Monday, December 24, 2012

NORAD is ready to track Santa's flight

From NORAD's website:

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The North American Aerospace Defense Command is getting ready to track Santa’s yuletide journey! The NORAD Tracks Santa website,, went live today featuring a Countdown Calendar, a Kid’s Countdown Village complete with holiday games and activities that change daily, and video messages from students and troops from around the world. With the addition of Brazilian Portuguese, the website is now available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese.

Starting at midnight MST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa as he makes all the preparations for his flight. Then, at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can talk to a live phone operator to inquire about Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will also stream videos as Santa makes his way over various locations worldwide.

NORAD Tracks Santa has truly become a global experience, delighting generations of families everywhere. It is due, in large part, to the efforts and services of numerous contributors. New to this year’s program are Acuity Scheduling, Big Fish Worldwide, Carousel Industries, the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Council, General Electric, the National Tree Lighting Ceremony, RadiantBlue Technologies Inc., thunderbaby studios, the U.S. Coast Guard Band, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Band, Visionbox, and the West Point Band. Returning collaborators include the Air Force Academy Band, Analytical Graphics Inc., Air Canada, Avaya, Booz Allen Hamilton, Colorado Springs School District 11, the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, the Federal Aviation Administration, First Choice Awards & Gifts, Globelink Foreign Language Center, Google, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Meshbox, the Naden Band of the Maritime Forces Pacific, Naturally Santa’s Inc., the Newseum, OnStar, PCI Broadband, the Space Foundation, tw telecom, Verizon and UGroup Media.

It all started in 1955 when a local media ad directed kids to call Santa direct – only the number was misprinted. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. Thus began the tradition which NORAD has carried on since it was created in 1958.

“NORAD stands the watch protecting the skies of North America 365 days a year, but on Christmas Eve the children of the world look to NORAD, and our trusted partners, to make sure that Santa is able to complete his mission safely,” said General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., NORAD Commander.

“This mission is a duty to the children of the world and a privilege we've enjoyed for 56 consecutive years, but the effort could not be carried out without the superb assistance of numerous government and non-government contributors. It is the generosity of these contributors, the hard work of the more than 1,200 volunteers who man the NORAD Tracks Santa Operation Center, and vigilance of the Canadian and U.S. forces who work at NORAD that guarantees the program's success each and every year."

BTW: This is based on Google Earth. If you press the plus sign, you can zoom in close enough to see buildings and such, and maybe catch Santa actually going down a chimney

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fallout Begins

As Diplopundit and the media have noted, four senior State Department employees have lost their jobs over the attacks in Benghazi. We have been silent, for reasons having nothing to do with those events, but feel the need to say the following:

Benghazi was a terrible tragedy. Four good men, patriots, colleagues, family members, lost their lives in service to the American people.  They were killed, in part, because they were not adequately protected. That is hugely sad and unfortunate.

Of the four people punished for that event by being let go, the highest-ranking should have left long ago. Another, the lowest in the DS chain, had made some difficult decisions badly. The other two were, like our colleagues in Benghazi, in the wrong place at the wrong time. One will be sorely missed by DS, which would have benefited greatly from his continued service.

A very large part of the problem has not been addressed. Yes, bad decisions were made. And yes, the results were tragic.

Congress is currently saying, every day, that when there is not enough money, difficult choices have to be made. State, which received less than adequate security funding from that same Congress, made difficult choices.

Security funding is insurance. And like all insurance, you pray you will never need it. It is expensive. And if the security works well, it looks like a lot of money has been spent for nothing. In this climate, government officials who look like they are spending a lot of money for nothing get hammered. Particularly if you have to get waivers for other rules in order to spend that money. So people send their limited resources to the places that look like they need it most, and hope for the best.

The problem is that the enemy looks for weak spots. And the enemy has eyes now all over the world. So they find the spots where the money has not been spent for insurance. Very quickly, a place that looks "safer" in comparison, can become, in retrospect, the place that needed it the most.  Monitoring that takes resources as well. And again, when all goes well, the money spent monitoring that looks wasted.

Bad choices were made, and heads should roll. But if bad choices were made, they were made because the funding to make the best choices was not there. That does not excuse what happened. But there is blame to go around, and a lot of it lies with those high up on a Hill, who, while talking a strong game now, considered the amount State asked for, for insurance, too expensive to fund.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the most American day of the year.

The 4th of July celebrates the independence of our country from the British. Thanksgiving celebrates who we are. It is the closest thing America has to a traditional folk festival - it is our Oktoberfest, our Tomatina, our Highland Games. No matter where you go in the world, even if people don't know why, they know that Americans eat Turkey on Thanksgiving.

It is the only national spiritual holiday to originate in America. And the one which most stuck in my memory of a childhood spent at embassies overseas. Before the civil rights movement brought us non-demoniational prayer in public events, it was the only day when a Jewish American, a Christian American, A Moslem American, and every American, could share what is, in most religions, the most basic of all prayers: a prayer of thanks.

And the one day when nearly every person in America, no matter what their ethnic or national origin, will sit down to nearly exactly the same meal. The same experience.
The same post turkey stupor.

I would write more, but you see where I am going with this. And i am off to the table, to join America in its feast.

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Important Step to Enhance National Security

From the Washington post, by Joe Davidson:

President Obama has done what Congress has not — extend whistleblower protections to national security and intelligence employees.

A Presidential Policy Directive issued Wednesday says employees “who are eligible for access to classified information can effectively report waste, fraud, and abuse while protecting classified national security information. It prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse.”

With this directive, Obama hands national security and intelligence community whistleblowers and their advocates an important victory in their frequently frustrating efforts to expand protection against retaliation for federal employees who expose agency misconduct.

Protection for intelligence and national security workers was not included, as advocates had hoped, in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that passed the House last month and now awaits action in the Senate. Retaliation can come in different forms, including dismissals, assignments or revocation of security clearances.

Obama instructed agencies, including the CIA, to establish a review process, within 270 days, that allows employees to appeal actions in conflict with the directive that affect their access to classified information.

Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight , an advocacy group, said in an e-mail that “this unprecedented Presidential Policy Directive is leveled at the endemic culture of secrecy in the intelligence community (IC) and the dearth of accountability it fosters. The directive prohibits retaliation for protected disclosures by IC employees; prohibits retaliatory actions related to security clearances and eligibility for access to classified information and directs agencies to create a review process for related reprisal claims; mandates that each intelligence agency create a review process for claims of retaliation consistent with the policies and procedures in the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA); provides significant remedies where retaliation is substantiated, including reinstatement and compensatory damages; and creates a review board of Inspectors General (IGs) where IC whistleblowers can appeal agency decisions.”

Advocates say these measures not only protect free-speech rights but also make unauthorized leaks of sensitive information less likely by creating a proper avenue for whistleblowers.

But for all it does, the directive “only is a landmark breakthrough in principle,” according to another organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“Until agencies adopt implementing regulations, no one whose new rights are violated will have any due process to enforce them,” said Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director. “Further, there are only false due process teeth on the horizon.” Regulations to enforce whistleblower rights will be written by the same agencies that routinely are the defendants in whistleblower retaliation lawsuits, according to GAP.

Both Canterbury and Devine praised Obama’s action, while calling on Congress to make his order the law.

“President Obama has kept his promise to national security whistleblowers . . . ,” Devine said in an e-mail. “This law is no substitute for congressional action to make the rights permanent, comprehensive and enforceable through due process teeth.”

Obama’s promise was in the administration’s September 2011 “National Action Plan” for transparency and open government. It said “if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.”

National security whistleblower protections are not in the legislation now before Congress because the Republican leadership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) opposed them.

Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) “dragged his feet, never held a hearing, and never fully explained his concerns,” Canterbury said. “This put the House co-sponsors in a tough spot. They ultimately removed all of the intelligence-related provisions so that Rogers would relinquish his hold and they could move the bill.”

Under Rogers, according to Devine, “for two years HPSCI has refused to engage in serious discussions on national security whistleblower rights, either with the public or even Republican offices seeking a consensus.”

Rogers’s committee staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Though happy about Obama’s directive, whistleblower advocates are not totally pleased with the way the administration has, in some cases, treated whistleblowers. Canterbury said she is “truly gratified and grateful” for the directive, but noted “we also have been critical of this Administration’s prosecutions of so-called leakers under the Espionage Act. We have raised concerns about the possible infringement of rights and the chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers of the aggressive prosecutions and certain post-WikiLeaks policies.”

Obama’s directive does a lot to balance those concerns. At the same time, Canterbury, Devine and other advocates will continue to push Congress to follow the president’s lead by approving legislation with national security whistleblower protections.

“The President has done his share with this landmark breakthrough,” Devine said. “Congress needs to finish what he started.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Teachable Moment

The State Department is taking a well-deserved beating in the court of public opinion for its free-wheeling incompetence in handling a security clearance/discipline case with free-speech implications. Another case, currently under adjudication, promises similar, or greater, fireworks. 

We predict an imminent legal battle to force State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security to do what every other agency performing security clearance adjudications already does: monitor the quality of security clearance cases and ensure that they comply with laws and regulations. 

Simply put, State is the worst abuser of the security-clearance process in the US Government. It has taken a  process that should be used solely for assessing whether or not a person has sufficient integrity and loyalty to protect classified information, and turned it into a routine method for harassing dissenters, skirting EEO laws, and ridding the Department of anyone that anyone at any level in the hierarchy wants to fire, when no basis exists for doing so legally. 

To be fair, other agencies do this too. Once in a while, in very rare instances. But only State does so as a routine matter of course.  

The differences between State and every other agency are simple. Other agencies have oversight and quality-control mechanisms in place, and State does not. Despite years of complaints, State has steadfastly refused to implement even the most basic quality-control mechanisms mandated by law, much less the mechanisms suggested by AFSA and CFSO. This failure to implement basic management controls has been abetted by what is at least tacit complicity by State's highest-level managers and its Inspector General, which have studiously ignored pressure to address the issue.   

CFSO does not believe that FS members have an absolute right to free speech. We believe that every person who has a security clearance has an absolute responsibility to protect classified information, and we believe that those involved in national defense and international relations must be mindful of the fact that even unclassified statements could have negative consequences to individual or national security.

But we also believe that the Government must follow its own rules, and that employment by an agency's security apparatus should not convey immunity either from law or regulation, or from competence.

We hope that, instead of ignoring, as usual, the current outcry, State will learn from it. It's never too late to start following the rules, whether you are a rank and file employee or the head of State's security arm.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Making the Noise

There's a reason why motorcycles are called "crotch rockets."

They exude power. They exude manhood. They are too loud to ignore. They are the perfect vehicle for making a man (or a woman) feel larger than himself.

They go faster than any car you are likely to see on an American road, and they go places no car can go. A man on a bike can beat you at your own game. He is better than you. He is a force to be reckoned with.

Because of their size, and the way they handle, a bike becomes an extension of an individual in a way no four-wheeled vehicle can. You ride a bike not with your arms but with your body. You fit into place in a way you don't with a car.

In a car, you can move around on your chair, play with the radio, sip your slurpee. On a motorcycle, at ninety miles an hour, you are locked in like Iron Man into his suit. You move, it moves. There is no sipping your slurpee. There is this moment, this union, this experience, and nothing else.

It's like being on patrol. Every step takes you somewhere you haven't been. Or if you had been there, it is different every time. Every sense is alert. You can see the trees, and the sky, and hear the birds. You are one hundred percent there. You have to be. Because a wrong step, or a sudden surprise, can end everything.

It's something you can only recognize if you've actually done it. Words like mine can describe can give you feel for it. But you don't know it unless you've done it. And the people who know it are related to you, because they can understand that moment in a way that others can't. They are your family. They are your unit.

I was thinking last night about Rolling Thunder, whose annual ride to Washington has been a Memorial Day tradition since 1988. And why, in the mind of a certain generation, motorcycles and Vietnam Veterans go together. In fact, I tried to Google it. And while there is a lot out there about the history of the group, and how Ray Manzo and and Artie Muller got it going, there was nothing out there about why the motorcycles strike a chord -  except of course for the noise.

The other day I wrote about cowboys and MMA fighters as an expression of manly might. They are very different things.

MMA fighters are all about shock and awe. They go in "BANG," determined to overwhelm their opponent, paralyze him with fear, overcome his will to fight before he even gets started.

A cowboy is all about understatement. The gun is there. You know it's there. You can see it. You mess with him, he'll kill you matter of fact, but he'd rather not have to do that. What makes him strong is merely that you know him, and that you know that he is there.

From 1965 to 1968, the US government conducted an aerial bombardment campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder, a steady, escalating campaign of assault against carefully selected North Vietnamese targets, intended to persuade North Vietnam to cease its support for the communist insurgency in South Vietnam, to destroy North Vietnam's transportation system, industrial base, and air defenses, and to stem the flow of men and material into South Vietnam.

It failed to win the war, but for many veterans, it was the war. It involved the largest use of American military resources and manpower until Iraq, and determined, in many ways, the placement and actions of ground troops as well.

The term resonated with Veterans better than any other. And the image, of a slowly growing noise you can't ignore, resonated too.

Men on motorcycles say: "we are here." And a few thousand men on motorcycles say that with a noise nobody can ignore. In 1988, there were 2500. In 2000, there were 250, 000. In 2008, half a million. And today, the number is closer to double that amount.

Their purpose, of course, is to call attention to the ones who aren't there. The colleagues missing in action, or still in North Vietnam. To say, with the noise of a million motors, "they exist."

They've been pretty good at doing that. Raising awareness. Sponsoring search and recovery trips. Lobbying for legislation to change the way Congress and the military deal with MIAs, and helping veterans of the current conflict deal with the issues surrounding their own return or injuries.

This Memorial Day, see them.

Better yet, write to your representative in Congress, and ask him or her to listen to them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A pre-Memorial-Day Thought

The United States of America is a mighty nation.

Our heroes are cowboys and soldiers, boxers, MMA fighters, and policemen. Not inventors or writers, or explorers, or priests, or diplomats. We define freedom, in part, as the right to bear arms. We stand our ground. And we condemn as cowards those nations that choose to sit out any particular conflict.

And we are a competitive nation. Whether buying the latest-model i-phone, choosing our favorite pizza joint or rooting for our favorite football team, we are constantly arguing that ours, or mine, is better than yours.

The Foreign Service is not exempt. A recent Secretary of State's Sounding Board discussion, which began with a suggestion that Foreign Service members be included in a law that allows military personnel stationed overseas to be considered none-the-less resident in their home state (for purposes ranging from homestead taxes, to being able to get an HHA mortgage, to in-state tuition for kids) quickly degenerated into a discussion of whether a soldier stationed in Germany sacrifices more for our country than a consular officer stationed in Iraq.

For the record, taken as a percentage of the total rather than merely the numbers themselves, almost as many FS members are injured or killed in the line of duty as soldiers. Many Foreign Service members are also veterans of the armed forces, and some continue to serve as military reserve members.

As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, it might be useful to remember that this day commemorates all Americans who have fallen in war, whether they were soldiers or civilians.

The parents, wives and children of those whose names are carved into the walls of the State Department did not feel less pain than the survivors of those whose names are carved into the Vietnam memorial two blocks down the road.

And the Foreign Service families separated from a loved one serving in Iraq or Afghanistan do not miss them less, or worry about them less, than the families of the soldiers who, in some cases, live and work side by side with Foreign Service members.

The military has a proud tradition and a broad political base and a really great public relations machine. And, in all seriousness, soldiers deserve both praise and respect. But the idea that, because they do, we do not, does an enormous disservice to many brave, proud and patriotic Americans, who do, indeed, voluntarily put their lives in harms way in order to make America safe.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why the World Needs Diplomats

Borat anthem stuns Kazakh gold medallist in Kuwait - from the BBC

Kazakhstan's shooting team has been left stunned after a comedy national anthem from the film Borat was played at a medal ceremony at championships in Kuwait instead of the real one.

The team asked for an apology and the medal ceremony was later rerun.

The team's coach told Kazakh media the organisers had downloaded the parody from the internet by mistake.

The song was produced by UK comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for the film, which shows Kazakhs as backward and bigoted.

The original Borat movie offended the Kazakh authorities Footage of Thursday's original ceremony posted on YouTube shows gold medallist Maria Dmitrienko listening to the anthem without emotion and finally smiling as it ends.

Coach Anvar Yunusmetov told Kazakh news agency Tengrinews that the tournament's organisers had also got the Serbian national anthem wrong.

"Then Maria Dmitrienko's turn came," he said. "She got up on to the pedestal and they played a completely different anthem, offensive to Kazakhstan."

The spoof song praises Kazakhstan for its superior potassium exports and for having the cleanest prostitutes in the region.

The film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, released in 2006, follows Baron Cohen's character, the journalist Borat Sagdiyev, as he travels to the US and pursues the actress Pamela Anderson.

The film outraged people in Kazakhstan and was eventually banned in the country. The government also threatened Baron Cohen with legal action.

Reports say the film is also banned in Kuwait.

From the Associated Press, Updated: Saturday, March 24, 7:40 AMAP MOSCOW — Kazakhstan has called the playing of a spoof of its national anthem at an international sporting event “a scandal” and demanded an investigation of the incident.

Maria Dmitrienko won a gold medal for Kazakhstan on Thursday at the Arab Shooting Championships in Kuwait, but during the award ceremony the public address system broadcast the spoof anthem from the 2006 movie “Borat,” which offended many Kazakhs by portraying the country as backward and degenerate.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov told the ITAR-Tass news agency the incident “is, of course, a scandal and demands a thorough investigation, which we intend to conduct.”

ITAR-Tass quoted shooting team member Oksana Stavitskaya as saying that Asian Shooting Federation President Sheikh Salman al-Sabah had apologized to the team.

“Sheikh Salman personally apologized to us. He recognized that the use of the music from the scandalous film in place of the anthem of Kazakhstan was completely a mistake of the organizers. He explained that the awards ceremony was conducted by a firm under contract,” Stavitskaya said.

The Kazakh news agency Tengri quoted team Coach Anvar Yunusmetov as saying tournament organizers had downloaded various countries’ national anthems from the Internet.