Foggy Bottom Blues

I’m not going to write continuously about Wikileaks and politics on this blog so this will be my last piece for the moment. But I do have a few additional things to add here, as last night I realized I’m coming at this from a far different perspective than most of my readers, Romanian or not.

First you have to understand how much I hate talking about my past. I’ve done a lot of things in my relatively short life. And if you mention one of them, it makes it seem like it’s a constant motif in your life. For example, I once taught at a pre-school, where all the kids were 3 or 4 years old. I greatly enjoyed it and had a wonderful time. I also once worked at a fast-food restaurant, where I literally cooked French fries all day long. Yet I’d hate to be thought of as someone whose life revolves around wiping up drool or deep frying potatoes.

Nonetheless, I’ve been inside the building you see above, which is located on C Street in a neighborhood of Washington called Foggy Bottom. I assume it still has that ugly brushed metal sign out front. It’s the main headquarters of the State Department, known in most countries as the “Foreign Ministry” and in Romanian as the MAE.

I’ve known people who were full-time employees there. I’ve known interns there. And I’ve worked with and known people who belonged to related branches. I myself never did, nor did I ever work for the military (in any capacity) or any secret organization. I just have known (and worked with) a lot of people over the years.

Let’s focus on the State Department though, which is the source of all of these Wikileaks cables.

To begin with, you have the appointed positions. This means that the current American President and his cronies award positions inside the State Department, the highest-ranking of which is the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Other appointed positions include all ambassadors. No, there is no connection whatsoever between the American ambassador to country X (including Romania) and their innate skills or talents concerning that country. It is simply a reward, usually to people who are top donors or otherwise “big cheese” supporters of the President and his party.

The lower-ranking (but often equally powerful) positions go to career employees of the State Department. This is called the “Foreign Service”. To get hired in the Foreign Service, you must pass a lengthy (and hilariously incomplete) exam. You’re then required to do whatever you’re told to do. As a commenter noted, most of these Foreign Service employees are rotated on a regular basis and therefore know little to nothing about the country where they are serving.

It is these people who handle and process all the “normal” paperwork of granting visas, renewing/issuing passports, etc.

And last but not least are the spies. The United States has (officially) no less than sixteen intelligence agencies, the most well-known of which is the CIA. Just about every embassy has several CIA agents on its staff and there is a long, 60-year history of this. Why? Because all State Department employees (CIA agents or not) are subject to protections under the Vienna Convention. This means if they get caught breaking the law (or murdering musicians riding home in a taxi), they will not get punished, arrested or jailed. At most they’ll get expelled from the country.

Not all State Department employees are intelligence operatives (including CIA) and not all CIA operatives are State Department employees. But you can safely wager that at least a handful of the people working in each and every American embassy is an intelligence agent. I’m not going to get further in-depth on this but other people have.

Furthermore, inside the State Department (and its various consulates and embassies) are two other departments. One is a little-known intelligence agency called the INR, which frankly often does fairly good work. Another smaller group is known as the DSS, which doesn’t do too much work in Romania, but is an armed unit responsible for guarding State Department employees. These are often buttressed by a group of United States Marines.

And then there is a semi-independent branch of workers whose sole goal is to promote “American business interests”. These can be anything from working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to people working for USAID. I don’t want to discuss USAID in too much detail at the moment but essentially these projects combine strategic intelligence goals with economic “development”. I note that strangely enough, the USAID is a partial sponsor of CRJI, the group in Romania who somehow were granted access to all of the Romanian Wikileaks cables.

So there you have it – the embassy is run by an ambassador and several political toadies currently in favor with the sitting President (and his party). Their goal is obviously to push whatever is currently on the White House’s agenda.

Underneath them are a small phalanx of (American) professionals who do the day-to-day grunt work of processing paper and stamping things.

And thrown into the mix are a handful of business lobbyists, grant money dispensers and spies. The spies all have their various agendas, as do the business interest people, sometimes being one and the same. And of course there are various liaisons with similar people from international organizations, such as the IMF or World Bank, etc. I note that our dear old beloved Jeffrey Franks once was an intern at the American embassy in Costa Rica during the 80’s when it was the CIA headquarters for “Contras” operations.

Oh, I almost forgot one group, which is the locals who are hired to do just about everything in the embassy from guarding it to processing paperwork to picking up the trash. The last time I was in our majestic fortress of an embassy in Bucharest, literally every single person I spoke to from the guards outside to the guards inside to the person running the cash window (to pay for things) to the guy who renewed my passport were all Romanians. I know, because I spoke to them all in Romanian. The sole American I saw that day was a woman who was processing paperwork for a Romanian’s immigrant visa (to the United States).

I hope you get the larger picture here, which is that it’s not a very professional organization. The British Foreign Ministry, by contrast, is much different. There the ambassador actually learns the local language (albeit with a heavy British accent which makes me smile every time I hear it) and the staff are professionals. They tend to stay in-country for a longer period of time and actually know and understand the local scene.

The American diplomatic corps, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge of political cronies, spies, constantly revolving (American) employees, armed guards and a huge staff of local citizens. When there’s an election in America, most times the ambassador and a lot of the highest-ranking staff all depart and a new group is brought in, often with a new agenda. The promises made to local politicians often mean nothing to the new group.

For instance, I note that Romania has been promised for years that the United States will grant its citizens visa waivers if Romania does X, Y and Z. Sometimes this might be “join the coalition in 2003 to invade Iraq” or Afghanistan. Sometimes this might be “let us occupy a military base on your soil”. Sometimes this might be “let us operate CIA black sites on your territory”. Or sometimes this might be “buy our overpriced fighter jets” or “let us build a missile “shield”.

What can I say? Americans are wonderful at promising things and then not delivering. Romania has done literally everything America has asked, right down to sending a ship to support massacres in Libya, and still no visa waivers. Romania has let the FBI, CIA and DEA (and probably others) conduct investigations and make arrests on Romanian soil. Still no visa waiver.

So why do local politicians, especially in Romania, constantly head over for some “interlocutor” time with the American ambassador? Because of the Lucy van Pelt effect, I suppose. It is most definitely true that the American government, via its various agencies, organizations and influence, can direct one metric ton of money towards an individual country. But just like Charlie Brown, every time “Lucy” pulls away the football, they want to believe that the next time promises are made they will be kept.

I mean look at poor old Tariceanu. He was going over to the embassy non-stop, speaking his flawless English, and as soon as Basescu got suspended, the embassy was throwing Tariceanu under the bus. Folks, that’s how the U.S. government works. They sweet talk you and pat you on the back and give you cookies but as soon as the political winds shift to another quarter, they’ll trample you and forget you ever existed. Ask Moammar Khaddafi or Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein about it some time.

Now let’s get move on to some more cat photos eh? Much better :)

15 thoughts on “Foggy Bottom Blues

  1. Interesting article and altho i can’t comment on the american embassies and intelligence services i can tell you the reason why Romania kisses America’s a**…it’s because we need allies against Russia.

    For almost 2 centuries now the greatest threat to our nation has been the ruskies; we hold deep and long grudges against them and we’ll keep doing so until we’re sure they no longer represent any danger to us.Romanians and poles are the two nations in Europe who absolutely despise russians(others do to but not with a passion like us).

    Moldova is an open wound for us and will remain so for the foreseable future; some care about it, some don’t and some remain with a “neutral” opinion on the moldovan matter but romanians have a looooong memory and we remember who screwed us over in regards to our estranged brothers over the Prut river; we’re also extremely patient…it may take centuries, but we’ll stab you in the back eventually if you did something to us.

    We’ve been around for a very long time and altho we haven’t had our own country until recently we achieved that feat by scheaming,cheating and stabbing… going against empires(Austria-Hungary Empire,Russian Empire,Ottoman Empire) and great nations(Prussia,England,France,America);we’ve defeated all sorts of odds to get here and these ruskies don’t know what they’re doing when meddling in our affairs or that of Rep. of Moldova.

    We take pride in our language/culture and especially lineage which states without a doubt we’re daco-romans; the proof: we survived as an ethnic group surrounded by slavs and other etnicities.


  2. Romania was never promised visa waivers, there is a US law that lists the conditions a country has to fulfill to be in the program.
    Now what Romania was promised and did get it were two things: NATO membership & EU membership. What is negotiating now (and will not appear in the wikileaks of course is the status of Moldova).
    Since you are not from Romania, you tend to ignore the russian influence in the area. NATO is a military alliance, and the fact that Romania is in NATO will keep those russian tanks from rolling in (as they did in Georgia recently).
    You also tend to ignore the issue of Moldova, and the fight to take it out of the russian sphere. They actually had free elections there recently. You think that was because they were lucky? Moldova tends to mean a lot for a lot of Romanians, because in fact they are mostly Romanians living there.
    EU membership .. well I know you want the good old raggedy CFR trains but the improvement you saw in the country in the last few years were again not because Romania was lucky. Plus, Romanians are free to go find a living for themselves in Europe. You try living on a teacher’s wage in Bucharest .. you won’t even be able to pay rent.
    Your foreign policy vision is extremely limited. Where do you get your information about what is happening in Libya, Quadaffi’s press secretary? Why are you saying that we should have left him use his military against his own people? What chance did those people have without external support? You probably believe that the fact that USA and ussr nudged Romania against Ceausescu was a bad thing and they should have left the Romanian military kill all those people in Timisoara and Bucuresti??


    1. “Plus, Romanians are free to go find a living for themselves in Europe. ” <- dream on…'s not like this, you should try to do it before you speak ;)


      1. Well not totally free but is still much easier than before 2007 or say before the visa requirements were lifted. Compare the situation of somebody from Romania wanting to work in EU with somebody from Moldova, China, India, Brasil etc..
        @ Radu.. troll you shouldn’t be so proud that you don’t care about Romanians


    2. Dear KnowitallRomanian,

      Can you please spare us the ZOMG RUSSIA! rhetoric? McCarthy would be proud of you. Red conspiracies and constant terror; Hell yeah!.

      Moldova is not important for us. Moldova has never been important for us. Moldova will never be part of Romania. Basescu used it to gain votes in 2009 and (partially) costed us ascension to Schengen Treaty.

      “Romanians are free to leave if they don’t like it”. Well just as Lavinia said, leaving is not as easy as many dream it is. Also, this thinking got all the smart educated people out and left narrow minded bigots like yourself to run free.

      Vorbesti ca o trompeta portocalie; blogul asta era fix ultimul loc unde basismul putea sa-si faca simtita prezenta. Ai reusit tu, bravo!


    3. Compare the situation of somebody from Romania wanting to work in EU with somebody from Moldova, China, India, Brasil etc.. <- in the UK, we are still treated as somebody from China, India, Brasil etc…'s very hard to get work permits as romanians…..that's the reality. The funny thing is, that we have all the western european crap products, but almost no rights in europe. We are now free to visit and that's about it.


      1. – lots of EU countries don’t have any restrictions any more

        I don’t know the UK situation, but I seriously doubt it is exactly the same, a quick search gives: which is separate from “everybody else”.
        Plus, the restrictions should disappear in 2012, and even if UK is stricter, they have to by law disappear in 2014, 7 years after entering EU any Romanian can take any job anywhere in EU.


    4. again i tell you…..dream on, try it, experience it, and than you can tell me that you can do all that. And yes, they are going to keep the restrictions until 2014 or until they feel like it. ;) Wasn’t the Schengen thing posponed? and yes…it’s exactly the same as that little search gives. ;) Oh, and good luck on finding a job in another country in the west.


  3. Haha, somebody here prefers several smaller lightning bugs instead of a “barosan” one…
    In all likelihood, that’s how the world will look like in the future anyway, so it may not necessarily be a bad move.

    As for me, I’ve been living my Southern odyssey for six long years now, like the Soggy Bottom Boys ;)


  4. Heh, that brings back memories. I lived in Foggy Bottom for 5 years, 4 of them spent on F Street and 21st very close to the Dept of State, and what we amusingly called the Department of Interior… Design. :P I miss Washington <3


  5. Yeah, sort of. Technically it means “friend” but it’s used to mean someone who gets a favour, esp. a political one.


  6. I liked the article: concise and clear.
    Last time when I went to the American embassy in Bucharest, when my turn came, I wasn’t sure if the employee called my name or uttered some unknown words. They should learn at least how to pronounce the Romanian names, just to avoid confusions, if not for other reasons, or leave a Romanian to call people.
    One question: is “crony” a derogatory word? Thanks.


  7. Many Romanians (myself included) were not surprised by the cables. There’s nothing knew for us to learn from them mostly because we’ve been through this sort of thing a few centuries ago except the master whose shoe they were kissing was in Istanbul not DC. Not sure how much you know about the Phanariotes but it was a period of hilarious similarity.

    It’s annoying to see those worthless fvcks bend over and hand the US some lube while playing the “we’re awesome” card but it is to be expected.


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