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Tillerson in Moscow to Talk #Syria, #DPRK, US-#Russia Relation

Posted: 2:50 am ET

 

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Tit For Tat For Tit: Russia expels two US diplomats over unprovoked attack at US Embassy Moscow

Posted: 3:12 am ET

 

On June 6, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)  guard reportedly attacked one of our accredited diplomats posted in Moscow. About three weeks later, somebody told the Washington Post about the attack.

This previously unreported attack occurred just steps from the entrance to the U.S. Embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in Moscow’s city center. After being tackled by the FSB guard, the diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. He was eventually able to enter the embassy and was then flown out of Russia to receive urgent medical attention, administration officials confirmed to me. He remains outside of Russia.

RFE/RL reported the response from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 30  — that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy. “In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy,” she said.

Here’s TASS with a quote from the Russian deputy foreign minister about the incident:

“A video of that incident was broadcasted on July 7 by the NTV channel and speaks for itself – in the middle of the night some man wearing a hat pulled on his eyes, though it is summer, rushes from a taxi to the embassy entrance without any attempts to present a pass,” the Russian deputy foreign minister said. “Then, as the police on guard in order to prevent any threat for the diplomatic mission from the stranger, hurries to the person, the man gives him a punch by elbow into the face, thus actually committing a crime.”

Well, now, here’s the video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV.

Can we please file the deputy under the “Baghdad Bob” folder?

In any case, on July 7, WaPo reported that Congress is now investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Moscow.

On Friday, July 8, State Department spox, John Kirby told reporters for the first time that Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. “We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years,” Kirby said.

Gotcha. One month, two days.

On July 9, Russia’s Sputnik News confirmed from the Russian Foreign Ministry that “Washington urged Russian diplomats to leave the US, while not voicing any complaints concerning their activity.”

Also on July 9, TASS reported that “two CIA officials working for U.S. Embassy were declared persona non grata.”  Apparently, Moscow has also warned Washington that “further escalation of bilateral relations will not remain unanswered.”

Here’s something to read via The American Interest:

The Obama Administration really wanted to keep this incident quiet. Whether due to wishful thinking or for reasons knowable only to those on the inside, the White House seems to think it can make progress with Russia on both the Ukraine and Syria portfolios. The harassment of State Department personnel in Moscow by security personnel was not exactly a new phenomenon, even though it had increased in intensity since Russia annexed Crimea, fought a covert war in Donbas, and had sanctions imposed on it. The White House probably saw this latest assault, egregious though it was, as fitting into a well-established pattern (one at odds with whatever hopeful signs it thought it was getting directly from the Kremlin).The Administration knew the video of the beating looked bad and could inflame U.S. domestic opinion if it leaked. But to its credit, it did not completely turn the other cheek either. Rather, it stuck to the informal, accepted procedure of quietly PNGing two Russian spies with diplomatic cover and gave zero notice to the press. Whatever the original reason for the assault, the thinking must have gone, it’s important that it not get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin.

Read more: Kremlin Paranoia Leads to Escalation in Spy War and Why Russia Published Footage of an FSB Agent Beating an American in Moscow.

Below via the DPB with the official spox on July 8:

QUESTION: Okay. On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever. Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels. However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight. On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman. The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations. We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: All right. On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm. Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION: In Congress there’s calls for an investigation. Do you support those? Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake. If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship? Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one. But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary. And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation. So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there. There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this. There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had. There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION: And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things on there. I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government. So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship. And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

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Photo of the Day: Searching for Soviet listening devices in a chimney at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow

Posted: 1:40 am EDT

 

June 1978:  An SY security engineer searches for additional Soviet listening devices in a chimney at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, after recovering an antenna system hidden there by the Soviets. (Source: State/DS Records)

Screen Shot

To read more about the listening devices  that were placed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, also see The Great Seal Bug via counterespionage.com

 

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US Embassy Moscow Wields Wicked Red Pen of Doom on Fake State Dept Letter

Posted: 2:38 am EDT

 

Via dailymail.com:

The Kremlin-friendly Izvestia newspaper claimed that Washington was attempting to discredit politicians loyal to President Vladimir Putin.  It published what it claimed were emails hacked from the US State Department’s computer system.  However, the US Embassy in Moscow dismissed the accusation and provided a commentary on the letter and all its inaccuracies.  The Embassy even helpfully tweeted the newspaper: ‘Next time you are going to use fake letters — send them to us. We’ll help you correct the errors.’

