@StateDept Spox: Lax security culture here? We don’t share that assessment

Posted: 2:47 am ET

 

Via the Daily Press Briefing with John Kirby:

QUESTION: So one of the word I think that kind of stood out in this regarding the State Department’s equities was “careless.” I think he even said extremely careless at one point regarding the former secretary and how she handled her emails – top staff around her, including some still at the department, and the agency as a whole. Do you agree that this agency was extremely careless with how it dealt with classified and otherwise sensitive information?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to, again, comment on the specific findings and recommendations that the FBI director noted today.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: But the question about —

QUESTION: That was a public statement.

MR KIRBY: The claim about – I do want to address this – the claim about a lax environment or culture when it comes to handling classified information. And I would just say – and I’m comfortable commenting on that because, as the director himself said, that was not part of their investigation – his – their assessment of a lax environment or culture. We don’t share that assessment of our institution. That said – and I’ve said this many times before – we’re always looking for ways to improve. We’re going to continue to look for ways to improve. But we don’t share the broad assessment made of our institution that there’s a lax culture here when it comes to protecting classified information. We take it very, very seriously.

QUESTION: But I’m sorry, you don’t share the assessment that when the former head of the agency had thousands of emails that you had to upgrade, including hundreds that were – over a hundred that were classified at the time, that that doesn’t amount to a lax approach to classified information? I mean, how many hundreds would you need for it to be lax, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying, Brad, is that as a cultural assessment of the State Department as an institution that we have a lax culture here, we don’t share that assessment. And as the director said himself, that’s not – wasn’t part of their investigation or the findings and recommendations that they made inside that investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but so it’s not – it’s true that it was not the scope of their investigation, but in looking at her emails and the number of officials that were emailing here about classified information, that’s where they came to the determination that there was a lax culture. So I mean, I guess you would have to look at every single employee and see what their treatment of email to determine that it’s a lax culture, but clearly, the FBI found enough – Secretary Clinton’s intent or whatever notwithstanding, that generally that there were a lot of officials and that they came across in the scope of this investigation which led them to believe that the culture is not taken as seriously as it could be.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the FBI director speak to their findings and recommendations and his investigation, as he should. The question was do I share, do we share, the assessment of the culture at the – of the – at the institution of the State Department to be lax, and we do not share that assessment. We take it very seriously here.

 

let me stop you right there

 

QUESTION: So you think – well, clearly, he found it in the previous administration, in the previous term. So are you saying that maybe that there was a lax culture that doesn’t exist anymore?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that at all, Elise. I’m not parsing words here. I’m saying that the State Department has in the past and does today take the treatment of classified information very seriously. And when we —

QUESTION: So it was just some bad apples?

MR KIRBY: And when we have – pardon?

QUESTION: So it was just a few people that did not take enough care?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to any more specifically about the findings and recommendations that the FBI made and announced today. What I can tell is we don’t share the broad assessment that there is a lax culture here at the State Department when it comes to dealing with classified information. In fact, quite the contrary; we take it very seriously.

QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more. Can you – the FBI director said that had some of these people still been in office that they would have been subject or could have been subject to administrative penalties. Is anybody that’s currently employed by the State Department going to have any notes in their files as a result of anything that their emails uncovered in terms of their communications?

And then also, some of the previous employees that worked for Secretary Clinton that were found to have exchanged what is now believed to be classified information, are they going to have kind of posthumous notes put in their file should they ever seek to be employed by the U.S. Government again? And does the State Department do that or does the FBI do that, and is that through OPM? Like what’s the process there?

MR KIRBY: So let me answer it this way, and I think I alluded to this at the top. We’re going to determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice, and that’s where this really lays right now. We have – as you know and I’ve said, we have an administrative process to evaluate cases where information may have been mishandled, and as I’ve said previously, at the request of the FBI, we didn’t move forward with that process so as not to interfere with their investigation. We also don’t believe that it’s appropriate at this time, given that there are – that the matter is now before the Department of Justice to determine their next step, to make decisions or not to make decisions – we don’t think it’s appropriate for us to move forward on that at this time. So I just don’t have an update for you on the – on any possible timing or scope of that review process.

QUESTION: So what would be the – so once the Department of Justice makes their recommendation, then you would determine what administrative processes you want to move forward with?

MR KIRBY: I think we need to wait to see what the Justice Department decides to do now in the wake of the FBI investigation before we move forward one way or the other, and we want to allow the proper time and space for that before we decide anything further with respect to those issues.

QUESTION: Kirby, a couple of detailed questions on this, and if you don’t have the answers, if you could undertake to take them. As has been explained to me, there are two separate processes that can be undertaken here. One of them is an administrative process and the other is a security clearance-related process.

As has been explained to me, but I’d like to confirm, the administrative process governs solely people who are currently employed by the Department of State. So can you confirm that that’s the case, that administrative processes or sanctions don’t apply to people who are no longer employed by State?

Second, as it’s been explained to me, it is possible for people who are no longer employed at State but who retain a security clearance to be subject to a security clearance process and perhaps sanction. Is that your understanding as well?

And then a couple of other specific things. Are any – is – does Secretary – former Secretary Clinton or any of her senior aides – specifically Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin – continue to have security clearances provided by the State Department? And if so, is it theoretically possible that you would then review those security clearances in the light of whatever is ultimately the Justice Department prosecutorial decision and the FBI’s investigative material?

MR KIRBY: There’s an awful lot there. Let me see if I can dissect it. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of what is still an ongoing process now at the Justice Department, or speculate one way or the other about which way this will go. I don’t know – I’m happy to ask the question, your question about administrative processes. I don’t know if there is a technical definition for “administrative” and whether that applies in broad scope to only current employees or former employees. I’ll have to take that.

On the security clearance process or review, all I can tell you generally speaking is that – is that if there is a need – and I’m speaking broadly, not to this – that – the way it typically works, as I understand it, is that the department that issues a security clearance, if there is – if it’s determined that that clearance needs to be reviewed for whatever reason, it’s up to that – it’s up to the department that issued it to review it regardless of whether the employee is still at the – is still employed by the agency. The agency has that responsibility unless, of course, that employee went to a different federal agency and then got it renewed there. Does that make sense?

