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@StateDept’s Canned Article on Mar-a-Lago Roils Twitter, Hold On to Your Hats!

Posted: 6:55 pm ET

 

The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”  It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”

One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s XiWatch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi First lady honors courageous women from around the worldArab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their storiesNew coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.

U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content.  Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the  Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website.  As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.

Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at .” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”

One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.”  Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department.  The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.

I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience.  Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps  can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.

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Shortly after this post went up, we saw this:

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Official Involved in Bush-Era Purge of Gay Employees Now in Trump Administration

by Justin Elliott,ProPublica
April 10, 2017, 2:27 p.m.

 

It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistleblowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report.

Staffers were abruptly reassigned from Washington, D.C., to a new office 500 miles away in Detroit in what the head of the office reportedly described as an effort to “ship [them] out.” Staffers who refused were fired.

Crude anti-gay emails were found in the agency chief’s account.

Now one of the major players in the scandal has a new assignment: He works in the Trump administration.

In December, James Renne was appointed to the Trump “landing team” at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the transition effort between the election and the inauguration. He was then hired Jan. 30 in a senior role at the Department of Agriculture, though his exact job duties are not clear.

Renne was part of the wave of early political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams,” whose role is to lay the groundwork for the new administration’s policies. (We published details on hundreds of beachhead hires, obtained through public records requests.)

In the Bush administration, Renne was hired in 2004 as deputy special counsel of the Office of Special Counsel, the small federal agency that is supposed to protect employees across the government from retaliation for whistleblowing. The tenures of Renne and his boss, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, were almost immediately mired in controversy after career employees said they were improperly fired. Language stating that job discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation also disappeared from the agency website.

A little-noticed inspector general report, released in 2013, depicts Renne as a central player in the efforts. Bloch and Renne, it found, hatched the plan to abruptly open a new “Midwest Field Office” in Detroit and reassign career staff there. Employees who declined to move lost their jobs.

The report found that the employees were targeted for no legitimate reason, pointing to “facts which reflect that Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne may have been motivated in their actions by a negative personal attitude toward homosexuality and individuals whose orientation is homosexual.”

One evening shortly after he was hired in 2004, Renne took the lead in removing the language from the agency’s website about how job protections cover sexual orientation, the report says.

From the report: “Mr. Renne was depicted as intently searching the OSC website with the assistance of a senior career official to identify passages which interpreted [the nondiscrimination law] as extending protection to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. According to this account, Mr. Renne demanded that OSC’s information technology manager remove these materials from the website immediately.”

That change was later the subject of congressional hearings.

Renne did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Agriculture, which hired him, declined to comment.

The scandal at the Office of Special Counsel dragged on for years, spawning congressional and criminal investigations.

In a formal complaint filed at the time, the employees who were reassigned to Detroit pointed to a “Concerned Catholic Attorneys” letter Renne had signed in 2000 that is a broadside against a range of gay rights efforts. It warns that the “homosexual lobby’s power has grown exponentially.”

The inspector general report found that Renne played a central role in the plan to open a Detroit office, noting that “the reorganization was formulated by Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne very early in their tenure.” An outside consultant they hired to help with the plan told investigators that “it appeared that Mr. Bloch may have been heavily influenced by Mr. Renne.”

That consultant, retired Lt. Gen. Richard Trefry, told investigators:

Mr. Bloch indicated to General Trefry that there was a sizeable group of homosexuals employed by OSC, which had developed during the years prior to his taking office, that he “had a license” to get rid of homosexual employees, and that he intended to “ship them out.”

The report continues:

Further, in the portions of Mr. Bloch’s official e-mail account that were available to the investigative team, there were crude and vulgar messages containing anti-homosexual themes that appeared to have been forwarded from his personal email. 2026 Similarly, Mr. Bloch’s public media references to [his predecessor as Special Counsel, Elaine] Kaplan contained repeated, negatively-phrased assertions regarding her sexual orientation. For example, in interviews he granted during 2007, Mr. Bloch described her as a “lesbian activist,” a “public lesbian,” a “well-known gay activist”, and similar depictions.

Now in private practice, Bloch told ProPublica the report is “filled with untruth, outright falsehoods, and innuendo.” When the report was released, Bloch denied that he ever talked about targeting gay employees.

