Mystery Illness: @StateDept Raising Doubt About 14 China Cases #TheThing

 

We’ve blogged previously about the mystery illness that was reported to have afflicted USG employees in China (U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs; Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?)

Last night, CBS/60Minutes did a segment on the health attacks in China. Back in July  2018, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi whose access to the building at post was reportedly restricted after he “began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family.” Recap below: USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

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60Minutes notes that “for reasons that are unclear, the State Department is raising doubt about the other 14 China cases. Click here for the transcript of the State Department segment.

In addition to Mark Lenzi, also on camera were U.S. Commerce Department trade officer Catherine Werner,  trade officer Robyn Garfield and wife Britta who were posted in Shanghai, and former NSA employee Mark Lenzi who believed that the weapon used is a radio frequency energy, in the microwave range.

A clue that supports that theory was revealed by the National Security Agency in 2014. This NSA statement describes such a weapon as a “high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time without leaving evidence.” The statement goes on to say “…this weapon is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves.” The NSA disclosed this in a worker’s compensation case filed by former NSA employee Mike Beck.

Also:  “The State Department declined an interview, but in a statement to 60 Minutes it said, “We will continue to provide our colleagues the care they need, regardless of their diagnosis or the location of their medical evacuation.” A State Department official told us that the Cuba patients are victims of an attack. But State hasn’t made the same determination for the China patients. The department has asked the National Academies of Science to assist in the medical investigation.”

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@StateDG Perez Swears-In Career Diplomat Lynne Tracy as US Ambassador to Armenia

Posted: 3:52 am EST

 

On August 26, 2008 gunmen ambushed FSO Lynne Tracy’s vehicle in Peshawar, Pakistan, riddling the car with bullets. She survived the attack. Her Award for Heroism reads: “In recognition of your brave service as Principal Officer in Peshawar, Pakistan from September 2006 to August 2009. Despite a violent kidnapping attempt and threats against your life, you remained at this critical post to complete your mission with steadfast courage and gallant leadership.” See HRC Presents Heroism Award to Lynne Tracy

On February 19, she was sworn-in as the new Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia.

FBI Offers $20,000 Reward For ID in Nov 30 U.S. Consulate Guadalajara Grenade Attack

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the public’s assistance in learning the identity of the two individuals allegedly responsible for the November 30 grenade attack on the U.S. Consulate compound in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The FBI is offering a reward up to $20,000 dollars in exchange for information leading to the identification and arrest of these individuals.  Anyone with information about this incident or the identity or the whereabouts of these individuals is urged to contact investigators at a toll free number 001-800-225-5324 or at 33-3268-2349.   All information can remain anonymous and confidentiality is guaranteed. Read more below:

Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

Pompeo Convenes ARB Guadalajara For Jan 2017 Attack on USG Employee

On November 8, the Federal Register published a notice that an Accountability Review Board (ARB) for a security incident where a U.S. national attempted to murder a U.S. diplomat in Guadalajara, Mexico had been convened:

On June 1, 2018, Secretary Pompeo authorized the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review a January 2017 attack on a U.S. government employee in Guadalajara, Mexico. Pursuant to Section 304 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4834), the ARB will examine the facts and circumstances, and report findings and recommendations as it deems appropriate, in keeping with its mandate. (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). Last month, the assailant was sentenced to 22 years (see U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico).

The notice includes the composition of the ARB:

Secretary has appointed Lisa Kubiske, a retired U.S. Ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, retired Ambassador Joan Plaisted, Ms. Carol Gallo, and Mr. John DeSalvio. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.

According to the notice, the Board “will submit its conclusions and recommendations to Secretary Pompeo within 60 days of its first meeting, unless the Chair determines a need for additional time. Within the timeframes required by statute following receipt of the report, the Department will report to Congress on recommendations made by the Board and action taken with respect to those recommendations.”

12 FAM 030 on the ARB provides that “The Secretary must convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such 60-day period may be extended for one additional 60-day period if the Secretary determines that the additional period is necessary for the convening of the Board.”  The attack occurred in January 2017; we have not been able to locate a notice of an ARB for this incident authorized by Tillerson. Pompeo assumed office in Foggy Bottom on April 26, 2018. ARB Guadalajara was authorized on June 1, 2018, some 17 months after the incident, but less than 60 days from Pompeo’s taking office. 

There is a provision in the regs for a delay in convening an ARB; we can’t tell if the delay here was under this provision or simply because Tillerson’s tenure was beset by chaos: With respect to breaches of security involving intelligence activities, the Secretary may delay the convening of a Board, if, after consultation with the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate and the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, the Secretary determines that the establishment of a Board would compromise intelligence sources or methods.  The Secretary must promptly advise the chairs of such committees of each determination to delay the establishment of a Board. 

In any case, we’re still interested in learning more about what happened to ARB Guadalajara. If it’s been concluded, has it been forwarded to Congress? 

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U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

 

This past July we blogged about the guilty plea of U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar over his attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat assigned at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico (see U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico).

We posted previously about this case:

On November 7, USDOJ announced that Zia Zafar was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mr. Ashcraft. In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release. The DOJ release also notes that Mr. Ashcraft survived the attack, but that “the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.”

The original statement is available here.

U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

A U.S. national and former medical student was sentenced to 264 months in prison for the 2017 shooting of a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Acting Special Agent in Charge Tom Jones of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian J. Schurman for U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security and Director for Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, previously pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar was sentenced by U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release.

“Zia Zafar targeted a U.S. government employee and surveilled him before shooting him in the chest at close range,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “The Department of Justice will do everything in its power to prosecute anyone who targets U.S. officials at home or abroad.  I commend the investigative team and our law enforcement partners in Mexico for their outstanding work in bringing Zafar to justice for this premediated heinous act.”

“The FBI works closely with international partners and security services in order to conduct complex investigations and acquire evidence from abroad for criminal prosecutions in the United States,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jones.  “I want to thank the Mexican government for their full support and cooperation throughout this investigation.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

“Today’s sentencing of Zia Zafar sends a strong message: Diplomatic Security is committed to making sure those who attack diplomatic personnel representing America abroad face serious consequences,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Schurman.  “Diplomatic Security’s strong relationships with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. and foreign law enforcement partners around the world continue to be essential in the pursuit of justice.  Such crimes threaten the national security of the United States.”

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea and facts presented at the sentencing hearing, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar, then living in Guadalajara, Mexico, armed himself with a firearm and wore a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance.  He then waited in a parking garage for the victim, a vice consul who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara, following him as he walked towards his vehicle.  After noticing a security guard nearby, Zafar changed his location to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the vice consul to exit.  When the vice consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the vice consul in his chest.  The vice consul survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the vice consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Walutes of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

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We were hoping that court records would provide some more clarity about this case, unfortunately, they don’t. We wanted to understand what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this attack. There is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.  U.S. Attorney Terwilliger says, “The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States.” All consulate officials represent the United States in Guadalajara, what made this specific diplomat the target?  The U.S. national attacker reportedly lived in California but was studying in Mexico. This individual left California, went to Mexico, and then later decided to surveil the consulate in Guadalajara in order to find a target? Why? What made him decide he suddenly wanted to shot a representative of his own country one day? What was the trigger? This case remains perplexing to us.

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Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs

Via  NBC News:

NBC News also reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records of U.S. government workers evacuated from both Cuba and China, including those the U.S. has “medically confirmed” were attacked and those it ultimately said were not.
[…]

Most of the American diplomatic evacuees have improved enough to resume work, State Department officials said. Some have been granted accommodations, such as shortened work hours, dimmed office lights or special glasses. Meanwhile, the White House National Security Council is preparing legislation to deal with gaps that Workers’ Compensation doesn’t currently cover, such as care for affected spouses or pay-outs for permanent impairment of the brain.

