Blogging Notes

 

Have an ongoing  medical issue in my household the last few days. We’re seeing a specialist tomorrow with potential surgery and hospital stay. This blog will not be updated this week but hope to be back as soon as I can.  Apologies on the emails if I’m not responsive at this time. Be well. —D
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Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown

 

Remember when Pompeo chided USA TODAY’s Deirdre Shesgreen during an interview with “No, not O.K., but. Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre. Not O.K., but.”?
Or accused PBS’s Judy Woodruff of working for the DNC during an interview (see the 12:01 mark).
Remember the same accusation he leveled against News4’s Nancy Amons on Oct. 11, 2019 in Nashville, TN (see the 6:04 mark) when he did not like the question?
Because, of course, the secretary of state should only be asked questions that he love to answer! No hard questions, questions about the weather, his dog or his next “recruitment” event are presumably okay.
Over the weekend, the 70th secretary of state got into a very public spat with the NPR host who he accused of lying twice. One, supposedly that the questions were limited to Iran. There was no such agreement; Pompeo’s aide Katie Martin was reportedly told by NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (they’ve got the emails!)  “I never agree to take anything off the table.” Two, on NPR host purportedly agreeing to have their post-interview conversation be off the record. Yep, the one where he was accused of shouting at the reporter for about the same length as the interview itself. Since the reporter says she did not agree to the off the record stipulation, it was not off the record. Had Pompeo understood the basic rules of journalism, he would not have expected that the reporter would not publicly talk about their post-interview encounter. Or he could have just behaved per the new professional ethos he unveiled for the State Department in April 2019.
The Department website explains what “off the record” means and says “Ground rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an interview with State Department officials. The discussion should proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the information can be used or attributed.”
Martin, a deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs has been on the job since May 28, 2019. Her bio page still says “Deputy Assistant Secretary Martin’s biography will be posted soon.” Prior to joining Foggy Bottom, she was with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
So what caused the meltdown, this time? Not cheese. Apparently Mary Louise Kelly’s questions and follow-up questions on Ukraine but specifically on Ambassador Yovanovitch hit a sore spot:

MLK: Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

Pompeo: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it.

MLK: I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

Pompeo: I just don’t have anything else to say about that this morning.

MLK: I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this, because as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here. [crosstalk]

Pompeo: I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this, when I talked to my team here —

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For the Record: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.” #ParnasTapes

 

 

@StateDept Prepares to Evacuate USCG Wuhan Personnel on 1/28, Limited Seats Available to Private U.S. Citizens

 

On January 23, the State Department issued a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” Travel Advisory for China, which includes a “Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.” The Travel Advisory also notes that “on January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.”
On January 26, the State Department announced that it is making arrangements to evacuate personnel from the US Consulate General in Wuhan to San Francisco, CA on Tuesday, January 28. There will be a single flight with limited seating capacity on a reimbursable basis for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens interested are advised to contact BeijingACS@state.gov with passport details. The announcement also states that “… if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus.”
U.S. Mission China is one of the largest operations in the world. It includes the embassy in Beijing and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan. We understand that Consulate General Wuhan was expected to open for American citizen services and nonimmigrant visa services in 2018 but its website currently says:

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan is not yet open for consular services.  Our new office is currently under construction.  Construction is scheduled for completion in 2020.

OIG inspection of US Mission China notes that as of May 2017, the mission had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire employees and 168 American locally hired employees and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.
We’re not sure at this time how many direct-hire U.S. employee and family members are located in Wuhan or how many emergency staffers would be left at post. USCG Wuhan website notes that there is a consul general and his wife, a public affairs officer (family?) and a Department of Commerce’s commercial service office (officer?) at post. We will update this when we know more.
The travel advisory issued last Thursday indicate that there was an “ordered departure” issued for non-emergency personnel and their family members. The Health Alert issued by Consular Affairs on Sunday says that the State Department is evacuating its personnel stationed in Wuhan; we’re not sure if that means all its personnel or just the non-emergency personnel and family members. There is no notice at this time that USCG Wuhan is suspending operation or on temporary closure.

