The Cable

The Cable restores Rachel Maddow to State Department TVs

When State Department employees tuned in Thursday to watch President Obama's U.N. speech, a few of them noticed something amiss. The internal channel that broadcasts MSNBC inside the State Department's Foggy Bottom complex was, for some reason, tuned to FOX News!

"I wanted to watch Obama's speech on MSNBC but I couldn't find it. I still can't find it," one civil servant complained to The Cable Friday morning, saying that many in the building were "hoping to catch a few minutes of the president's speech to the U.N. without post-snark analysis from Fox."

What seemed even more odd was that FOX News was already being broadcast on another channel on the State Department's television system, meaning that there were two FOX broadcasts and no MSNBC to be found. Employees could watch two C-Spans, three CNNs, and three Arabic language stations including Al-Jazeera -- but not Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann.

Your humble Cable guy decided to dig into the situation and find out the truth. After some initial calls to the technical staff and an e-mail to the State Department's public affairs shop Friday afternoon, Channel 11, the station in question, went dead.

About an hour later, MSNBC was restored to Channel 11. State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded to our request with an explanation.

Apparently, there were various interruptions in service by the State Department's cable provider, Capital Connections, on Thursday. The State Department's technical services department worked to correct the cable feeds for some time before they realized the problem lay with the provider. Capital Connections had thought they appropriately restored service, but instead accidentally had created two channels of Fox News. 

So to all you State Department employees who like MSNBC, we're happy to announce your choices for news at work are now again, um, fair and balanced. Enjoy!

The Cable

Foreign Relations Committee approves new U.K. and Australia defense pacts

After some behind the scenes wrangling, the Obama administration and Congress agreed this week on terms for new defense trade agreements that will allow freer movement of military goods with two of its top allies.

The Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties, which were signed with the British and Australian governments, were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 21 and now must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. Accompanying implementation legislation must also  passed by both the Senate and then the House.

"This bipartisan vote comes after three years of negotiations and thorough examination. It is a critical step toward enhancing our cooperative efforts to combat the mutual threats we face," committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. "These treaties help make cooperation between the United States and two of its closest allies more streamlined, efficient, and effective by removing unnecessary bureaucratic delays."

Basically, the treaties will remove the need for the British and Australian governments, and a select group of companies from those countries, to apply for arms export control licenses when buying or selling military items for joint projects they are working on with the United States. This will primarily affect the allies' cooperation in Afghanistan, but it could also have implications for a host of other programs, including missile defense. Nuclear technology and other highly sensitive technologies are not included in the agreements.

Though the vote was unanimous and the agreements enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, it still took three years to get from the initial signing of the agreements to this point. The Bush administration signed the treaties in 2007, after failing in several attempts, dating back to 2003, to push through legislation permitting "executive agreements," which would not have required Congressional advice and consent.

Congress insisted on maintaining its ability to oversee and monitor these agreements, which are the first of their kind, besides Canada's country-specific exemption. Lawmakers held hearings in 2008 and 2009 as part an effort to make sure Congress could ensure the agreements were properly enforced and that violations would be punished.

"Senator Lugar and I crafted these resolutions, and the accompanying implementing legislation, to ensure that our law enforcement officials will have the tools they need to catch and prosecute anyone who might try to abuse the treaty regimes," Kerry said. "These measures will also fully preserve long-standing Congressional prerogatives in the oversight of military assistance and cooperation."

Administration sources said that in the home stretch leading up to the committee vote, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher played a large role in ironing out differences, not only between the administration and Congress, but also between the State Department and the Justice Department.

No full Senate vote has yet been scheduled.