Thursday, August 16, 2018

The New Yorker on Bill Browder

This New Yorker article, "How Bill Browder Became Russia's Most Wanted Man," discusses a number of people who worked on passing the Magnitsky Act, most of whom were Jewish, including:
Bill Browder himself
Edmond Safra, Browder's billionaire partner in Hermitage Capital
Senator Ben Cardin
Ambassador Dan Fried
David Kramer of Freedom House
Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations
The Ziff brothers, millionaire friends of Browder

Sergei Magnitsky, Browder's tax lawyer and accountant who was killed in a Russian prison and was immortalized in the Magnitsky Act, was not Jewish; he was an ethnic Russian. 

According to the New Yorker article, the men working to pass the Magnitsky Act wanted to find a substitute for the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Act, since that old law would become unenforceable when Russia joined the World Trade Organization and the US had to drop discriminatory trade legislation in 2012.  Jackson-Vanik was designed to help Jews get our of the old Soviet Union.  Although Senator Jackson was not Jewish, his staffers who worked to pass it became some of the leading Republican Jewish foreign policy officials in the United States: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, and Doug Feith.  According to the Bush White House, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment helped an estimated 600,000 Jews emigrate from Russia to the US, and another 1,000,000 to emigrate to Israel.  Instead of applying to emigration by ordinary Jews, the Magnitsky Act applies to some of the oligarchs who surround Putin; it prevents them visiting or doing business in the US. 

While lobbying for the bill, Browder presented a list of 280 Russians to be sanctioned.  The US initially sanctioned 18, and later added 31 more.  A significant number of Putin's oligarchs are Jewish, and some of them are included in the Magnitsky sanctions, such as Viktor Vekselberg, for example.  It seems strange that Jackson-Vanik, which broke down Soviet restrictions on Jewish travel has been replaced by Magnitsky which imposes American restrictions on Jewish travel, but there are probably some Jewish issues I don't understand. 

From Magnitsky's viewpoint, I think it is mainly about money.  Browder's Russian hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, made him a billionaire.  Putin kicked Browder off the Russian gravy train, and Browder wanted revenge on Putin.  Somehow he played this move in a way that attracted the support of the US Congress, led by Senator Ben Cardin, despite resistance by the Obama administration.  It may have gained support mainly from legislators who did not like Putin, and who thought the Act said, "Hey, Putin, take that! We hate your guts!" 

In response, Putin banned Americans from adopting Russian children.  This doesn't seem to have much to do with the Magnitsky issues, but it may have been something that came up for review about the same time and gave Putin a little something to retaliate with.  This is the reason the Trump campaign initially said the famous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya was about adoption.  It was, because that's the Russian half of the Magnitsky saga. 

According to the New Yorker article, Veselnitskaya worked for the wealthy Russian Katsyv family.  Browder got the government to bring charges against the Katsyv family, which he said had brought some of Hermitage's tax money into New York to buy property,  Veselnitskaya hired Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the same Fusion GPS that hired the former British spy Christopher Steele to spy on Trump in Russia. While it seems farfetched and doesn't seem to have come up in the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian Katsyv response to Browder's charges played up Browder's connection to the Ziff brothers (American Jewish millionaires who donated a lot to the Democrats), the implication being that Hillary's campaign may have "colluded" with the Russians through the Ziff connection. 

In a deposition related to the Katsyv case, Browder said he did not regularly talk directly to Magnitsky or Magnitsky's lawyers.  This indicates to me that Browder didn't really care that much about Sergei Magnitsky and his "human rights" but was more concerned about the financial implications for his business in Russia.  Yet, somehow, as a native-born American citizen who had renounced his American citizenship, he persuaded the US Congress to pass a bill that gave him revenge against Putin in the name of "human rights."

I am guessing from his name that Joshua Yaffa, who wrote this article is also Jewish. Although there was a  lot of rehashing of old news reports and Bill Browder's book, "Red Notice," it did shed some interesting new light on the issue.  It did not change my opinion that Putin is probably justified in hating Bill Browder, who is a slimeball. 



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trump and Putin

I am not upset by the Trump-Putin meeting.  I am upset by Mueller and the media.  Mueller's decision to release the indictment of the 12 Russian spies appears to have been politically motivated to make the Putin meeting more difficult for Trump.  It's the most overt indication I have seen that Mueller is not being even-handed and unbiased.  This action seemed clearly to benefit the Democrats and to make it impossible for Trump to have the friendly summit with Putin that he wanted. 

I think it is good that Trump likes Putin and wants to form a good relationship with him.  The US and Russia still have the two most destructive nuclear arsenals in the world.  It's good that they don't want to use them on each other. While everybody in Washington is saying Putin is a terrible dictator, he is not saying things like Khrushchev's, "We will bury you."  I don't think any American journalists asked any questions at the joint press conference about nuclear weapons.  If so, the media ignored them.  The entire focus was on Russian meddling in the US election, in part because of Mueller's release of the indictments.  In essence, the press said, "We don't care about nuclear annihilation, we only care about election hacking." 

The thing is: Russia did hack some stuff during the election; I'm not sure what or exactly who did it.  Putin may have been personally involved, or maybe not.  We know he dislikes Hillary because Hillary had tried to remove him from office.  He probably also doesn't like Hillary because her husband, Bill, was instrumental in expanding NATO up to the very borders of Russia, which Putin saw as an existential threat.  George W. Bush carried on the expansion.  To me, the Baltic countries -- Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- are just a nuclear tripwire.  If Russia attacks them they back up to the Baltic ocean and are only a few miles wide.  NATO defense against a massive Russian invasion looks almost impossible to me.  So the only response by us as if the attack had been on the US mainland, is nuclear.  The US will have to launch a nuclear war against Russia in response.  After a massive nuclear exchange, hundreds of millions of people will be dead on both sides.  But the press does not care about that possibility; it only cares about election hacking.  The press is willing for a hundred million people to die, if it means no more hacking.  I don't think they have their priorities right. 

Maybe Trump did let Putin off the hook as far as accusing him of hacking the election.  But does anyone really believe Putin would admit he did it?  It's pointless to try to get him to confess.  Trump was trying to form a working relationship with Putin.  The press was insisting that the hacking was like Putin had an ugly wart on his face and was insisting that Trump tell Putin he was so ugly that it made people sick to look at him.  The press was basically yelling at Trump to spit in Putin's face, and when he didn't they called him a coward and a traitor. 


Watching the antics of the impassioned American press, I am sure Putin thought, "Thank goodness I don't have a free press and don't have to deal with maniacs like this."  The American press did not cover itself with glory.   Do they really believe that nuclear war is the best response to election hacking?  

Monday, July 09, 2018

MTCR - Part 2

While I was overseas in Thailand and Brazil, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) had been created and agreed among the G-7.  Administrations had changed; George H.W. Bush had taken over from Reagan, and he had made a number of personnel changes to differentiate his administration from Reagan's.  Richard Perle was out and had been replaced at the Pentagon by Stephen Hadley, who went on to be the NSC National Security Adviser under President George W. Bush.  His main assistant for missile proliferation at DOD was Henry Sokolski, and Richard Spier continued to work on the issue for him. 

While I was in Brazil, the Brazilian space agency (INPE) decided to build environmental satellites to monitor the Amazon.  They wanted to build new ground stations to receive the data download sent from the satellites as they passed over Brazil.  One of the companies bidding on the ground stations was an American company, Scientific Atlanta.  For some reason, the Scientific Atlanta salesman in Brazil had missed the deadline for bidding on the ground stations.  As a result, the Brazilians chose a Japanese bidder. 

The Embassy's Commercial Counselor, who works for the Commerce Department, called and asked if I could do anything to help Scientific Atlanta.  I called some of my contacts at INPE and was somewhat surprised to find that they were willing to reopen the bidding.  They said they would prefer to work with an American company.  They reopened the bidding, and Scientific Atlanta won.  Soon we learned, however, that Stephen Hadley's Pentagon office had denied Scientific Atlanta's export license to build the ground stations because it said they violated the MTCR provisions.  Since there was no indication of any military connection, this ruling seemed totally wrong.  DOD's decision was based on the fact that they thought that if the ground stations could maneuver to track satellites, they could follow a test launch of a military missile.  They could not do a good job of this, if they worked at all, because they were designed to track satellites in orbit, not rockets launched from the ground.  Nevertheless, the deal was blocked, and my contacts at INPE were furious.  They had had a deal with Japan, and now they had nothing.  They had awarded the contract to an American company, and now that company could not perform it. 

I felt terrible.  Not only had I persuaded the Brazilians to award the contract to an American company, but I had been one of the creators of the MTCR, which was cited as the basis for blocking the deal.  In fact, the Pentagon for whatever reason did not like or trust Brazil.  For years, Brazil had had a nuclear rivalry with Argentina that caused both of them to maintain nuclear programs that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, and both preserved the option of building missiles that could deliver a nuclear weapon.  Argentina led in both categories, with a missile called the Condor, and a nuclear research lab at Bariloche. While I was in Brazil, however, Brazil and Argentina had agreed to de-escalate their nuclear rivalry, although neither had yet joined the NPT. 

Both nuclear and missile technologies are dual use.  They can build nuclear power reactors or military weapons.  They can build space launch vehicles for scientific research or missiles to deliver weapons.  I was convinced from my years of working with both the nuclear and space communities in Brazil and from my studies in Washington before going to Brazil that Brazil was not going to build either type of weapon under the present circumstances, although they wanted to retain the option to build one of they felt threatened by changes in the international situation.  Whatever DOD may have thought their intentions were, the satellite ground stations would not have been useful for testing a missile.  They were designed to be used for peaceful purposes only. 

Around this time, I got a call from the Politico-Military Bureau at the State Department in Washington, asking if I would be interested in working on missile proliferation issues there.  I agreed in part because it might give me a chance to reverse the DOD decision to deny the ground station export license.  The fight went on for months; all that time Brazil was prevented from beginning work on its ground stations.  In the end, however, we finally got the decision reversed and the export license approved, much too late to please Brazil. 

After I had been assigned to PM, I ran into an awkward situation.  Before I arrived I was promoted to FSO-1 from FSO-2.  The head of the PM Bureau was Assistant Secretary Richard Clarke, who went on to be in charge of the White House counter-terrorism office during the 9/11 attack.  Clarke had a candidate he wanted to name as deputy director of the office I was going to.  However, the candidate was an FSO-2.  I felt that as an FSO-1, it would be inappropriate for me to work under an FSO-2.  Clarke was unhappy, but agreed to appoint someone else.  I don't remember exactly how it worked out; perhaps I was officially named deputy director or co-director so that I would not be working for a lower ranking person.  When I left, I received a meritorious honor award, which I thought was generous of Clarke, who had had to give up an appointment he wanted because of my promotion. 



Thursday, July 05, 2018

MTCR - Part 1

I first began to work on what became the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) just before Reagan was elected.  I was working in the state Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research on nuclear non-proliferation and other scientific subjects.  Under President Jimmy Carter, some senior policy wonks in State and ACDA had begun to think about a missile non-proliferation regime that would be similar to the nuclear non-proliferation regime under the NPT.  These senior people needed somebody to work with them on intelligence about missile proliferation.  Nobody else in INR wanted to take on a new project, so I did.  We had only been working a few months when Reagan was elected. The senior guys I was working for were all political and lost their jobs with the change of administration. 

I didn't think Reagan Republicans would be interested in a new non-proliferation initiative, but they were.  I assume the Carter people had probably left them a briefing memo on the issue.  The new administration decided to continue the initiative, but I was about the only person in the State Department with any institutional memory about what had gone on under Carter.  At the Pentagon, Richard Perle took a particular interest in the issue, since one of his main concerns was export control, preventing the spread of militarily useful technology, including missile technology. Perle's main staffer on missile technology was Richard Spier.

Perle wanted a very restrictive treaty along the lines of the NPT.  At State, we began a series of consultations with our G-7 partners to get their reaction to a missile treaty.  At that time there was strong opposition from developing countries to the NPT because they saw it as discriminatory, preventing developing countries from having nuclear weapons, while it allowed the existing nuclear powers to keep theirs.  When we consulted the other G-7 we found strong opposition to a new missile treaty, because it would offend the developing countries who already opposed the NPT.  However, there was more receptivity to suppliers group like the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the Zangger Committee

At DOD, Perle wanted a stricter regime, but was particularly adamant that the member countries had to have strict, enforceable trade controls.  Perle was also the lead DOD official on the old COCOM regime that restricted exports from the Western members to the Soviet Union.  He was always pressing COCOM to be stricter, and he wanted the new missile regime to be similarly tough. 

Preparing the new missile regime, I consulted one of State's COCOM experts, Bill Root, the head of the COCOM office.  COCOM had a list of exports that were controlled to the Soviet Union which had been negotiated over many years.  Thus the legal language was familiar to the export control offices that we would be dealing with on the missile issue.  I thought we could use the COCOM regulations as a starting point for the missile regulations.  One day my meeting with Bill Root was interrupted because he had a phone call from Richard Perle at DOD.  He said, "Let's continue after lunch."  When I came back after lunch, he had retired and left his office for good.  He had had so many fights with Perle over COCOM that he was leaving for good.  He felt that Perle was pushing COCOM too hard and alienating our partners.  In doing so, it was breaking with years for cooperation. 

Perle's same attitude carried over to missile proliferation.  He wanted a very tough export control regime, but the G-7 partners were opposed.  They were all members of COCOM and were resisting US pressure there.  They did not want to create another forum for the US to pressure them on export control.  Thus, we at the State Department ended up caught in the middle; we wanted a missile regime, but we could not harmonize the G-7 and DOD positions.  In addition to questioning whether the proposed list of prohibited exports was strong enough, DOD questioned whether the other countries had strong enough export control agencies to enforce the regulations.  This was the same issue that he continually brought up in COCOM, where he was continually complaining about export control violations by companies in other COCOM countries. 

Another problem on the G-7 side was the European Space Agency.  The Europeans had formed an international space consortium, under which different European countries manufactured different parts for space launch vehicles.  The parts were then shipped around Europe for assembly, and finally the finished rocket was shipped to the European launch site in Guiana in South America.  The Europeans did not want a new missile regime, which would cover many of the parts used in space launch vehicles, to interfere and add bureaucracy to their ESA activities. 

Although we were making progress, we were still at an impasse between DOD and the G-7 when my assignment ended.  I went off the old Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), then to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Brasilia, Brazil.  By the time I was in Brasilia, the people back in Washington had resolved their differences and gotten the Missile Technology Control Regime agreed among the G-7 (and DOD).  By then the Reagan administration was gone, and along with it, Richard Perle.  Despite that, one of the first countries to feel the obstructing force of the MTCR was Brazil, while I was there as the science officer handling missile and space cooperation. 


Sunday, July 01, 2018

Two Senior Diplomats Leave State

The US Ambassador to Estonia, James Melville, and the acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Susan Thornton, both career ForeignService officers,  have announced that they will leave the Department of State.  Both have been in the Foreign Service for more than 25 years.

As someone who left the Foreign Service after 25 years because of problems with Republicans, Newt Gingrich and his House colleagues, about 20 years ago, I can sympathize with their decisions. See previous post.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Leaving the Foreign Service


My Foreign Service career was not going well in Rome.  The embassy did not want me there.  There was a civil service employee in the State Department in Washington whom they wanted for the job.  I'm not sure why, but I think maybe the Ambassador or my predecessor who was forced to leave by the State Department, had picked him out.  The Ambassador wanted him and my boss the Economic Minister wanted to please the Ambassador by getting him.  Or maybe the Economic Minister was the one who wanted him. 

