Monday, October 5, 2015

New Embassy Project Vientiane a "Global Best Project" Winner

Kudos to my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) for this: New U.S. Embassy in Vientiane Wins Global Best Project Award From Engineering News-Record Magazine:
Engineering News-Record (ENR), a leading journal for the construction industry, honored the U.S. Embassy Project in Vientiane, Laos as a Global Best Project in the Government Buildings category. The U.S. Government and the project team were celebrated alongside other complex, global projects including stadiums, airports and infrastructure developments. The award was announced at this year’s ENR Global Best Projects Award ceremony in September 2015.

Since 1999, as part of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has completed 122 new diplomatic facilities and has an additional 46 projects in design or under construction.

The mission of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations is to provide safe, secure, and functional facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. These facilities should represent U.S. values and the best in U.S. architecture, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture, and construction execution.

That's from the bottom of my heart, because I admire good project management over almost any other endeavor.

BTW, Vientiane is pronounced like "Vee-end-tee-on," and it is the capitol of a land-locked country in Asia that is neither Chinese nor Japanese.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Fuck Off" She Explained

Harry Truman was a POTUS who could really cuss up a storm

Ronald Kessler is basically the Boswell of U.S. federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, having published about 20 or so books on the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Secret Service.

His latest is about the interactions of Secret Service details assigned to the President's families, First Family Detail. It goes on sale August 5, just in time for the start of the 2016 election season.

The next time I visit a bookstore I plan to flip straight to the index and look up stuff like this:
Because Hillary Clinton is so nasty to agents, being assigned to her protective detail is considered a form of punishment and the worst assignment in the Secret Service. (pgs. 5, 16-26)

The New York Post today reviewed an advance copy of Kessler's book and quoted recollections by former members of the Hillary Clinton protective detail, none of them flattering. See Secret Service agents: Hillary is a nightmare to work with.

This one is typical:
“‘Good morning, ma’am,” a member of the uniformed Secret Service once greeted Hillary Clinton.

“F— off,” she replied.

None of this comes as a surprise. While Hillary partisans will of course denounce Kessler - some already have (here) - Hillary is a well-known personality, after having being in Washington and the public eye ever since 1992. Even I, at my lowly perch on the government ladder, have gotten loads of hearsay about her from Secret Service agents right from the start of Bill Clinton's first term, all of it consistent with Kessler's anecdotes.

Will this book drag down Hillary's public image? I doubt it. Surely, every sentient voter already has a firm fixed image of her after all this time. Her devotees are practiced at ignoring stuff like this, and her haters weren't going to vote for her anyway. But, the media machine needs material to fill the 24-hour news cycle, and stories like Kessler's are more entertaining than most.

Word to the wise politician - the drivers and bodyguards hear and see everything you do, so you might want to resist any impulse you have to insult and belittle them.

In Which the Rand Corporation Gives Two Cheers for a Reality-Based Strategy

The Rand Corporation's - justly - renowned deep thinker on counterterrorism, Brian Jenkins, posted an article today that reads like a bucket of cold water thrown in the face of our national security establishment. Read it here: Any Review of Syria and Iraq Strategy Needs Realistic Reappraisal.

Note that the title juxtaposes the words "Syria and Iraq strategy" and "realistic," which signals that the author is not going to deliver the usual happy-talk about 'degrade and defeat' or 'train and assist' or whatever other buzz words are in fashion. Instead, he starts by listing some obvious realities:

  • The continued fighting has seen the diminishing strength of Syria's secular rebels and the ascent of its most extreme jihadist component, represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
  • The conflicts in Syria and Iraq seem to be at a stalemate.
  • National armies in both countries have failed.
  • Syria and Iraq are now effectively partitioned.

  • He closes with this:
    Although these stark conclusions hardly sound controversial, they are antithetical to American policy. The very idea of a military stalemate lasting years — or decades — defies America's sense of progress. Secular, democratic governance and religious tolerance are deeply held American values. The United States operates on the presumption that the sectarian and ethnic divisions can be bridged; that Iraq's national army can be rebuilt into an effective fighting force; that the Bashar Assad regime in Syria can be replaced by a more inclusive government; that the Sunnis can be won over and the jihadists can be isolated, contained and defeated; that peace and national unity can be restored, enabling the refugees to return; and that this can be achieved without the commitment of large numbers of combat forces or even with the commitment of American combat forces.