I’m not going to speculate one way or another about the degree to which this is – this is even a part of it. The FBI director was very careful; I’m going to be very careful. These are now decisions that have to be discussed. The findings and recommendations now have to be absorbed by the Department of Justice, and then they make – they’ll make decisions or not going forward.

And then on your last question, about the individuals, we do not discuss the security clearance of individuals as a matter of policy. We just don’t discuss it.

QUESTION: In – but these are former officials.

MR KIRBY: We don’t – we do not discuss.

QUESTION: And one of them, Jake Sullivan, in the transcript of his deposition in the civil lawsuit in which he was deposed as part of discovery, his lawyer said that his security clearance was restored so that he would have the ability to look at some of the material that was classified that they wanted to talk to him about. And so it’s at least in the public domain in that one instance, according to his lawyer, that he had, as of that date about a week ago, a security clearance.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why can’t you talk about whether former officials have security clearances?

MR KIRBY: Because that’s our policy.

QUESTION: You don’t want —

MR KIRBY: And it’s been longstanding policy. We do not discuss the security clearance levels or access of individuals, current or former. We just don’t – that’s our policy and I’m not going to violate that.

QUESTION: It’s a State Department policy or a government-wide policy?

MR KIRBY: I know it’s at least a State Department policy, Elise. I’ll find out if it goes beyond that. I’m not going to —

QUESTION: Because certainly there have been instances, whether it’s General Petraeus or Sandy Berger or others, that when there was punitive action taken, they did discuss the security clearance.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to discuss the individual security clearances from this podium – just not going to do it. And if there’s – I’d refer you to the individuals in question and if they’re represented by others to speak to that, but I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Just one more on the question of lax – laxity. You state that you disagree with the assessment that the State Department is lax, has a culture of being lax in the protection of classified information. Why is it that the highest State Department official was allowed to establish and use a private email server with, as I understand it, no government-provided security for emails that contain information that, as the FBI director said this morning, some of which was classified at the time it was sent and received? I mean, if it’s not lax, how can the top official of the department go off and set up their own system that isn’t subject to the normal procedures here?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to re-litigate the investigation. As I said, I’m not going to speak to the findings and recommendations – the FBI director spoke to that earlier today – and to what they found in terms of the practices back then and how those practices were followed. What I’ll just tell you – broadly speaking, we don’t share the assessment that as an institution – an entire institution – that the State Department has in the past or does today take lightly the issue of sensitive and classified information. We absolutely don’t.

QUESTION: What’s your basis for that?

QUESTION: The reason I asked it is that you look at, as I understand it, kind of every level of potential check or balance here, right? The assistant secretaries for DS, the under secretary for management – according to the inspector general’s report, these people were not asked and did not voice an opinion on the use of this system. The person on the seventh floor who was charged with these kinds of issues, at least according to the report, told people – told two people not to talk to anybody about it. So even if the quibble is with the world “laxity,” do you feel that your systems were sufficient to safeguard classified information sent by or to the secretary of state?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think the FBI director addressed that as well as part of their investigation. I am simply not going to discuss or comment on their findings and recommendations with respect to this case.

QUESTION: Well, I mean —

MR KIRBY: This issue – wait a second, Elise. Wait, wait – and to your question. And as he said himself, his assessment of the State Department’s culture was not part of this investigation, and that’s why I’m comfortable addressing that, that on – as a whole, in the main, we absolutely do not share the broad assessment that the entire culture here at the State Department is lax when it comes to protecting sensitive and classified information.

And what I’m basing that on, Brad, is the longstanding – and I don’t just mean recently – the longstanding training and indoctrination that one goes through before you get employed here and the periodic reviews of the training and sensitive information handling that you have to go through all the time. I’ve been here a little bit more than a year; I’ve already had to go through it several times myself. That you – we have two networks for email traffic that are deliberately set up to handle various degrees of sensitive information, and that the work of diplomats all around the world is by its very nature is sensitive, but it’s also outward-facing, and has to be. And there is a role here at the State Department to be communicative, to have dialogue, to foster communication. That’s a big part of who we are. And I can – and I can tell you that everybody involved in that understands the risks and the opportunities of it, and takes it very seriously.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: So to say that the culture here —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: — is lax, that’s a pretty broad brush, and again, we wouldn’t use it; we don’t believe it.

QUESTION: The problem is this indoctrination that you speak of obviously didn’t work when it came to the past secretary, or the hundred or so officials who all contacted her during the course of her tenure, or the dozens of officials who would have known that she wasn’t using a state.gov address or would have known that information that was at least on the borderline was going to a nongovernment account. So that failed across the board, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a qualitative assessment.

QUESTION: The IG report said as much.

MR KIRBY: The IG spoke as well to this. I’m not going to talk about the findings and recommendations of this investigation.

QUESTION: Well —

QUESTION: And —

MR KIRBY: But this was – there is a difference, Brad, between an assessment of email practices under Secretary Clinton’s tenure and how they were implemented and saying that the culture here at the State Department is lax.

QUESTION: Okay, well, what —

QUESTION: Yeah, but – no, no, no, hold on. But – sorry, you can’t separate the head of the agency and everybody who worked around her at a senior level in this agency and say —

MR KIRBY: Right, and I’m not trying to.

QUESTION: Well, you —

QUESTION: — well, there were somebody out there who was following the rules, so the culture was okay.

MR KIRBY: It’s more than somebody, Brad.

QUESTION: Well —

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Show me an IG report that shows all the adherence.

QUESTION: Let me —

QUESTION: And secondly, you’re making this case about how the State Department was an – is an outward-looking agency.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: None of these emails from Secretary Clinton were outward-focused. They were all about internal messaging, they were all about her and her aides consulting on matters —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — that weren’t meant for public consumption, and there’s even messages about not wanting things out for public consumption. So I fail to see how that’s an argument that shows why somehow this is distinct or excusable.

MR KIRBY: It’s a valid argument when you’re talking about the entire institution, Brad, and not an individual inside it, regardless of whatever level that individual serves, to make a broad assessment – and look, I don’t – I don’t – I’m not going to – I think I’ve said it plenty of times already – to make a broad assessment of the entire institution, that it was lax or that we don’t care or we don’t take it seriously. We don’t share it.

