Former Iran Prisoner: “Oman initiated our release, not the State Department”

Posted: 12:29 am EDT
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Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans who were hiking in a mountainous region of Turkey near Iran in June 2009 when they were seized by Iranian border guards. He and his friend Joshua Fattal were detained in Evin prison in Tehran for more than two years. He was charged on August 21, 2011 with espionage and illegal entry and given an eight year sentence. On September 21, 2011, one month after his sentence, Mr. Bauer (and Mr. Fattal) was released and allowed to return to the United States.

He is now a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering criminal justice and human rights. As news broke this weekend about the Iran prisoner swap, Politico reported that he called Clinton’s appeal for more sanctions “totally irresponsible” and accused her of constantly inflaming tensions with Iran. Read Politico’s story here. He also tweeted this:

In October 2011, the NYT had this item about the passing of FSO Philo Dibble. He died on October 1, 2011, 10 days after Fattal and Bauer were released:

Philo Dibble, a career Foreign Service officer who played a central role in the release of two American hikers who had been held in an Iranian prison for more than two years, died at his home in McLean, Va., on Oct. 1, 10 days after the hikers were freed. He was 60.

The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Elizabeth Link Dibble, who is also a State Department official. Both worked in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, where he was deputy assistant secretary of state for Iranand she is the bureau’s principal deputy secretary.

“Philo really was the lead in the State Department for coordinating all U.S. government efforts regarding the release of the hikers,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, the Near Eastern bureau’s assistant secretary, said Thursday.

While explaining that he could not provide details because “it’s pretty sensitive,” Mr. Feltman said Mr. Dibble had coordinated efforts with diplomats from other nations, including Oman and Switzerland, in trying to free the hikers. (Switzerland has represented American interests in Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979-81.)

We may not know the full story how the release of the hikers went down until somebody from State writes a book about it or do an ADST oral history but some random Internet person actually tweeted what we were thinking:

Emails about the hikers were part of the latest Clinton email dump. Below is a selection of the emails:

Bauer’s letter to D/S Bill Burns with a redacted request – PDF
Statement of Facts issued by the State Department for Mr. Bauer – PDF
The hikers’ parents letter to President Obama copied to State – PDF
OpsAlert updates during release of two hikers – PDF
Bauer and Fattal statements after release (transcript) PDF

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Acting A/S Beth Jones Yanks Out “Disaster” DCM from NEA Post — Brava!

Back in January, we posted a brief item about Ambassador Beth Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern Affairs. (see QotW:  Will Beth Jones Be Formally Nominated as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs?)

Recently, Laura Rozen of the Back Channel posted more on the rumored potential successor to Jeffrey Feltman at the NEA Bureau. Excerpt:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Beth Jones will not stay in the job in Obama’s second term, the Back Channel has previously reported. Among the rumored candidates in the mix to possibly succeed her, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, Syria envoy Ford, and US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, who previously served as deputy US Ambassador in Iraq and DAS for Europe, diplomatic sources said. Other possibilities mentioned include US envoy to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft, US envoy to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and NSS Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar. The administration is, however, unlikely to pick an outsider/non career diplomat for the sensitive NEA post, especially in the wake of Benghazi, diplomatic sources said Friday, and suggested Patterson or Ford, both with past ambassadorships in the Arab world, would have an edge.

Read in full here.

While Ambassador Jones is not in the running for the top job at the NEA Bureau, we think she deserves credit for yanking out a deputy chief of mission described as “a disaster” from one of her NEA posts. Instead of letting things fester, as is often the case in the bureaucracy, this one was sent out packing to land back in WashDC.

The traditional arrangement for running an embassy assigns internal management of the mission to the deputy chief of mission. And while we recognize the many challenges in doing that, we are also convinced that not everyone who is a DCM is cut out to be one.  When the bureau let it stew too long particularly in a  sort of pressure cooker place, the mission gets, well, overly chewy and unpleasant.

