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Saturday, 16 November 2019

Larry C. Johnson: Understanding the Foreign Service Officer Nerd Behavior and Air of Pomposity

A group of lions is called a “pride.” A group of crows is called a “murder.” A group of geese is called a “gaggle.” So what do you call a group of Ambassadors? A pomposity.

That term was coined by Colonel Lang when the two of us were working on an exercise on Iran and there were three Ambassadors huddled in a corner scheming–brilliant.
There are two types of Ambassadors–political appointees and Foreign Service Officers who have made their way to the top of the Foreign Service mountain. The two fellows testifying at the opening of the House Impeachment inquiry–Kent and Taylor–are Foreign Service Officers. They are a strange lot. There are some exceptions who are normal people, such as Ambassador Morris (Buzz) Busby and Ambassador Anthony Quainton. I worked for Buzz and dealt with Ambassador Quainton on a variety of policy issues.
 
I conducted training for U.S. military Special Ops forces for several years in the aftermath of 9-11. My task was to teach them how to understand the culture of the Foreign Service Officers and offer tips on how to interact. In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. SpecOps personnel were deployed to U.S. Embassies around the world and were having some trouble interacting with the so-called diplomats.
To become a Foreign Service Officer you must take a written and an oral exam. If you pass these exams then you win the golden ticket granting you entrance into the FSO club. FSOs have convinced themselves that only the smartest, the brightest, the most able can pass this exam. If you have not taken the exam and passed it then you are by definition not a very smart person.
Many FSOs looked down their nose at these knuckle dragging gorillas masquerading as Special Operations forces at U.S. locations worldwide.  They assume they were barely literate. Imagine their shock when the FSOs discovered that a member of the elite U.S. Army CT unit or a member of the SEALS could actually speak a foreign language, had read some real literature and held an advanced college degree. Not making this up.
The Foreign Service contains many officers who take arrogance and prickishness to new heights. You make a fatal error if you believe that because they tend to be soft spoken and non-confrontational that they are not dangerous and devious. Au contraire. Many that rise in the Foreign Service have a knack for sticking a knife in the back of a perceived rival.

Let me give you a personal example. A female Ambassador who was a Deputy in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism had a blow up when I helped a Navy SEAL Commander, who was detailed to State, revamp a memo she had already approved because an important overseas asset deployed for responding to a international terrorist incident had been inadvertently left out of the memo. When my SEAL buddy went in to brief her on the change she started screaming at him, broke her lamp and threw a bottle of hand lotion at him. If she had been a man my friend would have physically retaliated. Instead, my SEAL buddy walked out of the office and recounted the incident to a Civil Service employee in the office. That employee happened to be the neighbor of Ambassador A. Peter Burleigh, who was in charge of S/CT during that time.
When Ambassador Burleigh learned of her outburst he called her to his office and read her the riot act. What did she do? She assumed I was the one (I was not) who had ratted on her to Ambassador Burleigh. She set out to destroy me. My boss at the time was a retired Marine Corps Colonel, Dominick “Dick” Gannon. What a gentleman. I counted him as a mentor and a second father. Hard as woodpecker lips and a man who lived by a code of honor.
Dick prepared my fitness report and submitted it to his supervisor, the crazy female FSO. She demanded he change it to trash me and he refused. So she waited. Dick went overseas on a diplomatic mission and the female Ambassador snuck upstairs to the 7th floor (i.e., the Secretary of State’s suite). She filed a complaint against Dick accusing him of failing to do the evaluation in a timely manner. Fortunately, the admin person she talked to, Joanne Graves, looked it over, saw that Dick had signed and informed the female FSO that the person who had failed to act in a timely manner was her. She was furious but beaten. 
Just another day in the life of a Pomposity.
From what I have seen of tomorrow’s witness, Marie Yovanovitch, an FSO, is the same kind of person I encountered in the Office of Counter Terrorism. Arrogant and aggrieved and convinced that she is so much smarter than the troglodytes who will be asking her questions.
I am not saying that all FSOs are like this. But a large number are. You will be seeing another one of these critters in Friday’s testimony.

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