Tillerson Signals No Career Nominees For Regional Bureaus? #FoggyBottomBlues

Posted: 2:55 pm PT
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Via BuzzFeed’s John Hudson:

After an intense battle with the White House over his first choice to become the top US diplomat to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering a new candidate with a deep resumé in business and economics but little diplomatic experience…
[…]
Olin Wethington, a former Treasury Department official and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, is now a contender for the nomination of assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, four individuals familiar with the matter said.
[…]
Tillerson originally wanted the job to go to Susan Thornton, a veteran diplomat who speaks Mandarin Chinese, two US officials told BuzzFeed News. But White House officials opposed her due to concerns that her views were out of step with the president’s agenda — a claim State Department officials deny.
[…]
Ultimately, in shifting to Wethington, Tillerson appears to be acquiescing to the White House, which has shown a preference for appointments with a strong business background over career diplomatic experience.

Read in full the John Hudson scoop below.

For more of the rumored nominee, see this and this.

Secretary Tillerson once took a few minutes to “communicate” his  “high regard for the men and women of the State Department.

He promised that as secretary of state he would “deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient ways possible, and that he would “depend on the expertise of this institution.”

“Your wisdom, your work ethic and patriotism, is as important as ever. And as your Secretary, I will be proud to draw upon all these qualities in my decision-making,” he told his employees not too long ago.

When asked once what inspires him when he comes to work at the State Department every day, Secretary Tillerson said that “the men and women of the State Department inspire me, my colleagues – their professionalism, their commitment, their patriotism.”

As recently as last month, during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee defending the gutted budget of his agency, he repeated that “My colleagues at the State Department and USAID are a deep source of inspiration, and their patriotism, professionalism, and willingness to make sacrifices for our country are our greatest resource.”

Despite his “high regard” for the men and women of the State Department, and his promise to “depend on the expertise of the institution” he is now leading, and despite the fact that he declared them a “deep source of inspiration” to him, he apparently does not have any control over his staffing, or for that matter, how his building is run.

And seriously, if Tillerson “loves” the AA/S for EAP Susan Thornton, a career diplomat with deep expertise in the former Soviet Union and East Asia, but could not hire her because she has not sworn a blood oath to the kool aid special, what hope is there for other career professionals in Foggy Bottom?

So the next time, Secretary Tillerson talks about his high regard for his people at the State Department, or how he is inspired by his people’s patriotism, professionalism and their sacrifices, remember that Foggy Bottom is now the “Real Post of the Month” and will remain to be so in the foreseeable future.  Also don’t forget to check your playbook to see what’s next in dramatic plays over in Foggy Bottom. We understand that the plays, Another Load of Old Crap With the Word Inspiration in the Title;  Margaret, Don’t Eat the Government Cheese; and Gone to Texas are all on repeat on BNET.

Please, clap.

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A Holiday Wish to the Hundreds of DS Agents Without a “Handshake” This Bidding Season

Posted: 2:09 am ET
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This Burn Bag was sent to us “as a holiday wish to the hundreds of DS agents still without even an handshake this bidding season and to their families who are also waiting.”  As requested, we’ve considered the following and are publishing the entire post in the sender’s hope that it might bring a little smile to those still waiting for their assignments.  Well, a little smile and as Mr. Google says in his imperfect Italian, maybe “accendere un fuoco sotto il sedere di qualcuno” … 

 

A Visit from the Saint “No Word Yet”

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the house,
Frustration was building for the DS spouse.
Bids had been entered in FSBid with great care,
In the hopes that DS would do its fair share;
The DS spouse wonders just what is in store,
for their beloved agent – alone – in Lahore.

October 31st, it came and it went,
But for DS agents few handshakes were sent.
When asks the spouse, oh when will we know?
Will it be Paris, Bangui, or Toronto?
Maybe a Field Office, far from DC.
Or perhaps a year or two with MSD.

Spouses query one another with fear and despair,
It really seams as if DS Does.Not.Care.
On November 4 and December 1, jobs are assigned one-by-one.
In hushed voices agents questions those around,
To what office or mission will I be bound?
Will it be the same as my tandem spouse?

We did all the legwork for the six posts that work,
For a DS spouse needing political work.
My GSO wife or my Management hubby,
Would be extremely happy in Abu Dhabi!
To the top of the list, will my name they call?
Will we know where were going, long before fall?

Uncertainty swirls as the days tick by,
The DS spouse lets out a great cry!
How will we get the kids into school,
If we do not know we’re going to Banjul?
Maybe its time to let this ship go.
Can’t you jump ship to be a U.S. Marshall, too?

