Reactions to Trump’s Reported T. Rex Pick For the State Department #dazzleandwow

Posted: 12:52 am ET

 

On Sunday, the Trump Transition says that “ There will be no announcements on Secretary of State until next week at the earliest.”  Even as unnamed sources continue to tell members of the press that Tillerson is the pick, Reince Priebus who is slated to become President-elect Trump’s chief of staff cautioned that it’s a “little premature to be claiming” the secretary of state choice for the incoming Trump administration is a “done deal.”  So until the official announcement is made, which could happen tomorrow or on Friday or whenever is the season finale, it may still be open season for the secretary of state candidates.

The secretary of state nomination has to go through a confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).  That’s a 10 GOP/9 Dems split. GOP Members include Senators Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and Rand Paul. If the nomination makes it out of the SFRC, it has to go through a full vote in the Senate. The 115th Congress includes 46 Democratic Senators, 2 Independents, and 52 Republican Senators.  A simple majority vote is required to get confirmation. So the Senators. Don’t forget them, particularly the Republican Senators. Makes one wonder if the leak on Tillerson as pick is a trial balloon to see what kind of reception the nomination is going to get, and what the potential confirmation fight might look like in the Senate. Also, add this to your SOS candidate trivia.  Rex Tillerson’s salary in 2015 is reportedly $27.2 million. The secretary of state’s annual salary in 2015 is $203,700.

Reactions to the potential Tillerson appointment:

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Trump to Nominate Iowa Gov Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to China

Posted: 2:19 am ET
Updated: Dec 8, 3:37 pm PT

 

President-elect Trump has yet to make a decision on who will be his secretary of state. That search has expanded and the news media reports that this is now a 10-man race for the 69th Secretary of State. While the search is ongoing, Mr. Trump has apparently already offered the ambassadorship to China to Terry Branstad, and the Iowa governor has accepted.

On December 7, Governor Branstad released a statement saying, “I am honored and humbled to be nominated to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China.”  His statement also said: “The United States – Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point.  Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever. The President-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered.”

Governor Branstad has served as Iowa Governor from 1983-1999 and 2011 to the present.  His relationship with China goes back to 1983 when he signed a formal agreement establishing the sister-state relationship between Hebei province and Iowa. In 1985, Xi Jinping, then a county-level party leader from Hebei, visited Iowa for the very first time and met with Governor Branstad at the state capitol. In 2012, when Vice President Xi visited Des Moines and Muscatine, Governor Branstad sent a personal thank-you to Xi and invited him to an “old friends” reunion dinner. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also called Governor Branstad an “old friend of the Chinese people.” Senator Chuck Grassley tweeted that “Gov Branstad has longstanding relationship w Pres of China so his nomination is good 4 our national interest.”

If confirmed by the Senate after January 20, Governor Branstad will be President Trump’s personal representative to the People’s Republic of China. He will not actually report to the White House but to the still unnamed secretary of state at the State Department, through the East Asia Pacific Bureau.

Some of Governor Branstad’s predecessors at the US Embassy in Beijing include Senator Max Sieben Baucus (1941–) who was appointed by President Obama on March 20, 2014; former WA Governor Gary Locke (1950–) who served from 2011–2014; former Bush ambassador to Singapore Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (1960–) who President Obama appointed to Beijing from 2009–2011; and former President George Herbert Walker Bush (1924–) who served as Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Peking (Beijing) from 1974 to 1975.

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET

 

A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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Duterte Announces Break-Up With America Before Applauding Chinese Audience

Posted: 3:23 pm ET

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China recently, and the Chinese rolled out the red carpet. See the video here of the grand arrival ceremony complete with children waving the Philippine and Chinese flags. This video cites Chinese respect for the Philippines by displaying the Philippine flag above the Chinese flag.  Also below is an interesting take from a Filipino writer describing a prior presidential visit to China as he watched the Duterte visit and what he calls China’s  “dragon dance of celebration.”

While in China, Duterte was famously quoted for saying he is “separating” from the United States. Below is the video where the president of America’s longest ally in Asia is lambasting all Americans and their character during his October 20, 2016 speech in China. He calls Americans — and not just Americans he dealt with — but basically all Americans and westerners as discourteous, and loud, “their voice in their larynx not well adjusted to civility.” He said, he did not really like Americans because long ago  he had an experience with American idiotic arrogance. He proceeds to retell a story about being stopped at LAX by an African-American immigration official who he describes in detail and then says no racial slur intended. It sounds like he was taken to a secondary interview which he recalls as an interrogation.  (By the way, according to WaPo’s David Nakamura, Duterte has reportedly told aides to be sure he doesn’t go thru US airport en route to Peru for APEC next month). So at some point during this China talk, he complains about Filipinos going to the U.S. who are berated and humiliated when applying for visas while Americans are allowed to visit the Philippines without visas.  Would not be surprised if he would soon want Americans visiting the Philippines to get visas.

He offers to collect whatever debts the U.S. owe China  as long as he can keep some of it and says  “Duterte of the Philippines is very towards China because China has a character of an oriental.” He gives the reason why he decided to “shift-gears.” There is also a portion here where he talks about US aid to the Philippines and how it has not really changed the lives of the people in his country.  The speech is delivered mostly in English. We have not been able to find a transcript of this speech, but if there is one, it would read exactly like a convoluted Trump speech. He complimented China for its “sincerity” and complains that Americans and President Obama never apologized to him. At the end of this speech, he says, “In this venue, I announced my separation from the United States” to great applause.

Here is a quick recap if you were not following this break-up:

On October 24, China announced that it has donated millions to the Philippines after Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima).  According to rappler.com, the Chinese embassy said it donated P50 million to the Philippine government on Monday “for the disaster relief of farmers and fishermen in the affected regions.” China also committed around P35 million to Philippine anti-disaster efforts. The Red Cross Society of China “will also provide humanitarian aid of $100,000 to the Philippines.”

Here is President Duterte with his new best friend in Manila, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua while the former calculates all that money donated by China “with no strings attached.”

Earlier, the State Department announced that EAP Assistant Secretary Russel will travel to the Philippines on October 22–25, to meet with government officials and have lunch with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) participants.  While in Manila A/S Russel said he had candidly told Philippine Foreign Minister Yasay that Manila’s friends were concerned about the high loss of life in Duterte’s campaign against drugs and reiterated the importance of due process, according to Reuters.  Russel said “a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions had created consternation in many countries,” including the United States. He said that worry extended beyond governments to corporate boardrooms and warned that it was “bad for business” in “a very competitive region.”

Here are some clips with A/S Russel, whatever he says, we expect it would not go down well in Manila. Note that A/S Russel says: “It’s a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing somehow come at the expense of the United States, that’s not the way we think about it…”  It looks like the Duterte comments spliced in the clip below were made on October 19, so before the Russel visit to Manila. But we’re posting this clip here because the Duterte comments are relevant, nonetheless.

Of course, as can be expected, President Duterte delivered another rant.  Below is President Duterte with comments mostly in Tagalog and a sprinkling of English. From what we could tell he is talking about chop-suey and “historical hurts that will not go away” when Manila was bombed in World War II.  This is undated but he is citing comments from A/S Russel and Ambassador Goldberg.  You want to know his intention in terms of military cooperation? Here  he is talking about not/not wanting “any military man of any other nation, except the Philippine soldier” in the country. And when America talks about defending the Philippines, he asks, who from — citing the bogeyman of wars.  The AFP quotes him separately as saying “I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added. (If tweeps want to help translate the Tagalog part of the video below, email us here).

As a background to Duterte’s anti-American stance, read the clips below about the Philippines, starting with James Fallows ‘A Damaged Culture’ following Corazon Aquino’s People Power Revolution in 1986. Also a useful list of grievances below via WSJ that goes back years for Mr. Duterte — from America’s  invasion of the Philippines in 1898 to the visa denial for Duterte and the cancellation of a work visa for his partner in 2002, and that’s just for starters.

We think A/S Russel’s message will not get though the noise. We also doubt that the next ambassador to Manila if confirmed, will find a friendly face at the presidential palace. Duterte’s beef is not with specific individuals, or even a specific American administration, it is with Americans as a whole. It sounds like he perceived all his encounters with Americans as bad.  We kept waiting for him to scream “Yanquis go home!” Meanwhile, the State Department continues to be deluded with what is now a one-sided love affair.

The official spox says that  they’re taking the “long view.” “The long view, in our mind, is a sustained, healthy, vibrant bilateral relationship with the people and the government of the Philippines.”  Mr. Duterte’s term doesn’t end until 2022, can we actually expect the United States to simply go around the country’s head of state? How would that work? Maybe before things totally go off the rails, the administration ought to consider deploying Ambassador Michele Sison, Foggy Bottom’s highest ranking Filipino-American diplomat to give an assist at APEC in November and even in Manila?

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OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET

 

The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

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No Drama Obama Gets Lots of Drama in Asia, Plus Special G20 Surprise in South China Sea

Posted: 3:24 am ET

 

President Obama’s trip to Asia this week got off on a wrong foot. See POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet. Then on Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte got foul-mouthy with his early warning threat to President Obama potentially discussing the drug killings in the Philippines (also see Philippine President Calls the US Ambassador to Manila WHAT?). According to the CRS,  the Philippines has been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance in Southeast Asia in the past decade, including both military and development aid. It also relies heavily upon the United States for its external security.  According to this 2015 piece, “the archipelago’s sailing force is made up of half-century-old antiques—and is falling apart.” And yet, here is President Duterte with his lovely manners.

 

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POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet

Posted: 2:30 am ET

 

 

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FBI Employee Pleads Guilty to Acting in the United States as an Agent of the Chinese Government

Posted: 12:15 am ET

 

Via DOJ | Defendant Collected and Caused Sensitive FBI Information to be Provided to the Chinese Government

Kun Shan Chun, a native of the People’s Republic of China and a naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty today to a criminal information charging him with acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing prior notice to the Attorney General.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director in Charge Diego P. Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.

Chun, aka Joey Chun, 46, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV of the Southern District of New York.  He was an employee of the FBI until his arrest on March 16, 2016.

“Kun Shan Chun violated our nation’s trust by exploiting his official U.S. Government position to provide restricted and sensitive FBI information to the Chinese Government,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “Holding accountable those who work as illegal foreign agents to the detriment of the United States is among the highest priorities of the National Security Division.”

“Americans who act as unauthorized foreign agents commit a federal offense that betrays our nation and threatens our security,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “And when the perpetrator is an FBI employee, like Kun Shan Chun, the threat is all the more serious and the betrayal all the more duplicitous.  Thanks to the excellent investigative work of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the FBI succeeded in identifying and rooting out this criminal misconduct from within its own ranks.”

“No one is above the law, to include employees of the FBI,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez.  “We understand as an agency we are trusted by the public to protect our nation’s most sensitive information, and we have to do everything in our power to uphold that trust.”

According to the complaint, the information and statements made during today’s court proceeding:

In approximately 1997, Chun began working at the FBI’s New York Field Office as an electronics technician assigned to the Computerized Central Monitoring Facility of the FBI’s Technical Branch.  In approximately 1998, and in connection with his employment, the FBI granted Chun a Top Secret security clearance and his duties included accessing sensitive, and in some instances classified, information.  In connection with a progressive recruitment process, Chun received and responded to taskings from Chinese nationals and at least one Chinese government official (Chinese Official-1), some, if not all, of whom were aware that Chun worked at the FBI.  On multiple occasions prior to his arrest in March 2016, at the direction of Chinese government officials, Chun collected sensitive FBI information and caused it to be transmitted to Chinese Official-1 and others, while at the same time engaging in a prolonged and concerted effort to conceal from the FBI his illicit relationships with these individuals.

Beginning in 2006, Chun and some of his relatives maintained relationships with Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with a company in China named Zhuhai Kolion Technology Company Ltd. (Kolion).  Chun maintained an indirect financial interest in Kolion, including through a previous investment by one of his parents.  In connection with these relationships, Chinese nationals asked Chun to perform research and consulting tasks in the United States, purportedly for the benefit of Kolion, in exchange for financial benefits, including partial compensation for international trips.

Between 2006 and 2010, Chun’s communications and other evidence reflect inquiries from purported employees of Kolion to Chun while he was in the United States, as well as efforts by the defendant to collect, among other things, information regarding solid-state hard drives.

In approximately 2011, during a trip to Italy and France partially paid for by the Chinese nationals, Chun was introduced to Chinese Official-1, who indicated that he worked for the Chinese government and that he knew Chun worked for the FBI.  During subsequent private meetings conducted abroad between the two, Chinese Official-1 asked questions regarding sensitive, non-public FBI information.  During those meetings, Chun disclosed, among other things, the identity and potential travel patterns of an FBI Special Agent.

In approximately 2012, the FBI conducted a routine investigation relating to Chun’s Top Secret security clearance.  In an effort to conceal his relationships with Chinese Official-1 and the other Chinese nationals purporting to be affiliated with Kolion, Chun made a series of false statements on a standardized FBI form related to the investigation.  Between 2000 and March 16, 2016, Chun was required by FBI policy to disclose anticipated and actual contact with foreign nationals during his international travel, but he lied on numerous pre- and post-trip FBI debriefing forms by omitting his contacts with Chinese Official-1, other Chinese nationals and Kolion.

On multiple occasions, Chinese Official-1 asked Chun for information regarding the FBI’s internal structure.  In approximately March 2013, Chun downloaded an FBI organizational chart from his FBI computer in Manhattan.  Chun later admitted to the FBI that, after editing the chart to remove the names of FBI personnel, he saved the document on a piece of digital media and caused it to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

Chinese Official-1 also asked Chun for information regarding technology used by the FBI.  In approximately January 2015, Chun took photos of documents displayed in a restricted area of the FBI’s New York Field Office, which summarized sensitive details regarding multiple surveillance technologies used by the FBI.  Chun sent the photographs to his personal cell phone and later admitted to the FBI that he caused the photographs to be transported to Chinese Official-1 in China.

In approximately February 2015, the FBI caused an undercover employee (UCE) to be introduced to Chun.  The UCE purported to be a U.S. citizen who was born in China and working as a consultant to several firms, including an independent contractor for the Department of Defense, among other entities.

During a recorded meeting in March 2015, Chun told the UCE about his relationship with Kolion and Chinese nationals and later explained to the UCE that Kolion had “government backing,” and that approximately five years prior a relative met a “section chief” whom Chun believed was associated with the Chinese government.

In another recorded meeting in June 2015, Chun told the UCE that he had informed his Chinese associates that the UCE was a consultant who might be in a position to assist them.  Chun said that he wished to act as a “sub-consultant” to the UCE and wanted the UCE to “pay” him “a little bit.”   In July 2015, after coordinating travel to meet Chun’s Chinese associates, Chun met with the UCE in Hungary twice.  During one of the meetings, Chun stated that he knew “firsthand” that the Chinese government was actively recruiting individuals who could provide assistance and that the Chinese government was willing to provide immigration benefits and other compensation in exchange for such assistance.  The UCE told Chun that he had access to sensitive information from the U.S. government.  Chun responded that his Chinese associates would be interested in that type of information and that Chun expected a “cut” of any payment that the UCE received for providing information to the Chinese government.

The count of acting in the United States as an agent of China without providing notice to the Attorney General carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division investigated the case.  The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Andrea L. Surratt of the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, with assistance provided by Trial Attorneys Thea D. R. Kendler and David C. Recker of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Related files:

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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USCG Shanghai Hanscom Smith Marries Taiwanese Partner Eric Lu

Posted: 1:46 am PT
Updated: 5:06 pm PT

 

According to USCG Shanghai, Hansom “Hanscom” Smith, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has been Consul General at the United States Consulate General in Shanghai since September 2014. He previously served at the United States embassies in Yaounde, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Kabul, and Beijing. In addition, Mr. Smith has served in the Office of Japanese Affairs at the Department of State, and was team leader at the United States Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna Province, Iraq. He has also worked at the American Institute in Taiwan. Mr. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Princeton University. His foreign languages are French, Danish, Khmer, and Mandarin Chinese.  CG Smith married his Taiwanese partner, Lü Yingzong (Eric Lu) in San Francisco.

 

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