Friday, September 30, 2011

O-Tay! U.S. Consulate Tijuana Has A New Home

They just cut the ribbon today.

Here's a nice video from the Consulate web site that introduces TJ's many clients to its new office compound, which is located next to the Otay Mesa crossing, practically straddling the border.

Consul-General Steven Kashkett gave an interview with a San Diego newspaper that covers the basics, like the cost of the new compound ($120 million), its size (100,000 square feet in the main building), staffing (50 U.S. and 100 local employees), number of visas issued annually (190,000) and resident U.S. citizens (250,000).

The new compound is an antiseptic and boring bit of standard embassy architecture, of course. But that's a big improvement over the old consulate, a ratty little hovel located a few steps away from the Agua Caliente racetrack, a greyhound and horse racing joint that was like a living fossil from the 1930s culture of border sleaze.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Hidden Side Of A Soul Revealed

I feel that unique kind of nausea that arises from learning that someone you might have worked with, or next to, has been arrested on child pornography charges.

A co-worker called this sad news to my attention today - Undercover FBI Porn Site Snares Federal Agent:

The bureau’s operation last month snared a Department of State diplomatic security officer, according to court records. James Cafferty, 45, who was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in London, was named in an August 29 felony complaint charging him with possession of child pornography.

-- snip --

During a search last month at his Florida home, Cafferty reportedly confessed to using his PayPal account to purchase subscriptions to about 10 child porn web sites. He also admitted to “having approximately 10,000 to 15,000 files of child pornography” and accessing the FBI undercover web site, according to the confidential affidavit. Cafferty, a federal investigator noted, “provided a hand written confession to agents wherein he admitted to having child pornography on the computer media seized from his residence that he had transported home from London.”

-- snip--

As detailed in a confidential affidavit, recipients of the e-mail were provided the undercover web site’s url and a unique password (which was needed to advance beyond the site’s home page). Site visitors are met with a greeting welcoming them “to the hidden side of your soul, where you view the yung and innocent.”

-- snip --

Free on $50,000 bond, Cafferty has been placed on home incarceration by a federal magistrate who has barred him from using the Internet or having any unsupervised contact with minors.

Just wow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Massachusetts Man" Plotted To Bomb The Pentagon And Capitol Building

That's how all the news media are reporting it, anyway. Just a "Massachusetts man" of no special interest. And if his name happens to be "Rezwan Ferdaus," it would be very wrong of you to infer from that any foreign national origin, non-Western civilization, or religious identity.

You can take it from U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz herself that Ferdaus's actions do not reflect on any particular culture, community, or religion. She says so right there in the FBI press release announcing Ferdaus' arrest:

“Our top priority is to protect our nation from terrorism and national security threats. The conduct alleged today shows that Mr. Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country, including attacks on the Pentagon and our nation’s Capitol. Thanks to the diligence of the FBI and our many other law enforcement partners, that plan was thwarted,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “I want the public to understand that Mr. Ferdaus’ conduct, as alleged in the complaint, is not reflective of a particular culture, community, or religion,” she added. “In addition to protecting our citizens from the threats and violence alleged today, we also have an obligation to protect members of every community, race, and religion against violence and other unlawful conduct.”

But wait. What about this statement in the very same press release?

During various recorded meetings, Ferdaus envisioned causing a large “psychological” impact by killing Americans, including women and children, who he referred to as “enemies of Allah.” According to the affidavit, Ferdaus’ desire to attack the United States is so strong that he confided, “I just can’t stop; there is no other choice for me.”

Enemies of Allah? Are they a big problem in Massachusetts?

The affidavit and complaint filed in the case says the same thing:

"Ferdaus ... began planning to commit violent "jihad" against the United States, which he considers an enemy of Allah."

Why don't we just come clean and say that a "Muslim man in Massachusetts" was plotting to commit terrorism against the United States? That's what happened, after all.

Back to the press release, we learn that the FBI toyed with Ferdaus for a year before hooking him up with the weapons and explosives that are the basis for most of the charges against him:

According to the affidavit, at today’s meeting the [FBI's undercover agent] allowed Ferdaus to inspect the explosives and firearms (a quantity of C-4 explosives, three grenades, and six fully-automatic AK-47 assault rifles) that the [undercover agents] delivered, and that Ferdaus had requested for his attack plan. After inspecting the components, Ferdaus brought them to his storage unit, took possession of the explosives and firearms, and locked them in his storage unit. Ferdaus was then immediately arrested.

