@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

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@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.

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

Posted: 12:42 am ET
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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.

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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.”

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

Posted: 4:06 am ET
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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.

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@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.
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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.

 

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

Posted: 8:26 pm ET
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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.

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Wolverine vs. ISIS? Secretary Kerry Chats With Hollywood to ‘Counter’ Islamic State

Posted: 2:42 am EDT
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Via the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: And then – I’m wondering if you can give us any more detail at all about this meeting that the Secretary had out in Hollywood with these film studio executives. He, in his tweet, said that he was there hearing perspectives and ideas on how to counter the Daesh narrative, and I’m just wondering if you can be more specific. I mean, is – was he asking their advice on how to do this, or was he suggesting things? I mean —

MR TONER: Sure. I think —

QUESTION: Does this – is he looking for the next Wolverine movie to be Wolverine vs. ISIS? What’s the —

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell, meets with a group of movie industry executives during a visit to Universal Studios in Burbank, California, on February 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell, meets with a group of movie industry executives during a visit to Universal Studios in Burbank, California, on February 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

MR TONER: I mean, kidding aside –

QUESTION: What was it? No, no, I’m not —

MR TONER: No, no, of course. I mean, look, he – it was – he had the chance to meet with a number of senior executives in the entertainment industry. I mean, these are the people, I think, widely recognized who are some of the best communicators out there, and they run a highly profitable industry that is expert at conveying messages to a worldwide audience. So I think he sought their – not I think – he sought their perspectives and input about how the United States and the rest of the coalition – the anti-Daesh coalition – can better counter the propaganda that’s being put forward by ISIL.

I mean, a lot of it was a discussion and a give-and-take on what’s – what they think works and what doesn’t work. And I can’t – I don’t want to get into the details because it was just an introductory meeting, but I think it’s – I think the Secretary felt it was worthwhile to have the opportunity to meet with these folks and get their input on what they think is an effective strategy.

QUESTION: Okay. So he was soliciting them on ideas about how to counter their messaging, not the other way around? He wasn’t saying, “Hey listen, we think it would be a great idea if you guys did X, X, and X to help in the —

MR TONER: No, no. I think – I mean, look, no, no. I think he was seeking their perspectives on our own efforts to counter Daesh and ISIL in terms of messaging.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, but you’re not planning on, like, outsourcing the whole CVE message to Hollywood film studios, are you?

MR TONER: No, no, gosh. But I think – I mean, it’s important that they’re part of this conversation. I mean, they’re – again, they have more so than diplomats and even public diplomacy professionals like myself. I freely admit that folks in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and – who are – who are really experts in conveying messages, whether it’s through film or through entertainment, are worthwhile to listen to and to seek – we should be seeking their advice on how we can do our job better.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you cite an example where actually Hollywood and the government were able to sort of coordinate together to have a powerful message or film done, I mean, in the past? Is there anything —

QUESTION: World War II.

QUESTION: World War II, okay.

MR TONER: John Huston.

QUESTION: Since World War II, I was going to say.

MR TONER: But no, that’s okay. I mean, it’s —

QUESTION: Since World War II. I mean, during the Vietnam War —

QUESTION: Vietnam, yes.

QUESTION: — I mean, there was the Green Berets, for instance.

QUESTION: Top Gun.

QUESTION: Or Top Gun or something.

QUESTION: Top Gun?

QUESTION: But —

QUESTION: This is going – can we move on to something a little bit more —

MR TONER: No, I – no, no. Yeah, I mean —

QUESTION: Is he going to have more meetings with these people?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to say that yesterday they were inking deals on movies that will come out. All he was doing was he was taking advantage of the fact that he was there just outside of Hollywood in LA where the movie industry exists. He wanted to seek their input on how we can message better.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I mean, these guys, as I said, are professional —

QUESTION: You did say it was an introductory meeting. So are —

MR TONER: It was an introductory meeting, exactly.

QUESTION: So are there – is this going to be —

MR TONER: I have nothing to announce, but I think – it was a first meeting. I think it would we —

QUESTION: So there will be a sequel?

MR TONER: — we would like to see more.

QUESTION: Sequel. (Laughter.)

Variety reported that the meeting was organized by Jeff Shell, who is chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Those in attendance were identified by Variety as Jeff Shell, who is also chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd; Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara; DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; 20th Century Fox Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos; 20th Century Fox Co-Chair Stacey Snider; Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Production; Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley; Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group; Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz; Amblin Partners CEO Michael Wright; and NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer.  Rick Stengel, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs (the new Charlotte Beers), reportedly suggested that they set up a meeting with Secretary Kerry in Los Angeles after the summit with Asian leaders in Palm Springs.

Just days before this meeting, University of Chicago researchers told ABC News that terrorists are taking pages from a Hollywood playbook to recruit new members in Chicago and across the U.S.  Apparently, the “creators of these propaganda videos are following a famous 12-step Hollywood guide on how to tell the story of a hero — a scripting formula used for decades in blockbuster movies including “Titanic,” “Wizard of Oz” and the first “Star Wars.”

Also last fall, when Hollywood was first talked about:

 

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What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home? #Zika

Posted: 2:14 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

During the February 5 Daily Press Briefing, State Department spox John Kirby talked about the zika virus. And he was asked this:

QUESTION: What about your own embassy staff and employees? Are you urging pregnant women to come home?

MR KIRBY: At this time, I’m not aware of any warning to pregnant U.S. Government employees overseas in terms of coming home. These are obviously decisions that they have to make. But we are, however, just like we would for American citizens, certainly making sure that we’re providing our posts and our employees all the information that they need and that they have – that is available so that they can make these informed decisions. But I’m – I’m not aware of any order or requirement here at the State Department to order them back home.

But there’s a lot going on. And I can tell you Secretary Kerry is very focused on this. We were – he was talking about this just yesterday morning in a – I’m sorry, just this morning in a staff meeting, in a morning staff meeting. So it’s very much on his mind, and we’re going to continue to work with the interagency to do as much as we can. And obviously, it’s an evolving situation. As information becomes available or needs to change, we’ll change that.

We understand that an ALDAC that was sent out on January 21st, that says ALL pregnant USG employees or family members covered under the Department of State Medical Program are authorized voluntary medical evacuation from posts affected by Zika.

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

Zabul Attack: Don’t know a lot but yes, the party was moving on foot …

On the April 10 Daily Press Briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell confirmed the identity of Kelly Hunt as one of the four State Department employees injured on the April 6 attack in Zabul, Afghanistan.  Also that “in addition to those tragically killed, four Department employees were injured as the party was moving on foot a short distance to a school, wearing personal protection gear and under escort of U.S. soldiers.”

A quick look:

— A party of six civilians (five State, one DOD; two killed, four wounded) with three U.S. soldiers as armed escort (all killed) “in a walking movement from the PRT down to the school down the road.”

— Distance from PRT to school – “I don’t know the exact distance, but we’re – this is in yards, not – it was a short distance down the road.”

— Was there some kind of ceremony that was going on? – “I don’t know the whole details…”

— Is that why the governor was there? – “I’m not sure….”

— Could you confirm there were two suicide bombers? – “I cannot confirm at this time any other further information, only that they were walking when the attack occurred.”

 

Read in ful below:

DPB: April 10, 2013  1:06 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon. I have one thing at the top. On a somber note, I would like to provide an update on the State Department personnel who were injured in Saturday’s attack in Qalat, Afghanistan. In addition to those tragically killed, four Department employees were injured as the party was moving on foot a short distance to a school, wearing personal protection gear and under escort of U.S. soldiers.

With the family’s permission, I can confirm that Kelly Hunt, who was a Public Affairs officer with Kandahar Airfield Regional Platform-South in southern Afghanistan, was wounded and has been medevaced to Germany, where she is receiving the best possible medical care. Secretary Kerry spoke with Kelly’s father on Saturday and with her mother yesterday and conveyed his sympathy to the family during this difficult time.

Two employees with less serious wounds are receiving ongoing treatment at NATO-ISAF medical facilities in Afghanistan. The fourth employee was treated for more minor injuries and has been released. Out of respect for these employees and their families’ privacies, those are all the details we can offer on the injured.

And just to reiterate what Kelly and her colleagues were doing in Zabul Province on that day, it was – they were going to bring children’s books in Dari and Pashto to a school as part of an Embassy-funded program in cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Education to promote literacy and provide teacher training. Afghanistan’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world, and through a cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy has distributed 1.9 million books to 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and provided training for their use in classrooms. So, as Secretary Kerry noted in Istanbul, this team was helping the children and educators of Afghanistan build a better future.

[…]

QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Afghanistan —

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — because the initial reports about this incident were that they were in a convoy, and now, as you said, it’s clear they were on foot. What can you tell us about the circumstances of the actual attack and why the story’s changed?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then also, was this – is this changing the way that you guys are thinking about operating in Afghanistan in general?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Michele. I think part of the initial confusion came about because there were reports in the media about the local governor and his convoy. And so some of our initial reporting also indicated that, and that’s why we weren’t able to clarify right away. So our initial read on it was different, and we’re now able to say that it was a convoy and they were walking.

In terms of all the rest of what happened that day, it’s still under investigation, so I don’t have a lot of other details to provide. But we are able to clarify at this point that they were in a walking movement from the PRT down to the school down the road. It appears that this convoy of the governor was right there at approximately the same spot when it occurred, but again, this remains under investigation.

In terms of our security for our personnel in Afghanistan, I’d really refer you to the Embassy for their posture, but obviously, we continually review our security. We don’t necessarily advertise exactly what precautions we’re taking, but when there’s a serious incident of this nature we review all of our procedures.

QUESTION: But does it make you think twice about doing – I mean, this is a public diplomacy thing.

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: You could’ve delivered books quietly and not with a big show like this.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re —

QUESTION: Does it make you think twice about doing that?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re going to continue our mission and assisting the Afghan people. I can’t specifically say how we’ll change any of our programming based on this incident. But the Secretary was clear, we’re going to continue in our mission in Afghanistan to help the people of Afghanistan. And this clearly, helping them in their literacy programs, is a vital program that will continue.

QUESTION: But it would be fair to say that you’re reviewing your security procedures and how you do the – implement these type of programs as a result?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve absolutely reviewing after this incident.

QUESTION: Sorry. You said they were walking from the PRT to the school?

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: And what kind of distance was that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know the exact distance, but we’re – this is in yards, not – it was a short distance down the road. So it happened very close to the PRT.

QUESTION: And then it was characterized as it was a big show. Was there some kind of ceremony that was going on?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know the whole details of how that day’s book presentation was going to go, but I do believe we had Afghan media.

QUESTION: Is that why the governor was there?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure about the governor’s participation. I’m not sure if he was going at the same moment to go – again, this is all under investigation. These are just some of the information that we’re able to share at this time.

QUESTION: Could you confirm there were two suicide bombers?

MR. VENTRELL: I cannot confirm at this time any other further information, only that they were walking when the attack occurred.

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Embassy Yemen: AQAP Offers Gold Bounty for Ambassador Feierstein

Reuters reported recently that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was offering three kilograms of gold for the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa, Gerald Feierstein. The group also offers to pay about $23,350 to anyone who kills an American soldier in Yemen.  The offer, according to reports was good only for six months.  The offer reportedly was done to “encourage our Muslim Ummah (nation), and to expand the circle of the jihad (holy war) by the masses,” according to an audio released by militants sourced from the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group (subscription fee).

The bounty offer made it to the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: Are you concerned the same incident in Benghazi would happen again in Yemen? As you’ve said, the State Department is now taking the threat to the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen seriously. Are you increasing the security?

MS. NULAND: Well, as you probably know, our mission in Yemen has been operating for quite some time at a highly sensitive and secure level. We continue to work intensively with that government, not only on security challenges for us, but security challenges for the Government of Yemen and the people of Yemen across the country. So we obviously take this situation with utmost seriousness, and we are taking all necessary measures.

QUESTION: But how do you make sure that tragedy won’t happen again?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, I’m not going to get into the details of how we manage our security in general terms or in specific terms at our Embassy in Sana’a, but I will tell you that our Embassy has been at emergency staffing levels for quite some time, including a pretty cautious status with regard to internal travel, et cetera.

QUESTION: Is the Ambassador still keeping up his same daily schedule since these events?

MS. NULAND: I don’t think I’m going to get into the security posture of the Ambassador except to say that we take these things very seriously.

Ambassador Feierstein has been the United States Ambassador to Yemen since September 2010. He previously served overseas at: Islamabad, Pakistan (1976–78); Tunis, Tunisia (1983–1985); Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1985–1987); Peshawar, Pakistan (1989–1992); Muscat, Oman (1995–1998), where he was chargé d’affaires; Jerusalem (1998–2001), as deputy consul general; and Beirut, Lebanon (2003–2004).  He returned to Pakistan in 2008 as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy Islamabad.

He has two daughters and a son, a United States Marine Corps veteran who served two combat tours in Iraq. This past September, his wife of over 30 years, Mary told a a Philadelphia-area newspaper that her husband was not worried about his safety.

Here is a quick excerpt from mcall.com:

“We’ve become such a strange family,” Mary Feierstein said, speaking from her home outside Washington, D.C. “I’m constantly worried about him, but we don’t worry as much as we used to because there is always something going on.”
[…]
Mary Feierstein, who is Pakistani, met her husband when he was posted at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad in 1976. She was drawn to his charms and intellect, she said. They were married in 1978 and spent what she described as “five wonderful years” in the United States before they left for his second post in Tunis, Tunisia, in 1983.

“I was trying to get away from that part of the world and then he took me back,” she said, laughing.
[…]
“The next posting could be Paris, but he’d say, ‘What am I go to do there? It will be boring’,” she said. “He likes challenge, to make history.”
[…]
After leaving Israel in July 2001, she never joined her husband on another post. He was going to countries where she was no longer allowed to join him because it was too dangerous.

“Since then, the world has been falling apart,” she said. “Up until then it was exciting. I loved it. Things aren’t as great for American diplomats overseas as they used to be.”

It looks like the Feiersteins are now on their third unaccompanied tour where Mrs. Feierstein has been unable to accompany her FSO to his overseas assignment.  Two years in Lebanon, two years in Pakistan and now over two years in Yemen.   All but one of his predecessors had three year tours, so presumably, he will have a similar length of tour unless he is called back earlier.

domani spero sig