Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Workers of the World, U.S. Embassy Moscow Is Hiring

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

We'll see what comes of this if and when it becomes law, but a bill has been introduced that would require the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to replace most of its locally engaged staff - i.e., Russians - with U.S. citizens.

H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 was introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers. Section 313 of the bill reads:
Requires the Secretary of State to ensure that every supervisory position at a U.S. diplomatic facility in the Russian Federation is occupied by a U.S. citizen who has passed, and is subject to, a thorough background check. Directs the Secretary to submit to Congress a plan to further reduce the reliance on locally employed staff in such facilities.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, just like all other embassies, employs local people to do all kinds of labor and non-sensitive administrative work. That practice has some obvious security implications, but, do we really need to replace the locals with American citizens? Americans cost a great deal more than locals, especially since you need to provide their housing and pay for their travel and support. Is the gain in security worth the extra cost? In fact, is there actually a gain in security?

Experience says there is not. We replaced the local employees of U.S. Embassy Moscow with Americans once before, back in that great Cold War year of 1985, AKA, the Year of the Spy. How did that work out for us?

From the New York Times of June 25, 1985, U.S. Embassy to Reduce Soviet Staff:
According to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who as vice chairman of the Senate Select Commitee on Intelligence has been briefed on the problem, the report says so many Russians, including known intelligence agents, are employed at the American Embassy in Moscow that the embassy ''is a sieve.''

-- snip -–

Members of Congress and State Department officials have long debated the wisdom of employing Soviet citizens. The State Department has defended the practice, on the ground that Soviet citizens have no access to American secrets. But, according to an intelligence official, the advisory panel found that Soviet citizens are ''so pervasive throughout the embassy'' that by watching and reading available materials they can gather sensitive information.

-- snip --

The State Department has resisted replacing the Soviet employees because of the cost of hiring, training and housing hundreds of Americans for menial jobs in Moscow and other Soviet-bloc capitals. In addition, a State Department official said, ''these are the people who actually live in the society and can get things done for us.''

The State Department resisted until it lost the political battle in Washington. As the then-Undersecretary for Management, Ronald Spiers, noted in his 1991 oral history interview with the Library of Congress:
Secretary George "Shultz, who had originally supported [Ambassador to Moscow] Hartman, finally came to the conclusion that the political heat was too great and that the substitutions had to be made."
And so it was out with the old Russian staff, in with the new 100 Percent American staff. That is, after an interval of a few months in which diplomats made due without any help:
Running an embassy or consulate without [local employees] was a lot of hard work, particularly in the Soviet Union’s "deficit economy", where basic necessities like food plus hygiene, medical, and office supplies all had to be imported. The U.S. press focused on the poor, poor American diplomats who, boo-hoo, suddenly had to clean their own homes and offices. That wasn’t the half of it. All travel arrangements now had to be made by language-qualified officers, and the rule of thumb was that it took one day of preparation before and one day of paperwork after travel for each day on the road.

-- snip --

As springtime approached, ice began to thaw and the U.S. Government responded to our needs, finally. DoD was the first, sending a half-dozen Army drivers to chauffeur the Ambassador and drive our trucks (until then, first Ambassador Hartman and later Ambassador Matlock had been driving themselves in an armored Opel sedan). The omnibus contract was let and the first PAE [Pacific Architects and Engineers] contractors appeared in April. Heat was restored to the chancery and new telecommunications equipment was installed.

Having American citizens do the embassy's driving and laundry and maintenance and repair work cost much more than employing locals, but at least it eliminated those security vulnerabilities that had so bothered Senator Leahy, right?

No, not according to a followup story in the New York Times from April, 1987, Old Moscow Hands Irked On Embassy:
The use of Russians inside the compound had been criticized by officials in the Administration and in Congress as a potential breach of security. Among those who reportedly had argued for ridding the mission of Russians was Jack F. Matlock Jr., then President Reagan's special assistant for Soviet and European affairs and now Ambassador to Moscow.

Mr. Hartman and officials in the State Department had defended the practice on the grounds that the Russians provided valuable and inexpensive service and that they were an identifiable and therefore manageable security risk.

-- snip --

Critics of the [old] embassy employment policy now cite the seduction of a Marine guard by a Soviet employee, who then reportedly used the tryst to infiltrate agents into the building … On the contrary, the officials said, the incident supported their contention that American workers brought in to replace Soviet employees could prove a greater risk because they would be untrained and unprepared for the pressures of duty in Moscow. Nine of the contract workers brought in to replace Russians, they noted, have already been sent home for unspecified security violations.

So, the American service workers with low level security clearances whom we hired after 1985 were no more disciplined and security-conscious than the Marine Security Guards who had earlier gotten themselves into such trouble over Russian women? I'm putting on my surprised look. Really, couldn't Senator Leahy have seen that coming?

We gave up on the All American employment policy in 1993, and the embassy hired local Russians once again, as it has done to the present day.

Ambassador Arthur Hartman retired soon after the Moscow embassy flap of 1985. He was interviewed for the Library of Congress oral history project in 1989, and explained why security vulnerabilities did not disappear when we hired Americans to do service jobs:
I have disputed [that there are security benefits to using U.S. citizens in place of local employees] in the past saying that going to zero Soviet employees brings in added risks, you are going to have to bring in young Americans whose ambition is not to be in Moscow for intellectual reasons to learn more about the society, but it's another place to make money. These people will be subject to pressures by the Soviets as we've seen with the Marine cases and eventually somebody will be recruited. Now people say to me that if you hadn't had Soviets on the site to sort of see who was vulnerable, then these people wouldn't have been picked up; well that shows a total ignorance of what goes on in Moscow.

