Thursday, June 30, 2011

U.S. Mission India: Ambassador Tim Roemer Says Goodbye

Ambassador Roemer's Farewell Statement on June 30, 2011:

“Before arriving in India, President Obama directed me to meet as many of the Indian people as possible.  I met with people from all walks of life, from government officials and businessmen to professors and community leaders.  Nobody, however inspired me as much as the children of India, who with their enthusiasm and optimism always filled me with great hope.  It’s my pleasure to stand with them today at this beautiful monument to India’s history, and to look forward with them to the bright future that awaits the great U.S.-India partnership.”

“As I look back on the two years in which I had the honor to serve as U.S. Ambassador to India, the U.S.-India friendship has evolved into a strategic, global partnership, one that President Obama has described as the ‘defining partnership of the 21st century.’ The U.S. and India have long shared core values such as democracy and liberty, but now, in defense and counter-terrorism cooperation, in the ever-growing business collaborations and opportunities in both countries, and in the thousands of person-to-person exchanges between our peoples that take place every day, we are building the foundations and framework for this 21st century democratic partnership.  I’m happy to have played a part in this incredible story, and I will always celebrate that story with the great people of India.”
Below Ambassador  Roemer interacts with students from Delhi schools and ACCESS English language Programs at India Gate. Ambassador Roemer also spoke to them about the importance of education and collaboration between the United States and India.


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


Some of our favorite photos of Ambassador Roemer learning to use the spinning wheel in Sabarmati Ashram during a visit to Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

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

Ambassador Roemer did not get to shake a billion hands but he left post trying. He has also traveled to over two dozen places in India, hosted high level visitors too many to count, and got to wear all sorts of colorful headdresses and garlands. I hope his successor is as energetic and as photo friendly!

US Embassy Delhi Photo
from Roaming Roemer's blog



Back in the Spotlight: Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity

On June 22, India's Ministry of External Affairs released the following statement defending its consul general and calling the allegations against him in New York "fabricated and motivated."

New Delhi | June 22, 2011
Fabricated and motivated allegations against Consul General of India in New York In response to questions, the Official Spokesperson said:

“We are disappointed and surprised at the allegations against Consul General (CG) of India in New York, Mr. Prabhu Dayal, by his former employee, which appear to be motivated and baseless.

Mr. Prabhu Dayal is a senior diplomat of impeccable personal and professional integrity.

We are disappointed and deeply concerned that Indian diplomats and their family members, should be targetted in such a manner in a friendly country like USA. Such actions impede the ability of the individuals in question to discharge their official responsibilities, as well as, cause untold mental harassment and anguish. They cannot be dismissed lightly. The treatment being meted out to Indian diplomats or their family members, has resulted in negative public perceptions in India with attendant implications.”

NDTV reports that Mr. Dayal has been slapped with forced labour charges after his 45-year-old domestic help Santosh Bhardwaj accused him of treating her like a "slave".

The same news item updated on June 23 says that Indian Government sources have told NDTV that Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has now ordered a review of the policy of sending domestic help abroad.

Mr. Dayal has been Consul General of India in New York since September 2008.  He holds a Masters Degree in Political Science from Allahabad University and joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1976. Prior to his assignment in New York, he was Ambassador of India to Morocco. Other prior postings include as Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, Ambassador of India to Kuwait, Consul General of India in Dubai and tours in Iran, Switzerland, Pakistan and Egypt.

It remains to be seen if this case makes it though the federal court of New York. Mr. Dayal is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. He presumably also has diplomatic immunity that his government, by the looks of it, is not anxious to waive.

On June 27, UK's the Guardian reports that the US State Department is concerned by the lack of UK help for abused embassy staff. "International diplomats don cloak of immunity to mask trafficking of domestic servants from their home countries." Apparently repeated allegations of mistreatment have not been addressed by the government.  Quick excerpts:
There have been 19 recent cases of alleged trafficking of domestic workers by diplomats in London reported to the government's anti-trafficking agency by the charity Kalayaan.
[..]
Based on its case studies, Kalayaan said 64% of diplomatic domestic staff work a seven-day week, 57% receive £50 per week or less, and 50% work 16-hour days. In addition, 65% have their passports taken away from them and held by their employer and 58% reported they had been bullied or psychologically abused.
On June 29, the Jakarta Globe reports on allegations that the Saudi Ambassador to Germany enslaved an Indonesian maid:
Dewi Ratnasari, the 30-year-old maid, began working for the Saudi diplomat and his family in April of 2009. For the next year and a half, she worked 18-hour days, seven days a week and never received her monthly wage of 750 euros, the German Institute for Human Rights reported.

The diplomat had confiscated her passport and Dewi (a pseudonym) spoke no German, so she had few options but to remain and work. But in October of 2010 she escaped and sought help from Ban Ying, a Berlin-based human rights association assisting migrant women from Southeast Asia, and the GIHR. [...] Ban Ying said they see 5 to 10 cases of diplomatic domestic staff abuse in Berlin each year.

These are not the only cases of allegations by household workers against diplomats protected by diplomatic immunity.

In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas and asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate. Personal employees, attendants, domestic workers, or servants of diplomats who hold a valid A-1 or A-2 are issued A-3 visas. Those who work for representatives of international organizations get G-5 visas.

