Thursday, May 31, 2018

Question Raised About Fatal Traffic Accident in Islamabad, Pakistan

The business end of the attaché's SUV (VOA photo)

Last Tuesday's State Department press briefing included a question from a Pakistani journalist about the status of the U.S. Defense and Air Attache who struck and killed a motorist in a traffic accident in Islamabad on April 7 and, after at first being denied permission to leave Pakistan, finally departed on May 15. The question concerned whether the U.S. government is conducting any kind of an inquiry.

From the press briefing transcript:
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Just wanted to get some update on already tense relations with Pakistan, while secondly an American diplomat was involved in a traffic accident in Islamabad, Pakistan. One person was injured there; another was seriously injured. We know that he got the diplomatic immunity in Pakistan but he’s now back in the town – Mr. Joseph, I think, the name of the American diplomat. So is there any kind of investigation at the department level on that?

MS NAUERT: I will have to look back into that for you and see what I can get for you on that one, okay? I don’t have any updates to provide beyond what we’ve provided already. Okay?

Whatever she gets for him on that one might not satisfy the Pakistani government, which appears to be under the impression that the U.S. government promised to initiate some kind of criminal or administrative action. At least, that's what Spokesperson Heather Nauert's counterpart at the Pakistan Foreign Office told his journalists on at least two occasions.

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing by the Spokesperson on 17 May 2018:
Question - Given the recent development of Colonel Joseph's release, we have seen a positive impact on Pak-US relations. In your view, how will the upcoming 7th FATF Session be a reflection of this positive streak in our relations post Col Joseph's departure from Pakistan? (Mohsin Raza - Asas Group of Publications)
Answer - Let me explain it. It is not that way. diplomats have diplomatic immunity while serving in the country of their accreditation. In this context, Col Joseph was allowed to leave the country based on this diplomatic immunity. The US has assured us that it will initiate criminal/administrative action against Col. Joseph in US courts.

And from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing by the Spokesperson on 12 April 2018:
Question - What is the update on the investigations involving the US diplomat, who killed a Pakistani national last week? It is ironic that our Prime Minister is screened thoroughly without any protocols at an airport in the US, while a Pakistani national has been killed for more than a week and no action has been taken so far? (Fakhar Rahman - SAMAA TV)

Answer - On the last question, on 7th April, at around 1500 hours, a US Embassy vehicle driven by Colonel Joseph Emanual Hall, Defense and Air Attache of the US Embassy in Islamabad, was involved in a car accident on the 7th Avenue-Margalla Road junction that killed the motorcyclist (Mr. Ateeq Baig) on the spot and injured the co-rider (Mr. Raheel). FIR has been lodged and matter is under investigation at this stage. The Foreign Secretary has conveyed to the US Ambassador that justice will take its course in accordance with the law of the land and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. The US Ambassador has assured the Foreign Secretary of full cooperation in this issue. We await results of the investigations before discussing the issue any further.

Regarding the fatal traffic accident, the facts look pretty clear, and it was captured by a traffic camera.

So, back to you Spokesperson Nauert, what do you have for us on that promised criminal or administrative proceeding?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Air Force Uncovered LSD Use Among Airmen Guarding Nuclear Missiles:
More than a dozen U.S. Air Force airmen were linked to a drug ring at a base that controls America's nuclear missiles and have faced disciplinary actions – including courts martial, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

-- snip --

Evidence in the airmen's cases showed that they did the drugs at state parks or at parties in Denver, where a group went longboarding on the streets after taking LSD, according to the AP. It also includes quotes from some service members who recalled having "bad trips," and others who said their experiences had been positive.

"Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear," Airman Kyle S. Morrison is quoted as saying. "In general, I felt more alive."

But Air Force prosecutors had a different view, saying that taking the hallucinogenic drug can produce "paranoia, fear and panic, unwanted and overwhelming feelings, unwanted life-changing spiritual experiences, and flashbacks."

Grants Officer Pleads Guilty to Fraud

From the DOJ press release dated yesterday, State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Wire Fraud and Theft of Federal Funds:
A program manager for the U.S. Department of State pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing federal funds intended for a foreign exchange program maintained by her employer, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division and Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State.

Kelli R. Davis, 48, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft of public funds and engage in honest services wire fraud before U.S. Senior District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Davis was a Program Specialist for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of Citizen Exchanges. She also served as the Program Manager and Grants Officer Representative for the Sports Visitors Program, which sponsored foreign exchanges for emerging youth athletes and coaches from various countries. The exchange program was managed by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, through a federal grant and cooperative agreement with the State Department.

