As part of the events surrounding Super Bowl 50, the Military Benefit Association sponsored the Wounded Warrior Amputee vs. NFL Alumni Flag Football game. The game was a chance for these veterans to compete against NFL greats while raising awareness about the issues wounded veterans face.
Rocky Bleier, Pittsburgh Steeler great, Vietnam War veteran, and spokesperson for the Military Benefit Association, has been involved with the WWAFT games for the past five years.
In October 2018, Bloomberg published a bombshell report about how Chinese spies managed to implant chips into computer servers made by SuperMicro, an American company.
If true, the report raised questions about whether sensitive US government and corporate data may have been accessed by Chinese spies, and whether it’s all data stored on PCs is essentially at risk.
But since then, a series of statements from government officials and information security professionals — including some named in the stories — have cast doubt about the report’s main claims.
On Oct. 10, 2018, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security denied the report in a Senate hearing — the strongest on-the-record government denial yet.
“With respect to the article, we at DHS do not have any evidence that supports the article,” Kirstjen Nielsen said on Oct. 10, 2018. “We have no reason to doubt what the companies have said.”
(During the same hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray said that he couldn’t confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation into compromised SuperMicro equipment, which was claimed in the Bloomberg report.)
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
(photo by Jetta Disco)
Nielsen’s denial comes on the same day as a senior NSA official said that he worries that “we’re chasing shadows right now.”
“I have pretty great access, [and yet] I don’t have a lead to pull from the government side,” Rob Joyce, perhaps the most public-facing NSA cybersecurity official, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former head of security, called Joyce’s denial “the most damning point” against the story that he had seen.
The increasing doubt about Bloomberg’s claims come as lawmakers demand additional answers based on the series of reports. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marco Rubio asked SuperMicro to cooperate with law enforcement in a sharply worded letter on Oct. 9, 2018. Senator John Thune also sent letters to Amazon and Apple, which Bloomberg said had purchased compromised servers.
But government officials aren’t the only people who are now having second thoughts about the stories.
One prominent hardware security expert, Joe Fitzpatrck, who was named in the story, ended up doing a revealing podcast with a trade outlet that’s more technical than Bloomberg, Risky Business.
Journalists who write stories based on anonymous sources often call up experts to fill out some of the more general parts of a story and improve the story’s flow.
But Fitzpatrick said that’s not what happened.
“I feel like I have a good grasp at what’s possible and what’s available and how to do it just from my practice,” Fitzpatrick explained. “But it was surprising to me that in a scenario where I would describe these things and then he would go and confirm these and 100% of what I described was confirmed by sources.”
He went on to say that he heard about the story’s specifics in late August 2018 and sent an email expressing major doubt. “I heard the story and it didn’t make sense to me. And that’s what I said. I said, ‘Wow I don’t have any more information for you, but this doesn’t make sense.'”
Several notable information security professionals used Fitzpatrick’s quotes as a jumping-off point to express their doubts with the story:
Bloomberg sticks by its story
Bloomberg’s report was obviously explosive and had immediate effects.
Super Micro lost over 40% of its value the day of the report. Apple and Amazon, which the report said had bought compromised servers, fiercely denied the report in public statements.
While Bloomberg put out a statement that said that it stood by its reporting shortly after the first story, the loudest institutional support for the story came in a followup story by Bloomberg that said new evidence of hacked Supermicro hardware was found in a U.S. telecom.
Bloomberg didn’t name the affected telecom.
“The more recent manipulation is different from the one described in the Bloomberg Businessweek report in October 2018, but it shares key characteristics: They’re both designed to give attackers invisible access to data on a computer network in which the server is installed; and the alterations were found to have been made at the factory as the motherboard was being produced by a Supermicro subcontractor in China,” according to the Bloomberg followup report.
But even the source for the followup now says he’s “angry” about how the story turned out.
“I want to be quoted. I am angry and I am nervous and I hate what happened to the story. Everyone misses the main issue,” which is that it’s an overall problem with the hardware supply chain, not a SuperMicro-specific issue, Yossi Appleboum told Serve The Home.
But everyone says it’s possible
But the tricky thing about Bloomberg’s story is that nearly everyone agrees something like it could happen, it just didn’t happen the way the report suggests.
Security experts agree that the security of the factories that make electronics is an ongoing issue, even if no malicious chips have been found yet.
“What we can tell you though, is it’s a very real and emerging threat that we’re worried about,” Sec. Nielsen said shortly after saying she had no evidence in favor of the story.
And as one manufacturing expert told Business Insider, “I don’t actually think it’s hard to inject stuff that the brand or design team didn’t intentionally ask for.”
Chinese industrial espionage has been an issue for many years, and it’s a talking point for President Donald Trump, who accused Chinese exchange students of being “spies” in a conversation with CEOs including Apple CEO Tim Cook.
But there is evidence that Chinese spies do spy on American companies. In October 2018, a Chinese officer was extradited to the United States to face espionage charges related to stealing secrets from companies including GE Aviation.
The Air Force is mapping a two-fold future path for its B-1 bomber which includes plans to upgrade the bomber while simultaneously preparing the aircraft for eventual retirement as the service’s new stealth bomber arrives in coming years.
These two trajectories, which appear as somewhat of a paradox or contradiction, are actually interwoven efforts designed to both maximize the bomber’s firepower while easing an eventual transition to the emerging B-21 bomber, Air Force officials told Warrior Maven.
“Once sufficient numbers of B-21 aircraft are operational, B-1s will be incrementally retired. No exact dates have been established,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven. “The Air Force performs routine structural inspections, tests and necessary repairs to ensure the platform remains operationally viable until sufficient numbers of B-21s are operational.”
The B-21 is expected to emerge by the mid-2020s, so while the Air Force has not specified a timetable, the B-1 is not likely to be fully retired until the 2030s.
Service officials say the current technical overhaul is the largest in the history of the B-1, giving the aircraft an expanded weapons ability along with new avionics, communications technology, and engines.
Official U.S. Air Force Artist Rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Heavy Bomber.
The engines are being refurbished to retain their original performance specs, and the B-1 is getting new targeting and intelligence systems, Grabowski said.
A new Integrated Battle Station includes new aircrew displays and communication links for in-flight data sharing.
“This includes machine-to-machine interface for rapid re-tasking and/or weapon retargeting,” Grabowski added.
Another upgrade called The Fully Integrated Targeting Pod connects the targeting pod control and video feed into B-1 cockpit displays. The B-1 will also be able to increase its carriage capacity of 500-pound class weapons by 60-percent due to Bomb Rack Unit upgrades.
The B-1, which had its combat debut in Operation Desert Fox in 1998, went to drop thousands of JDAMs during the multi-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The B-1 can hit speeds of MACH 1.25 at 40,000 feet and operates at a ceiling of 60,000 feet.
It fires a wide-range of bombs, to include several JDAMS: GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54. It also fires the small diameter bomb-GBU-39.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, Russia has vetoed 12 UN Security Council resolutions concerning the conflict. Among other things, these resolutions covered human rights violations, indiscriminate aerial bombing, the use of force against civilians, toxic chemical weapons, and calls for a meaningful ceasefire.
Russia’s behavior at the Security Council is not motivated by humanitarian concerns. Its vetoes have provided political cover for the Assad regime, protected Moscow’s strategic interests and arms deals with the Syrian state, and obstructed UN peacekeeping. They’ve helped shift the locus of peace talks from a UN-backed process in Geneva to a Russian-led one in Astana. And they’ve had real and dire consequences for the people of Syria.
The Syrian conflict has claimed more than 500,000 lives, turned millions of people into refugees, and all but destroyed the country. While all sides have contributed to this catastrophe, the Assad regime in particular has made repression, brutality, and destruction its signature tactics — and Russia has chosen to protect it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Some seem resigned to dismiss this behavior as everyday international politicking. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, recently offered an excuse: “People will always block resolutions. If you look at the number of resolutions America has blocked, I mean that’s the way of politics.”
This is nothing more than idle whataboutism. Yes, it’s right to note what the US has done in defiance of the UN over the years, not least over Iraq and with its 44 Israel-related vetoes in the Security Council. But Russia has taken vetoes to another level on Syria, covering for and enabling atrocities while working to make sure the UN cannot do what it needs to do to stop the carnage.
Moscow first intervened militarily to prop up Assad’s deadly authoritarian rule in September 2015; had it not entered the fray, Assad’s reign would have almost certainly given way to a successor. But Russian backing for Assad began well before 2015.
For a start, his government has long been a major Russian arms client. While public data is incomplete because many transactions are highly opaque, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has tracked the build up of Syrian weapons purchases in the years leading up to the 2011 uprising. Russian military resources to Syria increased from 9m in 2000 to 272m in 2011.
Consider the Russian (and Chinese) veto of February 4 2012, which blocked a draft resolution calling on Assad to relinquish power. At the time, there was uncertainty about whether Russia would abstain or vote no. Facing defeat amid mass protests and now armed resistance, the Assad regime accelerated its brutality through bombing. On the eve of the scheduled Security Council meeting, Assad’s forces bombarded the city of Homs, murdering scores of civilians.
Was this massacre designed to signal to Russia that Assad was prepared to go all out, burn the country, and win at any cost, meaning Moscow might as well back him? Or was Assad informed in advance that Russia would cast the veto, so he could slaughter with impunity? Does a veto clear the way for more brutality, or do acts of brutality force Russia to veto UN reprisals?
A poster of Syria’s president at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus.
(Photo by Elizabeth Arrott)
The most likely answer is both. The pattern is now firmly established: Assad kills civilians and political opponents, the Security Council considers a resolution, Russia vetoes it and puts outs propaganda to provide cover for Assad’s abuses, and the cycle of mass killings goes on. As Russian vetoes have become routine, they have emboldened Assad. As an Oxfam report said, even UN resolutions which were not blocked “have been ignored or undermined by the parties to the conflict, other UN member states, and even by members of the UNSC itself”.
But Russia still has a choice: it can be a force for peace, liberty, and inclusion, or it can continue to shelter and defend tyrants. Given the Kremlin’s general hostility towards equality, liberalism, and democracy, it has chosen another path: to thwart the Security Council, violate its own ceasefire agreements, and overlook the consequences for civilians. This implicates it in the deaths of thousands of Syrians – more than the so-called Islamic State and the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra combined.
To be sure, not all Security Council resolutions are worthy of support, and Russia cannot be held responsible for all of Assad’s crimes and human rights abuses. Western nations are certainly not unbiased; their decisions and interventions have had long-lasting pernicious effects on civilian populations in the Middle East, and they too have failed civilians in Syria and elsewhere.
The US intervened in Iraq to oust a dictator, Russia intervened in Syria to preserve one in power. Both moves have turned out to be disasters. But to document that Russia has killed civilians via its military and political interventions is not Russophobic. The death of each Syrian matters, regardless of who fired the shot, dropped the bomb, or maintained the siege.
Providing political cover for one tyrant will embolden others everywhere, as they learn how far they can push the boundaries of oppression. And all along, steps could have been taken to prevent or at least limit the carnage. Russia’s failure to do so in Syria and elsewhere will be to its eternal shame.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis called on America’s allies to combat Chinese efforts to dominate the contested South China Sea during a trilateral meeting in Singapore Oct. 19, 2018.
“I think that all of us joining hands together, ASEAN allies and partners, and we affirm as we do so that no single nation can rewrite the international rule to the road and expect all nations large and small to respect those rules,” Mattis said during a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, according to The Hill.
“The United States, alongside our allies and partners, will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand. We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down, for we cannot accept the PRC’s militarization of the South China Sea or any coercion in this region,” he added.
“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies,” Pence explained. He called attention to the recent showdown in the South China Sea as evidence of “China’s aggression.”
An EA-18G Growler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VFA) 141 lands on the flight deck of the Navy’s forward deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate)
“A Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur as it conducted freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, forcing our ship to quickly maneuver to avoid collision,” he said, describing a dangerous encounter that the US military characterized as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
The Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance against China, targeting Beijing for perceived violations of the rules-based international order. In the South China Sea, tensions have been running high as the US challenges China through freedom-of-navigation operations, bomber overflights, and joint drills with regional partners — all aimed to counter China’s expansive but discredited territorial claims.
A pair of B-52H Stratofortress bombers flew through the disputed South China Sea Oct. 16, 2018, in support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission, which is notably intended to send a deterrence message to potential adversaries.
Mattis met with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe Oct. 18, 2018, for an hour and a half on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore. The talks, described as “straightforward and candid,” focused heavily on the South China Sea, but it is unclear if the two sides made any real progress on the issue.
“That’s an area where we will continue to have differences,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said after the meeting concluded.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is arguably one of the most influential military movies of all time. It’s the movie would-be troops romanticize about before enlisting in the military and it’s certainly the movie they watch to mentally prepare themselves before shipping off to boot camp to face their drill instructors.
However, as iconic as this 1987 film has become, it almost didn’t turn out that way. This 30-minute video shows how Full Metal Jacket was made and what the cast and crew did to “get it right.” There are plenty of interesting tidbits, like how relatively unknown actor Vincent D’Onofrio initially didn’t even want to do the film, and why a horrific scene between “Animal Mother” and the sniper was cut out.
The most advanced version of the F-15 ever built took to the skies in St. Louis, MO, on April 14, 2020, and highlighted just how impressive its capabilities are. In the 90 minute flight, the F-15QA (QA stands for Qatar Advanced) showcased its speed, maneuverability and, in general, just how badass of a force this new jet will be.
What’s a “Viking takeoff”? Watch as the Qatar Emiri Air Force #F15 demonstrates the maneuver during its first flight.pic.twitter.com/wLHEuvH0Lt
With the F-15QA’s unmatched speed and maneuverability, Chief Test Pilot Matt Giese was able to showcase the capabilities by performing a vertical “Viking” takeoff and by pulling nine Gs during the test in various maneuvers. The maiden flight highlighted just how advanced this aircraft is. Avionics, radar and other systems all performed as designed and the flight was deemed a success.
“This successful first flight is an important step in providing the QEAF an aircraft with best-in-class range and payload,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager in a press release issued by Boeing. “The advanced F-15QA not only offers game changing capabilities but is also built using advanced manufacturing processes which make the jet more efficient to manufacture. In the field, the F-15 costs half the cost per flight hour of similar fighter aircraft and delivers far more payload at far greater ranges. That’s success for the warfighter.”
Image via Boeing
The F-15QA was developed for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF). The Department of Defense awarded Boeing a .2 billion contract in 2017 to manufacture 36 F-15 fighter jets for the QEAF with delivery date being 2021. To put it mildly: the QEAF is stoked.
“We are very proud of this accomplishment and looking forward with great excitement to the continued successes of this program,” Col. Ahmed Al Mansoori, commander, QEAF F-15 Wing said in a press release. “This successful first flight is an important milestone that brings our squadrons one step closer to flying this incredible aircraft over the skies of Qatar.”
In addition to being able to perform seamless Viking takeoffs, Boeing shared the other impressive features of the advanced aircraft. According to Boeing, the F-15QA brings to its operators next-generation technologies such as fly-by-wire flight controls, digital cockpit; modernized sensors, radar, and electronic warfare capabilities; and the world’s fastest mission computer. Increases in reliability, sustainability and maintainability allow defense operators to affordably remain ahead of current and evolving threats.
[VIDEO]: Qatar Emiri Air Force F-15QA will get large area display cockpit with touch screen made by Elbit Systemspic.twitter.com/6kUzF0VHby
Don’t worry, this fun and excitement isn’t only for Qatar. Boeing is preparing to build a “domestic variant” of the F-15QA, the F-15EX, as approved in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. According to Boeing, in January, the Air Force announced their intention to award a sole-source contract to Boeing for eight of the F-15EX, with future plans for as many as 144.
The F15EX. Image via Boeing
Boeing considers the F-15EX the cost-effective, ready solution. According to their website:
In support of the National Defense Strategy, the United States Air Force must purchase an additional 24 combat aircraft per year. F-15EX is the only way to rapidly and affordably meet the Air Force’s critical requirements.
Boeing’s F-15EX is the most cost-effective, ready, advanced solution to meet U.S. Air Force capacity requirements and add capability to the fleet. Driven by Boeing’s active production line, the next-generation jet enables pilots and mechanics to transition in a matter of days as opposed to years while delivering unmatched total life cycle costs.
The F-15EX leverages B+ in technology investments over the past decade to bring the U.S. Air Force the world’s most modern variant of the undefeated F-15. Complementing other aircraft, the F-15EX enhances the air combat capabilities of the fleet to ensure the U.S. remains ahead of current and emerging threats. With next-generation technologies to provide unrivaled capabilities in a broad spectrum of environments, Boeing’s F-15EX delivers more payload, capacity and range than any fighter in its class.
The U.S. Navy has suspended its search for nine missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain after looking in vain for more than 80 hours.
Despite help from other countries, the Navy was unable to find the nine sailors within a 2,100-square mile area. However, the Navy will continue to look for any sailors who may have been trapped inside the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, which collided with a Liberian merchant vessel Aug. 21 east of the Malacca Strait.
In the aftermath of the collision, divers recovered the body of another one of the sailors, Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, a 22-year-old from New Jersey.
Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Nathan Findley, 31, from Missouri
Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Abraham Lopez, 39, from Texas
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kevin Sayer Bushell, 26, from Maryland
Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob Daniel Drake, 21, from Ohio
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., 23, from Maryland
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Corey George Ingram, 28, from New York
(no official photo available)
Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, from Connecticut
Electronics Technician 3rd Class John Henry Hoagland III, 20, from Texas
Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Logan Stephen Palmer, 23, from Illinois
The Navy is still investigating the collision, and following the crash, the commander of the 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was dismissed Wednesday, a rare event. Notably, Aucoin was set to retire in just a few weeks.
Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer has subsequently assumed command.
An investigation is still underway into the incident, but a Navy official told CNN that the USS John S. McCain was hit by a steering failure and the backup steering system was not activated.
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In this age of smartphones and social media, we often get unprecedented access to events that we normally would have just read about in a paper long ago. Many of us have seen videos of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and countless other places. We see the perspective of our enemies as they strap on Go-Pros and launch attacks. We see camera footage of Special Forces carrying out operations. We see airstrikes from drones and watch enemy bodies get turned to hamburger meat by attack helicopters.
For older conflicts, however, we usually see sanitized footage released by the government or newsreels that were edited with sound effects added. But have you ever wondered what it sounded like to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima?
Well, now you can hear it for yourself. Audio from the actual Iwo Jima landings can be heard here.
In it, we hear two Marine Corps Correspondents give a ‘play by play’ as the Marines head toward the beach. The first person identified as one Sgt. Mawson of the 4th Marine Division goes first.
As gunfire sounds around him, Mawson is on board a landing craft en route to the beach. He sees Marines being tossed into the air from mortar and artillery fire and states the beach ‘seems to be aflame.’ As the landing craft clears the warships, he heads straight to the beach. As he gets closer, he can see a tank already aflame. When they are only a couple of hundred yards out, he can see Marines moving up and down the beach through wrecked vehicles. He makes reference to the abandoned Japanese navy ships that were left to corrode on the beach, a sign of the decimation the Japanese Imperial Navy experienced in early battles like Midway.
The second Marine is not known by name. However, his words are even more grave than the first correspondent as his audio conveys his arrival on the black sands of Iwo Jima.
He starts at the line of departure and about 2000 yards from shore. He states that the beach ‘looks to be practically on fire.’ In the fog of war, he reports that casualties in the first wave are light. We know now that the Japanese allowed the Marines on the island and opened up once most of the first waves were settled on the beach. It seems like this correspondent can see the Japanese attack, but the severity is not known to him yet. He tells us he sees dive bombers strafing enemy positions.
Then, upon fully seeing the absolute carnage on the beach, he has a very human moment. He talks about his wife and daughter back home. He wonders aloud if they are alright and then wishes that he would be able to go back home to them.
Many of us who have been overseas have had this moment when you have a firm vision of your own mortality and immediately think of your loved ones back home. Through his professional demeanor, it’s a human and heartbreaking moment.
As the craft gets closer, he observed machine gun fire coming down from Mt. Suribachi aimed at his craft, although for the moment, they are out of range.
The landing craft grounds on the beach, and the ramp goes down, and a machine gun goes off. You hear in the background, ‘what the hell was that?’ and wonder if some poor soul had a negligent discharge (although I am sure a few minutes later, no one cared).
As he wades ashore, he mentions that the water is so high that his pistol gets wet as he trudges ashore. He starts giving a matter of fact description of the beach and its make-up before coming back to what he is doing. The gunfire gets louder.
He yells ‘spread out!’ as he and his stick get closer to the beach. You can hear incoming fire around him as he very calmly explains his situation. He states so far that no one around him has been hit, and you can hear a dive bomber flying overhead.
But unfortunately, as we know now, Iwo was not to be an easy operation.
He sees his first casualty, a Marine who is being evacuated. He then sees other Marines being hit by enemy fire, and his voice starts to dampen from the gravity of the situation. About 100 feet from the beach, we hear him as he sees more casualties. He sees a Marine lying on his back with ‘his blood pouring into the water.’ He is very calm as there are fire and death all around him.
Upon coming ashore, he is surprised to see that the Marines are still on the beach. He sees that the first waves are bogged down from the fire and sand. This was exactly the plan of the Japanese commander, and from the sound of the recording, it was initially very successful at bogging down the Marines and inflicting heavy losses.
The next thing he says tells of a courage that all Marines know of and admire. He talks of corpsman walking up and down the beach, seemingly unaffected by the incoming fire, checking up and down to make sure everyone who needs it, is being treated. Gotta love those Docs!
The recording ends with the correspondent headed toward the first wave as more Marines come in the waves behind him.
As we know now, what was supposed to be an easy landing and week-long battle turned into one of the bloodiest battles in World War II. Over 6,000 Marines died bravely to take Iwo Jima.
If anything, these recordings document a small part of their heroic journeys and horrible ordeals.
The shrinking of the U.S. State Department and the sidelining of its diplomatic corps, the backbone of American foreign policy, were major themes during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first year at Foggy Bottom.
The State Department’s civilian workforce fell more than 6% between September 2016 and September 2017, which includes the first eight months of the Trump administration. The number of employees in administrative and legal positions fell 5.4%.
Within the foreign affairs occupation series, the number of employees fell 11.9%, from 2,580 in December 2016 to 2,273 in September 2017, according to Government Executive. Foreign affairs employees were more than 40% of the 836 civilian workers who left between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.
Highly experienced members of the State Department have been a disproportionate percentage of those departures. Between December 2016 and September 2017, 16.2% of employees with 25 or more years of experience left. The number of employees in the foreign-affairs occupation series with at least 25 years of experienced shrunk 13.1% over the same period.
The department’s foreign service ranks, which includes diplomats and support staff, fell 1.2% in Tillerson’s first year, but the number of foreign service officers — those responsible for political, diplomatic, and economic relations — fell by about 2%, with 166 leaving.
Tillerson — whose planned reorganization the State Department has been criticized by legislators — kept a hiring freeze in place for most of his first year on the job. He eased it at the end of December for eligible family members and announced the expansion of the Expanded Professional Associates Program, which provided bureaus with greater placement flexibility.
But the trickle of new employees entering the State Department doesn’t compensate for the steady flow of departures, according to former diplomats.
Amb. Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said in December 2017 that the Foreign Service’s “leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed.” When Obama left office, the State Department had five career ambassadors, but with the departure of Tom Shannon, a 34-year State Department veteran, earlier this month, just one remains.
“You’re throwing out the people at the top, so you’re losing expertise,” Ron Neumann, a retired 37-year State Department veteran, told Government Executive this month. “If you don’t bring in people at the bottom … you’re setting up a long-term problem.”
“Other countries are represented by people who have a deep background in the issue,” Neumann said, “and you’re like the high-school kid trying to pretend you’re in college.”
The atrophying of the State Department comes as China beefs up its own diplomatic corps, overhauling its Foreign Ministry to empower its diplomats, according to Bloomberg.
Chinese President Xi Jinping got the revamp underway in January 2017.
A reform committee led by Xi called on the Foreign Ministry to “forge a politically resolute, professionally exquisite, strictly disciplined foreign affairs corps,” and in October 2017, Xi appointed China’s top diplomat to the country’s powerful Politburo, making him the first former Foreign Ministry official in 20 years to reach that level.
The reforms will give Chinese ambassadors more control over their portfolios and strengthen the country’s diplomats as they manage multiple trade deals, supervise infrastructure projects, and oversee numerous foreign loans — all of which are elements of Xi’s efforts to exercise more clout abroad and become a more prominent player in international affairs.
“I can imagine these changes would be really good for the morale for the Chinese diplomats at the foreign ministry at a time when the morale of the diplomats in the U.S. foreign service is at an all-time low,” Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told Bloomberg.
Budget plans recently announced by the White House are likely to do little to improve the mood among those remaining at the State Department.
The budget would expand funding for the military but impose an $8.8 billion reduction for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the current and next fiscal years — the biggest reduction since the 1990s.
Lawmakers have a few weeks to find additional sources of funding, but the proposed cuts have already drawn rebukes from current and former members of the military, among others.
More than 1,200 veterans representing every branch of the military sent a letter to House and Senate leaders on February 12, saying that “strategic investments in the State Department and USAID will be essential if we are to solidify our hard-fought gains and prevent other bad actors from filling the void” around the world.
That letter came one day after 151 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals sent a letter to House and Senate leaders opposing cuts to the international affairs budget, to which the Trump administration proposed an almost 30% budget cut in 2017.
“We call on you to ensure our nation also has the civilian resources necessary to protect our national security, compete against our adversaries, and create opportunities around the world,” the letter says. “We must not undercut our nation’s ability to lead around the world in such turbulent times.”
A U.S. commander in Alaska has expressed concern about Russia’s recent military buildup in the Arctic, saying it threatens the historically peaceful region.
“What concerns me about Russia is not that they have icebreakers and not that 25 percent of their economy is based in the Arctic. It’s the offensive military capability that they are adding to their force that’s Arctic-capable,” Air Force Lieutenant General Ken Wilsbach told the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on May 25.
“If you really want to keep the Arctic a peaceful place where heretofore it has been, then why are you building offensive capabilities?” he asked. “My question is, are the Russians taking a page out of the Chinese playbook…whereby they declare an area is now Chinese sovereign territory [and] have overwhelming military force in that area?”
On the growing threat from North Korea, he said that while Pyongyang had been test-firing missiles that have an increasing capacity to reach parts of Alaska, the United States had “strong defensive capabilities” to deal with them.
Based on reporting by AP and the Fairbanks Daily News Miner