 

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American Firefighters Killed in Air Tanker Crash in Australia Bushfire

 

Libyan National in 2012 Benghazi Terrorist Attack Sentenced to More Than 19 Years in Prison

 

On October 31, 2017, we posted about the capture of Libyan national Mustafa al-Imam by U.S. special forces in Misrata, on the north coast of Libya. He was alleged to be involved in the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  An unnamed official told the AP at that time that the suspect was taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport to the United States. (see Libyan National Charged in 2012 Attack on U.S. Special Mission and Annex in #Benghazi).  On June 17, 2019, DOJ announced that hel was found guilty of terrorism charges in the 2012 attack of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi. (see Libyan National Mustafa al-Imam Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in 2012 Benghazi Attack (June 24, 2019).
On January 23, 2020, DOJ announced that Mustafa Al-Imam was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. See below:

Mustafa Al-Imam Sentenced to More than 19 Years in Prison for September 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, Libya

Mustafa al-Imam, a 47-year-old Libyan national, was sentenced today to 236 months in prison on federal terrorism charges and other offenses stemming from the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission and CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya.  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty died in the attack.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, Jay Tabb, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office.

“We have not rested in our efforts to bring to justice those involved in the terrorist attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, which led to the death of four courageous Americans – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Ambassador Christopher Stevens – and we never will,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Those responsible for these crimes must be held accountable.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors – and all of their partners in the U.S. government – who are responsible for this important investigation.”

“Today’s sentence demonstrates the United States’ continuing commitment to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States no matter how far we must go or how long it takes. Mustafa al-Imam played an important role in the terrorist attack that destroyed the U.S. Mission and the CIA Annex in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue justice against all those who murdered these four American heroes and who seriously injured our personnel defending these U.S. facilities overseas.”

“The tragic loss of four American lives in the Benghazi attacks will never be forgotten and today’s sentencing of Mustafa al-Imam is an important reminder of that,” said Jay Tabb, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “The FBI is committed to investigate and bring to justice all individuals involved in acts of terrorism against U.S. facilities or citizens and will use the full range of our resources to pursue such cases.”

“Mustafa al-Imam played a significant role in the 2012 Benghazi attack, one that ultimately claimed American lives,” said Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr. “While nothing will ever change the outcome of this horrific event, today’s sentencing is a reminder that the safety of Americans—whether at home or abroad, civilian or otherwise—will always be our top priority. If you commit an act of terrorism, we will find you and bring you to justice.”

Al-Imam was captured in Libya on Oct. 29, 2017, and brought to the United States to face trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  He was found guilty by a jury on June 13, 2019, following a six-week trial, of one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists and one count of maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and property, and placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. He was sentenced by the Honorable Christopher R. Cooper.

According to the government’s evidence, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, a group of extremists, armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades, and other weapons, swept into the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, setting fires and breaking into buildings.  During that violence, Ambassador Stevens, Mr. Smith, and Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Scott Wickland valiantly tried to protect themselves when the attackers stormed into the Ambassador’s residence, sheltering in a secure area.  However, when the attackers could not gain entry to the secure area, the attackers set fire to the residence.  Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith suffocated from the thick, black smoke that enveloped the residence.  Special Agent Wickland, who tried to guide them to safety, was injured and repeatedly took small arms fire while trying to rescue Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith.

Al-Imam arrived at the Mission shortly after the attack began, accompanying Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the leader of an extremist militia named Ubaydah bin Jarrah and one of the planners of the attack.  During the attack on the Mission, al-Imam maintained contact with Khatallah in a series of cellphone calls, including an 18-minute phone call that took place during the height of the attack.  Members of Ubaydah bin Jarrah, as well as other extremist groups, were caught on surveillance video attacking the Mission.  After the American security personnel withdrew from the Mission, al-Imam, Khatallah, several UBJ members, and other extremists entered the Mission’s office and removed sensitive information, including maps and other documents related to the location of the CIA’s Annex in Benghazi.  

Following the attack at the Mission, in the early hours of Sept. 12, 2012, the violence continued at the CIA Annex, first with gunfire and then with a precision mortar attack.  While defending the Annex, Mr. Woods, Mr. Doherty, DSS Special Agent David Ubben, and CIA security specialist Mark Tiegen were hit by a precision mortar attack, leading to the deaths of Mr. Woods and Mr. Doherty.  Special Agent Ubben and Mr. Tiegen were seriously wounded but survived.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s New York Field Office with substantial assistance from various other government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the two victim agencies, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. The National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section provided significant assistance.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cummings and Karen Seifert of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.  Assistance was provided by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas Coleman and Jolie Zimmerman, Paralegal Specialist Donna Galindo, detailed Paralegal Specialist Ashley Davis, Intelligence Research Special Dustin Powell, contract Document Management Analyst Michael Watts, Victim-Witness Advocates Yvonne Bryant, Tonya Jones, Laverne Perry and Wanda Queen, and Litigation Technology Chief Leif Hickling. Earlier stages of the prosecution were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Opher Shweiki and Julieanne Himelstein.

