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Entries in State Department (8)

Friday
Apr272012

State Department 'Take Your Child to Work Day' Features Adult Topics

U.S. State Department(WASHINGTON) -- When State Department officials brought their young children to work Thursday to watch the daily press briefing, they likely expected that reporters from some of the world’s most prestigious news agencies would be asking the usual complex foreign policy questions on subjects like human rights and nuclear power. But the briefing was mostly about hookers, strippers and sex acts that may or may not have been committed by department employees working overseas.

Spokesperson Victoria Nuland looked embarrassed as she answered the various questions. “What a topic to be talking about on Bring Your Kids To Work day,” Nuland said. “Parents, you can explain all of this later.”

Some of the reporters tried to be sensitive with their questions considering  the underage audience, using code terms like “type of business” when referring to  strip clubs, or “engaging in activities” as a euphemism for hiring prostitutes.

But the story in question, a widening of the Secret Service scandal in Colombia to include foreign service employees behaving badly in other countries like Brazil and El Salvador, demanded some straight talk and answers.

Nuland at one point ended up reading straight from the Foreign Service manual. “Members of the Foreign Service are prohibited from engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct which includes frequenting prostitutes and engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations or engaging in sexual activity that could open the employee up to the possibility of blackmail, coercion or improper influence,” she said.

When reporters pressed for specifics, particularly regarding hiring prostitutes in countries where prostitution is legal, Nuland minced no words.

“The department’s view is that people who buy sex acts fuel the demand for sex trafficking, and given our policies designed to help governments prevent sex trafficking, etc., it is not in keeping with the behavior that we want to advocate and display ourselves,” she told reporters.

None of the children in the room asked any questions, or looked particularly shocked.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan042012

State Department Boosting Its Counterterrorism Office

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department plans to elevate its counterterrorism office to a full-fledged bureau on Wednesday, a move that officials say will send a strong signal to allies about the U.S. commitment to strengthening their ability to combat extremism.

The promotion fulfills a pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech last year to do so as part of an effort to integrate all the tools of American power to combat terror threats. The new bureau is not expected to receive a larger budget, but officials say it will help raise the State Department’s counterterrorism profile both within the U.S. government and abroad.

“It gives the State Department a higher platform in the counterterrorism arena,” said Ambassador Dan Benjamin, who heads the office, in an exclusive interview with ABC News on Tuesday.

In her remarks at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City last September, Secretary Clinton said she has fought for a diplomatic seat at the table when counterterrorism issues are discussed.

“Just as counterterrorism cannot be the sole focus of our foreign policy, it does not make sense to view counterterrorism in a vacuum.  It must be integrated into our broader diplomatic and development agendas,” she said.

In her speech, Secretary Clinton spoke of the need to build “an international counterterrorism network” to combat terror adversaries and said that upgrading the department’s counterterrorism office will be key to developing that critical capacity in partner countries.

The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, as it is currently known, plays an often unsung role in the U.S. government’s counterterrorism apparatus, losing the limelight to higher profile cousins in the intelligence community, Department of Homeland Security, and military. Yet, Ambassador Benjamin said its role was critical in improving the capacity of other countries who share U.S. interests.

“You cannot shoot your way out of the world’s terrorism problem,” he said. Instead he referred to what he called “counterterrorism diplomacy,” which focuses on boosting the capacity of foreign countries to deal with extremism within their borders and convincing them to do more about it on their own.

Ambassador Benjamin said his office’s promotion will send a message to those countries that they need to do more.

“It is a signal to the world that they need to deal with this,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep022011

US Warns on Terror Vigilance Around 9/11 Anniversary

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is warning Americans at home and abroad to be vigilant because al Qaeda may look to strike around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. At the same time, authorities say there is no indication an attack is imminent.

“We remind our federal, state, local partners, and the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement authorities,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement Friday morning.

“We remain at a heightened state of vigilance and security measures are in place to detect and prevent plots against the United States should they emerge,” she said.

A Worldwide Alert issued by the State Department Friday issued similar advice to Americans living and traveling abroad. The alert is quick to note, however, that the United States has no information that suggests an attack is in the works.

“While we have not identified any specific threats from al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies to attack the United States or our interests on the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. citizens should be aware that al-Qa’ida affiliates and allies have demonstrated the intent and capability to carry out attacks against the United States and our interests around the world.  In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar,” it says.

Documents captured during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden indicate that the former al Qaeda leader remained obsessed with the thought of another massive attack against the United States and eyed doing so around the Sept. 11 anniversary. The documents indicate he discussed some options with top aides right until he was killed in the May 2 operation, but U.S. officials believe those plans were not fully developed. One document from Feb. 2010 revealed that bin Laden explored a plan to derail a train here around this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, are not taking any chances. ABC News’ Pierre Thomas and Richard Esposito reported yesterday that security agencies are scouring communications for any sign of a terror plot. So far they have not found any intelligence to suggest an attack is imminent. The New York Police Department is on high alert and has deployed extra teams to be on the lookout for danger and to respond to any incident.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Search Ensues for Missing Americans in Aftermath of Japan Quake

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images (WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department says it doesn't know exactly how many Americans are missing in Japan, but as many as 1,300 Americans may have been in northern Japan when Friday's quake and tsunami hit.

American teachers, missionaries, students, and businessmen were living in the hardest-hit areas.

Many families here are still receiving word that their loved ones are okay. But for others, waiting for news is agonizing.

"We last had contact with Bethany on Wednesday the ninth -- she was commenting on her Facebook that they had just had a 7.2 earthquake and she was noticing that there were a lot of earthquakes," Julie Davies, who is looking for her daughter in Japan, told ABC News.

Only a month ago, Bethany, 26, moved from Washington State to teach kindergarten in Ishinomaki Station, a village now partially submerged 10 miles north of Sendai.

The Davies are among a number of American families searching for their loved ones by phone and the Internet, using services like Google's people finder, Facebook, and Twitter.

But there is hope.

It took Ken Seagreaves, a teacher from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, three days to finally get word to his parents after losing communication in Sendai.

"A nice guy just lent me his Blackberry for a few seconds and I just typed out a message," said Seagreaves.  "'Hey mom -- in Japan at refugee center safe and sound.'"

"I just screamed," said Judy Seagreaves, Ken's mother. "I don't even know who was in the house with me at the time, I just screamed 'come and look at this.'  I immediately got on the phone and e-mail and Facebook to let everybody know that we at least had an e-mail."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar042011

American Held in Cuba for a Year Goes to Trial

ABC News(HAVANA) -- After being held in Cuba without charges for over a year, 61-year-old American Alan Gross will appear in a Cuban court Friday, facing a possible 20-year sentence for allegedly bringing communications equipment into the country illegally.

On Thursday, the State Department called on Cuban authorities to clear Gross of all charges.

"We hope it will be resolved so that Mr. Gross can return home to the United States.  He's been in prison for too long," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. Cuban officials have told the Americans they will allow U.S. officials to witness the trial.

Gross, a Maryland native, was detained in December 2009 as he tried to depart Havana's airport.  He had been working as a U.S. government subcontractor distributing communications devices to Jewish communities in Havana, according to U.S. officials. He's now accused of "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state."

Gross was working for the Bethesda-based Development Associates International on a USAID program that promotes democracy.  He has been held in Havana's maximum-security Villa Marista prison, most of that time without charge.

A U.S. State Department official, asking not to be named, told ABC News, "We deplore the Cuban government's announcement that Cuban prosecutors intend to seek a 20 year sentence against Mr. Gross.  As we have said many times before, Mr. Gross is a dedicated international development worker who was in Cuba providing support to members of the Cuban Jewish community.

"He has been held without charges for more than a year, contrary to all international human rights obligations and commitments regarding justice and due process," said the official.  "He should be home with his family now.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec102010

Ambassador Holbrooke Treated for Bloodclot after 'Medical Situation' at the State Department

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke was meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he suddenly gasped and clearly suffered some sort of medical situation.

He is said to have walked out of her office on his own power and was tended to by medical personnel at the State Department before being transported to George Washington University Hospital where he was to be treated for a blood clot.

Earlier Friday, US Department of the Treasury spokesman Steve Adamske announced that Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner was also admitted to GWU Hospital. This morning Geithner was admitted for treatment for a kidney stone.

“He will have a minor surgical procedure this afternoon to remove the kidney stone, and his physician expects that he will be discharged tomorrow with orders to rest this weekend,” Adamske said. “He has been told that he should be able to return to work on Monday.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Nov302010

State Dept. Cuts Dept. of Defense Access to Classified Cable System

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As a temporary measure while it determines how to stop future leaks of classified cables, the State Department last Friday severed the link between its classified cable system and the Department of Defense’s SIPRNet classified system, according to a senior U.S. official.
 
The official said this type of mass export of documents is impossible on the State Department network, so this step was taken until the Department of Defense strengthens its security measures. The SIPRNet system is the one Private Manning allegedly used to access and remove the classified information.
 
At a press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn’t go into details, but said that the department has taken temporary steps to narrow access to its classified system from one other outside network while it reviews its internal controls. In the future, says Crowley, officials will work to implement features that would detect and stop a mass export of documents.
 
Post-9/11, the government has worked to broaden information sharing throughout departments and agencies. Officials said Tuesday that in light of the recent breach, things might have to go in the other direction. Crowley said they must weigh the “need to know” and the “need to protect” information.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov242010

US Prepares for New WikiLeaks Release

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The whistleblower website WikiLeaks is once again preparing to release a large number of classified U.S. documents believed to be State Department diplomatic files that could contain unflattering comments about America’s international partners. 
 
The State Department’s diplomatic outposts worldwide have begun contacting foreign governments to prepare them for an expected document release as early as Friday which may prove damaging to America’s international partners.  Relevant congressional committees have also been notified of the pending release by both the State Department and the Pentagon.
 
Private internal communications between the State Department and its diplomats based overseas are known as “cables”.  It is believed that Wikileaks has obtained thousands of cables that are wider in scope than the classified military intelligence documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that the site has already released this year. A State Department official says the cables will touch on a variety of America’s global partners.
 
State Department officials are concerned that the sometimes blunt language contained in these cables may fray relationships with America’s allies. “They involve discussions that we’ve had with government officials, with private citizens.  They contain analysis.  They contain a record of the day-to-day diplomatic activity that our personnel undertake ,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. 
 
Crowley told reporters today that the cables are “diplomacy in action” as they describe the back and forth between the American government and other governments around the world.  He said those relationships are built on the premise that any communications are done in confidence.
 
"When this confidence is betrayed and ends up on the front pages of newspapers or lead stories on television or radio, it has an impact, we decry what has happened" Crowley said.
 
"These revelations are harmful to the United States and our interests," he added.  "They are going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world."
 
As with past document dumps by Wikileaks, U.S. officials expect that major international news outlets have been provided the documents in advance and that their news stories about what the documents contain will be published around the same time that the website reveals its cache of documents.
 
Crowley said the State Department "has known all along" that WikiLeaks has been in possession of classified State Department documents. 
 
Army Private Bradley Manning was arrested in June and charged with leaking a classified video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several civilians.  There has been speculation that Manning may also have been the source for the Iraq and Afghanistan military intelligence reports released by Wikileaks.  He may also be the source of the State Department cables because prior to his arrest Manning boasted in e-mails to a former hacker that he had passed along thousands of diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.
 
“We wish that this would not happen.  But we are, obviously, prepared for the possibility that it will,” said Crowley.  

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