In internal State Department instructions reviewed by NBC News, workers in Cuba and China were told not to discuss what they knew with the public, with reporters or on social media.
[…]

In May, Pompeo called Werner’s case “entirely consistent” with the Cuba patients. But now top U.S. diplomats say they’re not sure it’s the same thing, with one telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee it’s “apples and oranges.”

And the State Department, in explaining why it’s not setting up a review board to assess the response in Cuba, told NBC News that Pompeo didn’t believe there was enough information to prove that Werner’s injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad.”

Somebody please set us straight here. Wasn’t there an ARB for the Cuba attack? Or was there an ARB Havana but no ARB Guangzhou? How did State made a determination that there wasn’t enough information  the injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad” without convening an Accountability Review Board? Did they use their Magic 8 crystal ball?

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Amb. Prudence Bushnell: Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience (Book Preview)

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Antananarivo: Diplomat Found Dead After Apparent Attack in Residence

 

On September 24, the State Department issued a statement on the death of a U.S. diplomat assigned at the American Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar:

We are deeply saddened to confirm that a U.S. Foreign Service Officer was found dead in their residence in the overnight hours of Friday, September 21. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo community. U.S. investigators have opened an investigation into the matter as have the local Malagasy authorities, and a suspect is currently in custody. Out of respect for the family of the deceased as well as the ongoing investigative process, the Department does not have any additional comments at this time.

According to AFP,  the diplomat was found dead after an apparent attack in his residence in Madagascar’s capital and that the suspect had been arrested. “In the early hours of Sunday morning “after receiving a call from neighbours and private security guards, the gendarmerie night patrol found an American diplomat dead at his home,” police spokesperson Herilalatiana Andrianarisaona told AFP.”

A State/OIG report from May 2015 notes that US Embassy Antananarivo has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. A previous report dated February 2010 notes that there were 305 locally employed staff, and 275 contract guards.

In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The Key Officers List dated September 14 indicates that post does not have a chief of mission and is currently headed by Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Stuart R. Wilson who was originally assigned as DCM to Antananarivo in August 2017.

On August 1, a Travel Alert was issued for Madagascar indicating a change to Level 2 Exercise Increased Caution category due to civil unrest and crime.

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ADST-DACOR Book Launch: Amb. Prudence Bushnell’s Account of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings

Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s book, Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings will be available on October 1. On October 2, ADST-DACOR will hold a book launch at the DACOR Bacon House. This is the 65th volume in the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series.

Date: October 2
Time: 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
To RSVP please email: programs@dacorbacon.org if you plan to attend the reception (free of charge)

Via Amazon: On August 7, 1998, three years before President George W. Bush declared the War on Terror, the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Prudence Bushnell was serving as U.S. ambassador. Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is her account of what happened, how it happened, and its impact twenty years later.

When the bombs went off in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania that day, Congress was in recess and the White House, along with the entire country, was focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Congress held no hearings about the bombings, the national security community held no after-action reviews, and the mandatory Accountability Review Board focused on narrow security issues. Then on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. homeland and the East Africa bombings became little more than an historical footnote.

Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is Bushnell’s account of her quest to understand how these bombings could have happened given the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nairobi had been getting since 1996 from special groups in the National Security Council, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. Bushnell tracks national security strategies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep us safe in 1998 and continue unchallenged today. In this hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account she reveals what led to poor decisions in Washington and demonstrates how diplomacy and leadership going forward will be our country’s most potent defense.

“Ambassador Prudence Bushnell is a true professional with the toughness, grit, courage, and compassion that marks the kind of superb leader you want in charge during a crisis. I witnessed her remarkable composure, even when personally injured, and her take-command leadership style. This book is important for many reasons. It vividly presents a profile in courage; an understanding rarely appreciated about our foreign service men and women working in difficult assignments; a set of valuable lessons learned; and a case study in leadership during crisis. Every American should read this book.”—Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

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