SFRC Senators Express “Concern” to @SecBlinken For @StateDept’s Handling of #HavanaSyndrome

 

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. “
Also that the Senators continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats  who have been injured from these attacks. We are also concerned that the Department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of these attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. “
The Senators urged a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen imediately:
“We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you. It is incumbent that this individual has the experience to engage effectively with affected individuals and with the interagency. As you know, pending bipartisan legislation in the Senate would require the Secretary to designate an agency coordinator for AHIs who reports directly to you. We ask that you take this step now to demonstrate that the State Department does take this matter seriously, and is coordinating an appropriate agency-level response.”
Finally, the senators write, We wish to support the State Department and U.S. personnel through every means possible, and to support the Department in effectively addressing this national security threat. We look forward to receiving your response, and to your heightened engagement on this issue.”
The letter is available to read here.
The State Department has a response from the podium but we’ll save you the anguish of having to read the same thing all over again.
Just yesterday, we got another email in our inbox that says “Those DPB comments are utter bullshit.”
The spox did say that “… we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.”
But …. but… how are they getting the care they need?
If folks can’t even get an email response from MED except for a form email?
At least there’s a form email, right?
But that feeling when you’re worried you may have a brain injury and you get a form email — apparently, that does not generate a warm feeling of WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, WE CARE.
The senators are right to remain concerned. Foggy Bottom typically responds to a few external pressures — the courts, the press, and yes, attentiveness from the Congress.

 

Related post:

###

#HavanaSyndrome at U.S. Embassy Bogotá: Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?

 

Via Daily Press briefing, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … And can you confirm the Havana syndrome cases or deny it, or just address that in Colombia embassy in Bogotá, in U.S. Embassy in Bogotá?
MR PRICE:  …. When it comes to Havana syndrome, you will probably not be surprised to hear me say we are not in the business of confirming reports. But —
QUESTION: But I don’t understand, why are you not in the business of confirming reports? This is squarely about State Department personnel. These are happening at U.S. embassies. Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?
MR PRICE: We are in the business of, number one, believing those who have reported these incidents, ensuring that they get the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes, whether that is at post, whether that is back here in the Washington, D.C. area. We are in the business of doing all we can to protect our workforce and the broader chief of mission community around the world.
QUESTION: So have they reported in Bogota U.S. embassy?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Have they reported – like, are you doing all of those things for U.S. embassy in Bogota?
MR PRICE: We are doing this everywhere an anomalous health incident is reported. But we are also doing things universally, and we are communicating with our workforce. We are instituting new training modules to ensure that outgoing State Department officers know how to detect a potential anomalous health incident, they know how to report a potential anomalous health incident, they know who – to whom to turn should they need to report it, they know the type of assistance that they can receive. Their families are apprised of these dynamics as well. And as you know, the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with some of those who have reported AHIs.
There is no higher priority that the Secretary has to the health, the safety, the security of our workforce. I’ve said this before, but even before he was Secretary of State, one of the briefings he proactively requested as the nominee for the office he now holds during the transition was a comprehensive briefing on so-called Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents. He wanted to make sure he entered this job understanding where we were and what we had done, and importantly, what this department could do better to support our workforce at all levels. And we have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the Secretary.
Francesco.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, it was this building that (inaudible) spoke about those cases in Havana and then in China. Why aren’t you confirming for the sake of transparency where there are cases reported – if they are Havana syndrome or not, it’s another thing, but where there are reported incidents, why aren’t you doing that? And then I have another question on Cuba protest.
MR PRICE: So in many cases it is a matter of privacy of individuals, wanting to respect privacy. But let me just make clear that when cases have been reported, our posts overseas have communicated that clearly to the community within the embassy. We have also engaged – Brian McKeon has engaged with posts that have reported a number of anomalous health incidents. So it is not – certainly not – the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press, we’re speaking to our workforce, as you might expect when it comes to a matter of their health and safety and security.
GRRRR! STOP THAT BROKEN RECORD!
Excuse me, was I loud? That’s nice that they value the privacy of individuals.
Requesting a confirmation of reported cases at one post does not require that the State Department released the names of the affected individuals. Did it happen there or not? So how does that actually compromises employees’ privacy?
And while we’re on the subject of “when cases have been reported” … how many emails do employees need to send to how many entities within State/MED –MEDMR? MEDHART? MEDFART? MEDFUCKIT– before anyone get the courtesy of a response?
We regret to say this but there’s no shortage of opportunities for Foggy Bottom to disappoint these days.
###

 

@StateDept Designates Amb. Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of retired Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the task force handling the agency’s response to the Havana Syndrome.
The Department has designated Ambassador Pamela Spratlen to serve as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the Department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
A career member of the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, Ambassador Spratlen was formerly Senior Advisor of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. State Department, Inspections Division. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2015-2018 and Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) from 2011-2014. She has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (2009-2011).
In addition to numerous Washington assignments and a tour as Diplomat in Residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Ambassador Spratlen also served in Russia (Moscow and Vladivostok), France (U.S. Mission to the OECD) and Latin America (Guatemala and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States).
As Secretary Blinken said, “The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”
Members of the media who are interested in interviews with Ambassador Pamela Spratlen should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at GreenbergBL2@state.gov or 202-647-1679.GreenbergBL2@state.gov
During the DPB of March 12, a reporter pointed out that the announcement did not say anything about Cuba or any particular country where these issues may arise and asked, “Is that for a reason? Is it broader than that?” Below is the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
“… To your first question, as we mentioned, we do have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens. Of course, these health incidents have been a priority for Secretary Blinken even before he was officially Secretary Blinken. He requested a comprehensive briefing on these incidents during the transition when he was secretary-designate. On his first day, full day here at the department, he received an update. He has since received comprehensive briefings.
He also wanted to ensure that the task force that has been established and working on these incidents since May of 2018 had connectivity directly to him, and directly to his senior leadership team. And so that is why we have decided, and he has decided to name Ambassador Spratlen as the senior advisor to the task force.
We didn’t specifically mention countries in that announcement because as you know, Matt, there have been now several countries where these incidents have been reported. We are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents.
There is also an individual on the task force who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. So we will continue to pay close attention to this. Secretary Blinken will continue to pay close attention to this, because he has no higher priority than the health and the safety and security than the department and dependents of department personnel.”
We’d like to know who is the unnamed “individual on the task force responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents.”  Has this person been there since 2018 or is this a new appointment?
We’ve also requested an opportunity to ask Ambassador Spratlen some questions about the Department’s response to the Havana Syndrome but we have yet to hear a response. We hope to have a separate update on this, that is,  if our email survive  Foggy Bottom’s email chewing doggo and get to Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg. 
Or if you know something and want to say something, reach out here.


 

 

 

@StateDept Calls on Iran to Abide by JCPOA Commitments, an Agreement the U.S. Is No Longer a Party #NotTheOnion

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

______________________________________

 

Apparently, the Iranians recently announced that they are ramping up enrichment of low-grade uranium and that Iran will pass the limit it is allowed to stockpile under the nuclear deal in 10 days.  Media reports also say that after exceeding the limit, Iran will accelerate uranium enrichment to 3.7%, above the 3.67% mandated by the JCPOA nuclear deal.

At the State Department daily press briefing, the official spokesperson called on the Iranians “not to obtain a nuclear weapon and to abide by the commitments that they’ve made to the international community.”  Just to be clear, this is the deal that the United States withdrew from in May 2018, so the U.S. is no longer a party to this agreement.

Basically, the United States is telling Iran that it is stuck in a bad marriage but it is still expected to keep its vows, while the United States, which divorced itself from this same bad marriage calling it “was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” ever, paints town red, coz see, divorced already.  We hope no one accidentally runs over the cat in the driveway but we are not sleeping well these days.

slow walk to war again

Via the State Department Press Briefing, June 17, 2019:

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to focus on the nuclear deal, the JCPOA —

MS ORTAGUS: Sure, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and nothing else.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay.

QUESTION: Just that. Not taking hostages, not malign activity, not things that are not covered in the JCPOA. Does the administration believe there is value in Iran staying – continuing to comply with the JCPOA, which the President called the worst deal ever negotiated?

MS ORTAGUS: Listen, we continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community. And I think it’s unfortunate that they’ve made this announcement today. As I said earlier, it doesn’t surprise anybody. I think this is why the President has often said that the JCPOA needs to be replaced with a new and better deal. Iran, as evident by their announcement today but also their pattern of behavior over the past few years, is keen on expanding – or seems to be keen on expanding their nuclear program, and it now wants to exceed these nuclear limits in advance of these so-called sunset clauses.

QUESTION: But that suggests that you believe that there is —

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.

QUESTION: — values in these limits, no? Does it not? I mean, if you look at —

MS ORTAGUS: We call on the Iranians not to obtain a nuclear weapon and to abide by the commitments that they’ve made to the international community.
[…]
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow on Matt’s question, so while there is no new deal between the U.S. and Iran, you ask Iran to abide by the JCPOA even though you left – the U.S. left this deal. When you say you ought to abide to their international commitments, you mean to abide to the JCPOA, which the U.S. left?

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. We have made it very clear since this President came into office and since the Secretary came here that we will not tolerate a – Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. Full stop. So any actions that they take to get a nuclear weapon will be countered by a maximum pressure campaign by the United States Government that continues to this day. There should be no relieving of sanctions for their malign and unacceptable behavior.

#

#

@StateDept: “…We’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18”

Posted: 3:49 am ET

 

Via state.gov:

QUESTION: Hi, I – yeah, just an arithmetic question, really. When the OCO money, the 12 billion, is brought under the caps, does that effectively expand the 39.3 up to 50 billion? Or will that be rolled into the 39.3?

MR PITKIN: It’s all part of the 39.3. So previous to this adjustment, if you look at the printed materials that are going to come out today from both our initial budget and OMB, that 12 billion will be separate. So it’ll be 30 – about 27 in the base budget, and then 12 billion —

QUESTION: So that 12 billion is just being renamed.

MR PITKIN: It’s being renamed or —

QUESTION: It’s not disappearing or —

MR PITKIN: Right. Right, right.

QUESTION: — being added onto anything?

MR PITKIN: It’s still the same topline amount. The advantage is it’s now all now under the same spending caps that all the other agencies have to operate under as well.
[…]
QUESTION: That is relative to a decrease, as Josh pointed out, of something like 30 percent from 2017, though. So —

MR PITKIN: That’s true. But again, I think, the – as the Secretary has said that we did not think that the $55 billion that was provided last year, including a supplemental, was sustainable over the long term. So I think even the House and the Senate – we’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18. I think until we have to – it’s hard to compare what we’re requesting now versus ’18 because the House and the Senate still have to act on FY18 appropriations, take into consideration these caps. But we would note that the levels that the committees marked up back several months ago did not even there reach the $55 billion level. But again, we have to wait and see what Congress says for ’18 before we can make a true apples-apples comparison. But even they were not at the FY17 level; they were down as well.

Doug Pitkin
Director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning/State
Briefing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID
Feb 12, 2018

#


@StateDept Spox Explains Why Maliz Beams Left the Counselor Post – Oh, Lordy!

Posted: 2:26 am ET

 

As best we could tell, Secretary Tillerson first talked about the redesign at his agency as an “employee-led” effort on August 9, 2017 at a quick stop at the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia:

We’ve taken that information now and we’ve set up a number of work teams. Now this whole effort is led by the employees of the State Department, your colleagues. We have a steering team that helps guide them that’s chaired by Deputy Secretary Sullivan. But we really are wanting this to be an employee-led redesign effort, and it’s all about looking at how we get our work done. 

But back in July, an unnamed State Department spokesperson appeared on the July 17, 2017 Foreign Policy piece Tillerson to Shutter State Department War Crimes Office, talking about the “employee-led redesign initiative.”

So, it’s quite hilarious to read the State Department spokesperson’s response during the Daily Press Briefing of November 27 when asked about the departure of Maliz Beams.

Keep in mind that Maliz Beams did not join the State Department until August 17, 2017 (see Former Voya Financial CEO Maliz Beams Reportedly Appointed @StateDept Counselor@StateDept Now Has an Official Bio For New Counselor of the State Department Maliz E. Beams).

When asked why Ms. Beams left her post, Official Spokesperson Heather Nauert said “She said to me that she came here to set the vision for the redesign.” Further Ms. Nauert said, “She sets the vision. She’s done that for this organization. She feels that she’s accomplished that in setting the vision. She said to me, quote, “I feel good about it.”

A member of the press corps was quick to ask a fairly simple follow-up question – “in a sentence, what is the vision that she has set for the redesign?” The official response is a pretzels demo:

“Well, one of the things that we’ve said is that this is an employee-driven process. And a lot of folks made fun of this, but asking employees what they want, what changes they want, is something that is new and something that is significant, and that is something that they have been able to do to determine where there are redundancies. And that’s one of the ways that we will do that.”

Is Ms. Nauert suggesting that the “employee-driven” or employee-led” process was Ms. Beams’ vision for the redesign? And if so, how was Ms. Beams able to do this when a month before she joined the State Department, an unnamed spokesperson was already talking about the redesign in those same terms?

If the spox was not suggesting that the “employee-driven process” was Ms. Beams’ vision at the State Department, what the heck was she talking about. What was the vision-setting that Ms. Beams accomplished at the agency during her three-month tenure?

Excerpt from the transcript:

QUESTION: Why did Maliz Beams leave her post as counselor of the department?

MS NAUERT: So Maliz Beams was brought in to help pull together the redesign. That’s one of the things that the Secretary said is important to him and important to the State Department. And frankly, when you ask people here, the rank and file, what they think about the redesign, while our communications have not been fantastic – I will admit that – the – they support by and large the efforts of the redesign, acknowledging that the State Department can become more efficient and operate more effectively with the redesign.

Maliz Beams – I spoke with her earlier today at length. I was there yesterday when she announced to senior staff that she would be leaving the State Department. Maliz made the decision to resign from the State Department. She said to me that she came here to set the vision for the redesign. She has done this for many companies. She’s had a 30-year career in this line of work. She sets the vision. She’s done that for this organization. She feels that she’s accomplished that in setting the vision. She said to me, quote, “I feel good about it.” So now is the time when she decided that she wanted to step back and that it was the time for the State Department to be able to pick it up from here.

We are in phase three of the redesign right now. There are 70 initiatives that she helped enable to prepare to launch. Those initiatives are being chaired by some of our top career people who have been here for many, many years, included among them names and faces you will know: Ambassador Bill Todd, also Ambassador Marcia Bernicat from Bangladesh. They are involved in these 70 initiatives. They are people that the building knows, they are people that the building trust, they are people who love this institution. I can tell you that the Secretary is expected to speak with staff here at the State Department sometime in the near future. I don’t have a date for that just yet. And then we have our new under secretary for public diplomacy and political affairs, who will be handling some of the communications going forward.

QUESTION: She was not asked or encouraged to leave?

MS NAUERT: She made the decision to step down.

QUESTION: No, no. She couldn’t make the decision to step down after having been encouraged to consider whether to step down?

MS NAUERT: She made the decision to step down.

QUESTION: But was not encouraged or asked to step down?

MS NAUERT: Not to my knowledge. I was not in the meeting at the time, but I spoke with her. I also spoke with our deputy secretary and others about this, and this was her decision.

QUESTION: Heather, in a sentence, what is the vision that she has set for the redesign?

MS NAUERT: Well, one of the things that we’ve said is that this is an employee-driven process. And a lot of folks made fun of this, but asking employees what they want, what changes they want, is something that is new and something that is significant, and that is something that they have been able to do to determine where there are redundancies. And that’s one of the ways that we will do that. Among the other things in the redesign that has been highlighted as important to this department and it may seem kind of dopey to a lot of folks who have great computers and comms like you all do, but to get a better computer system in place. I cannot stress —

QUESTION: A better commuter system?

MS NAUERT: Computer system.

QUESTION: Oh, oh, oh. Because I was going to go all in on the better commuter system. (Laughter.) The Metro is awful.

MS NAUERT: It is extremely frustrating when you are trying to respond to press questions, for example. How many times have you all heard from me or from Robert or Robert’s predecessor, Mark Stroh, when our comms are down for a very long time? It is embarrassing. We can’t get to you, you can’t get to us. Well, imagine if we need to reach folks around the world. So that has been a problem. And that’s one of the things that the Secretary and Maliz Beams has identified as being something that we want to make more efficient and better. Okay.

#

ExxonMobil “demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions” – @StateDept says go over there for QQQs!

Posted: 12:42 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

The State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert did one of her twice a week Daily Press Briefing at the State Department and was asked about the Treasury Department’s Exxon fine for violating the Russian sanctions when Secretary Tillerson was the CEO. A quick note here.  We realized that they’ve changed the name of this briefing into “Department Press Briefing” but as a daily reminder that the Bureau of Public Affairs is now unable to handle the daily demands of briefing the press, we will continue calling this the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing.

Below are excerpts from the DPB:

MS NAUERT: The Secretary – we’re not going to have any comments today for you on some of the alleged facts or the facts underlying the enforcement action. Treasury is going to have to answer a lot of these questions for you. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this today. The Treasury Department was involved in this. They were the ones who spearheaded this. And so for a lot of your questions, I’m going to have to refer you to Treasury.

MS NAUERT: Yes. I’m not going to comment on that at this time. The Secretary recused himself from his dealings with ExxonMobil at the time that he became Secretary of State. This all predates his time here at the Department of State, and so —

MS NAUERT: I think I will say this: The Secretary continues to abide by his ethical commitments, including that recusal from Exxon-related activities. The action was taken by the Department of State – excuse me, the Department of the Treasury, and State was not involved in this.

QUESTION: And does – can you tell us if the Secretary believes in the objectives of the Ukraine-related sanctions programs?

MS NAUERT: I know that we have remained very concerned about maintaining sanctions. That will continue. We’ve been clear that sanctions will continue until Russia does what Russia needs to do.

QUESTION: For the record, will he come down and talk with us —

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry, who —

QUESTION: — talk about this? Just for the record, will he come down and talk about this to us himself?

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m here to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the building. There’s not a whole lot that we can say about this right now. Again, you can talk to Treasury or to Exxon about this. Okay.

MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been – not to my knowledge. I can tell you this, that he has been extremely clear in his recusal of anything having to do with Exxon. When this information come to us here at the State Department, it did not come to the Secretary himself. It came to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. The Secretary has taken this very seriously, that Exxon-related activities are not something that he is involved with here as Secretary of State.

#

In assessing the maximum monetary penalty, Treasury/OFAC outlined the following as aggravating factors (via):

(1) ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements when it failed to consider warning signs associated with dealing in the blocked services of an SDN; (note: Specially Designated Nationals)

(2) ExxonMobil’s senior-most executives knew of Sechin’s status as an SDN when they dealt in the blocked services of Sechin;

(3) ExxonMobil caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions program objectives by engaging the services of an SDN designated on the basis that he is an official of the Government ofthe Russian Federation contributing to the crisis in Ukraine; and

(4) ExxonMobil is a sophisticated and experienced oil and gas company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services, and technology subject to U.S economic sanctions and U.S. export controls.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress opening ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 9, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

AND NOW THIS — the State Department’s “employee-led redesign initiative” with no “predetermined outcomes” is a runner up for “Best in Show.”

#

Transition Team Requests Staffing and Program Info: How Did This Turn Into “Rounding Up Names”

Posted: 4:06 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The Trump Transition team at the State Department apparently sent a memo to employees requesting information on staffing and funding of gender-related programs. Some emails we got made references to news reports asking for names. Some in social media talks about the “demand” for a list of State Dept staffers working on “gender-related” issues and “women’s equality.”  Both NYT and WaPo carried the same story of the transition request.  Somebody provided a copy of the request to the NYT.

The one-page memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, asks for a summary “outlining existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.”

It also asks for information on positions dedicated to those activities, as well as how much funding was directed to these programs in 2016. The responses were due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the same day the questionnaire was circulated within the department.

WaPo reported that the request is “stroking fears of another witch hunt.” The New York Times reports that the request has “rattled” the State Department. One publication says that “Trump’s transition team is rounding up names of US State Department staffers working on gender-equality issues.” Oh, hey, the “State Dept” is now trending on Twitter.

We suspect that those “freaking out” have not been through a number of presidential transitions.  The Trump Transition was asking for positions and program funding, it does not look like it was asking for names. We think the request is reasonable as the new administration assumes office. The new administration will have new program priorities and it may cut funding and staffing on some programs more than others.  Will it cut programs focused on gender equality? It’s possible, but that is its prerogative, as it was when the Obama Administration assume power eight years ago.  Employees may disagree with those priorities, and policies, but their commitment to the Service is to serve the administration of the day whether they personally agree with those policies or not (see On the Prospect of Mass Resignations: A Veteran FSO Cautions Against Rash Decisions).

Poor Mr. Kirby had to explain this at the podium:

The incoming administration will make their own policy decisions based on the foreign policy agenda that President-elect Trump lays out. That’s their job. That’s why we have elections in this country. And the professionals here at the State Department – and they’re all professionals – will carry out that foreign policy agenda and they will support that foreign policy agenda.
[…]
As I said yesterday, it is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected that as a new team comes in – and I saw this for myself eight years ago when I was in the Pentagon for the transition between President Bush and President – then-President-elect Obama – for a transition team to want to have a sense of organization, of resourcing, and of staffing for the organization and the sub-units of those – of that organization that they’re about to lead.
[…]
The people that work here, now that I’ve had two years to see it, they are true professionals. Whether they’re political appointees or career Foreign Service or civil servants, they are professionals. And while I can’t discount that some of them might have some anxiety, I can assure you and I can assure the American people that they will face change squarely on, that they will respond appropriately, that they will remain professionals, and that whatever the foreign policy agenda that is being pursued by the incoming administration, they will support it, they will implement it, they will inform it, and they will help guide it, because that’s what they do. 

Please don’t disappoint Mr. Kirby.

We should add that FSOs (Generalist) and FS Specialists have an average of 12 years and 11 years, respectively, in the Department. Civil Service employees have about the same average number of years in the Department at 11 years.

Which means that the average employee came in during the Rice tenure under President Bush, and has served through two of President Obama’s terms under the Clinton and Kerry tenures at the State Department. The last time there was a huge policy shift during their employment was in 2008 when the White House transitioned from Republican to Democratic leadership.

No doubt there will be issues and policies in the future that some folks at the State Department may consider their red lines. But today is not that day.  The “panic” or freak out” at today’s, or rather yesterday’s reported request may have been driven by higher anxiety or trepidation but folks need to recognize the need for bureaucratic discernment, particularly during this transition, but also when the new administration is in place.

No one likes change but there it is every four or eight years.  The political appointees will leave to make way for new political appointees.  There will be new priorities and low priorities. Some old programs may be cancelled, and some new programs and initiatives will certainly be prioritized but the career services go on.  The State Department needs its best people now more than ever.  As Ambassador Bill Burns said recently, the ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a complicated world matters more than ever.  We’re counting on our career folks not to get “rattled” whether dealing with this complicated world, or anything else.

#

@StateDept: That’s a question we ask ourselves every day: where is Brett today?

Posted: 2:41 am ET
Updated: 9/14/16 1:30 am ET – Where is Brett today? Now in Baghdad, scroll below.
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via the DPB on 9/12/16:

QUESTION: Could you update us on Brett McGurk’s travels? Yesterday, he tweeted a photo of the sun setting in Syria. Was he recently in Syria? And last night, he tweeted that he was flying overseas. Where is he going?

MR KIRBY: That’s a question we ask ourselves every day: where is Brett today? I actually don’t have an update for his – on his schedule, so we’ll see if we can get his staff to give us something we can provide to you. I just don’t have the details on exactly where he is right now.

 

#

When Policy Battles Break Out in Public — Holy Dissent, What a Mess!

Posted: 8:26 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers from 

 

Here is the DPB for today, June 20 with the State Department spox answering questions about the “it’s good” response from Secretary Kerry — apparently, he wasn’t referring to the punctuation:

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, “It’s good,” and that he would —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how much more I can —

QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it’s good?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think —

QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – again, I’m limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I’m not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there’s a lot of them, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we’ll do that in due course.

QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?

MR KIRBY: What I – what I —

QUESTION: Well-written argument?

MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won’t talk to the content or his views of the content.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I’m not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable —

MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First —

QUESTION: — within the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don’t publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don’t publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we’re going to – obviously, we’re going to respect that.

QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?

MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can’t speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won’t get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there’s been too little progress on the political track.

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.

QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you’re not, he’s not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn’t a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn’t like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?

MR KIRBY: Nobody’s happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?

MR KIRBY: — but – I’m getting there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we’re trying to pursue.

QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I’m just a – the – so you – you’re – what you’re saying is that his comment, “It’s good,” refers —

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: Sorry?

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: It’s very good – sorry, it’s very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit —

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I —

QUESTION: Oh, okay, so —

MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it’s worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail’s shouted-out – quote, “Very good,” I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I’m not going to talk about the content of it from here.

QUESTION: Well, so you can’t – you’re not in a position to say that the “It’s very good” means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to – I’m not prepared to say that.

#