Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • State Dept. defends balance of career vs. political posts

    For Kerry, foreign service is ‘in his blood’ spokeswoman says

    The State Department on Friday rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than career foreign service officers.

    “There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

    “It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

    The head of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents current and former career diplomats, had warned in an interview with Yahoo News on Thursday that the historical balance between foreign service officers and

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  • The State Department is too top-heavy with Obama political picks, says foreign service group

    It matters because ‘The world is a mess,’ the association says

    U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps holiday reception at the State Department in Washington December 19, 2012. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps holiday reception at the State Department in Washington December 19, 2012. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)
    President Barack Obama’s fondness for rewarding big donors with plum diplomatic posts overseas made international headlines earlier this year when a few of them embarrassed themselves in confirmation hearings.

    Now, the association that represents career U.S. diplomats is sounding the alarm about leadership at the very top of the State Department, warning that foreign service professionals are losing ground to “political” picks.

    “The world is a mess,” American Foreign Service Association President Bob Silverman told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “We need our most experienced people – people who have actually managed embassies, who have actually managed international programs – in the mix at the top of the leadership.”

    With the retirement of Bill Burns, the highly regarded foreign service officer who served as the State Department’s No. 2, just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. (The number

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  • Homeland Security Secretary Johnson announces tighter security at federal buildings

    The news comes one week before the midterm elections, amid threats from Islamic State terrorists

    Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Tuesday that the government is stepping up security at federal buildings in Washington, D.C., and nationwide, citing enhanced risks of “small-scale attacks by a lone offender.”

    “The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently,” Johnson said in a recent statement. The secretary appeared to be referring to the fatal shooting at the Canadian Parliament building.

    Johnson also urged state and local governments “to be equally vigilant, particularly in guarding against potential small-scale attacks by a lone offender or a small group of individuals.”

    The secretary did not spell out what form the increased security would take, and emphasized that it “will vary

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  • Obama gives Ebola survivor Nina Pham a bear hug at the White House

    A show of confidence for a jittery public

    A bear hug is worth a thousand words? President Barack Obama embraced Ebola survivor Nina Pham in the Oval Office on Friday, shortly after the 26-year-old Dallas nurse was discharged from the National Institutes of Health.

    The White House photo op came as the Obama administration struggled to reassure jittery Americans that they should trust medical and scientific authorities and that the deadly disease does not threaten them.

    In a show of faith in the nation’s elite doctors and scientists, the White House did not subject Pham to any additional screening before her face-to-face meeting with the president.

    “Ms. Pham was tested five different times to confirm that she no longer had the virus,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “So all the necessary testing that allowed her to safely return home with a clean bill of health is the same guidance that she has gotten in terms of meeting the president.”

    Earnest also praised New Yorkers who went about their routines after a Manhattan

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  • Smuggled oil, sex slaves, kidnappings, crime: Inside the Islamic State’s million-dollar money stream

    The extremist group’s preferred currency? The U.S. dollar, of course

    The United States has ramped up a campaign to squeeze the Islamic State’s astounding ability to get cash, a highly sophisticated moneymaking machine that has generated tens of millions of dollars since mid-June and made the group one of the world’s richest extremist forces, officials said on Thursday.

    ISIL, as it is also known, has amassed a fortune through the sale of smuggled Iraqi oil, kidnappings for ransom, and extortion and crime in areas it controls. And unlike al-Qaida, external donations account for a relatively small amount of its cash flow.

    “With the important exception of some state-sponsored terrorist organizations, ISIL is probably the best-funded terrorist organization we have confronted,” Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said on Thursday in a speech to a Washington,D.C., think tank. At a subsequent briefing at the White House, Cohen declined to provide an estimate of the group’s net worth today.

    From mid-June until President

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  • Obama taps former Biden aide Ron Klain as ‘Ebola czar’

    A well-regarded manager, not a doctor, called in to fix the federal response

    President Barack Obama has picked Ron Klain, an inside-the-Beltway veteran and well-regarded manager, to oversee and fix the wobbly federal government response to West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak.

    “The president has asked Ron Klain to take on the task of coordinating his administration’s whole of government Ebola response,” the White House said. His formal title will be “Ebola Response Coordinator.”

    Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, “will report directly” to Obama Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

    His job will be to ensure “that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa,” the White House said.

    Klain, a veteran of political knife fights like the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, is generally well regarded in Congress

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  • Obama annoyed by weak Ebola response from France, Italy and others

    U.S. pushing allies for more money, health workers for West African nations affected by the virus

    Even as the wobbly U.S. response to Ebola dominated the headlines this week, President Barack Obama ramped up a frustration-powered campaign to get reluctant major allies to shoulder more of the burden of quelling the deadly outbreak at its source in West Africa.

    Speaking to reporters after an emergency meeting with top aides on Wednesday, the president put his personal annoyance on full display as he portrayed the international response to the crisis as hesitant and shortsighted and warned that it endangered American national security.

    “This is not simply charity,” he intoned. “Probably the single most important thing that we can do to prevent a more serious Ebola outbreak in this country is making sure that we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control.”

    Obama declared that he had convened a videoconference earlier in the day with leaders of core U.S. allies Britain, France, Germany and Italy “to make sure that we are coordinating our efforts and that we are

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  • Obama: Feds must tackle Ebola 'in a much more aggressive way'

    Says new CDC SWAT teams will deploy to any new case

    Trying to calm fearful Americans weeks from a pivotal election, President Barack Obama on Wednesday promised a "much more aggressive" federal government response to Ebola, including health care SWAT teams to help inexperienced local hospitals cope with any new case on U.S. soil.

    Obama spoke after a hastily arranged meeting with top aides steering the government response to the deadly disease, called to review mistakes that led to a second health care worker in Dallas contracting Ebola.

    “What we’ve been doing here today is reviewing exactly what we know about what’s happened in Dallas and how we’re going to make sure that something like this is not repeated,” he said, underlining that the government needed to be “monitoring, supervising, overseeing in a much more aggressive way” any new cases.

    “What I’ve directed the CDC to do is that as soon as somebody is diagnosed with Ebola, we want a rapid response team a SWAT team, essentially  from the CDC to be on the ground as quickly as

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  • Obama’s war on Islamic State militants finally has a name: Operation Inherent Resolve

    Two months after American bombs and missiles began pounding fighters of the so-called Islamic State, President Barack Obama’s undeclared war in Iraq and Syria finally has a name: Operation Inherent Resolve.

    The Wall Street Journal had reported on Oct. 3 that the name had been considered and rejected, with one unnamed military officer saying “it is just kind of bleh.”

    The long search for a name had sparked a flurry of jokes on Twitter, where one leading tongue-in-cheek suggestion was that it be called “Operation Hey Wasn’t That My Humvee” – a reference to U.S. airstrikes hitting Islamic State fighters using American equipment captured from Iraqi troops.

    The Obama Administration announced the moniker a day after the president attended a meeting of defense chiefs from some 20 partners in the coalition trying to beat back the rampaging extremist group, which has captured broad swaths of Iraqi territory. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering at

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  • CDC could quarantine U.S. citizens for weeks if they refuse Ebola screenings

    Non-citizens could be turned back

    U.S. citizens who refuse to undergo the new screenings for Ebola at five major American airports could find themselves held in quarantine for up to three weeks, officials told Yahoo News on Thursday. Non-citizens who refuse the screenings could be quarantined or turned away from U.S. soil by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    The Obama Administration announced on Wednesday that it would soon require passengers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone the countries at the epicenter of the deadly outbreak in West Africa  to answer questions about their potential exposure to the illness and to have their temperature taken upon arrival.

    Officials unveiled the new rules hours after the only patient thus far diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, Thomas Eric Duncan, died of the illness. Neighbors said he helped a pregnant woman in Liberia get to a hospital, where she was turned away from a crowded Ebola treatment ward. Liberian government officials said they planned to prosecute him for lying

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Pagination

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