SitRep: EXCLUSIVE: New Details of Seismic Changes at State Dept.; Pence Vs. Putin
With Adam Rawnsley New hires at State, but not what you’d think. Dozens of current and former diplomats tell FP that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is bringing in dozens of new staffers to form a “parallel department” that could effectively shut off the secretary and his advisors from the career employees in the ...
With Adam Rawnsley
New hires at State, but not what you’d think. Dozens of current and former diplomats tell FP that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is bringing in dozens of new staffers to form a “parallel department” that could effectively shut off the secretary and his advisors from the career employees in the rest of the building.
In an exclusive, FP’s Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce and Colum Lynch write that the new hires will be working for the policy planning staff, which typically has about 20-25 people on its payroll. “One senior State Department official and one recently retired diplomat told FP that Tillerson has plans to double or perhaps triple its size, even as he proposes a sweeping reorganization and drastic cuts to the State Department workforce.”
More: “Veterans of the U.S. diplomatic corps say the expanding front office is part of an unprecedented assault on the State Department: A hostile White House is slashing its budget, the rank and file are cut off from a detached leader, and morale has plunged to historic lows. They say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk.”
U.S. stepping back at U.N. FP’s Colum Lynch breaks the news that the State Department plans to scale back its diplomatic presence at this year’s annual U.N. gathering of world leaders in September, “a cost-saving initiative that delivers another powerful signal that America is deepening its retreat from international diplomacy, according to four well-placed diplomatic sources.”
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump will be there, however.
At the moment, it remains unclear precisely how large of a cut in U.S. staff is envisioned, but two officials tell Lynch that State “is seeking to keep a ceiling down to about 300 people, including everyone from the President to support staff that schedule meetings and copy speeches back at the hotel.”
More dismantling. There’s a pool of top talent vying for entry-level jobs at the State Department, but the department no longer wants them. Nor have they bothered to tell them that. FP’s Robbie Gramer reports exclusively: “A State Department spokesman told Foreign Policy the department is temporarily withdrawing itself from participation in the Presidential Management Fellowship program, an esteemed program that recruits cream-of-the-crop graduates into the federal government. The spokesman cited an ongoing reorganization of the State Department, but did not say when the temporary suspension would end.”
North Korea’s ICBM’s. North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, deepening worries about Pyongyang’s missile program, and with it, the regime’s ability to top a nuclear warhead on one of those missiles. In response, the U.S. and its allies flew bombers and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force. The flights included U.S. B-1 bombers flying over Japanese airspace, where they were joined by two Japanese F-2 fighter jets. They then flew over the Korean Peninsula with four South Korean F-15 fighter jets, U.S. Pacific Air Forces said.
Korean missile race. South Korea announced Saturday it is planning to hold talks with the Trump administration to allow Seoul to begin constructing more powerful ballistic missiles. More from the NYT:
“The South’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, called for the relaxation of limits on its missile arsenal hours after the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, 2,200 miles into space, which landed its warhead just off the coast of Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese island. Experts quickly calculated that the demonstrated range of that test shot, if flattened out over the Pacific, could easily reach Los Angeles and perhaps as far as Chicago and New York, though its accuracy is in doubt.”
Art of the deal. Vice President Mike Pence is stopped in Estonia Monday morning on the first leg of a trip that will take him though the three Baltic nations over the next several days. While there, he addressed U.S., British, Estonian and French troops, and confirmed that president Trump “will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States’ sanctions against Russia” in the coming days.
The bill, passed by the Senate last week, slaps additional sanctions on Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang, but is considered a political loss for the White House. In addition to the sanctions, it also takes away the president’s power to ease the penalties on Russia without the consent of Congress. The Trump administration opposed the deal, but as it so often does even with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, lost the argument. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin is kicking out 755 U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Pence v. Russia. The VP in Estonia: “No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east. At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine the democracies of sovereign nations, and divide the free nations of Europe against one another.”
Afghanistan. The White House appeared to be on the verge of greenlighting an increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan but the Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump is mulling another option: cutting back. Sources say the Trump administration still hasn’t made up its mind whether to commit to Afghanistan for the long haul and that one option on the table includes a large drawdown in U.S. forces with an increased focus on counterterrorism, rather than counterinsurgency.
Looking for work in Iraq? The U.S. State Department announced Friday it inked a $35 million deal with security contractor Garda World Federal for “local guard services” for U.S. diplomats and government employees in Erbil, northern Iraq.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Parade season. Chinese President Xi Jinping brought the martial pageantry for another military parade on Sunday, this time commemorating the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) 90th birthday. Xi, who showed up in camouflage fatigues, used the occasion to tout his leadership and the need for absolute loyalty to China’s ruling party. The PLA’s also showed off the DF-31AG road-mobile ballistic missile for the first time, a system capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
F-35. The Defense Department shelled out billions of dollars to Lockheed Martin on Friday for the F-35 stealth fighter. The first contract, worth $3.69 billion, goes in part to pay for 50 F-35s of different variants destined for foreign partners in the F-35 program like the U.K., Italy, Turkey, and others. In a separate award, the Pentagon paid out $5.6 billion to Lockheed Martin for the first chunk of 91 jets intended for use by the United States.
Build the wall. Russia is tightening its grip on its citizens’ Internet usage, banning proxies like virtual private network services that can help users sidestep national censorship and access banned Internet content from abroad. Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed a law outlawing anonymous messaging services, which forces companies to log the phone numbers of all users.
Prisoner swap. Despite its public disdain for diplomatic agreements with Iran, the Trump administration might be considering a prisoner swap in order to secure the release of Americans detained in the country. Al Monitor reports that administration officials have been reaching to officials in Oman, floating the possibility that the U.S. would release Iranians for violating sanctions in exchange for the release of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman and his father sentenced to 10 years in Iran on espionage charges.
Strange bedfellows. Iraq’s firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia, meeting with the Kingdom’s newly selected Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman for talks. Sadr hailed the visit as a “positive breakthrough in the Saudi-Iraqi relations” and a step towards ending sectarian tensions in the region.
Lobbying. Qatar found itself on the wrong end of a presidential tweetstorm as the Gulf campaign to isolate Doha picked up steam. So now the kingdom is looking to spend big on in Washington to burnish its image, dropping $150,000 a month to hire a lobbying form owned by Corey Lewandowski, President Trump’s former campaign manager.
Hacking. American prosecutors filed court documents alleging that that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli orchestrated a campaign to spy on Americans, hiring a shadowy Israeli hacking firm to help eavesdrop on his perceived political adversaries. Univision got of court documents alleging that Panama’s National Security signed a contract for NSO Group’s Pegasus malware and targeted a former campaign aide to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a retired U.S. Army colonel, and staff at the U.S. embassy in Panama.
Venezuela. Venezuela plunged into violence once again as the country voted on a proposal to allow President Nicolas Maduro to dissolve the legislature and have a new one rewrite the country’s constitution. Opposition leaders called the vote illegitimate as protesters fought with the country’s National Guard and an improvised explosive device exploded near police. One opposition candidate was shot in his home over the weekend and another died with no cause of death given as yet.
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