Trump’s Wild Talk About America’s NATO Treaty Obligations — Not/Not a Misquote

Posted: 12:19 pm ET

 

SANGER: But I guess the question is, If we can’t, do you think that your presidency, let’s assume for a moment that they contribute what they are contributing today, or what they have contributed historically, your presidency would be one of pulling back and saying, “You know, we’re not going to invest in these alliances with NATO, we are not going to invest as much as we have in Asia since the end of the Korean War because we can’t afford it and it’s really not in our interest to do so.”

TRUMP: If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?

SANGER: We do.

HABERMAN: We both do.

TRUMP: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

[…]

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

[…]

TRUMP: I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.

SANGER: But Erdogan is not. Tell us how you would deal with that?

TRUMP: Well, it would be ideal if we could get them all together. And that would be a possibility. But I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we have a potentially — we could have a potentially very successful relationship with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together.

SANGER: And what’s your diplomatic plan for doing that?

TRUMP: Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.

There’s mooooore, oh, dear.

Meanwhile — in Russia, Trump is apparently “inspiring a new generation of optimism.”

Here’s the NATO reaction:

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UK Appoints “Sly Fox” #BoJo as New Foreign Secretary, Reactions From @Number10Cat and Others

Posted: 3:34 am ET

Here’s the man of the hour:

#BoJo has a long history of saying, well, undiplomatic things. He called George W. Bush “a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, unelected, inarticulate, who epitomizes the arrogance of American foreign policy.” Da Donald? “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.” Read on.

Then there’s this one about his visit to Iraq in January 2015.

Perhaps it’s time for the FCO to join Foreign Service Problems (@FS_Problems), Canadian Foreign Service Problems (@cdnfsproblems) and Gifplomacy (though no longer updated by the French dips)?

Whitehall’s Chief Mouser, Palmerton (@DiploMog) did exercise appropriate restraint at the announcement, but Number 10’s Larry the Cat was pretty harsh:

Meanwhile —

This video via the BBC profiling BoJo is quite interesting and dare we say it … entertaining. The “sly fox” masquerading as a teddy bear. Have a look.

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Tit For Tat For Tit: Russia expels two US diplomats over unprovoked attack at US Embassy Moscow

Posted: 3:12 am ET

 

On June 6, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)  guard reportedly attacked one of our accredited diplomats posted in Moscow. About three weeks later, somebody told the Washington Post about the attack.

This previously unreported attack occurred just steps from the entrance to the U.S. Embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in Moscow’s city center. After being tackled by the FSB guard, the diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. He was eventually able to enter the embassy and was then flown out of Russia to receive urgent medical attention, administration officials confirmed to me. He remains outside of Russia.

RFE/RL reported the response from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 30  — that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy. “In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy,” she said.

Here’s TASS with a quote from the Russian deputy foreign minister about the incident:

“A video of that incident was broadcasted on July 7 by the NTV channel and speaks for itself – in the middle of the night some man wearing a hat pulled on his eyes, though it is summer, rushes from a taxi to the embassy entrance without any attempts to present a pass,” the Russian deputy foreign minister said. “Then, as the police on guard in order to prevent any threat for the diplomatic mission from the stranger, hurries to the person, the man gives him a punch by elbow into the face, thus actually committing a crime.”

Well, now, here’s the video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV.

Can we please file the deputy under the “Baghdad Bob” folder?

In any case, on July 7, WaPo reported that Congress is now investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Moscow.

On Friday, July 8, State Department spox, John Kirby told reporters for the first time that Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. “We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years,” Kirby said.

Gotcha. One month, two days.

On July 9, Russia’s Sputnik News confirmed from the Russian Foreign Ministry that “Washington urged Russian diplomats to leave the US, while not voicing any complaints concerning their activity.”

Also on July 9, TASS reported that “two CIA officials working for U.S. Embassy were declared persona non grata.”  Apparently, Moscow has also warned Washington that “further escalation of bilateral relations will not remain unanswered.”

Here’s something to read via The American Interest:

The Obama Administration really wanted to keep this incident quiet. Whether due to wishful thinking or for reasons knowable only to those on the inside, the White House seems to think it can make progress with Russia on both the Ukraine and Syria portfolios. The harassment of State Department personnel in Moscow by security personnel was not exactly a new phenomenon, even though it had increased in intensity since Russia annexed Crimea, fought a covert war in Donbas, and had sanctions imposed on it. The White House probably saw this latest assault, egregious though it was, as fitting into a well-established pattern (one at odds with whatever hopeful signs it thought it was getting directly from the Kremlin).The Administration knew the video of the beating looked bad and could inflame U.S. domestic opinion if it leaked. But to its credit, it did not completely turn the other cheek either. Rather, it stuck to the informal, accepted procedure of quietly PNGing two Russian spies with diplomatic cover and gave zero notice to the press. Whatever the original reason for the assault, the thinking must have gone, it’s important that it not get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin.

Read more: Kremlin Paranoia Leads to Escalation in Spy War and Why Russia Published Footage of an FSB Agent Beating an American in Moscow.

Below via the DPB with the official spox on July 8:

QUESTION: Okay. On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever. Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels. However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight. On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman. The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations. We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: All right. On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm. Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION: In Congress there’s calls for an investigation. Do you support those? Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake. If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship? Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one. But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary. And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation. So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there. There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this. There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had. There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION: And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things on there. I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government. So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship. And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

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Burn Bag: Feds going to Havana deserve to sit at layover airports for several hours?

Via Burn Bag:

So, the Department of Transportation is going to approve direct service to Havana by American flag carriers from many cities, but not from Washington’s Dulles Airport.

This tentative decision explicitly disses those individuals – federal employees on official travel – directly responsible for the opportunity created by the opening to Cuba.

Comments on the tentative decision are due by July 22, 2016.

If the State Department and WHA* cannot fix this, then the entire federal government deserves to sit at layover airports for several hours in each direction.

H e l  –  l o  !

giphy-steve martin

 

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*Western Hemisphere Affairs

Comment:  On July 7, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed to select eight U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights between Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa and Havana as early as this fall.  The proposal comes nearly one year after the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in July 2015. The airlines receiving the tentative awards are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. According to DOT’s announcement, the agency’s proposal “allocates nonstop Havana service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population, as well as to important aviation hub cities.”

According to nerdwallet.com citing 2013 census data, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD area ranks 12th in areas with top Cuban-American population. If DOT eventually includes Dulles in the direct service to Havana, we suspect that it will not be because federal employees did their jobs in reopening Cuba.

 

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Rainey v. @StateDept: Attention Whistleblowers — Rules and Regs Are Not Laws

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

Last year, we blogged about a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board concerning a Whistleblower Protection Act case where a State Department employee, Timothy Allen Rainey, alleged that the agency stripped him of certain job duties and gave him a poor performance rating after he refused to follow an order that would have required him to violate federal acquisition regulations (FAR) and training certification procedures. See Rainey v. State Department: “Right-to-Disobey” (Precedential Decision).

On June 7, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Merit Systems Protection Board ruling in a precedent-setting opinion — agreeing that the term “a law” in section 2302(b)(9)(D) refers only to a statute, and not to a rule or regulation.

In this IRA appeal, Rainey claimed that his duties as contracting officer had been taken away from him because he refused to obey his supervisor’s order to tell a contractor to rehire a terminated subcontractor.  Rainey contended that he refused to obey the order because dong so would have required him to violate a provision of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.  The issue was whether the right-to-disobey provision of the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. §  2302(b)(9)(D), which protects covered employees from retaliation “for refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law,” applied to the appellant, who alleged that he had suffered retaliation for refusing to obey an order that would require him to violate a regulation.  The Board, relying on a recent Supreme Court decision, Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, 135 S. Ct. 913 (2015), which held that the word “law” in the “right-to-disclose” provision of the WPA, 5 U.S.C. §  2302(b)(8), refers only to statute, and not to a rule or regulation, ruled that the term “a law” in section 2302(b)(9)(D) should also be interpreted to refer to a statute, and not to a rule or regulation.  122 M.S.P.R. 592 (2015).