You fire all of the Soviet employees and one of the first ones I fired by the way was the barber, a wonderful old lady who did nothing but pump the Marines and pump everybody else as to what was going on, and I fired her early on. Well, Marines need haircuts so they go off to the hotels and very charming young ladies do the barbering in hotels, so contacts can be made.

There is no substitute for picking mature people who will not get themselves into these problems and watching them all the time and building systems to keep these people from getting out of hand.

I find his reasoning persuasive. Will it improve security in Moscow today if we send over newly-hired fresh meat for Russian intelligence services, put them and their spouses and kids in housing all over Moscow, and have them interact with Russians in their daily lives of work and travel, recreation, medical care, social functions, and so forth? Is that exposure to hostile intelligence services really all good just because those American plumbers and electricians, unlike the Russians they replaced, have personnel security clearances?

I agree with Ambassador Hartman's philosophy. Let’s dispense with the security clearance games for American employees and simply use Russians for those service jobs, so we may frankly acknowledge that they are security threats and then handle them accordingly. 

Meanwhile, if you're looking for one of those embassy jobs, you might start here.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Presidential Motorcade Volunteer Drivers - Great For Selfies, Not So Much For Security

Has Representative Jason Chaffetz heard about this yet? Well, watch this space for his overreaction when he learns that the U.S. Secret Service has given him wonderful material for his next oversight hearing on White House security.

The New York Times ran a story last Friday about the practice of using untrained and inexperienced volunteers to drive some of the vehicles in Presidential motorcades. That should not come as a surprise to insiders, since it's a longstanding practice. The Obama administration even made one former motorcade van driver it's National Security Council spokesman (true story).

Nevertheless, it is an absolutely crazy thing to do. Presidential motorcade security 'packages' involve many different professional players from police agencies, as well as the U.S. Secret Service, all performing high speed maneuvers. Putting amateur drivers anywhere in that mix is like letting football fans run around on the field during an NFL game. All great fun until somebody gets hurt.

Driver Wanted for Obama Motorcade. Novice Welcome:
Volunteers with no special training are a link in the middle of the fastest, and highest-profile, chain of vehicles in the country. They are cheaper than the Secret Service personnel or local police officers who surround them on the road. And their cargo of lowly staff members and reporters is apparently less precious.

The White House declined to comment on the practice. The Secret Service defended it, saying it has been standard since at least the 1980s. Volunteer drivers “are briefed by the Secret Service agent responsible for the motorcade prior to any movements” about what to do in case of an emergency, like an attack, a spokesman for the agency said.

But Ms. Tyson [a 24-year old student] said in a telephone interview several weeks after she drove in the motorcade that she had received little instruction from the Secret Service about what to do in the event of a high-speed emergency. She assumed that she should just follow the car in front of her no matter what happened.

“Whatever I am,” she said, “is good enough for them.”

-- snip --

Some security experts said the practice was troubling. Not only could the volunteers cause an accident — and they have — but they are sandwiched between the president’s limousine and the Secret Service ambulance, so neophyte drivers could create complications and delays in an emergency.

Dan Emmett, a Secret Service agent from 1983 to 2004 and the author of “Within Arm’s Length: A Secret Service Agent’s Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President,” said he considered volunteer drivers like Ms. Tyson, who read her family therapy textbook between stops, a national security threat.

You are face to face with a young person who is just completely full of themselves and enthralled,” Mr. Emmett said, recalling the years when he was part of the motorcade’s counterassault team that traveled in vehicles in front of the volunteers.

He added, “We were more concerned with that than an attack on the motorcade.”

Her FB post "got so many likes you wouldn't believe it"

It may be a security disaster waiting to happen, but it's also a wonderful source of Facebook material and such for the volunteers, who are reimbursed for their work by getting a handshake with POTUS and all the selfies they can take.

A word of warning about selfies in front of the President's limo. The NYT noted that a security guard at the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta lost his job when he took a photo of the Presidential limo. White Privilege alert! Evidently, what is permitted a grad student with a friend who works in the White House is not permitted a black man with a blue collar job.

Something tells me that the highly quotable Ms. Tyson will be cited in a House Oversight and Government Operations Committee hearing someday not far off.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Christmas Movie

Some say that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But I prefer the story of George Washington's troops crossing the Delaware on the night of December 25, 1776, and taking the bayonet to three regiments of Hessian mercenary troops in Trenton.

Ho, Ho, Ho!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

D'Oh! Released GITMO Prisoner Returns to Al-Qa'ida Leadership Role

Ode D'Oh! to the Sea

On Sunday, President Obama told CNN's Candy Crowley that he is "going to do everything I can to close" the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Then, on Monday, the news broke that his Special Envoy charged with negotiating detainee transfers from GITMO is resigning. The resignation may or may not be due to disagreements with the Defense Department, as the New York Times speculated, but I don't suppose it bodes well for Obama's plan to close GITMO by transferring the remaining detainees to other countries.

Even worse, last Thursday the State Department announced that it has designated a Saudi national named Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, a former GITMO detainee who had been repatriated to Saudi Arabia in 2006, as a heavy hitter al-Qa'ida leader who is currently active in Yemen.
The Department of State has designated the Egyptian Ajnad Misr group, and Ibrahim al-Rubaysh, an al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) senior leader, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

-- snip --

Ibrahim al-Rubaysh is a senior leader of AQAP, a designated FTO and Specially Designated Global entity. He serves as a senior advisor for AQAP operational planning and is involved in the planning of attacks. He has served as a senior AQAP sharia official since 2013, and as a senior AQAP sharia official, al-Rubaysh provides the justification for attacks conducted by AQAP. In addition, he has made public statements, including one in August 2014 where he called on Muslims to wage war against the United States. In addition, since October 14, 2014, Ibrahim al-Rubaysh has been subject to a five million dollar Reward for Justice [here].

