Office of Legal Adviser’s Doctored Video Report Nets an “E” For Empty (Updated With OIG Comment)

Posted: 3:17 am ET
Updated: 2:06 PT — Comments from State/OIG

 

UpdateOIG conducted an independent preliminary assessment of issues surrounding missing footage from the Department’s December 2, 2013, daily press briefing (DPB). Specifically, OIG examined whether sufficient evidence is available for review and whether the issues in question are suitable for any further work. As part of this effort, OIG interviewed relevant staff; reviewed relevant emails, documents, and Department policies; and consulted with the Office of the Legal Adviser and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The results of our preliminary assessment show that limited evidence exists surrounding the December 2 DPB and that the available facts are inconclusive. However, the identification of the missing footage prompted the Department to improve its video policies. Specifically, the Department explicitly prohibited DPB content edits and is currently working with NARA to schedule the DPBs for disposition as federal records.

No further work by OIG would add clarity to the events surrounding the missing footage or effect any additional change at the Department. End Update

***

So, we got a copy of the Office of Legal Adviser’s (OLA) report on that video editing controversy. Lots more words, but the result mirrors the preliminary report announced back in June  — we don’t know who was responsible for it and we still don’t know why the video was purposely edited. To recap:

  • On May 9,2016, Fox News reporter James Rosen informed the Department that footage was missing from the Department’s daily press briefing video from December 2, 2013. The footage concerned Iran.
  • The Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) looked into the matter and confirmed that approximately nine minutes of footage were missing from the versions of the briefing video posted on YouTube and on state.gov.
  • On May 11, a technician in PA’s Office of Digital Engagement reported a recollection of making an edit to a video of that daily press briefing in response to a request over the phone from elsewhere in Public Affairs. The technician could not, however, remember who made the request.
  • The preliminary inquiry concluded that no rules had been broken in posting the edited video. Moreover, the DVIDS video and the full written transcript was always publicly available.
  • At the request of Secretary Kerry, the Department subsequently conducted “a broader review of the matter.”

According to OLA’s report, the Department interviewed 34 individuals and conducted email searches in this “broader review” as follows:

  • Nine of these individuals were senior officials in relevant positions from the relevant time period, including the then Department Spokesperson and Deputy Spokesperson, and numerous others within the Public Affairs bureau (no names are included in the report)
  • Fifteen of the interviewees were in positions in which they might have known who requested an edit or might have been in a position to relay a request for an edit from someone with the perceived authority  (names are not included in the report)
  • The final 10 individuals (including the technician who recalled making the edit) were involved in or familiar with the video production and editing processes in the Department as of December 2013, and might have been involved with the particular video in question or could explain those processes in greater detail. Individuals in this category also provided available records from programs and tools involved in the video production process. (names are not included in the report)

The report also says that the Department does not have records of phone calls made to the video technician that day. It looks like the  Department did meet with the staff from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) twice “during the course of the factfinding to brief them on process and findings.”

The report emphasized that the full record transcript and full video (via DOD’s DVIDS) were always available.  It concludes that there was evidence of purposeful editing and that there was evidence that the video was missing the footage in question soon after the briefing (we already know this from the briefings in June). So the details are as follows:

  • A PA technician recalled having received a request to edit the video over the phone
  • A female caller from elsewhere in Public Affairs “who could credibly assert that an edit should be made” made the request
  • The PA technician did not recall the identity of the caller (and the Department has been unable to ascertain it independently through interviews or document review).
  • The PA technician did not believe the call had come from the Spokesperson
  • The PA technician did not recall a reason being given for the edit request, but did believe that the requester had mentioned in the course of the call a Fox network reporter and Iran
  • The PA technician indicated that the requester may also have provided the start and end times for an edit, though the technician also recalls consulting the written transcript to locate the exchange
  • The PA technician recalled seeking approval from a supervisor, when interviewed the supervisor did not recall that exchange or anything else about the video.
  • The PA technician also recalled adding a white flash in order to make clear that footage had been removed
  • The PA technician does not usually engage in any editing, and is usually not involved in the daily press briefing video processing until several steps into the process of preparing the video for web distribution.

OLA’s report concludes that “Despite 34 interviews and follow-ups, email reviews, and cross-checks of those records still available from the editing and processing of the press briefmg video in question, the Department’s factfinding has not revealed who may have requested an edit or why the request may have been made.”

So maybe what — 45 days from that preliminary report, and we’re back to the same conclusion.

No one knows who was responsible for it. No one knows why.

