America’s “Newspaper of Record” Calls Rex Tillerson Ill-Suited As Secretary of State, Ouchy!

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

NYT’s editorial of November 18, not only called Mr. Tillerson ill-suited as secretary of state, it also cited the 69th secretary of state’s “limited ambitions.”

One GOP senator John Cornyn still thinks Mr. Tillerson is “doing a great job”.  Early this year, the senior senator from Texas introduced Rex Tillerson before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as “uniquely qualified to serve in this important office.”

AND NOW THIS —

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Tillerson’s Aides Brief Senate Staffers on @StateDept Reorganization With a Chockful of Buzz Words

Posted: 11:41 am PST

 

On November 7, we wrote that a State Department top official did a presentation to ranking officials of the agency concerning the ongoing redesign (see @StateDept Redesign Briefing Presents Five “Guiding Beliefs” and Five “Key Outcomes” #OMG).

It looks like that presentation document was expanded and was used to brief the aides at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 9. Politico’s Nahal Toosi posted the briefing document here crammed with corporate buzz phrases.  Oh, where do we start? Maybe the corporate B.S. generator helpfully pointed out to us on social media?

Slide 2 is labeled Overview of the DOS/USAID Redesign / Culture Change. It asks “What is Redesign?” and has the four bullet points with lots of words, but short on the how. Or the why for that matter. What kind of cultural change does this redesign envision? What is the current organizational culture, what’s wrong with it, and why is this new culture better? We don’t know because it doesn’t say on the overview. We do know that the SFRC bosses were not satisfied with the briefing given to the staffers.

So when they talked about “Focusing on strengthening the State Department’s and USAID’s future capacity” how did they align that with hiring below attrition with a graying workforce, a third of them eligible to retire by 2020?  (see @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition).

A third point says “Equipping us to be the U.S. government’s agency leader in foreign policy and development over the next forty years.”

Lordy, who wrote these slides? Also folks, why forty years?  That’ll be 2057, what’s the significance there? Or are they talking forty years in biblical time as in Numbers 32:13“The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.”

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Libyan National Charged in 2012 Attack on U.S. Special Mission and Annex in #Benghazi

Posted: 2:22 am ET
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Media reports say that U.S. special forces have captured a militant who was allegedly involved in the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  The suspect has been identified as Mustafa al-Imam. An unnamed official told the AP that the suspect was captured in Misrata, on the north coast of Libya and was taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport to the United States.

Per DOJ announcement:

Mustafa al-Imam, a Libyan national approximately 46 years old, has been charged for his alleged participation in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

“The murder of four Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 was a barbaric crime that shocked the American people. We will never forget those we lost – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Ambassador Christopher Stevens – four brave Americans who gave their lives in service to our nation,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “We owe it to them and their families to bring their murderers to justice. Today the Department of Justice announces a major step forward in our ongoing investigation as Mustafa al-Imam is now in custody and will face justice in federal court for his role in the attack.  I am grateful to the FBI, our partners in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense who made this apprehension possible.  The United States will continue to investigate and identify all those who were involved in the attack – and we will hold them accountable for their crimes.”

“The apprehension of Mustafa al-Imam demonstrates our unwavering commitment to holding accountable all of those responsible for the murders of four brave Americans in a terrorist attack in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia.  “Together with our law enforcement partners, we will do all that we can to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States, no matter how far we must go and how long it takes.”

Mustafa al-Imam is charged in a recently unsealed three-count criminal complaint.  The complaint, which was filed under seal on May 19, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges al-Imam with:

  • Killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility involving the use of a firearm and dangerous weapon and attempting and conspiring to do the same.
  • Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death.
  • Discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.Al-Imam is in U.S. custody, and upon his arrival to the U.S. he will be presented before a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

Read the full announcement here.

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Don’t Forget the @StateDept Redesign, But Get Ready For “New Carpool Karaoke With S”

Posted: 12:43 am ET
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Politico’s Nahal Toosi has a leaked State Department document reportedly alarming diplomats and others who say it shows the accumulation of power among a small and unaccountable group of senior aides to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The chart, obtained by POLITICO, illustrates the growing influence of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, which traditionally has served as an in-house think tank but which Tillerson heavily relies upon for day-to-day decision making. Critics already complain that the office — led by Brian Hook, a powerful Tillerson aide not subject to Senate confirmation — accepts too little input from career diplomats, and the chart, which lays out a method to craft foreign policy, shows no explicit role for them.
[…]
“This says to me that they are developing a new foreign policy structure that is designed to largely ignore those who know these regions and who know these issues,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official who served under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Folks, this is Foggy Bottom’s version of Carpool Karaoke where there are extremely limited seats available in the car, but in this version, no one tell each other they’re singing out of tune. Why not? The passengers  don’t know what they don’t know and they all think they have great singing voices. Right.

That “Review Slides with S” is indeed “amazeballs.”  But where are the effing charts and the laugh machine?

