State Department Announces Two New Special Envoys: Stratcom and Colombia Peace Process

Posted: 01:02 EST
Updated: 14:47  PST
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Last week, the State Department announced two new special envoy appointments. The first one announced on February 18 was the appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Since 2010, Special Envoy Hussain has served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 2009, Mr. Hussain worked with the National Security Council in developing and pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his address in Cairo, Egypt. Before joining the White House, Mr. Hussain was a member of the legal staff for the Presidential Transition Team.

Special Envoy Hussain will lead a staff drawn from a number of U.S. departments and agencies to expand international engagement and partnerships to counter violent extremism and to develop strategic counterterrorism communications around the world.  As part of this role, Special Envoy Hussain will also serve as Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was established at the direction of the President and former Secretary of State Clinton in 2010 and codified by President Obama’s Executive Order 13584 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide strategic communications focused on violent extremists and terrorist organizations.
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Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His academic writings have focused on national security, constitutional law, and civil liberties.

It looks like Special Envoy Hussain would will replace Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez who assumed the position of Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in 2012. The center was established in September 2010 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide public communications activities directed at audiences abroad and targeted against violent extremists and terrorist organizations, especially al-Qaida, its affiliates, and its adherents. We understand that Ambassador Fernandez is heading to retirement.

On February 20, Secretary Kerry also announced the appointment of Bernie Aronson as the United States special envoy for the Colombian peace process:

Now Bernie’s experience in this region is significant. It’s extensive. In addition to being a former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, his well-recognized hard work in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua is really a lasting achievement in American diplomacy, and it earned him the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal and the admiration of all those who followed those talks and who have worked in the region since.
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These negotiations are not easy, and we know that. Negotiations like this never are. They’re reasons that this has gone on for years and years. If it was easy, it would have been done already. The Colombian Government and the FARC have been fighting for longer than most Colombians have been alive. And after so many years of violence, emotions always run strong, and that’s understandable.

But with courage, with determination, with a just and lasting commitment to peace, we think that the courage shown by President Santos and the people of Colombia in pursuing these talks could actually find a resolution. With the help of Special Envoy Aronson, the United States is going to continue to stand by Colombians’ side in this journey, and we hope that 2015 could possibly take a step forward in helping to bring Colombia the security, the prosperity and, most importantly, the peace that it deserves.

These latest appointments join almost 30 other special envoys/special representatives currently encumbering filling in various portfolios in Foggy Bottom ranging from Af/Pak and climate change to commercial/business affairs, and religion and foreign policy. Special envoy/special representative appointments do not require Senate confirmations.

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Related items:

-02/20/15  Remarks Announcing the New Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process Bernie Aronson;  Secretary of State John Kerry; Treaty Room; Washington, DC

-02/18/15  Appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC

 

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Photo of the Day: Amb. Bell With Team USA at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match

Posted: 00:54 EST
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Via US Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Colleen Bell at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match. See related story over at the USA Water Polo website.

US Embassy Hungary| Amb Bell and US team 2015

Dr. Dénes Kemény of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation (http://ow.ly/J3r6T), invited Ambassador Colleen Bell to be his guest during last night’s match between the U.S. and Hungary at the 2015 Volvo Cup. The American team (http://ow.ly/J3rbu) lost to their Hungarian hosts, but they played a great game according to the US Embassy! Photo by US Embassy Budapest/FB

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Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero

 

Matthew Palmer is a twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade from 2011-2014. Last year, he became the Director for Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. The American Mission is his first novel. It is a thriller set in the Democratic Republic of Congo featuring American diplomat Alex Baines as the protagonist. The American Mission is the first in a series of novels focused on American diplomacy that will be published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  This is first-rate, can’t put down fiction.  Bought the book one day, and gobbled it up to the end in two days! The excerpt below selected by Putnam is the only section of the book that’s set in the consular section.  The rest of the story is about Africa, minerals and exploitation by big corporations (there goes your economic statecraft).  Oh, there is an ambassador, corrupted, and an OGA guy with tricks, and a love interest. All for a fictional run that would make into a fantastic movie.  Read the Goodreads review here, from Kirkus here, from Rhapsody in Books here and the rest of media reviews here.  Thanks to Matt, and Ashley (Putnam) for allowing us to share this excerpt with our readers!

Matt Palmer Author Photo Credit (C) Kathryn Banas

Matt Palmer Author Photo Credit (C) Kathryn BanasAMERICAN MISSION jacket

Reprinted from The American Mission by Matthew Palmer by arrangement with G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Palmer.

 

JUNE 12, 2009
CONAKRY

Check this one out. Twenty—two years old. Absolutely stunning. Says she wants to go to Disney World, but she has a one—way ticket to New York. Why do they always say that they’re going to Disney World? You’d think they’d just won the Super Bowl or something.”

Hamilton Scott, Alex’s partner on the visa line at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, leaned around the narrow partition that separated their interview booths, dangling an application for a tourist visa. The woman in the visa photo clipped to the upper corner bore a striking resemblance to the supermodel Naomi Campbell.

It was admittedly unprofessional, but Alex understood what Ham was doing. Visa—line work could be excruciatingly monotonous, and in a third—world hellhole like Conakry, the applicants would say or do just about anything to gain entrance to the United States. The vice consuls often resorted to black humor or informal games like Visa Applicant Bingo as a way to keep themselves sane.

“Do you think she’d sleep with me for a visa?” Ham asked with mock seriousness.

“Twenty—two? Isn’t she a little old for you, Ham?”

“Ordinarily, yes. But this girl’s exceptional. And there’s no way she qualifies as a tourist.”