Now, look, as I also said, we’re always looking for ways to improve. And if there’s ways we can learn from this particular investigation to improve, then we’ll do that.

QUESTION: So, John – okay. So I think it’s pretty clear what you’re taking issue with is that you’re – you’re interpreting the FBI director’s comments to mean a culture throughout the whole State Department apparatus. And I think his – what he’s trying to say is based on – and they did not – the scope of their investigation was not the whole State Department; it was Secretary Clinton and the immediate staff and several other dozen officials that were emailing her – that there was a lax culture among a subset of State Department officials. That – I don’t think he’s making an indictment on the whole State Department, but he is saying that there was a culture inside the State Department where the security was lax. I mean, the fact that this took place kind of indicates that it was.

And he does also say that this use of a personal email domain was known by a large number of people and readily apparent. So there were numerous people inside the State Department that knew that she was using this type of system. So how can you not – if you don’t want to acknowledge that there was a lax culture in the whole kind of State Department bureaucracy, can you not acknowledge that among a subset of employees at the time that there was a lax – a culture of lax security among that subset?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the investigation speak for itself and the FBI director to speak for it.

QUESTION: But by you kind of parsing out and saying that this – let me finish – that by you parsing out and saying that the whole building doesn’t have a lax security problem suggests that you’re dismissing that a small portion did.

MR KIRBY: I was not suggesting any such thing, Elise. As I said, we cooperated with the FBI on its investigation. I can’t talk about the scope of that cooperation. I’m not going to, again, address the specific findings and recommendations that he made. And the director has spoken for their investigative work, and I would refer you to him and to his staff to speak to it going forward. And I don’t have his exact quote, so I can’t tell you if I’ve misinterpreted or not. I mean, he can speak for himself in terms of what he meant. The way we interpreted it was that it was a broad-brush assessment of the culture here at the State Department when it came to —

QUESTION: Do you not – do you not agree that a group of people, however large it was, that knew about this system and let it kind of – greenlighted it and let it go forward and didn’t ask questions about it suggests that security – and a culture of security was lax somewhere in the —

MR KIRBY: Look, our inspector general himself found that there were lapses and that not all appropriate practices were conducted. I mean, nobody’s taking issue with that. What I’m taking issue with – and the only thing I’m taking issue with today, because I’m not going to comment, as I said, on the specifics – the only thing I’m taking issue with is an assessment, a broad assessment, of the culture of the institution, which we do not share.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Something else from today: The director of the FBI said that the FBI had found over a hundred emails that contained classified information at the time that they were sent or received, and some were even actually marked classified. So that contradicts what the State Department has been saying throughout this investigation, so how do you square the two?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to comment on the specific findings and recommendations of the investigation.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: One follow-up —

QUESTION: Would you, though, at least acknowledge that —

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Hang on.

QUESTION: Something else that he said in his comment – he said that the 110 emails had been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information. So do you now acknowledge that it is the owning agency’s responsibility, not the recipient’s or even necessarily the State Department, in determining what information is classified and what’s not?

MR KIRBY: Again, what I would tell you is we cooperated fully with the FBI on this and I’m not going to comment specifically on the findings of the investigation. As much as I know you’d like me to, I’m not going to do that. There is now – there is a process here in place where the Department of Justice is going to take a look at this. We’re going to let that process play out, as we should, and we’ll await any pending decisions by the Department of Justice before the State Department moves forward one way or another.

QUESTION: John, how do you stand up —

QUESTION: What about the possibility that people hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to —

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What about the possibility that states or entities hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to some of the content of those emails? Do you share those concerns that the FBI director said today?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we, of course, take the security of our systems very, very seriously, and we’re always concerned about intrusions into our system. I think the director also said that they didn’t find any direct evidence that the system was compromised, but I don’t have additional details to offer today.

QUESTION: But he also said that you couldn’t be sure and that – and it’s possible that they did so and you don’t even know about it.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re always concerned about this. And look, federal government systems get attacked every day. I just don’t have any additional details on this.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re not – you’re not suggesting that because government systems are hacked that there was enough security in place that would replace —

MR KIRBY: I’m not —

QUESTION: — that would be equal to the government security? The FBI director specifically said that it was not as secure as a government system or even a Gmail account.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to discuss or debate the findings or the recommendations.

QUESTION: But you were the one that raised it. You said government computers get – or government systems get hacked all the time.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, Elise.

QUESTION: Hey, John, just – can I —

MR KIRBY: Carol.

QUESTION: John, do you – I believe the FBI director made a point of saying that you were lax in comparison to elsewhere within government. Do you believe that you stand up equally to other agencies in the government, including national security agencies like the FBI and the CIA, the White House, and the Pentagon? Do you think you are equal to them?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, first of all, that everybody has a – everybody in the federal government has standard rules that crosscut agencies in terms of how sensitive and classified information is treated and dealt with. We all have the same basic rules. But each federal agency also has a fundamental different purpose and each of the major federal agencies has to, by dint of their purpose, look at the world in different ways.

As I said to Brad, we are required – not just that we like it – we’re required to be outward-facing, we’re required to communicate, we’re required to foster dialogue, we’re required to have conversations with foreign leaders and in foreign countries all around the world every single day. Now, that doesn’t obviate, doesn’t excuse, it doesn’t mean that we’re not also responsible in the conduct of that business to protect sensitive information. We have to. But the State Department, unique to many – unique, I think, among federal agencies, has an actual obligation to communicate.

So that’s why I’m confident in saying that – look, do we always get it right? No. Have we admitted that there were things we could have done better in the past? Absolutely. The IG found that. The Secretary himself has taken steps to try to improve records management here. But we have an obligation to communicate, and you have to find the right balance between the need to do that – to foster dialogue, to try to gain better understanding of what somebody else thinks and articulate your policy, at the same time protecting sensitive information. So we have a different role. I don’t think it’s useful to compare each and every federal agency with the way they do this because each of them have different responsibilities in terms of the information environment. But again, I’m not at all excusing anything in terms of our responsibilities – our baseline responsibilities, which every federal agency has – to protect classified and sensitive information.

QUESTION: Hey, Kirby.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: According to a letter dated February 18th, 2016, from Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, to Chairman Grassley, the letter explicitly discloses that Cheryl Mills did maintain a top-secret – well, did maintain a security clearance because, pursuant to Section 4.4 of Executive Order 13526, she was designated by former Secretary Clinton to assist her in research consistent with that section of the executive order. So you do disclose – you do talk about security clearances, at least in this one instance, with regard to Ms. Mills.

MR KIRBY: That’s a – that – you’re talking about a piece of correspondence between the head of legislative affairs here and a senator. That’s different than public disclosure, certainly different than disclosure and talking about it here from the podium. As I said, our policy is not to discuss it, and I’m not going to change the policy here today.

QUESTION: Even though you’ve told lawmakers about it?

MR KIRBY: That is not the same as having a public discussion of security clearance. That’s a vastly different thing.

QUESTION: Is it – that wasn’t a classified letter.

MR KIRBY: Just because something’s not classified doesn’t mean that it’s —

QUESTION: Well, we know that.

MR KIRBY: — that it’s okay to discuss here at the podium, Brad.

QUESTION: I know.

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, the – I’m not going to violate —

QUESTION: We know that classified isn’t the marker for you to —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to violate the policy today.

 

DOD Talks About Military Families Ordered Out of Turkey, @StateDept Remains Mum Except — Bunnies!

Posted: 3:07 am ET

 

Meanwhile — information on Foreign Service families evacuated from U.S. Consulate Adana is hard to come by.

We don’t know at this point how many Foreign Service family members and pets were evacuated out of southern Turkey under last week’s “ordered departure” announcement (the number is very small in our guesstimate).  Or whether they were evacuated to other posts in Turkey, or returned to the United States (designated safehaven for eligible family members is the United States — anywhere in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia).

The ordered departure was approved initially for 30 days but will remain in effect until terminated by the State and Defense departments (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).  The DOD spoxes have been forthcoming with evacuation information on military families and pets, whereas the State Department spokesperson got tangled about bunnies at the Daily Press Briefing. DOD has also posted the State Department’s ordered departure unclassified cable for Adana here (PDF); the document is not publicly available on state.gov.

 

Related items:

State Department: Ordered Departure from Adana
ORDERED DEPARTURE FROM Adana, Evacuation Authority And Department Policy

Ordered Departure – Adana, Izmir, and Mugla, Turkey
The Department of State (DOS) has approved an ordered departure from Adana, Izmir Province, and Mugla Province, Turkey, and designated the United States as the safe haven for DOS-eligible family members (EFMs).

Parent Letter for Turkey Departure
As you prepare to leave as a result of the Department of State’s Ordered Departure from Incirlik/Adana, Turkey, continuing your child’s education must be a top priority upon arrival at your safe haven.

Allowances to a safe haven (DTMO)
EFMs of DoD military personnel will be processed for safe haven allowances in accordance with Joint Travel Regulations (JTR), Chapter 6, Part Al.

 

#

Burn Bag: Another Senior Cede Request, and It’s Not Even in FSBid? (Updated)

Via Burn Bag:

“There’s a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs, and it’s not even in FSBid.”

Note: Told via Twitter that this is bidlisted. Burn Bag entries are taken “as is” so you folks can look it up if you have access to the system.

Updated on March 12, 2016 from Burn Bag correction received: “Oops!  Misread some info.  Consular Affairs Deputy Executive Director was in fact in FSBid, just with incomplete info.  Pls consider removal.  Sincere regrets for the error.”

 

Related posts:

 

Restoring Faith in the Foreign Service Assignment System Starts With Talking About It

Posted: 1:27 am EDT
Updated: 2:52 a.m. EDT
Updated March 12, 2016

 

We understand that the State Department has just finished up a big online survey on how to improve the Foreign Service bidding process. One part of the survey apparently includes improving the process through “increase transparency.”  Well, it seems it seeks to improve transparency for the bureaus so they can tell who is actually a serious bidder, but it does not improve transparency for the FS employees who are doing the bidding. That part appears to have been short-circuited so unless DGHR starts looking at the whole system, the process is not going to significantly improve for everyone except the bureau folks who are tasked with selecting the employees rotating in.

Now that we’re thinking about the bidding process …. remember last year when we wrote about the controversy about who’s going to be the next Consul General in Istanbul (see Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee? and Coming Soon to PBS — That CG Istanbul Position Is Apparently Another Foggy Bottom Drama)?  The March issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by career diplomat Matthew Keene who has been in the Foreign Service since 1999.  According to FSJ, the author has previously worked in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources as a special assistant and an assignments officer.  His piece mentions our blogpost although it does not specifically mention the USCG Istanbul position.

He notes the “tenacity with which many CDOs and AOs argue at panel on behalf of their clients and their bureaus”  and concludes that “these people care about you and the organization, and they are fiercely protective of the integrity of the assignments process.” But the Speaking Out piece also does not mince words about the problems with the Foreign Service assignments.  Excerpt below:

Last November, the blogger known as “Diplopundit” published a story about the assignment of a well-connected FS-1 as principal officer in a European Bureau post, a Senior Foreign Service position.

Since the candidate was below grade for the position, this was a “stretch assignment,” which requires the division in the Bureau of Human Resources responsible for the career development and assignment of officers who are FS-1 or higher (HR/CDA/SL) to cede the position to the division responsible for mid-level officers (HR/CDA/ML) after canvassing its clients to gauge interest in the position by currently unassigned officers.

That no qualified Senior FSO bid on a position as prominent as this one frankly strains credulity. The episode underscores a serious perception problem when it comes to Foreign Service assignments. For all the State Department’s carefully crafted standard operating procedures, as well as the Foreign Affairs Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook guidance—to say nothing of the attention paid to precedent and the needs of the Service—when push comes to shove, getting the best jobs depends far more on who you know than what.

Indeed, if you are fortunate enough to breathe the rarefied air in the front office of a highly regarded assistant secretary or another sixth- or seventh-floor denizen, there is almost no position to which you cannot aspire.
[…]
So how do ridiculous stretch assignments happen, then? Why do positions mysteriously vanish off one bid list only to reappear days later on the list of a future cycle—or on the now list? Why are inquiries on jobs that are ostensibly open in FS Bid dismissed or unanswered? Why was some employee allowed to extend for a fourth year in a non-differential post when no one else was permitted to do the same? And how on earth did that officer get a language waiver, when the FS is filled with officers who speak that language?

These anomalies are more likely to happen when HR is run by senior officers insufficiently committed to overseeing a system that is fair, just and above reproach. The fact is that far too often, those in the most important positions, the gatekeepers, aren’t serving out of any great love of personnel management work. Some are serving a domestic tour while awaiting a plum overseas deputy chief of mission or principal officer gig. Others find themselves serving domestically for personal reasons, and believe HR provides a convenient landing spot.

The author does not just point out the problems but also writes about how to restore faith in the system. “HR must do a far better job of recruiting senior leaders uncompromising in their commitment to an FS assignments system that sets an example for the rest of the Service in terms of integrity and transparency, that meets the needs of the Service, and that upholds core values even when it is uncomfortable or may disappoint someone further up the food chain.”

Less than a day after we posted this article, we heard via Burn Bag that there is a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs. That position allegedly is not in FSBid. Deleted due to subsequent correction received.

We have to add that this is not just a serious perception problem, and of course, it disturbs more than just the rank and file in Human Resources.  A longtime diplomat who follows this blog told us that “the reason this sort of thing gets to me is that as diplomats we are constantly promoting merit-based decision-making, democracy and rule of law, and anti-corruption in countries where we serve, a very tough message when our own department flaunts these principles.” That is not an isolated perspective.

We admire Mr. Keene for writing this piece. It takes courage to do this in a culture where frank and straight discussions about uncomfortable issues doesn’t always get the safe space it needs.

Read the full More Hemingway, Less Kafka, Please.

Let’s face it, this secretary of state or the next, and next ones after that are not going to do anything about making this process better. They will all have a host of things to do, places to go, and strengthening the institution is not going to be on anyone’s top list.  So here’s something from the Lorax to think about.

 

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Email of the Day: Wow! What’s With These @StateDept “Make Them Whole” Awards?

Posted: 1:50 am EDT

 

Via foia.state.gov released through the Leopold v. State Department FOIA litigation. These “make them whole” awards are given because the “sucessesors (sic) got the award and they didn’t.” Wait, what? Does this mean the employees got these awards because the folks who followed them on these jobs got the awards but they didn’t? Help us, we don’t understand this award type. Is this like those competition where everyone gets a trophy?

 

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When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
[…]
What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
[…]
When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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Foreign Service Members Offer Candid Views of @StateDept Mental Health Services (via FSJ)

Posted: 3:04 am EDT

 

The January issue of the Foreign Service Journal is out. The issue is focused on mental health care for the Foreign Service.  Dr. Samuel Thielman,  a recently retired regional medical officer/psychiatrist for the Department of State writes about how MED’s mental health program has grown and evolved over the years to address the unusual needs of FS employees and their families serving overseas in The Evolution of State’s Mental Health Services. Chantay White, the chief of the Employee Assistance Program with the State Department Employee Consultation Services and Paulette Baldwin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker write about Mental Health and ECS—What You Should Know. Dr. Stephen A. Young, the director of Mental Health Services for the State department since September 2015, writes about The Face of Mental Health Services Overseas.

One part of the bureaucracy that is glaringly missing here is, of course, Diplomatic Security.  A majority of these comments express concern about DS and security clearance. The most instructive part is probably the section on MED/MHS Checkup: Foreign Service Members Weigh In that offers very candid views from people in the field.

The FSJ writes that the compilation includes 45 responses from FS members in Washington, D.C., and overseas, some entry-level and a few retired, from the foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID. The gender split was about even. “Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and known concerns about privacy, we took the unprecedented step of offering to print comments without attribution,” the editors write.

Some excerpts below, each paragraph selected from a separate FS member response.  The last one It’s No Joke is in full; the contributor appears to be part of US Mission Libya following the 2012 attacks. The full comments are available to read here.

“Dealing with the bureaucracy after having sought mental health treatment is itself enough to cause PTSD.”

“Senior officers, in particular, need to set the example by ensuring that their employees understand that a mental health issue, like any ailment, is best addressed early. Until they do, we will all still sign notes like this as… Anonymous.”

“During a rough patch in a relationship, my partner and I sought couples counseling. When my security clearance was up for renewal, I was grilled by the investigator regarding this counseling. I had to defend myself for wanting counseling, and the harsh and critical tone she took for me wanting to do what I needed for my relationship was upsetting. I got the clearance, but it was a stressful process.”

“After service in Iraq, there is no doubt in my mind that I suffered from PTSD. Now (several years later), I see my symptoms as both classic and obvious. At the time I was suffering, however, I hid my symptoms out of fear that knowledge that I suffered from PTSD would harm my career. That concern was heightened by the intense questioning I endured by a Diplomatic Security agent conducting a security clearance update when I was serving in Iraq. When it became known that I had sought mental health care, I was hassled and forced to repeat the content of a private discussion with a mental health professional to a DS agent with zero mental health training. I found the entire episode both distasteful and inappropriate.”

“My mistake—I was told by MED that I’d be given a Class 2 because of seeking continued therapy. I thought that showing that I’d made arrangements for my mental health would ensure a Class 1, but instead that’s what gave me the Class 2. Geez, why be honest with MED—it could have cost me my assignment.”

“I met with a therapist who told me he never wrote anything down because all of his FS clients were terrified of getting caught seeking assistance for their stress-related problems. It’s sad. Concerns about security clearances have a big effect on whether or not I seek mental health care.”

“I feel that if I had declared myself an alcoholic I would have gotten more attention from MED than when I was traumatized and sat in my office working, feeling like an isolated zombie.”

“Once I joined the Foreign Service, I could easily understand why there is an impression that the Service has an alcohol abuse problem—it’s self-medication that is easy to hide from a clearance process. I find that distressing and disturbing and extremely unsupportive.”

“Despite former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message a few years ago telling employees that their clearance will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment, that is not what happens in practice. DS investigators zero in on this, considering it a red flag, as if mental health were any different than physical health.”

“No matter what management says about the importance of mental health, if there are no real changes, then the Foreign Service will continue to be an ineffective and unsupportive mental health environment.”

“You also do not know who the regional psychiatrist’s client really is: you or the State Department? Does a psychiatrist see you as a patient who needs help or just a problem for the Foreign Service best remedied by removing you from post?”