When the State Department told my predecessor in Rome that he had to leave because he had served the maximum eight years as a Schedule C political appointee, I think the Embassy tried to get the civil service employee to replace him, but the Foreign Service balked, because it was a Foreign Service job which should be filled by a Foreign Service officer.  Thus, I got a call in Warsaw from the State Department personnel office, asking if I would be willing to move to Rome and take the job. 

My job was not going well in Warsaw.  I had been assigned there primarily to oversee a joint science cooperation program, named after Madam Curie, the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund.  The US and Poland had signed an agreement to fund the program for five years, starting the year before I arrived.  The first year it was funded with $2 million from each side, and received the same amount the second year, the first year I was in Poland.  Bill Clinton was President, but after the second year, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich took over Congress and refused to fund future years, despite the agreement between the US and Polish governments.  I still remember my last meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Polish Foreign Ministry who was responsible for the entire Western Hemisphere, and who upbraided me as the representative of the United States for dishonestly failing to fulfill formal promises that we had made.  I was ashamed of my country and myself. 

In addition, one of my policy responsibilities in the Embassy was the environment.  As part of the USAID program to assist Poland after the fall of Communism, the US undertook a number of envonmental projects to help clean up Poland.  One was to build a scrubber on an old coal-fired plant generating electricity for the Krakow area.  The pollution had been so bad under the Communists that rain was turning into sulfuric acid and eating away some of the old statues and buildings in Krakow.  USAID had a big dedication for the scrubber when it was completed; it was supposed to remove most of the sulfur from the smokestack emissions.  After a while, one of my Polish contacts came to me and said the scrubber was not working.  I didn't really want to know that, because I did not want to interfere with the AID mission's programs, but I felt like I had to look into it.  When I did, it turned out that he was right.  The scrubber design worked fine in the United States with the limestone found in the US, but it did not work with Polish limestone, which was a poorer quality.  It would only work if limestone were imported from another country, which was logistically and financially impossible.  To make matters worse, my contact had me visit another power plant with a scrubber build by the Netherlands, but using General Electric technology.  It worked well. 

I was reaching the end of the second year of my three-year tour in Poland.  The Ambassador had said that since the cooperation program had been cancelled by Congress, the embassy did not need a science counselor; so, I would not be replaced, but I could stay on for the third year.  About that time, the personnel office in Washington called and asked if I would be willing to go to Rome.  That sounded like a great job, while the one in Poland was self-destructing; so, I said yes. 

Rome wanted me to come right away, but I had one good thing going in Warsaw.  As part of the US assistance program for Poland after the fall of Communism, we (my backstop in Washington and I) got the US Treasury to agree to forgive $10 million of US debt, if the Poles would agree to use it for environmental purposes.  I worked with a Polish NGO, the Ekofundusz (Ecofund), to get this money for them to use.  I wanted to attend the first meeting of the Ecofund after they got the money to make sure that everything was in order.  The reason they wanted me in Rome so quickly was that Italy was about the assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, with meant an increase in work for the embassy in Rome, because it had to deal with Italians on all EU matters as well as on all bilateral Italian matters, more or less doubling the workload.  It worked out that the annual meeting of the Ecofund was a week or two before Italy assumed the EU presidency, which gave me the opportunity to do both things. 

The Ecofund meeting went smoothly, but it turned out that day I was planning to leave for Rome was the day Newt Gingrich shut the government down.  All of our household effects had been packed; the car was packed with two dogs and suitcases for the drive to Rome ready to leave at 5:00, when Rome called and said, "Don't come."  It meant I had no job, no place to live, no idea what to do next.  It turned out that in Rome the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM, deputy to the Ambassador) was someone I knew from a previous assignment.  He said to go ahead an leave for Rome; he would work something out. 

When we arrived in Rome, everything was pretty much a mess, because the embassy was closed except for a skeleton staff.  I turned out that I was part of that skeleton staff, because that was the only way my travel had been approved.  Of course I knew nothing about the embassy or my new job.  To make matters worse, the Administrative Minister, the person responsible for running the day-to-day activities of the embassy, was a woman literally dying of cancer.  As she was a long time Foreign service officer, the State Department had agreed to let her stay in Rome as long as she could.  This meant, however, that she was hardly working and was very seldom in the embassy.  During the government shutdown, all of her assistants were working their little fiefdoms -- housing, personnel, finance, etc. -- but without supervision.  

The first sign, other than the government shutdown, that something was wrong, was that the embassy had no housing for my wife and me.  My predecessor had obviously lived somewhere, but the embassy would not tell me anything about it.  My impression was that because he had been a political appointee and a confidant of the Ambassador, he had had a much nicer apartment than he would have ordinarily received for his position, and they were not willing to let me have it.  There as a rumor that there was one empty apartment the day we arrived, but that it had been given to a DEA agent who had arrived a few hours earlier than we did.  I thought this was strange because the State Department runs the administration of the embassy, even for other agencies like DEA.  Thus, I thought normally State Department officers would have assigned the empty apartment to a fellow FSO and let the DEA wait for an apartment.  I was surprised to see the State Department give precedence to a DEA officer over a fellow State Department officer.  We ended up in a temporary apartment for months as the embassy said it could find nothing available for us on the Roman rental market. 

In addition, after my predecessor left, the office had been remodeled.  The embassy is an old palace where every room opens on to a central hall, but because of embassy security, some of the doors had to be locked.  As a result, there was no way to get to my assistant's office except by going through my office.  I suppose I could have switched offices with her, but it seemed silly and petty to do so.  Nevertheless, it bothered me that it looked like I was her receptionist when she had visitors. 

Just about the day I arrived, my office was being sued in New York by four environmental organizations for failing to force Italy to comply with UN resolutions regarding fishing for swordfish in the Mediterranean.  The Italians often used long driftnets which had been outlawed.  The environmental organizations won the case, with the result that a Federal District Judge in New York had ultimate responsibility for approving any actions taken by my office with regard to fisheries to assure that they complied with UN regulations.  In theory he would run every action by my office by the environmental organizations for their approval.  In practice this usually meant they would ask the Greenpeace office in Rome for its approval. 

Despite the fact that I had worked on scientific and environmental issues for years at the State Department, I had never worked on fisheries issues before.  Fisheries had its own bureaucracy, laws and regulations which were unfamiliar to me.  My assistant had worked on fisheries issues in previous jobs, and had been working on the issue since she had arrived in Rome.  I was happy to leave the issue to her, although it was a big part of the office's responsibilities. 

We had a big bilateral meeting in Rome with a delegation of 10 or 20 officers from Washington meeting in Rome with their Italian counterparts.  My assistant and her Italian counterpart worked out a plan, which was ratified by the meeting.  In a few months, however, the issue blew up again.  Most of the fishermen lived in Sicily and resented the new restrictions under which they were supposed to work.  They hired Mafia assassins who threatened to kill the Italian officials who were supposed to enforce the agreement, and they organized big protests in downtown Rome that tied up traffic for miles.  When this blew up, my assistant became very sick.  The Agriculture Minister called in the Ambassador because he was afraid some of his officials were going to be killed by the Mafia, and said we had to relax the restrictions.  My assistant could not brief the Ambassador or work on a solution, which fell to me.  The Ambassador was very unhappy about being called in by the Minister.  My main job was to tell the Ambassador that he could not agree to anything without first getting the approval of the judge in New York, which further angered him, since he felt that as the Ambassador he should have been able to speak for the US, which would have been true except for the lawsuit.  One of my last acts in Rome was to work out a compromise that was accepted, although I don't know long it lasted after I left.  I left with the Ambassador mad at me, although the fisheries problem had been going on for years before I arrived in Rome, and I had had no role in the lawsuit.  However, I had agreed to the original solution worked out at the big bilateral meeting after I arrived, which had led to the Mafia threats. 

While I was in Rome, the Italians flew a joint mission on the Space Shuttle to test a tethered satellite which was released on a wire from the Shuttle while it was in orbit and then was supposed to be reeled back in so that it could be used again.  While the satellite was deployed, the wire broke, and the satellite drifted off into space.  I had worked with NASA on space issues in other jobs before, and was much more familiar with these issues than fisheries.  In general NASA was a great selling point for the US.  Everybody loved NASA and the Shuttle and wanted to work with us.  Thus, this mission was unusual because it appeared to have failed, although part of the reason for it was to experiment with the method.  The Shuttle crew came to Rome to brief Italians scientists on the mission, but unlike most NASA visits, this one was sort of an apology tour.  It was awkward for me, the Shuttle crew, and my Italian contacts. 

In a different space matter, the US had agreed to launch a communications satellite for the Italians.  They had a big cocktail party timed to coincide with the launch.  At the party, one of the Italian telecommunications officials came up to me and said something like, "Your government must really hate me."  I was taken aback and asked him why he thought that.  He said that he had wanted to give his daughter a trip to Disney World, but that the US had denied her a visa to travel to the US.  I said I would look into it.  When I did, I found that the Italian communications ministry has some connection with the Cuban telecommunications ministry and because of that the Helms-Burton Act prohibited that official or any members of his family from traveling to the US. 

Sometime in the past, I had read Herman Wouk's "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance."  In that story, the Jewish heroine who was living in Rome during World War II wanted to travel to Israel, but the Nazis in Rome would not give her child an exit visa, which effectively prevented her from leaving. I found the parallels uncomfortable and disturbing, but it was illegal to give the daughter a visa. 

As the science officer in Rome, I handled nuclear non-proliferation matters.  Thus, I was the responsible officer when the US was unable to meet its obligations to North Korea under the 1995 Agreed Framework that set up the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to oversee North Korea's agreement to end its nuclear weapons program in return for two light water nuclear power reactors that would not produce bomb grade nuclear materials.  While I was in Rome, the Republican Congress refused to fund the US payments for its part of the agreement.  As a result, I had to go hat in hand to ask Italy, as the Presidency of the European Union, if it would fund the money the the US Congress refused to provide.  This was too much like my experience in Poland when the US Congress refused to fund the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund despite a formal agreement to do so.  In addition , the failure to fund KEDO would give North Korea an excuse not to abide by the agreement and to revert to its production of nuclear weapons.  I was unhappy to once again be part of an American failure to meet its international commitments. 

I had joined the Foreign Service to see how the government worked.  After college, I had been drafted and sent to Vietnam, where I served in an artillery battery in the A Sau Valley, on the Laotian border, and on the DMZ.  I came home to be classified as a baby-killing war criminal, simply because I had not tried to get out of the draft.  I wanted to see what had plucked me out of my comfortable life and sent me into combat in Vietnam.  Once in the Foreign Service I wanted to do good -- be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  My last two assignments, in Warsaw and Rome, had not made me feel part of the solution.  So, I decided to retire, since I was eligible to do so. 

When I decided to retire and the embassy had to replace me, it became obvious that they did not want me to be replaced by a Foreign Service officer. The embassy had identified a Civil Service officer at the State Department whom it wanted in my job.  Apparently, the embassy had tried to get him to replace my predecessor, but the State Department had tried to keep the Foreign Service position filled by a Foreign Service officer.  That was why I had gotten that unexpected call in Warsaw asking if I would be willing to go to Rome.  The State Department was trying to force Rome to fill the position with a Foreign Service officer.  Apparently that was why Rome did not welcome me and resisted providing me with an apartment and in general making my assignment there difficult. 

The odd thing was that the person they wanted in my position worked in the State Department office that was supposed to support and backstop science officers in the field.  In my Washington assignment before Warsaw, I had worked on environmental issues in an office across the hall from his office.  It appeared that the office that was supposed to have my back had actually stabbed me in the back.  Because I was retiring outside of the normal summer assignment cycle the embassy was able to manipulate the system to get the man they wanted.  I was so disgusted with the whole system that I did not protest.  On the day before I was actually set to leave Rome and return home, the State Department retirement office informed me that they had miscalculated my retirement pension and that I would receive less than they had promised when I was negotiating my retirement.  That was like a last insult from an organization that for some reason seemed to have turned against me. 

Unfortunately, my service in the Army in Vietnam and my twenty-five years in the Foreign Service left a bad taste in my mouth about the integrity and decency of the United States government.  I felt that I had served my country patriotically but had been abused because of it.  I guess I think (to paraphrase Churchill) that the US is the worst of countries, except for all other countries.  I try to love it, but I look at it with a jaundiced eye. 





Separating Immigrant Mothers from Children


Letter sent to Congressman and Senators:

I am writing to alert you to an even bigger problem than the children of illegal immigrants who are being held in immigration child care facilities along the Mexican border.  This is the existence of a huge private child care industry spread across the entire United States, much like the narcotic drug industry. 

Every day, millions of mothers and fathers are separated from their children who are placed in day care facilities so that the parents can go to work instead of caring for their own children.  I have it on good authority that every day some of the children in these day care facilities cry and ask for their mommies and daddies.  Sadly, in many cases the children do not cry for their parents because they spend so little time with them that they don’t miss them. 

I hope that Congress will act to end this blight on American civilization.  You should make separating mothers from children at day care facilities a federal crime and station federal officers at the doors of these facilities to arrest the parents who attempt to drop off their children and thus separate them from their natural familial bonds.

Please let me know when you will introduce legislation to stop this horrendous crime that is being committed daily across this country. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mexican Immigration and a Dominica Visa


All the hoorah about immigration on the Mexican border reminds me of an immigrant visa case I had as vice consul in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  A woman who was boon on the island of Dominca and who lived in Brazil was applying for an immigrant visa to join her mother who lived in the United States.  At this time, the 1970s, the US quota for immigrant visas for people born in Dominica was quite small, about 200, I think. 

This woman was on the list when she first applied; there were still available visa numbers.  However, she was slow in getting her visa application together, which involved taking a medical exam, proving that she could support herself in the US, so that she would not be a public charge, getting a labor certification proving that she would displace an American worker, and so on. 

When she finally got her application together, all the visa numbers for the Dominica quota had been used up, and she was no longer eligible for an immigrant visa.  She went into hysterics in my office.  She was crying, screaming, and trashing around.  I thought I was going to have to call the police to take her away.  After an hour or so of trying to calm her down, she finally left. 

Today, if she lived in Mexico or Central America, rather than Brazil, she could just walk into the United States, join her mother and go to work.  Whether she would receive welfare, take an American's job, or even go into the drug business, is irrelevant.  Public opinion just wants her to be happy.  So, the favored immigration policy seems to be "Don't worry, be happy!"  America is an open country.  Anybody who wants to can come.  If it turns out you are a murderer or a drug dealer, we can worry about that later. 

I don't buy it.  I think the US should and can choose who it wants to move to this country permanently.  We don't have to take everybody.  We can set limits and standards and enforce them.  I feel badly for the immigration officers who are charged with enforcing the existing laws.  The public portrays them as heartless villains for doing their jobs.  It reminds me of when I came home from the war in Vietnam and the general depiction of Vietnam veterans was as baby killers.  This is a country that vilifies public servants for doing their job. 

I support the enforcement of immigration laws, but I appear to be in the  minority.  If we want no immigration laws, repeal them all and abolish the Department of Homeland Security.  I have never like the name "Homeland" anyway; to me it has a Nazi connotation because of its similarity to "heimat" which Wikipedia says is equivalent to "Vaterland," the homeland of the German nation, people or tribe.