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?

 


 

 

 

Around the U.S. Diplomatic Service: Holiday Greetings 2020

US EMBASSY OSLO, NORWAY

US EMBASSY MANILA, PHILIPPINES

US EMBASSY WARSAW, POLAND

US CONSULATE GENERAL LAHORE, PAKISTAN

US EMBASSY BELGRADE, SERBIA

US EMBASSY CHIȘINĂU, MOLDOVA

 

US EMBASSY QUITO, ECUADOR

US CONSULATE GENERAL BARCELONA, SPAIN

US EMBASSY BAGOTA, COLOMBIA

 

 

US Mission Turkey: @ABDIstanbul Employee Mete Canturk Gets 5-Year Jail Term #WhatAreYouGonnaDo #StateDept

 

Reuters notes that Mete Canturk is the third U.S. consulate worker to be convicted in Turkey. Hamza Ulucay was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison on terrorism charges. Metin Topuz, a translator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in June to nearly nine years in jail for aiding Gulen’s network.
See more here:

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Security Alerts in Turkey and Azerbaijan: Potential Terrorist Attacks and Kidnapping of US/Foreign Nationals

 

 

Mexico: US Consulate Tijuana Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos Found Dead in a Field

 

Fox 5 San Diego reported on October 2 that a local  employee of the US Consulate General in Tijuana, Mexico reported missing on September 30 was found dead in a field southeast of the city. The employee identified as Edgar Flores Santos worked on animal and plant inspection for the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS office in Tijuana.
The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau tweeted that US Mission Mexico is mourning the loss of Flores Santos and that the mission is grateful for his service. He also tweeted that post offers its sincere condolences to his loved ones and will work with law enforcement until he and his family receive justice. 
Fox 5 San Diego also published a statement issued by US Consulate Tijuana:
“The community of the U.S. Consulate of the United States in Tijuana deeply laments reports of the death of one of our local employees, a member of the Agricultural Department involved in the sanitary inspections of plants and animals with the office in Tijuana,” read the statement. “We are awaiting official confirmation, and we’ll continue working with local authorities investigating the case, out of respect for the family we will have no further comment.”

 

 

U.S. Mission China Bids Farewell to U.S. Consulate General Chengdu

 

A press release from the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, China at 10 o’clock in the morning on Monday, July 27, 2020).
“At 10am July 27, as required by the Chinese side, the US Consulate General in Chengdu was closed. China’s competent authorities then entered through the front entrance and took over the premises.”
As of this writing, there was no announcement from Foggy Bottom.
On Sunday, July 26, US Mission China did post a video saying “Today, we bid farewell to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. We will miss you forever.”

 

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China Orders US Consulate Chengdu Closed in Response to Chinese Consulate Houston Closure

 

On July 23, 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it has informed the United States that it withdrew “its consent for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu.” The announcement only says that “The Ministry also made specific requirements on the ceasing of all operations and events by the Consulate General” but did not indicate a time window. Reports on the ordered closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston notes that the US asked that the consulate stop events and move employees out by Friday, July 24. (see China Says US Ordered Closure of Its Houston Consulate By July 24).
Update 1:25 am PDT: WSJ is reporting that China is giving the U.S. 72 hours to close the Chengdu consulate. American diplomats in Chengdu have 30 days to leave China.
The US Consulate General Chengdu’s consular district is made up of the Provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou, as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region and Chongqing City Municipality.
Via US Mission China:

Photo from US Mission China website

The U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu was established in 1985 and was originally located on the first floor of the west wing of the Jinjiang Hotel.  The Consulate started with only six American officers and approximately 20 local employees.  It was made up of an Executive Office (a Consul General and administrative assistant); a small office handling political, economic and commercial issues; a Consular Section; a Management Section and what was then known as the U.S. Information Service.

In 1985, each of the offices was covered by one American officer. The Consulate today has grown tremendously by comparison, with almost 200 total staff. Approximately 150 of these are locally hired professional Chinese staff who are the heart of our daily operations and many of whom have served for many years.

 

China Says US Ordered Closure of Its Houston Consulate By July 24

 

 

Chigozie Okocha: The Slow Burning Car That is the Black and Brown Experience in the State Department

By Chigozie Okocha
(The author is a second-tour Foreign Service Officer, currently serving as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad, India).

 

In response to the killing of George Floyd and tense protests in the United States, a white colleague graciously reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to lead a discussion on the racial tension that I or other black and brown colleagues may be experiencing in the State Department.  I assumed it was an appeal to support in organizing a space for me to vent my frustrations, if I chose to do so.  I recognize that the idea with this type of forum is to encourage further discussion around issues particularly affecting officials that look like me to freely unpack and process through subtle hostilities and/or overt discriminatory practices we witness within the State Department.  I respectfully declined.
I declined not because I am against such a proposition, quite the contrary.  I do believe holding open and honest interventions about racial issues and unconscious bias, interwoven with office politics, could prove fruitful (and probably should be instituted in most office spaces).  Such fora could potentially help victims of these office transgressions express themselves in ways that they have never done before, to colleagues who may occupy a significant amount of time and space in their daily lives.
I declined because as I was experiencing mental burnout from processing racial tension in the United States, I was not convinced this request satisfied the cost-benefit analysis.  And now that I have taken a bit longer to reflect on the proposition, I feel fully cemented in my decision.  Holding such a forum is not for me, and here is why.
All officers who work for the State Department upon entry into the Foreign Service go through a six-week orientation, in which one day is dedicated to acknowledging the institution’s white-washed history.  The State Department, like most other institutions whether public or private, had its history imbued with racist measures embedded in its brick and mortar – from biased recruitment and testing to the “Negro Circuit,” or as former Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. explains, a label that describes a process by which assignments for African American Ambassadors were limited to only smaller less-influential posts.  The State Department in its inception was not for black and brown applicants.
In its defense, the State Department has made strides to uproot its previously held racist policies, including a concerted effort through fellowship programs and advocacy/affinity groups.  But naturally, that uprooting leaves residue scattered everywhere, which can be hard to see.  The decision makers who take up senior leadership positions in the State Department are still predominately white.  And for many black or brown junior and mid-level officers, stories abound of racial bias or prejudicial slights and insults that would considerably dampen the mood at any weekend social gathering.
It’s this elephant in the room I am reminded of that makes me think, “what would a forum for such discussions serve, if not only to put these officers on display so they may relive their possibly potent traumatic experiences, for your recreation?”  As onlookers drive past and stare intriguingly at the burning car, only to then continue on toward their intended destination, the consequence of inaction is institutionalized apathy.  You might be thinking, “well these sessions help us learn, and they encourage us to devise a path forward,” to which I echo an activist who asked “what extensive course are you learning and why haven’t you passed yet?”
From junior officers to ambassadors, the stories of racism or inequities in hiring practices, promotions, and assignments that former or current black and brown State Department officials have experienced are already public and accessible.  The statistics underscoring inequalities are also public and accessible.  Better yet, there are countless articles on the web that offer direct testimony on how underlying racial biases have permeated the workplace and everyday life.  What else is there to learn?
A CALL TO ACTION . . .

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