Maybe Ferdaus didn't read chapter seven of the al Qaeda manual, which instructs the jihadi on precautions he should take when buying or transporting weapons. In particular:

"Prior to purchasing, the seller should be tested to ensure that he is not an agent of the security apparatus."

Good advice, that.

All in all, Ferdaus ought to have stuck with his bitchin' Freestyle Americana band, the Silk Road. He made a better drummer than terrorist.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

That's An Excellent Point, LTC Peters

While channel-surfing TV news programs this morning, I caught a few seconds of the retired Army officer and writer/columnist Ralph Peters commenting on the Afghanistan situation and how it forces us into a highly troubled relationship with Pakistan.

Quoting him from memory, he said this:

“When I went to Command and General Staff College, I would have flunked out if I proposed to put 100,000 troops at the end of a single supply line that ran through a thousand miles of hostile territory.”

That is an excellent point. After ten years, we still haven't found an alternative to routing all our Afghan-bound truck convoys from the port of Karachi through the Khyber Pass, thereby putting ourselves at the mercy of Pakistan's ISI and its Taliban allies. Shouldn't the CGSC have revoked some diplomas by now?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Take A Hike, Shane

The WaPo photo, above, had the caption: "Shane Bauer, center, greets fiance Sarah Shourd."

I'm glad they indicated which one was Shane, since otherwise I would have been at a loss. I guess it's true that some couples start to look like each other over time.

Anyway, this remark in the WaPo story on the release of the two U.S. hikers from Iran is what prompts me to comment on Mr. Bauer:

“Two years in prison is too long,” Bauer said. He expressed hope that Wednesday’s release would lead to “freedom for political prisoners in America and Iran.”

How's that again? Who are these political prisoners in America? Later in the story we get a clue:

News of the release was welcomed Wednesday by officials from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who were part of a delegation of U.S. religious leaders and American Muslims who traveled to Iran to ask that the hikers be allowed to leave.

“We believe the efforts of the recent interfaith delegation to Iran offer a positive example of bridge-building initiatives that may be undertaken to help promote mutual understanding and cooperation between nations,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “We hope our government will now address the issue of Iranian citizens detained in the United States with the same spirit of compassion.”

Apparently these unnamed detainees are persons convicted of illegally exporting U.S. military equipment and restricted items to Iran, like this guy, plus a few who have gone missing in other countries. The first group belongs in prison, and the second group is not under our control.

Maybe Shane was suffering from some kind of late onset Stockholm Syndrome when he made that remark about political prisoners. Or maybe he's just a jerk.

Shane's freedom was purchased by a $1 million bail payment sent by Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman to the account of the Iranian judiciary. Is it too late for the Sultan to return Shane and get his money back?

So I Asked Starbucks For The Government Discount ...

... and they charged me $16 for a muffin.

Congress and the Washington media are in a frenzy over MuffinGate, and Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell has had about enough of it:

The latest tempest in a teapot in this season of austerity? Congressional outrage over the Justice Department's spending on food and beverages at one of its conferences in 2009. An inspector general's audit report [here] found that the department paid $4,200 for 250 muffins and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies.

"By itemizing these costs, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," the report reads.

-- snip --

OK, let's stipulate that spending $16, or even $10, for a muffin is excessive, and a waste of taxpayer money. But give me a break -- this kind of spending is hardly the problem.

Not only are spiraling health-care costs the real cause of America's long-term budget woes -- something Congress has done hardly anything to address -- but defense spending is by far the biggest chunk of annual discretionary spending. The Pentagon can't even pass an audit, and won't be able to do so until 2017, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's Senate testimony today. With the enthusiastic patronage of Congress, the U.S. military spends tens of billions of dollars on weapons systems that either don't work as adverstised (Future Combat Systems, anyone?), cost far more than budgeted (all of them), or are wholly unnecessary (remember the Kafkaesque fight over the Joint Strike Fighter's "alternate engine"?).

The Justice Department's entire budget request for 2012 is $28 billion -- less than what the U.S. spends in Iraq and Afghanistan in three months. Before it was cut to only $200 million in July, the Pentagon's budget for military bands was $325 million. Military bands!

But by all means, rant about the muffins...

Truth to tell, the $16 muffin meme is a bit off-base anyway since DOJ was really paying for hotel meeting space rather than fancy noshes, as the New York Times calmly explained yesterday:

A five-day conference in August 2009 at the Capital Hilton in Washington to train immigration lawyers saved money by serving only snacks. But it still cost $4,200 for 250 muffins and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies, more than $16 a muffin and nearly $10 per cookie and brownie.

- snip --

Moreover, the department told auditors that some food costs were exaggerated because of the way deals with the hotels were often structured: the hotels provided “free” meeting space in exchange for an agreement to use their pricey food and beverage services.

Planners often did no cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it would have been thriftier to pay for the meeting space directly and obtain cheaper catering, the report said. But it noted that the conferences often ended up spending tens of thousands more on food and beverage than the minimum necessary to secure the “free” meeting rooms.

DOJ was spending other people's (tax) money on this training conference, and they spent it with predictable abandon. But how much damage can they possibly do with their comparatively small budget?

Meanwhile, Congress has appropriated $1.283 trillion in the last ten years for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no end in sight.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This Could Have Made Me Go For A Ph.D.

What a bummer that this was removed from the staff directory:

Trinity College Dublin has said it is taking seriously an incident in which a profile page, complete with image, was inserted on its website for a fake staff member named ‘Dr Conan T. Barbarian’.

-- snip --

His full title and academic qualifications were given as: “Dr Conan T. Barbarian, B.A.(Cimmeria) Ph.D. (UCD). F.T.C.D. (Long Room Hub Associate Professor in Hyborian Studies and Tyrant Slaying).”

His profile indicated he had been “ripped from his mother's womb on the corpse-strewn battlefields of his war-torn homeland, Cimmeria, and has been preparing for academic life ever since”.

“A firm believer in the dictum that ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger,’ he took time out to avenge the death of his parents following a sojourn pursuing his strong interest in Post-Colonial theory at the Sorbonne.”

The profile went on to say Dr Barbarian completed his PhD, entitled ‘To Hear The Lamentation of Their Women: Constructions of Masculinity in Contemporary Zamoran Literature’ at UCD and was appointed to the School of English in 2006, “after successfully decapitating his predecessor during a bloody battle which will long be remembered in legend and song”.

“In 2011/12, he will be teaching on the following courses: ‘The Relevance of Crom in the Modern World’, ‘Theories of Literature’, ‘Vengeance for Beginners’, ‘Deciphering the Riddle of Steel’ and ‘D.H. Lawrence’.

Whoever put that profile up is just the kind of academic mentor I'd like to have.

Hillary Benefits From Presidental Buyer's Remorse

There is no reason to think Hillary Clinton will run for President again - she has said she won't - but, if she does, it looks like she would have a surprising level of support. According to a recent Bloomberg National Poll, Hillary is now the most popular politician in America:

The most popular national political figure in America today is one who was rejected by her own party three years ago: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans hold a favorable view of her and one-third are suffering a form of buyer’s remorse, saying the U.S. would be better off now if she had become president in 2008 instead of Barack Obama.

The finding in the latest Bloomberg National Poll shows a higher level of wishful thinking about a Hillary Clinton presidency than when a similar question was asked in July 2010. Then, a quarter of Americans held such a view.

And take a look at where some of that wishful thinking is coming from:

Republicans are slightly more inclined than the national average to think the U.S. would be better off with Clinton running the country, with 39 percent saying so. A majority of Democrats -- 57 percent -- say things would be the same.

-- snip --

A plurality of Tea Party supporters -- 44 percent -- say the U.S. would be better off with Hillary Clinton as president, even though 59 percent of those respondents have an unfavorable impression of her.

The Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll currently has Obama at 43% "strongly disapprove" to 23% "strongly approve." Approval is even lower among independent voters.

Apparently, Hillary has benefited big-time by having been sequestered from domestic politics as SecState during the Obama administration.

It looks like there is agreement all around, then. She ought to run in 2012. We already know she'll have Dick Chenney's vote.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I've Got Pictures Of A U.S. Government Facility (Including Security Countermeasures!)

Yeah, I've got them right here on the internet.

But I'm not violating the prohibition against posting pictures of U.S. Government facilities because my pictures are of the remains of the former U.S. embassy in Kuwait City.

That's the embassy that was attacked by a suicide bomber in 1983, and was later placed under siege when Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait in 1990. The embassy moved to a nice new compound a few years later after the Gulf War, leaving nothing but rubble behind at the old site.

I find it irresistible to poke around in places that are rich in memories, so I dropped by the former embassy location. It's an empty lot today, with one lonely palm tree growing there amid the debris of the former chancery, administrative annex, pool, Marine House, and Ambassador's residence.

The Kuwait Tower - those three spires that were seemingly in every CNN camera shot during the Gulf War - are located just up the street.

The rubble piles contain remnants of the buildings that stood there from around 1960 to 1995. Lots of little bits of marble, red octagonal terrazzo tiles, water pipes, bricks, rebars, power conduits, and so on. The detritus of a diplomatic facility.

Local employees who remember the old embassy immediately identified the different bits by their color and finish. 'This was from the wall in the Ambassador's residence' or 'this was the floor in the Marine House,' etc.

Pieces of door sill and concrete flooring. Exciting, no? Maybe just to me.

Large concrete planters still line the sidewalk where the embassy perimeter wall was located.

The only intact structure on the site is this sheet metal shed.

This Jersey barrier is the only other part of the old embassy that is still upright.

The most striking thing to happen at the old embassy was the suicide bombing that occurred on December 12, 1983, one of the first such attacks in modern history. A truck laden with gas cylinders and plastic explosives broke through the front gates of the embassy and exploded against the administrative annex building. The blast killed five people and wounded over 80. Greater loss of life was averted because the explosive device only partially detonated, and because the driver hit the annex and not the more heavily populated chancery building.

This plaque is not located at the former embassy. It reads:

In memory of our colleagues who gave their lives in the tragic events of December 12, 1983

Ahmad Samarra
Mufeed Al-Hakeem
Ali Al-Jamal

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I'm Famous, Kind Of

I'm still a little bit jet lagged while TDY-ing it, and have been staying up much too late at night, surfing the internet in my hotel room. Tonight, I came upon a surprise when I found my name in the latest batch of WikiLeaks cables.

These are the cables that were released without redactions, and they can be searched via an online database. I was browsing the database for cables on a particular topic of interest to me, when I saw one that granted me country clearance for a visit of a few years ago.

Material for my memoirs, I guess.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Touring About, Trying To Keep Cool

I'm currently doing the Grand Tour of the Persian Gulf, and on Sunday I attended the 9/11 commemoration at one of the posts in the region. Very well done. Dignified, and featuring personal recollections by the embassy staff.

But it is seriously hot over here. I just landed at my next TDY post, and at 10PM the temperature was still 96 degrees. If I don't melt, I'll be home next week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bollard Envy

In this 9/11 anniversary week Foreign Policy is running a rather nice retrospective article on how the threat of terrorism has changed the built environment of Washington DC, and in particular, the perimeters of federal facilities. See The Blast-Proof City, and its accompanying slideshow Washington's Barriers to Entry.

The author, an architectural critic, correctly dates the beginning of the present concern with physical security to 1995 and the Oklahoma City federal office bombing, and not to 9/11, as is commonly assumed. He also correctly identifies the State Department as the leading contributor to new federal facility security guidelines that were published by Executive Order within weeks of the OK City attack.

A few quotes:

It used to be that D.C. architecture consisted of graceful Georgetown mansions, neoclassical federal buildings -- and, of course, the monuments. When the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts was founded in 1910 to guide Washington's architectural development, it reviewed designs such as those of the Lincoln Memorial and the Federal Triangle. Over the seven years I've served on the commission, however, an increasing amount of time is spent discussing security-improvement projects: screening facilities, hardened gatehouses, Delta barriers, perimeter fences, and seemingly endless rows of bollards. We used to mock an earlier generation that peppered the U.S. capital with Civil War generals on horseback; now I wonder what future generations will make of our architectural legacy of crash-resistant walls and blast-proof glass.

How did we become so insecure about our buildings? Although the 9/11 attacks loom large in the public's imagination, the event that changed the way federal buildings in the United States are designed and used -- perhaps forever -- was a presidential directive issued six years prior to the attacks ... President Bill Clinton, whose most prominent addition to the White House was a hot tub, is not known as an architecture buff. But by issuing Executive Order 12977 in October 1995, he set in motion a process that thrust politics squarely in the center of the design process.

The executive order was the result of the Oklahoma City bombing. The day after the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building, which claimed 168 lives and injured more than 680 people, Clinton directed the Justice Department to assess the vulnerability of all federal facilities to acts of violence.

The resulting report, prepared by a large team headed by the U.S. Marshals Service, is generally known as "The Marshals Report." To implement the report's recommendations, Executive Order 12977 established an interagency security committee charged with developing standards for all federal facilities as well as "long-term construction standards for those locations with threat levels or missions that require blast resistant structures."

