Friday, December 21, 2018

FBI Agent Who Negligently Shot Bar Patron Dances Away From the Law

The moment Special Agent Twinkle Toes negligently fired his dropped Glock 

That FBI agent who dropped his pistol by doing a backflip on the dance floor of a bar in Denver has been sentenced, and to say the judge let him dance away would be an understatement.

The Denver Post has the details:
The FBI agent charged with accidentally shooting a man after doing a backflip on the dance floor at a Denver bar last summer will avoid jail time after pleading guilty Friday to third-degree assault.

Under his deal with prosecutors, Chase Bishop, 30, immediately was sentenced to two years probation. He was also fined $1,200 and ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Denver District Judge Karen Brody cited Bishop’s lack of criminal history in her decision to accept the plea agreement.

Bishop had pleaded not guilty last month to a second-degree assault charge in connection with the June 2 incident.

“My whole goal in life is to care, protect and serve people,” Bishop told the judge on Friday. “I never expected the result of my actions to lead to something like this.”

That is a strangely garbled sentence. The wounding of the bystander was not something which the results of the agent's actions led to. His actions were to drop a pistol in a crowded public venue and then recklessly snatch it up off the floor, in the course of which he snagged the trigger. The result of his actions was to inflict a gunshot wound on a bystander. Those results led to today's remarkably light sentence.
Bishop, who was in Denver on FBI business when the incident occurred, will serve his probation in Georgia. Brody said she could be receptive to ending his probation after one year if Bishop complies with the terms.

“This is a tragic situation,” Brody said after she announced Bishop’s sentence. “It’s a lesson for everyone: How decisions, when you’re not being conscious of what you’re doing, decisions you make carelessly, with negligence, can turn into really serious consequences.

“I think in the future,” she said to Bishop, “you will never make that kind of mistake again.”

I'm not so sure about that. A prison sentence and a stiff fine would make a much bigger impression on Special Agent Bishop, I say, not to mention on any other law enforcement officers who carry while they drink and party. In fact, today's piddling one year probation and $1,600 fine from a judge who sounded apologetic about giving him even that much is more likely to embolden than to deter other negligent gun carriers.
Reddington spoke emotionally Friday about how that one June night at the bar changed his life. He lost his job at the Amazon warehouse. He has chronic pain in his leg. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to run again.

“I have done months of physical therapy,” he said. “I have sought counseling. However, being in public, especially seeing law enforcement with guns, makes me very uncomfortable.”

“I’ve done stupid things at bars to impress girls, too,” Reddington said.

Reddington said he didn’t believe Bishop deserved years in jail for what he did.

“The only thing I’m hoping for,” Reddington said, “Is that he doesn’t carry a gun for a long time.”

Mr. Reddington sounds very understanding. But I'll bet none of the stupid things he ever did to impress girls involved negligently shooting someone. Does he really think he got justice from Judge Brody for his chronic pain and loss of employment? I sure don't.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Sapporo blast due to fumes from 120 emptied spray cans - The Straits Times

Imagine the carnage 120 cans of Axe Body Spray could do

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

French Protesters Crank Edith Piaf While Burning a Toll Booth

Now, that's the French way to riot: dancing the night away to old Edith Piaf songs while the police stand by and watch.

I can't quite make out which Piaf song that is but I think it might be this one, because obviously those guys regret nothing.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Good Question

Really, are either of those two former Secretaries of States missing the odd million or two?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

'Tis the Season for Bollards and Barricades in Berlin and Beyond

The seasonally secure Breitscheidplatz Christmas market Berlin 

It’s beginning to be a great big fortress
Sandbags everywhere
Take a look at the new steel fence, a tried and true defense
‘Gainst truck attacks within the public square

It’s beginning to be a great big fortress
Threats are evermore
But the scariest thing you see is the carnage that might be
On your own front door

It's Christmas time once more, and that means Berlin and 70-plus other cities and towns in Germany are setting up Christmas markets. Ever since the 2016 truck attack on crowds at the Berlin market, the seasonal decorations of those markets have included anti-ram vehicle barriers. Yes, steel baskets filled with sand bins are now as traditional as hot mulled wine.

Here's a German press report on how the hanging of the bollards is proceeding this year - Extra security measures in place for terror-hit Berlin Christmas market:
It's been almost two years since a lorry ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin, claiming 12 lives, including the Polish driver of the truck, and injuring dozens of others.

Now, as the market at Breitscheidplatz, western Berlin, gets set to open on Monday November 26th, workers have been securing the area with huge steel baskets, reported local newspaper B.Z.

It’s just one of the new measures being put in place to make the area more safe.

Since Monday, workers have been building more than a hundred square lattice baskets on the sides of the square and screwing them together to form a row.

The baskets will form a protective ring made of steel, sand and concrete around the site that was hit by tragedy just days before Christmas 2016.

The steel baskets, called Terrablocks by experts, are part of a pilot project by the Berlin Senate, reported the Berliner Zeitung.

The Senate is investing €2.6 million in the new blocking elements, which will later become the property of the police.

In addition to the 160 wire baskets, which are connected together and when finished will stand along the side of the Christmas market, 13 heavy steel pedestals will be erected at another part of the square near Hardenbergstraße.

Meanwhile, 70 mobile bollards, so-called truck blocks, will be installed at the pedestrian entrances, leaving space for pedestrians - but none for vehicles.

The steel baskets are prefabricated and linked together 
Sand has the mass necessary to stop a truck

Those perimeter security arrangements look a lot better thought-out and more professionally executed than the rather haphazard ones we saw last year. Also, note that the German Federal government is funding the barriers this time, and that they will become the property of local police after the market closes, obviously for reuse in future years. The German authorities have evidently accepted the permanence of the security threat to public gathering places.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

DOD Support to Federal Law Enforcement at the Southwest Border

DOD just provided a simple answer to the question of whether U.S. military troops will be conducting law enforcement activities on the Mexican border. They will not, but they will provide force protection for federal law enforcement personnel. For example, riot control.

Photo from NORAD and U.S. Northcom Facebook

This is nothing new. We trained at riot control formations way back in my own Military Police days, when Reagan was President and there were still vivid memories of Army support to domestic law enforcement during the riots of the '60s and '70s.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of he Week

Hassan Whiteside buys $50K assault rifle, immediately has it stolen after leaving it in unlocked Rolls Royce - Yahoo Sports
The 29-year-old Whiteside reportedly purchased an M16 assault rifle with ammunition, a silencer and a rifle bag for the low, low price of $50,000 on July 6 this offseason ... Whiteside’s next move was to drive to the University of Miami for a workout. When he returned home the next day, he discovered the weapon was missing. After an investigation by police, it was determined that the gun was stolen when Whiteside left it in his unlocked Rolls Royce at the gun store.

M-16s cost $50,000 now?? They handed them out free when I was in basic training.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Frank Rizzo's Nightstick Goes On Sale (and Maybe His Cummerbund, Too)

In the pragmatic words of Alexander "Clubber" Williams (July 9, 1839 – March 25, 1917), NYPD Police Inspector, "There is more law in the end of a policeman's nightstick then in a decision of the Supreme Court."

Now, fans of police nightsticks can bid on the possessions of the legendary Philadelphia Police Commissioner, and later Mayor, Frank Rizzo: Hundreds of items belonging to legendary 1970s Philly mayor Frank Rizzo are up for grabs on Black Friday.
Anyone who has ever wanted a piece of Frank Rizzo is in luck.

The home of the loved and loathed former Philadelphia mayor and police chief is for sale, and so is just about everything inside.

Rizzo's estate sale starts Black Friday, November 23, and will feature hundreds of items both large and small, including his billy club and Rolodex, Italian-made furniture, and a signed picture of Richard Nixon, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

It's not clear whether the billy club up for grabs is the same one the tuxedo-clad former police commissioner stuck into his cummerbund during a disturbance at a housing project in the 1960s, immortalized in a photo.

Sadly - to me, a modest collector of police memorabilia - it looks like the nightstick for sale is not the same one Rizzo equipped himself with in that immortalized photo. I dunno, maybe I'll bid on the autographed photo of Richard Nixon instead.   

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Picking Up the Pace of New Embassy Construction

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently published a report criticizing my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations for failing to maintain the rapid pace they had previously set in the Capital Security Construction Program, that long-term program for replacing our most vulnerable overseas diplomatic facilities with 'safe, secure, and modern' new buildings.

You can read the GAO report at a publicly available source of information here: Embassy Construction: Pace Is Slower Than Projected, and State Could Make Program Improvements. A couple excerpts will provide the background for that long-term new embassy building program:
Following the bombings in Africa, the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 required State to develop and report a list of diplomatic facilities scheduled for replacement based on their vulnerability to terrorist attack. One of the congressional findings in the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 was that unless embassy vulnerabilities are addressed in a sustained and financially realistic manner, the lives and safety of U.S. employees in diplomatic facilities will continue to be at risk from further terrorist attacks. State subsequently initiated the CSCP [Capital Security Construction Program] to construct new embassies. The CSCP is administered by OBO. [Page 10]

In general, according to OBO policy, the CSCP is guided by Diplomatic Security’s annual Security Environment Threat List of security rankings for posts, from which OBO develops a “Top 80” list of the 80 most at-risk posts needing a new embassy. OBO uses the Top 80 list to develop and adjust the CSCP schedule, which presents planned embassy awards for the current fiscal year and for each of the next 5 fiscal years. [Page 26]

Well, I'm not sure I share the GAO's concern about the slowing pace of new construction starts, because this past week - which, as you government-employed people, know is the start of a new Fiscal Year - OBO signed a bundle of new design or construction contracts. Here are the press releases:
The Department of State announces the selection of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of San Francisco, California as the design architect for the new U.S. Embassy complex in Windhoek, Namibia ... The multi-building complex will be situated on a site in the Klein Windhoek neighborhood and will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Embassy community and those it serves.

The Department of State has awarded the construction contract for the new U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India to B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama ... This complex will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Embassy community and those it serves. Weiss/Manfredi Architects of New York, New York is the architect for the project.

The Department of State has awarded the construction contract for the new U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras to B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama ... This complex will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Embassy community and those it serves. SHoP Architects of New York, New York is the architect for the project.

The Department of State announces the selection of Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle, Washington as the design architect for the new U.S. Consulate General project in Merida, Mexico ... The multi-building complex will be situated on an approximately seven acre site in the Via Montejo development and will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Consulate community and those it serves.

The Department of State has awarded the construction contract for the new U.S. Consulate General project in Guadalajara, Mexico to B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama ... This complex will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Consulate community and those it serves. Miller Hull Partnership, LLP of Seattle, Washington is the design architect for the project and Page of Washington, D.C. is the architect of record.

The Department of State has awarded the construction contract for the new U.S. Consulate General project in Hermosillo, Mexico to B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama ... This complex will provide a safe, secure, and modern facility platform for the Consulate community and those it serves. Richard + Bauer of Phoenix, Arizona is the design architect for the project and Page of Washington, D.C. is the architect of record.

That's six new embassies and consulates now under contract, which is not too shabby. Also, it creates six new slots on that Top 80 list of most at-risk posts for consideration in next year's prioritized contract awards. And for the year after that, and so on, for as long as Congress keeps the Capital Security Construction Program money coming.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Florida Man Constructed His Mail Bombs à la Wile E. Coyote

Now that the would-be mail bomber has been caught, and he turned out to be a juicehead who was - literally - living in a van down by the river, I'm curious about where he got his concept of a mail bomb. What was his mental picture of what a mail bomb should look like?

