@StateDept Announces Commissioner General For UAE-Funded USA Pavilion in @Expo2020Dubai

 

Filed under the “living beyond our means” folder. The State Department announced recently the appointment of the USA Pavilion Commissioner General for the Expo 2020 in Dubai. Somebody forgot to mention that without the reported $60 million funding generosity from the United Arab Emirates, there would be no USA Pavilion for the commissioner to showcase American culture and innovation.
Holy guacamole, yes, you are free to quibble. It’s the World’s Fair, after all, so it’s all perfectly fine .. FINE… Friends don’t let friends attend the World’s Fair without their own pavilion to showcase.  Isn’t that what those wise, folks say?
Jan 2020: United Arab Emirates to Pay For Estimated $60Million USA Pavilion in Expo2020 Dubai #foreignassistance
Feb 2016: USA Pavilion at World Expo Milan 2015 and $26 Million of Unpaid Invoices

Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

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NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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WaPo: Surprise, Panic and Fateful Choices, the Fall of Kabul

 

Tuesday before the fall of Kabul, the U.S. Senate had just confirmed the nominations of Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary Rena Bitter and Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Gentry Smith. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Bureau of Administration, the agency’s logistics arm. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Under Secretary for Management, the umbrella office that provides leadership to 10 bureaus; a post currently encumbered by an Acting/M.
On August 18, three days after the fall of Kabul, the State Department announced that President Biden’s “M” nominee will be sent to Kabul (@StateDept Sends M Nominee John Bass to Kabul to Leverage “Logistics Experience” in Evacuation). In the coming days, there will likely be a louder push to examine the evacuation from Kabul. Some will be politically-motivated; we’re already seeing shades of Benghazi in online rhetoric.  For people living in the rational  universe, it would still be important to understand what happened there, how it happened, and why.
WaPo has a ‘must-read’ account on the fall of Kabul.  We would like to see the tic-toc inside Foggy Bottom during these fateful days. As P/Nuland was frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts, what was happening elsewhere?

On the Friday afternoon before Kabul fell, the White House was starting to empty out, as many of the senior staff prepared to take their first vacations of Biden’s young presidency. Earlier in the day, Biden had arrived at Camp David, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was already in the Hamptons.

But by Saturday, the fall of Mazar-e Sharif — site of furious battles between pro and anti-Taliban forces in the 1990s — convinced U.S. officials that they needed to scramble. How quickly was a subject of dispute between the Pentagon and State Department.

In a conference call with Biden and his top security aides that day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for the immediate relocation of all U.S. Embassy personnel to the Kabul airport, according to a U.S. official familiar with the call.

Wilson’s embassy colleagues had been racing to destroy classified documents and equipment in the compound since Friday. An internal memo, obtained by The Washington Post, implored staff to destroy sensitive materials using incinerators, disintegrators and “burn bins.” The directive also called for the destruction of “American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.”

Wilson said U.S. personnel needed more time to complete their work. But Austin insisted time had run out, the official said.
[…]
Within the palace, too, the illusion of calm was being punctured. Around midday, much of the staff had been dismissed for lunch. While they were gone, according to officials, a top adviser informed the president that militants had entered the palace and were going room to room looking for him.

That does not appear to have been true. The Taliban had announced that while its fighters were at the edges of Kabul, having entered through the city’s main checkpoints after security forces withdrew, it did not intend to take over violently. There was an agreement in place for a peaceful transition, and the group intended to honor it.

Yet that wasn’t the message that was being delivered to Ghani. The president was told by his closest aides that he needed to get out — fast.
[…]
For the United States, the scope of defeat was total — and was vividly rendered as helicopters evacuated embassy personnel to the airport. Before the American flag was lowered one last time, diplomats engaged in a frenzy of destruction, burning documents and smashing sensitive equipment.

“It was extremely loud,” said a senior U.S. official. “There were controlled fires, the shredding of classified paper documents, and a constant pounding noise from the destruction of hard drives and weapons.”
[…]
At the State Department, top brass, including Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s deputy, and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts and to coordinate a statement signed by 114 countries urging the Taliban to allow safe passage for evacuees. This, they realized, would be a historic evacuation effort.

Afghanistan: We All Lost, Not an Intelligence Failure, Dissent Cable Leaks

 

Below is an excerpt from We All Lost Afghanistan by Ambassador P. Michael McKinley who served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2014–16. He was senior advisor to Pompeo until his resignation in October 2019:

“There is one seductive argument made by critics of the withdrawal: that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will again become a haven for terrorist groups threatening the security of the United States. This argument is a backhanded acknowledgment that we succeeded in reducing the threat from Afghanistan to minimal levels—the original rationale for U.S. intervention. The sacrifice, however, was significant: more than $1 trillion, the deaths of 2,400 U.S. service members (and thousands of contractors), more than 20,000 wounded Americans.

