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.

 

 

 

 

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United Arab Emirates to Pay For Estimated $60Million USA Pavilion in Expo2020 Dubai #foreignassistance

 

The world exposition Expo2020 is set to open in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on October 20, 2020.  In December 2019, InPark Magazine reported that nearly 200 countries have signed up to participate, each participant with a national pavilion. The per-pavilion investment was reported to be in the millions with China’s pavilion cited at a cost of $100 million. (see The U.S. could be a no-show at Expo 2020 Dubai). In fall last year, UAE’s The National also reported that the United States has yet to secure funding and begin construction on its $60 million pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai. The US Consul General in Dubai Philip Frayne was reportedly confident that funding would be available despite  failure of a private consortium to raise the needed funds (see Financial troubles stall construction of US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai).
On January 16, UAE’s The National reported that the US will participate at Expo 2020 Dubai with UAE funding:

American participation had been in doubt due to a law, passed in the 1990s, which prevents public funds being used for Expos. In the past, businesses have met the bill, but despite a lobbying effort led by Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, the US failed to attract enough private funding for Dubai. Legislative efforts to get around the rules proved unsuccessful.

It is not yet known how much money the UAE will provide to the US. However, it is understood that the original design of the US pavilion, which was estimated to cost $60 million (Dh220m) will be changed, not least because of time pressures with the opening of the event just nine months away.

The National also got a quote from Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council: The US State Department would be “100 per cent” in charge of the pavilion, Mr Sebright said, with the UAE government to offer support and assistance “as appropriate”.
Below is the State Department’s announcement citing the generosity of the Emirati Government in making America … er great anew by providing funds for the building of the USA Pavilion and making U.S. participation in Expo2020 Dubai possible.

GAO Report Cites @StateDept’s Obstruction in Ukraine Security Funds Review

 

Via GAO:

We also question actions regarding funds appropriated to State for security assistance to Ukraine. In a series of apportionments in August of 2019, OMB withheld from obligation some foreign military financing (FMF) funds for a period of six days. These actions may have delayed the obligation of $26.5 million in FMF funds. See OMB Response, at 3. An additional $141.5 million in FMF funds may have been withheld while a congressional notification was considered by OMB
[…]
Letter from General Counsel, GAO, to Secretary of State and Acting Legal Adviser, State (Nov. 25, 2019). State provided us with limited information.
[…]
As a result, we will renew our request for specific information from State and OMB regarding the potential impoundment of FMF funds in order to determine whether the Administration’s actions amount to a withholding subject to the ICA, and if so, whether that withholding was proper. We will continue to pursue this matter.

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch

 

 

Travel With Mike and Susan Pompeo to Silicon Valley

 

Imminent Attacks on Four Embassies But Posts and American Public Not Warned ?

 

Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress  (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got MadReal ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were  ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were  an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued  a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
    • US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.” 
    • U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
    • U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
    • U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.”  The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:

“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.

#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs  (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.

So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy.   See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.  
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at  (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers,  we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.

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US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass Steps Down After a 2-Year Tenure

 

ABC News reported ton January 6, 2020 that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass (1964–) was stepping down from his position “after serving in the war-weary country’s capital since December 2017.”  An official reportedly said that his departure was “long-planned and part of the normal rotation cycle, with American ambassadors typically serving in Kabul for only two years.” Also:
The State Department has named Ross Wilson as chargé d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until a new ambassador is confirmed. Wilson is expected to arrive in Kabul soon, according to the official.
Karen Decker, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, will serve as chargé d’affaires until Wilson’s arrival, the official said.
Ambassador Bass’ immediate predecessor in Kabul was Ambassador Peter Michael McKinley (1954–) who served  from January 6, 2015–December 18, 2016. Previous to Ambassador McKinley was Ambassador James B. Cunningham (1952–) who served from August 13, 2012–December 7, 2014. Ambassador Ryan Clark Crocker (1949–) who was briefly chargé d’affaires ad interim in 2002 returned to served for one year from  July 25, 2011–July 23, 2012. President Obama’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Winfrid Eikenberry (1951–), served from May 21, 2009–July 19, 2011. President George W. Bush’s last ambassador to Afghanistan, William Braucher Wood (1950–) also served a two-year tenure from  April 16, 2007–April 3, 2009.

Parnas Materials: Surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in Kyiv #Ukraine #Impeachment

 

On January 14, 2020, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Committee on Foreign Affairs provided additional evidence to the Committee on the Judiciary to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment. The announcement of the new evidence notes that the new materials were produced to the Intelligence Committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, pursuant to a subpoena served on him on October 10, 2019.

It appears from this newly released materials that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under surveillance in Kyiv. To what end, that’s something the Senate needs to find out if its members do find their spines anytime soon.

