Post in Search of a Mission: “Now, I found, that the world is round and of course, it rains everyday ….”

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1) If there are fewer than two dozen staff members. 
2) If they live in austere conditions even without COVID, but particularly during COVID they are limited to their homes and the embassy. Nothing else. 
3) If there are no flights servicing pouch needs coming to post. This means the staff cannot procure needed items with regularity, including food and medicine. 
4) If there are no relationships with the host government. This means the embassy remains open simply to support itself. 
5) If staff is top heavy with multiple FS-01 positions and few FS-02 and below officers. 
6) If staff lives together due to health concerns. 
7)  If there are no option to telework even amidst COVID. Security requirements preclude remote access. 
8) If a staff member gets COVID, they will likely put the entire embassy at risk. Flight clearance to get an OPMED evacuation flight is difficult to obtain from host nation and would likely necessitate evacuating all who had been exposed (thus shuttering the embassy) because of the OPMED cost, and the delayed timeline of clearance to land and cost of repeated flights. 
9) If local staff continue to be paid even though most never come to work, and have been forced to stay home since COVID. 
10) If COVID vaccination efforts will be hamstrung by the aforementioned issues with host nation further putting staff at risk. 

 

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be tomorrow?
How far am I able to see?
Or am I needed here?

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

If I remember all of the things I have done
I’d remember all of the times I’ve gone wrong
Why do they keep me here?

Courtesy: Bee Gees – World (From the 1968 Album, Horizontal)


 

 

Presentations of Credentials: U.S. Ambassadors to Timor-Leste, Venezuela

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US Consulate General Hong Kong Staffers and Kids in HK Quarantine Center

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Two employees at the USCG Hong Kong reportedly tested positive of COVID-19. According to local news the Hong Kong  Special Administrative Region Government has allowed the children of these staffers to join them in a quarantine center.  A separate report says that a three-year old daughter of consulate employees has also tested positive and the school had now been closed.  Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine. The State Department called it “absolutely false.” The HK SAR says that the “US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”
Via SCMP Hong Kong:
Hong Kong leader Chief Executive  Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirmed that two infected US consulate employees, a married couple, had already been sent to the hospital on Monday night, while special permission had been granted to allow their children to join them instead of being sent into quarantine as per long-enforced rules. But she emphasised the exceptional treatment for the pair was made on compassionate grounds and based on their family circumstances, rather than their status as consulate workers.
” …. Lam said the government allowed for children to be admitted to hospital along with their parents and that the special dispensation had been granted to the consulate workers, who also had a daughter who tested preliminary-positive.
“We are a compassionate government … Instead of sending the very young kids on their own to the quarantine centre or asking other relatives and friends to go into a quarantine centre with these kids, we will exceptionally allow the admission of their children into the hospital as well,” she said. “We are applying the exceptional treatment, not exceptional because they are US consulate staff, but exceptional because of their family circumstances.”

[…]
Arrangements for families hit by Covid-19 were thrust into the spotlight this past week when a flare-up of cases enveloping part of the expatriate community on Hong Kong Island, affecting international school teachers, bankers and lawyers, forced many children into quarantine. They are among about 120 children and teens currently isolated at the government facilities.”

On March 15, the US Consulate General Hong Kong posted a statement on its website about being informed that two Consulate General employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The consulate will remain closed until March 22. It also released a Health Alert for American citizens:

On March 15, 2021 the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau was informed that two Consulate General employees tested positive for COVID-19. We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning while contact tracing is conducted. The Consulate employees that tested positive for COVID-19 do not work in offices that interact with the public. We are aware that many U.S. citizens in Hong Kong are concerned about local government testing, quarantine, and hospitalization procedures, particularly in regard to the possible separation of children from their parents. The U.S. Consulate General is actively addressing these concerns at the highest levels of the Hong Kong government to advocate for the U.S. citizen community. We urge U.S. citizens in Hong Kong to comply with all instructions from the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection.

At the March 15 DPB, the StateDepartment’s Deputy spokesperson was asked about this and she responded:

“Yes, so we’ve been informed that two consulate general employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but due to privacy concerns, we’re not able to share additional information. When it comes to disinformation about these two not complying to quarantine, that is absolutely false.”