The uncertainty for the DS spouse is a constant refrain,
The long hours, TDYs and standing in the rain.
The worry at home when the dear agents abroad,
Protecting our missions, our livelihood, our jobs
But alas, we play this game each and every year,
Just waiting and waiting, and waiting to hear.

By the time all is set and the last chess move is made
Someone will have gone through many a tirade.
That job is gone, and that one, too, what is the DS agent to do?
A now post or the third PSP – isn’t it time for something new?
The powers that be, simply do not see
Just what a drag this process can be.

The black hole of bidding in the hands of a few,
Determine the destiny with nary a clue,
Of what this does to house and home,
When the prices drags on they’re drafting a tome.
Over half of the cohort still waiting to know,
Would there, could there be a miracle?

On Christmas eve with a visit from St. Nick,
Will they let us know they’ve gotten on the stick?

A Christmas dream or a Christmas wish,
Waiting for a handshake, oh the suspense!
The call hasn’t come and the spouse is a fright,
As the DS agent again goes off in the night,
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
This systems gotta change, cause it just isn’t right!

katnispeeta

 

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Diplomatic Security Highlights History, and More in 100th Anniversary Video

Posted: 12:22 am ET
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We’ve previously blogged about diversity and harassment issues at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (See Dear @JohnKerry: One of Your Foggy Bottom Folks Is Asking — Is This Diversity?POTUS Issues Memo Promoting Diversity and Inclusion, and @StateDept Sounds Like Baghdad BobPDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?).

DS recently released a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Diplomatic Security Service.  The original investigative office was called the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. Later, the organization evolved into the Office of the Chief Special Agent, then the Office of Security (SY), then became the Diplomatic Security Service. Click here to view the newly released “DSS Then & Now – The First Century of the Diplomatic Security Service” photo history book (PDF).

The video below includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and  Director of the Diplomatic Security Service Bill MillerVictor Dikeos, former Director of Security (1974-1978), and the following DS employees in order of their appearance: Wendy Bashnan, Special Agent in Charge; Steven Antoine, Asst Special Agent in Charge; Mark Baker, Special Agent; Shane Morris, Diplomatic Courier; Kendall Beels, Special Agent; and Luis Matus, Deputy Regional Director, High Threat Program.

The DS video featured nine former and current employees including two female DS agents and one female DS courier.  DS has previously used Agent Bashnan in another PR brochure, A Global Force: Agent Profile.  Shane Morris was the Diplomatic Courier of the Year for 2011. Kendall Beels was one of the two DS agents who shut down a massive U.S. visa fraud ring operating in the tri-state area of New York City and was awarded the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation (FLEF) Investigators of the Year Award in 2006.

1916 – 2016

By the way, A Global Force: Agent Profile brochure says that “For women who choose Diplomatic Security as a career, there are no limits to how far you can go.”  Also that “Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of Diplomatic Security.”  

Folks who want to rate this in Pinocchios are welcome to do so in the comment space.

 

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New CG Jennifer Davis Arrives in Istanbul as Post Goes on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Family Members

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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FSO Jennifer Davis officially began her tenure as U.S. Consul General in Istanbul on October 25, 2016.  On October 29, USCG Istanbul was officially placed on mandatory evacuation order for family members. Below is her welcome video in Turkish.

Below is a brief bio posted by USCG Istanbul:

Jennifer Davis is a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service and a 2016 Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. National War College, where she received the George Kennan Award for Excellence in Strategic Writing.  From 2012-2015, she served as the Executive Assistant to U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.  She also has served as the Deputy Political Counselor at Embassy Bogota, Acting Deputy Political Advisor and Political Officer at USNATO, Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Watch Officer in the State Operations Center, and Consular Officer and Special Assistant to the Ambassador in Mexico City.

Before joining the Foreign Service, Jennifer was a corporate attorney specializing in media and banking law.  She clerked for the Honorable Judge James C. Fox in the Eastern District of North Carolina.  She has a B.A. with distinction and J.D. with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BCL (LL.M.) in international law from the University of Oxford in England.  She is the wife of fellow U.S. diplomat Nick Harris and the proud mother of two boys.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and State Department Executive Assistant Jennifer Davis, bangs the gavel to begin a meeting of more than 60 anti-ISIL coalition parties held on December 3, 2014, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [State Department photo /Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and State Department Executive Assistant Jennifer Davis, bangs the gavel to begin a meeting of more than 60 anti-ISIL coalition parties held on December 3, 2014, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [State Department photo /Public Domain]

