Think Tank Cancels NATO Conference After U.S. Ambassador Objects to Keynote Speaker’s Participation


The Danish Atlantic Council released a statement announcing the cancellation of its international conference on NATO and transatlantic cooperation after the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark  Carla Sands “did not want” the keynote speaker’s participation. Sands is a political appointee, and one of Trump’s top donors. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate  by voice vote in November 2017 (see PN1012).
The invited speaker Stanley Sloan (@srs2_) is a Visiting Scholar in Political Science at Middlebury College and a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States.
Mr. Sloan has now released a brief statement about this debacle and also provided a link to the draft of the address he would have delivered at the event:

The Danish Atlantic Council had invited Stanley R. Sloan to give a keynote address at their conference celebrating NATO’s 70th anniversary on 10 December. The conference was co-sponsored and heavily funded by the US Department of State. Just days before the conference, the US Ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, ordered the Council to remove Sloan from the program. The form of censorship by the US government is a dramatic change from past practice, when the US Public Diplomacy program provided  a variety of American views to foreign audiences, in many ways demonstrating the strength of American democracy. For those who are interested in what Sloan would have said at the meeting, check out the draft as it stood before the Embassy’s veto: “Crisis in transatlantic relations: what future will we choose?” 

US Embassy Denmark has taken to Twitter to defend its role in the cancellation of the event:

In our planning for the Seminar as co-hosts and co-sponsors, the U.S. Embassy and had jointly agreed on a program of speakers with a wide range of views on the Alliance.

Mr. Stanley Sloan’s proposed last-minute inclusion in the program by did not follow the same deliberative process of joint decision-making and agreement that we followed when recruiting all other speakers.

The U.S. Embassy will continue to support future programs to strengthen security cooperation and people-to-people ties.

We laughed so hard we fell off our chair! We all know that “deliberative” and “process” have both been left to bleed all over the white carpet.  We can see the stains on the official burial; the embassy, unfortunately, thought we could not.

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U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Gets the Spotlight After Absurd Greenland Offer Failed




With Greenland Not For Sale, Trump Scrubs Upcoming Denmark Visit





Because the #2016Election Is Not Scary Enough … Happy Halloween Voters! Get Your Ballot!

Posted: 1:33 pm ET
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A shoutout to U.S. Consulate Halifax who did their Halloween party with a reminder to overseas Americans on how to request their absentee ballots.  The Federal Voting Assistance Program includes information for the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and the Federal Write-in Ballot (FWAB) to cast your absentee ballots. Go do it!

Bonus tweets from Palmerston and the White House:


An American Ambassador’s Charm Offensive Via a TV Reality Show

Posted: 3:54 am EDT
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Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

Says Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs, “We give ambassadors great latitude and discretion in media engagements in their host countries. Ambassador Gifford has been one of the most creative in identifying novel and innovative ways to connect with his local audience to advance the image of the U.S. and our foreign policy goals.”

His accessibility hasn’t come without his critics: some commentators in Denmark have suggested that Gifford’s celebrity status has made the Danish press less critical of the nice American man from television. The show will end its run this month, though, with no plans for a third season. Gifford’s charm offensive will continue for another year, until the next president assigns a new ambassador to Denmark.

So what does life post posting look like? “I have no idea what we’ll do next,” he says. “I say ‘we’ because Stephen is a big part of the equation [since] he’s moved around the world for me. . . . If he wants to move to Kenya and go work on saving elephants, I’ll figure out what to do, because he deserves that time.”

Read in full here.


US Embassy Denmark: A Wedding in Copenhagen

Posted: 1:52 am EDT
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Congratulations and best wishes to U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford and Dr. Stephen DeVincent on their wedding at Copenhagen City Hall on October 10. A collection of tweets below with some photos:






Holiday Greetings From American Embassies Around the World – 2014

— Domani Spero
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Wishing all our readers a safe and wonderful Holiday Season with loved ones and friends and a new year of good health and happiness.  A special shoutout to our men and women in unaccompanied foreign service assignments who will not be spending the holidays with their loved ones.  Tennessee Williams writes  that “time is the longest distance between two places.” May you bridge that distance soon. A few holiday greetings from our diplomatic posts in Poland, Norway, Austria, Thailand, Croatia, and Indonesia.


U.S. Embassy Warsaw, Poland

Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and Consulate General in Krakow await the arrival of Santa Claus…but will they receive presents or rózga from Santa’s elves this year? According to Polish legend, naughty children receive rózga – twigs – from Santa. A note from the embassy says that no personnel were injured in the filming of this video, although they did help a colleague find a local tailor – watch the bloopers! Video is currently on FB and has not been posted on the embassy’s YouTube channel, but it’s online courtesy of YouTube user Interpol 1923.  Three years in a row for awesomeness! Click the links for the previous videos in 2013, and 2012.


U.S. Embassy Oslo, Norway

Vi mimer julen inn og ønsker hele Norge god jul og godt nytt år! Happy holidays from the U.S. Embassy in Oslo! Del gjerne videre!


U.S. Embassy Vienna, Austria


U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

The U.S. Embassy in Thailand counting down to the New Year with its own version of a popular holiday song. Happy New Year everyone and Sawadii Pii Mai!


US Embassy Zagreb, Croatia

Year in Review 2014! Želimo vam sretan Božić i sve najbolje u novoj godini….


U.S. Consulate General Surabaya, Indonesia

Konjen AS di Surabaya mengucapkan selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru 2015. Happy Holidays!


US Embassy Manila, Philippines

U.S. Consulate General Mumbai, India

U.S. Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan

* * *

Officially In: Rufus Gifford — From Obama for America to Denmark

By Domani Spero

On June 14, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Rufus Gifford as the next Ambassador to Denmark. The WH released the following brief bio:

Rufus Gifford most recently served as Finance Chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee.  He served as Finance Director for Obama for America from 2011 to 2012, and as Finance Director for the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011.  From 2008 to 2009, he was the California Finance Director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, after working as a political consultant in California from 2004 to 2008.  From 1998 to 2004, Mr. Gifford was Creative Executive for Davis Entertainment, an independent film company based in Los Angeles.  He is currently a Federal Club Member of the Human Rights Campaign and a Partner in Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund.

He received a B.A. from Brown University.


US Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark
State Department Photo

Here is WaPo:

Gifford, an indefatigable — some beleaguered donors have said maybe too indefatigable — fundraiser, was the key person behind the campaign’s $1 billion war chest.

The longtime Democratic fundraiser and activist in the gay community would be the second openly gay ambassador named to a NATO ally. The first, James Hormel, served in the latter part of President Bill Clinton’s second term as ambassador to Luxembourg.

Gifford’s ex-partner Jeremy Bernard — also a formidable fundraiser and major Democratic pol — is the first man and the first openly gay person to be White House social secretary. Gifford and Bernard, who remain good friends, had been called one of Washington’s top “power couples.”

If confirmed, Mr. Gifford would succeed Washington lawyer Laurie Susan Fulton who was appointed into office in May 2009 and departed post in February 2013.  Senior Foreign Service Officer Stephen Alan Cristina is currently Charge d’Affaires a.i.  Of the last 19 ambassadors appointed as chief of mission to Denmark since 1960, 17 or 89.5% had been political appointees.


Related items:


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US Embassy Denmark: A Flat Stanley-Mission, Well Sort Of, But Not Really – Oh, Confusion!

About a year ago, we posted about the OIG inspection of the US Embassy in Denmark (see State/OIG on US Embassy Denmark: “Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor”).

Two items stand out from that report:

  • The embassy staff perceives that the Ambassador is unwilling to delegate authority, and that this weakens the chain of command and disempowers section leaders, making it difficult for them to organize their work and to hold officers within their sections accountable.
  • The Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor, and can be harsh in dealing with any lapses she perceives.[REDACTED]

State/OIG had since concluded a Compliance Follow-up Review (CFR) which took place in Washington, DC, between October 31 and November 4, 2011, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, between November 7 and 17, 2011. The report was recently posted online. Excerpt below:

Although the mission seemed to be functioning adequately, the inspection team found [REDACED] problems with senior mission leadership. In response to several key judgments on leadership, the team recommended that the Ambassador return to Washington for consultations that had not been possible before her arrival in Copenhagen and issued three other recommendations that sought to clarify the chain of command. In a meeting with the deputy inspector general in December 2010, the Ambassador asked for a CFR. She felt that the inspection was unduly critical because it did not take into account the fact that it was conducted just as a new team, which she had selected, arrived.
The inspection report for Embassy Copenhagen, issued early in 2011, noted problems of clarity in delineating the responsibilities and authorities of the DCM; problems with senior mission officers understanding the chain of command, including section chiefs’ responsibilities for the work of their subordinates; and problems of communication and transparency across the mission. Inspectors issued three recommendations intended to address these problems. Mission officers told the CFR team that they have seen some improvement and many believed their relationships with the Ambassador have also improved.

As was the case at the time of the inspection, the Ambassador prefers to run a relatively flat organization; the Ambassador reaches out to individual officers for information or to assign them tasks. Often, section chiefs are unaware of assigned tasks until advised by their subordinates. While it is the prerogative of the Ambassador and DCM to operate a relatively flat organization, including reaching out directly to any member of the mission, the absence of a clear system to keep supervisors informed about those contacts hinders section chiefs’ ability to maintain oversight and quality control over their officers’ work. This practice also results in a loss of accountability, and in the case of some entry-level officers, their involvement with special projects may have limited their exposure to the core programs that they need to master.

Image from Wikipedia

Reissuing the inspection recommendation to distribute an administrative notice that delineates a clear chain of command will not, in itself, address the issues identified by the inspection. The Ambassador believes the current approach works best for her. The system has not resulted in obvious lost opportunities or unforced errors. Nevertheless, this approach has the effect of denying the Ambassador the shaping and enrichment of her thinking by professionals with experience in Department processes, as well as some who have experience and understanding of Denmark. Additionally, some officers do not feel that they have been able to do the jobs they expected to do. Compared to the original inspection, survey results from mission staff in personal questionnaires completed prior to the CFR have not significantly improved, and overall mission morale, as measured by the OIG survey, is about the same.
The Ambassador has established guidelines for messages and emails that the DCM may approve. It is not always clear to mission staff the exact criteria for messages the DCM is authorized to approve. By default, there is a tendency in all sections to assume the Ambassador will want to approve most messages. That assumption is correct.

Oh, dear! And this is just one more example why a political ambassador can have a bumpy ride at an overseas mission.

The State Department, including its embassies and consulates overseas are hierarchical creatures. They are all versions of a pyramid with large numbers of people at the bottom and fewer people as you get to the top, arranged in order of rank, grade or class. Members of these structures mainly communicate with their immediate superior and with their immediate subordinates. That’s the way its been since …well, since the beginning of time.

Then you get an ambassador who prefers to run her embassy as a “relatively flat organization.”  We presume from reading the report that this includes less management layer, more direct staff input, shorter chain of command, and more direct tasking of entry level officers and other staff. Which cuts off “oversight” and “quality control” by supervisors and midlevel managers; a hallmark of flatter organizations where responsibilities are shifted from levels of management directly to employees, empowering them to take charge.

At an embassy where the flat experience without a doubt is limited to a visit by Flat Stanley, there will surely be a clash of undiplomatic proportion which results in some motion sickness and disorientation for everyone.

There will be confusion.  Of course, the chain of command is suddenly unrecognizable. The more senior officers may suddenly feel like spare wheels and less important. Information as power no longer works.

Regretfully, chewing a gum would not help if you have Visually Induced Mission Sickness (VIMS); that’s the ailment for those suffering disorientation from being out of the loop.

The less senior employees may suddenly feel empowered but also concerned, after all, if the big boss is giving them direct assignments, who will be their rating officers? And if their rating officers or reviewing officers are out of the loop, how do you get a performance review that would snag tenure or promotion?

Oh, Confusion, you naughty child of organizational culture clash!

What this show is that bureaucracies despite touting smarts and innovation and whatnot, and despite good intentions are true creatures of its cultures, which can often be fixed and rigid, and coping mechanisms are not as agile as needed.

Update: 4/18/2012 @11:18 pm

The point I missed on the OIG Denmark report —

One of our readers told us that we’ve missed the point in the report.  Like – “Embassy Copenhagen isn’t very big–so we’re not talking about layer upon layer of intermediate managers.”  Okay, we got that.  So if everything has to go to the big boss for approval (or if everyone thinks it should), we’re told that is “sclerotic.” Yep, the wheels on the bus grinds to a slow-mo.

“If first-line supervisors don’t know what their staffs are doing, they can neither manage them properly nor provide the advice any ambassador should need and want.  And if junior officers are being diverted from their functional tasks and aren’t learning core skills and programs, then they are not being prepared for advancement (and the work they getting paid for isn’t getting done, thus wasting taxpayer funds).  This isn’t innovation, it’s micromanagement.”

And we get all that.  But we rather think that the preference for a flatter structure is a management style not an innovative initiative per se in this case.  Micromanagement is not an unknown issue at State, where some career ambassadors and DCMs are known to be so themselves, and employees learn to managed up, as they say in those corridors (although most if not all trust their DCMs to sign off on things that need approval). If ELOs are not doing visa interviews and are instead sent window shopping or something, then we’d be very concerned about taxpayer’s funds. But if they are doing special projects prioritized by the chief of mission, included in the embassy’s strategic plan or whatever they call those things these days, they’re still doing a job for the mission, just not the job written in their work requirement statements. Disruptive, yes, but is it wasteful? The OIG report did say that this has “not resulted in obvious lost opportunities or unforced errors.”  Our correspondent’s point taken, but we still think of this under the larger umbrella of a culture clash.

We’d hate to be in that DCM’s place though.

Domani Spero


Related post:
State/OIG on US Embassy Denmark: “Ambassador has, in effect, become a first-line supervisor”

Related items:
-03/31/11   Inspection of Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark (ISP-I-11-19A) March 2011  [4434 Kb]
-04/09/12   Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark (ISP-C-12-20)  [534 Kb]