US Embassy Kabul: Eileen O’Connor Moving from Afghanistan to SRAPistan?

We recently posted about the new and sparkling Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio at the US Embassy at the US Embassy in Kabul.  (See Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker “Dedicates” The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio – to Whom?)

Our reliable Baghdad Kabul Nightingale amusingly informed us that the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio is the only building in the complex that actually says what its purpose is, on the outside.  The Baghdad Kabul Nightingale is not counting “New Office Building” or “Existing Office Building,” aka, “Old Chancery Building,” and convinced that those two buildings were clearly not/not named by someone in public affairs.  Apparently, there are many other buildings in the embassy complex with boring names like DFAC, tower, staff housing, etc, or have state names like Michigan, Florida, etc.  The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio is the only one that says “Broadcast Studio”; it’s the only one (at least for now) that says right on the front and the back exactly what it does.  The Baghdad Kabul Nightingale informs us that the public affairs folks over there clearly knew how to brand.

In a related but not unexpected news, word has it that Eileen O’Connor is leaving post soon, moving to DC and into the Office of the Special Rep for Af/Pak (SRAP); the late Richard Holbrooke’s old office now encumbered by Marc Grossman in Foggy Bottom.

Via US Embassy Kabul/Flickr | Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Khalid greets Eileen O’Connor, Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, U.S. Embassy, before the inauguration of the Access English program at Rahman Baba High School in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday, June 4, 2011. David Ensor is the guy with the red tie.

In any case, in 2010, we had David Ensor (formerly of CNN) over at the US Embassy in Kabul as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, a newly created title. He had since moved on to VOA in 2011.

He was soon replaced by former CNN/ABC correspondent Eileen O’Connor as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy.  Don’t worry, she’s not leaving government service. If what we’re hearing is true, you will soon rub elbow with Ms. O’Connor at the State Department cafeteria.

So a now vacancy at US Embassy Kabul for a public affairs professional, huh? You can try Wolf Blitzer but you are wasting your time. Or John King who just lost his show, but it is an election year. Who wants to be in Kabul wrestling with the Taliban on Twitter when there is an Obama-Romney face off at the homefront?

We have just the right candidate for you, folks — and she’s somebody familiar, taa-daa! Dr. Liz Colton.

Dr. Colton previously worked as a journalist with firsthand experience abroad. She reported for Asia Week, a Reuters magazine, and was a London-based television producer for both NBC and ABC covering the Middle East and North Africa. She even has an Emmy for two ABC Nightly News pieces on Libya. Later she established Newsweek’s Middle East bureau in Cairo. She covered the Persian Gulf War and was even NPR’s State Department correspondent. And best of all, she is a former Foreign Service officer. One of ours.

Pardon me? Dr. Colton took the State Department to court for age discrimination? Oh heck, that’s like problematic, isn’t it?  Here’s a public affairs professional whose talents they could really use over there, they don’t need six months to get her up to speed, but she took State to court and while in an ongoing legal tussle, she was thrown off the airlock at 66… and …

But…but… DGHR is so full of nice people, surely they did not take that personally.

Domani Spero

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Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker “Dedicates” The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio – to Whom?

Via El Snarkistani over in It’s Always Sunny in Kabul:

And this took over a year? Don’t they have Macbooks at the Embassy?

So part of Crocker’s legacy at the Embassy, besides being really excited about how much money has been siphoned out of the country due to massive corruption, and making sure that the majority of Department of State staff in this country never left Kabul, is the eponymous TV studio that took over a year to complete.

Now, instead of outsourcing ridiculous television ventures, the Embassy staff can now be inept all on their own.

Oh, El Snarky, so harsh. What is El Snarkistini talking about? This one:

Caption from US Embassy Kabul/FB:
The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio was dedicated on 24 June with a ribbon cutting at the Embassy by Ambassador Crocker and Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, Eileen O’Connor. The production studio, which took over one year to complete, will give the Embassy the ability to do live television broadcasts and studio quality videos for the web.

Paging Mr. Universe, you are needed in Kabul A-S-A-P where you can now do live television broadcasts and studio quality videos for the web in Afghanistan, a country where 4.2% of the population are internet users and where more than half never uses television. That teevee number goes up 73% in the rural areas of Afghanistan, by the way.

Whose bright idea was this? Please do tell so we can give appropriate credit!

Okay – so since Ambassador Crocker “dedicated” this ahem, Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio on June 24, to whom did he dedicate this to?  To the best of our memory, even the late Richard Holbrooke who reportedly had his own personal archivist did not go so far as dedicate a building to himself.

Um, pardon me?  You mean why can’t ambassadors name stuff after themselves in a country where money obviously is not/not a problem it’s leaking left and right?

Because. It’s bad form. And it’s muy, muy embarassaurus. I’m writing this post under my desk, you guys!

Oh, yes — wouldn’t that look  like ambassadors are building a temple of their own greatness or something? But pray, what’s wrong with that? If they are in fact, great?

Well, for one thing, it reminds us of Alexander the Great who liked to found cities and name them after himself, in honour of his own achievements. By the way, last year the BBC had this interesting piece about the pitfalls of naming places after famous people. It’s a must read if you’re thinking of renaming things after yourself, too.

And then there’s El Jefe, Rafael Trujillo.  In 1936 the capital city of the Dominican Republic was changed from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo. The province of San Cristobal was changed to “Trujillo”, and the nation’s highest peak, Pico Duarte, was renamed Pico Trujillo. Heck, this is a broadcast studio, it’s not like they’re naming a mountain after him.

Right you are, but huge problems with bad associations, see?

And it creates a bad precedence.   Seriously.  Are they going to start naming the chanceries and ambassadors’ residences with ambassadors’ names? Or new embassy compounds, or water towers?  Or roads and bridges built with aid money? What?

C’mon Ms. Eileen O’Connor, Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy and US Embassy Kabul folks, youreallydon’tthinkthislooksbad?

The State Department already has a  $10,000 award named after Ambassador Crocker (see Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy). I get that.  But I don’t know whose brainchild is the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio or how much this cost American taxpayers. And this is still a shocker.  Also a production studio need folks to work there, so more 3161 employees are needed. And here I thought we’re shrinking our footprint there by 2014. Oops wait, aren’t we supposed to be there until 2024 to the Karzai’s clan endless delight? While we’re in the business of naming stuff, can we please, please name something big, a bridge, a building, the Parliament, “2014” as a reminder?  Oh, we can always rename it “2024” later to celebrate the next phase of this perplexing relationship.

In any case, I fervently hope that the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio‘s name is carved in stone or the next ambassador might be tempted to re-brand that new shiny thing with his/her name. Of course, who’s going to say “no” if he/she wants to replace the carved stone with a new carved stone with a new name, hmnnn?

Domani Spero

Colton v. Clinton Goes to the Court of Appeals …. And Oh, Who Are We Going to See in Kabul Next, Wolf Blitzer?

Last year, the DC District Court Judge Richard J. Leon rejected FSO Elizabeth Colton’s ADEA claims against Secretary of State Clinton and upheld the Foreign Service Act’s mandatory retirement provision.

The Court’s decision included the following which bears repeating here:

“Colton’s allegation that the Secretary of State’s refusal to grant her an extension pursuant to § 4052(b) was a discriminatory act is unavailing. Although the mandatory retirement provision grants the Secretary the discretion to retain a person for up to five years past the mandatory retirement age if in the “public interest,” there is no requirement that the Secretary do so..”

Dr. Colton had rotated out of Karachi in the middle of the district’s great floods and was granted a one-year extension for an assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.   The Legal Times citing court records reported that on Aug. 4, the State Department told Colton via e-mail that her mandatory retirement had been postponed until Sept. 2011 and that she had been approved to serve as the information officer for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The local press reported her arrival in Egypt on September 2010 here.

Dr. Colton was asked to jumped out of the water in Pakistan and was sent to Egypt where she jumped into the fire. Need we mention that she was at post before, during, and after the Egyptian Revolution like all other core embassy employees younger than her?  We know because we continue receiving the embassy press updates all that time.

That extension should run out just about now.   But I understand that the case has now gone to the Court of Appeals where Dr. Colton was granted until November 21, 2011, to file her appellant’s brief.

When she gets thrown out the airlock at 66 when that one-year extension is done, I supposed it just shows that there is no such thing as in the “public interest” when it comes to midlevel public diplomacy professionals even with the State Department’s persistent staffing gaps in that cone, and despite the turmoil in the large swath of the Middle East.

As if to put emphasis on the notion of “public interest,” (or lack thereof), which of course, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department gets to interpret, just when and how that is at play — we are happy to report that David Ensor, formerly of CNN and US Embassy Kabul and now of Voice of America has been replaced by former CNN/ABC correspondent Eileen O’Connor.

Yep, for the same position at the US Embassy in Kabul as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy. See? Routine State Department job titles do not even cut the cake there.

Via the Potomac Flacks: “First reported in Politico’s “Playbook”, Eileen O’Connor has been named the new Communications Director and Director of Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, succeeding David Ensor.  O’Connor is currently Counsel in the law firm McDermott, Will and Emery.  She is a former CNN and ABC foreign correspondent, who over a 24-year career in journalism was based in London, Moscow, Tokyo and in Washington, DC.”

Over a decade ago when the State Department’s own State Magazine picked Dr. Colton as an interesting specimen among FSO newbies, the magazine writes:

Ms. Colton also worked as a journalist with firsthand experience abroad. She reported for Asia Week, a Reuters magazine, and was a London-based television producer for both NBC and ABC covering the Middle East and North Africa. In 1981, she won an Emmy for two ABC Nightly News pieces on Libya. Later she established Newsweek’s Middle East bureau in Cairo. The Waterford, Va., resident’s coverage of the Persian Gulf War prompted National Public Radio to offer her a job as its State Department correspondent.

Remember that group of Iraqi soldiers who surrendered to a journalist? You guessed it.

They gave up to NBC radio correspondent Liz Colton.

Read more about her in  Colton v. Clinton: Expeditionary Diplomat Booted Off Career Ladder, Too Old

Any how — we are supposed to understand that there is no “public interest” in the extension of this career diplomat’s tenure past the mandatory retirement age, no matter how excellent her service in the field of public diplomacy because she is too old?  Like I said before but let me say it again — that super sucks!

No matter that she is serving in one of the top deficit cones in the Foreign Service? Ditto.

No matter that she is serving in the midlevel ranks where there occur the most staffing gaps? Ditto.

Should we, therefore, conclude that while there is no/no “public interest” for the State Department to extend its “oldies but goldies” employees who clearly have the chops, the hiring of sorta big name journalists for its big time public affairs shop in the war zone is/is in the country’s “public interest?”

Like there isn’t anyone in all of the State Department’s career corps  qualified to run the US Embassy Kabul’s press shop? What have they done to all the qualified career professionals in public affairs, throw them all out the airlock because they’ve turn 65?

I’m curious just how much taxpayer money goes to this kind of “public interest.”

And who, pray tell are we going to see in Kabul next, Wolf Blitzer? Presumably, Ms. O’Connor will have a one-year tour at the US Embassy Kabul. So for 2012-2013, can we please, please vote who we should have there next?