AND NOW THIS — it looks like there’s a red on red campaign against S/P’s Brian Hook, who is publicly identified as a “de facto deputy” for the State Department by no less than one of the louder voices in Trump’s orbit. This same campaign is also directed against Tillerson sidekick Margaret Peterlin.

Mick Cernovich who has been called an alt-right provocateur and Trump loyalist has tweeted about Tilleron’s aides Hook and Peterlin going back months.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE – Mr. Tillerson who came to Washington with an aversion for the press has now given multiple interviews to several media outlets presumably to help … um with what now appears to be a prevailing public’s view of his poor stewardship of the State Department. One of the latest interviews, this one with Bloomberg News:

—he doesn’t know what to make of news reports that morale is low at his agency and that he’s not doing a good job running it. “I walk the halls, people smile,” he says in a recent interview in his spacious office in Washington. “If it’s as bad as it seems to be described, I’m not seeing it, I’m not getting it.”

The former U.S. ambassador to Qatar gave the secretary of state a suggestion on how he can “communicate better” and also “get” what the problem is at the State Department.  Is that a quiet applause we’re hearing?

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@USAmbCanada Kelly Craft Makes Splash Over “Both Sides of the Science” #ClimateChange

Posted: 12:39 am ET
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@USAmbNZ Scott Brown Gets Ahead of Bad News Over “Insensitive” Comments Probe

Posted: 12:31 am ET
Updated: Oct 27 | 12:44 am ET
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Stuff New Zealand reported on October 26 that the US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown faced complaints over ‘cultural misunderstanding.’

US Ambassador Scott Brown has fronted over mounting “innuendo and rumour” about a State Department investigation into his behaviour. Speaking to Stuff with wife Gail Huff at his side, Brown confirmed there had been an official “administrative inquiry” into his conduct at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July.

It is not clear if the inquiry is conducted by HR, EEOC or OIG (we’ve asked but have not received a response) but whatever it is, talking to the local media, bound to be picked up by U.S. news media, is a calculated way to get ahead of the potential fallout from a probe that has not been publicly known until now.

We hope he’s learned his lesson that he’s not just some ex-politician from New Hampshire or Massachusetts anymore. He speaks for the United States at all times now until he steps down; and as with career folks who are considered on duty 24/7, the ambassador no longer has the luxury of personal views, only official ones. For Exhibit A, see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”; for Exhibit B, see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”.

Below is the official response from the State Department: 

The State Department takes allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. We hold all employees to the highest standard. The Office of Inspector General has conducted an independent review of the allegations and reported its findings to the Department. Senior leadership at the State Department has been in contact with Ambassador Brown and he has been counseled on standards of conduct for government employees, which also includes Ambassadors.

So hey, while we’re on the subject of “insensitive” or “inappropriate” comments, say…we’ve posted about this and more related to Diplomatic Security. Has anyone sent in investigators over there to see about Special Agent Sticky Balls and what he’s up these days?

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Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

Related posts:

 

Video of the Day: 69th Secretary of State Says, “I checked. I’m fully intact.”

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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Holy caramba!  The world is falling apart, and here is the 69th Secretary of State. We feel sorry for us and the historians at history.state.gov but this is a remarkable moment. How low have we fallen … uh, that’s not a question. He also talked about other stuff, but obviously, we can’t remember what he said, or even if we can remember what our top diplomat said … what the heeeey, it’s pretzel day, every day these days.

AND NOW THIS —

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Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently criticized the suspension of visa services in Turkey by the United States. The Daily Sabah quotes Yıldırım saying“There is rule of law in Turkey and if someone from the U.S. diplomatic mission commits a crime he/she will not have any privileges [to avoid prosecution].” Apparently he also added that U.S. authorities never asked for Turkey’s permission when the United States arrested Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass for the visa row, and said: “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place.” He also said that Turkey does not see Ambassador Bass as a representative of the United States.

In the spirit of reciprocity, how long before the State Department declares that the U.S. no longer sees Ambassador Serdar Kılıç as a representative of the Government of Turkey in Washington, D.C.?

RTE must be smart enough to recognize that American ambassadors, particularly career ambassadors like Ambassador Bass do not freelance. And still he rails.

Of related note — on March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

The scheme functioned largely by using the Turkish government-owned bank (“Turkish Bank-1”) at which ASLAN was the General Manager, ATILLA was the Deputy General Manager of International Banking, and BALKAN was an Assistant Deputy Manager for International Banking, to engage in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. The defendants used Turkish Bank-1 to facilitate REZA ZARRAB’s ability to use his network of companies to supply currency and gold to the Government of Iran, Iranian entities, and SDNs using Turkish Bank-1, while concealing Turkish Bank-1’s role in the violation of U.S. sanctions from regulators.

This is an interesting thriller that we should hear more about starting next month when the hearing starts in New York.  This story started like a movie; according to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars.

Here is the superseding indictment in USA vs. Zarrab, et.al.

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Utah Governor Gary Herbert Swears-In U.S. Ambassador to Russia @JonHuntsman

Posted: 1:20 am ET
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AND NOW THIS!

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