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A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue

Posted: 2:41 am ET

Apparently, there was a recent Sounding Board (SB) post about how “a DS agent made a rape joke in front of a whole class (60+) without thinking anything of the joke.”

It took us a while but we finally got the SB post dug up what was said during the Security Overseas Seminar (SOS), which is designed to meet the security awareness needs of U.S. Government personnel and their families going overseas.

An employee posted on the Secretary’s Sounding Board that she first attended the SOS seminar five years ago and felt that the “Sexual Assault  & Rape” session was “both incomplete and demeaning to sexual assault victims (who the instructor largely assumed were always female).” During her most recent attendance, she writes that she was “disappointed by the same message: there are ways to prevent sexual assault/rape, no mention of what the Regional Security Officer can/will do,” and “no mention of the Health Unit’s, etc. involvement.”

The majority of the course is said to be focused on what employees and family members can do to prevent sexual assault: institute the “buddy system,” avoid isolated areas, dress like a local, etc.  The employee asks what about the 84% of all reported sexual assault/rapes being committed by someone that the victim trusted, or women who were raped in an open and crowded area in Germany or “are we saying that women from cultures where they are required to cover from head to toe never get raped because they are entirely hidden?” The SB post says that the employee asked the instructor “why were we not discussing the main cause of sexual assault/rape: gender socialization, particularly focusing on male privilege and entitlement to women’s bodies?”   The instructor reportedly responded that “we cannot change an entire culture in an hour” to which the employee agreed but urge that “we nevertheless begin a dialogue on this topic.”

That’s not, of course, the end of this story.  The following is from the same SB writer sent to us by a Foggy Bottom nightingale:

“The next day, I overheard four people (3 men and 1 woman) exchanging pejorative comments about what I had said. One of the men (a DS [Diplomatic Security] agent who as RSO [regional security officer] will be a victim’s first recourse in the event of a crisis) exclaimed that he would like to “see how I do in Port Moresby.” Allow me to break down this hurtful comment: he wants to see how I do in a country where women can still be tortured to death on charges of witchcraft when a natural death occurs in the family; a country where the Australian health attach showed up at a diplomatic reception after abandoning her car when she was randomly targeted in a mob rush while driving. Because I wanted to begin a dialogue on male privilege, its effects on rape culture, and how I found “tips” on “sexual assault/rape prevention” to be a covert form of victim-shaming, this man, this Diplomatic Security agent, commented on how he wanted to see me, a woman, fare in a country that is known for its hight incidents of rape against ex-pat women. And this gentleman is my colleague, not an obnoxious drunk man at a local dive bar. When I turned around and asked if they wanted to discuss what I had said, one said he didn’t see the point, the other told me how my comment was inappropriate in an one-hour session. No further comments made. How is this dialogue not overdue? (Note: I am not seeking to shame or put-down my colleagues for saying what they assumed was far and away from my hearing range. This is more to highlight the amount of tension surrounding this topic.”

Hey — if one cannot talk about this topic in an SOS session, where are you supposed to discuss this?

We wrote to the Office of Civil Rights under Secretary Kerry’s office (S/OCR) asking what response it made (if any) to the Sounding Board post. That was, oh, weeks ago so we figure we’re not going to hear from S/OCR.

The nightingale also said that “any time a female coworker brings up EEO, rape culture, or feminism in general,” DS agents the employee worked with allegedly make comments like “Ugh, don’t work with her, she’ll EEO you.” or “She probably has a ton of files on men”.   Our correspondent told us that she could think of a number of situations “with bullying, harrasment, and such” that were all documented by supervisors but nothing was done about them.  Our writer also alleged that “a good portion joke about rape or sexual assault on a daily basis.”

Which is why we wanted to hear from the State Department office tasked as the main contact point for questions or concerns about sexual harassment and EEO matters.

But hey, nada. Yok.

What’s even more troubling is when we see these reviews for the State Department over at InHerSight.com:

“I, and a lot of other females, are considering leaving, or have left, because of the misogyny. Diplomatic Security is the absolute worst.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

“Working in a predominately male field means tacky and disrespectful jokes regardless if the two females (who are of equal or higher grade) are in earshot or not. 50% of the men who work in this office are prior military folks who have a disrespectful attitude towards females and men without military experience. Despite being the “State Department” which is usually more liberal and tolerant, the Bureau that I work in is the exact opposite. It shows through upper management all the way down to the bullpen workers.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

We asked the State Department about the gender composition of DSS agents in Diplomatic Security: 90.18% male and 9.82% female.  We also asked about the attrition rate by gender at the bureau. Below is what we’re officially told:

DS reports that they do not have information related to special agent attrition rate by gender. They do not keep those statistics, but note that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.

The State Department’s DGHR should be able to run these numbers. That’s a very low attrition rate but — don’t you want to know who and why these employees are leaving?  If a bureau is overwhelmingly male, and if the entire attrition rate is, for instance, composed of all female employees, aren’t you going to wonder why?

But how would you know if you’re not even looking?

The InHerSight reviews are pretty broad but are troubling nonetheless. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem.  Is there?

Who’s going to volunteer to look into this if we can’t even get S/OCR to respond to a public inquiry?

 

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First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998

Posted:12:41 am ET

The following is an excerpt from a first person account of the 1998 bombing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania by FSO Dante Paradiso. He is a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy,” Beaufort Books (New York) available in October 2016.   Prior to joining the Foreign Service he served in the Peace Corps and was an intern at the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998.  Since joining the FS in 2002, he has served  in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, Libreville and Washington, D.C.

The piece is excerpted from the Small Wars Journal and includes the  standard disclaimer that “the views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.”  He is on Twitter at @paradisoDX.

The wall and guard booth are gone—just rubble and rusted ribs of rebar.  The motor pool fleet is crushed, pancaked, the frames of the cars and vans fused and welded together.  The chassis and tank of a blue water truck lie upside down and crumpled against the base of the chancery like a scarab beetle pinned on its back.  The community liaison office at the corner of the building is a black, smoldering cavern.  The other wing stands disfigured.  The sun louvers are cracked.  Above the cafeteria, blood is splattered across the wall like abstract art, rust-colored in the light.  The Economic Officer tells me, “Don’t enter through the side.”

“Why?”

“There’s a hand in the stairwell.”

Read in full here.

While you’re reading this, you might also want to check out Vella G. Mbenna’s account of the same bombing.  She served as a ­­­­­Support Communications Officer and recounts her experience during the attack in Dar es Salaam. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2016. Via ADST:

After leaving the center where I worked and passed the area around the corner where the Front Office was located, I heard a faint phone ringing. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and entered the communication center to find out that it was my phone.

I quickly went to the back of the center to my office to get it. It was Pretoria on the line and I was glad. I sat in my chair and said these words to them, “I am Vella from Dar es Salaam and I was wondering why our system’s staff …..”

Before I finished the sentence, the blast occurred because the wall I was facing came back in my face and slammed me into racks of equipment across the room.

I recall getting up, brushing myself off and proceeding to alert Washington via my equipment that something bad had happened and to close our circuits for now. Then I proceeded to check on colleagues in the communications suite and putting communication and IT stuff in a safe.
[…]
I walked on and opened the door to the Admin building side of the building….What I saw without even entering deep into the building was complete chaos. It was more of what I saw in the Executive Office, but to a greater extentIt was like a meteorite had hit the Embassy. Even worse was that the entire wall and windows facing the road was gone.

I started having a really bad feeling because most of all I saw or heard no one. Why was everyone gone except me? I backed out of the door and back onto the catwalk and started down the stairs.

As I started down the stairs I realized that something bad had happened, something really, really badI thought that maybe that if it wasn’t a meteorite, then a space ship came down and the aliens took up everyone except me.

I wanted to start screaming for help…Then I thought, no one would know exactly what happened to us all. So, I tip-toed down the rest of the stairs.

When I saw more devastation and how I appeared to blocked in, I had to scream. I started screaming for help, first a low scream…and then louder….

After about a minute and a half I heard a familiar voice calling out asking who was there. It was a Marine. I told him it was Vella, the communications officer from the 2nd floor. I wanted to be as clear as possible, even though I knew the voice. Once I told him exactly where I was, he told me to try to climb over the rubble and look for his hands. I told him I was going to throw up the INMARSAT first and I did.

Read in full here via ADST.

In related news — in Kenya, where over 200 hundred people were killed and more than 4,000 were injured in the embassy blast, victims are now reportedly accusing the Kenyan and US governments of neglecting them.

On July 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. See  U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings.

To-date, no one has been compensated and the victims are now seeking compensation through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

 

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McDonnell v. United States: OGE Issues Advisory on Supreme Court Decision to Ethics Officials

Posted: 12:09 am ET

Last month, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a legal advisory related to the SCOTUS ruling on bribery charges against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell.  To recap, the former governor, and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, were indicted by the Federal Government on “honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion charges related to their acceptance of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, while Governor McDonnell was in office. Williams was the chief executive officer of Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company that had developed Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement made from anatabine, a compound found in tobacco. Star Scientific hoped that Virginia’s public universities would perform research studies on anatabine, and Williams wanted Governor McDonnell’s assistance in obtaining those studies.”  According to court filings, to convict the McDonnells, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts.  The case was argued in the Supreme Court in April 2016, and SCOTUS decided on the case in June 2016 (see SCOTUS case here in PDF).

Excerpt from the OGE memo:

On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in McDonnell v. United States, 579 U.S. ___, 195 L. Ed. 2d 639 (2016), which vacated the lower courts’ conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell on bribery charges. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is issuing this legal advisory to emphasize that the Supreme Court’s holding in McDonnell does not affect other applicable prohibitions on Federal employees’ solicitation or acceptance of gifts, including 5 U.S.C. § 7353 and 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).

The advisory notes the following:

5 U.S.C. § 7353 prohibits an executive branch employee from soliciting and accepting gifts from any prohibited source, unless an exception promulgated by regulation applies. Likewise, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a), prohibit an employee from soliciting or accepting any gift, directly or indirectly, if the gift is given because of the employee’s official position or the person offering the gift is a prohibited source. There is no requirement for the gift to be made in connection with any “official act” for these prohibitions to apply. These prohibitions apply to anything having monetary value unless the item is excluded from the definition of “gift” under 5 C.F.R § 2635.203(b) or qualifies for one of the narrowly tailored exceptions set forth in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204.

OGE also says that “The Court’s opinion did not address the application of 5 U.S.C. § 7353, 5 C.F.R.§ 2635.202, or any other ethics law; rather, the Court opined solely on the construction of 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(3). Consequently, the McDonnell opinion also does not affect OGE’s legal interpretation of the criminal conflict of interest statutes at 18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209 or OGE’s interpretation of the gift prohibitions at 5 U.S.C. § 7353 or 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).”

Read the full advisory below:

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