Well, as true as memory lets it be, and subject to three caveats:
1) The names have been changed to protect me;
2) I had to fudge some details for brevity's sake; and,
3) I, unfortunately, had to omit a few other (interesting) details as I don't want to risk any accusation of compromising means and methods.
That said, it's true.
OK, here we go.
I had arrived at post to serve as DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission), but got there just as the Ambassador was moving on, without a new one yet confirmed by the Senate. That meant I would be chargé d'affaires, which as explained before means,
"almost Ambassador" but it does carry an extra ounce of prestige, and after taxes maybe another $400 a month.The departing Ambassador and I overlapped by a few days. On the last one, as we rode to the airport, he said, "Oh, on that vacant position as head of Econ, I had to take a guy known as the worst officer in the Foreign Service. I owed a favor to his boss." That was not a cheerful announcement to hear. I would have to deal with the "worst officer in the Foreign Service" (WOFS) for the next three or so years.
A couple of weeks later, WOFS landed, and began living up to his name. The day he arrived, we had a big reception at another embassy. He went, and immediately hit on a woman by asking whether she had any plans for "breakfast tomorrow." OK, admittedly he didn't know that this particular woman was my wife, but my ol' Sephardic blood temp started to rise. And no, my wife did not have breakfast with him, just in case any of the eight readers of this blog are wondering.
Not long after this auspicious start, I noticed that I rarely saw him in the building. His deputy usually came to the morning staff meetings, explaining that WOFS was making courtesy calls on this or that counterpart at another embassy, at some government ministry, or was with some other important economic actor. I bought that for a bit, but after that bit passed, began to get suspicious.
We had a crisis involving an industrial plant in which a major American corporation had a large stake; it was a reported chemical leak. Leftist groups and politicians sought to exploit the reports, and fan anti-American sentiment. I called WOFS's office to tell him to go check it out, and get us the real story, not just what the press was reporting. Nobody could find WOFS. His cellphone was off and he wasn't home. I sent his deputy to the "leak" site; he did a tremendous job of debunking the press reports, and we averted a PR disaster.
I was livid. Where was WOFS? I called the motor pool and asked if they had taken him somewhere. Yes, was the tentative reply. WOFS requested a vehicle early that morning, and was not back. Where had he gone? To a five star hotel. I sent somebody there to have him haled before the high court of a furious Chargé. He freely admitted going to the hotel, claiming service as a judge at a cooking competition. He could not explain the US interest in this event, and seemed remarkably unconcerned about his dereliction of duty.
Let me stop.
Firing somebody in the government is very, very, very, very, etc., difficult. In the Foreign Service, at least, you can declare somebody as having lost the confidence of the Ambassador/Charge and have him sent home, and let HQs deal with him. If you go that route, however, you better have it all very well documented to protect yourself from grievance procedures or even lawsuits. I opened a file on WOFS. The file got thick, quickly.
What little work WOFS did produce was pure garbage: poorly written, poorly sourced, and just generally way below the standards you expect in an experienced reporting officer. The file grew. I also began hearing rumblings of unhappiness among his section's staff, especially the female employees. Nobody, however, came forward with any solid examples of inappropriate conduct, so I had to bide my time.
One particular morning found our IT guys in a whirlwind of activity. The embassy's brand new unclassified computer system had come crashing down infested with viruses. It took a long and laborious clean up effort to get it up and running. I knew then even less about computers and the internet than now, and kept asking how this could have happened. There were no clear answers--at least none I understood. A few days later, again, our system hit the ground with a digital thud. I called in the IT guys, and told them this could not go on. I wanted a full-scale investigation into how our system was getting infected. Where did these viruses originate? Who was bringing them into that system?
You guessed it: WOFS was the source. The IT and embassy security gurus informed me that WOFS' account had a huge number of files stored, and that he had sent and received literally hundreds of emails in a very short time. They asked for permission to enter those files and retrieve the emails. I said, yes, do it. I could not understand what he would save or send, given how little work he produced. I requested the sign-in logs for entry into the chancery. WOFS regularly showed up at 0600 and apparently just burned up the internet. I called him in and asked why he came to work some two hours before we opened. He had some goofy answers about trying to catch up on his work, preparing reports, etc. The file grew some more.
Next day, the security officer came in with a mischievous glint in his eye. He had printed portions of WOFS' files and several emails. The files were packed with downloaded pornographic material, and--ahem--risqué correspondence. WOFS was exchanging email with dozens of women he had "met" via an adult dating site. In these missives, he portrayed himself as the Big Man at the embassy. Most of it was pathetic, but some was disturbing. In one set of correspondence, the "woman" at the other end kept asking about security procedures at the embassy. WOFS provided the info. That was it: this guy had to go.
I, again, called him to my office, and tore into him. I put before him the motor pool logs, and noted that he had taken more official car trips than any other employee; the drivers had admitted to the security officer that WOFS had them enter fake destinations. Rather than calling on foreign officials, or economic contacts, WOFS was visiting women in and around the capital. I informed him that he no longer would have access to the motor pool, the phones, or the computer system, nor would he have any duties in the section; that until I could get rid of him, he was to show up every day and sit in the cafeteria. If he didn't show up, the security officers had orders to bring him in. He took it all with remarkable passivity, making no effort to defend himself.
He, nevertheless, had one more little surprise.
The next day, two female employees came to see me. First one, then the other, slapped a condom (unused) on my desk along with a pornographic picture. I restrained myself from uttering any of the thousands of politically incorrect quips bubbling up in my brain. One of these employees said, "We found this stuff on our desk this morning. WOFS admitted putting it there as a joke after you yelled at him." They said they would contact the EEO division in Washington, arguing that the embassy had a hostile work environment for women. I asked them to let me call EEO first, and get advice on how to handle WOFS. It seemed that violating EEO strictures would be taken more seriously than endangering the security of the embassy . . . hey, bureaucracy in the age of progressivism.
The EEO folks proved (surprise!) worthless. They promised to send me a booklet on how to manage these situations as I wasn't doing it right. I exploded, "A booklet? You're going to pouch me a booklet? That will take three weeks to get here! I have a justifiable revolt on my hands from employees! They are not going to wait three weeks!" I slammed down the phone. I called a friend in the Director General's office. I explained the situation to her, and she immediately said, "Declare a loss of confidence, and we will back you up 100 percent. Get him out of there."
That's what we did. I drafted a loss of confidence memo, following the procedures to the letter, got the witnesses to sign, and called in WOFS. In the presence of witnesses, as required, I handed him the memo, let him read it, and told him he had the right to respond. He shrugged and declined. He, however, asked for permission to write a report on the local economy (!) before he got thrown out. Request denied. A few days later he was gone.
The Department did not know what to do with him. They put him in a language class, and tentatively assigned him a new job. I will never forget when the person who was to be his boss called. She said WOFS had me down as a reference and had said that I would vouch for him. I couldn't stop laughing. I did not vouch for him.
He bounced around in temporary assignments, and made some noises about filing a grievance against me because I had not specifically told him he could not download pornographic material on the embassy computer. I don't know what eventually happened to him, but was surprised a couple of years later when taking a mandatory "diversity for managers" class in DC. WOFS' case was one of the case studies, and listed as a success for, you guessed it, the EEO folks.
I was not amused.
Hey, you pay for this stuff.