The report states that “If an effort was made-however clumsy and ineffective-to scrub the public record of an already-public exchange with the press, no documentary evidence or memory of such an effort remains. If such an effort was undertaken, it was not comprehensive (in light of the unedited transcript and DVIDS video) and it was undertaken through a technician who would not normally be involved in the video editing process.”

At the same time, the report refused to let go of its alternative culprit —  “a glitch in the December 2,2013, briefing video may have resulted in the corruption of nine minutes from the YouTube and state.gov versions of the press briefing videos. The glitch was identified late in the day and the video technician was asked to address it since the normal editing team was gone for the day. Because the technician was not a normal editor, and in an effort to be transparent about the missing footage, the technician added a white flash to the video.”

In a message to colleagues, official spokesperson John Kirby — who was not working at State when this video was purposely doctored but now had to clean up the mess — writes that the report “presents the facts as we have been able to determine them, and we are committed to learn from them.”

OK. But that alternative culprit in the report is laughable, folks. A specific phone call was made, and it looks like a specific timeframe in the video was targeted for editing. The technician was not asked to “address” the glitch, she was asked to perform a snip!

This all started because Fox’s James Rosen asked then spox, Toria Nuland on Feb. 6, 2013 if the Obama administration was in direct nuclear talks with Iran.

QUESTION: One final question on this subject: There have been reports that intermittently, and outside of the formal P-5+1 mechanisms the Obama Administration, or members of it, have conducted direct, secret, bilateral talks with Iran. Is that true or false?

MS. NULAND: We have made clear, as the Vice President did at Munich, that in the context of the larger P-5+1 framework, we would be prepared to talk to Iran bilaterally. But with regard to the kind of thing that you’re talking about on a government-to-government level, no.

On December 2, 2013, Rosen asked then new official spox, Jen Psaki about that prior exchange with Toria Nuland:

QUESTION: Do you stand by the accuracy of what Ms. Nuland told me, that there had been no government-to-government contacts, no secret direct bilateral talks with Iran as of the date of that briefing, February 6th? Do you stand by the accuracy of that?

MS. PSAKI: James, I have no new information for you today on the timing of when there were any discussions with any Iranian officials.
[…]
QUESTION:
 Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?

MS. PSAKI: James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that. Obviously, we have made clear and laid out a number of details in recent weeks about discussions and about a bilateral channel that fed into the P5+1 negotiations, and we’ve answered questions on it, we’ve confirmed details. We’re happy to continue to do that, but clearly, this was an important component leading up to the agreement that was reached a week ago.

QUESTION: Since you, standing at that podium last week, did confirm that there were such talks, at least as far back as March of this year, I don’t see what would prohibit you from addressing directly this question: Were there secret direct bilateral talks between the United States and Iranian officials in 2011?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you today. We’ve long had ways to speak with the Iranians through a range of channels, some of which you talked – you mentioned, but I don’t have any other specifics for you today.

In July 2012, Jake Sullivan, a close aide to Secretary Clinton, traveled to Muscat, Oman, for the first meeting with the Iranians, taking a message from the White House. […] In March 2013, a full three months before the elections that elevated Hassan Rouhani to the office of president, Sullivan and Burns finalized their proposal for an interim agreement, which became the basis for the J.C.P.O.A. (see The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru, May 5, 2016).

Would a “no comment” response really be so terrible instead of Ms. Psaki’s word cloud there?

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

Community Liaison Officers: The Glue That Helps Keep Embassy Communities Together

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

The M. Juanita Guess Award is conferred by AFSA on a Community Liaison Officer who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative or imagination in assisting the families of Americans serving at an overseas post.  Since 1995, Clements Worldwide has sponsored the M. Juanita Guess Award (named after Clements’ co-founder).

In 2016,  the award went to Sara Locke of U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon with Berna Keen of U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh as runner-up. Below via afsa.org:

Sara Locke | U.S. Embassy Beirut – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer

Sara E. Locke is the recipient of this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer for her outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative and imagination in assisting the employees and family members of U.S. Embassy Beirut.

Embassy Beirut enthusiastically nominated Ms. Locke, stating: “There is probably no other person in the mission who receives as much unanimous, universal praise as Sara for her efforts in turning around the rapidly deteriorating morale at Embassy Beirut.” Working with members throughout the community, her leadership has dramatically improved morale through innovative programs and activities, re-establishing U.S. Embassy Beirut as a post actively sought by Foreign Service bidders. Her tireless efforts on behalf of employees and family members are absolutely impressive.

When Ms. Locke arrived at post in 2014, morale among embassy staff was plummeting and curtailments were increasing at an alarming rate. She recommended to the ambassador that post conduct a morale survey, and then coordinated closely with him and the regional psychiatrist (RMO/P) to figure out how the downward spiral could be reversed. She not only designed and conducted the first survey, but after a very insightful analysis, which she presented to the ambassador and deputy chief of mission, Ms. Locke created an “Action Committee” to respond to the complaints and suggestions.

