— By Domani Spero
FSO Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Tripoli (July 2012-October 2012) was one of George Stephanopoulos’s Sunday morning guests on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on September 8. Below is an excerpt from the transcript:
Read the full transcript here.
Asked for a response by ABC News, a spokesman said the State Department has “not punished Mr. Hicks in any way” and that “the circumstances that led to his departure from Libya was entirely unrelated to any statements he may have made relating to the attack in Benghazi.” Full statement below:
State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach’s statement to ABC News:
The State Department has not punished Mr. Hicks in any way. We appreciate his exemplary service on the evening of September 11 and his long career as a member of the Foreign Service.
Although the State Department ordinarily does not discuss the details of personnel matters publicly, because he has alleged mistreatment, we will state generally that the circumstances that led to his departure from Libya was entirely unrelated to any statements he may have made relating to the attack in Benghazi. When Mr. Hicks voluntarily curtailed his assignment, he was in the position of finding another assignment in between standard assignment cycles. The Department made significant efforts to find him a new position at his level, including identifying an overseas position which he declined and succeeded in finding him a short-tour assignment in the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, pending the next assignment cycle. We continue to value his service and are working with him through the normal personnel process and assignment timetable to identify his next permanent assignment.
The State Department is deeply committed to meeting its obligation to protect employees and the State Department does not tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on ANY ISSUE, including Benghazi.
Of course, it would be a lot easier to believe Mr. Gerlach’s statement but for Peter Van Buren. And let’s not even start with a gag order as a condition for a resolution within the State Department. (By the way, speaking of gag orders, FSO Russell Sveda who was gay and went through a 14-year bureaucratic battle with State got around the media gag order by speaking to ADST’s Oral History Project, a non-media entity who published the interview online. Smart. You may read his account here).
Back to the Hicks affair — in May this year after Mr. Hicks appearance in Congress, a couple of unnamed US Embassy Tripoli employees dished to Hayes Brown of ThinkProgress about Mr. Hicks performance as deputy chief of mission in Tripoli (see EXCLUSIVE: Embassy Staff Undercut ‘Whistleblower’ Testimony On Benghazi). Apparently, this includes “a lack of diplomatic protocol” by “going to a meeting with the Libyan Prime Minister Mohammed Magarief in a t-shirt, cargo pants, and baseball cap” and allegedly being “too upset to wear a suit.” I don’t know about you, but “several troubling incidents” criticizing a senior officer’s performance at post ought to include more than simple bad choice in clothes.
What did he do that necessitates a curtailment? We’ll never know.
Mr. Hicks on his May 8 testimony before the Oversight Committee also said this:
“After I arrived in Tripoli as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) on July 31, 2012, I fast became known as the Ambassador’s “bulldog,” because of my decisive management style.”
But why would anyone need a “bulldog” in a collegial embassy setting?
The American Bulldogs is one of the Top 10 Banned Dog Breeds (banned in Denmark, Singapore and various municipalities, the dog’s specialty is catching feral hogs and it is known for its very high pain threshold). Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club (AKC) also says that a Bulldog’s “disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified.” Take your pick.
We don’t know Mr. Hicks and we’ve never meet him. We have previously sent him a couple of emails but those were never acknowledged, so we’re not e-pals either. We know that Tripoli was his first assignment as a DCM, so there is no paper trail on OIG inspections that we can locate. The folks who worked for him (at least those who talked to the press) could only point to a bad choice in wardrobe as an example of bad performance. By his own admission, he “voluntary curtailed” from his assignment in Tripoli barely three months into his tour. Following the Benghazi attack, the Libya mission went on ordered departure. Curtailment during OD is widely viewed as a “no fault” curtailment, which in turn means, there would be no career repercussions.
But people inside the building also know that if you say “no” to management’s suggestion of voluntary curtailment, you risk incurring a “loss of confidence.” Even if you say “no,” the chief of mission can still request the Director General of the Foreign Service for curtailment. Except in this case, management will be required to: (1) Include background information on any incidents that support the request; (2) Confirm that the employee has been informed of the request and the reasons therefore; and (3) Confirm that the employee has been advised that he or she may submit comments separately. In short, the bosses will need to do the work to justify an involuntary curtailment.
So when your leadership suggest that you take a “voluntary” curtailment, you can either say “yes” even if you don’t want to shorten your assignment, or you can say “no” and still be curtailed anyway.
Perhaps when people sign their names to a “voluntary” curtailment request that they don’t want, it should be appropriately called “voluntold”curtailment?
How will this end?
Assignments in the Foreign Service are typically handed out a year before the actual job rotation. So if one curtails from an assignment, one does not have a lot of jobs to choose from and may have to take what is normally called a “bridge” assignment. An assignment between your previous job and the next assignment with a start date in the foreseeable future. We don’t know what happened in this case but — paging —
Rep. Jackie “I think this committee will help you get a good onward assignment” Speier — where are you?
This Week’s interview did not indicate Mr. Hicks’ current assignment. But a couple of things we should note:
1) Mr. Hicks ran for State-VP in the 2013 AFSA election and failed in his quest to represent the Foreign Service. (see AFSA Elections 2013: Unofficial Results, Asada Defeats Hicks; 2013 AFSA Election Results: 3,505 Out of 16,000+ Members Voted, Plus Vote Count By Candidate). His congressional testimony occurred just prior to the AFSA elections where he ran in the slate of the IAFSA Coalition. It was a typical low turn out election. If there were sympathy votes, there were not enough to overcome his closest opponent; he lost by about a hundred votes.
2) If Mr. Hicks was not in trouble before, he could be in trouble now for going on “This Week…” without prior clearance under FAM 4170 Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching. This is something that similarly “got” Mr. Van Buren in hot water during his very public battle with the State Department bureaucracy (After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata Peter Van Buren).
The question now is how far will this escalate.