The Hong Kong SAR Government also released a statement:

“… The cases have been admitted to the hospital for isolation, and all staff members and visitors who have been present at the relevant premises are required to undergo testing according to the relevant legislation. The two preliminary positive cases belong to the same family. Having learnt that the two patient are staff members of the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, the Government has immediately liaised with the Consulate General; the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has also contacted the relevant persons, and arranged them to be admitted to the hospital for isolation and medical treatment according to the mechanism.
[…]
The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”

HK SAR also issued “a compulsory testing notice pursuant to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J), which requires any person who had been present at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong between March 2 and 15, 2021 to undergo a COVID-19 nucleic acid test.”
In related news, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that the international business community has undergone an unsettling weekend with children from several schools under threat of being sent to mandatory government quarantine facilities after mandatory testing due to COVID outbreaks. The Chamber conducted a quick poll to gauge its members’ views. A majority of those surveyed said they were worried or somewhat worried about entire school classes being sent to government quarantine facilities, and that the policy is unjustified when it comes to the health of children. Over half of those surveyed said that if this policy became routine it would factor into their decision about staying in Hong Kong.  AmCham suggested “more clarity and transparency of information around quarantine arrangements for minors be given to schools and parents while the government does its best to control the pandemic” See more here.
Meanwhile, on March 16, the State Department named 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials who have materially contributed to the PRC’s failure to meet its obligations under the Sino – British Joint Declaration (see Update to Report on Identification of Foreign Persons Involved in the Erosion of the Obligations of China Under the Joint Declaration or the Basic Law). This was an update to the October 14 report, consistent with section 5(e) of the HKAA and includes financial sanctions and visa restrictions.
On March 17, the State Department also released a statement on the Hong Kong Autonomy Act Update):

“Today’s update identifies 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, including 14 vice chairs of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and officials in the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.  Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are now subject to sanctions.”

We’ve reached out to the State Department on the quarantine of USG employees. We’re hoping to have a follow-report.

 

AAFSW Announces Winners For the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA)

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The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) recently announced the awardees for the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA). The official awarding ceremony typically occurs sometime in fall. We will keep an eye out for that later this year. The 2020 SOSA Winners and Honorable Mention Awardees are as follows:

AFRICAN AFFAIRS: Michelle Collett (Libreville, Gabon): 

Michelle advanced the goals of environmental protection and awareness both inside and outside the Mission. To protect sea turtles and their habitats, she organized a group of volunteers to regularly patrol the local beach every day during the nesting season of September to March. Michelle arranged training from the Wildlife Conservation Society for her volunteers and set up communication between guards and residents of local homes and businesses to inform them of the volunteer conservation efforts and to gather their firsthand information of beach wildlife nighttime activities. She also acted as a liaison with the federal government environmental agency, a trash company, a recycling company, and schools to organize beach trash cleanups. In addition, Michelle coordinated a speaker program at a local military English school, providing native English speakers to make presentations and grade the students’ final presentations. During her three years in Gabon, through church, school, and community events, Michelle volunteered as a soccer coach, music instructor, choir director, and drama teacher. Additionally, Michelle won the J. Kirby Simon grant to install a well, build bathrooms, and construct water storage for an orphanage and children’s shelter whose residents were using the same stream for bathing, drinking, and waste disposal. Finally, Michelle played a pivotal role in helping family members in the Mission community stay informed about local, national and State Department updates during the early days of COVID-19.

EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: Jane Thompson (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Drawing on her experience in early childhood education, Jane created and presented numerous programs at the international school and local Malaysian schools aimed at children with special needs. Topics included sleep, brain development, parenting skills and setting positive boundaries. She helped organize an Embassy program on autism and rare medical conditions to raise awareness and highlight the work of Malaysian NGOs. Jane wrote and implemented grant proposals through the Simon Kirby Trust to provide resources for refugees. With a team of fellow volunteers, Jane created play-based learning kits and first aid kits to distribute to refugee mothers and provided first aid training to young refugee families. She further volunteers with UNHCR to improve training programs for refugee women on education, hygiene and domestic violence. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Jane coordinated numerous activities to maintain community morale, including online yoga classes, virtual Embassy trivia nights, and virtual story time for children. She also set up a virtual children’s town hall to answer young children’s questions about the lockdown.