As a result, many policies and practices on the compound were changed, and new innovative ideas were brought forward and implemented. Thanks to Ms. Locke’s efforts, the situation has improved so much that employees are now requesting extensions to their assignments, and positive responses to a recent morale survey are at an all-time high. The fact that community members now feel they are being heard has had a profoundly beneficial impact on life on a small compound at a high-threat post with very restrictive security requirements.

Ms. Locke has continued doing surveys every six months to measure changes and to solicit ideas on how to continue improving morale, but her influence extends beyond Beirut. Former U.S. Ambassador to Beirut David Hale (who had been in Beirut when Ms. Locke created the survey) wrote to Ms. Locke from his new post: “I owe you such a debt of gratitude and would appreciate any advice on how to maximize this product here,” he said, requesting that she share her thoughts and recommendations with his deputy chief of mission and management section.

Beirut is a challenging place in the best of circumstances: terrorist threats are real, security restrictions limit off-compound movements and permanent employees live and work in cramped, dilapidated facilities. The role of the CLO as an advocate for community members is absolutely critical, and Sara truly embraces it. She lobbies hard on behalf of family members to find rewarding jobs in the mission. She includes spouses in all aspects of embassy life, from social events to emergency preparations. She recently hosted a series of seminars on evacuation planning and community resources for the mission. She is the person many individuals turn to for support and guidance.

Just one example: immediately after a suicide bombing in downtown Beirut in November 2015, just a few miles from the embassy compound, Ms. Locke reached out to the embassy community to ensure accountability and reassure colleagues. When things quieted down, she developed a variety of innovative programs, trips and activities to allow employees to experience Beirut, always working closely with the embassy’s regional security section to stay within the constraints of strict security parameters. She helped increase the number of trips off compound to grocery stores, and then helped put in place a very popular weekend shopping shuttle. This change alone significantly improved morale and gave embassy employees a whole new perspective on life here; previously, only one trip off the compound per week was permitted.

Ms. Locke is extremely creative, constantly seeking out new entertainment venues and cultural events (concerts, museums, restaurants, wine tastings, food festivals), always coordinating well in advance with the regional security officer. She put together a long list of embassy recreational events, including scuba diving, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. She also organizes a multitude of events for embassy families on the compound. She is an invaluable resource to everyone in the mission.

Berna Keen | U.S. Embassy Dhaka – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer Runner-Up

Berna Keen, runner-up for this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer, is recognized as an exemplary CLO by her colleagues at U.S. Embassy Dhaka during what has been a turbulent period of terrorism and violence in Bangladesh. Her conscientious and compassionate approach to each and every member of the mission, the creativity she employs in bringing people together and her exceptional talent for organization has substantially increased morale at post.

A rash of “hartals,” violent political demonstrations, in 2015 crippled embassy operations in Dhaka. Ms. Keen experienced this violence firsthand when a vehicle she was riding in was hit with an explosive device. Incredibly, this only strengthened her commitment to her work. She communicated with everyone in the mission on shelter-in-place days, sending out ideas for activities to do with kids stuck indoors. She became a key voice on the Emergency Action Committee and created an EFM email list, subsequently added to the Global Address List, ensuring that security messages were received by everyone in the mission simultaneously.

With all of Dhaka on edge after a series of murders committed by Al-Qaida-allied fanatics and members of the so-called Islamic State group, embassy personnel were restricted to a two-square-mile area, could not walk outside and had a 10 o’clock curfew. School buses ridden by embassy children were accompanied by an armed police escort. Outside entertainment was off-limits to embassy personnel. In this tense environment, Ms. Keen brought the embassy community together, planning a staggering number of events—nearly 90 in 150 days—despite the fact that her office was understaffed.

Ranging from wine and cheese parties to pet playdates, she successfully provided people with an outlet for normal social activity. She brought the local market to the embassy, snagging pearl vendors, antique dealers and rug and clothing sellers to sell to the embassy community. Her continual reminders to the EAC on the importance of communication has kept the community well-informed and engaged during this trying time.

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Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy Decisions

Posted: 4:38 am ET

The State Department’s Yemen Crisis page notes that due to deteriorating situation, it suspended embassy operations on February 11, 2015, and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff were relocated out of the country.  “All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice. The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.”

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa went on mandatory evacuation in May 2011 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure), and again in August 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure) and November 2014 (see US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again). In July 2014, the State Department issued a Travel Warning, see New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave).