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Was it the Mustache or the $5Billion Demand For U.S. Military Forces #furloughwarning

 

Ambassador Harry Harris was originally nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Australia in February 2018. The nomination was withdrawn by May 2018 and he was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea the same month. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 28, 2018  by voice vote. He arrived in Seoul in July that year, and made his first public appearance on July 7, 2018.
As far as we could tell, he’s been sporting that mustache since he arrived in Seoul almost two years ago.  We did not hear about the mustache in 2018, so it has to be more than the mustache when the bad press started in the later part of 2019. If he was pestering the host country to pay up for the cost of U.S. troops in the country, that could do it. He’s not a career diplomat but he was a career military official. That means whatever he’s doing is blessed by his chain of command in Foggy Bottom. Or by the guy talking loudly on Twitter.
So apparently, the United States originally demanded $5 billion in payment for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Now it’s down to slightly under a billion or else. Bloomberg is reporting that the USG will send furlough notices within weeks to the base workers if no deal is made.

U.S. officials have indicated they’ve backed off Trump’s initial demand that President Moon Jae-in’s administration pay about $5 billion a year for U.S. forces stationed there, more than five times the $900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired on Dec. 31.[…]U.S. officials say they are required to give those workers 60 days’ advance notice that their pay might be cut off because the last of the funds under the previous deal is running out.

Watch out. This is the same Administration which shut down the Federal Government for 35 days from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019 making it the record holder of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

Retired FSO David Lindwall Remembers the Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010 (Excerpt Via FSJ)

 

David Lindwall is a retired FSO who was serving as deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake and for the first 18 months of earthquake relief and reconstruction programs. His other posts included Colombia, Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sweden, as well as assignments in Washington, D.C. Excerpt below is from A Night to Remember, Foreign Service Journal, Jan/Feb 2020 where he shares his record of the first hours of the Haiti earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010:

Three embassy houses on a ridgeline had collapsed and slid down the hill. Our human rights officer and her husband and the noncommissioned officer from the defense attaché’s office were trapped in the rubble. Their neighbor, Security Officer Pete Kolshorn, and a couple of Haitian guards worked tirelessly into the night to rescue them. With violent aftershocks rearranging the rubble every 15 minutes, the rescue operation put the rescuers’ own lives at risk. But they persisted and got their injured comrades up to the top of the ridgeline. All three had broken bones and open wounds. During the two hours it took to get them out of the rubble, we sent a scout to the three hospitals in town. All three were overwhelmed and would not even open their gates to us.

A Haitian doctor who lived nearby gave initial attention to our three wounded colleagues and helped Kolshorn move them several blocks through rubble to the main street. An embassy roving patrol vehicle that had been trapped up in the highlands managed to meet the party on the other side of the rubble. The Haitian doctor advised moving them to the clinic of a plastic surgeon he knew in Petionville. It wasn’t ideal, but it was our only choice. The doctor asked us to send oxygen tanks because one of the male patients had a collapsed lung.

In the expectation that one of our drivers would find a way through the rubble that separated the embassy from Petionville, I asked Dr. Steve Harris, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Port-au-Prince who had set up a provisional hospital in the embassy’s health unit, to get me all the oxygen, morphine and casting supplies he could spare. There were only two tanks of oxygen. That would not be enough to keep the male patient alive, the Haitian doctor told me; but it was all we had, and we dispatched the driver with the supplies.

Through the night more and more wounded came to the embassy looking for help. One of the ambassador’s bodyguards with open wounds and broken bones came carrying his infant son who had multiple fractures. His wife and other children had all been killed when their house collapsed.

