A Response to the Commentary on Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

 

In late July, we posted an unsolicited commentary from a retired FS member and former COM, “Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security”.  Below is a response we received which should add to the discussions happening outside this blog.
Sender B is part of the State Department community with many friends and family in both the FS and the Civil Service. Over the past 15 years, they worked extensively with the Department of Defense and the military services as well and built a good familiarity with the DS Bureau. He/She has also gone overseas, and interacted with all of the above organizations “in the years after our post 9/11 forever wars,” adding that “what I am about to say is, of course, colored by all of these factors.”
A Response to Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I read Sender A’s note with interest, and like many of these ‘letters’ my reaction is a mixed bag – some scads of truth mixed with big dollops of generalization, stereotype, and the whooshing sound of one Missing the Larger Point. I don’t know who Sender A is, but yet I sort of do. I have met more than a few of these retired FSOs over the years. Most are political officers, most have at least 25 years under their belt, and most are at least a little wistful for the good old days before American Embassies were fortresses with 100 feet of setback around them and located a bit further away from the downtown business districts of world capitals.
I think it’s useful to start with some basic unspoken truths in the discussion of security culture and State – DS and the people who work there have always been looked at askance by the folks at HST and in the upper echelons of the generalist ranks. In particular the Mandarins of the POL cone who run the Department. DS agents, so the line of thought goes, are “knuckle draggers” and an impediment to the Really Important Valuable “substantive” Work of Diplomacy like attending interagency meetings, ribbon cuttings, and sending cables back to Washington.
Okay. I kid, but only a little.
Everything he says (and odds are, as long as he’s been out, it is a ‘he’ – but I could be wrong) in the first few paragraphs is completely true – post 9/11, security theater got ramped up a lot, not just at State but across the federal government. Look at the DHS and TSA as the biggest and most theatrical examples of that phenomenon. This was in part a reaction after 9/11 to the national mood – since the United States of America, love her as we all do, never does anything it can’t over do.
It was also a product of the new operating environment. Iraq and Afghanistan were different places once the shooting started, requiring different skill sets and new ways of doing business for the military services but also State and the interagency. The threat was, frankly, very high and very real in those places for Americans. I saw it firsthand from 2007 to 2011 during several visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were decisions made and policies implemented in the years after 9/11 that may or may not have successfully dealt with those threats, but to bemoan DS’s 20-story headquarters and the CT funds that built it is to somewhat miss the point. Nearly every security organization in the U.S. National Security Complex experienced some form of this same phenomenon, which is why today nearly every federal agency has specialized security arms/teams/offices and funding profiles very much unlike what they had just a few decades ago. US Customs and Border Patrol alone, for example, has an air arm that is as large as the Brazilian Air Force. If you visit the Pentagon, the police force that protects the Pentagon reservation has been thoroughly transformed into a kitted-up security force for a building that was already a fairly secure location. The USG was completely subsumed by the post 9/11 security swell, in retrospect, so to bemoan State’s slice of that trend is fine – but it was a much larger issue, and one that would inevitably affect the diplomatic arm of the American government.
There is also the swipe at DS performing duplicative roles. Yes, well … perhaps. Perhaps not. That’s a matter of perspective. Question: why is the Bureau of International Narcotic and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) not under DS? DS is the law enforcement arm of the State Department, the point organization for investigating visa fraud, and a host of other crimes related to international law enforcement and definitely narcotics. Why is it not aligned? What exactly does INL do at HST that is can’t do at DS HQ? Further complicating things, DS manages State’s law enforcement counterterrorism training assistance but main State retains INL? From an outsider’s perspective, that makes little sense. But I get it. Government fiefdoms are what they are and come to be for complex reasons. Little has changed because the people who run the Department don’t want it to, regardless of how much sense it makes.
The comment about the new training center also belies a bit more nuance. Yes, it is the product of some Congressional deal probably served up via a hand shake between the Georgia and Virginia Delegation. Why those two, you ask? It should be noted that prior to the new center’s opening, DS security training was already atomized and spread out to various locales far from Washington. Glynco, Georgia was where DS special agents, alongside other federal law enforcement agents, received their Basic Special Agents Course (BSAC) training. The ability to duplicate that kind of training facility anywhere near FSI inside the beltway is cost prohibitive, to say the least. The facilities alone would bankrupt the Department, as you would need a lot of real estate for activities such as driving courses, mock embassy compounds, firing ranges, and other aspects of admittedly security-oriented curriculums. In other words, not just classrooms.
The more substantive piece of the commentary, however, deserves a bit more attention. ‘Warrior culture’ as it is described is a long-remarked issue across the USG, not just at State. Why? A part of this is certainly a result of the US Government elevating what is known as “veteran’s status” in the application process for federal positions even higher than it was previously to 2001. This resulted in veterans receiving preferential treatment for hiring in positions across the government, but especially within the security apparatus and law enforcement agencies. Over the last ten years, I can’t tell you how many longtime managers and officials in government who have sought to hire candidates for their respective offices (at State and other agencies) have told me they can’t get the right candidates to an interview. In their telling, the culprit is primarily the reflexive application of veterans status points and their effect on the HR process. This results in the saturation of the application pool with candidates armed with a DD 214 (military discharge papers). Some of those positions require skill sets undoubtedly found in certain military career fields, to be sure. The criticism though, is that this policy has been applied with little nuance over time by HR officials.
What is the result? The skill sets/experiences of personnel who have excelled in environments where hard skills and Special Operations Forces mindsets migrate into the civilian bureaucracy over time, in law enforcement surely but also in tangentially related fields as well. We can debate the merits of that trend, but it is a result of a policy choice, approved of by both the Bush and Obama Administrations, and we are dealing with the result of it today in small and large ways. The Department and DS in particular are, of course, caught up in this. A massive demand for security following the advent of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, coupled with the need to bring former military members into the Department both by policy dictate and by the reality of the environment has resulted in this shift playing out. It would be inevitable to say the least there would be friction in these two cultures coming together. There is no easy solution for the imbalance, and you will continue to hear officials at all levels say something needs to be fixed. I’m not sure how exactly that is done, outside of some dedicated member of Congress deciding to champion the issue.
Overall, Sender A’s perspective read like a sort of historical snapshot. A return to the old days, when SY officials had time to do tours out of cone, and the G Men wore fedoras and carried six shooters. I kid, but not by much. This perspective is fun, but it is also a bit naïve, as if the 1980s, much less Nairobi/Tanzania and 9/11 didn’t happen.
We are all products of our experiences, and that goes for people as well as organizations. DS would not be the organization it is today if the Beirut bombings of the 1980s had not occurred, and the Inman Report that followed it had not happened. The 1990s accelerated the rise of a more robust security apparatus at State in this environment, because the threat of terrorism against U.S. interests had changed and was rapidly evolving. By the time 9/11 rolled around, this transformation was unstoppable in many ways.
There is much to lament about the end of the pre-9/11 era. The world was (in some ways) more open, more accessible, and diplomats more able to conduct the traditional business of diplomacy, in most contexts. But to pretend the changes of the last several decades have occurred in a vacuum is disingenuous. The Department may be risk averse today, and overly so in many areas. That deserves some scrutiny. But it is a fact that Americans have died because of choices made by Department officials who downplayed these threats. Policy choices over the decades have results. Once one peels the onion on how counterterrorism policy came to be, we might not like what we find.