Below is an excerpt from the report which illustrates the challenges:
GAO identified 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number is likely higher. The total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases. For example, State has several offices that receive allegations of abuse by foreign diplomats, but no single office maintains information on all allegations.
The U.S. government’s process for investigating alleged abuse of household workers by foreign diplomats is complicated by three factors. First, immunity can pose constraints for law enforcement in collecting evidence. Second, the status of foreign diplomats can heighten their workers’ sense of vulnerability, causing the workers to fear cooperating with investigators. Third, the length of time it takes to obtain a legal opinion from State on the permissibility of using certain investigative techniques can hamper investigations. According to State, although some techniques are clearly prohibited by international law (such as searching certain diplomats’ residences), the permissibility of others under international law is less clear. In advising on the use of investigative techniques, State considers legal and policy issues, such as reciprocity—assessing how U.S. diplomats abroad might be affected by actions taken toward a foreign diplomat on U.S. soil. State may ask Justice to provide information to help determine the permissibility of certain techniques, but the process of obtaining this information can be difficult and time consuming for Justice. Although both State and Justice have discussed creating a process to avoid delays, no formal actions have, thus far, been taken to establish one.

Weaknesses exist in State’s process for ensuring correct and consistent implementation of policies and procedures for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas. GAO’s review of employment contracts submitted at four consular posts by A-3 and G-5 visa applicants showed that they often did not include State’s required components, such as a guarantee of the minimum or prevailing wage. GAO also found that officers at the four posts were unclear about or unfamiliar with certain aspects of State’s guidance. Few of the officers were aware that they should inform A-3 and G-5 visa applicants of their rights under U.S. law during their interview. Some officers at the four posts also were uncertain about the reasons for refusing A-3 or G-5 visas.

I cannot find a follow-up report to that 2007 GAO report. But not too long ago, the U.S. Government published a pamphlet at the prompting of the 2008 law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (Public Law 110-457), which "reaffirms and strengthens the U.S. Government’s commitment to fight human trafficking and labor abuses in all their forms."

During visa interviews with these type of applicants, US consular officers now have to make sure that the workers are aware of their legal rights and protections such as being treated and paid fairly; not to be held in a job against their will; the right to keep their passports and other identification documents in their possessions, the right to report abuse without retaliation; the right to request help from unions, immigrant and labor rights groups and other groups; and finally, the right to seek justice in U.S. courts.

But this applies to foreign diplomats and international organizations assigned in the United States. Diplomats assigned in other countries, are of course, subject to that host countries laws/agreements.  (Note that private individuals who travel and work in the United States on  B-1 domestic employees, H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, and J-1 visa holders are also protected under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act.)

The Guardian quotes Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons: "If diplomats know they are going to be held to the same standard of responsibility of treating their staff if they are in Paris, Brussels, DC or London, then hopefully that changes the general approach to treating staff across all of diplomacy."

But hope is not a plan. While diplomats continue to dodge cases like this behind diplomatic immunity, and as long as governments stand behind their diplomats when they commit infractions like this, the practice will continue.

And of course, we have the workers, too. If the prevailing wages in their home countries in $1/day, and they get $50/week working in a diplomatic household in New York, would they actually admit to that during their visa interviews with a U.S. consular officer? If yes, they could be saying goodbye to that job in the United States. If no, and they sign a contract that says they are paid a minimum wage at their destination in the United States, but are in fact paid less, and they attest to that in front of a U.S. consular officer, doesn't that constitute misrepresentation? How would that affect a case if it goes to court?

The requirement that domestic staff be paid via electronic transfer is a good start as if makes confirmation of payment easier to trace for authorities. If embassies who do not settle these type of allegations satisfactorily are barred from bringing in any more domestic staff in the future, that might also nudge foreign governments into action.

But in the whole scheme of things, where do we see these cases fall in terms of priority when it comes to bilateral relations? What if our top ally in the gulf region ignores these allegations and refused to remedy the problems?  Would the United States do anything more than nudge them and hope that they comply? 

The German Institute of Human Right point out: "When victims are seeking justice, their employers’ dip­lomatic immunity, acknowledged in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, comes into play, barring as well criminal, civil and administrative juris­diction as the enforcement of judgments in the host state. Insofar, employers’ diplomatic immunity in prac­tice overrules the human rights of the victim and leads to a situation of de facto-unaccountability and –impu­nity for exploitative employers."

The GIHR in its report Domestic Workers in Diplomats’ Households Rights Violations and Access to Justice in the Context of Diplomatic Immunity provides fuller recommendation on how to address this problem. 



