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?

 


 

 

 

Kazakhstan Reinstates Quarantine Restrictions Throughout the Country For At Least 14 Days

 

On July 8, the US Mission in Kazakhstan  issued a Health Alert noting that the Kazakhstani Government has announced the reinstatement of quarantine restrictions throughout the country effective July 5.  Also that the Kazakhstani Ministry of Health has confirmed 51,059 cases of COVID-19 in the country as of July 8, 2020

New Quarantine Measures: The Kazakhstani Government has announced that quarantine restrictions will be reinstated throughout the country starting July 5. These restrictions will be in effect for at least 14 days, and may be extended or strengthened. Other municipalities may introduce restrictions beyond the below and with little or no notice; for the latest information, see your respective city’s website. Links are provided on our COVID-19 page.  

·         Transportation: Regional bus service will be suspended, and municipal transportation will be limited. Rail travel will be limited. Domestic and international air travel will remain at current levels.  

·         Businesses Shuttered: Most business will be closed, including beauty salons, gyms and fitness centers, pools, closed markets, beaches, cultural facilities, museums, exhibits, entertainment centers, religious facilities, movie theaters, food courts, and recreational facilities.  

·         Essential Businesses Exempt: Some essential business will continue to operate, including grocery stores, open-air markets, and pharmacies. Health centers will offer services by appointment. Limited enterprises, such as companies in construction, agriculture, auto service, and commercial banks will remain open. Restaurants will be open for delivery or take-out; summer patios will remain open.  

·         Personal Movement Limited: All large events and family gatherings are prohibited. Individual outdoor fitness activities are permitted, and people may walk in parks and other public spaces in groups of three or less. Individuals older than 65 years old are limited from leaving their residence.  

For U.S citizens who need to travel by vehicle from areas with restricted movement in order to reach an airport with international flights, the only assistance we can provide is to request passage through the checkpoints from the Government of Kazakhstan (GoK).  Based on the GoK’s requirements, you must provide us the below information at least four business days before your scheduled flight. Address this information to the following addresses: AlmatyUSCitizen@state.gov or Nur-SultanUSCitizen@state.gov. This information will be shared with the Kazakhstani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

[…]

On March 14, 2020, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

Read more:

SCA Acting Asst Secretary Alice Wells to Retire After 31 Years of Service

 

Top 10 Countries: @StateDept Repatriation of U.S. Citizens as of April 29, 2020

 

The State Department’s May 1st update notes that it has now coordinated the repatriation of 76,030 Americans on 810 flights from 126 countries and territories including  six flights from six countries in South and Central America repatriated approximately 800 U.S. citizens on April 30 and a charter flight from India carrying approximately 300 Americans arrived in the U.S. on May 1.
Based on the State Department’s data, Western Hemisphere countries based on number of U.S. citizens evacuated remain the top eight out of 10 countries.  India and Pakistan, both under the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) are the only non-WHA countries in the top 10 counties.

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

US Embassy Turkmenistan Now on Ordered Departure For All USG Family Members Under 18

 

On March 27, 2020, the State Department issued a Level 3 Reconsider Travel Advisory for Turkmenistan. The advisory also announced the ordered, mandatory departure of  “all family members of U.S. government employees under the age of 18 in addition to the authorized departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to stringent travel restrictions and quarantine procedures that affect commercial flights.”
See excerpt below:

Reconsider Travel to Turkmenistan due to the Global Health Advisory and Embassy Ashgabat’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.

On March 27, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. government employees under the age of 18 in addition to the authorized departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees due to stringent travel restrictions and quarantine procedures that affect commercial flights.

The Government of Turkmenistan has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  All incoming international flights are being redirected to Turkmenabat, approximately 291 miles from Ashgabat.  Passengers will be required to undergo medical screening and possibly involuntary quarantine at local medical facilities.

Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Visit the website of U.S. Embassy Ashgabat for additional information on these new measures.

Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.  Consider declining any medical testing unrelated to COVID-19.

Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.  Contact the U.S. Embassy if you are subject to quarantine or prior to undergoing any invasive medical testing or procedures.

Read the full announcement here.

Map via state.gov

Related posts:
Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020
US Embassy Turkmenistan Now on Voluntary Departure For Non-Emergency USG Staffers/Family Members (March 9, 2020)

 

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

Continue reading

Deputy Secretary John Sullivan Visits Thimphu, Bhutan

 

The State Department issued a statement on Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s visit to Bhutan. We have only been able to find photos of D/S Sullivan’s meetings with the Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, Minister of Economic Affairs Loknath Sharma, and other officials, but none of the meeting with the Dragon King.

Via state.gov: Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan traveled to Thimphu, Bhutan, from August 12-13.  In meetings with His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Prime Minister Tshering, Foreign Minister Dorji, and Minister of Economic Affairs Sharma, Deputy Secretary Sullivan discussed a range of issues, including the importance of protecting and enhancing a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.  He also discussed the importance of expanding our two nations’ people-to-people ties and enhancing joint efforts to combat trafficking in persons.  In a meeting with the Loden Foundation, the Deputy Secretary learned about efforts to promote entrepreneurship and cultural preservation in Bhutan.  The Deputy Secretary affirmed the United States’ support for science, technology, engineering, and math activities that aim to benefit Bhutanese students, teachers, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan meets with Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bhutan, on August 12, 2019. [State Department photo by Nicole Thiher/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan visits an Archery Exhibition in Thimphu, Bhutan, on August 13, 2019. [State Department photo by Nicole Thiher/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan poses for a photo with staff members of the Taj Tashi Hotel in Thimphu, Bhutan, on August 13, 2019. [State Department photo by Nicole Thiher/ Public Domain]

This trip reminds us of a memorable photo of the Fourth King of Bhutan and his three wives with the then South Central Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary Robert Blake. We posted the 2010 photo below in 2013 following Ambassador Blake’s confirmation as Ambassador to Indonesia.

Assistant Secretary Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and Three of His Wives in Thimphu, Bhutan Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and three of his wives pose for a photo in front of Dechencholing Palace, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on April 29, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

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USG Rapatriates Forfeited Funds From Bakiyev Regime to the Kyrgyz Republic

Posted: 2:05 am EST

 

On February 26, USDOJ announced the repatriation of stolen assets to the Kyrgyz Republic “from the corruption and theft of government funds” by the regime of second President of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his youngest son, Maxim Bakiyev. Bakiyev was ousted from office in 2010 during a public revolt and according to the BBC, father and son had been granted political asylum in Belarus.

The U.S. Department of Justice repatriated stolen assets to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic arising from the corruption and theft of government funds by the prior regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his son Maxim Bakiyev.  The return of the funds was celebrated yesterday in a ceremony in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic attended by Ambassador Alice G. Wells, the head of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs for the Department of State and U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Donald Lu.

These funds were identified in the United States in the criminal prosecution of Eugene Gourevitch for insider trading in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and a $6 million forfeiture order was subsequently entered by the Court.  Following the conviction in the prosecution led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Kyrgyz Government filed a Petition for Remission with the U.S. Department of Justice, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, claiming that the funds subject to the forfeiture order traced back to monies stolen by Maxim Bakiyev from Kyrgyz state authorities and other banking institutions.  On Oct. 4, 2018, the Department of Justice granted the Remission Petition.

So far, approximately $4.5 million of the funds have been collected and are approved for repatriation of the $6 million ordered to be forfeited will be repatriated.  These funds will be deposited  in the account of  the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (“current account of the Central Treasury of the Ministry of Finance of the Kyrgyz Republic in the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic”).  MLARS attorneys working in the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative assisted in the investigation linking these funds to the corruption offenses in Kyrgystan.  Additional efforts will be made by the U.S. Government and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to try to locate and return the remainder of the stolen assets in the forfeiture order.

Read more here: Justice Department Rapatriates Forfeited Funds to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic

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@StateDept’s Level 4 “Do Not Travel” Countries For 2019

The State Department’s Level 4 – Do Not Travel advisory category is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so.

As of January 4, 2019, there are eleven countries designated as Level 4 “do not travel” countries.

In Somalia, the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens due to the lack of permanent consular presence in the country.

In North Korea, the State Department says that the U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in North Korea as it does not have diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea. Sweden serves as the protecting power for the United States in North Korea, providing limited emergency services. However, the North Korean government routinely delays or denies Swedish officials access to detained U.S. citizens.

In South Sudan, U.S. government personnel are under a strict curfew. The advisory says personnel “must use armored vehicles for nearly all movements in the city, and official travel outside Juba is limited. Due to the critical crime threat in Juba, walking is also restricted; when allowed, it is limited to a small area in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy and must usually be conducted in groups of two or more during daylight hours. Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in South Sudan.”

In Iraq, the U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens is “extremely limited.”  On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.

Secretary Kerry's Helicopter Flies Over Baghdad En Route to Airport
Baghdad, Iraq | State Department Photo

In Iran, the U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations. “The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iran. Switzerland serves as the protecting power for U.S. citizens in Iran, providing limited emergency services.”

In CAR, the U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens as U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization to travel outside the Embassy compound.

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus in Syria suspended its operations in February 2012. “The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with Syria. The Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for the United States in Syria. The range of consular services that the Czech Republic provides to U.S. citizens is extremely limited, and the U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Syria.”

In Mali, the U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the northern and central regions of Mali as U.S. government employees travel to these regions is restricted due to security concerns. 

In Libya, the U.S. government is unable to provide emergency or routine assistance to U.S. citizens as the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli suspended its operations in July 2014.

In Afghanistan: The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is severely limited, particularly outside of Kabul. Evacuation options from Afghanistan are extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and the volatile security situation. Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in Afghanistan. Unofficial travel to Afghanistan by U.S. government employees and their family members is restricted and requires prior approval from the Department of State. U.S. Embassy personnel are restricted from traveling to all locations in Kabul except the U.S. Embassy and other U.S. government facilities unless there is a compelling U.S. government interest in permitting such travel that outweighs the risk.  Additional security measures are needed for any U.S. government employee travel and movement through Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Sana’a suspended its operations in February 2015. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Yemen.

Somalia Travel Advisory | AFLevel 4: Do
Not Travel
December
26, 2018
North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Travel Advisory | EAPLevel 4: Do
Not Travel
December
19, 2018
South Sudan Travel Advisory | AF

Level 4: Do
Not Travel
December
11, 2018
Iraq Travel Advisory | NEALevel 4: Do
Not Travel
October 18, 2018
Iran Travel Advisory | NEALevel 4: Do
Not Travel
October 10, 2018
Central African Republic Travel Advisory |
AF
Level 4: Do
Not Travel
October 3,
2018
Syria Travel Advisory | NEALevel 4: Do
Not Travel
September 10, 2018
Mali Travel Advisory | AFLevel 4: Do
Not Travel
August 13, 2018
Libya Travel Advisory | NEALevel 4: Do
Not Travel
August 8,
2018
Afghanistan Travel Advisory | SCALevel 4: Do
Not Travel
July 9, 2018
Yemen Travel Advisory | NEALevel 4: Do Not TravelJuly 5, 2018

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