EUROPE AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: Mikell Reed Carroll (Zagreb, Croatia)

Mikell volunteered with the agency Refugee Aid Serbia, through one of its facilities, The Workshop, a place that provides hope to refugees through education and recreation.  Volunteers there teach English, Serbian, German, French and math. They also offer special outings and workshops on music, art, science and other subjects, open to all ages. Mikell led donation drives in 2017 and 2019; for items desperately needed by refugees at the camps and for educational materials for The Workshop. She collected and personally delivered more than $10,000 USD in donations of clothing, educational materials, toys, books and winter items.  A number of the winter items were hand knit by a group of senior citizens in Mikell’s hometown, at a senior center where she has volunteered for nearly a decade. She told them about the project and asked them to knit children’s winter hats, mittens, scarves and blankets, and they produced hundreds of handmade items that helped to keep refugee children in the Western Balkans warm.

NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS: Kimberly Arsenault (Amman, Jordan)

Kimberly volunteered for 20 hours each week with the Hope Workshop, a Collateral Repair Project, which is a craft collective providing refugee women (Iraqis, Syrian, Yemeni and in-need Jordanian women) the space to collaborate, create and socialize while earning additional income for their households. In 2019, she raised approximately $20,000 for Hope, helping with sales and inventory control at local craft bazaars. Kimberly is also highly active within the Embassy community. She organized a soccer program for 50 embassy children ages 5-14, and arranged games with a local soccer league, as well as an adult tournament that brought together 70 Embassy players. Kimberly assists her post’s Community Liaison Office with initiatives such as art events and game nights. Kimberly also founded a parents’ chat group to keep Embassy parents informed and providing a place to ask questions.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS: Brendan Melchiorri (Islamabad, Pakistan)

As a volunteer, Brendan took responsibility for a four-month-long initiative to raise morale and increase team spirit at post. He created the Consular Cup, a series of innovative competitions inspired by the Hogwarts Houses in the Harry Potter book series. With participants sorted into one of four teams based on a personality quiz designed by Brendan, over 120 Foreign Service personnel and local staff from nearly all sections of the Embassy joined together to win points in dozens of events, including volleyball matches, trivia nights, dodgeball tournaments, art contests, crossword puzzles, and kickball games. Participants also earned points for hosting their own competitions, inspiring members of the community to showcase their own unique talents. The Consular Cup significantly improved overall morale at a critical-threat post with over 1000 employees and generated camaraderie between the many different offices of the Embassy. Participants are now continuing the initiative by leading their own events, amplifying Brendan’s morale building efforts and underscoring the sustainable nature of the project.

Megan Johnson (Islamabad, Pakistan)

During her two years at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Megan worked tirelessly to create and expand opportunities for Embassy employees to stay fit and healthy. An avid triathlete, Megan was the co-race director of two triathlons, including a 5K, 10K and children’s race. These events drew hundreds of diplomatic participants, volunteers, and spectators, boosting the spirit of collaboration among diplomatic missions. Megan also encouraged Pakistani participation, including young girls who have fewer opportunities to swim, bike and run than boys the same age. She coordinated with Embassy security and like-minded missions to create more options for cyclists to bike beyond the small Diplomatic Enclave while carefully managing the need for safety and security. This led to a regular cycling group of 15+ cyclists for weekly rides. She established relationships with local bike shops to provide resources for bike repair and purchasing. Megan also co-chaired the Federal Women’s Program, organizing regular professional development sessions and events that included members from other diplomatic missions to foster women’s empowerment at post and within the diplomatic community.

WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: Moises Mendoza (Matamoros, Mexico)

Moises carried out an intensive research project to illuminate the nearly 200-year history of U.S. Consulate Matamoros. Partnering with a local university, he identified and organized primary- source resources to allow other researchers to launch their own investigations into the Consulate’s role in the region. To assist and protect his fellow Consulate community members, he designed a smartphone add-on that overlaid color-coded green and red zones over Google Maps to instantly alert personnel and family members when they strayed out of the designated “green zone” and provide directions on how to return.  This tool was adopted widely in the Consulate community. Moises also noticed a void in medical care at the Consulate, due to local limitations and the lack of a post medical office. In response, he took evening classes to become an emergency medical technician and CPR instructor.


