Friday, September 30, 2011

Anonymous FSO on Kojo Nnamdi: "the Foreign Service today is a rather broken organization"

Kojo Nnamdi recently hosted Diplomacy Post-9/11: Life in the U.S. Foreign Service. His guests were Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association who previously served in Cuba, USUN,  Mauritius, Pakistan, Russia, Central Asia, Romania, Iraq and Bosnia; AFSA rep, Matthew Asada, a Foreign Service officer who has served in Iraq, Pakistan, Germany, India and Washington, D.C.; and Cameron Munter, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and previous U.S. Ambassador to Serbia who spent 20 years in Central Europe and served two tours in Iraq before his posting in Pakistan.

You can listen to the entire show here.

There were a few call in questions and one email read on the air by the host:

NNAMDI 12:44:07

We have this email from S, who says, "I've been in the Foreign Service for 11 years and, thus, must remain anonymous. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a whiner. I know your guests will try to sound rosy, but, truth is, the Foreign Service today is a rather broken organization. Like a body adapting to a tumor, the Foreign Services need to repeatedly fill one year unaccompanied hardship slots in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.[...]  "AIP service, as we call it, has caused the organization to wrap itself around this need. All other priorities have become second or third tier." Cameron Munter, what would you say to that?

MUNTER 12:44:47

It's a very tough question. I mean, I feel the pain that he expresses because it's something that all of us have to deal with. No one likes the idea of an unaccompanied post. And yet I think what we're doing here is -- I take issue with the idea that we're a broken organization. We're an organization that has chosen priorities.

MUNTER 12:45:04

We're making priorities, and we're doing the best to be professional to maintain our idealism and our practical ability and to address those things that our president wants us to do, that our secretary of state wants us to do. These are tough assignments. They must be done. And if that means that we're going to spend time without our loved ones and spend time in situations that we might not have thought we'd be in, that's the way it's going to be because, after all, it is Foreign Service.

MUNTER 12:45:34

We have to be self-critical and say, how can we do this better? We always have to learn from these experiences. And if I had my way, I would talk people into longer assignments. I think one year is very short, very difficult to do the work you need to do. But, nonetheless, we will make this work. We're here to serve, and these are tough days. And we've got to get through this period successfully.

Some interesting stuff in the conversation mostly from Ambassador Munter. You can read the entire transcript here.

The host did ask how well has the Foreign Service adapted the way it screens applicants and promotes people. And Ambassador Munter made some points about the Foreign Service struggling whether it is a traditional or expeditionary service but did not really address the question about promotion.

One thing that the callers and the guests did not talk about is how the "AIP" service has changed the Foreign Service. To get a promotion in the Foreign Service, I am told that one must served in the priority posts of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Those are not the only hardship posts, mind you, but I'm hearing that promotions are going to AIP vets.

Isn't it entirely conceivable that in the not too far away future, the top ranking officials (political appointees excepted, of course) at the bureaus, offices, chanceries under the State Department would be made up of career officials who came from those three priority countries? 

What would that mean in terms of leadership and management styles -- good? bad? won't mean a thing? What would that mean in terms of perspective and experience limited to a specific geographic area? A WHA ambassador who has served in AIP posts but had never served in the western hemisphere? It's not that this would be so totally uncommon given that political appointees with no language and most of the time no host country experience still get the top jobs at a good portion of our embassies. Still, this is the career service we are talking about.   

If one take consecutive tours at AIP posts, then repeat it once more for a total of six years, how fast can one get into the senior ranks? I've seen a few officers with 15 years get into the Senior FS but I think those are the exceptional ones. Most folks have to slog many more years than that. What does it mean to folks who serve in hardship but non-warzone assignments and do a good job just as well if they can't get promoted?  Why would anyone go to unaccompanied, hardship posts outside of AIP (Africa, for instance) if you can't get promoted out of there no matter how hard you work or how great you are? Since just about everyone will be expected to serve their tours in AIP, I wonder why do they continue calling it an "open assignment?"

So many questions, so little time .... but some food for thought....






Peter Van Buren: How the State Department Came After Me

Seal of the United States Department of State....Image via Wikipedia

The State Dept probably need FSI to create a training module later on how to deal with FSO-Os with funny bones, sharp pens, acerbic tongues; particularly those who also have the talent for pillar and punch and bright red boxing gloves in the wordy world.

Peter Van Buren may be the first, but he won't be the last. The Afghanistan-PRT Experience Project is a book just waiting to happen.
And it's not because the State Department has adopted DHS' "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign.  It will happen, it's just a matter of time, because folks can only tolerate beings hamsters on wheels for so long.  The PRT model started in Afghanistan and was exported to Iraq. Now that the Iraq-PRT Experience has turned into a book, the Afghanistan book is bound to happen. It's only a matter of time, and we've got time between now and 2014 and between 2014 and who knows when ...

As I was getting ready to post this, I also received a note from a Diplopundit reader and long-time State insider who pointed out that this is not the first time that Peter Van Buren has put himself in the crosshairs.  Remember the 2007 passport fiasco that got everybody all up in arms?  Apparently, back in late 2006, Mr. Van Buren sounded the alarm to his top boss in Consular Affairs that "she was going to need a lot of extra bodies to handle the coming surge in passport applications."  According to my source, Mr. Van Buren's "reward" was to be transferred from the Consular Bureau to Public Affairs. That is obviously fine and good if you're a PD officer, but not so good if you are a Consular Officer. So, perhaps the April Foolly-press guidance is not too off the mark after all. I am republishing the piece below in full. It seems like an important thing to share with others. I am sympathetic with Mr. Van Buren's plight but not sure the Big House will be as sympathetic; pies are hard to clean up.


How the State Department Came After Me

For telling the truth about what I saw in Iraq

by Peter Van Buren
[Reprinted with the author's permission.  The original is here. Also cross-posted in Foreign Policy here]
I never intended to create this much trouble. 

Two years ago I served 12 months in Iraq as a Foreign Service Officer, leading a Provincial Reconstruction Team. I had been with the State Department for some 21 years at that point, serving mostly in Asia, but after what I saw in the desert -- the waste, the lack of guidance, the failure to really do anything positive for the country we had invaded in 2003 -- I started writing a book. One year ago I followed the required procedures with State for preclearance (no classified documents, that sort of thing), received clearance, and found a publisher. Six months ago the publisher asked me to start a blog to support the book.

And then, toward the end of the summer, the wrath of Mesopotamia fell on me. The Huffington Post picked up one of my blog posts, which was seen by someone at State, who told someone else and before you know it I had morphed into public enemy number one -- as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria. My old travel vouchers were studied forensically, and a minor incident from my time in Iraq was blown up into an international affair. One blog post from late August that referenced a Wikileaks document already online elsewhere got me called in for interrogation by Diplomatic Security and accused of disclosing classified information. I was told by Human Resources I might lose my job and my security clearance, and I was ordered to pre-clear every article, blog post, Facebook update, and Tweet from that point out. A Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs wrote, without informing me, directly to my publisher, accusing me in writing of new security violations that had apparently escaped the sharp eyes at Diplomatic Security, and demanded redactions. The publisher refused, citing both the silliness of the actual redactions (everything was already online; one requested redaction came from the movie Black Hawk Down, and another from George Tenet's memoirs) and the First Amendment.

It seemed kind of sad, kind of desperate, and maybe a little bit unfair. I always took my obligation to protect information seriously, and all my material went through a careful vetting process with the publisher as well as with State to make sure nothing had slipped through.

I wrote about all this on the blog TomDispatch, and before I knew it, the story went viral. I found myself returning calls to the New York Times, the ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, CBS, NPR, and about a million blogs and radio stations. I had hoped to promote the book I had written, which came out yesterday, but the story ended up being about me and the State Department instead.

I never intended this to be a fight against my employer of 23 years, and I never intended to become a poster child for the First Amendment. However, I'm not one to back down when bullied, and I am afraid that in their anger and angst, the Department of State has acted like a bully. In addition to false accusations of security violations, State has used its own internal clearance requirements as a blunt weapon.

The State Department, on paper, does not prohibit blogs, tweets or whatever is invented next. On paper, again, responsible use is called for -- a reasonable demand. But this rule must cut both ways -- responsible writing on my part, responsible control on State's part.

And responsible standards for clearance. The department's "pre-clearance" requirements are totally out of date. Originally designed for a 19th-century publishing model, its leisurely 30-day examination period is incompatible with the requirements of online work, blogs, Facebook, and tweets. But the department has refused to update its rules for the 21st century, preferring instead to use the 30 days to kill anything of a timely nature. What blog post is of value a month after it is written, never mind a tweet?

In addition, the pre-clearance rules are supposed to be specific in their goals: to prevent classified or privacy protected information from going out, stopping info on contracts and procurement, and blocking private writing that seeks to pass itself off as an official statement from the Department. In my case, however, any attempts to pre-clear blog posts ran into the Department of Silly Walks. My bland statements about the military in Iraq made using easily Googleable data were labeled "security risks." When even those were clipped out, everything I wrote was labeled as possibly being confused with an official statement, even though my writing is peppered with profanity, sarcasm, humor, and funny photos. Say what you want about my writing, but I can't imagine anyone is confusing it with official State Department public statements. As required, I always include a disclaimer, but the pre-clearance people simply tell me that is not enough, without explaining what might be enough other than just shutting up.

So instead of using pre-clearance as it is on paper, a tool to guard only against improper disclosure with which I have no disagreement, it is used as a form of prior restraint against speech that offends State. Me, in this instance.

We have been battered to death with public statements from the Secretary of State on down demanding the rights of bloggers and journalists in China, Burma and the Middle East be respected. While the State Department does not lock its naughty bloggers in basement prison cells, it does purposefully, willfully, and in an organized way seek to chill the responsible exercise of free speech by its employees. It does this selectively; blogs that promote an on-message theme are left alone (or even linked to by the Department) while blogs that say things that are troublesome or offensive to the Department are bullied out of existence. This is not consistent with the values the State Department seeks to promote abroad. It is not the best of us, and it undermines our message and our mission in every country where we work where people can still read this.

I have a job now at State that has nothing to do with Iraq, something I enjoy and something I am competent at. To me, there is no conflict here. I'd like to keep my job if I can, and in the meantime, I'll continue to write. I have no need to resign in protest, as I don't think I've done anything wrong absent throwing a few pies at some clowns and bringing to daylight a story that needed to be told, albeit at the cost of some embarrassment to the Department of State. That seems to me compatible with my oath of office, as well as my obligations as a citizen. I hope State comes to agree with me. After all, State asks the same thing of governments abroad, right?





Thursday, September 29, 2011

US Embassy Kabul: We know duck and cover is hard, but clean up when you're done, okay?

Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight...Image via WikipediaWe heard about that shooting at an Embassy Annex from CBS shortly after it happened on September 25.

In an undated statement that I think came out on Monday, the U.S. Embassy Kabul gave a one-paragraph statement about the incident.  A "lone gunman" who happens to be a local employee was killed, a U.S. citizen civilian employee was killed, and another was wounded

The Kabul Nightingale told me that the the US Embassy Kabul Front Office (where all mission rivers run through) didn't officially tell the Embassy community about the death until two days after it happened. Because it's always good management practice to keep the truth from staffers who might get scared or get nightmares.

So presumably, if they had internet access over there, most of the staff had to read about what happened 700 hundred yards away, from the news outlets based in New York?

That shooting story broke wide on Monday, September 26. That same day, a Management Notice reportedly also went out reminding all employees that after a prolonged duck and cover scenario, they should clean up after themselves. Like clean and mop the place for the next duck and cover occupants?  What did you do there - have a party while doing the duck and cover.  Sheesh!

The Kabul Nightingale says that given that some people had to spend upwards of 10 hours, 10 hours, mind you, huddled in a tunnel with no access to food, water or restroom, mission members were pretty darn outraged. Outrage is understandable, have you ever tried to hold it in for 30 minutes? Gawd! That's the most awful experience; that's how purple people are made, even doing square roots in your head would not/not help. Take my word for it.

All I can say is if we could afford some $2 million dollars to put sod to green the front of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, I say, we certainly can afford portable potties inside the duck and cover tunnel, or something. 

But you know what requisition is like in the government. In the meantime, if you're heading there, you might need training on how to hold it in duck and hold.  Try the harder square roots.

Update: One of our blog pals who is at another post asked, "Wait, they built a duck and cover tunnel, without a potty?  Come on, even the commies know that bunkers need potties, kitchens, beds, etc.  Please tell me we're prepped for a siege, 'cause it could happen."

Um, sorry pal, I can't say they're prepped for a siege; I do agree that it could happen if that 20-hour embassy attack that was no big deal is any indication. The attack which lasted for 20 hours was conducted by 6 terrorists, now dead.  But can you imagine a more ambitious attack with a dozen or more terrorist, who presumably will plan on dying anyway?  I can. I can also imagine duck, cover and hold for 48 hours, can you?

Perhaps it is time for to the US Embassy in Kabul to issue employees Roadbag, a $5.40 German-made device that turns your pee to gel, just in case.  Also check out "America's Premier Preparedness Center" for their Pee Bags© at $7.99 + s&h per four pack you get liquid waste bags, pack of tissue and antiseptic hand wipe.

I'd personally prefer Roadbag, not Made in America, but quite frankly, I think the Germans get it.  Nothing to spill and clean up, see? Email this to your Front Office, please? 





PRT Farah - Nine Count Indictment For Former Army Contracting Officials and DOD Contractor

Via DOJ:

WASHINGTON—A former member of the U.S. Army employed by a private security firm was arrested at Miami International Airport today on charges of bribery, fraud and theft of government funds, in connection with the award of a contract to provide services to a U.S. government provincial reconstruction team in Farah, Afghanistan.
[...]
Raul Borcuta was arrested in Miami today when he tried to enter the United States from Europe. Upon Borcuta’s arrest, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois unsealed a nine-count indictment charging Borcuta and his co-conspirators, Zachery Taylor and Jared Close, with mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and theft of government funds.

According to the indictment, Borcuta, 32, defrauded the U.S. government in connection with a contract to provide two up-armored sport utility vehicles to be used by an official in the government of Farah Province, Afghanistan, who had received death threats from insurgent groups. The indictment alleges that Borcuta bribed U.S. Army contracting officials Taylor, 40, and Close, 40, with $10,000 each to award him the contract and to make full payment to Borcuta before the vehicles were delivered. Taylor and Close, formerly U.S. Army staff sergeants assigned to the provincial reconstruction team in Farah, allegedly authorized a payment of approximately $200,000 in U.S. government funds to Borcuta. According to the indictment, Borcuta received the payment and never delivered the vehicles required by the contract.

The defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each mail fraud count, 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count, 30 years in prison for each conspiracy count, 15 years in prison for each bribery count and 10 years in prison for each theft of government funds count.

An indictment is merely a charge and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Read in full here.













 
 
 

Officially In: Michael A. McFaul to Moscow

White House Photo
This is a catch up post on the nomination of Michael A. McFaul to be Ambassador of the United States to the Russian Federation.  President Obama announced his intent to nominate Mr. McFaul on September 14.  We have previously written about this in late May 2011 in WashDC Leaky Cauldron: Michael McFaul, Russia "Reset" Advisor to be Next Ambassador to Moscow.

The WH released the following brief bio:
Michael A. McFaul is a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, Russia and Eurasia Affairs for the White House National Security Staff.  Previously, McFaul was a professor in the Political Science Department at Stanford University, a position he held from 1995 to 2009. While at Stanford, McFaul served from 2003 to 2009 as the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Institution. He was also a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, serving as the Deputy Director of the Institute from 2006 to 2009. From 2005-2009, he also was the director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law.  From 1994 to 2009, McFaul was a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and served as the Director of the Russian Domestic Politics Program.

He holds a B.A. in International Relations and Slavic Languages and an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies, both from Stanford University.  McFaul received a Ph.D. in International Relations from Oxford in 1991, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.




Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Injured War Contractors Sue Over Health Care, Disability Payments

by T. Christian Miller,  ProPublica, Sep. 27, 2011, 10:11 a.m.

Private contractors injured while working for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan filed a class action lawsuit [1] in federal court on Monday, claiming that corporations and insurance companies had unfairly denied them medical treatment and disability payments.

The suit, filed in district court in Washington, D.C., claims that private contracting firms and their insurers routinely lied, cheated and threatened injured workers, while ignoring a federal law requiring compensation for such employees. Attorneys for the workers are seeking $2 billion in damages.

The suit is largely based on the Defense Base Act, an obscure law that creates a workers-compensation system for federal contract employees working overseas. Financed by taxpayers, the system was rarely used until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most privatized conflicts in American history.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians working for federal contractors have been deployed to war zones to deliver mail, cook meals and act as security guards for U.S. soldiers and diplomats. As of June 2011, more than 53,000 civilians have filed claims for injuries in the war zones. Almost 2,500 contract employees have been killed, according to figures [2] kept by the Department of Labor, which oversees the system.

An investigation by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC2019s 20/20 [3] into the Defense Base Act system found major flaws, including private contractors left without medical care and lax federal oversight. Some Afghan, Iraqi and other foreign workers for U.S. companies were provided with no care at all.

The lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind, charges that major insurance corporations such as AIG and large federal contractors such as Houston-based KBR deliberately flouted the law, thereby defrauding taxpayers and boosting their profits. In interviews and at congressional hearings, AIG and KBR have denied such allegations and said they fully complied with the law. They blamed problems in the delivery of care and benefits on the chaos of the war zones.






Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The State Dept Gets Van Burened While the Spokesman Talks About Our $3 Billion F-16s Fire Sale to Support a Peaceful Iraq

Collage of images taken by U.S. military in Ir...Image via WikipediaI was expecting a tsunami to hit Peter Van Buren's cubicle in Foggy Bottom today.

Apparently, the tsunami ordered is on hold perhaps because Mr. Van Buren is on leave?

Instead, the State Department got Van Burened today with Peter Van Buren's story splashed across multiple media outlets. The State Department spokesman made the best possible response with a "no comment" to media inquiries; or she would have been there till midnight answering questions on pages x, and xx, and xxx and on and on. Too bad, I would have like to know if the Green Grass ambassador also ordered frangipanis?

Tomgram: Peter Van Buren, WikiLeaked at the State Department

CBS: When freedom's not free at the State Department

HuffPo: The Only Employee at State Who May Be Fired Because of WikiLeaks

Salon: Interrogated by the State Department

The Guardian

SpyTalk: State Department Harassing Officer Who Revealed Iraq waste

Mother Jones: The Only State Dept. Employee Who May Be Fired Because of WikiLeaks

Wired: State Department Employee Faces Firing for Posting WikiLeaks Link


A couple of days ago, NPR did a radio interview with Mr. Van Buren and it also did an accompanying piece entitled, The Greedy Battle For Iraq's 'Hearts And Minds'. Quick excerpts below:

Van Buren says many of his State Department colleagues who have read the book agree with him in private but have publicly shunned him for speaking out about what he saw in Iraq.

"Many of them accused me of picking on them or ... blaming them for things that I knew were institutional," he says. "They didn't make these decisions because they were stupid. I didn't make these decisions because I was stupid. We all knew we were told we were to do these things, and they're a little angry at me for labeling them as complicit in this when they knew that they weren't."
[...]
"Everyone in Iraq was there on a series of one-year tours, myself included," he says. "Everyone was told that they needed to create accomplishments, that we needed to document our success, that we had to produce a steady stream of photos of accomplishments, and pictures of smiling Iraqis and metrics and charts. It was impossible, under these circumstances, to do anything long term ... We rarely thought past next week's situation update. The embassy would rarely engage with us on a project that wasn't flashy enough to involve photographs or bringing a journalist out to shoot a video that looked good. The willingness to do long-term work ... never existed in our world."

Check it out here.

The good news is the New York Times has so far ignored the book.  That is always a good thing, see because landing there can get you usually toasted according to an early warning system. The book also has not made an appearance in WaPo or in Al Kamen's In the Loop column, landing there can also get you toasted with garlic. We are hoping that the Colbert Report would come knocking on Mr. Van Buren's door. The tragicomedic account with a dash of abrasive seems appropriate in that format. But one can hope.

Since there was no tsunami, we had to look around and see what else is going on in Iraq. Apparently, the United States of America is selling Iraq a dozen and a half of those F-16s at a total cost of $3 Billion. Well, at least some folks will be happy, and working, and putting together those planes. And this should calm some worries about the future of the F-16s.

Here is the Spokesman talking about "the cornerstone of the kind of cooperation that we hope to have in the future to support the secure, peaceful, democratic development of Iraq." Stop laughing, you over there!
QUESTION: Yes, two quick ones. One – I think this came up yesterday – an advisor to the Iraqi prime minister said that Iraq has signed a contract to buy 18 F-16s. Any comment on that?

MS. NULAND: Yes. Iraq has now made its first transfer payment for the purchase of 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, initiating this foreign military sale. These aircraft are going to help provide air sovereignty for Iraq and to protect its territory and deter or counter regional threats.

They also, as a significant military sale between us, are a symbol of the commitment that we’ve made to the Iraqi Government to have a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq on equal, sovereign terms.

And we expect foreign military sales of this kind, including items like the F-16, to serve as the cornerstone of the kind of cooperation that we hope to have in the future to support the secure, peaceful, democratic development of Iraq.

QUESTION: A couple things. How much was the first transfer payment?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have a number on the first transfer, but the total value of the sale is approximately $3 billion.

QUESTION: And then are they – and this displays the full extent of my knowledge about F-16s – but are they the A/Bs or the C/Ds?

MS. NULAND: I’m going to take that one. Actually, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to send you to the military on that one to DOD.

QUESTION: Oh, come on. Oh, come on.

MS. NULAND: I don’t have which kind of F-16s we’ve got here.

I suppose some of our soldiers will be left in Iraq teaching them to fly those planes, do airplane maintenance, and such other things. Will they buy tanks, too, and drones, etc.,etc?  I think we know how this will end, sort of --- no permanent bases, just visiting.

Forever?














Monday, September 26, 2011

US Embassy Kabul: Not Safe Even Inside the Bunker; One Amcit Killed, One Wounded by Afghan Employee

US Embassy Kabul Statement on the September 25 Evening Shooting Incident at an Embassy Annex:

"There was a shooting incident at an annex of U.S. Embassy Kabul in the evening of September 25.  The lone gunman, an Afghan employee, was killed.  The motivation for the attack is still under investigation. One U.S. citizen was killed and one wounded, who was evacuated to a military hospital with non-life threatening injuries. We mourn the loss of life in the incident, and express our heartfelt condolences to the families. The Embassy has resumed business operations."
CSMonitor has more on this attack:
"Sunday’s shooting could be of particular significance as it took place inside an area of the Embassy known to be used by the Central Intelligence Agency. It may also be the first time an Afghan working with a Western civilian organization killed his counterparts.

US officials have remained exceptionally tight-lipped about the incident, likely due to its potential link with the CIA. Intelligence officials have yet to offer any public comments and the Embassy issued only a brief statement confirming the shooting and saying, “The lone gunman, an Afghan employee, was killed. The motivation for the attack is still under investigation.”

Hamsters on the Titanic (
Sure the deck's slanting, but this wheel is fun!) in And then they tried to blow up the CIA writes:
And it is on like Donkey Kong. Well, probably no more “on” than it was before insurgents apparently tried to blow up the Ariana Hotel, used by the CIA in Kabul. There was some gunfire in my neighborhood last night, which was probably related to a reported attempt by President Karzai to visit Rabbani’s home to pay final respects.
I don’t know if that gunfire was any kind of attack, or the ANSF attempting to disperse some kind of crowd, or what, but it doesn’t appear that there was an attack in my particular piece of the Kabul landscape. What did actually happen no one actually knows, since it all took place within the the confines of the Ariana.
[...]
Since the CIA compound is definitely a no-go zone for ANSF, they weren’t involved…at all. In fact, Afghan officials made that very clear to reporters last night, that they had no idea what was going on, and that reporters should ask ISAF. When ISAF was asked, they also said they had no idea, and that folks should contact the ANSF. Since no one’s involved, it has to be OGA. Still, great use of social media by NTM-A to say…nothing.

NTM-Afghanistan
"The insurgency has been turned back… and Afghan National Security Forces are increasingly strong and capable.
Gotta love that social media.


All I can say is if that lone gunman was a locally engaged staff (know as LES or more kindly, as Foreign Service Nationals), that is a scary thought.  That means even the bunker is no longer safe.  It may have an impact on job creation in US diplomatic and consular posts in Afghanistan.

And if that lone gunman was a locally engaged staff but was not a guard, this would even be more troubling, as how did he managed to get a weapon inside an annex that is presumably well-guarded given its purported occupants.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought all the local hire staff in Afghanistan already get a polygraph as part of their employment package. Of course, it's not like a poly is as good as the precogs of Minority Report.

More scary thoughts about the bunker, I'm going to have nightmares tonight. 


 






What the State Department Spokesman Said to NPR/Fresh Air ...

In speculating about the fallout post publication of that book, I suggested that if somebody has already read the book, the Spokesman could say something like, let's see -- "We know this books is coming out. We do not agree with Mr. Van Buren's views but his views are his own. We have nothing further to say about this issue."

NPR reported that Fresh Air contacted a spokesman for the State Department, who declined to respond to Van Buren's book except to say that the author's views are his own, and not necessarily those of the State Department.






If only the State Dept could figure out how to clone Ambassadors Crocker and Ford?

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly who previously worked as a staff adviser for Iran and Iraq in OSD/ISA/NESA at the Pentagon (where he was seconded to Iraq according to his bio), recently wrote a piece on Commentary Magazine praising two ambassadors while slamming two:

I certainly share Max Boot’s praise of Ryan Crocker​ and Robert Ford for the professionalism with which they distinguish themselves in a crisis. However, what really distinguishes how honorable is Crocker’s character—as opposed to so many of his Foreign Service colleagues—is how he distinguished himself outside the halls of the Foreign Service.
[...]
In recent days, for example, Mark Parris, ambassador to Turkey between 1997 and 2000 and long a cheerleader for the ruling AKP government, has just become the non-executive director of a Turkish-British company with tens of millions of dollars in Iraqi Kurdish oil interests, a position he could not attain had he not remained in the Turkish government’s good graces. Marc Grossman, pressed into service post-retirement to fill Richard Holbrooke’s shoes, had also profited from contacts with Turkey’s ruling party during his retirement when he began to work with Ilhas Holding. Likewise, when Libyan rebels overran the intelligence ministry in Tripoli, they found recent minutes of a meeting between former Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Qadhafi regime officials. Welch retired from the State Department​ to win Libya contracts for Bechtel. Welch’s behavior might be legal, but it is shameful.
[...]
But, since Ford is such a high-value asset in a Department which has so few, why not send Ford to a post where the United States could truly use his skill, like Turkey or Lebanon, both of which have ambassadors now who are particularly weak and who have not shown themselves to be effective?

Active links added above. Read in full here.

The US Ambassador to Turkey is career diplomat, Frank Ricciardone. The US Ambassador to Lebanon is 25-year veteran, Maura Connelly. I'm sure neither one would appreciate being called "particularly weak" in the lead up to the promotion sweeps.

Max Boot who was cited in this piece also writes, "If only the State Department could figure out how to clone them–or at least inspire more of their colleagues to imitate their sterling example."

I don't think innovation at the State Department actually includes reproductive human cloning at this time. But when they figure out how, there will be a background briefing with senior administrative officials, I'm sure of it.

About Ambassador Ford, Josh Rogin of The Cable reported last week about the GOP’s new-found love for our Ambassador to Syria.
The State Department senses that the tide is turning on the Ford nomination as well, and is pushing Ford out to the media this week. He conducted on-the-record interviews with The Daily Caller¸ the Huffington Post¸ and with your humble Cable guy.

In a phone call with The Cable, Ford laid out the reasons he believes that he should be allowed to stay in Damascus.

"When an ambassador makes a statement in a country that's critical of that country's government, when that government visits an opposition or a site where a protest is taking place, the statement is much more powerful -- and the impact and the attention it gets is much more powerful if it's an ambassador rather than a low-level diplomat," Ford said.

Will Congress find new love too for stuck-on you Ambassadors Ricciardone (Turkey), Bryza (Azerbaijan) and Eisen (Czech Republic) whose nominations have all been filed in the back folder since forever. I think their recess appointments will expire in December.









Friday, September 23, 2011

Hilarious Conversation Online on Unaccompanied Posts: There is "No Official List"

Apparently, there is no official list on unaccompanied posts in the State Department. Below is a kinda "hilarious" (depending on your POV) exchange which transpired at careers.state.gov, the go-to site for those interested in careers and lifestyle in the United States Foreign Service. It is an official site of the United States Department of State, so one could reasonably expect that 1) they know what they're talking about, and 2) they know what they're talking about.

Anyhow, somebody posted a question inquiring about "unaccompanied posts:"

Unaccompanied post
User: Kristen
Date: 9/14/2011 5:48 pm
Is there a way to get the current list of unaccompanied posts?

Reply •
Re: Unaccompanied post
DOS Family Liaison Office (FLO
User: DOS Family Liaison Office (FLO
Date: 9/15/2011 2:17 pm
There is no official list of unaccompanied posts.  You can post a question about a particular post on this site or research the status on sites like www.state.gov.  You can also email: FLOAskUT@state.gov
Research the sites?  I'm sorry, that answer is practically called "L-A-Z-Y" in our book. But it gets better.

Re: Unaccompanied post

User: Visitor
Date: 9/17/2011 8:42 am
I found this June 2010 list of unaccompanied posts.  The blogger says the list was extracted from State Magazine:
http://diplopundit.blogspot.com/2010/06/state-depts-list-of-unaccompanied-posts.html
Reply •
Re: Unaccompanied post
DOS Family Liaison Office (FLO
User: DOS Family Liaison Office (FLO
Date: 9/19/2011 8:28 am
Please note that the list of UT posts does change from time to time.  If you have a question on a specific post, please contact:  FLOAskUT@state.gov

Ha! Ha! I think that's us!

What is confusing is that "there is no official list" but the "list of UT posts does change from time to time."Okdok, I think I got that.

Here's the funny thing: the official magazine of the State Department called State Magazine put together that list in a two-page spread about unaccompanied posts in the Foreign Service in 2010. The writer who did the piece, officially the deputy editor of the magazine thus an employee of the State Department cited his source as the Bureau of Human Resources, an official bureau at the State Department.  But wait a minute .... isn't that the same bureau that the DOS Family Liaison Office reports to? It is, but so what.... 

Anyway-- there is no official list, gotcha! Which begs the question, how hard is it to post a list of unaccompanied posts online and update it once a year? It's really hard? Really? Okay. It's Really hard.

I supposed I should call the extract below the unofficial list of State Department unaccompanied posts from the official magazine of the State Department. I suggest State Magazine labels it as such so there is no misunderstanding of any sort on what is official:

Unaccompanied Posts_State Magazine June 2010




Click here for the unaccompanied posts in February 2009, courtesy of the Foreign Service Journal, the trade publication of the American Foreign Service Association, the bargaining unit of the Foreign Service.






Thursday, September 22, 2011

US Embassy Libya Reopens With Ambassador Cretz


Our man in Tripoli who became our first ambassador to Libya in 36 years in 2008, who departed Libya before the revolution reportedly due to WikiLeaks, has recently returned to that country. With an official flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli on September 22, 2011, the U.S. Embassy-in-exile left its makeshift office on the Potomac and returned to its home on the edge of the desert.

We previously noted that Joan Polaschik, the deputy chief of mission who ran the embassy after Ambassador Cretz left the country in 2010, and who led the evacuation of personnel/American citizens earlier this year, returned earlier to Tripoli with a small team the week of September 9.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene A. Cretz stands at the podium
during a flag raising ceremony for the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya,
on September 22, 2011.
[State Department photo/ Public Domain]


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peter Van Buren's "We Meant Well" and the Disresponsibility in Iraq Reconstruction


I received a pre-publication copy of Peter Van Buren's book,“We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” (Metropolitan Books, 2011). The author is a career member of the United States Foreign Service and served a tour at a PRT in Iraq from 2009-2010.  I spent the last few days reading the book, which is bitingly funny, snarky, sad, all of the above.  The author is an engaging storyteller of our unfortunate misadventures in Iraq.  When I asked the author what made him write this book, he said, "I wanted to tell people back home what I was seeing ... I wanted to bring home with me a record of what America was doing in Iraq. I wanted to remember everything."

In addition to being an engaging storyteller, the author was smart enough not to fill his book with too much government jargon and acronyms that you need a dictionary just to read it. People back home, if they'd bother to pick up the book will find it a fast read.  It is also a book that will be a helpful addition to our understanding of what is wrong in Iraq, provided that we care and want to know. For the plenty squeezed and suffering American taxpayers, this would be a hard book to read.

At some point in the book, he asks:

"How many PRT staff members does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One to hire a contractor who fails to complete the job and two to write the press release in the dark. We measured the impact of our projects by their effect on us, not by their effect on the Iraqis. Output was the word missing from the vocabulary of developing Iraq."
It's easy to see why the folks in Foggy Bottom will be none to pleased with the stories in this book.

Learning from one's mistakes is one of life's most important skills. And if we are really serious about learning the mistakes of nation building in Iraq, Peter Van Buren's book should be required reading not just for decision makers but for everyone heading to those PRT gigs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and where ever else it is we are conducting reconstruction and stabilization efforts these days.

Required reading of this book is not in great danger of happening soon. Although if my readers at the Executive Office of the President is are interested, I will personally ask permission from the author and publisher to send them my digital copy of the book as a public service. Email me here, you guys!

About the lack of comfort in Iraq, Peter Van Buren writes, "We lacked a lot of things in Iraq: flush toilets, fresh vegetables, the comfort of family members nearby, and of course adult supervision, strategic guidance, and common sense."

Well, I'm glad somebody finally came around to admit that one.

Of Deaths and Absurdities

This is a book about his reconstruction experience at a PRT in Iraq, a country that we broke and have failed to put together again like Humpty Dumpty. In the sad chapter entitled Missing Him, he writes about death -
"In Iraq, I saw a girl crushed when a wall collapsed, her face looking like a Halloween pumpkin a few days too late. There was a drowned man in an irrigation ditch, gray and bloated, no eyes, no fucking eyes."

And about that third suicide in his FOB:
"A young Captain rose without notes. “I was his team leader but I never really knew him. Brian was new here. He didn’t have no nickname and he didn’t spend much time with us. He played Xbox a lot. We don’t know why he committed suicide. We miss him anyway because he was one of us. That’s all I have to say.”

I must confess I cried reading that chapter. I can't say why. I just did.

All sorts of absurdities abound in the book including the fact that FSOs undergo defensive driving skills when none of the FSOs ever drove on the streets of Iraq and they don't go anywhere without a driver and tons of security escorts; a weapons familiarization course when all FSOs in Iraq never carried guns. I thought you learn those things and you practice to get better at them; it's not like you get an embedded chip and you just go on operation mode.  So if the only time FSOs fire a weapon is during a week of training (coupled with crash and burn driving) at some farm in the U.S. can FSOs really be expected to fire a weapon, hit their targets and keep themselves alive when under fire at month 10 in Iraq? I hope to god they did more than a table top exercise of that scenario; and you'd be surprise at what they were not taught.

Pasting Feathers ... Hoping for a Duck

The book, of course, is also a sad catalog of our failed nation building, excuse me, reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Iraq. The author did not excuse himself for his role in Iraq's reconstruction. In fact, I have a nagging suspicion that perhaps part of the reason this book got written was a desire for some sort of civic penance.
"Of those thousands of acts of waste and hundreds of mistaken judgments, some portion was made by me and the two reconstruction teams I led in Iraq, along with my goodwilled but overwhelmed and unprepared colleagues in the State Department, the military, and dozens of other US government agencies. We were the ones who famously helped paste together feathers year after year, hoping for a duck."

And paste feathers they did, the list is long, many pages long but a few quick examples below ...
  • My Arabic Library , a Bush- era, US government–wide project to translate classic American books like Tom Sawyer, The House of the Seven Gables, Of Mice and Men in Arabic worth $88,000.  No one wanted the library until the PRT arm-twisted a principal into accepting the donation, who failing to sell the books on the black market, dumped them behind the school. $88K flushed down the drain.
  • There was the $25,000 for Iraqi widows to raise pregnant lambs.  Which turns out to be one local sheik's job creation for his extended family. 
  • There were microgrants of $5,000 in actual cash for Iraqis to “open a business,”no strings attached. Gawd! I wish they did that in Detroit.
  • There was $700,000 spent in Babylon to build the rest rooms and a gate near the ruins, $300,000 to create the Baghdad Tourism Institute, $2 million for the Habbaniyah Tourist Village.
  • For $200,000, we apparently funded a large medical gases factory in south of Baghdad. Except that the owner was later unable to transport the gas cylinders past Army checkpoints because terrorists used such cylinders as bomb casings!
The Green Grass Ambassador and the Whys of an Iraq Tour

Perhaps one of the more glaring contents of the book is the part where the American Ambassador to Iraq ordered green grass to grow in front of the Embassy building and  apparently the grass refused!  The Ambassador who did not want to admit defeat ordered sod to be imported into Kuwait and then trucked by armored convoy to Baghdad. Price tag? No one knows but the estimate for the green grass project reportedly varied between two and five million dollars. Holy crap! Didn't anyone had the guts to tell him that they were in a WTF war zone and that green grass does not come with the territory?  The Green Grass Ambassador is mercifully not named in the book but he is the one who apparently considered himself a sportsman and has now decamped from Iraq. Would make for a great question in Jeopardy-Iraq.

Peter Van Buren was not short on confession about the "perks" of serving in the war zone or his motivations for going there:
"The new rules boxed me into serving or seeing my career flatline. Less cynically, despite my reservations about the war, I still believed in the idea of service (love the warrior, hate the war) and wanted to test myself. I also needed the money, and so the nexus of duty, honor, terrorism, and my oldest daughter’s college tuition (hopefully there’ll be another war when my youngest is college age) led another FSO into semivoluntarily joining The Cause."

About that Waste of $12 Million a Day Every Day the Last 10 Years

If one has been following the reports through the years from the State OIG, SIGIR, GAO, and the Commission on Wartime Contracting about our Iraq Project (which was supposed to pay for itself but did not) perhaps this book won't really be much of a shocker. But unlike those reports written by officials who conducted their reviews for a variety lengths of time, this one is written by career diplomat who got a T-shirt that says, "Been There, Done That and Here to Tell About It In 285 Pages"

When the Commission on Wartime Contracting released their final report last month, I wondered how it is possible to waste $12 million a day in Iraq and Afghanistan, everyday for the last 10 years?  Peter Van Buren's book help explains what made that $12 million a day possible. And he gets a medal in my book just for that, because dammit, I get these lousy headaches trying to figure out how you waste $12 million a day everyday in the last ten years when there's so much that needs fixing at home.


Rank Downgrade to FSO-O?

Remember that big news flash when Matthew Hoh resigned from the State Department in 2009 over our strategery in Afghanistan? Well, some folks were quick to point out to me that Matthew Hoh was not a real Foreign Service Officer. Yep, some folks are quick to make that distinction sometimes. That is, he was not in the career service.  Which actually begs the tricky question of where the career professionals were on the subject and debate about Afghanistan. If there was dissent over our policy and strategy over there, we have not heard about it. But that's for another post.  

With Peter Van Buren who is a 20+ year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, folks cannot make the same claim. And for that same reason and the very fact that he published this highly critical book, he will quickly be downgraded to the rank of FSO-O (O for "other" or outgroup).  He has committed the cardinal sin in the bureaucracy. Remember that one that says - "thou shall not throw pies at your own agency?"

No one comes out of this book without pie splatters on his/her face. And that is an unforgivable offense that will put you in a dog house like forever.

Of course, the old hands in the Big House would shake their heads and whisper, "if only Van Buren thought this through."  FSOs who disagree with official policies can use the Dissent Channel to register such disagreements.  Of course, we need to point out that those dissent messages are considered not for public consumption and therefore not ever accessible to the American public. One blog pal called the Dissent Channel "a format that can be buried so deep, no one has to know about it."  So had the old hands got their way and had Van Buren went through that channel, I would not be writing about this book.


Fair and Balanced and the PRT Documentary

There will be those who will predictably complain that the book tells a one-sided story of PRT work, well, that's why he is marked down as the author, silly. This is his story. At least, he did not call his book a "documentary."

Below is a video floating around online about the legacy of PRT Iraq. It appears to be put out by some unidentified office in DOD (see military ranks in the credit list) but has walk on parts by PRT team leaders in Iraq, the former spokesman of U.S. Embassy Baghdad, and the current U.S. Ambassador there. This one, by the way, also tells a one sided story of just how great are the PRTs and had the gumption to label it a "PRT documentary."



Since this is in English with no Arabic subtitles, one can only presume that the target audience is not in Iraq.  I get a pretty bad feeling that the video is aimed at winning hearts and minds in the United States of A.  When I inquired from U.S. Embassy Baghdad what role it played in the production of this not fair/not balanced/too happy presentation of the PRTs in Iraq, my "contact" whose main job includes responding to press and public inquiries and had no problem "talking" to me in the past, told me to ask somebody else as he was leaving post.

Which did not surprise me. A tour is done, on to the next one. In We Meant Well, the author invented a new word, "disresponsible: 
"In our reconstruction efforts there was no question about our courage in the face of personal danger, but we lacked the courage to be responsible. It was almost as if a new word were needed, disresponsible, a step beyond irresponsible, meaning you should have been the one to take responsibility but shucked
it off."
That is probably one of the saddest words in a bureaucracy.



We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books, 2011) available in bookstores near you on September 27.



Related post:

September 20, 2011 | Will the State Dept Declare FSO Peter Van Buren Persona Non Grata For His Book on the TragicComedy of PRT Iraq? 








Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bloggers Beware? Oops! I'm So Scared I Just Wet My Pants and I'm Not Wearing Depend!

Some DiploPundit readers wrote us about a letter in this month's Foreign Service Journal from a sorta kinda mid-pyramid type official which contains issues for the Foreign Service bloggers. It's not meant to scare you or anything but you should read the piece a hundred times just so the idea sinks in.

One of the "troubling blog entries" cited in the letter is that "Members of A-100 classes blog about their colleagues." Oh, petty, petty!  As far as I can tell, those newbies are so tickled about being asked to join the club and are so impressed by the talents/credentials of their new colleagues that they can't help themselves. They're on training for godsakes!  As long as they're not posting the names and addresses of their colleagues, and not scratching each others eyes out in each others blog (wait, how do you do that?) can we really blame them for their exuberance? Oh wait, apparently, some can.

And if I had any reservations previously that the Bureau of Consular Affairs had a hand in the demise of the dearly departed, Madam le Consul, I don't have one now:

The sorta kinda mid-pyramid official writes:

"Others are posting information that could lead to identity theft. One blogger, “Madam le Consul,” revealed in various entries her exact date and place of birth, her assignment history, her health issues, and other personal information. Though “Madam” took her blog down following rants about a policy issue that were not in line with official views, it did not take long to figure out who this “anonymous” blogger was."

Oops, I just fell off my chair! I read "Madam" every single day when she was alive and I don't think she ever posted her SSN, real name or address either. Silly, "Madam" and now she's dead, how are we supposed to steal her identity? And in the aftermath of her online death, they still speak ill of her. Perhaps remembering their knee-jerky kicky reactions on a true to goodness blogger with personality sharing the same floor with them?  And so the same writer who complains about A-100 members blogging about each other, wrote about his very own colleague in the same bureau, Madam le Consul. Excuse me, perhaps I should say, former colleague in the same bureau?

Of course, it could not have taken long for the Bureau of Consular Affairs to figure out who "Madam" was.  But was this official writing from inside knowledge? I don't know but he is a sorta kinda higher pay grade official in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Madam's home bureau.  I am so impressed about the concern that blogging could lead to identity thief. An official in that same bureau apparently was so concerned about identity thief also that he/she "outed" Madam le Consul's real identity somewhere else in the Internets.  No, not in State's OpenNet but in something bigger, in the wide open-lanes of Facebook! Which is like wow, that's Brainful Dead! The official later deleted the "outing" after he was presumably overcome by his own brains. But I know who you are, dude; I can see through your concern.

I would have had more respect for this writer had he just said, "Madam blogged against regulations and we canned her." Don't give me that hokey-fakey concern about possible identity thief because goddammitt I'm not buying that, even in a fire sale, SIR!

Of course, you should always be wary about oversharing of personal information online since you don't know who is reading. Readers and followers could just be friends and family members and regular readers but could also be blog stalkers, counter-intel folks harvesting information, adding 1+1 and all that, or Feds with nothing better to do than leave anonymous comments about danger! danger! in the FAM.  Be sensible about personal privacy/security SOPs. Not just in blogs but in your other social media accounts.  Have you recently reviewed the privacy settings in your FB account? Why don't yo do that now?

Also, in line with that concern, you probably should sign up for credit report monitoring because if you did not know it, the State Department had a medical data breach relating to approximately a quarter million medical records. Your medical records.

So what you did not write in your blog, could still leak out online, courtesy of the State Department's eMED. Life can be funny that way.

The letter writer was clear that he is not "calling for the prohibition of FS blogs." But has the following couple of suggestions. Listen up:

"[...] if being a pundit is your calling in life, apply to The Huffington Post."

What a great, great idea! Sorry, he did not include HuffPo's HR number.  But should we presume then that if EFMs can get punditry gigs at The Huffington Post, that the State Department would stop harassing them and their spouses with threats of all stripes? An official response would be nice so I can help ask Arianna for a Foreign Service Lives tab in the Huffington Post.

Another suggestion -- "And if you really need to write down all of your thoughts about official policy or the negative attributes of your A-100 classmates, I suggest doing it the “old-fashioned” way: in a diary kept under your pillow."

Well, that certainly is an excellent suggestion which reminds me of that University of Michigan campaign of "Just Don't Do It!"

But... but ... the horsy has left the barn!

Instead of scaring the heck out of everyone including FS Grandma (I supposed a perfectly good intention for somebody in that paygrade), some real tips on the responsible use of blogs and other social media would have been more useful.

But that would have been too much to ask, especially since there is already an easier answer: "Just Don't Do It!"


NOTE:  For a couple if readers who are under the misimpression that the letter writer may also be the author of a recently departed blog, let me just say that I know the blogger and he is not at all related to that letter writer, god gracious me! And even if I did not know the now silent blogger, I know he would not have such double standards especially on blogging.  I'm fond of that guy! He would also never, never single out a specific FS blogger as prime example just so you can appreciate the carcass of a dead blogger and have nightmares! Sorry, I'm told I misunderstood and spoke too soon.  No one is confused about the identity of the blogger and the letter writer. Thanks for the corrections.  I would still say this -- none of my blog pals in the Foreign Service would ever single out a specific FS blogger as prime example just so you can appreciate the carcass of a dead blogger and have nightmares. Please write that down.










Will the State Dept Declare FSO Peter Van Buren Persona Non Grata For His Book on the TragicComedy of PRT Iraq?

In April, I wrote New FS Blog: We Meant Well, Plus a Book Coming Out This Fall  

In July, I wondered out loud, Peter Van Buren: Oh, dude -- WHO did you get "more than upset" at the State Department?

It's now September. Next Tuesday, the 27th, his book,“We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” (Metropolitan Books, 2011) will hit the stores.

And a tsunami is forecast to hit Peter Van Buren at his cubicle in Foggy Bottom.

DiploPundit will try to cover the event when it happens. Although if State is smart, as it is full of smart folks, it probably should not order a tsunami on the same day that the book comes out. People might think the tsunami is intentional wrath from god.

I had the opportunity to read the book this weekend.  I'll post my review separately.  I can, however, tell you that the 267-page book carries the following notice:

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the US government. The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170.

The Department of State does not approve, endorse, or  authorize this book. With the exception of historical figures (e.g., President Bush, General Odierno), I have changed all names. The events depicted in this book are true, however, although some details have been changed and the timing of some events has been altered or obscured. Except as noted, I was present at any event reported on and at any conversation repeated.

Information from the SIGIR Web site is in the public domain and may be used without further permission, provided such use is not reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by SIGIR. SIGIR did not approve, endorse, or authorize this book.

The curious phrase, "The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170."

Which could mean a couple of things. 1) Somebody at State had reviewed this book and found it free of classified materials. Which is well and good, no tsunami will be ordered. Somebody has read the book and the Spokesman can say something like, let's see -- "We know this books is coming out. We do not agree with Mr. Van Buren's views but his views are his own. We have nothing further to say about this issue." This would be bad for the folks who want Peter Van Buren's head on a platter.

Or 2) Somebody at State forgot that the manuscript of this book was in his/her inbox and did not take action during the "reasonable period of review" indicated in the FAM "not to exceed thirty days." In which case, there are taskers now on what the Spokesman should say about the contents of the 200-something page book. And no, you can't read my copy.

I'd like to believe it is the former, but I would not be surprise if it is the latter. That said, 3 FAM 4172.1-7 on the Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee's Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review appears clear enough:
"An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A)."
Because clearly, it's not like they want to gag anyone, particularly on a contentious subject like Iraq that has been sucking up the U.S. Treasury, right?

Of course, what is clear to you and me, may not always be clear to the officially-paid interpreter of regulations. Remains to be seen what happens. After all, State's cousin, the DOD back in 2010 reportedly bought some 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's 299-page memoir "Operation Dark Heart" after its publication was green lighted by the Army Reserve Command then proceeded to burn them. Burn all the books, seriously.  So then you know, nobody could ever read that book ever again. 

Pardon me? WikiLeaks has obtained a copy of the unredacted book?  Oh, dear.  Okay, sorry, I meant to say, they have bought and burned 9,499 copies of the Colonel's book.

Peter Van Buren book carries a special acknowledgement of "Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who led an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoned us there."  

A visit from the new SecState in 2009 made it into the special acknowledgement page, too:
"On our last day of PRT training, the facility was put into lockdown for a visit from the new Secretary of State (it’s cool that when she visits her own staff the Secretary’s security puts us into lock-down). She greeted and congratulated the Afghan PRT class down the hall from us Iraqis, then left. We didn’t even rate a walk- on. Our war no longer really mattered, though it would take me a long year in the desert and writing this book to fully figure that out."
I understand from a couple of news interviews online that Peter Van Buren is now subject of internal investigations at the State Department.

So since it appears that Peter Van Buren went through the clearance process as required by the FAM, and if it turns out that the somebody in the higher pyramid pay-grade have not done the actual reading and clearance thingy, would that then be the author's fault? Really?

I get searches in this blog for "Who hates Peter Van Buren?" Seriously.

Apparently there is also a rumor going around in the FS community that the reason Foreign Service bloggers are having a tough time these days is, you guess it -- Peter Van Buren!

Well -- there was a 7.3 earthquake in the Fiji region four days ago, must have been Peter Van Buren's fault, too!

And that all made me think that the somebodies may have a tsunami order on speed-dial specifically for Van Buren's cubicle. Which would be very bad for Peter Van Buren, indeed, but would certainly be great for book sales.

I must add here that although I have a digital copy of the book, I am buying additional copies to send to my State Department pals for the holidays, at least those still talking to me. 

I've never meet Peter Van Buren in person but this seems like the least I could do for a public servant whose career will most certainly be over, and who will be ostracized by most folks big and small in the Big House.  If I see him down some corridor, I will not take the nearest exit or pretend to be busy with my phone thingy.  It is not hard to imagine that not too long ago, he is like all other wide-eyed newbies in A-100 hoping to change the world. Iraq has been our mess since we broke it, Peter Van Buren did not break it. I would thank him for putting his career on the line to tell these stories that the American public needs to know. Perhaps if we learn all the details, we'd demand next time that our elected representatives think harder, ask serious questions, and have the spine to have convictions before allowing our country to blunder into another war.

Any how, I'd definitely love to be wrong on this one, the tsunami and all, including the stealthy shunning.

I would also like to formally request (that is, if the tsunami doesn't get him), that they send Mr. Van Buren to Afghanistan so he can write about PRT-Afghanistan, too. I seem to be developing gastroesophageal reflux disease every time I consume something served by the US Embassy Kabul on Facebook and Prilosec is no damn help!