@StateDept Official Touts “Robust Health Care System”, Talks BioFire FilmArray For COVID19 Testing at FS Posts

 

Via SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  Hi, guys.  Following up a little bit about what Matt was talking about, when it comes to these embassies overseas, I want to clarify something we talked about yesterday.  It sounds to me like, for the moment, these staff members are completely reliant on local healthcare infrastructure for testing and treatment should they get ill.  Is that correct?  And are you planning to stand up any kind of medical capacity at these embassies or is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Well, working overseas for the State Department or for any government agency in a country that may have poor medical resources has been challenging all along.  We have a process in place that generally we try and make sure that people with underlying medical conditions would only go to places where they have local resources that could take care of them.  Obviously COVID presents new challenges.

We do have, like I said earlier, a robust health care system, a medical program.  We have doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses deployed at almost every mission around the world.  We rely also heavily on local staff that we employ in our health units.  And they’re the frontline.  I mean, they’ll see the patients first, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s anything else, and either provide care directly or to find the best local care available.

In COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.  In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.  I’m not sure if we’ve actually sent back samples to the CDC in Atlanta, but that’s an option as well.  But I heard news today that there’s been approval for a use of a device called BioFire FilmArray, which is an apparatus that we actually have in a number of embassies overseas, so lab testing machines doesn’t require – it requires expertise, but it doesn’t require a special license to use.  And BioFire company just had their approval given for use of – for creation of a cartridge to test for COVID.  So going forward, we anticipate we’ll be able to do a lot more of our own monitoring and testing.  Thank you.

During the briefing, the SSDO said, “ COVID obviously, as health infrastructure overseas breaks down, it’s more of a challenge.”  True, but he did not really answer  the “is the plan to just try to bring them home and treat them here if we need to?” part of the question, did he? 
Also the maker of the BioFire® COVID-19 Test said on its website that it is yet to be submitted for Emergency Use Authorization in the second quarter of 2020, while the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel us expected to be submitted to the FDA for EUA in the third quarter of 2020:
BioFire® COVID-19 Test

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense, BioFire Defense is developing a fully-automated, sample-to-result assay for the specific detection of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. This assay is designed to run on both the BioFire® FilmArray® 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray® Torch Systems and will deliver results in about an hour. The BioFire COVID-19 Test is being developed on an accelerated timeline, with submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) anticipated in Q2 of 2020.

BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 Panel

In parallel, BioFire Diagnostics is developing new SARS-CoV-2-specific assays for addition to the BioFire® FilmArray® Respiratory 2 (RP2) Panel. This new panel will be named the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 (RP2.1) Panel and is being developed for both the BioFire® FilmArray 2.0 and BioFire® FilmArray Torch Systems. In addition to the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the BioFire RP2.1 Panel will detect 21 additional respiratory pathogens to help clinicians quickly rule in and rule out other common causes of respiratory illness in about 45 minutes. Development of the BioFire RP2.1 Panel is also occurring on an accelerated timeline, and submission to the FDA for EUA and 510(k) clearance is anticipated in Q3 of 2020.

In the meantime, SSDO also said, “In terms of testing, we have up to now relied on local sources, local – maintain facilities for testing.”
What happens in places where there is no local testing?
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Did US Embassy Bangui Go on “Ordered Departure” Without Telling Anyone? (Updated)

Updated 3/28/2020, 8:20 pm PDT | US Embassy Bangui’s Health Alert dated March 26, 2020 says “On March 18, the Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel in Bangui.”
We learned last week that the US Embassy in Bangui, Central African Republic “just went on ordered departure.” Apparently this was less about Covid19 and more about a flare-up of violence in the country. To-date, neither the State Department nor the US Embassy has made an announcement about this post’s evacuation status.
On March 20, US Embassy Bangui released the following statement about reduced staffing:

The U.S. Embassy in Bangui announces that it is reducing its staffing in response to increasing travel restrictions, limited health infrastructure and potential disruption of supply chains for essential goods in the Central African Republic.

We call your attention to the State Department’s Global Travel Advisory issued March 19, 2020

The State Department has issued a global travel advisory advising all U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

U.S. Embassy in Bangui does not provide visa or citizen services  to U.S. citizens in CAR.  U.S. citizens in need of assistance there are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Note that the Central African Republic is on a Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory “due to crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping” as of December 12, 2019. The Travel Advisory has not been updated to indicate its evacuation status as of this writing.
A source at a neighboring post is similarly perplexed as they know from colleagues in Bangui that the embassy has gone on ordered departure despite the lack of public announcement.  We were asked if it is possible to have an internal ordered departure and Foggy Bottom knows it but it’s not ‘official’?
These days anything is possible, it seems, but we don’t know how that works without running afoul of 7 FAM 050 No Double Standard Policy. “Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.”
7 FAM 053(f) includes a reminder: “Remember that if post concludes it should warn, or has warned, its personnel or any U.S. Government employees beyond those with a strict need-to-know, whether permanently stationed or on temporary duty abroad, about a security threat, post should share that same information with the non-official U.S. community under the “No Double Standard” policy (see 7 FAM 052).

 

US Embassy Israel: Enhanced Screening and Quarantine For U.S. Citizens, and Other Foreign Travelers

On March 10, 2020, the US Embassy in Israel issued a Health Alert noting that effective Thursday, March 12, 2020, at 20:00 (Israel time) foreign travelers, including U.S. citizens, arriving from any country will be required to remain in home quarantine until 14 days have passed since the date of entry into Israel.  It notes further that travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice:

Location:  Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza

Event:  The Government of Israel has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures for travelers arriving to Israel to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Effective Thursday, March 12, 2020, at 20:00 (Israel time), foreign travelers, including U.S. citizens, from locations in the United States and all other countries aside from those listed below will be required to remain in home quarantine until 14 days have passed since the date of entry; non-Israeli residents will be required to prove they have the means to self-quarantine to be admitted into Israel.  This restriction is immediate for Israeli citizens and residents.  Hotels may refuse to honor reservations for individuals in quarantine.  Transportation options from the airport to any location may be limited.  Restrictions are continually being updated by the Government of Israel.

The Israeli Population and Immigration Authority will deny entry to any person who is not an Israeli resident or citizen who has traveled in the last 14 days to:

    • China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon (applies to connecting flights in these locations)
    • Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Japan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, San Marino, Andorra, and Egypt (does not apply to connecting flights in these locations if you did not leave the airport)
    • Any traveler in the last 14 days who attended any gatherings of more than 100 people or an international conference.

In addition, on March 9, 2020, the Israeli Ministry of Health instructed anyone who has visited the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala or Beit Sahour in the last 14 days to enter home quarantine according to the Israeli Ministry of Health’s instructions.  This does not include those who have transited through those areas without stopping.

Visit the Israeli Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 website for updated information and self-quarantine instructions in Israel.  Visit the website of the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health (available only in Arabic) for additional information on measures in the West Bank:  http://site.moh.ps/index/ArticleView/ArticleId/4839/Language/ar

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.  Travelers may be subjected to screening at airports or ports of entry.  Flights into or out of Israel may be cancelled with little or no advance notice.

 

Burn Bag: Department of Swagger’s Foreign Affairs Day Merges With Retirement Ceremony

 

Via Burn Bag:
“Foreign Affairs Day (formerly Foreign Service Day) approaches, and the Department of Swagger is doing all it can to diminish it.  It has been merged with the annual Retirement Ceremony and truncated to end after the 8th Floor lunch.  Director of Talent Management Perez is the senior participant (i.e. no 7th Floor participant), the AFSA Plaque Ceremony has been moved to mid-morning (but FAD attendees are only allowed to watch on B-Net), and the bureau briefings have been cut back to a single session.  Annual parking snafu at Kennedy Center continues — attendees are told to show invitation to get “special” $15 rate; normal daytime rate is $14.”

White Cat Wondering What’s Going On. Photo by Pixabay

Newly Gilded Bureau of Super Talent Talks About Self, Super Heroes on Earth 2

We received a question of which we have no answer:
Sender A asks, “how much time can they dither while the place collapses?”
What are you talking about?
Oops, folks, you were supposed to change your signature blocks as soon as possible, but preferably no later than last Monday!  Yes, yes, this is terribly very serious. You can’t be a bureau of super talent if you don’t have the approved signature block!
Meanwhile on Earth 2:

On the other hand, things are not as peachy on Earth 1:

Also on Earth 1, also not peachy:

Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown

 

Remember when Pompeo chided USA TODAY’s Deirdre Shesgreen during an interview with “No, not O.K., but. Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre. Not O.K., but.”?
Or accused PBS’s Judy Woodruff of working for the DNC during an interview (see the 12:01 mark).
Remember the same accusation he leveled against News4’s Nancy Amons on Oct. 11, 2019 in Nashville, TN (see the 6:04 mark) when he did not like the question?
Because, of course, the secretary of state should only be asked questions that he love to answer! No hard questions, questions about the weather, his dog or his next “recruitment” event are presumably okay.
Over the weekend, the 70th secretary of state got into a very public spat with the NPR host who he accused of lying twice. One, supposedly that the questions were limited to Iran. There was no such agreement; Pompeo’s aide Katie Martin was reportedly told by NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (they’ve got the emails!)  “I never agree to take anything off the table.” Two, on NPR host purportedly agreeing to have their post-interview conversation be off the record. Yep, the one where he was accused of shouting at the reporter for about the same length as the interview itself. Since the reporter says she did not agree to the off the record stipulation, it was not off the record. Had Pompeo understood the basic rules of journalism, he would not have expected that the reporter would not publicly talk about their post-interview encounter. Or he could have just behaved per the new professional ethos he unveiled for the State Department in April 2019.
The Department website explains what “off the record” means and says “Ground rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an interview with State Department officials. The discussion should proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the information can be used or attributed.”
Martin, a deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs has been on the job since May 28, 2019. Her bio page still says “Deputy Assistant Secretary Martin’s biography will be posted soon.” Prior to joining Foggy Bottom, she was with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
So what caused the meltdown, this time? Not cheese. Apparently Mary Louise Kelly’s questions and follow-up questions on Ukraine but specifically on Ambassador Yovanovitch hit a sore spot:

MLK: Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

Pompeo: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it.

MLK: I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

Pompeo: I just don’t have anything else to say about that this morning.

MLK: I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this, because as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here. [crosstalk]

Pompeo: I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this, when I talked to my team here —

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For the Record: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.” #ParnasTapes

 

 

Ex-@StateDept DAS and NSC’s Russia Expert Andrew Peek on Admin Leave Pending Investigation

 

Andrew Peek was part of the Trump Landing Team at the State Department in December 2016 (see Trump Transition: Additional Agency Landing Team Members For @StateDept).
On  December 8, 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Peek, a former U.S. military intelligence officer  and former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve was to become the deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq.
Peek officially became the NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq on December 11, 2017.  He replaced Chris Backemeyer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iran in 2017. Chris Backemeyer currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Assistance Coordination and Press and Public Diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Peek also replaced Joseph Pennington, a career foreign service officer who was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq (2015-18). Joe Pennington is currently the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
Click here for Peek’s official bio per state.gov.
On January 18, Axios and other media outlets report that Peek who had Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison’s job at the NSC since November 2019 has “been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation.” Bloomberg reporter notes that “the top Russia expert on Trump’s National Security Council has left his post, escorted out of the White House on Friday.”

 

United Arab Emirates to Pay For Estimated $60Million USA Pavilion in Expo2020 Dubai #foreignassistance

 

The world exposition Expo2020 is set to open in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on October 20, 2020.  In December 2019, InPark Magazine reported that nearly 200 countries have signed up to participate, each participant with a national pavilion. The per-pavilion investment was reported to be in the millions with China’s pavilion cited at a cost of $100 million. (see The U.S. could be a no-show at Expo 2020 Dubai). In fall last year, UAE’s The National also reported that the United States has yet to secure funding and begin construction on its $60 million pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai. The US Consul General in Dubai Philip Frayne was reportedly confident that funding would be available despite  failure of a private consortium to raise the needed funds (see Financial troubles stall construction of US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai).
On January 16, UAE’s The National reported that the US will participate at Expo 2020 Dubai with UAE funding:

American participation had been in doubt due to a law, passed in the 1990s, which prevents public funds being used for Expos. In the past, businesses have met the bill, but despite a lobbying effort led by Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, the US failed to attract enough private funding for Dubai. Legislative efforts to get around the rules proved unsuccessful.

It is not yet known how much money the UAE will provide to the US. However, it is understood that the original design of the US pavilion, which was estimated to cost $60 million (Dh220m) will be changed, not least because of time pressures with the opening of the event just nine months away.

The National also got a quote from Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council: The US State Department would be “100 per cent” in charge of the pavilion, Mr Sebright said, with the UAE government to offer support and assistance “as appropriate”.
Below is the State Department’s announcement citing the generosity of the Emirati Government in making America … er great anew by providing funds for the building of the USA Pavilion and making U.S. participation in Expo2020 Dubai possible.

Imminent Attacks on Four Embassies But Posts and American Public Not Warned ?

 

Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress  (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got MadReal ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were  ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were  an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued  a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
    • US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.” 
    • U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
    • U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
    • U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.”  The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:

“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.

#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs  (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.

So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy.   See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community.  Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.  
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at  (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers,  we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.

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