Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

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USAID Prepares to Shrink #WestBank/Gaza Presence, Pompeo Visits @USAID HQ

 

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US Embassy Kinshasa Remains Closed to the Public For Sixth Day Over Terror Threat #DRC

 

On December 2, the US Embassy Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that it will be closed to the public again due to a terrorist threat against USG facilities in the capital city. Below is part of the announcement:

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa is working closely with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to address a terrorist threat against USG facilities in Kinshasa.  The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa will be closed to the public on Monday, December 3.

 Actions to Take:

·        Maintain a heightened level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.

·         Monitor local media for updates.

·         Keep a low profile and notify friends and family of your safety.

·         Review the country page  and remain alert for potentially dangerous situations.

US Embassy Kinshasha previously “received credible and specific information of a possible terrorist threat against U.S. Government facilities in Kinshasa” on November 24, 2018. It initially closed to the public with only minimal staffing on Monday, November 26, 2018.

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OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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Pakistan PM Khan Issues Angry Response After Trump’s Swipe Over OBL, Aid, WoT

Trump on Pakistan (full transcript of interview here). Bull. China Shop. Every Damn Place and Time.

WALLACE: Bill McRaven, Retired Admiral, Navy Seal, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations —

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Special Operations —

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime.

TRUMP: OK, he’s a Hilary Clinton, uh, backer and an Obama-backer and frankly —

WALLACE: He was a Navy Seal 37 years —

TRUMP: Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice? You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there. And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year and they don’t tell him, they don’t tell him —

WALLACE: You’re not even going to give them credit —

TRUMP: For years —

WALLACE: for taking down Bin Laden?

TRUMP: They took him down but – look, look, there’s news right there, he lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year, which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.

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US Embassy Haiti: Employees on “Shelter In Place” Order, 15-Mile Radius Travel Restriction

 

The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a Security Alert on November 18 as anti-corruption protests broke out in Haiti. The alert cites protests, roadblocks, burning tires, and possible gunfire within the capital city including the areas of Petionville, Peguyville, Delmas, La Saline, Cite Soleil, Nazon, Sans Fil, Bel-Air, Champ-de-Mars, Carrefour Aeroport, Bourdon, Canape Vert, and outside the capital, in the areas of Port-de-Paix, Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Hinche, Gonaives, and Jeremie.

The Embassy required its American employees to shelter in place. “Pending further changes, the Embassy plans to announce a delayed opening (10 a.m., Monday, November 19.” Employees remain “prohibited from traveling within Haiti beyond a 15-mile radius of the Embassy without prior Chief of Mission approval.”

Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing).  Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.

Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.  This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].

In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case.  If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action.  So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:

1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?

2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and

3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?

As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.

Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.

And the Congress should be rightly pissed.

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U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

 

This past July we blogged about the guilty plea of U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar over his attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat assigned at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico (see U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico).

We posted previously about this case:

On November 7, USDOJ announced that Zia Zafar was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mr. Ashcraft. In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release. The DOJ release also notes that Mr. Ashcraft survived the attack, but that “the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.”

The original statement is available here.

U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

A U.S. national and former medical student was sentenced to 264 months in prison for the 2017 shooting of a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Acting Special Agent in Charge Tom Jones of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Christian J. Schurman for U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security and Director for Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, previously pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar was sentenced by U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  In addition to the prison sentence, Zafar was sentenced to serve eight years of supervised release.

“Zia Zafar targeted a U.S. government employee and surveilled him before shooting him in the chest at close range,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “The Department of Justice will do everything in its power to prosecute anyone who targets U.S. officials at home or abroad.  I commend the investigative team and our law enforcement partners in Mexico for their outstanding work in bringing Zafar to justice for this premediated heinous act.”

“The FBI works closely with international partners and security services in order to conduct complex investigations and acquire evidence from abroad for criminal prosecutions in the United States,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Jones.  “I want to thank the Mexican government for their full support and cooperation throughout this investigation.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

“Today’s sentencing of Zia Zafar sends a strong message: Diplomatic Security is committed to making sure those who attack diplomatic personnel representing America abroad face serious consequences,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Schurman.  “Diplomatic Security’s strong relationships with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. and foreign law enforcement partners around the world continue to be essential in the pursuit of justice.  Such crimes threaten the national security of the United States.”

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea and facts presented at the sentencing hearing, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar, then living in Guadalajara, Mexico, armed himself with a firearm and wore a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance.  He then waited in a parking garage for the victim, a vice consul who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara, following him as he walked towards his vehicle.  After noticing a security guard nearby, Zafar changed his location to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the vice consul to exit.  When the vice consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the vice consul in his chest.  The vice consul survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his spinal column, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the vice consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Walutes of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

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We were hoping that court records would provide some more clarity about this case, unfortunately, they don’t. We wanted to understand what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this attack. There is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.  U.S. Attorney Terwilliger says, “The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States.” All consulate officials represent the United States in Guadalajara, what made this specific diplomat the target?  The U.S. national attacker reportedly lived in California but was studying in Mexico. This individual left California, went to Mexico, and then later decided to surveil the consulate in Guadalajara in order to find a target? Why? What made him decide he suddenly wanted to shot a representative of his own country one day? What was the trigger? This case remains perplexing to us.

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Snapshot: The Tillerson Effect on Foreign Service Family Member Employment (2017-2018)

Via State/FLO:

Rex Tillerson was confirmed and assumed charged of the State Department on February 1, 2017 as the 69th Secretary of State. He was fired on March 13, 2018 and left Foggy Bottom for the last time on March 22, 2018. Below is the comparative look of Foreign Service family member employment numbers inside overseas missions from Spring 2014 to Spring 2018. Overseas missions include over 275 diplomatic and consular posts overseas located in 191 countries.

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs

Via  NBC News:

NBC News also reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records of U.S. government workers evacuated from both Cuba and China, including those the U.S. has “medically confirmed” were attacked and those it ultimately said were not.
[…]

Most of the American diplomatic evacuees have improved enough to resume work, State Department officials said. Some have been granted accommodations, such as shortened work hours, dimmed office lights or special glasses. Meanwhile, the White House National Security Council is preparing legislation to deal with gaps that Workers’ Compensation doesn’t currently cover, such as care for affected spouses or pay-outs for permanent impairment of the brain.

In internal State Department instructions reviewed by NBC News, workers in Cuba and China were told not to discuss what they knew with the public, with reporters or on social media.
[…]

In May, Pompeo called Werner’s case “entirely consistent” with the Cuba patients. But now top U.S. diplomats say they’re not sure it’s the same thing, with one telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee it’s “apples and oranges.”

And the State Department, in explaining why it’s not setting up a review board to assess the response in Cuba, told NBC News that Pompeo didn’t believe there was enough information to prove that Werner’s injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad.”

Somebody please set us straight here. Wasn’t there an ARB for the Cuba attack? Or was there an ARB Havana but no ARB Guangzhou? How did State made a determination that there wasn’t enough information  the injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad” without convening an Accountability Review Board? Did they use their Magic 8 crystal ball?

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