@StateDept’s Patrick Kennedy Is Back in the Spotlight, and Now, Election Fodder

Posted: 1:56 pm ET
Updated: Oct 18, 3:47 PT


Back in August, we wrote about the State Department’s “M” (see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight).  On October 17, with the released of more FBI interview summaries (not transcripts), Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy is back in the spotlight. Click here to read the lengthy discussion about this during the Daily Press Briefing. Two congressional reps, you can guess who, have called for his removal.  The State Department and Secretary Kerry have expressed their full confidence on U/S Kennedy according to the official spokesperson.  Meanwhile, on the campaign trail in Wisconsin …


#Benghazi News: What did the ARB and Benghazi Committee know about Alamir, Eclipse and Xpand?

Posted: 3:53 am ET


Via HuffPo:

A middleman the State Department relied on to hire unarmed guards at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, previously worked with a company that’s now at the center of a massive international bribery scandal.

The FBI and law enforcement agencies in at least four other countries are investigating allegations ― first published by The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media ― that a Monaco-based company called Unaoil bribed public officials to secure contracts for major corporations in corruption-prone regions. In Libya, Unaoil partnered with a Tripoli-based businessman named Muhannad Alamir. A former Unaoil employee who served as a confidential source for the FBI told investigators that Unaoil and Alamir bribed Libyan officials. Unaoil and Alamir deny they bribed anyone.

Alamir started working with the State Department in early 2012, less than three years after cutting ties with Unaoil. He provided Blue Mountain Group, the small British security firm that won the Benghazi guard contract, with the license it needed to legally operate in Libya.

Despite the damning internal review and seven prior congressional probes, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to establish a special committee to further investigate the 2012 attack. Two years and $7 million later, the committee released an 800-page report. Democrats dismissed it as a partisan attack on Clinton, by then their expected presidential nominee.

The report echoed earlier criticisms of security lapses, but revealed little substantive information about the contracting process that contributed to the problem. The Benghazi committee report mentioned Blue Mountain 12 times. Alamir, Eclipse and Xpand weren’t mentioned once.




What every dictator knows: young men are natural fanatics


by Joe Herbert, emeritus professor of neuroscience at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge. His latest book is Testosterone: Sex, Power, and the Will to Win (2015). This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Young men are particularly liable to become fanatics. Every dictator, every guru, every religious leader, knows this. Fanatics have an overwhelming sense of identity based on a cause (a religion) or a community (gang, team), and a tight and exclusive bond with other members of that group. They will risk injury, loss or even death for the sake of their group. They regard everyone else as outsiders, or even enemies. But why are so many of them young males?

In a world of nation-states, young men fought the wars that formed most countries. The same goes for tribes, villages and factions. Young males have qualities that specialize them for this essential function. They readily identify with their group. They form close bonds with its other members. They are prone to follow a strong leader. This is why young males are so vulnerable to environmental influences, such as the prevailing culture in which they happen to live, and why they are so easily attracted by charismatic leaders or lifestyles that promise membership of restricted groups with sharply defined objectives and values. They like taking risks on behalf of their group – and they usually underestimate the danger that such risks represent. If they didn’t have these properties, they would be less willing to go to war, and therefore less able to fulfil one of their essential sociobiological roles.

Why are young men like this? Part of it seems to depend on testosterone, acting on their brain during early foetal life. Exposure in the womb ‘masculinises’ the brain – giving it certain properties, including sexual identity as a male, as well as a preference for play patterns that involve physical contact and even play fights. We know this because girls exposed to abnormal levels of testosterone during this time show similar behaviour, but much less otherwise. At puberty, there is another surge of testosterone acting on this already-prepared brain: this not only awakens sexuality, but encourages various strategies for competing for a mate – including the use of aggression and risk-taking behaviour. But testosterone is far from the only factor in making a fanatic.