“Qualify” was a kind of code word in visa work. The law said that anyone applying for a visa to the United States had to prove that he or she was not secretly intending to emigrate. The challenge for the applicants was demonstrating that they had strong and compelling reasons to come back after visiting the U.S. In practice, this meant money. Rich people were “qualified” for visas. Poor people struggled to overcome the supposition that they were economic migrants. In the euphemistic language of government, they were “unqualified.”

Ham turned back to the applicant and explained to Ms. Hadja Malabo that, sadly, she lacked the qualifications for an American visa and should consider reapplying when her “situation” had changed. Ham’s French was flawless, a consequence of four years at a boarding school in Switzerland. He was polite but, Alex thought, somewhat brusque in rejecting Ms. Malabo’s application.

Ham leaned back around the partition.

“I’m almost through my stack, only four or five left. How you doing?”

Alex looked at the pile of application packages still in front of him. There were at least twenty left. He and Ham were the only two interviewing officers at post, which meant about fifty nonimmigrant visa interviews a day for each of them. Ham made his decisions with a brutal efficiency. Alex took more time with each applicant. Most would come away empty—handed, but he wanted to give each person who came into his interview booth the sense that they had had a chance to make their case and that the consul had at least given them a fair shot. For most Guineans, their brief moment with a consular officer was as close as they were going to get to the United States.

“I still have a few to go,” Alex admitted.

“Give me some of yours.” Ham reached over and took nearly half of the stack out of Alex’s in—box. “If we can finish in less than an hour, we can grab a sandwich and a beer at Harry’s bar. My treat. Gotta meet with the Ambassador after lunch to talk over the report on human trafficking I did for him last week.” Ham paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Alex,” he said carefully. “You know I don’t mean to rub that in.”

 

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US Embassy Tunis September 2012 Attackers Get Prison Terms of Two to Four Years

Posted: 02:12 EST
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On February 18, France 24 reported that Tunisia’s appeals court sentenced 20 men convicted of participating in a 2012 attack on the US embassy to prison terms after an initial ruling was deemed too lenient.

In May 2013, all 20 men were all given two-year suspended sentences for ransacking the diplomatic mission, as well as the American school, alongside hundreds of protesters enraged at an online US-made film trailer they deemed critical of Islam.

Read more:

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The State Department was asked about the verdicts and here is its official response:

“The verdicts issued by the Appellate Court reflect a serious response to the September 2012 attack on U.S. Embassy Tunis. That said, we remain disappointed that justice in this case has been delayed so long and remains incomplete with several key suspects still at large. We hope that all those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis will be brought to justice without further delay.”

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USCG Hong Kong Celebrates the New Lunar Year of the Sheep

Posted: 17:55 PST
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In celebration of this year’s Lunar New Year, the folks at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau sent their Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr. to learn the traditional Chinese art of paper tearing with master artist Lee Sing-man. A sheep with sunglasses came along. For USCG HK’s lunar greeting videos from prior years, click here and here.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

 

Happy Lunar New Year: Ringing in the Year of the Sheep

Posted: 17:22  PST

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Asia celebrates the Lunar New Year on February 19th, ringing in the Year of the Sheep. So what can you expect from the festivities? Lots of red, for starters. Via Post TV:

[grabpress_video guid=”808ea9fc51d1018c651f122fe908de9554d4a8b5″]

Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 Posted: 11:05 PST
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Yesterday, we heard that the Pentagon Spokesman, Read Admiral John Kirby is stepping down to make way for a new civilian spokesman under the new Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

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We’re going to miss Admiral Kirby from that podium, and we’re going to miss the fake one, too. This one via @Doctrine Man sums it up:

John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.

 

Today, news broke that the State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki is returning to the White House as communications director:

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The State Department spokesperson, more than the White House spokesman is the public face of the United States to the world.  The spokesperson is not only speaking on behalf of Foggy Bottom but on behalf of the United States.  Here’s our short list for the next podium king/queen:  We’d like to see one who can stay on message, and still be credible, one who inspires respect not derision; a sense of humor and some humility would be nice, too. We’d like to see an intelligent, natural performer with solid international affairs experience up that podium. And of course, somebody  eloquent and quick witted to spar with Matt Lee.

 

Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay

 Posted: 15:15 EST
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No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.

A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language”  which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.

The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation.  The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”

Uh-oh!

Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).

Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)

An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925 (b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it.  [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].

In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.

In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”

We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:

Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.

The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.

Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)

 

Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous.

 

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Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)

 Posted: 11:53 EST
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Danger pay allowance is authorized for service in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions that threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of an employee. To establish danger pay, a post must submit the danger pay factors form (DS578, see pdf) that enumerates specific conditions that justify danger pay. Allowances specialists who prepare assessments that assign points using a standard methodology then review the forms. A Danger Pay Working Group is responsible for reviewing danger pay factors forms to ascertain whether conditions exist to justify payment of the danger pay allowance.

As of this month, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts are eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. We only have a virtual presence post in Somalia, and embassy operations in Damascus, Tripoli and Sana’a have all been temporarily suspended as of this writing.  Note that “other” indicate locations within specific countries not specifically identified, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. (Learn more, see DSSR 650).

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

 

 

US Embassy Hungary: DCM M. André Goodfriend to Depart Post After Only 18 Months

 Posted: 13:10 EST
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M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:

 

 

On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:

 

Politics.hu notes that  the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:

No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.

Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years.  Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay.   It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made  the following statement available to the media upon request:

“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons.  Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations.  Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private.  We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.” 

 

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