@StateDept Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner Says Goodbye

Posted: 12:49 am ET
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Mark Toner is a career Foreign Service Officer who has served overseas in West Africa and Europe. He was the Information Officer in Dakar, Senegal; the Public Affairs Officer in Krakow, Poland; and the Spokesman for the U.S. Mission to NATO, in Brussels, Belgium. On June 1, 2015, he assumed the role of Deputy Spokesperson after serving at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs as a Deputy Assistant Secretary.

As a career FSO, Mr. Toner has previously worked as a senior advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; as a Senior Watch Officer in the Department’s Operations Center; and as the Director of the European Bureau’s Press and Public Outreach Division. Mr. Toner has an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a graduate degree from National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, and carried out graduate work in Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

As Deputy Spokesperson, he is one of the most public faces of the State Department.  He did his last Daily Press Briefing on April 27, 2017:

Via DPB, April 27, 2017

This is, believe it or not, my last briefing as deputy spokesman. It’s with mixed feelings that I reach this moment, because I’ve loved this job. Honestly, I was just telling a group of young kids who were brought in to Take Your Child to Work Day earlier today that, to me, this was the greatest honor that I could ever hope to have as a Foreign Service officer. I came out of journalism school into this gig, and I always thought this would be one of the greatest jobs to have within the Foreign Service. And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you over the years through good times and bad times and some really tough days at the podium, but I respect fundamentally with all of my heart the work that all of you do in carrying out your really important roles in our democracy, and I want you to know that.

I’m also very, very happy that I can pass the baton, the spokesperson baton – there is one, in fact – no – (laughter) – over to such a capable person as Heather Nauert, who is getting up to speed on all these issues but will be taking the podium and carrying on the daily press briefings and acting as the department spokesperson going forward. So anyway, just appreciate all the support that you’ve given me over the years.

Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. And before I start with my policy question, I just wanted to note the lack of children in the room today on the Take Your Work to – Take Your Kids to Work Day and recall how many years ago it was when you were sitting there with —

MR TONER: I told that story, actually. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: — with a bunch of kids in the audience and one of the main topics of the day being the antics or/ behavior of some Secret Service agents in Colombia and how delicately we danced around that topic.

MR TONER: Indeed, indeed. As we’re doing right now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But that story also just – it brings to mind the fact that you have served in this position in PRS as spokesman on and off for many years. And I think on behalf of the press corps, I want to thank you for those years of service, particularly since January over the course of the last couple months when things have been, as they often are, in transitions, unsettled to say the least. And through it all, you’ve been incredibly professional and really just, I think, the model of the kind of career Foreign Service or Civil Service officer.

So on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the public, the American public, thank you. (Applause.)

MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Good luck. And I am sure you’ll enjoy not having to be —

MR TONER: I’ll miss it in a couple weeks.

QUESTION: — attacked with questions for —

MR TONER: Thank you.

QUESTION: May I say a word, Matt?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: I want to thank you especially – I’ve known you for many, many years. I mean, I’ve attended briefings all the way back to Richard Boucher. You have been really solid and professional. I never once took your accommodating me for granted or indulging me all throughout. I really appreciate it. You have always been there for us. So Godspeed and good luck.

MR TONER: Thank you. All right, thanks. Enough of this sentimentality. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Rank sentimentality.

MR TONER: Yeah, there you go. Rank sentimentality.

QUESTION: So let’s go to the most unsentimental thing you can think of, North Korea.

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Heather Nauert: From Fox News Channel to State Department Spokesperson


Posted: 2:26 pm ET
Updated: April 28, 10:32 pm ET
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Today, the State Department announced the appointment of Heather Nauert (@HeatherNauert) as the new State Department Spokesperson. This job does not require Senate confirmation, and appears to be, once more, separate from the Assistant Secretary (A/S) position that heads the Bureau of Public Affairs. Previous assistant secretaries who were also the official spokespersons for the State Department includes Richard A. Boucher (2001–2005), Sean McCormack (2005–2009), Philip J. Crowley (2009–2011) and most recently, Admiral John F. Kirby (2015-2017). Previous assistant secretaries Michael A. Hammer (2012–2013) and Douglas Frantz (2013–2015) did not function as official spokespersons during their tenures as Assistant Secretaries for Public Affairs.  Career diplomat Toria Nuland was spokesperson from 2011-2013 during the Hammer tenure, and Frantz’ tenure from 2013-2015 brought us  Jen Psaki and Marie Harf.