Testosterone acts on an ancient part of the brain, the limbic system. The human limbic system looks very like that in other primates, such as chimpanzees, and is even easily recognisable in rats. But this part of the human brain is regulated by a more recent addition: the frontal lobes, which lie behind your forehead. Folk usage recognises their importance: in a hangover from the age of physiognomy, we call bright people ‘highbrow’, reflecting their tall foreheads (and thus their assumed larger frontal lobes). Among their other functions, the frontal lobes are important for personality, social interactions ­– and restraint. Damage to them results in impaired and inappropriate social behaviour, as well as lack of judgment.

Crucially, males’ frontal lobes don’t fully mature until their late 20s, whereas those of women mature earlier. This part of the brain is highly reactive to social cues and the behaviour of other people. The stereotyped young man – loud, risky, unreasonable, aggressive (but also non-conformist and thus innovative) – might be one result. So while it’s an evolutionary advantage to the group as a whole, a combination of rampant testosterone and an immature frontal lobe also explains why young men like taking risks and why they are liable to fanaticism.

Of course, not all young men, even the fanatics, become terrorists. Young men are not all the same. Different outcomes might be due to different social factors. Many terrorists come from criminal or deprived backgrounds. We know that a neglected or abusive childhood can result in antisocial or deviant behaviour later in life. An individual’s social environment, particularly early in life, can have long-lasting behavioural implications. We are beginning to learn something about how these conditions can result in persistent or even permanent changes to the brain, but so far we cannot do much about undoing them. We call people who have disregard for normal human relationships ‘psychopaths’, implying that they have abnormal (pathological) events in their ‘psyche’ (mind). We also know that there are people who develop genetically abnormal social traits (autism is one example) irrespective of upbringing. We do not know the precise defects in the brain that are responsible. Nevertheless, their nature – abnormal social behaviour and inter-personal relationships – points towards the frontal lobes, though other areas of the brain can also be involved.

Social status is prized by the males of many animal species, including humans. Several non-human primates maintain clear-cut dominance rankings. Higher status gives increased access to food, shelter and mates. It’s mostly based on physical prowess, and males fight or threaten each other to determine their relative position.

This also occurs in humans, of course. And yet the human brain has developed other ranking systems, including those based on money, birth or technical ability. The development of projectile weapons has reduced our dependence on muscular strength, but emphasised other traits, such as ruthlessness, bravery and leadership. Within fanatical groups, there is much competition to show qualities that increase a member’s standing with others in the group. This might be particularly attractive to those who, in the rest of life, have little cause to think they rank highly.

Terrorist or aggressive acts, therefore, can be carried out to prove a member’s worth, and attract the kind of attention that seems otherwise unattainable. It’s a modern way to satisfy an ancient biological need, for the respect that individual males crave. In summary, the propensity of the masculine brain is to form bonds with other males (eg street gangs), to recognise and identify with groups, to defend those groups against others, and compete with them for assets. A young male’s hormonal constitution and the way his brain matures together increase his susceptibility to fanaticism, an extreme instance of bonding, and make him prone to taking risk-laden actions on behalf of his group.

The human brain has invented additional categories of identity seemingly unknown in other species, including those based on common beliefs or ethical points of view. Today, identity is increasingly based on beliefs. The huge human brain has enabled the invention of weapons; these have given fanatics increasingly effective means of achieving the primitive aim of dominance by terrorising others. The path to fanaticism will be influenced by a male’s genes, his early experiences, his hormones, the maturity or otherwise of his brain, and the social context in which he finds himself. All these can result in a brain state we label fanaticism, a dangerous mutation of a role that is biologically essential for young men. Our task is to recognise what that brain state might be, how it arises and, if possible, to counter it.Aeon counter – do not remove

Joe Herbert

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.



Stupefied: How the best and the brightest learn to switch off their brains at the office door

Posted: 11:57 am ET


André Spicer is professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, where he specialises in political dynamics, organisational culture and employee identity. His latest book, together with Mats Alvesson, is The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (2016). The following is an excerpt from his piece Stupefied on how organisations enshrine collective stupidity and how employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.  The article was originally published in Aeon [http://aeon.co].

Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste. Talented employees quickly learn to use their significant intellectual gifts only in the most narrow and myopic ways.

