FBI to Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel: “Do you know any foreigners?” #criminalizingdiplomacy

Posted: 1:29  pm ET
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We’ve posted previously about Ambassador Robin Raphel in this blog. See Case Against Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel Ends Without Charges, Who’s Gonna Say Sorry?. Also below:

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs an extensive account of what happened and why this case is a concerning one for American diplomats:

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

[…]
State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time, but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

[…]

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

[…]

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

Read in full below:

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Taliban Attacks German Consulate, Building Previously Abandoned by USG For Being “Too Dangerous”

Posted: 2:04 am ET
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In December 2009, the US Embassy in Kabul announced that Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, signed a new agreement under which the United States would lease an historic 1930’s hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif for use as the new U.S. Consulate. At that time, the United States has agreed to invest approximately $26 million to renovate the Mazar Hotel facility so that it may be used as an office building and housing for consulate employees (see US Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif Moving Forward and DIY Home Renovation Opportunity in Mazar-e-Sharif.

After signing a 10-year lease and spending eventually more than $80 million on a site envisioned as the United States’ diplomatic hub in northern Afghanistan, American officials were reported to have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous according to WaPo in May 2012. The WaPo report cited an internal memo written by Martin Kelly, then acting management counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul saying that the facility was far from ideal from the start:

The compound, which housed a hotel when the Americans took it on, shared a wall with local shopkeepers. The space between the outer perimeter wall and buildings inside — a distance known as “setback” in war zone construction — was not up to U.S. diplomatic standards set by the State Department’s Overseas Security Policy Board. The complex was surrounded by several tall buildings from which an attack could easily be launched.[…] Responding effectively to an emergency at the consulate would be next to impossible, Kelly noted, because the facility does not have space for a Black Hawk helicopter to land. It would take a military emergency response team 11 / 2 to 2 hours to reach the site “under good conditions,” he said.”

Also this:

In December (2011), embassy officials began exploring alternative short-term sites for their diplomatic staff in northern Afghanistan. A Western diplomat familiar with the situation said the United States has sought, so far in vain, to persuade the German and Swedish governments to sublet it. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, said European diplomats have found the prospect laughable.”

Read more US Consulate Mazar-e-Sharif: $80 Million and Wishful Thinking Down the Drain, and Not a Brake Too Soon.

In June 2013, the German Consulate opened at the old Mazar Hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Last Thursday, a suicide bomber rammed a truck into the German Consulate in Mazar, killing at least six civilians and wounding 120.  The Telegraph reported that Afghan special forces have cordoned off the consulate, previously well-known as Mazar Hotel, as helicopters flew over the site and ambulances with wailing sirens rushed to the area after the explosion. On November 12, the US Embassy in Kabul announced that it will be closed for routine services on Sunday, November 13 as a temporary precautionary measure.

We don’t as yet know if this property with a 10-year USG leased was sublet by the German Government or purchased by the Germans from its owners. We will update if we know more. There were local casualties but there were no reported casualties for German consulate workers. We understand that this was a reasonably secure building after all the fit-out and upgrade work was done prior to the USG suspending the project in 2012 but that the site is hemmed in by other structures and too close to high-traffic venues like the Blue Mosque. Then Ambassador Ryan Crocker decided that the location was too risky when he arrived in Afghanistan and so the USG abandoned this building.

Ambassadors Crocker, Ford, Jeffrey and Neumann: Why we need to keep our ambassador in Yemen

Posted: 01:10 EST

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Ryan Crocker was ambassador to Kuwait, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan.  Robert Ford was ambassador to Algeria and Syria.  James Jeffrey was ambassador to Albania, Turkey and Iraq and deputy National Security Advisor. Ronald Neumann was ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain and Afghanistan. The four former ambassadors who served in some of our most difficult posts overseas authored the following piece:

Why we need to keep our ambassador in Yemen

via The Hill, February 6, 2015:

Yemen’s increasing tumult recently led two members of Congress to call for the withdrawal of U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller.  We appreciate the concern for Matt Tueller, someone we all know and esteem.  Yet we disagree both that the decision should be made solely on the basis of danger and that it should be made primarily in Washington.