Uh-oh! @StateDept’s Travel Provider Gets Hacked, Pays $4.5M in Bitcoin

 

Reuters reported last week that CWT (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel) was hit with a strain of ransomware called Ragnar Locker, which encrypts computer files and renders them unusable until the victim pays for access to be restored. “Hackers who stole reams of sensitive corporate files and said they had knocked 30,000 computers offline.”
Elsewhere it is reported that the hackers “may have stolen 2 terabytes of data, allegedly including thousands of global executives credentials. This is particularly worrisome given CWT provides travel services to as much as 33% of the Fortune 500.”
ITNews notes that “CWT, which posted revenues of US$1.5 billion last year and says it represents more than a third of companies on the S&P 500 US stock index, confirmed the attack but declined to comment on the details of what it said was an ongoing investigation.”
The news mainly talks about the 2 terabyte of sensitive files exfiltrated which supposedly include global executive credentials, but a CWT division, CWTSatoTravel is one of two contractors awarded a master contract by GSA “responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients.” Government clients include the State Department where Carlson Wagonlit manages its travel management center.
According to GSA, the U.S. Federal Government is the largest consumer of travel services in the world.  ETS2, the government’s current Travel & Expense management solution, serves an active user base of over 1 million Civilian Government employees, and was used for 86 percent of all civilian agency travel in 2017.