“The mandatory out brief improved between the time I returned from Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012, when I returned from Iraq. However, both times I was told that the symptoms in the PTSD questionnaire are normal for six months and not to worry unless they persist. (And I was offended when taken aside after the briefing and asked how pervasive I thought infidelity was in Baghdad.)”

“During the onward assignments process, MED refused to consider my needs as identified by my therapist, instead assigning me to a post where there was no one in-country who could serve as an appropriate psychiatrist. There, I raised an issue of concern with the health unit nurse, who in turn shared it with the management officer, who then told my supervisor that I was “nuts.” This was not only a violation of my privacy; it reflected total ignorance on the management officer’s part of what PTSD and its symptoms are.”

“I would rate the mental health support at 3 out of 10, with 10 being the best. Working in a high-stress post that was not a “high-threat” post, my colleagues and I were given limited support in a time of crisis.”

“I am grateful for the mental health assistance available to me. If it weren’t for grief counseling, I would have qualms about seeing the RMO/P, because I’d need to disclose this in the five-yearly security update. And while that disclosure might not affect my security clearance, I still think there’s a stigma attached to the fact that I needed mental health assistance.”

“As a veteran of two priority staffing post (PSP) tours—one in Iraq (2007–2008) and the other in Afghanistan (2013–2014)—my experience with transition support has been abysmal. Just getting authorization to attend out briefings and to access mental health services was impossible.”

“I am not concerned about medical and security clearances as they relate to mental health care. Most people have seen a therapist at one time or another, and I don’t think it would affect a security clearance. But corridor reputation is a concern. Even when people need to talk to a mental health professional, they’re more worried about their corridor reputation and often won’t seek help due to the stigma of being “weak.”

“In my final post, when I had finally had enough bullying from my fourth bully boss (three of whom were DCMs and one a GS-15), I worked with the regional psychiatrist who prescribed two anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and a sleeping pill to help me cope. I sought assistance from the ombudsman, but received no help, so I resigned.”

“I had discussed my mental health with the regional psychiatrist during his visits, but he just gave me Xanax and told me panic attacks were normal. He asked me about work-related stress, but reported the results of our meetings with post leadership, contributing to my stress.”

“When State does not actively intervene in cases of abusive behavior, managers are given the impression that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Even if victims get mental health care afterwards, the damage has been done. From what I hear, the problem is getting worse and more widespread. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of sending out feel-good cables on workplace atmosphere and bullying, put policies in place that have real teeth. A zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullies, administered neutrally and enforced by D.C., would lead to an instant decrease in unacceptable behaviors and the resulting damage they cause.”

It’s No Joke

The first MED-directed mental health intervention that was provided in Tripoli after the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, was a video conference in April 2013, conveniently less than a week before the Director General arrived for a visit to Libya. Prior to that, the only service provided was a discussion with the nurse about “fostering resiliency” several months after the attack…hardly a useful assist.

The half-day course for those returning from hardship posts is a joke. I took it after my first (!) unaccompanied tour (UT), and both the instructor and some of the other students made fun of me for enrolling, since at the time my tour was seen as one of the “cupcake UTs,” without an active war going on outside the embassy walls. I refused to take the course after my second UT. No one from HR or my bureau asked if I’d taken it or even how I was doing after the second UT.

An RMO/P made fun of some of my coworkers in a high-stress, high-threat post that happened to be a popular destination for American tourists. He told them that they had no idea what serving in an actually difficult post was like, comparing it to the regional city where he was based. Never mind the fact that almost every person at that highly desirable but still challenging post got there via a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I have neither respect for nor faith in MED’s mental health efforts. As long as MED is staffed with people who see mental health as an inconvenience, supported by State leadership (from the very top down) who barely pay lip service to mental health and a work-life balance, there’s no hope for anyone who suffers in the aftermath of an emotionally catastrophic tour abroad. At least there is solidarity among those who survived terrible times abroad.

Read in full the candid views from the filed via the Foreign Service Journal.

 

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Oh, boy, email of the day! [REDACTED] is “one of the biggest jerks in the foreign service”

Posted: 2:02 pm EDT

 

Thank you for your emails alerting us to this! We did not want to start our 2016 blogging about the jerk in the foreign service but today is the 4th day, and there’s a lesson here somewhere, so that’s our excuse.

Somebody’s corridor reputation showed up as toner and ice, stirred, from the latest Clinton email dump of December 31.  Sidney Blumenthal calls this John Kornblum’s “unvarnished tone” in his email to then Secretary Clinton.

 

 

Ambassador Kornblum, a career diplomat joined the Foreign Service in 1964. He was President Clinton’s Ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2001. Prior to that assignment, he was the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs from July 3, 1996 – July 1, 1997.  Previously, President George Herbert Walker also nominated him to be U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1991. In that capacity he served as chief of the American delegation to the 1992 Helsinki Review Conference and played a major role in drafting the Declaration approved at the July 1992 Helsinki Summit. According to the state.gov archive, Ambassador Kornblum established the new American delegation to the OSCE in Vienna in August 1992 where he served until April 1994. According to the WSJ, he is now senior counselor for Noerr LLP law firm in Berlin.

Bill Burns was appointed Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (P) on May 13, 2008 and served until July 28, 2011.  This Sid email is dated March 11, 2011, about four months before Burns departed post to become Deputy Secretary.  We don’t know what happened to the top Foreign Service contenders for the “P” job but we all know Bill Burns was succeeded by non-career appointee Wendy Sherman who was appointed “P” on September 21, 2011.

Prior to Ms. Sherman’s  appointment, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also wrote an email to HRC saying, “Don’t want to interfere but in case you are thinking about P, you will not be surprised that I am suggesting [name redacted].” Sherman had been Vice Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Albright’s international strategic consulting firm, since the group’s formation in 2009.

In September 2015, President Obama nominated career diplomat Thomas Shannon to succeed Ms. Sherman who left office on October 2, 2015. The Shannon nomination has been subjected to Senator Grassley’s hold in the 114th Congress.

In any case, according to AFP, America apparently was left guessing after a tantalizing near-revelation about the “biggest jerk in American diplomacy” email.  If you are playing the guessing game on your first day at work in 2016, just remember that the candidate for this title is a he, who purportedly “went over to the dark side” during the Bush administration, and quite possibly, an EUR/NSC/WH hand, high enough in rank/connection to shout down a career ambassador.

