PSA: Do You Need Help?

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Via state.gov:

We strongly encourage you to get help and support from a trained mental health professional if you are:

  • Feeling sad or depressed most of the time for more than one week.
  • Feeling anxious or having distressing thoughts you can’t control most of the time for more than one week.
  • Having continuing difficulty working or meeting your daily responsibilities.
  • Having problems in your relationships, or trouble taking care of your family.
  • Increasing your use of alcohol or misuse prescription medications, street drugs, or using them to cope.
  • Having traumatic stress reactions that are not getting better as time passes.
  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself.
  • Thinking about hurting or killing someone else.
  • Doing things to hurt yourself, like cutting or burning yourself.
  • You are extremely angry most of the time.
  • Other people are saying they’re concerned about you and think you should talk to someone.
  • You are having trouble sleeping most of the time.
  • You are experiencing changes in appetite (significant increase or decrease), most of the time or you’ve lost significant weight without meaning to.
If you are feeling suicidal or homicidal, it’s URGENT that you let someone know. You should seek help immediately by calling 911 or going to the closest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are overseas you should seek help immediately by calling or visit the health unit, your doctor or visit or call the Military Crisis Line  or a local Suicide Hotline .

It doesn’t have to be an emergency for you to benefit from talking with a professional. Professionals who have training and expertise in working with military personnel and those deployed to the combat environment can help you with several things:

  • Learn to manage your feelings and thoughts more effectively.
  • Learn to feel more comfortable talking to people in your daily life.
  • Learn to pursue goals that are important to you.
  • Learn to focus on the future.

Some reactions are very common in the first week or two following a traumatic event and, do not require in-person consultation with a counselor. Initially you may difficulties with normal activities and responsibilities, avoidance of situations, nervousness, or sleeping problems. If there is no improvement after the first weeks following a stressful or traumatic event, then face-to-face counseling should be strongly considered.

You may also want to consider counseling if:

  • The people close to you are not able to support you the way you need them to.
  • You are isolated or without close family or friends.
  • The traumatic experience feels so personal or sensitive (such as rape, assault, domestic violence, loss of a buddy, friendly-fire related incident) that you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking with anyone you may know.

Remember… 
Seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness; seeking support is a sign of strength. Talking to a counselor can improve your ability to help yourself.

If you’re not sure whether to seek counseling

Make an appointment for a consultation. This is not a contract for services. You can meet with a therapist and discuss if the services are right for you at this time. Remember that “shopping around” for a counselor is a perfectly acceptable thing to do; in fact many people recommend it.

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WhatTheWhat? State/OIG Reviewed But Did Not/Not Evaluate @StateDept’s COVID-19 Response

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“The scope of this review was the Department’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its plans and procedures for returning employees to offices. As part of this review, OIG did not evaluate whether the Department’s implementation of its plans and procedures effectively safeguarded Department personnel health and safety. In addition, OIG did not include the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution or new policies, such as President Biden’s executive order on required mask wearing, as these occurred subsequent to fieldwork completion. OIG completed this review in Washington, DC, and virtually with officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq; U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan; and Consulate General Frankfurt, Germany. These posts were selected due to OIG’s onsite presence at each post, as well as the varying local responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced how the Department’s reopening plans were executed by post management.”

 


 

 

