Thursday, December 31, 2009

A 2010 Prediction: Virtual Strip Searches For Air Travelers

Thanks to Umar Farouk 'the panty bomber' Abdulmutallab, it's a safe prediction that in 2010 air travelers will find themselves going through what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) calls "Advanced Imaging Technology" and the American Civil Liberties Union calls a "virtual strip search."

Specifically, we will be going through the Rapiscan Secure 1000 'Single Pose' device. TSA has issued the manufacturer a sole source contract to supply 150 of the devices right away at $167,000 each, and 300 more in 2010. There are 40 Secure 1000 machines currently in use at 19 U.S. airports, mostly for secondary screening and pilot projects.

A total of 490 machines will barely scratch the surface, even if TSA forgets about domestic flights and only tries to screen U.S.-bound travelers departing from overseas airports. There are 58 million air passengers arriving in the U.S. from overseas each year, and about 250 flights on any day. Two body scan devices would be needed to screen the passengers on each typical long-range aircraft since the average throughput time for a body scanner is probably around 30 seconds per person, which means that it would take two and a half hours to screen an Airbus-load of passengers with just a single machine, and that is surely too long for normal airport operations. So, plan on two scanners at each overseas gate that handles U.S.-bound traffic. And if TSA intends to screen domestic U.S. air travelers as well, I can't count high enough to figure out how many scanners we would need for the 600 or so domestic airports that are certified to handle commercial air carriers. Dulles International Airport has 143 gates just by itself.

That's a lot of orders for Rapiscan and its competitors. Here's an interview conducted yesterday on CNBC about the business of whole body scanners:

This backscatter image technology is not new. In fact, it has been in use for certain limited security applications, such as screening prisoners, since the late 1980s. It works well; that is, it reliably produces a skin-level image that will allow an operator to detect the presence of objects concealed under the passenger's clothes. It does not work perfectly; that is, it does not detect objects that are concealed under the skin, or inside body orifices, or out of sight within anatomical nooks and crannies. The 'single pose' machines will scan the front and back of a subject simultaneously, which is a pretty complete scan provided that the subject keeps his arms raised. The second-generation devices will do an even better 360-degree scan since they will be able to get images as subjects are turning. These machines do not get a particularly good view of the crotch area, however, and that's where the bombs are these days. Still, they work better than any other non-intrusive search technology that I'm aware of.

Only privacy objections have kept the things from gaining enough public acceptance to be put into widespread use for passenger screening before now (plus, in the UK, an interesting legal argument that imaging the bodies of passengers under the age of 18 could violate child protection laws). They have so far been limited to secondary screening or voluntary applications. But, it looks like the Christmas bomb attack on Northwest Flight 253 could well be the last straw that breaks the public's opposition to their use.

As much as I detest 'security theater' and the Kabuki dance we already do at airports, I'm ready to surrender and be scanned. Given the choice between a 'virtual strip search' and a manual pat-down, I'll gladly opt for the scan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NW Airlines Bomb Flap Escalates

Two news stories released tonight have the potential to further heat up the already heated Washington flap over who-knew-what-and-when about Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the would-be Christmas bomber of Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

The first story is from the Washington Times, quoting an anonymous U.S. intelligence official who connects AbdulMutallab with the Muslim imam who was the religious adviser of the perpetrator of last month's Fort Hood massacre. If true, that could enhance the political fallout over the Flight 253 attack.

The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told The Washington Times.

The intelligence official, who is familiar with the FBI's interrogation of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, said the bombing suspect has boasted of his jihad training during interrogation by the FBI and has said it included final exhortations by Mr. al-Awlak.

The second story comes from the Wall Street Journal, likewise quotes anonymous U.S. government officials, and it blames both the CIA and NSA for either sitting on or failing to correctly interpret intelligence about AbdulMutallab. Our intelligence agencies are notoriously reluctant to share terrorist threat information, but they are more than eager to point the finger at each other when politically threatened themselves.

President Barack Obama said a "catastrophic breach" allowed the alleged Christmas Day bomber to set his attack into motion, as it emerged that multiple U.S. agencies met in mid-November to discuss a warning from the accused bomber's father.

The president said he made his comments because new information pointed to a serious breach of national security. He said a warning made by the suspect's father to U.S. officials in Nigeria "could have and should have" led to the suspect to be banned from flying. "A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable," he said.

He suggested other intelligence failures were also to blame. "There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together," he said. "It's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have."

This could spin up into a nasty little scandal.


Update: CNN has joined the fun with its own story (CIA failed to circulate report about bombing suspect) quoting multiple and contradictory anonymous officials:

AbdulMutallab [the elder one] talked about his son's extremist views with someone from the CIA and a report was prepared, but the report was not circulated outside the agency, a reliable source told CNN's Jeanne Meserve on Tuesday.

Had that information been shared, the 23-year-old Nigerian who is alleged to have bungled an attempt to blow up a jetliner as it was landing in Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day might have been denied passage on the Northwest Airlines flight, the source said.

U.S. officials said the father, a former Nigerian banker, expressed his concerns about his son's radicalization during at least one meeting and several calls with officials at the embassy in Nigeria.

The information on AbdulMutallab had been sent to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, but it sat there for five weeks and was not disseminated, the source said.

-- snip --

An administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the federal government had information that should have been assessed and meshed with other information "that would have allowed us to disrupt the attempted terrorist attack" before the suspect boarded the jet.

"What we have here is a situation in which the failings were individual, organizational, systemic and technological," the official said. "We ended up in a situation where a single point of failure in the system put our security at risk, where human error was compounded by systemic deficiencies in a way that we cannot allow to continue."

But an [anonymous] intelligence official said that the son's name, passport number and possible connection to extremists were indeed disseminated. "I'm not aware of a magic piece of intelligence somehow withheld that would have put AbdulMutallab on the no-fly list," the official said.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly [finally, a named official!] said department staff did what they were supposed to have done by sending a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington about the matter. Kelly said any decision to have revoked the suspect's visa would have been an interagency decision.

But [an anonymous] U.S. government official said the information in the cable offered nothing specific and was just one of hundreds of such reports that the center evaluates daily.

This is getting good.

New Executive Order Will Expedite Declassification of Records

The White House announced today, as expected, that President Obama has signed a new executive order on classified national security information.

William H. Leary, the senior director of records and access management at the National Security Council, summarized the EO on the White House Blog. Three points jumped out for me:

[The Executive Order] establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives to enable agency reviewers to perform collaborative declassification in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist with input from the general public.


It eliminates an Intelligence Community veto of certain decisions by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel that was introduced in the Bush order.


The Order also significantly modifies the “third agency rule” [TSB note: this is the previously sacrosanct government policy that information from another agency should only be released with that agency's permission] to permit re-dissemination of classified documents by receiving agencies without the approval of the originating agency, except when the originating agency has indicated on the documents that such prior approval is required.

It all sounds very good for the producers and consumers of historical documentation.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From Bombs to Crayons and Back Again

ABC News is reporting that former Gitmo detainees whom we released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 are believed to have been behind the Northwest Airlines Flight #253 bombing attempt (Former Guantanamo Prisoners Believed Behind Northwest Airlines Bomb Plot).

They quote an unidentified U.S. diplomat who is less than impressed with the Saudi's rehab program for former terrorists:

"The so-called rehabilitation programs are a joke," a U.S. diplomat said in describing the Saudi efforts with released Guantanamo detainees.

Saudi officials concede its program has had its "failures" but insist that, overall, the effort has helped return potential terrorists to a meaningful life.

One program gives the former detainees paints and crayons as part of the rehabilitation regimen.

