Inbox: I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism at the federal level

 

Via email received from Foggy Bottom:
I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism even at the federal level.  While most of my time was spent overseas doing meaningful work alongside some amazing people, the first three months of my long initial training was at the federal law enforcement training center in Brunswick, GA– coincidentally the very same town in which Ahmaud Arbery was killed.  It was eye opening, and often not in a positive way.
That massive academy in southeast Georgia trains everyone from DS and the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Bureau of Prisons.  It was all too common to hear horribly racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic comments while in the chow hall, the gym, or most egregiously at the campus bar.  If this was how some new recruits viewed the world, how could anyone expect them to behave impartially and fairly.  Fairly young at the time with no prior experience in weapons or tactics, the advice given to me when I started was “keep your mouth closed and your head down.” That I did, although looking back, shamefully so.
When I finished training and made it to the field office, I thought I had escaped those types of officers.  In DS, the average new hire had at least a Masters degree and fluency in a foreign language, not to mention had to pass rigorous interviews and assessments.  Months into my first assignment we had a presentation from a Diplomat in Residence (DIR) – who spoke to our field office about the next generation of employees.  She spoke of the Foreign Service reputation as “too male, Yale, and pale” and gave a fantastic rundown of diversity recruitment programs.
The following day while eating lunch after a law enforcement operation with about a half dozen new agents who had just graduated from BSAC, one expressed his disgust at the Ambassador’s remarks and more notably, referred to this Senior Foreign Service DIR as a “Black b****.”  That wasn’t even the worst of what he said.  I was horrified.  His beliefs – spoken in a public restaurant in a major city – were blatantly racist and more troublesome, represented what I believed to be dangerous when held by someone carrying a gun and a badge.  I walked out of the restaurant alone mid-meal shaking from what I heard but didn’t have the strength to confront him.  I was ashamed that someone like that wore the same badge and swore the same oath in front of the Secretary of State as me.
I ultimately left law enforcement several years later for a better fit for my family.  I worked with overwhelmingly good people, many whom I remain friends with and who have expressed their own horror and condemnation over these last few days.  The best agents I know do not hesitate to confront the small cadre of morally repugnant bigots.  These are the men and women who I still look up to, despite no longer working in their field.
An old friend sent me screenshots of a conversation that took place [recently] in a private Facebook group for DS agents.  One agent called into question the troubling experiences of her African-American DS colleague, writing in rejection to his clearly-firsthand accounts “that’s strange because I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years and never heard any of that from any of my sisters and brothers in blue.”  When pressed on her naiveté, she doubled down with something so gross that I won’t even quote here but ask any of the hundreds of DS agents present on that social media page.  She was appropriately shunned and humiliated by her bosses and peers for showing her true colors and will face the consequences, but anyone in law enforcement who pretends that systemic racism doesn’t exist should do the responsible thing and hand in your gun and badge now before your beliefs affect your actions.  If colleagues had stood up to officers like Derek Chauvin, maybe it would have prevented a death.
Meanwhile, also in Foggy Bottom:

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You ask, what is it like to be Black in America? A former @StateDept employee tells her story

Note: We’ve corrected the posts where she served. 

The following is a personal account of a former State Department employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Tianna S.  joined the State Department in April 2018. She was posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (Oct. 2018- March 2019) and then at the U.S. Embassy Mexico City (March 2019- October 2019). She departed post in October 2019, she was 27 years old.  Her departure from the State Department was apparently called an “involuntary separation.” 
Her account said she “was encouraged not to speak to the press about what I experienced and to steer clear of any lawsuit as it had the potential for serious repercussions against my government career.” 
Who provided that encouragement?
Which officials at the State Department or post were aware about these incidents? When she was placed on involuntary separation, did the Bureau of Global Talent Management (State/M/GTM) and DGHR Carol Perez care what precipitated it?
If not, why not?
If yes, what did State’s top talent officer do besides sign off Tianna’s separation documents?
Via What’s Up With Tianna (excerpted with permission). Read the entire piece hereWhat do I want from white people? (An illustration on Being Black in America).
Her piece started with the death of George Floyd:

Your heart will pound heavily as George repeats “I can’t breathe.”

He will die face down in the middle of the street. You will watch another unarmed Black man die on camera, in cold flesh, at the hands of a white police officer. When the video finally ends, a feeling deep in your soul will tell you that the white police officer will not go to jail. Before you press play, ask yourself, how many more?

