Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Rough Week in the Diplomatic World (assassination attempt, brainstorm gets a bad rap, a plumber as diplomat, invasion in NYC and Twitter, etc.)

This has been a rough and rocky week in the diplomatic universe. First off, one bad guy tried to blow up the British Ambassador to Yemen.

The Guardian reports that "Ambassador Tim Torlot was unhurt in the attack, which left the bomber dead and three others injured – two security guards escorting the motorcade and a bystander. An investigation was launched into how the bomber – identified as Ali as-Selwi, 22 – was able to identify the route of the convoy and come so close to his assumed target." It also reports that Yemen's interior ministry later announced that the bomber was from Taiz, a major city between Sana'a and the southern port of Aden, and that the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida.

It quotes Abdel Karim Aryani, a long-time adviser to President Ali Abdullah Saleh who said the bombing was "one of the most serious acts of terrorism to have happened in Yemen." "To target an ambassador who was under the protection of the Yemeni government makes the damage to Yemen immeasurable. We didn't need this attack to tell us that al-Qaida has not left Yemen and that we must continue in our effort to track and confront them."

Still on the British Foreign Office and Whitehall, a memo leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, contained the "brainstorm" of British civil servants regarding the Pope's upcoming visit to the UK:

"The ideas, included in a memo headed 'The ideal visit would see ...’, ridiculed the Catholic Church’s teachings including its opposition to abortion, homosexual behaviour and contraception. Many appeared to be deliberately provocative rather than a serious attempt to plan an itinerary for the September visit." [...] The proposals, which were then circulated among key officials in Downing Street and Whitehall, also include the Pope opening an abortion ward; spending the night in a council flat in Bradford; doing forward rolls with children to promote healthy living; and even performing a duet with the Queen.  In reference to the hugely sensitive issue of child abuse engulfing the Catholic Church, the Government document suggests that the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops” and “launch helpline for abused children”. The document was apparently sent out by a junior Foreign Office civil servant with a covering note admitting that some of the plans were “far-fetched”.

The Telegrah in a separate article reports that "The memo, which also called for the Pope to bless a homosexual marriage, was emailed around Whitehall by Steven Mulvain, a 23-year-old Oxford graduate who describes his sexual orientation on a social networking website as “gay.”

Oy! And? 

On April 27, The Telegraph identified Anjoum Noorani as the diplomat who has been disciplined over a Foreign Office memo mocking the Pope. "Anjoum Noorani, 31, was the leader of the Papal Visit Team which drew up a document suggesting the Pope should launch his own range of “Benedict” condoms, open an abortion clinic and stay in a council flat in Bradford."

The same article notes that “The most striking thing about the Foreign Office team has been how ineffectual they are. They have been disengaged and, frankly, clueless."

I'm sorry -- "disengaged" and "clueless" could just as well described the Vatican's handling of the sex abused scandal. I'm siding with the civil servants here; I also think that "the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops” and “launch helpline for abused children." Never mind performing a duet with the Queen. I'd like to go to sleep without nightmares about that scene.

On April 28, An Indian diplomat was arrested by her government on charges of spying for Pakistan, officials said Tuesday, a development that could hurt relations between the wary nuclear neighbors and almost certainly leave New Delhi red-faced. According to LAT: "Madhuri Gupta, 53, a second secretary at the Indian Embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, was reportedly lured back to India on the pretext that her help was needed to prepare for an upcoming regional meeting in Bhutan. She was detained as soon as she landed at the airport several days ago and was found to be in possession of seven sensitive documents, according to Indian news reports. "We have reason to believe that an official in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad had been passing information to Pakistani intelligence agencies," said Vishnu Prakash, spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry. "The official is cooperating with our investigation and inquiries." Gupta has worked in the embassy's press and information department for 2 1/2 years as an Urdu translator, Indian news reports said, citing police sources. She had been under suspicion for a few months."

Over next door -- the Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada called that country's continued discussion of the treatment of Afghan detainees a waste of time.  "It's a terrible waste of time, unfortunately," Jawed Ludin said of the federal government's months-old debate about whether Canada knowingly turned over detainees to torture at the hands of Afghanistan security forces. "I'm very, very upset that the Parliament in Ottawa is so focused on this. First of all, it talks about a long time ago. If there weren't any problems in Afghanistan, if there wasn't human-rights violations, if our police and prisons were perfect, why did we need your help? That's why you're there, helping us," Ludin told the Edmonton Journal's editorial board.

Ludin was previously Afghanistan's ambassador in Norway and previously served as President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff.

This I don't understand. These were his countrymen! A long time ago? Ugh! 


Closer to home, the Eurasian Review reports that US Embassy Personnel In Kyrgyzstan Are On Hot Seat: "Top officials at the State Department in Washington are said to be "fuming" with US Embassy personnel in Bishkek for supposedly failing to maintain strong ties with erstwhile opposition politicians who now are leading figures in the Kyrgyz provisional government."  The report cited Professor Eugene Huskey who reportedly claimed at a congressional hearing that "US Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller had rebuffed meetings with Almazbek Atambayev when he was a member of the opposition during the Bakiyev era. Atambayev is now deputy head of the provisional government. Huskey also claimed that US embassy personnel made Kyrgyz civil society activists feel as though they were "untouchables."[...] In Washington, a "sense of unhappiness about perceived passivity" in the Bishkek embassy’s approach had been building for more than a year, the source added. Disapproval has now transformed into a profound sense of embarrassment at Foggy Bottom, as the sudden demise of Bakiyev’s administration exposed US policy flaws before they could be addressed.

On April 28, CBS News reports that Ben Ren Yu, a diplomat stationed at China's consulate in Houston, Texas was arrested and injured Saturday night by Houston police who were unaware he was a diplomat when they cuffed him on consulate property. "According to information obtained by CBS News, Deputy Consular General Yu, 53,  was driving in Houston with another passenger, when a marked Houston Police car attempted to pull him over for a missing license plate. Yu did not slow down and kept driving to the Chinese Consulate, entering a garage via an automatic door with officers in pursuit. Multiple Houston PD officers chased Yu into the building and placed him in handcuffs. The officers were unaware the building Yu entered was the Chinese Consulate, according a source." Houston blog, Spaced City quotes Houston Mayor Annise Parker saying that "The HPD [Houston Police Department] and the U.S. State Department are coordinating the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest."

As if the week could not get any worse -- a plumber was convicted of posing as a diplomat in Virginia!

WaPo reports that when Richard Earl Jaensch, 52, of Annandale, traveled through security checkpoints at airports and at the Fairfax County courthouse in 2008, he flashed his diplomatic credentials. Problem was Jaensch is a plumber and a federal jury in Alexandria on Thursday found him guilty of producing false diplomatic credentials after a trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. According to court documents and trial evidence, Jaensch, produced an identification card, a badge, and a credentials holder. He used a similar set of diplomatic credentials at TSA checkpoints at airports and at an April 2008 hearing in Fairfax County Circuit. WaPo reports that after court personnel confiscated the identification, Jaensch ordered another set.

Apparently, you can order those credentials anytime. Who would have thunk? And they are not cheap, mind you.  Of course, as a plumber, he is in a recession-resistant industry and probably can even afford spare credentials.  The report did not say if Mr. Jaensch was posing as a US diplomat or a foreign diplomat.  If he was posing as a US diplomat, well, heck TSA only need to see if he was holding a US diplomatic passport. If he was posing as a foreign diplomat, he should have an identity card issued by the State Department. TSA may not know what that card looks like but, but a badge? From a diplomat? Diplomats with no law enforcement roles do not carry badges, dude!  Now if Mr. Jaensch was following DSS news, he would have know that three guys in Missouri in 2009 were convicted of a similar offense. These guys aimed high -- giving their clients no less than the title “Ambassador."

If that news is not troubling enough -- here comes Josh Rogin of The Cable reporting that an Ambassador nominee is still haunted by a 15-year old Cuban romance. "President Obama's nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the next U.S. ambassador to El Salvador still faces Republican opposition due to a relationship she had with a Cuban American more than 15 years ago. The objections surfaced again during today's business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved her nomination despite "no" votes by several GOP committee members. Led by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, the Republicans are demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus. Josh's report notes that "The FBI later gave Aponte "a clean bill of health," a National Security Council spokesman told the Washington Times in 1999."

Good grief! No escape from a romance gone bad? Really? Wonder if our congress folks ever give male nominees the same third degree burn treatment over old romances. I'm betting that Mari Carmen Aponte's nomination will be deminted shortly.

And just when I thought that's it for this week, the international scene intrudes big time.  Mahmoud of Ahmadinejad is reportedly set to invade the Big Apple. Again. He has apparently applied for a US visa  to attend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the UN. No, you won't get a chance to collect his fingerprints, this is an official trip of a foreign leader. But, for the sake of creative exercise -- imagine if you have to collect his fingerprints in ten-print and interview him for that visit to NYC:

Q: You need to press your fingers harder on that scanner.
A: Why? So you can burn my digits?
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?
A:Where else to preach freedom of speech than in the belly of the beast?
Q:What US sites do you want to visit?
A: Do I really have to answer that in a free society such as yours?
Q:How much money are you taking with you?
A: I can buy you now if you don't stop asking me these silly questions.

Tricky, eh?  If you want to catch up on your Persian in case you get to grill MofA when he comes for a private visit - check out the FSI courses here, including the Persian Basic Course: Units 1-12 (sorry 1963 edition).

As if this news is not unsettling enough, Hugo the Gladiator who sees the bad, bad gringos behind every nook and shadow has invaded Twitter. So we went and checked (http://twitter.com/chavezcandanga).  And we were disappointed that Hugo has now been reduced to 140 characters. How hard is that when you're used to doing hours-long speeches?   First tweets below, fresh from the oven, 130,438  followers as of this writing:

#    Hola mis queridos Candangueros y Candangueras. Esto ha sido una explosi√≥n inesperada. Gracias.Thanks. Ahora en Barinas con Evo. Venceremos!!    
about 4 hours ago  via UberTwitter  

("This has been an unexpected explosion. Thanks. I'm here with Evo. We will conquer!!")

#    Epa que tal? Aparec√≠ como lo dije: a la medianoche. Pa Brasil me voy. Y muy contento a trabajar por Venezuela. Venceremos!!    
9:43 PM Apr 27th  via UberTwitter  

("Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm going to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!")

By the way, FSI also has seven Spanish lessons available online as public domain materials to help beef up your language skills; most helpful if you want to follow the candanga's tweets.


I'm praying for a quiet weekend so I could bake pies, but don't count on it.





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