WSJ: FSO Gregory Hicks About That Twice “Declined” Security Team Offer From Gen. Ham

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— Domani Spero

On January 22, FSO Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission at US Embassy Tripoli wrote a piece on the Wall Street Journal on “Benghazi and the Smearing of Chris Stevens” specifically contradicting the portion of the Senate Intel Committee’s report concerning AFRICOM’s offer for “sustaining” the security team in Libya and Ambassador Steven’s reported “decline” of the offer not just once but twice. (See Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details). Quick excerpt below:

Shifting blame to our dead ambassador is wrong on the facts. I know—I was there.

Last week the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued its report on the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The report concluded that the attack, which resulted in the murder of four Americans, was “preventable.” Some have been suggesting that the blame for this tragedy lies at least partly with Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. This is untrue: The blame lies entirely with Washington.
[…]
Since Chris cannot speak, I want to explain the reasons and timing for his responses to Gen. Ham. As the deputy chief of mission, I was kept informed by Chris or was present throughout the process.
[…]
Chris wanted the decision postponed but could not say so directly. Chris had requested on July 9 by cable that Washington provide a minimum of 13 American security professionals for Libya over and above the diplomatic security complement of eight assigned to Tripoli and Benghazi. On July 11, the Defense Department, apparently in response to Chris’s request, offered to extend the special forces mission to protect the U.S. Embassy.

However, on July 13, State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy refused the Defense Department offer and thus Chris’s July 9 request. His rationale was that Libyan guards would be hired to take over this responsibility. Because of Mr. Kennedy’s refusal, Chris had to use diplomatic language at the video conference, such as expressing “reservations” about the transfer of authority.

Read the whole thing here.

The SSCI report on Benghazi was careful to point lots of fingers on lots of people. One might say, a circular firing with no bullets.  The additional views appended to the report was not so.  We’ll post that separately.

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The Mystery of the State Department’s “Blue Balls” Email Leak, Datelined Iraq

Yesterday, The Common Ills blog has an interesting post on the US Ambassadors to Iraq – Crocker, Hill, Jeffrey, the latest nominee for that post, Brett McGurk and the broken system of the confirmation process. Excerpt:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Brett McGurk intends to take himself and his self-admitted “blue balls” before the Senate Foreign Policy Committee tomorrow, whether he will be asked by the senators whether it was appropriate to engage in an affair with a reporter while stationed in Iraq or to conceal it from his supervisors remains an unknown, Moqtada says they have enough signatures to call for a no-confidence vote on Nouri al-Maliki, poverty and sanitation rates released by an Iraqi ministry do not demonstrate progress, and more.
[…]
Iraq is supposedly a major issue to the US.  It should be.  US taxpayers saw trillions go into that illegal war.  The world saw millions of Iraqis die,  4488 US service members die (DoD count), ‘coalition’ partners losses, an unknown number of contractors, reporters and many more.  And you’d think with all that blood, with all those lives lost, with all that money wasted, that the US government would take the post of Ambassador to Iraq seriously.  One president having three nominees in one term — an ongoing term — does not indicate that serious work has been done either by the White House or the Senate.

All of the above would be for any person nominated today to that post.  In addition to the above, McGurk is woefully unsuited for the job.  He should be asked to explain his administrative experience.  He’s not heading a desk in a vacation getaway.  If confirmed, he would be heading the most expensive US embassy project.  That’s even with talk of staffing cuts and talk of this and talk of that.  Even now the US diplomatic presence in Iraq is the big ticket item in the US State Dept’s budget.  What in his record says to the American people, “Your tax dollars are not about to AGAIN be wasted?”

Iraq is highly unstable.  The US should not be sending Ambassador Number 3 since 2009.  But it’s in that position now because people trusted to do the work — vetting the nominee, confirming the nominee — didn’t do their jobs.

Read the whole thing here plus a new post today here.

We would like to see the Senate vet the ambassadorial nominees scrupulously, whether they are career diplomats or political appointees. What we have seen happen, of course, if far from that.  Sometimes, the confirmation hearing is just like a bad piece of theater, with softball questions. And when they do exercise their Senate holds,  it is rarely for questions about the expertise of the nominees, but more often than not for political reasons. And both parties are  equally at fault on this.

Mr. McGurk is scheduled to have his confirmation hearing at the SFRC today. We’ve been tied up with something else so have yet to see the video of the hearing.  (Note:  @5:12 EST, no videos or testimonies were posted at the SFRC). If he is confirmed, he would be the 6th US Ambassador appointed to Iraq post 2003 invasion.   The average ambassadorial tenure since 2004 is about a year and a half.

Now about the “blue balls” email (what’s that? nothing to do with blue Christmas) — they are of a personal nature conducted in what appears to be the unclassified system of the State Department from June and December of 2008.  Quick thoughts on this:  1) there is no way to tell if the email exchange is authentic or not; 2) the leaker must not like Mr. McGurk very much, the emails went online the week of his confirmation hearing; and 3) anyone who has not gone through A-100 class escaped from the much repeated admonition/reminder given to career diplomats not/not to write anything that you don’t want to see on the front pages of NYT or WaPo, and now, of course, Cryptome.

It appears that the original email leak was posted as images in the photo sharing site, Flickr.  Nine images of purported emails between Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter, Gina Chon were up on Flickr on June 4 from a user named, DiploJoke.  No user profile is available on the site.  The images are large sizes 1024 (819 x 541) but given that these are text, they are a tad small to read.

On June 5th, the same emails appeared in Cryptome with the following note from the sender published on site:

A sends:

I rec’d this and thought you might post the details. McGurk is the Ambassadorial Nominee to represent the US in Iraq. His confirmation hearing is June 6.

At the height of the war and during the SOFA negotiations while countless American troops and Iraqi civilians were being slaughtered, it appears that Brett McGurk was engaged in an affair with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon. He bragged endlessly about senior-level dinners, the secret SOFA negotiations, and “self-healing” exercises to cure his blue balls.

In a tribute to his professionalism and discretion, see emails: http://www.flickr.com/photos/80005642@N02/

The email images were posted enlarged in Cryptome, so they read a little fuzzy, but readable, nonetheless.

Jeff Stein of SpyTalk has this on Twitter with a link to Cryptome.

Cryptome which is run by  John Young publishes documents “that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance — open, secret and classified documents — but not limited to those.”   It is also noted for not removing documents from its server unless ordered directly by a US court.

If these purported emails are authentic, they reside in the unclassified system/archives of the State Department. The leaker could only be one of over 60,000 personnel with access to that worldwide system.  So there is the question of who leak these, but also why.  Was this a wink, wink leak or was this a rogue’s leak?

But one of the authors of the leaked emails writes, “I am so f*cking smooth!”

Ay! Caramba! It could be that the leaker has no appreciation for f*cking smooth people or it could be for an altogether different thing. Who knows what’s hiding in the hearts of email leakers?

Besides the obvious content of the real or not emails about healthy people having healthy appetites even in a war zone, one of the purported parties here is reportedly a married person.  As an aside, the Military Times reported yesterday that a US Army colonel who has at one time, war-zone command of the esteemed 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is under court martial for six counts of violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and 27 specifications including bigamy, fraud and charges of adultery. Anyway, that’s the military. The other purported party in this email chain is a member of the press, what folks like to call, the fourth estate. Wikipedia cites Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

So there’s the press.  Perhaps a relevant question here might be — what happens if when a member of the three estates is in a cozy personal relationship with a member of the fourth estate?

What kind of objective reporting from the war zone might we all expect? That would be an interesting research topic, yes?

In any case, if Mr. McGurk is confirmed, the State Department presumably will be in a rather tight bind. First, it has to investigate if these emails are real. That’s easy enough, it can dig through its email archives. Second, if these emails are genuine, the State Department must decide if its 2011 proposed disciplinary action against “a handful” of employees for their off-duty conduct, which included extra-marital affairs, also applies retroactively to special assistants under chief of mission authority and ambassadorial appointees. That would be most interesting to watch.

Updated  2:11 pm PST

Update 6/7/12 @ 11:11 PST
The Washington Free Beacon reports that their source on Capitol Hill with knowledge of the nomination confirmed that the State Department had acknowledged the emails came from their system.  The report also says that Mr. McGurk is now married to Ms. Chon. Unfortunately, there was only an NYT wedding announcement for #1.

The Cable’s Josh Rogin also has this:

“Multiple sources told The Cable the State Department has investigated the allegation about McGurk’s activity on top of the palace but was unable to find any evidence of that incident. It’s unclear whether State is investigating the circumstances surrounding McGurk’s affair with Chon.”

What did he do on top of the palace? Oh, dear. Expect the podium to say ahem, “this is a personal matter and we have no comment.”

The blue balls email are breaking online now, with comment threads lighting up. One of the most person of the street sensible comment we’ve seen:

“But wanting to have sex with a woman is not remotely a crime now is it? He eventually divorced his wife and he married his mistress. He’s a cad. OK. I don’t care about that. The question here, why was this guy so incredibly stupid as send these love notes on the State Department email network? Isn’t that disqualifying for someone who will oversee a $4 billion dollar budget?”

That sounds familiar …. oh, Newt!

In related news, AP reported today that suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year – the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.  The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18 percent increase. That’s more than the war zone casualties in Afghanistan as of June 2012 which is 139 dead.
Domani Spero

Expatriated US Dollars Out of Kabul? Why Don’t We Just Wire the Money to Their Dubai Secret Account?

On May 14, 2012, NPR Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne had a sit down interview with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker. Below is the part where they talked about American taxpayers money flying out of Kabul International Airport to Dubai or other parts unknown. WARNING: You might need a barf bag

MONTAGNE: Suitcases filled with billions…

CROCKER: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

MONTAGNE: …of American dollars out of Kabul into parts unknown – Dubai, other parts unknown.

CROCKER: Ironically, you know, the fact that vast sums of money have been expatriated may lessen the impact on the overall economy of the true drawdown, because the money, in many cases, never made it into the Afghan economy. You know, I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it may significantly lessen the blow when we get to the end of 2014.

MONTAGNE: Meaning, of all the billions that poured into this country, enough of it went to make some people rich and didn’t find its way into the economy, so that the economy will not be as hurt as it might have been had the money been more honorably distributed.

CROCKER: Absolutely. You know, in many cases, arguably, there was nothing illegitimate about a lot of it. I mean, these were contractors. They made their profits. Capital will go anywhere, where it’s the best investment opportunity. That’s where the capital will go, and that’s what happened in many of these cases.

If you need more, read here.


Just to be clear – this is President Obama’s official representative in Kabul, and does he believed this is just good money — profits and capital “fleeing” to other places like Dubai – in search of better investment opportunity?

Whoops! I think I just fell off my chair and gashed my poor brain!

Are we really this stupid?

In 2010, the WSJ reported that more than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the previous three years. It was a sum so large that “U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.”

“It’s not like they grow money on trees here,” said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. “A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course.”

In February this year, after Afghanistan’s central-bank governor said he will issue new currency restrictions to stem an exodus of billions of dollars in cash, the Wall Street Journal did a follow up report:

“Some $4.6 billion in cash, more than the entire government budget, was taken abroad through Kabul airport alone last year, according to Afghan central-bank data, double the $2.3 billion recorded in 2010. But even those figures “grossly” underestimate the real extent of overall money flight, central-bank governor Noorullah Delawari said in an interview.”

While Afghan officials promised to clean up the country’s financial system in 2010 in the aftermath of the WSJ report and after Congress temporarily froze U.S. assistance to Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported that the money flow to Dubai and other financial havens has not abated.  Instead it has only gathered speed as U.S. forces begin to pull out ahead of the 2014 deadline for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan government.

These are mostly contractors’ money, of course. Nothing that taxpayers need to worry their already severely taxed brains.

But just in case, these are not “honest” money, should we not just ask these “contractors” for their Dubai offshore bank account? If we wire them the money directly, the money would not make it to the local economy either and would lessen the impact.  And it would save our government paperwork and our investigators can dig out real corruption elsewhere.

And actually Dubai offshore bank accounts really rock.  They offer a safe, legal and tax-free account structure providing complete anonymity and full legal tax exemption. Not only that, while “opening a foreign account under a private name would not cease one’s obligation to list it in one’s tax declaration,” that’s a small issue. “You could simply “forget” to declare it and hope nobody finds out.”

And just the place to “invest” one’s well-gotten wealth from the war zone…

Domani Spero