@StateDept Ups Sri Lanka Travel Advisory After Multiple Easter Sunday Explosions

 

On April 21, the State Department increased the Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka to Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) after multiple attacks throughout the country. Explosions reportedly occurred at  the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo and churches in Kochchikade, Katuwapitiya and Batticaloa; the blasts killed 290 people and wounded 500.  Arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing according to media reports.

The Advisory says in part:

Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also announced that it will be closed to the public on April 22. The American Center in Colombo & all American Spaces will also be closed. Emergency American Citizen Services will be available (see contact number below).  In a statement to the press, the secretary of state confirmed that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in Sri Lanka attacks,

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Foggy Bottom is closing in …

Via: “Every organization has to have an ethos, a central mission set that is clearly understood so that every single officer of the State Department understands the commander’s intent.” – Pompeo

ODNI: SF312: Frequently Asked Questions, Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement

DHS: Non-Disclosure Agreement for SBU Information

FSGB Case: Employee’s Mental Health Issues and Performance

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2016-043:

The Department denies that grievant’s 2013 EER is factually inaccurate, falsely prejudicial, or biased, and cites a series of interviews with her supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues to dispute her contentions about the unfairness and inaccuracy of the EER. In response to grievant’s allegation that she was inadequately counselled on the deficiencies described in her EER, the agency contends, based on statements from grievant’s rating officer, that she was in fact counselled, both formally and informally, during the rating period. With respect to grievant’s claim that she was bullied, ostracized, and treated unfairly by the Embassy community, which she alleges triggered her trauma symptoms, the Department provided input from the Ambassador, grievant’s rating officer, and the General Services officer, all of whom disputed grievant’s allegations.

In response to grievant’s claim that she suffered from then-undiagnosed mental health issues (including anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms), the Department counters with quotes from grievant’s rating officer who stated that “from the time REDACTED arrived at post, she appeared unhappy and talked of being stressed.” The rater recalled that some of her stress “appeared to be related to prior postings (including REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED),” and said that “upon arrival she talked to me about how stressful she had found the 6 months of FSI [Foreign Service Institute] REDACTED language training, and told me she urgently needed a break.” The Department was not persuaded that grievant’s poor performance resulted from the medical condition with which grievant was diagnosed after she left REDACTED. The Department put less credence in the medical statement grievant provided from her post-REDACTED therapist, stating “grievant has not provided medical documentation substantiating her alleged diagnosis. Nor does grievant’s counselor provide such documentation; the counselor merely states that ‘I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis.’”

FSGB BOARD:

In all grievances except those involving discipline, the grievant bears the burden of proving that her claims are meritorious.3 This case turns on whether the grievant’s EER is falsely prejudicial, and, whether any documented underperformance can be attributed to the grievant’s post-REDACTED diagnosis of mental health disorders. The Board notes that the record in this case is, unfortunately, sparse with respect to a diagnosis of grievant’s mental health issues. While the Department is correct in noting that grievant’s counselor noted only that “I believe that PTSD is the primary diagnosis,” the Department provides no opposing medical information whatsoever, relying solely on the observation of grievant’s Foreign Service colleagues in REDACTED.  Grievant’s licensed mental health counselor did in fact provide a detailed listing of grievant’s problems in REDACTED, and concluded that grievant suffered mental health disorders as a result thereof. We note that grievant’s counselor saw the grievant regularly over a period of more than a year. On balance, therefore, the Board is obliged to find grievant’s medical evidence preponderant. After careful examination of the ROP, the Board concludes that grievant’s 2013 EER cannot stand, because her performance during that period was likely influenced by her depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms. We base our conclusion largely on the detailed statement submitted by grievant’s Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), with whom grievant had at least 38 therapy sessions between April 2014 and August 2015, and to whom grievant was referred by a prior therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. In the Board’s view, this statement, written by a mental health professional who knows the grievant well, is entitled to more weight in the decision process than that of grievant’s rating and reviewing officers, or her colleagues at post. We also note that the Agency provided no contradictory medical opinion, or any information of a medical nature.

In her August 18, 2015, statement, grievant’s LPC states, in relevant parts:

She was referred to my center, the National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression in Washington DC by a previous therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and Trauma Symptoms. She also sees REDACTED , MD for medications at this center. I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis and the depression and anxiety are symptoms of the PTSD. REDACTED described primitive and unsanitary living conditions that caused her to feel unsafe. She reported unsanitary water in her apartment, unsafe electrical problems, and other living conditions that prevented sleep, peace and support. While in the workplace, she felt she was targeted, bullied and marginalized. Because of the combination of insecurity in her home, insecurity in her workplace, and the stress of an extremely stressful foreign environment, began to suffer from PTSD symptoms. She became depressed and hopeless, developed panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, developed nightmares, and generalized anxiety.

It is my understanding that her evaluations from this period faulted her for having strained relations with her subordinates, program participants, and peers in Washington, as well as difficulty making contacts in the REDACTED media and discomfort speaking to media on the record. I did not observe REDACTED during this period, so I do not have an opinion on the accuracy of these criticisms, but, if true, each would in my opinion be related to the various symptoms of her previously-undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms. 

I do not believe a patient can work with very seasoned therapists or psychiatrists and hide character issues as described in the accusations towards REDACTED. However, I do believe that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for REDACTED , while suffering the effects of PTSD, to maintain a high level of diplomacy, an ability to connect well with co-workers, and to utilize PR skills to connect at work well with the media.

Nightmares, panic attacks, depression, extreme fear, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and not feeling respected or supported would prevent most people from working at a level of excellence which, to my knowledge, had been true for REDACTED before her REDACTED posting. I believe REDACTED ’s behavior while in REDACTED was mischaracterized at most and misunderstood at the least. This is my opinion based on working with many patients who suffer from trauma-related symptoms. 

We find the foregoing LPC statement to be a detailed professional observation, based on relatively long-term (at least 16 months’) observation of grievant, and thus accord it more weight than we do the statements offered by the Department from non-medical providers (her rater, the General Services officer (GSO), the Ambassador, and grievant’s subordinates). While the statement does not contain a definite diagnosis of grievant’s symptoms, we note it is from a licensed medical professional, and is countered by the Department only with comments from non-medical co-workers and colleagues.

THE BOARD’S DECISION:

Grievant has shown by preponderant evidence that she suffered from the effects of then undiagnosed mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during her tour in REDACTED and accordingly, her Employee Evaluation Report (EER) for 2013 must be expunged and replaced in her Official Personnel File (OPF) by a standard gap memorandum. Grievant has shown that she suffered from these conditions and that they affected her performance in ways that contributed to the negative statements in her EER. If she is not promoted by reconstituted Selection Boards for the years 2014 -2017, her Time in Class shall be extended by one year.

One more: “as a general matter, an EER is inherently false, even though it accurately describes an employee’s performance, if that poor performance was the result of the employee’s serious illness.”

Congress Demands Pompeo Turn Over Documents on Political Targeting of @StateDept Employees

 

On March 15, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations “denounced the State Department’s attempts to obstruct investigations into reports of politically-motivated retaliation against career Department employees.”

In a letter to Secretary Pompeo, they demanded that “the Department comply with past Congressional requests for information on this matter, stretching back over the past year.”

“To date, despite three specific requests and multiple follow-up efforts by our offices, the Department has failed to respond to our requests for interviews or provide any responsive records. After nearly a year, it suggests the State Department is stonewalling a legitimate congressional request for information on matters that are squarely within our Committees’ oversight jurisdiction. We are therefore restating our demand for a response to our prior queries on this matter and are prepared to use appropriate tools at our disposal to prompt a substantive response.”

The congressional demand requires that the Department submit all documents requested by March 21 and facilitate Committee interviews with Department officials implicated in this matter by April 30.

Among the items requested:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

The congressional request also notes:

“To the extent that the Department may have been relying on a legal theory that our requests somehow lapsed at the end of the 115th Congress, we write today to dispense with that argument and hereby formally restate our prior requests.”

The congressional request asks for transcribed interviews with the following individuals.

A schedule of availability for the Committees to conduct transcribed interviews with each of the following individuals, with the first interview to be conducted no later than April 1, 2019, and with all interviews to be conducted no later than April 30, 2019:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers;

(h) Margaret Peterlin;

(i) Andrew Veprek;

(j) John Zadrozny; and

(k) Kevin Moley

This request has been overgrown with grass;  some of those they want to interview are no longer in Foggy Bottom. It looks like Congress sent their first request on March 15, 2018, two days after Tillerson was fired in a tweet. The full statement from Rep. Engel and Senator Menendez is available here. The letter to Secretary Pompeo is here.

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Mystery Illness: @StateDept Raising Doubt About 14 China Cases #TheThing

 

We’ve blogged previously about the mystery illness that was reported to have afflicted USG employees in China (U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs; Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?)

Last night, CBS/60Minutes did a segment on the health attacks in China. Back in July  2018, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi whose access to the building at post was reportedly restricted after he “began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family.” Recap below: USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

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60Minutes notes that “for reasons that are unclear, the State Department is raising doubt about the other 14 China cases. Click here for the transcript of the State Department segment.

In addition to Mark Lenzi, also on camera were U.S. Commerce Department trade officer Catherine Werner,  trade officer Robyn Garfield and wife Britta who were posted in Shanghai, and former NSA employee Mark Lenzi who believed that the weapon used is a radio frequency energy, in the microwave range.

A clue that supports that theory was revealed by the National Security Agency in 2014. This NSA statement describes such a weapon as a “high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time without leaving evidence.” The statement goes on to say “…this weapon is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves.” The NSA disclosed this in a worker’s compensation case filed by former NSA employee Mike Beck.

Also:  “The State Department declined an interview, but in a statement to 60 Minutes it said, “We will continue to provide our colleagues the care they need, regardless of their diagnosis or the location of their medical evacuation.” A State Department official told us that the Cuba patients are victims of an attack. But State hasn’t made the same determination for the China patients. The department has asked the National Academies of Science to assist in the medical investigation.”

Related posts:

Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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Pompeo on @StateDept: What They Needed Wasn’t More Money, What They Needed Was a Leader Who … Who’s That?

The Trump budget proposal for the FY2020 State Department funding is now out. HFAC already called the proposal which includes a 23% cut ‘dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill. Even if this request doesn’t pass, it clearly reflects the administration’s views on diplomacy and development. If a Foggy Bottom joker starts calling prior State Department funding levels unsustainable, we may fall off our chair and scream out loud. The Administration’s budget request for DOD was $686.1 billion in FY2019 and $750 billion in FY2020. And $750 billion is sustainable? Anyway, brief run-down of the budget requests in the last few years:

FY2017:  The FY2017 budget request under the Obama Administration amounted in $52.78 billion in new budget authority for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations (SFOPS). When Congress passed the appropriations bill, the  total enacted SFOPS funding for FY2017 was $57.53 billion, an 8.8% increase over the FY2016 SFOPS funding level. According to the CRS, the increase is entirely due to a 40% total increase in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

FY2018: President Trump submitted his FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 23, 2017. The request sought $40.25 billion (-30% compared with FY2017 enacted) for SFOPS, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. The 115th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which provided FY2018 funding for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). Division K of the act―State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS)― provided a total of $54.18 billion, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds and rescissions. This represented a decrease of 6.1% from the FY2017 actual funding level according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

FY2019: The Trump Administration submitted to Congress its FY2019 budget request on February 12, 2018. The State Department budget proposal under Rex Tillerson included $41.86 billion for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). CRS notes: Comparing the request with the FY2018-enacted funding levels, the FY2019 request represents a 22.7% decrease in SFOPS funding. The proposed State and related agency funding would be 18.2% below FY2018 enacted and the foreign operations funding would be reduced by 24.7%. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY2019 SFOPS bills that include funding at higher levels than the Administration requested and equal to or greater than FY2018 enacted funding. Congress eventually appropriated $56.1 billion, ensuring that the agency has the resources it needs.

FY2020: Trump’s FY2020 budget request for the State Department, the first under Pompeo, proposes $40 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy Doug Pitkin said, “the last two budgets, for example, included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.” He also argued that despite the almost 25% cut, this  budget request apparently “does support diplomacy and development”.

All that to highlight what Secretary Pompeo said in an interview recently. Secretary Pompeo  (who we imagine is known …er fondly in Foggy Bottom as Swagger Mike) gave an interview to McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle on March 11. We must admit that since this was an interview, we certainly could not blame his speechwriters for the gems here. Neither the video nor the transcript of this interview appears on state.gov, as of this writing but the reporters have a short video clip which we embedded below, and you can read the report with the quotes here.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

 

 

“The people at the State department understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

 

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization,” he said.

“That’s what the people of the State Department want and need. We’re giving it to them in spades. They’re responding to it wonderfully. We’re doing wonderful work all around the world.”

At the @StateDept’s International Women of Courage Awards, a Regrettable Lack of Courage

Published 12:15 am EDT

 

Secretary Pompeo (Mar. 7  – Excerpt):

Women of courage exist everywhere. Most will never be honored. They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters. I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well. I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life. My mother, too, was a woman of courage. She was born in rural Kansas. She helped make ends meet while raising three kids. She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity. You all know women like this. They’re strong. She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured. And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today. (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere. That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work. From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right. Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe. I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world. Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump. (Applause.)  Full Text»

Wow, okay, can somebody please tell the secretary of state that he needs better speechwriters, pronto?!

Also you’ve probably seen the news already about the rescinded award for Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro.  FP reported:

“…the State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.
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To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president.
[…]
In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Our understanding is that posts who submit  nominations for this award are typically required to affirm that they had thoroughly vetted their candidates,  including social media.  The nominations do not happen in secret. Posts actually have to tell their candidates that they’re being nominated otherwise they may not be available when the award is handed out. Posts also have to tell their candidates when they are not selected.

It is likely that we won’t now exactly what happened here until we get to the oral history part many years down the road.

For now, we’re just watching out on who will throw those unnamed lower level officials under the bus, then run them over some more until you see the tire tracks on their souls?