Former Consuls General:

 

 

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FSO Dante Paradiso Writes an Enduring Portrait of a U.S. Embassy Under Fire

Posted: 12:38 am ET
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We previously posted about Dante Pardiso’s published work in this blog (see FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad and First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998. He is a writer, lawyer, and career Foreign Service Officer who has served extensively in Africa and Asia. He is the author of The Pure Life, a novel, and has contributed opinion pieces to the online editions of Foreign AffairsNational Geographic Voices, and, through the Tribune News Service, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Akron Beacon Journal, and Newsday, among others. Mr. Paradiso previously interned at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998. He received his J.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and his B.A. in Political Science from Yale.  He practiced financial services and bankruptcy law with Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston.

Mr. Paradiso joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002.  He served in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, DC, Libreville, and is currently posted at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong.   He is a recipient of the State Department’s Heroism Award (group) and Superior Honor Award, and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award. He comes from New York City and when not on assignment makes his home in Portland, Oregon with his wife, son, and dog.

His book, The Embassy, A Story of War and Diplomacy was published this month. Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of “The Perfect Storm” calls it “a truly harrowing and important account of an American embassy in what [was] arguably the most chaotic and violent country in the world.”

Chester A. Crocker who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and currently the James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies at Georgetown University says that Dante Paradiso has performed a singular public service in bringing this tale of modern American diplomacy to life.   He calls the book an “unvarnished portrait of a traumatized society and the extraordinary efforts of a handful of American public servants in Monrovia and Washington to bring desperately needed change.”

In an op-ed he wrote following the Benghazi attack, Mr. Paradiso points at an often overlooked truth about diplomacy:

At its core, it is risky. From the craft’s origins in antiquity, diplomats left the protections of our own borders and relied for our safety on persuasion, judgment and our indispensable role, without which state-to-state relations would go dark. Our presence on foreign soil best positions us to assess others’ receptivity to our messages and to persuade them to work with us. But we are exposed.[…] In many places, it is difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. Our role is to clarify and to win partners. We cannot leave the world in the hands of economic or strategic competitors, or in the grip of dictators, criminals or extremists. We must, in the can-do spirit of our country, take necessary risks to represent the American case. 

Read an excerpt below via Kindle/Preview or view it on Amazon here.

 

Related items:

Expert Knowledge in a Joint Task Force Headquarters | JTF Liberia, July 25, 2003- October 9, 2003 (PDF)
Joint Efforts Prevent Humanitarian Disaster in Liberia 2004 (PDF)
Michael Ariette, Director, West African Affairs | ADST Oral History 2011 (PDF)

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State/OIG Issues 11-Page Inspection Report of U.S. Embassy Croatia: Nothing to See Here!

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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FSprob_nothingtosee

 

Below is the 11-page report issued by State/OIG. The summary of the report says:

  • Embassy Zagreb operated well and pursued the Integrated Country Strategy’s major policy objectives.
  • The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs had not funded an additional ambassadorial driver position. Ambassadorial drivers were regularly on duty more than 10 hours per day.
  • The embassy had not consistently completed risk assessments or developed monitoring plans for all federal assistance awards using Department-approved formats.

The report does not include discussion about public diplomacy grants.  On consular affairs, it says the programs are well-run but makes no discussion about workload, or services provided to how many Americans in country. There’s no discussion about property management or procurement, the Health Unit, Equal Employment Opportunity, overseas schools, family member employment, etc.  Does the embassy have armored vehicles, are they assessed annually? Yo! The previous inspection was in 2009. It’s all good?  On locally employed staff, the report says, “Complaints about the wage increase and position classification process, however, were beyond the control of the Human Resources Unit.”  Huh? There is also no real discussion about public affairs and post’s social media strategy except a passing mention that the Ambassador created a Twitter account in February 2016 and by the time of the inspection had posted more than 300 tweets and attracted almost 600 followers.

Folks, seriously?

OIG inspected Embassy Zagreb from May 31 through June 15, 2016.  The OIG Team Members are John Dinger, Team Leader, Leslie Gerson, Deputy Team Leader Paul Houge, Dolores Hylander, Richard Kaminski, Shawn O’Reilly and Timothy Wildy.

 

Here is the 47-page inspection report from August 2009. Enjoy!

 

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USDOJ Drops US Embassy Yemen Passport Revocation Case Sans Explanation

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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On October 13, 2015, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport). In February 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment: “This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.” (see more Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days).

