EEOC Case: Investigators Find False Accusations, Agency Refuses to Help Clear His Name

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

This is an EEOC case about a complainant who was the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Naples, Italy.  The name used here is a pseudonym as in eeoc practice but the details are similar to the ugly, nasty case a few years back that made the news.  Most notable lesson here about the Privacy Act, and the limits of  Diplomatic Security’s willingness to clear somebody’s name when needed.

Via eeoc.gov

Believing that the Agency subjected him to unlawful discrimination, Complainant filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) claim with the Agency. On November 26, 2013, Complainant and the Agency entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the matter. This decision on the breached settlement was issued in November 2016. Excerpt below:

Background:

The record reflects that a subordinate of Complainant (Subordinate 1), who resigned in May 2012, and to a lesser extent her spouse made highly charged allegations against Complainant, i.e., entertaining prostitutes, escorts, and married women in his residence during work hours, engaging in fraud or mismanagement of funds, permitting his driver to be fired so his job could go to someone else and as a form of retaliation, throwing metal umbrella pots from his sixth floor residence down to the parking lot below and then jumping on and crushing them, and this was captured on CCTV and in front of the security guards, and so forth. By April 2013, the U.S. Embassy Rome, in consultation with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Special Investigation Division initiated an investigation. The investigation was conducted by two Special Agents with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and involved 20 individual interviews with Consulate Staff. It concluded that the accusation that Complainant threw metal pots was “false,” and the three other allegations specified above were completely false. The investigation found that the remaining allegations were variously false, completely false, unsubstantiated, not supported by evidence, and one, in essence, grossly exaggerated.

On June 16, 2013, the New York Post and Fox News published highly negative stories about Complainant, writing for example that Subordinate 1, a whistleblower, said Complainant had trysts with hookers, and this was the latest black eye for the scandal-ridden State Department. On June 17, 2013, Complainant was copied on an Agency email chain regarding the New York Post reporting Subordinate 1’s allegation that Complainant insisted a staffer have an abortion and the staffer said she got her “tubes tied” at his instruction. It was indicated in the email chain that the staffer said the article was “all lies” and felt strongly that she should respond to the article by saying something. The above DCM advised that it would be much better for the staffer not to say anything for now – that this could all blow over quickly.

In his EEO claim, according to Complainant, he alleged discrimination when he was denied assignments in line with his experience, ability, and professional background, the DCM knew that allegations against him by Subordinate 1, her spouse and two others were false and failed to take appropriate action, and management held him accountable for the false accusations and denied him support.

By letters to the Agency dated February 1, 2016 and May 10, 2016, Complainant alleged that the Agency misled him into entering into the settlement agreement and breached it. Specifically, he alleged that when he signed the settlement agreement, the Agency knew Subordinate 1’s EEO complaint had been investigated with a finding of no wrongdoing on his part, that she would likely continue to litigate in federal court, and he could have used the EEO decision to exonerate himself. Complainant wrote that after the settlement agreement, Subordinate 1 continued to attack him in the press, with articles appearing in prominent news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Post. He pointed to a proposed June 2013 Agency press release recounting that the Diplomatic Security Service investigated the allegations and found no violations of U.S. or Italian law, and contended that had the press release been issued this would have rebutted the articles or they would not have been published. He argues that the Agency allowed employees and family members to utilize the EEO process to raise false allegations against him despite the Agency’s conclusion that they were baseless, and in failing to clear his name breached the settlement agreement and made it ineffective and unenforceable.

The Agency found that it complied with the settlement agreement. Regarding term 9.d, the Agency found that Complainant’s submittal of proposed changes to his 2012 EER was a condition precedent to the former DCM reviewing them and considering making changes, and Complainant admitted he did not submit proposed changes because he was too disheartened and depressed. On appeal, Complainant, who is represented by counsel, confirms this, but adds another reason was that he lacked the necessary facts, particularly the EEO decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint.