Paints and crayons? That rings a bell. In 2007, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired a short documentary about the Saudi's art therapy program, featuring Canadian journalist Nancy Durham.

Predictably, art therapy is a Western export to Saudi Arabia. Dr. Awad Alyami, Director of Art Therapy at King Fahad Medical City and the main figure in the PBS story, studied art therapy at Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Alyami learned about this innovative approach while studying in the United States.

Dr. Alyami: It’s not revolutionary a hundred percent because my colleagues in England, Canada, in the states … they’re doing some art in jail, but not with my type of population.

Nancy Durham: Yeah, this is what’s new. I mean these are guys who couldn’t have cared less about art … (garbled).

Dr. Alyami: Yes, Nancy do you think it was easy for me to start the program with them? No, I was scared to death to start with them. Really … because I had that idea that these are uh … criminals. They blow up buildings and stuff.

Indeed. Some of them still do blow stuff up. Nothing worse than an art therapy drop-out.

The sound is weak on the video clip, but you can read a transcript here.

Internal Blogging at State?

Should Madam le Consul return, only this time as an in-house project on the State Department's intranet?

The idea has been proposed at The Sounding Board [the link will work only if you're on a computer connected to the intranet], the State Department's employee suggestion box. No comments have yet been entered for that suggestion, which kind of surprises me.

Is internal blogging fundamentally a bad idea?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Christmas Eve Tradition

Is to watch The Crossing and cheer for the Continental Army as it brings shock and awe to the Republic's enemies, 1776-style.

The Battle of Trenton fascinates me as an historical turning point - it was that very rare thing, a tactical operation that had a strategic impact - and, also, I find the movie a good corrective for the schmaltzy sentimentality that starts to get out of control at this point in the holiday season. For weeks now every car radio and shopping mall sound system has been keeping up a steady Little-Drummer-Boy-beat of Rudolph the Red Nosed pear tree, chestnuts roasting over run-over Grandmas, and figgy puddings dressed up like Eskimos. By today, I'm more than ready for a bracing reminder of a Christmas that was made of sterner stuff.

Christmas At Arlington National Cemetery

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another Day, Another FRUS Volume

Today, the Office of the Historian announced the release of another volume in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series covering the Nixon-Ford years. Yesterday it was Global Issues, today it's Foreign Economic Policy. Read it here. Keep them coming!

Here's the press release (Release of Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976. This volume documents the major decisions of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford in the realm of foreign economic policy, focusing in particular on international monetary relations, international trade policy, and efforts to redress global economic inequalities.

By the time of Richard Nixon’s second inauguration in January 1973, there was a clear need to reform the international monetary system. The system of fixed exchange rates envisaged at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference had been under pressure for some time; indeed, it had already broken down in the wake of the Nixon administration’s August 1971 New Economic Policy, only to be restored by the Smithsonian Agreement of December 1971. The final collapse of the fixed exchange rate system is chronicled in the volume’s first chapter, which examines the exchange crises of February and March 1973. Efforts to restructure the international monetary system, with particular emphasis on the issues of exchange rate flexibility and the role of gold, are examined in the volume’s second chapter. The third and fourth chapters document the origins of the Group of Seven (G-7) summit, an initiative that arose out of the unsettled international monetary environment and the more general economic decline in the industrialized world.

The fifth chapter, which covers trade policy, demonstrates more than any other chapter in the volume the influence of domestic politics on U.S. foreign relations. The chapter documents the White House’s struggle to secure passage of a major piece of trade reform legislation, the Trade Act of 1974, in the face of significant domestic opposition. The most serious challenge faced by the Nixon and Ford administrations was that posed by the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was designed to link extension of most favored nation (MFN) status to the Soviet Union with its policies on Jewish emigration. The chapter also documents the beginning of the Tokyo Round of trade negotiations, held under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), with particular emphasis on the role of agriculture in those negotiations. The Nixon administration’s 1973 decision to impose export controls, as well as foreign fears of U.S. protectionism, are also covered in this chapter.

The volume’s sixth, and final, chapter examines commodity policy and North-South relations. It chronicles the United States attempts to grapple with the global trade in primary commodities in a post-1973 oil embargo world, as well as its efforts to redress persistent economic disparities between the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere and the less developed countries of the south.

Like all recent Foreign Relations volumes, the emphasis of this volume is on the formulation of policy, rather than on its implementation or on day-to-day diplomacy. As in other volumes in the Nixon-Ford subseries, the National Security Council and the Department of State play key roles in the policy making process; however, in this volume, other agencies and offices, such as the Department of Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Office of the Special Representative for Trade Negotiations, are also prominent.

The volume is available as a downloadable PDF on the Office of the Historian website at Hard copies of the volume will be available in early 2010 for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing Office online at (GPO S/N 044-000-02615-5; ISBN 978-0-16-079992-1), or by calling toll-free 1-866-512-1800 (D.C. area 202-512-1800). For further information, please contact the Office of the Historian at

Free Tibet (With Purchase of Kathmandu)

This news has me shaking my head: General Tso's New Meatball: Ford Finalizes Volvo Sale To Chinese.

Volvo and China? Those concepts are absolutely incompatible, two brands that clash not just industrially but aesthetically, culturally, and politically.

The only upside I can see to this will be the entertainment value of looking at all the Volvos in my neighborhood that sport those FREE TIBET bumper stickers.

Cold War Records Could Be Unfrozen Soon

There is reportedly an executive order pending that could result in the expeditious declassification of more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents, as well as instituting procedural changes that would reduce the number of government records kept from the public.

Secrecy News has a post about this, along with a link to an Associated Press story that came out yesterday. See New Executive Order Awaits Presidential Decision:

A new draft executive order on national security classification and declassification policy is expected to be presented to President Obama this week for his personal resolution of issues which remain in dispute among policymakers and affected agencies, especially intelligence agencies.

This marks the first time since the first Bush Administration, nearly two decades ago, that a President has needed to make a final determination on the contents of an executive order because staffers and agencies were unable to reach a consensus view. (Correction: There is a more recent precedent for such presidential involvement. According to Morton Halperin, President Clinton was presented with a “split memo” in 1995 on the question of whether to include a public interest balancing test for declassification in executive order 12958. President Clinton decided against it.)

The currently disputed issues are believed to include the composition of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, including whether it should include representatives of ODNI or CIA or both, and whether the intelligence agencies should continue to have the veto over Panel declassification decisions that was granted by the George W. Bush Administration.

The final order, which is likely to be issued before the end of December, is expected among other things to direct agencies to conduct a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review in order to eliminate obsolete classification requirements, and to establish a National Declassification Center to coordinate and expedite declassification of historical records, as described in a previous draft dated August 4, 2009.

See “Obama Plan Could Limit Records Hidden From Public” by Pete Yost, Associated Press, December 20, 2009.

No doubt there are legitimate reasons to keep some documents classified indefinitely, but surely 99% of Cold War era records could be safely released at this point. I've done research into U.S. policies and programs for what was then called psychological warfare - and today would be called public diplomacy - directed toward Hungary in the years preceding the 1956 Uprising and I find it hard to believe there could be any good argument for not releasing the few remaining classified records on that matter, to name just one significant episode of the Cold War.

Incidentally, one side effect of more declassification would be to benefit the State Department's Office of the Historian (HO) in its competition with non-official entities such as Georgetown University's National Security Archive. Non-official archivists of public records are free to post classified documents that were leaked or otherwise improperly released, giving those academic freebooters an advantage over the HO, which must strictly respect the archival principle of provenance. Once Cold War diplomatic documents are properly declassified, they will enter the public record via the HO and its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

Opening Gitmo North Might Take A While

The Obama administration's plan to buy an Illinois state prison and re-fit it for holding Gitmo's detainees has hit a couple of unexpected snags, according to the New York Times (Plan to Move Guantánamo Detainees Faces New Delay):

[I]n interviews this week, officials estimated that it could take 8 to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades before any transfers take place. Such construction cannot begin until the federal government buys the prison from the State of Illinois.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.

But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.

So, the administration doesn't have the money to buy the place, lacks political support for getting any more, and, if and when they do buy this civilian prison, will then have to spend the better part of a year making it compliant with military requirements before the first detainee can be moved there.

I've got to wonder whether any of the big brains in the administration are thinking about calling the whole thing off.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FRUS Volumes Not Coming Fast Enough To Suit Everybody

Secrecy News, the blog of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy, noted today's release of the latest Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume and took the occasion to voice its displeasure with the pace of publication of the FRUS series.

See: State Dept Series Falls Farther Behind Schedule

The U.S. State Department’s official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series had another disappointing year in 2009 with only two softcopy volumes published to date, including one released last week on “Global Issues, 1973-1976.”

The FRUS series is supposed to provide “comprehensive documentation of the major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government” and it must must be “thorough, accurate, and reliable.” As such, it is a potentially vital tool for advancing declassification of significant historical records and assuring government accountability, at least over the long run.
Publication of FRUS is not optional. By statute, “The Secretary of State shall ensure that the FRUS series shall be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded.” But that 30 year goal, which has rarely if ever been met, is now receding further and further from realization, leaving the Secretary of State in violation of the law.

State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment on the Department’s continuing violation of the law on FRUS publication.

But William B. McAllister, the Acting General Editor of FRUS, expressed a hopeful view of the future despite recent turmoil, which included the last-minute withdrawal of person who was to become the new FRUS General Editor. He said that a third FRUS volume on “Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976″ would appear before the end of the year, and at least one other in January 2010.

Likewise, Dr. Robert McMahon, who chairs the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee, said “We continue to be optimistic about publication prospects for FRUS volumes in the near future despite the disappointing number of volumes that came out this year. There are four Vietnam volumes alone that should be published in 2010.”

“We anticipate being able to fill all [employment] vacancies in 2010, many of them rather early in the year,” Dr. McAllister wrote in an email message. “The Office of the Historian is … well on its way to resolving the multiple infrastructure, document handling, and archival access issues that impact FRUS production…. The Office of the Historian has launched several initiatives to address systemic impediments that slow the declassification process.” And over time, “we anticipate returning to a more typical production cycle.” But a typical production cycle has never yet meant regular compliance with the mandatory 30 year FRUS publication requirement.

The latest FRUS volume on “Global Issues, 1973-1976″ has a number of interesting features and a few peculiarities. Oddly, all of the documents were marked as declassified in December 2008, so this collection was apparently ready for publication online a year ago. And unlike other contemporaneous FRUS volumes, audio tapes are not listed as a source and were apparently not used in the collection. No explanation for this omission was offered.

New FRUS Volume Released

The State Department's Office of the Historian today released a new volume in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. It's Volume E-3, Documents on Global Issues, 1973-1976, and you can read it here.

From today's press release:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–3, Documents on Global Issues, 1973–1976, as an electronic-only publication. This volume is the latest publication in the subseries of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important decisions and actions of the foreign policy of the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Volume E–3 is available to all free of charge on the internet. Approximately 25 percent of the volumes scheduled for publication for the 1969–1976 subseries, covering the Nixon and Nixon–Ford administrations, will be in this format.

This volume documents United States policy concerning global/transnational issues during the Nixon and Ford administrations: Antarctic resource exploitation, international drug control, human rights, oceans policy, space and telecommunications, and terrorism. Additional global issues, including energy, disarmament, food policy, population control, and women’s issues are treated in other volumes in the 1969–1976 subseries.

The Nixon and Ford administrations addressed an impressive list of global issues, including the management of Antarctic resources, drug trafficking, the promotion of human rights and the monitoring of rights abuses, telecommunications, space exploration, the redefinition of maritime regimes, and the emergence of transnational terrorism.

Regarding terrorism, the press releases states:

[A] fundamental redefinition of the problem of terrorism occurred as the Nixon administration entered its second term. The March 1973 attack on U.S. diplomats in Khartoum and increased concern about the safety of foreign emissaries at the United Nations in New York City caused federal officials to engage in a variety of measures to promote security at home and abroad.

Most unfortunately, Volume E-3's section on terrorism does not contain the one document I would most like to see (Document 206, a chronology of the Khartoum incident), because it was not declassified in time for publication.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food Fight at COP15

The New York Times reports today on the frenzied conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference (Scenes from a Climate Floor Fight):

The public scene in the plenary, leading up to the private meeting [between Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several aggrieved delegations] and the consensus to “take note” of the accord, is recorded in the conference minutes below, which provide a window on the “wild roller coaster ride” described by Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary General for Policy and Planning.

Here are the minutes. Is it just me, or does this conference sound like it could have been done just as well, and maybe better, in some sort of internet chat room?

• Pres
o introduces the paper
o outlines the content
• - massive clapping by Venezuela on the table, but are not given the right to speak
• Tuvalu
o I am grateful that you came back to the meeting
o within the UN, we are given respect as nations
o we have processes to consider items collectively
o today I saw leaders saying they had a deal
o this is disrespectful of the other countries
o we have democratic processes
o we appreciate that you have given us more time
o this documents have major problems
o we need science-based results
o anything above 1,5 can mean the end for
o response measures – inconsistant with Bali
o reference to mechanism on REDD- but is not defined clearly
o no reference to International Insurance Mechanism
o review mechanism in 2015 is too late
o in biblical terms:
o I regret to inform you: Tuvalu cannot accept that document

• Venezuela (bleeding hands from her clapping!)
o it is with indignation that we are speaking
o this document is not acceptable
• Bolivia
o we have learned about this document through the media, not through you
o now we are given 60 minutes to accept something already agreed upon by other states
o we are seeing actions in a dictatorial way
o this is unacceptable and anti-democratic
o we say to the people of the world: they shall judge upon it
o the rights of our people are not being respected
o we are not going to decide about so many lives in only 60 minutes
o this is s group of a small number of countries
• Cuba
o 4 hours ago Obama announced an agreement which is non-existant
o we is behaving like an emperor
o we have seen version being discussed by secretive groups in the last hours and days
o Cuba will not accept your draft declaration
o at this conference, there is no consensus on this document
o I associate my voice to Tuvalu, Venezuela, Bolivia
o the target of 2 degrees is unacceptable
o …
• Costa Rica
o for the reasons that we have heard, this document cannot be considered the work of the AWG-LCA and cannot be considered by the COP
o this can only be an INF doc, it’s just for information
o additional question: in an earlier version, a CP.15-decision, para.1: there was a reference to a legally binding instrument to be adopted by the COP
o now: we have a new version, but the reference to legally binding instrument disappeared
o [wants to speak, but point of order by Nicaragua]
• Nicaragua
o there is already a precedent where we have not been given the right to speech
o now that you have mentioned we finally want to speak
• Pres. [moving on]
o US does not appear on my list any more, so next one is Sudan
• Sudan
o there must be something horribly wrong here
o I pushed the button when I saw Nicaragua raising their sign in order to support them
• Nicaragua
o this is a deterioration of the democratic system
o and this happens at the most important conference of the UN for many years
o we have draft decisions about how to carry forward the process
o states (lists names) have written a submission:
• this has not followed the basic principles of the UN
• inclusion
• bottom up processes
• democratic participation
• equality of states
o during this consequence, many states expressed their position against such approaches
o the only agreement we recognize is ??
o we propose a Decision 1/CMP.5
• reads out their full proposal
• agrees to suspend the meeting
• agrees that AWG-KP shall continue its work
• sessions as often as needed
• shall end its work June 2010
• shall forward its work for adoption at its resumed 5th session in June
o we propose 1/CP.15
• agrees to suspend the session
• continue /complete work by June 2010
• with a view of adoption of the agreed outcome in June
• …
o Secretariat will receive the submission
• BREAK, then start again

• Pres.
o the documents will become an INF document
• Nicaragua
o we would like to propose the following
o document shall be a submission, by Parties, thus only a MISC
• Pres.
o interrupts Nicaragua (Richard from the Secretariat tries to calm him down)
o i asked you about what you think about my proposal. Please answer to my question
• Nicaragua [not immediately answering to his question]
o we want the document to be a MISC document
o we have two suggestions on CMP.5 and CMP.5:
• [didn’t get it]
o if you do not agree, we ask to suspend the COP
• Pres.
o okay, Proposal for Copenhagen Accord will be a MISC Document
o and AWGs will continue
• India, angry
o if you want to issue the text as a chairman’s draft, do it
o but if you want to issue it as a MISC submission by the parties which have elaborated it, then ask these parties first before you say it’s their submission!!!
• Nicaragua
o now that this issue is settled, we can withdraw our proposal to suspend the COP
• Sudan (only as Sudan, Lumumba)
o the document L9 is one of the most disturbing events in the history of the UNFCCC
o this doc. threatens the existence of the African continent
o L9 is murdress; it condemns Africa
o L9 asks Africa to sign a suicide pack
o total absence of morality
o this is like the 6 millions Jews who died in Europe (was referring to Holocaust!)
o there is no African Minister or President who has a mandate to destroy Africa
o 2 degree is a certain death
o it’s immoral to even think that this doc. was issued by a UN or UN-related body
o the promise of 100 billion dollar will not bribe us to destroy the continent
o as such, we do ask you to withdraw L9, delete it from the UNFCCC system
• Maldives
o [started speaking]
• Sudan suddenly gets the right to speak again
o I did not finish
o I want to put on record
o you , President, have been biased and violated all rules of transparency

• Michael Zammit Cutajar [a former United Nations official leading the working group on a new treaty] leaves the room, frustrated
• Maldives again
o we have a real danger of UNFCCC talks going the same way as WTO talks
o science suggests: we have a window of 7 years!
o in the course of the last days, I have sat together with 25 countries
o I have seen huge differences
o large emitters do not take their responsibility
o over 1,5 degrees, many islands would vanish
o we tried very hard to get 1,5 degree in the text
o this was obstructed by large emitting countries
o President suggested to form a group of states
o this document is amicable
o it is not what we were looking for
o I will be the first to be unsatisfied with this doc
o but it is a starting point
o this document allows us to continue talks and come to a legally binding
o I ask you all: please do not delete this document
• Egypt
o we should end this conference as soon as possible
o for Egypt to accept this document, we want the names of the countries supporting it to be inserted
o so that we can see: who has drafted this document, who is morally bound by it
• Spain
o we totally agree with the words of the President of the Maldives
o free expression should prevail here
o what was said by Sudan was not true
o it dishonors an important project
• Canada
o it is legitimate to express one’s views
o but: to compare this with Holocaust is offensive to our delegation
o it is offensive, these remarks shall be withdrawn
• Australia
o we are absolutely astonished
o this doc. is criticized by Parties who sat at the table
o greatest sadness: people who really need the help
• Ethiopia
o on behalf of African Union
o doc. in front of us is a compromise document
o but as Pres. of Maldives has said: postponing is not an option
• France
o request by Egypt: my country supported the inclusion of 1,5 because the
o only one big country opposed it
o what we heard yesterday: we were facing failure
o this text may be unimperfect
o but we can obviously improve this draft
• Sweden / EU
o strong support for Maldives
o reference to Holocaust is unbelievable
• Senegal
o supports Ethiopia
o but would have liked to see binding commitments under KP
o 1,5 degrees has to be remained
• UK
o [micro not working]
• Pres
o okay, then US
• US
o no, let UK first, it was their turn
• UK
o I think this institution faces a moment of profound crisis
o we have a choice of 2 roads
o one road: the document, by no means perfect, we have many problems with it, but it will make the lives of people better
o 30 billion fast start, 100 billion long term plan
o so: it does very important things
o other road: the one of Ambassador Lumumba
o disgusting comparison with Holocaust
o would mean wrecking this process
o after 2 years of work: only INF document?
o please make this a COP decision
• Pres
o is there anyone who will oppose this
o [counts:] 1, 2, 3, 4
o hm, does this mean we cannot adopt it?
o how are the rules? I am not familiar with UN rules… do we need consensus?
• Venezuela
o …
• Pres
o okay, then it can not be adopted
• SOMEONE making a point of order
• Pres.
o please let me speak
o at some stage it will just be okay if I just speak
o so if we cannot adopt it, maybe you just subscribe it
• Cuba
o there will not be consensus
• Pres
o we have to conclude this meeting
o some people want to catch their plane at 8 o’clock
• Slovenia
o i want to propose a solution
o paper could be adopted with the countries against listed by name
• Pres
o thank you for this concrete proposal
• Mexico
o accusation by Sudan cannot be left without comment
o Sudan shall withdraw its remarks
• Bangladesh
o one of the most vulnerable countries
o we must make every effort in the right direction
• Grenada/ AOSIS
o my President participated in the group friend of the chair
o there were others:
o US
o Uk
o Saudi
o Russi
o South Africa
o Algeria
o Denmark
o Athiooia
o Korea
o China
o Brazil
o [could not get all countries, there were some more]
o there was absolutely no indication that this was an illegal process
o Grenada regrets the division that is now in the South
o session was difficult
o AOSIS fought for every single thing
o we were there, we saw the process as legitimate
o I ask all parties who committed to fulfill these obligations
o we stand by the document and we stand by the process
o on his way to the airport, my prime minister instructed me to support the document
o Grenada did its service with good faith
o I find it offensive to characterize the work of my Prime Minister in the way it was described
o I call on my brother from Sudan to rethink his conclusions and to get hold of his feelings
o I encourage us to go forward
• Japan
o we are here neither to accuse, nor to blame
o we are here not only to save the islands, but also to save our future generations
o we have spent sleepless days and nights
o please read the doc. carefully, then you see all the concrete steps
• Papua New Guinea
o PNG was not invited as friend of the Chair
o but Prime Minister spent many hours in order to provide leadership
o in the final hour
o PNG supports this document, even though if it is flawed
o many flaws are due to the G77
o it was G77 members themselves who weakened the document
o many G77 sent only public servants, in disrespect of our leaders
o there is nothing to apologize for by participating in the consultations of the President
o as mentioned by Grenada, there were around 25 countries
o President of the US was amongst participants
o President met with leaders of China, India, South Africa, Brazil
o the process involved
• …
• transparency, accountability
• very substantial funding, both short- and long-term
• Copenhagen Green Climate Fund
• also calls for High Level Panel for creative solutions
• tech mechanism
o all of this we are going to walk away from??
o I strongly support UK
o don’t let this work go to waste
• Norway
o there is time for self-criticism
o one week, there was absolutely no progress
o then top leaders came, made unprecedented effort
o did they make a perfect document? obviously not
o there is no such thing as a perfect document in multilateral processes
o behavior is unbelievable
o Norway is only nation in the world who
o how can you call this a bribe??
o how can I get back to my people in Norway and ask them to pay more money to other countries if it is regarded a bribe?
o we want a procedure here where most of the Parties are bound
• Russia
o i do not support those who say decisions were taken by small group
o in the history of the UNFCCC…
o we should make a step forward
o this indeed is a step forward
• Philippines
o our delegation played prominent role in crafting the REDD language
o we also support the 1,5 degrees
o we have to move in order to protect the world
• Bolivia
o I have a concern
o we do not share the view that the paper shall be adopted
o it has 2 degrees, not 1,5 degree
o we know that one country who has signed the paper spent 20 times more on defense
o we are not just 4 countries not agreeing
o we are more
o we set a 1 degree temperature limit, and 6% of GDB
o we didn’t have a secret document suddenly coming out
o I suggest: we go back to our discussion as to how we are going forward
o we have maid a specific proposal: put the text in a MISC doc.
• Marshall Islands
o this process is about our existence
o to most people, the tiny specks of corals are an obstacle for navigation, but for me, they are my home
o my country is only 2 meters above sea level
o I will have nothing to show to my grandparents as a present from the last 2 weeks
o but even worse: I did not have any success
• Singapore
o my delegation supports the document
o we lend the voice to that of AOSIS
o it is not perfect, but it is important
o please identify exactly the points where Parties disagree
• Algeria
o on behalf of African Group
o we warmly thank Denmark for its hospitality
o we are risking to give a very bad present
o we haven’t been in Kyoto
o Africa participated through Prime Minister Menes
o a draft that we submitted to the other states
o 5 heads of states were present
o as any compromise, there are certain problems with this draft
o commitments which have not been defined
o but this text defines main elements of a financial mechanism
o we also have tech. transfer, and we have short-term finance –that was developed by Borloo and me
o Africa is not pessimistic
o we want to be part of the solution
o we urge this sovereign summit: make the right choice
o we have been suffering for years
o so let us now go forward
• Gabon
o I was not going to speak, given the great speech of Algeria
o the time is right to tell you that Gabon came hear after participating in many for a
o Gabon for more than 20 hours had only one ambition: give a chance to a dynamic process
o like other noble members of this community, our country wishes to make its contribution, too
o we want to move forward, together, with all the others
o all the personalities in this room and outside
o we want to leave with a precise idea of what we are going to do
o every human endeavor is imperfect
o Gabon took part in this work in a constructive spirit
o we are a small country
o disappointed from brothers from Africa and other parts
o Brother, please do not go down this path,
• Barbados
o not part of the drafting group, but feel represented
o we will never be part of any major economy forum
o thus we do not want this process to break down
o this is not the place to score cheap political points
• Belize
o we were not amongst the friends of the chair
o but we were informed by our AOSIS chair, who participated in the process
o we look forward to hear
• Tuvalu
o we have all worked very hard
• Solomon Islands, point of order
o I apologize to Tuvalu
o some of us will have to leave soon
o noting the number of states on the speaker’s list, we need an answer!
o give us guidance on this please
• Secretariat / Richard
o important point
o we are looking how requests can be dealt with
o we have serious problems with changing the bookings, but we are trying our best
• Pres.
o then we continue with Congo
• Pres [after someone informed him]
o sorry, we were still with Tuvalu
• Tuvalu
o we have all worked very hard in the last couple of days
o we appreciate that the document contains financial numbers
o but there are many flaws
o when we entered these 2 weeks, we have faced political constrain put upon us
o we should continue the work in the AWGs
o so we come back to the proposal to put this text into a MISC document
o please don’t jeopardize our future
• Ghana
o concrete proposals in the documents are hope for us
o we do not want the document as a MISC, but as a decision which leads to immediate action
• Brazil
o calls on all parties to maintain spirit of dialogue and understanding
o we must speak frankly, but respectfully
o brazil participated in this process at the highest political level
o as Lula said: now is the time to act
o no proposal is perfect, but this one leads to direct action
o we should not loose these concrete proposals
• Venezuela
o we would like to announce
o there are some elements where we seek clarification
o it is important to dedramatize the situation
o 25 countries took part in the development of L7
o only 14 were developing countries
o with regards to process, let me make clear:
• we never gave a mandate to the Presidency
• we opposed the formation of a friends of the chair group
• in the KP, we welcomed the friends of the chair group, but there, the group did not produce any output
o one important problem we have with this document: markets
o but group of the 25 decided to include markets
o with regards to transparancy:
• drafting groups began Thursday at 3 am (?)
• at the same time, the normal groups were still drafting
o doc. L.7 does not contain the figures we need
o in the plenary, the President said he is not going to start drafting, but then he did so
o we will not sell our principle
• Sudan (Bernaditas)
o we have very important decisions to take
o there are ways through which we can solve problems
o there was not much blocking of numbers by G77, as mentioned by some Parties
o in the second wee
o three issues were taken out of our hands and taken for
• financing
• numbers
• market mechanisms
o this proposal of L7 does not reflect any proposal of G77 and China
o in your proposal, there is no governance
o the negotiations were taken out of our hand
o the high level did not fully grasp the importance of some structural points, e.g. how to distribute the money
o solution:
o we have to make a decision anyways for the continuation of the AWG-LCA
o so in that decision we can integrate some substantial elements
• Lesotho / LDC
o had problems
o 32 of the member states are in Africa
o LDC see necessity to move forward
o LDCs notes: lot of work remains to be done
o but: hope to reach consensus
o LDC support the accord
o and: allow me to wish you merry christmas
• Saudi
o I am working without break for 48 hours now
o I do not have the experience
o this has been without exception the worst plenary I have ever attended
o including the management of the process, the timing, everything
o Saudi have been invited to support production of the text
o we haven’t but have worked closely with
o reactions to this text are incredible, as if we are adopting a legally binding agreement, even though it is only about going to a new level in the process
o I do not see, in the future, a situation where we can adopt a legally binding agreement, given this positions
o what we have hear is actually a good product, it shifts us into a higher level of negotiations
o it’s a positive step in the right direction
o but we also have rules
o the simple reality: the doc. is presented to a plenary and there is no consensus
o but this is a body that works with consensus, so we have a problem
o if we continue, we will stay at least for 2 more hours
o it is very clear where the session has come to, we have to accept that
o now, we have to look at it procedurally
o the Secretariat can help us to structure this document- no matter whether it is an INF, a MISC, or an ADD
o so let us now talk about the process for next year, about the next meetings
• UK, point of order
o [again mike not working]
o I am conscious of the time passing on
o I would reiterate: let’s turn the text into a decision, while giving proper respect to those who have concerns
• Nicaragua
o all of us witnessed what happened here
o we ask the Presidency to be consistent
o ??
• Saudi
o writing down reservations: this is not how this body operates
• Bolivia
o we already had reached a compromise: the document will become a MISC
o this was a consensus agreement!
o it can’t be that we make a decision by consensus and then that we overturn this decision shortly later
• Maldives
o I say this in very good faith
o I understand the points that VENEZ, BOLIV, CUBA, NICAR and SUDAN are making
o we are with you
o but please, we want to stay alive
o please help us, please keep this document alive
o there are many countries who need this document
o I make this plea from the bottom of my hard
o and please find an amicable way in adopting this decision
• Bahamas
o Prime Minister should not have to beg for support
o putting the text into MISC means we cannot operationalize the money that has been pledged in that document
o we need a decision
• UK
o para 9 and 10 of the doc. need to be operationalized
• Pres.
o I would be pleased to give guidance
o I would be very pleased if this conference could adopt this draft
o but it’s also a reality: this body takes decisions by consensus
o now: only 2 options
o – strictly sticking to the rules, then this cannot be adopted
o – take a flexible approach, concerns can be expressed in the records.
o please, UK Minister, could you clarify whether I got you right
• UK
o explains again
• Pres.
o hm, well, are there any parties opposing this proposal
• again BOLIV and VENEZ
• Pres.
o well then I am really sorry, but it seems that we cannot…
• UK and USA wildly clapping with their nameplates, shouting POINT OF ORDER
• Pres [really only some seconds before rejecting the paper as a decision
o okay, UK again
• UK
o I ask you to adjourn the meeting for a short period of time
• Pres.
o okay, we adjourn the meeting
• COMMENT: some seconds later and the decisions would have been finally rejected
• UK through Milliband was very active
• now they are consulting how to resolve the issue

Friday, December 18, 2009

Raise Your Right Hand If You're Glad COP15 Is Over

I'm sure these guys are.

The Moderometer: Charting Obama’s Zig-Zag Course

Obama's Moderometer reading on December 1

Which way will the Moderometer swing for Obama after Copenhagen?

Posted using ShareThis

Tweets From COP-15: Brazil Annoyed, "Lulu Has Left the Building"

I've never cared for following someone's tweets before, but Dave Corn's minute-by-minute account of developments in Copenhagen is really engaging.


Update: at about 6:40 PM EST, shortly after Obama's final public statement, David Corn tweeted:

"The deal may not be as deal-y as Obama said. Europeans not yet signed on. G77 poor countries are about to go ballistic. "


The final word from Corn for today:

"Obama's #Copenhagen Deal: How it happened—and why it may not be a real deal. @kate_sheppard and I post: #COP15"

Here's the article he just filed on Obama's Copenhagen Deal.

On Vacation, Watching the News, Ready for Snow

Chinese and Indian leaders reportedly walked out on the Copenhagen talks a bit earlier today, and now the latest tweets coming from David Corn (bio here) say that the transparency and accountability provisions - which were reportedly the cause of Chinese intransigence - are being dropped from the draft text of the "Copenhagen Accords."

Last Updated: 12:22 P.M.: A stream of tweets on the new UN draft text—the “Copenhagen Accord” are coming in from David Corn, who has been reporting from the summit since talks began. Corn confirms that the new draft drops calls for a binding treaty by 2010, and calls only for a “review” in 2016.

Corn also says the draft no longer contains specific emission cut commitments from the world's developing nations, and promises only domestic auditing of emissions reductions and public disclosure of results from the Chinese. The text says that “clarification” of emissions cuts “may” (Corn's emphasis) be provided to outside parties.

It's also being reported now that President Obama will return to the U.S. today, and not stay in Copenhagen overnight so as to keep arm-twisting the Chinese tomorrow, as it was earlier suggested he might do. White House staffers are telling ABC News 'the Chinese are dug in, and we've done all we can do.'

I guess that makes it official. The serious stuff is over, the big players are leaving town, and only the hoopla and farce remain behind to play themselves out over the next day or two. At this point, all that's left in Copenhagen is - in the phrase South Park applied to another attention-whoring enterprise - "incompetent vegan pussies doing absolutely nothing and trying to turn it into drama."

I'm pleased with this outcome. It should make for entertaining TV-watching while snowed in tomorrow. The forecast is for about one foot of snow to fall over Washington starting around midnight. I'm stocked up on coffee and firewood, and my kids are getting ready for a marathon Rock Band session in the basement. I'll spend Sunday leisurely digging out. The weekend looks good!

All Things Considered, More People Say They Listen to NPR Than Actually Do

Arbitron Inc., the dominant media market research firm in the United States, is giving up its old and notoriously unreliable listener diary method for measuring radio market share and is adopting a technical means for recording which radio stations people are really listening to.

This is good news for market researchers, and bad news for National Public Radio stations.

From the Portland Tribune, deep in the heart of NPR territory, comes this news:

Portlanders have been saying for years that they listened to public radio more than anything else.

But it turns out they aren’t as refined or cerebral as they claimed to be.

A new — and more accurate — way of measuring radio listenership shows Portland-area residents are soaking up soft rock and oldies to a much greater extent than previously reported. And while public radio station KOPB once reigned as No. 1, preliminary statistics from new electronic measuring devices indicate that it dropped to 11th-highest in total listenership among local stations in October.

K103, which airs adult contemporary music, rocketed to the top in total listenership in October, while oldies station KLTH leapfrogged over several rivals to finish second.

And it isn't only in Portland that NPR has been enjoying inflated numbers:

In markets where Arbitron has rolled out the portable people meters [devices that identify each radio station within the wearer's earshot] NPR stations are taking hits much like OPB — including KUOW in Seattle and KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif.

In my local radio market, the NPR station (WAMU) normally ranks second, behind the commercial all-news WTOP. Sheer unscientific personal anecdotal evidence suggests to me that when Arbitron introduces portable people meters here, WAMU will take a big ratings cut.

Some Passport Peepers Still on the Job; Investigation Continues

Not all of the State Department employees who were caught sneaking a look at the Passport Records of the Rich and Famous were prosecuted. The Washington Times filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for more information, and learned that eleven employees - in addition to the nine who have been fired and/or prosecuted - were merely admonished and have been allowed to keep their jobs. See today's WT story: some passport snoopers still on the job.

According to investigative memos released to The Times through an open records request, the [eleven] additional workers glanced through the files out of boredom, "dumb curiosity" and "just being nosy." They were admonished by the department for their behavior but not prosecuted.

-- snip --

State Department spokesman Andrew Laine confirmed that workers given warning or admonishment letters were not fired. He added that disciplinary actions for the offense in general range from letters of warning to termination, depending on the "frequency and motivation of the misconduct."

The employees offered the usual explanations, ranging from "just being nosy" to "I didn't know it was wrong." Some of them said they were following a suggestion given to them during training sessions to look up family members or celebrities as a way to become familiar with the electronic records system.

The State Department has instituted many procedural changes and done a lot of re-training, but it might not have completely solved this problem yet.

In a redacted report on the problems issued earlier this year, the inspector general's office found "control weaknesses relating to the prevention and detection of unauthorized access to passport and applicant information."

Last month, the nonpartisan Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit seeking the release of an unredacted report, saying few of the inspector general's recommendations were made public. The center filed the lawsuit after making an open records request for the information.

Ginger McCall, staff counsel for the center, said the lack of disclosure makes it hard to determine the extent of the passport snooping problems within the State Department.

"If they fixed the problem, then there should be no reason to keep the report redacted," she said.

In a separate recent report to Congress, the inspector general said investigations into passport snooping were continuing. The report said a result of the investigations is that "the department has enacted greater safeguards to protect the privacy of electronically stored passport-related information."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"SBU" is Out, "CUI" is In

It looks like I'll soon be typing CUI instead of SBU when marking official documents that contain sensitive but unclassified information.

The Presidential Interagency Task Force on Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) has recommended the U.S. government implement 40-some changes to standardize the many and various ways in which such information is currently being designated, marked, and safeguarded.

There are now over 100 different marking schemes in use for such information - as anyone who has worked with multiple U.S. government agencies is no doubt aware - and they often mean different things to different people, leading to much confusion and frequent over-classification. This is a bad situation in general, but it has created a particular problem for the dissemination of anti-terrorism related information to local (i.e., non-Federal) law enforcement and private sector entities, and that is the problem the task force was charged with solving.

Secrecy News has some comments on the recommended framework (here), which they think may have too lax a definition and be too vague regarding eventual release or decontrol.

I suppose we'll call the new designation "Coo-eee." An improvement over SBU, which doesn't make for a pronounceable acronym, but still not as agreeable as the term the State Department used before SBU came along, which was LOU ("Lou") for Limited Official Use. To my personal knowledge, at least one security violation was given out for a note addressed to someone named Lou and found on a desk after hours by a Marine Security Guard.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Visa Fraud Ring Broken

International Personnel Resources is - or was, until yesterday - a Philadelphia area body shop that supplied Mexican workers to landscapers, builders and golf courses in the Mid-Atlantic area. Today, the owner of IPR and three of his company officers are charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and related crimes, including the filing of more than 1,600 fraudulent documents to the government between 2003 and 2008.

The four co-defendants face prison time and fines, and the Feds are also seeking forfeiture of illegal gains in the amount of $1 million. None of IPR's client companies have been charged.

Read the details in the U.S. Department of Justice press release. It refers to a "criminal information filing," which usually means a plea deal has been reached between prosecutors and defendants.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Federal Employees and Retirees Owe $3 Billion in Unpaid Taxes

It's that time of year again, the time when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reports on the tax delinquencies of federal employees. This year, my fellow feds owe a total of $3,042,200,000.

The agency-by-agency breakdown shows that most cabinet agency employees are reasonably law-abiding, but that only the Department of Treasury has a delinquency rate below 1 percent.

On the other end of the scale, the highest delinquency rates belong to two small specialized agencies. The National Capital Planning Commission has the highest rate of tax scofflaws, at 10.42 percent, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation was next highest, at 9.26 percent. Both agencies are staffed with architects, urban planners, and historic preservationists; is there some kind of theme there?

For a little context to this news, I note that most of the delinquencies were among civilian and military retirees and Postal Service employees. (The Postal Service is a government-owned corporation but not a government agency.) For the 1.8 million actual federal government employees the total arrears looks like roughly $665 million, which works out to an average tax delinquency of $369.44. I can't tell how that compares to tax delinquencies in the private sector, because the IRS hasn't reported on those since 2001.

Friday, December 11, 2009

From My Elite Island

The Cato Institute has brought me good news again: Federal Salaries Explode.

Cato's Director of Tax Policy Studies is just rehashing a USA Today story, but he adds his own touch of hyperbole.

[USA Today's reporter] finds that since the economy fell into recession, the number of federal workers earning more than $150,000 has more than doubled. The federal government has become extremely bloated and top heavy, even as families and businesses across the nation have had to tighten their belts. With 383,000 workers earning six-figure salaries, the government has become an elite island of overcompensated administrators immune from the competitive job realities of average families.

Elite island? I can't speak for every overcompensated Fed, but I work in distinctly ordinary Rosslyn, Virginia.

Federal government salaries are an old topic for Cato, and - while I acknowledge having a personal interest - I think their outrage is a bit over the top. Statistical comparison of the federal workforce with the general U.S. population is obviously irrelevant. Direct-hire federal employees are too few, too professional, too old, and too concentrated in a few high-price urban areas to be typical of the workforce as a whole. Moreover, there is the matter that most federal employees need to get and keep a personnel security clearance. Doesn't that requirement create a barrier to entry into the federal labor market with the likely effect of biding salaries up?

The Cato Institute could develop a free-market economic explaination for the level of federal salaries, which would possibly be of use to public policy makers. Or, it can just keep on bitching. Either way, I'll be cashing my paychecks every two weeks here on my elite island of overcompensated administrators.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sometimes a Debriefing, Sometimes Enhanced Interrogation

The Hertitage Foundation held a forum on U.S. public diplomacy yesterday to mark the tenth anniversary of the dissolution of the United States Information Agency (USIA). You can watch the video here: The Abolition of USIA and Its Effects on U.S. Public Diplomacy.

It was considerably more entertaining than the average wonkfest. Here are a few quotes, courtesy of today's story in the Washington Times:

Mr. Schadler, a former USIA officer now with the American Foreign Policy Council, called the closure of the agency dedicated to "telling America's story" for 46 years an "inexplicable self-inflicted wound" that damaged U.S. public diplomacy.

The decision, made in 1999 at the end of the Cold War, was supported by Congress, the White House and the State Department, which would absorb much of the USIA structure.

Mr. Schadler denounced the "bipartisan insanity that destroyed the USIA." Since the transfer to a newly created undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, the function of explaining the United States to the rest of the world has resulted in "an incoherent shambles," he said.

Mr. Schadler argued that public diplomacy "has been missing for a decade" from U.S. foreign policy and that al Qaeda terrorists make better use of the Internet than American diplomats. He added that the Defense Department and the CIA are doing better jobs of public diplomacy than the State Department.

Mr. Schadler noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called for a "massive influx of resources" for public diplomacy when he served in the same position in the George W. Bush administration.

"Defense Department officials do public diplomacy because their buddies are being killed and maimed because we have such poor public diplomacy [from the State Department]," he said.

"The CIA conducts public diplomacy," he added. "Sometimes it is called a debriefing. Sometimes enhanced interrogation."

On the panel along with the outspoken Mr. Schadler were Joseph Duffey, the last director of USIA, and Daniel Sreebny, acting director of the Global Strategic Engagement Center at the Office of the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Both of those gentleman were just as blunt as Schadler in their criticism of the decision to disband USIA, even Sreebny, who is still on the government payroll.

Mr. Sreebny, who has served 30 years in public diplomacy, called the dismantling of the agency a "mistake and terrible disservice" to the American public.

When he learned that the USIA would be moved to the State Department, he recalled, "I was angry at the political leadership, at State, at the White House, at Congress."

However, he added, re-establishing the USIA as an independent government agency also would be a disservice today because of the cost of relaunching such a broad public diplomacy effort.

"If you are not going to do it right, why do it at all," Mr. Sreebny said.

Mr. Duffey, USIA director from 1993 to 1999, said cost was one of the main factors for transferring the agency to the State Department. The other was the end of the Cold War and the feeling that the USIA was unnecessary.

"It was a time of euphoria and a misreading of history," he said.

This is coming from a right-leaning public policy research institute. I think that makes it unanimous. No one now thinks it was a good idea to disband USIA in 1999.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Party's Over at Kabul's Camp Sullivan

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has unsurprising news about the State Department's contract with ArmorGroup North America for embassy guard services in Kabul.

A Little More Cowbell Improves Any Song is a wonderful, wonderful, website. I've been entertaining my kids for hours by improving their favorite songs with just the right mix of cowbell and Christopher Walken.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Quintessential Anti-Fortress Embassy

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

The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, is housed in a rather striking chancery that is about as far from a "Fortress Embassy" as a modern U.S. diplomatic office building can get. It's located in the middle of a downtown central business district, has lots of glass, no perimeter wall, and almost no setback distance to the surrounding streets. What's not to like about the place?

Well, Ottawa's National Capitol Commission (NCC) doesn't like the concrete planters that were placed on Sussex Street in front of the embassy in 2001 - two years after the new embassy opened - as a temporary measure taken in coordination with Canadian authorities in advance of the G-20 summit in Ottawa. The Ottawa Citizen reported this week that the embassy, the city and the NCC are looking for a way to remove the barriers:

The United States Embassy has confirmed that negotiations are underway to see if the massive concrete barriers on the perimeter of the property can be removed without jeopardizing its security.

The city wants the barriers on Sussex Drive and MacKenzie Avenue replaced with bollards and lanes freed for traffic, and an embassy spokeswoman said talks are going on with the National Capital Commission and the city about the projected road improvements.

