Monday, January 31, 2011

New Embassy Compound in Addis Ababa

That makes 77 new embassies and consulates constructed since 1999. If Congress keeps the money coming, each year another six, eight, or ten decrepit and insecure old diplomatic facilities will be replaced with shiny new Fortress Embassies.

United States Dedicates New Embassy Compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

In an important symbol of America’s commitment to an enduring friendship with Ethiopia, as well as our bilateral relationships with the Government of Ethiopia and the African Union, Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg dedicated the new U.S. Embassy facility in Ethiopia today. Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and African Union Deputy Chairman Erastus Mwencha attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, as well as Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Lydia Muniz; U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald E. Booth; and U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, Michael E. Battle.

The dedication of the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Addis Ababa marks the 77th diplomatic facility to be completed by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) since the 1999 enactment of the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act. In the last twelve years, OBO has moved more than 22,000 people into safer facilities. OBO has built 30 new facilities in Africa and has an additional seven projects in design or construction on the continent.

The New Embassy Compound, located just below Entoto Mountain and overlooking Addis Ababa, was designed to maintain much of the plant and wildlife that has existed on the site for many years. The building design integrates green building techniques and was one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) registered facilities in Ethiopia.

The multi-building complex provides more than approximately 1,000 U.S. embassy direct hire and locally employed staff, including the U.S. Mission to the African Union, with more than 19,000 square meters of working space.

B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama, under a design/build contract, constructed the NEC; the architectural firm of Page Southerland Page of Arlington, Virginia designed the facility. The total approximate cost of the project, which generated jobs in both the United States and Ethiopia, is $157 million. The new facility was completed in August 2010, with, at times, more than 1,200 workers involved in the construction.

The press release does not answer the big question - does the new embassy have any more cafeteria space now than it did last summer when Diplopundit pointed out that the mission's 568 employees will have to take turns to get into the 80-seat cafeteria? It makes we wonder where they held the punch-and-cookies reception after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

I know Ethiopia is no stranger to starvation but, really, can't we do better in our new $100+ million new embassy compounds?

Male-to-Female Ratio of WikiWindbags Is More Than 85/15

The widely held perception that women talk more than men is probably untrue in general (see this contrary evidence), but it is emphatically untrue for contributors to Wikipedia.

The New York Times has a story on that today (Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List):

In 10 short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure.

But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

-- snip --

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

[TSB note: As a male myself, I am aware of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo brands only because they were once featured in a Sopranos episode about stolen goods, which I guess is an example of a cross-over effect for the gender disparity the author is writing about.]

-- snip --

But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

-- snip --

It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.

She said her group had persuaded women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’ — and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”

I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of Wikipedia contributors thinking about the value of their knowledge before posting. In fact, I think that's a much better idea than getting women to increase their Wiki contributions, as the OpenEd Project wants to do. Instead of women talking more, men need to talk less.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lahore Shooting Incident Is "A Time For Public Diplomacy"

H/T to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review for the following link about the (very) strange case of Raymond Davis:

Much is being made – maybe too much – about the Vienna Convention and its implications for diplomatic immunity. Familiar diplomatic games about the minutia of vocabulary are being played and will in most likelihood result in all too familiar results. That is exactly what one would expect in any such situation anywhere. But this is not ‘any‘ situation’; and this is not ‘anywhere‘. This is about US-Pakistan relations: there is just about nothing that the US can say or do which Pakistanis are likely to believe, and there is just about nothing that Pakistan can say or do which Americans are likely to trust. Which is why getting stuck in the intricacies of the Vienna Convention of 1963 is the exact wrong place to get stuck. This is a time for public diplomacy: certainly from the US and maybe even from Pakistan. It is not in America’s interest to be seen to be standing in the way of justice and due process. And it is not in Pakistan’s interest to be seen to conducting a flawed process of justice ... [Not handling this case with clarity and transparency] will probably bring with it more than just a little diplomatic embarrassment. Not doing so can only bring worse in the tinderbox that is US-Pakistan relations.

Department Authorizes Voluntary Departure From Egypt (Oh, And It Also Evacuates Employees)

The Word for Today is TRANSITION.

First the Department did the expected today and authorized voluntary departure for its non-emergency employees and any citizens who wish to depart Egypt.

And then Hillary, doing the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, signaled the voluntary departure of President Mubarak as well. The Department just sent out the following press release (complete with the photo above) about her interview with Chris Wallace:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I don’t think anyone is satisfied, least of all the Egyptian the people, who have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity. And for 30 years, the United States, through Republican and Democratic administrations, has been urging the Mubarak government to take certain steps. In fact, we’ve been urging that a vice president be appointed for decades, and that finally has happened.

But there’s a long way to go, Chris, and our hope is that we do not see violence; we see a dialogue opening that reflects the full diversity of Egyptian civil society, that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue, and that we see the respect for human rights for Egyptian people and the kind of progress that will lead to a much more open, political, and economic set of opportunities for the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: Secretary, all of your answer has been couched in terms of President Mubarak. Does that mean that the Obama Administration still backs Mubarak as the legitimate president of Egypt?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy, and we want to see the kind of steps taken that will bring that about. We also want to see an orderly transition. Right now, from everything we know, the army has taken up positions. They are responding very positively thus far to the peaceful protests. But at the same time, we have a lot of reports of looting and criminal activity that is not going to be particularly helpful to what we want to see happen, and that has to be dealt with.

QUESTION: Secretary, on Tuesday, after the protests had already started in Cairo, you said this:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.

QUESTION: A number of protestors in the streets said based on that remark and other actions that the U.S. was acting on the side of the regime, not of the protestors. Was that statement by you a mistake?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Chris, we recognize the volatility of the situation, and we are trying to do exactly what I have just said – to promote orderly transition and change that will respond to the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, which is what the protests are all about. I don’t think anyone wants to see instability, chaos, increasing violence. That is not in anyone’s interest.

So what President Obama and I have been doing is sending a very clear message about where the United States stands. We want to see an orderly transition to a democratic government, to economic reforms – exactly what the protestors are seeking. At the same time, we want to recognize Egypt has been our partner. They’ve been our partner in a peace process that has kept the region from war for over 30 years, which has saved a lot of lives – Egyptian lives, Israeli lives, other lives.

We want to continue to make it absolutely a American priority that – what we’ve been saying for 30 years – is that real stability rests in democracy, participation, economic opportunity. How we get from where we are to where we know the Egyptian people want to be and deserve to be is what this is about now. So we are urging the Mubarak government, which is still in power; we are urging the military, which is a very respected institution in Egypt, to do what is necessary to facilitate that kind of orderly transition.