Between February 2011 and March 2016, Davis conspired with others to steal portions of the federal money allocated to the Sports Visitor Program by, among other things, falsifying vendor-related invoices and making fraudulent checks payable to a government contractor, Denon Hopkins, who supplied transportation services for the program. In total, Davis and Hopkins, stole approximately $17,335 from the State Department. They have both admitted that Hopkins used portions of the funds to pay kickbacks to Davis to retain his transportation contract. In addition, Davis stole an additional $17,777 from the program over a multi-year period.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case. Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly R. Pedersen of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rep. Meeks: Show Me The Money

Yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing Review of the FY 2019 State Department Budget Request got a bit heated when Representative Gregory Meeks (D - NY) pointed out to Secretary Pompeo that the administration's budget request for Diplomatic Security is only $1.6 billion for FY19, down from $2.1 billion last year, which compares poorly to $3 billion in the Obama years.

Meeks asked whether that dwindling of security funding indicates a lack of concern, the same question then-Representative Pompeo had once asked of his predecessor Hillary Clinton.

His reply: "Diplomatic security is not about dollars expended."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Feds Spend $333,210 Studying Bars Along Mexico Border:
The National Institutes of Health is spending over $300,000 to study bars along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation is heading the project. Among the study's aims are to examine whether bars in border towns like Mexicali have "more dancing" and "louder music."

The study, "Mexican American Drinking Contexts On and Away From the U.S.-Mexico Border," involves researchers going into bars for "unobtrusive systematic observations."

"The U.S./Mexico border is a unique macro context for drinking, with increased alcohol availability due to the lower minimum legal drinking age in Mexico of 18 years and an increased number of venues for on premise consumption of alcohol (bars, clubs, restaurants)," according to the grant for the project. "Previous research has shown that the border population is more at risk for unsafe drinking (binge) and drinking-related problems than the population off the border."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Antagonism Please, We're English

"If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles" - George Orwell, 1984

In a new low for the nanny state, British police are cautioning English football fans not to be joyously patriotic when they go to Russia for the World Cup matches. St George flags are too ‘imperialistic’ for World Cup, say police:
Police have warned England fans not to display the flag of St George at the World Cup in Russia next month because it risks being seen as “imperialistic” and “antagonistic”.

-- snip --

[Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council] will lead a team of officers to Russia to work with local police and security services to protect up to 10,000 travelling England fans. The supporters traditionally gather in city centres before international tournaments and display hundreds of flags.

Up to 10,000 England fans are expected to travel to Russia next month, along with a small force of UK police to help keep them safe.

The head of football policing Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts argued the St George’s Crosses were seen as the top trophies for rival fans and ultras, as well as appearing to link them to the history of the British Empire.

“I think people need to be really careful with flags. It can come across as almost imperialistic … and can cause antagonism,” he told The Times.

“We really urge some caution about people putting flags out and waving them about in public, there is a bit of risk when people draw attention to themselves and people need to be aware of that.

A bit of risk is just the kind of thing the English people used to like, at least it was back before the age of mollycoddling began. Football fans, being lower-class types who still feel surges of national pride and Anglo-Saxon rowdyism, might be the last holdouts against the suffocating nannyism of today.

If an English football fan can't get piss drunk, rip off his shirt, and wave his St. George flag at those Russian wankers, why even bother to go to the game?

Say, doesn't the Russian Federation once more use the old Imperial double eagle coats of arms, and doesn't that coat of arms include an image of St. George slaying a dragon? So, then, why wouldn't flag-waiving England fans be warmly welcomed by the Russians in a fraternal western civilization sort of way? Maybe Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts is worried over nothing.

Town Hall Message: "Carry That Diplomatic Swagger to the Ends of the Earth"

Mick shows us how to swagger like a pro

So yesterday we had the first town hall meeting with the new SecState, and he spent a bit of it teaching the troops about swagger. See the AP account here: Pompeo extols ‘America’s essential rightness’ at State Dept.
“Swagger is not arrogance; it is not boastfulness, it is not ego,” Pompeo said, according to the [town hall transcript] excerpts. “No, swagger is confidence; in one’s self, in one’s ideas. In our case, it is America’s essential rightness. And it is aggressiveness born of the righteous knowledge that our cause is just, special, and built upon America’s core principles.”

“Our task is to preserve our civilization of human dignity, individual liberty, democracy, national sovereignty, and the rule of law, and to challenge anyone seeking to take it down,” he said. “We should be proud and confident in America and her values — we should carry that diplomatic swagger to the ends of the earth; humbly, nobly and with the skill and courage I know you all possess.”

Left unsaid is the essential implication of all this swaggerin' talk to the State Department workforce - i.e., the idea that the new SecState will somehow, perhaps through the sheer force of his personality, reverse the Trump administration's announced plans for budget cuts and staff reductions. Count me as essentially distrustful of that.


On a different matter, does it bother anyone else that AP's diplomatic correspondent, Matthew Lee, is one of Hillary's AP "friendlies," that is, one of the "overly docile press" who were happy to do the HRC campaign's bidding during the 2016 election? You can read the e-mail chains here. I think he should have to wear a Team Hilllary tee shirt or something to announce his affiliation when he sits in on press briefings all santimonious-like.

And then there’s the overly docile press, who were so eager to help Clinton get elected. In one email chain discussing the upcoming release of exchanges between Clinton and writer Sidney Blumenthal, insiders noted that the Associated Press appeared to be willing to allow the Clinton campaign to plant favorable stories. “[T]hey are considering placing a story with a friendly at the AP (Matt Lee or Bradley Klapper), that would lay this out before the majority on the committee has a chance to realize what they have and distort it,” wrote Nick Merrill, the Clinton campaign’s traveling press secretary.

Matt Lee published the planted story the next day. Friends like that are good to have.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Palestinians destroy Gaza's only facility for receiving fuel and cargo delivers from Israel:
Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) announced on Saturday that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has approved closing the Kerem Shalom humanitarian border crossing in Gaza from tomorrow (Sunday) until further notice, due to Friday’s destruction of gas pipelines and the security fence at the crossing.

For the second week in a row, protesters damaged gas pipes at the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Friday, which are responsible for transporting gas into Gaza.

The following is a list of destruction done to the humanitarian crossing according to the IDF:

- The fuel terminal has been rendered totally unusable.

- Gas pipelines – Damage was caused to connection stations. The main gas line is not functioning at all.

- Fuel pipes – The fueling site sustained fire and fracture damages.

- Aggregate conveyor belt - Not suitable for operation at all. Significant damage was caused to the entire structure.

- Grain conveyors, food and livestock - Damage was caused to electricity infrastructure.

- Security infrastructure of the humanitarian crossing - Damage was caused to fences, light poles and cameras.

Friday, May 11, 2018

We Have the Best Site, the Biggest Setback

At his rally yesterday in Elkhart, Indiana, President Trump gave an impressionistic account of how my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations fitted out "a big, beautiful corner" of the consular annex building in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem to serve as an interim office for the Ambassador, and did so at a reasonable cost.

Notice the sustained applause when Trump mentions how the best site in the city has setback distance.
"It’s set back. Which is good for safety ... It’s a big site, big setback – they want setback for safety, makes sense."

Three cheers for setback! It's about time it got some recognition.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Logan's Run of Luck (That No One Has Ever Been Prosecuted)

According to this informative administrative timeline of the Department of State by the Office of the Historian, one of the earliest laws the Congress passed concerning the State Department was the Logan Act.
January 30, 1799:

“An act for the punishment of certain crimes therein specified” (the Logan Act, 1 Stat. 613) conferred upon the Department of State the exclusive right to engage in negotiations with foreign governments.

The Act was passed following the unauthorized peace negotiations of one George Logan, a Pennsylvania state legislator and Quaker, with France.

The Logan Act was last updated in 1994, so I assume it's not just a quaint relic of the 18th Century, and violation of the Act is a felony. But, so far as I can tell, no one has ever been prosecuted for violating it. John Kerry probably won't be the first. Probably.

Justice Department Declined to Prosecute Sexual Assault by Financial Attaché

I hadn't seen this news before, but the UK Daily Mail has the U.S. Treasury Department's OIG report of investigation into the incident, which they obtained via a FOIA request. From the report it appears that DSS agents substantiated the victim's accusation based upon a preponderance of the evidence, and the Treasury Department OIG "determined that it is more likely than not that (the woman’s) version of the event is more accurate and that the sexual act was not consensual ... Also it is likely that (the woman) was too intimidated and scared to forcefully resist (the attaché’s) advances."

Despite that determination, "the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, declined to prosecute the case, citing the ‘exacting standard of proof’ in criminal court." The lesser standard used in civil litigation should be met, I would think, so a lawsuit or two might be coming.

The redacted OIG investigation report is included in the Daily Mail story: EXCLUSIVE: US Government is protecting identity of an American diplomat who forced a 22-year-old woman to perform oral sex at a party at his residence.

The former Attaché's name and the post at which this occurred are both being withheld. We know only that he was a GS-13, and the incident happened in a Western Hemisphere post on January 1, 2014.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Awful, Horrible, State Bureaucracy

Who runs the world? We do!

This little nugget in a Politico story on problems the new SecState may face in filling vacant positions should be a reminder of where the State Department stands with the conservative side of Washington politics.

Pompeo faces a hiring obstacle course
If Pompeo were to try to [appoint to State Department positions] GOP critics of Trump, he “needs to argue to the president that some people are terrible ‘Never Trumpers’ but others just supported other candidates so they naturally attacked him just as he very strongly attacked his opponent,” a Republican former government official said.

“The key difference is probably what people have said since he got elected: If they have stayed critical, the hell with them. If they have been supportive for a year and a half, they should be forgiven, because Pompeo needs some of them to take control of State back from the awful, horrible State bureaucracy.”

The State Department does not have any reserve of good will to draw on with GOP officials. It just doesn't. That's been the case for as long as I can remember, and probably much longer that that. Bear it in mind, and temper any expectations you may have that the new boss will fight the administration's plans to cut the foreign affairs budget and to implement its own policy agenda.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Deputy Consul General Of Israel Allegedly Forced Out Of Uber Ride For Speaking Hebrew On Phone
CHICAGO (CBS) – The Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, Itay Milner, says he was ten minutes into his Uber ride on Lower Wacker Drive Thursday night when he was thrown out by the driver.

Milner wrote in a Facebook post, “I just had the worst experience of my life. I was just thrown out of an Uber in the middle of the highway only because I answered my phone in my mother tongue.”

He adds, “Ten minutes into my ride with no prior interaction between the driver and myself, it took only two words in Hebrew to get my driver [to] start yelling at me ‘Get the $#@* out of my car!'”

He continued: “It did not help when I told him that I can’t go out in the middle of the highway. It was like I wasn’t a person for him anymore. When I asked him if it’s because I’m speaking Hebrew he said yes and kept yelling at me to get out. I am not easily intimidated, but that scared me and I ran out of there, walking in the middle of the road.

“I never thought something like this could happen in America, such awful racism. This cannot be tolerated!”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Can We Talk About Your Swagger?

The new SecState introduced himself yesterday in a ceremony that lasted only 12 minutes from limo to walk-off. And, as we’ve heard over and over, it was all about restoring the State Department’s swagger.

I’m not sure how the new SecState means that, but the definition of “swagger” in Webster’s doesn’t sound so good:

swaggered; swaggering play \ˈswa-g(ə-)riŋ\

intransitive verb

1 : to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially : to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence

2 : boast, brag

transitive verb

: to force by argument or threat : bully

“Swagger” is meant to be an antonym for “Tillerson” I suppose. We’ll see how that works out. Personally, I distrust all Congressmen, including former ones. The new SecState has a history of dealing with the State Department during his career in Congress, and judging by some of it, people might come to miss Silent Rex someday.

Well, I’m just going to blurt it out. That new SecState’s swaggering introduction of himself was a VIAGRA® ad. There, I’ve said it. And now that I’ve said “VIAGRA®” on the internet I’ll get lots of spam mail from places like Hong Kong, but so be it.

A VIAGRA® ad, yes, but which kind of VIAGRA® ad was it? There are two kinds. The male-focused ones like those “this is the age of knowing” commercials with cowboyed-up middle-aged men doing manly stuff, and the female-focused ones that feature The Pose.
You know the pose: Her stomach’s on the mattress, she’s resting on her elbows, and her feet might be kicked up in the air. It’s the “We need to talk about your boner” pose.

Which is it? Are we to be rowdied up or guilted into getting our swagger back?

** Warning ** Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for swaggering. Side effects may include headaches, flushing, upset stomach, and abnormal vision. Seek immediate medical help for a swagger lasting more than four hours.