The inspector general report says it was based on interviews with more than 60 people and examination of over 100,000 emails.

The affected employees ultimately came to a settlement with the government. The terms were not released.

During the investigation into his tenure, Bloch’s home and office were raided by the FBI and he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge arising from his hiring the company Geeks on Call to do a “seven-level wipe” on his government computers. Years later, Bloch later unsuccessfully sued the government over his firing.

There’s little public record of what Renne has been doing since his time working with Bloch. The Trump landing team announcement identified him as working for Renne Law. A fellow member of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence landing team said that Renne had worked at the ODNI inspector general office. And Bloch said he also heard that Renne had gotten a job in the intelligence community after their work together. An ODNI spokesman declined to comment.

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The OPM OIG report is available to read here — DS

Senate Confirms David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel in 52-46 Vote

Posted: 3:11 am ET

 

On March 23, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel in a narrow 52-46 vote with two Democrats (Manchin (D-WV), and Menendez (D-NJ), joining the Republicans to approved the nomination (2 GOP listed as not voting – Isakson (R-GA) and Paul (R-KY)). The highly controversial pick will succeed Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro who was appointed to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv by President Obama, and served as chief of mission in Israel from 2011 to 2017.

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Related posts:

 

Tillerson of #NotBigMediaAccess Planet: NK ‘Imminent’ Threat, Fatigue News, Chinese Praise

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson traveled to Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing from March 15-18 —  without his full traveling press, but with one pre-selected journalist (see Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?). It sounds like this won’t be the last time he’s going to try to ditch his traveling press. Secretary Tillerson said that “we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft.”  Since cost savings has now been repeatedly cited as an excuse, let’s see the cost saved from this trip, please.

The controversy about press access to the 69th secretary of state continues.  Secretary Tillerson gave an interview to his sole traveling press, and once more cited saving money as one of the reasons for not taking a full traveling press:

Primarily it’s driven — believe it or not, you won’t believe it — we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing. The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future. But I hope people don’t misunderstand … there’s nothing else behind it than those simple objectives.

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson is not a “big media access person” and personally doesn’t need it. Holymolyguacamole! Can somebody in Foggy Bottom, please explain to him that this is not about what he needs.

“I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done. And so we have a lot of work to do, and when we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that, have a lot of things, have a lot of quotes in the paper or be more visible with the media. I view that the relationship that I want to have with the media, is the media is very important to help me communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening. And when I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it. But if I don’t because we’re still formulating and we’re still deciding what we’re going to do, there is not going to be a lot to say. And I know that you’ve asked me a lot of questions here that I didn’t answer, and I’m not answering them because we have some very, very complex strategic issues to make our way through with important countries around the world, and we’re not going to get through them by just messaging through the media. We get through them in face-to-face meetings behind closed doors. We can be very frank, open, and honest with one another and then we’ll go out and we’ll have something to share about that, but the truth of the matter is, all of the tactics and all of the things were going to do you will know them after they’ve happened.”

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Top Philippine Diplomat Perfecto Yasay Ousted Over U.S. Citizenship Controversy

Posted: 3:02 am ET

 

We have a second post on the Philippines, today.  On March 8, the country’s Commission of Appointments (CA) rejected the nomination of Perfecto Yasay Jr. as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. According to CNN, the committee unanimously decided to reject Yasay’s nomination “for lying under oath and that he failed to declare his U.S. citizenship in 1986.”

We’ve listed the FAM citations for renunciation of U.S.citizenship and loss of nationality in the links below. This should be an interesting case study.

Related items:

7 FAM 1280 | LOSS OF NATIONALITY AND TAKING UP A POSITION IN A FOREIGN GOVERNMENT

7 FAM 1260  | RENUNCIATION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP ABROAD

7 FAM 1220  | DEVELOPING A LOSS-OF-NATIONALITY CASE

7 FAM 1200 APPENDIX B  | U.S. SUPREME COURT DECISIONS ON LOSS OF NATIONALITY

That #SwedenIncident 😧–America First, Sweden Second–Listen, But Don’t ‘Bomb Ikea’

Posted: 2:19 am  ET

 

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Trump EO Results in Provisional Revocations of Valid Visas, Chaos For Dual Nationals

Posted: 1:38 am ET

 

On January 27, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

Urgent Notice

The State Department issued an urgent notice on January 27:

Per the Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals signed on January 27, 2017, visa issuance to nationals of the countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has been suspended effective immediately until further notification. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please DO NOT ATTEND. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate. We will announce any other changes affecting travelers to the United States as soon as that information is available.

Provisional Revocations

It appears that not only has the U.S. Government suspended the entry and processing of visas for this seven Muslim-majority countries, it also made the State Department “provisionally revoked” (with exceptions) the valid visas issued to citizens from these seven countries. If the travel ban is lifted after 90 days, the rules allow for the reinstatement of visas, presumably with whatever “extreme vetting” the government will have in place by then.

Provisional revocation via the Federal Register:

In cases where the person subject to a provisional revocation is found to be eligible for the visa, the visa will be reinstated with no need for reapplication. However, with the exception of provisional revocations, an applicant whose visa has been revoked must apply for another visa, at which time his or her eligibility for the visa will be adjudicated.

Questions for the State Department

We asked the State Department how the EO affects dual-nationals, green card holders and travelers from these seven countries.  We also asked previously if travelers issued visas on the day the EO was issued now expect that those visas no longer have validity. We wanted to know if consular posts are canceling all visa appointments/refunding all visa application fees from applicants in the affected countries. We requested an estimate of how many applicants were in the pipeline when the ban took effect.

We get to ask our questions but we don’t always get the response we need. For travelers who are nationals/dual-nationals of the seven countries, a State Department official speaking on background offered the following:

Beginning January 27, 2017, travelers who have nationality or dual nationality of one of these countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen] will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the United States or be issued an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

Those nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period. Visa interviews will generally not be scheduled for nationals of these countries during this period.

So the suspension affects not only the entry to the U.S. but also the issuance of immigrant (green card) and nonimmigrant (temporary) visas. An SBU cable reportedly went out to all posts last Saturday explaining the executive order.  The State Department official says, “As we would for any operational change, we communicated instructions to our consulates in affected countries and around the world.”

The State Department official cites an exception to the ban on a “case-by-case” basis and when “in the national interest.”

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or allow entry to nationals of countries for which visas and entry are otherwise blocked under this Executive Order.

Asked specifically about dual-nationals, the State Department official only notes about dual-national Americans:

This Executive Order should not affect dual-nationality Americans at all. U.S. citizens (although they might also have another nationality) are required to use their U.S. passport when entering and departing the United States. They do not receive visas or enter the U.S. as a foreign national, so this Executive Order does not apply to them.

The EO clearly does not apply to American citizens but it appears to be a different story in our airport terminals:

We also asked the State Department about third country dual nationals with the seven countries, for instance Canadian-Iranians or British-Iraqi citizens.  The State Department directed us to check with Homeland Security. As of this writing, we have not heard a response. Meanwhile, the chaos continue.

Israeli Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv posted the following message which contradicts the information we received from the State Department on dual nationals:

Travelers with an existing valid visa in their Israeli passport may travel to the United States, even if they are also a national of or born in one of the seven restricted countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). Embassy Tel Aviv will continue to process visa applications and issue visas to eligible visa applicants who apply with an Israeli passport, even if born in, or a dual national of, one of the seven restricted countries. Final authorization to enter the United States is always determined at the port of entry.

 

UK Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in London said that “Dual nationals of the United Kingdom and one of these countries are exempt from the Executive Order when travelling on a valid United Kingdom passport and U.S. visa.” But the UKFCO has additional guidelines that seems to indicate point of origin as a factor, too, which adds to more confusion:

  • the Presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the 7 named countries
  • if you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth
  • if you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries
  • if you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you
  • The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the 7 countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

Canadian Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

Media reports citing DHS and the State Department says that dual nationals with the seven countries will be refused entry. This is the same thing we were told.   Meanwhile, the Canadian Ambassador to the US said exactly the opposite. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on Twitter also release a statement citing confirmation from NSA Mike Flynn that Canadian citizens including dual citizens will not be affected by the ban.

Welcome to big time confusion and chaos!

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House Democrats Call on @StateDept to Resist Potential Political Witch-Hunts

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

In October 2016, then candidate Donald Trump retweeted an editorial by the NYPost about what it calls the “State Department’s shadow government.” Trump’s Twitter archive also includes a few tweets about the “State Department” here, “embassy” here, and the term “ambassador” here. Given the tenor of his typical tweets, these tweets are normal in their abnormality, that is, they’re not unique in themselves.