The AAFSW selection committees also decided to add an Honorable Mention category to further recognize nominees. The 2020 Honorable Mention Awardees include:

AF Melody McCambridge (Gaborone, Botswana)

Melody worked with the Government of Botswana, the private sector and the local community to build a community library, which serves as a gathering place for the community and a learning center for children. Melody took responsibility for fundraising and managing the funds to strategically purchase relevant resources for the library. As a volunteer, she taught others to use available resources to deliver the government-managed curriculum in an engaging and effective manner. Melody used texts from the new library to establish an English-language learning program with exercises in letter knowledge, phonemic awareness and fluency. In addition, she helped bridge socioeconomic divides by organizing weekly events in which private school students read together at the library with the underserved students of Bosele.

EAP Quinzy Johnson (Seoul, Korea)

Upon his arrival in Seoul, Quinzy immediately undertook efforts to find a way to help the city’s most vulnerable people. He regularly volunteered to distribute food to over 2100 homeless people at a shelter, as part of a monthly program organized by the Embassy. Forming a corps of more than 10 volunteers to provide continued support, he trained new recruits and expanded and improved the services at the shelter. As a board member for the Embassy Employees’ Association, he led several initiatives, such as partnering with vendors near the former US Army base on joint ventures that would bring income to them while benefiting the Embassy community. For the Embassy Fleischmeister Association, which hosts biannual events open to the local community, he raised funds, managed events, cooked and served food, and planned the ceremony. He helped raise more than $2000, which was donated to the Korean Breast Cancer Foundation.

 EUR Angela Spellman (Yerevan, Armenia)

Angela’s commitment to the Mission community spans the range from the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and the Marine Security Guard detachment, to the adults in the Mission, as well as all of the Eligible Family Member kids. If the CLO has an event or needs an extra person, dish of food, or a sponsor, Angela is the one person who always steps in before she is even asked. Every week, Angela volunteers at the Sister of Charity orphanage to assist with over 15 children with severe physical and mental disabilities. On other days, Angela can be found at the QSI International School, volunteering, chaperoning school trips, or substituting for a teacher. She has never missed a Parent Support Group meeting, to inform QSI of the post community’s needs and help ensure that they are met.

WHA Georgina Allen (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

Georgina was an early member of the Santo Domingo Volunteer Club, which focuses on literacy, education, and crafts projects with children in the local community. She expanded the volunteer recruitment program, created a club website which allowed people to sign up online, and launched other creative initiatives for people to learn more about the new club and ways to help. She drafted a proposal for the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, securing a grant of $1,500. This money was used for art supplies, learning resources, and even expansion of the club’s space, providing more room in which to play and learn while also enhancing physical security. She raised a further $400 while helping to publicize the club’s activities and recruit new volunteers. She also volunteered with an organization focused on empowering some of the poorest Haitians, using her expertise in business operations to analyze various business models, including required startup funds needed from donors, levels of complexity, sustainability, and various risk factors. She wrote detailed proposals for the founder, which shaped the direction of this innovative and important organization serving Haitian women.

The original announcement is available here via AAFSW.

 

 

 

A Response to the Commentary on Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

 

