Saturday, April 28, 2012
On June 27, 1978, seven members of two Pentecostal families burst into the U.S. embassy in Moscow seeking asylum. They lived there in a cramped basement apartment until 1983 when they were allowed to return to their homes and await permission to emigrate.
On April 1, 1980, six Cubans crashed a bus through the Peruvian Embassy gates in Havana. After Peru refused to turn the asylum-seekers over to the Cuban government, Castro angrily ordered all security guards removed from the embassy perimeter whereupon more than 10,000 Cubans flooded onto the embassy grounds demanding asylum. After a two-week standoff, an agreement was reached to allow the people to leave the island.
On February 6, 2012, Chengdu police chief Wang Lijun entered the American consulate in that city, reportedly with a lot of dirt on the Bo Xilai case and possibly to seek asylum. Consulate officials managed to persuade the police chief to leave 24 hours later into the custody of central government reps.
In late April, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in his Shandong village and reportedly has found refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. "Chen is under U.S. protection and high-level talks are currently under way between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said a statement from the China Aid Association.
These are just a sampling of cases involving individuals seeking safety and asylum in foreign embassies. As can be seen, three of the cases entailed lengthy accommodation of the asylum-seekers inside embassies, even extending to years.
Diplomats' biggest fears when serving abroad are being the target of terrorists, taken hostage or assassinated. High on the list after these is having unwanted guests storm your diplomatic mission demanding protection from the host government. The reasons are: a) embassy/consulate security; b) political repercussions vis-a-vis the host government; and c) major disruption in mission operations. Ideally, an ambassador and his/her staff aim to persuade the asylum-seeker(s) to leave the mission peacefully with assurances from the host government that it will take no retribution against them.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 stipulates that the premises of a diplomatic mission are inviolate and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. The right to grant diplomatic asylum is not generally recognized by international law. U.S. embassies are authorized to grant temporary refuge for humanitarian reasons in extreme and exceptional circumstances, such as when the life or safety of the asylum-seeker is being threatened.
Having served in four communist countries, I have had first-hand experience with diplomatic asylum-seekers. In all but one case, we managed to persuade the asylum-seekers to return home quietly, sometimes with a commitment on our part to work constructively with the host government to help them emigrate or to be able to carry on their lives without retribution.
The exception involved a North Korean man who entered one of our embassies requesting political asylum. Our politically appointed non-career ambassador and his incompetent career Foreign Service deputy mishandled the case from the get-go. Without consulting embassy staff, they allowed the man to occupy a room inside our cramped building with no forethought as to what to do next. They then ordered all American staff to pull duty staying with the man 24/7. The man, of course, required food, medical attention, supplies -- none of which was covered in standard budgeting. The embassy's security officer was beside himself with this decision to allow an uncleared individual -- a national of an enemy state, no less -- to reside indefinitely in the embassy. Embassy operations were being disrupted in a significant way. Many of us were unable to carry out our regular duties. The State Department threw the ball back in our court, telling us it was the ambassador's responsibility to resolve the case. Finally, I confronted the ambassador, laying out the written policies and guidelines governing such cases. The North Korean was an ordinary citizen of his country, having no intelligence value to us and no record as a dissident or a human rights activist. With the ambassador's go-ahead, I negotiated an arrangement whereby the U.N. refugee agency accepted the North Korean for resettlement in South Korea and the host government promised that it would not interfere. Case resolved, our embassy returned to what passed for normal.
There is nothing mystical or magical about an embassy. It is an office building like many others, only with perhaps more locks and security systems, and, in the case of the U.S., a detachment of Marine Guards. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of offices filled with standard office equipment, coffeemakers and desk photos of the wife or hubby and kids. In other words, it is not Embassy Suites. It is not designed to accommodate overnight guests. At the end of the day, the occupants go home to eat and sleep and goof off.
It would appear that the U.S. consulate in Chengdu handled the case of the police chief well, persuading him to leave and ensuring he was remanded into the hands of central government authorities instead of Bo Xilai's goons. As for the case of the human rights dissident Chen Guangcheng, U.S. Embassy Beijing has its work cut out for it. It creates diplomatic headaches for the United States just days before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives for annual talks. My guess is that the ambassador and his staff are engaged in intensive talks with the Chinese to settle the case as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they potentially face a Cardinal Mindszenty scenario. If so, they had better get trained up by Embassy Suites in the hospitality business.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
These additional sex scandals involving American officials overseas play right into the hands of anti-U.S. Latin American leaders, particularly in Venezuela and Cuba, who throw out facile assertions that Americans historically have viewed the region as a "vast whorehouse." They also leave the average Joe and Jane back home scratching their heads wondering about the caliber of people their tax money is supporting overseas."The eyewitness says he joined about a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists at a strip club in San Salvador a few days before President Obama and his family arrived in El Salvador to meet with its new president, Mauricio Funes.This source witnessed the majority of the men drink heavily ('wasted,' 'heavily intoxicated') at the strip club. He says most of the Secret Service 'advance-team' members also paid extra for access to the VIP section of the club where they were provided a number of sexual favors in return for their cash. Although our source says he told the agents it was a 'really bad idea' to take the strippers back to their hotel rooms, several agents bragged that they 'did this all the time' and 'not to worry about it.' Our source says at least two agents had escorts check into their rooms. It is unclear whether the escorts who returned to the hotels were some of the strippers from the same club."
So, what gives?
First, it must be kept in mind that when you take the oath to protect and defend the Constitution, you do not also swear to lead the life of a nun. Government is a human institution made up of real human beings, with all the fallibilities and passions inherent in our species. On the other hand, however, those entrusted with representing their country to the world, be they diplomats, military, or law enforcement agents, are expected to comport themselves with dignity and honor.
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Again, as a young diplomat at a posting in a communist country, it fell upon my shoulders to negotiate a monetary settlement with a family whose daughter was seriously injured by a drunken embassy communications specialist who drove his car into a group of kids after a night on the town. This married man had repeated scrapes with bargirls as well as traffic cops. When in charge of a consulate in an Asian city, I demanded that our embassy remove a consulate staffer for repeated rabblerousing in local bars and with prostitutes as well as for several DUI traffic incidents. An employee of "another agency," this Oklahoma ex-cowboy married to a devout Baptist spouse just lost it during his first overseas tour of duty.
These are just two of many examples I can cite of bad behavior overseas by some of our officials. I addressed this in more detail in my three-part series, Love, Romance & Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service. I concluded, "The U.S. Foreign Service consists of America's best in terms of brains, abilities and relevant knowledge. But its members are all too human just like the rest of us. No, Foreign Service personnel are not a bunch of kinky perverts lusting after the people with whom they work and associate. But funny things do happen in life. And the system is pretty good about policing itself. Messy adulterous affairs overseas often end up with the involved parties being sent back home, with a cloud over their careers. Our diplomats are held to high standards which are taken seriously."
Unfortunately, this latest revelation of carousing by Secret Service agents calls into question that agency's culture as well as its leadership. In a rigorous investigative report in 2002, "Secrets of the Secret Service," U.S. News & World Report revealed a litany of criminal as well as malfeasant behavior on the part of USSS agents ranging from embezzlement to assault to statutory rape going back years. The documented cases cannot be chalked up to "boys will be boys." The central question therefore is whether the Service has truly cleaned up its act, or simply swept problems under the rug. Obfuscatory statements by past directors and the current senior management don't provide a lot of confidence. Those in the service of their nation are human beings. But they are human beings held to a higher standard. The Secret Service motto, "Worthy of Trust and Confidence," needs to be taken seriously by all of its employees. And its leadership, heretofore given a pass by Congress, needs to be held more accountable.
Friday, April 20, 2012
"Should the shit hit the fan, you grab the President's left arm and I'll grab his right and we shove him with all our might into that doorway over there, got it?" the Secret Service agent instructed me as President Bill Clinton was about to complete inspection of a Vietnamese military honor guard at the ornate French colonial presidential palace in Hanoi on Nov. 16, 2000.
Rules on personal conduct, however, are almost beside the point. Two other considerations are more paramount: security and image. By bringing uncleared persons (in this case, Colombian prostitutes) into their hotel rooms, agents not only
endangered themselves, but by leaving their IDs, badges, guns and possibly schedules of presidential movements in the open, they also endangered the president. They opened the door as well to possible blackmail. The "honey trap" is one of the oldest espionage lures in the books. Those who work in national security with top secret clearances are trained to be vigilant against hostile players such as foreign intelligence services and terrorist groups who seek to compromise U.S. officials.
As for image, all Americans who are entrusted with serving their country abroad have a special unspoken responsibility to show the United States in the best possible light by dint of their professionalism and personal comportment. Visiting strip clubs and engaging whores two days prior to a visit by the U.S. president, needless to say, does the exact opposite. Furthermore, the supervisor who put up a photo on his Facebook page of himself on a Sarah Palin protective detail with the caption, "I was really checking her out, if you know what i mean?" is at least guilty of terminal stupidity.
“Most of the time they’re so exhausted they don’t even have a home life,” Kessler said.
Clearly, Congress needs to take a broader look at the Secret Service, beyond this scandal. A thorough review of management, training and resources is glaringly needed with an eye toward reform so that those responsible for protecting our leaders can do their job efficiently and with the knowledge that they have the full support of the American people.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
In my last open letter to you on the occasion of your thirtieth birthday in February (Happy Birthday Anna Chapman!), I promised to lay off your case, give you breathing room to re-tool yourself from a striving strumpet to a levelheaded grown-up woman, even to ponder donning a nun's habit and living according to the Good Book. I felt that I had milked your tarnished salacious reputation in my baldfaced effort to shill my bestselling political thrillers for all I could. And, in contrast to you, I worried about my own reputation: that of a pitiless stalker of a fallen woman (come to think of it, I'm not sure you ever weren't fallen). Anyway, I truly intended to leave you alone forever. Really. Honest. No kidding. Scout's honor. I mean it.
But, like it or not, you keep popping up in the news -- and, alas, it's never good news. And this time it's a doozy. The FBI's counterintel chief Frank Figliuzzi, in an interview with the BBC, added, "They were getting close enough to a sitting U.S. cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue." So, I have no choice but to dust off my blog and weigh in yet again. It's like that scene in Godfather III when an ageing Don Corleone says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" But I digress...
According to the original June 2010 indictment against you and your fellow failed spies, it was the frumpy and dumpy Lidiya Guryeva, alias "Cynthia Murphy," who attempted to weasel herself into the circle of an unnamed “prominent-based New York financier” who was friends with a “current cabinet official,” also unnamed. One of your Moscow handlers was reported to have remarked, “maybe he can provide [Guryeva] with remarks re U.S. foreign policy, ‘roumors’ [sic] about White House internal ‘kitchen,’ invite her to venues.”
This is disappointing to your legions of adoring fans, myself included. Frankly, I can't picture Lidiya seducing anybody. Can you? I mean, the SVR paired her with the equally frumpy-dumpy Vladimir ("Richard Murphy") Guryev as if they were mating farm animals. This gets into a whole other sordid aspect of your country's soulless foreign intel agency which I may address in a separate blog post one day (yechh!).
But all this hoopla about a White House honey trap may be much ado about nothing. An FBI spokesman subsequently clarified,“There is no allegation or suggestion in the complaint that Anna Chapman or anyone else associated with this investigation attempted to seduce a U.S. Cabinet official.” Instead, the clutzy "Cynthia Murphy" reportedly was attempting to sidle up to a rich New York plutocrat who co-chaired Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. There is no evidence anywhere that you were in this particular picture. Which is understandable considering that you squandered your waking hours getting hammered at Manhattan clubs along with vapid NYC yuppies dancing on the deck of America's financial Titanic. Besides, had you been setting a honey trap for White House officials, you would have blown the entire operation from the get-go, such are your skills in espionage tradecraft.
So, I guess, Anna, you deserve neither the added notoriety of this latest ill-founded report nor, for that matter, more of my gratuitous snarkiness. So, I'll lay off -- until next time.