So let’s hope that whoever takes over Ambassador Jones’ job at the NEA Bureau will show a similar propensity for tackling difficult managers in our overseas missions.  And while Secretary Kerry is reportedly relying on senior managers to take care of the big house while he is starting to beef up his miles, he ought to do something about the State Department’s  Recycling Division for bad managers.  We’re getting awfully tired seeing recyclees pop up here, there and the most unexpected places.

Dear Secretary Kerry, can you please send these recyclees to a leadership bootcamp, and no we don’t mean to the NFATC/ Foreign Service Institute where they cure them with Myers-Briggs.

A side note —

We recently posted about the “abysmal morale” at the US Embassy in Cairo, another NEA post (see US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?).  While writing this post, we received a note that a high-level visitor from DC will soon be in Cairo to discuss post morale.  We hope that trip is fruitful. We’d volunteer to be baggage handler so we can live-tweet the trip and the expected town hall with mission staff but folks might get shy ….

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Brett McGurk on Leadership and Fingertip Understanding of Iraq at the Senate

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) still has not put up the June 6 video and prepared testimony of Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee to take charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world.  The SFRC Minority Report on Iraq says that “The administration must continue to assign its most skilled and experienced Arabist diplomats to ensure Iraq’s complex problems are considered in the broadest possible regional terms.”

But that’s only the Minority Report, and here we are.

Rumor has it that the embassy staffing will be slashed by 25% next fall, which would make it a 12,000 personnel diplomatic mission. Still the largest embassy in the world. When it will be slashed by 75% — that will be news.  Yes, do please think about it, we’ll wait here.

Map of Iraq, where Yahya ibn Umar conducted hi...

Map of Iraq (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The c-span video of the hearing is here. Don’t worry, the entire hearing for three ambassadorial nominees only lasted 1 hour and 27 minutes.  Only two Dems showed up for the show, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.  Only two GOP senators showed up for the show, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, and Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana.  So out of 19 members of the  Senate Foreign Relations Committee only four senators bothered to come in for the hearing.  We’re sure they’ll watch it on c-span like we did.

Anyway, last week, the State Department in response to inquiries about the purported McGurk emails has the following:

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, on the subject of the emails, they’re out there for everybody to see. I’m not going to get into emails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife. With regard to Mr. McGurk’s nomination, I think you know that he spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration. He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination.

Uniquely qualified? Waaaaait a minute – wasn’t that the same thing they told FSOs when they did the prime candidate exercise? Everyone who received the letter were told they were “uniquely qualified” to serve in Iraq. Even an FSO who has done all consular work and no Arabic, was “uniquely qualified” to be a political officer somewhere in Baghdad. FSO ended up going on a volunteer assignment (also known apparently as “voluntold”).  But did FSO’s boss who had political officer experience and Arabic language, who’s never been to Iraq, also get the “uniquely qualified” notice to go to Iraq?  We don’t know but boss reportedly got stuck at a desk in Foggy Bottom with a mighty glue.

Over at The Common Ills blog, a transcript of some of the Q&A during the confirmation hearing last Wednesday was posted.  Mr. McGurk’s comment is so full of shiny cliché that we thought it could stand some improvement if we turn it into freestyle rap, or could also work as a chant. The full text of this segment of Mr. McGurk’s comment is posted here.

*

Leadership of the embassy starts at home
At the embassy  
I’ve served with all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq
I’ve seen every permentation of the embassy from the very beginning to where it is today  
I have learned and seen and been involved with what it takes to lead in Iraq

*

And to lead in Iraq
you need a really  fingertip understanding
of the operational tempo in Iraq
of what it’s like day-to-day
of knowing when something is a crisis
and when it’s not
managing morale and keeping people focused on the goals 

*

It also takes a team  
I’d be inheriting a team of extraordinary talent and depth at the embassy  
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with every member of the country team in Iraq  
That team encorporates  individuals from across the government
just a whole government approach
from Commerce to Transportation
to Treasury
to State
to the Defense Community
to the Intelligence Community

*

Key members of that team have volunteered to stay on for another year
And, if I’m confirmed, would serve with me  
As Ambassador, the buck would stop with me
I have a very clear vision —
in coordination with the President and the Secretary
— of where we need to take this mission 
But I would be working with a very strong team

He totally forgot the boss person at the regional bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) in his “clear vision–in coordination with….” part of the response.