In late July, we posted an unsolicited commentary from a retired FS member and former COM, “Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security”.  Below is a response we received which should add to the discussions happening outside this blog.
Sender B is part of the State Department community with many friends and family in both the FS and the Civil Service. Over the past 15 years, they worked extensively with the Department of Defense and the military services as well and built a good familiarity with the DS Bureau. He/She has also gone overseas, and interacted with all of the above organizations “in the years after our post 9/11 forever wars,” adding that “what I am about to say is, of course, colored by all of these factors.”
A Response to Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I read Sender A’s note with interest, and like many of these ‘letters’ my reaction is a mixed bag – some scads of truth mixed with big dollops of generalization, stereotype, and the whooshing sound of one Missing the Larger Point. I don’t know who Sender A is, but yet I sort of do. I have met more than a few of these retired FSOs over the years. Most are political officers, most have at least 25 years under their belt, and most are at least a little wistful for the good old days before American Embassies were fortresses with 100 feet of setback around them and located a bit further away from the downtown business districts of world capitals.
I think it’s useful to start with some basic unspoken truths in the discussion of security culture and State – DS and the people who work there have always been looked at askance by the folks at HST and in the upper echelons of the generalist ranks. In particular the Mandarins of the POL cone who run the Department. DS agents, so the line of thought goes, are “knuckle draggers” and an impediment to the Really Important Valuable “substantive” Work of Diplomacy like attending interagency meetings, ribbon cuttings, and sending cables back to Washington.
Okay. I kid, but only a little.
Everything he says (and odds are, as long as he’s been out, it is a ‘he’ – but I could be wrong) in the first few paragraphs is completely true – post 9/11, security theater got ramped up a lot, not just at State but across the federal government. Look at the DHS and TSA as the biggest and most theatrical examples of that phenomenon. This was in part a reaction after 9/11 to the national mood – since the United States of America, love her as we all do, never does anything it can’t over do.
It was also a product of the new operating environment. Iraq and Afghanistan were different places once the shooting started, requiring different skill sets and new ways of doing business for the military services but also State and the interagency. The threat was, frankly, very high and very real in those places for Americans. I saw it firsthand from 2007 to 2011 during several visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were decisions made and policies implemented in the years after 9/11 that may or may not have successfully dealt with those threats, but to bemoan DS’s 20-story headquarters and the CT funds that built it is to somewhat miss the point. Nearly every security organization in the U.S. National Security Complex experienced some form of this same phenomenon, which is why today nearly every federal agency has specialized security arms/teams/offices and funding profiles very much unlike what they had just a few decades ago. US Customs and Border Patrol alone, for example, has an air arm that is as large as the Brazilian Air Force. If you visit the Pentagon, the police force that protects the Pentagon reservation has been thoroughly transformed into a kitted-up security force for a building that was already a fairly secure location. The USG was completely subsumed by the post 9/11 security swell, in retrospect, so to bemoan State’s slice of that trend is fine – but it was a much larger issue, and one that would inevitably affect the diplomatic arm of the American government.
There is also the swipe at DS performing duplicative roles. Yes, well … perhaps. Perhaps not. That’s a matter of perspective. Question: why is the Bureau of International Narcotic and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) not under DS? DS is the law enforcement arm of the State Department, the point organization for investigating visa fraud, and a host of other crimes related to international law enforcement and definitely narcotics. Why is it not aligned? What exactly does INL do at HST that is can’t do at DS HQ? Further complicating things, DS manages State’s law enforcement counterterrorism training assistance but main State retains INL? From an outsider’s perspective, that makes little sense. But I get it. Government fiefdoms are what they are and come to be for complex reasons. Little has changed because the people who run the Department don’t want it to, regardless of how much sense it makes.
The comment about the new training center also belies a bit more nuance. Yes, it is the product of some Congressional deal probably served up via a hand shake between the Georgia and Virginia Delegation. Why those two, you ask? It should be noted that prior to the new center’s opening, DS security training was already atomized and spread out to various locales far from Washington. Glynco, Georgia was where DS special agents, alongside other federal law enforcement agents, received their Basic Special Agents Course (BSAC) training. The ability to duplicate that kind of training facility anywhere near FSI inside the beltway is cost prohibitive, to say the least. The facilities alone would bankrupt the Department, as you would need a lot of real estate for activities such as driving courses, mock embassy compounds, firing ranges, and other aspects of admittedly security-oriented curriculums. In other words, not just classrooms.
The more substantive piece of the commentary, however, deserves a bit more attention. ‘Warrior culture’ as it is described is a long-remarked issue across the USG, not just at State. Why? A part of this is certainly a result of the US Government elevating what is known as “veteran’s status” in the application process for federal positions even higher than it was previously to 2001. This resulted in veterans receiving preferential treatment for hiring in positions across the government, but especially within the security apparatus and law enforcement agencies. Over the last ten years, I can’t tell you how many longtime managers and officials in government who have sought to hire candidates for their respective offices (at State and other agencies) have told me they can’t get the right candidates to an interview. In their telling, the culprit is primarily the reflexive application of veterans status points and their effect on the HR process. This results in the saturation of the application pool with candidates armed with a DD 214 (military discharge papers). Some of those positions require skill sets undoubtedly found in certain military career fields, to be sure. The criticism though, is that this policy has been applied with little nuance over time by HR officials.
What is the result? The skill sets/experiences of personnel who have excelled in environments where hard skills and Special Operations Forces mindsets migrate into the civilian bureaucracy over time, in law enforcement surely but also in tangentially related fields as well. We can debate the merits of that trend, but it is a result of a policy choice, approved of by both the Bush and Obama Administrations, and we are dealing with the result of it today in small and large ways. The Department and DS in particular are, of course, caught up in this. A massive demand for security following the advent of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, coupled with the need to bring former military members into the Department both by policy dictate and by the reality of the environment has resulted in this shift playing out. It would be inevitable to say the least there would be friction in these two cultures coming together. There is no easy solution for the imbalance, and you will continue to hear officials at all levels say something needs to be fixed. I’m not sure how exactly that is done, outside of some dedicated member of Congress deciding to champion the issue.
Overall, Sender A’s perspective read like a sort of historical snapshot. A return to the old days, when SY officials had time to do tours out of cone, and the G Men wore fedoras and carried six shooters. I kid, but not by much. This perspective is fun, but it is also a bit naïve, as if the 1980s, much less Nairobi/Tanzania and 9/11 didn’t happen.
We are all products of our experiences, and that goes for people as well as organizations. DS would not be the organization it is today if the Beirut bombings of the 1980s had not occurred, and the Inman Report that followed it had not happened. The 1990s accelerated the rise of a more robust security apparatus at State in this environment, because the threat of terrorism against U.S. interests had changed and was rapidly evolving. By the time 9/11 rolled around, this transformation was unstoppable in many ways.
There is much to lament about the end of the pre-9/11 era. The world was (in some ways) more open, more accessible, and diplomats more able to conduct the traditional business of diplomacy, in most contexts. But to pretend the changes of the last several decades have occurred in a vacuum is disingenuous. The Department may be risk averse today, and overly so in many areas. That deserves some scrutiny. But it is a fact that Americans have died because of choices made by Department officials who downplayed these threats. Policy choices over the decades have results. Once one peels the onion on how counterterrorism policy came to be, we might not like what we find.