Regarding term 9.g, the Agency recounted that Complainant stated it was breached because (1) the Agency simply wrote a one page memorandum simply listing the allegations against him and stating they were found to be unsubstantiated rather than discussing things in context to show how his accusers seized on scandal to defame him and hinder his career, (2) the memorandum was only based on facts until October 2013, failing to fulfill its purpose of summarizing the Diplomatic Security investigation,3 and (3) the Agency, in response to his inquiries, could not give him a clear answer on whether he could share the memorandum with family, colleagues, friends, and his Italian attorney, preventing him from doing so. On appeal, Complainant confirms that he raised reasons (1) and (3). He argues that not being able to share the memorandum makes it useless and his reason for entering into settlement negotiations was to restore his reputation.

In determining that it complied with term 9.g, the Agency found that it met its obligation to provide a summary of the investigation, and that there is no evidence the parties agreed to any specific format in or upon the use of the memorandum.

In determining that it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith, the Agency found that Complainant cited no authority for the proposition that it was obligated to divulge the outcome of Subordinate 1’s EEO case, and there was no evidence it negotiated in bad faith.

On appeal, Complainant adds that he would not have bargained for a memorandum summarizing the results of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s investigation had he known he could not use it, this is common sense, and the Agency’s failure to authorize its use is a breach of the settlement agreement. Complainant argues that the Agency breached the settlement agreement by failing to live up to the spirit of the document. He argues that the Agency’s failure, upon his request, to allow the issuance of the proposed press release in the Agency’s name violates the settlement agreement.

In opposition to the appeal, the Agency argues that disclosing Subordinate 1’s employment discrimination investigation would violate privacy right protected information, and it did not negotiate the settlement agreement in bad faith.

Decision

In June 2013, after the New York Post reported highly charged accusations by Subordinate 1 about the way Complainant treated a staffer, an Agency email string on which Complainant was copied showed the staffer wanted to say something rebutting what was reported, but the former DCM opined it would be much better if the staffer did not say anything now – this could blow over quickly. Further, Complainant strongly suggests that he was aware the Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigation was favorable and he certainly knew the Agency had done nothing to publically clear his name. While Complainant wanted the Agency to publically clear his name, he agreed to a settlement agreement that did not have a term explicitly doing this. Instead, the Agency agreed to issue to a summary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Complainant – not the public.

Complainant’s contention that the Agency bargained for the settlement agreement in bad faith is not persuasive. First, as argued by the Agency, it had reason to believe the administrative decision on Subordinate 1’s complaint was protected by the Privacy Act, since administrative EEO records are generally within the scope of the Act. Further, Complainant has not shown he did not already have sufficient information to make a fair bargain when negotiating the settlement agreement.

The FAD is AFFIRMED.

Read the full case here via eeoc.gov.

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U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Posted: 2:01 am ET
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On October 8, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all temporary visa services for the embassy and consulates in Turkey. The statement says that “recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.” This development follows the arrest of U.S. Consulate General’s Metin Topuz, a locally hired employee in Istanbul this past week (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”). There was also the prior arrest of the U.S. Consulate Adana local employee Hamza Uluçay, arrested in March on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” and who remains in jail to this day.

Hamza Uluçay has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years, and according to Hurriyet Daily News was arrested as he left the consulate building for “allegedly attempting to direct the public to provocative activities in the southeastern province of Mardin.” Back in March, Hamsa Bey was reportedly referred to a local court in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district but he was later released on probation. The prosecutor objected to the release and he was detained for the second time on charges of “being a member of a terror organization.”  According to Hurriyet, the searches at Hamsa Bey’s residence includes seizure of $21 U.S. dollars with B, C, D, F, G, K and L series on them.

An AP report in April 2016 previously notes that Turkish  authorities are citing U.S. banknotes, specifically $1 bills as evidence that people are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the A Haber television channel, “There is no doubt that this $1 bill has some important function within the Gulenist terror organization.” The AP report citing the Aksam daily, says that one theory is that F designates a high-ranking soldier or police chief; J and C represent low-ranking soldiers; E and S are for instructors and academics in Gulenist schools and B is for students.

In July,  Henri J. Barket wrote about Hamsa Bey in The Atlantic’s Erdogan’s Anti-Westernism Picks Up Speed:

One particularly absurd case is that of Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, who was picked up on “terrorism” charges. He is a foreign service national, a local hire who helps U.S. diplomats arrange meetings and navigate the local political and social scene. I have known Hamza for 25 years—I first met him in the 1990s in Adana during a research trip. When I saw him last in March 2016, I joked with him that he ought to never retire because Consulate Adana, notwithstanding his American colleagues, could not function without him. These audacious charges amount to nothing less than sticking a thumb in America’s eye.

Local employees including those in small posts like Adana provide not only bridges with local host country nationals and officials, they also provide continuity for posts so our diplomats are able to do their jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Adana covers a consular district that encompasses 22 provinces, including Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Its district includes the major cities of Mersin, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Van that have large Kurdish population. One diplomat told us that “Hamza Bey in Adana is one of our finest.” Local employees do not freelance, or go rogue; the calls and contacts they make in their own countries are connected to their jobs, and are done on behalf of their American supervisors, and consequently, on behalf of the United States. Unlike American diplomats who have diplomatic and consular immunity (PDF), local employees do not have such privileges and immunities.

The second, and latest local employee arrested by Turkish authorities is Metin Topuz “on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.” According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish pro-government daily, the indictment for Metin Bey includes “contact with a number of police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked” and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.” The indictment reportedly also charged that he is a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.”

The Daily Sabah previously reported this arrest as “US consulate linked to another alleged FETÖ conspiracy.” The newspaper citing a report by the Akşam newspaper says that “M.T. assisted FETÖ-linked police chiefs in handing over documents regarding the 2013 police operations to Preet Bharara, a former New York attorney who conducted an investigation into Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish national who is being held in the U.S. three years after being included in a 2013 probe involving people close to the government in Turkey.”

We understand that Metin Bey works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. Contacts with members of the local judiciary or law enforcement would certainly be part of his job, a fact lost on the Government of Turkey.  Turkey watchers notice that government-affiliated press is ramping things up. U.S. Mission Turkey’s October 5 made reference to leaks, and an attempt to try Metin Bey in the media rather than in the court of law.

It is probably not an accident that the local employees arrested are long-term employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey. The question is if this is now open season for all Turkish nationals working for the United States in Turkey. If the Turkish Government can go after employees at the U.S. consulates, how long before they’re going to go after the Turkish nationals working for the U.S. Military in Turkey?

According to turkeypurge.com which monitors President Erdogan’s purges since July 15, 2016, our NATO-ally Turkey has now arrested over 60,000 individuals, detained over 127,000 people, arrested over 300 journalists, shut down 187 media outlets, and sacked over 146,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics who were dismissed by government decrees.

And now this — Turkey’s MFA copy/pasted the official USG statement, and has now issued a reciprocal suspension of visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States. It addition to its embassy, Turkey has seven consulates in the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

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EEOC Case: “Complainant maintained his interpersonal skills were exceptional”

Posted: 1:52 am ET
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At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, the unnamed Complainant in this EEOC case worked as an entry-level Vice- Consul at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan. The EEOC decision notes that the Complainant commenced duty in Karachi on July 18, 2011, and was involuntarily curtailed from post on April 7, 2012.

According to the EEOC, on September 24, 2014, Complainant filed an appeal, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.403(a), from the Agency’s May 13, 2013, final decision concerning his equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.

On January 24, 2017, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s determination that no discrimination occurred.