Those who learn how to switch off their brains are rewarded. By avoiding thinking too much, they are able to focus on getting things done. Escaping the kind of uncomfortable questions that thinking brings to light also allows employees to side-step conflict with co-workers. By toeing the corporate line, thoughtless employees get seen as ‘leadership material’ and promoted. Smart people quickly learn that getting ahead means switching off their brains as soon as they step into the office.

Sounds familiar?  For those interested in further reading, the author co-published a study on a A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations with Mats Alvesson in the Journal of Management Studies in 2012.  The abstract is here; the full article is available for a fee here.


Clinton v. Trump: Debate Reactions From Around the World, See Who’s Laughing Now

Posted: 3:51 am ET

Here’s a bonus:

And see? The Canadians are just making fun of us now, America. Register to vote today.


America’s Declaration of Independence was pro-immigrant

Posted: 12:22 am EST

America’s Declaration of Independence was pro-immigrant
by Steven Pincus

Steven Pincus is professor of history at Yale University. His latest book is 1688: The First Modern Revolution (2011). He lives in New Haven, Connecticut. This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, 1819. Courtesy Wikimedia

The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, 1819. Courtesy Wikimedia

In 1776, American Patriots faced problems of crushing sovereign debt, vituperative debates about immigration, and questions about the role of foreign trade. They responded by founding a government committed to open borders and free trade. The Declaration of Independence, the country’s charter document, outlined the new republic’s fundamental economic principles, ones that Americans would be wise to remember, because they are now under threat.

Americans have long held their country’s founding document sacred. John Quincy Adams, America’s sixth president, asserted on 4 July 1821 that ‘never, never for a moment have the great principles, consecrated by the Declaration of this day, been renounced or abandoned’. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln announced that: ‘I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.’ Even this year’s Republican Platform committee agrees that the Declaration ‘sets forth the fundamental precepts of American Government’. The Declaration committed that government to reversing the oppressive policies advanced by the British monarch George III and his government. In particular, they called for the free movement of peoples and goods.

In Britain, the ministers who came to power in the 1760s and ’70s overwhelmingly believed, as do many European and North American politicians, that the only option in the face of sovereign debt is to pursue austerity measures. Like many politicians today, they were also happy to shift the tax burden onto those who had the least political capacity to object. In the 18th century, this meant taxing the under-represented manufacturing districts of England and, above all, taxing the unrepresented North Americans. Today, this often means regressive taxation: taking less from those with more.

Patriots on both sides of the Atlantic who opposed the British governments of the 1760s and ’70s did not deny that heavy national debts could be oppressive, but they insisted that the dynamic interplay of producers and consumers was the key to generating economic growth. Unlike their ministerial opponents, they believed that the best way to pay down that debt was for the government to stimulate the economy. They pointed out that the colonies represented the most dynamic sector of Britain’s imperial economy. The more the colonies grew in population and wealth, the more British manufactured goods they would consume. Since these goods were indirectly taxed, the more the Americans bought, the more they helped to lower the government’s debt. Consumption in the colonies was thus ‘the source of immense revenues to the parent state’, as the founding father Alexander Hamilton put it in 1774.

When Americans declared independence in 1776, they set forth to pursue new, independent economic policies of free trade and free immigration. The Committee of Five, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who drew up the Declaration of Independence, condemned George III for ‘cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world’. The British government had long erected tariff and non-tariff barriers to American trade with the French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America. By doing so, they deprived Americans both of a vital outlet for their products and of access to hard currency. This was why Franklin had, in 1775, called for Britain to ‘give us the same Privileges of Trade as Scotland received at the Union [of 1707], and allow us a free Commerce with all the rest of the World’. This was why Jefferson called on the British imperial government not ‘to exclude us from going to other markets’. Freedom of commerce, admittedly one that was accompanied by state support for the development of new industries, is foundational to the United States.

The founders’ commitment to free trade stands in stark contrast with Donald Trump’s recent declaration for American ‘economic independence’. Trump insists that his economic programme echoes the wishes of the founding fathers, who ‘understood trade’. In fact, Trump’s economic principles are the reverse of those advocated by the authors of the Declaration. Like the British government of the 1760s, against which the Patriots defined themselves, Trump focuses narrowly on America’s role as a ‘dominant producer’. He is right to say that the founders encouraged manufacturing. But they did so by simultaneously supporting government subsidies for new American manufactures and advocating free trade agreements, such as the Model Treaty adopted by Congress in 1776 that sought to establish bilateral free trade. This was a far cry from Trump’s call for new ‘tariffs’.