Inbox: Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C.  included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D

~ * * * ~

Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security.  Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS.  Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue.  My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful.  At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office.  They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat.  Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this.  I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto.  It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.”  While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told).  What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)?  At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.  
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia.  I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight.  How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training.  Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum.  Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission.  I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost.  Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked.  This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture.  I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.   

China Orders US Consulate Chengdu Closed in Response to Chinese Consulate Houston Closure

 

On July 23, 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it has informed the United States that it withdrew “its consent for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu.” The announcement only says that “The Ministry also made specific requirements on the ceasing of all operations and events by the Consulate General” but did not indicate a time window. Reports on the ordered closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston notes that the US asked that the consulate stop events and move employees out by Friday, July 24. (see China Says US Ordered Closure of Its Houston Consulate By July 24).
Update 1:25 am PDT: WSJ is reporting that China is giving the U.S. 72 hours to close the Chengdu consulate. American diplomats in Chengdu have 30 days to leave China.
The US Consulate General Chengdu’s consular district is made up of the Provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou, as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region and Chongqing City Municipality.
Via US Mission China:

Photo from US Mission China website

The U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu was established in 1985 and was originally located on the first floor of the west wing of the Jinjiang Hotel.  The Consulate started with only six American officers and approximately 20 local employees.  It was made up of an Executive Office (a Consul General and administrative assistant); a small office handling political, economic and commercial issues; a Consular Section; a Management Section and what was then known as the U.S. Information Service.

In 1985, each of the offices was covered by one American officer. The Consulate today has grown tremendously by comparison, with almost 200 total staff. Approximately 150 of these are locally hired professional Chinese staff who are the heart of our daily operations and many of whom have served for many years.

 

Fourth of July 2020: Who’s Doing What Where During This Global Pandemic?

 

U.S. Embassy Brasilia, Brazil

U.S. Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

U.S. Embassy Belgrade, Serbia

U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, Cambodia

U.S. Embassy The Hague, The Netherlands

U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korea

U.S. Embassy Athens, Greece

 

U.S. Embassy Singapore, Singapore

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

(Same stock photo used by US Embassy Prague, attributed here to Getty Images).

