State/DMR Nominee Brian P. McKeon: My first priority, if confirmed …

Excerpt from Statement of Brian P. McKeon Nominee to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Committee on Foreign Relations March 3, 2021:
My first priority, if confirmed, is to help the Department of State build back better to meet the diplomatic and security challenges of the 21st century. That starts with investing in its greatest asset – the over 75,000 public servants who work in Washington, at over 270 posts around the world, and in dozens of facilities around the United States. Our diplomats are on the front lines of America’s security and interests. They deserve our support and efforts to strengthen their ranks. We must ensure that we recruit, develop and retain a diverse and professional workforce that is prepared and empowered to advance not only our traditional diplomatic interests, but also to address the pressing challenges of this era, such as climate change, global health security, irregular migration, advanced technology, increased economic competitiveness, threats to democratic governance, and, not least, long-term strategic competition with China.
Let me say a few words in particular about diversity, which will be a top priority for all of the senior leadership. Stated simply, the Department of State cannot fully represent America unless its workforce is fully representative of America. We must make real gains in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion through concrete actions to dismantle structural barriers at the Department. Meaningful change will require sustained focus on three key areas: talent management, transparency, and accountability. Secretary Blinken has made clear he will have such a focus, and so will I, if confirmed. As an initial action, the Secretary has followed through 3 on his commitment to this committee by creating a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Office, reporting directly to him.
If confirmed, I also intend to devote considerable attention to ensuring that we are aligning our resources with our policy priorities – both investments in our operations and in State and USAID foreign assistance programs – and that we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
For the last several years, the Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, protected the international affairs budget from requested cuts, which has thankfully provided a solid foundation on which to build as we undertake the collective work to revitalize the Department of State. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to ensure the Department has the resources and authorities it needs to meet the many challenges we face. I am committed to ensuring the effective management of the resources made available to us, but we will need your help to make the necessary investments in our workforce, in information technology, in building and maintaining safe and secure embassies, and in our foreign assistance programs that seek to advance our national interests.


 

 

State/D Nominee Wendy Sherman: Moving forward on the challenges our country faces will not be easy …

 

Excerpt from Statement of Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, Nominee to be Deputy Secretary of State Senate, Foreign Relations Committee, March 3, 2021:
To compete and win the strategic competition with China, we have to invest in America and confront and challenge Beijing where we must, including on human rights and democratic values. We will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies. With respect to Iran, as the lead of the U.S. negotiating team for the JCPOA, I remain clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to our interests and those of our allies. I am ready to address your questions about the JCPOA, but would note that 2021 is not 2015 when the deal was agreed, nor 2016 when it was implemented. The facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change.
Moving forward on the challenges our country faces will not be easy, but I firmly believe in the capacity of the United States to meet these challenges through renewed global leadership and the exceptionally talented staff of the State Department. During my prior service, I experienced the unparalleled professionalism of the State Department’s civil servants, foreign service officers, locally engaged staff, and contractors. I also saw the personal sacrifices and contributions their families make for our nation. I am grateful that, if confirmed, I will again have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and dedication of all of the women and men who advance American interests every day in all of the 180 countries with which we have diplomatic relations.


 

 

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield Assumes Charge @USUN

 

On February 23, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations (Record Vote Number: 61- Confirmed by the Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 78 – 20. ) and  to be Representative of the U..S.A. to the Security Council of the United Nations (Record Vote Number: 64 Confirmed by the Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 78 – 21).
The Chief of Mission to USUN has the title of Representative of the U.S.A. to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and Representative of the U.S.A. in the Security Council of the United Nations. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations was formally established with that title, by E.O. 9844 of April 28, 1947.
According to history.state.gov, the first Representative of the U.S.A. to the United Nations was Edward Reilly Stettinius Jr. who also served as 48th Secretary of State from December 1, 1944, until June 27, 1945, under Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. He oversaw the end of the Second World War in Europe and the creation of the United Nations. Previous non-career appointees to this position include Madeleine Korbel Albright (1993–1997) who went on to become the 64th Secretary of State and George Herbert Walker Bush (1971–1973) who became 41st POTUS.
The CRS says that President Eisenhower appears to have been the first President to accord Cabinet rank to his Permanent Representative, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., in 1953. Of the 30 individuals who have served since 1946, approximately two-thirds have been accorded Cabinet rank by Presidents.
Under the Biden Administration, the USUN Ambassador has cabinet-level status giving Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a seat on the  National Security Council. This was not the case during her most immediate predecessor. President Biden stated  that he will accord Cabinet status to Greenfield “because I want to hear her voice on all the major foreign policy discussions we have.”
The last career diplomat appointed as Chief of Mission to USUN was John Dimitri Negroponte who served from 2001–2004. Other career diplomats appointed to this position include Edward Joseph Perkins (1992–1993), Thomas Reeve Pickering (1989–1992), and Charles Woodruff Yost (1969–1971).
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is only the 5th career diplomat to be appointed to this position.  It looks like she is the first female Foreign Service Officer  to hold a cabinet-level position.

