Photo of the Day: Excuse me? Who is this person, and why is he redesigning my playtime?

Posted: 2:32 am ET
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Via state.gov:

Secretary Tillerson Greets Staff and Families at U.S. Embassy Riyadh
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets U.S. Embassy staff and their families at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 22, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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Tillerson Talks About the Styled Redesign and Expected “Quick Wins” in 2018

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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Excerpt from Rex W. Tillerson’s Remarks to Staff and Families at U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 22, 2017:

But a real – a real honor to be here. I do want to say a real quick word because I know there’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing back home with what we’re styling as the redesign of the State Department. And this is very much a bottom-up, a bottom-up, employee – your colleagues – led initiative. Many of you, I hope, participated early on when we had the listening tour, we called it, exercise. We had over 35,000 of your colleagues, and I’m sure many of you responded to the survey that was conducted early on. We had 300 face-to-face interviews with various members of the State Department at all types of positions and including people out in mission.

And this was so that I could get some baseline understanding of what are the issues that you’re faced with, what are the challenges, what are things we can do to help you get your work done more effectively and more efficiently. So out of that we’ve created a number of working teams. There are five core teams that are working on a number of work processes and addressing all kinds of issues, from hardware issues like our IT systems, which I know everyone knows we need some upgrading to, and other ways that we can make you efficient. But we’re looking also at how we train people for assignment, lengths of assignment, how do we allow you to contribute more, what are the obstacles to getting your work done, what are the interface issues, how can we clear some of the obstacles out for you. So this is very much led by your colleagues, and then my role is to try to clear and do some blocking and tackling for all of that effort as well.

So the work’s underway. We’re going to be saying more here as we get towards the end of the year. We have some what we’re calling quick – we believe they’re quick wins and things that we’ll be able to do right away and implement throughout 2018 that we hope you’re going to see the effects of that are going to make your work easier, more efficient. And ultimately, the objective is that you have a very fulfilling, rewarding career. You’ve dedicated yourself. This is what you want to do. We want to allow you to be successful and to have a very fulfilling career and realize all of your own aspirations as well. So it’s something that I’m quite committed to, and we have a great team of folks back home helping us, your colleagues helping us in that regard as well.

Read the full remarks here.

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POTUS Abroad: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican, Belgium (NATO), Italy (G-7)

Posted: 11:21 pm PT
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Saudi Arabia May 20–22

Israel May 22–23

Vatican May 24

 

Brussels May 24–25

Italy May 25–27

Bonus tweet!

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#ThrowbackThursday: Secretary of State Addresses Reporters in Saudi Arabia

Posted: 5:35 pm PT
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Via state.gov

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, addresses reporters following a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council member nations on January 23, 2016, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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Congress Overturns Obama Veto, Blames Obama For Not Telling Elected Morons of “Potential Consequences”

Posted: 3:43 pm ET
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Back in April 2016, the NYT did a piece about Saudi Arabia warning of economic fallout if Congress passes the 9/11 bill. Secretary Kerry and top officials from State and the Pentagon warned Congress of potential legal jeopardy for Americans overseas if countries counter with retaliatory legislations:

Obama administration officials counter that weakening the sovereign immunity provisions would put the American government, along with its citizens and corporations, in legal risk abroad because other nations might retaliate with their own legislation. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel in February that the bill, in its current form, would “expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”
[…]
In a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill on March 4, Anne W. Patterson, an assistant secretary of state, and Andrew Exum, a top Pentagon official on Middle East policy, told staff members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that American troops and civilians could be in legal jeopardy if other nations decide to retaliate and strip Americans of immunity abroad. They also discussed the Saudi threats specifically, laying out the impacts if Saudi Arabia made good on its economic threats.

President Obama wrote a letter to the Congress explaining the potential consequences of the 9/11 bill.

President Obama said that his opposition to JASTA is based primarily on its potential impact on the United States. No, it’s not because he’s a Muslim.  The sovereign immunity principles protect all nations but the United States, more than any other country in the world, is active in a lot more places. As we’ve pointed out previously, the State Department has diplomatic and consular presence in over 280 locations worldwide, and the U.S. military has 662 known military overseas bases in 38 foreign countries. In short, the sovereign immunity protection benefits the United States more than any other country in the world.

The CIA director said that “the principle of sovereign immunity protects US officials every day, and is rooted in reciprocity.”  If we don’t afford this protection to other countries, other countries will not afford this same protection to American citizens, or the U.S. government overseas.

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington D.C., understandably has the best collection of those who called on Congress warning of potential consequences of the 9/11 bill. Let’s borrow the following infographic depicting General Dunford. His letter is also appended below:

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter warned of potential consequences:

Former top government officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations warned of potential consequences:

The Senate and the House went and voted for it anyway.

Even if they know that there are serious potential consequences for our country down the road.

So 97 senators voted for the bill.  Then 28 of those senators wrote a letter saying they’ll work to “mitigate” its unintended consequences. They did not say how. Only that they’ll work on it.

Except that they’ve gone home to campaign.  The Senate will meet 15 times between now and November 15 but all those will be pro forma meetings with no business conducted.

So, the override has now angered some countries. Surprise.

But before they all left home for their break — the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate stood before the cameras to blame President Obama — who vetoed the bill — for failure to communicate the “potential consequences.”

President Obama on CNN:

The veto override was a political vote, is there any doubt? The only senator who voted “no” was the one not running for re-election.  Not only was it a political vote, it appears that they passed a bill that opened a can of worms, throw chaos to the wind, put our people and global interests at risks, and appears toothless as heck from the looks of it.

Just Security’s Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) who is also a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law writes that “even if a plaintiff could obtain a judgment against a foreign sovereign like Saudi Arabia under the Senate-passed version of JASTA (that is, if they somehow avoid a perpetual stay), they would still have a devil of a time executing that judgment (and would have to base such execution on a different waiver of attachment immunity).” Read his long primer on JASTA and his piece, The Senate Killed JASTA, Then Passed It… which discusses the changes between the original bill and the version approved by the Congress.

Why perpetual stay? Because it says so in the bill that our elected representatives  passed:

screen-shot-2016-09

 

A stay that can last 180 days, which can be renewed for addition 180 days and can be recertified to provide additional extensions to the stays.  These cases could potentially just go on forever, wouldn’t it? So the 9/11 families’ court cases could be in perpetual stay in U.S. courts but that would not preclude other countries from inacting retaliatory legislations against the United States.

Today, this happened. The case is DeSimone v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 16-cv-1944, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET
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The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

sa-map

Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.

 

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Read Here: House Intel Committee Publishes #Declassified 9/11 #28Pages

Posted: 11:48 am PT
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Read below or see the original post here (PDF).

Saudi Arabia’s response below:

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Suicide Bomber Detonates Self Near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah

Posted: 3:01 am ET
Updated: 9:37 am PT
Updated: 4:09 pm PT
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A suicide bomber apparently blew himself up near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The bomber killed himself, and injured two security guards but it does not look like there are other casualties at this time.  BBC reported that the security personnel became suspicious of a man in the car park of the Dr. Suleiman Faqeeh hospital around 02:15 (23:15 GMT Sunday), interior ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki said in a statement.  The hospital is opposite the US consulate. As the guards approached the man, “he blew himself up with a suicide belt inside the hospital parking,” the statement said.  @OSACState told us that explosion was approximately 20 meters from the Consulate wall.

The American Mission in Saudi Arabia consists of the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah. The Mission to Saudi Arabia started as a legation in Jeddah in 1942. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1949 and the U.S Mission, located in a traditional house in the old city center, became an Embassy. According to the consulate’s website, the Embassy moved in 1952 to the current Consulate General location, which “at the time was an isolated, beach-front property far to the north of the city limits.” The Embassy was moved to Riyadh in 1984 along with all other foreign missions in the country.  The former Embassy compound in Jeddah is now the Consulate General.

Post provides quite a sad example of just how slow the bureaucracy moves despite plenty of promises/recommendations following a terrorist attack.

On December 6, 2004 (video), a terrorist attack on Consulate Jeddah killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An Accountability Review Board (ARB) had apparently determined that the consulate employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide.

In September 2013, State/OIG made two recommendations to the State Department during its Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability:

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) provide compound emergency sanctuaries for employees who work in the buildings that do not have an approved safe haven or safe area.

OIG recommended that OBO request an increase in funding for the Compound Security Upgrade Program to reflect this additional require- ment for compound emergency sanctuaries.

A compound emergency sanctuary is a protected building or room, within or adjacent to an on-compound, unprotected functional area, that is used as a temporary shelter during an attack or other crisis for personnel unable to reach or find accommodations in a safe haven, safe area, or 15-minute FEfBR- protected building. It provides 15-minute FEfBR protection for walls, windows, and doors, emergency power, ventilation, telephone, connectivity to the emergency notification system, and where feasible and reasonable, an emergency escape. (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).

The two 2013 recommendations are listed as “Significant Resolved Office of Evaluations and Special Projects Recommendations Pending Final Department of State Action for More Than 12 Months” in State/OIG’s latest report to the Congress.  “Resolved” means an  agreement on the recommendation and proposed corrective action (remains open) but implementation has not been completed.

The  Jeddah terrorist attack occurred in 2004, the State/OIG recommendations were issued in 2013 and in the 2016 OIG report to Congress (PDF), we’re still seeing this as unfinished business? If there’s an excellent reason for this, we’d like to hear about it. Other previous posts:

 

Here are some news clips from this latest attack:

Updated 4;09 pm PT

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AmConGen Dhahran’s 7 Second-Video Freaks Out Folks Who Do Not Get the Foreign in the Foreign Service

Posted: 3:42 am ET
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The United States Consul General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia is career diplomat, Mike Hankey. He was assigned to post in  July 2014 accompanied by his wife and their two sons.  According to his official bio, he joined the Foreign Service in 2001, and has “led teams to build deep and productive ties with political, economic and media partners across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.”  His bio says that in Egypt “he advanced the President’s agenda to engage Muslim communities” and “promoted economic development in northwestern Iraq, American consular and commercial interests in Yemen, and media professionalism in Nigeria.”

Mr. Hankey received his Bachelor’s Degree in international affairs and journalism from George Washington University and his Master’s Degree in second language education from Indiana University. He speaks Arabic.

Like most Foreign Service families, Mr. Hankey and his family are “all in” in their current post in Saudi Arabia. That means they went out and explored their “host country” and did not hide in their USG-provided housing commuting only to the office and back and eating only Pizza Hut and KFC.  USCG Dhahran’s FB posts include photos of them in a camel farm, attending a festival, wading in a wadi and camping in a desert. And oh goodness, eating foreign food — they cooked sheep in the sand!

But how awesome is that?

On June 5, US Embassy Riyadh tweeted a 7-second Ramadan greeting featuring Mr. Hankey and his two young sons wearing the traditional Saudi male dress — a white colored Thobe (thawb), an ankle length garment with long sleeves and tunic shape, and a headdress (a large square cloth, white or red called the Gutra, a small white cap that keeps the Gutra in place called the Tagia, and a black cord called Igal that keep the whole thing in place). See more here.

 

First the good news! Yes, there is a Twitter account that tweets only Great Government Tweets!

Here are some local reactions appreciative of the gesture:

Here are some reactions from folks who apparently do not get the foreign in the Foreign Service.  Hometown diplomats, you’ve got your jobs cut out for you.

By the way, eating haggis doesn’t turn one Scottish.

Speaking a foreign language is not un-American.

Wearing foreign clothing is not dangerous to one’s health or sense of well being.

Here’s a bonus, Americans diplomats in Pakistan learning the Paktun dance moves.

 

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Saudi Jewelry Gifts Questions: @StateDept Retains Gifts for the U.S. Diplomacy Center Collection

Posted: 3:30 am ET
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Some questions have been raised about the gifts from Saudi Arabia, particularly a few specific, high valued items given to Secretary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  We’ve asked the State Department about this, and we were told that one gift is pending transfer to the GSA but three have been retained for the U.S. Diplomacy Center (@DiplomacyCenter) collection.  The United States Diplomacy Center which is scheduled to be completed in 2016 is a public private initiative which will include some 6,000 diplomatic artifacts  — via:

The Department of State is providing the space, staff and security, while the private sector will provide the funds to design and build the 40,000 sq. ft. facility. The Center includes a 20,000 sq. ft. exterior Pavilion and its informative exhibits about today’s Department of State in Hall 1, the Founding Ambassador Concourse below Hall I, and two interior Halls both of 10,000 sq. ft. each: one chronicling the history of the American diplomacy, and the other focusing on education. The USDC is located at the Department of State building on 21st Street at Virginia Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. Visit the USDC website www.Diplomacy.State.gov for information on the progress and developments of the creation of the United States Diplomacy Center.

The following response from a State Department spokesperson:

Per GSA guidelines, there is no timeline for reporting gifts of more than minimal value to GSA after they’ve been received. The Department of State reports all gifts of more than minimal value annually in the Federal Register and generally biannually directly to GSA when doing a transfer of gifts. The Department transfers the maximum quantity of gifts GSA has the capacity to accept.

When a gift is no longer being used for official use, it must be reported within 30 days to the Office of the Chief of Protocol, to pend transfer to GSA.

‎All four gifts in question are in the possession of the Department of State. The first three are in official use, as part of the collection of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. The final is being stored and pending transfer to GSA, and will be transferred when GSA has the ability to accept it.‎‎

Here are some gifts currently included in the Diplomacy Center’s online collection:

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