Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DS Assistant Secretary Nominee Gets a Hearing

I missed this when it happened, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on October 18 for four State Department nominees. One of them was Michael Evanoff, the nominee for Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. Senator Isakson (R-Georgia) presided.

You can view the hearing on the Committee's website, here.

In Evanoff's prepared remarks, which come at the 12 minute mark in the hearing video, he ended with a pitch for completion of the much-needed but long-delayed-by-shameless-Congressional-infighting-over-whose-district-will-get-it Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.

After several years of delays, the FASTC is at last under construction at Fort Pickett, Virginia. See this for some background.
"I will also put special focus on the continued overhaul and refinement of security training for Department of State employees. This includes intensive specialized training for all DS agents and the on-going expansion of the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course for all employees working overseas under the authority of the Chief of Mission. It also includes the completion of the Department’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Once fully up and running, this state-of-the-art facility will allow DS to provide more efficient and effective hard skills training – such firearms, explosives, antiterrorism driving techniques, and defensive tactics – for roughly 10,000 students annually."

Upon hearing that, Isakson at once made a weak swipe at FASTC, asking Evanoff to consider the inadequate and inappropriate law enforcement training centers that already exist in Georgia instead of a new purpose-built one in Virginia. Much later on in the hearing, at the 44 minute mark, Senator Kaine (D-VA) made an equally weak motion in support of FASTC at Fort Pickett. The long battle over which state will get FASTC is apparently over now, but some hard feelings remain.

The first question Evanoff received came from Isakson. At the 35 minute mark, Isakson asked this very broad question: does Mister Evanoff know of any effort made since the Benghazi reviews and Accountability Review Board report “to build up and beef up security diplomatically?"

Yes, Senator, he knew of several. I can think of one, too: that dedicated state-of-the-art training center will eventually be completed at Fort Pickett despite years of obstruction by you and some of your fellow Congressmen. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Most Eyebrow-Raising Story of the Week

Yes, please do give him what's just and equitable

Newspaper stories ruined pimp's 'good reputation,' lawsuit claims - CTV News Vancouver

"Words published in the Vancouver Sun Newspaper and National Post Newspaper ruined [Moazami's] good reputation and character" ... The convict is seeking $250,000, costs and any other relief the court “may deem just and equitable.”

Reza Moazami was found guilty on dozens of charges in September 2014, including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual interference and human trafficking offences. His 11 victims ranged in age from 14 to 19 years old ... Among the disturbing facts heard in the case was that the pimp would abuse the girls physically to get them to comply with his demands. In some cases he would also attack a small dog that was beloved by his victims to force their cooperation, the court heard.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A "Litany of Stupidity" All Around

No one at the arrival press conference asked Mr. Boyle whether his wife had something to say about all that has happened to her. She has remained silent, at least in all the media reports I've seen on this incident.

From the AP story on Boyle's arrival back in Canada:
"The stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network's kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter," he said.

Boyle said his wife was raped by a guard who was assisted by his superiors. He asked for the Afghan government to bring them to justice.

"God willing, this litany of stupidity will be the epitaph of the Haqqani network," he said.

He said he was in Afghanistan to help villagers "who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help."

Joshua Boyle before his pilgrimage to help those villagers:

Joshua Boyle and his silent wife after years of captivity:

While I don't want to ridicule someone who has suffered so much, really, what did Boyle think he was doing by trekking with his seven-month pregnant wife "deep in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan"?

And what "necessary help" exactly was he bringing with him? Is he a doctor, or was he packing in a village-load of food or clothing, or digging a well, or doing anything of any use whatsoever? Haven't those villagers suffered enough themselves without having to put up with a neckbeard Muslim wannabe self-described “pacifist Mennonite hippy-child” from rural Canada hanging around them?

I can easily understand why Boyle says, at the end of his statement, that we shall all be judged by the intentions of our actions and not by their consequences. He cannot afford to be judged by their consequences.

Frankly, I wish the Pakistanis had retrieved her and left him there.

Dusting Off the Bauhaus Fortress, and Other New Construction Awards This Week

Photo of U.S. Embassy Athens from Discover Diplomacy

My good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations have had a hot hand this past week, signing contracts for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy Annex in Kampala, Uganda, and for the major rehabilitation of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.

The Athens project is by far the most complex and architecturally interesting of the three awards. The project "includes the rehabilitation of, and additions to, the existing chancery and other buildings. The architect for the project is Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Massachusetts." That design firm, as we learned from Architect Magazine, specializes in "dusting off forgotten buildings and marshalling them into the present day" and the firm's proposal to OBO "conveyed a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitation of complex mid-century modern structures."

Our chancery building in Athens could use a good dusting off. OBO describes it as follows:
The Athens Chancery, by architect Walter Gropius, one of the most celebrated representatives of the famed Bauhaus School, is a modern tribute to ancient Greek architecture. The architect designed the building as a metaphor for democracy in the country to which modern democracy owes so much.

Completed on July 4, 1961, the three-story edifice is markedly open. The landscaped courtyard provides a place for discussion and meeting. The white columns and brilliant reflective surfaces of the exterior façade are clad with Pentelic marble, the famous stone used in the Parthenon, other buildings on the Acropolis, and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Black marble from Saint Peter, Peloponnesus, gray marble from Marathon, and other native Greek marbles are used throughout the building. The beautifully-turned wood stair railing was made with Greek pearwood by Greek artisans.

Contemporary architecture magazines described the chancery as “a symbol of democracy at the fountainhead of many old democratic and architectural traditions” by “one of modern architecture’s Olympian figures,” Walter Gropius, and his associates at The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Gropius said that he sought “to find the spirit of [the] Greek approach without imitating any classical means.” The podium, quadrilateral plan, interior patio, exterior columns, and formal landscaping were all handled in a thoroughly modern way.

The building’s climatic response includes ceramic sunscreens, wide overhangs, free flowing air at continuously slotted over hangs, and a bipartite roof. Upper floors hang from the roof structure. Gropius placed a reflecting pool at the main entrance and fountains in the landscape to create serene settings and cooling from the Greek sun. The floor plan is arranged in a sweeping crescent that embraces a large formal terrace descending to a lawn and garden.

The Athens Chancery remains a fresh and optimistic bow to the classical ideal and one of the most prominent Bauhaus buildings in Greece.

So basically, the chancery is supposed to look like the Parthenon - see the resemblance? - only with a Modernist flat roof and glassed-in sides. It doesn't seem like promising material for a Fortress Embassy of the modern type.  But, I have all the confidence in the world that my good friends can pull this off.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"naked drunk Florida man"

"Naked drunk man allegedly fired guns into the air to test if they’d work" - New York Post

Authorities say a naked drunk Florida man wanted to know if his .45-caliber gun and shotgun worked, so he fired them into the air.

Monday, October 9, 2017

U.S. Embassy London's Contraband-Filled Bushes

The current U.S. Embassy

The Wall Street Journal had a nice article last week about the common practice of embassy visitors using the surrounding landscaping to hide the items they aren't allowed to bring inside.

Read it here: London’s No. 1 Hiding Place: The Bushes Outside the U.S. Embassy - Items such as bike helmets and scissors are prohibited at security, so many visitors stash them in a nearby park

Hey folks, just wait until they open the New U.S. Embassy in London. You'll be delighted to find lots of trees, bushes, and a lovely water feature in which to stash your stuff. Do step carefully if you choose to go into the water. 

The new U.S. Embassy, opening soon

Federal Hiring Freeze is Working

So, the hiring freeze President Trump imposed in partial fulfillment of a political promise is working. The number of Federal employees has been declining slightly all during 2017. As of the end of September there were 2,860,00 of us, the fewest since August of 2016.

See the Bureau of Labor Statistics data here: Current Employment Statistics, Federal Government employees

Alexandria Releases Report on June Shooting at Republican Congressional Members and Staffers

The attempted mass killing of Congressional Republicans by a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter happened almost three months ago, and this week the local district attorney's office released a report on the use of force by local Alexandria police and two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Read it here: Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney City of Alexandria Use of Force Investigation and Analysis

The report is heavy on guns-and-ammo details, of course. A few things that stood out for me:
During the gun battle, the suspect fired a total of at least 70 rounds: 62 7.62x39mm rounds fired through the assault rifle and 8 9mm rounds fired through the semi-automatic handgun.

Because the suspect fired 62 rifle rounds out of 80 rounds that he carried in two box magazines [the SKS carbine the shooter used had been modified to accept removable box magazines], he must have done a magazine change at some point during the incident. Therefore he had some degree of calm and deliberateness. There is every reason to suppose that he would have killed most of the Congressmen and staffers there if a Capitol Police protective detail had not been present.
In aggregate, the agents and police officers fired a total of at least 40 rounds.

Of those 40, they struck the suspect with only three rounds. Not so surprising, really, considering the ranges involved. The two Capitol Police officers were siting in an SUV parked just outside the ball field when the shooting began. One of them stayed there throughout the incident, using the car for cover. The second officer ran from the SUV to the ball field, and back to the SUV to retrieve more ammunition for his pistol. The officers had only pistols, and they were trading shots with a gunman armed with a rifle.
The distance from the black SUV to the suspect’s location behind the storage shed was approximately 30 yards, or about 100 feet.

Most people, including most police officers, are not terribly accurate with pistols beyond 50 feet or so. Most law enforcement pistol training is concentrated on much shorter distances. Consider that the FBI's pistol qualification course for agents is shot mostly at ranges of 15 yards or less, with the longest stage being only 10 shots fired at targets 25 yards away. The shooter in Alexandria never came as close as 25 yards to any of the officers involved.

Here's the key moment in the incident, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the two Capitol Police officers, ran onto the ball field and interrupted the shooter.
SA Bailey saw Rep. Scalise fall to the ground after being struck by a bullet and he ran onto the field to go to the Congressman’s aid; however, he began taking gun fire as he entered the field, hearing bullets go past his head. He saw the suspect firing from his position near the third-base dugout.

SA Bailey, standing near the first-base dugout, returned fire with his Glock pistol. Later, the investigation would reveal that SA Bailey fired a total 10 rounds from that position toward the suspect. These rounds likely caused the suspect to lose focus and become less accurate as he fired. They also caused the suspect to change position in an attempt to engage the agents and therefore drew his attention from the players on the field.

The Capitol Police officers prevented a massacre by keeping the gunman engaged until the Alexandria Police arrived, which was about three minutes after they received the first call. What finally stopped the shooter was an Alexandria officer with a rifle, an AR-pattern patrol rifle that was carried in the trunk of his cruiser.
ERT [forensic services] recovered three spent .223 cartridge cases in close proximity to where [Officer] Jensen stopped his cruiser during the incident. The spent cartridge cases were approximately 65 yards from where the suspect was located when he was shot, meaning that the suspect was approximately 200 feet from Jensen when Jensen fired.

Officer Jensen did it right. The report relates how he saw the gunman moving toward the Capitol Police officers, took careful aim at him and fired one shot before ducking down behind the cover of his cruiser, then shifted his position before he popped up and took aim again. In that way, he struck the gunman with two of three rounds, stopping him.