 


 

SFRC Pending Nominations: Nuland, McKeon, Power, Sherman

Update 3/3/21 12:09 AM: The March 3 confirmation hearing at 10 AM now lists Wendy Sherman and Brian McKeon, nominees for State/D and State/DMR  respectively, as witnesses. Click here to watch.
The following State Department and USAID nominees are currently pending at the Foreign Relations committee. There is a March 3 confirmation hearing but it does not list the nominees who will be considered as of this writing.
  • 2021-02-13 PN120  Victoria Nuland, of Virginia, to be an Under Secretary of State (Political Affairs), vice David Hale
  • 2021-02-13 PN119  Brian P. McKeon, of the District of Columbia, to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, vice Heather Anne Higginbottom
  • 2021-02-04 PN114  Samantha Power, of Massachusetts, to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Mark Andrew Green, resigned.
  • 2021-01-20 PN79-12  Wendy Ruth Sherman, of Maryland, to be Deputy Secretary of State, vice Stephen E. Biegun

 

 

ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?

On February 10, 2021, the GWU’s National Security Archive published the report of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Havana, Cuba dated June 2018. The ARB document was classified SECRET/NOFORN with declassification date of June 7, 2043. It was released via a Freedom of Information Act request. 
The report includes a timeline from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere compiled at the request of the Cuba Accountability Review Board.  We are working on merging that timeline with the personnel churn that occurred around the same time at the State Department. We should also note that the report includes other attachments like an unclassified 2-page Memorandum dated, April 11, 2018 from Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua L. Dorosin to ARB Chair Ambassador Peter Bodde entitled, “ARB Questions Related to the Exercise of M Authorities from January 21, 2017 to present. This memorandum was redacted under B(5). A 2-page document labeled (SBU) Department of State’s High Treat High Risk Post Review Process effective, January 2, 2018 was released with the ARB report but also redacted under B7(F)
Take aways from the ARB-Cuba Report:
—. ARB

The Cuba Accountability Review Board was convened on February 8, 2018, some thirteen months after individuals first visited Embassy Havana’s MED unit reporting of various symptoms including headache, ear pain, dizziness, and hearing problems in late December 2016. The ARB report is an interim response/findings. The ARB says, “a final review should be undertaken.” (Also see Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba)

—. WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

According to the ARB, the last Havana incidents resulting in medically confirmed injury took place at the end of August 2017. As of June 2018, the date of the report, the ARB writes “We do know that USG and Canadian diplomatic community members were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

—. CLOSE IT AND FORGET IT?

According to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s (WHA) timeline, Secretary Tillerson ordered the Departure of Non-Emergency Personnel from Havana on September 29, 2017. OD can be initiated by chief of mission or the Secretary of State. But. According to the ARB, “the decision to draw down the staff in Havana does not appear to have followed standard Department of State procedures and was neither preceded nor followed by any formal analysis of the risks and benefits of continued physical presence of U.S. government employees in Havana. After six months of ordered departure, Havana was designated an unaccompanied post in March 2018.” (Also see US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”).

(Can we revisit this for another blogpost? Reach out if you have some thoughts about our continuing presence in Havana).

The ARB adds, “Neither the Department’s High Threat High Risk Post Review (HTHR) Process nor the former Vital Presence Validation (VP2) Process were enacted.” No risk benefit analysis has been done for Cuba as of June 7, 2018. “Many Department leaders interviewed by the Board, no one could explain why this has not happened, except to suggest that [REDACTED].

—. LACK OF SENIOR LEADERSHIP AND ALL THAT

“The Department of State’s response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership, ineffective communication, and systemic disorganization. No senior official was ever designated as having overall responsibility, which resulted in many of the other issues this reports presents. The interagency response was stove-piped and largely ad hoc. In our report, the Board makes recommendations on accountability, interagency coordination, communication and information sharing, medical issues, risk benefit calculations, and security operations.”

—. SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES

“For the period after February 15, 2017, the Board found serious deficiencies in the Department’s response in areas of accountability, interagency coordination, and communication, at all levels, both at Post and in Washington. These deficiencies contributed to the confusion surrounding the events, and delayed effective, coordinated action. The Board finds the lack of a designated official at the Under Secretary level to manage the response to be the single most significant deficiency in the Department’s response.

—. NO ONE IN CHAAAARGE, WHHHHY?

The ARB report says, “To this day no senior official at the Department has been assigned responsibility for leading and coordinating efforts to assess past incidents and prevent/mitigate future events. No Department of State task force was formed. There was no interagency working group [REDACTED].” Nor was a dedicated, internal State Department group was created.

—. EMERGENCY ACTION COMMITTEE (EAC)

The WHA Timeline indicates that Embassy Havana held an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) meeting (17 HAVANA31) on April 3, 2017 to assess the threat and holds an all hands meeting for cleared Americans. First Post EAC Meeting conducted more than 4 months after individuals believed they were first impacted. Wait, and it was over 6 weeks after officials at Post and in Washington had the first (unverified) information of injury?

The ARB says that “The Emergency Action Committee (EAC), an Embassy Front Office responsibility, is an essential element of security policy infrastructure REDACTED.” Still, “once the EAC cable was received, the Department’s response tempo increased, although in a stove-piped and inadequately coordinated manner in the absence of an Under Secretary for Management or a designated responsible Department official.”

—. FIRST BRIEFING DELAY AND EXCLUSION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

The ARB report says, “The Board finds the delay of almost six weeks between first knowledge of injury and the first briefing of Embassy staff to be unfortunate and the exclusion of family members from this knowledge to be unjustified, given the incidents were taking place at residences. According to the WHA timeline, on April 17, 2017, Embassy Havana held its first meeting with Embassy spouses [REDACTED].

–. UGH! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, PEOPLE?

That Eligible Family Members, occasionally known as “just spouses” have no need to know anything that may turn their brains to mush?

-—. DOMESTIC MEDEVAC AUTHORITY, WHO DIS?

The ARB report says that “The lack of standing authority for the Department of State Medical Director to approve medical evacuations between domestic locations when required added additional steps and bureaucratic time requirements to the medevac process.” It also says that “To accomplish these medevacs the Medical Director was required to request special authority which was then granted specific only to the Cuba events. In the future when another event occurs which requires domestic medevacs State MED will need to repeat the same administrative process specific to that event.”

Required by whom? Request special authority from where?
—. DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY FIASCO.
In July 2017, this was posted on the blog: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom. Yep, remember that? Also Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept
Now, we’re reading about that decision in the ARB report: 

“The July 2017 decision rescinding many delegated State Department authorities by the then-Secretary of State, followed by the limited and poorly documented re-delegation of some of those authorities created widespread confusion about authorities. It resulted in understandable concern and hesitation on the part of persons in acting positions who feared exceeding their authorities.”

“Vacant senior positions and lack of clarity regarding delegated authorities delayed an effective response.”

“Individuals filling Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary Positions in an acting capacity during an extraordinarily prolonged transition were hampered by the rescinding of delegated authorities and the ensuing confusion regarding those authorities that were eventually re­-delegated.”

—. NSDD-38 PROCESS

One of ARB-Cuba’s recommendations says that “The Department should convene a high level review of the NSDD-38 process as it is currently implemented. Following the review, the Department should issue guidance to all employees and agencies regarding requirements and should hold agencies accountable.. In another recommendation, it says “The Department should ensure that the NSDD-38 processes are followed [REDACTED]”

Per 6 FAH-5 H-350, the National Security Decision Directive–38 (NSDD-38) process is the mechanism by which a COM exercises his or her authority to determine the size, composition, and mandate of U.S. Government executive branch agencies at his or her mission.

— WAITING FOR THE TICK TOCK

The ARB report says that “Given that this is an unprecedented event, it would be helpful to have an accurate record of what was done, by whom, when, and why. In order to learn the right lessons from this incident, it is essential to have an accurate written record.” 

Also that “WHA and S staff should create a timeline (tick tock) of communication, decisions, and actions taken to date (June 7, 2018) in response to the incidents. The investigation into the incidents and Department’s response should remain open until the Department determines what happened. This timeline is a critical part of the discussion and lessons-learned process.” 

