U.S. Embassy Prague: Another Ambassador Jumps Out of a Perfectly Good Airplane

Posted: 1:28 am ET

 

Ambassador Kristie Kinney first did it in 2011. In 2012, Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin took part in a mass parachute jump over the coast of Normandy to mark the 68th anniversary of D-Day. In 2014, we added Ambassador to Poland Steve Mull to our parachute jump collection (see U.S. Embassy Warsaw: Ambassador Steve Mull Joins the Parachute Jump Club). Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andy Schapiro became the latest addition to the collection of ambassadors jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

 

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USConGen Chennai: Diplomats Sample Hand-to-Mouth Dining at Kasivinayaga Mess

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

Back in 2013, we blogged about the “boodle fight” at US Embassy Manila (see US Embassy Manila Hosts a “Boodle Fight” … or Fine Dining Combat Without the Flatware).  This week, the US Consulate General Chennai posted its first video in the Madras Week video series — which highlights everyday rhythm of Madras culture, food, and traditions. The clip below shows how you eat your meal with your hands. Communal dining similar to the “boodle fight” but not quite as up close and personal (you get to have your own banana leaf as plate).

Also read Simple formula keeps this mess afloat and  The Rules For Eating With Your Hands In India, Africa And The Middle East.

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Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid

Posted: 3:36 am ET

 

The AP report says that “the attack on the Terrain hotel compound in Juba last month shows the hostility toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under the command of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who has been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013.”  (See How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended Into Bloody Civil War).  The State Department’s official spox declined to say whether Americans were targeted but the Daily Beast piece includes the beating of an American “with belts and rifle butts for about an hour, accusing him of hiding rebels. “You tell your embassy how we treated you,” one soldier told him as he fled to a nearby UN compound.”  During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors also told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were Americans.

The attack on the Terrain compound occurred on July 11.  On July 17, the Special Envoy to South Sudan tweeted that the U.S. is not going to take “offensive action” against South Sudan.

On August 15, over a month after this horrific incident, USUN Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement that the United States is “outraged of the assaults and rapes of civilians … last month.” The US Embassy in Juba received distressed calls, so officials knew this happened before it became  front page news. Still, it took the US over a month to publicly acknowledge this outrage.

A brief backgrounder here — South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became the US Embassy at the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world.  One of the OIG’s key findings at that time is the Department inability to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.”  The embassy operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018. The report warns that the current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff also leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The report indicates that the Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy, which won’t happen until 2018. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. The OIG concludes that personnel and the integrity of our programs will remain at risk.  (see US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers) and US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet.

The US Embassy in Juba has a small U.S. force guarding it but its ability to function as an embassy is only possible with the protection of the host country.  With South Sudan government troops targeting Americans, how is it that the US Embassy in Juba is still open?

Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing with the spox addressing what Embassy Juba did during and following the attack. It also show the limits of what the US Government can do despite being the largest donor in South Sudan.

Via DPB on August 15, 2016:

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. And I’m glad for this. Please.

QUESTION: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.

So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.

Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.

As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.

We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.

Anything more on South Sudan?

QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.

QUESTION: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing —

MS TRUDEAU: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.

MS TRUDEAU: We did.

QUESTION: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that —

MS TRUDEAU: The ambassador made several phone calls.

QUESTION: Several phone calls?

MS TRUDEAU: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.

QUESTION: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there —

MS TRUDEAU: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.

QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.

QUESTION: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or —

MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.

QUESTION: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?

MS TRUDEAU: Was not in a position to do that.

 

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First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998

Posted:12:41 am ET

The following is an excerpt from a first person account of the 1998 bombing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania by FSO Dante Paradiso. He is a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy,” Beaufort Books (New York) available in October 2016.   Prior to joining the Foreign Service he served in the Peace Corps and was an intern at the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998.  Since joining the FS in 2002, he has served  in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, Libreville and Washington, D.C.

The piece is excerpted from the Small Wars Journal and includes the  standard disclaimer that “the views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.”  He is on Twitter at @paradisoDX.

The wall and guard booth are gone—just rubble and rusted ribs of rebar.  The motor pool fleet is crushed, pancaked, the frames of the cars and vans fused and welded together.  The chassis and tank of a blue water truck lie upside down and crumpled against the base of the chancery like a scarab beetle pinned on its back.  The community liaison office at the corner of the building is a black, smoldering cavern.  The other wing stands disfigured.  The sun louvers are cracked.  Above the cafeteria, blood is splattered across the wall like abstract art, rust-colored in the light.  The Economic Officer tells me, “Don’t enter through the side.”

“Why?”

“There’s a hand in the stairwell.”

Read in full here.

While you’re reading this, you might also want to check out Vella G. Mbenna’s account of the same bombing.  She served as a ­­­­­Support Communications Officer and recounts her experience during the attack in Dar es Salaam. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2016. Via ADST:

After leaving the center where I worked and passed the area around the corner where the Front Office was located, I heard a faint phone ringing. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and entered the communication center to find out that it was my phone.

