Monday, September 26, 2011

Why I Left the Foreign Service V

North Korean Nuclear Proliferation Issues.  One of my responsibilities in Rome was maintaining a dialogue with Italy and the EU on North Korean nuclear issues, in particular the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).  During the six months more or less that I was in Rome, Italy held the presidency of the European Union, so that our dialogue was on sort of a double basis, one dialogue as the US to Italy, and the other as US to EU.  At that time the US was part of KEDO and had promised funding for proliferation resistant light water reactors for North Korea, and in the interim, funding for fuel oil to North Korea to generate electricity by conventional power plants.  As part of the Gingrich/Republican budget cuts, the US did not appropriate funding for its part of the fuel oil.  Therefore to prevent the US from breaching its agreement with North and South Korea and Japan, part of my job was to go hat in hand to the Italians and ask them bilaterally, or as the head of the EU, to help make up the difference between what the US had appropriated and what it owed under the agreement. 

I had just gone through a similar situation in Warsaw when the US cut off funding for our joint science cooperation program years before the agreement was to expire.  Once again, I was in the position of saying that the US would not fulfill its international agreements.  I always did what I was told, but I was not a happy camper.  I did not like representing an America that was a deadbeat dad, that made promises and then didn't fulfill them.  I don't remember where I left this matter.  The Italians were somewhat horrified that the US might default, and thus legally entitle North Korea to resume its proliferating ways.  But I don't recall that they said definitely that they would help.  I think we were only asking for about $2 million. 

But I didn't like it.  If I had wanted to do this kind of thing, I could have become a criminal lawyer or a bankruptcy lawyer.  I wanted to be a diplomat for the greatest nation on earth; I didn't want to be like Hitler's German diplomats negotiating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  The American government was too corrupt and dishonest for me, and so I left. 

Helms-Burton and Children's Visas.  Another nail in coffin of my career came late in my stay in Rome.  I was at a reception for a satellite launching, celebrating a satellite that the US was going to launch for Italy.  The launch did not take place as scheduled, but that wasn't the issue.  At the reception I struck up a conversation with a man who worked on communications satellites for the Italian phone company.  He said something like, "You must really hate me to deny a visa to Disney World to my daughter, just because I work for the Italian phone company."  I was taken aback and asked him what had happened.  He said his daughter had been denied a US visa under the Helms-Burton Act because the Italian phone company had some tenuous connection to Cuba through its cooperation with the Mexican phone company.  Later I went and talked to the head of the consular section in Rome, and it sounded like this was indeed the case. 

Unfortunately it reminded me of some books I had read when I first joined the Foreign Service.  One of my friends from law school had been reading them, and said they had quite a lot about the Foreign Service.  They were "The Winds of War," and "War and Remembrance" by Herman Wouk.  They are a fictional account of several families, some American military officers and diplomats, and one a Jewish family living in Europe.  A Jewish mother and child are trying to get out of Europe and go to Palestine, soon to become Israel, but she can't leave without a visa (shades of "Casablanca").  The German embassy in Rome is willing to give the mother a visa, but not her child.  It was just too close to what America was doing to this Italian engineer.  Punishing children for the crimes of their fathers is not something I am enthusiastic about, especially when the father's  crime is just working for a company that has some weak connection to Cuba.  I think by the time this happened, I had already decided to retire, but this made me glad that I had. 

This was not Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill." 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why I Left the Foreign Service IV

Unwelcoming Reception in Rome.  When I agreed to go from Warsaw to Rome, Embassy Rome said that they had an apartment for me.  They said that I could not have my predecessor's apartment, which frankly I found a little odd, but I thought, "Okay, they say they have a nice apartment, and it's Rome."  When we arrived, however, after our contretemps with the government shutdown leaving Warsaw, it turned out that the embassy had given the apartment that they had promised to me to a DEA agent.  I was a little ticked, because I thought that the State Department, which ran the administration for the embassy, should have given a little break to one of its own officers, and told the DEA agent that this apartment was allocated and that he would have to wait for the next apartment.  That was my first clue that something was amiss in Rome.  It took months for the embassy to find us an apartment.  Meanwhile we camped out in temporary housing in an apartment house that the embassy had for people assigned temporarily to Rome to do short-term jobs. 

In addition, between by predecessor's departure and my arrival, the embassy had redesigned the science office suite.  The way they had set it up, all of my assistant's visitors had to pass through my office to get to her office.  The doors should have been arranged so that her visitors could enter her office directly from the reception area.  I don't know what the suite had looked like before, but by the time I got there, the construction was completed. 

Most importantly, the embassy did not want me.  I had not realized that my assignment by the State Department was the result of a fight between the Embassy and the State Department headquarters in Washington.  The previous Science Counselor had been a friend of the Ambassador's.  He had been a political appointee in Ambassador Bartholomew's office, when Bartholomew had been an Under Secretary of State, and had traveled to Rome, when Bartholomew as assigned to Rome.  However, the time he could serve as a political appointee, a Schedule C employee, ran out, and the State Department would not let him stay longer.  I presume there was a big fight between the Embassy and Washington to try to get permission for him to stay.  When that failed, the Embassy apparently decided that it wanted a particular Civil Service employee in Washington to replace him.  The Foreign Service tries to look after its own, and apparently tried to block a Civil Service employee from taking a plum Foreign Service position in Rome.  Thus, the call out of the blue to me in Warsaw asking if I would be willing to go to Rome.  But after I arrived, it became clear that the Embassy had not given up and still wanted to get rid of me and get the Civil Service employee.  Making my life difficult by not finding housing, for example, was part of that strategy.  The Ambassador succeeded.  I retired, and I think the State Department relented and approved the Civil Service employee as my replacement. 

I guess I sound pretty weak in this description, not fighting the Embassy harder, but in my defense, ever since I didn't fight the draft and agreed to go into the Army and off to Vietnam, my desire was to serve my country, not to have my country serve me.  I was willing to put up with hardships that were imposed by external forces, like the North Vietnamese Army, or living and working at an embassy in a poor country with few amenities.  But I was not willing to accept hardships or mistreatment that were imposed by the American Government itself, in the government shutdown, or by the unwelcoming reception in Rome.  It was not the government that I volunteered to serve.

I should add that in contrast to the unwelcoming official reception in Rome, several of the officers there were personally very welcoming, from the Deputy Chief of Mission (the #2 in the Embassy) to my assistant, who got furloughed when I got un-furloughed in order to travel from Warsaw to Rome during the shutdown. 

Why I left the Foreign Service III

Rome: Tethered Satellite. Firing of space agency chief.

One of the best parts of my job as Science Officer in various embassies was that I was the representative of NASA, and everyone loved NASA.  In addition to being glamorous, NASA had stuff to give away, like observation time on the space telescope, rides on the Shuttle, etc.  The local space agency always wanted to stay on my good side.  When I came to Rome, I inherited an agreement under which the Shuttle would carry a tethered satellite for the Italian Space Agency.  This satellite would be reusable.  It would ride in the Shuttle cargo bay, and when the Shuttle was in orbit, it would be released on a long tether to collect data away from the pollution of the Shuttle. Then, when the Shuttle was getting ready to return to earth, the satellite would be reeled in, much like a fishing line would be reeled in.  The satellite would be stored in the cargo bay and returned to earth until it was flown on another mission.  It promised huge savings because satellites are so expensive to build, impossible to repair in space, etc. 

On its first flight, however, the reel jammed, the tether broke, and the expensive satellite drifted off into space beyond the reach of the Shuttle.  For a change, being the NASA representative was not so great.  The crew of that Shuttle visited Rome, and while it was not billed as an apology tour for losing the satellite, that's basically what it was.  Meanwhile, the head of the Italian Space Agency was in political trouble.  While his problems were not directly linked to the failed satellite, losing the satellite did not help his position.  I was unhappy, because I was feeling snake bit.  I had had little to do with the mission, which had been planned long before I arrived in Rome, but I was there when it happened.  It turned out that because I was retiring, the head of the Italian Space Agency and I left Rome about the same time.  He was going to take some time off before moving on to his next venture.  While my only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it added to the dissatisfaction I was feeling about the job.  If the best part of my job, working with NASA, turned sour, there was not much left. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why I Left the Foreign Service II

Rome: Fisheries.  Constitutional responsibilities and Ambassador's letter. 

