US Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected, Again — Still Expensive, Isolated and Uh-oh! (Updated)

— Domani Spero

In 2009, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados (see US Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected).  In 2012 Ambassador Larry Palmer, a career diplomat succeeded political ambassador Mary Martin Ourisman who was appointed by George W. Bush as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Carribean from 2006-2008.

Embassy Bridgetown’s DCM is Christopher J. Sandrolini, who was post’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. prior to Ambassador Palmer’s arrival.  We remember him responding to our inquiry with an unofficial note in the wake of  George Gaines’ tragic death in Barbados in 2012.

This week, State/OIG released its latest report on the  Inspection of Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, and Embassy St. George’s, Grenada (ISP-I-14-09A).

 

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Bridgetown, Barbados, between October 20 and November 4, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated due to the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, Scott Thayer, and Steven White conducted the inspection.  The following details extracted from the publicly available report.

Post Snapshot:

Barbados is the largest of the seven island nations of the Lesser Antilles to which the embassy is accredited. The others are the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada, which has a small U.S. embassy whose existence is rooted in the 1983 ouster of Cuban troops by American military forces.

The mission includes 81 U.S. direct-hire positions representing 8 agencies, including the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Internal Revenue Service. Two-thirds of the officers, including nine section and agency heads, turned over in summer 2013. Ninety Peace Corps volunteers are assigned to Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. Peace Corp operations in Antigua and Barbuda and in St. Kitts and Nevis ceased at the beginning of 2013 because of budget cutbacks. Embassy expenditures in FY 2013 totaled $46.5 million.

Key Judgments 

  • The Ambassador must address his leadership issues regarding his strategic vision, favoritism, team building, proper delegation, and overbearing treatment of some employees.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s emergency preparedness program lacks direction and focus. The embassy has not exercised the safe areas and alternate command center to determine their adequacy. Embassy personnel are unaware of their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
  • The consular section services U.S. citizens spread over seven countries and numerous islands. Consular managers should exercise closer supervision over consular operations in Bridgetown and at the consular agencies in Antigua and Martinique.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s consular section needs to improve crisis management planning and coordination with consular agents, wardens, and U.S. citizen residents in this hurricane prone region.
  • The management section delivers good customer service; however, the section needs to address several management control issues.


First, Some Good News

  • Embassy Bridgetown maintains productive relations with the seven governments to which it is accredited. The Ambassador works hard and travels often in the region to build personal rapport with leaders and advance U.S. interests.
  • Interagency cooperation not only runs smoothly at the mission but also represents an achievement for which the Ambassador and DCM can both take credit. Prior to their arrival, internal frictions hampered embassy operations.
  • A combined political/economic section reports on issues in the seven countries to which the Ambassador is accredited, but the high cost of travel, unreliable transportation, and limited lodging compound the challenge of covering a vast geographic area. Despite these challenges, the section produced nearly 100 required reports and responded to nearly 1,000 taskings from Washington in the past 12 months.
  • This past year, the embassy was able to consolidate personal property into one warehouse, saving $75,000 per year in rent.
  • The Ambassador and DCM also make a priority of fostering a family-friendly work environment, an attitude appreciated by American employees with families and the locally employed (LE) staff.

 

Leadership and Management – Uh-oh! 

  • The Ambassador involves himself in administrative matters that he should delegate to the management officer or DCM. For example, until midpoint of the inspection, he personally approved all official travel. He sometimes calls entry-level American officers and LE staff to his office without their supervisors, often when he is dissatisfied with their work. These interactions should be delegated to supervisors or the DCM. The Ambassador also holds some decisions until the last moment or reverses his decisions, upending plans.
  • Most employees find the Ambassador’s leadership style inspiring, but some staff expressed that it is overbearing and inhibits their performance. The Ambassador did not realize he needed to modulate his behavior for different staff members until the inspectors pointed it out to him. He admitted that a few times he had lost his temper and reprimanded employees in front of others, which led some employees to feel intimidated and to fear retribution. The OIG team found no evidence of actual threats or retribution. The Ambassador stated that he harbored no intention to intimidate and was surprised to learn that some colleagues felt as they do. He accepted a packet of Department guidance, pertinent articles, and the inspectors’ advice about intimidation. He also agreed with the inspection team’s suggestion to turn to his DCM more frequently to address problematic issues.
  • The Ambassador does not have an official residence expense (ORE) house manager at his residence and relies on the human resources section to manage the ORE staff of four. As a result, human resources staff must perform daily operations, such as tracking time and attendance and ensuring that substitute staff are available when others are absent from work. This is burdensome and inappropriate, because ORE employees are the personal employees of the Ambassador.
  • Mission policy authorizes the Ambassador and DCM to travel officially using the lowest unrestricted fare as the cost basis, while requiring all other employees to use less flexible restricted fares.

 

No State Department EER since 2005

  • The Ambassador has not received an employee evaluation report prepared by a Department official since 2005. For subsequent years the Ambassador was assigned to an independent U.S. Government agency or filled temporary Department assignments. While the Ambassador is not required to receive a rating in the 2 years prior to his retirement, the WHA Assistant Secretary may prepare a rating at her discretion.
  • Prior to the inspection, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) was aware of some of the leadership issues covered in this report. More active engagement from WHA will solidify progress that embassy leadership pledged to make in addressing these shortcomings. The Foreign Affairs Manual (1 FAM 112 [3]) enjoins assistant secretaries of the regional bureaus to actively support chiefs of mission in carrying out their official duty to implement U.S. foreign policy and lead their missions effectively.

 

Morale and Workplace Issues: Divided Staff, Favoritism  and Which Staff Member?

  • Many staff members believe the Ambassador shows undue favoritism toward a member of his front office staff. The Ambassador’s and the DCM’s low scores on inspection questionnaires, corroborated by personal interviews, reflect this view. For example, many employees expressed that the Ambassador had empowered the staff member–whose conduct is widely perceived as inappropriately demanding, non-collegial, and unprofessional–to speak for him. In addition, the Ambassador allowed the staff member to take over duties more appropriately conducted by the DCM or other senior officers. Employees cited numerous examples of the employee’s inability to carry out basic duties. The staff consumes unnecessary time discussing this issue, which has become a distraction from the embassy’s central mission.
  • Among the conditions that have led to this untenable situation are poor implementation of normal front office procedures, a failure of the staff member’s work requirements to align with actual and appropriate duties, and a lack of clarity as to the responsibilities of front office personnel. A thorough review and operational realignment of duties among front office staff could resolve many of these issues and improve internal functions. Clearly articulating the results of that review to all mission employees is an essential step in the process.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s staff is divided. Staff referred continuously to the “old team,” the new “Team Palmer,” and the “A Team.” Employees from the “old team,” many of whom departed the embassy in summer 2013, were at odds with the Ambassador, who is perceived to value new arrivals over them. The sudden death of a widely admired American colleague on the eve of the Ambassador’s arrival also split the embassy community into two groups: those who experienced the trauma and those who came after it. Although the Ambassador and the DCM get along well, the division of labor and leadership styles between them has not produced the collaboration of a true partnership.


Quality of Life

Despite beautiful weather and beaches, many Department employees at Embassy Bridgetown find life on Barbados extremely confining and isolated. Travel to the United States or to other locales in the region is expensive. As a result, employees receive one rest and recuperation trip for a 2-year tour and two trips during a 3-year tour. The rest and recuperation point in the United States is Miami, Florida. Employees are also authorized a 5-percent post differential due to the hardship of living on a small island, and a 50-percent cost-of-living allowance to reflect the high cost of goods and services on an island that imports nearly 100 percent of its consumer products.

 

The Consular Section: A Familiar Complaint

A number of LE staff members have more than 30 years’ experience working in the consular section. Among these veterans are the local supervisors in the nonimmigrant visa, immigrant visa, American citizens services, and fraud prevention units. The FAST officers in the section rotate through the four functional units for periods ranging from 4 to 10 months. During their time in the units, these American officers—some of whom have no consular experience— serve as unit chiefs and supervise local staff members. FAST officers like this policy, but their LE colleagues have reservations. LE staff members are constantly training new supervisors, which they report compromises the smooth running of operations. They describe examples of inexperienced American officers making uninformed decisions about workflow and policy without listening to the local staff. The inspection team concluded their concerns were justified. Each unit has a weekly meeting that the LE staff members and their immediate American supervisors attend to discuss workflow and processes. However, the consul general and deputy consul typically do not attend these meetings.

The IG report notes that the consular agents in Antigua and Martinique also failed to comply with all the requirements for consular agents. Both have expired appointment commissions. Neither agent responded to a required questionnaire about fee collection procedures that the Bureau of Consular Affairs sent to them in June 2013.The report points to post’s need to enforce the visa referral policy, the expectation that the cashier provide an OF-158 receipt for consular fees to the accountable consular officer on a daily basis, and for the DCM to review NIV adjudications. The DCM is not reviewing the nonimmigrant visa adjudications of the consul general because of functionality problems with the required software, according to the inspectors.


Art in Embassies Program Alert!

Inventory records for high-value artworks are incorrect. For example, works donated by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, worth thousands of dollars each, show a value of one dollar.

$1.00 !!!

The Foundation also known as FAPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent works of American art for U.S. embassies worldwide would not like that at all.

Read more here.  And hey, you cannot auction off laptops simply because the encryption keys were lost!

* * *

 

 

 Related posts:

 

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U.S. Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected, Again — Still Expensive, Isolated and Uh-oh!

— Domani Spero

In 2009, we blogged about the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados (see US Embassy Barbados: Paradise Inspected).  In 2012 Ambassador Larry Palmer, a career diplomat succeeded political ambassador Mary Martin Ourisman who was appointed by George W. Bush as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Carribean from 2006-2008.

Embassy Bridgetown’s DCM is Christopher J. Sandrolini, who was post’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. prior to Ambassador Palmer’s arrival.  We remember him responding to our inquiry with an unofficial note in the wake of  George Gaines’ tragic death in Barbados in 2012.

This week, State/OIG released its latest report on the  Inspection of Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados, and Embassy St. George’s, Grenada (ISP-I-14-09A).

 

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The view over Castries Harbor from a viewing point just below the Government House of St. Lucia. Photo by Cultural Affairs Assistant, Khalil Goodman, US Embassy Bridgetown/FB

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Bridgetown, Barbados, between October 20 and November 4, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated due to the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, Scott Thayer, and Steven White conducted the inspection.  The following details extracted from the publicly available report.

Post Snapshot:

Barbados is the largest of the seven island nations of the Lesser Antilles to which the embassy is accredited. The others are the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Grenada, which has a small U.S. embassy whose existence is rooted in the 1983 ouster of Cuban troops by American military forces.

The mission includes 81 U.S. direct-hire positions representing 8 agencies, including the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and Health and Human Services, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Internal Revenue Service. Two-thirds of the officers, including nine section and agency heads, turned over in summer 2013. Ninety Peace Corps volunteers are assigned to Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. Peace Corp operations in Antigua and Barbuda and in St. Kitts and Nevis ceased at the beginning of 2013 because of budget cutbacks. Embassy expenditures in FY 2013 totaled $46.5 million.

Key Judgments 

  • The Ambassador must address his leadership issues regarding his strategic vision, favoritism, team building, proper delegation, and overbearing treatment of some employees.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s emergency preparedness program lacks direction and focus. The embassy has not exercised the safe areas and alternate command center to determine their adequacy. Embassy personnel are unaware of their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
  • The consular section services U.S. citizens spread over seven countries and numerous islands. Consular managers should exercise closer supervision over consular operations in Bridgetown and at the consular agencies in Antigua and Martinique.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s consular section needs to improve crisis management planning and coordination with consular agents, wardens, and U.S. citizen residents in this hurricane prone region.
  • The management section delivers good customer service; however, the section needs to address several management control issues.


First, Some Good News

  • Embassy Bridgetown maintains productive relations with the seven governments to which it is accredited. The Ambassador works hard and travels often in the region to build personal rapport with leaders and advance U.S. interests.
  • Interagency cooperation not only runs smoothly at the mission but also represents an achievement for which the Ambassador and DCM can both take credit. Prior to their arrival, internal frictions hampered embassy operations.
  • A combined political/economic section reports on issues in the seven countries to which the Ambassador is accredited, but the high cost of travel, unreliable transportation, and limited lodging compound the challenge of covering a vast geographic area. Despite these challenges, the section produced nearly 100 required reports and responded to nearly 1,000 taskings from Washington in the past 12 months.
  • This past year, the embassy was able to consolidate personal property into one warehouse, saving $75,000 per year in rent.
  • The Ambassador and DCM also make a priority of fostering a family-friendly work environment, an attitude appreciated by American employees with families and the locally employed (LE) staff.

 

Leadership and Management – Uh-oh! 

  • The Ambassador involves himself in administrative matters that he should delegate to the management officer or DCM. For example, until midpoint of the inspection, he personally approved all official travel. He sometimes calls entry-level American officers and LE staff to his office without their supervisors, often when he is dissatisfied with their work. These interactions should be delegated to supervisors or the DCM. The Ambassador also holds some decisions until the last moment or reverses his decisions, upending plans.
  • Most employees find the Ambassador’s leadership style inspiring, but some staff expressed that it is overbearing and inhibits their performance. The Ambassador did not realize he needed to modulate his behavior for different staff members until the inspectors pointed it out to him. He admitted that a few times he had lost his temper and reprimanded employees in front of others, which led some employees to feel intimidated and to fear retribution. The OIG team found no evidence of actual threats or retribution. The Ambassador stated that he harbored no intention to intimidate and was surprised to learn that some colleagues felt as they do. He accepted a packet of Department guidance, pertinent articles, and the inspectors’ advice about intimidation. He also agreed with the inspection team’s suggestion to turn to his DCM more frequently to address problematic issues.
  • The Ambassador does not have an official residence expense (ORE) house manager at his residence and relies on the human resources section to manage the ORE staff of four. As a result, human resources staff must perform daily operations, such as tracking time and attendance and ensuring that substitute staff are available when others are absent from work. This is burdensome and inappropriate, because ORE employees are the personal employees of the Ambassador.
  • Mission policy authorizes the Ambassador and DCM to travel officially using the lowest unrestricted fare as the cost basis, while requiring all other employees to use less flexible restricted fares.

 

No State Department EER since 2005

  • The Ambassador has not received an employee evaluation report prepared by a Department official since 2005. For subsequent years the Ambassador was assigned to an independent U.S. Government agency or filled temporary Department assignments. While the Ambassador is not required to receive a rating in the 2 years prior to his retirement, the WHA Assistant Secretary may prepare a rating at her discretion.
  • Prior to the inspection, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) was aware of some of the leadership issues covered in this report. More active engagement from WHA will solidify progress that embassy leadership pledged to make in addressing these shortcomings. The Foreign Affairs Manual (1 FAM 112 [3]) enjoins assistant secretaries of the regional bureaus to actively support chiefs of mission in carrying out their official duty to implement U.S. foreign policy and lead their missions effectively.

 

Morale and Workplace Issues: Divided Staff, Favoritism  and Which Staff Member?

  • Many staff members believe the Ambassador shows undue favoritism toward a member of his front office staff. The Ambassador’s and the DCM’s low scores on inspection questionnaires, corroborated by personal interviews, reflect this view. For example, many employees expressed that the Ambassador had empowered the staff member–whose conduct is widely perceived as inappropriately demanding, non-collegial, and unprofessional–to speak for him. In addition, the Ambassador allowed the staff member to take over duties more appropriately conducted by the DCM or other senior officers. Employees cited numerous examples of the employee’s inability to carry out basic duties. The staff consumes unnecessary time discussing this issue, which has become a distraction from the embassy’s central mission.
  • Among the conditions that have led to this untenable situation are poor implementation of normal front office procedures, a failure of the staff member’s work requirements to align with actual and appropriate duties, and a lack of clarity as to the responsibilities of front office personnel. A thorough review and operational realignment of duties among front office staff could resolve many of these issues and improve internal functions. Clearly articulating the results of that review to all mission employees is an essential step in the process.
  • Embassy Bridgetown’s staff is divided. Staff referred continuously to the “old team,” the new “Team Palmer,” and the “A Team.” Employees from the “old team,” many of whom departed the embassy in summer 2013, were at odds with the Ambassador, who is perceived to value new arrivals over them. The sudden death of a widely admired American colleague on the eve of the Ambassador’s arrival also split the embassy community into two groups: those who experienced the trauma and those who came after it. Although the Ambassador and the DCM get along well, the division of labor and leadership styles between them has not produced the collaboration of a true partnership.


Quality of Life

Despite beautiful weather and beaches, many Department employees at Embassy Bridgetown find life on Barbados extremely confining and isolated. Travel to the United States or to other locales in the region is expensive. As a result, employees receive one rest and recuperation trip for a 2-year tour and two trips during a 3-year tour. The rest and recuperation point in the United States is Miami, Florida. Employees are also authorized a 5-percent post differential due to the hardship of living on a small island, and a 50-percent cost-of-living allowance to reflect the high cost of goods and services on an island that imports nearly 100 percent of its consumer products.

 

The Consular Section: A Familiar Complaint

A number of LE staff members have more than 30 years’ experience working in the consular section. Among these veterans are the local supervisors in the nonimmigrant visa, immigrant visa, American citizens services, and fraud prevention units. The FAST officers in the section rotate through the four functional units for periods ranging from 4 to 10 months. During their time in the units, these American officers—some of whom have no consular experience— serve as unit chiefs and supervise local staff members. FAST officers like this policy, but their LE colleagues have reservations. LE staff members are constantly training new supervisors, which they report compromises the smooth running of operations. They describe examples of inexperienced American officers making uninformed decisions about workflow and policy without listening to the local staff. The inspection team concluded their concerns were justified. Each unit has a weekly meeting that the LE staff members and their immediate American supervisors attend to discuss workflow and processes. However, the consul general and deputy consul typically do not attend these meetings.

The IG report notes that the consular agents in Antigua and Martinique also failed to comply with all the requirements for consular agents. Both have expired appointment commissions. Neither agent responded to a required questionnaire about fee collection procedures that the Bureau of Consular Affairs sent to them in June 2013.The report points to post’s need to enforce the visa referral policy, the expectation that the cashier provide an OF-158 receipt for consular fees to the accountable consular officer on a daily basis, and for the DCM to review NIV adjudications. The DCM is not reviewing the nonimmigrant visa adjudications of the consul general because of functionality problems with the required software, according to the inspectors.


Art in Embassies Program Alert!

Inventory records for high-value artworks are incorrect. For example, works donated by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, worth thousands of dollars each, show a value of one dollar.

$1.00 !!!

The Foundation also known as FAPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent works of American art for U.S. embassies worldwide would not like that at all.

Read more here.  And hey, you cannot auction off laptops simply because the encryption keys were lost!

* * *

 

 

 Related posts:

 

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Happy 237th Birthday United States Marine Corps!

Since November 10, 1775, the men and women of the Marine Corps have served our country with uncommon valor and distinction. And every year U.S. Embassy employees around the world express their respect and deep appreciation for the mission of the U.S. Marine Corps and the role they play in securing diplomatic missions around the world.

Below is Ambassador Theodore Britton who served as the chief of mission to Barbados and to the Eastern Caribbean from 1974-1977. In 2011 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his duty as part of the first set of black Marines who received basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C., between 1942 and 1949.

Did you know that the first African-American U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Theodore Britton joined the Marine Corps on January 14, 1944 and fought in World War II. Ambassador Britton (center left), here with Ambassador Larry Palmer and some members of the Marine Corps, was a guest speaker at the Marine Ball recently.
(Photo via US Embassy Barbados)

An American diplomatic mission to Grenada was established on February 25, 1975, when Ambassador Theodore R. Britton presented his credentials in St. George’s, Grenada. He also was Ambassador to Barbados, and was resident at Bridgetown.

The View From Barbados: George Gaines Case, “the matter is more than a little troubling”

We’ve blogged about the passing of RSO George Gaines in Barbados recently.  Read US Embassy Barbados: Death of the Regional Security Officer and US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural” Investigation Ongoing.

On May 18, Barbados Nation reported that there will be no local autopsy or coroner’s inquest into the death of the embassy’s Regional Security Officer:

“In an unusual twist, the body of the 51-year-old security official was flown to his United States homeland Wednesday, following high-level talks between United States Embassy and Government officials. The United States Consulate had reportedly made a request for Gaines’ body to be sent to his homeland for forensic investigations to determine the cause of death.”

The following day, Barbados’ Nation News articulated its concerns about the handling of the death case in an editorial titled, Diplomacy vs sovereignty, and questioned why the body was “flown home with dispatch.”  See below, the original piece is posted here.

Sat, May 19, 2012 – 12:00 AM
WE TEND TO THINK that diplomatic immunity should not be tantamount to a host country’s loss of national sovereignty.

With that in mind, we are more than a little concerned about the handling of the case of well known United States Embassy official George Gaines, who died recently on these shores as a result of an apparent suicide but whose body has been flown home with dispatch, without the lawful and routine coroner’s inquest or even an autopsy, which would have taken less than a day.

Has expertise

Even if the autopsy had to be executed in the strict presence of American officials, it is obvious that Barbados has the requisite expertise to carry out such a procedure, if only for the record.

The circumstances of this matter have been extreme, to say the least: a man has died in unnatural circumstances, not within the confines of the United States Embassy or even its environs, but on a public beach at Dover, Christ Church. Following this, the Embassy’s counsellor for public affairs Rebecca Ross merely added to the mystery by saying officials were treating the death as a “private matter”, and asking the local media to “respect the privacy of the family”.

Does diplomatic immunity mean privacy about a death on a public beach in our own country? Had Gaines’ body not been found in a public place, would Barbadians have been informed at all then?

The Embassy’s position, even in the face of a high-level security official’s death, pushes us to wonder about the United States of America’s view of Barbados.

We ask, without prejudice, whether that country’s respect for anyone’s sovereignty is merely convenient, and whether countries like ours are seen as mere assets rather than the “partners” we and our CARICOM sister states are often touted to be.

Since no one in Barbados could officially touch Gaines’ body, how could Barbados exonerate itself in the event of any finding other than apparent suicide? And if the Barbados Government has indeed satisfied itself that there has been absolutely no need for a local autopsy, where is the official record to satisfy the people of Barbados, who deserve to know – after all, he died in our midst.

Investigation

While we pride ourselves on having a free Press and access to information, this matter begs for investigation at the highest level.

We shouldn’t have to wait to hear its details on CNN or FOX NEWS. We can’t help but say the matter is more than a little troubling – in terms of both diplomacy and sovereignty.

The dead have no use for diplomatic immunity and if the Barbadians are confused at this turn of events, our embassy in Bridgetown with its social media arms failed in its embrace of people to people outreach.

It is worth noting that this is not the first tragedy that befall a US mission overseas in recent years. In 2007, Colonel Thomas Mooney went missing, then was found dead in Cyprus. In 2010, Vice Consul James Hogan went missing, and was never found in the Netherlands Antilles. Here now is another tragedy in Barbados.

In this incident in Barbados, the editorial expressed a quiet affront to national pride — perhaps even a slight resentment on three things: 1) we have the expertise, why did they not trust us; 2) if we are partners, they must not think very much of us, and 3) how can we defend ourselves if this is foul play when we have no idea what happened here?

And their concern is understandable.  While one can argue that the privacy of the family at this difficult time be protected, the deceased, like all public officials serving at our embassies and consulates abroad are just that, officials with public lives. Presumably, they have friends in the local community, and professional contacts in and out of the host country government who cares about what happened to them. Incidents like this will generate interests and questions even from non-embassy friends. In this case, perhaps even to seek confirmation that the host country did not have anything to do with the death of its diplomatic guest. To respond to these incidents as if there’s a news blackout is not going to make the tragic news go away, or make rumors disappear but it will sure make a mystery out of a personal tragedy.

At the height of the disappearance of James Hogan in the Netherlands Antilles, our email inquiries sent to to the US Consulate General in Curacao and to Timothy J. Dunn, the Chief of Mission/Consul General were never acknowledged or responded to.  Nothing on its website indicates that one of its three officers has gone missing or that there was a search going on. There was no official statement from the mission. About a year later, a James Hogan Missing flyer was posted on its website, with no further explanation.

In this latest incident, emails to the press office of US Embassy Bridgetown, its front office and ASKPRI@state.gov have so far all gone unanswered. A request to the Consular Section for the embassy’s latest Disposition of Remains Report for Barbados will reportedly be responded to in 72 hours. And while the press officer of the embassy was quoted as saying this is a “private matter” the embassy did not release any official statement to the local press or on its website. There’s nothing on its Facebook page, or in its mission blog, or in its Twitter account. It’s like business as usual and there’s no death in the family. Or if there is one, it’s none of your business.

By contrast, when the US Defense Attaché, Thomas Mooney disappeared from the US Embassy in Cyprus on June 28, 2007, the U.S. Embassy there issued a public appeal for information on his whereabouts. And at the sad conclusion of Col. Mooney’s disappearance, then Ambassador Ronald Schlicher released an official statement also posted on the embassy’s website.

The message bears repeating below because we feel this is how it is done by a class act:

After the notification of next of kin, with deep sadness, I announce that LTC Thomas Mooney, who served his nation with distinction as our Defense Attaché, was found dead by Cypriot authorities on Monday.

At this point in the investigation, it is now clear that LTC Thomas Mooney’s death was a personal tragedy with no political or security implications.  We wish to thank the Cypriot authorities and people once again for the extraordinary level of support and the messages of sympathy they extended to the Embassy throughout this difficult and trying time.

Please remember LTC Mooney and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Ambassador Ronald L. Schlicher

Ambassador Schlicher’s message is comforting in its simplicity. It confirmed the death of the official member of the embassy family, thanked the folks that needed thanking, and it made the embassy come across as more than just a building, but a real community. More importantly, it acknowledged the mission as part of a larger community of human beings who grieve as part of life.

We don’t know this for sure but since Col.Mooney was in the military, his remains was probably sent to Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (OAFME) at Dover Port Mortuary for an autopsy. But not once did we uncover a press account or editorial questioning the disposition of his remains.

Update @1314 PST, May 25:

Christopher J. Sandrolini, who until recently was US Embassy Bridgetown’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. and currently its Deputy Chief of Mission, responded to our email requesting comment over the editorial with the following note:

I have no official comment. Personally, I can say that George Gaines was a good friend of mine and of the entire Embassy; we miss him greatly. Many of us came up from Bridgetown for the funeral and to be with his wife and daughter.  George was an outstanding officer and widely known and respected everywhere he served.

While we understand that our embassy officials are not always able to provide an official statement, we appreciate the note from Mr. Sandrolini.
Domani Spero

 

 

US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural,” Investigation Ongoing

On May 13, we posted here about the reported death of George Gaines, the Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados.  Over the weekend, we have also sent an email to the Public Affairs Officer of US Embassy Barbados and to the Royal Barbados Police Force. As of this writing, the embassy has not acknowledged nor responded to our query.  Neither the embassy nor the State Department has released an official statement on Mr. Gaines’ death.

The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) did confirm to us via email on May 14 that it is investigating the death of Mr. Gaines.  RBPF says that under Barbados laws, this death is being treated as unnatural and a Coroner’s Inquest will be held in the future to determine whether or not it was a suicide.  The Police also confirmed that a firearm was found at the scene and the body had a wound to the head.

Below is one of the last official photos we can locate of George Gaines, as one of the crew members of the Lancelot II during the Round Barbados Race in January 2012:

Crew of the Lancelot II included: Victor Henken, Brian Greaney, Mike Biggins, George Gaines, Bill Hobbs, Jerry Aylward, Kit Rosenstein, Fred Melton, Joe Cowan, Mark McHugh, and Stephanie Palisek.
(Photo from US Embassy Barbados website)

Via US Embassy blog and press statement, January 2012:

The Round Barbados Race dates back to the 19th century and is based upon bragging rights for the fastest “trading schooner” – a prize worth its weight in gold to captains in an era where boats competed for cargo business and the fastest cargo won a hefty premium.  The slowest boat won a consolation prize of a barrel of Mount Gay Rum, a practice discontinued after two boats remained out at sea for days, stalling to win the rum!

The modern event is held on January 21, a day celebrating Errol Barrow, Barbados’s first Prime Minister and an avid sailor.  It’s sponsored by Mount Gay Rum, and the prize for a new record in any existing class is the skipper’s weight in Mount Gay Rum Extra Old.

This year, the Embassy’s Charlie Hillyer took up the challenge from the Barbados Cruising Club’s Commodore to find a boat and a U.S. crew.  Captain Charlie found two Beneteau 40s and Shanghaied 22 sailors who, while courageous and willing, had varying degrees of sailing expertise.

[…]

Team USA, on board Lancelot II met the challenge of the open sea’s and 29 other seasoned sailing vessels, crewed by seasoned sailors in the Mount Gay Rum Round Barbados Race 2012 on Saturday January 21, to take first place in Class 60′ and under.

They bore the brunt of gusting 25 knot winds, 12 foot rollers from the North Atlantic, slippery decks and vessels that seemed to go every way but straight !!!!Even under these extreme conditions they prevailed and made a lasting mark on the sailing community of Barbados and other boats from foreign ports.

Crew of the Lancelot II included: Victor Henken, Brian Greaney, Mike Biggins, George Gaines, Bill Hobbs, Jerry Aylward, Kit Rosenstein, Fred Melton, Joe Cowan, Mark McHugh, and Stephanie Palisek.

US Embassy Barbados is a medium sized-post with approximately 60 direct hire Americans. The grief from this tragic event will be deep and painful especially for a small community like the embassy.

US Embassy Barbados: Death of the Regional Security Officer

Caribbean news are reporting today as “apparent suicide” the death of the Regional Security Officer (RSO) of the US Embassy in Barbados.

POLICE ARE INVESTIGATING the apparent suicide of a 51-year-old United States Embassy security official.

The body of American George Gaines, a Caucasian male, was found at White Sands Beach, Dover, Christ Church, around 8:30 a.m. yesterday with a bullet wound to the head.

The discovery was met by an immediate response from United States government officials, including Chargé d’Affaires for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Christopher Sandrolini, who was among those gathering at the scene.

When a team from the SUNDAY SUN arrived, Gaines’ body, partially covered with a white sheet and clad in khaki pants, white socks and suede boots, lay a few feet away from the sea, in a bushy area of the beach.

Read the original post here.

US Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados
Photo from US Embassy

The Caribbean Trakker citing reports, with no links says that “guard at a nearby hotel heard a gunshot in the early hours of the morning, a tourist discovered  the body just after 8.30 a.m.  A gun was found at the scene.”

In June 2011, Nation News did a piece on George Gaines and his family (see Reaping big Gaines: Close-knit family of three makes time to play together).

According to that family profile, Mr. Gaines served in Thailand, the Netherlands, Croatia and was on domestic assignment for five years. He has also served in the US military. He has an adult daughter and has been married to his wife of over 20 years.

A separate item online indicates that his most recent assignment in the U.S. is reportedly as the Professional Responsibility Division Chief, in the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence at the Department of State  from 2008-2010.

As of this writing, the embassy has yet to release a statement. And we have yet to receive a response from our email. We will update if we learn anything more.

Domani Spero

 

 

FSTube Trends: Ambassador Video Cards from Washington, D.C.

In the past, we have seen a smattering of ambassador video greetings usually posted on  embassy websites, urging host country nationals to visit the website and check out embassy services.  Like this welcome message by then U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Roderick W. Moore, which is noisy and and could stand some improvement.

In December 2010, then U.S. Ambassador-designate to Thailand Kristie Kenney sent a video message greeting the people of Thailand, while she was still in Washington, D.C.. The video is in English with Thai subtitle; approximately 16,000 views.

On Dec 9, 2011, Ambassador Adrienne O’Neal also sent a video message to the people of Cape Verde prior to her arrival in the country, in Portuguese; some 385 views.

According to a recent OIG report, before the Ambassador’s arrival in Hanoi, he recorded “a video of his preliminary thoughts and goals for his tenure in Hanoi, some of it in Vietnamese, for a television interview. An estimated 20 million viewers watched the interview. Another 6 million people viewed it after it was posted on the Internet.”  We have not been able to find a video of that interview.   In August 2011, Ambassador David Shear did have a video greeting for the people of Vietnam (some Vietnamese, English with subtitle) posted in the mission’s YouTube channel; it has 8,310 views.

On Jan 12, 2012, US Embassy Moscow posted Ambassador Michael McFaul’s introduction video, in English with Russian subtitle; some 76,500 views.

On April 3, 2012, the US Embassy Bridgetown and the Eastern Caribbean posted an video message from Ambassador Larry Palmer, who was confirmed by the Senate on March 30. Video in English, approximately 200 views.

On April 16, 2012, the US Embassy in New Delhi followed with a video greeting from DC by Nancy Powell, Ambassador-Designate to India, also done prior to her arrival at post; 4,301 views.

Last week, it was US Embassy Cambodia’s turn with a video on YouTube of Ambassador-Designate William Todd introducing himself to the Cambodian people; some 3200 views.

This appears to be a video trend in the Foreign Service, no doubt created in Foggy Bottom.  You can tell from looking at these videos that they have become more sophisticated. The sounds are better, the graphics are more snazzy, the editing more professionally done, etc. New shop at Foggy Bottom busy with these videos, huh?

We do wonder what kind of views would be considered a satisfactory return of investment for the production of these videos? We’re not saying these intro videos are bad, we are simply pointing out that it cost staff hours (also known as manhours in govspeak) and money to produce and edit these videos. At what point are they considered successful – at 200 views, 500 views, a couple thousand views?

Is this something that the Evaluation & Measurement Unit (EMU) under Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R/PPR) even looks at?  We know not. But this is the unit that “advances the culture of measurement in U.S. public diplomacy.” 

Domani Spero