The State Department released the following statement on Ms. Nauert’s appointment:

The Department of State is pleased to welcome Heather Nauert as the new State Department Spokesperson. Nauert comes to the Department with more than 15 years of experience as an anchor and correspondent covering both foreign and domestic news and events, including the 9-11 terror attacks, the war in Iraq, and the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Heather’s media experience and long interest in international affairs will be invaluable as she conveys the Administration’s foreign policy priorities to the American people and the world.

Prior to joining the State Department, Nauert was a New York-based Fox News Channel anchor and correspondent. On the top-rated morning cable news show, “Fox and Friends,” she was responsible for reporting breaking news. In addition, she regularly solo and co-anchored programs on Fox News and contributed to every news platform, including radio, satellite radio and internet.

Nauert joined Fox after graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Domestically, Nauert reported on the past four presidential elections, including filing reports from battleground states, Republican and Democrat conventions and the inauguration. She also anchored coverage of the terror attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, and Boston, as well as the 2008 financial crisis. Prior to joining Fox News, Nauert served as a network correspondent for ABC News, where she traveled extensively for breaking news stories in the United States and abroad. At ABC News, her in-depth piece on teenage girls in Iraq during the war was nominated for an Emmy. Before working in news, she was an advisor in the health care industry. She is a graduate of Mount Vernon College in Washington D.C.

Clips:

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NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT
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So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
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QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 Posted: 11:05 PST
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Yesterday, we heard that the Pentagon Spokesman, Read Admiral John Kirby is stepping down to make way for a new civilian spokesman under the new Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

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We’re going to miss Admiral Kirby from that podium, and we’re going to miss the fake one, too. This one via @Doctrine Man sums it up:

John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.

 

Today, news broke that the State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki is returning to the White House as communications director:

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The State Department spokesperson, more than the White House spokesman is the public face of the United States to the world.  The spokesperson is not only speaking on behalf of Foggy Bottom but on behalf of the United States.  Here’s our short list for the next podium king/queen:  We’d like to see one who can stay on message, and still be credible, one who inspires respect not derision; a sense of humor and some humility would be nice, too. We’d like to see an intelligent, natural performer with solid international affairs experience up that podium. And of course, somebody  eloquent and quick witted to spar with Matt Lee.

 

US Embassy Libya: “…almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff”

— Domani Spero
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry uncorks a bottle of champagne en route from Andrews Air Force Base to Stockholm, Sweden as he celebrates the first press briefing at the U.S. Department of State Department by his new Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on May 13, 2013. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

Via state/gov/DPB/July 15, 2014:

QUESTION: Can I ask one about Libya?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It does seem as if – well, that the airport is – continue to be shelled, most of the planes even are damaged, I don’t – and the Embassy is near the airport, I mean, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s been any movement on any type of evacuation. So I’m just wondering what’s going on.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya and some of the incidents you referred to. Every day, we make assessments about the level of violence and the impact on our personnel there, but I don’t have anything to predict for you or outline in terms of any changes to our security posture or level of staffing on the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, it seems as if there wouldn’t be any way for those employees to get out unless you had some kind of airlift because the airport is inoperable right now.

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Elise, I think it’s safe to say that we evaluate every single factor when we’re making determinations about our staff. There’s nothing more important than the safety, almost nothing more important than the safety and security of our staff, but we do that in private and I have nothing to outline for you here from – publicly.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Satterfield in Libya now or here?

MS. PSAKI: I know – I’m not sure, actually, where he is. We can check and see if we can get that information to you.