Was that clear enough? Maybe P.J. Crowley will send one of his famous tweets tonight to reinforce that message. I suggest a riddle: "What's the difference between our Cairo embassy employees and President Mubarak? Our employees will be coming back."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

U.S. Embassy Islamabad Issues Statement With New Info About Lahore Shooting

Well, it took them a day or so to think it over, but the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has finally issued a statement about the arrest of Raymond Allen Davis. Presumably they had consular access to Davis yesterday, and waited to get his account of his actions before coming out with the statement.

The official position is that Davis is entitled to diplomatic immunity from arrest. Reportedly, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry disagrees, although they have not yet responded to our embassy's statement with one of their own.

The embassy statement also claims that Davis was acting in self-defense, and it adds a new twist to substantiate that claim. It says the two Pakistanis Davis killed had robbed others at gun point a few minutes before in the same area.

Here's the statement:

U.S. Embassy Calls for Release of American Diplomat

January 29, 2011

Islamabad - The United States Embassy in Pakistan calls for the immediate release of a U.S. diplomat unlawfully detained by authorities in Lahore.

The diplomat, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, has a U.S. diplomatic passport and Pakistani visa valid until June 2012.

On January 27, the diplomat acted in self-defense when confronted by two armed men on motorcycles. The diplomat had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm. Minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal backgrounds, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area.

When detained, the U.S. diplomat identified himself to police as a diplomat and repeatedly requested immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Local police and senior authorities failed to observe their legal obligation to verify his status with either the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore or the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Furthermore, the diplomat was formally arrested and remanded into custody, which is a violation of international norms and the Vienna Convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory.

We regret that this incident resulted in loss of life.

We greatly value the cooperation and partnership between Pakistan and the United States, which is vital to the interests of both countries. The U.S. Embassy is committed to working closely with the Pakistani government to secure the immediate release of the diplomat, as required under Pakistani and international law.

Pakistani news media are, indeed, reporting today that the two dead men had been on a crime spree minutes before they encountered Davis. Of course, Davis could not have known about that when he saw the two men park their motorcycle in front of his car, so he still bears the burden of showing he was in fear for his life when he opened fire on them. But this information certainly helps his case.

Meanwhile, though it was initially reported that the two deceased motorcyclists had no criminal record, the police registered FIRs [First Information Reports, which are complaints filed by Pakistani police when they receive information about the commission of a crime] by victims against them posthumously on Friday, police sources told The Express Tribune.

The complainants, Doctor Farzand and Sheharyar Malik, in a written application, state that the two had robbed them of their mobiles and cash just before the incident and were fleeing.

As evidence, the two have referred to phone logs of calls made to Rescue 1-5 about the incident right after it happened. The police say that two mobile phones were recovered from the deceased which matched the description of those the applicants had complained to 1-5 had been stolen.

However, the police had also shown the recovery of foreign currency from the deceased, which they say had also been looted. On the other hand, there is yet to be a complaint regarding the theft of foreign currency on the day of the incident.

In the FIR registered against Davis, the police have also included charges of carrying an illegal weapon – a Glock pistol and two magazines. The police also recovered a digital camera, a phone tracker with a charger.

-- snip --

Conversely, the police so far have no information about the other vehicle that came to rescue Davis and crushed a motorcyclist – Ibadullah – in the process. After killing the man, the vehicle fled from the scene. Davis did not disclose who was heading to his rescue, but did tell the police that, after the incident, he telephoned his Regional Security Officer who might have sent some officials for his rescue.

A police officer, on condition of anonymity, said that they had, through the Lahore Capital City Police Officer, sent a formal request to Pakistan’s foreign office to contact the US Consulate to identify those in the vehicle for their arrest.

Today's WaPo story on the embassy statement includes some new, unattributed, background about Davis and his employment in Pakistan.

Davis arrived in Pakistan in September 2009 as a "technical adviser" to the consulate in Lahore, according to sources who said his job was to assist in vetting visa applicants. His initial three-month diplomatic visa, listing his birth year as 1974 and a home address in Las Vegas, has been repeatedly extended at U.S. request since then.

The CIA has declined to comment on whether Davis worked for the agency, although Pakistani officials said they do not believe he is an intelligence agent. Under special budget provisions, the State Department has given diplomatic status to hundreds of temporary employees hired in recent years, some of them through contractors, to bolster the ranks of rapidly expanding embassies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Vetting visa applicants? OK. Does Lahore even have visa services? I don't know. But it does have a new Public Diplomacy team, and my heart goes out to those poor people.

More to come.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lahore: Murder Charges Filed, Consulate Agrees to Make Second Employee Available to Police

The U.S. Consulate Lahore employee remains in police custody, and charges were filed against him today. A surprising new development is that, according to the WaPo story excerpted below, the Consulate has agreed to "turn the driver of the second vehicle over to police." That second vehicle struck and killed a third Pakistani while trying to get to the scene of the shooting. It seems possible that charges could be filed against that driver, as well.

An American official will face murder charges for fatally shooting two Pakistanis during an alleged robbery in the eastern city of Lahore, a prosecutor said Friday.

The American official, an employee at the U.S. consulate in Lahore, appeared in court Friday, one day after the shootout at a busy intersection, after which a second consular vehicle hit and killed a third man.

A Lahore court ordered the American, whom Pakistani authorities identified as Raymond Davis [TSB note: he was alternatively identified in some reports yesterday as "Steve Davis" and "Raymond David"; the WaPo is using "Davis" today] , to remain in police custody for six days. Rana Sanaullah, the law minister for Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, told reporters that Davis [sic] had also been charged with illegal weapons possession.

-- snip --

The incident has generated enormous media coverage in this fervently anti-American nation. It is being depicted as as an illustration of Americans' disregard for the common people of Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, and as a test case for whether the unpopular Pakistani government has the will to stand up to its U.S. sponsors.

-- snip --

Many Pakistani reports have questioned why the U.S. consular employee, who according to some local press accounts told Pakistani authorities he was a "technical adviser" at the consulate, was armed.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has remained nearly silent, saying only that the person involved in the shootout was an American employee at the consulate. Officials have declined to confirm the name of the employee or say what position he holds, why he was carrying a gun and whether they believe he has diplomatic immunity.

The CIA declined to comment Thursday on whether the suspect worked for the agency.