—. CHIEF OF MISSION

The ARB report reveals: “In exploring the guidance given to the COM regarding his responsibility for the security of all executive branch employees, the Board learned the COM did not have a letter of instruction. Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed ambassadors all receive a letter of instruction from the President detailing their responsibilities. Typically the responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens and U.S. government employees features prominently in these letters. In other posts where a COM is not Senate confirmed, the Department sometimes issues a letter of instruction from the Secretary of State which serves a similar purpose.”

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s top notch advisers did not know enough to advise the issuance of the letter of instruction?
—. BUREAU DE-FACTO LEADERSHIP

The ARB report says, “The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs was frequently cited by those interviewed as the “de facto” lead bureau within the State Department. WHA leaders attempted to fill some of the gap created by the lengthy vacancies at the Under Secretary level, and convened a number of meetings for the purpose of sharing information. They were largely unsuccessful at actual coordination, in part because they did not have the authority to direct action on the part of other bureaus. They were almost invariably in a reactive mode and never put forward a cohesive plan of action for the future. They were also hampered by their very limited access to the senior leadership of the Department.”

—. EXCESSIVE SECRECY!

Ah, the ARB report says that “Both at Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response.”

Also that “WHA’s reliance on informal consultation with the Department’s leadership made it difficult for the Board to develop an accurate picture of decision making regarding the incident.”

The report says, “Informal communication between WHA and the senior leadership of the State Department contributed to the lack of coherence in the response. Normal Department reporting channels and methods were routinely disregarded in the response to the Cuba incidents. WHA officials were instructed to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials. As a result, accountability was never clearly established and there was no coordination within the Department. The most frequent communication with the senior leadership was to the Secretary of State’s chief of staff via email. Contemporaneous documentation of these interactions is scant.”

Now, don’t we all want to know who kept this very, very quiet? Why would WHA rely on “informal consultations”?  Who gave instruction to WHA to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials? State.gov emails are government records. How is it that the ARB had no access to the most frequent communication on this matter with senior leadership at State? What about Tillerson’s chief of staff’s emails? Wait, are these state.gov emails? Why are contemporaneous documentation of these interactions scant? What happened to memcons? Were there instructions not to put anything about these interactions in writing? If so, who gave those instructions? Who were the officials who downplayed these attacks?  Curious minds would like to know. 

 


 

 

 

Ambassador Daniel B. Smith to be Acting Secretary of State Pending Tony Blinken’s Confirmation

–Update below on State/M

The 70th Secretary of State left Foggy Bottom for good before the presidential swearing-in of January 20. Finally. A short clip here from CNN correspondent Kylie Atwood shows the now former secretary of state leaving through the empty halls of HST, apparently  “to a small round of applause from political appointees.” Whatever. We could see Foggy Bottom’s smoke of relief from our house.
We should note that Rex Tillerson got a polite goodbye when he left in 2018 (see Foggy Bottom Bids Goodbye to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
Soon after the now former secretary’s exit, the ‘ethos for some but not for others’ wall decors also came tumbling down.  The new State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the AP’s Matt Lee, “We are confident that our colleagues do not need a reminder of the values we share.
Excuse me, who inherited the swagger swags?
Also on January 20, President Biden announced the acting agency leadership across the Biden-Harris administration pending confirmation of permanent leadership by the U.S. Senate. For the State Department, the Acting Secretary of State is Ambassador Daniel Smith, one of the few senior career officials at the agency with the personal rank of Career Ambassador. Until his appointment to the acting position, he was the Director of the Foreign Service Institute. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and was Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013.
Traditionally, the highest ranking career official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) is appointed as Acting Secretary of State pending confirmation of the new secretary of state.  This would have been David Hale, a career FSO (also with personal rank of Career Ambassador) who has been on that job since September 2018. That’s not the case this time. It is, of course, the administration’s prerogative who to appoint in an acting capacity.
We’ve seen one reporting that attributes the Hale skip over to the statements he made in December following the reported COVID-19 diagnosis of Pompeo’s wife. At that time, the State Department also “slammed the leak of Susan Pompeo’s diagnosis” according to Fox News. The person who spoke for the State Department and blamed his colleagues for “the persistent culture of leaks” was not the spokesperson.  Should be interesting to read the oral history related to this at some point.
Given that all but two of the under secretary and assistant secretary positions in the State Department were filled with political appointees, January 20 also came with the departure of the top functional and bureau officials in Foggy Bottom. The only two positions encumbered by Senate-confirmed career officials were U/Secretary for Political Affairs (David Hale) and the Director General of the Foreign Service (Carol Perez). As best we could tell, Hale is still U/Secretary for Political Affairs. DGHR, however, is now encumbered by Ambassador Kenneth Merten as the bureau’s senior official according to state.gov.  Update 1/21 11:32 am: Carol Perez is listed as senior official for the U/Secretary for Management (this also skips the Deputy M).
All regional bureaus under the U/Secretary for Political Affairs are currently headed by career officials designated as “senior official” or “senior bureau official.” The same goes for all functional bureaus. Overseas, it looks like all political ambassadors have stepped down, except for a few who are non-FS but are in the Civil Service. The US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan, a former Deputy Secretary of State appears to have remained at post as of this writing. When this happens during the transition, it is typically with the approval of the new administration.
President Biden has previously announced the nomination of the following senior officials:
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman as Deputy Secretary of State
Brian P. McKeon as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources
Dr. Bonnie Jenkins as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs
Ambassador Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Uzra Zeya as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Unless we’ve missed the announcement, the nominees for the following positions are still forthcoming:
Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Under Secretary of State for Management
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

 


 

 

 

 

Reactions From President-Elect @JoeBiden’s Nominees

 

It’s Official: @Transition46 Announces Blinken, Mayorkas, Thomas-Greenfield, Haines, Sullivan, and @JohnKerry

The Biden-Harris Transition announced today President-Elect Joe Biden’s intent to nominate the following for his foreign policy and national security teams. All will require Senate confirmation except NSA Jake Sullivan and former Secretary of State John Kerry who will be the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
  • Antony Blinken, a former Deputy Secretary of State, will be nominated to serve as  Secretary of State having previously held top foreign affairs posts on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and in the State Department.
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, a former Deputy Secretary of DHS, who has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate three times throughout his career, will be the first Latino and immigrant nominated to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service who has served on four continents, will be nominated to serve as United Nations Ambassador and elevated the role to his Cabinet.
  • Former Secretary of State John Kerry will fight climate change full-time as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and will sit on the National Security Council. This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue.
  • Avril Haines, a former Deputy Director of the CIA and Deputy National Security Advisor, will be nominated to serve as Director of National Intelligence and will be the first woman to lead the intelligence community.
  • Jake Sullivan has been appointed National Security Advisor and will be one of the youngest people to serve in that role in decades.
Read more here.

 


 

Just Security: How to Restore Ethics to @StateDept

 

Amb. P. Michael McKinley on the Politicization of the State Department

Via The Atlantic: The Politicization of the State Department Is Almost Complete by P. Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, Afghanistan, Peru, and Colombia.
I worked at the State Department for nearly four decades, in the later years as a four-time ambassador overseas and as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I have watched as Pompeo and his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, have weaponized the institution for the Trump administration’s domestic political objectives. On October 9, just weeks away from the presidential election, Pompeo announced that he would authorize, apparently at President Donald Trump’s urging, the release of more of Hillary Clinton’s emails. In doing so, Pompeo will have all but completed the politicization of the State Department, arguably bringing it to its lowest point since the 1950s. The damage may be generational.
[…]
This transformation started with Tillerson, who came in with the goal of “redesigning” the State Department and with what appears to have been a political agenda to weed out anyone who had served in leadership positions during prior presidential administrations.
[…]
As a result, more than 100 out of some 900 senior Foreign Service officers—including the most visible high-ranking Hispanic, African American, South Asian, and female career officers—were fired, pushed out, or chose to leave the State Department during the first year of the Trump administration.
[…]
The track record since my departure shows that suspicious mindset. No career official has been nominated to fill an assistant-secretary position. Political ambassadorial nominations are at an all-time high; more than 40 percent have gone to political appointees, as compared with a historical average of 30 percent. The political attendees at Pompeo’s “Madison Dinners,” and the audiences he meets with in his domestic travel, demonstrate the blurring of professional and political lines. In May, Trump fired Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, who was looking into Pompeo’s activities, underscoring how the legal adviser and IG offices are being drawn into political partisanship.
[…]
The transformation is not irreversible. Career civil servants have raised the alarm about the deep damage that the Trump administration has inflicted on U.S. institutions, including the State Department. The American people will soon make a decision about whether they want to continue down this path. Come Election Day, voters will not be able to say that they did not know.
Read in full here: