@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

A Lonely Memorial For Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at HST

George Shultz was named as Secretary of State by President Ronald Reagan on June 25, 1982. He assumed the office of Secretary on July 16, and he remained in that position until January 20, 1989. Under Shultz’s leadership, U.S. diplomacy helped to pave the way for the ending of the Cold War. Read more here.
See the AP’s obituary:Longtime Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz dies at 100. NYT : George P. Shultz, Top Cabinet Official Under Nixon and Reagan, Dies at 100.
Schultz once had an instruction to an ambassador about a foreign minister, “Keep him out of my thinning hair.”
Phyllis Oakley, Deputy Spokesperson at State Department 1986-89 said about Schultz, “When people talk about management of the Department, particularly in the recent awful years, they refer to Shultz as the last great manager.”
Henry Allen Holmes, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, 1985-89 said, “he cared about his people, not just those who worked directly for him, but he was one of the few Secretaries of State — in fact, probably, in my lifetime, the only Secretary of State that I can remember — who cared deeply about the institution, about the Foreign Service, about the Civil Service in the institution, about the Foreign Service Institute. I mean his sense of leadership of the institution was broad, very broad.”
Read more here from ADST.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken pays his respects to former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at a memorial in the late Secretary’s honor in the lobby of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Statement from Secretary Blinken:

George Shultz was a legend.

As Secretary of State, he helped achieve the greatest geopolitical feat of the age: a peaceful end to the Cold War. He negotiated landmark arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and, after leaving office, continued to fight for a world free of nuclear weapons. He also urged serious action on the climate crisis at a time when too few leaders took that position. He was a visionary.

An ardent champion of diplomacy, Secretary Shultz strengthened America’s relationships and advanced our interests with strategic brilliance and great patience. The men and women of the foreign and civil services were devoted to him because he uplifted their work and relied on their judgment. When it came time to name the campus of the Foreign Service Institute, where America’s foreign service officers are trained, they named it for him.

Every Secretary of State who came after George Shultz has studied him – his work, his judgment, his intellect. I know I have. Few people came to the role with as much experience as he. He had also served as Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he was a Marine in World War II. It’s as distinguished a record of public service as any in American history.

Perhaps most of all, George Shultz was a patriot. He took pains to remind his fellow diplomats that their first duty was always to the American people. Before he sent new U.S. ambassadors to their overseas posts, he would invite them to his office and direct them to a huge globe in the corner. “Point to your country,” he would say. The ambassador would spin the globe and point to the country where he or she was heading. Then the Secretary would gently place their finger on the United States. “That’s your country.” He never forgot it.

George Shultz was a towering figure in the history of the State Department. The work we do now is shaped by his legacy. Our thoughts today are with Secretary Shultz’s family and all those who loved him. He will be deeply missed.

We heard from an overseas reader about a cable ordering flags at half-staff for Representative Ronald Wright, but apparently not for  Secretary Schulz. So we asked the State Department about it as some overseas folks were looking for the half-staff order to mark the passing of the 60th Secretary of State.  After the briefest of honeymoon under new management, it looks like our emails are once more consigned into the black hole for emails; not  to be answered or acknowledged once again. So did we miss the order or there wasn’t one?

 


 

 

 

Oh ARB China, Where Art Thou?

We’ve recently written about the Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on Cuba here: ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?.  The State Department told us that The U.S. Government is working to determine what happened to our staff and their families and to ensure the well-being and health of our officials going forward. That investigation is ongoing and is a high priority.”
The ARB Cuba report mentions similar incidents in Guangzhou, China and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. As far as we know, no Accountability Review Board was convened for China or Uzbekistan.  We understand that at least 41 officers (26 Cuba, 15 China) have been officially diagnosed by USG with brain injury symptoms. One source told us that if/when there is an ARB China for the attacks in Guangzhou, it will make the Cuba response look professional by comparison. “ARB for China will be much, much worse.”
Last year, a Foreign Service employee filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) alleging that employees at the U.S. Department of State (State Department), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), Washington, D.C., may have engaged in conduct that constitutes an abuse of authority.
The complainant told OSC that State Department employees and their families, previously stationed in Guangzhou, China, and Havana, Cuba, “experienced environmental incidents whereby microwaves” caused them to “suffer traumatic brain injuries.” The complainant “asserted that State Department leadership has attempted to minimize the severity of or suppress information related to the environmental incidents as well as the agency’s response to its employees’ resulting injuries.” The complainant also asserted that since approximately 2018, DSS management has prevented the individual “from providing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is investigating the incidents, relevant classified reports, emails, and other documentary information.”
In April 2020, the complainant was notified by OSC that it requested the Secretary of State to conduct an investigation into these allegations and report back to OSC pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1213(c). The OSC gave then Secretary of State Pompeo 60 days to conduct the investigation and submit the report to OSC.
The OSC informed the complainant that “while OSC has found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing based on the information you submitted in support of your allegations, our referral to the Secretary of State for investigation is not a final determination that the allegations are substantiated. This remains an open matter under investigation until the agency’s final report is forwarded to the President and Congress.”
In May 2020, State/OIG Linick was fired under cover of darkness for doing his job. Acting State/OIGs were appointed here, then here, and here. Diana Shaw who assumed charged as Acting IG after Akard, and again after Klimow’s departure is the Deputy Inspector General  currently “performing the duties of the Inspector General.”
State/OIG reportedly finally opened an investigation into this case as requested by OSC, seven months after the request.
So we wait for the result of that investigation; as well as the one reportedly being conducted by the GAO.
But most of all, we are waiting for the Accountability Review Board for China.
Why?
ARB Cuba determined that the resulting injuries in Havana were security-related. Why wasn’t there an ARB for the security incident in Guangzhou, where employees were similarly attacked and had brain injuries just like in Havana? We don’t know why Pompeo never convened one for China, or convened an ARB that would look into the three places where these incidents occurred. We do know we don’t want this swept under the rug especially given what we now know about the botched response in Havana.
We’re counting on Secretary Blinken to convene an ARB for China because it’s the right thing to do.
ARB Cuba was an interim report; an expanded ARB authority that includes an investigation into the State Department response not just in Havana but also in Guangzhou and Tashkent seem appropriate. What do we know now three years after ARB Cuba was convened?
We know there were 15 cases in China, but how many spouses were also injured in the attacks?
We understand that State also didn’t want to talk about foreign nationals that were injured in China. How many cases were here? ARB Havana made no mention of foreign nationals. Were there FSN injuries in Cuba? If they occurred in China, were there similar cases in Cuba that affected local nationals?
Also something really interesting. Which top Diplomatic Security official (current or former) told employees that he knew the country that did this and purportedly said it wasn’t China or Cuba? Which country? How did he know?  What did he know? And how come ARB Cuba says “we don’t know what happened, when it happened, who did it , or why.”
Shouldn’t we hear the answers before a congressional hearing?

 


 

 

 

Havana Syndrome: @StateDept Says Investigation “Ongoing and Is a High Priority”

We recently posted ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?.  While reading that report, we requested an update from the State Department on actions the Secretary of State took in response to the ARB report. We were also interested in learning about any outstanding issues from the ARB Havana Report not addressed under the previous administration, and what actions Secretary Blinken intend to do to fully address the recommendations of the ARB Board.  And we were very interested if WHA, EUR, EAP and the Secretariat had been tasked with putting together a full timeline and lessons learned based on the official State Department response to the Havana syndrome incidents in Havana, Guangzhou and Tashkent?
So far, under new management, Foggy Bottom has responded to our inquiry.  The following is a response from a State Department spokesperson:

We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Government is working to determine what happened to our staff and their families and to ensure the well-being and health of our officials going forward. That investigation is ongoing and is a high priority.

Secretary Blinken requested a comprehensive briefing on the issue during the transition, and he has received updates during his time in office. He has made clear that this is a priority for him, and those updates will continue on a regular basis.

The Department established an interagency task force to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to these incidents in May 2018. To reassert the Department’s leadership and responsibility for U.S. government personnel overseas, this week we elevated the coordinator role to a senior level position so that a high-level official will be empowered to advise senior Department leadership, coordinate the Department’s interagency response to the health security incidents, and provide continuing support to affected personnel.  This advisor will be positioned in a senior role and report directly to the Department’s senior leadership to ensure that we continue to make significant strides to address this issue and to ensure our people are receiving the treatment they need.

We will have additional details on this new role in the coming days.

We’ll be in the lookout!

 

 

Secretary Tony Blinken Assumes Charge of @StateDept

 


 

 

 

U.S. Senate Confirms Antony John Blinken as 71st Secretary of State

On January 26, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed Antony John Blinken, of New York, in a 78-22 vote to be Secretary of State. He will assume office as the 71st Secretary of State.
The 78 Senators who voted for confirmation includes Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 elections. The 22 Senators who voted against the Blinken confirmation includes seven who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  This country has a short memory. We think that all reporting that includes these senators should always append an asterisk for the repugnant roles they took before and after that mob attack. 

 

Deputy Secretary Blinken Poses for a Photo With Former Deputy Secretaries Burns, Wharton, and Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken poses for a photo with former Deputy Secretaries of State Bill Burns, Clifton Wharton, and John Negroponte at a Foreign Service Institute reception highlighting American diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


 

SFRC Clears Blinken Nomination, Full Senate Vote on Tuesday, Jan 26

In a 15-3 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the nomination of Tony Blinken on January 25 to be the next secretary of state. It looks like Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted no on this nomination. Insurrectionist Senator Ted Cruz of Texas also voted no.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the Blinken nomination mid-day tomorrow, January 26. Foggy Bottom may see the 71st Secretary of State in Foggy Bottom by afternoon.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Sesame Street’s “Grover” to talk about refugees at the United Nations in New York City, New York on September 19, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]


 

 

Ambassador Daniel B. Smith to be Acting Secretary of State Pending Tony Blinken’s Confirmation

–Update below on State/M

The 70th Secretary of State left Foggy Bottom for good before the presidential swearing-in of January 20. Finally. A short clip here from CNN correspondent Kylie Atwood shows the now former secretary of state leaving through the empty halls of HST, apparently  “to a small round of applause from political appointees.” Whatever. We could see Foggy Bottom’s smoke of relief from our house.
We should note that Rex Tillerson got a polite goodbye when he left in 2018 (see Foggy Bottom Bids Goodbye to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
Soon after the now former secretary’s exit, the ‘ethos for some but not for others’ wall decors also came tumbling down.  The new State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the AP’s Matt Lee, “We are confident that our colleagues do not need a reminder of the values we share.
Excuse me, who inherited the swagger swags?
Also on January 20, President Biden announced the acting agency leadership across the Biden-Harris administration pending confirmation of permanent leadership by the U.S. Senate. For the State Department, the Acting Secretary of State is Ambassador Daniel Smith, one of the few senior career officials at the agency with the personal rank of Career Ambassador. Until his appointment to the acting position, he was the Director of the Foreign Service Institute. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research from 2013 to 2018 and was Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic from 2010 to 2013.
Traditionally, the highest ranking career official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) is appointed as Acting Secretary of State pending confirmation of the new secretary of state.  This would have been David Hale, a career FSO (also with personal rank of Career Ambassador) who has been on that job since September 2018. That’s not the case this time. It is, of course, the administration’s prerogative who to appoint in an acting capacity.
We’ve seen one reporting that attributes the Hale skip over to the statements he made in December following the reported COVID-19 diagnosis of Pompeo’s wife. At that time, the State Department also “slammed the leak of Susan Pompeo’s diagnosis” according to Fox News. The person who spoke for the State Department and blamed his colleagues for “the persistent culture of leaks” was not the spokesperson.  Should be interesting to read the oral history related to this at some point.
Given that all but two of the under secretary and assistant secretary positions in the State Department were filled with political appointees, January 20 also came with the departure of the top functional and bureau officials in Foggy Bottom. The only two positions encumbered by Senate-confirmed career officials were U/Secretary for Political Affairs (David Hale) and the Director General of the Foreign Service (Carol Perez). As best we could tell, Hale is still U/Secretary for Political Affairs. DGHR, however, is now encumbered by Ambassador Kenneth Merten as the bureau’s senior official according to state.gov.  Update 1/21 11:32 am: Carol Perez is listed as senior official for the U/Secretary for Management (this also skips the Deputy M).
All regional bureaus under the U/Secretary for Political Affairs are currently headed by career officials designated as “senior official” or “senior bureau official.” The same goes for all functional bureaus. Overseas, it looks like all political ambassadors have stepped down, except for a few who are non-FS but are in the Civil Service. The US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan, a former Deputy Secretary of State appears to have remained at post as of this writing. When this happens during the transition, it is typically with the approval of the new administration.
President Biden has previously announced the nomination of the following senior officials:
Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman as Deputy Secretary of State
Brian P. McKeon as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources
Dr. Bonnie Jenkins as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs
Ambassador Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Uzra Zeya as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Unless we’ve missed the announcement, the nominees for the following positions are still forthcoming:
Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Under Secretary of State for Management
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs