• Embassy Evacuation: Sudan

    May 3, 2023 // 1 Comment »

    The American Embassy in Sudan is closed. Fierce fighting between two warring generals has led to the swift deterioration of conditions in the capital  and the U.S. appears to be preparing to evacuate American staff, possibly some private American citizens. What happens when an embassy is evacuated? What happens to private Americans in-country?

    The decision to close an embassy rises to the Secretary of State for approval. An embassy evacuation really is a virtual chess match that some State Department critics say is as much about political signals as it is about the safety of America’s diplomats. In cases where the United States decides to support the host government or in the case of Sudan, one faction, an embassy closure cuts off most interaction and will eliminate on-the-ground reporting. An evacuation can trigger the fall of the host government based on the perceived loss of American confidence, or may encourage rebels to attack private American citizens seen as less-protected. In that one point of having an embassy at all is symbolism, closure is without a doubt a political act. Reopening the embassy brings up all those factors in reverse.

    The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process, with only the time line varying.

    All embassies have standing evacuation procedures, called the Emergency Action Plan, that are updated regularly. A key component is the highly-classified “trip wires,” designated decision points. If the rebels advance past the river, take steps A-C. If the host government military is deserting, implement steps D and E, and so forth.

    Early actions include moving embassy dependents out of the country via commercial flights. The embassy in Sudan is designated a partially accompanied post. This means that while some family members may be permitted to accompany U.S. government employees to the post, there are restrictions on who can accompany them and for how long.  In addition, incoming staff can be held in Washington and existing tours cut short. Non-essential official personnel (for example, the trade attaché, who won’t be doing much business in the midst of coup) are flown out. A “Do Not Travel” public advisory  (note item 8, “prepare a will”) must be issued by the State Department to private American citizens under the “No Double Standard” rule. This grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight, where inside threat info was made available to embassy families but kept from the general public.

    These embassy draw-down steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention both inside and outside the host country.

    The next steps typically involve the destruction of classified materials. The flood of sensitive documents stolen from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 remains a sore point inside State even today. Classified materials include mountains of paper that need to be shredded, pulped or burnt, as well as electronics, weapons, encryption gear, and hard drives that must be physically destroyed. Embassies estimate how many linear feet of classified paper they have on hand and the destruction process begins in time (one hopes) to destroy it all.

    Somewhere in the midst of all this, the Marines come into the picture. Embassies are guarded only by a small, lightly armed detachment of Marines. As part of their standard Special Operation Capable (SOC) designation, larger Marine units train with their SEAL components for the reinforcement and evacuation of embassies. They maintain libraries of overhead imagery and blueprints of diplomatic facilities to aid in planning. Fully combat-equipped Marines can be brought into the embassy, either stealthily to avoid inflaming a tense situation, or very overtly to send a message to troublemakers to back off. Long experience keeps Marine assets handy to the Middle East and Africa. Any evacuation out of Sudan will flow from the large U.S. military facility nearby in Djibouti, and so the Pentagon is moving more troops to the African nation to prepare for a possible evacuation of staff in Sudan. The U.S. will often coordinate its evacuation with other nations’, with friendlies such as Canada, and in places where another nation’s influence is strong, such as in Francophone Africa.

    What is done to support private American citizens varies considerably (there are some 19,000 in Sudan.) The rule of thumb is if a commercial means of departure exists, private citizens must utilize it, sometimes with the assistance of the embassy. Loans for tickets can be made, convoys organized, and so forth. In cases where the major airlines refuse to fly but the airport is still usable, the State Department can arrange charters. Right now the international airport in Khartoum is the target of heavy shelling, with destroyed planes on the tarmac. Sudan’s air space is also closed.

    In extreme cases only (Sudan may become such a case) the Marines conduct a Noncombatant Evacuation Order (NEO) to pull citizens out of the country using military assets. At times Americans are simply told to “shelter in place” and ride out a crisis. State will ask a neutral embassy in-country, such as the Swiss, to look after them to the extent possible if our own embassy closes.

    The current guidance issued to private Americans in Sudan is dire: “U.S. citizens are strongly advised to remain indoors, shelter in place until further notice, and avoid travel to the U.S. embassy. There continues to be ongoing fighting, gunfire, and security forces activity. There have also been reports of assaults, home invasions, and looting. The U.S. embassy remains under a shelter in place order and cannot provide emergency consular services. Due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, it is not currently safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens.”

    Almost always left out of the mix are the embassy local staff, the cooks, drivers, and translators. Rarely are they evacuated, and are usually left to make their own way in what can be a very dangerous environment for someone seen as an American collaborator. Some have compared this to the poor treatment military translators from Iraq and Afghanistan received trying to secure visas to the United States.

    Images of an empty embassy are not what the American government looks forward to seeing spreading across social media. The pieces are in place in Sudan, waiting for the situation on the ground to dictate what happens next.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Security Guard at U.S. Embassy Arrested as a Terrorist

    June 12, 2015 // 4 Comments »


    So this was only in Egypt, where there’s no terrorism threat anyway, so meh. No, wait, this is something.

    To the shock of U.S. officials, local authorities arrested an Egyptian security guard and charged him as the purported commander of a radical Islamist organization. U.S. officials are scrambling to get information from Egyptian authorities, who did not alert them beforehand.

    No word on why America’s vast intelligence apparatus missed this one. Maybe summer vacation?

    Send in the Marines

    Unbeknownst to most Americans, our embassies abroad are not guarded by Marines for the most part, as you see in the movies. Even a large embassy like the one in Cairo will have only maybe 20 Marines. They mostly handle guarding classified data inside the building and some access control. The crucial perimeter patrols, bomb searches of incoming vehicles, security in public areas and the like are handled by local guards, contracted by the State Department’s much-maligned Office of Diplomatic Security. This is done worldwide, primarily to save money. Marines are expensive and are also needed elsewhere to fight America’s many wars of choice.

    So a local guard has a lot of access to begin with. He also has a chance to influence, radicalize and/or bribe other local guards to assist him in whatever terror he plans on committing. He knows his way around the embassy, and understands much about its security plans and their weaknesses. To a terrorist planner, he is a very valuable guy.

    Also: Benghazi

    Back in Cairo, an embassy official confirmed 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the U.S. mission. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.

    Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill. Because: Benghazi, which was also “guarded” by locals. So perhaps the current system needs a few tweaks.

    Your Next Vacation Isn’t Gonna Be Egypt

    The disclosure of the arrest by Egyptian authorities on Wednesday came just hours before a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Luxor’s ancient Karnak temple in southern Egypt in an attack that left four people, including two police officers, wounded. Police said they also killed two of the bomber’s accomplices.

    No group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack at the spectacular temple, with its dozens of sphinxes and beautiful bas reliefs of ancient gods, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Nile River. But some analysts speculated that the attack may have been organized by the so-called Islamic State, which has been courting local jihadis, seeking to persuade them to affiliate with the terror group based in Syria and Iraq.

    It is the second time this month that suspected Islamic extremists have attacked a major Egyptian tourist attraction or launched a raid nearby. On June 3, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, killing two policemen.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Classification: Hiding American War from Americans

    June 17, 2014 // 3 Comments »

    Our government classifies a lot of documents, some 92 million in 2011 alone.

    The ostensible point of all that classification is protect the nation’s secrets. Some of it even makes sense. Troop movements, nuclear things, identities of spies, traditional stuff you want to keep from your enemies. The purpose of classification is not to hide government mistakes or prevent embarrassing things from coming into daylight.

    The president even said so. Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on National Security Information made clear “In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error, or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”

    More Irony in a Nation Awash with It

    Yes, more irony in a nation awash with it. But seriously, when the point of classification is keeping the realities of America’s wars from Americans, that says we are the enemy. Today’s case in point:

    The top official in charge of the classification system decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, and urinating on them. Many of the photos have already been published, but no matter, whatever hasn’t leaked out is now a secret. A kicker is that the “top official” who decides these things is some guy at the National Archives you’ve never heard of.

    That top official is allowed to be the final arbiter of what Americans can see of their wars because of Executive Order 13526, Section 5.5, which grants him alone the authority to make a report to the head of an agency, or to the designated senior agency official for classified national security information, if any members of the agency knowingly, willfully, or negligently classify or continue the classification of information in violation of the Order. So, in this case, he just did that, confirming in a simple letter that the Marines can keep the photos a secret.

    Support the Troops!

    The stated reason for the secrecy? To support the troops, of course. The rationale is that the release of additional images would make the Taliban somehow even angrier at the U.S. for occupying Afghanistan for 13 years and provoke more attacks. The same rationale, though a different legal manipulation, was used to keep additional photos of American torture at Abu Ghraib and images from the bin Laden kill locked up.

    A video of the Marines’ now-classified act is still on YouTube:

    Unless the Taliban can’t see YouTube from Afghanistan, they already know what happened.