I quickly went to the back of the center to my office to get it. It was Pretoria on the line and I was glad. I sat in my chair and said these words to them, “I am Vella from Dar es Salaam and I was wondering why our system’s staff …..”

Before I finished the sentence, the blast occurred because the wall I was facing came back in my face and slammed me into racks of equipment across the room.

I recall getting up, brushing myself off and proceeding to alert Washington via my equipment that something bad had happened and to close our circuits for now. Then I proceeded to check on colleagues in the communications suite and putting communication and IT stuff in a safe.
[…]
I walked on and opened the door to the Admin building side of the building….What I saw without even entering deep into the building was complete chaos. It was more of what I saw in the Executive Office, but to a greater extentIt was like a meteorite had hit the Embassy. Even worse was that the entire wall and windows facing the road was gone.

I started having a really bad feeling because most of all I saw or heard no one. Why was everyone gone except me? I backed out of the door and back onto the catwalk and started down the stairs.

As I started down the stairs I realized that something bad had happened, something really, really badI thought that maybe that if it wasn’t a meteorite, then a space ship came down and the aliens took up everyone except me.

I wanted to start screaming for help…Then I thought, no one would know exactly what happened to us all. So, I tip-toed down the rest of the stairs.

When I saw more devastation and how I appeared to blocked in, I had to scream. I started screaming for help, first a low scream…and then louder….

After about a minute and a half I heard a familiar voice calling out asking who was there. It was a Marine. I told him it was Vella, the communications officer from the 2nd floor. I wanted to be as clear as possible, even though I knew the voice. Once I told him exactly where I was, he told me to try to climb over the rubble and look for his hands. I told him I was going to throw up the INMARSAT first and I did.

Read in full here via ADST.

In related news — in Kenya, where over 200 hundred people were killed and more than 4,000 were injured in the embassy blast, victims are now reportedly accusing the Kenyan and US governments of neglecting them.

On July 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. See  U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings.

To-date, no one has been compensated and the victims are now seeking compensation through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

 

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Philippine President Calls the US Ambassador to Manila WHAT?

Posted:3:02 am ET

Just a couple of weeks ago, he was all wassup man when Secretary paid him a visit.

 

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US Mission Russia Issues Alert on Confirmed Anthrax Cases in Siberia

Posted:1:23 am ET

Last week, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a message alerting U.S. citizens of confirmed anthrax cases in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District:

U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should be aware of reported cases of anthrax affecting humans and animals in the region.

As of August 3, local media sources report 20 confirmed cases of anthrax in humans, resulting in the death of one child.  In total, more than 70 people have been hospitalized.  Between 1,500 and 2,300 animals have died or been killed in conjunction with efforts to combat spread of the disease.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is spread by ingesting spores in the air, food, and drink, and is not transmitted by direct human-to-human contact.

Local media outlets report that the governor has declared a quarantine in the district, and the area immediately surrounding the site of the outbreak has been evacuated.  Authorities have also banned the export of animals, furs, antlers, or meat, as well as mushrooms and berries, from the affected area.  At this time, there have been no reports of the disease in neighboring regions.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid travel to affected areas.  U.S. citizens in or transiting through the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should exercise caution, comply with local authorities’ instructions on quarantined areas, and follow local media for the latest information.  Any U.S. citizens who believe they may have been exposed to infected animals or animal products should seek medical attention.

The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District is under the consular district of USCG Yekaterinburg.

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Former US Ambassador to China’s MD House, a Chinese Tycoon and Other Oy! News!

Posted: 2:14 am ET

Gary Locke  was the United States ambassador to China from August 2011 until March 2014. He was the 21st Governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and served in the Obama administration as United States Secretary of Commerce from 2009 to 2011.

The Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Ethics and Financial Disclosure (L/EFD) “advises the Department and its employees on ethics laws and regulations applicable to Executive branch employees. These rules govern, inter alia, employee acceptance of gifts, participation in outside activities, avoidance of conflicts of interest, avoidance of appearance of partiality, and seeking and post-government employment.” L/EFD also manage the Department’s financial disclosure reporting program, including review and certification of the reports for Presidential Appointees and other OGE-278 and OGE-450 filers.

Via The Intercept:

Locke purchased the home, which has six bedrooms and five bathrooms, for $1,525,000 in 2009. The house went on the market June 20, 2013, and was initially listed for $1.75 million. By August, the house was marked down to $1.68 million, the price the Chen family paid in September. Zillow now estimates the home value at about $1.8 million.

Locke’s ethics statement for that year discloses that he sold his home in Bethesda but lists the transaction under “rents and royalties” rather than capital gains. He disclosed earning between $50,000 to $100,000 from the sale, though the Chen family paid $150,000 more than the price Locke paid in 2009.

Asked if the State Department reviewed the transaction, a spokesperson for the agency told us that “there is no requirement for any State Department official to clear the sale of his or her personal residence with ethics officials at the department, regardless of the value of the property. The department does not review or approve the terms of sale for an employee’s private residence.”

The sale nonetheless raised concerns among ethics experts.

“This is not appropriate,” said Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007. “If I were the State Department’s legal adviser, I would be very unhappy with ambassadors selling their houses to foreign nationals of the country where they’re working without an independent appraisal to prove actual value.”

Craig Holman, the government ethics watchdog with Public Citizen, said the sale raised a number of flags. Locke, Holman said, was in a position to influence American policy decisions and needed to “steer clear of placing himself in a conflict of interest situation in which financial opportunities could be perceived as influencing his judgment.”

Locke’s financial disclosure statement, filed in 2009 for his Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of commerce, reveals that he provided legal assistance to APIC prior to being nominated. In 2008, he provided legal consulting services to APIC and appeared at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an APIC-owned biofuels refinery in Shantou, a city in southern China. The facility imports soybeans from the U.S. and Latin America.

Since retiring from public office in 2014, Locke is again serving as an adviser to the firm.

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#Olympics: Secretary Kerry in Rio With Presidential Delegation+, Plays Some Beach Volleyball

Posted: 3:34 am ET

On August 2, President Obama announced the designation of the Presidential Delegation to Attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Opening Ceremony.

  • John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation

  • Liliana Ayalde, U.S. Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, Department of State
  • Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State
  • Liz Allen, Deputy Assistant to the President and White House Deputy Communications Director
  • Ellie Schafer, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Visitors Office
  • Mr. Mark Spitz, nine-time Olympic gold medalist, one-time Olympic silver medalist, one-time Olympic bronze medalist, men’s swimming

Secretary Kerry Poses For A Photo with the U.S. Men's Gymnastics Team U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Summer Olympics pose for for a photo with the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team on August 6, 2016, at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Poses For A Photo with the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Summer Olympics pose for for a photo with the U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team on August 6, 2016, at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and Staff Tour the Men's Olympic Cycling Area Before The Start of a Race U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Aide Jason Meininger walk along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation tour the men's Olympic cycling area before the start of a race on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and Staff Tour the Men’s Olympic Cycling Area Before The Start of a Race
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Aide Jason Meininger with Chief of Staff walk, along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation tour the men’s Olympic cycling area before the start of a race on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Italian Prime Minister Renzi Speaks With Secretary Kerry As They Watch An Olympic Men's Beach Volleyball Game Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Adviser David Thorne - the former U.S. Ambassador to Italy - after they watched an Olympic men's beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Italian Prime Minister Renzi Speaks With Secretary Kerry As They Watch An Olympic Men’s Beach Volleyball Game
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Adviser David Thorne – the former U.S. Ambassador to Italy – after they watched an Olympic men’s beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Ayalde Watch An Olympic Beach Volleyball Game U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde watch an Olympic men's beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, while they and their fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Ayalde Watch An Olympic Beach Volleyball Game
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde watch an Olympic men’s beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, while they and their fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Plays with U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball Players U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plays with U.S. Olympic women's beach volleyball players on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 6, 2016, as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attend the Summer Olympics. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Plays with U.S. Women’s Beach Volleyball Players
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plays with U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball players on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 6, 2016, as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attend the Summer Olympics. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]


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I've traveled around the world to 88 countries as Secretary of State, representing the values that make us the proud, diverse, exceptional nation that we are. U.S. athletes are some of our finest Ambassadors. And I can’t think of anything that unifies people as much as the common spirit of sportsmanship. #TeamUSA put countless hours into training for these games, and they are an inspiration to everyone working towards a goal that at times feels impossible. They are proof when you work hard, set your mind to something, and never, ever give up, great things can happen. As Muhammad Ali said, "Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power that they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." Thanks for following along. – JK

A photo posted by U.S. Department of State (@statedept) on

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FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad

Posted: 2:42 am ET

Via The Daily Beast by Dante Paradiso, a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the great-grandson of a New York City police officer (with standard disclaimer).  Mr. Paradiso is also the author of the book, The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy that will go on sale on October 3, 2016.

… I get that in matters of criminal justice there are larger social justice issues at play, structural inequities of the past still ingrained in the our layered local, state and federal systems that leave us with difficult race, gender and class divides. But life is the cardinal value and change must start there.

For these very reasons, the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights, mandated by Congress, highlight “Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life” at the very top. Having contributed to many of these reports, in many different countries, I have spent many days in previous assignments listening to the protestations of host country officials. They have told me that their government cannot be held responsible for every bad cop, that the cases are misrepresented, that we are talking about a fraction of the police force and that the actions of a few do not fairly represent the whole picture. As a trained lawyer, I know well that any case can be distinguished on its facts and that nearly every death outside a judicial process can be explained away. Yet as a diplomat, I have told those officials that legal parsing won’t cut it.

So when I see that in a Cleveland park a child with a plastic gun is shot moments after police pull up, or that in the streets of Chicago a 17-year-old is hit with nearly one bullet for every year he lived, or that in Baton Rouge a man is tackled, pinned down by two cops and shot in the chest, after all the shock and the sadness, I inevitably think about how any of these extrajudicial killings would have been described in our Human Rights Report, and the kind of conversations I would have had, if they had occurred in some country other than my own.

Read more:

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D/MR Higginbottom Swears In Mary Beth Leonard, New Ambassador to the African Union

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

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