See our other posts:

The case below was filed on April 9, 2015 by a Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen residing in Yemen.  She was joined by “25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections” in filing a cases against the Secretaries of State and Defense and seeking a court order to “compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives.”

Excerpt from the Memorandum of Opinion dated May 17, 2016 by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Plaintiff Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen, is currently residing in the war-torn and conflict-ridden Republic of Yemen. (See Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶¶ 4, 55– 59.) Mobarez has joined with 25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections, to file the instant official-capacity complaint against the Secretary of the Department of State (“State”) and the Secretary of the Department of Defense (“DOD” and, collectively, “Defendants”). These plaintiffs seek a court order to compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives. (See id. ¶¶ 3–24, 29–77.) Specifically, their complaint asserts that the United States has closed its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, has evacuated embassy staff, and has removed Marines from the country, but that the U.S. government has yet to execute any plan to secure the safe removal of private American citizens. (See id. ¶¶ 34–36, 77.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants’ forbearance violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, insofar as Defendants “have failed to provide through direct military assistance or contracting with commercial entities the necessary equipment, ships, airplanes, and other items that are available to Defendants to [e]nsure the security, safety, and well-being of United States citizens[,]” and have therefore “unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed agency action to which the Plaintiffs are entitled” and/or “have taken action that is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law[.]” (Id. ¶ 81.)

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint. (See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs are wrong about the existence of any duty to evacuate them. (See Defs.’ Reply in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Reply”), ECF No. 12, at 6–8.)1 Furthermore, as a threshold matter, Defendants insist that legal claims such as the ones Plaintiffs bring here require the judiciary to second-guess the discretionary foreign- policy decisions of the Executive Branch, and thus, are nonjusticiable under the political-question doctrine. (See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Defs.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 8-1, at 12–14.)

On March 31, 2016, this Court issued an order GRANTING Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. (See Order, ECF No. 13.) The instant Memorandum Opinion explains the Court’s reasons for that order. In short, the Court agrees with Defendants’ justiciability argument, and has therefore concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs’ complaint.
[…]
Plaintiffs have asked this Court, in no uncertain terms, to issue an order that compels the Executive Branch to conduct an evacuation of American citizens in Yemen. Not surprisingly, Defendants insist that any such order would impermissibly encroach upon the discretion that the Constitution affords to the political branches to conduct foreign affairs; therefore, prior to considering Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim under the APA, this Court must first determine whether or not it has the authority to traverse the thicket of thorny foreign-policy issues that encompasses Plaintiffs’ allegations. Precedent in this area makes it crystal clear that federal courts cannot answer “political questions” that are presented to them in the guise of legal issues, see infra Part III.A., but identifying which claims qualify as nonjusticiable political questions—and which do not—can sometimes be a substantially less lucid endeavor. Not so here: as explained below, after considering the parties’ arguments and the applicable law regarding the boundaries of the political-question doctrine, this Court is confident that Plaintiffs’ claims fit well within the scope of the nonjusticiability principles that the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit have long articulated. Accordingly, in its Order of March 31, 2016, the Court granted Defendants’ motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ case.
[…]
It cannot be seriously disputed that “decision-making in the fields of foreign policy and national security is textually committed to the political branches of government.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 194; see also id. at 194–95 (collecting the various explicit “[d]irect allocation[s]” in the Constitution of those responsibilities to the legislative and executive branches). And, indeed, Plaintiffs seek to have this Court question the Executive Branch’s discretionary decision to refrain from using military force to implement an evacuation under the circumstances described in the complaint, despite the fact that, per the Constitution, it is the President who, as head of the Executive Branch and “Commander in Chief[,]” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, decides whether and when to deploy military forces, not this Court. See El-Shifa, 607 F.3d at 842 (explaining that a claim “requiring [the court] to decide whether taking military action was wise” is a nonjusticiable “policy choice[] and value determination[]” (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the court-ordered remedy they seek could very well stop short of a direct mandate for military intervention (see Pls.’ Opp’n at 15 (asserting that “[t]his Court can order Defendants to [effectuate the evacuation] by simply directing the evacuation to happen and leaving it to Defendants to determine the means”)) makes no difference, as far as the political-question doctrine is concerned. Regardless, the clear basis for the complaint’s assertion that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief at all is the contention that the Executive Branch has abused its discretion— in APA terms—in refusing to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen thus far (see, e.g., Compl. ¶ 81), and the Court’s evaluation of that contention would necessarily involve second-guessing the “wisdom” of these agencies’ discretionary determinations.
[…]
[T]he “strategic choices directing the nation’s foreign affairs are constitutionally committed to the political branches[,]” and once it becomes clear that a plaintiff wishes the courts to “reconsider the wisdom of discretionary foreign policy decisions[,]” the judicial inquiry must end.

