Tales from the Trail

The complicated question of Haiti’s orphans

HAITIThe devastation caused by Haiti’s earthquake has extended to some of its youngest and most powerless victims: orphans awaiting clearance to join adoptive families in the United States.

The U.S. government has already said it will allow orphaned children from Haiti to come to the United States temporarily for needed medical treatment, and on Wednesday expanded its effort.

Now three departments — State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services — say they’ll join together to deal with what is a complicated question, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“It is something that needs to be handled very carefully, because there are many issues involved in terms of making sure that … children that come to us are indeed orphans, until all the search and rescue is done, or other families are located,” Napolitano told a Senate hearing.

She was responding to a direct plea for help from Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Tester said five of his constituents “have completed all the paperwork to get the children from Haiti … and yet, they’re being held up.”

FBI gives Osama bin Laden shave and a haircut

UPDATE: After the aged Osama bin Laden photos were posted on U.S. government websites, a Spanish politician said his photograph was used to compose one of the images and he was considering taking legal action. Read about the latest twist here.

Everyone gets older, even the most wanted terrorism suspect.

BINLADEN/So more than 8 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI has used digital forensic techniques to figure out what al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden might look like now.

In one new picture, bin Laden has a closely-cropped beard and short, stylish grey hair — a far cry from the photo that has been on the most wanted terrorism website of a man with a long, bushy, dark beard.

Smart power meets smart phones

The State Department is accelerating its push into the Internet, hoping to use web sites, blogs and mobile phones to deliver the U.S. message around the world.

The State Department itself unveiled a new-look web site on Thursday, including a video clip greeting from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and one-click “share” options to deliver the message over Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

CANADA/“No one person or country has a monopoly on good ideas. So I hope this website will be a forum for learning, discussion and collaboration,” Clinton said in the clip.

Off hours, Diplomat families teach swimming in Baghdad, Battle of the Bulge

If you wondered what U.S. diplomats and their families do in their spare time in the exotic, less exotic and sometimes really difficult places where they live, here’s a partial answer.

They volunteer in their communities.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented awards Tuesday recognizing half a dozen American foreign service workers or their family members for outstanding volunteer work abroad.

Clinton said the award recognized those who “have furthered our nation’s diplomacy and development efforts.”

Ghosts of Christmas past haunt State Department

Ghosts of Christmas past are hovering in the halls of Foggy Bottom this week.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was among those who materialized at the State Department on Monday for the unveiling of the official portrait of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a swank affair that also drew former German and Russian foreign ministers, former network anchors and a former White House chief of staff (not to mention a former First Lady in the person of current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). USA/

On Tuesday, it was time for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now reincarnated as the special envoy of the “Quartet on the Middle East” – the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.

“It’s a pleasure to be back here in the State Department, I’d like to thank Secretary Clinton for welcoming me,” Blair told reporters before starting discussions with Clinton.

Powell’s official portrait as secretary of state unveiled

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the official portrait of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday, noting there were few Americans as admired and celebrated.

“There’s an elementary school named after him in Virginia, there’s a couple more named after him in Texas,” Clinton told a crowd in the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Room.

“A middle school in Illinois. A street in Gelnhausen, Germany, where Second Lieutenant Colin Powell reported for duty 50 years ago,” she said.

Obama bow “sign of respect” for Japan Emperor

President Obama has bowed his way into controversy yet again.

Pictures of the U.S. president bowing deeply to Japanese Emperor Akihito during a state visit to Japan have incensed some commentators, who say the U.S. head of state should not lower his head before foreign crowned heads. OBAMA-JAPAN/

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, hit with questions about the bow at a regular news briefing, appeared stumped.

“I saw I’m sure for what it was intended, which is a sign of respect to the emperor. But I don’t have anything from the State Department on it,” Kelly told a news briefing.

Another Iran mystery, foreign minister visits D.C.

A visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Washington, D.C., on the eve of the big talks in Geneva has our antennae twitching.

YEMEN/The State Department says Mottaki was just in town to inspect Iran’s unofficial diplomatic office at the Pakistani Embassy and nothing more (since the severing of diplomatic ties, Iran does not have an embassy in Washington).

Mottaki was apparently not in town for any back channel meetings with U.S. officials in D.C. ahead of talks in Geneva on Thursday between Iran and the United States and other powers.

Group accuses U.S. Kabul embassy guards of misconduct

Nearly naked, drunken guys dancing around a bonfire and engaging in lewd conduct. And there are pictures and videos. No it’s not a frat party gone wild.  It’s downtime for some private security contractors hired to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul,  according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight.

The watchdog group says the alleged misbehavior by the guards working for ArmorGroup North America — along with serious under-staffing — has jeopardized security at the embassy amid rising violence in the Afghan capital.

The Project sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a lengthy letter documenting complaints about the guards. The group also sent pictures and videos backing its allegations.

U.S.: Chavez comments par for the course

He’s driven Exxon out of his country and suggested former U.S. President George W. Bush was the devil incarnate.

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez really teed off the State Department with his latest outrage — calling golf a bourgeois sport.

“My position, independent of what anyone else thinks, is that it’s a bourgeois sport,” the baseball-loving Chavez told his weekly television audience in July.