Excerpt via eeoc.gov (PDF):

The Karachi Consul General stated that the curtailment was justified because Complainant was repeatedly insubordinate with his supervisors and he refused to accept feedback and/or guidance. The Consul General noted that making fun of a Foreign Service National was among the inappropriate actions taken by Complainant. The Consul General characterized Complainant as a very disturbing presence in the office. The Embassy Islamabad Consul General stated that he decided to request Complainant’s involuntary curtailment and that he sought concurrence of the Deputy Chief of Mission and the Ambassador. The Islamabad Consul General noted that Complainant refused to seek voluntary curtailment and took no responsibility for his actions. According to the Islamabad Consul General, Complainant’s repeated insubordination and aggressive behavior toward the consular managers affected their ability to manage and their emotional stability. The Ambassador’s cable to Washington requesting the involuntary curtailment stated that during and after each counseling session Complainant threatened he would file a grievance or a lawsuit against his supervisors.
[…]
With respect to his Employee Evaluation Report (EER), Complainant argued that it should have reflected an excellent job performance. The Supervisor, as Complainant’s rating officer, stated that she did not have a problem with Complainant’s substantive work performance. The Supervisor commended Complainant’s intellectual skills and work ethic. However, the Supervisor remarked that the conduct issues were significant and she could not recommend that Complainant be tenured based on his conduct while she supervised him. The Supervisor noted that Complainant informed her that he would not change his behavior.

Complainant maintained that his interpersonal skills were exceptional as reflected in his reviews from his prior posts. The Supervisor, however, asserted that Complainant did not display an ability to work in a team-oriented, collaborative approach with his colleagues. The Supervisor noted that Complainant continuously made disparaging comments about one of his colleagues and suggested on several occasions that this coworker be fired. The Karachi Consul General, as Complainant’s review officer, commented that while Complainant is a very intelligent and articulate officer, his inability to compromise and accept supervisory guidance make it unlikely he could succeed in the Foreign Service over the duration of a normal career. The Karachi Consul General explained that Karachi is a post where there are ongoing threats and they work in a constant state of crisis. The Karachi Consul General asserted that teamwork, sensitivity, and flexibility are critical to maintaining morale and assisting others in dealing with the stress.
[….]
The Agency determined that Complainant failed to establish pretext with respect to both the Letter of Admonishment and the involuntary curtailment. The Agency noted that Complainant stated in his affidavit that he did not believe his race and age were factors in the Letter of Admonishment. With respect to Complainant’s claim of age discrimination as to the involuntary curtailment, the Agency rejected that argument noting that three of the four management officials named in the complaint are substantially older than Complainant. As to Complainant’s claim of reprisal, the Agency discerned no persuasive argument from Complainant to challenge its reasons for the issuance of the Letter of Admonishment and the involuntary curtailment. In terms of the Employee Evaluation Report, the Agency stated that it sees no reason to disbelieve the consistent criticism by three officers in the chain of command regarding Complainant’s interpersonal skills.
[…]
Complainant stated that the Karachi Consul General referred to him as Señor. Complainant explained that this reference could be perceived as demeaning his standing in the community and stated that after some time he objected to the term. With regard to the Consul, Complainant claimed that he sought to elicit much information from him that was not directed toward a professional goal. Complainant maintained that the Consul was intimidated and threatened by his experience and made him feel uncomfortable by frequently asking him why he was in Karachi. According to the Supervisor, when she asked Complainant for examples of harassment by the Consul, Complainant stated that the Consul watched him too much and asked him why he joined the Foreign Service. The Karachi Consul General denied that Complainant raised a hostile work environment with him but acknowledged that Complainant was unhappy with Consular Section operations. The Karachi Consul General stated that he urged Complainant to make efforts to get along with management but that Complainant responded he had the ability to operate the Section more effectively than management. The Embassy Islamabad Consul General stated that he believed Complainant created a hostile work environment for his bosses and was not himself suffering from a hostile work environment.