Read the Memorandum of Opinion here (PDF) or read below:

 

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U.S. Mission Turkey Now on “Authorized Departure” For Family Members in Ankara and Istanbul

Posted: 2:08 am ET

 

The State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey on July 26 announcing the “authorized departure” of U.S. Mission Turkey family members from the US Embassy in Ankara and the Consulate General in Istanbul.

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the July 25, 2016, decision to authorize the voluntary departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. The Department of State made this decision following the July 15 attempted coup and subsequent declaration by the Turkish government of a 90-day State of Emergency. The Department continues to monitor the effect of these developments on the overall security situation in the country and advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to Turkey at this time. During this period, U.S. citizens in Turkey may see an increase in police or military activities and restrictions on movement.

Read the updated warning here.

Screen Shot

The State Department has already extended its March 29, 2016 mandatory evacuation order for family members of U.S. Government personnel posted to the U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. Government civilians in Izmir province through July 26, 2016.  We expect to hear further extension of that order now that the two other posts in the country are now on authorized departure  following the declaration of a 90-day State of Emergency. See @StateDept Extends “Ordered Departure” Status for Consulate Adana/Izmir Prov Through July 26, 2016.

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Snapshot: U.S. Security- Related Assistance for Egypt, FY2011-2015, as of 9/30/15

Posted: 12:05  am ET

Via gao.gov (PDF):

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-15

Via gao.gov

 

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Question of the Day: Wait, the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) has a flood section?

Via the Foggy Bottom Nightingale:

That time when post got flooded and you realized you have not seen your Emergency Action Plan (EAP) ‘cuz you  skipped out of both Crisis Management Exercises (CMEs) in the last few months.

flood

image from fema – flood emergency

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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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US Embassy Bangui: Escalating Violence, Continue to Shelter in Place

Posted: 1:15 am EDT

 

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Excerpt from the Warden Message:

Violence and looting continued on September 27 and into September 28 in Bangui. We are receiving reports that many roads remain blocked, including the road to the airport; weapons continue to be discharged by armed persons; and large crowds are forming in several locations in the city of Bangui. U.S. citizens should continue to shelter in place and avoid any non-essential movements. The U.S. Embassy in Yaounde has been designated to provide consular services for U.S. citizens currently remaining in CAR. U.S. citizens who are in Bangui should contact Embassy Yaounde at (237) 22220-1500 to report their location. If you are working for an NGO or international organization, please include that information.

U.S. citizens who have decided to stay in CAR despite the travel warning should regularly review their personal security situation. Embassy Bangui cannot provide consular services to U.S. citizens in CAR at this time. U.S. citizens in need of assistance should contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Secretary Kerry announced the resumption of limited operations at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui on September 15, 2014.  U.S. citizens in need of routine assistance are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon by email to YaoundeACS@state.gov.

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U.S. flag goes up in Cuba: “What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.”

Posted: 4:37 am EDT
Updated: 1:06 pm EDT

 

Maine poet Richard Blanco who was born to a Cuban exile family and read at President Obama’s second inauguration will read a poem commemorating the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana on August 14. Its title is “Matters Of The Sea” or “Cosas Del Mar,” and its first line goes, “The sea doesn’t matter. What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.” Looking forward to reading it in Spanish!
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Killer Air in China: Pollution Kills an Average of 4,000/day x 365 = 1,460,000

Posted: 4:18 am EDT

 

Berkeley Earth released a study showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards. According to the study, the most harmful pollution is PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.  This penetrates deeply into lungs and triggers heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.

“Beijing is only a moderate source PM 2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.

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Perhaps it’s time to revisit this Burn Bag submission?

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?”

Embassy Beijing and the five consulates general in China house one of the largest U.S. diplomatic presences in the world (no presence in Kunming and Nanjing).  Service in China includes a hardship differential (when conditions of the environment differ substantially from environmental conditions in the continental United States) for poor air quality among other things, ranging between 10-25% of basic compensation.

According to the 2010 OIG report, more than 30 U.S. Government agencies maintain offices and personnel in China; the total staff exceeds 2,000 employees. Consulates General Guangzhou and Shanghai are as large as many mid-sized embassies, each with more than 250 employees. Consulates General Chengdu and Shenyang are smaller but serve the important western and northern parts of the country respectively. Consulate General Wuhan, opened in 2008, is staffed by one American. Mission China is a fully accompanied post; we have no numbers on how many family members, including children are present at these posts.

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