FS family members 14 and up are forcibly quarantined separately from their families in China?

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Below from Sender A:
State is forcing teenage EFMs 14 and up to forcibly quarantine separately from their families in China. Imagine PCS’ing to a new post and being told the 14 year old child had to quarantine for two weeks alone in a hotel room separated from their parents. How did L sign off on this? This is a legal nightmare waiting to unfold. What 14 year old should be locked alone in a room for two weeks and have all their food brought to them…. no food delivery allowed. What if the child struggles from 14 days of isolation?

We’ve learned previously from a separate source that the Department is requiring employees to fulfill local quarantine rules on arrival in a country, as they apply to diplomats. That’s expected. It would not want the perception of skirting local rules amidst a global pandemic. Back in March, when Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine in Hong Kong, the State Department pushed back and called it “absolutely false.”
A former ambassador pointed out that Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State.” The former official noted that under the normal course of events, an undertaking to quarantine within the embassy premises would normally be agreeable to the local authorities.
We understand that some countries have even waived them for diplomats or allowed diplomats to do it at their embassy quarters. We’re talking about quarantine at entry as opposed to an isolation required due to illness.  But not China. One source called its entry requirements, the “most onerous.” The quarantine is reportedly for all “regardless of test status.”  We were informed that this involves “something like 14 days in a hotel in the arrival city and then a stay at home for another 7 days in your destination city, with multiple tests along the way.”
The EAP bureau and Mission China were supposedly communicating to FS people relocating to China what the requirements are and what they should expect. The rules are “rigid and exacting” we were told.  We understand that a particularly egregious requirement is that couples have to quarantine separately. We were, however, told that the United States had supposedly “received earlier assurances” from the Chinese that in situation where kids are involved, at least one parent would be able to stay with the children.
So, if teens are now being quarantined alone, and separate from the parent/parents — what happened?
  • 1) Is this a case of arbitrary enforcement of local laws?
  • 2) If they’re separating 14 year olds from their parents for the quarantine, why is 14 the magic number?
  • 3) So the host country just now decided not to follow through with its prior assurances, why?
  • 4) Was this so unexpected EAP and Mission China did not get a chance to forewarn incoming FS families?
  • 5) Did State/L sign off on this? If yes, why?If not, what is it going to do about it – just let families bear it?
  • 6) USG and China must have exchanged Diplomatic Notes, what’s in it?
Excerpt from US Mission China’s COVID-19 Information updated on April 20, 2021:

All travelers, including U.S. citizens who enter China, are screened upon arrival and subject to a minimum 14-day quarantine. While restrictions around domestic travel within China have eased, local quarantine requirements can vary significantly between cities, and regulations can change very quickly. All international arrivals should be prepared to complete quarantine at a government-selected facility or hotel at their own expense, with no control over the amenities, even if they maintain a residence in China. Cities and provinces within China may also require quarantine for domestic travelers, regardless of nationality.

The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has an update dated May 10:

Starting May 12, 2012, fully vaccinated individuals will be able to reduce their quarantine by 7 days. Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States will complete 14 days in a designated quarantine hotel and then self-monitor the remaining 7 days. For full information about reduced quarantine, please see the Hong Kong government’s press release.

When we previously blogged about quarantine, the former ambassador also pointed out that our relations with the Chinese “have involved scapegoating them for their failure instantly to recognize and act to control the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, coupled with all sorts of conspiracy theories and uncouth accusations by our former secretary of state and others.  So, it would not be surprising that they would not cut us much slack.”
What else is going on between US and China the last couple of months?
On April 8, 2021, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to the Entity List for conducting activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
On May 10, the SFRC approved S. 1169 Strategic Competition Act of 2021 signaling bipartisan support in “laying out a strategic approach towards Beijing – and assuring that the United States is positioned to compete with China across all dimensions of national and international power for decades to come”.

 

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Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer

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The questions below were sent to the State Department on March 16, 2021 for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the newly designated  Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force (officially called  the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) .  She was appointed with direct reporting responsibility to the Department’s senior leadership. The State Department’s media arm confirmed receipt of these questions on March 17.
To-date, the State Department has not responded to these questions despite our follow-up. It looks like the PA leadership has fed our questions to their email-chewing doggo. Poor bow wow!!! PA folks still sore about this, hey? Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Oh, dear!
Anyways. If you’re the unofficial kind and have some answers to these questions, please send your howlers here or via Twitter and we’ll get back to you. We’ll write as many follow-up posts as needed.