The Agency noted that only one witness recommended by Complainant supported his description of the work environment. This witness stated that after Complainant spoke with the Deputy Chief Mission on March 12, 2012, the Supervisor began to question him to a larger extent than the other officers and otherwise shunned him. According to this witness, the Supervisor created a hostile work environment but not based on Complainant’s race or age. The witness stated that all of the Foreign Service Officers in the Section told him that the Supervisor mismanaged the Section. With regard to Complainant’s style of interpersonal communication, the witness stated that some of Complainant’s peers found him abrasive and unnecessarily argumentative. The witness added that Complainant was sometimes abrasive with his supervisors.
[…]
Complainant has not submitted persuasive evidence that the Agency’s scrutiny of various aspects of his work, the comments at issue, and his leave were greater than that of any of his colleagues or that the scrutiny was based on his age, race, or prior EEO activity. It appears that Complainant’s Supervisor may have had problems managing the Section, but those difficulties and her treatment of Complainant were not attributable to an impermissible discriminatory motivation. Complainant in turn engaged in interpersonal communication that was abrasive and unnecessarily argumentative with both management officials and coworkers, and the Embassy Islamabad Consul General believed that Complainant created a hostile work environment for management officials in Karachi. We find that Complainant did not establish that he was subjected to a legally hostile work environment based on his race, age or in reprisal for his protected EEO activity.

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U.S. Orders Russia to Close Its Consulate General in San Francisco, Two Annexes By Sept. 2

Posted: 11:17 am ET
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On August 31, the State Department announced that it is requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Closures need to be done by Saturday, September 2.

The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.

In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.

With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each. While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.

The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.

A senior official confirmed to BuzzFeed that that the U.S. presence  is down to 455 in Russia, but apparently would not give a breakdown of who was let go.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News citing Kommersant reported that Russia may be forced to close one of four consulates in the U.S. as part of an ongoing diplomatic tit-for-tat.  Russia has consulates general in New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Three days ago, Russia MFA rep Maria Maria Zakharova reportedly said on television that the reduction of personnel at U.S. Mission Russia was not “absolutely not a Russian demand”, that it was an offer, a suggestion.

The July 27 statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it “reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.” In that same statement, it uses the word “suggest” but also “must.” There is no way to interpret that official statement as merely a suggestion for the U.S. Government

– Therefore, we suggest that our American counterparts bring the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

The full statement is here.

Similarly, the Russian readout of the July 28 conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson said that “Sergey Lavrov emphasised that the decision to even out the number of employees in US and Russian diplomatic missions and to suspend the use of two properties by the US Embassy is the result of a series of hostile steps by Washington.”

 

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@StateDept Awards $422M Contract For New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq

Posted: 3:49 am ET
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On June 30, the State Department awarded a $422,470,379.00 contract to B.L. Harbery (sic) International, LLC of Alabama for the construction of the New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq (NCC Erbil). We believe the company’s name is actually B.L. Harbert contrary to published information via fedbiz.

The new Consulate Compound will be constructed on U.S. Government property located in Erbil, Iraq. The site is approximately 50 acres and is located 8.1 miles from the city center.  The scope includes: New Office Building, Marine Security Guard Residence (MSGR), Consulate General Residence (CGR), shops, storage, and maintenance facilities (SPX), perimeter security, vehicle and pedestrian access control pavilions (CACs), utility building (UTL), and vehicle parking. Staff Housing, Visitor Accommodations, a Community Center with bathhouse/cabana and compound landscaping are also part of the project.

Delal Bridge, Zakho City, Duhok Province
Photo via USCG Erbil/FB

Consulate General Erbil serves the four provinces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Dohuk, Erbil, Halabja and Sulaimaniya. The Consulate General consists of an executive office headed by the Consul General and sections covering political affairs, economic affairs, public diplomacy, rule of law, management, and security. Co-located with the U.S. Consulate General is the USAID office serving the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

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U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure

Posted: 2:12 pm PT
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Next month, the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq would mark its sixth anniversary as the United States diplomatic outpost in the country’s southern-most province near the border with Kuwait.

Located adjacent to the Basrah International Airport, ConGen Basrah serves the four provinces of Iraq’s southern region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The office consists of an executive office, headed by the Consul General, and sections covering economic and commercial affairs, political affairs, public diplomacy, and issues concerning rule of law, border enforcement (both coastal and land/sea), police development, regional security and regional affairs, management, and U.S. development programs managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides limited consular services to emergency American citizen issues but does not does provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

We’ve recently learned that the State Department is now planning on closing the Consulate in Basrah.  One source told us that there is no timeline yet for the post closure. Our source estimates that with all the contract buy-outs, property, and local staffing issues to deal with, it could take half a year to shut things down. When we inquired if the memo circulated this past week was soliciting input or if this is a done deal, another source told us that this is pretty much a done deal as the security upgrade planned for this FY2017 had been cancelled. Not sure which construction/upgrade  project was cancelled but last year, a $4,885,950.00 contract for Basrah was awarded by State/OBO as one of its capital project in Iraq.

Whether this post is officially shuttered  this year or next year, we anticipate that this is only the first in the round of post closures that we understand for now includes over a dozen smaller posts spanning the globe.

U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey officially opens the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman on July 5, 2011. Includes sound bites from Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin – commander, 36th Infantry Division/U.S. Division-South and Piper Campbell, the Consul General at Consulate Basra.

The State/OIG report on Inspection of Embassy Baghdad and Constituent Posts, Iraq in May 2013 notes the following:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.
[…]
At BDSC and Consulate General Basrah, employees live in cramped containerized housing units. Currently, most employees occupy their own unit with a bathroom but no cooking facilities. No long-term plan exists to bring housing closer to Department standards. The need for better long-term housing, addressed in a recommendation earlier in this report, is acute.

The 2013 OIG report recommended that “Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, should decide on the size and the nature of the diplomatic platform needed in Basrah.”

It appears that the Tillerson State Department has now decided that the United States does not need a diplomatic platform in Basrah.

Note that ConGen Basrah went from 81 direct-hire Americans and 1,102 contractors in January 2012 to 75 direct-hire Americans and 986 contractors in January 2013. In January 2014, the latest publicly available data via State/OIG, the direct-hire number was 46, while contractors were at 657.

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a proposal to open, close, or change the status of a post normally is made and recommended by the assistant secretary for the appropriate regional bureau.  […] The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management.

Wait, the State Department is still missing its Under Secretary for Management.

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Burn Bag: Diplomat Writes About “The Slog of Leadership” and Misses Attack Date By a Year+

Via Burn Bag:

What’s this? The worst day of Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley’s life isn’t the day five of her staff were killed in Saudi Arabia? How did she get the date so wrong in this NYTimes Op-Ed? The attack was December 6, 2004, not/not December 4, 2005.

Like every chief of mission around the world, then and now, I began and ended each day with the question: “What can I do to increase safety for my staff?” I had reason to worry because for several years, the security situation in Saudi Arabia had been perilous, with terrorists attacking and murdering Saudis, other Arabs and Westerners. Diplomatic missions were favorite targets and ours, the Consulate General in Jeddah, made up of approximately 50 Americans and 150 locally-hired employees, was particularly attractive. With the advice of my security team, we raised the height of our walls, topped them with glass shards and barbed wire and imposed travel restrictions on the staff. We armed our guards and, unlike most diplomatic compounds, allowed military patrols inside our walls.
[…]
One proposal, however, threatened to tear our community apart. My security chief wanted to require all non-American staff to pass through metal detectors to enter the compound. I understood the imperative for a careful screening. But for a community under siege, the feeling that “we were all in it together” was critical to getting us through each day. Disparate treatment was sure to corrode our cohesiveness and send a signal to the local staff that we distrusted them despite the fact that they, too, put their lives on the line every day by walking through our gates.
[…]
After it was installed, I made sure that I was the very first staff member to walk through the metal detector. I can’t say that we had a Kumbaya moment or that resentment of my decision ended immediately among my American staff.  I had to lead by example and trust that they respected my integrity even if they didn’t like my position.

Despite all our measures, on December 4, 2005, one of the worst days of my life, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. After a long standoff, 10 of my staff members were injured, some terribly, and five were killed. These were colleagues with whom we worked alongside every day, and socialized with after work. And each and every one of them was a local staff member.

Read: http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/05/15/diplomat-to-saudi-arabia-opens-up-about-what-got-her-through-one-of-the-worst-days-of-my-life/

Related posts:

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)

 

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U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET
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In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

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