Much about the chain of events surrounding the shooting remained uncertain Friday. Sanaullah said Davis told authorities he had withdrawn money from an ATM before two men on a motorbike approached his white sedan at a traffic light and displayed pistols.

After the shooting, another consular vehicle hit and killed a motorcyclist. It was unclear whether that vehicle had come to retrieve Davis from the scene or was traveling behind him. Accounts also varied as to whether the vehicle hit the third man before arriving at the shooting scene or as it sped away, with Davis inside.

Sanaullah said the American consulate in Lahore had agreed to a police request to turn the driver of the second vehicle over to police.

Pakistani news media and official sources put out a multitude of sometimes inconsistent statements yesterday, but today the story line seems to be coherent. It looks like the Pakistani motorcyclists were indeed armed, but they may not have been intending to attack the consulate employee. He may have been overly reactive to what appeared to be a classic ambush scenario; the Pakistanis may have likewise expected to be attacked for reasons of their own. It may be just this simple and tragic: two jumpy parties came in contact with each other, and the American was the first to fire.

I received an anonymous comment this morning that presented an explanation of the incident which I find 100% plausible, and which agrees with every fact about the event that I can verify. Here it is:

Here are the facts: The two people he shot dead were returning from a court hearing where one of them was a witness in a murder case. One of the murder victim’s brother had been murdered a month ago and he was carrying a licensed handgun for his own protection, fearing for his own life. Raymond David, the US Consulate ‘Technical Advisor’ comes out of a bank after withdrawing some money from an ATM machine. It just so happens that these two guys on the motorcycle pass by his car as he leaves the bank. At a traffic stop, Raymond sees the sidearm of one of the guys and pulls out his gun as a precuation. The guy on the motorcycle, who himself is paranoid about his own life, sees Raymond and the gun and grabs his own piece. At that moment Raymond fires 14 shots through the windshield of his car at both the motorcycle guys killing both. They were shot from behind. He then takes pictures of the two dead people and starts to leave the scene of the crime. At this moment eye-witnesses start to chase him. Raymond calls for back up. A back-up vehicle arrives in minutes and sees the traffic jam and takes the incoming lane on the wrong side to get to Raymond. In the process it hits two pedestrians, one of whom is killed. It then speeds away (i.e. hit and run). In the meantime a traffic warden and eyewitnesses stop Raymond’s car, which is blocked by a traffic jam. A couple of angry people shatter his rear window and his back light. The traffic warden gets into Raymond’s car and takes him to the local police station.

Granted, that is an account from an anonymous source. But, a 'blue-on-blue' scenario sounds all too believable to me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WaPo's Spytalk Quotes Fred Burton

A commenter kindly sent me a link to today's WaPo SpyTalk column, which quotes a retired Diplomatic Security counterterrorism specialist who speculates "that the American involved in a fatal shootout in Lahore, Pakistan, was the victim of a spy meeting gone awry, not the target of a robbery or car-jacking attempt."

"It looks like an informant meet gone bad more than a car-jacking attempt,” said Fred Burton, a former deputy chief of the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service’s counter-terrorism division.

Early reports were sketchy. Many said the American, identified in the Pakistani press variously as Raymond David, or just “Davis,” had shot two armed men on a motorcycle “in self defense” as they approached his car in a robbery attempt. As the American sped away, another Pakistani on a motorcycle was killed, according to the reports.

-- snip --

According to Burton, who worked on several major terrorism cases in the 1980s and 1990s, the incident showed that David “had outstanding situational awareness to recognize the attack unfolding and shoot the other men.”

“It shows a high degree of firearms discipline and training,” Burton added. “Either the consulate employee's route was compromised by terrorist or criminal surveillance, or it's feasible he was set up in some sort of double-agent operation, if this wasn't a criminal motive.”

Fred Burton works for a private sector threat analysis company, and he is of necessity a promoter of both himself and his company, STRATFOR. Here's his self-description of his background. Others have been less than impressed by him. Personally, I think STRATFOR's reports are perfectly serviceable private sector threat analysis, but you have to take a lot of Burton's stuff down a few levels of melodrama.

Someone sent me STRATFOR's report on the Lahore incident this afternoon, and I've copied excepts from it below.

Three Pakistani locals were killed in Lahore on Jan. 27 in an incident involving a U.S. consular employee. The employee, identified by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as Raymond Davis, said he fired in self-defense, according to police reports. Details are still sketchy, and the investigation is ongoing. However, based on initial accounts, it appears that Davis was practicing good situational awareness and thwarted a robbery or possibly an assassination.

In Davis’ account of the incident (relayed via Lahore police to Pakistani media), he said he noticed several motorcycle riders approaching his vehicle, and one pulled out a pistol. At that point, Davis shot and killed one of the motorcyclists with a 9 mm pistol. A second wounded motorcyclist reportedly died later in the hospital, and a vehicle fleeing the scene (it is unclear if it belonged to Davis or another consular employee) hit and killed a bystander.

The shooting took place at a prominent roundabout (there are conflicting reports as to whether it occurred at the Mazang or the Qartaba roundabout) in the afternoon, with many witnesses who allegedly corroborated Davis’ account.

--snip --

The situation Davis was in is a common one for quick robberies and is also used for assassinations: He was in his vehicle, stopped at a traffic light, and vulnerable to gunmen on motorcycles who could quickly maneuver next to him and flee the scene just as quickly. This assassination tactic has been used in Pakistan, (a general was assassinated in Islamabad in 2009), Yemen, Greece (the November 17 militant group killed multiple U.S. officials this way during the 1970s and 1980s) and elsewhere. It is possible that this attack was a robbery attempt (very common in Lahore), but since the target was a U.S. Consulate employee in a high state of alert (indicating he was trained to maintain situational awareness), assassination cannot be ruled out.

That Davis was driving alone in an unmarked vehicle (no diplomatic plates or flags, meaning that it was meant to blend in) without the standard security presence and while wearing a wireless headset indicates that he could have been acting covertly. Additionally, according to eyewitnesses Davis took pictures of the individuals he had shot, indicating that he knew to collect evidence (and thus was well-trained and prepared).

That last paragraph strikes me as unwarranted and way too dramatic. As those who are posted in critical-threat places know, it is not uncommon for U.S. diplomatic vehicles to have nondescript local license plates in an attempt to lower their public profiles. There is no need to read any covert / intelligence meaning into that. Likewise for the use of a headset or other wireless device, or the fact that Davis used a camera.

The simplest, and the least dramatic, explanation is that Davis was the target of a criminal attack, such as a robbery or carjacking, which as STRATFOR says are common in Lahore. Davis did indeed maintain 'situational awareness' and so forth, but that, too, is not uncommon today for U.S. mission personnel of all kinds.