Perhaps the resurgence of a terrorist threat will develop more quickly under a future Taliban government than it would have otherwise. But to conclude that this outcome demands an indefinite U.S. troop presence would imply that U.S. troops should also be deployed indefinitely in the many other parts of the world where Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and al Qaeda offshoots are active in greater numbers than they are in Afghanistan and pose a greater threat to the United States. Moreover, U.S. capabilities to monitor and strike at terrorist groups have grown exponentially since 2001.

Ultimately, Washington’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops is not the sole or even most important explanation for what is unfolding in Afghanistan today. The explanation lies in 20 years of failed policies and the shortcomings of Afghanistan’s political leadership. We can still hope that we in the United States do not end up in a poisonous debate about “who lost Afghanistan.” But if we do, let’s acknowledge that it was all of us.”

Below is an excerpt from Afghanistan, Not an Intelligence Failure, Something Much Worse by Douglas London (@douglaslondon5) who retired from the CIA in 2019 after 34 years as a Senior Operations Officer, Chief of Station and CIA’s Counterterrorism Chief for South and Southwest Asia:

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the principal architect of America’s engagement with the Taliban that culminated with the catastrophic February 2020 withdrawal agreement, terms intended to get the president through the coming elections. Pompeo championed the plan despite the intelligence community’s caution that its two key objectives– securing the Taliban’s commitment to break with al-Qa’ida and pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict — were highly unlikely.

America’s special representative, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, was a private citizen dabbling on his own in 2018 with a variety of dubious Afghan interlocutors against whom the intelligence community warned, trying opportunistically to get “back inside.” Undaunted, his end around to Pompeo and the White House pledging to secure the deal Trump needed which the president’s own intelligence, military and diplomatic professionals claimed was not possible absent a position of greater strength, was enthusiastically received. Our impression was that Khalilzad was angling to be Trump’s Secretary of State in a new administration, were he to win, and would essentially do or say what he was told to secure his future by pleasing the mercurial president, including his steady compromise of whatever leverage the United States had to incentivize Taliban compromises.

Dissent Cable apparently signed by about two dozen State Department officials who served as the US Embassy in Kabul was reportedly sent last July to Secretary Blinken just leaked.
As per 2FAM 070, immediately upon receipt of all incoming Dissent Channel messages, S/P (Salman Ahmed ) distributes copies to the Secretary (Blinken), the Deputy Secretary (Sherman), the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (McKeon), the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Nuland), the Executive Secretary (Lakhdhir) , and the Chair of the Secretary’s Open Forum (who’s this ?).
If the author of a dissent message is employed by an agency other than the Department of State (e.g., USAID), S/P will also distribute a copy of the Dissent Channel message to the head of that agency. With due regard for the sensitivity of the message and the wishes of the drafter, the director of S/P may also distribute the dissent message to other senior officials in the Department, both for information purposes and for help in drafting a response. No additional distribution may be made without the authorization of the S/P director.
The Dissent Channel affords all State USG employees the ability to  “express dissenting or alternative views on substantive issues of policy, in a manner which ensures serious, high-level review and response”, it does not obligate the agency to change its policy.
The Director of Policy Planning is responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days  and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days. OBE now, is it?

 

 

Blinken Attends Inaugural Meeting of @StateDept’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council

 

 

Secretary Blinken reportedly delivered remarks at the inaugural meeting of the State Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council. State.gov does not appear to carry a transcript of those remarks, and it looks like the members of this leadership council are not publicly available.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivers remarks at the inaugural meeting of the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 2021. Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley joined Secretary Blinken. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

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Pride Month At Posts Where Consensual Same-Sex Acts Could End In Death Penalty

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

According to the State-Sponsored Homophobia 2020: Global Legislation Overview Update (PDF):

“As of November 2020,
there is full legal certainty that the death penalty is the legally prescribed punishment for consensual samesex sexual acts in six (6) UN Member States, namely Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (12 Northern states only), Saudi Arabia and Yemen. There are also five (5) additional UN Member States where certain sources indicate that the death penalty may be imposed for consensual same-sex conduct, but where there is less legal certainty on the matter. These countries are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia (including Somaliland) and the United Arab Emirates.

….“full legal certainty” is understood as the absence of disputes about whether the death penalty can be legally imposed for consensual same-sex conduct. This legal certainty may be derived from the existence of written, codified laws unequivocally prescribing the death penalty for same-sex conduct, as it is the case in Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Yemen. This list also includes Saudi Arabia, where fundamental laws mandate courts to apply Sharia law “as derived from the Qur’an and the Sunna”. In this particular case, even if the death penalty is not codified in black letter law (in a formal piece of legislation), a broad consensus—supported by judicial practice and ancillary sourceshas made it legally certain that Saudi Arabia’s legal system considers the death penalty a possible and appropriate punishment for same-sex conduct.

Conversely, the lack of clear provisions mandating thedeath penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts, the existence of disputes between scholars and experts with regard to the interpretation of ambiguous provisions, and the need for judicial interpretation of certain “generic” crimes to encompass consensual same-sex sexual acts has led ILGA World to classify the remaining five UN Member States as jurisdictions where there is no full legal certainty. Additionally, the lack of evidence of enforcement couldto a certainextentbe considered as an argument potentially supporting the idea that the death penalty is not considered to be the appropriate legal punishment for these acts by local authorities. However, this argument can be easily rebutted by a mere reluctance to enforce such harsh penalty, even when the possibility exists.

Nonetheless, there is still avenue for advocacy even regarding countries where it is not legally certain that the death penalty is imposed. For example, it may be worthwhile to clarify the ambit of zina (adultery) laws, as the threat of the death penaltyeven if only a theoretical possibilitycan still be an affront to human dignity and equality”


We’ve poured over the Twitter feed of FS posts at the 10 countries cited  in the report. Of the 10 posts, only US Embassy Afghanistan tweeted directly about June as (LGBTI) Pride Month. US Embassy Yemen tweeted a canned Share America piece about the LGBTQI officials serving in the Biden Administration. The US Mission to Saudi Arabia tweeted that “Saudi women are leading in the tech revolution…..” And US Embassy Pakistan remembered to tweet about “Pollinator Week.”

Brunei

Mauritania

Nigeria

Saudi Arabia

Yemen

__

Afghanistan

Pakistan

Qatar

Somalia

United Arab Emirates

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@StateDept on Pride Month: Recognition, Advance LGBTQI+ Rights, Fly the #Pride Flag

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

Ex-Ambo Gordon Sonland Sues Ex-SecState Pompeo, U.S. for $1.8M Impeachment Bills #Popcorn

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

 

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Photo of the Day: Secretary Blinken Passes the Fagradalsfjall Volcano #Iceland

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

 

Secretary Blinken Passes the Fagradalsfjall Volcano
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken drives past the active Fagradalsfjall volcano after arriving at Keflavik Air Base 4 on May 17, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

More photos here: Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland: May 16-20, 2021

 

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The 71st Secretary of State on His First 100 Days

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Secretary of State Tony Blinken was confirmed the 71st Secretary of State on January 26, 2021.  If our counting fingers are correct, today is his 100th day anniversary. If not, well, we got some GIFs anyway for the anti-swagger secretary of state.
—1. The 71st Secretary of State did not cause an international embarrassment by using #swagger in his hashtag diplomacy. Employees here and abroad did not have to work under that witlessly desperate Department of Swagger seal. We have it in good authority that performance evaluations will not/will not suffer for lack of …. what’s that? Gotcha! Will not suffer for lack of excessive flamboyant swaggering.

via GIPHY

—2. He has not/not challenged female reporters to find Ukraine or any other country on an unlabeled world map following any interview. Why? Because he has a solid sense of self-control, a work requirement for a top diplomat. We do not expect him to lose his temper either before any reporter although he may serenade them.

via GIPHY

—3. He has not removed a reporter from the secretary of state’s upcoming trip because the reporter’s co-worker asked awesome but unwelcome questions. We have it from exceptional authority that “Petty” is not his secret security code name.

via GIPHY

—4. S did not end up visiting North Korea during his first 100 days but if/when he ends up visiting the “hermit kingdom,”  we expect reporters will not to get banned from the secretary of state’s plane for reporting about the top diplomat’s food choices. How do we know this? See #3. 

via GIPHY

—5. Given his prior performance, we predict that he will have the good sense not to smile for a photo-op if he must meet, as his job requires, with a foreign leader responsible for the dismembering of another human being.  No smiling, period! 

via GIPHY

—6. He has not/not started an infrastructure project to build bridges with wealthy donors and patrons for a future political campaign. Our very helpful source indicate that no infrastructure project of this kind is on the Secretary’s project list for his entire tenure. 

via GIPHY

—7. He has not uttered self-serving mush like, “I’m flattered when people say Tony will be a good United States senator representing New York.”  Fantastic! So we don’t have to play that silly ‘he’s running/he’s not running’ game.

via GIPHY

—8. He has not made “staff recruitment” trips to battleground states, unlike his predecessor, so that’s good! On the other hand, his Press Office in Foggy Bottom has an email chewing doggie for questions they do not like. Just like his two predecessor!  So, that’s not/not good! 

via GIPHY

—9. He has not/not assigned a Senior Advisor to handle important taskers such as picking up stuff, taking care of dogs, making salon appointments, planning events unrelated to the official mission, etc. etc. A source informed us that unlike in the immediate past, no DS agents have been sent to restaurants wearing brown paper bags over their heads to request waiving $8 plating fees for bringing in outside food. 

via GIPHY

–10. The 71st Secretary of State has not/not announced that he is trying to achieve good diplomatic outcomes for the  people of New York, his home state, even if it is the 4th most populous state in the country. He is not thirsting to become the next senator from New York or the next President from New York while doing his day job as Secretary of State. And that’s a very good thing. 

via GIPHY

Brought to you by your fully-vaccinated blogger:

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