ETS2 is a competitively bid master contract with two vendors providing agencies travel and expense software, hosting, and support services based on fixed-price transaction fees, which is a unique program within the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS).

Competitively bid ETS2 contracts were awarded to:

      • Concur Technologies, Inc., of Redmond, WA, in June 2012; and
      • CWTSatoTravel, of Arlington, VA, in September 2013.

CWTSatoTravel is the division of Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) responsible for soliciting and managing travel for the U.S. military and government clients. CWT is a global leader specialized in managing business travel and meetings and events.

The 2019 DOS Financial Report describes its Travel Systems Program

In 2016, the Department successfully transitioned to the next generation of the E-Government Travel Services (ETS2) contract with Carlson Wagonlit Travel. In 2016, the Department also implemented the Local Travel module allowing for the submission of local travel claims for expenses incurred in and around the vicinity of a duty station. The Department expanded the use of the Local Travel feature to also accommodate non-travel employee claims previously submitted through an OF-1164. In the Local Travel module, approvers will electronically approve claims and provide reimbursement to the employee’s bank account via EFT. The Department has completed this implementation for 118 posts overseas.

The Department continues to work with our bureaus and posts to identify improvements that can be made to the travel system. The Department also participates with other agencies to prioritize travel system enhancements across the Federal Government landscape. The Department worked with Carlson Wagonlit Travel to enhance the functionality of the Local Travel feature to more closely align with the temporary duty travel functionality for foreign currency and approver expense reduction options. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support integration improvements with our financial systems. The Department continues to work with Carlson Wagonlit Travel on enhancements to support the implementation of the Local Payments module domestically and has initiated work to implement mobile capabilities for approvals and reservations.

Somebody asked if anyone has  publicly acknowledged that the initial hack may imply a massive potential personally identifiable information  (PII) leak on the scale of the eQIP compromise.” 
The company released a statement to The Register saying “we have no indication that PII/customer and traveller information has been affected.”
Has Foggy Bottom said anything?

 

Inbox: Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C.  included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D

~ * * * ~

Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security.  Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS.  Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue.  My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful.  At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office.  They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat.  Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this.  I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto.  It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.”  While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told).  What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)?  At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.  
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia.  I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight.  How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training.  Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum.  Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission.  I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost.  Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked.  This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture.  I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.   

Secretary of State to be Sole Recipient of ARB Report, Will Also Determine Its Subsequent Distribution.

 

On June 1, 2020, the State Department updated its Foreign Affairs Manual (12 FAM 030) covering the Accountability Review Board (ARB). The chair of the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee will now be the director of the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS). If we remember correctly, this used to be the director of M/PRI (Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI). Another update relates to the classification authority of Board Members; they have no original classification authority; M/SS will exercise original classification authority on the Board’s work materials.  On the ARB’s findings, the Board submits its findings to the Secretary of State through M/SS.  The updated regs make clear that “the report will initially be provided solely to the Secretary, who will determine its subsequent distribution.”
The updated regs has not eliminated 12 FAM 036.4  which refers to Reports to Congress (an update from 10-05-2017). Per the ARB statute, the Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken with respect to that recommendation.”
The Secretary is required to submit “a report” to the Congress not later than 90 days but the regs does not require him/her to submit the ARB report. The new regs says the secretary of state will determine the report’s “subsequent distribution.”

12 FAM 035  FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

12 FAM 035.1  Findings
(CT:DS-332;   06-01-2020)

a. Examination:  A Board will examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the security-related incident or a visa incident.

b. Written submission:  In its report to the Secretary, a Board makes written findings, which may be classified, as necessary.

c.  Dissemination of findings:  The board submits its written findings directly to the Secretary through the M/SS director, whose role is only to classify the document as appropriate (the Board members do not have original classification authority), and L, whose role is to offer legal advice about the report, including ensuring that the report meets the legal requirements laid out in 22 U.S.C. 4834.  The report will initially be provided solely to the Secretary, who will determine its subsequent distribution.  The Board’s written findings are distributed as directed by the Secretary following the Secretary’s receipt of the Board’s written findings.

12 FAM 034.2-5  Classification Authority
(CT:DS-332;   06-01-2020)

Members of the Board do not have original classification authority.  The director of M/SS will exercise original classification authority for materials originating from Board activities.

12 FAM 032.1  ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC)
(CT:DS-332;   06-01-2020)

a. Purpose:  The ARB/PCC will, as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.  (Due to the 1999 revision of the law requiring the Secretary to convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such period may be extended for one additional 60-day period, the ARB/PCC will meet within 30 days of the incident if enough information is available.) In addition, the ARB/PCC will meet yearly to review the ARB process, existing policies and procedures, and all past ARB recommendations, and ensure that any necessary changes are effected.

b. Membership:  The ARB/PCC will be composed of the following members:

(1)  The director of the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS), who will chair the ARB/PCC; or designee

(2)  The Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security or designee;

(3)  The Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research or designee;

(4)  The coordinator for Counterterrorism or designee;

(5)  The assistant secretary or designee of the relevant regional bureau(s)

(6)  One representative designated by and representing the DNI; and

(7)  The Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs or designee.

    NOTE:  Designees must have the authority to vote at ARB/PCC meetings on behalf of their principal; they may not defer decisions until they have briefed the principal.

c.  Other participants:  As a result of the State-Justice Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated September 20, 2001, the Department of Justice has attended PCC meetings.  The Department’s Deputy Legal Adviser, director of the Bureau of Medical Services, and Executive Secretary of the Executive Secretariat, or his/her designees, will attend PCC meetings.  Also, as determined by the chairperson, representatives of other offices and agencies may be invited to work with the ARB/PCC.  Participants listed in this section do not vote.

 

The Philippines Sends USG Notice of Military-Pact Termination #VFA #180days

 

Via Rappler (Philippines):

On Monday night, February 10, Duterte launched a fresh round of verbal tirades against the US saying while top officials, including President Donald Trump, were trying to salvage the VFA, he was bent on having it terminated. (EXPLAINER: Visiting Forces Agreement)

Duterte first broached his plan to terminate the VFA on January 23, after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Dela Rosa is Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief known as the architect behind the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

The President later said he was serious about his decision, adding his choice to do so was anchored on US lawmakers’ moves to impose travel and financial restrictions on Philippine officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima and alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the Duterte administration. (READ: Why the Global Magnitsky Act matters to the Philippines)

 

As Ukraine Opens Probe Into Yovanovitch Surveillance, Foggy Bottom Remains Mute as a Mouse

Update 1:37 pm PST: Mid-day on Friday, CNN reports: After more than 48 hours of silence, Pompeo says State will investigate possible surveillance of ex-US ambassador

On January 14, we blogged about the Parnas documents indicating a possible surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch while she was posted as U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv (see Parnas Materials: Surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in Kyiv).
According to NBC News reporter Josh Lederman, Robert F. Hyde reportedly dismissed the Parnas texts as “colorful texts” from when they’d “had a few pops way back when I used to drink” (see). When asked about Hyde’s claims of tracking Ambassador Yovanovitch, Lev Parnas in his first TV interview also said, “Well, I don’t believe it’s true.”  He added, “I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn’t take it seriously.”
Since we have not heard anything from the State Department or Secretary Pompeo, are we to understand that the State Department is just taking their words that they’re joking around or drunk as claimed in their worrisome exchange? Given subsequent reporting on the Hyde character, that’s possible, of course. But if there was something there, anyone really expect that these individuals would admit to some nefarious intent publicly?
On January 16, Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior announced that it opened an investigation on the possible surveillance:

Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America. However, the published references cited contain a possible violation of the law of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of the foreign country.

Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state.