 

Task Force: 

—1. The State Department spokesperson said that there is an individual on the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. The individual was not publicly named. I understand that the 41 recognized victims apparently also have no idea who this individual is or who are the members of the task force. Shouldn’t the State Department be transparent and name all the people on the task force? How do potential victims, (including spouses and foreign nationals) contact the individual tasked with engaging with them?
—2. The ARB Cuba report clearly demonstrates the botched response to these incidents in Havana. It was also an interim report. In addition, we have received allegations that the Department’s response to the incidents in China was much worse. Are there plans to convene an ARB for China? Is there a plan to expand the time frame and places of possible incidents covered in this investigation? We are aware of at least one case that occurred much earlier than December 2016. How many reported cases of mystery illness were excluded by State? With so many varied symptoms, and many unknowns, is it fair to rule out anyone without the full constellation of symptoms? How did the State Department determine that Patient Zero, widely reported to have been injured in December 2016, is really Patient Zero and not Patient Two, or Patient 10 or Patient 20? 
—3. What is the status of the implementation of the ARB Cuba recommendations?
—4. Can you confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?
—5. There were employee/s who suffered grievous treatment in the aftermath of these incidents (e.g. alleged retaliation, uncovered medical expenses). Is Amb Spratlen willing to meet with employees suffering from  medical and bureaucratic chaos brought about by these incidents?

 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report:

—6. I recognized that there is new leadership at State but the HIRTF has been there since 2018. Why did State sit on the NAS report of August 2020 and only released it in December 2020? It is an unclassified report, so national security concerns should not have been an issue.
—7. Has the State Department accepted that the illness is due to microwave exposure? If so, how are employees protected from the next attacks? Why hasn’t State fully implemented the recommendations in the NAS report?

Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

—8. Why is Diplomatic Security still acting (and conducting searches in apartments) as if the cause could be toxic chemicals when NAS ruled out chemical exposure as a cause and pointed to the reported signs, symptoms and observations as consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy?
—9. Why is Diplomatic Security still conducting briefings that “only one person was found by State/MED to be affected in China” when USG has officially diagnosed 15?
—10. How many employees who complained of unexplained illness to MED or DS were told to undergo psych evaluations or told to “get their act together” by the bureaus tasked with protecting their welfare? How many mystery illness were reported globally by employees, family members and local employees before State took them seriously?

 

3 FAM 3660 Implementation

—11. 3 FAM 3660 has been in the Foreign Affairs Manual since May 2020 but we’ve heard reports that State is blocking implementation of the prescribed benefits for employees from other agencies. Can you discuss where the responsibility for adjudicating cases under the provisions of 3 FAM 3660 falls? What is the processing time for requests made under these regulations for State and non-State employees? 
—12. There are numerous employees and family members as you know who still have symptoms but because they are not in the group of 41, they do not qualify for the 3 FAM 3660 provisions and therefore are on their own.  What are the treatment options for the hundreds of employees/family members who were medevaced but were not enrolled like the 41 cases in the UPenn study and designated by Department of Labor to get workers compensation benefits?
—13. How many foreign nationals connected with USG missions/residences where the attacks occurred reported similar symptoms as USG American employees and family members? What support and treatment options were available to them? 
—14. As you know, under 3 FAM 3660, a covered employee is an employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State. What other countries have been designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666 to-date?  
—15. Members of the 41 officially diagnosed say State has caused irreparable harm with a “see no evil” response and just wants the problem to go away. Do you recognize the harm of State’s botched past response and lack of transparency?
—16. A” being the highest and “F” being failing, how would you grade the previous State Department leadership’s response to the health incidents?

Submitted Questions:

 –17.  Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html

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US Embassy Burma Now on Ordered Departure For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members

 

On March 30, the State Department issued a Do Not Travel Level 4 Travel Advisory for Burma. It also announced the mandatory departure of non-emergency USG employees and family members:

Do not travel to Burma due to COVID-19 as well as areas of civil unrest and armed violence.

On February 14, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members. On March 30, the Department updated that status to ordered departure.

Read the Department of State’s COVID-19 page before you plan any international travel.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Burma due to COVID-19.  

The Burmese military has detained and deposed elected government officials. Protests and demonstrations against military rule have occurred and are expected to continue.