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Stock up on red pens @WBStevens!

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Amb. John Tefft “Attends” 9/20 Moscow Rally and Apollo 11 Moon Landing Wearing the Same Trench Coat!

Posted: 1:23 am EDT

 

Russian television network REN-TV reported yesterday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, attended a Moscow rally of opposition activists. It apparently included a photograph purporting to show Ambassador Tefft at the event. Below via RFE/RL:

But there was one major problem with the report by the Kremlin-loyal national television network REN-TV: Tefft was not at the protest in Moscow’s outer Marino district. And the image showing Tefft talking to reporters against the background of the September 20 demonstration was a fabrication.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow responded snarkily to the report on REN-TV’s website, saying Tefft had spent the day at home and publishing photoshopped images showing Tefft speaking to the same reporters against the background of famous historical events — including U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines in 1944 and the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.

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Apparently, REN- TV  first edited the report to state that it is “unknown whether these images are real or a common photo montage.” According to RFE/RL, later in the day, REN-TV followed up with an item conceding that the photograph was a fake circulated on Twitter and apologized. RFE/RL notes that the image of Ambassador Tefft used in the photo mashup was taken from an interview he gave on February 28 at the site near the Kremlin where Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead the previous day:

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RFE/RL says that REN-TV is majority-owned by National Media Group, a pro-Kremlin media conglomerate controlled by Yury Kovalchuk, one of numerous influential businessmen and officials sanctioned by the United States in response to Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict. Read more here.

Well played @WBStevens, well played!

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May 1 Memorial Ceremony Honors Foreign Service Employees Lost Overseas: Rayda Nadal and David Collins

Posted: 12:35 am EDT

Via afsa.org:

On Friday, May 1, AFSA will hold its 82nd Annual Memorial Ceremony, which honors Foreign Service personnel who have given their lives while serving their country overseas.

The plaques on which these individuals’ names are inscribed serve as a powerful reminder of the work of Foreign Service personnel who conduct American diplomacy abroad, often under dangerous and difficult conditions. The Memorial Ceremony is our opportunity to give these individuals the recognition that they are due.

We are honored to have Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy scheduled to preside over this event, along with AFSA President Robert J. Silverman, who will serve as host for the solemn occasion.

The Memorial Ceremony will begin at 10:20 a.m. EST in the C Street Lobby of the Department of State. (Note that outside guests must arrive no later than 9:30 a.m.) The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Department of State’s BNET channel. We welcome members of the Foreign Service to attend the ceremony and to enter through the 21st street entrance. If the lobby is full, the ceremony can be watched via BNET or the live simulcast inside the Dean Acheson Auditorium. We hope that colleagues stationed around the world will watch the live BNET broadcast, as well. As with other AFSA events, a recording will be posted on the AFSA website (www.afsa.org/video) shortly after the ceremony.

This year, we will be honoring the lives and work of David Collins and Rayda Nadal.

David Collins, 54, was a financial management officer at Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria. Before joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Collins worked as an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God for more than 20 years, serving in many different capacities such as youth minister and business administrator. Mr. Collins also worked for the Compassion Ministry at the Convoy of Hope in Brussels. He joined the Foreign Service in 2009 and served as an FMO in Pretoria before he arrived in Lagos. There, he and his wife participated in an embassy group outing to the beach on April 28, 2013. Swimming in the ocean, the two were caught in an undertow; struggling to save his wife, David managed to push her successfully to higher ground, but was unable to save himself. When he was brought to shore, he still had a pulse, but died during the 90 minutes it took to get emergency medical treatment. His family has requested that donations in David’s name be made to Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Missouri. Information on Convoy of Hope can be found at www.convoyofhope.org.

Rayda Nadal, 37, was a Foreign Service specialist serving at Embassy Moscow. She joined the Foreign Service in 2008. Ms. Nadal served as an office management specialist in Kuwait City, Kabul, Nassau and New Delhi. She worked for Ambassador Capricia Marshall under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Office of Protocol in Washington, D.C. While in Moscow, Ms. Nadal sustained injuries in a gas explosion in her apartment on May 22, 2014. She was transported for treatment to a hospital in Sweden where she died on May 26, 2014. Her family requests that donations in Rayda’s name be made to the Harriet Tubman Emergency Shelter in Washington, D.C. Information on the shelter can be found at www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/HarrietTubmanShelter.

David Collins and Rayda Nadal affected the lives of others through their dedication and passion. Please join us on May 1, as we commemorate their lives and legacies.

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Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude

— Domani Spero

 

In the next couple of weeks, we will try to revisit some of the topics that we have blogged about in the past but did not get a chance to follow-up.

In the last several years, we’ve covered  the deaths of State Department and Foreign Service personnel due to terrorist attacks, natural calamities, suicide, violent crime, and accidents (see In the Foreign Service: Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Here are some of the blogposts we did,this is not an exhaustive list:

While we did receive a screaming owler one time when we were asking questions about a death in Afghanistan, not once have we ever received an email from a family member of a deceased employee asking us not to mention that their loved ones who died overseas worked for Uncle Sam, or refrain from noting the passing of loved ones who died in the service of our country. Not once.

In June this year, we blogged about a Foreign Service employee at the US Embassy in Moscow who was killed in a gas explosion there:

Two State Department sources confirmed that the employee, an OMS on official orders working at the embassy had died. After the embassy employee was heloed to a local Russian hospital, she was reportedly airlifted by the State Department soon thereafter to a special burn hospital in Linkoping, outside of Stockholm where she died a few days later.

A former co-worker at another post was concerned that there has been no public  statement about the employee’s death. “I would think the death of a diplomat would get something from AFSA or State, even if it was from an accident.”  We sent out several inquiries but no one would speak on the record.  Since the name has not been officially released, and no obit has yet been published, we will refrain from identifying the victim at this time.

This past August, a brief obituary of that employee appeared on State magazine, the official trade publication of the State Department and we blogged about it. Shortly after that, we received an email from an individual using a hotmail account:

Hi, Durron’s family did not want this information to be disclosed to the press. Please honor their request. Personally I share your view, but also honor the family’s wishes.

Moscow is hard post to serve, and the Embassy community was very shocked by this news. I personally know many people who lived in the apartment complex where she died (MFA apartment housing), and I was also shocked by this news. I can’t say any more about this unfortunately. The past year was very hard for Embassy Moscow, especially in light of the death of an FSN who was very much loved by all who worked there. 

The request, as you can see, is polite, even volunteering that the writer shares the blog writer’s view. Then the “guilty hook,” asking that we “honor the family’s wishes.” The writer did not/not present himself as a government  official, and seemed to only appear as an interested third party purporting to pass on the wishes of the deceased employee’s family.

Our correspondent, who could not get the deceased employees straight (Durron was the Consular Affairs employee who died in Florida), was in fact, an embassy official, basically asking us not to make a public connection to the death of the  USG employee who died in Sweden to the gas explosion in a USG (Russian MFA) housing in Moscow. We only knew that the individual is a USG official because of …Googles! Not sure the individual is still at post at this time.

Our gut feeling was that this is legitimate news; we blogged about the fact that an employee of the U.S. Government was injured in Moscow, and subsequently died from those injuries in Sweden. And we waited until there was an official obituary before we put the information together and named the deceased individual.  Three months after the incident.

Deceased individuals are not covered by the Privacy Act. That said, if a USG employee die overseas for whatever reason, should we be obligated to not/not report it if his/her family ask that it not be reported for privacy reasons? That’s not exactly the case here because we were only told second hand that the deceased’s family did not want it reported in the press (except that the death was reported in the publicly available State magazine). But the “what-if” was a dilemma we spent considerable time thinking about for a period of time.

How do you balance the public’s right to know with a family’s request for privacy?

We’ve consulted with a professional journalist we admire, and an authority on media ethics at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.   All agreed that 1) employees sent overseas are on official duty, and that any life-threatening mishap or death they suffer is by definition of public interest, and 2) that we ought to consider the request if it comes directly from a family member, and pull the blogpost down only if the family makes a compelling case that publication caused them or somebody else harm.  One surmised that the request received may have more to do with the State Dept’s own reasons or some fear of official embarrassment.

We did send a response to our “non-official” correspondent basically declining the request since he was not a member of the family.  We informed the writer that we would consider pulling the material down if we hear directly from the family and only if there is a compelling reason for the request. We also offered to write directly to the family if the official would provide us a contact email.  We certainly did not want to be insensitive and we understand that the incident occurred  at a challenging post, but the death of a Foreign Service person abroad is of public interest. That’s the last we’ve heard from that official via hotmail. And we would have forgotten about this except that it came to our attention  that the USG had been more aggressive about sanitizing this information than we first thought.

A journalist from a large media organization subsequently told us that he/she was privately admonished after asking publicly why the State Dept had not expressed condolences on the death of the employee in Moscow. The admonishment came from a USG official who again, cited the family’s privacy. From best we could tell, these contacts/admonishment to the journalist and to this blog came from two separate officials. How many other journalists (not just blogger in pjs, mind you) had been similarly admonished to not report about this death citing the family’s request for privacy?

In the aftermath of this incident in May 2014, we sent an email inquiry to the public affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  Our email got lost in a sink hole and we never heard anything back. We must note that this incident occurred after the departure of then Ambassador McFaul. It also predates the arrival of John Tefft, the current ambassador to Moscow and his the new public affairs officer there.

It goes without saying — but we’ll repeat it anyway —  that we clearly understand that accidents happen. And we’re not looking for a cover-up at every post unless it has to do with the furniture!  But, because there’s always a but — accidents do not absolve the embassy or the State Department from answering questions about the circumstances surrounding an employee’s death or at a minimum, publicly acknowledging that a death of an employee occurred overseas. We will be sensitive and respectful as we have always been, but we will ask questions.

What bothered us about this?  By citing the deceased family’s purported request for privacy, the State Department and Embassy Moscow basically shut down any further questions about the incident. How is it possible to have something of an information blackout on the death of an employee we sent overseas on the country’s behalf?

Whatever happened to that promised investigation?

We understand that then chargé d’affaires (CDA) in Moscow, Sheila Gwaltney  told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome. We sent an email inquiry to the analysis division of OBO’s Office of Fire Protection (OBO/OPS/FIR) requesting for an update to the fire inspector investigation. We received the following response on October 23 from Christine Foushee, State/OBO’s Director of External Affairs:

Thanks for your inquiry.  The investigation you’ve referenced is still ongoing, so we are not in a position to comment on results.

Per 15 FAM 825:

a. As soon as possible after being notified of a fire, OBO/OPS/FIR, will dispatch a team of trained fire/arson investigators to fires that resulted in serious injury or death; those where the cause is arson or is of a suspicious nature; those causing extensive damage or significant disruption to official activities; or those deemed to be of special interest to the Department of State.

b. Fire-related mishaps involving injury, illness, or death that meet criteria for Class A or B mishaps under Department of State policy will be investigated and reported using 15 FAM 964 requirements. An Office of Fire Protection official, in OBO/OPS/FIR, will be assigned to any Class A or B board conducted by OBO’s Office of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management, in the Directorate for Operations, (OBO/OPS/SHEM). In addition to addressing the root causes of the fire event, the mishap board report must evaluate the impact of Department of State organizational systems, procedures, or policies on the fire event. The report also could contain recommendations for specific modifications to such procedures and policies. Both OBO/OPS/FIR and OBO/OPS/SHEM receive copies of the report, and OBO/OPS/SHEM coordinates with the Department of State’s Designated Agency Safety and Health Official (DASHO) to meet 15 FAM 964 requirements. OBO/OPS/FIR reports findings and recommendations for corrective action to the Director of OBO, who informs the Accountability Review Board’s Permanent Coordinating Committee. (See 12 FAM 032.)

We sent another follow up email this week to State/OBO.  The explosion happened in May 2014. Here we are at the end of the year and we don’t know what happened to that investigation. Is this length of time typical of these types of investigations? We will update this blogpost if we hear from the fire people with something to say.

We think this a good opportunity as any to call on the State Department to voluntarily release an annual report of deaths of official Americans overseas.  DOD identifies its casualties — name, rank, age, state of residence, date and place of death, and cause of death — why not the State Department?  At a minimum there ought to be  an annual reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel and family members on government orders under Chief of Mission authority. Diplomatic Security already publishes an annual report,would it be too much to ask that they be allowed to include this information?

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Ambassador John Tefft Presents Letter of Credence in Moscow

— Domani Spero

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin received the letters of credence from Ambassador Tefft together with  fourteen new ambassadors to Moscow from Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Poland, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ghana, Vietnam, Zambia, Turkey, Tanzania, Hungary, Peru, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.

Mr. Putin also gave a speech during the event and his MFA specifically highlighted the following in the English text of the speech:

We take the view that Russia and the United States of America bear special responsibility for maintaining international security and stability and combating global threats and challenges. We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in all different areas, based on the principles of respect for each other’s interests, equality and non-intervention in domestic affairs.

Full speech in English here.

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U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

— Domani Spero

 

ABC News’ Kirit Radia wrote recently about how the US Embassy in Moscow is facing cold war-era harassment:

One American diplomat’s tires were slashed. Another’s personal email was hacked. Still others reported mysterious break-ins.

The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.

The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.

Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.
[….]
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.

Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
[…]
Ambassador McFaul was followed almost everywhere he went in an aggressive, at times threatening way by both Russian security agents and pro-Kremlin television stations, even while attending private events with his family.

In one notably flagrant episode, according to officials, McFaul was stranded in the Russian Foreign Ministry parking lot after police stopped his driver for a minor infraction and revoked his driver’s license on the spot.

Read in full: US Embassy in Moscow Faces Cold War-Era Harassment.

On October 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it believed “the allegations could have been cooked up at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department,” according to TASS and accused the United States of spying on official Russians in the United States, as well as the following:

[T]he United States is making regular attempts to recruit our diplomats by means of gross provocations involving the use of illegally obtained personal data, including information on the health of family members,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

Perhaps this is in reference to the 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam? That one where the FBI says that of the 63 births to the Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between the years 2004 and 2013, 58 of those families, or 92% were allegedly paid for by Medicaid benefits.

In any case, we can tell you that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is not alone when it comes to host country harassment.

Belarus

In Belarus where parliamentary democracy ended with the 1994 presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, both American and local nationals have also been subjected to regular harassment by the Belarusian security services.  “To visit Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments,” reports the OIG. The following is excerpted from the State/OIG inspection report from September 2013:

American staff residences have been entered surreptitiously [REDACTED]. The embassy and all U.S. and Belarusian staff are under constant physical surveillance.
[…]
Staff members operate on the assumption that everything sent on unclassified systems or spoken on the telephone is monitored by Belarusian security services and other local security agencies. See OIG, Belarus September 2013 (pdf).
[…]
In July 2012 authorities installed police checkpoints at all embassy gates and at the public affairs office. Police take personal information from both U.S. and Belarusian citizens before allowing visitors to enter. Except in rare cases, when U.S. Government officials make temporary visits to Minsk, host-country authorities require that an equivalent number of permanent American staff members leave the country to maintain the five-person limit. This restriction and persistent harassment hamper mission operations and program implementation.

Take a look at this current staffing that has been the norm for a while:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29

Pakistan

In May 2012, State/OIG noted the official harassment of US Mission Pakistan by the Pakistani Government.  We should note that Pakistan is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY2012 at $1.821B, after Israel and Afghanistan. In the FY 2014 budget request, Pakistan slipped to #4, dislodged by Egypt, but still receiving foreign assistance in the amount of $1.2B.  Below is what the OIG inspector wrote about the harassment of U.S. mission elements in Pakistan; most of the section on this topic, of course, is redacted from the report:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation (REDACTED (b) (5).  The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
[…]
Official Harassment:  U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors. (REDACTED).

The scope and impact of official Pakistani harassment and obstructionism is described in the Background section of this report.  (LOOONG REDACTION).

The good news here is that so far, except in Homeland, no ex-CIA director has yet been kidnapped and spirited out of Islamabad while locked in the trunk of a car.

Cuba

Beyond petty harassment like blocked shipments and delayed visa issuance, perhaps the worse ones are reports of harassment out of Havana, Cuba where the OIG in 2007 says that “USINT life in Havana is life with a government that “let’s you know it’s hostile.”

Apparently, retaliations at that time have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime had also gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal apparently, had been  “to instigate dissension within USINT ranks. “

C’mon, poisoning the pets?!

Fast forward to 2014 and not much have changed.  Here is what the OIG report says:

  • Mission employees face a difficult working environment. U.S. officers can meet only with certain government officials. They are allowed to travel only a limited distance from Havana without special permission. Shipments of supplies, mail, and personal effects are frequently delayed. Normal banking operations are nonexistent. Consumer goods are scarce and expensive. Communication facilities are substandard.
  • Surveillance of U.S. and local employee staff members by Cuban authorities is pervasive.
  • USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside that area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
  • Shipments of official procurements take 6 months or more to be cleared even after receiving pre-clearance from the Ministry of External Relations–another lengthy process. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
  • Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

At least there’s no more poisoning of the family pets of the U.S. Interest Section Havana staffers.  And no one, as far as we know, has been reported to accept the offer of  “*Cigars, señora?” from a handsome young man. (*from an FS spouse short fiction about life in Cuba via American Diplomacy).

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Photo of the Day: Secretary Kerry Swears-in Ambassador to Russia John Tefft

— Domani Spero

 

On September 2, Secretary Kerry sworn-in our Ambassador-Designate to the Russian Federation John Tefft at the State Department.  Ambassador Tefft will succeed Michael McFaul who resigned from post in February 2014.  This is Ambassador Tefft’s fourth ambassadorial appointment.  All but three appointees to Moscow since 1960 have been career diplomats. (see also Attention Would-be Ambassadors! No One Is Getting Out of D.C. Tonight, Courtesy of Sen. Enzi — Opps! Wait …).

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts a swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 2, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts a swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 2, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


Below is the brief bio released by the WH when his nomination was announced:

John Francis Tefft, a career member of the Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is the Executive Director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum at the RAND Corporation, a position he has held since 2013.  Mr. Tefft served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013 and as the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia from 2005 to 2009.  From 2004 to 2005, Mr. Tefft served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Department of State.  From 2003 to 2004, Mr. Tefft served as an International Affairs Advisor at the National War College and previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003.  From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Tefft was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia.  He was the Director of the Office of Northern European Affairs at the Department of State from 1992 to 1994.  Mr. Tefft served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Soviet Union Affairs/Office of Commonwealth of Independent States from 1989 to 1992 and served as Counselor for Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy from 1986 to 1989.  From 1983 to 1986, he was a Political Officer in the Office of Soviet Union Affairs.  Mr. Tefft was a Pearson Fellow in the Office of Congressman Howard Wolpe from 1982 to 1983.  Earlier in his career, Mr. Tefft was also a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary; a Special Assistant in the Washington office of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations; a Political Officer in the Office of United Nations Political Affairs; an Operations Officer in the Operations Center; and a Vice Consul at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem.

Mr. Tefft served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1971 to 1974.  Mr. Tefft received a B.A. from Marquette University and an M.A. from Georgetown University.

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