We had the guy, but we let him go? Well, that's embarrassing. Especially considering that the U.S. military recommended Ibrahim al-Rubaysh for continued detention in a memo dated 30 November 2005, according to declassified records published in the New York Times [here]:
Executive Summary: Detainee is assessed as n Al-Qaida member who traveled to Afghanistan intent on training for jihad in Chechnya, but stayed and joined the Taliban. Detainee stayed in Al-Qaida guesthouses and attended that group's Al-Farouq terrorist training camp. He participated in hostilities in Tora Bora. Detainee is also linked to known Al-Qaida members. It is assessed this detainee is a MEDIUM risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies. JTF GTMO determined this detainee is of MEDIUM intelligence value.

Despite that assessment, we released Ibrahim al-Rubaysh just a few months later. Why be in a hurry to release a detainee who was an AQ member captured while escaping from Afghanistan, and who might pose a future threat to our interests?

Beats me. Maybe someone was overcome with emotion after reading his sappy poem "Ode to the Sea", which was published by the University of Iowa Press.

By Ibrahim al-Rubaish

O sea, give me news of my loved ones.

Were it not for the chains of the faithless, I would have dived into you, And reached my beloved family, or perished in your arms.

And it goes on from there, a real tear-jerker about how the cruel Caribbean Sea was keeping him captive far from his loved ones.

Don't feel too sorry for poor Ibrahim. After the U.S. government unchained him in 2006, he left his beloved family behind in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when he fled to Yemen to rejoin al-Qa'ida.

This experience with al-Qa'ida's poet-planner is bound to kill whatever appetite Congress may have had for further detainee releases. Will Obama actually close GITMO in his final quarter? Don't bet on it. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

It's like The Most Interesting Man in the World goes MacGyver

"Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen formed a chisel out of his own frozen feces to free himself from an avalanche" - Historical Pics


The Golden Age of Homeland Security: Groucho Marx's Civil Defense PSA

Fifty years before we had the Department of Homeland Security, we had a Federal Civil Defense Agency that was charged with promoting measures to protect the civilian population in the event of an attack on the United States.

No one under 60 would remember this, but we used to have bomb shelters in schools and other public buildings - sometimes in backyards - and did duck and cover drills between math and English classes. Ah, wonderful memories!

And so, back in the '50s, major entertainment figures such as Bob Hope, Art Linkletter (who maybe needs an intro today), and Groucho Marx made public service announcements about what you should do in the event an atomic bomb explodes in your town.

Civil Defense strategy in the 1950s was heavy on self-help and education about atomic hazards with the intention of controlling panic. As Groucho told us in 1953, "nobody else will help you" in the event of war but, nevertheless, your chances of surviving an atomic attack are excellent. Both statements were true.

Today, that seems like a remarkable message to get from your government. Nobody else will help you, so you'll have to be prepared to help yourself and your family. To see how much stress the government used to place on self-help listen to this 1961 civil defense message from President Kennedy in which he states that "individual preparedness, which is beyond the providence of government, is essential to an effective civil defense." I can't imagine DHS saying that anything is beyond the providence of government. 

Unlike today, back then the government wanted to reduce public fear about the - then highly probable - threat of an attack, and thought the best way to do so was with education about the threat and the promotion of self-reliance.They even published handy guides full of practical ideas that were even better than the much-ridiculed duct tape and plastic sheeting recommendation DHS put out in 2003.

Self-help booklet (1951), read it here

To quote Yakov Smirnoff, "what a country!"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Great Man-O-Vations

What a wonderful time it is to be alive! Free wi-fi almost everywhere, practically a million movies to stream on Netflix, and now, candles that smell like beer.

Beer! The cause, and the cure, of all life's misfortunes. (Homer Simpson)

Actually, these candles smell more like you spilled beer somewhere and didn't clean it up, which I guess would get annoying after a while, but I had fun amusing myself with this great product tonight while my wife shopped at the mall.

If they made one that smelled like stale pizza, and another one like unwashed socks, you could get an instant dormitory ambiance going on in your home. If you wanted that.   

After I'd sniffed my fill of beer, this candle cleansed the palate nicely:


Ahhhh, fresh cut grass!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Facing the Heavy Night After Taliban's Attack on Pakistan Army Public School

Coffins delivered to a Peshawar hospital

Perhaps the most profound word on today's atrocity in Peshawar was had by the Taliban's spokesman when he rationalized the massacre of children from the families of Pakistan's Army. "We are facing such heavy nights in routine," he said, referring to the thousands of casualties inflicted by the Army on extremists in Waziristan. "Today, you must face the heavy night."

It's just that simple. Inflicting suffering on the enemy is, by itself, a victory for the Pakistani Taliban.

The BBC's story was the best I saw, Peshawar school attack leaves 141 dead:
This brutal attack may well be a watershed for a country long accused by the world of treating terrorists as strategic assets.

Pakistan's policy-makers struggling to come to grips with various shades of militants have often cited a "lack of consensus" and "large pockets of sympathy" for religious militants as a major stumbling-block.

That is probably why, when army chief Gen Raheel Sharif launched what he called an indiscriminate operation earlier in the year against militant groups in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, the political response was lukewarm at best.

We will get them, was his message, be they Pakistani Taliban, Punjabi Taliban, al-Qaeda and affiliates, or most importantly, the dreaded Haqqani network. But the country's political leadership chose to remain largely silent. This is very likely to change now.

