@StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

Posted: 12:46 am  PT

 

We previously blogged about the ongoing problems encountered by Foreign Service families with special needs children when dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (MED) (see @StateDept’s Mental Health Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts).  Note that as employees prepare for the summer job rotation, MED will be reviewing the medical clearances of employees and family members in preparation for their transfer.  Whatever is the number that is now stuck in MED’s labyrinth, expect that number to go up with the upcoming rotations as kids with special needs are snared in the system that is supposed to help but instead has caused so much disruption and pain.

We understand that medical clearance decisions can be appealed to a panel of three doctors. But we’ve been informed that one of the three in this review panel is the reviewing officer of the the other two. We’d like to know how many cases that come before this review panel are decided in complete agreement by all panel members, and how many cases are decided by the two panel members against the decision of the third panel member/rating official? Perhaps something for the congressional oversight panels to look into? Or something to FOIA if this is going the class action route.

Congress should also look into State’s Medical Services perspective on risk. Would it surprise us all if State/MED doesn’t want to take any? State/MED’s mission is “to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.”  Does that mean keep everyone with the slightest issue inside the United States instead of sending them on overseas assignments? Bad things can happen just the same in the United States – but of course, MED won’t be responsible when employees are on domestic assignments. It is responsible once employees/family members are overseas. So again, what is State/MED’s perspective on risk, and how much does this inform its decision on the medical clearances issued to FS employees, spouses and their kids?

FP’s Robbie Gramer recently had a lengthy piece on FS families in State’s medical labyrinth. It is quite a read, and don’t miss the quotes.

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Russia Expels U.S. Diplomats, Closes Consulate General @USinStPete

Posted: 12:53 pm PT

 

On March 26, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate in Seattle over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain (see U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack).

On March 29, in an expected tit for tat move, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 American diplomats and the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg. AP citing the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that “the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.”

If Russia is not expelling U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg, but closing the consulate there, this could mean that diplomats assigned to St. Pete potentially could move to Moscow, but 60 diplomats (and family members) will still be sent home.  We figured this was coming, some realities of diplomatic life: pack up with as little as 48 hours notice, for those with kids, pull children out of school, find new schools, arrange for shipment of pets, leave your household effects, move into transitional housing for an undetermined duration, etc.

Keep them in your thoughts. It will be a rough time for a while. For Foggy Bottom readers,  please check with AAFSW or the FLO, they may need volunteers to assist with the arrivals.

Here is a brief post history of @USinStPete:

St. Petersburg was the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780, with Frances Dana as the Minister-designate. Dana spent three years in St. Petersburg, but his credentials were never accepted by the Russian Court. Thus the first Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of the United States in Russia, was John Quincy Adams, who presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander I on the 5th of November, 1809.

Adams served almost five years in St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. He finally left St. Petersburg because, as he wrote to President James Madison, he could not afford the expenses related to being Ambassador at Court. John Quincy Adams later became the Sixth President of the United States.

Another future President of the United States, James Buchanan, served in St. Petersburg as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from 1832-1833.

During the turbulence of the revolution and civil war, Ambassador David R. Francis departed Russia on November 7, 1918, leaving Felix Cole to serve as Charge d’Affaires ad interim until the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed on September 14, 1919. By then, the ruling Bolsheviks had moved the country’s capital from Petrograd (the city’s name since the outbreak of the First World War) to Moscow, and the U.S. diplomatic presence in Peter’s City disappeared for over half a century.

The U.S. Mission was not restored until 1933, when the U.S. Embassy was opened in Moscow, the capital of the USSR.

The U.S. diplomatic presence was reestablished in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was then called) in 1972, with the opening of a U.S. Consulate General.

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All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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@StateDept INL Bureau Seeks Contractor as Foreign Service Assignments Officer

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Update: 12:03 pm PT

 

According to a recent fedbiz announcement, the Office of Resource Management at the Bureau of International Narcotics, and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL/RM) is seeking a Personal Services Contractor who will be the bureau’s “Foreign Service Assignments Officer.” The contract is for one year with four option years.

So State is going to use contractors for assignments officers now?

We can’t recall Foreign Service Assignments Officer as contractors before. Is it far fetched to think of this as a glimpse of the future in Foggy Bottom?  CRS report from 2014 notes that OMB Circular A-76 distinguishes between the exercise of discretion per se, which it says does not make a function inherently governmental, and the exercise of “substantial discretion,” which it says makes a function inherently governmental.