Also on January 16, NBC News reported that the FBI paid a visits to Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde’s Connecticut home and business.  FBI spokesperson told The Hill, “There is no further information that can be shared at this time.”  But as former DOJ staffer Matthew Miller points out, DOJ has had these messages for months. They’re investigating this claimed surveillance just now.
As of this writing, neither Pompeo nor the State Department has released any statement of concern on the possibility that one of its ambassadors was under surveillance for unknown reasons by people directly connected to Rudy Giuliani, the shadow secretary of state.
When State officials and Pompeo talk about protecting and supporting our diplomats in their town halls and chitchats, do they still say that loud with straight faces? Really, we’re curious.

 

 

 

 

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch

 

 

CRS: How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts from possible Iranian retaliation?

 

CRS: U.S. Killing of Qasem Soleimani: Frequently Asked Questions January 8, 2020
How has the State Department responded to protect its overseas personnel and posts in the Middle East and elsewhere from possible Iranian retaliation?

Secretary Pompeo has said that although U.S. personnel in the Middle East are safer following the removal of Soleimani from the battlefield, there remains “an enormous set of risks in the region” and that the United States is “preparing for each and every one of them.” 78 Secretary Pompeo has also remarked that the United States will ensure that its overseas diplomatic facilities are as “hardened as we can possibly get them” to defend against possible Iranian action.79 Following the December 31 blockade of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, 100 Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response–Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) were deployed at the State Department’s request to reinforce the Embassy. Analysts note that this Task Force, which was created after the 2012 attack on a U.S. post in Benghazi, is capable of providing compound defense through the use of air, ground, and, when necessary, amphibious operations.80 These additional forces augment the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment and other security personnel already present at the Embassy. MSGs have worked with the State Department to protect and safeguard U.S. overseas posts for over 60 years. Neither the State Department nor the Department of Defense disclose the number of MSGs serving at each overseas post. Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley has expressed confidence regarding Embassy Baghdad’s security, stating that it is unlikely to be overrun and warning that air and ground capabilities there mean that anyone who attempts to do so “will run into a buzzsaw.” 81

Some analysts maintain that because Iran and its proxies have previously demonstrated their capability to perpetrate attacks throughout the world, the State Department must mitigate risks to the safety of U.S. personnel not only in the Middle East but worldwide.82 State Department regulations enable the Principal Officer at each overseas post (at an embassy, this would be the ambassador), Regional Security Officer (or RSO, the senior Diplomatic Security Service special agent serving at post), and the post’s Emergency Action Committee, with the support of Bureau of Diplomatic Security personnel in Washington, DC, to evaluate threats and develop and implement security policies and programs.83 Some analysts have suggested that past Iranian behavior indicates that the State Department should give special consideration to the threat posed by kidnapping or attacks focused on so-called “soft targets,” which include buildings such as schools, restaurants, or other public spaces that often are frequented by diplomats or their families.84

The State Department could also choose to close or change the status of an overseas post in response to evolving threat assessments. This occurred previously in Iraq, when in September 2018 the State Department announced that the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah would be placed on ordered departure, meaning that all U.S. personnel would be evacuated from post.85 Secretary Pompeo has stated that the State Department is continuing to evaluate the appropriate overseas diplomatic posture for the United States given the Iranian threat.86

 

Pompeo’s New Songs Bring Back the Old Times With #BaghdadBob

 

 

Iraqi Protesters Breach U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s Compound

Media reports indicate that Iraqi protesters, identified as Iraqi Shiite militia members and their supporters, stormed the U.S. Embassy Baghdad on December 31, in protest of the deadly air strikes conducted by U.S. forces over the weekend. Reports note that the Sunday strikes killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
On December 30, SecDef Mark Esper announced that “the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group.  The targets we attacked included three targets in Western Iraq and two targets in Eastern Syria that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kata’ib Hezbollah.”
On December 27, a rocket attack at an Iraqi base killed one U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. troops. See 
According to the AP, the State Department has stated that all U.S. personnel at Embassy Baghdad are safe and that there are no plants to evacuate.
This morning, U.S. Embassy Baghdad issued a security alert advising “U.S. citizens not to approach the Embassy.  U.S. citizens should keep in touch with family members.  In an emergency, U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.”