OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info

Posted: 3:39 am EDT

 

On June 4, WaPo reported that hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management in December, and that the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.

We should note that OPM’s Federal Investigative Services (OPM-FIS) oversees approximately 90% of all background investigations.

Reuters reported on June 6 that most of the State Department employees had not been exposed to the breach because their data was not housed on the hacked OPM systems. Apparently, only those who had previously been employed by another federal agency may have been exposed, it said. Did you get the notice on the data breach?

It appears, however, that OPM has a requirement that all candidates being offered positions of employment at U.S. government agencies or departments, including at the State Department, are to complete their Questionnaires for National Security Positions (SF-86) on-line via the electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP). We don’t know what happens to those completed questionnaires after they are submitted to OPM; are they transferred to the State Department and deleted from OPM servers?

OPM released the following statement:

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has identified a cybersecurity incident potentially affecting personnel data for current and former federal employees, including personally identifiable information (PII).

Within the last year, the OPM has undertaken an aggressive effort to update its cybersecurity posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its networks.  As a result, in April 2015, OPM detected a cyber-intrusion affecting its information technology (IT) systems and data. The intrusion predated the adoption of the tougher security controls.

OPM has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine the full impact to Federal personnel. OPM continues to improve security for the sensitive information it manages and evaluates its IT security protocols on a continuous basis to protect sensitive data to the greatest extent possible. Since the intrusion, OPM has instituted additional network security precautions, including: restricting remote access for network administrators and restricting network administration functions remotely; a review of all connections to ensure that only legitimate business connections have access to the internet; and deploying anti-malware software across the environment to protect and prevent the deployment or execution of tools that could compromise the network.

As a result of the incident, OPM will send notifications to approximately 4 million individuals whose PII may have been compromised.  Since the investigation is on-going, additional PII exposures may come to light; in that case, OPM will conduct additional notifications as necessary.  In order to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft, OPM is offering credit report access, credit monitoring and identify theft insurance and recovery services to potentially affected individuals through CSID®, a company that specializes in these services.  This comprehensive, 18-month membership includes credit monitoring and $1 million in identity theft protection services at no cost to enrollees.

“Protecting our Federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priority at OPM,” said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta. “We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.”

OPM has issued the following guidance to affected individuals:

•Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.

•Request a free credit report at http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.  Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year.  Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, http://www.ftc.gov.

•Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, http://www.identitytheft.gov.  The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.

•You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name.  Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert.  TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

How to avoid being a victim:

•Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information.  If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.

•Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information.

•Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email.

•Do not send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website’s security (for more information, see Protecting Your Privacy, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-013).

•Pay attention to the URL of a website.  Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).

•If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly.  Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information.  Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org).

•Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic (for more information, see Understanding Firewalls, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-004; Understanding Anti-Virus Software, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-005; and Reducing Spam, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-007).

•Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.

•Employees should take steps to monitor their personally identifiable information and report any suspected instances of identity theft to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Potentially affected individuals can obtain additional information about the steps they can take to avoid identity theft from the following agencies. The FTC also encourages those who discover that their information has been misused to file a complaint with them.

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State Department Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken Meets With Junior Diplomats

Posted: 12:26 am EDT

In London

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken meets with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2015. To the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy London’s Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Dibble. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Paris

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken speaks with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, on March 2, 2015. Also pictured to the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy Paris Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Seoul

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim meet with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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In Beijing

 

In Foggy Bottom

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The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

 

The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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Burn Bag: What’s ‘off the record’ about Assignment China?

 

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?

Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”

 

 

Congressional Service Reports and Briefs — September 2014

— Domani Spero

 

Note that most of the docs below via state.gov are in pdf format:

-09/25/14   The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy  [440 Kb]
-09/24/14   Japan – U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress  [716 Kb]
-09/24/14   The “Khorasan Group” in Syria – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/24/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: Demographics in Brief  [307 Kb]
-09/22/14   Climate Summit 2014: Warm-Up for 2015 – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]
-09/19/14   American Foreign Fighters and the Islamic State: Broad Challenges for Federal Law Enforcement – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/18/14   Energy Policy: 113th Congress Issues  [242 Kb]
-09/18/14   Russia’s Compliance with the INF Treaty – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/17/14   Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance  [670 Kb]
-09/17/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [880 Kb]
-09/16/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [288 Kb]
-09/16/14   The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation  [589 Kb]
-09/15/14   Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2014  [484 Kb]
-09/15/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [499 Kb]
-09/15/14   Man Without a Country? Expatriation of U.S. Citizen “Foreign Fighters”  [58 Kb]
-09/12/14   Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs  [340 Kb]
-09/10/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [647 Kb]
-09/10/14   Diplomatic and Embassy Security Funding Before and After the Benghazi Attacks [413 Kb]
-09/10/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [562 Kb]
-09/10/14   U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2015 Appropriations  [368 Kb]
-09/09/14   Considerations for Possible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State – CRS Insights  [56 Kb]
-09/09/14   U.S. Military Action Against the Islamic State: Answers to Frequently Asked Legal Questions  [355 Kb]
-09/08/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [633 Kb]
-09/08/14   Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy  [737 Kb]
-09/05/14   China’s Leaders Quash Hong Kong’s Hopes for Democratic Election Reforms – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/05/14   Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal, Including the Law Enforcement 1033 Program [272 Kb]
-09/05/14   Protection of Trade Secrets: Overview of Current Law and Legislation  [433 Kb]
-09/05/14   U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues  [512 Kb]
-09/04/14   Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy  [365 Kb]
-09/03/14   Pakistan Political Unrest: In Brief  [250 Kb]