Meanwhile in the “why are we still in Tripoli edition?”our ambassador tweets this:

 

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Did US Embassy Tripoli Go on “Sort of a Drawdown” Without Going on Evacuation Status?

— Domani Spero
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On May 27, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Libya. In part, the warning says, “Due to security concerns, the Department of State has limited staffing at Embassy Tripoli and is only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya.” (see  New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer. On the May 30th, Daily Press Briefing the State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki was asked to confirm about U.S. Special Forces operating in Libya (which she denied), and addressed the reduction in staffing in Tripoli:

QUESTION: I have a very quick question. The London Times is claiming that U.S. special forces and in particular CIA forces, French forces, and Algerian forces are inside Libya chasing after Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who apparently survived. I mean, reports of his death were erroneous. Could you confirm to us whether there is actually a role for the U.S. in Libya or a military presence?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more than what we’ve already announced.

QUESTION: Could you – okay. Could you comment on the presence or the deployment of theUSS Bataan with some 2,000 Marines at the shores of Libya?

QUESTION: Is there anything new on this?

MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing new, and it was announced, I believe, two days ago.

QUESTION: Okay, but – yeah.

MS. PSAKI: But I’m happy to confirm for you —

QUESTION: Are we to assume that maybe Americans citizens are ready to leave the country? That’s the question.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would say we – last Friday, I believe it was, I think, or maybe it was Monday – sorry – we put out a new Travel Warning. We have – as a result of the ongoing instability and violence, we reduced – and in that Travel Warning we reduced that we – we announced that we reduced – sorry, tongue-twister – the number of U.S. Government personnel at its Embassy – at our Embassy in Tripoli, and we are taking prudent steps to assure the security of our personnel given the instability. We are in constant contact with our Embassy, we are constantly evaluating the security needs, but I have nothing new to report on on that front.

QUESTION: I just – before everyone gets all excited, this is not an evacuation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: These people left on regularly scheduled commercial aircraft. There was no panic. There was no attack, anything like that. They —

MS. PSAKI: There is no plan for a U.S. Government-sponsored evacuation at this time. This is a temporary reduction in staffing.

We should note that the May 27 Travel Warning did not announced that “we reduced – the number of U.S. Government personnel – at our Embassy in Tripoli,” it only announced that there exist limited staffing.  AmEmbassy Tripoli was already on limited staffing since May 8, 2013, when the Department of State ordered the departure of a number of U.S. government personnel from Libya.

So how was this current reduction of staffing done without the “authorized” or “ordered” departure of personnel?

It could be that TDYs were cancelled, and replacements were not brought in when PCS staff went on leave. But when personnel are pulled out from post (we don’t know how many) due to the security situation, it is typically done by declaring an “authorized” or “ordered” departure.  A Travel Warning is also issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs whenever a post goes to authorized or ordered departure. The warning routinely urges private U.S. citizens to consider leaving or avoiding travel to countries where authorized or ordered departure is in effect.

Under the “no double standard policy,” if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals. So if the embassy went on authorized or ordered departure, the State Department has an obligation to publicly share that information.

What is the difference between an authorized departure and an ordered departure?

While some folks make a distinction between authorized/ordered departures and evacuations, in reality they are the same. The Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).   The Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) benefits for evacuees then commence from the day following arrival at the safe haven location.

An “authorized departure” is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Departure is requested by the Chief of Mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M).   It allows the Chief of Mission greater flexibility in determining which employees or groups of employees may depart, and “avoids any negative connotation” that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” Typically, in an authorized departure, airports are still open and personnel depart post via regularly scheduled commercial aircraft.

An “ordered departure” is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. Government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the Chief of Mission or the Secretary of State. Some ordered departure may still be done through commercial flights, but more often than not, this involves chartered USG flights from post to the designated safe haven in the region or back to the United States.  While an ordered departure may be followed with temporary post closure, what typically happens is that post remains open with mission essential emergency staffing.

Last February, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Ukraine that includes the following:

On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine.  While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.

In April, the State Department issued a Travel Warning for South Sudan:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in South Sudan depart immediately.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of most remaining U.S. government personnel from South Sudan on January 3, 2014.

So the question now is —  did US Embassy Tripoli went on a reduction of staff, “sort of a drawdown,“without officially calling it an authorized or ordered evacuation?

Of course, if you curtail staffers from post, that is, shorten the employees’ tours of duty from their assignments, or urge them to voluntarily curtail their assignments, that would not constitute an evacuation either, yes? Or if post management strongly suggests that people take their R&Rs earlier over the summer during a heightened threat, that would just be a regular movement of personnel and not at all an “ordered” departure.

So — you still get a reduction of staffing  without the negative connotation of an evacuation.

Not a trick question — how many staffers do you have to pull out from post before you call it an evacuation?

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Related item:

3 FAM 3770 Travel to Post Under Authorized or Ordered Departure (pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

State Dept on Ambo Nominees’ “Certificates of Documented Competency” — Working On It

— Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association was in the news yesterday after announcing that it will file a suit against the State Department if, by end of business day today, it does not get the certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees (see AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again).

The topic made it to today’s Daily Press Briefing with the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki answering questions about AFSA’s FOIA requests for these documents which were reportedly filed on July 29, 2013 and a second request filed on February 28, 2014.  Ms. Psaki refused to make a prediction of whether State would respond to AFSA’s request by the close of business today.

At about 3pm EST, ABC News tweeted that AFSA is giving the State Department until tomorrow morning to furnish the requested “Certificates of Documented Competency” for ambassador nominees.

When you look at that AFSA FOIA request delay of 7 months and a week, it might be useful to note that in FY2012, the State Department’s total requests in backlog is 10,464.   In fact, according to foia.gov, State has one of the highest backlogs, second only to DHS. In FY 2011, the average number of days to process a simple case was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years (see State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).  The oldest pending request, as you can see below is 1,922 days.

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Here is the short version of the March 6, 2014 DPB:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06

via Word It Out

Below is the long version from the March 6, 2014 DPB:

QUESTION: The American Foreign Service Association said yesterday that they were going to be filing suit against the State Department if, by end of business today, you don’t provide certificates of demonstrated competence for ambassadorial nominees. So I just wanted to know if you had any reaction to that.

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, AFSA submitted a FOIA request on July 29th 2013 to our website – this is just some details for all of you to be aware of – seeking certificates of a demonstrated competence for every ambassador from January 1st 2013 to the present. We receive, as many of you know, about 18,000 FOIA requests per year. Generally – we generally process requests on a first in, first out basis. So we’re currently actively processing the request in accordance with the statute and the Department’s regulations, which applies to the specific release they put out yesterday.

In terms of broadly speaking, obviously, in nominating ambassadors, we look – the Administration looks for qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life and who show true zeal for serving their country, and we’ve received interest and recruited talented people from all across the country and all kinds of professional backgrounds, whether they are Foreign Service – well, that’s – they proceed through a different process, there, of course, but political appointees who may be from the business sector, who may be from a public service sector. We feel that this kind of diversity helps represent who we are and the United States around the world.

So long story short, we are reviewing their request. We process requests as they come in. Certainly we welcome the comments of anyone and views of anyone on these sorts of issues, but I think it’s important to remind everyone of what we look at when it comes to ambassadorial nominees.

QUESTION: Jen, they submitted this request in July? How many months ago?

QUESTION: January.

QUESTION: No, July 29th, she said.

QUESTION: I thought you said January.

MS. PSAKI: For every ambassador from January 20 —

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

QUESTION: So how long should they expect to wait until you finish processing your request? And why should they even have to submit a FOIA request for this? Why wouldn’t you just – if they asked for it, why wouldn’t you just turn them over?

MS. PSAKI: They were asking for specific documents that are —

QUESTION: Right. But this is not an organization that has a questionable interest in this. It’s an organization that, in fact, represents – I mean, it is the – basically the union for Foreign Service officers, so it’s not really an outside party.