U.S. Embassy Banjul, The Gambia

U.S. Embassy London, UK

U.S. Consulate Thessaloniki, Greece

U.S. Embassy Kolonia, Micronesia

U.S. Consulate Calgary, Canada

 

U.S. Embassy Managua, Nicaragua

U.S. Embassy Lusaka, Zambia

 

U.S. Mission Italy

U.S. Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar

U.S. Consulate Milan, Italy

U.S. Embassy Podgorica, Montenegro

U.S. Embassy Mexico City, Mexico

U.S. Consulate General Toronto, Canada

Foreign Service Posts Evacuation Tracker: Authorized and Ordered Departures, Post Closures (as of 4/15/20)

Updated/1:35 pm PDT

Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Authorized departure is voluntary, requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State
Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position. Four of the seven regional bureaus at State are headed by officials in their acting capacity (EUR, SCA, WHA, IO).  
We’ve heard from one post in Africa where COM was apparently told by a senior State Department official that non-emergency personnel should leave with the authorized departure flight or be involuntarily curtailed from post.
Can you still  call a voluntary evacuation voluntary if non-emergency personnel are under threat of curtailments if they don’t go? Is this unique to this one post or is the arm twisting more widespread within AF posts or other bureaus.
Another post in Africa told us that its COM has raised the possibility of involuntary curtailment if folks don’t want to depart on AD but that this was COM’s idea not Washington’s. One source explained that  from a post perspective, you do not want to go on OD because  “you lose control.”  This is probably a limited perspective based on the circumstances of specific posts. Or is it?
What about from the mothership’s perspective? To OD post or not to OD? Why, or why not?
We were told that the “challenge” with “ordered departures” is that Washington is “involved in micromanaging” the termination of the OD but also with the staffing/movement of personnel. Every time post permits anyone to return to post for any reason, the mothership has to review it. Our source told us that the amount of time to review every tweak and revision of staffing would probably be considerable even if just half the posts worldwide are on OD.
We note that per 3 FAM 3774 “official travel to a post or country where an authorized or ordered departure is in effect is prohibited without the formal approval of the Under Secretary for Management (M) following approval of a post policy that clearly describes appropriate restrictions and limits exceptions, in accordance with the procedures described under Waivers of Travel Prohibitions (3 FAM 3776).” Excerpt:

b. In limited circumstances, M may delegate to the COM the authority to approve travel to and from a post under authorized departure (including travel related to rest and recuperation (R&R), home leave, annual leave, etc.) for permanently assigned employees, family members, and MOHs who do not elect authorized departure status.  M also may delegate to the COM, in limited circumstances, the authority to approve travel to post for employees who were away from post when ordered departure was approved.

c.  In situations in which the Under Secretary for Management (M) has not delegated authority to the COM, waiver requests will be forwarded to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.

d. For posts where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations: Requests for a waiver of the prohibition on official and personal travel to a post or country where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations must be approved by the Under Secretary for Management, who may waive the prohibition in unusual or compelling circumstances.  The request must be made initially to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.  Approvals for such travel can be revoked at any time by M and M can impose conditions on the traveler’s length of stay, whereabouts, and/or activities in country.  The traveler must explain in detail where he/she will reside during his/her stay; unless approved by the Under Secretary for Management, no employee, family member, or member of household may reside in State Department leased or owned facilities while operations are suspended.

Anyhow, if you have further thoughts on this, drop us a line. Below is a revised evacuation tracker, no additional AD/OD posts since March 28 but we’ve now added the two post closures, the Consulates General in Wuhan and Vladivostok. Note updated date of post closure for Wuhan.  We could not locate an announcement of post closure except as part of an update on the China Travel Advisory dated February 19, which may not be the actual date when USCG Wuhan was officially closed.
Also, please note that the term “non-essential” personnel has been generally replaced with the term “non-emergency” personnel. However, we still occasionally see this term used in official releases from overseas posts. Also as late as 2018, the Foreign Affairs Manual in its danger pay section still makes references to “non-essential” personnel.

Burn Bag: State Department/MED – Heads in the Sand

From sickdips via Burn Bag:
“Members of the Embassy community at one post have fallen seriously ill with COVID-19 symptoms, but the State Department will not test them for COVID-19 or *MEDEVAC them. There is already limited medical capacity at many posts, which will be completely overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads. What is MED waiting for? Protecting our people should be our NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.”
*MEDEVAC – medical evacuation
** MED – State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services

Via Imgur