2013-02-06

From State Magazine, December 2011

In pages 18-23 of the article, are indeed the names of some of the DSS agents in Benghazi:

DS agents Jeremy Clarke, Chris Little and Mario Montoya, medic Jack Van Cleve, Regional Security Officer Mike Ranger and Security Protective Specialists Domingo Ruiz and Ronald Young protected mission staff traveling in Benghazi or in the rebel-controlled towns in eastern Libya.

In another part of the article is this:

But the group’s members needed more than a warm welcome; they needed a place to bed down for the night. In expeditionary diplomacy, they key is to make do with what you have, so the mission’s first night was spent aboard ship while Diplomatic Security Service agents Brian Haggerty, Kent Anderson, Josh Vincent, Chris Deedy, James Mcanelly, Jason Bierly and Ken Davis, Agent in Charge Keith Carter and Political Officer Nathan Tek scoured the city for rooms. They soon settled into a formerly government-owned hotel where other foreign missions and international journalists were lodged, but had to move when a car bomb exploded in the hotel parking lot.

We presumed that the main reasons the names and the photos actually made it to publication was that those agents were no longer in Libya.

And oh, hey! Did you hear that the DSS agents tour of duty at the temporary mission in Benghazi was a series of 45-60 days TDY rotations? The memo highlighted by the Oversight Committee containing the security request mention a permanent staffing for an RSO on a one year assignment.  Traditionally, RSOs have regular tours that range from 1-3 years depending on the locations of their assignments.  But Benghazi was unique; it did not have a permanent staff similar to other embassies and consulates. It was staffed by temporary duty personnel.

The Libyan Revolution occurred from 5 February 2011 – 23 October 2011.  Chris Stevens was the Special Representative to the National Transitional Council  during the Libyan revolution. He got to Benghazi in April 2011 and left sometime in November 2011.

In September 2011, the accredited US Ambassador to Tripoli Gene Cretz  returned to Libya. Chris Stevens  later that fall returned to Washington, D.C. President Obama officially nominated him to be the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in January 2012.   Chris Stevens remained in DC to prepare for his confirmation hearing.  The SFRC held his nomination hearing on March 20, 2012.

His nomination confirmed, Ambassador Stevens arrived in Tripoli on May 26, 2012 and presented his credentials the following day.

In any case, most of the names mentioned in the Montoya article have very light digital footprint. A quick look online indicate that one is now assigned in D.C. and we found one who actually made the news on his own.  Chris Deedy who in November 2011 was accused in a Waikiki shooting during the APEC conference in Hawaii was one of the DSS agents who was in Benghazi when Chris Stevens was the Special Representative to the Transitional Council.

Some of the related headlines made it sound as if these were the same agents.  Our source intimately familiar with the comings and goings  told us that none of those who accompanied  Chris Stevens to Benghazi as Special Rep in April 2011 were with him when he returned to Benghazi as ambassador in September 2012.

While we can understand why the government would want to protect the OGA names,  we can’t think of a reason why the names of the rest of the interviewees could not be made public. We would not have any argument about Congress forcing State to make public the list of individuals interviewed by the Accountability Review Board.  This was done in the East Africa Embassy Bombing ARB.  Besides, this is after all an “accountability” report, we believe the names of those interviewed should be made public. We are not so much interested on the names of the survivors as much as the names of the senior officials who were or were not interviewed by the Board.

That said, we certainly would not want Congress to add to the trauma that the survivors already suffered by parading them around under the broad cover of “investigating” this incident in political perpetuity (until 2014 for the senator on the growl or the next four years, take your pick).  Presumably, the FBI have talked to all the survivors.  If Congress cannot trust the FBI investigators to talk to the survivors and investigate this incident, why the foxtrot do we have an FBI?

Meanwhile, just a couple days ago, over in the less dysfunctional Washington, Anne Stevens, sister of the late Ambassador Stevens and a doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital is finishing the work her brother started — creating a collaborative relationship with U.S. doctors to advance Libyan health care.  According to Seattle Times, Dr. Stevens thought that the most fitting tribute to her older brother’s life was to complete the work he had started in Benghazi, helping Libyans improve emergency care in the troubled and dangerous city.

 

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Former Iraq Envoy L. Paul Bremer Encounters Shoe Hurling Tradition in London

Two shoes went flying targeting L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer, former ambassador and Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq following the 2003 invasion.  Mr. Bremer who was previously Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1983 and Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism in 1986 still had good reflexes.

After the second shoe flew across the room and he failed to catch it, Mr. Bremer said,  “You should improve your aim if you want to do something like that.”

The shoe hurling incident happened at a meeting organized by a think tank at the British Parliament.  As the shoe hurler was removed from the room, the man could be heard shouting profanity addressed to Bremer, who he said is responsible for destroying his country.

Peace restored, Mr. Bremer who very quickly regained his composure told the attendees, “If he had done that while Saddam Hussein was alive, he would be a dead man by now.”

Well, actually, that would only be true if Saddam Hussein was the target of the shoe attack.

Press reports identified the shoe hurler as Iraqi national Yasser al-Samarani. He was later released on condition of not attending any future meetings or activities held at the House of Commons, according to British media.

Shoe hurling is a traditional Arab gesture of disrespect. This man made an effort to attend the meeting, and waited for his turn to speak to Mr. Bremer and publicly register his disrespect. Mission accomplished. The Iraq war may have been over for the rest of the world, but it will not be over for a long while for people like Yasser al-Samarani.
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US Embassy Niger: Curfew for Official Personnel From Midnight – 6:00 AM

On February 7, the US Embassy in Niamey sent out an updated security message to U.S. citizens in Niger regarding restricted travel in the country, and the embassy-imposed curfew on mission personnel.

As of February 6, anyone, i.e., U.S. citizens, foreigners and host country nationals alike, who wishes to travel beyond the Niamey’s city limits (péage), must carry with them  car registration and personal identification documents, such as a passport or Nigerien identification card.

The Nigerien authorities have stated they will not restrict or permit travel based on nationality, but they do reserve the right to restrict travel based on the intended destination and its current security climate.  If you wish to travel, please remember the security climate can change and the Nigerien authorities may decide to take additional actions for your safety.

Due to the fluid security situation in Niger, the U.S. Embassy has imposed a curfew on official Embassy personnel from midnight until 6:00 a.m. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens remain vigilant, review their personal security plans, and take appropriate steps to increase their personal security.

Amb Bisa Williams during a trip to the Zinder region in 2011(Photo via US EMbassy Niamey/FB)

Ambassador Bisa Williams during a trip to the Zinder region in 2011
(Photo via US Embassy Niamey/FB)

On January 16, 2013, the Department of State issued a new travel warning for Niger on the risks of travel to Niger, and urges extreme caution due to the military conflict in neighboring Mali and continued kidnapping threats against Westerners in Niger.

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Zombies Invade Reykjavik or What Are You Doing With Young Zombies in Your Host Country

Via US Embassy Reykjavik:

The U.S. Embassy, Skjárinn and BíóParadís cooperated to present a zombie party and special screening of the first episode of Season 3 of the U.S. television series The Walking Dead. Ambassador Arreaga and other embassy staff joined a large group of zombie enthusiasts who organized a “Zombie Walk” from Hlemmur to BioParadis. At BioParadis, the ambassador presented awards to the Best Dressed, Bloodiest and Scariest zombies.

Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga during the zombie walk; see, even zombies need eyeglasses!
Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga in his non-zombie get-upPhoto via US Embassy Iceland/FB

Ambassador Arreaga in his professional get-up before his brain was eaten by zombies
Photo via US Embassy Iceland/FB

More photos of Zombies Invade Reykjavik (46 photos).  Ambassador Arreaga also posted about the zombie incident on his blog here.

“In one of the more unusual and perhaps the most fun activities in my foreign service career, Mary and I joined a group of Icelandic zombies on a “walk” from the Hlemmur bus station to Bíó Paradís where we had a chance to watch the first chapter of the third season of “The Walking Dead” a highly successful American television series.”

The event was held by the embassy for a group of young Icelandic zombies in partnership with SkjárEinn, cable television provider of the show, and Bíó Paradís, an independent cinema in downtown Reykjavik.

It looks like they had fun! But think about that for a moment. The targeted demographics are young Icelandic zombies.  Now, the next ALDAC cable going out of Foggy Bottom will be asking this question:  What are you doing with the young zombies in your host country? We hope you have a handy response.

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USCG Hong Kong & Macau: Lunar New Year Greeting for Year of the Snake

Via USCG HK and Macau:

Wondering what a snake, a candy box, an enormous lai xi, and a group of singing and dancing Consulate employees have in common? Take a look!

