SFRC Senators Express “Concern” to @SecBlinken For @StateDept’s Handling of #HavanaSyndrome

 

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. “
Also that the Senators continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats  who have been injured from these attacks. We are also concerned that the Department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of these attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. “
The Senators urged a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen imediately:
“We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you. It is incumbent that this individual has the experience to engage effectively with affected individuals and with the interagency. As you know, pending bipartisan legislation in the Senate would require the Secretary to designate an agency coordinator for AHIs who reports directly to you. We ask that you take this step now to demonstrate that the State Department does take this matter seriously, and is coordinating an appropriate agency-level response.”
Finally, the senators write, We wish to support the State Department and U.S. personnel through every means possible, and to support the Department in effectively addressing this national security threat. We look forward to receiving your response, and to your heightened engagement on this issue.”
The letter is available to read here.
The State Department has a response from the podium but we’ll save you the anguish of having to read the same thing all over again.
Just yesterday, we got another email in our inbox that says “Those DPB comments are utter bullshit.”
The spox did say that “… we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.”
But …. but… how are they getting the care they need?
If folks can’t even get an email response from MED except for a form email?
At least there’s a form email, right?
But that feeling when you’re worried you may have a brain injury and you get a form email — apparently, that does not generate a warm feeling of WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, WE CARE.
The senators are right to remain concerned. Foggy Bottom typically responds to a few external pressures — the courts, the press, and yes, attentiveness from the Congress.

 

Related post:

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@StateDept Announces Return of Amb. Kenneth Merten as @USEmbassyHaiti Chargé d’Affaires

 

On September 23, following Ambassador Foote’s resignation as Special Envoy for Haiti, State/D Sherman did a damage control interview. When asked who will replace Daniel Foote, she responded:

“I don’t know that we need a replacement.  In part we had named a special envoy after the assassination of the president of Haiti in the aftermath of the horrible storms and earthquakes and all of the other plights that the Haitian people have had to face – the ongoing confrontation of poverty.  But we have an excellent ambassador in Haiti, Michele Sison, who is a nominee for a future post here in the United States.  We have tremendous faith in her and in her leadership.”

So less than a month after that interview, Ambassador Sison has apparently left Haiti.  Secretary Blinken has also announced the former Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten as Chargé d’Affaires at US Embassy Port-au-Prince:

MR PRICE: I am happy to reiterate what the Secretary said. We are grateful that Ken Merten, an experienced department hand, will be going to serve in Port-au-Prince as our chargé d’affaires. As you know, Ambassador Sison is – has been nominated for an important post here. She has returned to the United States. And we’re grateful that Ken Merten has accepted the ask that he go serve in this important role.

QUESTION: So does that mean that she’s, like, left?

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So she’s back here?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

Hookay. So who’s going to assume post as the Bureau of Global Talent Management where Ambassador Merten has been posted as “Senior Bureau Official”? His state.gov bio says he was appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Global Talent Management in January 2021. He became Senior Bureau Official after DGHR Carol Perez was elevated as Acting M.

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#HavanaSyndrome at U.S. Embassy Bogotá: Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?

 

Via Daily Press briefing, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … And can you confirm the Havana syndrome cases or deny it, or just address that in Colombia embassy in Bogotá, in U.S. Embassy in Bogotá?
MR PRICE:  …. When it comes to Havana syndrome, you will probably not be surprised to hear me say we are not in the business of confirming reports. But —
QUESTION: But I don’t understand, why are you not in the business of confirming reports? This is squarely about State Department personnel. These are happening at U.S. embassies. Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?
MR PRICE: We are in the business of, number one, believing those who have reported these incidents, ensuring that they get the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes, whether that is at post, whether that is back here in the Washington, D.C. area. We are in the business of doing all we can to protect our workforce and the broader chief of mission community around the world.
QUESTION: So have they reported in Bogota U.S. embassy?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Have they reported – like, are you doing all of those things for U.S. embassy in Bogota?
MR PRICE: We are doing this everywhere an anomalous health incident is reported. But we are also doing things universally, and we are communicating with our workforce. We are instituting new training modules to ensure that outgoing State Department officers know how to detect a potential anomalous health incident, they know how to report a potential anomalous health incident, they know who – to whom to turn should they need to report it, they know the type of assistance that they can receive. Their families are apprised of these dynamics as well. And as you know, the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with some of those who have reported AHIs.
There is no higher priority that the Secretary has to the health, the safety, the security of our workforce. I’ve said this before, but even before he was Secretary of State, one of the briefings he proactively requested as the nominee for the office he now holds during the transition was a comprehensive briefing on so-called Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents. He wanted to make sure he entered this job understanding where we were and what we had done, and importantly, what this department could do better to support our workforce at all levels. And we have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the Secretary.
Francesco.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, it was this building that (inaudible) spoke about those cases in Havana and then in China. Why aren’t you confirming for the sake of transparency where there are cases reported – if they are Havana syndrome or not, it’s another thing, but where there are reported incidents, why aren’t you doing that? And then I have another question on Cuba protest.
MR PRICE: So in many cases it is a matter of privacy of individuals, wanting to respect privacy. But let me just make clear that when cases have been reported, our posts overseas have communicated that clearly to the community within the embassy. We have also engaged – Brian McKeon has engaged with posts that have reported a number of anomalous health incidents. So it is not – certainly not – the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press, we’re speaking to our workforce, as you might expect when it comes to a matter of their health and safety and security.
GRRRR! STOP THAT BROKEN RECORD!
Excuse me, was I loud? That’s nice that they value the privacy of individuals.
Requesting a confirmation of reported cases at one post does not require that the State Department released the names of the affected individuals. Did it happen there or not? So how does that actually compromises employees’ privacy?
And while we’re on the subject of “when cases have been reported” … how many emails do employees need to send to how many entities within State/MED –MEDMR? MEDHART? MEDFART? MEDFUCKIT– before anyone get the courtesy of a response?
We regret to say this but there’s no shortage of opportunities for Foggy Bottom to disappoint these days.
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#PandoraPapers Follow the Money of the Rich and Famous Around the World #hotspots

