USAGM or US Agency for Global Mayhem: Cut, Run and Lost Credibility
By The Federalist
“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his(her) level of incompetence.”
Laurence J. Peter, Raymond Hull
“The Peter Principle,” William Morrow and Company, Inc., February 1969
Congratulations are in order for the leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and the Voice of America (VOA). They have reached the pinnacle of incompetency as U.S. government officials and managers.
When it comes to the events unfolding in Afghanistan, they take the first prize among major Western international broadcasters, private and public.
Voice of America broadcasters and journalists working for other USAGM media outlets are in danger as a result.
On a larger scale, this is far worse than anything seen in previous USAGM and VOA debacles: a senior aide to a former USAGM CEO advising him on strategy to counter terrorism, including terrorism in Afghanistan, going to prison for stealing money from the agency; more than a dozen VOA journalists being fired in 2018 for allegedly taking bribes from a foreign politician; independent Russian journalists being outraged that the VOA Russian Service helps Russian President Vladimir Putin with a misleading report. The list is much longer and also includes a 2012 fake interview with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny whom Putin put recently in prison.
The current leaders at USAGM and VOA were not directly involved in these scandals, but they happened under their watch, which means that when they previously occupied senior positions, although then not yet the most senior ones, they failed to anticipate and to prevent some of these serious problems. This does not mean that they were bad people with bad intentions, but effective leadership requires more than just a desire to do good. It requires competence and ability to make the right decisions at the right time for the safety and success of the personnel and the organization. One of the things they failed to do is to conduct proper security screenings for new employees and contractors. As a result of this failure, their authority to process security clearances was withdrawn by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The current debacle is much worse because the lack of planning and bad decisions in this situation can have tragic consequences for VOA and USAGM employees as well as for the people of Afghanistan, especially women and girls.
Senior USAGM and VOA failed to plan and to take decisive actions early enough to protect their personnel in Afghanistan. They should have ordered and carried out an evacuation weeks ago. As former or current journalists, they should have known what was going to happen.
To cite the end of the Vietnam War, no one realistically expected the North Vietnamese to attack the US homeland. In Afghanistan, the terrorist attack of 2001 against the World Trade Center in New York City was developed and directed from Taliban-controlled territory as part of an international Islamic terrorist network. And it was the second such attack against the World Trade Center by the same terrorist network, Al-Qaeda, though with less success than the latter attack.
And there is more:
• There are approximately 80-THOUSAND Afghans, plus their dependents, who worked for the US/Coalition forces in Afghanistan most of whom are trapped there.
• There are reports of hundreds of American citizens being trapped inside Taliban-controlled territory raising the specter of these individuals either being killed outright or held as hostage.
• For the general Afghan population, it marks the return of a draconian regime that metes out severe punishments including summary executions, imposes severe restrictions on women, on Western-themed education and other repressive measures.
• By capturing the Bagram Air Base and other sensitive military and civilian installations, the Taliban have a windfall of American military equipment. In addition, they are likely to seize American computers with the potential of obtaining strategic information on any numbers of programs being run by the military or civilian agencies of the US Government and related Coalition forces.
It is highly unlikely that US military and intelligence assets, with satellite and other technical resources, were unaware of what was happening on the ground.
The Biden administration, in its seemingly dreamlike state, was “stunned” by the lightning success of the Taliban in overrunning the country. It is clear that the administration was woefully unprepared and had no apparent contingency plan in place to deal with an ascending Taliban acting with speed and effectiveness.
USAGM and VOA officials selected or promoted in January 2021 with the approval of the Biden transition team and the White House, were even less prepared. They had no contingency plan, or if they had one, it called for keeping VOA and other USAGM employees in Afghanistan and waiting to see what happens.