    Another thing the Taliban also know is that the Marine Corps sniper captured on a YouTube video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan was only reduced in rank after a court-martial. So, an act by a Marine that supposedly could cost American lives is punished merely by a reduction in rank. And even that mild rebuke took two years to happen. That couldn’t possibly stir anyone up in Afghanistan.

    We Got This

    The Taliban, as the Iraqis before them, know darn well what happened. It is even possible they know of atrocities by American troops that weren’t photographed as trophies of war and are thus unknown to Americans. Classifying the photos does not change the fact that the atrocities happened. It only tries (albeit crudely and stupidly) to hide those atrocities from the American people.

    BONUS: For anyone offended by the images above, or who thinks I should label this article NSFW because of the pee pee thing, please stop for a moment and acknowledge what you see here was done by Americans to people they just killed. In that sense only is it offensive and obscene.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Marines Deployed to U.S. Consulate in Naples

    January 23, 2014 // 8 Comments »

    Here is a guest post by attorney Lawrence Kelly. Kelly represents a client who recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of State in regards to the actions and behaviors of the Consul General of the United States, Donald Moore, at the U.S. consulate in Naples.

    The arrival of U.S. Marines to the Consulate in Naples was confirmed by an Italian newspaper. While Marines are routinely assigned to American embassies around the world, outside of conflict zones it is very, very unusual for them to be deployed to a consulate. In my own 24 years at the State Department, I know of only one other time Marines were sent to a consulate under these sorts of security-compromise circumstances: the U.S. consulate in Osaka, Japan’s door into a secure area was warped by the force of an earthquake, and Marines were deployed to guard the entrance until the door could be repaired.

    The use of Marines in Naples is a big step, a very public acknowledgement that security was compromised and State can not handle it alone.

    Now, we understand that a post-Benghazi agreement between State and the Marine Corps provides for more guards at consulates. However, it is useful to note this is Naples, not exactly a high threat environment, and a tiny consulate to boot. It is unclear that Marines have been deployed to other U.S. consulates in Italy (they have always been at the embassy in Rome.)

    If you are not familiar with the bigger issues at the Naples consulate, catch up here and here.

    From Lawrence Kelly:

    The Italian newspapers have been feeding on “SEXY GATE AL CONSOLATO USA DI NAPOLI”. Although this scandal is old news in the United States, the Italian media caught up with it after the filing of the federal complaint in Howard v. Kerry in federal court.

    On the day the complaint was filed this week, the State Department announced that after an FBI investigation, U.S. Marines would now be placed at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to provide a prophylactic security to the compromised Naples Consulate.

    What is clear from the eyewitness accounts in the Italian media is that security at the Naples Consulate was compromised by the Consul General’s control of Regional Security. Entry was provided to women who were not searched, and were allowed access to secure areas of the consulate. What I personally experienced was the further compromise of the security apparatus by the Management at Embassy Rome when Rome looked to quash earlier reports of the scandal at the Naples Consulate. One was a chain of command problem, whereas the other was the security apparatus looking to cover for their colleagues in Naples.

    There were widespread employee reports of the closed circuit television materials being scrubbed of the images of the female visitors entering the consulate through the employee’s entrance without being searched or identified. This notwithstanding the separate images and observations being taken and recorded by other more confidential elements of the world wide security which were preserved. Following the designation of a new Ambassador in Rome, I requested the new Ambassador to Italy look into the matter, and he requested an outside investigation. FBI agents reinterviewed Italian witnesses I had provided to the State’s Diplomatic Security from Rome. The FBI apparently put the puzzle together. If this is correct, security personnel who had been employed during the scrubbing should have been terminated. Instead, the Marines were put into the Naples security apparatus as a panacea.

    Since the Ambassador to Italy at the time of these incidents leading to the present scandal was a very close confidante of the present Secretary of State, and has joined the Secretary on the seventh floor of Main State, I will not hold my breath that there will be an actual coming to terms with the scandal of poor management and misconduct in the chain of command which allowed State security to allow the problems at the consulate to fester and now become a new public scandal for America. My surmise is that is why no one in the security area has been relieved of their duties.

    Nevertheless, when you have to call in the Marines to provide security for State, in Naples, Italy of all places, there are some hard questions that someone in government should be asking. Even if it means starting with the top officials in State asking those hard questions of themselves.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    U.S. Consul General in Naples: “Neapolitan Nookie Campaign”

    January 21, 2014 // 17 Comments »

    I can’t take credit for the title. That came from the New York Post article about everyone’s favorite representative of our exceptional nation, Donald Moore. Moore is pictured to the left.

    For those who have enjoyed our coverage of the allegations of sex, false expense claims and forced resignations at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (and if you have not read the story, catch up here and here), this remains the story that keeps on giving, or getting, or that kind of thing. Yeah baby, get naughty!

    Recap of the Events in Naples

    Quick recap: Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedure of promising to investigate, not investigating, firing or transferring all involved and then hoping it will all go away. Benghazi scholars will please note the pattern.

    In most cases, State’s strategy works and everything is pushed deep into the abundant closets kept for such purposes at Foggy Bottom. That was certainly the case in the good old days before social media. But now, many people harmed hire lawyers, and all of a sudden State’s sleaziness tumbles out of Foggy Bottom and on to first the front pages, the internet and then into the courts. Such is the case with the allegedly randy Consul General.

    One of Moore’s colleagues, perhaps the only he did not actually have sex with at the office, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT). The plaintiff, Kerry Howard, tried to get someone at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to care about what was going on around her, or in the U.S. Embassy in Rome to care, or at the State Department in Washington. The result was that she got fired and nothing was done in Naples. Her lawsuit alleges that her civil rights were violated by Moore’s sexual harassment, his bullying of staff and overall slime-coated daily antics. But that much we already knew.

    New Details from the Lawsuit

    The lawsuit offers some new goodies:

    — Howard claims that Moore retaliated against one staff member by refusing to authorize routine maintenance on his apartment.

    — Howard asserts that Moore “would become verbally abusive, with spittle from Donald Moore’s mouth projected onto Kerry Howard’s face after Donald Moore double locked the door to his private office, his language indicating that Kerry Howard, as a woman, was unable to do anything, and Donald Moore, as an attorney, knew how to get away with whatever he wants.”

    — That career Senior Foreign Service Officer and attorney Moore wrote in Howard’s evaluation “…One of the primary responsibilities of a CLO is to foster good morale and to report issues that will have a negative impact on moral (sic) to me. You did not notified (sic) me in our weekly meeting about the alleged facts but rather were discussed them (sic) with others within the Consulate.”

    — That Moore was known to have been “forcing the language instructor to have an abortion of Moore’s child.”

    — That “in his first address to the staff at Naples Consulate, Donald Moore indicated ‘If you try to bring me down, I will bring you down first.’”

    — That “throughout his tenure as Consul General in the Naples Consulate, Donald Moore was running the U.S. Consulate as the largest house of prostitution in southern Italy, one which had only one customer, the Consul General.”

    — That “Donald Moore, Consul General for the United States Consulate in Naples Italy, orally advised staff that he used women for ‘sexercise,’ and that ‘women are like candy, they are meant to be eaten and then thrown away.’”

    The suit goes on and on like that. Howard, who tried to resolve these issues since 2012 “through channels,” now is sueing for her job back, and $300,000. If successful, the $300k will of course be paid on the Department’s behalf out of taxpayer money, meaning you will have funded the Neapolitan nookie.

    There’s Moore, er, More

    Il Mattino (a Naples newspaper) has a headline “Bunga-Bunga Consulato Americano.” Bunga-Bunga is apparently an Italian term for the horizontal mambo. A source close to the case reports a number of reporters have gone to Naples to follow up with the Italian employees discharged and their labor attorney. We are told that seven Italian employees who worked under Moore have retained a local attorney to file an Italian court complaint for violation of Italian labor law.

    An unconfirmed source has suggested Moore may also have run into trouble in Haiti (where he was awarded “Consular Officer of the Year”) and Milan.

    More Moore

    There will be no doubt much more to come with this one. While plaintiff Howard’s allegations are clearly part of a suit that would benefit her, that same suit lists in great detail a large number of people in Naples and Rome who played roles in what happened. This is clearly not going to be a “he said-she said” kind of trial. It should be relatively easy for the court to establish the truth or falsity of the allegations. And we all look forward to that. It is also very important to note that prior to filing the suit and asking for damages, Howard desperately tried to resolve these issues within State Department channels.

    We understand the story of consulate Naples has been picked up by Indian media, following the recent controversial arrest of one of their own diplomats in New York. Several stories have of course appeared in the Italian press.

    One Italian paper, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, ran with the headline “Sexygate al Consolato USA.”

    The influential Times of London headlined “Prostitution ‘rampant’ at US consulate in Naples.”

    It is thus possible to say that these stories are not adding to America’s image abroad, one of the core tasks for the U.S Department of State.

    BONUS: We’ll have more on Moore later this week, explaining why U.S. Marines have been dispatched to the Naples Consulate!

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Abu Muqawama Explains the State Department, USAID to You

    August 1, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Andrew Exum blogs as “Abu Muqawama” at World Politics Review.

    A recent column, State, USAID Must Learn From Afghanistan Errors, explains the State Department to you. The bold emphasis below is added as Andrew is too polite to have done so himself.

    In the month since Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran published Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, his brutal review of the U.S. and allied war effort in Afghanistan, it has been interesting to observe the reactions from the various tribes of the Beltway.

    No one escapes criticism in Chandrasekaran’s narrative, this columnist included, but the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Marine Corps come under especially heavy fire.

    The reaction from the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. military as a whole has been to add the book and its criticisms to the list of lessons that need to be learned from the disastrous U.S. experience in Afghanistan.

    The State Department and USAID, by contrast, have reacted angrily to Chandrasekaran’s account, blaming the messenger rather than looking into what they might learn from the message.

    On the surface, these disparate reactions illustrate how the U.S. military has evolved into a learning organization since the end of the Vietnam War and how other U.S. departments and agencies have not. But these reactions reveal much more than that.

    First, yes, let us praise the fact that the U.S. military is more willing to learn from its experiences, and errors, than other departments and agencies. Both top-down efforts promoted by the U.S. military’s senior leadership and grass-roots efforts initiated by junior officers have combined over the past 40 years to make the military a better learning organization. The formalized After Action Review process, the Center for Army Lessons Learned and websites like CompanyCommand.com have allowed the military to gather and promulgate operational and tactical lessons.

    But it is easy to criticize yourself and thus learn lessons when you are a confident organization. Since at least the First Gulf War, American society has raised the U.S. military onto a pedestal, constantly praising the military, even when its performance has been, by objective standards, not terribly great. Is it any wonder U.S. military leaders feel they have room for introspection and self-criticism?

    The State Department rarely garners similar praise from the American people or its elected leaders. Republican congressmen on Capitol Hill talk a big game on national security and vow never to cut the military’s budget, while at the same time threatening to slash the International Affairs budget by 20 percent. U.S. military officers and troops are held up as the best of what America has to offer, while diplomats . . . well, few Americans are quite sure of what diplomats even do.

    That’s a pity because, despite bungling the admittedly challenging Afghanistan mission, the State Department has a pretty good story to tell about itself. One of the illicit delights of reading the WikiLeaks cables has been to discover what wonderful diplomats the United States has in its service. The reports written by U.S. ambassadors and their subordinates are knowledgeable, literate, pithy and often amusing. They confirm, in a larger sample size, my anecdotal experiences visiting embassies around the globe. I remember, for example, spending an afternoon with the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh in 2010 and being blown away by the competence and professionalism of the staff. Many foreign service officers were on their third tours in the country, and even the newest officer — charged with running the motor pool, of all things — spoke fluent classical Arabic as well as several dialects.

    Unfortunately, the State Department is not very good at telling its story to either the U.S. Congress or the American people. When people effectively stand up for the budget of the State Department and make the case for a larger International Affairs budget, it is too often either U.S. military officers or conservative, “pro-military” defense intellectuals. The State Department and its foreign service officers deserve some of the blame here. I recently finished John Lewis Gaddis’ biography of George F. Kennan, and Kennan’s life is a reminder that those Americans who are most knowledgeable about other cultures can often be the most contemptuous and ignorant of U.S. domestic political culture. Foreign service officers who do not hesitate to spend endless afternoons drinking chai with Central Asian warlords somehow can’t, by and large, stomach the occasional coffee with a junior congressman from Nebraska.

    The result is that the State Department as an organization constantly feels that it is under pressure and underappreciated by its appropriators. We should not wonder, then, why such an organization fails to be introspective or critical of itself. That shortchanges both America and the State Department, though, because as Chandrasekaran’s book details, much of the civilian effort promised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan has been an embarrassment.

    I have thus far excluded USAID from criticism because, in the same way that the U.S. military does not have just one organizational culture but rather a collection of organizational cultures, USAID itself has at least three separate cultures. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) are very different organizations than the rest of USAID. On the whole, OTI has been up to the challenges in Afghanistan, whereas USAID in general has not. Again, the problems and the blame can be divided between appropriators and the agency itself. But as Andrew Wilder and other researchers have suggested, though much of the money spent in Afghanistan may have contributed to the amelioration of certain development indicators, it has also contributed to the destabilization of the country itself by, among other things, creating the mother of all rentier states.

    Social scientists have more trouble proving why things did not happen than why things did happen. A military can defend — or learn from — its performance during a war, but diplomats and aid workers can rarely demonstrate how their efforts toward conflict-prevention preclude a need for the military to get involved in the first place. And the efforts of diplomats and aid workers rarely benefit the economies of congressional districts in the same way military bases or the arms industry does.

    Nonetheless, if the State Department and USAID are ever going to have the confidence to be as self-critical as the U.S. military, they have to better sell their efforts to the American people and its representatives in Washington. Otherwise, to paraphrase Robert Komer, bureaucracy will “do its thing” in the next conflict as well.


    The State Department shooting the messenger, cited above in the case of Chandrasekaran’s book, is all too familiar to me, being thrown out of my job of some 24 years at the State Department for my own book critical of the Iraq reconstruction. A theme I return to again and again in that book, echoed on this blog and written of by Exum, is that the State Department is simply incapable of self-reflection and self-criticism.

    Exum is right in saying that the lack of introspection is due to a crisis in confidence. Lacking a clear mission in general as America militarizes its foreign policy, and lacking a seat at the grownups’ table in the first years of the Iraq fiasco in the particular, the State Department could not consider failure as an option. It wanted to prove itself worthy alongside the military. When its own fears and damning bureaucracy defeated State more soundly than al Qaeda ever could have hoped to do, State simply told itself (over and over, internally) that it succeeded in Iraq. Easy. Such internal self-inflation only works in the void of outside information (see North Korea) and bursts painfully when someone from the inside (like me, who saw it all happen) or outside (Chandrasekaran, a cool reporter not easily deflected) lays out the failure.

    Most people at State will never understand the choice of conscience over career, the root of most of State’s problems. There are higher goals than obedience.

    There is simply no other explanation. People in the State Department are smart, many are very smart. They know good/bad, right/wrong, success/failure. What happens institutionally is that they are taught to thrive organizationally they need to be on guard against public disclosure, Congressional oversight and journalistic insight. They are taught that what the Department tells them– they are performing superbly under difficult conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan– cannot be questioned openly except at risk of your job. Books like Chandrasekaran’s and mine, which create cognitive dissonance, are viruses that need to be expelled.

    Fearing the daylight, State seeks to shut the blinds. State, in my case, edited any commentary I wrote online out of its internal news summaries, still blocks contrarian sites such as TomDispatch.com on its internal intranet (because of “Wikileaks”), maintains far more restrictive social media policies than the military and inculcates into its new diplomats a fear of journalists and Congress. Both groups, the newcomers are told, seek to destroy the Department. It is closer to Scientology than diplomatic training, though the results are about the same.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Counterinsurgency is not peeing on people…

    January 13, 2012 // Comments Off on Counterinsurgency is not peeing on people…

    The world is awash in urine-soaked statements by various idiots defending the Marines who peed on the bodies of dead Taliban. The defense is either a) the Taliban deserved it because they are our enemies or b) well, the Taliban have done worse things to us.

    Here’s some bonehead pundit saying she’d join in on the peeing. Here’s someone else saying it is OK.

    Here is why those statements are so wrong (beyond the obvious):

    The Taliban aren’t fighting a counterinsurgency war.

    We are.

    We are the invading foreigners trying to win the support of the people. Pissing on them is not a good way to do that.

    This is part of the whole losing proposition of such war– we have to get it right (almost) all the time to have a shot at winning.

    They can pee on us all that they want, because their task is to make us give up and go home.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Mobile Max Pure: The Rest of the Story

    October 4, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    One of the great things about the web is the ability to update stories from the book as new information comes in.

    One early chapter, Water and Sewage, talks about some failed efforts to bring clean water to the Iraqis in our area. Most of the tale centers around a character called The Engineer (photo), who sadly presided over a 1960’s water and sewage plant that had long-since ceased to function. Despite having cash in hand, the challenges of reforming that plant proved too great for my team, and The Engineer. We closed down the PRT and left Iraq without helping him.

    A second part of that chapter talked about Mobile Max Pure, a solar powered water distillation machine that the Army had hoped would solve some of Iraq’s water problems. During my tour in Iraq, we could not get Mobile Max to do what we needed, and my story ended with the units left unused on a corner of our base.

    There is more to the story, and I was glad to hear from Quentin T. Kelly, Chairman and CEO, WorldWater & Solar Technologies, Inc. (makers of the Mobile MaxPure, MMP), who filled me:

    In 2007 we arranged for a donation of twelve of the systems valued at a total of $1.3 million to a Marine unit near Fallujah. This was in response to a Marine Captain’s email stating that he had seen the MMP system on our website and believed that it was technology they could use for the Iraqi citizens they were trying to help who lived near Fallujah in the Euphrates Valley.

    After shipping the systems by civilian airfreight to Baghdad (donating that $225,000 as well), we were told that the MMP’s were dispersed to areas along the river and that the Iraqis were using them both for drinking water and for irrigation of their small farms. These were freshwater solar systems capable of pumping and purifying up to 30,000 gallons per day, turning disease-laden, contaminated river water into clean drinking water. A news article was released by the US Embassy in Baghdad declaring that a solar water purification system (the MMP) had helped empty beds of children at the Fallujah hospital suffering from water-borne diseases – the purification unit was cleaning the polluted waters of the Euphrates which families had previously been drinking directly from the River. Soldier technicians later came to see us at our headquarters in Princeton after rotating back to the US and others wrote to tell us how well these units had worked in the Euphrates Valley.

    After several months, we received an order for 25 more systems – 20 Freshwater and 5 Brackish water desalination units (the MMP uses three different sub-systems which can be manually interchanged depending on the type of water : fresh (though polluted), brackish and seawater (with higher levels of salt than brackish)). We were told that the successful use of the 12 donated systems brought about the order for the 25 systems, which were purchased for $2.5 million. These units were shipped to Baghdad March/April 2009 and then picked up and carried to Forward Operating Base Hammer that summer.

    We were later told that even though the original Freshwater systems worked well drawing water from the polluted but freshwater Euphrates, the well water in much of Iraq was too salty even for the Brackish filters and required our seawater subunits. Twenty of these Reverse Osmosis (RO) seawater sub-units were then ordered by an Army unit for $500,000 and shipped in November/December 2009.

    The reports we received from military personnel, mostly techs who carried on long telephone conversations with our engineers to discuss the instructions and operation of the systems, told of both setbacks and successes. The setbacks involved a learning curve common to operation of new technology, especially in remote areas by young men who are not trained for such specialized technology. Much of the problem reported to us was of trying to use Freshwater or Brackish water filters where heavier-duty seawater filters were required. But once they caught on, we heard many good things – accomplishments they were proud of, specifically bringing clean water “to people who never had clean drinking water before.” This was apparently
    referring to villages near the Diyala River where we understand several seawater systems were placed.

    Other success stories we heard included installation of an MMP on the outskirts of Sadr City, one of the meaner areas of Baghdad. According to the Company Commander, after the good water was flowing the village leader told him, “Saddam never got us clean water but you did.” This same Captain said that in several of the villages where he oversaw placement of the units, the clean water seemed to shift attitudes from “ugly
    to friendly”. That is not surprising to us because we’ve seen the same appreciative attitudes in Darfur, Haiti, the Philippines and in dozens of other neglected locales when we bring clean water to people through our
    solar systems.

    The last we’ve heard from Army sources, the Mobile MaxPure systems with the Seawater filters were purifying and desalinating in villages along the Diyala and the Tigris.

    That’s the story as we know it. I think you’ll be happy to hear it because I know you and so many others volunteered to go to Iraq to help the people there. Maybe we’ve made a small contribution to that effort.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Ask and Tell

    September 20, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Today marks the end of the military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the beginning of a new era when military members may serve without penalty simply because of their sexual preference. Gay people can now be gay people, in uniform.

    Of course gay men and women have served in the military forever. There is no doubt that some of the bravest soldiers, best Marines, dumbest grunts, most incompetent sailors and everyone else were gay; they just could not admit that without being thrown out of the military. That made no sense. Judge a person by his/her actions and how they do their job, not who they dream about at night.

    As one Air Force enlisted man once famously said, “I got a medal for killing one man, and thrown out of the service for loving another.”

    Serious about honoring our military, supporting our troops? Then stand with them as they transition to this new policy. Trust me, in combat, deployed to crappy places, in fear of their lives, they have enough on their minds and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about who is gay.

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    Posted in Embassy/State

    Can’t the Marines Guard the US Embassy in Baghdad?

    May 24, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    As the Department of State’s plans for fielding its own private army in Iraq start to gel, details are limited to what can be discovered through the contracts signed (always follow the money). You can read a lot of what is known here. Basically State wants to spend billions to hire thousands to secure the Embassy in Baghdad.

    Why can’t the Marines do it like everywhere else?

    It might be helpful to step back and look at how things are done now in Iraq, and how security is done elsewhere in the world, to put State’s new plans in some context.

    If you found yourself in Baghdad with an interest in dropping by the US Embassy, drive up to one of the handful of entrance points to the Green Zone, now politically-correctly known as the International Zone by Americans, though the Arabic signs the Iraqis have out still say Green Zone. These entry points are all controlled by Iraqi security forces, because it is sort of their country again. You’ll need one of the many, many kinds of badges issued by the US military to get past the Iraqis (the Iraqi Government has recently started to issue their own badges for the Green Zone, but the two systems work the same). Rumor has it that the proper bribe also works.

    The badges are color-coded, and any Iraqi who deals with the US speaks this language. The worst badge is a red one, which means you can get into the Zone only under escort, like dating in the back seat while your Dad drives. A skilled worker, like a plumber, might carry such a badge. Orange is only a slight step up, meaning the holder underwent some security screening but crucially, still has to be escorted. Yellow badge holders rock, because this is the first level at which you can escort other people, meaning you can bring someone into the Zone. American Embassy, military and loyal contractors have blue and green badges that are like Disney Fast Passes. The ultimate E-Ticket is a blue or green badge annotated for access to the military stores (PXes) and free food at the chow halls.

    What level of access you can get is so important to life in Iraq that the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the US badge issuing office has been called the “most powerful woman in Baghdad” because she is.

    To keep things complicated, persons riding in big US military vehicles do not always need badges, though the trucks do need to sign in and out at the Iraqi checkpoints as the American soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers scowl at each other. VIPS who enter the Green Zone by helicopter at one of its several helo pads don’t have to show badges to anyone (insert “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” joke here for those old enough to get the reference).

    As an aside, the main helo pad (now closed) in the Green Zone used to have the world’s most comprehensive Chuck Norris joke collection written in hundreds of hands on its waiting room walls (insert link to Chuck Norris jokes here for those too old to get the reference. My favorite: Why are they called the Virgin Islands? Because Chuck hasn’t been there yet. I understand the Chuck Norris wall is in the possession of an appropriate curator, who no doubt will eventually turn it over to the Smithsonian.

    Once past the Iraqi security checkpoints with your badge, helo or large military vehicle, you are in the Green Zone proper. However, to enter any of the compounds or buildings in the Zone, you need to pass through each of those places’ separate security. So, still on your way to the US Embassy, you better have a US Embassy issued ID card, or a Diplomatic Passport, or a Diplomatic friend waiting for you or you won’t get closer to the place than the outer perimeter wall.

    But you have the right badge let’s say and hop out at the Embassy gate. Unless you are driving an Embassy vehicle, don’t even think of trying to drive in. Even Army vehicles are not allowed inside unless they have a serious VIP aboard. At the gate you’ll start off showing your badge to the Peruvian contractor mercenary security force that guards the Embassy walls. Most of these nice folks speak little or no English or Arabic, so knowledge of Spanish and pantomime skills are needed. After the first Peruvian, you end up passing through several others, all of whom want to see your badge like it was the coolest thing ever, plus search your bags, run you through a metal detector and maybe have you sniffed at by a doggy or two. All this costs a lot; some 74% of Embassy Baghdad’s operating costs go to security. You made it inside the US Embassy compound.

    So if all this stuff is already in place, today, what does the US military really have to do with Embassy security, and why are all those new contractors going to be needed?

    Despite the restrictions on entering the Zone, and all the perky Peruvians scattered along the Embassy walls, the US military still brings a lot to the table. It is still the Army that owns all the serious armor, and the helicopters, and the drones that constantly scan the Zone and areas nearby for trouble. It is the Army that stands by with a quick reaction force of shooters to intervene if something goes wrong. The Army still does all the EOD Hurt Locker bomb stuff, and controls the radars and electronics that monitor things 24/7. As the Army withdraws, every one of those functions will need to be replaced by a contractor, a hired gun, for the Embassy to function.

    What about the Marines? It is the stuff of legend that US Embassies are guarded by Marines, and indeed they are there in Baghdad and at every other US Embassy. The less-known story is that the Marines are there primarily to protect the building and the classified stuff inside, not necessarily the people. The Marine contingent at any normal Embassy, and even in Baghdad, is often quite small, nowhere near enough men and women to protect the building from a serious assault.

    Around the world at every US Embassy except Baghdad and Kabul the Marines are at best a last line of defense. The primary responsibility for guarding each US Embassy and Consulate office in every country lies with the host government. So, it is Japanese cops who guard our Embassy in Tokyo, and Chilean cops at our Embassy in Chile. Iraq is special, both because there remains an ongoing war and because the Iraqi security forces usually just phone it in, and hence the need for our mercenary army to ensure the safety of the Embassy.

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    Posted in Embassy/State