 

So CA/OCS May Survive a Funding Crunch Only to Fall Apart at the Seams?

 

The largest public facing bureau of the State Department is the Bureau of Consular Affairs. For those who may need more familiarity, the major sub-divisions within this bureau are passport services (PPT), visa services (VO) and overseas citizen services (OCS). The identification and repatriation of remains of Americans overseas are handled by OCS. Evacuations of American citizens during natural disasters and civil unrest are also handled by OCS.  When somebody goes missing overseas, or becomes a victim of crime, these cases are handled by CA/OCS. In addition to the recent Afghanistan evacuations, the bureau also managed the massive COVID repatriation around the globe.
Consular operations are mostly fee-based; you pay for visa processing, passport issuance, notarial services and so on.  With the Trump travel bans and the subsequent COVID travel restrictions, passport and visa fee collection significantly cratered. At the same time, CA undertook two massive repatriation and evacuation.
In a congressional hearing in 2020, the State Department projected a $1.4 BILLION loss which was about 50 percent of Consular Affair’s revenue in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020. It also projected comparable losses in FY2021 and FY2022. We’re sure the numbers are available internally, but we have yet to see publicly the cost of the global COVID repatriation and the Afghanistan evacuation.
During that same 2020 hearing, CA’s top official told Congress that services for American citizens “will not be put out of business.” We’re now wondering if the OCS directorate was saved from the funding crunch only to fall apart at the seams. Let’s consider a few things that we’ve learned:
STAFFING
–The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (CA/OCS – DAS) recently sent a memo to staff acknowledging that the long hours and lack of sleep has taken an “unacceptable health toll”.
— The  Director of the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (CA/OCS/ACS) abruptly retired, reportedly one year into a two year tour and only months after making the Senior Foreign Service.
— The Managing Director of CA/OCS took a week off after acknowledging to the staff that the MD’s well-being had been put at risk, and indicated the need for some time off “to regroup.”
— Several of the staff who flew into Afghanistan are reportedly still struggling with what they saw.
— Staffers who made the thousands of phone calls to US citizens in Afghanistan have reportedly been traumatized by what they hear.
— During the inbound call phase early in the operation these staffers reportedly “suffered abuse at the hands of the US public, self-identified military callers who blamed the Task Force for Afghans left behind, and congressional staff who called in to yell at phone bank workers.”
A FOREVER TASK FORCE AFTER THE END OF A FOREVER WAR
— The Task Force continues – until when?
— “We are still staffing 24 hour task force support, which is just wearing people out.”
LEADERSHIP OBSESSES OVER NUMBERS AS EXHAUSTION BITES
— The Leadership is reportedly “totally focused” on the numbers. “All that matters in the Bureau is the number of people called, put on lists, and flown out.  Getting everyone out who wants out is a great goal, but from the top it is clearly just numbers.”
— “A/S and PDAS are only focused on this, basically never in SA17. Everyone is exhausted.”
— Somebody noted to us that “The idea that “around 100″ citizens remain in Afghanistan is absurd, as we never knew how many were there in the first place. And if it is such a low number who are posts from Mexico to Pakistan calling?”  Initially these posts were apparently calling the same folks who had reached out to the US over and over to try to determine who is ready to go. It was relayed to us that most of the times, State didn’t actually have a flight for them to get on or a solution to their problems (no passport, can’t leave family), leading to some testy exchanges.
— Department leadership allegedly “appears blind to the fact that the obsession with getting the number of American Citizens  in Afghanistan to zero has crippled OCS.”
For those who agree that the US should rightfully obsess in a zero AmCit number in Afghanistan, we should point out that the United States left thousands of U.S. citizens stranded in Yemen in 2015 and the show ponies in Congress did not care to interrupt their beauty sleep. (see Stranded in Yemen: Americans left to find own way out, but exactly how many more AmCits are left there?Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy DecisionsFor U.S. Citizens in Yemen, a New Website and a New Hashtag Shows Up: #StuckInYemen).
REALITY CHECK
— “CA is ill prepared to continue on this path, and a second major crisis would be almost impossible for the Bureau to address.”
— “CA and OCS people need a break.”
— “COVID is still an issue around the world, regular OCS work doesn’t go away, so fewer people have to handle that and these are the same people that did the COVID repatriations.”
— “It’s not just OCS though, the SIV cases are still out there, and posts everywhere are short staffed, tired, and working under a variety of local restrictions”
— “CA needs what it always needs: money, staff, training, and a Department leadership that values more than a visa referral or a quote for the Secretary.”
Well, now you know.
How soon before we hear about the leadership tenets and taking care of people?

 

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What’s happening at CA/OCS? Besides People Calling In to Yell at Staffers Working the Phones

 

Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the protection and safety of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three offices: the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (OCS/ACS), the Office of Children’s Issues (OCS/CI), and the Office of Legal Affairs (OCS/L).

Billy Goat on Grass Field by Pixabay

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Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote Resigns in Protest, @StateDept & Friends Mount Concerted Attack

 

Back in July when the State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Foote as Special Envoy to Haiti, it said, “Special Envoy Foote brings extensive diplomatic experience to this role – including as Deputy Chief of Mission in Haiti and as the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia. The Department congratulates Special Envoy Foote as he takes on his new role and thanks him for his continued service to his country.”
Today, as his resignation in protest over Haiti policy became public, the State Department as well as the Biden White House are mounting a concerted effort to smack him down.  The spoxes in Foggy Bottom and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue both had something to say; it was not to thank him for his brief service as special envoy.
State Department spox Ned Price in his statement said …”not all ideas are good ideas.” The WH spox Jen Psaki said that Ambassador  Foote’s views were put forward, and they were were valued, they were heard …”. Also that “Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration … He never once did so.”
The State Department’s number #2 official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman took time out from her busy schedule to give an exclusive interview to @McClatchy about this resignation – “You know, one of the ideas that Mr. Foote had was to send the U.S. military back to Haiti,” Sherman said. “It just was a bad idea.” she said. Then she said what the State Dept spox already said in his statement: “Some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy….”. For him to say the proposals were ignored were, I’m sad to say, simply false,” Sherman said. She did say, you know, that she’s sad to say that.
Also Secretary Blinken being Tony and nice just said “I really understand the passion that comes with this.”
So then according to one reporter, an unnamed senior Biden Administration official also claimed that Ambassador Foote has a “toxic personality” & that Foote would often “shout people down and cut people off.” Toxic and shouty, and cut people off, blah, blah, blah!  And this is all coming out now after he resigned in protest? When are they going to tell us he also kicks his dog?
See, here’s the thing. They’re not just saying his ideas were valued and heard but oh, they were also just bad. But hey, did you know he wanted to send troops back to Haiti? Isn’t that also bad? And in case that doesn’t work, some official told a reporter, that the guy who quit has a toxic personality and was shouty, anyway.
This appears to be the first protest resignation under the Biden Administration. And you can see the all hands effort here. It is likely that 1) they recognized that the Foote letter would  resonate with a lot of people, 2) they’re looking at the domestic component and potential political fallout and 3) this serves as a warning for future dissenters on policy. Had Ambassador Foote just resigned quietly to spend more time with his family, State may have given him their “One Team” Award.
The Miami Herald says Ambassador Foote did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Which makes the parade of named and unnamed characters talking about Foote’s resignation just stark by comparison.
Folks, he quit; he’s done. Why are y’all wasting time on the guy who already left the room?
Meanwhile, your Haiti policy is till a hot mess. Get to work, good grief!
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UHI in the News: ‘Havana Syndrome’ and the Mystery of the Microwaves

 

More clips about the unexplained health incidents (also known as Havana Syndrome) from BBC, an interview with retired CIA officer with PRI, and another case reported from the Canadian Foreign Service where “A high-ranking Canadian diplomat in Cuba was flown home for assessment this year after experiencing an attack consistent with Havana syndrome.”
Via BBC:

“This is not Havana syndrome. It’s a misnomer,” argues Mr Zaid, whose clients were affected in many locations. “What’s been going on has been known by the United States government probably, based on evidence that I have seen, since the late 1960s.”

Since 2013, Mr Zaid has represented one employee of the US National Security Agency who believed they were damaged in 1996 in a location which remains classified.

Mr Zaid questions why the US government has been so unwilling to acknowledge a longer history. One possibility, he says, is because it might open a Pandora’s Box of incidents that have been ignored over the years. Another is because the US, too, has developed and perhaps even deployed microwaves itself and wants to keep it secret.

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