Screen Shot 2013-02-10

Click on image to view the video in YouTube

 

 

The Lunar New Year video features Consul General Stephen Young and the staff of the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau.

This is not the first time post did a video for the lunar year, and this reminds us a lot of US Embassy Bangkok’s New Year video earlier this year, but this is way better than the previous ones they’ve done.

Happy Lunar Year of the Dragon (2012)

Happy Lunar Year of the Rabbit (2011)

Wishing all our readers good fortune and prosperity in the Year of the Snake!

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DS Agent David Root Starts Fund for Mustafa Akarsu’s Family, Guard Killed in Embassy Ankara Suicide Attack – You Can Help

We’ve blogged recently about the passing of Mustafa Akarsu, the local guard at the US Embassy in Ankara who was killed  in the suicide attack last February 1 (see US Embassy Turkey: Suicide Bomber Kills Local Guard Mustafa Akarsu, Wounds One and also US Embassy Turkey: Mourning Mustafa Akarsu).

Now, David Root his supervisor at the embassy has started a fund-raising drive for Mustafa’s family.  David  is a Special Agent with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is the Assistant Regional Security Officer at Embassy Ankara. He was also Mustafa’s American supervisor.  He is using Indiegogo for the funding process, and while we have seen a similar response in the aftermath of Sean Smith’s death, this is the first time we are aware that this is used to support a local USG employee.

And what an extraordinary response!  ARSO Root started a funding goal of $3,000 for 60 days and on its second day the amount raised is already over $34,000.  In explaining the original funding goal, he wrote that  he was “petrified that not enough people would show their support and I would have to explain to Mustafa’s wife and children that we failed.”

In a separate post, he explains:

“Our hopes are that Mustafa’s family will not have to survive only off of Mustafa’s meager pension and give up Mustafa’s dream of his children attending college (goals we have for our own children). Mustafa is no longer here to work towards that dream. It is up to us to ensure his dream does not die with him.”

Screen Shot 2013-02-08

Click on image to visit the Akarsu Family Fund Project in Indiegogo

Here is what David wrote on the funding page:

The United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey was attacked by a suicide bomber on Friday, February 1st, 2013.  Carrying a handgun, a hand grenade, and 6 kilograms of TNT, it is clear that the terrorist’s plan was to kill and do considerable harm to Americans and American Embassy employees inside.

His plan failed.

One of our own armed Embassy Guards, Mustafa Akarsu, immediately recognized the danger and stopped the bomber before he could get into the compound and begin his attack.  The suicide bomber, realizing his plan was failing, detonated the device, killing Mustafa instantly.

Unfortunately, the Turkish government’s retirement program will only support Mustafa’s widow and children for a short time (as a Turkish citizen, Mustafa paid into the Turkish system, not the American).  Despite Mustafa’s over 22 years of service protecting the American Embassy and sacrificing his own life for ours, his family will struggle on Mustafa’s meager pension for the remainder of theirs (in Turkish culture, the husband is traditionally the sole “bread-winner”).  Even more tragically, Mustafa had applied and was being approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (a Visa reserved only for those who have dedicated the many number of years that Mustafa did).  He planned on becoming an American citizen with his family and hoped to send his children to college in the U.S. (Mustafa’s 19-year old son is pictured with him in the photo above).

Our Local Embassy Guards around the world, oftentimes overwhelmed and outgunned, are frequently forced to flee from attackers rather than stand and fight.  We saw this in the recent attack in Benghazi, Libya where a number of Americans were killed in a similar attack.  In holding his ground and knowingly placing his own body literally between the bomber and us, Mustafa truly demonstrated his selflessness and acted as courageously as any hero we have ever known.

If you are able to help us in this sad yet worthy cause, please donate what  you can.  ALL donations collected will go directly to the fund established for Mustafa’s family.

We know that there are a lot of people suffering during this economic downturn, but if you are able and willing to help, please go to  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mustafa-akarsu-family-fund?c=home.  Also, we are reminded by one of our readers (thanks D!) that official embassy/consulate websites and social media arms will not be pushing this campaign because there are FAM/FAH restrictions on fund raising.

Thank you for whatever help you can extend …. teşekkür ederim … feel free to link or pass along.
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