I see no reason to suppose that Davis was any sort of exotic type such as an intelligence agent, military Special Forces, or a security guy.

Lahore Post-Shooting Video

Here's a poor-quality video, probably taken with a cell phone, showing Raymond Davis and the crowd of Lahorees who surrounded his car after he shot two men he believed were attacking him. You can see the hostility of the crowd. Some time after this video ends Davis was rescued by staff from the consulate, in the course of which a pedestrian was killed when he was struck by the consulate's vehicle.

A couple observations.

First, the video clearly shows five to seven penetrations - bullet holes - in the windshield of Davis's car. That fits with the scenario given out by Pakistani police spokesmen: Davis was stopped at a traffic signal when he saw two men on a motorcycle blocking his path, saw a gun, and opened fire on them without further ado. BTW, firing a pistol through a windshield is perfectly feasible, and is the preferred last resort in that situation. The only odd thing is that there were so few bullet holes, especially given that the type of pistol he reportedly used holds a 15-round magazine.

Second, it appears that Davis is wearing a blue-bordered photo ID badge on a cord around his neck. That clinches the case that he is not some super spook sneaking around Lahore on a classified mission. More like someone who ducked out of the consulate at lunch hour to run an errand.

Curious Incident in Lahore, Pakistan

First reports are invariably wrong to greater or lesser extents, so take the following news with a grain of salt.

Pakistani news media are reporting that a U.S. citizen, whom they describe as an employee of U.S. Consulate Lahore, shot two Pakistanis to death Thursday night in self-defense, and that a third Pakistani was killed in a traffic accident caused by a consulate vehicle that came to the scene to extricate the U.S. citizen from a crowd that formed after the shooting.

So far, I've seen no official confirmation that the American involved, who was identified by local press reports as Raymond Davis, actually is an employee of the consulate, the Department of State, or any other U.S. government agency. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. Maybe he's a contractor, maybe a TDYer. All I know is that I didn't find the name "Raymond Davis" in the current Key Officers List.

Whatever else he is, he is the subject of a big public relations problem at the moment.

Details of the incident vary a bit from source to source, but here's the version carried on MSNBC this morning:

LAHORE, Pakistan — An American consular employee traveling in a car in Pakistan shot and killed two armed men on a motorcycle as they tried to rob him on Thursday, police said. A pedestrian was also killed by a speeding American car trying to help, an officer said.

The employee, who the U.S. embassy said worked for the American consulate in Lahore, was sitting in his car at a traffic signal when two men chasing him aboard a motorcycle opened fire.

The man returned the fire in self-defense, police told Reuters, wounding the two attackers, who both died later in the hospital. Police said a consulate car that came to the scene later struck and killed a pedestrian.

Aslam Tarim, Lahore police chief, said in broadcast comments that the U.S. national had been taken into custody at a police station.

Police official Omar Saeed had earlier told Reuters the man had opened fire in self-defense.

"We are investigating whether it was a robbery attempt or something else," he said.

GEO-TV has video of the public protests that followed the incident.

Reuters has a good still photo of the car that is in police custody today.

I see an ordinary (non-armored) sedan with ordinary (non-diplomatic) plates, and its rear window shattered. Reportedly, the front windshield was punctured in several places. I'm sure the police will be able to determine whether the car provides any forensic evidence that clarifies what happened.

Several local news media are reporting that police have also taken into custody a pistol and three cell phones.

One local press report added a couple interesting tidbits about the incident:

Witnesses said they had seen the two armed trying to hold up the US national. They said they had then seen the American firing at the two men. The US national took photos of the two men after they fell to the ground on being hit by bullets, the witnesses said.

The American spoke in Urdu and told people who surrounded his car that he had acted in self-defence, they said. People protested in the area after the incident and burnt tyres to block roads.

So what do we have here, assuming the news reports are accurate? A U.S. citizen associated with the consulate who was driving himself around Lahore alone in a local vehicle, and who reacted to an apparent ambush by firing at two armed men. After which he had the presence of mind to photograph the scene and then to explain himself to the crowd of locals who had come to see what had happened.

And that's all I have to say about that, to quote Forrest Gump. I'm sure an official statement from the embassy or the Department spokesman will come later today.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

U.S. Ambassador Carjacked in Lomé

(Photo of Ambassador Patricia Hawkins)

U.S. Ambassador to Togo Patricia Hawkins and her party were carjacked late Friday night by two men armed with AK-47s, according to Togolaise officials in Lomé. She was not injured. In fact, due to the timely intervention of an aggressive police officer, the carjackers were the only casualties. Both of them were declared DRT - Dead Right There - after an exchange of gunfire and a brief attempt to escape in the Ambassador's Land Cruiser.

Here's the bare-bones version that I found on the English language side of the Republic of Togo's website:

Police shot dead two armed robbers after they attempted to hijack a vehicle carrying the U.S. ambassador, Patricia Hawkins, in the capital Lomé.

"One of the crooks was killed on the spot and the second after an exchange of gunfire with the gendarmerie," a police spokesman said.

As well as the ambassador, the vehicle was also carrying the country representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and another U.S. embassy official.

But there are juicier details on the more voluble French language side. Here is my loose translation from a statement that was issued by the Ministry of Security:

On Friday, January 21, 2011 at about 9PM, a vehicle ... of the United States Embassy in Togo, in which were riding her Excellency Ms. Ambassador, her first counselor [Deputy Chief of Mission], driver and the Resident Representative of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programs] was taken in the Bè neighborhood of Lomé.

The thugs fired shots, and stole the vehicle after forcing the occupants to disembark. A member of the police service who fortunately was not far away discreetly approached and opened fire on the thugs, who were armed with assault rifles, as they attempted to flee. He hit one of the thugs, and there followed an exchange of gunfire between the policeman and the second thug who eventually abandoned the stolen vehicle.

Wounded, he went into hiding in a flower hedge approximately 200 meters from the site of the robbery. With the cooperation of the civilian population, his hiding place was discovered, but he died from his injuries a few moments afterward.

Wow. A lone police officer "discreetly" walks up to a pair of carjackers armed with assault rifles who are in the process of driving off in the Ambassador's Land Cruiser, and he kills them both in a running gunfight. Normally, that kind of thing only happens in action movies.

I hope Lomé has an opening on the Ambassador's protective detail, because that's a guy we want on our team.

p.s. - As per the Department's official guidance on carjacking, the Ambassador and the other victims did the right thing in that situation by giving up the vehicle.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Beware of Foreigners Bearing Gifts

The annual report on foreign swag was published in the Federal Register this week. Full name: "Gifts to Federal Employees from Foreign Government Sources Reported to Employing Agencies in Calendar Year 2009."

As a very, very, minor official myself, the only gifts I've even gotten from foreign government sources were a couple nice but utilitarian pens, some superior knickknacks like a miniature drum of Arabian crude oil, and the like. All far below the level of value that would be reportable. So I'm green with envy to read about some of this boodle.

There were gifts of the edible kind:

Four boxes of dates and twelve bottles of wine given to President Obama by the Algerian President. Value - $500.00. "Disposition - Handled Pursuant to Secret Service Policy."

I wonder how the Secret Service disposes of twelve bottles of wine? Probably not by pouring them out.

There were gifts of the sartorial kind:

Twelve handmade silk ties given to Obama by President Berlusconi of Italy. Value - $1,680.00.

That's a very appropriate choice for a protocol gift, showcasing fine national craftsmanship.

There were fancy pens:

An S.T. Dupont fountain pen, along with a book about S.T. Dupont Limited Editions, given to Obama by President Sarkozy of France. Value - $1,185.00.

I had read that Sarkozy is a fountain pen freak (so am I), so I second that choice.

There were lots of high-end accessories like this one:

Black Christian Dior handbag given to Michele Obama by Carla Sarkozy. Value - $4,500.00.

Handbags cost that much??? I glad my wife isn’t interested in that sort of thing. She just bought a new handbag, and I doubt the price was into the three figure range, much less the mid four figures.

The Saudis are in a gift-giving league of their own, of course:

One pair of silver cuff links, one male watch, one female watch, one silver pen, and one diamond jewelry set including earrings, a ring, and a bracelet, presented in a green leather case. Given to all visiting White House aides on a June 2009 visit. Value - $4,575.00.

I like how the Saudis cover all the bases with an all-purpose goodie bag for lesser dignitaries. Pens, watches, and male and female jewelry, all inside a presentation case that probably doubles as a briefcase. Very nice. They must have a warehouse full of those kits.

There were gifts of the narcissistic kind:

Britain's Queen Elizabeth presented Obama with framed portraits of herself and her husband, Prince Philip. According to news reports that's the gift she gives to all visiting dignitaries.

That occurred during the same 2009 visit at which Obama receprocated by giving the queen an iPod loaded with video and photos of her 2007 trip to the United States. Royalty must like to gaze at its own image.

There was this rather curious gift:

A bottle of olive oil, given to Obama by Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. Value - $75

I assume that was a symbolic local product made with Palestinian olives, but, didn't Abbas sort of cheap-out on that gift? That's more like a duty-free store purchase than a protocol gift.

And then there were the guns and knives:

Non-operational Soviet-era chrome pistol in a wooden presentation box, given to William Taylor, Director, Iraq Reconstruction Management Officer, U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq, by the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

Non-operational pistol? Bleah. That's like giving a kid a toy without the batteries.

AKS–74 rifle given to a CIA Employee. Location - On official display at the Agency.

An operational rifle. Now we’re talking.

Metallic dagger with leather backing, leather belt and bone handle, given to Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations of the United States by the Commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Shotgun and 5 bullets [sic] given to Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense of the United States by the Minister of Defense of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Military dagger with sheath in wooden presentation box given to Defense Secretary Gates by His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Ceremonial sword with case, given to The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General of the United States by The Honorable Dr. Ali Bin Fetais Al-Marri, Attorney General of the State of Qatar.

Six decorative ceremonial weapons presented in a glass case, given to Obama by His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Arab leaders give the coolest gifts, don't they? No contest.

Normally, protocol gifts are delivered to the National Archives for display, or to the General Services Administration for disposal (public auction, I wonder?), or they are retained for official use. But a recipient may choose to purchase the gift and keep it.

Here are two who did:

Three E. Marinella scarves, given to The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, by Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. Value - $877.50. "Location - One scarf to be purchased and personally retained by Member; two scarves transferred to Office of the Clerk."

A 21K gold ring with a green stone, value - $980.00, given to The Honorable Joan Polaschik, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Libya, by Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi, Leader of the Revolution of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. "Location - Recipient Wishes to Purchase."

DCM Polaschik must really like that ring. She ought to be relieved that Qadhafi didn't also give her a locket with his photo inside, which was how he expressed his misguided affection for Condoleezza Rice.

I see that our Congressional VIPs sometimes keep the gifts and skip the part where they purchase them:

The Honorable John B. Larson, Member of Congress. Six handmade silk neckties given by the President Berlusconi of Italy. Value - $420.00. "Location - Four ties personally retained by Member; two ties transferred to Office of the Clerk.

The Honorable George Miller, Member of Congress, received eight of Burlusconi's ties and retained four.

The Honorable Bill Pascrell, Jr., Member of Congress, received six ties and kept four.

The report says these three legislators retained the ties, not that they purchased and retained them, the way DCM Polaschik did with her ring.

That is so informative about Congressional ethics. And notice they didn’t keep all the ties, just most of them. As if they were saying "I’ll make a gesture at meeting ethical expectations. I'll turn in two and keep four. That way I’m one-third ethical, in case anybody's counting."

And what’s with those estimated values? Eight ties for $560? Six for $420? That’s $70 apiece. I don't think President Berlusconi gets those custom handmade silk ties out of a discount bin.

By the way, you can see the British equivalent of our swag report here. From the looks of it, the Brits get much less impressive gifts from foreigners than our own officials do. I mean - a travel alarm clock? A bathrobe and slippers? Even our most junior Congressman would turn his nose up at that kind of trifle.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How a President Wears His Pants

The President of the United States puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. Only, when the President was Lyndon Baines Johnson, he wanted "a little more stride" than most men in the Presidential crotch. Of course he did; everything's bigger in Texas.

That's just one of the things we learn about LBJ and men's fashion in this nugget from the Presidential Recordings Program of the Miller Center of Public Affairs of the University of Virginia.

LBJ was rushing to a funeral on August 9, 1964, when he took a few minutes to call in very specific tailoring instructions to the Haggar pants company. Listen to the phone call here.

And by the way, the Haggar company still sells VIP trousers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You Watcha You STEP

In light of the turmoil in Tunis and Niger, a commenter sent me this timely reminder:

Perhaps it is a good time for a shameless plug for STEP, the Smart Travel Enrollment Program for American Citizens traveling abroad.

Please register with the local (and friendly) American Citizen Services Unit online to receive local updates about situations on the ground & for better assistance in the case of an emergency.

Information can be provided here.

In one of my favorite novels, every time Brooklyn gang boss 'Kid Sally' Palumbo leaves the house his saintly grandmother, Big Mama, calls after him "you watcha you ass!" That's excellent advice, and it ought to be stamped on every U.S. passport.

Peace Corps Suspends Operations in Niger

U.S. Embassy Niamey put out this warden message today:

This warden message is to inform U.S. citizens that as a result of safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has decided to temporarily suspend their operations in Niger. U.S. Embassy operations in Niamey have not changed.

The local security environment has been tense for some time, especially outside the capital of Niamey. Previous warden messages noted that the embassy prohibits travel outside Niamey for Americans on official business, and that there is a kidnapping threat.

Peace Corps Volunteers are very fast on the keyboard. Although the Niger volunteers were evacuated to Rabat only last night, at least three have already blogged about the experience.

Peace Corps Niger has been suspended indefinitely due to security concerns. I had been at my amazing village for a nine days before I had to leave. All volunteers have been safely evacuated to Morocco for a transition conference where we will look at all our options. (Niger Rider)

This morning, at 5:30 a.m., I boarded a plane to Morocco and say goodbye to Niger, potentially for forever.

On Wednesday, Peace Corps Washington decided that terrorist activity, mainly Al Queada, in Niger has grown to dangerous levels and Americans are no longer safe. A suspension was issued for Peace Corps Niger and all volunteers were evacuated. All 97 Niger PCVS are now in Morocco for what is called a transition conference. We will spend the next few days discussing our options and officially ending our Niger service.

The last few days have been incredibly hard for all of us. I was at the PC training site for in-service training when the news was delivered and was flown to Zinder the next day so I could go to Dantchiao, pack my things and say goodbye. I had a total of one hour to leave behind the life that has given me so much and shaped me into a better person. I was allowed two nights in Zinder to continue organizing and bidding farewell. On Saturday, Team Zinder departed its home and we spent the night in Mardi and both teams continued on to Niamey for more briefing and the final night in Niger ... Words cannot describe how sucky this [is] ... My service has ended before it really began. (This Anasara Life)

I had only been there 48 hours (on Saturday) when I received the text message: two Frenchmen had been kidnapped in Niamey at a bar the night before. I sat in my concession for awhile thinking "this is not good." A little over a year ago, Peace Corps had given an optional Interrupted Service to volunteers and had removed an entire training class after an attempted kidnapping; this was much worse - they had been taken, there was no ransom, and they were killed during a rescue mission.

Still, I knew my villagers would do anything they could to protect me, and I still felt completely safe in my rural town. Then, Saturday afternoon, I had a terrifying experience that somewhat changed my perspective on things. I heard a motorcycle stop outside my concession, and soon after one of my host moms yelled that someone wanted to see me - I came outside to see a man in all camouflage holding a ginormous gun. Needless to say, I started mumbling words of terror in English and ran into my mom's house. Eventually, I figured out he was a policeman sent from a nearby village to come check on me after the night's events, but the whole encounter made salient to me how if something were to happen, I really wouldn't have many options.

-- snip --

Then, on Wednesday, my first day of work at the health hut, I got the call. It was a 6 minute 30 second conversation at 10:13 am, I hadn't even been there for two hours. "This is going to be really hard for me to say, so I'm just going to read it to you" ... I woke up my parents, at what was 1:30 am their time, tears streaming down my face, "They're pulling us out. I have to pack all of my things. Peace Corps is evacuating Niger." (Back in Africa)

Evacuation was probably the right call. Still, it's hard not to feel sympathy for the PCVs, who were a new group that had only just begun their two-year tour in Niger.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Authorized Departure for Tunis

U.S. Embassy Tunis sent out a warden message tonight:

The Department of State has authorized the departure of Embassy family members from Tunisia. U.S. citizens in Tunisia should closely examine their security situation in light of this and other recent developments and consider departing Tunisia. The U.S. Department of State has arranged for a chartered aircraft to transport departing personnel to Rabat, Morocco on early Tuesday morning, January 18, 2011.

Read the entire message here.

No doubt nerves are jangled as members of the embassy community get organized to move themselves and others to the airport on Tuesday morning. I understand that Tunisian troops at checkpoints are firing rounds in the air as a compliance tactic when they order vehicles to stop. Alarming, for sure, but so far I've seen no reports of deaths or injuries among expatriates in Tunis.

However, some British tourists stranded there have a complaint against British Airways. Check out this alarming headline:

1,500 Britons brave machete mobs: Anger at BA for flying tourists INTO war zone despite official warning:

Among [the stranded] were holidaymakers who were actually flown in to the North African country by British Airways on Friday, when the violence was at its height and the Foreign Office was warning Britons to leave.

-- snip --

Although package operators such as Thomas Cook and Tui, which owns First Choice and Thomson,laid on emergency flights to bring all their passengers home as soon as violence flared, BA has said it cannot change its schedule and the next flight home will not be until Wednesday.

I can imagine the dilemma. Let's say you're a Brit with a week or two of winter vacation and you want to spend it someplace warm. Tunisia is a highly popular destination. It's last Thursday, and you have nonrefundable tickets to Tunis on BA. Maybe you saw something on TV about the natives getting restless somewhere abroad, but no one really pays that much attention to the news. You call BA, and a guy there tells you that everything is cool.

So you took a little risk, and somehow you got stuck. Now you need lawyers, guns and money, just like the old song says:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Now That You Mention It ....

.... why, yes, I have been threatened because of my job. And so have you.

The WaPo has asked this question:

Have you, as a government worker - or someone you know - ever been threatened because of your job? Do you feel safe in the workplace?

Please e-mail your answer to and include your full name, home town and the agency for which you work. We might include your response in Friday's Washington Post. When answers are particularly sensitive, we will consider a respondent's request to withhold full identification.

I'm sure they were thinking of domestic government workers, but hey, why not reply and let them know what it means to really be threatened because of your job? It could be a very long list.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anna Chapman Will Now Solve The World's Most Complicated Mysteries

Anna Chapman, the live action version of Natasha Fatale, has found gainful employment as the host of a new Russian television series, the UK Daily Mail reports:

Vladimir Putin better set his digital recorder!

Russian spy and Putin favourite Anna Chapman still shuns questions about her years undercover in the United States, but starting next week she'll uncover other mysteries on Russian television.

A spokeswoman for REN-TV, a private nationwide channel, announced that Chapman will host a new weekly television show that allows her 'to use all her talents to solve the world's most complicated mysteries.'

The show has been christened 'Secrets of the World with Anna Chapman'.

-- snip --

She has just gained a leading position in the Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardiya), the youth wing of the United Russia party which dominates the country’s politics — and is headed by prime minister Vladimir Putin.

After returning from America in July last year, she and her fellow spies enjoyed a cosy evening with Mr Putin, singing Russian patriotic songs and swapping tales of undercover work.

Oh yeah, Putin will be TIVOing that.

Chapman's plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice includes a 'no profit' clause that would make it difficult for her to gain by a book or movie deal about her experience in the United States, so her ability to exploit her notoriety is pretty much limited to cheesy TV and photo spreads.

Which brings me to this most complicated mystery that I wish she would solve - how did they get her into that outfit?

Hard At Work While Comfortably Attired

I think I should try telecommuting every now and then. The combination of OpenNet Everywhere (ONE) and BlackBerries is quite the thing for working from home.

While taking a sick day today, I did the following work:

- Replied to all my routine e-mails
- Dialed in to a teleconference
- Took a phone call from an RSO about an ongoing project
- Finished my response to a tasker that's due tomorrow
- Cleared a cable
- Retrieved a spreadsheet from my IronKey and forwarded it to a requester
- Sent my Division Director some talking points to prep him for a meeting

And I still had time to snooze, read a book, and surf the Intertubes. All without getting dressed. What's not to like about that?

One Overlooked But Pertinent Fact About The Arizona Tragedy

Being home sick today, I've had hours to read through all the news, speculation, and political squabbling about the horrific mass murder in Tucson last Saturday. Pretty much all of it is useless.

The on-line statements and videos posted by Jared Loughner give no clue about his motive except than that he exhibited disorganized, disrupted, thinking. He plainly was not influenced by any particular type of politics, or even a conspiracy theory, because he would have been unable to follow any coherent line of thought whether left-wing, right-wing, or what have you.

I am no more impressed by gun control arguments now than I ever was before. They are easily evaded, mainly affect the law-abiding, and are futile in the case of the suicidal or with spree killers and mass killers such as Loughner.

Increasing security measures for members of Congress could be helpful, if that means something like having local police attend special events in public venues, and not some unrealistic and unworkable new law.

But then, amid all this crap, I came across a terrific article on NPR about the
missed chance to intervene with Loughter under Arizona's existing mental health laws.

Jared Loughner could have been involuntarily admitted for evaluation under Arizona's progressive mental health laws long before he allegedly showed up at a Tucson grocery store parking lot with a semi-automatic pistol, mental health professionals say.

Whether or not Loughner is mentally ill is unclear. But what is known is that friends, relatives and teachers watched as Loughner's behavior apparently became increasingly erratic, including outbursts in class, isolation and bizarre Internet postings suggestive of someone in the least disturbed and at times incoherent.

Arizona allows for family, friends or even acquaintances to petition a local court for a mental evaluation, said Suzanne Hodges, chief compliant officer at the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, the group that provides mental health treatment for Pima County, where the shooting occurred. The court would have then sent someone to interview Loughner and determine if he needed treatment — even if he was not an imminent danger to himself or others, as most other state require.

Being in such treatment would have prevented him from purchasing a handgun, according to Arizona's gun laws.

-- snip --

Neither officials, students nor his parents sought to have a court-appointed counselor interview Loughner. Such a failure to intervene, [Dr. Alan J. Lipman, director of the Center for the Study of Violence] said, is a common scenario among friends and relatives who are unaware of available local resources, and colleges dealing with thousands of students, some of whom, like Loughner, are only enrolled in one or two classes and bow out quickly.

"There was no one single individual to point the finger at," Lipman said, "but it is true that when he was engaging in these bizarre behaviors at the community college, there may have been an opportunity to guide him to treatment. This lack of information about mental disorders and when to intervene and how to intervene is a very serious problem."

This is remarkable news, especially coming on the heels of about a hundred interviews I've seen with people in Loughner's circle who believed - incorrectly - that they had no recourse when he behaved in bizarre and vaguely threatening ways. The college administrators who barred him from campus, the local police who busted him for minor drug possession, his parents, neighbors, and his dwindling number of friends, any of them could have petitioned for a mental observation. Based on what we know of Loughner, any judge or mental health worker who saw him would most likely have concluded that he needed to be committed, and that commitment would have legally disqualified him from later buying a gun.

Most state laws on involuntary commitment are more restrictive than Arizona's. In most states, you can't do anything about someone who is acting out bizarrely until his behavior escalates to violence. You can't do anything, until he does something.

My personal take-away from the tragedy in Tucson is that I'll look into my own state's laws and community mental health resources, and if they aren't as good as Arizona's, I'll ask my state representatives why not.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Rules of Bureaucratic Decorum

Unredacted has a post today about what the State Department was hiding from a Freedom of Information Act Request. The answer? Someone's intemperate marginalia:

Having won this game of documentary hide and seek [during a two-year long FOIA request], I had a hearty chuckle, finding it quite funny that 1) a person employed by the Department of State (I don’t know who– are there any graphologists out there?) would write “bunch of crap!!” on a copy of a House resolution, and 2) that the Department of State had tried so hard to prevent the public from knowing it had ever happened.

We can all learn a lesson from this episode. Personally, I stopped writing comments on memos and cables long ago, right after I started doing research in the National Archives. It always made me chuckle to see candid handwritten remarks made on working papers by some long-gone FSO who never realized that one day that document would be in the public domain. Now, I keep my remarks on separate, non-archived, papers. Or better yet, make them orally.

Not that I ever express anything other than the highest regard for our elected representatives, you understand. Or for our President's political appointees, who are never less than exemplary in all their professional qualifications and personal characteristics. I have never seen any reason to speak poorly of our news media and Punditocracy. Or of the many think tanks, NGOs, Beltway Bandits and Grand Army of the Consultancy that live off the taxpayer's dime.

As best I understand the protocol, you are always free to disparage the French and the leaders of some hostile foreign nations, mainly Iran and North Korea. Personally, I do not do so, since I actually have high regard for France, and I think it's bad form to knock foreigners without good cause. That leaves me free to insult Vladimir Putin, since he's a thug with pretensions to grandeur, and Muammar al-Gaddafi, who is sui generis as the Clown Prince of the Middle East. But that's about all, unless you count the United Nations, since that organization is full of blood-sucking parasites and weasels. The same goes for the European Parliament, which is basically the UN of Europe.

And don't get me started on the Chi-Coms. I'll just say that I will go to any expense or inconvenience to avoid buying any product made in the People's Republic of China. I 'look for the laogai label' when I am buying that coat, shirt, or anything else.

I will confess to having had unkind thoughts about @JaredCohen back when he was a government official. But today, @Jared has dried up as a source of parody fodder; he hasn't tweeted anything for five days now, whereas it used to be more like every five minutes. Evidently, he has less free time on his hands at Google than he did when he worked for the State Department.

So to recap my four rules of bureaucratic decorum:

1. It is never appropriate to write down disparaging statements about our elected representatives or their political appointees, with an occasional exception for a really conspicuous blowhard like @Jared.

2. It is rarely in good taste to express criticism of any member of the news media or of a news commentator.

3. Propriety requires the utmost restraint when making remarks about foreign personalities other than Putin and Gaddafi.

4. Feel free to say anything you like about the United Nations and the Chi-Coms.

By following these simple rules, I will have nothing to fear from any FOIA request.

Our [Canadian] Man in Tehran

Friday, January 7, 2011

Oh, Canada!

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday has interviewed Ken Taylor, the former Canadian Ambassador to Tehran who sheltered six U.S. diplomats during the 1979-1980 Iranian hostage crisis and eventually smuggled them safely out of Iran. The program will be broadcast tomorrow. Check your local NPR station, or go to the website.

Here's a photo of Ambassador Taylor receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 1981 from President Ronald Reagan.

And here are the six rescued embassy officers with President Carter in 1980.

Not listed in order, they are:

• Robert Anders, 34 - Consular Officer
• Mark J. Lijek, 29 - Consular Officer
• Cora A. Lijek, 25 - Consular Assistant
• Henry L. Schatz, 31 - Agriculture Attaché
• Joseph D. Stafford, 29 - Consular Officer
• Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 - Consular Assistant

If you were around back then, you will remember that there was much rejoicing.

Whether you were around back then or not, it's good to be reminded that the USG has some allies who will be there when we need them, even at the risk of their lives.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ringing In The New Year, Narco Style

The New Year arrived in Monterrey, Mexico, pretty much simultaneously with the first drug cartel-related killing of 2011. According to Blog del Narco:

This morning came the report of the first finding of an encobijado of 2011 in Nuevo Leon, the event occurring in Del Carmen in the municipality of Monterrey.

Following the report of a man dead in the parking lot of an office of accountants and lawyers, authorities arrived and learned that the caretaker of the place, named Jose Martinez, found the body.

The unknown man was barefoot and had been shot, approximately three days ago.

I had never seen the word "encobijado" before and had to look it up:

Encobijado, noun, a person found wrapped in blankets after being assassinated by drug traffickers or their associates.

That's a sad commentary on the situation south of the border. Narco killings are so numerous and so stylized that Mexicans coin new words to describe them.

Wiki-Whinging About Increasing Security Measures

The Wiki-Wallop that was delivered to the USG's classified information holdings in 2010 has, predictably, resulted in a backlash that will tighten up our info security measures. And that, ironically, does damage to responsible advocates of declassification and disclosure such as the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.

FAS finds itself Wiki-Whipsawed. It denounced WikiLeaks, and paid the price for that in loss of esteem from the more extreme openness advocates. And yet, its own project will now suffer as the USG responds to WikiLeaks by retreating further into its shell of secrecy.

FAS did some justified Wiki-Whining yesterday in a post about Tightening Security in the “Post-WikiLeaks” Era. They make a good point:

The Wikileaks model for receiving and publishing classified documents exploits gaps in information security and takes advantage of weaknesses in security discipline. It therefore produces greater disclosure in open societies, where security is often lax and penalties for violations are relatively mild, than in closed societies. Within the U.S., the Wikileaks approach yields greater disclosure from those agencies where security is comparatively poor, such as the Army, than from agencies with more rigorous security practices, such as the CIA.

What this means is that Wikileaks is exercising a kind of evolutionary pressure on government agencies, and on the government as a whole, to ratchet up security in order to prevent wholesale compromises of classified information. If the Army becomes more like the CIA in its information security policies, or so the thinking goes, and if the U.S. becomes more like some foreign countries, then it should become less vulnerable to selective security breaches.

Regarding that ratcheting-up of security, FAS linked to a January 3, 2011, memo from the Office of Management and Budget titled “Initial Assessments of Safeguarding and Counterintelligence Postures for Classified National Security Information in Automated Systems” [here]. The memo includes an 11-page list of questions and prompts for USG agencies to use in their security self-assessments.

I was relieved to see that blogging and social networking were not mentioned in the assessment criteria. However, there was this:

Have you conducted a trend analysis of indicators and activities of the employee population which may indicate risky habits or cultural and societal differences other than those expected for candidates (to include current employees) for security clearances?

Undefined "risky habits" could be a broad enough category to justify monitoring of government employee blogging, perhaps. We'll see.

There was also this:

Do you use psychiatrist and sociologist to measure:

o Relative happiness as a means to gauge trustworthiness?
o Despondence and grumpiness as a means to gauge waning trustworthiness?

So, will we see shrinks assessing employee trustworthiness according to some approved ratio of happiness-to-grumpiness? And how do you measure that, anyway? Is there a happiness dipstick?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Captured Israeli Spy Might Come Home To Roost

Not Jonathon Pollard, this one.

As for Pollard, I have no idea.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lady Gaga Makes a Great Marie Antoinette

Apropos of nothing and just out of the blue, I have to say I love these brilliant musical teaching aids on European history that I just came across.

If I were a high school history teacher, my New Year's Resolution would be to play them over and over until my students could sing them in their sleep. Please browse them; I particular like the ones on the Battle of Agincourt, Elizabeth I, and the Canterbury Tales.

Most of the videos are shorter than this one, but a major topic like the French Revolution needs a full five minutes:

New media and old history combine very well (my old school even has an academic center for that), despite grumbling from those who assume history has to be made dry and boring or else it won't give the kids a character-building experience.

When you consider how vivid and dramatic the personalities of European history really are - Joan of Arc, the Borgias, Henry VIII - the music video is exactly the right format for teaching the subject. Personally, I think Beowulf is actually improved when put to 99 Luftballons.

The new and old combine to make something unique and mutually beneficial, as Philip Larkin knew:

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books, too,
Old eyes renew;
So youth and age
Like ink and page
In this house join,
Minting new coin.