If he is confirmed those who volunteered another year would serve with him, of course.  But they have probably volunteered before he was announced as a nominee, anyway.   If he is not confirmed, those who volunteered to serve another year, will serve with whoever the Senate confirms as the new embassy boss.

Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq includes serving “all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq,” but does not include Arabic language, or experience in managing a a budget, especially that in the billions of dollars; does not include managing dozens, or hundreds of employees (even if Baghdad is “rightsized” to 12,000, that’s a long jump from managing a few people to thousands of personnel) in what is still a dangerous zone.  And he was apparently our negotiator with Iraq on retaining a residual U.S. force there, which did not happen –  so ….

Frankly, we do not know what “uniquely qualified” even means anymore or if that will be enough, whatever that is, to keep Mr. McGurk in this embassy slot.  He is a political appointee, so presumably he is a White House pick, not a State Department pick.  We’ve heard about the official support to this nomination from the State Department but have not heard anything from the WH.   More from The Cable here today, with additional doubts and questions expressed.  And fallout at the Wall Street Journal with the resignation of Ms. Chon.

In related news, somebody opened an account in Tumblr under Brett McGurk’s name —  see http://brettmcgurk.tumblr.com/ — on May 4, 2012. Sorry, no interesting notes there but one nice photo with President Bush, Ambassador Crocker and General Petreaus. Part of the description does say: “Brett McGurk possesses a wealth of knowledge and insight regarding U.S. policy in Iraq with high-level posts spanning nearly a decade between both Baghdad and Washington.”  

Okay then.  The nomination has not been scheduled for a vote in the SFRC’s website but reportedly will come up for a vote sometime next week. 

In another related news, the senior diplomat who oversaw US policy over that region in turmoil, who speaks Arabic and had actually managed more than a handful of people at an embassy and a regional bureau has finally landed at the United Nations.  On June 11, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Jeffrey D. Feltman of the United States as the top United Nations official dealing with political issues, as part of an ongoing series of changes to his senior management team initiated at the start of his second term.  The announcement says that “Mr. Feltman will replace B. Lynn Pascoe, also a US national, as the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, overseeing a department that plays a central role in UN efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world.”

Domani Spero

Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service

Headgear, headwear or headdress is the term for any element of clothing worn on one’s head for a variety of purposes — for protection, fashion, social convention or religious purposes.  And our foreign service has bunches of this:

US Embassy India

Former US Ambassador to India, Tim Roemer wearing a colorful turban during a visit to Jodhpur
(Photo from US Embassy India/Flickr)

US Mission Japan

FSO Margot Carrington (aka “Amerikan Omaru“) during her Kabuki Diplomacy in Fukuoka, Japan. Wearing her hair in a yakkoshimada.
(Photo screen grab from YouTube)

US Mission Afghanistan

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry during a provincial trip. Shown in the photo wearing a Lungei
(Photo by Brian H Neely/Department of State)

Unidentified woman in a red scarf included in a photo set of Ambassador Olson’s trip to Paktika Province.
(Photo by Brian H Neely/Department of State)

Dr. Laura Tedesco, archaeologist, U.S. Embassy Kabul, checks out the ongoing excavation at the Towers of Ghazni (Bahlan Shah Minar) in Ghazni, Afghanistan on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. She’s shown in the photo wearing a bullet proof vest and what looks like a black Kevlar bullet proof ballistic helmet
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker checks on construction at the new U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan on Thursday, August 25, 2011. Shown here wearing a construction hard hat.
(S.K. Vemmer/Department of State)

Public Affairs Officer Donna Welton wearing a gorgeous headscarf listens to the speakers during inauguration of the LLC in Maimana on January 31, 2012.
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

Ambassador Richard Olson, the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy Kabul wearing a Lungei (or headdress that is worn by men) during a visit to Paktika, Afghanistan. The Turban is a symbol of honor and is respected everywhere it is worn; it is a common practice to honor important guests by offering them one to wear.
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