At one point in her account, she writes,  “You ask, what is it like to be Black in America?” Then she tells us:

I drove my vehicle from my house in Mexico across the United States land border into El Paso, Texas at 2:30PM on Saturday, January 19, 2019. A United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official flagged me into secondary inspection, for what marked the 17th instance of further inspection since I arrived in Mexico on October 26, 2018. The official inquired if I was a U.S. citizen, motive of travel in the United States, reason of visit in Mexico, and if the car I was driving was stolen. I sat on a cold bench and endured further questioning. I showed my Diplomatic Passport, stating I worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, and lived there.

“Sure you do,” he laughed.

He probed, asking more questions. A new official appeared and searched my car, tossing around the contents in my backseat and glove compartment. He took his left hand and rubbed it up and down my car windows.

“I’m going to meet my friend in El Paso,” I stated.

“When you talk to a man, you look at the ground. Do you understand me?” He glared at me, face full of disgust. The officers laughed. My shoulders tense.

May I speak to your manager please?” I asked.

The on-duty manager approached, crossing his arms, and asked, “what do you want?” I told him about my negative interaction with the previous officers. The manager laughed and asked the motive of travel into the U.S. I told him I was going to meet a friend for coffee and was asked why I needed to come to the U.S. to partake in that activity.

“I’m a U.S. citizen,” I reiterated.

When I told the manager that I worked for the U.S. Consulate General as a Foreign Service Consular Officer, he laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “right.” Again, I presented my Diplomatic Passport, U.S. Passport, Mexican Carnet, and Global Entry Card. He laughed again and told me he did not need to look at my identification stating, “it could be counterfeit for all I know.”

Blood pumping. Small and humiliated. The manager never looked at my documentation, nor believed anything that I said, even with substantial proof. He went back in his office after obtaining my first and last name. Upon returning, he told me that I had only been pulled over to secondary about eight times so “why are you complaining?” I was bewildered and still am. I requested his name, only to be met with his reply of “I do not have to give you my name.” He later stated “you don’t need my first name.” His name was Officer Kireli.

When I reiterated that his account of the frequency of secondary inspection was incorrect, the manager scoffed, his team standing behind him almost mocking me.

Just because you say you work at the Consulate, does not mean that you are not smuggling drugs into the country,” he said. Extremely frustrated and irritated, I asked how in the world I would be able to get top secret security clearance to work for the United States Government.

The manager then told me, “I do not know, but I do know what drug dealers and smugglers look like.” When I asked him to explain, the manager stepped forward, attempting to intimidate me, crossed his arms, looked at me up and down, and said, “you know what I mean.” I was furious at his insinuation that I was a drug smuggler and his racially charged implication based off of my appearance. I demanded an apology from the manager for the disgusting and unjust defamation of my name and my character.

The CBP manager took another step forward to stand on top of the platform that the bench sits on, positioning him to be a couple inches taller than me. He placed his hand on his gun, finger around the trigger, and told me to get back in my car.

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First Person: DSS Agent Assaulted By Spouse Says “Our HR process is garbage”

 

The following is a first person account shared by a Diplomatic Security agent who was assaulted twice by his spouse in USG quarters temporary housing located in the Washington DC area.  He wrote that he wanted  to call attention to a situation he faced in the hope that “others who find themselves in similar circumstances know what to expect.”  He added that “with the ongoing pandemic and quarantine other employees may find themselves in similar situations as they are trapped with their spouses under stressful circumstances.” He told us he was a DS Agent with a few years on the job.  “Despite being relatively junior, I was a good agent that made tenure, had no disciplinary issues, and I received several awards.” 
The individual who wrote this told us that he resigned from the State Department and is now employed by another agency in his home state.
This is his story, as sent to us. We’ve added links in [brackets] for the relevant offices:  

I was assigned to an HTP [High Threat Post] post in Africa and I was there for several months.  While there, a medical issue surfaced that couldn’t be treated at Post.  I went on leave to my home state (which was also the location of my previous assignment and where my spouse and child lived while I was at post) and saw a specialist.  While on leave, I was “caught out”-the medical condition I was diagnosed with while on leave prevented my return to post.  I was told by MED [Bureau of Medical Services] that I could not return to Post, my medical clearance was downgraded, and (after what seemed like an eternity), I was eventually assigned to a position in the DC/NOVA area.  Never mind that I burned through all my leave so that I could keep getting paid and the medical per diem that I was authorized didn’t pay out until the very end.  I rented out my house in my home state and prepared to move my family to the NOVA area.

 While in temporary housing at one of the Oakwood properties, my spouse assaulted me.  Our relationship had been badly strained by the long durations apart for training and an unaccompanied tour (while at post, things got so bad that I retained a lawyer and initiated divorce proceedings).  After the assault, my spouse was arrested by the local police-and after the mandatory separation period we decided to try to patch things up and try again.  Thankfully our child was not present when this happened; several weeks later we brought our child to Virginia.  I also started looking for a position with another agency knowing that the foreign service lifestyle was taking its toll.  We wound up buying a condo in one of the suburbs and moved in.

I went on a brief TDY and this separation caused issues to resurface to in our relationship.  I committed to restarting the divorce proceedings.  However, court proceedings, custody issues, and property would be decided in my home state-not in Virginia.  I could not afford another residence in Virginia, and I could not stay with my spouse due to the violent outbursts.  I was essentially homeless.  I reached out to Employee Consultation Services and my CDO [Career Development Officer] and asked about being transferred back to my home state.  At least in my home state I would be able to stay with family and see the divorce through.  Remaining in Virginia would mean continuing to “crash” at AirBnBs until my tour was up…another 18 months.  After several weeks, my spouse assured me that it was safe to return to the condo and I wanted to see my child.

Approximately 3 weeks after returning from this TDY things again took a turn for the worse and my spouse assaulted me-this time with a weapon.  I only sustained minor injuries, but my spouse was arrested and this left me responsible for taking care of our child alone.  My chain-of-command was incredibly understanding and supportive and I was able to meet family and work obligations without issue.  Unfortunately, or HR system was much less understanding and supportive. There were open positions in my home state that I wanted to return to.  However, it seems like it takes an act of God to get an employee to one of them.  I was told that my request to “the panel”…which was supported by police and court reports, and an affidavit from my attorney which explained the need to be in my home state for the divorce, may not be sufficient justification for reassignment.  According to one of the CDOs I was dealing with (more on that later), the panel is concerned that people may “take advantage of (domestic violence) situations” and try to get reassigned.  I guess that it is more career enhancing to just continue to get abused and windup losing custody than to transfer an employee.  Thankfully, I was able to secure a position with another agency in my home state.  I won’t be homeless and I can see the divorce through to the end.  Although the pay cut hurts, at least I am safe and will see my child again.

Overall, DS [Diplomatic Security] was a great experience.  The work and the people were great.  The same goes for all of the Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with.  We hire some very talented people, but we don’t do a good job retaining them.  Our HR process is garbage.  [HR office is now officially the Bureau of Global Talent Management].

I understand that everyone has unique circumstances but just be aware that the programs that you think can help you cannot be relied upon.  By all means, try to stay with the foreign service if you like the job…had they been able to accommodate me until my issue was resolved I’d have done 20 and retired.  Your DS experience, training, and security clearance make you marketable to other agencies….keep trying and one will come through.  If DS (and the Dept. as a whole) were serious about retaining employees, they would fix the HR system.  I am now looking to see if I have any legal recourse; others shouldn’t have to go through this.  As a wise person said, “at the end of the day it is just a job”.  It was an interesting and rewarding job-but still just a job.  There is other good work out there.  If you think things may go bad, get your applications in.  Constantly have applications going with other agencies so you always have a parachute…that is what saved me.

Below are his “lessons learned,” shared for those who may be in similar circumstances:

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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First Person: I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day … #FSassault

Posted: 12:55 am  ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day with RSO. The accused was removed from post shortly thereafter. 

My victimization didn’t really begin until I sought assistance 6 months later from MED when I arrived at my next post. MED sent me on a MEDEVAC to DC from my post to a facility that didn’t treat trauma and required I take a $60 taxi each way daily from Oakwood Falls Church where most of my colleagues from my unaccompanied post were staying due to long term training. 

MED refused to discharge me for weeks despite requests for relocation and a new treatment plan. I finally found my own providers online when the State Department didn’t provide a list of referrals prior to my discharge. 

Then, the MEDEVAC team advised me of their recommendation for a Class 5 medical clearance (domestic only) without ever speaking to my psychiatrist and without providing a reason. 

I filed appeals of my medical clearance without success all the way to the Director General. 

