William Brownfield doesn’t enjoy discussing those tough years in Venezuela

A senior-level diplomat was grateful there was no mention of his time as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

It’s a post he’d just as soon forget.

William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, began his remarks at a congressional hearing on U.S.-Mexico relations on Tuesday thanking the panel for not bringing up that time in his life.

“May I open by thanking you for not drawing attention during your introduction to my three years as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, a period and a performance which richly merits not being remembered for centuries and centuries to come,” he said to laughter.

Brownfield, a career Foreign Service officer who served there from 2004 to 2007, had a contentious relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who threatened to kick the U.S. diplomat out of the country for “provoking” his people. U.S. relations with Venezuela were strained, to say the least, and Chávez believed the George W. Bush administration was plotting to help overthrow him. Brownfield’s motorcade was even pelted with eggs, according to a 2007 report in the New York Times.

Later in the hearing, Brownfield, who doesn’t seem to mince words, was candid about the resurgence of heroin use in the United States.

“I know we’re not supposed to create headlines here . . . but I, in fact, do believe the United States of America is confronting a nationwide heroin crisis,” he said. “Over the last four years, the number of addicts and abusers of heroin in the United States of America has jumped between 75 and 80 percent. The amount of estimated pure heroin that is entering the United States has increased by nearly 100 percent.”

Pro tip: When an official begins a sentence acknowledging that what he’s about to say will create a headline, it’s guaranteed to do so. Exhibit A, from the Associated Press: “U.S. Official Warns of ‘Nationwide Heroin Crisis.’ ”

Next time, a joint committee

While we’re on the subject of illegal drugs — come on, man, FBI chief James Comey was just kidding around when he said he’d start hiring agents with a pot habit.

In the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Comey was quoted talking about his directive to add 2,000 jobs at the agency but noting the challenge when disqualifying candidates who smoke marijuana.

“A lot of the nation’s top computer programmers and hacking gurus are also fond of marijuana,” he said. “I have to hire a great workforce to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

At least one senator was not amused.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) asked Comey at an FBI oversight hearing Wednesday why he was making light of marijuana use.

“Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use? And that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?” Sessions asked hotly.

Comey said he was trying to inject some humor into the serious subject. “I am determined not to lose my sense of humor,” he said.

“I waxed philosophic and funny to say, look, one of our challenges that we face is getting a good workforce at the same time when young people’s attitudes about marijuana and our states’ attitudes about marijuana are leading more and more of them to try it,” Comey said. “I am absolutely dead set against using marijuana. I don’t want young people to use marijuana. It’s against the law. We have a three-year ban on marijuana. I did not say that I’m going to change that ban. I said I have to grapple with the change in my workforce.”

In 2007, the FBI loosened its drug rules, allowing people to work for the agency if they’d been marijuana-free for three years.

Of course, Comey is right that attitudes on marijuana are changing. A majority of millennials think the drug should be legal, and even older generations’ support for it is growing. Still, we have to imagine that J. Edgar Hoover is spinning in his grave.

Another tourist attraction

The State Department awarded a $25 million contract this month to begin building a museum devoted entirely to celebrating U.S. diplomacy. The privately funded institution will be constructed as a new public entrance to the Foggy Bottom headquarters.

In January 2013, at a ceremonial launch of the Diplomacy Center, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extolled the benefits of such a museum. (We mined the remarks for hints about 2016, but there were none to be found.)

“They can even poke around an exhibit called ‘Inside the Secretary’s Day,’ Clinton said. “And, fair warning, it’s not all that glamorous, but it’ll give you an idea of what Jim [Baker] and I and our other colleagues have done, and to learn for themselves how challenging, valuable and rewarding diplomacy can be.”

From a perusal around the center’s Web site, it appears the center will feature some pretty cool artifacts. (If you’re a Loop fan, we trust you have some passing interest in the goings-on in the world of diplomats.)

Some Loop favorites include Russian nesting dolls from 1991-1992, featuring the cartoon face of U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss; a Chinese table-tennis paddle given to former secretary of state Henry Kissinger in 2007 — a nod to the “ping pong diplomacy” with China in the early 1970s; and a news-conference transcript from then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s “goodwill tour” of Venezuela.

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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