Inbox: Are there treatments that work? #HavanaSyndrome

Note: We received the note below from a Foreign Service employee who asked not to be identified. The sender gave us permission to publish this note as long as we remove potential identifying information related to specific posts and dates. We are wondering how many more out there similarly had to deal with a non-responsive  Bureau of Medical Services whose mission is “to promote and safeguard the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community.” How many are in limbo about their condition? How many never heard from anyone about what the next steps should be?
–DS
I brought up my symptoms to the Health Unit (HU) where I was posted, and asked to receive an assessment for those symptoms even though my “attack” did not happen within the time frame specified in the Management Notice that went out via all HUs around the world. I was given the assessment, and several of my symptoms were identified as being similar to the Havana syndrome symptoms that began after my 26 months in Post Z (2008 – 2010): sudden onset of chronic insomnia, loss of smell, difficulty concentrating, and tinnitus/loss of hearing. The results of my assessment were sent to State/MED over a year ago, and I requested the HU at Post to indicate I would like a follow up. Since then I have had no communications from MED on this, despite having sent emails to various different persons in MED asking what the next steps were.  
I continue to have these symptoms. I was medevac’d from one post whose HU thought it was PTSD from Baghdad; I tried to explain I had been taking OTC sleep aids since 2009 in Post Z and that slowly but surely their efficacy had diminished. I thought I had just spontaneously developed the condition because of stress or pollution in Country Z. Unfortunately, the various symptoms have had a significant quality of life impact, both professionally and personally, and at this point I am very frustrated with State and MED for the lack of follow up. At the very least I would like to have additional assessments to see if my brain shows the patterns that our colleagues in Moscow, Havana, and Guangzhou also exhibit. I would also like to have available to me whatever resources are available from State to help work through some of these symptoms. Are there treatments that work? It would be great to get some relief.

 

 


 

 

Snapshot: Qualifying Injury Under 3 FAM 3660 – Compensation For Certain Injuries

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A section in the Foreign Affairs Manual was added on May 28, 2020 (see 3 FAM 3660 Compensation for Certain Injuries). It is based on Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, where:
“Congress allows the Secretary of State to pay benefits to certain Department of State personnel under chief of mission authority who incurred a qualifying injury and are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.  It further authorizes the Secretary of State to pay for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered employee, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of Title 5, United States Code (the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)) or other provision of Federal law; and to pay the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered individual or covered dependent, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.”
3 FAM 3660 also includes definitions on who are covered employees, or covered individuals, what’s a “qualifying injury”, and the description of recognized and eligible qualifying injuries as of June 26, 2018.

3 FAM 3662  DEFINITIONS
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

Qualifying injury:  The term “qualifying injury” means the following:

(1)  With respect to a covered dependent, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period in which a covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered dependent.

(2)  With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered employee or covered individual.

(3)  Recognized and eligible qualifying injuries, as of 26 June 2018, based on the University of Pennsylvania-identified criteria, include the following:

        • sharp localized ear pain;
        • dull unilateral headache;
        • tinnitus in one ear;
        • vertigo,
        • visual focusing issues;
        • disorientation;
        • nausea;
        • extreme fatigue;
        • cognitive problems, including difficulty with concentration, working memory, and attention;
        • recurrent headache;
        • high-frequency unilateral hearing loss;
        • sleep disturbance;
        • and imbalance walking.

3 FAM 3666  SECRETARY OF STATE COUNTRY DESIGNATION
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. Under Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, the Secretary of State may designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

b. The Secretary of State may not designate an added foreign country or duty station for the purposes of providing additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664 for a qualifying injury to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals under this section unless the Secretary of State

(1)  provides to the Committees on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives 30 days’ notice of the designation of a particular additional country or duty station and the rationale for such an addition; and

(2)  provides no such additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664  to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals for a qualifying injury until the 30-day notice period expires, unless there is written agreement by both the Chair and Ranking Members of both the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that there is no objection to proceeding with provision of such monetary benefit compensation in less than 30 days.


 

 

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.

 

@StateDept Designates Amb. Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force