No group could take security more seriously than we do.  Each of us in our own diplomatic service has been shot at, rocketed, and mortared.  One survived a bombing and another missed a bomb by minutes.  We have all buried colleagues who were less lucky than we.  We know that even the best reasoned security decisions can be wrong.  And yet we disagree.

Yemen exemplifies why American diplomats need to take personal risks in our national interest.  Yemen teeters on the edge of civil war.  The fight there with Al-Qaeda is far from successful but is not yet lost.  At this critical time engagement and judgment on the ground are essential to try to stabilize the situation before Yemen slides into such complete chaos that outsiders are helpless to influence the situation.

The so-called Houthis (a name the group doesn’t use) who have seized power in Yemen’s capital have Iranian friends but the relationship is unclear and we should not jump to facile assumptions of a close Iranian alliance.  We need understanding of what the Houthis seek, whether we share interests and whether our financial and military assistance can help leverage political stabilization; the kind of judgments that can only be made on the ground in an evolving situation.

The Saudis have strong interests in Yemen and strong influence with some tribes. We should try to cooperate with the Saudis because of their strong influences, our broad relationship with them and the depth of their interest.  But we cannot rely on their or anyone else’s analysis.  Further we need to be aware of long developed Saudi views that sometimes prejudice their recommendations. In short, only if we are making our own analysis on the ground can we even begin to have a dialogue of equals with the Saudis.

We still provide critical support to the political transition despite the turmoil.  This aid needs close coordination with the UN mediator who is taking his own risks.

We are maintaining a military involvement in Yemen, both working with some Yemeni forces and periodically striking al-Qaeda elements.   At this politically sensitive time of interaction between multiple tribal and political groups in Yemen we must have up to the minute judgment on whether a given strike will influence or, potentially, ruin political negotiations to stabilize the country.  There is no one-size fits all judgment.  The call cannot be made from a distance or by relying only on technical intelligence because it is fundamentally a matter of political calculation.

The interaction with key players in Yemen can only be maintained by an ambassador.  Lower ranking officials, no matter how smart or how good their Arabic—Ambassador Tueller’s is among the best in the Foreign Service—cannot interact at the same senior levels as can the Ambassador.  For dealing with allies and local parties, coordinating our military and political instruments of influence, and providing Washington with judgments unattainable in any other way we need our ambassador on the ground as long as he can possibly function.

The issue must not be only one of risk but of whether the risks can be mitigated through intelligence and security precautions.  Mitigation does not mean one is secure but it lowers the level of risk and can include significant reduction of embassy personnel.  But the ambassador should be the last, not the first, out.

The time may come when Ambassador Tueller has to leave not withstanding all of the above.  The risks may become so high that they cannot be mitigated.  Or the situation may be so chaotic that he cannot function and we are painfully aware that civilian lives as well as those of possible military rescue elements are at stake in any such situation.

But even then the decision to evacuate, in Yemen as in cases that will arise in the future, should be driven by those directly responsible beginning and strongly influenced by the ambassador on the ground in consultation with the embassy security advisor.  The ambassador will have to calmly weigh risk against mission utility.

We have each been there and we know how difficult this is, how tempting it may be to stay just a little too long, or, on the other hand, and how hard it can be to resist Washington’s concerns    But the fact remains that no one is better placed to evaluate the local scene and make the decision than the Ambassador and no one else will pay the same price if the decision is wrong.  Washington should do everything it can to secure the embassy.  But it must understand the supreme value of keeping a highly qualified ambassador in Yemen if at all possible.

Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller  (photo by US Embassy Yemen/FB)

Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller
(photo by US Embassy Yemen/FB)

 

Last month, Senator Dianne Feinstein made news for wanting the embassy in Yemen evacuated ASAP.  On January 28, the Boston Herald also reported that Congressman Stephen Lynch had urged President Obama to pull Ambassador Matthew Tueller out of Yemen, amid fears of a terror attack similar to one that occurred in Libya in 2012.