In addition to nation-wide protests and demonstrations, the following areas of Burma are subject to heightened civil unrest or armed violence:

      • Matupi township in Chin State
      • Bhamo and Mogaung townships in Kachin State     
      • Hopang, Hseni, Hsipaw, Mongkaung, Namhsan, Namtu, and Nanhkan townships in Shan State
      • Shadaw township in Kayah State
      • Paletwa township in Chin State
      • Hpakan, Mansi, Momauk, Sumprabum, Tanai, and Waingmaw townships in Kachin State
      • Hpapun township in Kayin State Konkyan, Kutkai, Kyaukme, Laukkaing, Matman, Mongmao, Muse, Namphan, Pangsang, and Pangwaun townships in Shan State       

The following areas of Burma are especially subject to civil unrest and armed violence due to fighting between the Burmese military and various ethnic armed groups and militia forces.

      • Northern Shan State
      • Parts of Kachin, Rakhine, and Chin States
      • The Naga Self-Administered Zone in northern Sagaing Region

Violence-affected areas, particularly Northern Shan State and parts of Kachin, Rakhine, and Chin States are subject to land mines and unexploded ordinance. Land mines and unexploded ordnance have injured foreign tourists in conflict-affected areas, and the locations of the mines and ordinance are often not marked or otherwise identifiable.

Read the Burma (Myanmar) country information page.

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US Ambassador Hennessey-Niland Visits Taiwan With Palauan Presidential Delegation

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The U.S Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland visited Taipei with the presidential delegation from Palau on March 28.  The five-day trip is reportedly to launched ‘Asia’s first travel bubble’ between two ‘Covid-safe’ destinations — Taipei and Koror, Palau’s biggest island.” According to SCMP:

US ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland was part of the delegation, becoming the first US envoy to visit Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979. Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control by force if needed, has repeatedly warned the US against official contacts with the island.

There does not appear to be any statement on state.gov or post’s social media about this trip.
State.gov backgrounder: Palau gained its independence and established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1994, with the entry into force of the Compact, under which the U.S. remains responsible for Palau’s defense until 2044. Palau is a sovereign nation and conducts its own foreign relations. The United States and Palau cooperate on a broad range of issues, including strengthening regional security, promoting sustainable development and addressing climate change, and protecting fisheries and the environment. Approximately 500 Palauans serve as volunteers in the U.S. armed forces, and Palau also has one of the highest levels of voting coincidence with the United States at the United Nations. The United States and Palau signed the Compact Review Agreement in 2010, with a wide range of federal programs to continue until 2024. Read more

Also this:

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Career Diplomat Daniel J. Kritenbrink to be Asst Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)

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On March 26, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior career diplomat Daniel J. Kritenbrink to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP). The WH released the following brief bio:

Daniel J. Kritenbrink, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, has been U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam since 2017.  He was previously the Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  In earlier tours in Beijing, he served as Political Minister Counselor, and as a Political Officer.  Kritenbrink was Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the Department of State.  He also served as a Political-Military officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.  Kritenbrink earned a Masters Degree at the University of Virginia, and a Bachelors Degree at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.  He speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese.

According to history.state.gov, the Division of Far Eastern Affairs, established in 1908, was the first geographical division to be established in the Department of State. The Department of State established the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in 1949, after the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government (Hoover Commission) recommended that certain offices be upgraded to bureau level and after Congress increased the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from six to ten (May 26, 1949; P.L. 81-73; 63 Stat. 111). On Nov 1, 1966, the Department by administrative action changed the incumbent’s designation to Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
The last three appointments to this position were political appointees.  We have to go back all the way to 2005 to find a career appointee for EAP; that’s Christopher Robert Hill who served from 2005–2009.
Previous appointees to this position include Philip Charles Habib (1974–1976); Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (1977–1981); William Averell Harriman (1961–1963); and Winston Lord (1993–1997). The complete list is here.

 

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Presentations of Credentials: U.S. Ambassadors to Timor-Leste, Venezuela

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US Consulate General Hong Kong Staffers and Kids in HK Quarantine Center

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Two employees at the USCG Hong Kong reportedly tested positive of COVID-19. According to local news the Hong Kong  Special Administrative Region Government has allowed the children of these staffers to join them in a quarantine center.  A separate report says that a three-year old daughter of consulate employees has also tested positive and the school had now been closed.  Mainland China news alleged that the US staffers claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid quarantine. The State Department called it “absolutely false.” The HK SAR says that the “US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”
Via SCMP Hong Kong:
Hong Kong leader Chief Executive  Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirmed that two infected US consulate employees, a married couple, had already been sent to the hospital on Monday night, while special permission had been granted to allow their children to join them instead of being sent into quarantine as per long-enforced rules. But she emphasised the exceptional treatment for the pair was made on compassionate grounds and based on their family circumstances, rather than their status as consulate workers.
” …. Lam said the government allowed for children to be admitted to hospital along with their parents and that the special dispensation had been granted to the consulate workers, who also had a daughter who tested preliminary-positive.
“We are a compassionate government … Instead of sending the very young kids on their own to the quarantine centre or asking other relatives and friends to go into a quarantine centre with these kids, we will exceptionally allow the admission of their children into the hospital as well,” she said. “We are applying the exceptional treatment, not exceptional because they are US consulate staff, but exceptional because of their family circumstances.”