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On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of retired Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the task force handling the agency’s response to the Havana Syndrome.
The Department has designated Ambassador Pamela Spratlen to serve as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the Department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
A career member of the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, Ambassador Spratlen was formerly Senior Advisor of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. State Department, Inspections Division. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2015-2018 and Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) from 2011-2014. She has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (2009-2011).
In addition to numerous Washington assignments and a tour as Diplomat in Residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Ambassador Spratlen also served in Russia (Moscow and Vladivostok), France (U.S. Mission to the OECD) and Latin America (Guatemala and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States).
As Secretary Blinken said, “The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”
Members of the media who are interested in interviews with Ambassador Pamela Spratlen should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at GreenbergBL2@state.gov or 202-647-1679.GreenbergBL2@state.gov
During the DPB of March 12, a reporter pointed out that the announcement did not say anything about Cuba or any particular country where these issues may arise and asked, “Is that for a reason? Is it broader than that?” Below is the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
“… To your first question, as we mentioned, we do have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens. Of course, these health incidents have been a priority for Secretary Blinken even before he was officially Secretary Blinken. He requested a comprehensive briefing on these incidents during the transition when he was secretary-designate. On his first day, full day here at the department, he received an update. He has since received comprehensive briefings.
He also wanted to ensure that the task force that has been established and working on these incidents since May of 2018 had connectivity directly to him, and directly to his senior leadership team. And so that is why we have decided, and he has decided to name Ambassador Spratlen as the senior advisor to the task force.
We didn’t specifically mention countries in that announcement because as you know, Matt, there have been now several countries where these incidents have been reported. We are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents.
There is also an individual on the task force who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. So we will continue to pay close attention to this. Secretary Blinken will continue to pay close attention to this, because he has no higher priority than the health and the safety and security than the department and dependents of department personnel.”
We’d like to know who is the unnamed “individual on the task force responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents.”  Has this person been there since 2018 or is this a new appointment?
We’ve also requested an opportunity to ask Ambassador Spratlen some questions about the Department’s response to the Havana Syndrome but we have yet to hear a response. We hope to have a separate update on this, that is,  if our email survive  Foggy Bottom’s email chewing doggo and get to Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg. 
Or if you know something and want to say something, reach out here.


 

 

 

@SecBlinken’s Memo on COVID-19 Vaccinations and His Commitment to @StateDept Employees

Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Also see @StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken.


 

 

 

Mystery Illness: “a much larger scale and widespread attack against our diplomatic corps, and our families”

Following the publication of ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge? and Oh ARB China, Where Art Thou?, we received the following in our inbox:
This is an interesting piece though it cites only 15 cases in China. I personally know of more cases involving people posted in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang. After the stories from Guangzhou broke, there was strong suppression by the Department in China. And yes, family members, including children, were victims of attacks.
This is a much larger scale and widespread attack against our diplomatic corps, and our families, than is being acknowledged and reported. If I hadn’t been so naive about the department’s willingness to take care of those injured and push to stop the attacks, I would have better documented all of the information I was coming across.
Please know that there are many more, in cities across China, that were attacked.
We asked a separate source who was acutely familiar of these attacks and he/she confirmed that there were attacks beyond Guangzhou in China and that there was suppression of information about the attacks in China by the State Department.
Also, what if Patient Zero in Havana, a CIA employee widely accepted to have been injured in December 2016 was not the  first attack?
What if an individual who served at an affected country had a mystery illness much earlier that doctors could not figure out?
There is a story there.
And what about foreign nationals injured in these attacks? This separate source told us:
“State knows that foreign nationals have been affected but has covered this up….There were certainly Chinese nationals injured in China and certain career officials at State know this very well and have gone to great lengths to cover up and suppress this.”
There are stories that still need to be told.
It would be so wrong and disgraceful to allow individuals to deal with this illness on their own.
On February 24, CNN reported that the CIA has set up its first-ever task force to focus on suspected microwave attacks on intelligence officers and diplomats:
“Sources familiar with the ongoing investigations out of the separate US agencies — including the CIA, the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the State Department — say that a major impediment to their efficacy is the fact that they are largely siloed efforts. Interagency coordination has been limited, in part due to the highly classified nature of some details and the privacy restrictions of health records, and that has hampered progress.
It is not clear if the Biden administration will bring the multiple investigations of these suspected microwave attacks under one roof, but officials at the National Security Council are discussing that possibility, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN. “
Our government needs to get rid of the darn silos. It needs a real inter-agency investigation to get a full accounting of what happened. They also need to expand their timeline to 6-12 months earlier than the first reported incidents, and include any mystery illness reported by employees across the globe.
Just as important as learning about what happened, and about the government’s response  — how will our people be protected against the next attacks?

 


 

 

@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

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?