America’s “Newspaper of Record” Calls Rex Tillerson Ill-Suited As Secretary of State, Ouchy!

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

NYT’s editorial of November 18, not only called Mr. Tillerson ill-suited as secretary of state, it also cited the 69th secretary of state’s “limited ambitions.”

One GOP senator John Cornyn still thinks Mr. Tillerson is “doing a great job”.  Early this year, the senior senator from Texas introduced Rex Tillerson before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as “uniquely qualified to serve in this important office.”

AND NOW THIS —

#

Advertisements

@StateDept to Offer Buyouts to First 641 Employees Who Agree to Leave by April 2018 #$25M

Posted: 12:15 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

In case you have not seen this yet, the NYT reported on November 10 that the State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April. We think the payout number is $40K, see our comment below:

The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.

To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worl

Still, State Department accountants have told Mr. Tillerson that only about 1,341 people are expected to retire or quit by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has promised to complete the first round of cuts.

Indeed, rumors of a buyout have reduced the number of departures expected this year. So $25,000 will be given to the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April, a representative from the State Department confirmed on Friday.
[…]
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”

Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

See the link to the full article below.

As far as we know, this POTUS has never been anywhere near Foggy Bottom since his election. Based on the archive of his tweets, he also tweeted only nine times about the State Department between 2014-2016. So when he said in that Ingraham interview that But we have some people that I’m not happy with there” — we have to wonder who are the “some people” he was referring to, and why was he “not happy.”

Given his lack of direct interactions with the employees of the State Department, we can only point to one incident that happened very early in his administration that may account for this “unhappiness.”  Back in February, we blogged about our concern related to the leaked dissent memo over Trump’s travel ban (see Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?).  We wrote then that the leak will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  In that 1971 case, President Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all 50 FSOs who signed a letter protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia. We are not aware of similar known instruction from this president but watching the news coming out of Foggy Bottom this past several months, one cannot help but wonder what function that leaked dissent memo had in the decision not to staff the agency at its upper ranks, and the reorganization that the new secretary of state has now embarked on (FOIA ninjas, here’s a case for you!).

Trump’s 2018 Budget requested $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion or 28 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget also requested $12.0 billion as Overseas Contingency Operations funding for extraordinary costs, primarily in war areas like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for an agency total of $37.6 billion. Note that the FY18 request under “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments” include “Section 3523 of Title 5, U.S. Code shall be applied with respect to funds made available by this Act by substituting “$40,000” for “$25,000″ in subsection (b)(3)(B) of such section.”  (Read 5 U.S. Code 3523).

In September this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. We expect this will pass due to bipartisan support.  Despite the reduced request by the Trump Administration, Congress reaffirmed its primary role in appropriating funds and gave the State Department more money than was requested.

And yet, the State Department is going forward with shrinking its American workforce by 8 percent. NYT put the reduction in number at 1,982 employees. The NYT report also says the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April will get $25K. The budget request actually increases the buyout amount to $40K. If our math is right, that means a total payout of about $25.6 million.

See: @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition, our calculations at 600 missed by 41 employees for the buyout.

We remember reading, in the aftermath of the dissent memo leak that the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.

But who’s going to protect an entire agency in what now looks glaringly like collective punishment?

A career ambassador who left the Service the last couple of years told us recently, “Until now, I’ve kept an open mind and a stiff upper lip. But now I’m ready to conclude that they really are working incrementally [to] fuck the traditional Foreign Service.”

#


Looky at the Daily Press Briefings: “The Lowest-Profile State Department in 45 Years”

Posted: 1:18 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

 

#

Burn Bag: Diplomat Writes About “The Slog of Leadership” and Misses Attack Date By a Year+

Via Burn Bag:

What’s this? The worst day of Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley’s life isn’t the day five of her staff were killed in Saudi Arabia? How did she get the date so wrong in this NYTimes Op-Ed? The attack was December 6, 2004, not/not December 4, 2005.

