The Cable

Key Obama arms control official diagnosed with cancer

Ellen Tauscher, the under secretary of state for arms control and a leading administration figure implementing President Obama's agenda of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, informed her staff last week that she has been diagnosed with an early stage of cancer of the esophagus.

"I had not been feeling well for several weeks. Fortunately, instead of sending me home with some medicine, my doctors did test after test to figure out what was wrong," she wrote in a July 21 memo to all the members of her "T" bureau. "Nothing is certain, but the prognosis is good."

Tauscher, the former California congresswoman who has been leading the State Department's nonproliferation and arms-control efforts, has been working non-stop since her appointment last year, including several trips to Russia and Eastern Europe. She's been at the center of the administration's efforts to revamp plans for missile-defense deployment abroad and negotiate Obama's new strategic arms treaty with Russia.

A close friend of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she's been given credit for restaffing, reorganizing, and revamping the arms-control bureau at State, which Obama administration officials say was neglected during the George W. Bush administration.

Tauscher started an aggressive treatment regimenton July 19, with surgery expected this fall.  She'll continue on in her duties, albeit with a scaled-back travel schedule, with the goal being a full recovery by early next year.

Read her full memo after the jump.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It has been a joy to work with all of you during the past year that I have been with the Department of State.  Together, we have made real progress on President Obama's and Secretary Clinton's arms control and nonproliferation agenda.

I am writing to deliver some difficult news.  I have been diagnosed with an early stage of cancer of the esophagus.  I had not been feeling well for several weeks.  Fortunately, instead of sending me home with some medicine, my doctors did test after test to figure out what was wrong.  Nothing is certain, but the prognosis is good.

On Monday, my husband, our doctors, and I started an aggressive course of treatment.  For now, I feel fine although I realize that this will get worse before it gets better.  The treatments, including surgery, will take place during the next several months with the goal of a full recovery by early next year. 

There will be some tough times ahead.  But I intend to come in to work as much as I can, work from home when I can't, and curb my travel schedule.  This period will not be an easy one. 

While I welcome and appreciate your thoughts and prayers, what I need most is for you to continue your great work on behalf of our country.  I know that I can continue to count on you, on the highly capable and superb leadership of our T bureaus, and on my front office staff to ensure that our important efforts continue unchanged. 

Whether we have suffered ourselves or lent support to a family member, relative or friend who has had cancer, most of us have been touched by it.  It is an unsparing and equal opportunity illness.  As I begin this journey, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers - not just for me - but for my husband, my daughter, and my extended family as well. 

 

Sincerely,

Ellen

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Afghan war disclosures prompt major damage-control effort

Even before the release of tens of thousands of classified Afghanistan war documents Sunday, a clearly worried Obama administration had embarked on an aggressive campaign to reach out to domestic and international stakeholders in the hopes of mitigating the fallout.

Administration officials, alerted to the pending leak of reams of reports from the warzone by news organizations, launched a two-pronged, preemptive response: They started calling around to leaders of foreign governments who might be affected to warn them of the story and allay any concerns about U.S. government involvement in the leak, and started working Capitol Hill to limit any misinterpretation as congressmen reacted to the disclosures, which include reports accusing Pakistani intelligence operatives of links to anti-coalition attacks.

"Once we became aware of the existence of this story, we proceeded with several country notifications, as is the case when we are aware of major news stories," a senior administration official told The Cable. "These notifications included Afghanistan and Pakistan, at multiple levels, as well as Germany and the U.K. (given that the documents were leaked to the foreign news outlets Der Spiegel and the Guardian)."

"We've also been in touch with members and staff on the Hill over the last couple of days," the senior administration official said.

One particularly important call was between Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has at times tangled with his country's top spy agency, the powerful Inter Services Intelligence directorate, and Holbrooke himself said last week while in India that "The links between the ISI and the Taliban are a problem."

Other than Holbrooke, officials involved in the notifications included U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who happened to be in Pakistan and held a high-level meeting with Pakistani officials Saturday night.

After leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan, Mullen had the difficult task of assuring Afghan tribal leaders that the U.S. government was aware and dealing with the problem of Pakistani links to Afghan insurgents. "I've raised that issue. The Pakistani leadership knows it's a priority," he said Monday at a meeting at a U.S. military base outside Kandahar, according to Agence France Press. "Long-term pressure" on Islamabad, he said, would likely bear fruit.

Although some press reports cited anonymous Pakistani sources speculating that the Obama administration was behind the document dump, Pakistani civilian leaders contacted by the administration over the last couple of days appeared to accept that the U.S. government had no role in the leaks. The message to the Pakistanis was that the information was old, not reliable, and shouldn't derail ongoing and increasing cooperation between the two governments.

"The White House succeeded in calming our people," said one Pakistani source. "I think we've contained the damage on this one, at least on our end."

"Obviously we'll be watching closely to see how various countries and populations respond to the information that's here," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who added that the State Department believes Pakistan is committed "at the leadership level" to rooting out terrorists. According to Crowley, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was contacted directly. "We also gave a heads-up to India," he said.

Jones was also working the phones Sunday night and hosting meetings for foreign representatives at the White House Monday to make sure there was no ill will resulting from the revelations. Jones's statement released Sunday night praised recent Pakistani cooperation in fighting terrorism and included the line, "These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."

The administration's relationship with the ISI has apparently not been derailed by the Wikileaks disclosures. ISI chief Lt Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is expected to visit Washington soon, one of a series of meetings he's been having with U.S. officials.

On the Hill, offices contacted included those of Senate Foreign Relations heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard  Lugar, R-IN, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-MO, and others.

One source said that Skelton's statement, which heavily criticized the actions by Wikileaks and praised recent Pakistani cooperation using themes similar to Jones's statement, was coordinated with the administration. Skelton could not be reached for comment.

"It is critical that we not use outdated reports to paint a picture of the cooperation of Pakistan in our efforts in Afghanistan," Skelton said. "Since these reports were issued, Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban, including efforts that led to the capture of the highest-ranking member of the Taliban since the start of the war."

Other leading Democrats were more critical of Pakistan.

"Some of these documents reinforce a longstanding concern of mine about the supporting role of some Pakistani officials in the Afghan insurgency," read Levin's statement. "When Sen. Jack Reed and I visited Pakistan this month, we strongly urged the Pakistanis to take forceful action against militant networks using Pakistan as a base to attack Afghanistan and our troops."

The administration got some rare support Monday from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who condemned the leak in a statement. "The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security, Lieberman said.

The State Department said it had not decided whether one person, such as Private Bradley Manning, who already stands accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, was the source of the documents.

"We're trying to determine if this is related to that ongoing investigation or a new leak," Crowley said.