Saturday, August 27, 2011

The U.S. can save money by selling off valuable embassy property

by Wayne Madsen



The Obama administration, working hand-in-glove with the Republicans in Congress, wants to balance the budget and trim the deficit on the backs of the working poor and middle classes, pensioners, the disabled, and military veterans. The first thing the United States can do is start putting some cash back into the U.S. Treasury's general fund by selling off some prime real estate in foreign capitals currently occupied by grandiose U.S. embassies, buildings that now serve no useful purpose other than demonstrate that the United States is a security bully. The U.S. embassy here in Jakarta is ringed by walls and barbed wire, hardly a friendly sight.

In days past, embassies were showcases for the host country nationals who were invited to read books and magazines and watch films in libraries run by the U.S. Information Agency. Access to the host nationals was a propaganda effort but there was at least a reason to showcase one's embassy in what amounted to a permanent World's Fair pavilion. For the host nation's VIPs, the embassies were gathering places for diplomatic receptions, usually held to honor U.S. Independence Day and other milestone events like the moon landing in 1969.

Today, U.S. embassies around the world, located near the centers of political power, are nothing more than security and intelligence bivouacs housing CIA, National Security Agency, State Department Diplomatic Security, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Department, Pentagon, and other activities that have little to do with showcasing America, unless the goal is to show the world that America is now a military and police state, one that people, particularly those in majority Muslim nations like Indonesia, would be wise to avoid.

New U.S. embassies constructed around the world, with security as a primary objective, evoke the architectural splendor of the building designs of Albert Speer and Joseph Stalin.

However, the Cold War is long over and the days when the United States played the game of shouting, "look over here, my embassy is bigger than that of the Soviet Union and Red China!" are at an end. It is high time that the U.S. start to sell off its embassy land in capitals like Jakarta where real estate prices are skyrocketing. The U.S. embassy at Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan in Jakarta, sits close to the seats of power in Jakarta and, if sold, could fetch hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no reason for the U.S. to occupy such a large property in the era of the Internet and when it is obvious that based on the barbed wire, walls, and security personnel surrounding it, the U.S. embassy must be some sort of magnet for an attack. Unless, of course, the United States needs such a large embassy to carry out non-diplomatic work, i.e., espionage. One way for the United States to start clipping away at the bloated U.S. intelligence and military budget is to sell off the embassy property and force the American spies into rental space, such as in the well-guarded and secure Mandiri Bank building just down the street. When the spy agencies are forced to burden the cost for their own activities, it won't take long for them to scale back their own presence in various capitals and other cities where they leech off of U.S. consulates and other diplomatic missions.

The United States has already established "virtual embassies" and "virtual consulates," called "virtual presence posts," which exist only on the Internet, in locations like Male, Maldives; Bangalore, India; Mombasa, Kenya; Cardiff, Wales; Zanzibar; Moroni, Comoros; Mogadishu, Somalia; Victoria, Seychelles; Iqaluit, Nunavut; Whitehorse, Yukon; and Nuuk, Greenland. There is no reason why other locations around the world cannot be similarly "virtualized" to save the American taxpayers money.



Selling off embassy acreage like the one the US embassy occupies in central Jakarta would force the State Department into the same austerity being imposed on retirees, the disabled, military veterans, and students in the United States while, at the same, time putting much-needed revenue back into the U.S. Treasury.

Of course, the U.S. Foreign Service and their intelligence and Marine Corps detachment pals will be loathe to give up all their perks they now enjoy from operating behind those secure embassy walls: duty free shopping in the embassy stores, cheap booze in the embassy club, access to embassy staff vehicles for personal use, etc. However, there is no reason that these personnel should not, like the diplomats of many other countries, work from rented office space in downtown capitals, use local taxis for their personal affairs, buy from local shops and supermarkets, and buy their booze, if legal, from local bars and restaurants. If alcohol is not legal in the cities where they assigned, the American diplomats and spies will just have to behave themselves and comply with local laws and traditions. If we require U.S. military personnel to risk their lives and comply with local laws in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, why should U.S. diplomats and spies be any different? If they don't want the risks involved, they should find other lines of work.

Another benefit of selling off large embassy parcels of land would be the reduction in force of the local national embassy staff, personnel who range from cooks, gardeners, and janitors to visa office personnel and secretaries. In many U.S. embassies, the third generation of some families continue to carry out the same duties -- with all the fraud associated with the nepotism constantly at play, including the outsourcing of embassy contracts for ********** from U.S. visa applications to embassy catering events.

In Asia, U.S. embassies and missions sit on valuable property in Tokyo, Bangkok, Bandar Seri Begawan, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Singapore, Taipei, and Manila, cities with rising real estate values. The sale of the embassy property in Asia alone could provide billions in much-needed revenue to the Treasury. Add to the Asian property, expensive embassy and mission property in London -- where the United States is building a virtual palace on the shore of the Thames River -- Paris, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Ottawa, Mexico City, New Delhi, Valletta, New York City (U.S. Mission to the UN), Helsinki, Yerevan, Ankara, Lisbon, Podgorica, Dublin, Montreal, Bogota, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Brussels, The Hague, and other cities, and the amount of revenue that could be generated could off-set cuts in social programs to the neediest of Americans.

The sale of unneeded embassy space will force the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to ante up for rental space in normal office buildings or cut their overseas staffs.

If Americans are being told that cuts must be made to Social Security, veterans' benefits, pensions, Medicare, and Medicaid, let the most comfortable Americans, diplomats and spies who have enjoyed duty free shopping, diplomatic perks, cost-of-living allowances, and free local transportation to also feel the pinch.

When countries like Greece, France, Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland see the U.S. take the lead by shedding valuable diplomatic property, they may follow our lead in order to provide their own squeezed tax payers some relief.

After the sale of embassy property, the United States can begin off-loading military installation property in places like Japan and South Korea, as well as Germany, Italy, Spain, and Puerto Rico. As the late Republican Senator Everett Dirksen reputedly once said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

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