Like every chief of mission around the world, then and now, I began and ended each day with the question: “What can I do to increase safety for my staff?” I had reason to worry because for several years, the security situation in Saudi Arabia had been perilous, with terrorists attacking and murdering Saudis, other Arabs and Westerners. Diplomatic missions were favorite targets and ours, the Consulate General in Jeddah, made up of approximately 50 Americans and 150 locally-hired employees, was particularly attractive. With the advice of my security team, we raised the height of our walls, topped them with glass shards and barbed wire and imposed travel restrictions on the staff. We armed our guards and, unlike most diplomatic compounds, allowed military patrols inside our walls.
[…]
One proposal, however, threatened to tear our community apart. My security chief wanted to require all non-American staff to pass through metal detectors to enter the compound. I understood the imperative for a careful screening. But for a community under siege, the feeling that “we were all in it together” was critical to getting us through each day. Disparate treatment was sure to corrode our cohesiveness and send a signal to the local staff that we distrusted them despite the fact that they, too, put their lives on the line every day by walking through our gates.
[…]
After it was installed, I made sure that I was the very first staff member to walk through the metal detector. I can’t say that we had a Kumbaya moment or that resentment of my decision ended immediately among my American staff.  I had to lead by example and trust that they respected my integrity even if they didn’t like my position.

Despite all our measures, on December 4, 2005, one of the worst days of my life, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. After a long standoff, 10 of my staff members were injured, some terribly, and five were killed. These were colleagues with whom we worked alongside every day, and socialized with after work. And each and every one of them was a local staff member.

Read: http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/05/15/diplomat-to-saudi-arabia-opens-up-about-what-got-her-through-one-of-the-worst-days-of-my-life/

Related posts:

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)

 

#

Trump’s Wild Talk About America’s NATO Treaty Obligations — Not/Not a Misquote

Posted: 12:19 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

SANGER: But I guess the question is, If we can’t, do you think that your presidency, let’s assume for a moment that they contribute what they are contributing today, or what they have contributed historically, your presidency would be one of pulling back and saying, “You know, we’re not going to invest in these alliances with NATO, we are not going to invest as much as we have in Asia since the end of the Korean War because we can’t afford it and it’s really not in our interest to do so.”

TRUMP: If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?

SANGER: We do.

HABERMAN: We both do.

TRUMP: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

[…]

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

[…]

TRUMP: I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.

SANGER: But Erdogan is not. Tell us how you would deal with that?

TRUMP: Well, it would be ideal if we could get them all together. And that would be a possibility. But I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we have a potentially — we could have a potentially very successful relationship with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together.

SANGER: And what’s your diplomatic plan for doing that?

TRUMP: Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.

There’s mooooore, oh, dear.

Meanwhile — in Russia, Trump is apparently “inspiring a new generation of optimism.”

Here’s the NATO reaction:

#

Rhodes. Ben Rhodes, the Morons Up the Street, the Blob and the White House’s Media Compadres

Posted: 12:26 am PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

David Samuels has a must read profile of Ben Rhodes over in the New York Times. Rhodes is the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication for President Obama. His official title is “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.” According to his WH bio, he is tasks with overseeing President Obama’s national security communications, speechwriting, and global engagement. Below are some striking nuggets from that NYT profile of the master of spin.  Please read and weep.

#1. “On the largest and smallest questions alike, the voice in which America speaks to the world is that of Ben Rhodes.” And here we thought the voice is that of John Kirby, the official spokesperson of the State Department.

#2. “He is, according to the consensus of the two dozen current and former White House insiders I talked to, the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself.” Wait, not Clinton, or Kerry? Is that why Secretary Kerry can’t get a new plane?

#3. “One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”  Whoopsie! Did you fell off your chair, too?

#4. “I watch the message bounce from Rhodes’s brain to Price’s keyboard to the three big briefing podiums — the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon — and across the Twitterverse, where it springs to life in dozens of insta-stories, which over the next five hours don formal dress for mainstream outlets.  This would make a nice infographic.

#5. “It has been rare to find Ben Rhodes’s name in news stories about the large events of the past seven years, unless you are looking for the quotation from an unnamed senior official in Paragraph 9. He is invisible because he is not an egotist, and because he is devoted to the president.” No doubt he is devoted to the president, but when the unnamed senior official in para 9 is also the spin doctor that invisibility is more about media strategery than about ego.

#6. “For Rhodes, who wrote much of the I.S.G. report, the Iraq war was proof, in black and white, not of the complexity of international affairs or the many perils attendant on political decision-making but of the fact that the decision-makers were morons.” Which ones?  All of them?

#7. “He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East. This summer’s expected blockbuster — The Blob (a Foreign Affairs Thriller).

#8. “Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.”  Difficult but not impossible?

#9. “The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres …” Oh, golly!

#10.  “In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”  That feeling you get when you’re about to throw up?

Ladies and gentlemen, the vomitorium is the second pristine white door to the right. Proceed with caution; it’s crazy bad in there.

#

Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

.

 

The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

.

.

[protected-iframe id=”e89eac4f85ec0b5debb3122421f29c6e-31973045-31356973″ info=”//giphy.com/embed/zrwZ0GvnryRfa?html5=true” width=”480″ height=”325″ frameborder=”0″] .

On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

#

New York Times: Tell us about the U.S. embassy in your country

Posted: 12:03 pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

#

Tweet of the Day: Note to State Department: Don’t be so prickly

Posted: 12:51 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Robin Raphel, Presumption of Innocence and Tin Can Phones for Pak Officials

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Late on November 6, WaPo published the following Robin Raphel story:

Here is a link to the NYT story:

 

On November 7, an unnamed official cited by the Associated Press said the FBI investigation was related to access to classified materials:

 

NYT did a follow-up report over two weeks later reporting that an eavesdropping on a Pakistani official led to the Raphel inquiry:

 

A follow-up report from WaPo includes a statement from Amy Jeffress, Ambassador Raphel’s attorney (she is also the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia).

“Ambassador Raphel is a highly respected career diplomat who has dedicated her life to serving the United States and its interests,” said Amy Jeffress, Raphel’s attorney and the former chief of the National Security Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. “She would never intentionally do anything to compromise those interests. She, and we as her counsel, are cooperating with the investigation, and we are confident that she will be cleared of any suspicion.”

What do we know about this case?  Below is a list of “known” items out there according to media reports:

  • The federal investigation reportedly is part of a counterintelligence probe.
  • Ambassador Raphel’s security clearances reportedly was withdrawn.
  • She reportedly was placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire.
  • The FBI reportedly searched her Northwest Washington home, and her State Department office  also was examined and sealed.
  • Agents reportedly “discovered classified information” during a raid at her home.
  • In an intercepted conversation this year “a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat,” reportedly setting off the espionage investigation.
  • Apparently,Ambassador Raphel has not been told she is the target of an investigation, and she has not been questioned according to her spokesman.
  • Ambassador Raphel now has a lawyer.
  • Over two weeks after the original report surfaced, she has not been formally accused or charged with a crime. Since she has not been formally charged, she has no way to defend herself from allegations.

The Indian media has had a field day with this investigation, throwing in a bunch of name calling, and well, it looks like she is considered a national nemesis over there. The view from Pakistan (read this) is thoughtful and more wait and see.  We’re also now starting to see Raphel’s name being linked to Hillary Clinton; she has been described as a “close Clinton family friend,” a  “Hillary donor” and a “powerful Clinton ally.”

In any case, we understand from a source inside the building that the FBI would “never investigate” a State employee without coordinating with Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence. Apparently, there is an FBI liaison in DS/IC to assist with the sharing of case information but whatever role Diplomatic Security played in this case, the bureau is not advertising it.

We’ve compiled a list of the things we don’t know about this case and the questions we have:

  • According to WaPo, two U.S. officials described the investigation as a counterintelligence matter, which typically involves allegations of spying on behalf of foreign governments. Who are these officials and what are their motive for leaking a counter-intel probe to the news media?
  • The investigation reportedly is ongoing; does the media spotlight not jeopardize the investigation?
  • According to NYT, it is unclear exactly what the Pakistani official said in the intercepted conversation that led to this investigation. Apparently, it is also not/not clear “whether the conversation was by telephone, email or some other form of communication.” Does this mean all discrete discreet Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are limited to discussing their lunch menu and tourist opportunities in their host country to using tin can telephones for official subjects?
  • Who is the  Pakistani official? Was he/she aware that USG agents were eavesdropping? If he/she/they were not aware before of the eavesdropping, are they aware now?  We’re seriously perplexed, how is this helpful?
  • We understand that by the time a case like this goes overt, the government has  all the information it needs.  It is not not apparent if that is the case here. If we presume that the USG went overt because it has all the evidence it needs, how come there are no charges to-date?

One of our most sacred principles in the United States is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.   The government not only must charge an individual suspected of a crime, it also must prove,beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged. That has not happened here.

Despite what the Indian media says, and even if Pakistani officials in the U.S. now are using tin-can telephones to communicate, the current status of the Raphel case amount to allegations from unnamed officials, and an ongoing investigation.  That is far from clear evidence of guilt.

 * * *

 

Updated on 11/25/14 at 1546 PST to correct grammatical errors and for clarity.