GAO: July 2008 | U.S. Government’s Efforts to Address Alleged Abuse of Household Workers by Foreign Diplomats with Immunity Could Be Strengthened

GIHR: June 2011 | Domestic Workers in Diplomats’ Households Rights Violations and Access to Justice in the Context of Diplomatic Immunity





Officially In: Thomas C. Krajeski to Manama

Thomas C KrajeskiImage via WikipediaOn June 28, President Obama anounced his intent to nominate Thomas C. Krajeski to be Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski, a career member of the Foreign Service since 1979, currently serves as Senior Vice President of the National Defense University.  Prior to this assignment, from 2008 to 2009, Ambassador Krajeski served at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as the Senior Advisor to the Ambassador on Northern Iraq Affairs.  From 2007 to 2008, he was the Director of Career Development and Assignments for the Department of State.  From 2004 to 2007, Ambassador Krajeski served as U.S. Ambassador to Yemen.  Previous overseas assignments include:  Political Advisor to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq; Principal Officer and Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, UAE; Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt; Deputy Chief of the Consular Section in Warsaw, Poland; Consular Officer in Madras, India; and General Services Officer in Kathmandu, Nepal.  In Washington, Ambassador Krajeski has previously served as the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Political Desk Officer on the India Desk, Senior Watch Officer in the Operations Center, and in the State Department Press Office.

Ambassador Krajeski received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If confirmed, Ambassador Krajeski would succeed career diplomat, J. Adam Ereli who was appointed to Manama in 2007.


Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | June 28, 2011



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

US Embassy Luxembourg: Be Cool and Keep Yourself Together - Another Political Ambassador Heading Your Way

On June 28, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Robert A. Mandell to be Ambassador to Luxembourg. The WH released the following brief bio:

Robert A. Mandell is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Greater Properties, Inc., a commercial real estate venture in Central Florida.  Previously, he served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Greater Construction Corp., from 1998 until 2005.  Mr. Mandell serves on the Board of Directors of Florida Hospital, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research of La Jolla, California, and the Vermont Studio Center. He also serves on the Audit and Finance Committee of the Adventist Health System.  Previously, Mr. Mandell was a member on the Orange County Chairman’s Transportation Commission and on the Orange County Public Schools’ Blue Ribbon Panel on Education.  In 2010, he was appointed to the President’s Export Council.  

Mr. Mandell holds a B.S. and a J.D. from the University of Florida.


US Embassy Luxembourg
Photo from US Embassy/Flickr

OpenSecrets.org lists Mr. Mandell as one of the Obama inauguration donors who gave $50,000 for the presidential festivities.  Donors at the $50,000 level reportedly get tickets to the official ceremony, the parade and inaugural balls. The government places no limits on these contributions, but Obama capped money for his inauguration at $50,000 per person – still, as OpenSecrets point out, more than 10 times what individuals could give to his campaign. More on this nominee from HuffPo here.

So anyway -- the last time we've blogged about U.S. Embassy Luxembourg was earlier this year when the Office of the Inspector General issued its review of the mission and came out with quite a scathing report. The OIG inspectors write in their report that several FSOs assigned to the mission curtailed from their "cushy" European assignments to volunteer for duty in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Shocking, just shocking! After the then political ambassador resigned to spend more time with her family, a TDY chargĂ© d’affaires took over running the mission. In April this year, Dave Fetter who was previously Consul General in Quebec assumed office as the mission's chargĂ© d’affaires.

In the aftermath of that front office blowout, NPR speculates that sometimes after a situation like this "an administration will go with a State Department professional in order to bring some much needed stability to an embassy. So it's not a foregone conclusion that she'll be replaced with another big political donor type."

Of course, now we know that the White House has decided that another political ambassador is just what the U.S. Embassy Luxembourg needs, for stability or something. 

The good news is Mr. Mandell apparently comes from real estate background.  As I understand it, the ambassador's residence in Luxembourg need some real work.  It may have a gazillion square footage but it's a big, old house and Uncle Sam does not always have the money for repair and restoration.  So -- maybe he can help restore the residence to its old glory during his tenure? That would be good, right?  The bad news is, he may not get confirmed until fall which means his tenure could run for as short as 12-15 months to another four years depending on what happens in 2012.

I just hope he's not going to kick out his DCM before he gets to post (cross yourself and knock on wood!). Because that would not be a good start.





Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | June 28, 2011










US Embassy Latvia: DCM Bruce David Rogers, Sudden Death at 54

Photo from US Embassy Latvia
The US Embassy in Latvia announced the sudden death of the Deputy Chief of Mission in Riga, Bruce Rogers. The career diplomat died in his sleep on June 27. He was 54. He leaves behind his wife and two children. Below is the statement from the embassy:

Riga, June 28, 2011. – It is with great sadness that the U.S. Embassy announces the sudden passing of Deputy Chief of Mission Bruce D. Rogers. Mr. Rogers served two tours in Latvia, first as Political-Economic Chief and later as Deputy Chief of Mission. He passed away in his sleep last night at the age of 54.

Mr. Rogers was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He joined the Department of State in 1985 and served in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Belgium and Afghanistan. On his last assignment as Director for Provincial Reconstruction and Local Governance in Kabul, he supervised personnel at 25 locations around Afghanistan. Previously he also served as the Deputy Political Advisor at the U.S. Mission to NATO (2003-2006) and as Political-Economic Chief (2000 – 2003) at the U.S. Embassy here in Riga. In 1991 he was part of the team that re-opened the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War. His domestic assignments included two tours in the Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, as an instructor in the Orientation Division at the Foreign Service Institute, and as a regional affairs officer in the Office of Counter-Terrorism. In that capacity he led two assessment teams to East Africa in the wake of the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Mr. Rogers was the recipient of four State Department Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He had a B.A. in History and International Relations from San Francisco State University. In 2007 he received a Master’s Degree with Highest Distinction in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island. He leaves behind his wife, Gale Rogers, a retired Foreign Service Officer, and two children.

In his six years in Latvia, Mr. Rogers played a major role on behalf of the U.S. government in assisting Latvia in its accession to NATO and the E.U. and in strengthening economic ties between the U.S. and Latvia. Ambassador Judith Garber said, “Bruce loved Latvia passionately, and he loved working on U.S.-Latvian relations. He was due to leave in just a few days, and it was very hard for him to go because he loved being here so much, but he knew Latvia would always be in his heart.”

A memorial book will be available for signing in the multi-purpose room of the Embassy starting at 9 am, June 29th. There will also be a memorial book at the Embassy’s Independence Day celebration at Mezaparks on Sunday, July 3rd.



Gaza Flotilla 2011: Set to Sail with Former U.S. Diplomat Ann Wright, Retired U.S. Ambassador Samuel Hart, Alice Walker and More

Freedom Flotilla incident. 31 may 2010. Cartog...Image via Wikipedia
An international flotilla is set to sail for Gaza to challenge Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory. Last year, lives were lost during a confrontation at sea.

This year, a US vessel named the Audacity of Hope will join the flotilla of some ten ships with over 30 Americans and activists from other countries.  Former U.S. diplomat Ann Wright is an organizer of the U.S. Boat to Gaza. Ann is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a former US diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. In 2003 she resigned in opposition to the Iraq war.

Jacksonville.com also reports that Samuel Hart, a Jacksonville resident and former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador with 27 years  of service as a career diplomat is also joining the Gaza flotilla. The report did not indicate which vessel he will be on:

By the time the civil rights movement began making significant strides, Hart had left Mississippi, first to serve as an Army officer, then to join the diplomatic corps in 1958.

Which is one of the reasons the retired ambassador decided at age 77 to participate in the upcoming Freedom Flotilla II, which will attempt to carry humanitarian aid past an Israeli blockade to 1.5 million residents of Gaza.

"I wasn't at Selma," said Hart, a Jacksonville resident since 1994. "I wasn't at the March on Washington. ... I see great similarities between this and the civil rights movement. I am pleased to be a part of it."
Read more at Jacksonville.com:


But before the flotilla even left port, it is once more big in the news.

On June 24, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson released the following statement on the Gaza   "Anniversary" Flotilla:
Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the confrontation between Israeli forces and activists when a flotilla attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in that incident aboard the Gaza bound ships.

We are concerned that a number of groups are organizing a one year “anniversary” flotilla to commemorate the incident by sailing from various European ports to Gaza in the near future. Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers. Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
[...]
We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.

Read the whole thing here:


During the Daily Press Brief on June 27, the journalists chased the spokesperson around the room:
QUESTION: The – some of the ships that will make up this flotilla that you’re so – not enthusiastic about have left already, heading for points close to Gaza, if not Gaza itself. The Israelis over the weekend first warned journalists and then were rescinded this warning that if they got on any of these ships that they could be subject to criminal penalties, deportation, 10-year ban from the country.

I’m wondering if there was any contact between the U.S. and Israel about that, and whether the warning that you put out last week – or, not the Travel Warning, per se, but the – your statement in which you warned Americans that they might be violating U.S. law if they participated, did that apply to journalists?

MS. NULAND: First, with regard to the Government of Israel’s decision, our understanding from press reporting but also from our own contacts was that that first announcement was made at a relatively low level, and when senior Israelis became involved, the decision was amended, as you saw.

The U.S. warnings to U.S. citizens apply to all U.S. citizens. We are concerned about any of our citizens involved in a situation that could be provocative, that could be dangerous. That said, freedom of the press; journalists make their own decision, but we have made clear that we are concerned about this situation.

QUESTION: But a journalist who is on one of these boats, could they be subject to laws that bar – the law specifically, the legislation, the laws that you mentioned in your statement which have to do with material support for Hamas?

MS. NULAND: I’m not aware of legal distinctions that we would make between journalists and other citizens, but I can double-check whether there’s a distinction to be made there. I think our concern was that this was a dangerous situation for any American to be involved in.
[...]
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. To the best of your knowledge, has there ever been a ship caught smuggling arms on these aid ships? Has there been any ship that was caught with arms being smuggled to Gaza?

MS. NULAND: Our understanding is that Israel has been the victim of arms smuggled illegally at sea and --

QUESTION: Right. But not these aid ships? Are you aware of any of these aid ships used to smuggle arms?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to precisely which kind of ships arms have been found on, but one of the reasons for the Israeli concern is that they have been victims of arms smuggled at sea.


The board of The Foreign Press Association was not at all happy about the threats by Israel on journalists covering the flotilla and released this statement of 26th June, 2011:
"The government’s threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press. Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation. We urge the government to reverse its decision immediately."

After Israel reversed its decision the board released another statement on June 27:
The Foreign Press Association welcomes the prime minister’s decision to drop plans to deport and ban journalists covering the Gaza flotilla. We are pleased to see that Israel has recognized the value of allowing reporters to cover an important news event, and understands that journalists should be treated differently from political activists. We urge the government to continue to do its utmost to promote freedom of the press as core values of a democratic society. -  The Foreign Press Association , 27th June 2011

Bloomberg reports that two members of Congress, Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) said U.S. citizens who join a flotilla planning to break Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip should face prosecution.

Probably not surprising to Maureen Murphy who writes in Al Jazeera:
I am a Palestine solidarity activist in the US, and one of 23 US citizens who have been issued with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury as part of what the government has said is an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support to foreign "terrorist organisations".

None of us have given money or weapons to any group on the State Department's foreign terrorist organisation list. But what many of us have done is participate in or help organise educational trips to meet with Palestinians and Colombians resisting the US-funded military regimes they live under.
[...]
Travel for such purposes should be protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. But a year ago the US Supreme Court decided in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project to dramatically expand the government's definition of what constitutes material support for a foreign terrorist organisation.

Now the government considers travel to places like the West Bank and Colombia to be a predicate or justification for opening up an investigation and issuing search warrants to raid activists' homes and seize their belongings. Political speech if made in a "coordinated way" can be construed as material support.

JTA reports that "commandos from the Israeli Navy's elite Shayetet 13 unit have spent weeks preparing to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza, including practicing new ways to quickly board the ships' upper decks and how to use water cannons and other non-lethal riot control methods."

And because this is 2011, the flotilla journey will most certainly be tweeted, live-blogged, and may even be streamed live as it unfolds ....



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

USAID/OIG: USAID Air Afghanistan "Safe and Reliable" but No Show Passengers Cost $14 Million/Year

339 Squadron Bell 412 helicopters taking part ...Image via WikipediaUSAID OIG reviewed USAID/Afghanistan's Portion of the Embassy Air Program and reports that the $361 million air ride 2-year contract was providing "safe and reliable service" in support of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) and other U.S. development assistance programs in Afghanistan. The report also says that the no-show passengers are costing the government roughly $14 million annually. It recommends a no-show charge of $50 - $100 per occurrence, which USAID/Afghanistan disagrees with. Excerpts below:

Because of Afghanistan’s poverty and decades of war and neglect, much of the country’s infrastructure, including roads and air transportation infrastructure, is in very poor condition. Therefore, USAID/Afghanistan, which needs safe and reliable air transportation to carry out foreign assistance, contracted with a private company for transportation and freight services.

On January 4, 2010, USAID/Afghanistan awarded Aircraft Charter Solutions Inc. a $361 million, 2-year contract to supply passenger, cargo, and combination air transportation. The contract runs through February 1, 2012, with an option to extend for the next 3 years. As of March 29, 2011, the mission had disbursed $54 million of the $59 million obligated under the contract.

The contractor is providing turnkey fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, spare parts, and supervision necessary to provide air transportation between various locations in Afghanistan. Aircraft provided by the contractor include seven 18-passenger Beechcraft 1900s, three 8-passenger Beechcraft Super King Air 200s, two Bell 412 helicopters, and four MI-8 helicopters.
[...]
The review found that USAID/Afghanistan’s portion of the Embassy Air program was providing safe and reliable air service in support of provincial reconstruction teams and other U.S. development assistance programs in Afghanistan. The review also found areas in which the Embassy Air program could be improved:
  • No-show passengers increased costs to the government (page 4).
  • The environmental requirements in the contract with Aircraft Charter Solutions Inc. are ambiguous (page 5).
  • Unapproved international travel led to questioned costs (page 6).
  • The contractor did not meet branding and marking requirements (page 7).
  • The contractor did not provide required terminal-to-aircraft transportation (page 9).
  • The contractor did not report required performance information to USAID (page 9).

To address these findings, the report offers some recommendations including the following:
  • Implement a nominal charge for no-show passengers (page 4).
  • Determine the allowability of and recover, as appropriate, unsupported questioned costs of $525,467 representing international travel (including premium-class travel of $31,902) by contractor officials that was not approved by USAID as required (page 7).

[N]o-show passengers obligate the contractor to operate aircraft with empty seats and impede the efficiency of the USAID portion of the Embassy Air program. A total of 9,573 (20 percent) of the 48,960 passengers with reservations on Embassy Air between February 1, 2010, and January 31, 2011, did not appear for their flights or did not cancel their reservations 24 hours in advance as required, and were not penalized.

The seats reserved for no-show passengers could have been made available to other passengers. In some cases, smaller aircraft could be have been used if no-show passengers had canceled their reservations as required, and in a few cases, flights could have been canceled entirely. We estimate that the cost of making air service available to no-show passengers is roughly $14 million per year (this represents 20 percent of the annual contract cost).

Implementing a nominal fee, on the order of $50 to $100 per occurrence, to be paid by no-show passengers would significantly reduce their number. Of course, to be effective, the fee should not be reimbursed by the U.S. Government except in rare cases where the passenger’s failure to cancel a reservation or appear for a flight is beyond the passenger’s control. This practice would be consistent with current commercial and government practices that impose charges on travelers who negligently fail to cancel reservations.

According to the OIG report, USAID/Afghanistan did not agree with their recommendation for two reasons:
  • The mission estimated that up to 50 percent of no-shows were due to security restrictions and were largely beyond the control of individual travelers.
  • The mission believed that imposing nominal charges on no-show passengers would not be feasible, although the mission did not identify any specific feasibility issues.
The mission also disagreed with our estimate of funds that could be put to better use by reducing the number of no-show passengers. The mission noted that there may be no significant difference in cost between flying a plane that is fully loaded with passengers and one with a number of empty seats.

In response to the mission’s first point, the Office of Inspector General/Afghanistan undertook an analysis of the reasons for no-shows and determined that only 6 percent of no-shows were due to security restrictions, while 94 percent of no-shows were unrelated to security. In response to the second point, without further details, we do not see any insurmountable obstacles to charging no-show passengers some nominal amount to encourage them to honor their reservations or cancel them as required.

Active links added above.  Read in full: Review of USAID/Afghanistan's Portion of the Embassy Air Program (Report Number F-306-11-004-S)


Related post:

Embassy Air Iraq: Tickets Available Soon...In the Meantime, Fire Up Your Brooms | Thursday, June 2, 2011






Monday, June 27, 2011

Officially In: Sung Y. Kim to Seoul

Map from CIA World Factbook
On June 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Sung Y. Kim to be Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. The WH released the following brief bio:
Sung Y. Kim became the Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks in July 2008 and was accorded the rank of Ambassador. A career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Kim headed the Office of Korean Affairs from 2006 to 2008. Previously, he was the Political-Military Unit Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul from 2002 to 2006. From 1999 to 2002, Ambassador Kim served as a Political Officer in Tokyo. Other overseas assignments include Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. In Washington, Ambassador Kim worked in the Office of Chinese Affairs and served as Staff Assistant in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Kim worked as a public prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. He earned his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and received a J.D. from Loyola University Law School as well as an LL.M. from the London School of Economics.

If confirmed, Ambassador Kim would be the first U.S. ambassador of Korean descent to serve in Seoul since diplomatic relations were established in 1883. He would succeed career diplomat Kathleen Stephens who was appointed to Seoul in 2008. Ambassador Kim's nomination, was of course, big news in that part of the world even before it was officially announced.

Korea JoongAng Daily reports that Ambassador Kim was in seventh grade when he moved to the U.S. and acquired U.S. citizenship in 1980. Also:
"He migrated to the U.S. with his family in the mid-1970s when his father left his job as a public servant.  Ambassador Kim’s father, according to this report, was the South Korean ambassador to Japan before he moved his family to the U.S. He had also been kidnapped by North Koreans and taken across the border after boarding a Korean National Airlines flight in 1958. KNA was South Korea’s first commercial cargo and passenger air carrier. Kim’s father was released 20 days later across the border through Panmunjom."


Read more here: U.S. picks new ambassador Korean-American would replace Stephens at position in Seoul

NK News | Sung Kim to become first U.S. ambassador of Korean descent

Sung Kim tapped as US ambassador to Seoul

The Chosun Ilbo reports that "After Obama's appointment of Chinese-American Gary Locke as ambassador to China drew a positive response, U.S. officials began to consider Kim as envoy to South Korea." 

One going to Beijing is a politician, and the other intended for Seoul is a career diplomat, same difference, huh?!  Read more here: U.S. Nuclear Envoy Tipped as Ambassador to Seoul

But perhaps the more striking piece I've seen about this nomination is an editorial in Korea Times entitled "New US ambassador | Substance is more important than symbolism." Quick excerpt below:
His Korean heritage is both an asset and a liability. His appointment gives a sense of pride to Korean-Americans. He symbolizes the U.S. multiculturalism where talent, not racial background, is the key factor for success. He proved his talent as his career has been on fast-track even during the conservative Bush administration.

He will give Koreans a sense of comfort and ease, and sets a new milestone in the 129-year bilateral ties.

He has many issues to overcome during his service in Korea and so questions arise. The first is whether he has an easy access to the White House for sensitive and critical Korean issues. The next is how to manage the high Korean expectation that the American will better represent Korean interest. (italics added)
There is, of course, the South Korean Ambassador in Washington to represent Korean interests.

Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, a career U.S. diplomat has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. If confirmed, he will served at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to represent American interests in that country. To expect otherwise is crazy bad unrealistic.



Related item:
June 24, 2011 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts






 
 
 

US Mission Afghanistan: Ambassador Eikenberry Visits FOB Shinwar

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry visits FOB Shinwar, Momand Dara District Center, the Behsood Agricultural Center, and the Governor's Palace in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan on Tuesday, June 21, 2011.







Officially In: Adrienne O’Neal to Praia

Aerial view of Praia, the capital city of Cape...Image via WikipediaOn June 24, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Adrienne O’Neal to be Ambassador to the Republic of Cape Verde. The WH released the following brief bio:

Adrienne O’Neal, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as the Director of the Senior Level Division of Career Development and Assignments in Human Resources at the Department of State. Previous assignments have included Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Director of the Office of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, and Deputy Press Secretary to the Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1983, Ms. O’Neal has also served overseas in Italy, Argentina, and Mozambique. From 2007 to 2009, Ms. O’Neal was Diplomat in Residence at the University of Michigan.

Ms. O’Neal received a B.A. from Spelman College and a M.M.L. from Middlebury College.


Related post:
May 13, 2011 | On Performance Pay Awards and Why No HR Seniors to Rat-Tat-Tat Kaboom Posts

Related item:
June 24, 2011 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts







Friday, June 24, 2011

SFRC Clears Locke, Crocker, Burns

On June 23, 2011 the Committee on Foreign Relations cleared the following executive nominations, which will now go to the full Senate:

Gary Locke, of Washington, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People's Republic of China.

Ryan C. Crocker, of Washington, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

William J. Burns, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service with the Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Deputy Secretary of State, vice James Braidy Steinberg.





US ConGen Karachi Sponsors Network!! Pakistan's First Social Media Summit


The US Consulate General in Karachi recently sponsored Pakistan's first ever social media summit held in Avari Hotel from June 10-11 2011. Its partners include Intel,  Apple, Newsweek Pakistan, PC World Magazine, IDG, iRaffles and Express, Pakistan's second largest media group.  It also had representatives from Twitter and Wordpress skyped from the US to be part of the Summit. 

Indonesian bloggers Heny and Dita talk about social media for community activism and community service in education and in combatting corruption.
Photo from US ConGen Karachi/Facebook
There are reportedly 3 million bloggers in Pakistan, and with over 4 million people on Facebook, it is ranked 26th in the world. Its internet penetration rate is at 23.42% and growing, while its mobile penetration is at 60.4%.  Less than 2% of Pakistan’s population is on Twitter as of 2011 but as a sign of the microblogging increasing popularity, Zong, a second network now officially supports Twitter updates via SMS.

International participants included Mohamed El Dahshan (Egypt), Hanny Kusumawati and Anandita Puspitasari (Indonesia), Rebecca Chiao (Egypt), Ong Hock Chuan (Malaysia), Claire Diaz Ortiz (US) and Karim Osman (Netherlands), as well as other bloggers who participated via Skype.

Via The Express Tribune:


Watch this overview too on new media users in Pakistan.

The sessions include  topics on Education & Good Governance: Going Digital, Women & Social Activism in the New Media Era, and Monetizing Your Social Media Space followed by some 20 breakout workshops. "The idea of the summit is to enable a collective gathering of people from the Pakistani Blogosphere and how to enable them as well as understand better on bringing about a positive change through social media."

The US Consul General in Karachi gets to open the event (video), and has an op-ed carried by Pakistan's Tribune newspaper, and republished in other media outlets online:

"Pakistan enjoys tremendous freedom of information and online expression. As a representative of the United States, I am keenly aware of the vibrancy of that free speech every time I log in to my computer or pick up a newspaper. Although a bit bruised sometimes, I welcome it! By amplifying the diversity of voices, social media is making life a richer experience for us all."

Consul General William Martin delivers opening remarks at Network!!
Photo from US ConGen Karachi/Facebook

It is not surprising to see some familiar faces involved in this event - Andie de Arment of CG Karachi and Tristram Perry of CG Lahore, both officers previously worked together in US Mission Indonesia, the Bigfoot in the State Department's social media footprint. 

Rabia from CIO Magazine/PC World along with moderators, presenters, international bloggers, as well as IO Andie & IO Tristram from Lahore.
Photo from US ConGen Karachi/Facebook

More photos here from Tribune and here from US CG Karachi Facebook. Awesome work folks!




US Embassy Tel Aviv: 2011 July 4th America Challenge!

You can still watch the 235th Independence Day celebration live online on June 30, brought to you by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and its corporate sponsors:



The embassy's most recent FB contest is called  2011 July 4th America Challenge! Participants must complete the sentence AMERICA IS .... and get a chance to win tickets to the Independence Day party at the Ambassador's Residence.

On June 22, the embassy announced in FB that it received "well over 300 creative, funny, emotional, and thoughtful entries telling us what AMERICA IS..." and is now sifting through the entries on who will get the tickets.




Snapshot: Top 10 State Department Assistance Recipients FY2010

According to the Prime Award spending data from USAspending.gov, the following organizations are the State Department's Top 10 Assistance Recipients in FY2010.

screen capture from
usaspending.gov

 
 
 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Attack on American Convoy in Baghdad Kills USAID Contractor, Wounds Three

The State Department has now released the name of the the USAID contractor killed in the June 23 attack on a US convoy in Iraq. The three individuals wounded have not been identified.  From the Spokesman:

Iraq: Terrorist Attack on American Convoy in Baghdad | June 23, 2011

The United States condemns a terrorist attack in Baghdad today that claimed the life of international development and finance expert Dr. Stephen Everhart and wounded three others. Dr. Everhart was an American citizen who was working in Iraq for an implementing partner of the United States Agency for International Development’s Mission in Iraq. He was killed while working on a project to introduce a new business curriculum to a Baghdad university in a program supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education. His support of efforts to advance a modern and efficient financial sector has benefited the people and business enterprises of Iraq and his lifelong dedication to public service has improved the lives of countless people around the world.

