Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday












Another result of spiritual development, most useful in day-to-day life, is that it gives a calmness and presence of mind. Our lives are in constant flux, bringing many difficulties. When faced with a calm and clear mind, problems can be successfully resolved. - Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama (A Human Approach to World Peace)

Why not? Why not carry a classic Model 1911, or a modern variant such as the superb CZ-75, with a round in the chamber and the hammer cocked & locked? You know you want to. And yet, nearly everyone who carries a handgun will resort to the simple and problem-free double-action pistol or revolver, or the only slightly more touchy striker-fired pistol.

It's because a single-action pistol cocked n' locked is, well, just a little dangerous, and having one on you requires constant care and attention. Carrying a Glock is comparatively carefree, but carrying a fully loaded 1911 requires mental discipline.

Training the spirit is, as His Holiness knows, the surest way to be calm and clear-headed in our daily lives. Develop those resources, and you'll soon be carrying that 1911 in the manner John Moses Browning intended.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Nigerian Land Deal That Didn't Happen

Site of Eko Atlantic on reclaimed land in Lagos












Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Fox News had a story the other day that purported to catch my good friends in OBO doing underhanded real estate deals at the behest of The Clinton Foundation. Briefly, it was alleged that OBO is acquiring property for a future new construction project in Lagos, Nigeria, as payback to a big-bucks contributor to the Clintons.

State Department sought land deal with Nigerian firm tied to Clinton Foundation:

EXCLUSIVE: Shortly after Hillary Clinton left the Obama administration, the State Department quietly took steps to purchase real estate in Nigeria from a firm whose parent company is owned by a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, records obtained by Fox News show.

On March 20, 2013, William P. Franklin, an “international realty specialist” at the State Department, emailed Mary E. Davis, an American diplomat stationed in Africa, instructing her to “put on Post letterhead” an “expression of interest” by the department in purchasing property at Eko Atlantic, a massive real estate development off the coast of Lagos. Franklin further instructed that the signed letter was to be “delivered to Ronald Chagoury.”

The draft letter, also obtained by Fox News, was undated and addressed to Chagoury care of his firm South Energyx Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of the larger Chagoury Group that is spearheading the Eko Atlantic real estate venture. The State Department letter sought, among other things, to confirm that the department could proceed with “acquisition of the real property … [at] the asking price of $1,250 per square meter.”

Overtures to real estate developers from State Department officials scouting locations for embassies, consulates and other diplomatic facilities would ordinarily not arouse interest. But in this case, the budding transaction – never completed, the department now says – raised eyebrows because Ronald Chagoury is the brother and business partner, in the Chagoury Group, of Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-born businessman whom federal records show has donated between $1 and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

-- Snip --

The State Department’s outreach to the Chagoury family, looking to buy property from the brothers, came less than a month after former President Clinton himself toured the Eko Atlantic project – for the second time. The first occasion was the ground breaking, in 2009, in which the former president participated. By all accounts, Eko Atlantic represents a staggeringly ambitious undertaking: the dredging of millions of tons of sand from the sea floor off Victoria Island and the creation of an estimated 3.5 square miles of new land, on which the Chagourys aim to establish what they call a “21st century city … for residential, commercial, financial and tourist development.”

-- Snip --

A month after Bill Clinton visits a Gilbert and Ronald Chagoury-run land project in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department wants to buy the same land,” said David N. Bossie, president of Citizens United, the conservative advocacy group whose litigation against the State Department pried loose the Franklin email and accompanying letter. “Who could be so lucky? A major donor to the Clinton Foundation, that’s who.”

A few things jump out as wrong with this expose. First, no property has been acquired, or even selected. Fox's smoking gun email said that OBO seeks to confirm the asking price, from which all we can conclude is that the Eko Atlantic site is under consideration for purchase.

Second, the property in question is only one of several possibilities that were identified by an outsourced professional real estate search and subsequently narrowed down to a short list by OBO’s site selection process.

