New Biden Nominations: DGHR, EUR, NEA, AF, IO, DS and CSO

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On April 15, President Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals for top positions in the geographic and functional bureaus of the State Department.
  • Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat to be Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service (DGHR)
  • Karen Erika Donfried to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR)
  • Barbara A. Leaf to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA)
  • Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (AF) and Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation (AFD)
  • Michele Jeanne Sison to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (IO)
  • Gentry O. Smith to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (DS)
  • Anne A. Witkowsky to be Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization
For the geographic bureaus, President Biden previously nominated Ambassador Brian Nichols to be A/S for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink for  the East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). With these new nominees for EUR, NEA, AF and IO, we are now waiting for just SCA to complete the line up under the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P). The nominee for “P”, Victoria Nuland had her confirmation hearing before the SFRC on 4/15/21.
If all these nominees are confirmed, it looks like at the regional bureaus, Foggy Bottom will have  one non-career appointee (EUR), one retired FS (NEA), four active career FS (WHA, EAP, AF, IO) , and one as yet unknown for SCA. During the previous administration, these top geographic bureau positions were all filled with non-career appointees (the assistant secretary for the AF bureau was a retired FS). This is a hopeful start.
The WH released the following brief bio:
Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, Nominee for Director General of the Foreign Service and the Chair of the Board of the Foreign Service

Marcia Bernicat, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as the Senior Official for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment and as Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs of the Department of State.  Previously, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department.  She also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Barbados and Malawi and as Principal Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, Morocco. Bernicat earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service Degree at Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s Degree at Lafayette College.  Her foreign languages are French, Hindi and Russian and she is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award.

Karen Erika Donfried, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Dr. Karen Donfried currently serves as President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).  Before assuming this position in April 2014, Donfried was the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.  Prior to that, she served as the National Intelligence Officer for Europe on the National Intelligence Council.  She first joined GMF in 2001 after having served for ten years as a European specialist at the Congressional Research Service.  When she was at GMF from 2005 to 2010, she first served as senior director of policy programs and then as executive vice president.  From 2003-2005, she worked in the Policy Planning office at the U.S. Department of State, handling the Europe portfolio.  Donfried has written and spoken extensively on German foreign policy, European integration, and transatlantic relations.  She is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.  The King of the Belgians awarded the Commander of the Order of the Crown to her in 2020 and she became an Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2018.  Additionally, she received the Cross of the Order of Merit from the German Government in 2011 and a Superior Service Medal from the National Intelligence Community in 2014.  She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Council on Germany.  Donfried has a Ph.D. and MALD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a Magister from the University of Munich, Germany and holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University.  She is fluent in German. 

Barbara A. Leaf, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Barbara A. Leaf is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa Affairs on the National Security Council.  Prior to this, she was the Ruth and Sid Lapidus Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Director of the Beth and David Geduld Program on Arab Politics.  She previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Arabian Peninsula in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs as well as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq at the State Department.  She directed the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Basrah, Iraq and was the Department’s first Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs.  Leaf also has served in Rome, Sarajevo, Paris, Cairo, Tunis, Jerusalem and Port-au-Prince.  She speaks Arabic, French, Italian and Serbo-Croatian.  Leaf has a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia. 

Mary Catherine Phee, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the African Development Foundation

Mary Catherine Phee, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, currently serves as Principal Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department.  She was U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan from 2015 to 2017.  Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and as Chief of Staff in the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.  She also was the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs and Deputy Security Council Coordinator at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, handling UN engagement in Africa for both portfolios.  Earlier in her career, Phee served as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council and as Senior Civilian Representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority to Maysan Province, Iraq.  She began her career in Amman, Jordan and also worked at U.S. Embassies in Cairo, Egypt and Kuwait City, Kuwait.  She received the Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, the James A. Baker, III-C. Howard Wilkins, Jr. Award for Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission, the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Order of the British Empire Award, and a Presidential Rank Award.  She speaks Arabic.  A native of Chicago, she is a graduate of Indiana University and holds a Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

Michele Jeanne Sison, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Michele Jeanne Sison, a five-time Ambassador, has extensive experience in advancing U.S. interests through multilateral diplomacy.  Sison has served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti since 2018.   She also served as Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations (with the rank of Ambassador) from 2014 to 2018, where she helped build global coalitions to counter transnational threats to peace and security and advocated for a more effective, efficient, and accountable UN and multilateral system.  She also has long experience with UN peacekeeping and the UN entities responsible for development, humanitarian relief, and human rights in the field.  Previously, she served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Assistant Chief of Mission in Iraq, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan.  Her earlier tours include India, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Haiti, and Washington.  Sison received a B.A. from Wellesley College and is the recipient of numerous State Department awards, including the Distinguished Service Award and the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Service.  She holds the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Gentry O. Smith, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Gentry O. Smith leads The Gentry Group, LLC, a security consulting firm.  A former career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, he served as the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Countermeasures in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Director of Physical Security Programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department.  Other State Department postings include assignments as Regional Security Officer at the U.S.  Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, Deputy Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma.  Smith also served as a Special Agent in the Criminal Investigative Liaison Division, Special Agent on the Secretary of State Protection Detail, and Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  He earned a B.A. in political science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Anne A. Witkowsky, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization

Anne A. Witkowsky most recently served as the Co-Director of the Task Force on U.S. Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism, a partnership of Freedom House, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the McCain Institute.  She has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon and as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Coordinator, and Deputy Assistant Coordinator, in the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.  Witkowsky was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC and earlier served as Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council Staff at the White House.  She earned a Master in Public Administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree from Yale. She has been recognized with a number of awards including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.

 

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FSO Jennifer Davis’ Security Clearance Revocation, a Very Curious Leak

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On April 9, Politico published an odd piece about the revocation of a Foreign Service officer’s security clearance.

“A top aide to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations has stepped aside after her security clearance was revoked, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Jennifer Davis, the de facto chief of staff to Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is a career Foreign Service officer who has worked at the State Department for 18 years, with previous postings in Colombia, Mexico and Turkey.”

The report says that the revocation came after a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Davis served a three year tour as Consul General in Istanbul, Turkey from August 2016 to August 2019.

“In that role, she had a conversation with a reporter, Amberin Zaman of the Middle Eastern-focused news outlet Al-Monitor, about the problem of local staff being hassled and detained by Turkish authorities, according to the person close to her.

Zaman reported at the time that the Turkish pressure campaign was likely to expedite U.S. government plans to use visa sanctions to block certain Turkish officials from visiting the U.S. and said that a list of such officials had been drafted, citing “sources close to the Donald Trump administration.” Not only did she speak to Zaman with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior, according to the person close to Davis, the information she shared was “not at all sensitive” and was declassified soon after their discussion.”

The report further states that Davis spoke to Zaman “with the knowledge and at the direction of her superior” citing a person close to Davis. And that the information Davis shared “was not at all sensitive”  and it was reportedly declassified soon after the discussion occurred.
Security clearance revocations do not make news very often. The investigating office is often mum about the revocation and the subject of the security clearance investigation/revocation is often not able to talk about it. Unless they write about it. Or unless officials leaked it to the press, of course.
At least three people spoke to Politico: the “two people familiar with the matter” and “a person close to Davis who said that “Davis will “strongly contests the determination” and is “going to aggressively appeal this decision as quickly as possible.”
Nearly 1.4 million people hold “top secret” clearance. So why is the Davis case news?  We do not know, as yet, who stands to gain by the public revelation of this revocation. But see, this is making us well, perplexed and very curious.
Let’s try and see a public timeline of what happened prior to the reported revocation.
October 2017: In the fall of 2017, Turkey arrested a local national working at the US Consulate General Istanbul.
The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey during the first two arrests of US Mission employees (one in Adana, one in Istanbul) was John Bass who served from October 2014 to October 2017. Prior to the conclusion of his tenure in Turkey, the US Mission suspended visa services, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey. Ambassador Bass issued a statement about the arrests of two veteran employees of the U.S. Government in Turkey.
October 2017 – Chief of Mission to Chargé d’Affaires in Turkey
Philip Kosnett assumed the duties of Chargé d’Affaires in October 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ assignment in Turkey. He began his assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey in July 2016.  In July 2018, he was nominated by Trump to be U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September 2018, and presented his credentials in Pristina in December 2018. That’s still his current assignment. Kosnett’s tenure as Chargé d’Affaires at US Mission Turkey was from October 2017 to on/around July 2018.
November 2017: Michael Evanoff was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security under the Trump Administration. He served in that capacity until his resignation in July 2020.
December 2017: U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row
January 2018: A second local employe of U.S. Consulate General Istanbul was arrested.
On January 31, 2018, USCG Istanbul local employee Nazmi Mete Cantürk turned himself in to Turkish authorities and was placed under house arrest.  It was previously reported that in 2017, his wife and child were detained Oct. 9 in the Black Sea province of Amasya for alleged links to the Gülen network. He was the third USG employee arrested by the Government of Turkey.
The two arrests in Istanbul followed a previous arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Adana in February 2017. Turkish authorities detained Hamza Uluçay, a 36-year veteran Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate on unsubstantiated terrorism charges.
February 2018: Journalist Amberin Zaman published an article via Al-Monitor.
On February 1, 2018, a day after a second Consulate employee was put under house arrest by the Turkish Government,  Zaman published “Turkey resumes pressure on US Consulate staff” for Al-Monitor. This  was the article that reportedly spurned the investigation. Excerpt below:

“Turkey has reneged on its pledge to not hound locally employed staff at US missions on its soil, with police interrogating a Turkish citizen working for the US Consulate in Istanbul yesterday, Al-Monitor has learned. The move could likely accelerate the US administration’s plans to apply targeted visa sanctions against Turkish officials deemed to be involved in the unlawful detentions of US Consulate staff, provided that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives final approval, sources close to the Donald Trump administration told Al-Monitor.”

March 2018: Rex Tillerson, the 69th Secretary of State was fired.
A few weeks after the publication of the Zaman article, Rex Tillerson was fired from the State Department and left Foggy Bottom for the last time on March 22, 2018. His inner circle staffers followed him to the exit by end of that month. Also see Trump Dumps Tillerson as 69th Secretary of State, to Appoint CIA’s Pompeo as 70th SoS.

Continue reading

US Mission Turkey: @ABDIstanbul Employee Mete Canturk Gets 5-Year Jail Term #WhatAreYouGonnaDo #StateDept

 

Reuters notes that Mete Canturk is the third U.S. consulate worker to be convicted in Turkey. Hamza Ulucay was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison on terrorism charges. Metin Topuz, a translator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in June to nearly nine years in jail for aiding Gulen’s network.
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