The WhatsApp exchange in these documents is dated March 2019. Ambassador Yovanovitch’s last day in Ukraine was May 20, 2019.

Click here to read the congressional transmittal letter and a description of the relevant documents.

Click here and here to read the some of the relevant documents (two separate files).

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US Embassy Finland: Thinnest OIG Report Reveals Dysfunctional Relationship b/w Political Ambassador and DCM

 

The previous State/OIG Inspection Report of the US Embassy in Helsinki (PDF) is dated September 2011, 40 pages long, includes 22 recommendations and 38 informal recommendations. The newly released OIG Inspection Report of Embassy Helsinki at nine pages, including a list of four recommendations is probably the thinnest report we’ve ever read (PDF). The report notes that “The Ambassador and the DCM used their access to the senior levels of the Finnish Government to the benefit of the embassy’s foreign policy goals and objectives.” The report’s discussion on fopo goals and objectives occupied a third of a single page and we must admit, we’re not any wiser after reading it.
The Embassy Helsinki report dated December 2019 found four things:
    • Embassy leadership used their ready access to the senior-most levels of the Government of Finland to the benefit of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives.
    • The Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission did not manage conflict between them in an appropriate manner, which resulted in a breakdown of trust and communication that complicated the chain of command and contributed to a stressful work environment for Embassy Helsinki staff.
    • Lack of teamwork and communication between Consular Section leadership and staff had a negative effect on productivity and morale.
    • The embassy lacked policies for some information management support services.
The chief of mission is Ambassador Robert Pence , a political ambassador who arrived in May 2018, the DCM is identified as senior FSO Donna Welton who arrived in August 2016. Post’s new DCM is listed as Deputy Chief of Mission Ian Campbell.
The “longest” part of the report is on Executive Direction.

The Chief of Mission was a first-time, non-career Ambassador who arrived in May 2018. The Ambassador was the founder and Chairman of the Board of a commercial real estate development company. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) was a career Senior Foreign Service officer who arrived in August 2016. A first-time DCM, she served as Chargé d’Affaires (Chargé) from January 2017 until the arrival of the current Ambassador in May 2018. She previously was detailed to the Department of Defense as the acting Director for Southeast Asia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). During the inspection, the DCM was in the process of transferring to her onward assignment and was scheduled to depart Helsinki on June 1, 2019.

OIG found that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM fully modeled the Department of State’s (Department) leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. Embassy staff told OIG that, initially, the two leaders worked reasonably well together. However, about 9 months into the Ambassador’s tenure, their working relationship deteriorated. In separate discussions with the Ambassador and the DCM, OIG noted that there was profound disagreement between the two about what led to the breakdown. OIG received information about various issues that contributed to the poor relationship, but ultimately concluded that neither the Ambassador nor the DCM managed the conflict in an appropriate manner, as called for in 3 FAM 1214b(9). According to embassy staff interviewed by OIG, the conflict led to a breakdown of trust and communication between the Ambassador and DCM that complicated the chain of command and decision-making. The conflict also contributed to creating a stressful work environment for embassy staff. For example, because of the dysfunctional relationship between the Ambassador and DCM, staff stated that it was not always apparent to whom they should report and who was making decisions on particular issues. Senior staff members described themselves as “caught in the middle.”

OIG discussed with the DCM her role in the conflict and, related to one particular issue, advised her that, even though she had been serving as the Chargé and was in command at the embassy in the Ambassador’s absence, it would have been prudent for her to have consulted with the Ambassador before signing off on what she acknowledged to be an important and potentially controversial action. At the time of the inspection, she agreed. OIG concluded that the DCM’s approach on this issue contributed to the troubled working relationship.

In discussions with the Ambassador about the conflict, he told OIG that, with the DCM departing in a few weeks and a new DCM scheduled to arrive at the end of June 2019, he was confident that employee morale would improve. However, based on OIG’s interviews with U.S. direct hire employees and LE staff, OIG advised the Ambassador that elements of his leadership and management style also contributed to the stressful workplace environment. OIG encouraged the Ambassador to:

      • Meet regularly, substantively, and face-to-face with individual Department section and other agency heads to provide performance feedback and to determine how the Front Office could assist each section and agency to achieve the embassy’s goals.
      • Document his general instructions to all staff regarding the issues he expected to come to him for approval and how he wanted the information formatted and provided to him.
      • “Walk the halls” to observe and interact with the various sections so that he could better understand the embassy’s functions and operations. • Meet regularly with the leaders of the LE Staff Committee to understand and address the unique concerns of the LE staff.
      • Solicit formal feedback on embassy-wide performance and morale to obtain information to formulate specific actions to address employee concerns.

OIG also provided the Ambassador with Department tools to help chiefs of mission lead their embassies. These tools included the Department’s morale survey that is used to solicit feedback from staff and identify issues that are negatively affecting morale.4

 

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