 

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Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Briefs — Published August 2014

— Domani Spero

 

Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

-08/29/14   Latin America and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress  [598 Kb]
-08/29/14   Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress  [433 Kb]
-08/29/14   Special Immigrant Juveniles: In Brief  [317 Kb]
-08/29/14   Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990  [646 Kb]
-08/28/14   The “1033 Program,” Department of Defense Support to Law Enforcement  [234 Kb]
-08/28/14   The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan? – CRS Insights  [84 Kb]
-08/28/14   Unaccompanied Children from Central America: Foreign Policy Considerations  [451 Kb]
-08/27/14   The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions  [436 Kb]
-08/27/14   The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)  [53 Kb]
-08/26/14   Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues  [452 Kb]
-08/26/14   NATO’s Wales Summit: Expected Outcomes and Key Challenges  [317 Kb]
-08/26/14   The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: International and U.S. Responses  [625 Kb]
-08/21/14   China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States  [646 Kb]
-08/20/14   Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future  [514 Kb]
-08/20/14   The “Militarization” of Law Enforcement and the Department of Defense’s “1033 Program” – CRS Insights  [66 Kb]
-08/19/14   Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances  [504 Kb]
-08/19/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-08/15/14   Domestic Terrorism Appears to Be Reemerging as a Priority at the Department of Justice – CRS Insights  [97 Kb]
-08/15/14   Latin America: Terrorism Issues  [530 Kb]
-08/15/14   Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach to Congress [656 Kb]
-08/15/14   Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After United v. Windsor  [234 Kb]
-08/15/14   State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2015 Budget and Appropriations  [558 Kb]
-08/14/14   The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and Futenma Base Controversy  [654 Kb]
-08/13/14   U.S. – Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 113th Congress  [408 Kb]
-08/12/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-08/08/14   Ebola: 2014 Outbreak in West Africa – CRS In Focus  [243 Kb]
-08/08/14   Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy  [578 Kb]
-08/08/14   U.S. – Vietnam Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Issues for Congress  [336 Kb]
-08/07/14   Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations [449 Kb]
-08/07/14   India’s New Government and Implications for U.S. Interests  [310 Kb]
-08/07/14   Reducing the Budget Deficit: Overview of Policy Issues  [410 Kb]
-08/07/14   U.S. – EU Cooperation on Ukraine and Russia – CRS Insights  [135 Kb]
-08/06/14   2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Evolution of Strategic Review – CRS Insights  [243 Kb]
-08/05/14   China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress  [4552 Kb]
-08/05/14   Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress  [1348 Kb]
-08/05/14   Safe at Home? Letting Ebola-Stricken Americans Return – CRS Insights  [195 Kb]
-08/04/14   Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-08/01/14   “Womenomics” in Japan: In Brief  [232 Kb]
-08/01/14   Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress  [539 Kb]
-08/01/14   Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations  [907 Kb] 

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Congressional Research Service Reports (CRS) and Briefs – Published July 2014

— Domani Spero

 

In FY2012, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) had an appropriation of $106.79 million available for expenditure.  U.S. taxpayers fund the CRS, a “think tank” that provides reports and briefs to members of Congress on a variety of topics. However,there is no easily accessible depository for all these reports and U.S. citizens who want them have to request the reports from their member of congress.

