Tuesday, March 2, 2021

White House Press Secretary Briefly Fends Off Question re Harry Dunn Case

Yesterday, Jen Psaki was asked by a White House reporter - not identified - to clarify whether or not the diplomat's wife in the Harry Dunn road traffic accident and civil suit had diplomatic immunity. She referred the questioner to the State Department.

Here's the Q and A transcript:
Speaker 9: (01:02:05)

And if I could, Anne Sacoolas is still wanted in the UK on charges of causing death by dangerous driving. Now, the original rationale for her leaving the country with diplomatic immunity was that she was the spouse of somebody who was working at RAF Croughton, which under the terms of the agreement there meant she would have diplomatic immunity. It since seems to have emerged, from her lawyer in court here, that she was actually employed by the State Department or the US intelligence services. I wonder if you can clarify whether she was working in UK for the United States government and whether she does actually, as far as you’re concerned, have diplomatic immunity?

Jen Psaki: (01:02:41)

I would point you to the State Department. They, of course, engage in any questions about diplomacy, diplomatic immunity. Of course, the status of somebody who served during the prior administration, I don’t have anything more for you from it on it from here. Go ahead in the back.
She does like to circle back, doesn't she?

Now, the question of whether the diplomat's wife had diplomatic immunity has been repeatedly answered in the affirmative by, among others, the UK's own Foreign Minister and its High Court, as well as by the USG at every level from the former Ambassador to the UK to the former SecState, and the USG's position has been reaffirmed by the State Department spokesman for the current administration. That matter really isn't up for grabs. The jury is in, so to speak.

But I find it amusing that Psaki reflexively tosses the ball back to the Trump years, as if "somebody who served during the prior administration" is qualitatively different from the professional staff and their family members who are serving today. She separates herself from that bunch, and doesn't have any more on that/them from here.

In other news, the civil case against the diplomat's wife will take another step forward tomorrow when the court resumes. Psaki aside, there may be more on that matter then.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The RAND Corp Reports on Durations of Attacks on Western Diplomatic Facilities

The RAND Corporation published an interesting little report last week that has quite a bit of relevance to the physical security of U.S. diplomatic missions. Read it here: Seizures of Western Diplomatic Facilities, Historical Timelines, 1979–2019.

It addresses these research questions:
What were the durations of attacks on Western diplomatic facilities since 1979, and how much advance warning was there of each attack? And,
What implications do historical timelines of duration and advance warning of attacks on diplomatic facilities have for efforts to respond to such attacks?
The report found there have been "33 successful seizures of Western diplomatic facilities since 1979 ... The majority of attacks culminated in two hours or less, and over 90 percent culminated in six hours or less ... the median attack duration was four hours, and the average was 4.8 hours." 

Mind you, those incidents were not only at U.S. diplomatic missions. My general sense of the history of these things is that you'd see a longer average duration if only U.S. missions were considered.   

RAND supposes that "the lengthening of this [attack] duration could offer wider windows of opportunity to intervene," such as, intervention by U.S. military forces. Hum. Does that sound likely?  

RAND is the Defense Department's think tank, so far be it from me to question whatever they say about the chances of U.S. military intervention to an attack underway at a U.S. diplomatic mission. But, I can legitimately point out that the last time there was such an intervention was in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Can you think of another? I can't. 

There was an attempted intervention in Iran in 1979 - operation Eagle Claw - but it failed. There has not been another one since, and for what should be an obvious reason. The U.S. military is not a police force, and a U.S. embassy cannot just call 911 and expect an immediate response from the SWAT team. 

The closest thing to a military SWAT team is the Crisis Response Force (formerly known as the Commander's In-Extremis Force) and those, as we learned form the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report, are prepared to respond to a crisis within six hours. On the night of the Benghazi attack, the closest In-Extremis Force was training in Zagreb, Croatia, and the attack was long over before they could have arrived.      

The realities of time and space make it completely unrealistic to expect a timely intervention from the U.S. military to an attack underway at any of the 270+ U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. The Select Committee on Benghazi heard testimony from both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to that effect. Does anyone doubt it? If so, then I think you read too much Tom Clancy and play too many video games. 

All that said, please do read about The China Relief Expedition Joint Coalition Warfare in China Summer 1900, which is even better than the Charlton Heston movie version.  

Most Head Skakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"Rooster fitted with knife for cockfighting kills its owner by slashing his groin as it tries to escape" - Daily Mail
The fighting cock had a blade strapped to its leg ready to take on an opponent when it tried to flee the vicious blood sport ... His owner was cut and rushed to hospital in rural Telangana state but died of blood loss before he arrived ... The killer rooster was briefly held at the local police station earlier this week before it was sent to a poultry farm.