Third, the search for property to build on in Lagos has been underway for over five years, as we learned when this matter was addressed during a State Department press briefing, and funds for property acquisition were requested in the FY2013 budget for Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance. See page 14 of this budget justification:
The FY 2013 funding will also support the acquisition of sites where NEC [New Embassy Complex] projects are planned in future years. Sites are being sought in Baku, Azerbaijan; Bangui, Central African Republic; Lagos, Nigeria; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Shanghai, China.

So, in fact, the Department did not decide to buy a Chagoury-run property, much less decide to build a new Consulate-General in Lagos, one month after Bill Clinton visited the site.

Now, I will concede that Press Relations Director Elizabeth Trudeau could have been given better media guidance when she discussed this matter at a press conference, but what she said was completely correct.

MS TRUDEAU: So a few points, okay, that I’d like to make of this. As of today, as of right now, we have not contracted or acquired property for a new consulate in Lagos. The site search for a new consulate in Lagos began in 2011, as prioritized by the Capital Security Construction Program. Many of the potential sites under consideration by the department, to include the Eko Atlantic development, were identified by an independent international real estate firm, as is typical in site searches around the world. The Eko Atlantic site was identified, as I said, by an independent international real estate firm in 2012.

The problem was the word "prioritized," which apparently lead the press to assume that OBO has been trying to buy the Eko Atlantic site ever since 2011, when what Ms. Trudeau actually said was that U.S. Consulate-General Lagos became a priority for a new construction project at that time.

Ms. Trudeau would have been better served if OBO had provided her with an explanation of what the Capital Security Construction Program is, exactly. Specifically, that it is a list of 80 posts all of which are prioritized for replacement with new buildings according to their degree of security vulnerability, and therefore Lagos has to wait its turn behind other, higher, priorities before it gets funding.

There is no mystery about the list of top 80 posts. Here is an impeccable short description of the Capital Security Construction Program by Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy - the man himself - in testimony to Congress:
Each year, [Diplomatic Security] ranks all posts worldwide according to their security vulnerability and OBO uses this list to develop its top 80 Posts for the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program. These posts span all regions of the world. Replacement of these most vulnerable facilities is an ongoing effort.

And here is a recent OIG Report saying the same thing:
DS publishes a Vulnerability List, which ranks facilities according to their vulnerability across a wide variety of security threats on an annual basis, as mandated by SECCA. This list is then used to establish the Top 80 list of posts in which [New Embassy Compounds] are needed to reduce security vulnerabilities. The Top 80 list shows which posts are scheduled to receive a NEC. (Footnote, page 32)

SECCA is the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999, which mandated that the Department annually rank-order the top 80 candidates for new embassy construction funding. You can read the relevant text here. It's public law. Like I said, there is nothing mysterious or sensitive about it, and explaining it to the press might have helped Ms. Trudeau get her message across.

Ms. Trudeau's other big talking point likewise seemed to go over the heads of the press. OBO has an extensive and highly structured site selection and due diligence process that does, indeed, take a few years to complete.
"Our site search process, speaking specifically about this but also generally on how we operate, is managed by career real estate professionals in the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations with input from independent real estate firms and other department stakeholders, to include Diplomatic Security and overseas post. Career professionals evaluate and score potential properties under consideration before any property is put under contract. This robust process was followed in Lagos, as it is around the world.

Again, her media guidance could have noted that OBO's very extensive site selection process is spelled out in 15 FAM 470, which is a public source of information the Department makes available online. Hey, Matt Lee, read it for yourself instead of scoffing about how replacing our decrepit building in Lagos "can’t be that much of a priority if it’s taken five years." Is that Foreign Affairs Manual not written in English?

Fox concluded its story with John Bolton, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor, finding this real estate transaction "very unusual."
The impression left is that there’s favoritism involved,” Bolton said. “And it’s just very unusual in State Department real estate and housing transactions overseas to have this kind of focus on someone with such clear financial connections to even the departed secretary of state. Normally, there’s much more competitive activity involved, [of] which we haven’t seen any evidence from the State Department.”

Well Ambassador Bolton, did Fox News ask for such evidence? Maybe it ought to. I think OBO could provide it.

Just as an aside, let me note that our government’s domestic real estate transactions can also give an impression of political favoritism sometimes. Consider the sweet deal that the U.S. Postal Service concluded with a real estate firm headed by the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein.

CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), of which Sen. Feinstein’s husband is the Chairman and largest individual owner, brokers the sale of thousands of unwanted Post office properties and, by the terms of its contract, gets to represent and profit from both sides of those transactions, the seller and the buyer. Last year the Postal Service's OIG found:
Management continues to allow CBRE to collect commissions from lessors for lease negotiations in addition to payments from the Postal Service based on performance targets for lease renewals. Management also allows dual agency transactions, enabling CBRE to represent and negotiate for both the Postal Service and buyers or lessors. These actions are inherently risky and create conflicts of interest whereby CBRE may not negotiate property sales and lease transactions in the Postal Service’s best interest or may capture opposing party fees from the Postal Service.

Oh, sure, Feinstein’s husband is not the sole owner of CBRE, and the Postal Service contract is a drop in bucket for them, and it was a competitive bid, and so on. You can find exculpatory material here. Nevertheless, if that deal had happened in any foreign country, I’d automatically assume it was corrupt. When it happens here, maybe a softer term for it is crony capitalism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday


















I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression ... War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not. - The Reality of War, Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

This one might not be 100 percent original with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but it is nevertheless absolutely in accord with his philosophy.

His Holiness knows that, like war, interpersonal violence is a reality. To slightly misquote Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in violence, but violence is interested in you. Should it come to you, and if you are not a pacifist, your choices will quickly be reduced to appeasement or defensive violence. Even calling the police, should you have the opportunity to do so, is to employ defensive violence by proxy.

Taking a strong stand and employing violence in defense of yourself or others may be the better choice. There is no moral contradiction in that.

    

Monday, August 15, 2016

DS Female Attrition: "How Would You Know If You're Not Even Looking?"

Diplopundit discusses the recent - recent as of a couple weeks ago, as I recall - Sounding Board post by an employee who had attended the Safety Overseas Seminar and encountered what she believed to be incomplete instruction and demeaning behavior. See A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue.

Much of the Sounding Board post and its subsequent comments were directed towards Diplomatic Security, which has yet to respond in any way, so far as I can tell.

Diplopundit concludes with a question about female recruitment and retention in DS:
We asked the State Department about the gender composition of DSS agents in Diplomatic Security: 90.18% male and 9.82% female. We also asked about the attrition rate by gender at the bureau. Below is what we’re officially told:

DS reports that they do not have information related to special agent attrition rate by gender. They do not keep those statistics, but note that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.

The State Department’s DGHR should be able to run these numbers. That’s a very low attrition rate but — don’t you want to know who and why these employees are leaving? If a bureau is overwhelmingly male, and if the entire attrition rate is, for instance, composed of all female employees, aren’t you going to wonder why?

But how would you know if you’re not even looking?

The InHerSight reviews [here] are pretty broad but are troubling nonetheless. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. Is there?

Who’s going to volunteer to look into this if we can’t even get S/OCR to respond to a public inquiry?

So less than ten percent of DS Special Agents are female? That seems to match my casual observation. (The percentage appears to be even lower among Security Engineering Officers, I think.) Consider the kinda-sorta comparable percentage of women in the U.S. military, which is 14.6 for the active military and 19.5 percent for the reserves.

Either few women are entering agent classes, or else they're leaving in very high numbers. Whichever it is, I agree that DS and DGHR ought to be interested in why.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Put a Little 'C' On It



Whenever I hear ex-President Bill Clinton speaking I see in my mind's eye Mister Haney, that lovable barnyard con man from the Golden Age of TV sitcoms. The same wheedling tone, and something about the way he tilts his head and glances sideways at his mark.

He was in full form yesterday, selling Mister Douglas a cow he didn't want accusing FBI Director Comey of selling "the biggest load of bull I ever heard" when he testified before Congress that Hillary Clinton had received emails on her private server that were marked as classified national security information.

But what's the big deal about that?
"The State Department typically puts a little 'C' on it, to discourage people from discussing it in public ... does that sound threatening to the national security to you?"

As Mister Haney might say, let me put that another way: it sounds to me like the State Department was following the rules for marking classified information, and the little "C" for CONFIDENTIAL is the particular marking that "shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security," as it says in this Executive Order from Barack Obama.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday


















So, when a problem first arises, try to remain humble and maintain a sincere attitude and be concerned that the outcome is fair. Of course, others may try to take advantage of you, and if your remaining detached only encourages unjust aggression, adopt a strong stand, This, however, should be done with compassion, and if it is necessary to express your views and take strong countermeasures, do so without anger or ill-intent.

You should realize that even though your opponents appear to be harming you, in the end, their destructive activity will damage only themselves. In order to check your own selfish impulse to retaliate, you should recall your desire to practice compassion and assume responsibility for helping prevent the other person from suffering the consequences of his or her acts.

Thus, because the measures you employ have been calmly chosen, they will be more effective, more accurate and more forceful. Retaliation based on the blind energy of anger seldom hits the target. - Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Compassion and the Individual

Now, this is trademark Dalai Lama wisdom. Does His Holiness know defensive gun use inside and out, or what?

Choose your measures calmly and they will be all the more effective, accurate, and forceful for it. Aim center mass. Consider. Then double tap if needed.

By following those steps, and acting only after due reflection upon your desire to practice compassion balanced with the responsibility you assume for protecting yourself and others, you will be well prepared to survive not just a violent encounter but also the legal consequences of using deadly force.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Scam Bomb Detectors Still Used in Pakistan


















Diogenes can stopping looking, because we've found an honest man.

He's in Pakistan, and he can't speak freely, but we know he's honest because he just said the truest thing ever about the scam bomb detectors that are used at his country's airports and other sensitive sites.

The scam detectors are those magic wands known as the ADE-651, among other names. See this for more information about them. Despite being repeatedly exposed as frauds, the devices keep selling.

When foreign supplies were cut off after the ADE-651's British manufacturer was convicted, some of his former clients began making their own knock-off versions (can you counterfeit a fraud?) for sale in their own countries. One of those countries is Pakistan, which is now equipping its Airport Security Force with home-made worthless props with which to 'screen' vehicles for bombs.

AFP reports today, Pakistan's bogus bomb-detectors in business despite global scandal:
Islamabad (AFP) - With radio-like antennae meant to swivel and point at vehicles carrying bombs, "magic wand" explosive detectors proliferated throughout conflict zones in the 2000s until they were exposed as a global scam.

But in an astonishing security threat, more than 15,000 of a new variant of the handheld device have been made in Pakistan to guard high-value facilities such as airports and government installations, despite officials conceding they are effectively useless.

-- Snip --

Official silence over the matter may be linked to the enormous sums of money involved in the business, observers say, while many bureaucrats fear for their jobs if they speak out.

"Powerful people make money through these scams and you cannot offend powerful people, even if it means endangering lives," said one former official of the interior ministry."

Pakistan initially imported foreign detector devices such as the ADE-651 and the German made Sniffex, according to a government source, but in 2009 Pakistan's Airport Security Force (ASF) took over making and selling the wands.

More than 15,000 units have been sold within the country at a cost of 70,000 rupees ($700), according to an official, amounting to a total revenue of more than $10 million.

The ASF -- which declined multiple requests for comment -- is technically a civilian institution but is staffed by many serving senior officers deputed from the powerful military, which wields considerable influence over the country's defence and foreign policy.

Truth only goes so far, when the interests of powerful people are involved. But, from what I see while browsing Pakistan Army forums, I'm holding out hope that there are enough honorable soldiers there to bring this disgraceful scandal to an end.