    Unquestionably, these are noble aims, and diplomats are required to be optimists. Nonetheless, national objectives must be based upon realistic assessments of the situation. Here, the distance between presumed aspiration and reality seems great.

    So you say we ought to consider reality as we pursue our national objectives in the partitioned and stalemated Iraq and Syria? You are right, Mr, Jenkins, that does not sound at all controversial.

    But bear in mind that the Rand Corporation is the government-funded policy think tank of the Pentagon, so even that mild scolding is coming from the inside. Could it indicate a new willingness to stop stumbling along with our Neo-Wilsonian approach to the Middle East?

    From Brian Jenkin's mouth to God's ears (you should forgive the Yiddishism).

    Friday, October 2, 2015

    Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

    Virginia Beach mom finds ammo in Toys "R" Us package - ABC 13 News Now

    Jasemin Stephenson says she ordered a "Minecraft Foam Diamond Sword" from the toy store's website last week.

    When the package arrived Tuesday, Stephenson says she found 800 rounds of 9mm ammunition in the box, along with the sword.

    Thursday, October 1, 2015

    Secret Service Shoots Itself in the Foot

    What is going on at the U.S. Secret Service? I mean, I dislike Representative Jason Chaffetz as much as anyone, but really? Leaking gossipy tidbits to the press is very petty harassment, not to mention a violation of the Privacy Act when those tidbits come from your internal official files. Also not to mention stupid and reckless, since who else but Secret Service insiders could have accessed the 12-year old file on Chaffetz's unsuccessful application for a Secret Service agent job, and didn't they realize that would come back to bite the Service at a time when it can ill afford any more scandals?

    The OIG report on this incident is short and sweet. A couple excerpts:
    We have substantially completed our review of the allegation and have determined that a Secret Service database containing sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) pertaining to Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was accessed on approximately 60 occasions by Secret Service employees. We have concluded that a vast majority of those who had accessed the information did so in violation of the Privacy Act, as well as Secret Service and DHS policy. Additionally, we identified one individual who acknowledged disclosing information protected by the Privacy Act to an outside source. However, because the number of individuals with access to this information was so great, we were unable to identify others who may have disclosed protected information to third parties.

    [Chaffetz's] application had not been acted upon and the applicant had not been interviewed, reflected in MCI by a data field that read “BQA,” which meant that other better qualified applicants existed.

    We identified 18 supervisors at the GS-15 or Senior Executive Service level who appeared to have known or should have known, prior to the publication of the fact, that Chairman Chaffetz’ MCI record was being accessed.

    Moreover, at least one senior Secret Service executive, who knew about the fact of the Chaffetz application, suggested that it be leaked. On March 31st, two days before the publication of the information, Ed Lowery, who is an Assistant Director and in charge of training for the Secret Service, replied to an email from Faron Paramore, another Assistant Director who was in charge of Congressional and public affairs. Paramore’s email distributed a press statement by Secretary Johnson regarding Chairman Chaffetz’ decision to subpoena Secret Service agents. Lowery’s reply, sent only to Paramore, is reprinted in its entirety:

    "Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out there."

    An Assistant Director was incautious enough to say that in an e-mail? A 'better qualified applicant' will be found for his job very soon, I think.

    Monday, September 21, 2015

    Joe Biden Waits To Catch a Wave

    The New York Times today: Soul-Searching Continues for Possible Joe Biden Run.

    He makes it sound like he's siting on a surfboard, rocking back and forth a bit in the tide, emptying his mind, and just waiting for a wave to come and sweep him into the 2016 contest, or not.

    "It comes or it doesn't ... It's just not quite there yet and it might not get there in time ... If that's it, that's it. It's not like I can rush it."

    The soul-searching could go on for quite some time yet, especially if he keeps getting press attention.