The Declaration also condemned George III for his restrictions on immigration. Well-designed states, patriots believed, should promote immigration. This was why they denounced George III for endeavouring to ‘prevent the population of these states’. George III, the American Patriots pointed out, had reversed generations of imperial policy by ‘refusing to pass’ laws ‘to encourage … migrations hither’. Patriots, by contrast, welcomed new immigrants. They knew that British support for the immigration of Germans, Italians, Scottish Highlanders, Jews and the Irish had done a great deal to stimulate the development of British America in the 18th century. State-subsidised immigrants populated the new colony of Georgia in the 1730s. Immigrants brought with them new skills to enhance production, and they immediately proved to be good consumers. ‘The new settlers to America,’ Franklin maintained, created ‘a growing demand for our merchandise, to the greater employment of our manufacturers’.

Nothing could be further from the animating spirit of America’s charter document than closing the country’s borders. Restrictions on immigration more closely resemble British imperial policies that spurred American revolt and independence.

The Declaration of Independence was much more than a proclamation of separation from the Mother Country. It provided the blueprint, the ‘fundamental precepts’, for a new government. Americans broke away from the British Empire in the 1770s, in part, because they rejected restrictions on trade and immigration.Aeon counter – do not remove

Steven Pincus

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.





Ambassador Klemm Holds Banned #Szekler Flag in Romania, Reportedly Just Want to Be Polite

Posted: 3:35 pm ET


A couple of years ago, the Hungarian Spectrum posted about The War of the Flags: Diplomatic Spat Over Szekler Territorial Autonomy. A diplomatic spat over a flag. Today, the AP reports on the controversy involving the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and the same flag, the Szekler flag.

On September 14, the US Embassy in Bucharest (@AmbasadaSUA) tweeted a photo of the visit to Sfântu Gheorghe by the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and his wife.  They did not post the controversial photo of the ambassador with the flag but it was posted on Facebook by the mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe, Antal Arpad according to social media coverage. The media has not been friendly. This one says that “It is time to get over an alleged ignorance of the American ambassador vis-a-vis historical realities in Transylvania. The gesture should be seen rather as a premeditated one.” Read more about the Székely land  here.

The Romani Journal citing realitatea.net says that US Ambassador Hans Klemm said that the only flags that matter to him are the US’s and Romania’s.  He reportedly added that the photo was taken within a context when he only wanted to be polite.

Well, now… imagine if we have the Russian, Chinese, German or Indian Ambassador in Washington show up in Texas holding the flag of Texit or Texas Secede! advocates then telling the press he/she was just being polite.

We’ll have back to back hearings in Congress, our elected folks would refused to go home to campaign during the election season. Right.

The Romania Journal also notes the FB post: Antal Arpad wrote on Facebook: “I offered the US Ambassador as gift the flag of the Szekler community, which has become the symbol of authorities’ disrespect towards the Szekler community. I mention that this flag was first used in 1599, when the Szeklers fought alongside Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave – ruler of Wallachia 1593-1601, the first ruler to unite the three historical provinces of Romania – our note).”

Below is the embassy’s response to Romanian media roiled by the photograph.  Via The Romania Journal as it is not available on the embassy page:

In a release as reply to the information in the media, the US Embassy says that Ambassador Hans Klemm is the US Ambassador for entire Romania. He is periodically travelling through the country, he meets various groups from all the areas of Romanian society. As ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States support and greet the democracy in Romania and Romania’s efforts to consolidate the democratic institutions with the full and balanced participation of all segments of society, the embassy said.