And if the Foreign Service Assignments Officer position is deemed a commercial activity, that is, an activity not so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government personnel” (see CRS link to inherently government function below) how long before all bureau assignments officer are converted to PSC positions with one year contracts and four year options?

Update: We just got a note telling us that the INL Foreign Service Assignments officer has been a PSC since at least 2010. And that this position “serves in an advisory capacity, ensuring that INL’s program offices and front office understand HR rules and processes,and assists with how the offices conduct the FS assignments process within INL.” This position reportedly “makes no decisions, sets no policy, very non-governmental.”  Also that most bureaus do not have the PSC hiring authority, “so it’s quite unlikely that the function in other bureaus will be moving to contractors any time soon.” 

About INL: The Bureau has overall responsibility for the development, supervision, and implementation of international narcotics control assistance activities and for international criminal justice issues for the Department of State. The Foreign Service Assignments Officer (FSAO) will perform duties related to both domestic and foreign assignments, and will supplement existing staff during times of heavy workload, when staff shortages occur, or when expertise is required for specific projects.

About FSAO: The FSAO receives administrative direction from the Administrative Officer, but acts with a high degree of independence in planning, scheduling, and completing work, within the framework of delegated authority. Many assignments are self-initiated based on the FSAO’s assessment of post requirements and the means to meet them. As the primary liaison with post personnel, regional bureau staff, and office of Career Development and Assignments (HR/CDA) in the Bureau of Human Resources (HR), the FSAO has broad latitude in coordinating work efforts, and plays a key role in ensuring that posts operate effectively and in compliance with relevant regulations.

The FSAO uses a high degree of expertise and independent judgment in developing, consulting, coordinating, and executing programs to achieve compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and organizational goals and objectives, and resolves all but the most complex and sensitive issues. Recommendations and decisions are assumed to be technically accurate, and work is reviewed in terms of the overall effectiveness of the efforts by management within INL/RM as well as by program office staff, post officials, and others who rely on the FSAO’s advice and support.

The announcement says that the purposes of the work “are to collaborate with management in the Department in providing prompt and effective administrative support of the assignment of FS personnel domestically and at INL positions at posts; support INL missions at posts in engaging their administrative and personnel resources as effectively as possible; liaise with relevant Bureaus and USG agencies to ensure that INL’s best interests are protected; and ensure that administrative and substantive policies are mutually compatible.”

  1. SOLICITATION NUMBER: PSC-18-016-INL
  2. ISSUANCE DATE: 03/13/2018
  3. CLOSING DATE: 03/27/2018
  4. TIME SPECIFIED FOR RECEIPT OF APPLICATIONS: 3:00 PM, EST
  5. POSITION TITLE: INL Foreign Service Assignments Officer
  6. MARKET VALUE: $114,590 – $148,967 (GS-14 Equivalent)
  7. PERIOD OF PERFORMANCE: One year from date of award, with four optional years
  8. PLACE OF PERFORMANCE: Washington, DC

Duties and Responsibilities:

  •   Manages the Foreign Service Assignments process, providing expert advice and guidance to senior Bureau managers on all aspects of Foreign Service position management, recruitment, assignment, and evaluation.
  •   Counsels Foreign Service staff on all assignment related questions and provides support and guidance to those individuals who have been offered positions within the Bureau.
  •   Coordinates all FS issues with the appropriate offices within the Bureau of Human Resources, e.g., HR/CDA and HR/PE, resolving issues pertaining to FS assignments and performance, and recommends ways to improve or streamline the process.
  •   Oversees suggestion and award, quality, and or productivity programs related to these activities. Analyzes and evaluates, on a quantitative or qualitative basis, the effectiveness of programs or operations in meeting established goals and objectives.
  •   Liaises with colleagues and professional contacts in other bureaus whose work and role are relevant to supporting INL, including but not limited to Diplomatic Security, the Office of Medical Services, HR/CDA, the Family Liaison Office, the Office of Foreign Missions, Office of Allowances, and others as required.
  •   Analyzes administrative processes and/or agency programs for the Executive Director, with particular emphasis on management and implementation of an effective program in meeting Foreign Service human resources goals and objectives for the Bureau and its worldwide operations.
  •   Identifies problem areas and opportunities for improvement and provides fully staffed recommendations to management, including the Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretaries. This encompasses issues such as streamlining processes, assessing the feasibility of automated systems for meeting the Bureau’s HR responsibilities, standardizing operations, or collaborating with other organizations on mutual responsibilities, improved management practices or the impact of new or proposed legislation or regulations on HR programs.
  •  Communicates with colleagues, agency management, and other contacts outside the agency to gather and analyze information about these agency processes and programs.

 

Related item:

Definitions of “Inherently Governmental Function” in Federal Procurement Law and Guidance PDF | 2014

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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FSO Andrew Veprek Reportedly Appointed to be Deputy Asst Secretary For State/PRM

Posted: 3:29 am ET
Updated: 2:51 pm PT

 

Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported recently on the appointment of FSO Andrew Veprek as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and how this is “alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”

A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions….
[…]
Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.
[…]
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Veprek’s new role and, while not describing his rank, stressed that Veprek comes to PRM “with more than 16 years in the Foreign Service and experience working on refugee and migration issues.”
[…]
“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment. “My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

PRM currently has no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary. The leadership of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration as of this writing includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and two Deputy Assistant Secretaries, all Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service members.

According to congress.gov, Mr. Verdek was originally appointed/confirmed as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States in October 2002.

His name appears again in congress.gov in August 2006 with 129 nominees confirmed as Foreign Service Officers Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

We have not been able to find anything beyond that at congress.gov but in April 2010, he was identified here as Andrew Veprek, Consular Chief of the U.S Consulate in Chiang Mai during a Q&A at the Chiang Mai Expats Club in Thailand.

Emails from 2012 released under FOIA request related to Benghazi indicates that in September 2012, Veprek was a Senior Watch Officer at the Ops Center. Those assignments used to be 12 months, so there are gaps in what we know about his career in the State Department.

However, in Sept 2017, he was identified in a WSJ article about the review of the J-1 program as  Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump. A govexec database of White House staff also indicates the same title and a salary of $127,489 for Veprek. That’s a salary closest to an FS01/8 rank in the 2017 payscale (PDF). (Or he could be also be an FSO2 in DC with a salary still close to what’s listed on the database as White House detailees apparently receive a parking stipend that’s counted as income).

But how did he become an anti-refugee diplomat or a refugee hardliner in the retelling of this story? Or even “a low-ranking protegé of nativist Stephen Miller?”

Unlike Interior’s “independent scientist” who WaPo points out “highlights a regular bureaucratic ritual that has attracted little notice under this administration: When a new president comes to power, civil servants aligned with the administration can suddenly gain prominence,” we have so far been unable to find papers, write ups or speeches that indicate Verdek’s politics.

We don’t know him from Adam, and we have no idea about his political leanings are but we know that he is a career FSO who has worked for the USG since 2002. It seems to perplex people online that somebody who worked in a Clinton State Department, could also end up working at the Trump White House.  That’s what the career service is; career FS employees working for the administration of the day whether or not they personally agree with that administration’s policies. And when they can no longer do that, they are honor-bound to put in their resignation.  It is likely that Veprek came in during Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, under George W. Bush. In some quarters who call career employees “holdovers”, he would be a George W. Bush holdover who went on to work for Barack Obama, and now an Obama holdover who end up working for Donald Trump’s White House.

This appointee appears to be on a consular career track and the State Department spox, of course, wants to highlight his experience  in “refugee and migration issues.” Is he the best one for this job? Maybe, or maybe not but that’s a question that is obviously immaterial. He may be Miller’s pick, but that also makes him this Administration’s pick, a prerogative exercised. And since these appointments do not require Senate confirmation, DAS appointments are mostly done deals.

It is also worth noting that the State Department, a pretty old organization is a highly hierarchical entity with a regular Foreign/Civil Service and a Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service corps. Would career people leave because an FSO-01 is appointed to a position traditionally filled by a SES/SFSO? We can’t say. Did career people leave when GWB appointed a midlevel FSO-02 as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs?

We would suggest that the proper functioning of the service does require an organization that respects order in ranks, traditions, and practices (What’s the use of playing the Jenga game if you don’t follow the rules, hey?) But we understand from long-time State Department watchers that the politicization of the senior ranks and appointments have been slow burning for years. This Administration with its deep aversion to career diplomats and its propensity for chaos may just blow it up and make us all pay attention for a change.

We are convinced that while this one appointment may not trigger senior officials to leave — given the lack of appointments of senior employees to appropriate career slots, the limited promotions numbers made available, the rumored 90-day rule and mandatory retirements — a combination of these factors may nudged retirement eligible employees to hang up their hats and walk off into the sunset.

It is highly likely that the departures from senior members of the Foreign Service will continue this year, with the number hitting three digit numbers by summer per some unofficial estimates.