I love how the Daily Mail ascribes a motive to the rooster - "it tried to flee" - which makes it all sounds deliberate. The rooster had a definite consciousness of guilt all right, and I just hope it's prepared to pay the price for its rash act. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time, even if it's hard time on a poultry farm.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"A Columbia professor who uses heroin says the drug helps him maintain a work-life balance" - Insider
What is so wrong, he wonders in the book, about indulging in a short, thin "few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day"?

Hart is convinced the US must regulate and license recreational drugs and then teach people how to use them safely ... "You could have a massive public-service-announcement campaign that says 'If you're going to use opioids, don't use alcohol as a background or other sedatives in combination, because it increases the likelihood of respiratory depression and death,'" Hart said.
So then, please enjoy your opioid of choice responsibly.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"3 Pennsylvania neighbors dead after fight over snow shoveling" ABC News

Gitmo Joe: I'm Old Enough to Remember When ...

With the start of a new administration comes the restart of the old failed effort to close Gitmo. We already did that for Obama's eight years. But apparently that doesn't count, so now Joe Biden has to step up to the plate.

Biden launches review of Guantanamo prison, aims to close it before leaving office

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration has launched a formal review of the future of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, reviving the Obama-era goal of closing the controversial facility, a White House official said on Friday.

-- snip --

“The NSC will work closely with the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice to make progress toward closing the GTMO facility, and also in close consultation with Congress,” [National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne] added.

-- snip --

Of the prisoners who remain, nine have been charged or convicted by military commissions. The most notorious is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused Sept. 11 mastermind. About two dozen have not been charged but have been deemed too dangerous to release.

Joe's options on closing Gitmo seem to come down to a very few. He could execute the remaining detainees, unlawful combatants that they are, and then close Gitmo. (That's my choice.)

He could move them to other countries, but that would require willing countries, and we've run out of those.

He could move them to a prison in the U.S., but there is a law against that and absolutely zero political appetite to change that law. Hell, even Bernie Sanders voted to prohibit funding to transfer, release, or incarcerate detainees detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to or within the United States. Really, that makes it unanimous. Nobody who wishes to get elected or reelected in these United States will vote to move the Gitmo gang here.

He could prosecute them in the US, but that didn’t work out so well the one time it was tried (here). Oh, the guy was convicted on a couple counts, but was also acquitted of 224 individual counts of murder that he'd committed by conducting the bombings that destroyed the American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. That outcome does not fill me with confidence that we could risk sending even the 9/11 planner to trial.

What to do, what to do?

Maybe Joe should do nothing; it's usually best. There is lots of good advice about that here: Will Joe Biden Repeat Obama’s Mistake?

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

OTD in 1950 Senator McCarthy Held in His Hand a List Provided By the State Department's Office of Security

The popular narrative of Senator McCarthy and his lists of "known communists" in government, like this one, are wrong in several respects, and as a public service I take it upon myself to correct that misimpression.

Also, I just think it's amusing that his lists came from the State Department itself.

The History Channel's OTD message for today repeats what we all know:
Senator McCarthy famously announced that he had a list with the names of over 200 members of the Department of State "that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”
What's not so famous is that McCarthy's list(s) of names, whatever else they may have been, were "not fictitious."

Have a look at Chapter Four of the history of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (here), an official publication of State's Office of the Historian.
McCarthy’s numbers—205, 57, and 81—were inconsistent, but not fictitious. The numbers were derived from testimony by Department of State officials and Division of Security files. An SY [Office of Security] memorandum admitted in April that the “81” figure that McCarthy presented to the Senate was drawn from the “108 Cases,” which had been derived from SY files by a team of House of Representatives researchers in 1947. That group found 108 employees of questionable loyalty working for the Department. The “57” figure was also from the 108 cases; Deputy Under Secretary for Administration John E. Peurifoy had testified to Congress in March 1948 that 57 of the 108 still worked for the Department.(4) The number “205” was also derived from SY figures. In 1946, Robert L. Bannerman’s Security Office and the Department’s Screening Committee had flagged 284 “security risks.” Secretary of State James F. Byrnes reported this to Congress in July 1946, noting that the Department had dismissed 79 of the 284, leaving 205 possible risks. As the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations emphasized, McCarthy’s “information was beyond all reasonable doubt … a ‘dressed up’ version of material” previously presented to Congress. Yet McCarthy had so effectively repackaged the numbers that it was several weeks before Department of State officials determined their origins.(5)


(4) Memorandum, Division of Security, n.d. [April? 1950]. Memorandum “History of 108 Cases,” Division of Security, 6 April 1950, Folder – Administrative Folder, Box 5; and Memorandum “Report on Loyalty Security Performance – 1947-1952,” Conrad E. Snow, Chairman of the Loyalty Security Board, to Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, 8 January 1953, Folder – Loyalty Security Board, Miscellaneous 3/1952 – 3/1953, Box 4; both Security Files 1932-63, A/SY/Evaluations. Committee on Foreign Relations, State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation, p. 8.

(5) Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense, 109, 111-112, 156 ( McCarthy quotation on page 156. Committee on Foreign Relations, State Department Employee Loyalty Investigation, 81st Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Report 2108, p. 7, 14-17. Of that report, pages 6-17 make clear the connection between McCarthy’s numbers and the figures and files of the Security Office and of SY. Memorandum, Division of Security, n.d. [April? 1950], p. 6.
So, I guess those listed names really were known to the SecState.

There is more detail here on the interplay between McCarthy and his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Government Operations Committee and the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (“Tydings Committee”) concerning those lists.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Harry Dunn Case Update: Chumming the Waters of Tabloid Media

This week, the American driver in the case had her chance to enter a motion to dismiss the civil action filed against her in a Virginia court.

During oral presentations it emerged that she had taken advantage of the opportunities for family member employment overseas while being the spouse of a member of Embassy London's Administrative and Technical staff. At least, that's what I'm taking away from the news media's coverage, scattered and unreliable as it is.

That is to say, she was simultaneously an appointment eligible family member, able to work for the embassy in her own right, and also a just-plain family member of someone with diplomatic immunity. That's not a hard concept to grasp, or so you might think.

There are many ways for the U.S. government's family members to find employment abroad, and good for them. What would the State Department do without them?

Now for the question of the day: did her employment as an eligible family member negate that family member status which conveyed her spouse's diplomatic immunity to her? That's what the Dunn family spokesman / ringmaster is telling the news media, and they respond like seals clapping when someone tosses them a fish.

But, is it true?

As someone with internet access and the ability to form questions, I looked here - a publicly available source of information - and found this answer:

Family members of administrative and technical staff assigned to an embassy have full criminal immunity, testimonial immunity, and inviolability. However, they have no civil immunity ... Many foreign states will not permit a family member with diplomatic status to work unless the diplomatic status is waived. The important thing to note is that the right to waive immunity belongs to the U.S. Government; no one has a right to waive his/her own diplomatic immunity. Under the Vienna Convention rules, family members who are employed on the local economy may request the post to waive their civil or administrative immunity with respect to their employment; however, criminal immunity is preserved in every case.

So, despite the chills and trills currently running through the UK and some U.S. media, the matter of eligible family member employment is not the gamechanger they would wish. The American driver had criminal immunity as the family member of an A and T staff employee, as has long been confirmed by the UK Foreign Office and been re-affirmed by the UK High Court. Nothing about that changes.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"Orgy involving at least 81 people raided by police in France for breaking covid rules Partygoers fined over breach of curfew rules" - The Independant
"The event was in breach of the curfew, and there were also problems with masks and social distancing," an investigator said.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Biden Administration Declines Extradition in Harry Dunn Case: "Our decision in that regard was final"

The Biden administration wasted no time dealing with the matter of extradition in the Harry Dunn case. One day after SecState Blinken’s first phone call with his UK counterpart, the new State Department spokesman announced the Biden administration takes exactly the same position on that issue as the Trump administration did.

State spokesman Ned Price was delicate enough, or cagey enough, to put the message in past tense voice:
“We again offer our sincere condolences and sympathy to the Dunn family for the loss of their son. This was a tragic accident.”

“Since the tragic accident occurred, the United States has been closely engaged with the UK government and we have been transparent about our positions on legal and diplomatic matters concerning this accident. “The United States government has declined the United Kingdom's request for extradition of a US citizen involved in a tragic vehicle accident that occurred in the United Kingdom. Our decision in that regard was final.”

“At the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the US citizen driver in this case had immunity from criminal jurisdiction.”

In effect, he said hey, the last guys in change here refused to extradite, and they already said that was final, so what do you want from me?

The Mum did her part, repeating for the UK media what her advisor/pitchman told her:

“This statement from the State Department comes as no surprise,” Ms Charles said. "It is a repeat of exactly what they have said before as their public position on the case."

“The bottom line is that this is not what diplomatic immunity is to be used for between two friendly countries and the State Department knows that."

“Our spokesperson Radd Seiger is having conversations with officials in Washington and London, and remains absolutely confident that we will get justice for Harry."

“You do not get to kill someone and walk away no matter who you are and I maintain my direct appeal to President Biden and his new secretary of state Tony Blinken to do the right thing. It is the only way forward."

So, the family remains in denial, shaking off the announcement of the Biden administration's refusal to extradite as just some odd little thing that a minor employee happened to say. Their emotional appeal continues regardless. Well, of course the State Department spokesman would say that, the State Department has always said that. But, if Blinken and Biden would only listen to me cry, they’d find out what’s going on, and that would change everything. Complete denial. 
And, of course, it goes without saying that Professor Radd Seiger "remains absolutely confident“ about that stirring occasion when he saw 76 trombones leading the big parade.

Do the rubes actually believe it when he tells them he is having conversations with “officials” in Washington? He even pretends to have inside info about what Biden has or hasn’t seen about the case. Wow.

In related news about that lawsuit filed in a Virginia court against the U.S. citizen driver on behalf of the Dunn family, the court was due to hear a motion to dismiss today, but the judge in the case has rescheduled that hearing for February 3, 2021.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina-scented candle explodes into flames causing an ‘inferno’ in a woman’s living room - The Sun

“The candle exploded and emitted huge flames, with bits flying everywhere ... I’ve never seen anything like it. The whole thing was ablaze and it was too hot to touch. There was an inferno in the room ... We eventually got it under control and threw it out the front door."

Monday, January 4, 2021

Assange Avoids Extradition, Pending Appeal by USG

That's our Julian Assange update theme, in honor of the whitest-skinned person ever to come from Australia. The first thing he should do once he's sprung is to get a massive dose of vitamin D, if you ask me.

The news today from the UK is that a judge has decided to release Assange rather than extradite him to the U.S., where she fears he might kill himself if confined in a U.S. prison.

In 2018, a British court refused to extradite Lauri Love, a hacker accused of penetrating U.S. government networks, because of the risk he would kill himself. In 2012 then-Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon, who was accused of breaking into U.S. military and space networks, because of the risk he would end his life. So there is a clear pattern here.

On all the substantive issues raised by the U.S. government against Assange, the judge actually agreed. She said that the alleged offenses go beyond "encouraging a journalist." For instance, Assange called for people to join the CIA so they could access confidential information for WikiLeaks, something the judge found to be "beyond investigative journalism."

The judge also said the right to free speech does not give anyone "unfettered discretion" to disclose any document they wish, and she rejected Assange's assertion of free speech laws noting that the difficulty with this argument is it vests in Assange the right to sacrifice the safety of individuals named in leaked documents, in the name of free speech. Such as the 50-some persons who sought asylum in the United States after being so named.

Moreover, the judge pointed out Assange’s eventual "indiscriminate" release of some 800,000 State Department cables, in contrast to his first, more responsible and much smaller, release of cables to news media outlets who published them with redactions.

Warming up to the subject, the judge noted that any hurt caused to Assange's family by his extradition "is nothing unusual in these kind of proceedings." Damn! I am liking this judge.

Regarding the U.S. judicial system, the judge said she does not accept it would be impossible to find twelve impartial jurors, or that the plea bargaining system was unjust, or that U.S. prosecutors would prosecute Assange out of pure vengeance. She even noted that President Trump has publicly praised Assange.

So, then, what's her objection to extradition?

Only that Assange has a frail mental condition. She accepted testimony that Assange suffers from autism and clinical depression, and is at risk of self-harm. If confined in a U.S. prison under special administrative measures, Assange has the intellect and determination to get around suicide prevention measures, she thinks. Therefore, "extradition would be oppressive by reason of Assange’s mental health."

From the AP story:

Assange, who sat quietly in the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court for the ruling, wiped his brow as the decision was announced. His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.

Outside court, Moris said the ruling was “the first step towards justice,” but it was not yet time to celebrate.

“I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home,” she said. “Today is not that day, but that day will come soon.”

“Mr. President, tear down these prison walls,” she said. “Let our little boys have their father.”

Ms. Moris is one of Assange’s lawyers and also his jailhouse squeeze, now age 37 with two little kids that he fathered during his years of self-imposed exile in London's Ecuadorian Embassy. Specifically, while in a tent set up inside his room in the embassy in order to avoid the secret cameras that the lovebirds assumed must have been trained on Assange by the CIA.

Ms. Moris says that by 2017 the pair were "secretly engaged,” and that Assange even proposed to her, kind of, via a virtual reality experience.

She is quite sure Assange wants to marry her. Good luck with that, but based on everything I've read about him, Assange does not seem the family-man domestic type.

It is not rare for even more or less normal women to marry convicts. Google “Hybristophilia.”

But Assange is only two weeks away from freedom, unless the USG's appeal of today's decision succeeds, which it probably won't. Like all famous outlaws, he has surely received tons of female fan mail. Once he’s out of his British prison, Assange will have a vastly expanded range of available females. Do you see marriage in that future? I don't.

Whereas, if he were to be extradited, well, the U.S. federal prison system provides many benefits to inmates who wish to marry, including a minimum of four visiting hours per month. (No conjugal visits, however.)

Think about it, Ms. Moris.