The 2015 Human Right Report says that the ethnic Hungarian population is approximately 1.2 million.  Also the following:

Ethnic Hungarians also complained of obstructions and bans against the use of the regional Szekler flag and symbols. In March local authorities in Targu Mures rejected the National Szekler Council’s request to hold a march to celebrate the Szeklers’ Freedom Day on March 10 and commemorate five Szekler martyrs.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related to their ability to use the Hungarian language. In August the political umbrella group Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania released a report on the government’s implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The report asserted that ethnic Hungarians were not permitted to use Hungarian in courts or administrative matters and that many municipalities did not use bilingual signs. The report claimed that courts obstructed the financing of Hungarian-language newspapers by local authorities and that the government continued to refuse to establish a public Hungarian-language university. The report also noted there were insufficient Hungarian-language cultural institutions and translations of Hungarian-language literature in the country.

In the region of Moldavia, the Roman Catholic, Hungarian-speaking Csango minority continued to operate government-funded Hungarian language classes. In some other localities, authorities denied requests for Hungarian language classes.




@StateDept: Attack Not Specific Targeting of Americans Diplomats, #SouthSudan Guards “A Little Trigger-Happy”

Posted: 12:03 am ET


We blogged about FP’s piece on the targeting last July of American diplomats in Juba, South Sudan (see #SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba). On September 7, the State Department was asked about this incident during the Daily Press Briefing.  The Department’s assessment, according to the deputy spox is that “the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces” and did not specifically target American diplomats. The presidential guards who opened fire at the embassy convoy,  those soldiers were just “a little trigger-happy.”

The State Department says that its “concern” about the FP article was that “it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles.” In the spox words, “And again  — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.”

The spox also indicated in the DPB that there is reportedly an ongoing South Sudan investigation, and that Diplomatic Security is also conducting its after-action review of the incident but that ” they’re still looking at other details.” The spox says that in light of this incident, the State Department has made modifications to its security posture such as adjusting its curfew and the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in Juba. The South Sudan Travel Warning dated July 10, three days after this security incident does not include any detail about curfews.

Below is the DPB segment on South Sudan, September 7:

QUESTION: Do you have a response to reports that seven American diplomats traveling in a convoy in Juba, South Sudan, were fired on by government troops? This was – apparently happened on July 7th —

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: — just days before that brutal attack on the hotel, the westerners at the hotel there.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And that in this shooting on the convoy, one of the cars was disabled and had to be essentially rescued by a Marine reaction force. What happened there?

MR TONER: Sure. So – and John Kirby spoke to this in the immediate days after the – this incident, and I would just reiterate from the top our condemnation of this attack on what was a U.S. embassy convoy by South Sudanese Government troops. I can walk you through the events as we understand them to have happened, but I can say that we do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted in the attack. It’s our assessment that the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces, and we have demanded that the Government of South Sudan investigate this incident and punish and hold accountable those responsible for it.

But just to walk you through the events, again, as we understand them: So on the evening of July 7th, I think at around 2100 local time, two embassy vehicles were returning to the residential compound and passed, as part of their route, the presidential palace. About an hour earlier, forces that were loyal to the government – or rather, to Machar, rather – had clashed with forces loyal to President Kiir. And government troops stationed near the presidential compound, to put it mildly, were very tense. So the two embassy vehicles approached the soldiers on the road outside the presidential palace. When they moved toward the vehicle – they, the troops, moved toward the vehicles and tried to open their doors – the vehicles, the embassy vehicles appropriately, we believe, began to speed away from the scene. And at that time, the soldiers opened fire. Fortunately, the vehicles were armored and no one was injured. And the next day, July 8th, Ambassador Phee met with President Kiir and demanded that the government carry out a full investigation of the incident and hold those responsible for the incident accountable for their actions. President Kiir, it’s worth noting, did make clear that U.S. embassies were – embassy vehicles were not specifically targeted, and he vowed at that point in time to stand up a committee to investigate the incident.

Now, I don’t have anything to read out to you in terms of what that committee may have found or may be investigating or what the deadline is for them to reach an end to the investigation.

QUESTION: And you’re not saying that the – that the troops didn’t know who they were firing on. It was clear they knew they were firing on Americans. You’re just saying you don’t believe it was ordered by —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is just —

QUESTION: — Kiir to shoot American —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is we don’t believe that they necessarily knew. I mean, there were some – and I – we know —

QUESTION: Why do you not – why do you think that? I mean, it —

MR TONER: It’s just in our assessment. I mean, this is not something that we —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what is that based on? Because it would seem if they got close enough to try to open the doors that they would probably know who they were dealing with at that point.

MR TONER: Well, first of all, the windows were tinted as they often are in these kind of – in these vehicles.

QUESTION: And marked with American flags likely as well?

MR TONER: A very small laminated flag, and it’s not clear whether they would have even recognized the plates. I know that’s another thing that the story states.

Look, all I can do is offer our assessment of the situation. We’re not forgiving it and we’re certainly not overlooking it or saying, “Hey, not your bad. It was your” – look, we’re talking about here is the fact that they opened fire on an embassy convoy, and that is inexcusable. But what we believe were the factors of the environment around that was that they – there had been an altercation, fighting in the run-up to this convoy passing, and that they were very tense, and if I could say it, a little trigger-happy.


QUESTION: So your investigation concluded that these soldiers made a mistake. Did the investigation conclude anything about the advisability of driving through a republican — presidential palace checkpoint?

MR TONER: So we did – we did and conducted, as you note, an internal investigation, and that – an after-action review is in progress, but we have modified our procedures around the travel of convoys of our personnel.

QUESTION: Because it was a mistake to drive in between two opposing forces within an hour of a clash.

MR TONER: That’s – clearly, that’s – we have made modifications to our security posture.

QUESTION: What – what have you changed?

MR TONER: Well, we, for one thing, adjusted our curfew and we also adjusted the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in light of the event, and obviously, in light of subsequent violence in Juba.

QUESTION: So it’s an earlier curfew now?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yeah.

QUESTION: And how are the rules for the movement of embassy been changed?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just can’t. I mean, that’s talking about our security posture, which we don’t do.

QUESTION: Why was it appropriate for them – this was a checkpoint, correct?

MR TONER: Not 100 percent sure. I – my understanding is that they passed in front of the presidential palace. Obviously, there were forces out there. I don’t know that it was a formal checkpoint.

QUESTION: Okay. And why was it appropriate for them not to open the doors?

MR TONER: Because they believed that – their assessment was that these forces were, again, trigger-happy, or shall we say – I’ll put it more diplomatically and say tense, and they felt threatened, clearly. And one of the standard procedures is if you feel threatened is to get the heck out of dodge.

QUESTION: So you stated that an after-action review is still in progress?

MR TONER: This is within – yeah, this is – so we’ve – so two points here. One, we’ve asked the government, obviously, to carry out a full and complete investigation. That, I believe, is still ongoing. I may be wrong there, but I don’t have anything here in front of me that says that it’s been concluded. But we also, as we would in any case like this, conducted our internal review.

QUESTION: And is that still in progress?

MR TONER: That’s in progress, but I was able to say out of that review we have obviously, and frankly immediately, adjusted curfew times and other —

QUESTION: And no other people in the convoy were physically hurt, but obviously it’s a very stressful —

MR TONER: Indeed.

QUESTION: — night for them.


QUESTION: Has anyone been evacuated from station? Has anyone received counseling?

MR TONER: We did – and we’ve talked about this before. I believe we’re on authorized departure from Juba. I believe that’s correct.

QUESTION: But do you know if any of the seven people involved in this have left?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether they’ve left or not.

QUESTION: Who or what entity is conducting the State Department’s after-action review?

MR TONER: That would be Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And from your account provided here at this briefing today, if I understand it correctly, you really cannot determine how much knowledge the presidential guard members had of who exactly was in this car. You really can’t make a determination whether they knew that there were Americans in this car or not, correct?

MR TONER: Again, I think I said we do not believe that, and I said we assess that the attack was connected more to a breakdown in command and control and not to a specific targeting. But I can’t categorically say one or – that it wasn’t.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: But you – so you can’t rule it out?

MR TONER: I can’t – yeah, as I was saying, as I – I qualified it. I said it is our assessment that —


QUESTION: Do you have – is in there about roughly how long this incident – the duration of this incident? How long did it last?

MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: But it does —

QUESTION: Can you confirm that three separate presidential guard units opened fire on the two cars?

MR TONER: I cannot. I’ll try to get – see if I can get more details about the duration and the number of —

QUESTION: It didn’t – this was quite quick. It didn’t happen over a course of hours.

MR TONER: Exactly. No, no, that I can —

QUESTION: This was something that – like, less than —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — less than several minutes? I mean —

MR TONER: I’d say, yes, within the realm of several minutes to 10 minutes. I have no idea. I can’t put a specific time to it, duration.

QUESTION: So this happened almost exactly two months ago. How long does it take to investigate or to look into a 10-minute – let’s just assume it’s 10 minutes – incident?

MR TONER: Are you talking the —


MR TONER: — government’s or the – look, I mean, I —

QUESTION: And are you pushing the South Sudanese Government to —

MR TONER: Yes, we are. Yes, we are. I mean, as I said, Ambassador Phee immediately the next day went to the president and demanded an investigation and we’ve been following up on that.

QUESTION: But that was July 8th.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: It is now September 7th.

MR TONER: I understand. And with regard to —

QUESTION: What’s the temperature, Matt.

MR TONER: With regard to – (laughter) —

QUESTION: In South Sudan? Hot.

MR TONER: With regard to our own internal investigation, clearly we made adjustments, immediate adjustments, to our security posture in light of that attack. But I think they’re still looking at other details.

QUESTION: You stated —

QUESTION: Any personnel involved being disciplined – U.S. personnel?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.


QUESTION: You stated that at least one of these cars was struck by fire but fortunately was —

MR TONER: Armored.

QUESTION: — armor-protected. To your knowledge, has Diplomatic Security, as part of its after-action review, or any other U.S. personnel, made a physical inspection of these vehicles?

MR TONER: I would imagine, but I don’t – I can’t confirm that. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And the personnel – the U.S. personnel, presumably they have been interviewed as part of this after-action review, correct?

MR TONER: That would be – that would be expected, yes.

QUESTION: And that interview process took place overseas or here in Washington?

MR TONER: I don’t know. It could be either. It could be both. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And did anyone decline to cooperate with the after-action review?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak to that either.

QUESTION: It was James Donegan in the car, correct? And the car was disabled and had to be rescued by a Marine force. Is that all correct?

MR TONER: So there is – yes, so that’s an important – and I apologize I didn’t – so there was a small embassy security team basically that traveled to the vehicle and was able to recover our personnel. This happened when the vehicle was no longer under fire and there were no longer hostile forces present, when the team arrived.

QUESTION: Did any U.S. personnel discharge their firearms?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And you don’t really have any problems with how the – Foreign Policy wrote this timeline of events, right?

MR TONER: I think our concern was that it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles. And again —

QUESTION: Right, which – yeah.

MR TONER: — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.

QUESTION: So you’re making excuses, but it doesn’t excuse —

MR TONER: We good? Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have some preferred outcome for the South Sudanese investigation? Do you want to see people disciplined? Is that the —

MR TONER: Yes, unequivocally.

QUESTION: What would you think would be an appropriate discipline?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, that’s something for the South Sudanese Government to speak about, but this was clearly a serious incident that, to put it mildly, put at risk the lives of American diplomats and American citizens. So we take it very seriously and we want to see the appropriate people held accountable.



#SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba

Posted: 3:22 am ET


On August 17, we blogged about South Sudan troops targeting Americans in the country. (see Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid). On July 8,2016, CNN citing State Department officials reported that shots were fired at U.S. embassy vehicles on July 7 and personnel at the embassy were briefly ordered to shelter in place after gunfire and explosions rocked the capital of Juba, including near the Presidential Palace. At that time, the official spox told CNN, “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted and have no indication that the security forces were instructed to fire on our vehicles. However, we condemn this attack on U.S. embassy personnel.” 