The Court writes:

Dr. Rainey makes a final argument that the FAR is a particularly important regulation that has the full force and effect of law and therefore should be regarded as “a law” within the meaning of section 2302(b)(9)(D) even if other regulations do not qualify as “laws” for purposes of that statute. The first problem with that argument is that substantive agency regulations that are promulgated pursuant to statutory authority typically have the “force and effect of law,” see Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Ass’n, 135 S. Ct. 1199, 1204 (2015); Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281, 295 (1979), so that feature does not distinguish the FAR from other more quotidian legislative rules. The second problem with the argument is that, as noted, there is nothing in the section 2302(b)(9) that even hints at a distinction between important regulations and less important regulations; to the contrary, the statute distinguishes between “a law” and “law, rule, or regulation,” and the FAR clearly falls on the “regulation” side of that divide.

What now?  Court says “Congress is free to alter the scope of the statute”:

Dr. Rainey’s arguments are heavy on policy reasons why Congress likely would not have wanted to confine the scope of section 2302(b)(9)(D) to statutes. Those policy considerations are not without force, and it may be that the statute should be extended to cover rules, regulations, and other sources of legal authority. If so, Congress is free to alter the scope of the statute. But we are not so free. Between the restrictive language chosen by Congress and the closely analogous decision of the Supreme Court in MacLean, we are constrained to hold that the protection granted by section 2302(b)(9)(D) is limited to orders that are contrary to a statute, and does not encompass orders that are contrary to a regulation.

This is bad.  So basically State Department employees will not be able to get whistleblower protection for refusing orders that violate rules or regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual/Foreign Affairs Handbook.  If a supervisor orders an employee to break the rules/regs in the FAM/FAH, the employee must comply or be subjected to disciplinary action/s?  How nutty is that?

Click here to contact your congressional representatives.

Read the ruling below or read it via mspb.gov here (PDF). 

 

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JW v. @StateDept: Ambassador Stephen D. Mull Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

On August 30, 2011, there was an email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Ambassador Steve Mull, who was then the Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here (see ScribD file here).

On June 6, Judicial Watch released the deposition transcript of Ambassador Mull.  The transcript is available here.  Or read below.  According to the transcript, here are the numbers on the following words/phrases:

“Objection” — 124 matches;

“I don’t know” — 32 matches;

“I can’t recall” — 21 matches;

“I can’t remember” — 7 matches;

“I don’t remember” — 6 matches.

 

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@StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs

Posted: 1:49 am ET

On June 2, State Department spokesperson, John Kirby sent a message to the staffers of the Bureau of Public Affairs concerning the deliberate tampering of a DPB video, an official State Department record. The message was sent on June 2 but is effective on June 1st upon its announcement at a morning meeting:

Colleagues,

As you know, we learned that on at least one occasion this bureau edited a portion of the video of a daily press briefing before posting it to our YouTube channel and the Department’s website.

Upon learning of this, I immediately directed the video to be restored in its entirety with the full and complete copy that exists — and had existed since the day of the briefing — on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website.  I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also posted on the Department website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing.

To my surprise, PA did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Now we do.

All video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently uploaded in their entirety on publicly accessible platforms.  In the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected or classified national security information, they will only be made with the express permission of the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and with an appropriate level of annotation and disclosure.

This new policy took effect yesterday. And I have tasked Susan Stevenson to lead an effort to create new language for the Foreign Affairs Manual to institutionalize this approach.

I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.  While the actions taken in relation to the editing of this video broke no protocol — since none existed — they clearly were not the appropriate steps to take.

I ask for your help going forward in ensuring that the content of any video or transcript from daily press briefings is not edited or altered in any way without my specific permission.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication.  We’re a great team with a great mission.