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@StateDept Ex-Employees Get Comedy Central’s The Opposition Treatment

Posted: 2:08 am ET

 

We’re late on this but a couple weeks back, Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper sat down with former members of the State Department to discuss President Trump’s proposed budget cuts and his approach to diplomacy. Well, this is supposed to be funny but we’re crying, and not from laughing our heads off.

The former employees include two former press officers (Meaghan Monfort and Sri Kulkarni who is running for Congress in Texas and just advanced to the runoffs), David Rank (most recently CDA in Beijing), Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley (f0rmer U.S. Ambassador to Malta), Tom Countryman (former U/Secretary of State), and Michele Bond (former A/S for Consular Affairs).

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Ex-FSO William Syring Charged With Hate Crime and Threats to Arab American Institute Employees

Posted: 4:09 am ET

 

On February 21, USDOJ indicted former FSO William Patrick Syring for hate crime and threatening employees of the Arab American Institute. Below is the DOJ statement:

The Justice Department today charged William Patrick Syring, 60, from Arlington, Virginia, to four counts of threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI) because of their race and national origin, three counts of threatening AAI employees because of their efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in political and civic life in the United States, and seven counts of transmitting threats to AAI employees in interstate commerce. A summons was issued for Syring to appear in federal court in Washington, D.C. AAI is a Washington D.C. based private non-profit organization whose purpose is to encourage the direct participation of Arab Americans in political and civic life in the United States.

Each charge of threatening AAI employees because of their race and national origin and because of their advocacy on behalf of AAI provides for a sentence of no greater than one year in prison, one year of supervised release, and a fine of up to $100,000. Each charge of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

According to court documents, Syring previously pleaded guilty to threatening AAI employees through e-mails and voicemails sent in 2006. Syring was sentenced on July 11, 2008 to 12 months of imprisonment followed by three years of post-release supervision, 100 hours of community service, and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

Following termination of his supervised release, Syring resumed communications with AAI employees, sending AAI employees over 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018. Several of the e-mails Syring sent to AAI employees during this time period contained true threats using language similar to that which formed the basis of his prior conviction.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Civil Rights Division Senior Legal Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Nick Reddick.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

As noted in the current indictment, Syring was previously charged in 2006 for similar threats in four emails and three voicemails. The current indictment alleged he sent 350 e-mails from March 2012 to January 2018.

He retired from the State Department in July 2007 and he pleaded guilty in that previous case in June 2008. See an excerpt from the 2008 DOJ statement:

W. Patrick Syring, a former foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Washington, D.C., to federal civil rights charges for threatening employees of the Arab American Institute (AAI) because of their race and national origin. Syring is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30, 2008.

During his guilty plea hearing, Syring admitted that he sent a series of threatening email and voicemail communications to six employees of AAI in July 2006, that he intended to interfere with his victims’ employment, and that he sought to intimidate the victims because of their race as Arab- Americans and their national origin as Lebanese-Americans. AAI is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes Arab-American participation in the U.S. electoral system. In addition to pleading guilty to violating a federal civil rights statute that prohibits race- or national origin-based interference with employment, Syring pleaded guilty to a felony count of sending threatening communications in interstate commerce. Syring faces a maximum sentence of six years imprisonment.

According to the indictment, Syring sent four emails and three voicemails to AAI employees from approximately July 17 to 29, 2006. An additional email condemned AAI for a fatal shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in July 2006 that was committed by a lone gunman who had no affiliation with AAI.

A career foreign service officer and a resident of Arlington, Va., Syring retired from the US Department of State in July 2007.

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Can sound be used as a weapon? 4 questions answered #USEmbassyHavana

 

File 20180226 122025 13a2tfq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What happened to people inside this building, the U.S. Embassy in Havana? U.S. State Department

Kevin Fu, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Zhejiang University

 

Editor’s note: Government and academic investigators continue to probe reports from Cuba that, starting in 2016 and continuing through 2017, U.S. and Canadian diplomats and tourists may have been subjected to a “sonic weapon,” damaging their hearing, causing nausea, speech problems and potentially even mild brain injuries.

Electrical engineering and computer science professors Wenyuan Xu from Zhejiang University and Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan explain their research, which suggests a more likely scenario of sloppy engineering, and what ultrasound frequencies (which can be used to transmit information gathered by listening devices) traveling through the air can – and can’t – do.

1. What is ultrasound useful for?

The most commonly known use for ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear – is a medical device used for examining a fetus during pregnancy. But there are plenty of other uses. Many offices have occupancy sensors that use ultrasound to detect movement and keep the lights on when someone is in a space, and off when nobody is around. These sensors operate at frequencies such as 32 kilohertz, far above what the human ear can hear – which is a range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Other products use ultrasound to deliver targeted sound, for instance allowing a museum to play a recording for visitors in one area of an exhibit without disturbing others nearby. Electronic pest repellents use ultrasound to keep rodents or insects at bay. A similar product can even be used to disperse teenagers; aging tends to reduce people’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds, so a noisemaker can annoy young people without adults even noticing. (This has also let teens create smartphone ringtones their elders can’t hear.)

2. What can go wrong with ultrasound?

Airborne ultrasound is not inherently bad. But things can go wrong. A former colleague of Kevin’s used to hear strange sounds from his hearing aid when in rooms with occupancy sensors, likely because the hearing aid’s electronics improperly converted the ultrasound into audible noises. These noises were annoying, but not harmful. A similar problem tainted one of our students’ research, conducted in a room that, unbeknownst to him, had an ultrasonic room occupancy sensor in the ceiling.

Michigan Ph.D. student Connor Bolton frustratingly discovers that ultrasonic noise from a ceiling-mounted room occupancy sensor had interfered with a year’s worth of sonic experiments. Connor Bolton, CC BY-ND

Both ultrasound and human-audible sound can also affect electronics. For instance, one of us has conducted research in which carefully crafted ultrasonic signals secretly activate voice-control systems, even unlocking an iPhone with a silent “Hey Siri” command, and telling it to make a FaceTime call. Sound can also affect the physical world, as when a singer shatters a wine glass. Microelectrical mechanical sensing chips – such as accelerometers used in car airbag systems and smartphones, and gyroscopes in drones – are susceptible to the same interference. Those systems can be attacked with sound, crashing a drone mid-flight, or fooling a smartphone about whether it’s moving.

Making audible sounds from inaudible ultrasounds.

3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm?

It’s well-known that sounds that are too loud can damage people’s ears and hearing. However, there’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. If you are accidentally subjected to extremely intense ultrasound (such as when holding an ultrasonic arc welder), you could experience an annoyance like a headache or temporary loss of balance. Academics disagree about safe levels of airborne ultrasound. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns of potential health risks from audible subharmonic byproducts of ultrasound, more so than the ultrasound itself. Many animals can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear higher-pitched whistles, for instance. One of our students noticed that his pet turtles would begin to dance rhythmically when he performed ultrasound experiments!

4. What might have happened in Cuba?

In early 2017, U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported hearing strange metallic sounds, and suffering hearing loss and other neurological harm. Later reports of similar effects came from Canadian diplomats and tourists from both Canada and the U.S. Possible explanations have varied: Some have alleged Cuba used an unknown sonic weapon, while others have blamed “mass hysteria.”

Our research offers a new explanation not previously considered by others: The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. We were able to use ultrasonic tones to create sounds like those that were described and recorded in Cuba. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but as with musical combination tones, combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident.

A recording of the sound some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana.

 

Further, we created a proof-of-concept eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba. We were even able to control the volume of the audible sounds by varying the strength of the ultrasonic signals. The ConversationWithout additional evidence, our research does not identify what actually happened in Cuba, but it provides a plausible explanation for what might have happened, even if the eavesdroppers were not trying to harm people.

Kevin Fu, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Zhejiang University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Certificates of Competency for Nominees to be Chiefs of Mission (As of 2/2018)

Posted: 3:38 am ET

 

Per Section 304 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Certificates of Competency must be presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for presidential nominees to be Chief of Mission that demonstrate the competence of [a] nominee to perform the duties of the position in which he or she is to serve. Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, Certificates of Competency are supposed to be posted here within seven days of transmittal to the Senate.

The following are the certificates posted by state.gov from January-February 2018. The nominee for Colombia, Joseph Macmanus is the only career diplomat on this list. To see the certificates of the nominees from 2017, click here.

Cella, Joseph James – Republic of Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Nauru, Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu – February 2018
Cornstein, David B. – Hungary – February 2018
Fischer, Davit T. – Kingdom of Morocco – January 2018
Gellert, Andrew Michael – Republic of Chile – January 2018
Harris, Harry B, Jr. – Commonwealth of Australia – February 2018
Macmanus, Joseph Estey – Republic of Colombia – January 2018
Mosbacher, Georgette Paulsin – Republic of Poland – February 2018
Prado, Edward Charles – Argentine Republic – February 2018
Rizzuto, Leandro – Barbados – January 2018
Traina, Trevor D. – Republic of Austria – February 2018
Wolcott, Jackie – Rep of the US to the UNVIE of the UN and Rep of the US to International Atomic Energy Agency – February 2018

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