On its annual report for FY2012, CRS indicated that it prepared 534 new reports, and 2,702 report updates.  Some CRS reports are available through the Federation of American Scientists, the University of North Texas, and Open CRS. Also check out CRS on Open Congress; it includes links on the discussion of direct public access of these CRS reports. The reports made publicly available through the State Department are available below. We will routinely republish them here. Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

 

Subject CRS Reports – July 2014
Afghanistan -07/28/14   Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance  [674 Kb]

-07/11/14   Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy  [1068 Kb]

Africa -07/24/14   African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA): Background and Reauthorization  [444 Kb]

-07/23/14   U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit: Frequently Asked Questions and Background  [571 Kb]

Arctic -07/02/14   Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress  [1469 Kb]
China -07/29/14   U.S. – China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress  [846 Kb]

-07/15/14   China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress  [4546 Kb]

-07/10/14   China – U.S. Trade Issues  [581 Kb]

– 07/09/14   China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States  [644 Kb]

Gaza/Palestinians -07/03/14   U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians  [451 Kb]

-07/18/14   Israel and Hamas: Another Round of Conflict – CRS Insights  [288 Kb]

Israel -07/22/14   Israel: Background and U.S. Relations  [1264 Kb]

-07/18/14   Israel and Hamas: Another Round of Conflict – CRS Insights  [288 Kb]

Iran -07/25/14   Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses  [827 Kb]
Iraq -07/24/14   Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Implications for Religious Minorities – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]

-07/15/14   The Kurds and Possible Iraqi Kurdish Independence – CRS Insights  [170 Kb]

-07/15/14   Use of Force Considerations in Iraq – CRS Insights  [59 Kb]

-07/03/14   Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy  [762 Kb] -07/02/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [495 Kb]

Libya -07/28/14   Responding to Libya’s Political and Security Crises: Policy Choices for the United States – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]
Mexico -07/01/14   U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications  [498 Kb]
Russia 07/29/14   U.S. – Russia Economic Relations – CRS Insights  [125 Kb]

-07/28/14   Russia Sanctions: Options – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

-07/18/14   U.S. Sanctions on Russia in Response to Events in Ukraine – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

Syria -07/24/14   Conflict in Syria and Iraq: Implications for Religious Minorities – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]
Ukraine -07/18/14   U.S. Sanctions on Russia in Response to Events in Ukraine – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]

-07/08/14   Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy  [367 Kb]

Arms Control -07/21/14   Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements  [661 Kb]
Economy -07/25/14   Stealing Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: An Abridged Overview of 18 U.S.C. 1831 and 1832  [231 Kb]

-07/17/14   International Monetary Fund: Background and Issues for Congress  [523 Kb]

-07/01/14   Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions  [339 Kb]

Elections -07/24/14   The 2014 European Parliament Elections: Outcomes and Implications – CRS Insights  [62 Kb]

-07/14/14   Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile  [286 Kb]

-07/01/14   The Voting Rights Act of 1965: Background and Overview  [398 Kb]

Immigration -07/28/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview  [338 Kb]

-07/18/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children – Legal Issues: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions  [407 Kb]

-07/16/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Processing Flow Chart – CRS Insights  [207 Kb]

-07/03/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: Potential Factors Contributing to Recent Immigration  [501 Kb]

Missile Attack -07/28/14   Possible Missile Attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – CRS Insights  [61 Kb]

-07/28/14   Protecting Civilian Flights from Missiles – CRS Insights  [61 Kb]

Technology -07/23/14   Deploying 5G (Fifth Generation) Wireless Technology: Is the United States on Track?  [58 Kb]

-07/02/14   Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate  [332 Kb]

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US Mission China: Ambassador Max Baucus Says Hello and Xie Xie

— Domani Spero

The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.

Via State/IIP:

“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”

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Happy New Lunar Year of the Horse – Let’s Talk Horsey!

— Domani Spero

Last year, they had a snake looking for food. (see USCG Hong Kong & Macau: Lunar New Year Greeting for Year of the Snake) This year, a different animal is up at the consulate — a horse, looking for a job. Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr., the staff of the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau, and a “new Consulate employee” wish you a happy and healthy Year of the Horse in this new video:

The Shanghaiist gave this a thumbs down, calling it “weird” — “The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau has released a ‘2014 Lunar New Year Greetings’ video, and something has gone catastrophically wrong. Remembering that there’s a woman hiding under the desk in each shot, with her hand crammed up a horse-sock, doesn’t exactly help.” It also called last year’s lunar greeting video, “freaking terrifying.”   The Shanghaiist is one of China’s most popular English-language blog/portals, founded by American writer Dan Washburn in 2005.

USCG HK’s lunar video, published last week has been eyeballed 69,577 as of this writing.  That’s more than the views of its lunar video greetings from 2013, 2012, and 2011 combined.  The use of Cantonese seems appreciated by the locals, “[Y]ou speaks Cantonese in this video that means you and your team are respect to HK people and the local culture…” A majority of commenters appear to give it a thumbs up, despite being well, weird.  But then, someone pleaded, “Please bring the US army here to eliminate the locusts coming from China.” We thought, locusts, what locusts?  It turns out in Hong Kong, “locust” is a derogatory term for immigrants and tourists from China.  The anti-China sentiment is  playing out in the comments section of USCG HK’s page.

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

|| >We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub <||

— Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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