U.S. Embassy Belgium Requests USG Personnel Defer Travel to Brussels Until 3/29, DOD Travel Restrictions On

Posted: 6:00 pm EDT
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On March 22, U.S. Embassy Brussels sent a security message to U.S. citizens in Belgium informing them that an anti-terrorism police activity is ongoing in the neighborhood of Schaerbeek. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid this and any other police action that may occur. In light of today’s attacks Belgium authorities have

  • Raised the threat level to FOUR, the highest in the Belgian scale
  • Evacuated the airport, at this time it remains closed for outgoing flights and all flights to Brussels were diverted.
  • All public transport in Brussels has been halted and tunnels have been closed.

A subsequent embassy message requests USG personnel to defer non-essential travel to the capital city until Tuesday, March 29, 2016:

The U.S. Embassy in Brussels informs U.S. citizens that anti-terrorism police activity is ongoing. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid this and any other police action that may occur. Mission Brussels requests that U.S. government personnel defer non-essential travel to Brussels until Tuesday, March 29, 2016:

In light of today’s attacks Belgium authorities have

  • Raised the threat level to FOUR, the highest in the Belgian scale
  • Evacuated the airport, at this time it remains closed for outgoing flights and all flights to Brussels were diverted.
  • Public transport in Brussels is limited and several roads and tunnels remain closed.

These events take place with little or no notice, therefore U.S. citizens are urged to:

  • Be aware of local events
  • Follow local authority instructions
  • Monitor local media further developments 
  • U.S. citizens should contact their family and friends to let them know they are safe.
  • Take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security

Meanwhile, the DOD and the European Command have implemented a travel restrictions to Belgium on March 22, 2016. They apply to all uniformed service members, civilian and contractor employees, and command-sponsored dependents.

 

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Multiple Explosions Hit Airport, Metro in Brussels, Terror Alert Now Up at Highest Level

Posted: 4:21 am EDT
Updated: 5:01 am EDT
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Ex-US Embassy London Employee Gets 4.9 Years For “Sextortion” Scheme

Posted: 4:03 am EDT
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Last December, the Justice Department announced that the former State Department/US Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford  pleaded guilty to perpetrating a widespread, international e-mail phishing, computer hacking and cyberstalking scheme against hundreds of victims in the United States and abroad.

In a court filing submitted to aid in the sentencing, the USG recommended a sentence of 96 months of incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release. It also notes the following:

The sheer number of phishing e-mails that Ford sent is astounding. For example, on one day alone, April 8, 2015, Ford sent phishing e-mails to approximately 800 unique e-mail addresses. On the same date, Ford then sent 180 follow-up e-mails to potential victims who had not yet responded to his original phishing e-mail, as well as approximately 15 e-mails to victims who had provided incorrect passwords. Considering Ford’s daily volume, repeated over the course of several months, the number of Ford’s potential phishing victims is staggering.
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Ford’s conduct was relentless and strikingly callous. He harassed his victims on almost a daily basis. He was particularly motivated by their reactions of fear, anger, and defiance. He was unmoved by their pleas to leave them alone. He laughed in the face of their fear, and he escalated his threats when they threatened to involve the police. He showed no remorse and thrived on his power over his victims.

Ford’s conduct was persistent and compulsive. He sometimes spent the majority of his work day, at taxpayer expense, engaged in his criminal scheme. This speaks powerfully about Ford’s dedication to his crime. In addition, his conduct was incredibly brazen. He used his U.S. Embassy work computer (which was positioned in a common, shared work area) to commit his crimes and at one point, filed a complaint with his employer, requesting more privacy in his workspace.

Today, U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross sentenced the 36-year-old Michael C. Ford to serve four years and nine months (59 months) in prison followed by three years of supervised release.  The case is USA v. Michael C. Ford, Case No. 1:15-CR-319-ELR.

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FS Promotion Self-Certification: Assigning Responsibility For Ensuring the Accuracy of Personnel Documents?

Posted: 3:20 am EDT
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Last week, we posted a Burn Bag submission about ALDAC 16 State 27420 sent on Mar 15, 2016 on Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and its alleged potential impact to future grievance (see Burn Bag: Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and Potential Grievance). This self-certification is not/not related to the self-certification required by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We’ve emailed Barbara Stephenson who was elected last year as AFSA president to inquire about this  but received no response.  We’ve also emailed Angie Bryan who was elected AFSA VP but only received an out of office response that she is on an extensive leave and is only at the office part-time.   This might be the fourth or fifth time we have requested information from these elected representatives and so far, we have only managed to get one courteous auto response from one professional machine.

So we had to find some other insider who could help us understand what’s going on here. Our source who is familiar with the matter but is speaking on background explained to us that the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) has been trying for sometime to  “make people aware of the actual requirements for promotion” and to “get them to take it seriously.” Apparently — and we didn’t know this — employees have theoretically been responsible for ensuring the accuracy of their personnel documents since at least 1974 (when the Privacy Act gave them the right to question that accuracy).

In any case, employees are reportedly required to certify that they have 1) completed the Leadership and Management Training requirement for their current grade; 2) reviewed the Career Development Program (CDP) appropriate for skill and grade; 3) reviewed their performance folder in their eOPF to ensure that all EERs (including military evaluations, if applicable), training reports, and awards (including approved awards for those who served on Active Military Duty) are included and any discipline documents scheduled for removal have been properly removed; 4) verified the accuracy of their information in their Employee Profile or correct the information  if incorrect; and 5) not been on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) for more than 8 months during the rating period.

We specifically asked about a potential future grievance and here is our source’s personal view:

It would certainly be reasonable to assume  that if you certified on the questionnaire that you had reviewed your file for accuracy and then later grieved claiming that your file were inaccurate, your self-certification might be evidence against you. On the other hand, I would also assume that if you demonstrated that you had tried to fix the error (e.g written to someone or used the online tool to open a help-desk ticket, and could demonstrate that it had not been corrected, that would be considered as well. The Department knows that it sometimes takes a while to fix things, and it must apply a reasonable person standard to the facts – e.g. if you had a current screen shot showing that the PAR [Performance Accountability Report] remained inaccurate, that would be pretty hard to ignore.
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The situation would be harder if you had done nothing to correct the inaccuracy. The burden of proof in this type of grievance is always on the grievant to show that the Department, not the grievant, acted improperly. If the employee certified that he/she had reviewed his PAR and could not demonstrate having done something to correct an error, then clearly that burden of proof would be harder to meet. The Department could argue that the employee should have tried to fix it, and didn’t, ergo, the Department is not to blame.  Likewise if the employee never applied for required training, or never even bid on a position that would meet a CDP requirement.

The explanation seems reasonable to us but we can understand why this would also be a cause for concern for others. We appreciate the Foggy Bottom Nightingale for responding to our questions.  This is for information only and we urge employees to contact their elected representatives at AFSA if they have concerns about the self-certification requirements.  Also, if the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) is indeed trying to get employees to “buy-in” to the self-certification requirements, we expect that State/HR or DGHR would have staffers available to answer questions and address concerns from employees.

 

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Bamako Hotel With EU Training Mission Targeted, US Embassy Mali Cancels Consular Services For 3/22

Posted: 2:24  pm EDT
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On March 21, around 18:33 local time, the headquarters of EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM-Mali) was attacked by small arms fire. EUTM reported on FB and Twitter that no one was harmed or wounded at its Mali headquarters (MHQ). Personnel has reportedly secured the mission and the Malian security forces were on patrol at the surrounding area.

After the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako sent a security message to U.S. citizens advising that they continue to shelter in place until further notice. It also notified them and the public of the cancellation of all routine consular services as the embassy will be on reduced staffing on Tuesday, March 22.

Due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding the security incident at Hotel Nord Sud in ACI 2000, the U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens in Bamako to continue to shelter in place until further notice. Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Embassy will operate with reduced staffing tomorrow (March 22) and all routine visa and American Citizens Services are cancelled. For emergencies involving a U.S. citizen, please contact the U.S. Embassy at (+223) 223 6675-9579 and (+223) 6675-2860.

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