There’s nothing in this message that has not been reported in the press earlier but it iss worth noting what he says in this message. “I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.”

But how can he know that?

Pardon for raining on a perfectly good message but since Mr. Kirby’s internal investigation is at a “dead end” and had not been able to determine who was responsible for this deliberate act — how can he know that everyone he’s writing to shares his “commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability?” An official at the PA bureau directed the tampering of the video, we don’t know who or why but that individual has not come forward and is obviously not big on accountability.  So, how can he says “I know ….?”

That’s quite a whodunit, hey?

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Ex-Fox News Commentator Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Dents Benghazi Cottage Industry

Posted: 12:05  am ET

On April 29, 2016, DOJ announced that Wayne Shelby Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, a former Fox News commentator who has falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.  This individual reportedly made an unsuccessful attempt in 2009 to obtain work with the State Department’s Worldwide Protective Service.

Via Department of Justice | USAO – Virginia, Eastern

Wayne Shelby Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, a former Fox News commentator who has falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), pleaded guilty today to major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.

“Wayne Simmons is a convicted felon with no military or intelligence experience,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Simmons admitted he attempted to con his way into a position where he would have been called on to give real intelligence advice in a war zone.  His fraud cost the government money, could have put American lives at risk, and was an insult to the real men and women of the intelligence community who provide tireless service to this country.  This case is a prime example of this office’s ongoing commitment to vigorously prosecute government fraud and threats to national security.”

“Mr. Simmons lied about his criminal history and CIA employment in order to fraudulently obtain government contracts, and separately, defrauded a victim through a phony real estate investment deal,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  “With these criminal actions, Mr. Simmons abused the trust of others, both in and outside of government, for his own personal financial gain.  I commend the work of the talented FBI personnel and prosecutors who vigorously pursued this case and brought about today’s guilty plea.”

In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Simmons admitted he defrauded the government in 2008 when he obtained work as a team leader in the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Systems program, and again in 2010 when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence advisor on the International Security Assistance Force’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team.  Simmons admitted making false statements about his financial and criminal history, and admitted that there are no records or any other evidence that he was ever employed by or worked with the CIA, or ever applied for or was granted a security clearance by that agency.  Simmons also admitted that in order to obtain the senior intelligence advisor position, he lied about work he had done a year earlier as a team leader on the Human Terrain Systems program.  Simmons admitted to making similar false statements in 2009 as well, in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain work with the State Department’s Worldwide Protective Service.

As to the wire fraud charge, Simmons admitted to defrauding an individual victim, identified as E.L., out of $125,000 in connection with a bogus real estate investment.  Simmons admitted to sending E.L. promised monthly disbursements to make it appear as if her funds had been invested as promised, and to repeatedly lying to her about the whereabouts of her money in order to perpetuate the fraud.  As Simmons admitted, he simply spent the funds on personal purposes and there was never any actual real estate investment project.

As to the firearms charge, Simmons admitted that at the time he was arrested in this case, he was unlawfully in possession of two firearms, which he was prohibited from possessing on account of his prior felony convictions, including a prior Maryland felony conviction and two prior federal felony firearms convictions.

Simmons was indicted by a federal grand jury on Oct. 14, 2015, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the major fraud against the government count, a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the wire fraud count, and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on the felon-in-possession of a firearm count when sentenced on July 15.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This announcement is available on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1: 15-cr-293.

 

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Rhodes. Ben Rhodes, the Morons Up the Street, the Blob and the White House’s Media Compadres

Posted: 12:26 am PT

 

David Samuels has a must read profile of Ben Rhodes over in the New York Times. Rhodes is the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication for President Obama. His official title is “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.” According to his WH bio, he is tasks with overseeing President Obama’s national security communications, speechwriting, and global engagement. Below are some striking nuggets from that NYT profile of the master of spin.  Please read and weep.

#1. “On the largest and smallest questions alike, the voice in which America speaks to the world is that of Ben Rhodes.” And here we thought the voice is that of John Kirby, the official spokesperson of the State Department.

#2. “He is, according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders I talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself.” Wait, not Clinton, or Kerry? Is that why Secretary Kerry can’t get a new plane?

#3. “One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”  Whoopsie! Did you fell off your chair, too?

#4. “I watch the message bounce from Rhodes’s brain to Price’s keyboard to the three big briefing podiums — the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon — and across the Twitterverse, where it springs to life in dozens of insta-stories, which over the next five hours don formal dress for mainstream outlets.  This would make a nice infographic.

#5. “It has been rare to find Ben Rhodes’s name in news stories about the large events of the past seven years, unless you are looking for the quotation from an unnamed senior official in Paragraph 9. He is invisible because he is not an egotist, and because he is devoted to the president.” No doubt he is devoted to the president, but when the unnamed senior official in para 9 is also the spin doctor that invisibility is more about media strategery than about ego.

#6. “For Rhodes, who wrote much of the I.S.G. report, the Iraq war was proof, in black and white, not of the complexity of international affairs or the many perils attendant on political decision-making but of the fact that the decision-makers were morons.” Which ones?  All of them?

#7. “He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East. This summer’s expected blockbuster — The Blob (a Foreign Affairs Thriller).

#8. “Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.”  Difficult but not impossible?

#9. “The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres …” Oh, golly!

#10.  “In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”  That feeling you get when you’re about to throw up?

Ladies and gentlemen, the vomitorium is the second pristine white door to the right. Proceed with caution; it’s crazy bad in there.

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USAID/OIG Highlights Challenges to the Management and Administration of Foreign Assistance

Posted: 3:24 am ET

 

On March 15, the new USAID Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr went before the Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations during its review of the FY2017 budget request and funding justification hearing for USAID. She told the subcommittee that in FY2016, OIG issued 698 financial and performance audits and reviews with more than 1,268 recommendations for improving foreign assistance programs.

These audits identified approximately $290 million in questioned costs and funds to be put to better use. OIG’s investigative work led to 10 arrests and 91 administrative actions such as suspensions, debarments, and terminations of employment. OIG also realized nearly $85 million in savings and recoveries in FY 2015 as a result of its investigations. In addition, OIG provided 270 fraud awareness briefings and training sessions for close to 8,600 attendees in 36 countries.

She talked about changes in the USAID OIG operations:

On the horizon are changes to improve OIG’s work to ensure it has a meaningful impact on the strategy, policy, and practice of U.S. foreign assistance. This includes building and maintaining a workforce equipped with the right guidance, skills, and resources to evaluate complex development programs, unravel sophisticated fraud schemes, and address new oversight requirements.
[….]
In addition to recruiting and developing top-notch staff, I am committed to making certain that OIG has the right internal policies, processes, and systems in place to meet the highest standards for reliable and meaningful oversight. The quality of our audit and investigative work must be beyond question.

Most importantly, she highlighted to Congress the many challenges to the management and administration of U.S. foreign assistance:

Work in nonpermissive environment:

Work in nonpermissive environments is a leading challenge for foreign assistance agencies. Programs in conflict-affected settings face greater risks than those operating in more stable environments. These risks typically include a more acute threat to the lives of U.S. Government and implementer personnel. In these settings, in addition to limited access to projects and threats to safety, USAID often confronts dishonest and opportunistic actors who look to prey upon the influx of foreign aid. In some cases, instability and weak institutions threaten both the immediate progress and long-term benefit of development efforts. Agency staff and implementing partners alike face severe constraints in monitoring the progress of development and humanitarian assistance activities in these settings. Shortfalls in these activities can lead to health and environmental hazards, such as those we observed in a camp for displaced persons in Iraq. They can also create conditions for pervasive fraud and diversion. OIG, for example, recently documented the large-scale substitution of basic hygiene and food items intended for displaced Syrians with substandard materials. In other cases, we have noted the diversion of humanitarian goods to terrorist groups, and uncovered a case in which a sub-implementer received funds for a range of humanitarian assistance activities that it never performed. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan we found that a lack of access to project sites constrained USAID’s ability to observe 74 percent of the projects it funded.