We are saddened by this tragedy and extend our thoughts and prayers to Dr. Everhart’s family and loved ones, and to the three other injured victims and their families.

According to an Iraqi police official cited by AP, the American contractors were visiting a satellite office of Mustansiriyah University in eastern Baghdad when they were hit by a roadside bomb. .

This is the second time in several days that a civilian convoy was attacked in Iraq. On June 20, a French embassy convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, wounding at least seven people.

Two is not a trend, but this is worrisome; how much worse can this get post-military withdrawal?








Afghanistan, the Way Forward -- You Know What's Coming -- Send In the Expeditionary Ones

So President Obama gave a speech yesterday about the way forward in Afghanistan. And folks are tearing their hair out in frustration. One side is not happy with any substantial withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other side is not happy that it's not fast nor substantial enough. When 33,000 troops come home by next summer, we will still have some 70,000 troops in that war zone not counting the civilians. President Obama:

"Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."


It's like we've been teaching the Afghans to bike for some time now. At some point, we have to let go and let them ride on their own. We cannot be hovering around them forever or they'll never learn to ride or blame us for their inability to ride. 

And the civilians? Although the President did not mention the civilians, I expect that the call for more diplomats and civilians to go to Afghanistan will follow whatever size, shape or form the military drawdown in that country will take shape.  It has already started. This op-ed today from the NYT:
"Develop “expeditionary” civilians willing to be deployed to danger zones critical to national security for years not months. The military has an “AfPak Hands” program to develop a cadre of 750 officers with knowledge and expertise to work on the region’s problems for five to seven years. Civilian agencies could do something similar, creating a team based in Washington, traveling frequently to the field, living in-country for up to 24 months, working the problem for four to five years, and developing the area and language expertise needed to do the job."

This is not the first time we've heard the idea of a civilian expeditionary corps. Remains watching if it will stick this time. 

But as in Iraq, the transition from military to eventually civilian-led, because that's where it's going --  will be challenging.

We are now seeing the "surge" of contractors in Iraq to continue reconstruction work and to provide personal security for our civilian workers. As we move to a "smaller" military footprint in Afghanistan, there will be additional requirement for diplomats and civilians to take over.  Only it will be in a much larger scale when it happens and much more expensive.  Afghanistan is much larger in size than Iraq and has a more difficult terrain which means bringing in civilians and protecting, feeding, housing them will be much more complex without the US military.

The President on Reconstruction Nation Building at Home
"Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home."

It's good to hear that; now, we want to follow the action here at home.

I am still shocked to hear politicians/etc claim that we can afford to fight these wars indefinitely, afford the reconstructions of our cities, communities, our public infrastructures in disrepair, while we continue to offer tax breaks to the richest people in this country -- um, dudes, what meds are you on?

I can only conclude that either these folks are on tons of medications, or they live in a foreign country, and fly around the USofA via private air service that they and their families have no excuse to use our public schools, our potholed streets, our falling bridges, our train stations and airports, etc. etc. and no way of really knowing how bad things are outside their well manicured neighborhoods.



The full text of President Obama's remarks is here.

The Secretary of State was over at the SFRC. The Cable quotes her:
"We have now reached the height of the civilian surge," Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Looking ahead, as the transition proceeds, we will shift our efforts from short-term stabilization projects to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia's economy."
Josh Rogin notes that Secretary Clinton "did not give details about how the structure or size of the civilian surge would change as U.S. forces begin to withdraw."




US Embassy Tel Aviv: Price for Illegal Work in the U.S -- Too High!

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv has posted a new version of its video discouraging illegal work in the U.S. especially those on tourists visas.

"Over the past few years, some Israelis wanting to work in the U.S. have been saying during visa interviews that they want to go to the U.S. only as tourist travelers. After their arrival at a U.S. airport and questioning by immigration inspectors, the true purpose of their U.S. trip is then discovered. What can follow is detention, possibly a court hearing, and then an immediate return to Israel along with a multi-year ban on future travels to the United States."

This video with English subtitles features Israelis talking about their negative experience  and includes cameo appearances by embassy investigators.




US Embassy Nepal: A Visit to Pangboche Monastery Between the Holy Mountains of Khumbila and Mount Everest

Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi and a U.S. Embassy delegation visited the site of Pangboche Monastery, a recipient of $83,500 in funding through the 2010 Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) grant.  The delegation trekked approximately 50 miles on foot and by horse for five days to reach the site, which is located in Sagarmatha National Park near Mount Everest Base Camp at an elevation of 13,000 feet.  Ambassador Delisi participated in a puja (ritual ceremony) to initiate the main restoration work of the ancient Monastery, which serves as the education center for Sherpas of Nepal.


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

Some great photos! But I wish this embassy would stop marking its official photos All Rights Reserved, because guys, they're not!

I'm tired of sounding like a broken record but official embassy photos are U.S. government work and have no copyright restrictions --
"A United States government work is prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person's official duties. It is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work."

Also, Ambassador DeLisi has an official page in Facebook where he presumably shared his travelogue on this trip, but you must have an FB account to read what he wrote. That's some kind of public outreach, certainly would make FB happy.

Below are the online platforms the embassy uses in its public engagements: