Blinken Announces New Appointees For #HavanaSyndrome Task Force

 

Last Friday, Secretary Blinken made an on-camera remarks at the State Department  to talk about the “Department’s Health Incidents Response Task Force” including the appointments of  Ambassador Margaret Uyehara as the agency’s senior care coordinator and Ambassador Jonathan Moore as the head of the Health Incident Response Task Force in Foggy Bottom.
Blinken on Ambassador Uyehara as “senior care coordinator”:

“I’m very pleased to share that we recently appointed Ambassador Margaret Uyehara to serve as our senior care coordinator. A career member of the Foreign Service with three decades of experience at the State Department, she has already gotten to work advocating for those affected, including assisting them with workers’ compensation and the benefits process. She’s compassionate; she’s effective. We’re grateful for her and her commitment to this vital issue. Additionally, last month, the State Department began a partnership with Johns Hopkins University to expand the top-tier care available to employees and families who have been affected by Anomalous Health Incidents.Now they can access the university’s outstanding medical professionals and facilities as well.”

There does not appear to be an official bio for her at state.gov right now. It appears that she retired from the Foreign Service so  it is likely that her work hours, like other State Department’s re-employed annuitants will also be capped at no more than 1,040 hours during her appointment year.
A throwback from her Montenegro appointment:

Uh-oh! Also another throwback via ISP-I-17-41 Inspection of Embassy Podgorica, Montenegro:

While embassy employees told OIG that the Ambassador and DCM held themselves to the high ethical standards that 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 establishes, American staff consistently evaluated the Ambassador negatively against the leadership principles that are described in 3 FAM 1214. For instance, some employees described the Ambassador as a micromanager which delayed the clearance process for embassy memos and reports. Employees told OIG that rapid-fire taskings, shifting priorities, and the Ambassador’s ambitious agenda hindered their ability to perform their core responsibilities. Further, employees expressed that they hesitated to offer differing points of view as the Ambassador did not proactively solicit their input and was not receptive to dissent. Some embassy personnel described the Ambassador as intimidating in her interactions with American and LE staff, which inhibited staff discourse and negatively affected mission morale.

Such characteristics and interactions as described above are not in accord with the highest standards of interpersonal conduct as outlined in 3 FAM 1214. The Department sets clear expectations for leadership to follow certain principles because it fosters the highest attainable degree of employee productivity and morale, all of which are essential to achieving mission goals and objectives. The Ambassador assured OIG that she valued the Department’s leadership principles and would use her unique position to lead by example.

Blinken on Ambassador Jonathan Moore:

“I’m pleased to announce the new head of our Health Incident Response Task Force: Ambassador Jonathan Moore. Jonathan brings decades of experience grappling with complex policy challenges. His career in the Foreign Service has taken him from posts around the globe, from Bosnia to Namibia, and he’s managed portfolios ranging from Russia policy to engagement with the United Nations.Across each of his assignments, Jonathan has brought a strong analytical capacity and fidelity to the facts.He knows the State Department.He knows the inter-agency process.And he cares about the people he works with, which is particularly important for this assignment, for which treating people with empathy and decency is absolutely key.”

According to his official bio, Ambassador Moore was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, where he oversaw policy regarding the United Nations and UN agencies – including on health, environment, science, and technology – between November 2018 and March 2020. It looks like his tenure overlapped for a year with the infamous tenure of Kevin Moley who was bureau assistant secretary from March 29, 2018 – November 29, 2019 (see IO’s Kevin Moley Accused of Political Retribution Finally Leaves the Building). The OIG report is available to read here:  Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
Previously, he was DCM at US Embassy Minsk in 2006 and later served as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from March 2008–July 2009. The OIG report for Embassy Minsk had some good things to say about him:

A newly arrived Ambassador and DCM are exercising firm, clear direction at Embassy Minsk. While emphasizing the preliminary nature of their observations and judgments, Americans at the embassy scored both officials highly on OIG questionnaires. In interviews during the inspection, American staff praised the officials for their openness and willingness to engage deeply in the details of all embassy policies and operations.

Embassy Minsk is a small, well-run mission that now attracts a sufficient number of qualified Foreign Service bidders. Operating in a hostile political environment, the embassy is a 25-percent hardship differential post.
[…]
The DCM (sometimes with the Ambassador) meets with the consular section chief in her office weekly, although issues can easily be raised at any time. The DCM reviews the consular chief ’s visa decisions and supports a by-the-book visa referral policy that is reviewed annually.

We’re hoping to see improvements on how these cases are handled.
Let’s see what happens.

 

Related:

 

State/OIG: US Embassy Iceland Focuses on “Rebuilding Staff Morale” Following Pol Ambo’s Tenure

 

State/OIG conducted its inspection of the US Embassy in Iceland from March 15 to June 28, 2021. That’s about three months since Trump’s political ambassador had left post. The report says “Despite several months having elapsed since his departure, OIG found at the time of the inspection that embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador.”
Surely, the mothership knew what was happening in Reykjavik from 2019-2021? No? But State/OIG says that the relationship became “so strained at one point during his tenure that the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship.”
Oh, dear! Is this the same P (and D) who did their song and dance during the IO debacle?
State/OIG did not undertake this inspection until March 2021. We have not been able to find Iceland on its Work Plans for 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022. Previous to this report, we have been able to find one other report on Iceland dated February 2011. Makes one wonder why the OIG only inspected post on March 2021 and not earlier. We should add that posts are typically inspected once every five years, although that five year gap doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere anymore.
The thing though– State/OIG only inspects a small portion of overseas posts every year. We know this post is not a unique case but for posts not inspected earlier this year, whatever happened in the previous 2-3 years will be stale bread except in government corridors and nightmares.
At the time of the inspection, Embassy Reykjavik’s authorized staff included 16 U.S. direct hire staff (including 3 who worked for DOD), 55 locally employed (LE) staff, and 1 eligible family member.
Via State/OIG:

(U) The Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim (Chargé), a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived at Embassy Reykjavik for a temporary duty assignment on January 24, 2021, 4 days after the departure of the former Ambassador. Previously, the Chargé served as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2017 to 2020, serving as Chargé and acting Representative for the first 2 years. His career also included tours of duty as the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department and Director of the Department’s Operations Center.
[…]
(U) Embassy Leadership Focused on Rebuilding Staff Morale and Normalizing Embassy Operations

(U) OIG found that the Chargé and DCM were focused on rebuilding staff morale and normalizing embassy operations following the former Ambassador’s tenure, a noncareer appointee who served from June 2019 to January 2021. Despite several months having elapsed since his departure, OIG found at the time of the inspection that embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador. For example, staff reported to OIG multiple instances in which the former Ambassador had threatened to sue Department officials and embassy staff who expressed disagreement with him, questioned his wishes, or were perceived to be “disloyal” to him. In addition, many employees reported to OIG that the former Ambassador threatened reprisal against employees who communicated with Department officials in Washington while conducting their official duties.

(U) During the inspection, OIG found that the Chargé and DCM were modeling leadership and management principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 to establish a positive, inclusive, and supportive tone for the embassy. In interviews and questionnaires, embassy staff consistently noted the positive and supportive work environment the Chargé and the DCM fostered, following the departure of the former Ambassador. Staff cited the leadership team’s care and support for both U.S. direct-hire and LE staff, their open and inclusive approach, and empowerment of and trust in staff members to do their jobs, consistent with 3 FAM 1214b. For example, the Chargé held a town hall on his first day emphasizing a return to normal operations. In addition, the DCM contacted the Regional Medical Officer/Psychologist, based in London, to help assess morale and develop actions to address employee concerns. 4

(U) Execution of Foreign Policy Goals and Objectives (U) At the time of the inspection, OIG found the embassy was focused on rebuilding its relationship with the Government of Iceland following a deterioration of that relationship under the former Ambassador, which became so strained at one point during his tenure that the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship. This action attempted to mitigate the negative impact of the former Ambassador’s frequent failure to respect diplomatic protocol or to coordinate with the Icelandic Government on policy initiatives and press statements touching on sensitive defense-related subjects. For example, the former Ambassador’s post on the embassy’s Facebook page indicated that the United States was investing more than $170 million on various projects and programs in Iceland, as part of a long-term plan to strengthen U.S.-Icelandic cooperation. This and other uncoordinated statements by the former Ambassador generated public controversy in Iceland.

(U) Upon his arrival in January 2021, the Chargé met with senior government officials to improve the diplomatic engagement between the embassy and the Icelandic Government, consistent with his responsibilities under 3 FAM 1427 and 2 FAM 111.1-2 to promote cordial relations with the host country. OIG noted that the public statements issued by senior Icelandic Government officials, both when the Chargé arrived and following his introductory meetings with senior government officials, reflected the host government’s appreciation for the restoration of respect for diplomatic protocol and procedure in the embassy’s conduct of the bilateral relationship.
[…]
(U) Local Compensation Plan Did Not Comply With Icelandic Labor Law (U) The embassy’s local compensation plan21 did not fully reflect Icelandic prevailing wage rates and compensation practices, as required by 3 FAM 7512.3. Specifically, the local compensation plan did not follow the collective bargaining agreement22 applicable to Icelandic employees regarding the standard work week, annual leave, the transfer of leave rights between employers, and standby shift rates. In addition, OIG found that the embassy had not provided annual increases in the summer and winter and salary supplements since 2009 despite these benefits being required by the collective bargaining agreement. Standards in 3 FAH-2 H131.3a(1) require embassies to implement a local compensation plan and review it at least annually. OIG found the embassy told the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Overseas Employment (GTM/OE) of its concerns with the local compensation plan in its 2019 Local Compensation Questionnaire submission.23
[…]
(U) Embassy Did Not Conduct Seismic Evaluations for Leased Residences (U) Embassy Reykjavik did not conduct seismic safety assessments for 11 of its 15 leased residential units, as required by Department standards. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) lists Iceland in zone 4, which is considered a very high seismic zone. In 2018, OBO performed a seismic assessment of the embassy’s residences. This report was delivered to Embassy Reykjavik in November 2020. The embassy has since replaced 11 residences, none of which have been assessed by an OBO-approved structural engineer, as required in 15 FAM 252.6f. According to embassy staff, the embassy did not take immediate action in November 2020 due to other priorities assigned by the former Ambassador. The embassy liaised with OBO on establishing a local contract for seismic assessments but had not completed the work by the end of the inspection. Leasing properties without performing seismic safety assessments poses significant risk to the life and safety of occupants.

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Around the World in Tweets: Chargés d’affaires Take the Stage

 

 

Septuagenarian and Co-Conspirators Trick @StateDept and a Non-Profit in $575K Fraud Scheme

 

 

Via State/OIG:
In October 2021, Wanda Baker pled guilty to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, approximately 1 month after co-conspirator Olayinka Agboola plead guilty to the same charge. Sentencing is pending. A year earlier (October 2020), Barker, Agboola, and Linda Johnson were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme to defraud the Department. OIG and FBI special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a non-profit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.

U.S. vs. Johnson et al.

A second indictment related to BEC fraud charges Linda Dianne Johnson, 70, of Charlotte, Wanda Jackson Barker, 71, of Athens, Texas, and Olayinka Agboola, 54, of Chicago, Illinois, with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Johnson is also charged with two counts of conducting financial transactions with illegal proceeds.

The indictment was returned on September 16, 2020, and was unsealed earlier this week. According to allegations in the indictment, Johnson, Barker, and Agboola operated as money mules and conspired to launder at least $575,000 derived from a fraudulent BEC scheme. The indictment alleges that the co-conspirators tricked the United States Department of State and a non-profit agency into wiring proceeds into bank accounts controlled by Johnson. Upon receipt of the fraud proceeds, Johnson, Barker, and Agboola executed financial transactions for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.

Johnson is set to appear in court in Charlotte on October 22, 2020. Barker’s initial appearance has been set for November 9, 2020. Agboola has not been arrested yet.

The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Johnson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge of conducting financial transactions with illegal proceeds.

The charges in the indictments are allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the investigating efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, and U.S. Department of State, Office of the Inspector General, which led to the indictments.

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US Embassy Ethiopia Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Non-Emergency USG Staff and Family Members

 

The US Embassy in Addis Ababa went on “authorized departure” on November 3. Two days later, the embassy went on mandatory evacuation for non-emergency personnel and family members.  (US Embassy Ethiopia Now Under “Authorized Departure” Order #voluntaryevac). The State Department has now urged U.S. citizens in the country to depart while commercial air is available as well as announced that the embassy is “unlikely to be able to assist U.S. citizens in Ethiopia with departure if commercial options become unavailable.”

Event: On November 5, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members from Ethiopia due to armed conflict, civil unrest, and possible supply shortages.

The Department of State urges U.S citizens in Ethiopia to depart now using commercially available options. The U.S. Embassy is unlikely to be able to assist U.S. citizens in Ethiopia with departure if commercial options become unavailable. Although seats on commercial flights currently remain available, we cannot predict when demand will exceed capacity.

Travel to Ethiopia is unsafe due to the ongoing armed conflict. Incidents of civil unrest and ethnic violence are occurring without warning. The situation may escalate further and may cause supply chain shortages, communications blackouts, and travel disruptions. The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency on November 2, 2021.

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