MS. PSAKI: Well, oftentimes, Matt, there’s a processing aspect that needs to take place with these requests, so —

QUESTION: Right, I’m sure that – I’m sure everyone is thrilled, everyone who’s ever filed a FOIA request to the State Department or any other government agency is thrilled, but I think that —

MS. PSAKI: There are many people who do. That’s part of the challenge in processing them.

QUESTION: Right. Okay, so you just threw this in the big pile, in the in-box with every single other request, even though they clearly have some – they have demonstrated interest in this subject. I don’t understand —

MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say we threw it in a pile, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, you did. You said you get 18,000 requests a year, so – and —

MS. PSAKI: We do. We process them.

QUESTION: So when they —

MS. PSAKI: But obviously, we’re working to review their request and see how we can meet it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically they asked for it to be by the close of business tonight. Otherwise, they’re going to take their – take this to legal action.

MS. PSAKI: I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you will not be able to get it to them by end of day tonight?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to make a prediction of that. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Just – can I have one —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Where – you are now processing this specific request, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re actually looking at it and trying to satisfy it?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. If you get 18,000 FOIA requests a year, what is the typical time lag for processing a request? Is it, as in this case, I guess, eight months or – is that typical or is it less, is it more?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific time breakdown for you. I’m happy to see if there’s anything like that we can provide.

QUESTION: And was this one —

MS. PSAKI: We’re – they’re about to start the press avail, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Was this one jumped to the front of the queue for any reason or no? It was processed —

MS. PSAKI: Well, there are cases where – and they asked for expedited processing, and some cases that question is asked. This didn’t satisfy the specific laid out standards for that, but we’re still working to see if we can process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But it was not – was it jumped ahead or no? Or it —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re still working to see if we can process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s not my question, though. My question is whether it got – I understand that they may have requested expedited processing —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and did not – denied it because they don’t meet the standards, which happens to a lot of people.

MS. PSAKI: And at the same time, we’re still working to expedite – to process this as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Right. Right. Right. No, but I’m sure you’re doing that with the other 17,199, right? I mean, the question is whether you are doing this faster.

MS. PSAKI: Specifically with this one, we are —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But quicker than everything – others’ stuff?

MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t work in that exact way, but we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

Ali.

QUESTION: And Jen, they said that – AFSA said that they also filed a second FOIA request on February 28th.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So did they express to you their – because I know there was discussion between counsels.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So was that part of the aspect, that they didn’t feel that the July request had been processed or addressed within a – expeditiously enough so that —

MS. PSAKI: You’d have to ask them that question. I’m not sure if they are basically about the same thing or not. So I’m happy to check, and you may want to check with them and see what the reason was for the second one.

QUESTION: These documents are – what they’re seeking or these certificates are not classified, are they?

MS. PSAKI: No, but they’re still internal files, and so obviously we go through a process —

QUESTION: Fair enough. But they’re for a very small number of people, 50. Do you have any idea how many pages one of these things is?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s every ambassadorial nominee for the last 14 months.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: So —

QUESTION: And how many – well, actually, it wouldn’t have been originally —

MS. PSAKI: 15?

QUESTION: No, because they filed it in July asking for every one that went back to January. So —

MS. PSAKI: But when you meet it, you’re abiding by what the FOIA request —

QUESTION: Fair enough. How many pages is one of these things?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of pages for you.

QUESTION: It seems to me like this is a very limited request from an organization that’s got a very, very important interest in this subject, and that frankly, they should, if they ask, should be allowed to see – without having to go to through the FOIA processing. Was there any – did – do you know – are you aware if they asked outside of FOIA to get this – to get these documents?

MS. PSAKI: They are closely engaged with our chief of staff and deputy secretary of state, and have a range of meetings. So I know that all of these issues have been discussed. In terms of this specific request, I can check if there’s anything we can share on that.

QUESTION: So in other words, you said no. They asked, you said no, you have to submit a FOIA? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not saying that’s how it all went down. I’m saying they have many channels for having discussions with people in the Administration. And if there’s more to share on whether they made this specific request outside of the FOIA request process, I’m happy to check into that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea if there is a chance, even a remote chance, that the processing will be finished by 5 o’clock this afternoon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but —

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we’re working to process it as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I understand that. But is there a possibility that it could be done by 5 o’clock?