And no, we’re not soliciting nominations for this one, so please keep the comments clean.

Like folks often say, your EER gets you promoted, but your corridor reputation gets you your next job.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 1.54.34 PM

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Coming Soon to PBS — That CG Istanbul Position Is Apparently Another Foggy Bottom Drama

Posted: 2:50 pm EDT

 

This is a follow-up post to Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee?  When we wrote about this last week, it was not clear to us if the rumored candidate for the CG Istanbul position is a Civil Service employe or a political appointee of the bundler kind. We’ve since learned that the candidate is neither.

Three sources informed us that the new CG slated for Istanbul is a newly minted FS-01. For some readers not familiar with Foreign Service ranking, that’s the topmost rank in the Foreign Service below the Senior Foreign Service. An FS-01 is equivalent in rank to a colonel in the U.S. military.  Counselor, the lowest rank in the Senior Foreign Service is equivalent in rank to a one star general in the U.S. military. One source put it this way:

While it’s a bit unusual that CDA would grant a senior cede to allow [snip](an FS-01) to take such a high profile SFS job, [snip] was Executive Assistant to the Secretary.  I imagine that helped with HR.  Some would argue that’s a bit of a scandal (not me though…) but I think we can all agree, even if that is a scandal, it’s a lot less of a scandal, than a political appointee taking that job.

So the good news is that the WH/State Department is not sending an Obama bundler to assume the Consul General’s position in Istanbul. Yo! We can hear your collective sigh of relief all the way here! But we can also hear all the drama going on.

CDA is the Office of Career Development and Assignments at the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources. Since this is a stretch assignment across the senior threshold (think colonel assigned to a general’s position), this would require what’s called a “senior cede” which HR/CDA/SL usually grants only after determining that no senior employee is seeking the senior position.

Seriously, no senior diplomat of the C, MC or CM kind asked to go to Istanbul? Who believes that?  Or perhaps the more interesting question is who drove the John Deere high speed dozer to clear the obstacle path from the 7th Floor to Istanbul?

Here’s the Hiawatha by the way, at a ready in Istanbul for whoever ends up going there.

IST_hiawata

A separate source informed us that the next Consul General to Istanbul was not only a previous member of Secretary Kerry’s staff, the staffer also worked for an Executive Secretary of the State Department. That Executive Secretary is now the U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

We understand that there was “a ton of drama” associated with this assignment.  “Crammed down EUR’s throat,” that is, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ throat, we heard.   There are apparently, “heartaches” in Foggy Bottom related to this appointment. Another alleged that the assignment was done through “irregular means” and that the “job wasn’t announced in FSBid” among other things.

And just like on teevee, there’s more.

CG Istanbul is a language designated position. That means you either need to already know Turkish  or must get the Turkish language level required for the job. Allegations have also surfaced that the State Department has now reportedly waived the language requirement for this position.  Language waivers are not unheard of, of course, but … given what’s going on in Turkey ….

Say, is this the best the State Department can do for its diplomatic post and staff in Istanbul?

Our man in Istanbul, Chuck Hunter has been an FSO since 1990, so he has some 25 years of experience in the Foreign Service. He was Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq (2011-12) and served in Damascus as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Syria (2009-11). He previously worked in Cairo, Tunis, Muscat and Jerusalem. In addition to various D.C. tours, he also served as the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader, based in Al-Hillah, Iraq.  He speaks Turkish, Arabic and French.

The principal officer in Adana, the smallest constituent post in Turkey (with four direct hire employees) is Linda Stuart Specht who assumed her duties last August.  She has been an FSO since 1989. She has spent about 26 years in some difficult and dangerous places around the world. She previously served in positions in U.S. missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and Suriname.  Her most recent previous assignments were as Deputy Director of Pakistan Affairs (2012-2014), Director of the Office of Economic Sanctions and Counter Terrorism Finance (2011-2012), and Deputy Director for Arabian Peninsula Affairs (2009-2011). She speaks Turkish, Dutch, French, and Vietnamese.

We should note that the Consulate General in Istanbul is actually larger than many embassies around the world. So, it looks like next year, an FS-01 will oversee U.S. Government relations in a city that is the commercial, financial, cultural, educational, and media capital of Turkey. The same official will also supervise other FS-01s in Istanbul.  The last time we’ve seen a midlevel official successfully appointed to a similar high profile posting was in 2005 when an FS-02 became an Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

In any case, back in the fall of 2014, there was also a rumor that a staffer from the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, (the Department’s fourth-ranking official), allegedly wanted the Iran Watcher position in London. (see Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?). After a fuss was raised, the job apparently went to an FSO. Another Iran Watcher job was reportedly then created in Amsterdam. But there was an Iran Watcher already in language training whose assignment to Erbil, Iraq was cancelled; that individual eventually ended up with the Amsterdam assignment.

Assignments on the 7th floor must be quite hazardous and perilous. One staffer almost end up in London, then Amsterdam, and now one is reportedly going to Istanbul. Who’s next? Secretary Kerry’s pilot as the next Consul General to Bora Bora? Yes, we know there is no CG Bora Bora … well, not yet, anyway.

It’s a good thing that the State Department as an institution has “embraced” what is apparently “an overarching set of Leadership Principles” contained in 3 FAM 1214. This part of the FAM talks about supervisors and managers having “a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead by example.” 

Hey, look!  Things are growing crazy as heck over in Turkey.

Oh, yeah?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Ambassador Chas Freeman on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences

Posted: 3:02 am EDT

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman did a speech on Diplomatic Amateurism and Its Consequences at Foggy Bottom’s Ralph Bunche Library earlier this month. He also recently spoke about America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  We need more people like Ambassador Freeman telling it like it is; unfortunately that often puts people like him in the outs with people who do not want to hear what needs to be said. More often than not, the top ranks have large rooms for obedient groupies and not much room for anyone else.