His packages have a real cartoonish quality to them, as if he was trying to make them look like what Wile E. Coyote would send to the Road Runner. Where did he get that stereotypical image of a mail bomb?

Maybe he got it from the U.S. Postal Service. Note the strong similarity between this USPS mail bomb recognition poster and the handiwork of the Florida Man. The same excessive postage, tape, printed address label with misspellings and all. It looks as if he wanted to put all the warning signs in each of his packages.

Here's what the U.S. Government tells you to be suspicious of in mail or packages:

And here's what the Florida Man put together. Any similarities?

Here's an x-ray image of one of the pipe bombs inside the packages. Again, utterly stereotypical of what a pipe is supposed to look like.

He did everything short of putting an Acme Bomb Company logo on them.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Military plane inadvertently drops Humvee over Harnett County neighborhood - Cameron, N.C. (WTVD)

A C-17 military plane dropped a Humvee prematurely over a neighborhood in Harnett County Wednesday afternoon, Fort Bragg officials confirmed. No one was injured ... "Everything went as planned except for the early release," said Fort Bragg spokesperson Tom McCollum.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Iraq: We Went in Naive, and Now We Don't Want to Look Back

The Wall Street Journal ran a story this week - and in front of the paywall, so they want everyone to read it - about how retired Army General Raymond Odierno commissioned a thorough study of the Army's role in the Iraq War but failed to get it published before he retired. Now, his successors appear to have little interest in taking a deep dive into that history and they are frustrating the release of the study.

Here is the WSJ report: The Army Stymied Its Own Study of the Iraq War.
A towering officer who served 55 months in Iraq, Gen. Odierno told the team the Army hadn’t produced a proper study of its role in the Vietnam War and had to spend the first years in Iraq relearning lessons. This time, he said, the team would research before memories faded and publish a history while the lessons were most relevant.

It would be unclassified, he said, to stimulate discussion about the intervention—one that deepened the U.S.’s Mideast role and cost more than 4,400 American lives. He arranged for 30,000 pages of documents to be declassified. For nearly three years, the team studied those papers and conducted more than 100 interviews.

By June 2016, it had drafted a two-volume history of more than 1,300 pages. H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser to President Trump, reviewed the tomes while a three-star general. He said in an interview last month it was “by far the best and most comprehensive operational study of the U.S. experience in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.”

-- snip --

The study asserts that senior U.S. officials continually assumed the military campaign in Iraq would be over within 18 to 24 months and didn’t deploy enough troops. It concludes that in planning the invasion, U.S. officials assumed neighboring states wouldn’t interfere and didn’t develop an effective strategy to dissuade Iran and Syria from supporting militants.

-- snip --

Some Army officials foresaw trouble if the study wasn’t published before Gen. Odierno retired, which he did in August 2015. Conrad Crane, chief of the historical services division for the Army Heritage and Education Center, a branch of the Army War College, wrote to the team in July 2015 after viewing a draft, saying: “You need to get this published while you still have GEN Odierno as a champion. Otherwise I can see a lot of institutional resistance to having so much dirty laundry aired.” Mr. Crane says he stands by his email.

Good for General Odierno for wanting to document lessons learned in Iraq. He seems to have a reflective side. In fact, I did one of my favorite posts about his musing over mistakes the Army made in Iraq as he was stepping down from command back in 2010.

That post, We Came in Naive, is repeated below in its entirety.


August 30, 2010

The New York Times has a brief item today in which General Raymond Odierno, the departing commander of American forces in Iraq, reflects on the U.S. military's fundamental lack of understanding of Iraq and its societal problems back when the invasion occurred in 2003. He says they had to learn by trial and error.

In his four years here, General Odierno was often at the center of shifting American military strategy in Iraq. He said the military learned lessons “the hard way.”

“We all came in very naïve about Iraq,” he said.

“We came in naïve about what the problems were in Iraq; I don’t think we understood what I call the societal devastation that occurred,” he said, citing the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf war and the international sanctions from 1990 to 2003 that wiped out the middle class. “And then we attacked to overthrow the government,” he said.

The same went for the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, he said: “We just didn’t understand it.”

To advocates of the counterinsurgency strategy that General Odierno has, in part, come to symbolize, the learning curve might highlight the military’s adaptiveness. Critics of a conflict that killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, perhaps far more, and more than 4,400 American soldiers might see the acknowledgment as evidence of the war’s folly.

Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.”

“There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.”

General Odierno shouldn't beat himself up so much. In all fairness to him, there was no center of expertise anywhere in the entire U.S. government that had a good understanding of Iraq's political, economic, and social problems way back then.

Oh, wait. I forgot. There was. There were people like Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose entire professional life had prepared him for informing U.S. national policy toward Iraq at that moment.

Valuable expertise existed in the State Department, and yet Odierno says the military went into Iraq unprepared, learning the hard way through seven years of trial and error which might only have made matters worse. That's outrageous. Why didn't the Secretary of State warn the Pentagon about what it was getting into in 2003?

Oh, wait. I forgot. He did. From the Wikipedia entry on Ryan Crocker:

According to the book, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell by Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung, as the Bush administration was preparing for war with Iraq in late 2002, then Secretary of State, Colin Powell ordered Crocker and then Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, William Burns to prepare a secret memo examining the risks associated with a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The six-page memo, titled "The Perfect Storm", stated that toppling Saddam Hussein could unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions, that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events. It also cautioned that the United States would have to start from scratch building a political and economic system because Iraq's infrastructure was in tatters.

But, General Odierno is saying today that the military was clueless about Iraq when it invaded the place. Something doesn't add up, because surely the Pentagon would have taken a memo like Crocker's seriously.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It didn't. As Crocker recounted last year, his memo "had no operational traction."

Washington turf battles had direct implications on the battlefield. In Baghdad in April 2003, after Saddam fell, few U.S. commanders had a clear picture of the political landscape and its importance to the overall mission. I remember meeting one in particular who had zero interest in anything except getting the kinetics right—deploy, defend, point and shoot. I tried to give him a sense of what the country would look like now for the Iraqis and, indeed, for his forces, if we didn't find a way to address all sorts of economic, social, and political issues. His response (and he was not alone): "This isn't our mission here. The things you are telling me are interesting, but they have nothing to do with me."

Well, if the State Department had really done its job it wouldn't have sent the Pentagon a measly six-page memo, it would have made a major planning effort. Like, assembling hundreds of experts and having them study all the many facets of the complicated Iraq problem. Really get down into the weeds and strategize about things like public health and humanitarian needs, transparency and anti-corruption, oil and energy, defense policy and institutions, transitional justice, democratic principles and procedures, local government, civil society capacity building, education, media, water, agriculture and environment and economy and infrastructure. It would have taken maybe a whole year to do it right. And then it would have produced extensive written reports to make sure that the Defense Department fully understood the problems it faced.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It did. That effort was called the "Future of Iraq" project, and you can read the reports for yourself:

The National Security Archive is today posting State Department documents from 2002 tracing the inception of the "Future of Iraq Project," alongside the final, mammoth 13-volume study, previously obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. "The Future of Iraq Project" was one of the most comprehensive U.S. government planning efforts for raising that country out of the ashes of combat and establishing a functioning democracy. The new materials complement previous postings on the Archive's site relating to the United States' complex relationship with Iraq during the years leading up to the 2003 invasion.

I guess General Odierno didn't get the memo about the Future of Iraq project. Too bad. That huge report would have filled him in on those issues he says he didn't understand. The Defense Department is a big place, after all, and he's only one man. It isn't like the Pentagon deliberately rejected those 13 volumes of exhaustive planning advise.

Oh, wait. I forgot. It did. In fact, the New York Times reported exactly that back on October 19, 2003.

A yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.

Beginning in April 2002, the State Department project assembled more than 200 Iraqi lawyers, engineers, business people and other experts into 17 working groups to study topics ranging from creating a new justice system to reorganizing the military to revamping the economy.

Their findings included a much more dire assessment of Iraq's dilapidated electrical and water systems than many Pentagon officials assumed. They warned of a society so brutalized by Saddam Hussein's rule that many Iraqis might react coolly to Americans' notion of quickly rebuilding civil society.

Several officials said that many of the findings in the $5 million study were ignored by Pentagon officials until recently, although the Pentagon said they took the findings into account. The work is now being relied on heavily as occupation forces struggle to impose stability in Iraq.

The working group studying transitional justice was eerily prescient in forecasting the widespread looting in the aftermath of the fall of Mr. Hussein's government, caused in part by thousands of criminals set free from prison, and it recommended force to prevent the chaos.

"The period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting," the report warned, urging American officials to "organize military patrols by coalition forces in all major cities to prevent lawlessness, especially against vital utilities and key government facilities."

Despite the scope of the project, the military office initially charged with rebuilding Iraq did not learn of it until a major government drill for the postwar mission was held in Washington in late February, less than a month before the conflict began, said Ron Adams, the office's deputy director.

The man overseeing the planning, Tom Warrick, a State Department official, so impressed aides to Jay Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general heading the military's reconstruction office, that they recruited Mr. Warrick to join their team.

George Ward, an aide to General Garner, said the reconstruction office wanted to use Mr. Warrick's knowledge because "we had few experts on Iraq on the staff."

But top Pentagon officials blocked Mr. Warrick's appointment, and much of the project's work was shelved, State Department officials said. Mr. Warrick declined to be interviewed for this article.

-- snip --

In the end, the American military and civilian officials who first entered Iraq prepared for several possible problems: numerous fires in the oil fields, a massive humanitarian crisis, widespread revenge attacks against former leaders of Mr. Hussein's government and threats from Iraq's neighbors. In fact, none of those problems occurred to any great degree.

Officials acknowledge that the United States was not well prepared for what did occur: chiefly widespread looting and related security threats, even though the State Department study predicted them.

So, I guess the bottom line is that General Odierno, while he may be highly forgetful, didn't really have to learn about Iraq's societal problems and sectarian divides the hard way, after all.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Asesinan a dos hombres en acceso a playa de Caleta - El Sol de Acapulco

See the video at Facebook.

Last Sunday at 4 in the afternoon two young men were chased by a vehicle onto the beach of a resort in Acapulco, Mexico, and shot to death in close proximity to tourists, who continued to enjoy the sun and sea while police processed the crime scene.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book of the Week: Two Pumps for the Body Man

I picked up some nice items at the AAFSW book fair last week, and one of them was this quirky novel Two Pumps for the Body Man, which the author describes as a soft-boiled diplomatic noir.

See an interview with the author here, and visit his website here.
My novels take a playful approach to the problems that plague us. They’re serious literary fiction, but they respond best to readers who don’t take themselves seriously. They don’t shy from tragedy or horror, are irreverent towards the holy, stand in awe of the ordinary. I hope my readers enjoy a blend of comedy (deadly shredder machines), romance (foot-fetish blackmail), and tragedy (kindergarteners rehearsing the intruder drill).

The story is a series of Catch-22 situations in which an ambitious CG battles with her RSO at the “second worst facility in the entire Foreign Service.” That description of the facility is decidedly not fictional. The post is unnamed, but it’s the Consulate in Saudi Arabia that’s across the street from a big hospital. Maybe you know the one. It’s still a dump.

The story ends with a terrorist attack on the unnamed Consulate, something which is also not at all fictional. See this essay by the author in the Foreign Service Journal. The novel is well worth reading for that part alone.

I give it two thumbs up (or something, since I don't have a ratings scale). This novel might make me start a book review feature.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Blown Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of October

There is just something particularly funny when police mistake coconuts for bombs. Something almost Benny Hill funny. Or in this case, more like an Italian adventure-comedy-drama from the '70s. Those are so goofy - I love them.

Yesterday it was the airport police in Rome who explosively rendered safe a ‘suspicious’ bag which turns out to be filled with COCONUTS. I explored this theme back in 2011 when it was a Sheriff's Deputy in Maryland who decided that a coconut lying in front of a courthouse needed a bomb squad response (Migratory Coconut + Homeland Security = Bomb Scare). I guess coconuts must have a way of setting off police vibes.

The story from Rome isn't clear, but I suspect the airport police, once they had x-rayed the suspicious suitcase, used a small 'disrupter' charge to blow the bag open. Hence, the lack of damage to the airport. But still, that was some fun on a boring Monday, no?

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Hatch Act Still Applies After 5:31 PM

You're probably seen the video of a Department of State employee explaining how he cleverly skirts the Hatch Act prohibition on doing partisan political activities in his government workplace. He simply keeps his political work in draft until after office hours. Then “as soon as 5:31 hits" he sends it out. That will work, right?

No, it turns out it won't. If Mister Karaffa had read the Office of Ethics and Financial Disclosure's rules on prohibited political activities he would have learned that a domestically-assigned Civil Service employee such as himself may not engage in any political activity, even while off duty, while he is in a government office or building, including while using a personal device, or even while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by a U.S. Government official.

Karaffa could have come in the office after midnight or on a weekend, and sent his political work out from his own smart phone, and it would still have been a violation of the Hatch Act.

And it doesn't help that he goes and talks about it in front of a hidden camera, either, of course.

Here's a nice explanation of what the Hatch Act is and why it matters for Federal employees:
People both inside and outside the federal government like to believe that it’s “impossible” to fire a federal employee. The truth is, it’s only hard for a supervisor who doesn’t counsel their employees and keep a paper trail of infractions and attempted remediation. But aside from that, there are two ways to lose your job in the federal government quickly. One is to mess around with classified information. The other is to violate the Hatch Act.

The latest person who is about to learn this lesson is Stuart Karaffa, a Management and Program Analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. Karaffa is also active in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). That alone is not a problem. But conservative undercover journalist James O’Keefe caught Karaffa on hidden camera admitting that he does much of his DSA work while on the job at State. That’s a problem.

-- Snip –-

The Office of Special Counsel (or OSC. This is an independent federal agency, not Robert Mueller’s office.) is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act. Its website is clear: government employees may not “engage in political activity – i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group – while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle.”

Karaffa told O’Keefe’s undercover journalists that “As soon as 5:31 hits, got my like draft messages ready to send out.” Sorry, Stuart. It’s not just the clock, it’s the fact that you’re still inside the building.

Karaffa should expect a call soon from investigators at the OSC. Because while it may be difficult for a supervisor to fire a federal worker, the OSC, working through the Merit Systems Promotion Board, can and will remove someone who has violated the Hatch Act from federal service. They did it twice in August alone.

I am personally wounded to learn that Stuart Karaffa is one of my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. From now on, when meeting with my friends I'll have to ask whether anyone is wearing a wire.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The USUN Ambo's Residence Gets Downsized (and Curtains)

50 UN Plaza, NYC, pretty much all windows

The New York Times seems to have a thing for running failed exposés about the official residences of Trump administration cabinet officers. Last week it was SecState Pompeo's new rental house that will save the taxpayer around $100,000 a year in security costs, and this week it was the new condo in UN Plaza - list price $58,000 a month - that State rented for the USUN Ambassador. That's a lot of money, but according to press reports we used to pay a truly astonishing $135,000 a month to rent the previous official residence at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The new place is a bargain in comparison.

So, according to the NYT, the scandal here is all about the curtains in the new place. Now, really, curtains have got to be just about the most petty and insignificant of all the many things that must go into the fitting out and furnishing of a new USUN Ambassador's representational residence. Why go on about the cost of the curtains rather than, say, the security or communications costs? It's enough to make me think the NYT is insinuating Ambassador Nikki Haley was indulging herself in a Martha Stewart-ish domestic diva fit of redecorating. Check your prejudices, New York Times.

From the NYT's slightly dialed back second version of the story:
The State Department spent $52,701 for customized and mechanized curtains for the picture windows in the new official residence of the ambassador to the United Nations.

The residence is in a new building on First Avenue in Manhattan. For decades, American ambassadors to the U.N. lived in the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But after the hotel was purchased by a Chinese insurance company with a murky ownership structure, the State Department decided in 2016 to find a new home for its top New York diplomat because of security concerns.

-- snip --

The current ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, is the first to live in the new residence, which has spectacular views. But a spokesman for Ms. Haley emphasized that plans to buy the mechanized curtains were made in 2016, during the Obama administration. Ms. Haley had no say in the purchase, he said.

While ambassadors around the world are given residences, there are only two such residences in the United States — for the U.N. ambassador and the deputy ambassador.

The ambassador’s new residence is particularly grand since it is used for official entertaining.

-- snip --

The new curtains themselves cost $29,900, while the motors and hardware needed to open and close them automatically cost $22,801, according to the contracts. Installation took place from March to August of last year, during Ms. Haley’s tenure as ambassador.

Is the NYT really surprised at those costs? For a penthouse having a bit under 6,000 square feet of floor space and 11-foot high floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around all four sides of the apartment, not to mention that you're paying New York City labor rates, that's the price you can expect for motorized curtains. I assume the NYT has reporters who could check with contractors that do that kind of work and, oh, I dunno, maybe get some cost estimates so that their readers would have a way to judge how out of line, or not, those costs really are. But that's not what they did.

You can find a description and photos of the new residence here. The bottom line is that the builders of NYC's high-end penthouses are just crazy about windows. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Swagger Continues

I see SecState Pompeo is persisting with the swagger thing, and is now using a "Department of Swagger" seal on his new Instagram account.

His second post dropped a couple famous names:
Shakespeare was the first to use "swagger." Gen. Patton had his swagger stick. At @statedept, we've got some #swagger too. It's our confidence in America's values.

Okay, if that's how he wants to brand himself and the Department, far be it from me to object. But can Pompeo swagger like Jagger? I think not.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Swaggerin' Mike Pulls a Fast One, Supposedly

To me, the Army GP Medium Tent is military housing 

The New York Times has a somewhat informative story today about the State Department's plan to house SecState Pompeo on a military base, for which he will reimburse the USG at a fair market price. The benefits of this arrangement are reduced security costs and better protection than if he remained in the "modest home in Virginia" that he and his wife rent now. Sounds good to me. As a taxpayer, I'm all in favor of that.

I say the story is only somewhat informative because it takes a couple odd detours. One is a long discussion of VIP military quarters on the Potomac Hill complex, which is across the street from State headquarters but not where Pompeo will live. Another is a mention that "It is not uncommon for American diplomats to try to remain in overseas posts for as long as possible — and continue receiving housing subsidies — to avoid Washington’s pricey real estate market," which has no relevance whatsoever to the matter of where the SecState lives. Is the NYT paying by the word? Because that article is padded out to about twice the length it needs.

Read it here: To Secure Better Housing, Top Diplomat Pulls Rank on the Military.
[SecState Pompeo] is about to receive [a housing] upgrade, courtesy of the federal government.

After months of quiet back-and-forth, the Defense Department has agreed to rent Mr. Pompeo a flag officer’s home on a military base in the Washington area. Which base and what house, Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman, declined to divulge. She said the new home would not only be modest, but would also save taxpayers more than $400,000 a year in security costs.

“Secretary Pompeo will personally pay fair market value for the residence,” Ms. Nauert said on Friday. “This arrangement will present taxpayers a significant cost savings over options that previous secretaries of state utilized.”

-- snip --

Ms. Nauert said the department now spends more than $2 million in annualized expenses providing round-the-clock security at Mr. Pompeo’s current home in Virginia. Still, she said, the home is not in a place where his communications are fully secure. With military housing, the department could reduce its security expenses to about $1.6 million annually and provide far better protection from eavesdropping and other surveillance, she said.

Michael T. Evanoff, the State Department’s top security official, said his bureau must constantly assess the secretary’s security and called the move to a military base “a common-sense solution to a security challenge.”

I fail to see in what way moving into a flag officer's home on a military base constitutes an upgrade over what Pompeo could afford on the private market, or how it comes courtesy of the federal government when he'll pay a fair market price for it out of his pocket. But the NYT seems to want to make a scandal out of this pedestrian story. That's true from the article's title - "Top Diplomat Pulls Rank on the Military" - to the phrases "pursuing personal comforts in their [i.e., Trump appointee's] jobs" and "bound to raise eyebrows" all the way to the closing quote from Douglas Brinkley that, compared to the public interest in the SecState's security, "there was an even greater public interest in ensuring that the government’s leaders remain connected to the people they serve ... The United States was created to get rid of a royal class that sits above us ... We want our leaders to live among us.”

The NYT seems to think they've caught Pompeo red-handed at something, but just what that is isn't clear. And so far as that purported public interest in our leaders living among us, I assure you that any quarters on a military base, no matter how VIP-ish, do not compare to the exclusiveness of the private residences of our last three SecStates, such as Hillary Clinton's Georgian style mansion ($5.3 million) or John Kerry's 23-room townhouse in Georgetown ($4.7 million). And that's not even counting their other homes away from DC.

Any place that Pompeo rents on a military base will look like a tent compared to those high-end homes, for all of which the USG added security and communications features at the taxpayer's expense.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Police in Germany rescue man being chased by baby squirrel - The Guardian

Police in Karlsruhe said the unnamed man called them in desperation after he was unable to shake off the small rodent. Officers sent a patrol car out to investigate and arrived to find the chase still in full flow. But the drama ended suddenly when the squirrel, apparently exhausted by its exertions, lay down abruptly and fell asleep.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

She demanded more drinks — then bit and swallowed part of a woman’s nose - Star-Telegram

After a night at a local bar, Jessica Collins was at the home of a friend of a friend when she lost control at the after-party, police near Houston say ... While there, the victim told police that Collins demanded more drinks, and cigarettes. When the woman told Collins to leave her home — that she was ready for the night to be over — Collins attacked her, police say. She accused Collins of yanking her to the ground by her hair and biting her nose, ripping off a large chunk of it with her teeth. Then, Collins swallowed it, CNN reported.

"You Shouldn't Let Poets Lie to You"

As a public service I am embedding this warning about listening to poets, at least when it comes to technology. It was provided to us by the Icelandic singer Björk (last name, Guðmundsdóttir) some years ago. I'd guess maybe 30 years ago judging by the age of the cathode ray TV set that she's exploring and well as the age of Björk, which is currently 52 earth years.

You see, Björk used to be afraid of the mysterious black box that was her TV because she listened to some lying poet who told her the electron guns inside it were bypassing her rational filter and hypnotizing her by the way they caused patterns of images to be displayed on the phosphorescent screen. But, luckily, one morning she read a Danish book that debunked all that. In the above video she boldly removes the case from her TV set and traces with her fingers all the little electronic cities and rivers that are the circuit boards and wires inside, and the "scientifical truth" dispels her irrational fear.

So the moral of her story is you shouldn't listen uncritically to poets. Also, I will add, she's lucky her fingers didn't explore a CRT capacitor too closely, or else she would have relapsed hard back into her fear of TV.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

On France's National Day, a Little Song

Now, will today's patriotic celebration help or hurt the French team in tomorrow's World Cup?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Air China will fire pilots in e-cigarette smoking fiasco that caused plane to drop 25,000-feet in 10 minutes - South China Morning Post

Preliminary investigations found that the co-pilot had, without telling the pilot, tried to turn off a circulation fan to prevent his e-cigarette smoke from reaching the cabin. But the co-pilot mistakenly switched off the air-conditioning unit that was next to it, resulting in insufficient oxygen in the cabin.

Stop the Presses! Misguided News Scoop on U.S. Embassy Jerusalem!

Al-Monitor ("the pulse of the Middle East") had a hot news scoop yesterday in which it exposed the real price tag for Trump’s $250,000 Jerusalem embassy, which is only 100 times more than President Trump said it was.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that he would save US taxpayers a bundle by negotiating a $250,000 price tag for a new embassy in Jerusalem. Turns out the final cost, just for a temporary facility, is almost 100 times more.

Wow, pretty embarrassing. Al-Monitor's exposé was torn flaming from the pages of U.S. government contract award documents on the internet, so you know it's the real deal.

But not really. With just a bit more internet research Al-Monitor might have come across one of the many State Department or White House press releases from half a year ago that described the three-phased approach they are taking to that new Embassy Jerusalem. The first phase, which was a small conversion of space within an existing building, cost about $250K, the same as Trump boasted. The second phase, which is the one Al-Monitor discovered on-line, has "a potential award amount of $21,182,581." The key word there is "potential." Then there will be a third phase way down the road in which the USG will spend serious money building a whole new embassy office building.

The State Spokesperson spelled it out back in February:
In May, the United States plans to open a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The opening will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary. The Embassy will initially be located in the Arnona neighborhood, in a modern building that now houses consular operations of U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem. Those consular operations, including American citizen and visa services, will continue at the Arnona facility without interruption, as part of the Embassy. Consulate General Jerusalem will continue to operate as an independent mission with an unchanged mandate, from its historic Agron Road location. Initially, the interim Embassy in Arnona will contain office space for the Ambassador and a small staff. By the end of next year, we intend to open a new Embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the Ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space. In parallel, we have started the search for a site for our permanent Embassy to Israel, the planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking. We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening.

The contract award documents that Al-Monitor's news hounds sniffed out are for that second phase office annex which will provide the Ambassador with expanded space.

Hey, Al-Monitor, try to keep up with the official press releases.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

EPA Employees Told to Stop Pooping in the Hallway
Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway. - Government Executive Magazine

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Brand New U.S. Embassy Islamabad

Pakistan Army helo hovers over the burning embassy, November 1979 

Kudos are due to my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations for constructing one of its largest and most complex Fortress Embassies to date. And not just for that, but also for building the new embassy facilities on the same site as the old embassy which remained in full operation the whole time. Quite an accomplishment of construction choreography!

I refer of course to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, Pakistan, where Ambassador David Hale dedicated the second and final phase of the new project yesterday. The work began in 2011 and involved over 10,000 workers, according to the embassy's own press release. Neither that nor OBO's press release gives the total project cost, but I would be very surprised if it did not exceed any other new embassy construction project OBO has undertaken so far.

This is a very welcome development, security-wise. While it is much less well-remembered than the 1983 bombing of U.S. Embassy Beirut, the 1979 mob attack in Islamabad was even more significant when overseas security standards - and funding - got rolling in the 'Inman era' of diplomatic security. See Chapter 7 of this publicly available source of information for a good summary of how State Department planners processed the experiences of a number of attacks from 1979 through 1985 and developed from that its current paradigm for tiered defense against mobs and bomb-laden vehicles.

In the 1960s and early '70s the big security threat to U.S. diplomatic interests was kidnapping and hostage-taking, but in 1979 the threat changed to attacks on diplomatic buildings. The 1979 Islamabad mob attack was the Ur riot, the one that typified this emerging new threat. What worked and what didn't work in Islamabad was studied afterward and the lessons learned were built into those Fortress Embassies that Congress began to fund a few years later, and is still funding.

There is a terrific first-hand report on the “Other” Embassy Attack of November 1979 — The Siege of Embassy Islamabad on the website of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Please take the time to read it this Independence Day holiday, since we feds are off work anyway. Imagine being among the 130 people trapped in the commo vault surrounded by thousands of attackers as the building burned and no host country response came. You might also read about it in the first chapter of Ghost Wars, which is titled simply "We're Going to Die Here."

The staff working and living in the new Embassy Islamabad compound today are incomparably better protected than were their predecessors, and for that we may thank their predecessors, as well as OBO for successfully implementing a massive job, and the Congress for paying an equally massive bill.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Nice Uncrowded Theater

So I eagerly went to see Sicario: Day of the Soldado at my earliest opportunity, which happened to be this morning. I saw it at my local art house-type of movie theater, a place that describes itself as "exhibiting the highest quality art, independent, and specialty film ... state-of-the-art boutique cinema." I was surprised the place was showing a film that depicts Mexican cartel gunman and corrupt police being gunned down by Gringo CIA types, not to mention torture at a black site in Africa. That surely does not appeal to their target audience.

Indeed, there was only one seat in the theater that was NOT available when I bought my ticket on line a hour or so before the movie started. After I sat down in my prime seat a few other people came in, all men under 30 or so, and not more than about 15 of them. Each one had some kind of cultural marker that said he was the type who would enjoy this movie. There was a high-and-tight haircut, lots of cargo shorts, ball caps with macho shades clamped on top, and four bros with beer bottles.

My kind of crowd, even if I'm more than twice their age.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

A child fired a loaded gun he found in a couch at IKEA; Owner hadn't realized gun had fallen out of pants

Monday, June 25, 2018

Have A Dose of Fiscal Reality

According to Politico today, Pompeo gives U.S. diplomats 'dose of reality' after early high hopes.

They say that like it's a bad thing. But why would you not want a dose of reality?
Many employees at the department feel hoodwinked by Pompeo’s claim that he lifted a hiring freeze. Staffers are alarmed about reports that a political appointee is vetting career staffers for loyalty to President Donald Trump. And many fear that Pompeo won’t be able to fill vacant leadership slots quickly enough, or with the right people.

Pompeo’s foot soldiers haven’t given up on him — not yet. Current and former State Department officials say he’s an improvement over Tillerson. They admit, however, that that’s a low bar.

“People are still hopeful about Pompeo. But they’re getting a dose of reality,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Politco is saying nothing new; the same story ran more than two weeks ago here. Moreover, it was never news that the hiring freeze was lifted only within current funding levels. In other words, Trump is still President and OPM still expects its eight percent budget cut the same as they did when Tillerson was in office, SecState Pompeo's more extroverted personality notwithstanding.
The former CIA director-turned chief U.S. diplomat has sounded reassuring notes since taking the reins at Foggy Bottom. He’s told his beleaguered workforce that he wants to help them get their “swagger” back — even hashtagging that word on Twitter. Unlike the introverted Tillerson, Pompeo seems to genuinely enjoy mingling with staffers.

-- snip --

In the weeks since [the budget announcement], staffers have been told that many of the jobs cut under Tillerson will not be filled — at least not anytime soon. When POLITICO asked whether Pompeo’s hiring plans include achieving pre-Tillerson jobs numbers, a State Department spokesman said, “Not at this time.” Pompeo has to balance congressional directives, Trump’s desire to shrink the federal workforce and some Tillerson-era hiring decisions. But some staffers feel as though he misled them with his overly optimistic email; one called his announcement “a farce."

The sooner some staffers take the red pill of reality, the better off they'll be.

Another Day Without Justice For U.S. Victims of the Jerusalem Sbarro Restaurant Massacre

President Trump held a White House meeting with the King of Jordan today, and there is no indication that he brought up the matter of Jordan's refusal to extradite the mastermind of the 2001 Sbarro restaurant bombing in Jerusalem, Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi, to the United States to face charges for the murder of U.S. citizens.

Here's the Department of Justice press release of March 14, 2017 in which the USG unsealed its charges against Al-Tamimi:
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

“Al-Tamimi is an unrepentant terrorist who admitted to her role in a deadly terrorist bombing that injured and killed numerous innocent victims. Two Americans were killed and four injured. The charges unsealed today serve as a reminder that when terrorists target Americans anywhere in the world, we will never forget – and we will continue to seek to ensure that they are held accountable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “I want to thank the many dedicated agents and prosecutors who have worked on this investigation.”

We have never forgotten the American and non-American victims of this awful terrorist attack,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “We will continue to remain vigilant until Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi is brought to justice.”

“Al-Tamimi is a terrorist who participated in an attack that killed United States citizens,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale. “The bombing that she planned and assisted in carrying out on innocent people, including children, furthered the mission of a designated terrorist organization. The FBI continues to work with our international partners to combat terrorists like Al-Tamimi and hold them accountable.”

So, to recap the DOJ and FBI, we will never forget, and have never forgotten, that awful terrorist attack, and we will remain vigilant to hold Al-Tamimi accountable and bring her to justice. But evidently we will not do any of that today.

Here is the criminal complaint and arrest warrant for Al-Tamimi, the State Department Rewards for Justice offer of $5 million for her, and her FBI Most Wanted poster.

Jordan's stated reason for refusing to render Al-Tamimi is that the extradition treaty wasn't properly ratified by the Jordanian Parliament, but that is a bogus legal excuse given that Jordan has extradited another Jordanian citizen to the U.S., proving that they will do so when they are willing.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

FBI Theater

Enjoy this verbatim reenactment of some of those famous text messages between FBI Special Agent Peter P. Strzok and his former co-worker Lisa Page. This seems to be a variation of verbatim theater, that great performance genre in which actors use the actual words of court transcripts, and it's close to poetry under oath a la Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinski.

More Strzok-Page texts are being turned over to Congress, so I can look forward to future episodes of this drama. Those two exchanged over 50,000 texts!! You have to wonder if they ever actually had sex - when did they find the time?

Jordan Peterson in Five Seconds

Having recently watched a lot of Jordan Peterson on YouTube, and read a bit of his stuff, and having sons who are in his target demographic, I think I can boil his message down to those five seconds of The Godfather. Which is high praise.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dancing FBI Agent Charged in Denver

Bust a move, don't bust a cap.

Special Agent Peter P. Strzok isn't the only FBI agent having a bad week. Chase Bishop, a 29-year old agent assigned to Washington DC and vacationing in Denver last week, was charged with second-degree assault yesterday, with the possibility of more changes later depending on the results of his blood alcohol test. (And what are the odds he wasn't a drink or two over the line when he did that back flip?)

The Denver Post has the details: Dancing FBI agent charged with assault after dropping gun during backflip.

Seven Words in a 500-Page Report

CNN is right about this, How 7 words in the 500-page IG report give Donald Trump all the 'deep state' ammo he wanted:
STRZOK: "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."

- snip -

This latest revelation -- part of a tranche of previously unreleased texts between Strzok and Page -- will have the effect of pouring 20 gallons or so of lighter fluid on the fire that is already burning in Trumpworld over the Strzok-Page texts.

Trump will use that as a club to beat the FBI and DOJ until 2020.

The Only Army Older Than the Nation it Serves