When I arrived in Rome, the State Department was in the process of being sued by four environmental organizations because the State Department, and the Embassy Rome Science Office in particular, had failed to enforce the driftnet fishing regulations of the United Nations.  My assistant was deeply involved in this issue and got daily updates from the trial in New York.  As usual for the government, the State Department lawyers could not try the case in court; Justice Department lawyers represented the US in court supported by State Department lawyers.  The reports always were that the US was winning, but when the verdict came in, the US lost.  The US was ordered to make the Italians enforce the UN regulations with regard to driftnets, and the Federal District Judge in New York would ensure that it did.  This meant that my office's dealings with the Italians on fisheries issues were all subject to review by the judge.  The main thrust of the regulations was to limit the length of the driftnets used by Italian fishermen who were fishing for swordfish.  They said Italians used driftnets that were too long and therefore caught too many swordfish, thus depleting the swordfish population.  

I thought first of all that this decision was an infringement on the executive branch's authority to conduct foreign relations, although I guess it is arguable that the UN resolution was a treaty, over which the courts have authority like domestic laws.  But this meant that my office's actions on fishery matters in Rome were under the constant review of a court in New York.  Anyway we had a big meeting, with a huge delegation from Washington meeting with an even larger Italian delegation, which agreed on guidelines drawn up in large part by my assistant and her counterpart, who was a young staffer for the head of the Italian Agriculture Ministry division of fisheries.  The linchpin of this arrangement turned out to be an Italian Greenpeace member who focused on the swordfish issue.  Whenever there was an issue, it would go to the Federal Court, the court would refer it to the environmental organizations that had won the case; they in turn would ask the opinion of the Greenpeace representative in Italy.  If he approved, the environmental groups would approve, and the court would approve.  

Just a day or two before I was scheduled to leave Rome for retirement, the Agriculture Minister summoned the Ambassador to discuss the swordfish issue.  I went along with the Ambassador because my assistant who was the expert and had negotiated the agreement was sick.  The Minister said that the agreement negotiated by the delegations was not workable because it was too tough on Italian fishery enforcement personnel.  It required them to do frequent, thorough inspections of driftnets, catches, etc.  The majority of swordfish fishermen were based in Sicily, and they were upset at the inspections.  Thus, they turned to the Mafia to get the inspectors off their backs, and the government inspectors found themselves under constant death threats from the Mafia.  The Minister said it was too much to put his men in such danger; we needed to give them more leeway.  He wanted to ease the terms in the agreement regarding inspections somewhat.  The changes were fairly minor and the Ambassador was willing go along, but I reminded him that he didn't have authority to agree on the spot with the Minister, because any change had to be approved by the District Court, which essentially meant getting the approval of Greenpeace.  The Ambassador was not happy to find his authority limited, which I must admit I stressed, because I didn't like it either.  I thought the State Department (and the Ambassador) had been unfairly, perhaps unconstitutionally, placed under the authority of the judge.  We got the changes approved on my last day in Rome, but the Ambassador and I parted on unfriendly terms.  On my last day of active duty in the Foreign Service, he sent me a short, bitter letter criticizing my work on the driftnet matter, the only such letter I received during my career.  Since I was retiring, it didn't matter to me.  But to me the whole mess was another example of the fact that the government did not work correctly.  I found it entirely inappropriate that Greenpeace Italy should control the American government's policy on fisheries issues, rather than my office, the Ambassador, and the fisheries officials in the State Department.  In Italy, Greenpeace could not get the Italian Government to do what it wanted; so, through its American branch it sued and got US courts to order the State Department to order the Italian Government to do what Greenpeace thought it should do.  I guess Greenpeace gets kudos for originality and persistence, but I don't think it says much good about the way our government works.  This was an issue that Greenpeace should have worked out within the Italian Government, or between the Italian Government and the UN, without US intervention. 

Rome: Tethered Satellite.  Firing of space agency chief. 

Rome: Help on North Korean Nuclear Proliferation. 

Rome: Denial of Visas to Children.  Helms-Burton and "Winds of War." 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MTCR and Skawina in Poland

Before I move on to Rome, there were some other disappointing events in Poland.

MTCR.  Before the fall of Communism, there had been some security failure at the embassy in Poland, so that even after the fall, there was a lot of concern about security of classified material.  As a result, there were a limited number of paper copies of classified cables, with few distributed to anybody except the office that had "action," i.e., that had to act on or respond to the cable from the Department of State.  In other embassies, more people might have gotten "info" copies, so that they would know more of what was going on in the embassy.

Besides overseeing the science cooperation, which was cancelled, I also had responsibility for environmental issues and some nuclear related matters, one of which was export control  matters such as the Zangger List, which controlled exports of items which might be used for nuclear proliferation.  In that capacity, I often dealt with a Polish diplomat at the Foreign Ministry,. Ambassador Strulak, who worked on a variety of proliferation issues.  One day while I was talking to him, he asked me if I could find out why the US had blackballed Poland's membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).  This came as a shock to me, because I had worked on MTCR issues for years in the Department of State, and I had seen nothing about the MTCR in the embassy cable traffic.  It turned out that the "action" on MTCR cables went to the political section, and I did not get a copy in the science section, although after years of working on the issue, I had to be one of the experts on the MTCR.  In fact that is why Amb. Strulak had asked me about it.  On one of his visits to Washington, he was asking around in the State Department about why Poland had been blackballed, and someone had told him to ask me in Warsaw, because I was an expert.  Until then Amb. Strulak never knew that I had worked on missile proliferation as well as nuclear proliferation.

By then, however, I had been out of the loop for several years, working on other issues.  However, I called back to my old office and talked to the man then running it, Vann Van Diepen.  I had known Vann since he was in intern and I was an analyst in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research.  However, Vann told me there was nothing I could do, because President Clinton had personally decided to blackball Poland.  It's not unusual for an issue that can't be agreed between agencies to go to the White House for decision.  I also knew what the problem was: The MTCR was unwieldy because it basically operated on consensus.  The US wanted to get a more controllable management structure before it got too big, and adding Poland would have made it bigger.  On the other hand, the Poles wanted to cooperate so badly that they would not have been a problem in reaching consensus.

Anyway, I was disappointed that no one thought it worthwhile to consult me or even to inform me that this matter was on-going, when I had been the main working level person handling this issue a few years earlier in Washington.  It was as if they didn't think the science office could handle a policy issue.

Skawina.  Although they didn't think I should be involved in political matters, it was pretty much accepted that I handled environmental issues.  This main mainly meant working with the Polish environment ministry, and supporting an organization called the Ekofundusz (or Eco-fund).  The Ekofundusz was a non-governmental group funded by forgiven US debt.  Instead of being repaid, the US authorized the Ekofundusz to finance environmental projects in Poland that it found worthwhile.  I don't remember its budget, but most of the projects were relatively small, maybe in the tens of thousands of dollars.

For me one of the best things about the Ekofundusz was that it provided a refuge for liberal environmentalists who had supported the overthrow of Communism.  In the mid-1990s when I was there, the old former Commies were back in power in many places, including the environment ministry.  The Ekofundusz was like a Brookings Institution or Heritage Foundation, it gave the anti-communist environmentalists an office and a little salary until they had a chance to get back into government.  This is the same kind of thing that the Maria Skladowska Curie Fund could have done for anti-Communist scientists and engineers, but by cutting off the funding, the Republicans cut them off at the knees.  Fortunately, because of the vagaries of the law, the environmentalists' funds were not cut off.

In addition, USAID had a much larger environmental program as part of its agenda.  One of its projects was to build a scrubber for an old electric power plant near Krakow, called Skawina.  I frankly didn't pay much attention to it, although AID was better than the political section about keeping me informed.  So, I knew we were building this scrubber, and we turned it over to the Poles.  After a while, I began to hear from my Polish contacts that the scrubber didn't work.  Basically, it blew exhaust from the power plant through a process in which lime stone was supposed to remove most of the sulfur from the gas.  When I began to look into it, it turned out that it didn't work.  The chemical properties of Polish limestone were not suitable for the process.  It was somewhat galling, because the main Poles complaining were old Communist apparatchiks who were happy to see the US fail, but they were right that the system did not work.  One took me to a much bigger power plant with working scrubbers; they were built by the Dutch, but were based on General Electric designs.  I think that when I left Warsaw for Rome, Skiwina was still not working.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Why I Left the Foreign Service I

As I complain about how things are going in the US, I think that I could have stayed in the State Department Foreign Service, but instead I retired almost 15 years ago.  Could I have made a positive difference if I had stayed in?  Or would I have continually been implementing policies that I disagreed with?  I came down on the latter side.  I thought I would write down why I did so, and consider whether, about 15 years later, it was the right or wrong thing. 

Brazil Space Program.  One of the first serious things that went wrong was years before I retired, while I was serving as the science officer in Brasilia in the 1980s.  NASA was a great asset for the US in relations with other courntries.  Because I was the embassy's representative for NASA, I had good relations with the Brazilian space agency, INPE.  INPE wanted to build some satellites and ground stations to monitor them with, to survey the Amazon.  The US bidder on the ground stations, Scientific Atlanta, for some reason failed to get its bid in on time and lost to a Japanese company.  I persuaded INPE to reopen the bidding, and as a result, Scientific Atlanta won.  Then the Defense Department, I think the office of Steve Hadley (who went on to be NSC chief), denied the export license for the ground stations.  My friends at INPE were livid and my good relationship ended.  I think Hadley was a Richard Perle acolyte in the Pentagon, and Perle hated Brazil. 

Polish Science Fund.  In the 1990s I went to Poland as embassy Science Counselor, where my main job was to oversee science cooperation beteen the US and Poland under a joint fund called the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund which was to continue for five years.  After about two years, the Republicans under Newt Gingrich were elected, and cut off funding for the cooperation under a clause in the agreement allowing either side not to fund it if funding was impossible.  This was clearly inserted into the agreement for Poland, which faced many financial challenges as it emerged from Communism, but the US used the clause instead.  For the rest of my tour, I was periodically called into the Polish Foreign Minsitry by a senior official and berated for the US not fulfilling its commitment.  Meanwhile, Polish scientsts who had lost most of the government funding also lost what would have been an American lifeline, a sort of anti-Marshall Plan.  As an added insult, the Ambassador eliminated my science office in the embassy, because there was no more joint program to oversee. 

Government Shutdown.  Meanwhile, the State Department asked me if I would like to go to Rome, because the Science Counselor there had been fired for some other budgetary reason. I agreed, but on the day I was leaving Warsaw with the car packed, Embassy Rome called and said don't leave because the government shutdown meant there was no money for travel.  However, my wife and I then had no place to live.  The house the embassy had rented for us was empty and was being returned to the owner.  The idea that the US government would put us out on the streets of Warsaw was so abhorrent to me that it was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back, as far as continuing to work for the US.  I was usually the good soldier, doing as I was ordered, but this time I was so mad that I called Rome to see if I could get their order reversed.  I did, and we started driving to Rome, but for me the damage was done.  The US government had said, "Hey, you're expendible.  You and your wife can die freezing on the streets of Warsaw.  We don't care." 

Vietnam War.  It reminded me of the day I arrived in Vietnam, and the Army assigned me to Dong Ha on the DMZ, so close to North Vietnam that the dot on the map for Dong Ha projected into North Vietnam.  I went where the Army told me to go, but for the State Department to do that to me and my wife was, I thought, beyond the pale.  There have been a lot of Foreign Service officers assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan (without spouses), but hopefully, the State Department didn't drop them off in some God forsaken village and say, "Hey, we can't afford to come back for you.  You will have to walk back.  Try to avoid the Taliban."  When I was at an artillery firebase near the Laotian border, Firebase Barbara, we had no American infantry support because we were turning over the war to the Vietnamese.  We had two American "dusters" assigned to protect us, old anti-aircraft guns that fired 40 mm rounds with every round a tracer, firepower that tended to inspire some awe in the North Vietnamese.  One night when there was a alert that we might be attacked because of activity spotted by an intelligence fly-over, our battalion headquarters said, "Don't give any gasoline to the dusters.  Their supply people are lazy and incompetent.  We don't want to help them out."  Of course the alternative was to have the dusters not shoot to protect us.  We gave the dusters the gas they needed.  They blew away several square kilometers at the base of the mountain, and we were not attacked.  Did the penny pinchers in Washington really want us to die?  Probably not, but did they really care?  Probably not.  Did they really care about us in Warsaw?  Probably not. 

When we got to Rome, things did not get any better for me from a policy perspective.  More on this later,  Some topics: 

Rome: Fisheries.  Constitutional responsibilities and Ambassador's letter. 

Rome: Tethered Satellite.  Firing of space agency chief. 

Rome: Help on North Korean Nuclear Proliferation. 

Rome: Denial of Visas to Children.  Helms-Burton and "Winds of War."