US Mission Pakistan

Dr. Marilyn Wyatt, with her husband, US Ambassador to Pakistann Cameron Munter participated in an interfaith dialogue on at Faisal Mosque’s International Islamic University. She’s shown above wearing a long, multi-purpose scarf (a dupatta?) that is essential to many South Asian women.
(Photo from US Embassy Pakistan/Flickr)

Ambassador Cameron Munter during a tour of a complex of three newly-inaugurated schools in KP Province. The schools were rebuilt with U.S. government support after their destruction in the 2005 earthquake. He is shown here wearing a pakol, a soft, round-topped men’s hat, typically of wool worn by many all over Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Screen grab from YouTube video)

William Martin, US Consul General in Karachi wearing a traditional Sindhi Cap and Ajrak cloth. A Cap and Arjak Day is celebrated by the people of Sindh, province of Pakistan to express their loyalty to the Sindhi culture and it’s cultural symbols.
(Photo from USCG Karachi/FB)

U.S. Consul General Carmela Conroy gets ready to enter the vulture compound for feeding time, complete with head and dress cover. (Photo taken during the Earth Day Celebration in April 2011 at the ‘Vulture Conservation Center’ in Changa Manga.
(Photo from USCG Lahore/FB)

Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID with a cap and ajrak, during the launch of the USAID funded National Reading Program at Government Girls Primary/Secondary School in Sultanabad, Karachi
(Photo from USCG Karachi/Flickr)

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary R. Clinton and her delegation observe a moment of silence at the shrine of Sufi Saint Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi, Bari Imam, near Islamabad.U.S. Secretary of State’s Visit to Shrine of Sufi Saint Bari Imam, Islamabad, 29 October 2009.
(State Dept. photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

US Embassy Switzerland

United States Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Donald S. Beyer Jr (2nd from right) wearing a red hard hat visits the CERN LHC Large Hadron Collider. CERN, also the birthplace of the Internet. Photo taken in the CMS Cavern with an analogue camera due to strong magnetic field. (Photo from US Embassy Bern/Courtesy of CERN)

US Embassy Marshall Islands

Ambassador Campbell with program manager Ken Taggart from the Waan Aelon in Majel, Canoes of the Marshall Islands program. Shown in the photo with the traditional floral headress.
(Photo from US Embassy Majuro/FB)

US Embassy Cameroon

US Embassy Yaounde, Cameroon – Ambassador Jackson (second from the left) and Mrs. Jackson (first from the left) wearing hats at the parade on International Women Day presided over by Cameroon First Lady Chantal Biya. [US Embassy Photo)

US Embassy Micronesia

Ambassador Peter Prahar provides remarks at the Pacific Partnership 2011 Closing Ceremony on July 14. Shown here wearing a floral headress popular in the islands
(Photo from US Embassy Micronesia/FB)

US Embassy Malaysia

Via US Embassy Malaysia: “On September 28, 2011, Ambassador Paul Jones reached the hearts and minds of more than 700 Orang Asli (indigenous people) in Rompin, Pahang. He was accompanied by Malaysian Ambassador to the U.S., Dato’ Sri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis. Students, teachers and village elders greeted Ambassador Jones and delegation at the entrance of the Sekolah Kebangsaan Kedaik. This was followed by a welcoming greeting by the village head, Boo Hsuan who then presented them with traditional headgear and sashes made from coconut leaves.”
(Photo from US Embassy Malaysia website)

US Mission China

Consul General Linda Donahue shows Monkey and Pig (with respective mask and hat) how easy it is to use the new DS-160 online visa application form.
(Photo from US Embassy Beijing/Flickr)

US Embassy Lebanon

U.S Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman greets American evacuees (wearing protective headgears) as they board U.S. Marines helicopter which will take them from the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Aukar at the northern edge of the capital Beirut in Lebanon to Cyprus on Tuesday, July 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian via militaryphotos.net)

A Special Mention – from Afghanistan

via

Maj. Gen. John Toolan dances (in full Afghan gear) during a farewell dinner for distinguished members of the Afghan governmental and police forces and II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) senior officers on March 8. (Photos by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively)

Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not, but neither last … we hope you enjoy this round-up.

Domani Spero