One can agree or disagree with the Trump-Biden decision to pull out of Afghanistan, but the current administration was responsible for having a withdrawal contingency plan. Biden defenders are quick to lay blame for not having such a plan anywhere other than where it belongs which is squarely on Biden himself and his advisers. It is inconceivable that intelligence agencies were significantly oblivious to developments on the ground.
Repercussions from this debacle are likely to be felt for years: with a safe haven for Islamic extremists reestablished and the potential for future terrorist attacks against the domestic US homeland.
The Vietnam catastrophe dominated US politics for years. This disaster in Afghanistan will likely do the same.
Biden says he stands by his decision regarding US withdrawal from Afghanistan. That’s called “cognitive rigidity:” refusing to accept responsibility for the lack of preparation for implementing the withdrawal that has resulted in an unmitigated, repercussive disaster.
It is reckless and irresponsible with the lives of people at home and abroad and US reputation as a strong, competent and reliable ally.
And not to be left out of the picture…
You can rely on officials of the US Agency for Global Media to make their own profoundly hollow pronouncements regarding the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
From Kelu Chao, the acting CEO of the agency:
“As we watch events unfold in Afghanistan today, we do so not only as journalists but as family members…
“Today we are doing everything we can to keep our local VOA, RFE/RL, and TSI personnel safe. My security team and senior staff have been working around the clock with the U.S. Department of State and other federal partners to get our staff to safety. Reset assured; we will do everything in our power to protect them.
“…I hope you can feel the support and respect that your USAGM family has for you.
“…we will not back down in our mission to inform, engage and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.”
The obvious question is: who writes this?
And the next obvious question is: who is foolish enough to believe it?
This whole “family” notion is rubbish. The people working for the agency should be treated as professionals who are at the same time broadcasters and US government employees and contractors.
Let’s make it clear, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is largely under the control of the Taliban. That means “doing everything we can to keep our local VOA, RFE/RL, and TSI personnel safe” is largely ineffective. They should have been out of there days if not weeks earlier.
These people on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building are clueless. More likely than not they have not squared off with the Taliban or any other terrorist group. They are individuals making ludicrous, naïve pronouncements.
Blanket statements have no impact or influence on the Taliban. They can choose – somewhat arbitrarily – how they want to treat journalists perhaps largely based on what organizations – or governments – they represent.
And let’s not forget the pandering officials of USAGM do to sell themselves as an “independent news organization.” These officials are responsible for the lives and safety of US government employees and US government contractors. To claim that the Voice of America in particular is a completely independent organization with the US government having no control over it and no responsibility for its employees to any greater degree than for any privately-employed American journalist is a lie. And more than likely the Taliban knows that it is a lie. The agency has already had one of its staff killed in Afghanistan.
The naivety of these people – which is actually gross incompetence – is appalling.
And last but not least,
“…we will not back down in our mission to inform, engage and connect Afghans in support of freedom and democracy.”
Well, good for USAGM officials, because that means the agency is wedded to being targeted.
All the people in Afghanistan need to know is who is in charge in their country, what they are doing more than what they are saying, especially saying to Western media or to local journalists who fear for their lives, and what they are capable of doing.
Beyond that, inform them of what? To do what? To remotely suggest bucking the Islamic state that has been reestablished in Afghanistan is suicide.
This is ludicrous.
Sharia law is being reestablished. Negative consequences abound for Afghan women and children in particular, while the Voice of America is messaging for the Taliban with headlines such as ““Taliban Vow to Respect Women’s Rights ‘Within Islamic Law’.” The Associated Press (AP) headline for the report from Afghanistan on the same topic and the AP report itself, although far from perfect, were more in line with the VOA Charter, which is US government law applying only to the Voice of America and no other US media, than the VOA report. The AP headline was: “Taliban vow to respect women, despite history of oppression.” AP also dismissed these promises in the lead sentence as Taliban propaganda: “The Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them and ensure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists as part of a publicity blitz aimed at reassuring world powers and a fearful population.”
The VOA report consisted largely of repeating the Taliban’s message.
Here are some examples from the VOA News report:
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, while addressing a news conference in Kabul in his first public appearance, said women “will be given all their rights within Sharia “the Islamic laws.” Mujahid also said if women work in line with Sharia they can work freely in media.
“About women, we have announced already that they can have access to work and education by observing hijab. Today, you may have seen on (Afghan) TV stations women wearing hijab and doing their job,” he said.
Female news anchors broadcast news on Afghan mainstream television stations without interruption but covering their heads with a cloth or hijab.
Shaheen said the Taliban announced Tuesday a “general amnesty” for all, including government officials, and urged them to return to work.
And there was more happy and wishful thinking VOA Taliban news that could have deadly consequences for those who might make decisions based on such news because it came from the Voice of America:
In Kabul, a so-called Taliban complaint commission has been swiftly set up and officials there have been urging residents to reach out the commission with any complaints of harassment or violence so they can be addressed.
Taliban officials have also been visiting government offices and hospitals to assure staff there, women, not to worry and continue performing their duties as usual.
What did the USAGM and VOA leadership think VOA reporters would report from Afghanistan and how they would report when they left them there?
When the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) created this as the agency’s core mission statement, they doomed the agency to fail. This is an objective, and in context almost a sole objective. It is radically different from the VOA Charter which intelligently avoided any connection to a specific outcome. This BBG mission statement is the agency’s own contribution to the failure of US involvement in Afghanistan.
In short, USAGM has virtually no credibility when it comes to the notion of supporting freedom and democracy. All detractors need to do is point to Afghanistan.
Here’s the task at hand:
• The accelerated evacuation of upwards of 80-THOUSAND Afghans (and their dependents) who worked for the US in Afghanistan.
• The location of hundreds if not thousands of US nationals trapped inside Afghanistan and outside the perimeter around the Afghan international airport.
• Evacuation of Coalition forces inside Afghanistan if any are still on the ground.
You can be assured that the Taliban are not remotely afraid of any US official: from Biden on down to the officials and managers inside the Cohen Building: Kelu Chao, Brian Conniff, Yolanda Lopez and John Lippman.
And others who choose to pontificate Pollyanna statements that are completely detached from reality.
The worst of this debacle is far from over. Beyond the impact upon USAGM personnel who are trapped under Taliban control because these officials failed to act, but also the tons of sophisticated US military arms and whatever intelligence information the Taliban and others can glean from any US computers left behind.
And not to forget the reestablishment of a safe haven for Islamic terrorists to plot their next 9/11 type attack against the US homeland or US interests abroad.
The biggest failure of all is that of US Government officials, from both political parties, trying for decades to project our values upon others with great hubris. Seeing others as they are and not how one wishes them to be needs to be the new paradigm in US foreign policy particularly when dealing with deadly adversaries.
Perhaps following right behind is the pathetic attempt by US officials to control the narrative and in effect being less than honest about everything surrounding this debacle.
The notion of doing everything in their power to protect USAGM personnel is part of this disingenuous narrative. We already said that USAGM and VOA executives should have pulled out US government employees from Afghanistan weeks ago, as well as all contractors who could and wanted to leave.
There were a number of graphic images seen repeatedly on US media. One that might not be fully appreciated is that of Biden’s hasty exit after delivering his address and his cut and run to Marine One to ferry him back into seclusion at Camp David. That speaks volumes to US adversaries: a weak US president, perhaps the worst in US history given the magnitude of this catastrophe.
This wasn’t Biden’s finest hour. He has none. He has two significant humanitarian and national security crises as paramount consequences of his administration: creating a porous situation on the US southern border and the collapse of America’s reputation as a competent military power. But the claims of US Agency for Global Media officials who failed to develop a contingency plan and agreed to exposing Voice of America and other USAGM personnel in Afghanistan to a deadly danger is the penultimate demonstration of their reaching the pinnacle of their incompetence.