Sophie Nadeau would not discuss details of the planned changes to security arrangements around the embassy ... We are currently in discussion, and the goal is to find a way to ensure that the embassy’s continuing security requirements can be addressed in harmony with the plans being undertaken by the NCC and the city.”

The Ottawa Citizen also ran a nice contrary opinion piece on the matter by David Jones, a retired U.S. diplomat who served in Ottawa, which provided background on the diplomatic transactions between the U.S. and Canadian governments that by the mid-90s produced a mutual decision to build the new U.S. embassy on Sussex Street.

Here's what the barriers look like; concrete planters on the curb lane of Sussex, and steel bollards (short vertical posts) on the sidewalk

You can get a feel for the situation from this local TV report. The barriers that are subject to removal are the planters, i.e., those boxy concrete things, and they serve the purpose of gaining a few more meters of separation between the chancery and the vehicles passing by on Sussex, thereby increasing, however marginally, the chancery's best protection against a vehicle-borne bomb.

The chancery has an unusual design, with one facade (seemingly) constructed all of glass. Putting on my physical security hat, I would say the building is better than it looks. However, there is no way to overcome its major security flaw - the very short setback distances to the surrounding streets.

That vulnerability was understood all along by the U.S. officials who oversaw the design and construction of the chancery, and it was regarded as an acceptable price to pay for a very un-fortressy building. Here's how the trade-off was summed up in a January 2000 article in State Magazine:

Security has been a constant concern during this project's site selection, design and construction stages. The challenges of a downtown location on a site without a 100-foot setback from adjoining roads created special challenges. A perimeter fence, bollards, forced-entry and ballistic steel doors and windows and thick walls are the more obvious security features. Less obvious is that behind the western side's glass is a wall and windows structure similar to the eastern side's facade.

Yet, despite the critical need for such security measures, the chancery is not, as some claim, a bunker or "Fortress America." Rather, it's an impressive balancing of security with open diplomacy: a cooperative achievement of the U.S. designer, the Canadian planners and builder, the post, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of Foreign Buildings Operations.

Here are a few quotes from a 1999 New York Times story about the new embassy. The story is worth reading in its entirety, for it very accurately conveys the security atmosphere of the time and the political currents that influenced the site choice and building design.

What is remarkable about this low-profile, steamship-shaped embassy, inaugurated here last week by President Clinton, is that it stands in the heart of a city. In a depressing era of truck bombs and embassies hiding behind high walls in suburban compounds, the glassy new mission building makes a powerful statement for an endangered species: the urban American embassy.

-- snip --

For 20 years, the fate of the embassy, like blueprints for American embassies the world over, was pushed and pulled by issues of security. As the United States enters the 21st century as the only superpower, embassy design has moved from the monumental to the hunkered down. The design seems to reflect a cautious, defensive world view that sees the mission of American diplomats as one of managing resentment.

-- snip --

Canada had reserved for the United States the last vacant lot on Parliament Hill, a lot prominent on Sussex Drive, the ceremonial parade route between Parliament and the Prime Minister's residence. In symbolic symmetry, the United States set aside for Canada the last open lot on Washington's ceremonial thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue. A decade ago, when Canadian diplomats settled into their privileged position, the Ambassador moved into an office with a rare and magnificent bay-window view of the United States Capitol.

-- snip --

In 1983, early in the design saga here, the first truck bomb reverberated through American diplomacy with an explosion at the United States Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 63. In 1985, a commission headed by Bobby Ray Inman, the retired admiral and former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, stipulated that new embassies should be set back 100 feet from public streets and that windows were to be limited to 15 percent of exterior wall space. [TSB note: this may be a small point, but the Inman Report did not actually stipulate any such thing. You can read it (here) and will find no mention of 100-foot setback, fenestration limits, or any other design criteria. Those standards were created later, by the State Department through an interagency process.]

Under these guidelines, the State Department ruled in 1988 that the downtown site in Ottawa was unsafe. But for the next five years, there was a lull in major bomb attacks worldwide [TSB note: during this "lull" the Israeli public diplomacy center in Buenos Aires was destroyed by a major suicide truck-bomb attack]. In January 1993, after envoys rejected suburban sites, the State Department decided to waive security standards for Ottawa, allowing 30-foot setbacks. Ottawa, like New York, was deemed a low security threat.

-- snip --

Going back to the design boards [after the April, 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the design architect] moved an external corridor system into the building's core, creating an atrium that now runs the length of the building, injecting light and a sense of community into the four floors of offices. In 1997, workers broke ground on the building. In 1998, truck bombs destroyed two American embassies in East Africa.

''To be in the city and not be a fortress -- that is the real problem,'' Mr. Childs said, talking of the security constraints that hung over his work from Day One.

He has labored to create the illusion of American accessibility and participation in the urban setting. When the diplomats move in and the lights go on, passers-by on either side of the building will be able to see Americans working at their desks, or trotting up and down glass-enclosed stairwells in the prow and stern of the boat-shaped building. What they may not know is that that the glass is three inches thick, bulletproof and bomb resistant.

-- snip --

''I have no security concerns whatsoever,'' Gordon D. Giffin, the United States Ambassador here, announced at a news conference last week. ''In Ottawa, it was critical to be part of the vibrant activity downtown.'' But walking through the building with members of the press, he refused to allow photographs of the maple wood walls, citing State Department security rules.

The opening of this downtown embassy, long advocated by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, bolsters a school of thought that says that in some capitals, the combination of risk levels, prestige and working convenience comes out in favor of the United States' flying the flag downtown.

U.S. Embassy Ottawa is the crown jewel of the urban embassy / open design crowd in the diplomatic architecture community. I'm sure they have ample artsy & aesthetic cause to remove those perimeter barriers. Personally, I take a mundane risk management approach to these matters, and I would merely ask whether the additional setback the barriers provide - which is their only contribution to the physical security of the embassy - is enough to make a critical difference in the event of a truck-bomb on Sussex Street. That is a purely practical question which could be answered by a vulnerability analysis against a postulated size of bomb. Setback distance is the sort of thing that there needs to be enough of to prevent collapse of the structure; more distance than that doesn't necessarily give us any more benefit.

I have no idea whether such a vulnerability analysis has been done, or if one is planned. (If I did, I'd be too directly involved in the matter to blog about it in the first place.) Should it turn out that the few meters of setback added by the outer row of barriers is not truly critical for blast abatement, then I say they should be removed and the embassy returned to the conditions that existed when it opened in 1999. I say that not so much because I like nice architecture, as because I hate the kind of security measures that can't be justified with a straight face.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Next Year in Jerusalem? Unlikely.

President Obama has signed his second suspension of Public Law 104-45, the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. The Act required that the U.S. Secretary of State recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and establish a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999, or else the Department loses 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the Department of State for fiscal year 1999 for ‘‘Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad’’ until such time as the Secretary of State complies.

To comply with the Act is not feasible for political, diplomatic, and constitutional reasons too numerous and contentious to list here. So, every President since 1995 has invoked the waiver authority given him by Section 7 of the Act to suspend the funding limitations for six-month intervals, just like hitting the snooze button on a legislative alarm clock.

Here's the text of the current Presidential Memorandum - Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act:

Presidential Determination No. 2010-03


SUBJECT: Suspension of Limitations Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act

Pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 7(a) of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-45) (the "Act"), I hereby determine that it is necessary, in order to protect the national security interests of the United States, to suspend for a period of 6 months the limitations set forth in sections 3(b) and 7(b) of the Act.

You are hereby authorized and directed to transmit this determination to the Congress, accompanied by a report in accordance with section 7(a) of the Act, and to publish the determination in the Federal Register.

Suspension shall take effect after transmission of this determination and report to the Congress.