MED refused to assist with my PTSD claim for worker’s compensation despite the reported incident occurring at the U.S. Embassy in a warzone where we can’t leave the compound. 

My out of pocket medical expenses (therapist/ psychiatrist/medicine) would not be covered once my MEDEVAC ended. My housing was paid for at my post and my children were enrolled in the international school. We didn’t receive our HHE for 6 months after having someone else pack out our goods. 

Without access to the State Department system, it was nearly impossible to secure an onward assignment. I didn’t have contact information for my 360s and no access to my employee profile. I went house shopping in DC with a realtor and was advised there was no suitable housing for a family of my size at an amount I could afford. Washington, DC has bedroom occupancy regulations which made it difficult to accommodate. 

The State Department sent me to the brink of financial ruin. I took a huge pay cut, lost my paid housing, my kids lost their prestigious school, and my spouse lost job opportunities available at post all because I was a victim and sought assistance from MED.

*

The account above is an unsolicited email from a Foreign Service employee who did not want us to use her name but wanted to share her story. She said she previously served in Israel, Iraq, Colombia, Venezuela, Georgia, and Afghanistan, all with a Class 1 medical clearance, meaning “worldwide available” for Foreign Service assignments. She told us she was also last promoted in 2015. 

According to her, Diplomatic Security asked if she wanted to go to the medical unit but she declined. Regarding the perpetrator, she said, “I have no verification that he is overseas with his family, but he is listed on the GAL [global address list] and so is his wife.”  She added, “He had also destroyed government property ✂️ and was highly intoxicated in the middle of the night when he was subdued by security. It apparently had no effect on his security clearance or medical clearance as he had the ability to serve overseas at his next post with his family.” 

She said that she chose to stay at her post in the warzone until the end of her tour so she would not lose her onward assignment. She arrived at her onward post in Europe and was  subsequently medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) after she contacted MED.

She told this blog, “I was never hospitalized. I was never a threat to myself or others. It is hard to believe that this is my life. The biggest issue I have is that I was never provided a reason as to why my clearance was denied other than a generic “best care is available in the U.S.” 

The post she was evacuated from is a European post with high level of medical care including English speaking therapists and psychiatrists. Post has a resident regional medical officer (RMO) and a resident regional medical officer/psychiatrist (RMO/P).

The FS employee told us she is on leave without pay and believed that her OWCP claim (Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs) for PTSD was one of the factors in the downgrading of her medical clearance.

She shared with us an OCWP letter in which “Under Accepted Event(s) That Are Factors of Employment” is this:

“– That while assigned to the US embassy in ✂️ from 2014-2015. you were sexually harassed and assaulted by a colleague who was under the influence of alcohol after checking on him at his room.” 

We hope to have a follow-up post on the MED – OCA – OCWP mess.

 

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First Person: I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped in ✂️… Continuing on has been ✂️ incredibly difficult…

Posted: 12:45 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Below is a redacted version of the Burn Bag we received. The red scissor indicates the parts of the Burn Bag that we purposely snipped (see explanation below):

I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped, in  ✂️

It has been an extremely painful ….. ✂️

Continuing on has been an (sic) incredibly difficult.

To have to continue to go ✂️  with this threatening and frightening person still present and looming around, has been terrifying.

In addition to not feeling safe with this violent criminal down the hallway, I have been grappling in fear and lost about what to do.

Like the grim picture your recent article on sexual assault reporting paints, it’s been hard to gather information on what to do.

I’ve heard of two accounts of other FSOs who’ve been sexually assaulted and these violent criminals are still serving as diplomats, with no apparent justice served despite their efforts to address the issue through HR.

I have many specific questions. ✂️

Is there some place outside of the State Dept and other than the police where one can make a report?

✂️ [W]hat about when the assailant is of equal “rank,” particularly, also a FSO? I’ve heard that in these situations, although both the victim and perpetrator were both FSOs, that it tends to discount the crime overall because it’s “embarrassing” to the Department that a FSO would do this. In the end, the female FSO who was assaulted seems to get no real justice. ✂️

What about AFSA? Is there anyone we can talk to at AFSA who has past experiene or specializes in Sexual Adsault (sic) and Harrassment issues in the FS?

I know that this is sent anonymously and that I can’t get these answers directly.

So I hope that Diplopundit will consider an update to the Sexual Assault blog around the questions I’ve raised ✂️

You have at least one oerson (sic) here in the FS family suffering greatly who would appreciate any information or guidance. Thank you.