By midnight we still had not located a large number of embassy personnel. With so many streets blocked by rubble, it was a real challenge to reach them. Assistant RSO Rob Little offered to take his motorcycle and go looking house by house. Rob knew Port-au-Prince better than any of us, and at 6 foot 6, he was intimidated by nothing. For the next two hours he drove around the neighborhoods where embassy people lived, assembling them in areas where they could be picked up by our vans as soon as the roads were cleared. Some of the embassy homes had been completely destroyed, but their occupants were miraculously spared. Several officers sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, but required evacuation as soon as we could get flights in the next days. For those huddled together in the dark front yards of ruined houses waiting for an embassy van, it must have been a very long night

Read in full here: http://afsa.org/night-remember

Related posts:

U.S. Diplomatic Staffer Missing, Presumed Dead in Colombia Boating Accident

 

A U.S. diplomatic staffer temporary assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota reportedly went missing and is presumed dead after a boating accident in Colombia. The name of the staffer has not been officially released. During his press remarks with Colombia President Ivan Duque in Bogota, Secretary Pompeo commented on the accident that reportedly occurred on Saturday:

Pompeo: I want to comment on the tragic loss that Mission Colombia and the entire State Department suffered this past weekend.  As you may already know, one of our team members, an American, is missing and presumed dead as a result of a boating accident that occurred on Saturday.  We’ve notified the next of kin but are withholding the name of the victim for privacy considerations.  Other government personnel – some assigned to Colombia and others visiting – were also rescued at the scene of the accident.  Some sustained modest injuries, and one was airlifted to the United States yesterday for treatment.

I want to thank President Duque – you, and your team, and your government – also the private citizens of Colombia – for the outstanding assistance that they provided during the course of the rescue operations.  And to my entire State Department team, Susan and I are with you in your grief.  You have my word the department will do everything in our power to comfort and support those who have suffered from this devastating loss.

President Duque (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much, dear Secretary Pompeo.  I would also like first of all to express our solidarity and our condolences.  Our solidarity for the incident that occurred over the weekend, which was an accident and that affected some U.S. citizens, and naturally express our condolences for what has been a several-days search for embassy officials.

As you all know, we have the national navy teams as well as all the local and coast guard services engaged in the corresponding investigation in an effort to reach fruitful results so as to find the body of the person that has not been found yet.  You know, Secretary Pompeo, that we have a shared solidarity in this respect and the people of Colombia regret the incident.

The Colombian Navy released a statement of the incident on Monday, January 20. It looks like the boat capsized due to adverse weather condition in the Cartagena area. During the incident, 11 of the 12 passengers of the boat were reportedly assisted by the Colombian Navy. The victim of the accident is described in the Colombian Navy statement as a temporary official of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and was in the company of several fellow citizens.
The Colombian Navy with the Cartagena Coast Guard, specialized naval divers and aircraft of the Caribbean Aeronaval Group, and with the support of aircraft of the Combat Air Command No. 3 of the Colombian Air Force were reportedly deployed in the area of the incident performing the search operation.  The Colombian Navy statement also says that it will continue with the search and rescue operation while inviting the navigators community to report any information that may assist in locating missing person.
CNN’s report includes comments from the WHA bureau:

A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told CNN that the employee was “on temporary assignment to the US Embassy in Bogota” and was “engaging in tourist activities in Cartagena” when the boating accident occurred.

“We appreciate the Colombian Government’s continued search-and-rescue operation in search of the missing American employee,” they said.
“Other government personnel, some assigned to Colombia and others visiting, were rescued from the capsized boat, some sustaining moderate injuries,” the spokesperson said. “We express our gratitude to the private citizens and Colombian military for rescuing the employees.”

 

Ex-@StateDept DAS and NSC’s Russia Expert Andrew Peek on Admin Leave Pending Investigation

 

Andrew Peek was part of the Trump Landing Team at the State Department in December 2016 (see Trump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).
On  December 8, 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Peek, a former U.S. military intelligence officer  and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve was to become the deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq.
Peek officially became the NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq on December 11, 2017.  He replaced Chris Backemeyer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iran in 2017. Chris Backemeyer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Peek also replaced Joseph Pennington, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq (2015-18). Joe Pennington is currently the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Click here for Peek’s official bio per state.gov.
On January 18, Axios and other media outlets report that Peek who had Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison’s job at the NSC since November 2019 has “been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation.” Bloomberg reporter notes that “the top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council has left his post, escorted out of the White House on Friday.”