Last week, there were reports that the Trump Transition asked the Department of Energy for a list of agency employees or contractors who attended meetings or conferences on climate change. The 74-point questionnaire (PDF) includes questions like “Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any lnteragency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, EPSA emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?”

The Department of Energy had since responded saying,  “We will be forthcoming with all publically-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”

The report was concerning given the department history with the red scare and the lavender scare; we wondered where else the Transition Teams were seeking names. On December 14, CNN reported that Donald Trump’s transition team disavowed the questionnaire sent to the Energy Department requesting the names of employees working on climate change issues. “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol. The person who sent it has been properly counseled,” a Trump transition official told CNN.

We are not aware that a similar request was sent to the State Department. However, the Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) have already called on Secretary Kerry “to resist any attempt by the incoming Administration to single out individual employees who have worked in support of Obama Administration priorities.”  In their letter, 18 Committee members urged Secretary Kerry to follow suit with their Energy Department counterparts and refuse any such request.

In a letter to Secretary Kerry, the Members wrote, “We believe your Department should work to ensure a smooth transition of power.  However, individual civil servants, Foreign Service Officers, and other staff should not be singled out for their work in support of policy objectives that clash with the next Administration’s goals, leaving them vulnerable to retribution by the incoming Administration. In our view, gathering names in this manner bears striking resemblance to dark chapters in our history marked by enemies lists and political witch hunts.”

The letter also informed the State Department that the HFAC website will soon have a link that State Department and USAID personnel can use securely to report unethical or illegal practices.  The new tool is provided reportedly to help ensure that “employees feel safe when reporting evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse of authority, including discrimination and other civil rights violations.”

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET

 

A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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UN Amb Samantha Power Refers to the “Genocide Denial Against the Armenians” in Elie Wiesel Tribute

Posted: 1:29  pm PT
Updated: Dec 7, 9:01 am PT

 

Excerpt from Ambassador Power’s statement, as delivered:

“… How cruel was it, then, that young Elie Wiesel, who was taunted by his perpetrators that nobody would ever know or care what had happened to him and his people, how cruel was it that he encountered a world that again didn’t seem to care what he had gone through. When he was hawking that manuscript, did he feel somehow like Moshe the Beadle, a man who possessed the truth, but was ignored?

And yet none of this appears to have tamed the determination – or even the spark and sparkle – in and of Elie Wiesel. Night of course did eventually find its publishers and after several years, its readership did begin to grow, at first gradually, and then exponentially. Indeed, arguably no single work did so much to puncture the silence that had previously enveloped survivors, and bring what happened in the Night out into the light, for all to see. And yet. Injustice was still all around. Genocide denial against the Armenians, the horrors of his lifetime – Pol Pot, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Syria, in his later years. He lived to see more and more people bear witness to unspeakable atrocities, but he also saw indifference remained too widespread.”

We should note that Ambassador John M. Evans, a career diplomat who was appointed to Armenia from 2004-2006 lost his job during the Bush II administration after calling the Armenian killings a genocide.  In the waning days of the Obama Administration, we doubt if any reference to the Armenian Genocide as she did here in her tribute to Elie Weisel would make a difference career-wise. She will  leave her post on/around January 20, so it’s not like they’re going to fire her between now and then. Also, that’s a public speech she delivered, which means it has been through a clearance process, and not an accidental or even rogue reference.

For folks who want to read about the Armenian Genocide, also known as the “Events of 2016 1915,” the place to start is the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) from history.state.gov: Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1915, Supplement, The World War  > Page 981

Click here for Samantha Power and what she said about the Armenian Genocide back in 2008 when she was campaigning for then candidate, Barack Obama. Ambassador Power is also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” published in 2003.

Turkey has been there many times before, of course, below are some sample reactions just from 2016 alone:

 

 

Related items:

Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1915, Supplement, The World War  > Page 981

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power

1915 Armenian Genocide — The “G” Word as a Huge Landmine, and Diplomatic Equities (April 2015)

John M. Evans: The diplomat who called the “Events of 1915” a genocide, and was canned for it (Aril 2015)

$4.2 million to dispute a single word (August 2009)