[…]
Arrangements for families hit by Covid-19 were thrust into the spotlight this past week when a flare-up of cases enveloping part of the expatriate community on Hong Kong Island, affecting international school teachers, bankers and lawyers, forced many children into quarantine. They are among about 120 children and teens currently isolated at the government facilities.”

On March 15, the US Consulate General Hong Kong posted a statement on its website about being informed that two Consulate General employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The consulate will remain closed until March 22. It also released a Health Alert for American citizens:

On March 15, 2021 the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau was informed that two Consulate General employees tested positive for COVID-19. We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning while contact tracing is conducted. The Consulate employees that tested positive for COVID-19 do not work in offices that interact with the public. We are aware that many U.S. citizens in Hong Kong are concerned about local government testing, quarantine, and hospitalization procedures, particularly in regard to the possible separation of children from their parents. The U.S. Consulate General is actively addressing these concerns at the highest levels of the Hong Kong government to advocate for the U.S. citizen community. We urge U.S. citizens in Hong Kong to comply with all instructions from the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection.

At the March 15 DPB, the StateDepartment’s Deputy spokesperson was asked about this and she responded:

“Yes, so we’ve been informed that two consulate general employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but due to privacy concerns, we’re not able to share additional information. When it comes to disinformation about these two not complying to quarantine, that is absolutely false.”

The Hong Kong SAR Government also released a statement:

“… The cases have been admitted to the hospital for isolation, and all staff members and visitors who have been present at the relevant premises are required to undergo testing according to the relevant legislation. The two preliminary positive cases belong to the same family. Having learnt that the two patient are staff members of the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, the Government has immediately liaised with the Consulate General; the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has also contacted the relevant persons, and arranged them to be admitted to the hospital for isolation and medical treatment according to the mechanism.
[…]
The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has been fully co-operative with the Government on all the above action items to combat COVID-19.”

HK SAR also issued “a compulsory testing notice pursuant to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J), which requires any person who had been present at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong between March 2 and 15, 2021 to undergo a COVID-19 nucleic acid test.”
In related news, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that the international business community has undergone an unsettling weekend with children from several schools under threat of being sent to mandatory government quarantine facilities after mandatory testing due to COVID outbreaks. The Chamber conducted a quick poll to gauge its members’ views. A majority of those surveyed said they were worried or somewhat worried about entire school classes being sent to government quarantine facilities, and that the policy is unjustified when it comes to the health of children. Over half of those surveyed said that if this policy became routine it would factor into their decision about staying in Hong Kong.  AmCham suggested “more clarity and transparency of information around quarantine arrangements for minors be given to schools and parents while the government does its best to control the pandemic” See more here.
Meanwhile, on March 16, the State Department named 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials who have materially contributed to the PRC’s failure to meet its obligations under the Sino – British Joint Declaration (see Update to Report on Identification of Foreign Persons Involved in the Erosion of the Obligations of China Under the Joint Declaration or the Basic Law). This was an update to the October 14 report, consistent with section 5(e) of the HKAA and includes financial sanctions and visa restrictions.
On March 17, the State Department also released a statement on the Hong Kong Autonomy Act Update):

“Today’s update identifies 24 PRC and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, including 14 vice chairs of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and officials in the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.  Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are now subject to sanctions.”

We’ve reached out to the State Department on the quarantine of USG employees. We’re hoping to have a follow-report.

 

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?

 


 

 

 

ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?

On February 10, 2021, the GWU’s National Security Archive published the report of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Havana, Cuba dated June 2018. The ARB document was classified SECRET/NOFORN with declassification date of June 7, 2043. It was released via a Freedom of Information Act request. 
The report includes a timeline from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere compiled at the request of the Cuba Accountability Review Board.  We are working on merging that timeline with the personnel churn that occurred around the same time at the State Department. We should also note that the report includes other attachments like an unclassified 2-page Memorandum dated, April 11, 2018 from Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua L. Dorosin to ARB Chair Ambassador Peter Bodde entitled, “ARB Questions Related to the Exercise of M Authorities from January 21, 2017 to present. This memorandum was redacted under B(5). A 2-page document labeled (SBU) Department of State’s High Treat High Risk Post Review Process effective, January 2, 2018 was released with the ARB report but also redacted under B7(F)
Take aways from the ARB-Cuba Report:
—. ARB

The Cuba Accountability Review Board was convened on February 8, 2018, some thirteen months after individuals first visited Embassy Havana’s MED unit reporting of various symptoms including headache, ear pain, dizziness, and hearing problems in late December 2016. The ARB report is an interim response/findings. The ARB says, “a final review should be undertaken.” (Also see Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba)

—. WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

According to the ARB, the last Havana incidents resulting in medically confirmed injury took place at the end of August 2017. As of June 2018, the date of the report, the ARB writes “We do know that USG and Canadian diplomatic community members were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

—. CLOSE IT AND FORGET IT?

According to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s (WHA) timeline, Secretary Tillerson ordered the Departure of Non-Emergency Personnel from Havana on September 29, 2017. OD can be initiated by chief of mission or the Secretary of State. But. According to the ARB, “the decision to draw down the staff in Havana does not appear to have followed standard Department of State procedures and was neither preceded nor followed by any formal analysis of the risks and benefits of continued physical presence of U.S. government employees in Havana. After six months of ordered departure, Havana was designated an unaccompanied post in March 2018.” (Also see US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”).

(Can we revisit this for another blogpost? Reach out if you have some thoughts about our continuing presence in Havana).

The ARB adds, “Neither the Department’s High Threat High Risk Post Review (HTHR) Process nor the former Vital Presence Validation (VP2) Process were enacted.” No risk benefit analysis has been done for Cuba as of June 7, 2018. “Many Department leaders interviewed by the Board, no one could explain why this has not happened, except to suggest that [REDACTED].

—. LACK OF SENIOR LEADERSHIP AND ALL THAT

“The Department of State’s response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership, ineffective communication, and systemic disorganization. No senior official was ever designated as having overall responsibility, which resulted in many of the other issues this reports presents. The interagency response was stove-piped and largely ad hoc. In our report, the Board makes recommendations on accountability, interagency coordination, communication and information sharing, medical issues, risk benefit calculations, and security operations.”

—. SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES

“For the period after February 15, 2017, the Board found serious deficiencies in the Department’s response in areas of accountability, interagency coordination, and communication, at all levels, both at Post and in Washington. These deficiencies contributed to the confusion surrounding the events, and delayed effective, coordinated action. The Board finds the lack of a designated official at the Under Secretary level to manage the response to be the single most significant deficiency in the Department’s response.

—. NO ONE IN CHAAAARGE, WHHHHY?

The ARB report says, “To this day no senior official at the Department has been assigned responsibility for leading and coordinating efforts to assess past incidents and prevent/mitigate future events. No Department of State task force was formed. There was no interagency working group [REDACTED].” Nor was a dedicated, internal State Department group was created.

—. EMERGENCY ACTION COMMITTEE (EAC)

The WHA Timeline indicates that Embassy Havana held an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) meeting (17 HAVANA31) on April 3, 2017 to assess the threat and holds an all hands meeting for cleared Americans. First Post EAC Meeting conducted more than 4 months after individuals believed they were first impacted. Wait, and it was over 6 weeks after officials at Post and in Washington had the first (unverified) information of injury?

The ARB says that “The Emergency Action Committee (EAC), an Embassy Front Office responsibility, is an essential element of security policy infrastructure REDACTED.” Still, “once the EAC cable was received, the Department’s response tempo increased, although in a stove-piped and inadequately coordinated manner in the absence of an Under Secretary for Management or a designated responsible Department official.”

—. FIRST BRIEFING DELAY AND EXCLUSION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

The ARB report says, “The Board finds the delay of almost six weeks between first knowledge of injury and the first briefing of Embassy staff to be unfortunate and the exclusion of family members from this knowledge to be unjustified, given the incidents were taking place at residences. According to the WHA timeline, on April 17, 2017, Embassy Havana held its first meeting with Embassy spouses [REDACTED].

–. UGH! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, PEOPLE?

That Eligible Family Members, occasionally known as “just spouses” have no need to know anything that may turn their brains to mush?

-—. DOMESTIC MEDEVAC AUTHORITY, WHO DIS?

The ARB report says that “The lack of standing authority for the Department of State Medical Director to approve medical evacuations between domestic locations when required added additional steps and bureaucratic time requirements to the medevac process.” It also says that “To accomplish these medevacs the Medical Director was required to request special authority which was then granted specific only to the Cuba events. In the future when another event occurs which requires domestic medevacs State MED will need to repeat the same administrative process specific to that event.”

Required by whom? Request special authority from where?
—. DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY FIASCO.
In July 2017, this was posted on the blog: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom. Yep, remember that? Also Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept
Now, we’re reading about that decision in the ARB report: 

“The July 2017 decision rescinding many delegated State Department authorities by the then-Secretary of State, followed by the limited and poorly documented re-delegation of some of those authorities created widespread confusion about authorities. It resulted in understandable concern and hesitation on the part of persons in acting positions who feared exceeding their authorities.”

“Vacant senior positions and lack of clarity regarding delegated authorities delayed an effective response.”

“Individuals filling Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary Positions in an acting capacity during an extraordinarily prolonged transition were hampered by the rescinding of delegated authorities and the ensuing confusion regarding those authorities that were eventually re­-delegated.”

—. NSDD-38 PROCESS

One of ARB-Cuba’s recommendations says that “The Department should convene a high level review of the NSDD-38 process as it is currently implemented. Following the review, the Department should issue guidance to all employees and agencies regarding requirements and should hold agencies accountable.. In another recommendation, it says “The Department should ensure that the NSDD-38 processes are followed [REDACTED]”

Per 6 FAH-5 H-350, the National Security Decision Directive–38 (NSDD-38) process is the mechanism by which a COM exercises his or her authority to determine the size, composition, and mandate of U.S. Government executive branch agencies at his or her mission.

— WAITING FOR THE TICK TOCK

The ARB report says that “Given that this is an unprecedented event, it would be helpful to have an accurate record of what was done, by whom, when, and why. In order to learn the right lessons from this incident, it is essential to have an accurate written record.” 

Also that “WHA and S staff should create a timeline (tick tock) of communication, decisions, and actions taken to date (June 7, 2018) in response to the incidents. The investigation into the incidents and Department’s response should remain open until the Department determines what happened. This timeline is a critical part of the discussion and lessons-learned process.” 

—. CHIEF OF MISSION

The ARB report reveals: “In exploring the guidance given to the COM regarding his responsibility for the security of all executive branch employees, the Board learned the COM did not have a letter of instruction. Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed ambassadors all receive a letter of instruction from the President detailing their responsibilities. Typically the responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens and U.S. government employees features prominently in these letters. In other posts where a COM is not Senate confirmed, the Department sometimes issues a letter of instruction from the Secretary of State which serves a similar purpose.”

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s top notch advisers did not know enough to advise the issuance of the letter of instruction?
—. BUREAU DE-FACTO LEADERSHIP

The ARB report says, “The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs was frequently cited by those interviewed as the “de facto” lead bureau within the State Department. WHA leaders attempted to fill some of the gap created by the lengthy vacancies at the Under Secretary level, and convened a number of meetings for the purpose of sharing information. They were largely unsuccessful at actual coordination, in part because they did not have the authority to direct action on the part of other bureaus. They were almost invariably in a reactive mode and never put forward a cohesive plan of action for the future. They were also hampered by their very limited access to the senior leadership of the Department.”

—. EXCESSIVE SECRECY!

Ah, the ARB report says that “Both at Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response.”

Also that “WHA’s reliance on informal consultation with the Department’s leadership made it difficult for the Board to develop an accurate picture of decision making regarding the incident.”

The report says, “Informal communication between WHA and the senior leadership of the State Department contributed to the lack of coherence in the response. Normal Department reporting channels and methods were routinely disregarded in the response to the Cuba incidents. WHA officials were instructed to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials. As a result, accountability was never clearly established and there was no coordination within the Department. The most frequent communication with the senior leadership was to the Secretary of State’s chief of staff via email. Contemporaneous documentation of these interactions is scant.”

Now, don’t we all want to know who kept this very, very quiet? Why would WHA rely on “informal consultations”?  Who gave instruction to WHA to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials? State.gov emails are government records. How is it that the ARB had no access to the most frequent communication on this matter with senior leadership at State? What about Tillerson’s chief of staff’s emails? Wait, are these state.gov emails? Why are contemporaneous documentation of these interactions scant? What happened to memcons? Were there instructions not to put anything about these interactions in writing? If so, who gave those instructions? Who were the officials who downplayed these attacks?  Curious minds would like to know. 

 


 

 

 

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