Politico’s Michael Crowley did an excellent piece on our man in Yemen here. Ambassador Crocker who served with Ambassador Tueller in Kuwait and Iraq quipped, “He personifies one of my mantras for service in the Middle East: Don’t panic.”

Learn more about U.S.interest in Yemen via CRS — Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations | Jan 21, 2015.

 

 

 

Obama Nominates Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the Broadcasting Board of Governors

On May 10, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate retired Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to serve as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker is the Kissinger Senior Fellow at Yale University, a position he has held since October 2012.  He is also the James Schlesinger Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia, a position he has held since March 2013.  From 2011 to 2012, he served as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  Previously, Ambassador Crocker was Dean and Executive Professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.  His 37-year career in the Foreign Service included service as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon.  He is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Board of Trustees of Whitman College.  Ambassador Crocker is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.  Ambassador Crocker received a B.A. from Whitman College.

Ambassador Crocker takes over Victor Ashe’s term expiring on August 13, 2013. He was nominated for a new term at the BBG that expires on August 13, 2016.  We have posted here previously that Matthew Armstrong was also nominated for the BBG. He takes over the BBG position previously held by Dana M. Perino with a term expiring on August 13, 2015.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media. The BBG’s mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. Broadcasters within the BBG network include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).

The nine-person Board currently has three positions vacant pending a nomination by the President and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.  A January 2013 OIG report says that the word most commonly used to describe the BBG was “dysfunctional.”  And that “This dysfunction is attributable largely to the Board’s structure, internal governance issues, and dynamics.”

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retired Ambassador Ryan Crocker Takes Plea Bargain in DUI Charge

After three postment of his DUI hearing in Spokane, Washington (originally scheduled for September 12, then postponed to October 10 and later to November 5), Ambassador Crocker finally had his court hearing on Nov. 21.  According to the Spokesman.com, the former ambassador pleaded guilty to “a reduced charge of reckless driving in connection with a drunken auto accident” this past summer. Excerpt:

The 63-year-old retired diplomat accepted the plea bargain this afternoon in Spokane County District Court. He faced a drunken-driving charge following a collision with a semitruck at a busy Spokane Valley intersection on Aug. 14. He drove away as a witness tailed him, authorities said. No injuries were reported in the collision.

“Your honor … I’m extremely sorry for what I did,” Crocker told District Court Judge Sara Derr. “I failed in my responsibilities to my community and to myself. I can assure you, it will never happen again.”

Crocker declined comment following the hearing.

The Spokesman also reported that Ambassador Crocker’s attorney, Julie Twyford, told Judge Derr that her client recently had brain surgery to treat a subdural hematoma. The judge accepted the plea recommendation, which came from the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.  Ambassador Crocker must pay a fine of $1,000 and his driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days as part of his sentence according to the report.

A webmd lookup says that a subdural hematoma is a collection of blood outside the brain and that this is usually caused by severe head injuries.  The bleeding and increased pressure on the brain can be life-threatening. While in some cases the condition stop and resolve spontaneously, others require surgical drainage.  More here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

We were not always happy with Ambassador Crocker’s often glass is full assessment of what was going on in Afghanistan when he was the Ambassador there, but the following news is not one we were hoping to read on his second post-retirement.

KXLY.com of Spokane, Washington (h/t to The Cable’s Josh Rogin) reported that Ambassador Ryan Crocker was arrested at 2:05 in the afternoon on August 14 by the Washington State Patrol for hit-and-run and driving under the influence in Spokane Valley. The report cited the State Patrol saying that Ambassador Crocker crossed two lanes of traffic, clipped a semi and damaged the passenger side of the Ford Mustang he was driving. He was pulled over, taken into custody and transported to the Spokane Valley Precinct where he received a sobriety test. He reportedly had a .16 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) on one test, twice the legal limit in Washington State. Another test reportedly indicated a .152 BAC.

“It was fairly obvious that Mr. Crocker was highly intoxicated ,” Briggs [Washington State Patrol Trooper] said, adding that the arresting trooper said that Crocker was very cooperative throughout the incident.

The State Patrol believes he was intoxicated by alcohol, not prescription drugs, due to odor and the high blood alcohol count. The WSP added Thursday there is no way Crocker could have crossed two lanes of traffic, hit the semi and continued to drive without knowing it.
[…]
On Aug. 15, the day following his arrest, Crocker pled not guilty to the hit and run and DUI charges. Both charges carried a $1,000 bail.
[…]
His next court appearance is scheduled for September 12.

Read in full here.

Just a day before this incident, Yale News reported that Ambassador Crocker has been named Yale’s first Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy and was scheduled to teach both undergraduate and graduate students during the 2012-2013 academic year.

In his long career with the State Department, Ambassador Crocker served as ambassador six times.  He was the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to July 2012. He was also previously  United States Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, to Syria from 1998 to 2001, to Kuwait from 1994 to 1997, and to Lebanon from 1990 to 1993.

Of course, prior to becoming ambassador he served in a host of other places like Qatar and Iraq.  In 2003, he was also a political officer at the US Embassy in Lebanon when it was hit by a suicide car bomb. A total of 63 people were killed in the bombing: 32 Lebanese employees, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passersby.

Almost all mention of Ambassador Crocker’s name also mentions some of the most dangerous hotspots where he served since joining the Foreign Service in the early 1970’s.  We don’t stop and pause often enough to ask if we can send our diplomats to all these dangerous places in the world over and over and over again without any personal consequences on their part. What part of themselves did they lost in Beirut or Peshawar? We never really ask and they did not tell, except sometimes, decades later.

Kristin K. Loken was a Foreign Service officer with USAID who worked at the US Embassy in San Salvador for two years in the late 1970s during El Salvador’s brutal civil war was later diagnosed with “post-traumatic shock syndrome,” (the term used for PTSD in the early 1980s):

“I went to my boss and told her I thought I was going through some postwar emotional problems and asked if the State Department or USAID had some counseling services available. She said she was sympathetic but thought senior people would probably frown on my having emotional problems, and advised that disclosing my condition might negatively affect my eventual tenuring with USAID. So it would be best to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Her advice was to see a private therapist, for which she would give me as much administrative leave as I needed.”

In her 2008 FSJ article on PTSD (Not Only for Combat Veterans (p.42)), she writes about subsequently working on the Lebanon program and the 1983 US Embassy Beirut bombing:

In April 1983, I had just left the city and arrived back in the U.S. when the embassy was blown up. In the bombing, I lost my mission director, Bill Mc-Intyre, our Lebanese secretary and many other colleagues and good friends with whom I had worked for the last year.
[…]
I noticed that many of the symptoms of the previous PTSD episode returned at this time, but I felt that if I were patient, they would pass as they had the first time.
[…]
More than two decades after I first experienced PTSD, the symptoms have for the most part passed — except when I am overcome by exhaustion, physical pain, illness or stress. Then I can feel myself slipping back into a bad place.

We cannot presume to know what is ailing Ambassador Crocker or if he has been screened for PTSD.   We can only hope that he gets better.  An unnamed official told CNN that “the serious health problem he had in Iraq came back, so he is forced to leave a year early for genuinely serious health reasons.” The State Department Spokesman also confirmed this to the press last May without additional details when news first broke that Ambassador Crocker is stepping down from his post at the US Embassy in Kabul.

We note that Ambassador Crocker was reportedly arrested at 2:05 p.m. with a .16 BAC, twice the legal limit in Washington State.  USVA’s PTSD page notes that PTSD and alcohol use problems are often found together.  Below is a a description of what happens when an individual has a BAC of between .12 to .15:

.12-.15 BAC = Vomiting usually occurs, unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance to alcohol. Drinkers are drowsy.

Drinkers display emotional instability, loss of critical judgment, impairment of perception, memory, and comprehension.

Lack of sensor-motor coordination and impaired balance are typical. Decreased sensory responses and increased reaction times develop. The vision is significantly impaired, including limited ability to see detail, peripheral vision, and slower glare recovery.

Here are other important details on PTSD and alcohol use from USVA:

  • Having PTSD also increases the risk that an individual will develop a drinking problem.
  • Up to three quarters of those who have survived abusive or violent trauma report drinking problems.
  • Up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems.
  • Alcohol problems are more common for survivors who have ongoing health problems or pain.
  • Sixty to eighty percent of Vietnam Veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems.

We don’t know that we’ll hear from Ambassador Crocker, himself. But we hope he speaks out.

In any case, when my best friend in the Foreign Service retired, he got a signed certificate from the Secretary and once or twice a year, he gets a statement of pay from some office at State and that’s about it. He gets more correspondence on military news, pay, benefits, etc. from the U.S. Armed Forces from where he retired prior to joining the State Department.

What support can Ambassador Crocker expect from the State Department?

We’ll shortly find out.

Domani Spero

Update:  Seattle’s kirotv.com covers this here.   CNN is reporting that he was charged, car impounded then released on his own recognizance.  According to CNN conditions of his bail, as outlined August 15, include “refraining from committing any crimes and consuming alcohol or drugs except as prescribed by a doctor, the court docket states. Crocker was also ordered to go to a drug testing office within 24 hours and undergo alcohol testing twice a month.”

 

 

 

Photo of the Day: President Karzai Awards Afghanistan State Medal to US Ambassador Crocker

On July 16, President Karzai awarded Ambassador Ryan Crocker “the Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal for strengthening the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan.”

Photo by ARG via US Embassy Kabul/FB

Here is the official statement from the presidential palace:

July 16, 2012- President Hamid Karzai awarded, in line with Item 19, Article 64  of Afghanistan Constitution, the “Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal” to Ryan Crocker, outgoing US Ambassador in appreciation of the praiseworthy services he has delivered in further strengthening Afghan-US relations and for accurately introducing Afghanistan to the people of America and the international community.

The special ceremony held on Monday to this end was attended by Dr. Zalmai Rasul Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Spanta National Security Advisor to the President and Abdul Karim Khuram Presidential Chief of Staff.

Ryan Crocker, whose diplomatic mission currently ended, has served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan from July, 2011 till now.

The palace statement did not say who is Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan for which this state medal is named after.  As best we could tell, this is Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani also listed in the Wikipedia entry as “Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani” a political activist and Islamic ideologist born in 1838.  The Afghan Wiki has the following entry:

Al-Afghani is often described as one of the most prominent Islamic political leaders and philosophers of the nineteenth century. He was concerned with the subjection of the Muslim world by Western colonial powers, and he made the liberation, independence and unity of the Islamic world one of the major aims of his life. He provided a theoretical explanation for the relative decline of the Islamic world, and a philosophical theory of history which sought to establish a form of modernism appropriate to Islam.

Click here to read more.  Apparently in the 1880s, “Jamaluddin while in London encouraged the British to declare war on Tsarist Russia, and to get a Muslim Jehad in favor of the British, When he failed to achieve this aim, in 1887 he asked the same thing from Tsarist Russia to declare war on the British. Afghani knew well, since, Muslims and Asians cannot, match the military and economic power of Europeans, he wanted to get the support of the British or Tsarist Russia in order to fight the colonial powers.”

How come that sounds familiar …

Domani Spero

Officially In: James B. Cunningham – from Kabul to Kabul

On July 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador James B. Cunningham as the next Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador James B. Cunningham, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, is Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Prior to his post in Kabul, Ambassador Cunningham served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011.  From 2005 to 2008, he was U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong.  Previous assignments include: Ambassador and Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1999-2004); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rome (1996-1999); Director of the State Department’s Office of European Security and Political Affairs (1993-1995); and Chief of Staff to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General (1989-1990).  Earlier assignments include posts with the U.S. Mission to NATO, as well as posts at the U.S. Embassies in Rome and Stockholm.

Ambassador Cunningham received a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.

If confirmed, Ambassador Cunningham would succeed Ambassador Ryan Crocker currently doing the press rounds as he prepares to return to retirement a full year before his two year tenure was to end due to health reasons.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador gives remarks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham, Afghan Minister of Education Abdul Rahim Wardak and visitng former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad officially inaugurated the newly rebuilt Ghazi High School in West Kabul October 23, 2011. Former alumni of the school include both Ambassador Khalilzad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The school was destroyed during 30 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and was refurbished by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Department of State)
click on image for a slideshow

As noted in his brief bio, Ambassador Cunningham was the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Israel prior to his assignment in Kabul in 2011.  So we dug up the OIG report during his tenure in Israel, which has some really good things to say about his three-year assignment in Tel Aviv:

  • The Ambassador has forged productive relationships with senior Israeli and Washington officials, adding significant value to one of the United States’ most sensitive and central bilateral relationships.
  • Given the intersection of U.S. foreign policy objectives, high-profile domestic attention to Israel, and historically intransigent issues, Embassy Tel Aviv’s leadership faces challenges matched in intensity in only three or four other world capitals. The Ambassador performs commendably in this context and has advanced the U.S. relationship with the Israeli Government in the 2 years since his arrival.
  • Because few bilateral relationships attract the attention of as many senior American officials as the relationship with Israel, the Ambassador has a unique opportunity to interact daily or weekly with the President; National Security Adviser; Secretary of State; top legislators, military figures, and their senior staffs; the SEMEP; the general who heads the Roadmap Monitoring Mission; and the general who acts as the USSC.
  • Embassy section heads described the Ambassador as a masterful briefer of Members of Congress and senior U.S. military officers; his astute grasp of the forces at play in Israel helps shape their views and programs.
  • The heads of U.S.agencies at the embassy were unanimous in their appreciation for the Ambassador’s support for and involvement in their work.

The report has the following item, too, which if uncorrected would make managing one of the largest embassies in the world a double challenge:

Communication within the mission is limited. The Ambassador is respected for his intellectual ability but rarely interacts with employees below the most senior ranks.

He is reportedly a persuasive speaker; we’re looking forward to his confirmation hearing and see if he’ll make us feel any better about our prospects in Afghanistan.

Domani Spero

Related items:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-31A – Inspection of Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel – March 2011

July 17, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

State Dept’s Crocker, Feltman on May Departures … Leaving Posts in Nine Days?

AP’s Matthew Lee is reporting that Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs (NEA) who has guided U.S. policy through the tumult of the Arab Spring, plans to retire from the foreign service at the end of May and become a deputy to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. The report says that Feltman is expected to be named U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs.

Back in March 2012, Inner City Press first reported that Ambassador Feltman is slated to assume UN’s top political job currently filled by another former State Department hand, Lynn Pascoe.  Read it here.

And the Twitterverse erupted with Reuters news from Chicago that Ryan Crocker is reportedly expected to step down soon from his post as President Barack Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan. According to Reuters’ unnamed sources, “The Obama administration is considering Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham to replace Crocker when he leaves the post as early as this month.”

No one in Kabul is talking, but somebody in Chicago certainly did talk. Since both these departures are supposed to happen this month, and there’s only nine days left before we turn the calendar, we should hear about this officially very soon.

With Brett McGurk nominated for Iraq (and yet to get his confirmation hearing), Ambassador Munter leaving Islamabad this summer, and Ambassador Crocker reportedly leaving as early as this month – there will be a complete turn over of the Chiefs of Mission for our Afghanistan-Iraq-Pakistan (AIP) missions.

Update @ 12:43 pm ET: The US Embassy in Kabul has now confirmed via Twitter Ambassador Crocker’s departure.  NPR says that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also confirmed in an email to reporters just after 11:30 a.m. ET that Ambassador Crocker’s departure is due to “health reasons.”

CNN reports that “Crocker was appointed to the post in Kabul on July 25, 2011. The relatively short length of his service in the Afghan capital is no surprise. In recent history, American ambassadors have served similar terms.

Well, that’s not quite right. The last four ambassadors appointed to Kabul served two-year terms. During the last five ambassadorial appointments to Kabul, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a Political appointee, served for approximately 19 months. Another political appointee, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry served approximately 27 months. Ambassadors Neuman and Wood served approximately 20 and 23 months respectively.  If Ambassador Crocker is going to stick around until the “donors conference in Tokyo in July” he shall have served 12 months this time around. Ambassador Crocker was also  appointed Charge d’Affaires ad interim from Jan 2, 2002-April 3, 2002 after the reopening of the US Embassy Kabul in 2001.

Domani Spero

Expatriated US Dollars Out of Kabul? Why Don’t We Just Wire the Money to Their Dubai Secret Account?

On May 14, 2012, NPR Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne had a sit down interview with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker. Below is the part where they talked about American taxpayers money flying out of Kabul International Airport to Dubai or other parts unknown. WARNING: You might need a barf bag

MONTAGNE: Suitcases filled with billions…

CROCKER: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

MONTAGNE: …of American dollars out of Kabul into parts unknown – Dubai, other parts unknown.

CROCKER: Ironically, you know, the fact that vast sums of money have been expatriated may lessen the impact on the overall economy of the true drawdown, because the money, in many cases, never made it into the Afghan economy. You know, I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it may significantly lessen the blow when we get to the end of 2014.

MONTAGNE: Meaning, of all the billions that poured into this country, enough of it went to make some people rich and didn’t find its way into the economy, so that the economy will not be as hurt as it might have been had the money been more honorably distributed.

CROCKER: Absolutely. You know, in many cases, arguably, there was nothing illegitimate about a lot of it. I mean, these were contractors. They made their profits. Capital will go anywhere, where it’s the best investment opportunity. That’s where the capital will go, and that’s what happened in many of these cases.

If you need more, read here.


Just to be clear – this is President Obama’s official representative in Kabul, and does he believed this is just good money — profits and capital “fleeing” to other places like Dubai – in search of better investment opportunity?

Whoops! I think I just fell off my chair and gashed my poor brain!

Are we really this stupid?

In 2010, the WSJ reported that more than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the previous three years. It was a sum so large that “U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.”

“It’s not like they grow money on trees here,” said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. “A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course.”

In February this year, after Afghanistan’s central-bank governor said he will issue new currency restrictions to stem an exodus of billions of dollars in cash, the Wall Street Journal did a follow up report:

“Some $4.6 billion in cash, more than the entire government budget, was taken abroad through Kabul airport alone last year, according to Afghan central-bank data, double the $2.3 billion recorded in 2010. But even those figures “grossly” underestimate the real extent of overall money flight, central-bank governor Noorullah Delawari said in an interview.”

While Afghan officials promised to clean up the country’s financial system in 2010 in the aftermath of the WSJ report and after Congress temporarily froze U.S. assistance to Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported that the money flow to Dubai and other financial havens has not abated.  Instead it has only gathered speed as U.S. forces begin to pull out ahead of the 2014 deadline for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan government.

These are mostly contractors’ money, of course. Nothing that taxpayers need to worry their already severely taxed brains.

But just in case, these are not “honest” money, should we not just ask these “contractors” for their Dubai offshore bank account? If we wire them the money directly, the money would not make it to the local economy either and would lessen the impact.  And it would save our government paperwork and our investigators can dig out real corruption elsewhere.

And actually Dubai offshore bank accounts really rock.  They offer a safe, legal and tax-free account structure providing complete anonymity and full legal tax exemption. Not only that, while “opening a foreign account under a private name would not cease one’s obligation to list it in one’s tax declaration,” that’s a small issue. “You could simply “forget” to declare it and hope nobody finds out.”

And just the place to “invest” one’s well-gotten wealth from the war zone…

Domani Spero