On October 5, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California asked to drop the case “without prejudice.”  We’re wondering how many more of these revocation cases would mow be dropped and sealed in court.

Via Politico:

Federal prosecutors — acting abruptly and without public explanation — have moved to drop a controversial criminal passport fraud case that critics alleged stemmed from coercive interrogations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

Earlier this year, a grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mosed Omar on passport fraud charges linked to a statement he signed during a 2012 visit to the U.S. diplomatic post in the unstable Middle Eastern nation.
[…]

Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a brief court filing asking to drop the criminal case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer will need to approve the dismissal of the case.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to messages seeking an explanation for the sudden move.
[…]
In response to a query Thursday from POLITICO, a spokesman for State Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed that an inquiry is underway into the allegations about improper passport revocations

“In June 2016, State OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects initiated a review of the Department’s processes of passport confiscations and revocations at the US Embassy Sanaa, Yemen,” spokesman Doug Welty said. He offered no additional details on the review.

If the case against Omar went forward, prosecutors might have been obligated to turn over to the defense some or all records of the IG review. That prospect may have contributed to the proposed dismissal, but there was no direct indication.

Read more:

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

US Embassy Belize: Three DCMs+Two Senior Manager Curtailments Since 2014, and More

Posted: 2:53 am ET
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State/OIG inspected the US Embassy in Belmopan, Belize from February 29 to March 11, 2016. According to the report, Embassy Belmopan’s authorized staffing includes 40 U.S. direct hires, 10 U.S. local hires, and 106 locally employed (LE) staff. The embassy’s FY 2015 budget, including all agencies, was approximately $35 million, which included $6.5 million in Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)-managed foreign assistance and $19 million in Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations funds. Belize’s capital, Belmopan, is approximately 90 minutes away from the much larger Belize City, the country’s economic, political, and cultural hub. This distance affects access to professional contacts, medical services, and cultural and entertainment activities. See the full report here (PDF), or read the quick summary below:

bh-map

Report summary:

  • Despite logistical difficulties inherent in the distance between the capital and the much larger Belize City where most government officials reside, the Ambassador had cultivated relationships with the highest levels of the Belizean Government. This enabled the mission to promote U.S. Government interests.
  • The lack of internal controls over non-official use of government resources weakened safeguards against waste, loss, unauthorized use, or misappropriation of funds, property and other assets.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan. Premium rates and use of compensatory time were inconsistent with local law and prevailing practice.
  • Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture were significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide. A planned Global Information Technology Modernization upgrade was cancelled without warning as part of a worldwide suspension of installation activities.

US Embassy Belmopan is headed by non-career appointee, Carlos R. Moreno who assumed charge as Ambassador to Belize  on June 21, 2014. His deputy is DCM Adrienne Galanek who arrived in September 2015. According to the OIG report, there had been three DCMs and two senior manager curtailments “due to personal and performance issues since June 2014.”  

Excerpt below:

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

OIG conducted 49 documented interviews of U.S. staff, 26 of which elicited comments on the Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM). Confirming the results of OIG’s pre-inspection survey, interviewees consistently expressed the opinion that both the Ambassador and DCM were approachable, concerned for the welfare of their staff, and had strong interpersonal skills, all of which are leadership attributes emphasized in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. For example, the Ambassador and DCM demonstrated their commitment to embassy safety and morale when deciding how to allocate the sole U.S. direct-hire position received through the Mission Resource Request process. Compelled to choose between an additional political reporting position and a Foreign Service nurse practitioner position, they opted for the latter to mitigate Belize’s limited health care facilities and improve employee access to skilled medical care. The interagency community, which consisted of the Peace Corps, the Military Liaison Office, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, all gave the Ambassador and DCM high marks for their efforts to foster cooperation throughout the mission.

Nonetheless, the Ambassador’s scores in OIG’s inspection survey, which evaluates ambassadors on more than a dozen leadership attributes, were lower in several categories than the average range seen in embassy inspections over the past 5 years. These leadership categories included communication, engagement, and feedback—all crucial factors in ensuring a well-managed embassy. Employees referred to the Ambassador and DCM as a good team that worked hard to cultivate a collaborative atmosphere, but employees also stated that the Ambassador and DCM had only partially succeeded in attaining this goal. Staff consistently described the DCM as overworked and struggling to resolve intersectional squabbles. OIG found that lengthy staffing gaps and the inexperience of several country team members had strained work interactions and contributed to low morale. Since June 2014, three DCMs and two senior managers had curtailed due to personal and performance issues, departures that hampered team building efforts.

OIG observations and employee interviews indicated a mission working to accomplish U.S. objectives. However, the front office often took weeks to clear and approve cables, memoranda, and embassy notices.

Yay!

  • An OIG review of the Ambassador’s and DCM’s claims for official residence and representational expenses and gift records determined that they both adhered to applicable regulations and to the 3 FAM 1214 principle that all employees model integrity.
  • The DCM performed nonimmigrant visa adjudication reviews, a required element of consular internal controls, as prescribed by 9 FAM 403.9-2(D).
  • The Department rated Belize high for crime. All embassy personnel who completed OIG surveys stated that the Ambassador and DCM supported the embassy security program as required by the President’s Letter of Instruction and 2 FAM 113.1(c)(5). The embassy was up-to-date on all emergency drills.
  • Props for Consular Section chief, Yomaris Macdonald: “Consular management and operations, including management controls, met Department standards. OIG reviewed emergency preparedness, visa adjudication standards, fee and controlled item reconciliation, and Regional Consular Officer reports and found no deficiencies. The Ambassador, DCM, consular officers, LE staff, Regional Consular Officer, and Bureau of Consular Affairs managers uniformly cited the Consular Section chief for her leadership skills.”


Yo, Tsk! Tsk!

  • Inspection surveys and interviews indicated that more front office attention to management operations was warranted.
  • The First-and Second-Tour (FAST) officer and specialist program had been dormant for several years.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan.
  • The ClassNet local area network was old and unreliable. The last equipment refresh or upgrade was in July 2010, making Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide.
  • The Information Management Office was not conducting Information Systems Security Officer duties as required by 12 FAM 613.4 and 12 FAH-10 H-112.9-2. The person assigned these responsibilities was unaware of his assignment, nor had he completed the training requirement for the position.
  • Record Keeping Did Not Comply with Archiving Requirements
  • Lack of Management Controls Risked Inappropriate Use of Staff and Resources

The OIG Inspection Team was composed of Amb. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the team leader, John Philibin, the deputy team leader and the following members: William Booth, John Bush, Ronda Capeles, Darren Felsburg, Leslie Gerson, Michael Greenwald, Edward Messmer, Matthew Ragnetti, and Colwell Whitney.

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US Embassy Bishkek: World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Posted: 4:10 am ET
Updated: 6:34 am: corrected the headline, Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan. Kazakh team played against the United States during the Games held in Kyrgzstan
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The second World Nomad Games was held in Kyrgzstan from September 3-8, 2016. This year’s event was participated by 40 countries with 23 kinds of nomadic sport. The games include kok-boru, a sport similar to Buzkashi, where riders fight for a goat carcass, horse racing, folk wrestling, horseback wrestling, Salburun, a traditional kind of hunt in Central Asia, involving falconry and archery, and competitive yurt building, to name a few.  It looks like former action star Steven Segal was a featured guest.  A US team also played against Kazakhstan in kok-buro (scroll to the bottom for the photos, and video from US Embassy Bishkek).

 

 

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

Posted: 12:03 am ET
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We blogged about FP’s piece on the targeting last July of American diplomats in Juba, South Sudan (see #SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba). On September 7, the State Department was asked about this incident during the Daily Press Briefing.  The Department’s assessment, according to the deputy spox is that “the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces” and did not specifically target American diplomats. The presidential guards who opened fire at the embassy convoy,  those soldiers were just “a little trigger-happy.”

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: That’s right.

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

MR TONER: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: — Kiir to shoot American —

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: And marked with American flags likely as well?

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

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

QUESTION: Yes.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: What – what have you changed?

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

QUESTION: So it’s an earlier curfew now?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: And is that still in progress?

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

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

MR TONER: Indeed.

QUESTION: — night for them.

MR TONER: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: That would be Diplomatic Security.

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

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

QUESTION: Do you —

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

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

QUESTION: Okay.

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

MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: But it does —

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

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — less than several minutes? I mean —

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

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

MR TONER: Are you talking the —

QUESTION: Both.

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

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

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

QUESTION: But that was July 8th.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: It is now September 7th.

MR TONER: I understand. And with regard to —

QUESTION: What’s the temperature, Matt.

MR TONER: With regard to – (laughter) —

QUESTION: In South Sudan? Hot.

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

QUESTION: You stated —

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

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And —

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

MR TONER: Armored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

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

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

QUESTION: Right, which – yeah.

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

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

MR TONER: We good? Yeah.

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

MR TONER: Yes, unequivocally.

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

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

 

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