Unreliable data: collection, reporting and use

[T]he collection, use, and reporting of unreliable data in connection with development programs. OIG has identified poor data quality as a concern across a spectrum of USAID’s programs, irrespective of geographic location or functional area. Of 196 performance audit and survey reports OIG published from FY 2013 to FY 2015, about 4 in 10 identified problems with data quality or sufficiency. OIG has repeatedly identified errors and overstatements, gaps in data collection and reporting, and problems in the consistency with which underlying calculations are made. Recent OIG work on USAID’s Ebola response activities, for example, found that the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance lacked adequate performance measures given the nature of the Ebola crisis. OIG identifies data quality problems in more traditional development programs as well, as indicated in recent reports on justice system reform efforts, activities under the Feed the Future Initiative, and education programs. Without reliable data that meaningfully speaks to program results, USAID cannot effectively manage its programs or plan new ones. Moreover, absent reliable information on program progress, policymakers are unable to make fully informed decisions on the course of U.S. foreign assistance.

Sustainability:

USAID’s long-term goal is to transfer ownership of its development initiatives so that the progress and results from its projects continue. To achieve this end, USAID is responsible for building sustainability into its plans and activities. Notwithstanding this aim, sustainability remains a major management challenge and OIG has often found that USAID planning for the end of projects has been inadequate. About a quarter of performance audit reports OIG issued from FY 2013 through FY 2015 contained recommendations to do more to ensure sustainability. In one case, we noted an HIV/AIDS project lacked a formal transition plan 3 years after the project began, threatening its continuation. In other cases, OIG has found that a lack of host country support, including the limited capacity of some USAID partners, reduced the likelihood that development goals could be realized and sustained. Recent OIG reports on programs in Afghanistan and Armenia, for example, noted that local partners lacked the ability to effectively support or continue USAID programs.

The capacity of host country governments and local implementers can indeed determine the success or failure of development efforts. In recognition of the need for technical capacity within host country systems, USAID’s Local Solutions Initiative aims to provide direct funding to host governments and to local private and nonprofit entities. Yet, USAID’s risk mitigation efforts in association with this initiative have not been consistent and this constitutes another significant management challenge for the agency as a result. OIG audit and investigative work over the years has provided evidence that agency and partner controls are unable to effectively safeguard funds in many of these cases. The U.S. Government has channeled a sizable share of assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan through local systems, for example, but not always demonstrated sufficient accountability for these funds. In FY 2015, we issued a report on USAID’s controls over direct assistance in Afghanistan, identifying shortcomings in both its oversight and in how it communicated about employees’ responsibilities and the expectations placed upon Afghan implementers. In Pakistan, a direct assistance program to support municipal services in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) fell short in part because the mission failed to effectively work with the grantee, KP’s Planning and Development Department, which lacked adequate capacity to implement the program on its own.

Human resources management, decentralized IT and information security:

Two additional challenges facing USAID pertain to the management of its human resources and decentralized management of information technology (IT) and information security. Audit work last year continued to indicate that USAID faces a shortage of experienced, highly skilled personnel familiar with USAID guidelines, standards, and processes. Staff retained under the Development Leadership Initiative pointed to irrelevant training, poor support in preparation for overseas assignments, and being assigned roles that were less than those of other employees as problems facing a major hiring effort in recent years. We also found that staffing shortages have hampered program implementation and oversight in many locations where USAID operates.

On the IT front, OIG has noted the lack of an effective risk management program as well as a substantial number of open recommendations from prior IT-related audits. OIG deems this to indicate a significant deficiency in the security of USAID-wide information systems, including financial systems. An audit relating to the agency’s privacy program for information technology identified new weaknesses and risks related to potential noncompliance with major privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.

The full testimony is here (PDF).

 

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