Below is an excerpt from his diplomatic amateurism speech:

In other countries, diplomacy is a prestigious career in which one spends a lifetime, culminating in senior positions commensurate with one’s talents as one has demonstrated them over the years.  But, in the United States, these days more than ever, the upper reaches of diplomacy are reserved for wealthy dilettantes and celebrities with no prior experience in the conduct of relations with foreign states and peoples, national security policy, or the limitations of the use of force.  Policy positions in our government dealing with such issues are now largely staffed by individuals selected for their interest-group affiliation, identity, or sizable campaign contributions.  These diplomatic neophytes are appointed for the good of the political party with which they are affiliated and to reward their loyal service during political campaigns, not for their ability to do the jobs they are given.  It is assumed that they can learn on the job, then move on after a while to give others a chance at government employment.  But whatever they learn, they take with them when they leave, adding nothing to the diplomatic capacity of our government.

If you tried to staff and run a business or a sports team like this, you’d get creamed by the competition.  If you organized our armed forces this way, you’d be courting certain defeat.  You can judge for yourself how staffing and running a foreign policy establishment through the spoils system is working out for our country now that our margin for error has been reduced by “the rise of the rest” since the end of the Cold War.  Staffing national security policy positions and ambassadorships with people whose ambition greatly outstrips their knowledge and experience is a bit like putting teenagers in charge of risk management while entrusting lifeguard positions to people with no proven ability to swim.  Hit and run statecraft and diplomacy were never wise, but they didn’t matter much when America was isolated from the world or so powerful that it could succeed without really trying.  Neither is the case anymore

The United States is now the only great power not to have professionalized our diplomatic service.  As the trove of diplomatic reporting spewed out by WikiLeaks shows, our career people remain very bright and able. But their supervisors are less prepared to carry out their duties than their counterparts in the diplomatic services of other great and lesser powers.  One of the 20th century’s greatest diplomats, Abba Eban put it this way

“The word ‘ambassador’ would normally have a professional connotation but for the American tradition of ‘political appointees.’ The bizarre notion that any citizen, especially if he is rich, is fit for the representation of his country abroad has taken some hard blows through empirical evidence, but it has not been discarded, nor should the idea of diluting a rigid professionalism with manpower from less detached sectors of society be dismissed out of hand. Nevertheless, when the strongest nation in the world appoints a tycoon or a wealthy hostess to head an embassy, the discredit and frustration is spread throughout the entire diplomatic corps in the country concerned.”

That was in 1983. Quite a bit before that, about 130 years before that, demonstrating that this is indeed a lengthy American tradition, the New York Herald Tribune observed, “Diplomacy is the sewer through which flows the scum and refuse of the political puddle. A man not fit to stay at home is just the man to send abroad.”

These American observations, or observations about American diplomacy, contrast quite strikingly with the views expressed by the classic writer on diplomatic practice, François de Callières. Writing now almost exactly three centuries ago, in 1716, he said:

“Diplomacy is a profession by itself, which deserves the same preparation and assiduity of attention that men give to other recognized professions. The qualities of the diplomatist and the knowledge necessary to him cannot indeed all be acquired. The diplomatic genius is born, not made. But there are many qualities which may be developed with practice, and the greater part of the necessary knowledge can only be acquired by constant application to the subject.

“In this sense, diplomacy is certainly a profession, itself capable of occupying a man’s whole career, and those who think to embark upon a diplomatic mission as a pleasant diversion from their common task only prepare disappointment for themselves and disaster for the cause that they serve. The veriest fool would not entrust the command of an army to a man whose sole badge of merit was his eloquence in a court of law or his adroit practice of the courtier’s art in the palace. All are agreed that military command must be earned by long service in the army. In the same manner, it must be regarded as folly to entrust the conduct of negotiations to an untrained amateur.”

There is indeed every reason for diplomacy to be a learned profession in the United States, like the law, medicine, or the military.  But it isn’t.  When top positions are reserved for people who have not come up through the ranks, it’s difficult to sustain diplomacy as a career, let alone establish and nurture it as a profession.  Professions are human memory banks.  They are composed of individuals who profess a unique combination of specialized knowledge, experience, and technique.  They distill their expertise into doctrine – constantly refreshed – based on what their experience has taught them about what works and what doesn’t.  Their skills are inculcated through case studies, periodic training, and on-the-job mentoring.  This professional knowledge is constantly improved by the critical introspection inherent in after-action reviews.

In the course of one’s time as a foreign service officer, one acquires languages and a hodgepodge of other skills relevant to the conduct of foreign relations.  If one is inclined to reflect on one’s experience, one begins to understand the principles that undergird effective diplomacy, that is the arts of persuading others to do things our way, and to get steadily better at practicing these arts.  But, in the U.S. foreign service, by contrast with – let’s say – the military, there is no systematic professional development process, no education in grand strategy or history, no training in tactics or operational technique derived from experience, no habit of reviewing successes and failures to improve future performance, no literature devoted to the development of operational doctrine and technique, and no real program or commitment to the mentoring of new entrants to the career.  If one’s lucky, one is called to participate in the making of history.  If one is not, there is yet a great deal to learn from the success or failure of the diplomatic tasks to which one is assigned.

As an aside, I also don’t believe that, as an institution, the Department of State now understands the difference between bureaucrats and professionals.  (I’m not sure it ever did.)   Both have their place in foreign affairs but the two are quite different.  Bureaucrats are trained to assure uniform decisions and predictable outcomes through the consistent interpretation and application of laws, regulations, and administrative procedures.  Professionals, by contrast, are educated to exercise individual, ad hoc judgments, take actions, and seek outcomes autonomously on the basis of principles and canons of behavior derived from experience.  They are expected to be creative, not consistent, in their approach to the matters in their charge.

[…]

There is an obvious alternative to this bleak scenario.  That is that the secretary of state – this secretary of state, who is the son of a foreign service office and who has personally demonstrated the power of diplomacy to solve problems bequeathed to him by his predecessors – will recognize the need for the U.S. diplomatic service to match our military in professionalism and seek to make this his legacy.  In the end, this would demand enlisting the support of Congress but much could be done internally.

Read in full here:  http://chasfreeman.net/diplomatic-amateurism-and-its-consequences/

AFSA’s media digest failed to include Ambassador Freeman’s event in its daily digest for members. But AFSA members got a nice treat with the inclusion of Taylor Swift: America’s Best Public Diplomat? as reading fare.

 

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Related posts:

Too Quick on the Draw: Militarism and the Malpractice of Diplomacy in America

Lessons from America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East