Greg D. Johnsen: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen

– Domani Spero
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On September 17, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen was attacked by armed militants. The armed attack which includes car and suicide bombings resulted in the death of seven militants and 12 security personnel and civilians. Greg D. Johnsen in telling the story of that day, writes that things would have been unimaginably worse if not for an unlikely hero.  This also shows how much our diplomatic posts are at the mercy of their host countries’ security support. If the host country’s security personnel runs away or refuses to fight, our people overseas are on their own.  

Photo via State/DS - 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Photo via State/DS – 2008 Annual Report (pdf)

Gregory D. Johnsen — follow him @gregorydjohnsen — is the Michael Hastings National Security Fellow and author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia. Excerpt below:

The men knew their early Islamic history, and had picked their target accordingly. For them, Sept. 17 was a holy date. On the Islamic calendar, which held to the lunar cycle, the date was Ramadan 17, 1429. Centuries earlier, at the very beginning of Islam — 624 A.D., or the second year on the Muslim calendar — the Prophet Muhammad led a small band of believers into battle against a much larger pagan force. That morning on the plains south of Medina, the ragtag Muslim army stunned the pagans, a victory Muhammad and the Qur’an attributed to divine intervention.
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The plan was simple: The first vehicle would crash into the main gate, exploding a hole in the embassy’s perimeter and allowing the second jeep and the rest of the men to flood into the main compound and kill as many Americans as they could before they were gunned down. But to do that they had to pass through the concentric circles of security undetected.

At the first checkpoint, the one manned by the Central Security Force, soldiers glanced at the military license plates on the jeeps and waved them through.

The two jeeps pulled ahead to the next checkpoint and stopped. “We have a general here to see the ambassador,” one of the men shouted at Mukhtar and Shumayla.

Neither of them knew anything about a meeting. This wasn’t protocol. Seche hardly ever met people at the embassy; he usually went out. Still, the ambassador didn’t consult with them on his decisions.

Shumayla moved first, walking toward the jeeps to check IDs. About halfway there he paused. The windows in the jeeps were so darkly tinted that he couldn’t see inside. That wasn’t right. Mukhtar was already pulling on the rope to raise the drop bar when Shumayla saw it: a man in the lead jeep popping through a hole in the roof and clutching a Kalashnikov.

“Ya, Mukhtar,” Shumayla shouted. “Run.”

And then the shooting started. Three men jumped out of the trailing jeep, firing as they ran. Shumayla was gone, fleeing for the protection of several concrete barriers. But Mukhtar waited. He had to get the bar down. Letting the rope slide back down through his hands, he hit the duck-and-cover alarm — the embassy’s early warning system — as the bar crashed back down. It all lasted only a few seconds, but that was all it took. One bullet hit him below the left the shoulder; another took him in the stomach. He managed to turn and run about 10 yards toward some rocks before a third bullet hit him in the back and exploded out his chest.

According to Greg Johnsen’s report, Mukhtar al-Faqih was posthumously awarded the Department of State’s Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service for sacrificing his life and giving “the last full measure of devotion to his colleagues and friends.” The U.S. Embassy reportedly hired his younger brother Muhammad to replace him as a security guard but has denied the fourth and youngest brother, Walid, a visa to travel to the U.S.

Read in full: The Benghazi That Wasn’t: How One Man Saved The American Embassy In Yemen.

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Dublin, Ireland — 50 Years of the American Embassy

— Domani Spero
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Via US Embassy Dublin

On May 23rd, 1964 the U.S. Embassy officially opened its new Chancery building on the corner of Eglin Rd and Pembroke Rd in Ballsbridge, Dublin. “Being circular as the placement of the thirteen stars in the first American flag, it symbolises unity and strength……This form also enables the building to face in all directions, friendly and attractive from any angle” stated the official program from opening day.

The Embassy was designed by an American architect, John M. Johansen, in consultation with the prominent Irish architect, Michael Scott.

This short video explains how the building was designed and built, and how it has been a focal point for Irish American relations over the past 50 years.

In November 2014 the Embassy will partner with the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square to host an exhibit of the Embassy’s architecture.

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The U.S. Foreign Service Turns 90, What Will It Be Like in 50 Years?

— Domani Spero
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There was a big do in Foggy Bottom last night celebrating the 90th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service founded on May 24, 1924 when the Diplomatic and Consular Services were unified under the Rogers Act (named for Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts). Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Lugar, as well as other friends of the Service were in attendance.  Secretary Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State and the son of former Foreign Service officer, Richard John Kerrydelivered the remarks. Excerpt:

Ninety years ago the Foreign Service was just absolutely unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Back then we had fewer than 700 Foreign Service officers and now we have more than 13,000. Back then we had no female chiefs of mission – none. Now we have more than 40. And I’m proud to tell you that right now in this Department five out of six of our regional Assistant Secretaries are women; four out of six of our Under Secretaries are women; and we are joined tonight – since we have two Deputy Secretaries of State, 50 percent are women, and one of them is here. Heather Higginbottom, sitting right over here. So I think that’s a great record. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Back then, when it started, we had only one African American Foreign Service officer. One. A man named Clifton Wharton. I happened to know of him way back when because my dad actually worked for him way back in those early days. Now we have nearly a thousand African American Foreign Service officers following in his footsteps.
[…]
And in 1924, House Resolution 6357 passed Congress and it gave birth to the modern Foreign Service. Now to quote Rogers: “The promise of good diplomacy is the greatest protector of peace.” And our hope is that people will recognize that 90 years from that moment, that is exactly what the Foreign Service has done. 

See the full Remarks at the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service.

The U.S. Foreign Service has more than 90 years of history, of course. According to the State Department historian, from 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.  

The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. Some of these officials did not start getting paid until 1856 when Congress established a salary between $1,000 and $7,500 per year.

In 1781, we had 4 diplomatic posts and 3 consular posts.  By 2010, we had 168 diplomatic and 89 consular posts. In 1781, the State Department also had 4 domestic and 10 overseas personnel. By 1940, this grew to 1,128 domestic personnel and 840 staff overseas. The largest bump in staffing occurred in the 1950s when domestic personnel expanded to 8,609 employees and the Foreign Service grew to 7,710 overseas staff.    By the time the Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law, there were 3,438 Civil Service employees and 9,326 Foreign Service.  When USIA was integrated into the State Department, there were 6,958 CS employees and 9,238 FS employees. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) in 2005 boosted the staffing numbers to 8,098 CS employees and 11,238 FS employees. In 2012, there were 13,676 FS employees of 55% of the total agency employees and 10,811 CS employes or 45% of State employees.

The question we have is what will the Foreign Service look like when it turns 100 in 2024? The DRI hires will be in senior management positions in 10 years. How will their experience help them manage a new generation of diplomats?

In the past decade, we have seen an increase in unaccompanied assignments, and in the number of male eligible family members. The number of danger posts, as well, as the number of priority posts have also expanded.  A good number of junior diplomats have started their careers in war zone assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; some more were sent to restricted assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, and various countries under civil strife. We have Diplomatic Security agents moving from one priority posting to the next priority posting; rinse that and repeat. We don’t how many PTSD cases and non-natural deaths occur among FS members but we know they exist.

These folks will all come “home” one day to a Foreign Service where some have never served in the front line states.  We hope somebody at the State Department is thinking and planning for that day. Or maybe that day is already here since there is already a divide between those perceived to be conducting “real diplomacy” and those who are not; with some considering an assignment in a war zone as not being “actual diplomacy.” There are also folks annoyed that FSOs who serve in war zones get much more money and received favorable treatment on promotions.

Something is happening in the Foreign Service. What will it be like in fifty years?

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Photo of the Day: JK Salutes Two 42-Year U.S. Embassy Mexico City Employees

— Domani Spero
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Secretary of State John Kerry salutes Ana Elena Tappan Alvarado and Arturo Montano Robles during a visit to U.S. Embassy Mexico City on May 21, 2014, in recognition of the 42 years they each have spent working at the mission.

 

Secretary Kerry Greets Longtime Embassy Mexico City Employee Alvarado U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during his visit to Mexico, hugs Ana Elena Tappan Alvarado in recognition of the 42 years she and Arturo Montano Robles, background, have spent working at U.S. Embassy Mexico City, May 21, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

May 21, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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