The July 7 attack described in detail below preceded the assaults and rapes that occurred in the Terrain compound on July 11 but did not become front page news until mid-August. A State Department official told FP that “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted.”  The report, however, notes that “the front windshields of the two armored SUVs held laminated cards emblazoned with the American flag. In plain sight were diplomatic license plates with the number 11, a well-known calling card in Juba that proclaims the world’s reigning superpower is passing through town.”

Via FP’s Colum Lynch:

State Department officials provided Foreign Policy with conflicting accounts of whether the department had conducted a formal investigation into the incident, with one official saying it hadn’t, and another saying it had carried out some form of investigation. But both officials said they have demanded South Sudan carry out an investigation and hold those responsible to account. The State Department has also downplayed the role of the South Sudanese in targeting U.S. diplomats, saying there was no way to know whether Kiir’s presidential guard knew who they were shooting at.

“We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted,” a State Department official told FP. “I think we can speak with certainty the people in the convoy did not identify themselves necessarily to the soldiers or say that it was an American convoy.”
Anxious that Juba was set to explode, Molly Phee, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, phoned Donegan [note: Jim Donegan, post’s DCM] and six other American diplomats at the restaurant and ordered them to cut short a farewell dinner for a colleague over beer and Indian food. The Americans’ two armored SUVs were passing by the palace when more than half a dozen presidential guards stationed at a checkpoint pulled them to the side of the road. Brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, they yelled at the Americans in a mix of Arabic and Dinka, South Sudan’s main indigenous language. At one point, the soldiers tried to force one of the car doors open, prompting the South Sudanese driver in the lead vehicle to floor it.

The second car followed as the guards opened fire from behind at both vehicles, forcing Donegan’s car to swerve into a parked car, which happened to be owned by a senior South Sudanese national security official. The trail car whizzed past, sideswiping Donegan’s vehicle as it barreled down the main thoroughfare before turning onto CPA Road — named after the U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement — and racing back to the U.S. Embassy. A second group of more than half a dozen South Sudanese troops, dressed in government military uniforms, unleashed a barrage of fire at the Americans. A third cluster of armed soldiers farther along the escape route sprayed the speeding American vehicles.

But Donegan’s vehicle had been badly crippled, temporarily stalling as South Sudanese soldiers fired into its tinted windows. The driver got the car restarted but could only hobble down the road, since two tires had blown out. They made the turn at CPA Road before coming to a second and final stop, fortunately out of sight of their would-be assailants. Donegan and his colleagues waited on the suddenly quiet road for 10 to 15 minutes, before the Marines arrived and brought them back to the embassy.

Read more below:

12 FAM 030 says that the Accountability Review Board process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.”  This is a security-related incident but as far as we are aware, no ARB has been convened.  The FAM also says that “a Board will be convened for the express purpose of investigating only that incident or those incidents specified by the Secretary.”  No announcement has been made that indicates Secretary Kerry has asked for an investigation of this incident.

An OIG review from 2013 warned that the current facility in Juba puts embassy employees at risk.  Correct us if we’re wrong on this, but we think this is the same facility occupied by the embassy to-date.  Couple a deficient facility with a host country unable to control its troops and where presidential guards have now opened fire at embassy vehicles, and you’ve got a security nightmare in the making. If that’s not enough to give you pause, scroll through the comments on Embassy Juba’s Facebook page; you might learn something about how the United States is perceived in a country that it helped gain independence in 2011.


Related posts:





Three American Contractors Kidnapped in Iraq Tell Their Story

Posted: 1:54 am ET
he men were released to Iraqi middlemen who took them to the Green Zone, the government complex where the U.S. Embassy is housed. That day, Feb. 16, was the last the Americans saw of Abu Marina, the Iraqi held captive with them. Attempts to reach him via his Facebook account failed; his whereabouts are unknown.

Coverage of the kidnapping is a case study in the unreliability of newsgathering in Baghdad, where fear and sectarian agendas shape how incidents are reported, especially given the difficulties of Western journalists to move freely around the city.

Every news organization that covered the case reported inaccurate information, typically focusing on the brothel angle based on the accounts of unnamed “Iraqi security officials.” Virtually everything else in the reports was wrong, too: the men’s names, nationalities, genders, employer and time of capture.

Read more below: