Tuesday, May 31, 2011

US Embassy Bahrain's Ludovic Hood: Move was in the "context of the summer transfer season" -- ur kidding, right?

The Deputy Spokesman, Mr. Toner was dancing around the circumstances surrounding the departure of FSO Ludovic Hood from the US Embassy in Manama due to reported threats.  This report says that the campaign against Hood had been going on for two months with one of the most virulent attacks coming May 7 in an anonymous posting on a pro-government website that included links to photos of Hood and his wife on their wedding day and information on where Hood and his family lived.

The head of the office, the blog claimed, was "a person of Jewish origin named Ludovic Hood," and charged: "He's the one who trained and provoked the demonstrators to clash with the army" near the Pearl Roundabout that was the epicenter of the demonstrations.

Hood also was "the one" telling the opposition of the steps they should take "to inflame the situation," the posting claimed.

The blogger called for "honest people to avenge" Hood's role, gave the neighborhood in which he lived with his family in Manama, the capital, and promised to provide his street address. It linked to a wedding photo of Hood with his "Jewish wife, Alisa Newman."

One reporter got so dizzy from Mr. Toner's dance moves and finally requested a fill in the blanks briefing: "if you could say it in a full sentence: He was not transferred back to D.C. because of --"

QUESTION: Can you talk about this report that – about threats to one of your diplomats in Bahrain and his reassignment --
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: -- or relocation?
MR. TONER: My understanding on this, Matt, is this is – you’re talking about Ludovic Hood--
MR. TONER: -- who came back to the U.S. from Manama. He did just complete his tour in Manama and returned to Washington; he’s taken up a position here within the State Department. So he wasn’t recalled in his posting. As you know, our assignment cycle has already been set for, like, the last six months or so. That said, we are aware, as press reports have cited, that there were threats, accusations made against him on some websites, and obviously we take the safety of our diplomatic personnel very seriously. But in this case he was simply transferred back to Washington.
QUESTION: So it did – his coming back to D.C. had nothing to do with the --
MR. TONER: Yeah. No.
QUESTION: Are you investigating?
MR. TONER: It didn’t. It simply was his normal transfer. Sorry, am I not – no --
QUESTION: Well, no, I mean –
MR. TONER: We are – I guess I’m doing --
QUESTION: -- if you could say it in a full sentence: He was not transferred back to D.C. because of --
MR. TONER: I’m sorry. I’ll give you the quote. No, he was not brought back here because of these accusations or allegations.
QUESTION: The reports of these allegations were on government-affiliated or associated websites and media there. Have you made any representations to the Bahrain Government to stop baselessly accusing your envoys there?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we have no way to confirm that they were actually made by the government or people within the Government of Bahrain. I’m aware that they were on these websites. But it’s unacceptable that any elements there would target an individual, a diplomat, for carrying out his duties. But beyond that, I’m not aware that it was raised --
QUESTION: Is the Bahrain foreign minister meeting with Steinberg today?
MR. TONER: He is, actually.
QUESTION: Is that going to be a subject of discussion?
MR. TONER: I don’t know what – they’re going to speak broadly about regional issues and then, obviously, very clearly they’re going to talk about the bilateral issues, including steps to ensure that civil rights and human rights are respected and that the government works to foster a constructive political change, but I can’t specifically say whether that’s going to be raised.
QUESTION: Just to put a final point on this Hood incident, you’re saying that – I understand that his tour was coming to a close and he was coming home, but you’re saying he was not brought back early because of these incidents?
MR. TONER: My understanding is that he wasn’t.
QUESTION: You’re sure about that?
MR. TONER: As sure as – I said my understanding is that he was not brought back early.
QUESTION: My understanding is he was brought back several weeks early. I mean, we’re not disputing that his tour was coming --
MR. TONER: Right.
QUESTION: -- to an end, but --
MR. TONER: Right. My understanding is that it was not. While there were, obviously, concerns about his security – and again, we take the safety of our diplomats – and I don’t think we’re disputing that there were allegations or accusations, I guess, against him --
QUESTION: No, we’re not disputing that.
MR. TONER: -- and we view that as scurrilous. We condemn it. But as far as his transfer goes, I believe it was done just within the context of the summer transfer season.

This report says that Mr. Hood left Bahrain last Thursday. According to unnamed U.S. officials cited by the report, "during his final days in Bahrain, Hood was given security protection equal to that of an ambassador."
"The safety and security of our diplomatic personnel is our highest priority," the State Department in Washington said in a statement in response to inquiries from McClatchy Newspapers. "It is unacceptable that elements within Bahrain would target an individual for carrying out his professional duties."

It is reported here that in in his final message to his friends in Bahrain, Hood apologized that he had had to assume a low profile in his final weeks and couldn't say goodbye. In his message, he sounded like a man ordered home on short notice.

"Hello," he wrote. "I am leaving Bahrain today and moving back to Washington. I will start my new assignment at the State Department in June. I am sorry I was not able to say goodbye properly. Given recent developments affecting the Embassy, it was prudent for me to keep a low profile during my final weeks in Bahrain."

He was just transferred back to DC on a regular rotation. Right. It's not a state-sponsored targeting so no need to file a diplomatic protest. Right. To acknowledge that probably means the Deputy SecState would have to bring it up with the Bahraini Foreign Minister, like, "What are you trying to do targeting our people dude?" Except that Mr. FM of another great ally, may not like that, especially if delivered in an uppercase voice. 

Anyway, Mr. Hood will start work at the mothership in June; tomorrow is already June. He doesn't get any leave before he starts his new job?  Yeah. Sounds pretty regular.

Nothing to see here, just "normal rotation." Move along folks.

Now, what's in Bahrain, again? Right.

Confirmations: George Krol, Daniel Shapiro, Henry Ensher, Stuart Jones (Corrected)dated)

Also confirmed Ex-Im Bank and Public Diplomacy Commission nominees

The following civilian Executive Nominations were confirmed by the Senate on May 26, 2011:

George Albert Krol, of New Jersey, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Daniel Benjamin Shapiro, of Illinois, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Israel.

Henry S. Ensher, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria.

Stuart E. Jones, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class 
of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the 
United States of America to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Sim Farar, of California, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2012.

William J. Hybl, of Colorado, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2012.

Wanda Felton, of New York, to be First Vice President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for a term expiring January 20, 2013.

Sean Robert Mulvaney, of Illinois, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for a term expiring January 20, 2015.

Stuart Jones was also confirmed by the Senate on May 26, 2011. I regret the oversight. Thanks R!

FCO to reposition diplomats, EU diplos under fire, India, India, India and more....

Serious concerns are being voiced that the newly-created European External Action Service (EEAS) - known as "Europe's State Department" - and the EU Commission are going beyond their remit to speak for the EU - {The Telegraph}

FCO is increasing its presence in India and China, the world's two emerging superpowers; 50 diplomats to be deployed to China and 30 to India.  {VOA News.com}

India has long shown mouselike diplomatic clout but that's changing as it starts to make waves in Africa {The Economist}.

State Department's "Experience America" to Bring Ambassadors to Alaska {Alaska Journal}

U.S. authorities are investigating whether an Indian software giant Infosys Technologies Ltd.  repeatedly violated American visa laws in order to place its own foreign employees in temporary jobs at some big corporate clients in the U.S. {Wall Street Journal}

Diplomatic Immunity Interpretation: US  vs. India {Hindustantimes}

Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy were among the 44 U.S. Embassy employees killed when a truck bomb exploded outside the embassy compound in Kenya in 1998. Though it has never been publicly acknowledged, the two were working undercover for the CIA. In al-Qaida's war on the United States, they are believed to be the first CIA casualties.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Remembrance

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Deputy U.S. Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne host a Memorial Day ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, May 30, 2011.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
Photos from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan

Eligible Family Member Memorial Plaque
U.S. Department of State
(from State Magazine, February 2011)

Kristen Wormsley {Pakistan}

Zelda White {Kenya}

2010: {Haiti}
Evan James Yves Wyllie
Baptiste Thomas Michel Wyllie
Laurence Pignarre Wyllie

Locally Employed Staff Memorial Plaque

U.S. Department of State
(from State Magazine, February 2011)

Mohammed Basheeruddin  {Saudi Arabia}
Romeo Delarosa  {Saudi Arabia}
Ali Bin Talib  {Saudi Arabia}
Imad Musa Ali  {Saudi Arabia}

Ryadh Hamad {Iraq}
Ali Al-Hilifi {Iraq}
Raida Aghaveva {Azerbaijan}

Ahmed Ifi khar {Iraq}**
Iftikhar Ahmed {Pakistan}
Hussein Ibraheem Abdullah {Iraq}
Bijnan Ajarya {Nepal}

Ali Mohammed Hashim {Iraq}

Abdel Rahman Rahama {Sudan}
Moktar Al-Faqih {Yemen}

Jean-Daniel Lafontant  {Haiti}
Olriche Jean  {Haiti}
Jacques Josue Desamours  {Haiti}
Laica Casseus  {Haiti}
Joseph Fontal  {Haiti}
Racan Domond {Haiti}

** I received the following note from an FSO who previously served in Pakistan: "Under 2006, you have "Ahmed Ifi khar {Iraq}". It should be "Iftikhar Ahmed" and {Pakistan} -- he was the LES who was killed with David Foy in the Karachi bombing. (Iftikhar, which means "Honor" in Persian, is his first name, though the concept of first name/family name doesn't really exist in Pakistan)."

I have corrected the list above and checking with State/HR if this is a magazine error or a plaque error.  Thanks Dakota!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

WashDC Leaky Cauldron: Michael McFaul, Russia "Reset" Advisor to be Next Ambassador to Moscow

Photo from White House
The WashDC Leaky Cauldron is leaking once again; it's a permanent leak, what else is there to say.  VOA News reports that senior administration officials say U.S. President Barack Obama will nominate his top Russia advisor as the next ambassador to Russia.
Obama plans to nominate Michael McFaul, the architect of the administration's so-called "reset" policy under which the Obama administration sought to re-energize bilateral ties that were widely seen as strained under the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The officials, who spoke Sunday, did so on condition of anonymity.
Read the whole thing here.

The unnamed senior administration officials, of course, leaked the yet to be announced nomination to the NYT which writes:

In selecting Mr. McFaul, Mr. Obama is breaking with recent tradition in Moscow, where all but one of eight American ambassadors over the last 30 years have been career diplomats. But in choosing someone from his own inner circle, Mr. Obama underscored his determination to keep Russian-American relations a centerpiece of his foreign policy after his early push to reset the relationship following years of growing tension.

Continue reading here.

Read his bio here as Stanford Professor of Political Science; Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution (he's currently on leave).


Friday, May 27, 2011

Curious, Strange, Whatever -- Victoria Nuland is Officially Announced as New State Dept Spokesperson

Victoria NulandImage via WikipediaThe Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs is the head of the Bureau of Public Affairs within the United States Department of State. Typically, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs is also the official spokesperson of the State Department. The Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs reports to the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs ("R").

On May 26, 2011, the State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Victoria Nuland as State Department spokesperson. She takes over PJ Crowley's old gig at the podium but unlike PJ, she will not be dual-hatted as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  We should point out that Geoff S. Morrell, the Pentagon Press Secretary is also the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.  Oops, different agency....

The State Department announcement includes other changes in  the front office of the Bureau of Public Affairs:

The State Department announces that Ambassador Victoria Nuland will serve as State Department Spokesperson and Mark Toner will serve as Deputy Spokesperson. Mike Hammer is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Dana Shell Smith will serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Michael Ratney will serve as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Media. Cheryl Benton remains as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Outreach and Philippe Reines as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications.

Following Ambassador Nuland’s departure from the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller will resume lead responsibility for issues related to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.
Ambassador Nuland's brief bio via state.gov:
Ambassador Victoria Nuland was named Special Envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in February 2010. She previously served on the faculty of the National War College (2008-2009).

She was the 18th United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 2005-2008. As NATO Ambassador, she focused heavily on strengthening Allied support for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, on NATO-Russia issues, and on the Alliance’s global partnerships and continued enlargement.

A career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Nuland was Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President from 2003-2005, and the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO from 2000- 2003. From 1997-1999, she was Deputy Director for former Soviet Union affairs at the Department of State, with primary responsibility for U.S. policy towards Russia and the Caucasus countries. She has also spent two years at the Council on Foreign Relations as a “Next Generation” Fellow looking at the effects of anti-Americanism in 1999-2000, and as a State Department Fellow in 1996-1997, when she directed a CFR task force on “Russia, its Neighbors and an Expanding NATO.”

From 1993-1996, she was Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of State. From 1991-1993, she covered Russian internal politics at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She has also served on the Soviet Desk (1988-1990), in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where she helped open the first U.S. Embassy (1988), in the State Department’s Bureaus of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1987) and in Guangzhou, China (1985-1986).

She speaks Russian and French. Her awards include: the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service (2008); the Secretary of Defense’s Distinguished Civilian Service medal (1999); decorations from the governments of Italy and Lithuania, and numerous State Department Superior Honor awards. She received her B.A. from Brown.
On May 16, 2011, Laura Rozen of The Envoy and Josh Rogin of The Cable reported this forthcoming appointment of Ambassador Nuland.

Laura Rozen quotes one of the "denizens" of the7th floor:
"Toria is very skilled and talented and will do very well here," one denizen of the State Department's "executive level" seventh floor said, noting that given Nuland's ties to GOP circles - her husband is Brookings foreign policy scholar and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, and she previously served as an adviser to Cheney -- "who better...to aggressively defend the Administration's foreign policy?"

Oh, dear - what stripe of justification is that?

Josh Rogin's piece quotes former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Nuland's old boss:
"Her appointment demonstrates that Secretary Clinton has, quite rightly, an extremely high estimation of the value and confidence in the Foreign Service," Talbott said, "The more use that's made of the foreign policy civil service and the Foreign Service, the better."
"She has a high degree of self confidence and an absolute dedication to working for the administration she is working for, whatever administration that is," Talbot said
When news of her appointment first trickled out, Eric Martin at Progressive Realist called it a "curious choice":
Although definitive conclusions about Nuland can’t fairly be drawn from her choice of spouses, it's not entirely irrelevant that her husband is a founding member of the Project for a New American Century and a board member of PNAC’s recent attempt at rebranding, the Foreign Policy Initiative.  In short, he’s a Washington player who aims to move administration policy further away from the promises of candidate Obama. Are we to believe that a household firewall will keep every bit of confidential Obama administration information in Nuland’s brain from coming to Kagan’s attention?  Obviously, Washington is an incestuous place, and there are precedents for such household conflicts of interest, but this one would be less disturbing if there were more reason to believe that former Cheney aide Nuland really had the administration’s interests at heart. 
On May 20,  Patricia Kushlis at WhirledView  called it a "strange appointment:"
So the seemingly amoral Nuland, we’re led to believe, can and will do anyone’s bidding and do it well – in short, a consummate career diplomat.
[...] But why would Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration agree to appoint to this politically sensitive position someone who willingly served such a controversial figure in supporting and implementing the “war on terror” and all the baggage that comes with it?
[I]t’s unclear to me whether Nuland will need to go through Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings for the new position because, well, the two-pronged job that Crowley held did.  The first prong was as highly visible spokesman. The second as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.  And I'm pretty sure that Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs did require Senate approval. But will Nuland face Senatorial scrutiny just as Spokesperson or not?  Maybe not and for her, that could only be fortuitous.  She’s too closely associated with Cheney and company to make this spokesperson appointment necessarily smooth sailing through a committee controlled by Democrats.
In a response to Eric Martin's post, Andrew Exum, who blogs at Abu Muquwama, writes:
[I]t is completely unacceptable to question Victoria Nuland’s appropriateness for this position based on who her husband is, what he has written, and the policies for which he has advocated. My wife and I sometimes work on the same region of the globe – she as a professional working for an intergovernmental organization, me as a civilian researcher at a defense policy think tank. Should my wife’s career opportunities be limited on account of policy papers I have written for the Center for a New American Security? Of course not.
[I]t is important to distinguish here between political appointees and career civil servants working in the Executive Branch. Victoria Nuland served in the Bush Administration and worked for Vice President Cheney in her capacity as a career officer in the foreign service. (She had previously held positions, also as a career foreign service officer, in the Clinton Administration.) [snip]  It is unfair to hold these people responsible for enabling and executing the policies of the elected officials they serve in the same way that it would be unfair to hold a division commander in the U.S. Army responsible for the policy decision to invade Iraq. If, of course, an individual is nominated for a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate, these and most other questions are fair game.
Read Andrew Exum's full response here.

If this appointment is torpedoed simply because of her husband and her prior association with a controversial figure, that would send very bad vibes to career diplomats. After all, can you really say "no" if POTUS or VPOTUS asks you to serve in such and such a position? And if you say "yes" does that mean you're also saying goodbye to your career as a professional diplomat when a next administration is sworn in?

On the other hand, one has to wonder what's the real deal here? Obviously, the decision makers are well aware of the perceived political baggage that this career officer has in her backpack and was willing to run with her, nonetheless.

So -- we'll have to see how well the "consummate career diplomat" can navigate the "household firewall" and the podium under the glare of intense "baggage" scrutiny.  I imagine that if her "baggage" starts interfering with the message or if she starts to become the story, the decision makers have a Plan B.

Ambassador Nuland may actually be the first female career diplomat to encumber this high profile spokesperson position.

There was Ambassador Carol Laise who served under President Nixon from October 10, 1973-March 27, 1975. She was the the first female Assistant Secretary of State and she served at the public affairs bureau.  The State Department's Office of Historian lists her as a Foreign Service Officer, her obituary in the NYT indicates that she was a civil servant. Typically, the A/S for Public Affairs is also the official spokesperson; I can't tell if such was the case with Ambassador Laise.

Then there was political appointee, Margaret D. Tutwiler. She was Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy from  March 3, 1989-August 23, 1992 under the Bush Senior administration and served concurrently as Department of State spokesman.

People magazine (yes, that one!) in the 1990's on Margaret Tutwiler:
She casts no vote in Congress, plays no direct role in shaping legislation. She isn't much in evidence in that theater of intrigue, the Washington, D.C., cocktail circuit. Still, she is one of the capital's most powerful women and for the past year has been one of the world's most visible. Why? Because almost everyone who wants the official word at Foggy Bottom or needs access to the U.S. Secretary of State must follow a direct path through the office of Margaret Tutwiler.
That's because the State Department spokesman speaks on behalf of our country.  In that People interview Ms. Tutwiler said something that may be a challenge to the new spokesperson:

"If you're a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn't care," she says. "They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well."

That's something that Philippe I. Reines can say, perhaps not when it comes to President Obama but certainly when it comes to Secretary Clinton. Ambassador Nuland potential message relay goes through her boss, Mike Hammer, then whoever succeeds Judith McHale as the next "R", then whatever layers you have inside Hillary's inner circle in the 7th Floor. 

In any case, this is a very, very short list: Laise, Tutwiler, Nuland ....

Note that the announcement of Ambassador Nuland's appointment came from the State Department and not the White House.  I could be wrong on this, but since she is appointed as spokesperson but not as Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, there may not be a Senate confirmation. But if her appointment is ranked Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS), I think there will be a Senate confirmation.

We should know soon enough if/when she starts (or not) fielding questions during the Daily Press Brief. 

If you have a better source on people and diplomatic history that can help clarify the above info on Ambassador Laise, I would appreciate a comment/correction.

Update @10:04 pm PST
One of our blog pals (thanks L!) reminded us that of career diplomat, Phyllis E. Oakley who was  Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration also served in the Public Affairs Bureau. 

Mrs. Oakley actually served as the Deputy Spokesman for the State Department from November 1986 until the end of January 1989, the first woman to hold this position.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Today at the SFRC: Gary Locke

Official portrait of United States Secretary o...                               Image via WikipediaToday at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:

Presiding: Senator John Kerry
Date: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Time: 10:15 AM
Location: 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

    The Honorable Gary Locke,
    of Washington, to be Ambassador to the
    People’s Republic of China

Video of the hearing and testimony will be available here.

Bill Burns At the SFRC: Nomination for Deputy Secretary of State

May 24, 2011: Under Secretary Burns appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination for Deputy Secretary of State.

His statement to the committee is here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure

The State Department has just issued a new Travel Warning dated May 25, 2011 urging American citizens not to travel to Yemen and announcing the ordered departure of non-emergency U.S. Embassy personnel and all family members:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen. U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart while commercial transportation is available.  The Department of State has ordered all eligible family members of U.S. government employees as well as certain non-emergency personnel to depart Yemen.  Due to the fluid security situation in Sana'a, the Consular Section will only be able to provide emergency American citizen services.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on March 6, 2011 to provide updated information on violent confrontations at demonstrations, increased security measures, and to note the ordered departure of non-emergency U.S. Embassy personnel and all family members.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  There is ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities. Violent clashes are taking place in Sana'a, and may escalate without notice. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.  Terrorist organizations continue to be active in Yemen, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The U.S. government remains concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.  Piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean is also a security threat to maritime activities in the region.  See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet at http://travel.state.gov.

U.S. government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist.  Evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the U.S. government for travel costs.  The lack of a valid U.S. passport may hinder U.S. citizens' ability to depart the country and may slow the U.S. Embassy's ability to provide assistance.  U.S. citizens in Yemen should ensure that they have proper and current documentation at all times.  For more information, see “What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis” on http://travel.state.gov. Evacuation options from Yemen are extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and other security concerns outlined below.  The U.S. government typically evacuates U.S. citizens to a safe haven, and travelers are responsible for making their own onward travel plans.  Travelers should not expect to be evacuated to the United States.

Active links added above.  Read more here. The US Embassy in Yemen went on authorized voluntary departure on March 6, 2011; read our post about that here, including the challenges of evacuating private Americans from the country.  An ordered, non-optional departure, leaving only core personnel at the embassy signify worsening security situation. It is a non-military evacuation by a polite name.  Our thoughts and prayers to our friends there.


"R" for Resignation: U/S for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale to Leave Post Next Month

Judith McHale (2009)Image via WikipediaJudith McHale, the  Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs also known as "R" in Foggy Bottom is reportedly the latest State Department official to tender her resignation and the third of nine senior officials at State to do so. Ms. McHale was sworn in on May 26, 2009 : 

Via WaPo's Al Kamen, May 23:

Judith McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is expected to announce as early as Tuesday that she will be leaving her post in June to return to the private sector in New York, sources said.

For the past two years, McHale, former general counsel and then president and chief executive of Discovery Communications, has overseen hundreds of employees in the department’s international information programs, in the educational and cultural affairs bureau, and in the public affairs operation at State, as well as in embassies overseas.

I have not seen the official announcement but I just saw the May 24 statement from the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy on the "Departure of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale":
The Commission would like to express its appreciation to Judith McHale for her public service, her leadership and her contributions over the past two years as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. We recognize and appreciate that she has focused her efforts on raising the profile of her office and on enhancing the capability of the Department of State to effectively engage foreign public audiences across the globe. In light of the extraordinary events ongoing – and to come –around the world, public diplomacy has never been so vital to the national security interests of the United States. We look forward to having an equally productive relationship with Judith's successor as the Commission continues its mission to appraise the efforts of the United States Government to engage foreign publics.

Will there be anyone left by the end of summer?


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Facebook Builds Its Own Foreign Service

Mike Swift of The Mercury News has an item that may perk your interest, you battle tested foreign service officers out there -- Facebook to assemble global team of 'diplomats'

Quick excerpts:

With 70 percent of its more than 600 million members outside the United States, Facebook is creating its own foreign service, hiring a network of ambassadors from India to Ireland to represent the Palo Alto-based social network with foreign governments and cultures.

Facebook's new global policy team will monitor the local political landscape and act as multilingual, TV-friendly communicators in countries and for cultures that, in many cases, have very different values and laws about privacy and personal communications than the U.S.
As part of this effort, Facebook is hiring policy directors for the Middle East, Britain, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Germany, Central and Eastern Europe and other countries and regions. Among their duties, the policy directors will be Facebook's primary contact with foreign government officials and politicians. That will be especially critical in places like Europe, where regulators are scrutinizing the privacy and data-handling practices of Google (GOOG) and other U.S. Internet companies.
"Somebody forwarded me those (Facebook job) listings with a note: 'Look familiar?' " said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of global public policy from 2004 to 2009. "We did exactly that same thing."
"Was it useful? Totally," McLaughlin said of Google's foreign policy staffers. "You literally build a foreign service for the company, people whose mission it is to represent the company outwardly, but also to translate the policy environment back into the company."
Facebook is setting the recruiting bar high. Its posting for a Middle East policy director asks for someone with a degree in a related field, at least 10 years experience in both government and industry and "superb" written and spoken English but also fluency in Turkish, Arabic or another Middle Eastern language. Facebook wants a person comfortable with politicians at the most senior levels of government, who has experience as a media spokesperson, preferably on both radio and TV; and of course, has "a passionate belief" in Facebook.

The next thing you know there will be a Facebook Foreign Service Officer Test (FFSOT) across the United States online and an Oral Assessment in Palo Alto that includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise. Then a rank-ordered Register for eligible hires. Presumably with a quicker onboarding than the U.S. Foreign Service.

This is not a golden parachute and certainly not a sure thing, but if you are a career foreign service officer with the right set of skills and experience, there might just be a new career for you -- that is, if you're looking to jump from the mothership.

Of course, if Facebook is smart, and not saying it's not, it can go after some talented officers that have been tic'ed out by the FS system or youthful 65s kicked out as too old by the FS system.  Hey, these folks have the right experience, and best of all, FB won't have to train them from scratch in diplomacy, negotiations, languages and cultures and with the right individuals, they come with ready made local contacts in their rolodex.  What's not to like?

Or FB can go on a talent war with the U.S. Foreign Service, an institution that is slooow to change because there are always more applicants than vacancy slots, see?  Taken for granted by our elected representatives, perhaps the news of Facebook building its very own foreign service will also be a wake up call from here to there. Google, Facebook, who's next, BP, Exxon, Boeing? Heeello mega-diplomacy!

Now I know why I should have aimed for that 4+/4+ in Turkish the last time I was in school for six months! Maalasef arkadaşlarim, benim türkçe çok, çok paslı.

By the hair of his chinny chin chin, Yemen's Abdullah Saleh hangs on to power

Ali Abdullah SalehImage via WikipediaAl Jazeera reports that Yemen's president has laid down new conditions for signing a power transition deal, thwarting Gulf efforts to bring an end to a months-old political crisis in the country.

A Gulf mediator left Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, on Sunday, having failed to secure Ali Abdullah Saleh's signature on the deal, according to a report on the AFP news agency.

Abdullatif al-Zayani, the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), "left without getting the signature of the president," Tareq al-Shami, the spokesman of Yemen's ruling General People's Congress, was quoted as saying.

Saleh said he would not sign the deal, which would see him step down in 30 days, unless opposition leaders were present at the signing.

In a provocative statement on state television, he warned of civil war if the opposition defied his call for them to be present at his palace to sign the deal.

"If they remain stubborn, we will confront them everywhere with all possible means," he said.

"If they don't bow, and want to take the country into a civil war, let them be responsible for it and for the blood that was shed and that will be shed if they insist on their stupidity."

VOA News over the weekend also reported that witnesses say helicopters in Yemen have airlifted the ambassadors of the U.S., Britain and Gulf Arab nations who were trapped inside a diplomatic mission surrounded by armed loyalists to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh:
The loyalists surrounded the United Arab Emirates Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, on Sunday. They blocked roads and roamed the streets near the mission, where the ambassadors were discussing a Gulf region-brokered deal that would have Saleh transfer power within a month.

Yemen's president appears to be backing out again from signing the deal.

Hours before he was scheduled to sign the agreement Sunday, Saleh said he is not interested in signing a deal inked "behind closed doors."

On May 22, the State Department released a statement with the following excerpt:

"We are also outraged to learn that earlier today factions loyal to President Saleh encircled the UAE embassy in Sana’a. They refused to allow U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, ambassadors from the United Kingdom the European Union and GCC states, the GCC Secretary General and other foreign diplomats to leave the embassy. We condemn this action and call on President Saleh to meet his international obligations to ensure the safety and security of all foreign diplomats and their staffs working in Yemen."

We are outraged and ....?

The CSMonitor posted a question that begs an answer:

"At what point does the US consider cutting off Saleh's financial spigot? [...] The Washington counterterrorism establishment sees the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the next big thing, and would probably argue that maintaining decent relations with the guy in power is crucial. But what happened yesterday came pretty close to a hostage-taking of a US ambassador by a guy on the US payroll."

Is it just me or is it becoming more apparent what kind of friends we have in these shaky, shaky places?  The guy on the US payroll pretty close to taking our ambassador hostage--you betcha Mr. Saleh is watching if the US is going to blink, and when? Over in another hotspot, our other great ally of Pakistan had elected reps inquiring if the  F-16s we gave them can shoot down our drones in the wild, wild west of their untamed border. 

My god! Frenemies are sometimes sweet but when they give you a headache, it's worse than a 24/7 root canal!

Yesterday, May 23rd, the US Embassy in Sana'a issued a warden message informing American citizens in Yemen that U.S. Embassy employees are currently restricted from an area of the city, beginning near Hadda Water Factory.  The boundaries of the area, roughly a rectangle, are defined as: 24th Street east to 14th of October Street, 14th of October Street south to 50 Meter Road, 50 Meter Road west to Zero Street, Zero Street north back to 24th Street. The embassy says that the restriction is due to the presence of armed militia in the area and urged U.S. citizens to take the same security precaution. The embassy will also close its Consular Section to the public today and tomorrow, May 24 and May 25, 2011, and will be providing emergency American citizen services only.

Updated @10:28 PST:
By the way, about that reported helicopter ride, I just learned that Ambassador Gerald Feierstein actually left the Emirates' embassy via motorcade, not helicopter as widely reported in the press.  The joke out there is that he'd rather test his luck with an angry mob than a Yemeni aircraft! 

I don't know what those Yemeni helos are like but most of the country's aircraft are Soviet Union era flying birds; they're oldies, not sure they're goldies, okay?  As to the angry mob, not to underestimate the danger there -- but just so you know, Ambassador Feierstein had three tours in Pakistan, including a three year tour in Peshawar

Ireland celebrates homecoming of President O’Bama

President O'Bama and the First Lady arrived in Dublin, Ireland on Monday shortly after 9:00 in the morning.  Although he is just 3.1 percent Irish, many in Ireland considers this visit a homecoming.  Here is a catchy music video from the Corrigan Brothers with the karaoke lyrics and the president's Irish roots (they also claim his Irish eyes and ears!).  Another Corrigan Brothers music video is here with the folks of Moneygall.

At 3:15 p.m. he and the the First Lady visited Moneygall, where his great-great-great-great-great grandfather hails from. That ggggg-grandfather is, Falmouth Kearney, an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1850. The president’s mother, Ann Dunham, was a descendant of one of Kearney’s daughters.

Check out the Moneygall connection here (pdf).

Now, there's just one more thing I'd like to know -- President O'Bama, can he also riverdance?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Catherine Hurd: Woman, Mother, Wife of UK Diplomat Dies in NYC, Leaves No Note

In death, we only know her as a mother of five who fell four storeys, and as wife of a British diplomat posted at the UN in New York. The Telegraph's news account is headlined "Lord Hurd's daughter-in-law plunges to death ..." Her father-in-law was Douglas Hurd, a former foreign secretary for the UK's diplomatic service.

The news stories also made mention of the apartment where the Hurds lived -- "available for rent last year at $15,000 (£10,000) a month." As if somehow, what -- that an expensive rental should go with a perfect life? There was no mention where she had been, what she was like, what were her dreams -- only that she was a wife of a diplomat, and is now dead.
Via the Telegraph:

Catherine Hurd, who is thought to have been a mother of five, fell the four storeys from the top of the building where she lived with the former foreign secretary's son Thomas, a British diplomat.

Mrs Hurd, 46, left no note but New York police are believed to be treating the case as a suicide. “All we can say is that no criminality is suspected,” a spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
It is thought Mrs Hurd was due to return to London next week as her husband, 45, is at the end of a stint working as a senior British official at the UN. He is described as a “political counsellor”.
Mr Hurd is a former investment banker and was a contemporary of David Cameron's at Eton and Oxford, where he was two years ahead of the Prime Minister.

He read Arabic and Modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford between 1983 and 1987 and worked for Credit Suisse First Boston before joining the Foreign Office in 1992.

For the past few years he has been in New York, where he is listed as working for the British delegation on the UN security council, specialising in the middle east, G20 and Africa.
His father was one of the Conservative government's most senior figures in the 1980s and 1990s. He served both Lady Thatcher and John Major as foreign secretary, after also serving as home secretary.

This is not the first suicide of a diplomatic spouse in the FCO. In the early 1970's a wife of a British foreign service officer committed suicide. According to Cynthia Enloe in Bananas, Beaches and Bases, a book making feminist sense of international politics (and where there is one large section just on diplomatic wives), the unnamed wife was believed to have committed suicide due to the loneliness and lack of support she encountered upon her return "home" to the UK. Her suicide shocked the UK Treasury's Medical Officer that he set up networks of women volunteers in different parts of the country to help foreign service wives readjust to life in Britain.

No one can say why she walked off that ledge on Saturday.  Catherine Hurd did not leave any note behind.  Even in death, she appears to stay true to the ancient "never complain" ethos of diplomatic life. 

Catherine Hurd, rest in peace.

Officially In: Anne W. Patterson to Cairo

Photo by Salmaan Taseer
On May 20, 2011, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Anne W. Patterson to be the next Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt. The WH released the following brief bio:
Ambassador Anne W. Patterson holds the rank of Career Ambassador in the Senior Foreign Service and most recently served as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan from July 2007 to October 2010. Prior to serving as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Ambassador Patterson’s recent assignments have included: Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Deputy Permanent Representative and Acting Permanent Representative at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador.  Ambassador Patterson has received numerous honors and awards for her service, including the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and 2010, and the Ryan Crocker Award for Expeditionary Diplomacy in 2009.

Ambassador Patterson received a B.A. from Wellesley College and joined the Foreign Service in 1973.

Ambassador Patterson has been rumored to be under consideration to succeed Bill Burns as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs or "P". So now there's officially one less name in the running.  For the names floated around as "P" contenders, see Laura Rozen's piece in The Envoy here.

If confirmed, Ambassador Patterson would succeed career diplomat, Margaret Scobey who has been the US ambassador to Cairo since 2008.

Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 5/20/2011




Officially In: Joyce A. Barr to be Asst Secretary for Administration

Joyce A. BarrImage via WikipediaOn May 20, 2011, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Joyce A. Barr to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. The WH released the following brief bio:

Joyce A. Barr is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and currently serves as International Affairs Advisor and Deputy Commandant for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at National Defense University. Prior to this assignment, Ms. Barr served as Executive Director for the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the Department of State from 2007 to 2009 and as U.S. Ambassador to Namibia from 2004 to 2007. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1979, Ms. Barr has held numerous assignments both in Washington and abroad. Her overseas experience includes assignments in Malaysia, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Kenya and Sweden. In Washington Ms. Barr’s assignments have included: Recruitment Officer in the Bureau of Personnel, Human Rights Officer for the Middle East and South Asia in the former Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and Desk Officer for the U.N. Industrial Development Organization and the World Tourism Organization in the Bureau of International Organizations.

Ms. Barr holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Pacific Lutheran University, an MPA from Harvard University, an M.S. from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at National Defense University and an Honorary Doctorate from Pacific Lutheran University.

According to the Historian's Office, the Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Administration during a general reorganization in December 1944, after Congress authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries in the Department from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). The reorganization was the first to designate substantive designations for specific Assistant Secretary positions. The title for this position has varied over the years. Assistant Secretaries for Administration have supervised a variety of functions ranging from budget and personnel matters to foreign buildings and record keeping. Several of these functions, such as accounting and diplomatic security have become the responsibility of newly created bureaus.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Administration or "A" has been left vacant since the departure of Rajkumar Chellaraj, a Bush II political appointee from Texas assigned to the bureau from May 30, 2006 to January 20, 2009.

If confirmed, Ambassador Barr would assume the position after Steven J. Rodriguez who has been serving as Acting Assistant Secretary for "A" since January 2009.  She would report to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.

Related item:
President Obama announced more key administration posts, 5/20/2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

USAID Casts Harry Potter Vanishing Spell on Kabul Bank OIG Report


And just like that the OIG report on the Kabul Bank scandal vanished into thin air and is no longer available from the USAID website.  Where do vanished reports go? Um, apparently, this one had been placed under a classification charm. It was posted online as an unclassified report fit for public consumption until it was belatedly classified and no longer fit for the eyes of the general reading public.

Why the vanishing spell?

Nate Jones of the blog, Unredacted:
The US Agency for International Development is attempting to make this Inspector General’s Report on  corruption within the Afghan banking system disappear.  The Afghan Central Bank regulates all private banks in Afghanistan, sets monetary policy for the country, and was responsible for overseeing Kabul Bank which lost as much as $850 million due to “fraud and mismanagement.”  (Steve Aftergood at Secrecy News originally broke this gem of a story.)

According to the report, US Embassy officials were concerned that the US accounting firm Deloitte –which was awarded a “$92 million task order” to “develop and implement sound economic and regulatory policies” and “provide the foundation for private sector growth in a market economy” — had been negligent in their failure to prevent the near collapse of Kabul bank, the largest bank in Afghanistan in late 2010.
So why doesn’t USAID want the US public to see this report?  After a close read of this report, I think that the only information that it reveals that could “harm” US national security is the information that shows that our presence in Afghanistan may be wasteful, futile, and possibly harmful to US interests.  Of course, President Obama instructed agencies that, “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, [or] because errors and failures might be revealed.”  This instruction appears to have been ignored by officials at USAID.
A USAID official told Steve Aftergood that, “At the time our report was issued, it was written utilizing information from non-classified sources…After our report had been issued, USAID subsequently classified two documents that were cited in our report.  This action resulted in the report becoming classified and we removed it from the web site.”
 The bottom line is that USAID appears to be abusing the classification system so that it can prevent Americans from reading that USAID had virtually no leverage over the corrupt and fraudulent Afghan banking system.  These are facts –inconvenient or not– that Americans deserve to see.

The unclassified messy version of the report posted online before it was retroactively classified is still available online via the National Security Archive here

At a time when things are looking not too shiny for USAID, this does not make things any better or easier. Why did 
USAID subsequently classified two documents that were cited in the IG report; and which documents are these, pray tell?

Could it be that the embarrassment factor in the report fallout is so spectacularly um, crazy bad that it could lead to pies on the faces of.... pardon me, which office and who's in charge? -- USAID's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, the Afghanistan Director of USAID, and up the command chain it goes...   

Or it could simply be that according to the OIG "Nearly all of the USAID staff members we interviewed stated that they learned of the fraud through the Washington Post article in February 2010?"" 

The only way this report could possibly "harm" national security is if we finally realize that Afghanistan is a glaringly monster money shredder, and we refused to see it for what it is. And continue feeding it money for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. 

Oh wait -- here's the fallout that USAID may have been trying to avoid in withdrawing the OIG report: the UK and IMF are now withholding funds to
bankroll hundreds of "nation-building" projects in Afghanistan.

Via The Independent, May 22:
Coalition plans to pull out of Afghanistan are being hampered by theft and fraud totalling nearly $1bn, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Hopes of a timely withdrawal of British troops from the region have been dealt a critical blow by revelations about massive bank frauds which have forced donors to suspend vital international aid.  
The Department for International Development (DfID) confirmed last night that it had followed the lead of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in withholding contributions to bankroll hundreds of "nation-building" projects in Afghanistan. 
The move, to "protect taxpayers' money", came as the full extent of the scandal at Kabul Bank – described as the biggest fraud in modern times – became clear. A secret US government report into the debacle "indicates that insiders at Kabul Bank used fraudulent loans to misappropriate $850m (£525m), representing 94 per cent of outstanding loans".

Folks - game's up, put the original report back up; don't you think that retroactively classifying a report that now lives on forever in the unclassified internet is simply futile and laughable?

Seriously, can't you hear them laughing their heads off and stomping out mad as hell?

Nope, I don't think Harry Potter's obliviate charm would work here. sorry.