MS. PSAKI: There’s always a possibility.

QUESTION: There is. Okay.

QUESTION: How many nominees are we talking about? Have you got a figure?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a figure.

Well, then, tomorrow, maybe  — or we’ll wonder who’ll stop the rain …

 

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What Does the Spox Say? Go Get a Dictionary — Now in GIF Version

— Domani Spero

At the Daily Press Briefing on December 30, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: So you have no differences between “regret” —

MS. HARF: Us and the White House?

QUESTION: No, I mean the differences between “disappointed, “regret,” or “concern.”

MS. HARF: I’m happy for you to get a dictionary and look up what the difference is. I think it’s pretty clear what I mean when I say “disappointed.”

And here it made the Internets: Abe’s Yasukuni Shrine Visit and the “Disappointed” US: State Dept Spokesperson Tells Chinese Reporter to Go Get a Dictionary

We could not find a GIF for it. So we made one, take a look:

GIF_getadictionary

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If State Dept Is Not Cancelling Iraqi Police Training Program, Why Is Its Contractor Packing Up?

Last week, NYT reported that the U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police.  We blogged about it in State Dept May Dump Multi-Billion Dollar Iraqi Police Program; Noooooooo! Not So Says Embassy Baghdad.

During the Daily Press Briefing of May 14, the State Department Spokesperson clarified that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq,” and told reporters that the department “had considerable difficulties with that story.”

If that is so, how come it has not requested a retraction of this NYT story? But more to the point, why it its contractor handling the police training program in Iraq, packing up?

Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, former Ambassador William R. Brownfield visits with Iraqi Ministry of Interior officials at the Baghdad Police College forensics lab to discuss the future training of Iraqi police forces. 03.16.2011
Photo by Spc. Breeanna Dubuke (via dvidshub.net)

Here is the back and forth during the DPB:

QUESTION: I realize this was addressed by the Embassy yesterday, but I just want to get from here – you know what I’m talking about, yes? – in terms of the elimination, or reported elimination, of the Iraqi police training program. This – the report said that it was being considered that the whole program could be – could vanish, that it could go away. The Embassy, while it denied that, didn’t say that it wouldn’t be substantially cut or whittled down to a mere fraction of what it originally had been planned to be. Can you just clarify what exactly is – what are the plans for the police training program?

MS. NULAND: Well, first let me clarify we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq. What we are engaged in, in collaboration with the Iraqis, is a right-sizing exercise for this program along with all of our programs. As you know, we are absolutely committed to, first of all, supporting Iraqi self-reliance. So if they tell us they need less support, we are going to downsize. And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it, and also to saving the U.S. taxpayer money wherever we can. So I can’t give you a final size for this. We are in the evaluation process now, working with the Iraqis. But we do anticipate we’re going to be able to downsize it considerably while continuing to be able to support the Iraqis on the police training side.

QUESTION: Okay. This is the second time in – since the beginning of the year that this particular publication has written something about the Embassy which you had a serious dispute with. Both times it has been cast – the reports have cast these reductions or slashing of personnel as serious miscalculations by the Administration in terms of its Iraq policy. What’s your feeling about that, that characterization of it?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, it’s important to appreciate that we are in a new phase with Iraq. We’re in a phase where it is up to the Iraqis to decide precisely what kind of footprint they want by foreign support, foreign countries offering support, offering assistance in the context of their overall approach to their sovereignty. So we very much need to respect that this is a collaborative decision how much support they want on the police training side.

So we’re trying to be in step with their increasing self-reliance. We’re trying to do this in a negotiated, phased, managed way. But we’re also trying to make clear to Iraqis that we think we have valuable training, valuable advice to offer, as we do to some hundred countries around the world. So we’re going to work this through, but I think folks need to get on the program that we have a sovereign Iraq who’s going to make its own decisions about how much outside support it wants.

QUESTION: All right. So you agree or disagree with the characterization that this is – that this represents a serious political – or a serious policy miscalculation?

MS. NULAND: Well, of course I’m going to disagree with that. Thank you.

QUESTION: Was the report correct that the Administration has spent $500 million so far on the police training program?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have the total amount here, but as you know, we’ve been involved in police training from the beginning of the Iraq operation, as far back as 2003. I can take the question if it’s of interest to you to sort of tote it all up. But we were involved in police work ourselves, police training for the Iraqis from the beginning, the standing up of their own professional police forces. I don’t think anybody in that country wanted to submit themselves to the old Saddam-ite police, so it needed a bottom-up work and cleansing. So —

QUESTION: One other thing. The report alleged that much of the training provided by the United States, and in particular by the State Department since the departure of the U.S. military from Iraq, was not helpful to the Iraqis, that it consisted of retired or late-in-their-career American state troopers telling war stories about how they conduct their activities in the United States.

And it cited one anecdote in which it said that the two key indices of someone possibly going to – planning to launch a suicide bombing were: one, that they would withdraw a lot of money from the bank; and two, that they’d go out and get drunk. And it suggested that those were perhaps not very apposite indicators for Iraq where: one, a lot of Iraqis don’t have bank accounts; and two, a lot of Iraqis don’t drink. Do you – how do you address the criticisms in the story that regardless of how many millions were spent on this, that the training wasn’t actually all that useful?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to get drawn into parsing the anecdotes in a story with which we took considerable issue, both in its macro assertions and in many of its details. We had considerable difficulties with that story, as the statement from Embassy Baghdad made clear.
With regard to the integrity of the police training that we do – we have done in Iraq over these many years, we stand by it. The Iraqis have a new, modern, more democratic police force largely as a result of the support of the international community led by the United States. I’m obviously not in a position to speak to every individual involved in this, but all over the world we rely on the expertise of retired officers from the United States, from other countries, who are willing to participate in these training programs. And they participate on the basis of their experience in democratic law enforcement, not to hang around and tell inappropriate war stories. So we stand by the program. And if you’d like more on the numbers, et cetera, we can get you a separate briefing.

QUESTION: Can I just – the last one this?

MS. NULAND: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just given the severity of the differences that you had with this, has there been any contact between the Department or anyone – any senior officials in the Department and the editorship of the publication in question?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into our discussions with the —

QUESTION: Well, have you asked for a correction or clarification or —

QUESTION: Or a retraction?

MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear in our public statements and in our messages to that publication how we feel about the story.

QUESTION: But does that mean that you’ve asked for a retraction or a correction or some kind of – I mean, after the first one, you demanded one. And you were quite open about it, and you got one.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we’re still working on that set of issues.

Either the NYT got this right or the NYT got this wrong.

And while State is working on “that set of issues” we heard from an official familiar with the program both under DOD and State that the contractor for the Police Development Program is packing up and will be out of there by this summer.

“If DoS intends to continue the program, they had better let the primary contractor know this because it is shuttering their operation as we speak.”

Our source says that there are less than 50 police trainers currently working under this contract, and by August 2012, all of them, will leave Iraq and finally end their embassy compound sequestration.

Somebody please send this tip to the spokespersons in Foggy Bottom and the US Embassy in Baghdad, in case this item was deemed “need to know.”

Here’s what we suspect will happen this summer. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the department’s bureau with oversight of this program, will continue to staff its police development program at the US Embassy in Iraq. For sure, the FSOs assigned to work on this program are already preparing his/her pack out at his/her post for this summer’s rotation into Baghdad.  The incumbents currently working on this program in Baghdad are preparing to leave and polishing up their accomplishments for the year in their EERs. So certainly, even without the trainers, as long as the program is “open,” and “right-sized” to a skeleton crew of less than the fingers in your hand, we can all pretend that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program.”

So —  we’ll not end this program even when the Iraqi trainees have stop showing up, and what bony remains of the staff are all holed up in the embassy compound?  The pesky details from this DPB will be addressed in a separate post; DBP is giving me a giganotosaurus migraine as huge as embassy Baghdad.

Domani Spero