US Embassy Seoul Tweets B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers: Precision Strikes at Will

Last week, the US Embassy in Seoul sent this tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-03-28

Today, this one:

Screen Shot 2013-03-28

b-2 bomber_usemb seoul

The CSMonitor quoted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as saying that the unprecedented U.S. decision to send nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers to drop dummy munitions during military drills with South Korea was part of normal exercises and not intended to provoke a reaction from North Korea.

BBC News reported that that North Koreans  have put missile units on stand-by to attack US targets in response to US stealth bomber flights over the Korean peninsula.  The report citing the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also said that Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a late-night meeting of top generals. The time had come to “settle accounts” with the US, KCNA quoted him as saying, with the B-2 flights an “ultimatum”.

A statement from US Forces Korea  says in part:

U.S. Strategic Command sent two B-2 Spirit bombers for a long-duration, round-trip training mission from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to the Republic of Korea March 28 as part of the ongoing bilateral Foal Eagle training exercise. 

This mission by two B-2 Spirit bombers assigned to 509th Bomb Wing, which demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will, involved flying more than 6,500 miles to the Korean Peninsula, dropping inert munitions on the Jik Do Range, and returning to the continental U.S. in a single, continuous mission.

The United States is steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region.  The B-2 bomber is an important element of America’s enduring and robust extended deterrence capability in the Asia-Pacific region.  

That’s two flying over the Korean Peninsula, there are 18 more in the inventory.  Read more here.  Also BBC’s piece on How potent are North Korea’s threats? 
sig4

 

 

 

Advertisements

US Embassies Cyprus & Greece: Federal Benefits Recipients at Risk of Identity Theft

You’ve heard about the financial crisis roiling the tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  The €10 billion bailout announced recently is not going to be the end of it.  According to The Telegraph, Cyprus central bank official Yiangos Dimitriou has confirmed that the cashing of cheques will be banned as part of the introduction of capital controls. Dimitriou also announced that bank withdrawals will be limited to €300 a day.  Reuters reported that people leaving Cyprus may take only €1,000 with them. Apparently, there are also notices at the airport warning travelers of the new restrictions and that officers had orders to confiscate cash above the €1,000 euro limit.

Given that the 2010 OIG report of US Embassy Nicosia made no mention of American Citizen Services, we presume that there are not too many American residents in the island.  American retirees have flocked to Greece and their number in Cyprus is significantly lower than the UK pensioners, of which there are reportedly about 18,000 in the island. We understand that the Athens consular district is home to approximately 110,000 American citizens and there is a federal benefits attaché at the US Embassy in Greece who reports to the consul general.

Still, there potentially are enough Americans residing and banking in Cyprus which prompted the Federal Benefits Unit at the US Embassy in Athens to released the following statement:

We have arranged the following contingencies for customers who receive their federal benefits through Cyprus banks. Under any of these options, direct deposit changes usually occur 2 months after the month we receive the request, so do not close your old account until you receive the first payment in your new account.

Send an email to FBU.Athens@ssa.gov to change how you receive direct deposits.

Use a Subject Line in this format: SUBJECT: CYPRUS

– Your name and last 4 digits of your social security number

In the message, provide the following:

1. Last name and first name

2. Street Address

3. Phone Number

4. Social Security Number (9 Digits), and

5.  Direct deposit information, depending the option you request.

Options include designating a bank in the United States to receive direct deposits, designating a bank in the Greece to receive direct deposits (though the account must be in euros), and requesting a Chase Direct Benefit Card from JP Morgan Chase Bank

Read in full here.

Similarly, the contact info for the Federal Benefits Unit in Nicosia requires beneficiaries to provide their SSN via email to consularnicosia@state.gov .

Screen Shot 2013-03-24

The intentions to help as expeditiously as possible is commendable but did anyone stop and pause how this might put retirees and recipients at risk of identify thief?

Did anyone stop and think how Social Security information is an identity thief’s dream?

With your Social Security number in hand, an opportunistic hacker or other online criminal can do just about anything — create phony bank accounts using your name; charge unlimited amounts of goods and services to credit accounts you never meant to open; steal your identity and recreate it multiple times and in multiple locations.

What security provisions are there to minimized potential misused of SSN transmitted via unencrypted email?

Where is the disclosure statement required under the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act states that you cannot be denied a government benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN unless the disclosure is required by federal law, or the disclosure is to an agency that has been using SSNs before January 1975, when the Privacy Act went into effect. There are other exceptions as well. Read the Code of Federal Regulations section here: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/julqtr/28cfr16.53.htm.

If you are asked to give your SSN to a government agency and no disclosure statement is included on the form, you should complain to the agency and cite the Privacy Act of 1974. You can also contact your Congressional representative and U.S. Senators with your complaint. Unfortunately, there appear to be no penalties when a government agency fails to provide a disclosure statement.

Asking the federal benefits beneficiaries to send their social security numbers via email is like asking them to write it on a postcard.  C’mon folks,  would you write and mail yours on a postcard? No? Well then ….

sig4

 

 

Photo of the Day: Women’s Day in Badghis, Celebrating From Behind

Via the US Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan/FB:

Women’s Day in Badghis |  500 men and women attended a Women’s Day celebration in Badghis last week. During the program Deputy Governor Shakib spoke about the importance of involving women in education, economic and political processes in Afghanistan. Project manager for Ring Road contractor EMJV Dr. Hamid Scander pledged $100,000 from the Ring Road Community Development program for women’s advocacy programs in Badghis.
Women's Day in Badgdis -USCon Herat

via USConsulate Herat/FB

 

Words would be superfluous.
sig4

US Embassy Manila Hosts a “Boodle Fight” … or Fine Dining Combat Without the Flatware

The US ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas hosted a “boodle fight” for the reporters of the Defense Press Corps at the U.S. Embassy’s Najeeb Saleeby Courtyard on March 21, 2013. According to the embassy’s online post, defense and security officials of the U.S. government, including Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Deputy Commander David Cole (left), also joined the “boodle fight” which was patterned after the traditional Philippine military way of enjoying a humble feast piled on top of banana leaves.

Photo via US Embassy Manila

Ambassador Thomas (in a pink shirt) during the boodle fight.
Photo via US Embassy Manila

This seems to be the best explanation for a boodle fight, although it is posted under martial arts:

From my experience during my compulsory military training, a “boodle fight” is the Philippine Military jargon for a mess hall banquet where all the food are piled into one big tray in each table and every soldier, enlisted men and officer alike eat from that same tray with their hands as a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality in the Armed Forces. The “fight” part refers to the fact that it’s everyman for himself during these feasts, this means you grab and eat as much as you can before the food runs out or else go hungry because everyone else is gorging away.

Food typically is placed if not on a food tray then on banana leaves or old newspapers, you eat using your bare hands, so jugs of water are put on the side to wash hands before and after the eating combat.  Looks like they’re eating rice, noodles and some sort of meat and most of them appears to be enjoying themselves.  More photos here from the embassy’s boodle fight.
sig4

Snapshot: State Dept Discrimination and Reprisal Complaints FY2008-FY2013

The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act requires that federal agencies post on their public web sites certain statistical data summary relating to equal employment opportunity complaints filed against the respective agencies.  The Act will be 10 years old on October 1, 2013.

The State Department posted its statistical information in accordance with the No FEAR Act here. Below is a snapshot of complaints by basis during the last five fiscal years and the first quarter of FY2013. Note that in FY2012, complaints on reprisal rank #1, with race, sex and age tied at #2 and disability at #3. During the first quarter of FY2013, complaints on reprisal is already on the lead.

Screen grab from state.gov

Screen grab from state.gov (click on image to see the complete data)

This, of course, only include cases of complaints actually filed. Complaints taken but filed or lost in a filing cabinet are not included in the count.

Another striking thing with the statistical data is that non-sexual (hostile work environment) harassment by far registered the most number of complaints by issue in fiscal year 2012. Is that surprising to you?  See more here.
sig4

 

 

 

 

 

US Mission Iraq: Shrinking to 5,500 Personnel by End of Year, Never Mind the Missing Details

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, we were greeted with news about a wave of bombings in Iraq which killed 65 people and wounded over 200.

Then CNN came out with this piece on Iraq war for oil.

And retired FSO Peter Van Buren went on Fox News to talk about $15 million a day spent on  projects in Iraq (did you think he was going away?).  We heard from a nosy source that a former US ambassador to Iraq was reportedly on the phone to offer a, what do you call it — a counter-point, during the segment but the line went dead as a door nail when informed that Mr. Van Buren was the guest. Them phone signals can get occasionally wacky, must be that dry western climate.

Oh, and Mr. Rumsfeld made a serious tweet (can you hear Tehran celebrating the 10th anniversary with a roar?).

Screen Shot 2013-03-20

He got grandly pummeled over in Twitterland. Except that if he did not care what people think ten years ago, would he really care what folks think today? Of course, he is now an octogenarian on Twitter. Hopefully, he’s occupied enough not to plan on liberating any more countries between now and going forward.

Another news doing the rounds is the reported shrinking of US Mission Iraq – from a Gigantosaurus of embassies (projected at 17,000 in 2011 by Ambassador Jeffrey during a SFRC hearing) to hopefully something like a smaller, more agile Postosuchus.

Via the Middle East Online

The US mission in Iraq — the biggest in the world — will slash its numbers by two-thirds by the end of this year from its peak figure of over 16,000, the American ambassador to Baghdad said.

Overall staffing levels at the US’s embassy in Baghdad and its consulates in the southern port city of Basra, the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil and the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, will drop to around 5,500, including contractors, by the end of the year.

“A year ago, we were well above 16,000, now we’re at 10,500,” Ambassador Stephen Beecroft told reporters. “By the end of this year, we’ll be at 5,500, including contractors.”

As a prospective 5,500-person mission, it would probably still be one of the largest embassies in the world, if not still the largest (anyone knows what is the personnel-complement of US Mission Afghanistan?).

We’ve asked the Press Office of the US Embassy in Baghdad how many career Foreign Service personnel will be expected in Baghdad and constituent posts by end of year and what they are planning to do with all that space that will soon be vacated. We forgot to ask but we also are curious on what they’ll do with the Air Embassy planes (and pilots) and district embassy hospitals and equipment (embassy auction?).  Or how many ambassadorial rank senior officers they will have by end of the year.

Unfortunately, we haven’t got any response to our inquiry. Obviously the folks at the embassy’s Public Affairs shop are professionals who always respond to inquiries from the public even from the pajama-wearing sector who wants to know what’s going on.  Unless, of course, they are overwhelmed with drafting their performance evaluations (we understand it’s EER time).  It is also  entirely possible they were not read in on what they actually are doing by end of this year.  That is, besides the simple math announced on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the invasion.  Poor sods.

sig4

 

 

 

 

State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall

State’s OIG recently posted online its review of the three divisions in Diplomatic Security’s Directorate of Domestic Operations:  1) the Special Investigations Division (SID), 2) the Criminal Investigations (CR) Division, and 3) the Computer Investigations and Forensics (CIF) Division.

Here are the key findings:

  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases.
  • DS does not have a comprehensive, up-to-date manual with approved policies and guidelines on how to conduct investigations.
  • DS’s quality assurance measures are not sufficient to ensure that investigations comport with law enforcement standards and powers. DS should use peer reviews to help correct flaws and identify best practices.
  • Frequent agent turnover in DS investigative offices reduces long-term, specialized expertise and hampers complex criminal investigations.
  • The Criminal Fraud Investigations (CFI) branch of the Criminal Investigations (CR) Division should become a new division.
  • DS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) have not completed a long-pending memorandum of understanding regarding CA’s Consular Integrity Division (CID).
  • Inspectors found personnel in the three Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (ICI) divisions to be professional and dedicated to their jobs.

If you ever wonder why “it depends” is a common enough mantra over there, take a look:

The absence of a comprehensive, up-to-date manual increases the potential for errors, particularly for new agents who are forced to rely on on-the-job training. Inspectors discovered uncertainty among SID agents about which warnings to provide subjects prior to their interviews in investigations, though the wrong choice of warning can ruin a potential criminal prosecution. Inspectors were told that SID supervisors have sometimes pursued investigations excessively against other DS agents and that some supervisors have chosen to open cases on every allegation, including for those types of workplace issues that Department managers should ordinarily attempt to handle via other means. The likelihood of such problems increases when clear guidelines are lacking and individual preferences prevail.

Now, it’s not like this is a newly established office where folks are working from scratch. This office has been around forever investigating criminal and admin misconduct. It is utterly absurd  that it does not have an up-to-date manual. The OIG report mercifully did not say which version of the manual this office is operating under;  save folks the embarrassment of having to explain if the manual dates back to Jesse Helms days.

On independence, credibility, external influences and pressures:

 In all matters relating to investigative work, the investigative organization needs to be free, in fact and appearance, from impairments to independence in both organization and attitude. Such independence is essential so that an organization’s decisions about obtaining evidence, conducting interviews, and making recommendations will be impartial and viewed as such by knowledgeable third parties. The credibility of the Department’s investigative organizations and disciplinary system depends on that independence, yet the perception exists among knowledgeable parties that external influences have negatively affected some SID investigations.

SID is one of many offices that report up the normal chain to the principal deputy assistant secretary and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. Foreign Service special agents in SID, 80 percent of whom are junior in rank, ordinarily serve only one tour as an investigator. Subjects of their investigations may include more senior DS agents; other senior DS agents are sometimes hostile witnesses for interviews. The SID supervisors also are in the DS mainstream and subject to regular “up or out” assignment and promotion processes. During inspection interviews, nearly every SID special agent acknowledged being aware that one or more suspects, witnesses, or senior Department officials could one day serve on a promotion board or on a DS assignment panel that would decide the investigator’s career prospects. Although most investigators said that they had not experienced career pressure in any particular cases, some had indeed felt such pressure. Several special agents in SID observed that Civil Service agents with sufficient rank are less susceptible to such pressure, as their careers do not depend on DS assignment panels or Foreign Service promotion boards.

It turns out that the SID chief is an FS-01 position, which, according to the OIG report “leaves any chief who aspires to the Senior Foreign Service vulnerable to pressure from above.”  Unnamed sources also suggested to the OIG team that “having three bureaucratic layers between the SID chief and the DS Assistant Secretary makes sensitive cases vulnerable to multiple types of interference and the leaking of information.” 

The OIG recommends that the Office of the Deputy Secretary (presumably the incoming D/MR who succeeds Mr. Nides) should “restructure the investigative responsibilities currently assigned to the Special Investigations Division. The outcome should include safeguards to prevent any Department of State or Diplomatic Security official from improperly influencing the commencement, course, or outcome of any investigation.”

Let’s see if that happens.

Should have been interesting to know which cases were alleged to have been interfered with, wouldn’t it? That would have been a scream.

Apparently, according to the Dead Men Working blog, “CFSO and AFSA both told State’s OIG that DS investigations into allegations of mis-or-malfeasance by Foreign Service members were subject to outside influence and were occasionally unprofessional.”

They told the OIG seven years ago. Yay!
sig4

 

 

 

 

Officially In: Deborah K. Jones, from MEI Scholar-in-Residence to Libya

On March 13, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Deborah K. Jones as the next Ambassador to Libya. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Deborah K. Jones, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.  Previously, she was Senior Faculty Advisor for National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College.  From 2008 to 2011, she served as U.S. Ambassador to the State of Kuwait.  Ambassador Jones joined the Department of State in 1982.  Her additional overseas posts include: Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey (2005-2007), Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (1998-2001), Consular Section Chief/Regional Counselor Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (1992-1994), and Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria (1990-1991).  Her Washington assignments include:  Director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs and Iran (2002-2004) and Acting Public Affairs Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs (1994-1995).

Ambassador Jones received a B.A. from Brigham Young University and an M.S. from the National War College of the National Defense University.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is greeted by Deborah K. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait and Chief of the Kuwaiti Army Lt. Gen. Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khaled in Kuwait City on April 1, 2010. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released)


Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is greeted by Deborah K. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait in Kuwait City on April 1, 2010. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

If confirmed, Ambassador Jones would succeed the late Ambassador Stevens who served as chief of mission in Libya from June – September 2012.  Following the death of Ambassador Stevens, retired FSO Laurence Pope was sent to Tripoli in October 2012 as Chargé d’ Affaires.  Career FSO and former Director for the Office of Maghreb Affairs William Roebuck assumed office as Chargé d’ Affaires to Libya in January this year.

You may add this to your short list of tandem ambassador in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She is married to Ambassador Richard Olson, former US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and US Ambassador to Pakistan since September 2012.  They have two daughters.

sig4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Officially In: James Knight, from Iraq to Chad

On March 13, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador James Knight as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Chad. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador James Knight, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is Assistant Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  From 2009 to 2012, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Benin.  His additional overseas assignments include: Team Leader of the Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq (2006-2007); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Luanda, Angola (2004-2006); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Praia, Cape Verde (2001-2003); Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar (1995-1998); and Political, Economic, and Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia (1993-1995).  In Washington, his assignments include: Director of the State Department’s Office of East African Affairs (2007-2009) and Country Officer for Ethiopia (1998-2001).  Ambassador Knight served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1973.

He received a B.A. and an M.A. from Wichita State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Ambassador James Knight(Photo via US Embassy Cotonou/FB)

Ambassador James Knight
(Photo via US Embassy Cotonou/FB)

If confirmed, Ambassador Knight (appointed Assistant Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in the later part of 2012) would succeed career diplomat Mark Boulware who was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Chad on September 29, 2010.

Ambassador Knight is an Africa hand with tours in various outposts in the African continent broken only by two postings in Baghdad and Mosul and a couple of domestic tours.  Nigerian scammers, by the way, did not know that he had left Benin last year and are still sending out their Irrevocable Release/Transfer Atm Visa Card Notice for your due funds (US$5,500,000:00) scam with Ambassador Knight’s name on it.
sig4

Ten Years Ago Today: FSO John Brown Quit the Foreign Service Over Iraq

March 10, 2003

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am joining my colleague John Brady Kiesling in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service (effective immediately) because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush’s war plans against Iraq.

The president has failed:

–To explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time;

–To lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties;

–To specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans;

–To clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror;

–To take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.

Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president’s disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.

I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it.

Sincerely,

John H. Brown
Foreign Service Officer

Via  John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

Two other American diplomats quit over Iraq:   John Brady Kiesling,  the first of three U.S. foreign service officers to resign, on February 25, 2003, to protest the invasion of Iraq.  Mr. Kiesling’s letter is here.   Mary Ann Wright submitted her resignation letter to then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on March 19, 2003, the day before the onset of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Ms. Wright’s resignation letter is here.  
sig4