After Wuzhen, Should ICANN President & CEO Fadi Chehade Be Fired?

UPDATE 22 Jan 2016: Fadi "bags" another one "on ICANN's dime" to add to his "Portfolio"

UPDATE 20 Jan 2016: What To Do With ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade? ICANN Board Chair Knows

UPDATE 2 Jan 2016 from the ICANN CCWG-Accountability public mail list: Follow-up from the Word [sic] Internet Conference [World Internet Conference (WIC)] in China: ".... Xi is not Mao, so all can make their own judgment‎ on the current Chinese regime. But, as Prof. Mueller has written, WIC is undeniably a ‎CCP [Chinese Communist Party] project to challenge the prevailing MS IG [Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance] model established by US and other liberal democracies. By passively accepting the "incident" ICANN's Board has implicitly associated the organization [ICANN] with WIC. This is not some post-departure personal engagement by the CEO. Who thinks he would be Co-Chair if he was not the CEO and supplied WIC with a certain degree of cover? And the Advisory Committee has already met. Maybe associating ICANN with a CCP multilateral project before US Congress has removed the freeze on the IANA transition not the best idea? On other hand, not having transition completed might be viewed as a positive development by CCP.‎ The Chinese play Go, not Chess." (emphasis and link added)

UPDATE: ICANN President & CEO Fadi Chehade kept the ICANN Board "in the dark" about the "shenanigans" he had planned for Wuzhen:

Q: "... it appears that the Board was briefed by Fadi on his role as Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee after it was publicly announced that he had accepted the position, indicating that the Board was not advised in advance of his decision to accept the role. Is that a correct interpretation of the sequence of events?"

Answer from Bruce Tonkin, ICANN Board Member: "Yes."
(source: CCWG public mail list)

Above: Tweet of ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehade, and Reply Tweet from Andrew Sullivan (Sullivan tweeting from his personal twitter account). Sullivan is Chair of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and active in both IETF and ICANN.

Background: As reported on Domain Mondo and elsewhere, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé attended, at ICANN's expense, the second World Internet Conference (WIC), recently held in Wuzhen, China, where Chehade joined 'a high-level advisory committee', and also gave his 'personal' support and endorsement which he announced publicly via his verified ICANN President Twitter account (see above). The agenda of  China's government-sponsored World Iinternet Conference (WIC)--

High-level advisory committee established for World Internet Conference: "A high-level advisory committee for the World Internet Conference's (WIC) organizing committee secretariat was established on Wednesday, the organizing committee said Thursday. The advisory committee held its first meeting on the sidelines of the second WIC in Wuzhen of east China's Zhejiang Province. Jack Ma, founder of China's Internet giant Alibaba, and Fadi Chehade, President and CEO of ICANN, act as co-chairman of the advisory committee...." 
"Pursuant to discussions at the High-Level Advisory Council (HAC), the WIC Organizing Committee proposes the [Wuzhen] Initiative as follows: .... 5. Improving the global Internet governance ... and feature a multilateral [meaning intergovernmental], democratic and transparent global Internet governance system, with more valuable and inclusive involvement of governments ...." (source)
The negative reaction on Twitter and the ICANN CCWG-Accountability public mail list was almost immediate. Subsequently Chehade posted a response on the ICANN website in which he said the "first meeting" of the advisory committee "will take place in Summer 2016" which the official Chinese press report above contradicts.

Beyond the embarrassment and distracting spectacle that Fadi Chehade has brought upon ICANN at a critical juncture in its IANA transition planning, there are 2 aspects of Chehade's Wuzhen fiasco at play here which should be of concern to the ICANN Board and the "ICANN community"--

1. That Fadi Chehade continuing as ICANN CEO, even for a few weeks until March 12, 2016, puts at risk the entire IANA transition process, from CCWG-Accountability and its Chartering Organizations, to alarmed Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C.

2. That Fadi Chehade knowingly made what he probably thought was a shrewd career move in Wuzhen, aware his days as ICANN CEO are soon ending:
  • exploiting his soon-expiring credentials as ICANN President and CEO by lending his "personal," and by implication as President and CEO, ICANN's support to China's Wuzhen Initiative to reform global internet governance into a government-led multilateral vision of national sovereignty as envisioned by Beijing and others; accepting China's agenda for internet governance reform, promoting China's WIC as the global internet community forum to discuss and plan for these changes, all of which implies that multistakeholderism as practiced by ICANN doesn't work, and eventually will be replaced anyway by a multilateral solution after the US government loses control and gives up its "oversight" of ICANN; and/or
  • Chehade felt obligated to repay Alibaba's Jack Ma for joining Chehade's top-down, ICANN-funded project known as the "NETmundial Initiative" after most of the global internet community had rejected Chehade's leadership and vision for that "initiative" which isn't going anywhere and most likely will be defunded by ICANN after Chehade is no longer CEO. Note that Jack Ma and Chehade are also Co-Chairs of the NETmundial Initiative.
One point needs to be clear here: neither China, nor Jack Ma, nor anyone else (other than ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade), did anything wrong or questionable at Wuzhen. Many, and not just in places like China and Russia, question whether ICANN, with its own peculiar form of multistakeholderism, is truly up to the task of "coordinating the global DNS" in the "global public interest" without government oversight (U.S., intergovernmental, or otherwise). ICANN's own founding Chair, Esther Dyson:
".... a financial conflict of interest that continues to this day: ICANN subsists on the very industry it purports to govern. [Esther] Dyson says she “lost any faith, over time,” in ICANN’s ability to regulate the domain-name business." source: ICANN's Boondoggle | MIT Technology Review, August 21, 2012
Anybody who believes Chehade's after-the-fact stated rationale for his actions and words in Wuzhen --that he will somehow be able to successfully advocate multistakeholderism, which would require a complete sea-change in Beijing's worldview of internet governance and the already stated objectives of the Wuzhen Initiative-- must be naive or gullible. But that's too often the way of ICANN or at least its current CEO: spin the narrative and hope no one is able or willing to see and speak the truth.

Unfortunately for Chehade, more than just a few people are now seeing and speaking--here are just 2 of the comments on the public CCWG mail list (emphasis added)--

Comment #1:
"This is not just a matter of judgment, but a matter of cross-cultural judgment. The [ICANN] CEO gets paid to get this right. And I REALLY expected better from Mr Chehade' in that department. Actually, I would not have expected this kind of behaviour from recent previous CEOs. Certainly not from Paul [Twomey]. In fact not even from Rod [Beckstrom], who despite his public persona and irritating Hollywood rockstar ways was, in many ways, quite sensitive to non-US cultures! In China, relationships matter. Appearance matters. A lot. Both of those things can be as important, if not more important than the 'letter of the law' as to whose dime he was on when carrying on the discussion with the relevant actors inside China. The American way (and the British, to a lesser extent) is based on a literal interpretation of the rules (with a seasoning of 'wiggle-room' for peccadilloes). So while it's understandable to hear from some of you that you don't see the problem, some of us really, really see a big issue here.

"I'm not going to complain loudly about the ethics side, although I personally find it curious that Fadi was there on ICANN's dime, yet once again making announcements 'in his personal capacity'. A CEO can never be in his personal capacity, in my view until he gets his cardboard box. (It was strange how the reporters describe him as ICANN's CEO, though. Oh yes, that's because he IS. Even yet.) The issue is that the head of ICANN, voluntarily handed in his resignation, choosing to leave early, before transition was complete, and in another revolving-door shocker joined an organisation with an apparently completely different world view, and chose Wuzhen
to make supportive statements of them and their backers.

"Once again, 'it's not what they say, its what others hear'. UK public servants have a purdah period before moving to organisations that operate in the same sphere. Why, in the name of accountability, does ICANN still not? (Have we forgotten and already discounted the terrible optics of Dengate-Thrushgate?). A mere six months would not be onerous. Please don't dissect Fadi's actual words. They don't count. Hardly at all. It's the nature of 'who', 'where', and 'when' that counts much more than 'what', or even 'why'." 

Comment #2:
"... Where I come from [U.S.], any public official (and let's not kid ourselves -- that is what Fadi is) who did what Fadi did would be subject to discipline if not removal. While acting in a public role, the official has no private capacity -- none at all. At least in the world I inhabit that prohibition is so stringent that it applies even to actions that would be (under any reasonable test) so clearly distinct that the likelihood of confusing the public role with the private role was virtually non-existent. For a particularly telling recent example of this, consider this story: Meet the author of ‘The Revenant’ — except you can’t because of his federal job - The Washington Post .... But as I said, here we [U.S.] are so cautious about even the appearance of impropriety that the author is not doing any public relations for his movie. As others have pointed out for Fadi the possibility of confusion is clearly much higher -- the press and the public will (and have) [*see below] linked his new "personal capacity" job to his current status as CEO of ICANN -- which is of course exactly why he was hired and exactly what the Chinese wanted. Frankly, as ... said, I find his behavior troubling and remarkably tone deaf. I should add that the purpose of the restriction on trading on your public position works both ways. We worry not only about the new "private" connection currying favor with public official, we also worry that the official may make decisions in his public capacity that are now to benefit his future private actions rather than the public interest. It isn't the connection and the cooperation that is troubling (as ... notes) -- it is the promise of future employment with unknown benefits that was made while the public official was still working for the public that raises the questions."

*Anonymous Hacks .... | Softpedia: "... Quite recently, China's President, Xi Jinping, held a speech at the second World Internet Conference, where he invoked his country's right to censor the Internet inside its borders, a right that every other country should exert as well. Even worse, at the same conference, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization that is in charge of managing domain names, has also pledged their support for a new plan for running the Internet, where Chinese figures have a more powerful word in the decisions taken by the organization. Since next year, ICANN will take over more IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions from the US government, this would give the Chinese government more power in how the global Internet is managed ...." (emphasis added)

You can read about "Dengate-Thrushgate" involving a prior ICANN Board Chairman here. ICANN has quite a history of conflicts of interest, lack of accountability and transparency, secrecy, rewarding insiders including ICANN officers even after resigning due to "conflicts of interest". None of this comes as a surprise since Chehade's tenure as ICANN CEO has the worst record on conflicts of interest, appearances of impropriety, and "cronyism" in the history of ICANN--see Domain Mondo's RPMs comment (pdf). Complicating all of this is the ICANN Board's apparent dysfunction and failures in competent corporate governance, including its inability to have "in place" and "enforce" an effective code of conduct for all ICANN officers and staff. The Board appears to be in a constant "reactive" mode trapped between stakeholders (mostly "lobbyists") and ICANN officers/staff. CCWG-Accountability should have concentrated on core competencies including the selection, orientation, training and continuing education of ICANN Board members, ICANN officers and staff, as well as stakeholders. Anyone involved in ICANN needs to have at least a rudimentary understanding of California non-profit corporate law, ethics in the public non-profit corporate sphere, applicable U.S. law, and the common law system. Jurisdiction matters.

A good joint project for ICANN legal, Jones Day, and CCWG's independent legal counsel, post-transition, would be to develop and publish an orientation and training program accessible to all online, which should be required of all ICANN directors, officers, and staff, as well as anyone choosing to stand for election or appointment to the ICANN Board. Good corporate governance is hard work and not easy--witness the scandals at organizations as diverse as FIFA and the American Red Cross.

If the CCWG-Accountability is able to propose anything which will ameliorate this morass of self-interest, greed, and narcissistic, inflated egos (from ICANN CEOs to ICANN directors, officers, staff, and stakeholders), it will have accomplished more to remediate a dysfunctional, corruptible ICANN, than any person or group in ICANN's 17-year history.

See also on Domain Mondo:
Note: this post originally published under the title: After Wuzhen, Should ICANN President CEO Fadi Chehade Be Forced Out?


Domain Mondo archive