Abolish the State Department? Really? Should we pretend to freak out now or later?

Posted: 12:17 am EDT
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The GOP candidates have been trying to out-crazy each other under the shadow of the Trump circus canopy. Cruz would like to “abolish the IRS; take all 125,000 IRS agents, and put them on our southern border.” The same candidate would also like to get rid of the Department of Education.  Paul asks in a video on the website AbolishNow.com that supporters sign a petition to have Congress also eliminate the IRS. At least seven candidates want to end “birthright citizenship” under the 14th Amendment, which grants everyone born in the United States of America the right of citizenship. Jindal suggested abolishing the Supreme Court. Carson suggested eliminating the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before suspending his campaign, Walker proposed scrapping the National Labor Relations Board, eliminating public employee unions and making right-to-work the national standard for workplaces.

Last week, a former United States Senator representing Pennsylvania, the one with a Google problem, added his voice to the “abolish this or that” crowd. Mr. Santorum was a GOP presidential candidate in 2011; he suspended his campaign in April 2012. This past May, Mr. Santorum announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Apparently, Mr. Santorum now has a two-campaign cycle dream of abolishing the U.S. Department of State.

Who knew?

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What else did this smart potato say?

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via GIPHY

 

Can you hear him? No?

Apologies for the glitches, it sound like he does not like the State Department because employees there spend way too much time talking to foreigners?  Maybe they speak way too many foreign languages and not enough American?  American officials also wear strange shoes and un-American clothes, is that it? Ay, caramba! Oooh, do not/do not show him the fantastic headgears, you, internationalists, you!

Here are Santorum’s specific complaints according to BuzzFeed:

“I said that when I ran four years ago — the first thing I’d do is abolish the State Department and start all over.”

“I have to tell you, I dealt with them for 12 years, I was on the committees that had a lot of interaction with them, and, you know, not that there aren’t a few good people in there,” Santorum continued. “I’m sure there are really good, dedicated public — but look, it’s just, they are a bunch of internationalists who do not look after the interests of the United States. They don’t look at the world from the standpoint of the United States and our principles being the ones that are the best.”

“They’re relativists, they’re internationalists, and they are not serving the interests of the American people,” Santorum concluded.

“It’s like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Santorum said. “Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it’s not diplomacy, they don’t have a job.

“And so the answer is never to do anything, the answer is always to appease, to talk,” he continued. “I mean, I’m sure that they, that John Kerry, they’re just having the greatest love-fest over at the State Department right now, because they got a deal!

You guys are having a love-fest and you did not invite us … please send photos?!

Two candidates have already suspended their campaigns but Mr. Santorum’s campaign for some reason appears to still be chugging along. We imagine that his candidacy will fold sooner than later. But it looks like he is unable, as yet, to accept the unbearable inevitability of his short campaign life.

So okay, let’s see who else he plans to abolish with brain waves next week. Then we’ll pretend to freak out.

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We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT
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Excerpt:

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
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USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.
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Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?

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Listicle Diplomacy: U.S. Mission to the United Nations Now on BuzzFeed With More Gifs!

Domani Spero
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The U.S. Mission to the United Nations skipped the State Department’s official blog, Dipnote and posted, what we think is its first listicle in BuzzFeed’s Community.  According to Poynter, BuzzFeed “considers community a vertical, like sports or animals. “You could write the same thing on your blog, but if it’s on BuzzFeed and it’s really good,” [snip] “it could be seen by millions of people.” Its editorial director told Poynter that  the community section has about 500,000 registered members and produces about 100 pieces of content per day.  So there’s that.

via USUN

 

A few of our faves:

1. What is the UN Security Council?

The UN Security Council is the world’s leading body in charge of maintaining international peace and security. It has 15 members, 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent, who serve two year terms. It is headquartered in NYC, and works on everything from applying economic pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program to sending peacekeepers to the Central African Republic.

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

4. OK, but the UNSC doesn’t always do such a great job, right? #Syria

You’re right. All 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council have to agree for the Council to live up to its responsibilities. Most notably, 4 resolutions aimed at helping to bring peace and security to Syria have been vetoed by Russia in the last few years, and there is no doubt that history will judge the Council harshly for that inaction.

OK, but the UNSC doesn’t always do such a great job, right? #Syria

5. The U.S. is the Security Council President for September!

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

6. Hold on, the Security Council has a President? Does that mean they are, like, president of the world?

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

No. Though we don’t get Thor’s hammer Mjolnir or an upgraded parking space, the U.S. will be responsible for setting the agenda for the month, organizing meetings, managing the distribution of information to Council members, issuing statements, and communicating the Council’s thoughts to the public. As UN Security Council President, we can turn the Council spotlight on the world’s most urgent threats to international peace and security, from terrorists like ISIL travelling around the world to wage war, to the violence in Sudan and South Sudan, to the crisis in Ukraine.

8. Wait, isn’t September that time of year when every hotel in NYC is booked and no one can get a cab in midtown?

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

Yes! This is a big year because the UN General Assembly will kick-off during the U.S. UNSC Presidency. Each year, President Obama and other world leaders gather in NYC the third week of September, negotiating, giving speeches, and – yes – clogging traffic.

9. Alright, so what can I do to follow along?

If you’re not a President or Prime Minister, don’t fear! You can still catch all the action and follow every tweet, selfie, and Snapchat the world leaders send. Remember when President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani took to Twitter to announce their historic phone call last year? That all happened during the UN General Assembly!

Follow Ambassador Samantha Power on Twitter and Facebook! And follow the U.S. Mission to the UN on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram!

Read the full listicle in the BuzzFeed Community here.

This could be just the beginning … prepare yourselves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CyberSecurity Month PSA: Installing Mozilla Firefox Could Be Hazardous To Your Career …

— By Domani Spero

On September 30, President Obama proclaimed October 2013 as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  In light of that proclamation, we’re highlighting a grievance case by a Foreign Service officer who downloaded and installed the Mozilla Firefox browser which potentially cost him a promotion.  The State Department proposed to issue him a Letter of Reprimand. The officer filed a grievance challenging the issuance of a Letter of Reprimand. For relief, he asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the discipline letter be removed from his Official Personnel File (OPF). In addition, he requests that the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him be given immediate effect, and that he be reimbursed for attorney’s fees. The Department denied his grievance on March 13, 2012. He appealed that decision to the Foreign Service Grievance Board on May 14, 2012.  On December 2012, the Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

This case is available publicly (pdf) from the newly relaunched fsgb.gov.  (BTW, the site is now searchable, yay!) As far as we are aware, the State Department still only allows two browsers for official use — Internet Explorer and more recently during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, Google Chrome was approved for department-wide use.   According to the browser stats maintained by w3schools.com, Internet Explorer’s downward use continues to hover around 12% in 2013, while Chrome continues to climb above 50 percent. Firefox’s usage remains at around the 27% mark.

Now some details on this case extracted from the record of proceeding:

Grievant, an FS-03 Officer, installed a software application, Mozilla Firefox Browser, on his workstation in August 2010. Grievant admitted that he installed the software because he was concerned that his savings accounts may have been the subject of identity theft and he wanted to check his credit union account on-line with what he thought was a safer web browser. The Mozilla software was found to be an executable application so that by downloading it grievant violated the Department’s Cyber Security Policy, and such action could have led to disruption of the Department’s cyber infrastructure. Grievant argued that he was unaware that the Mozilla Browser was an executable file when he installed it, and therefore, did not have the intent to violate the policy. The Board found that grievant’s argument was without merit and sustained the proposed discipline.

Anyone with questions about executable files should check the list here and best consult post’s information systems security officer (ISSO).

Also it might not be bad to get acquainted with 12 FAM 590 CYBER SECURITY INCIDENT PROGRAM if you haven’t already.

The government’s charge:

The Department charged the grievant with violating the directives and procedures for Cyber Security contained in 12 FAM 592.2b 8. The charge is based on grievant’s action in downloading the Mozilla Browser on his workstation on August 9, 2010. A revised cyber security program was implemented in 2007 throughout the Department. The Department asserts that grievant’s failure to comply with the cyber security policy could have resulted in damage or risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure. The Mozilla Browser could compromise the integrity of the system and introduce a virus or malicious code.

Grievant was informed on December 22, 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that the installation of the Mozilla Browser by him was a violation of the regulation. Grievant was further advised that the violation determination would be forwarded to the Bureau of Human Resources. Grievant was advised of his right to appeal the finding of a violation by the Bureau of Security, but chose not to do so. He did submit a Statement of Understanding acknowledging receipt of the December 22, 2010 letter and the Department’s security policies.

The Department dismisses grievant’s argument that his action in downloading the Mozilla browser required “mens rea” or a ”deliberate” act on his part to download an application that he knew was not authorized for installation. In his view, the Department has failed to prove that he made such a deliberate decision. He asserts that he did not actually know that the software was not authorized, and that his actions were inadvertent. He explains that he was ignorant that the software was an executable application that was not authorized. He states that he “lacked the knowledge of the difference between a search engine website and web browsing software.” He contends that the Department’s decision to not charge him with the downloading of the Shockwave program demonstrates that his action was not deliberate.

The FSO’s defense and argument:

Grievant has admitted that he installed Mozilla to assist himself with issues concerning his personal savings accounts. He could have used his personal computer to deal with the “spoofing” problems he was having with the possible identity theft matters. Finally, grievant should have reported the “spoofing” problems to the ISSO and checked with that office to determine if he could download Mozilla.

Grievant asserts that the proposed Letter of Reprimand should be rescinded because he lacked the intent necessary to violate the regulation. In 2009 – 2010, grievant was the victim of identity theft. He lost several thousand dollars to the thief, had to cancel his credit cards on two occasions, and was informed that his medical records were among those stolen from an Office of Medical Services database. On August 9, 2010, he received on his agency email four “spoofing” messages purporting to be from his credit union and his retirement fund.

Grievant was concerned that his savings accounts might have been stolen and his Department computer may have been compromised. He installed the Mozilla Firefox browser on his workstation instead of other browsers, such as Google, because he thought that Mozilla was a safer web browser. He was quickly informed by ISSO that Mozilla was not allowed to be downloaded on the Department’s system since it was an executable file. Grievant explained his concerns about his savings accounts and the reason that he downloaded the browser. He stated on several occasions that he did not know Mozilla was an executable file in violation of the regulation, and believed it to be a secure web-based browser. Grievant apologized and accepted responsibility for what he believed was an “inadvertent download of an executable file”.

Grievant argues that he should not be disciplined for downloading the Mozilla browser. In his view, the Department must show that it was his conscious object to download an executable file on to the Department’s network. He admits that his action was prohibited by the FAM, and that he exposed the Department to serious risk by downloading the browser on his workstation. However, he argues that the FAM requires specific intent to violate the regulation, which he did not have when the downloading took place. Grievant argues only deliberate acts, not negligent ones, are punishable under the regulation. He believes it is unjust to punish “a deliberate act that was believed would cause only a permissible result.” His action was negligent and he acted out of ignorance believing Mozilla to be a web based application rather than an executable file. In essence, he states that he believed that he was doing nothing more than accessing a website and that he lacked the knowledge required to make his action of downloading a deliberate violation of the regulation.

Grievant is remorseful and admits that he is fully responsible for his action. He did not know that he was downloading an executable file, and lacking that knowledge he did not have the mental state required by the regulation. Among other things, grievant asks that the decision to impose discipline be rescinded and the Letter of Reprimand be removed from his OPF. In addition, he asks that the Department give immediate effect to the 2011 Selection Board’s decision to promote him.

The FSGB was not persuaded:

Grievant intended to install Mozilla on his workstation. He engaged in a deliberate act. The fact that he was ignorant that it was an executable file in violation of the regulation does not obviate or lessen his culpability. As the Department points out, his action could have resulted in damage or significant risk to the Department’s cyber infrastructure, which could have caused major disruptions and loss of sensitive information. His admitted ignorance or lack of knowledge about Mozilla being an executable file does not excuse his action or his culpability for that action.

This is grievant’s first incident of any kind that caused him to be disciplined. As noted, his record is one of success and accomplishment. Grievant believes that discipline in this case is unjust. However, the proposed Letter of Reprimand is consistent with the penalties imposed in prior cases, and is reasonable under the facts of this case.

One related item, the agency’s cybersecurity was most recently in the news with a BuzzFeed exclusive report that the State Department Lacks Basic Cybersecurity. The report alleges that  “the State Department cable and messaging system, built and maintained — like the troubled ObamaCare system — mainly by large IT contractors, has routinely failed to meet basic security standards.” It further alleges that “There is hackable backdoor access to servers and the potential for spillage of classified information in the unclassified enclave.”  BuzzFeed says that it has  internal docs although those do not appear to be posted online at this time.  Read more here.

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