*

Redacted Burn Bag – a Rare Exception

As we’ve previously written here, we received this Burn Bag submission regarding sexual assault in the Foreign Service. We have no way to contact the sender directly but we know that she reads this blog (90% of adult rape victims are female, so we will use the feminine pronoun in this blogpost). She wanted us to have the information for publication since she did send the information via Burn Bag. While we almost never redact/edit the Burn Bag submissions we post in this blog, we are making a rare exception here.  We are doing so because we have serious concerns that posting all details and locations contained in the Burn Bag submission could identify the victim/assault survivor or alert the perpetrator. While the Burn Bag is clearly intended for publication, we do not wish to place the victim/survivor in potential additional jeopardy, and that’s why this version is redacted.

We should note that this is the second anonymous FSO who reported to us their sexual assault while in the Foreign Service. A third employee who did not want us to use her name has also recently reached out to this blog about her assault while posted in a war zone. She shared  the fallout from her reporting and we will post that account separately.

 

Related posts:

 

 

First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998

Posted:12:41 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

The following is an excerpt from a first person account of the 1998 bombing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania by FSO Dante Paradiso. He is a career Foreign Service Officer, a lawyer, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Embassy: A Story of War and Diplomacy,” Beaufort Books (New York) available in October 2016.   Prior to joining the Foreign Service he served in the Peace Corps and was an intern at the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998.  Since joining the FS in 2002, he has served  in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, Libreville and Washington, D.C.

The piece is excerpted from the Small Wars Journal and includes the  standard disclaimer that “the views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.”  He is on Twitter at @paradisoDX.

The wall and guard booth are gone—just rubble and rusted ribs of rebar.  The motor pool fleet is crushed, pancaked, the frames of the cars and vans fused and welded together.  The chassis and tank of a blue water truck lie upside down and crumpled against the base of the chancery like a scarab beetle pinned on its back.  The community liaison office at the corner of the building is a black, smoldering cavern.  The other wing stands disfigured.  The sun louvers are cracked.  Above the cafeteria, blood is splattered across the wall like abstract art, rust-colored in the light.  The Economic Officer tells me, “Don’t enter through the side.”

“Why?”

“There’s a hand in the stairwell.”

Read in full here.

While you’re reading this, you might also want to check out Vella G. Mbenna’s account of the same bombing.  She served as a ­­­­­Support Communications Officer and recounts her experience during the attack in Dar es Salaam. She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2016. Via ADST:

After leaving the center where I worked and passed the area around the corner where the Front Office was located, I heard a faint phone ringing. I stopped in my tracks, turned around and entered the communication center to find out that it was my phone.

I quickly went to the back of the center to my office to get it. It was Pretoria on the line and I was glad. I sat in my chair and said these words to them, “I am Vella from Dar es Salaam and I was wondering why our system’s staff …..”

Before I finished the sentence, the blast occurred because the wall I was facing came back in my face and slammed me into racks of equipment across the room.

I recall getting up, brushing myself off and proceeding to alert Washington via my equipment that something bad had happened and to close our circuits for now. Then I proceeded to check on colleagues in the communications suite and putting communication and IT stuff in a safe.
[…]
I walked on and opened the door to the Admin building side of the building….What I saw without even entering deep into the building was complete chaos. It was more of what I saw in the Executive Office, but to a greater extentIt was like a meteorite had hit the Embassy. Even worse was that the entire wall and windows facing the road was gone.

I started having a really bad feeling because most of all I saw or heard no one. Why was everyone gone except me? I backed out of the door and back onto the catwalk and started down the stairs.

As I started down the stairs I realized that something bad had happened, something really, really badI thought that maybe that if it wasn’t a meteorite, then a space ship came down and the aliens took up everyone except me.

I wanted to start screaming for help…Then I thought, no one would know exactly what happened to us all. So, I tip-toed down the rest of the stairs.

When I saw more devastation and how I appeared to blocked in, I had to scream. I started screaming for help, first a low scream…and then louder….

After about a minute and a half I heard a familiar voice calling out asking who was there. It was a Marine. I told him it was Vella, the communications officer from the 2nd floor. I wanted to be as clear as possible, even though I knew the voice. Once I told him exactly where I was, he told me to try to climb over the rubble and look for his hands. I told him I was going to throw up the INMARSAT first and I did.

Read in full here via ADST.

In related news — in Kenya, where over 200 hundred people were killed and more than 4,000 were injured in the embassy blast, victims are now reportedly accusing the Kenyan and US governments of neglecting them.

On July 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered final judgment on liability under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) on several related cases—brought by victims of the bombings and their families—against the Republic of Sudan, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Sudan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (collectively “defendants”) for their roles in supporting, funding, and otherwise carrying out the attacks. The combined cases involve over 600 plaintiffs. The awards range from $1.5 million for severe emotional injuries to $7.5 million for severe injuries and permanent impairment. See  U.S. Court Awards Damages to Victims of August 7, 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings.

To-date, no one has been compensated and the victims are now seeking compensation through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

 

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Parting Shot: “Good Bread in a Government Bureaucracy”

— By *Domani da Lontano 

Screen Shot 2013-06-20

*The valedictory piece above is penned by somebody who calls himself/herself Domani da Lontano.  The writer says he/she is “leaving the State Department” because of its “insufferable culture.” The author hopes that “a future Secretary will focus on improving the culture”  and requested that we publish “this attempt to ask that others consider how jaded we have become.”

The pen name Domani da Lontano is Italian for “tomorrow from afar.”

 (>_<)

US Mission Mexico: First Person from a Border Post

The story excerpted below is obviously from one of our six border posts in Mexico (where we have an embassy, 10 constituent posts, plus two VPPs). I understand that this personal account has been doing the rounds here and there for the last several months. I have inserted one link below.  Names are redacted per request of my source. See my comments in a separate post.

Relevant sections of 7 FAM 050 Consular Information Program, Warden Messages and the No Double Standard Policy appended at the end.     

 
First Person from a Border Post:


[…] I understand and have always accepted that 
[REDACTED] is a place with real danger and risks, but this incident makes me believe that my safety is not as high of a priority as I believed it to be, and that in the future other management decisions could play out in the same way, with my well-being subverted to other interests.
[….]

At approximately 12:30 AM on Tuesday, I awoke to the extremely loud sounds of automatic gunfire and grenades.  My husband [REDACTED] called the RSO immediately and reported that we thought that the head of the [REDACTED] for [REDACTED] , who is our next-door neighbor, was being attacked.  We had crawled from the bed to the closet and laid there while the blasts lasted, for approximately 30 minutes.  The window frames were rattling violently, and I shuddered in terror and seriously considered calling my mother to say goodbye in anticipation of my death.  During that time we spoke several times to the RSO, the ARSO, and two colleagues, including one who was also located very close to the center of the raid.  A few minutes after the gunfire ended, the electricity in our house cut off.  The ARSO told my husband that he wasn’t calling the all-clear because the target of the raid had escaped.  Military vehicles with soldiers standing in the back passed by our house every minute or so.

The next morning, our electricity still off, I went to work.  I saw many roads blocked off by soldiers, including one end of my road (3 houses down), and I saw bullet holes in several houses on my street and others in the neighborhood.  There were a lot of soldiers standing around, and some seemed to be inspecting bullet holes in the side of the house on our street (3 houses down, but in the other direction from the house that was raided).

That morning, my Principal Officer [REDACTED]  met with me for about 10-15 minutes to hear about my experience.  He said I should consider calling the psychological support services available through the State Department.  He seemed surprised that I reported being so terrified during the attack.[…]  He said the good news was that because the raid happened in my neighborhood this time, it probably wouldn’t happen again there.  I reminded him of the large daytime narco vs. military battle on Sept. 4, 2009, also in my neighborhood, and he shrugged.

Around 9:15 AM, all the official Americans at the Consulate met again.  The PO pointed out that it was a military raid of a very important Gulf Cartel leader (the plaza boss) and that he had escaped, and that this kind of violence could happen again anywhere at any time because it is part of the [REDACTED]  military’s plan.  He indicated that [REDACTED]  knew about the raid but didn’t really elaborate.  When [REDACTED] asked about moving our housing to Texas, the PO said we would not be able to move our housing to Texas because of diplomatic credentialing and that things this bad have happened near Consulate families at other border posts, and they haven’t evacuated either.  He pointed out that families in [REDACTED]  are eligible for Unique Circumstances Special Maintenance Allowance.  He said the State Department had psychological services that we could use without damaging our personnel records.  The PO said that he would hold a “debriefing” meeting for the spouses at his house at 8 PM. 

The RSO informed us that the emergency text messaging system–intended to send out a warning SMS in emergency situations–had failed and no SMS was sent out, but that the Embassy was working on a new product that it was going to release to the Consulates soon, and that he would ask them to release it as soon as possible.

[REDACTED] questioned why he was the only officer not contacted by the RSO or ARSO. The ARSO[REDACTED] apologized and said by the time they thought to call him, the gunfire and grenade part was over and they didn’t think it necessary.  The PO asked [REDACTED] , who had been acting as the unofficial, undesignated Acting NIV unit chief, why she had not activated the phone tree.  In fact, she had never been given that responsibility, her name is not at the top of the phone tree, and neither is the regular NIV Chief’s (who was on leave but in town, and who did attend this meeting).  In fact, the phone tree has no relation to the NIV unit’s work, or even the Consular Section.  The PO’s name is at the top.  Then someone complained about the phone tree not having accurate numbers, and the PO asked me to release a new version.  As the ACS Chief, I have never had any involvement with the phone tree’s data or dissemination.  I think the Management Officer was out on leave; he wasn’t at the meeting.

[REDACTED]
  and I had already been planning to go away from post for the long holiday weekend, so I declined for him from the spouse meeting, which I later heard was canceled.  When I got home from work, my colleague [REDACTED]  called and said the more she thinks about it, the more it upsets her that our leadership knew about the military raid in advance and didn’t warn us.  Since I had not understood that message from any of my interactions or the meeting, I was shocked and asked why she thought that (she had combined details of what different people had said during the day).  As we were loading the car at around 6:15 PM, my colleague [REDACTED]  called and said he was hosting the PO and the RSO at his house to talk about the raid, and he invited us to meet over pizza with them at 7 PM.
[…]
When I arrived at [REDACTED]  house, he encouraged me to call [REDACTED]  and invite her too, which I did.  [REDACTED] , [REDACTED]‘s wife, was also at the house.  Then the PO and the RSO arrived, with the ARSO-I FSN Investigator[REDACTED] .  A few minutes later [REDACTED]  arrived, and the meeting started.  The PO began by summarizing the facts of the military raid, including that it was a joint United States-Mexico operation.  He confirmed that he and the RSO knew operational details of the raid, which house was going to be raided, and that the Mexican military was going to effectuate the raid that week.

When we asked the PO why we weren’t warned that there would be a military raid so close to our house, he explained that the “no double standard” policy prevented him from disseminating information about the prospective raid.  [REDACTED]  asked if the RSO took any additional precautions to protect us or monitor our location.  PO and the RSO told us that they took no additional security precautions.  I said that the incident felt like a betrayal and I no longer trusted management to prioritize our safety.  PO and the RSO both reacted to that statement with outrage and PO said that he wasn’t going to argue with me about my feelings but thought I was wrong.

The RSO said that an email containing security instructions for gunfights, sent out Monday, Sept. 13 at 2:10 PM, was supposed to warn us that the raid was imminent.  Everyone else–[REDACTED] –expressed that we had read the message but did not comprehend the warning and believed it to be routine security information, which we receive often.  [REDACTED] pointed out that we are all ELOs at our first post, so we do not know the subtext to messages such as this, if there even were a subtext to it.
[…]
I pointed out that no information was shared directly with the family members, including the email.  PO said that is because the CLO was out on vacation.  The RSO sternly reminded me that it is my responsibility to share that information with my own family and to take security precautions for myself and my family.  The RSO and PO implored that we all should have been able to realize that the email was a specific warning.  The RSO said that he is careful not to inundate us with information so that we know to pay attention to each message.  We all agreed that we had heeded the message and pretty much followed it in the moment of crisis (i.e., not watching from the window, going to the safest part of the house, etc.).

PO told us that he didn’t have to debrief us about the military raid and that we should all be thankful that he’s saying anything to us.  Then, he confirmed that the Embassy was involved in the decision to withhold from us any information about the raid.  He confirmed that the head of the [REDACTED] , our next-door neighbor, was informed about the military raid.  He said that in retrospect maybe he should have pointed out the Embassy that several Consulate families would be in imminent risk, but that they all thought it would be a “surgical operation” that they thought would have less of an impact on the neighborhood.  He questioned what we would have done differently if we had known about the raid in advance.  I pointed out that and I could have stayed with friends or in a hotel in Texas, and that I would not have hosted a dinner party on Sunday night for some Consulate friends who left my home, driving past the to-be-raided house at about 11 PM, and that I would not have continued taking my dogs on a walk past the to-be-raided house every evening.  PO pointed out again that we were all choosing to have our families live in a dangerous setting.  He admitted repeatedly “I fucked up,” but never really apologized for letting the incident happen.  Nor did he seem to think the consequences were that serious or the risks to us as great as we believe they were.  He questioned why [REDACTED] was even upset, because his house was about a mile away from the epicenter.  Earlier, PO had questioned while [REDACTED]  was even at the meeting, because she has no dependents living full-time at post.[…]

Next, [REDACTED]  told PO that we did not join the Foreign Service to be exposed to this sort of danger, especially considering the worsening security situation in Mexico and at Post.  PO responded that [REDACTED]  was wrong because all FSOs are worldwide-available.  PO directed us to curtail if we thought Mexico was too dangerous.  He told us that we should not be upset about the military raid occurring so close to our houses because that’s why we receive the 20% hardship/danger pay allowance (a fact he repeated about a half dozen times during this meeting).  When [REDACTED]  became upset and told the PO that his decision not to inform anyone about the raid or take additional security precautions was unfair to the spouses, who were legitimately upset about the military raid, the PO became heated, stood up, and started yelling at [REDACTED] .  The RSO had to step between PO and [REDACTED] to defuse the situation.

We all thanked PO and the RSO for attending the meeting and being forthright with us about the facts of the military raid.  As the meeting ended, the RSO pulled me and [REDACTED] aside into the kitchen.  There, he expressed outrage that I had “sandbagged” him in front of his boss by saying that I no longer trusted the management to keep us safe after they did not disclose the prospective military raid to us.  He informed me that this was “friendly advice” about my corridor reputation, and that his feelings were hurt.  After about twenty minutes of talking, the RSO left.
[…]


Related items:


a. In administering the travel information program, the Department of State applies a “no double standard” policy to important security threat information, including criminal information.
(1) Such information, if shared by the Department with the official U.S. community, generally should be made available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official Americans.
(2) If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/U.S. non-citizen nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.
(3) If so, the post should notify the Department and request approval of dissemination of the information to the public.

(4) The policy is not intended to prevent the limited distribution of information about threats to specific U.S. citizens/U.S. non-citizen nationals or U.S. corporations. Important security information may be shared on a limited basis when directed toward a specific target or when appropriate to counter a particular threat.


7 FAM 053.2-2 Post’s Role | b.

b. If you learn of a security threat, report it to the Department following the established procedures at your post. At this stage, you should not disseminate information about the threat beyond those with a “need to know” (i.e., persons who could develop additional information or help to counter the threat) to avoid violating the “no double standard” policy (see 7 FAM 053).


Insider Quote: first to be exposed and last to be rescued …

Aerial view of the US Embassy, Saigon, showing...Image via WikipediaJackie Bong Wright
—Saigon 1975

Locally Employed Staff,

US Embassy Vietnam

I served as a Vietnamese employee.  I think that we were the first to be exposed and the last to be rescued.  And we had to be there to face disaster or crisis.  And at that time many Americans already left and we were Vietnamese.  We were to stay and to be there to be open – to open our doors.  And I personally, because of my history, my husband, Nguyen Van Bong, was assassinated by the Communists in late 1971, and I was the chairman of the board of the Vietnamese American Association.  I felt that I was prone to be a target of the Communists, the Vietnamese Communists.  Therefore, I had to try to leave.  And the day I asked someone at the U.S. Embassy to help a lot of members of my family – cousins, aunts, uncles and everyone – came to my house and asked to be rescued.  And I said even myself, I didn’t know how.  And fortunately at the last minute, I was asked to go, and I had the opportunity to be so-called married to an American pilot.  But many, many Vietnamese were there.  They stayed and they were not lucky, and they were put in jail.  Many of my friends, my colleagues from the VAA, from USIS, from the U.S. embassy affiliated offices and also with the U.S. companies.  Quite a few of them, including my brother.  My brother who had spent six years in the U.S. came back in early April.  He was asked to register, and he went to a refugee camp.  The Communists said that because he was related to the U.S., and being in the U.S. for six years, he was certainly connected to be CIA.  So he went to a refugee camp, concentration camp, and prison.  And he died of bad treatment.  A lot of my friends, Vietnamese friends, suffered the same fate.

Read the whole thing at US Diplomacy.