-- snip --

Still, even by Pakistan and the Taliban's gruesome standards, Tuesday's attack may be the most abominable yet.

-- snip --

And for the past few months, the Pakistani military has been conducting a ground offensive aimed at clearing out militants. The campaign has displaced tens of thousands of people.

The military offensive in the region has spurred deadly retaliations.

Khurrassani, the Pakistan Taliban spokesman, told CNN that the latest attack was revenge for the killing of hundreds of innocent tribesmen during repeated army operations in provinces including South Waziristan, North Waziristan and the Khyber Agency.

The TTP spokesman challenged that ordinary citizens were targeted, saying that five army vehicles are routinely stationed at the school.

"We are facing such heavy nights in routine," Khurrassani said, rationalizing the siege shortly before it ended. "Today, you must face the heavy night."

According to news reports, the Pakistan Army has killed almost 2,000 militants in North Waziristan in a massive offensive that began in June. If the Pakistani political response to that anti-Taliban offensive had been lukewarm or ambivalent before, surely that will change after today's enormous provocation.

Today's attack could very well create a multi-generational war that will continue until the Pakistan Army has eradicated not just their enemy but his entire bloodline.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headlne of the Week

"Mexican pilot fired after letting attractive singer fly plane while it was full of passengers" - Fox News Latino

That's Pretty Frugal, Eh?

Canada's Foreign Affairs Security Spending

Those must be some parsimonious fellows, up north there. A government that chooses to not spend every dollar appropriated, but instead pays down the budget deficit and cuts taxes? And to take some of that savings out of overseas security programs, of all things? Wow. See the details here.

Ottawa must be a very long way from Washington DC, where we don't even have a government budget, but instead our politicians are passing, in a two day period, a 1,600-page spending bill that crams $1.1 trillion into eleven separate appropriations and uncounted - literally uncounted, since no one saw that monstrosity of a bill until the day before yesterday - goodies and give-aways to special interests.

I can't speak to the wisdom of taking savings out of their overseas security programs, however, I definitely admire the Canadian government's style of fiscal management.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Another Obama Relative Fights Deportation to Kenya

If Barrack Obama had a mugshot, it might look like this

First it was his Kenyan Aunt Zeituni appealing her deportation from the United States, and then it was his Kenyan Uncle Omar, and now it's his Kenyan - what? second cousin? maybe something else? - George Ware Obama.

According to yesterday's Daily Caller (here) George W. Obama appealed an order of removal before the Board of Immigration Appeals in Arlington, Virginia, on November 6 and was denied.

Quoting George W's immigration attorney, The Daily Caller says he is pursuing a request for asylum based on his alleged fear of becoming a target for terrorist retaliation against his Presidential cousin - or something - if he is sent back home. That isn't going well for him, in part because "Obama has what are called 'negative equities' on his record, including DUIs and other crimes."

A few minutes of googling turned up three mugshots for George W., all taken in different Georgia jurisdictions in the Atlanta metro area, one for driving while intoxicated in Gwinnett County, another DUI plus driving with a suspended or revoked license in Decatur, and one for battery in Cobb County.

Maybe he'll keep on appealing until he hits the jackpot and gets to stay, just like the Massachusetts branch of his extended family did. Until then, George W. resides in the Rappahannoch Regional Facility of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Baghdad Bob: He Stood Superior to Truth

We have them surrounded in their tanks!

"In an age of spin, al-Sahaf offers feeling and authenticity. His message is consistent — unshakeable, in fact, no matter the evidence — but he commands daily attention by his on-the-spot, invective-rich variations on the theme. His lunatic counterfactual art is more appealing than the banal awfulness of the Reliable Sources. He is a Method actor in a production that will close in a couple of days. He stands superior to truth." -

Absolutely right. We all loved the Iraqi Information Minister. Baghdad Bob - actual name Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf - was the comic relief during Gulf War I. If you were anywhere much over the age of five back in 2003, you remember him, or at least Saturday Night Live parodies of him.

If you weren't around then, here's a selection of his trademark lunatic counterfactual art:

Bob wasn't a war criminal. He wasn't among our deck of 52 most wanted Iraqis. We didn't want him for anything, really. After he was captured we allowed him to leave Iraq and live the rest of his life in peace.

His life is coming to an end now, according to reports in Swedish news media. RIP Bob, and I really mean that.

And, in the fullness of time, was Bob really wrong about everything?

Check out The Eerie Prophecies of "Baghdad Bob" for a sobering re-think. Consider especially this one:
"How can you lay siege to a whole country? ... We are in our country, among our kith and kin ... Faltering forces of infidels cannot just enter a country of 26 million people and lay besiege to them! They are the ones who will find themselves under siege."

Today, twelve years later, as we send yet more U.S. troops back to Iraq, who looks more prescient, Baghdad Bob or Donald Rumsfeld?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Canadian Embassy in Cairo Closes Due to Security Concerns

Cairo's Tahrir Square

The embassies of Canada, the UK, and the U.S., are all located in Cairo's Garden City district, just south of Tahrir Square, which is the focus of civil disturbances in the city.

Canada's National Post reports that our fine neighbor neighbour to the north has been forced to close its embassy in Cairo today, Canada closes embassy in Cairo amid security concerns:

The Canadian Embassy announced its closure through a message on its main telephone number Monday. An Egyptian security official told The Associated Press that Canadians asked for all roads around the embassy shut down and more security.

He said they would increase security, but the roads couldn’t close.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

The British Embassy closed its offices to the public Sunday and Monday. Both embassies are in Cairo’s Garden City neighbourhood. The nearby U.S. Embassy remained open.

CBC New World added some significant details, Canadian Embassy in Cairo closes for unspecified security reasons:

CBC's Middle East correspondent Sasa Petricic said there have been security assessments in recent years that show the Canadian Embassy is particularly vulnerable in comparison to nearby embassies, including the British and American ones.

It is not set back from the street and is vulnerable on two sides, Petricic said.

Last month, a CBC News investigation showed that the Department of Foreign Affairs failed to spend almost half of the $129 million budgeted for “strengthening security at missions abroad” in 2013-14, leaving $69 million on the table.

So, the Canadian embassy is particularly vulnerable to security threats because it is "not set back from the street?" Setback! That's the foremost defining feature of those Fortress Embassies that critics of diplomatic architecture so loath.

Loathsome it may be, but there is no good substitute for setback when you are trying to operate a diplomatic premise in a dangerous place. Especially when the host government is unable or unwilling to close the surrounding public streets, which is something I can understand when those streets are in the downtown core of their capitol city.    

Regarding that unspent budget for Canadian diplomatic security, I hope for the DFA's sake that the Canadian Parliament has no equivalent of our Representative Jason 'embassy security is my pet project' Chaffetz.

Friday, December 5, 2014

We're Safe, Secure, and Modern in Rabat and Vientiane

(Photo from Embassy Rabat website)

The good people at Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) had a very productive week, opening up two new Fortress Embassies, in Rabat, Morocco, and Vientiane, Laos. They are the 118th and 119th to be completed since 1999 under the Capital Security Construction Program.

OBO's press releases give the bare-bones details of these new projects.

U.S. Embassy Rabat:
The new multi-building complex provides employees with a safe, secure, and modern workplace. The campus is situated on a site of just under 8 acres, on King Mohammed IV Road, approximately 3 miles from the Rabat city center. With a project budget of $181 million, it includes a Chancery, a U.S. Marine Security Guard residence, and a service/utility building.

U.S. Embassy Vientiane:
The new multi-building complex provides employees with a safe, secure, and modern workplace. The campus is situated on a 7.4-acre site in a neighborhood south of downtown Vientiane, on the road leading to the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River ... With a project budget of $145 million, it includes a Chancery, a U.S. Marine Security Guard residence, a parking structure, and a utility building.
I see the OBO press office has changed the generic new embassy description from "safe, secure, and functional" to "safe, secure, and modern." Okay, modern it is.

The two new embassy complexes campuses sound very similar in size and composition, and both are located not too far from their city centers. And the prices are pretty good, too; not many new complexes campuses have cost less than $200 million lately.

Let's give credit where credit is due. Kudos, OBO!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Miss Teen South Carolina Is Going to Budapest

I don't know why Senator McCain is so angry about the confirmation of that soap opera producer lady as Ambassador to Hungary. So she was a little nervous when he questioned her at the confirmation hearing. What did she say that was all that wrong?
Senator McCain: "Recent polls have shown that most Americans can't find Hungary on a map. Why do you think this is so?"

Miss Teen Bold and Beautiful: "Well, we have our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade… uh ... Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies, to work to promote and protect the security, both—for both countries and for—and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years."

Senator McCain: "Great answer"
That's 99 percent straight from the hearing transcript. Our strategic interests with the Hungary and everywhere like such as are clearly in good hands. Not to mention the security of both our countries and human rights around the world so that we will be able to build up our future for our children.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Utah Man Threatens To Fire On Government Targets

Get some, get some, get some!

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) will take over the chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress, and today he shared his enthusiasm about this new assignment with the Salt Lake Tribune. See Chairman Chaffetz eyes ‘target-rich’ environment, but Benghazi isn’t one:

The Utah Republican, who flew to Libya a month after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks to ask questions about Benghazi, says there are plenty of other issues to keep his committee busy: Secret Service missteps, IRS targeting of conservative groups and embassy security.

"It’s a target-rich environment. There’s plenty of waste, fraud and abuse," Chaffetz says. "There’s a lot out there. ... There are investigations that have been ongoing for more than a year that you haven’t even heard of."

Not that Chaffetz wants to let Benghazi go.

Let it go? No, not likely.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Temptation Eyes

She's got something that moves my soul, and she knows I'd love to love her (The Grass Roots)

The Saudi religious police have proposed a new crime-prevention measure to clean up the streets of the Kingdom. Out of fear for the unpredictable effect of 'tempting' eyes on men, they would make some Saudi women cover their eyes when out in public. This would not apply to all Saudi women, reportedly, but only to the more flirtatious trollops.
Women with attractive eyes may be forced to cover them up under Saudi Arabia's latest repressive measure, it was reported yesterday.

The ultra-conservative Islamic state has said it has the right to stop women revealing 'tempting' eyes in public.

A spokesperson for Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Motlab al Nabet, said a proposal to enshrine the measure in law has been tabled.

I don't know how the Religious Police propose to decide which women have "attractive eyes" and which don't. Would they rate attractiveness on a scale? Nasty hot, pretty, kinda cute, just okay, "I'd hit it," and so forth?   
Actually, those guys would never find any set of female eyes anything other than attractive and totally-out-of-control-provocative. I've seen the evidence first-hand, and can attest that Saudi men do indeed go a wee bit crazy over female eyes. 

Pin-up girls in a Saudi barracks

Scoff at them if you will, but is there any fundamental difference - fundamental, get it? - between the Kingdom's religious policemen and their secular counterparts in the modern Western nanny state? They want to ban the unsafe display of women's eyes, and New York's former Mayor Bloomberg actually did ban all manner of things that he deemed unsafe or imprudent.

They both do it for your own good. Which means they both feel perfectly justified, and neither will stop so long as they have power.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Space Cowboys? Russian Cosmonauts Are Packing More Than Tang

The Daily Mail has a story today, citing a blog called The Appendix, about the Cosmonaut Survival Kit. The kit includes a combination gun with both shotgun and rifle barrels.

The kit included the Soviet TP-82, a special combination gun with a detachable machete created for hunting, firing distress beacons and self-defence.

American astronauts who trained as part of the Soyuz spacecraft crews for the International Space Station in the 90s also had to learn how to use the firearm.

Appendix recalls how astronaut Jim Voss learned to use the gun in a mock-up spacecraft in the Black Sea using wine, beer and vodka bottles as target practice.

Reportedly, Russian cosmonauts still carry firearms in space, but now they pack plain old Makarov service pistols.

So, then, 2001: A Space Odyssey might have gone differently if Russians had manned that spacecraft.

"Open the pod bay doors, HAL"

"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

"Don't make me use this Makarov, HAL."

"Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."

"Open the pod bay doors NOW, HAL, before I bust a cap in your cyber ass."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Toes Go Missing As Man Naps, Family Pet Suspected" -

White House Security Measures "All Failed in Stunning Succession"

Nice hedges there, in front of the door

The Secret Service was already embarrassed by its failure to stop that White House fence-jumper back on September 19, but until today we didn't know how very badly it failed. The WaPo reported on an internal review of the incident (here) and had this to say:
Layer after layer of security measures that were supposed to block an intruder from getting into the White House all failed in stunning succession on the evening of Sept. 19, according to an internal review of a fence jumper’s breach.

There were nearly a dozen failures in the Secret Service’s rings of security that helped Omar Jose Gonzalez, 42, get inside the White House and deep into the East Room, according to a Department of Homeland Security review, a summary of which was obtained Thursday by The Washington Post
The executive summary is here. It is grim reading.

The report has surprising stuff - surprising to me, at least - about shortcomings in elementary physical and technical security countermeasures. For instance, the intruder climbed the White House fence at a weak spot that lacked an ornamental spike topping, temporary construction around the fence line blocked officers' visibility during the incident, the Emergency Response Team officers and the dog handler all assumed that bushes near the North Portico were an impassable barrier (whereas the intruder went through them with no trouble), alarm annunciation had been muted inside the White House at the staff's request leaving the officer who was posted directly inside the North Portico door unaware of what was going on, and the doors lacked any automated locking mechanism.

The training and staffing problems were even worse, if that is possible. One tidbit is enough to make my point. According to the investigation, responding members of the Emergency Response Team didn't know the layout of the White House and hesitated to go into the mansion after the break-in. They "had never received familiarization training regarding the interior of the White House." What?

The part about the bushes interests me. “Prior to that evening, the Officers believed the bushes too thick to be passable” the report says. Really? Are they some sort of super-special high security bushes?

No, they aren't. According to a White House pamphlet about the landscaping of the grounds, the bushes are simple English and American boxwoods. Those are evergreens that have dense foliage and are often used for privacy fences or border hedges, but they are no more impassable than any other common shrubbery. Have the White House Uniformed Division Officers never received familiarization training about the exterior of the White House, either?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The WaPo Explains All

The WaPo has a very information article today on how and why the Democrats lost so big yesterday, Battle for the Senate: How the GOP Did It.

Great article, but the title is exactly wrong. It should have been: How Obama Lost It.
The tension represented something more fundamental than money — it was indicative of a wider resentment among Democrats in the Capitol of how the president was approaching the election and how, they felt, he was dragging them down. All year on the trail, Democratic incumbents would be pounded for administration blunders beyond their control — the disastrous rollout of the health-care law, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented children flooding across the border, Islamic State terrorism and fears about Ebola.

- snip -

From the outset of the campaign, Republicans had a simple plan: Don’t make mistakes, and make it all about Obama, Obama, Obama. Every new White House crisis would bring a new Republican ad. And every Democratic incumbent would be attacked relentlessly for voting with the president 97 or 98 or 99 percent of the time.

- snip -

“No member of the Democratic caucus screwed up the rollout of that health-care Web site,” [Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David] Krone added, “yet they paid the price — every one of them.”

Exacerbating matters was Obama’s Oct. 2 speech in Chicago, in which he handed every Republican admaker fresh material that fit perfectly with their message: “I am not on the ballot this fall. . . . But make no mistake — these policies are on the ballot, every single one of them.”

“It took about 12 seconds for every reporter, every race, half of the Obama world to say that was probably not the right thing to say,” said a senior Democratic official.

It was so problematic that many Democrats wondered whether Obama meant to say it. He did. “It is amazing that it was in the speech,” the official said. “It wasn’t ad-libbed.”

No, it wasn't ad-libbed.

Democrats must be wondering now whether Obama will refrain from saying more stuff like this for the next two years.

Monday, November 3, 2014

OBO Announces Three New Fortress Embassies Under Contract

U.S. Consulate Dhahran, State Dept. photo

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced last week that it has signed contracts for three more "safe, secure, and functional facilities," AKA Fortress Embassies.

The lucky posts are U.S. Consulate Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Embassy Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and U.S. Embassy Pristina, Kosovo. The OBO press releases are here, and here, and here.

That's Consulate Dhahran in the photo above. It's high time that one was replaced, I say. Do you notice the fine Old World craftsmanship of those stone walls? That's because they were constructed in 1949 using Italian Prisoners of War for laborers. True story. Embassy Baghdad wasn't the first time forced labor was used in diplomatic construction.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

If she wasn't 61, I could believe that

"Bill Clinton plugs Kay Hagan in N.C." - Politico Pro

A headline so hugely inappropriate calls for this hugely inappropriate Nirvana cover. (Although, at least you can understand the lyrics when Paul Anka sings it.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

"No Specific Credible Threats" Means No Specific Credible Security Measures

The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it has heightened security around federal buildings in response to last week's attack by a lone nut on the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, and other global events. Needless to say, this heightened security - whatever it may consist of - is "not based on any specific, credible information at this time indicating any active plot against government officials and law enforcement in the United States."

Doesn't pretty much every public warning or security advisory ever put out by DHS say that it is not based on any specific credible threat information? Yes, they do. In fact, let me Google that for you.

Threats aside, what does this "heightened security" mean for my fellow Feds in the many government office buildings in and around Washington DC? Realistically speaking, it means nothing. The government agency responsible for security of the federal government's 9,500 workplaces, the Federal Protective Service, is just as under-resourced this week as it has been for many years now, and it is simply not equal to the task of heightening security at all those places.

In particular, it lacks the personnel to provide more than a token presence at most government buildings. According to DHS's written testimony before a House subcommittee in May of this year, “FPS directly employs more than 1,000 law enforcement officers, inspectors, and special agents who are trained physical security experts and sworn Federal law enforcement officers. Approximately 13,000 FPS-contracted [Protective Security Officers] staff guard posts at FPS-protected Federal facilities.” That's 13,000 guards for 9,500 office buildings, minus the few belonging to agencies that provide their own building security. You do the math.

And that's putting the best spin on the situation. The head of the employees union that represents FPS put it more bluntly in an interview with Federal News Radio:
David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, told the panel buildings security reviews have also suffered because of understaffing at the agency. Wright, who works as an FPS inspector, said the organization is top-heavy and more employees need to be deployed to the field.

All told, more than 21 percent of staff is assigned to headquarters staff, "which robs federal buildings of necessary security," Wright testified.

Meanwhile, he said, employees in the field struggle to perform all their duties. Most inspectors are assigned to oversee an average of nearly two dozen buildings and are responsible for conducting security assessments, overseeing contractors and a host of other duties.

"How do inspectors accomplish all their tasks? They don't, because there are simply not enough of them," Wright said.

A bit too blunt, perhaps. However, the General Accountability Office agrees that FPS is a troubled agency.

This week's announcement by DHS is obviously more security theater than anything else. When DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calls on Congress and the Administration to give FPS the funding it needs to truly heighten security around federal buildings, then I'll get interested.

Until then, keep calm and carry on, you Feds, and don't expect to see any more security presence than usual.

The Ultimate Horror of Our Times

Friday, October 17, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week (This Week, It's a Tie)

Can caffeine withdrawal make a camel homicidal?

"Camel kills American owner at wildlife park in Mexico resort" - The Guardian World

While it was unclear why the animal attacked, a Tulum civil defense official said some versions suggest the camel was upset at not getting a soft drink.

“One version is that he would always give him a Coca-Cola to drink, and apparently, that day he didn’t give him the Coca-Cola,” 

Do those two look fastidious about not exchanging body fluids?

"Two male strippers in quarantine after flying with Ebola-stricken nurse" - New York Post

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Under Oath

This Document Dump Friday seems a good time to look back at the best literary treatment of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which was a volume of 'found poetry' (this sort of thing) taken from Clinton's and Lewinsky's sworn testimony and called Poetry Under Oath.

A sample:

'In the Context of Her Desire'

She raised the issue with me
In the context of her desire
To avoid testifying

Which I certainly understood

Not only because there were
Some embarrassing facts
About our relationship

That were inappropriate

But also because a whole lot
Of innocent people were
Being traumatized
And dragged
Through the mud
By these Jones
With their

Now, that is emotionally evocative literature.

More Previously Restricted Clinton Documents Coming Out Today

It's a drizzly Friday afternoon in Washington before a three-day weekend, and that means one thing - document dump!

According to the AP:
The 10,000 pages of records from the Clinton administration were expected to be released Friday. They touch on the Whitewater investigation into the Bill and Hillary Clinton's land dealings in Arkansas; Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky; the 1993 death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster; and the pardons Bill Clinton granted in his final hours as president.

Watch this site - Clinton Library, previously restricted documents.

This will be the sixth dump of previously restricted Clinton documents. The best tidbits from the last dump were reported on by the WaPo here, back in June.

This new dump looks like it could be more embarrassing for Hillary than previous ones.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Dwarf given children's colouring book by waitress as he ate dinner with his fiancée"

It was only when the waitress heard James's deep voice that she realised her embarrassing blunder - Evening Standard, 10/10/14

Thursday, October 9, 2014

White House Denies Surpressing Scandal Investigation Before 2012 Election

Obama donor, Obama, and Obama aide (UK Mail photo)

The young man on the right is not Napoleon Dynamite, by the way. He's actually the son of an Obama contributor and he currently works in the State Department as a teenage Policy Advisor, but maybe not for much longer, depending on how the latest Washington sex-and-politics scandal develops.

Dach posted this photo on Instagram

I see he uses his big boy name of Jonathan on his business card, but he goes by the more age-appropriate "Jonny" in the State Department phone book, and by "darkwingdach" on his Tumblr account, which is called, I kid you not, Let's Get Dangerous.

Dangerous? Have you ever seen a less dangerous-looking individual? I hope the prostitutes in Cartagena have a Kid’s Menu of reduced rates, because that boy should not have been charged full price.

The WaPo explains how Dach-Darkwing-Danger-Dynamite got his job:
Dach’s father, Leslie Dach, is a prominent Democratic donor who gave $23,900 to the party in 2008 to help elect Obama. In his previous job as a top lobbyist for Wal-Mart, he partnered with the White House on high-profile projects, including Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.

I've discovered that Dach did some work for Michelle's youth fitness campaign himself, as you can see here.

Don't feel sorry for him. His father can always find him a job at Wal-Mart if the Washington thing doesn't work out.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lydia, Oh Lydia, That Encyclopedia

I found this photo on Twitter (here), and thought it way too good not to share.

That young lady is following in a long tradition of educational body art, something that was celebrated way back in 1939 in a song written by Harold Arlen and Yip "Brother Can you Spare a Dime" Hapburg.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Coast Guard gives WWII vet a Viking funeral at sea" - Navy Times

It took about 20 minutes to burn, he said. The family said some last words, and one crew member read a nautically themed Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, "Crossing the Bar"

Unlike John Kerry, I Do Not Look Good In A Bunny Suit

SecState Kerry, setting a good example in this time of Ebola 

Shall we ban travelers from West Africa from entry into the United States? It seems the inevitable next step in containing the Ebola outbreak. We would not be alone, not by any means.

Saudi Arabia has already refused visas to "more than 7,000 would-be pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone" as well as to anyone who visited those countries recently, according to the Nigerian embassy in Bern. Air France, British Air, and the airlines of some African nations have suspended flights to West Africa.

Why hasn't the U.S. done likewise? And if we did, would that be enough to prevent the importation of more travelers who have been exposed to Ebola?

The NYT is running an opinion piece today by the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies who points out that there may be over 13,000 holders of U.S. visas from the most affected countries. How would we ban them from entry?

Here's the key paragraph from the Op-Ed piece: Bar People From Areas Affected by Ebola Until Threat Is Over :
The total number of visas issued to citizens of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is not large relative to other countries. But it’s a large enough group to worry about. Based on State Department nonimmigrant visa issuance statistics [here], I estimate that there are about 5,000 people in Guinea, 5,000 people in Sierra Leone and 3,500 people in Liberia who possess visas to come to the United States today (or who could be in the U.S. right now). Additional steps need to be taken to protect our communities.

The WaPo has chimed in with an article in its Health section that has a hard-core headline (Why hasn’t the U.S. closed its airports to travelers from Ebola-ravaged countries?) but some squishy soft content:
If someone isn't exhibiting symptoms of Ebola, that person is not infectious. And one of the first symptoms of Ebola is a fever. In airports in all of the affected regions and across the world, passengers coming from flights from West Africa are being screened for elevated temperatures.

So, airline passengers are screened for elevated temperature, and so long as they don't seem to have a fever they can board a flight out of the hot zone? What if an infected traveler has taken acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to lower his fever, like the U.S. National Institutes of Health says it will?

Unless we get serious with travel restrictions and entry screening, more infectious travelers may very well be coming to a city near you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Utah Man Advocates Violence On Federal Property

Jason "Overwhelming Force" Chaffetz Action Figure

I was going to write up my reaction to yesterday's Oversight Committee hearing on the White House security breach, but then Salon wrote it for me:
The competition for who could make the grander spectacle of themselves was stiff. Rep. John Mica held up an ADT sign and suggested that the Secret Service buy some “inexpensive vegetation” to bolster White House security. Rep. Trey Gowdy cranked his volume knob all the way to eleven and then broke it off. But the winner has to be committee-chair-in-waiting Jason Chaffetz, who demanded to know why, when it comes to fence jumpers, the Secret Service doesn’t use “overwhelming force.”

Exactly so. If you didn't see it live, you can watch the hearing here, on C-Span.

Representative Mica's helpful suggestion to Secret Service Director Pierson was that she reinforce White House security with Spanish Bayonet, a plant that grows in the desert and on sand dunes and which is used as a landscape accent in his home state of Florida. Okay, yeah, thanks.

Representative Gowdy is still the loudest man in Congress. Still annoying, but that's nothing new.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, however, might have broken new ground with his histrionics about wanting "overwhelming force" exerted against any and all White House intruders (no matter how small?). I think he even teared up a little when he said, more than once, that if any Secret Service agent used lethal force "I will have his back." I don't know what he means by that, but he seemed to think it was a muy macho thing to say.

The only grown-up at the hearing was former Secret Service Director Basham, whose opening statement cautioned that, had this latest fence-jumper been shot, the Committee might very well have been grilling Pierson over why her troops killed a mentally disabled veteran who was displaying no obvious weapon. Of course, had that happened, the agent who fired would be reassured to know that Jason Chaffetz will have his back - what does that mean? - while he goes through the criminal, civil, administrative, and personal consequences of using deadly force.

After all the bloodthirsty shouting at that hearing, it seems awfully mild and mundane to go back to the business of the White House's weak perimeter fence. But, there was this interesting article in the WaPo a few days ago in which a National Park Service spokeswoman said that the Secret Service has never given NPS any security standards or criteria for the fence, or even shown any interest in what NPS does with it:

The fence itself is 7 feet 6 inches tall. It is made of evenly spaced iron bars, mounted in a Virginia sandstone base. At the top of the bars — the last physical obstacle between the public sidewalk and the knob on the White House door — are little spear points, called finials.

We haven’t done any other work since 1965,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which owns the fence (the White House is technically located in a national park).

And Anzelmo-Sarles said the Park Service couldn’t remember anyone — the Secret Service, the White House, anyone — asking for the fence to be changed. In fact, the Park Service is in the middle of a project that will repaint the old fence and remove the rust, without changing anything else.

“There’s no sort of tension or anything like that in recent memory” over the design of the fence, she said.

That article was published September 23. I hope there has been some tension between NPS and the Secret Service since then.