-- snip --

The Marshals Report proposed no fewer than 52 specific criteria, which resulted in the deployment of a host of building security devices. Some, such as reinforced structure, blast-resistant glass, and hardened curtain walls, have a small impact on a building's appearance. That is not the case with perimeter security.

"Depending on the facility type," the report cautions, "the perimeter may include sidewalks, parking lots, the outside walls of the building, a hallway, or simply an office door." Because truck bombs are the simplest and cheapest way of creating large detonations and given what happened in Oklahoma City, the focus has been on keeping vehicles far away from their target by creating a so-called "standoff" distance. The optimal standoff is large -- at least 100 feet -- and new buildings, such as the ATF headquarters in Washington, achieve this standoff by creating a sort of landscaped demilitarized zone between the building and the street. (Note that the Marshals Report came out at a time when the federal agency with the greatest experience of terrorism was the State Department, which had developed expertise in hardening diplomatic buildings abroad in the wake of several embassy bombings. This may explain why federal buildings are protected as if they were divorced from their surroundings and why so many federal buildings today, surrounded by barricades and layers of security, resemble foreign outposts: They're actually modeled after embassies.)

-- snip --

But existing urban buildings are generally too near the street. The only alternative to closing a street completely -- as with Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House -- is to keep the potential truck bomber from driving right up to the building. This is achieved by a device that could serve as a symbol for our insecurity: the bollard.

-- snip --

Some agencies don't seem to mind this intrusion, as it's an external marker of their building's strategic importance. In Washington, we've come to see the bizarre phenomenon that one federal official characterized to me as "bollard envy," where the degree of protection becomes a symbol of bureaucratic status, like a choice parking spot or a corner office. Perhaps the most egregious example is the screening center for visitors that Congress built for itself; by the time the underground facility was finished it covered half a million square feet and cost $620 million.

Government officials regularly speak of integrating perimeter security "unobtrusively" into a building's design. A rare case where this has been achieved is the landscape improvement to the Washington Monument. Designed by the OLIN landscape architecture firm, the perimeter security is disguised as a set of curving stone retaining walls that are invisible from the monument and are designed for visitors to sit on. A similar retaining wall provides security for the Lincoln Memorial, but here the topography requires additional intrusive bollards as well.

The security plan being designed for the Jefferson Memorial will depend on walls as well as scores of bollards. Where to put the perimeter security is a Hobson's choice: put it farther away and you need more bollards; nearer and you need fewer, but they are more visually intrusive. In either case, the experience of John Russell Pope's handsome building will hardly be enhanced. The directive to secure the Jefferson Memorial is intended to protect a precious national icon. It may end up having the opposite effect.

Since the author blames the State Department for exciting bollard envy among its domestic counterparts, he really ought to have mentioned that it was also the State Department that took the lead in introducing the National Park Service to those unobtrusive anti-ram retaining walls that are currently in place around the Washington Monument. Give credit where credit is due.

Actually, I think he gives the State Department far too much of the blame - and I agree that some blame is deserved - for adverse architectural impacts of the 1995 Marshals Report (see Vulnerability Assessment Of Federal Facilities). The Marshal's Report was the work of all federal agencies, and they were trying to come to terms with the threat of large vehicle-borne bombs. Domestic federal buildings are really not modeled on Fortress Embassies, and to the extent that they now have similar perimeter security measures, that simply reflects the reality that they now face the same type of explosive threat we once faced only overseas. The State Department was there first, and other agencies saw no reason to reinvent the wheel, or the bollard, as the case may be.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Banned In Bahrain!

Well, that's a relief.

On TDY this week, I was unable to connect to a particular FS blog, one whose author recently had a session with official critics of her employment of social media. I was afraid that meant she had decided to take her blog down.

But it turns out she is merely Banned In Bahrain. The reason for that ban is unknown to me. Quite possibly, there is no reason. But it's no big deal, and much better than what I feared had happened.



Looks like I posted too soon. While it appeared to me that the blog was merely being blocked, I'm informed it has indeed been taken down.

Where Were You On 9/11/01?

I've added a new Blog Roll entry for The OpSec Blog, which is written by a DOS Security Engineering Officer. This week, OSB is asking where were you on 9/11/01?

Many of us can relate how we learned of the attack while at work, and how it almost instantly changed the nature of that work. However, since many current members of the Foreign Service blogosphere were, I believe, not yet employed by the State Department on 9/11, I'd be interested to learn whether the attack was a personal turning point for them, leading them into a career that otherwise they might not have entered.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Briefly Noted

If many USG employees are perceiving a recent increase in the level of security-related concerns about blogging, today's news reports about the 2009 espionage case of Shamai K. Leibowitz might go some way toward explaining that uptick.

From the New York Times, Leak Offers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel:

Mr. Silverstein, 59, [who received classified information from Leibowitz] writes a blog called Tikun Olam, named after a Hebrew phrase that he said means “repairing the world.” The blog gives a liberal perspective on Israel and Israeli-American relations. He said he had decided to speak out to make clear that Mr. Leibowitz, though charged under the Espionage Act, was acting out of noble motives. The Espionage Act has been used by the Justice Department in nearly all prosecutions of government employees for disclosing classified information to the news media, including the record-setting five such cases under President Obama.

Mr. Silverstein said he got to know Mr. Leibowitz, a lawyer with a history of political activism, after noticing that he, too, had a liberal-minded blog, called Pursuing Justice. The men shared a concern about repercussions from a possible Israeli airstrike on nuclear facilities in Iran. From his F.B.I. work from January to August of 2009, Mr. Leibowitz also believed that Israeli diplomats’ efforts to influence Congress and shape American public opinion were excessive and improper, Mr. Silverstein said.

After Leibowitz shared his concerns with Silverstein, he then went too far and began to share classified information as well. Leibowitz was subsequently convicted of espionage, and he now resides in a Federal Bureau of Prisons halfway house.

The fact that an espionage case began with a connection made in the blogosphere, while it is not directly pertinent to the administration of routine restrictions on social networking, is just the sort of thing that can work its way down the counterintelligence food chain until it morphs into a knee jerk reaction against employee blogging in general.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day - Bing Versus Google

For my money, Bing wins.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dear Colonel Qaddafi ... Your Friends, Gordon and Tony

Well, this is embarrassing for someone. The UK Daily Mail has the story, with photos, of a "devastating stash of documents" that was left behind when the British Ambassador's residence in Tripoli was evacuated four months ago.

The revelations come in documents – some marked ‘UK secret: UK/Libya Eyes Only’ – found strewn on the floor of the British Ambassador’s abandoned residence in Tripoli.

Many of the papers demonstrate the warmth of the relationship between Britain and Libya and, in particular, the extraordinarily close links between the Blair Government and the Gaddafi regime.

The notes show how:

• Tony Blair helped Colonel Gaddafi’s playboy son Saif with his ‘dodgy’ PhD thesis while he was Prime Minister.

• British Special Forces were offered to train the Khamis Brigade, Gaddafi’s most vicious military unit.

• MI6 was apparently willing to trace phone numbers for Libyan intelligence.

• Gordon Brown wrote warmly to Gaddafi in 2007 expressing the hope that the dictator would be able to meet Prince Andrew when he visited Tripoli.

• MI6’s budget (£150 million in 2002) was readily disclosed to Libyan officials, along with details of how Britain’s Downing Street emergency committee Cobra operates.

• Britain’s intelligence services forged close links with Gaddafi’s brutal security units.

Those sensitive documents had been lying there in the vacated Ambassador's residence all this time. Evidently, no one tidied them up when the UK reopened its Tripoli embassy a week or so ago, and visiting journalists were allowed to make off with them.

The incriminating documents were found in the wreckage of the British ambassador’s home in Tripoli, a three-storey house vandalised in April by Gaddafi loyalists.

There were several booklets filled with the faces of suspected terrorists, scores of personally signed letters sent from Downing Street and detailed intelligence data on the Gaddafi regime.

Incredibly, all this had lain amid the debris for four months, with no attempt made to secure the papers even in the week after the rebels ousted the dictator from the city.

Mountains of shredded paper showed British diplomats tried to destroy many documents before fleeing.

The U.S. counterparts of those British diplomats can surely empathize, because they've been there before. Like in Tehran, 1979. It's not so easy to ensure you've destroyed everything that needs to be destroyed when you're under attack and have only a skeleton staff to bag n' drag all those files to the shredder. And then you never know when the paper shredder will jam.

Here's a tip for the UK Foreign Ministry, from the bottom of my governmental heart. Next time, spend the money to get really fast, durable, crosscut paper shredders. Here's a list. When you need to evacuate in a hurry, accept no substitutes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

U.S. Embassy Tripoli, The Sequel

ABC News knows a guy who knows a guy who told them that we are beginning to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Tripoli:

US officials tell ABC News the United States plans to begin re-establishing its diplomatic presence in Tripoli over the coming weeks now that rebel forces have taken control of much of the Libyan capital.

The first step comes this weekend when the State Department will send a small team of technical staff to Tripoli to assess the security situation on the ground and to assess the condition of the US embassy, which sustained significant damage since being shuttered in February.

Depending on the team’s findings, American diplomats could return to Tripoli as early as next week, officials said, though they suggested that perhaps that timeline was too optimistic given security concerns and what is believed to be extensive damage to the embassy compound. The United States is under diplomatic pressure to show support for the rebel leadership by re-establishing its embassy in Tripoli, especially since several European countries already have, or are preparing to do so.

[TSB note: Those countries include France and Britain.]

It’s unclear whether the Obama administration would send its ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, with the first group to re-open the embassy, though the State Department has said Cretz will eventually return to Tripoli. One official suggested that Chris Stevens, who has been the U.S. liaison to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi for the past several months, could go first with a small team of diplomats.

The State Department is also weighing whether to send Jeffrey Feltman, it’s top diplomat for the region, to Tripoli. He would be the highest-ranking American official to visit the capital since the uprising began earlier this year. Officials considered sending him there on Friday, after a big international conference on Libya in Paris, but decided to postpone the visit, in part for security reasons.

A video posted on YouTube in early June, which officials say appears to have been shot inside the American embassy, shows evidence of significant damage and looting.

ABC News’ Jeffrey Kofman in Tripoli tried to visit the embassy Thursday, but was turned away by rebels who were guarding the compound. He saw evidence of damage, including windows blackened by fire. Kofman also obtained exclusive cell phone footage shot from a nearby rooftop on May 1 showing huge plumes of black smoke rising from the embassy after it was ransacked and looted. Neighbors told him Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s soldiers were the ones who stormed the embassy grounds, not a spontaneous mob like the regime claimed at the time.

According to the Washington Post [here], which also interviewed Libyans who live near the embassy, it appears the regime encouraged busloads of people to storm the empty embassy on May 1 after reports that one of Gadhafi’s sons had been killed in a NATO strike. Witnesses told the newspaper they saw massive looting and that parts of the building were eventually set on fire.

The Obama administration pulled all of its diplomats out of Tripoli in late February just hours before the Gadhafi regime was hit with strong sanctions that froze billions of dollars of the longtime dictator’s assets.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Paris for the Friends of Libya conference, where she announced that the U.S. has already released about $700 million of Gadhafi’s frozen assets for the rebels to pay fuel bills, operational costs, and salaries. That is part of roughly $1.5 billion the UN authorized the US to release last week to pay for fuel, UN humanitarian relief efforts, and other emergency needs.

The U.S. government hopes to hear from the rebel leadership about their plans for a post-Gadhafi Libya and to see what their needs are. The Obama administration has expressed its hope the United Nations will play a large role in the rebuilding effort.

Our vacated embassy compound was described by the former DCM as having "not the best security." And that was before it was looted and burned. Let's hope we don't stay there any longer than it takes to find a more secure place for our diplomats to live and work.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

CNN Traces A "Complicated And Fascinating Family Tree"

Kudos to CNN for presenting this handy guide to the POTUS's family tree - not the entire tree, which would take more time than is available in a segment of The Situation Room, but just the central portion of the paternal side - and sorting out the connection between him and the Uncle Omar who is now locked up in Massachusetts on a federal immigration warrant.

We also learn that Onyango "Uncle Omar" Obama obtained a Social Security number and a Mass drivers license at least nineteen years ago. That was presumably illegal, but who knows?

CNN legal analyst Jeffery Tobin seemed pretty sure that a drunk driving conviction would be enough to get Uncle Omar deported if he is here illegally, but "usually" not if he is here legally. And Tobin was unwilling to speculate about Omar's immigration status.

I'm not a lawyer like Tobin, but ... if Uncle Omar is here legally, wouldn't he be able to produce some documentation, like a Green Card, to prove that status? And if he is here legally, wouldn't the immigration authorities already know that? Evidently, these immigration matters are trickier than they appear.

The disposition of Uncle Omar's case promises to be entertaining on so many levels.