SFRC Senators Express “Concern” to @SecBlinken For @StateDept’s Handling of #HavanaSyndrome

 

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. “
Also that the Senators continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats  who have been injured from these attacks. We are also concerned that the Department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of these attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. “
The Senators urged a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen imediately:
“We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you. It is incumbent that this individual has the experience to engage effectively with affected individuals and with the interagency. As you know, pending bipartisan legislation in the Senate would require the Secretary to designate an agency coordinator for AHIs who reports directly to you. We ask that you take this step now to demonstrate that the State Department does take this matter seriously, and is coordinating an appropriate agency-level response.”
Finally, the senators write, We wish to support the State Department and U.S. personnel through every means possible, and to support the Department in effectively addressing this national security threat. We look forward to receiving your response, and to your heightened engagement on this issue.”
The letter is available to read here.
The State Department has a response from the podium but we’ll save you the anguish of having to read the same thing all over again.
Just yesterday, we got another email in our inbox that says “Those DPB comments are utter bullshit.”
The spox did say that “… we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.”
But …. but… how are they getting the care they need?
If folks can’t even get an email response from MED except for a form email?
At least there’s a form email, right?
But that feeling when you’re worried you may have a brain injury and you get a form email — apparently, that does not generate a warm feeling of WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, WE CARE.
The senators are right to remain concerned. Foggy Bottom typically responds to a few external pressures — the courts, the press, and yes, attentiveness from the Congress.

 

Related post:

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#HavanaSyndrome at U.S. Embassy Bogotá: Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?

 

Via Daily Press briefing, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … And can you confirm the Havana syndrome cases or deny it, or just address that in Colombia embassy in Bogotá, in U.S. Embassy in Bogotá?
MR PRICE:  …. When it comes to Havana syndrome, you will probably not be surprised to hear me say we are not in the business of confirming reports. But —
QUESTION: But I don’t understand, why are you not in the business of confirming reports? This is squarely about State Department personnel. These are happening at U.S. embassies. Who should be in the business of confirming these incidents?
MR PRICE: We are in the business of, number one, believing those who have reported these incidents, ensuring that they get the prompt care they need in whatever form that takes, whether that is at post, whether that is back here in the Washington, D.C. area. We are in the business of doing all we can to protect our workforce and the broader chief of mission community around the world.
QUESTION: So have they reported in Bogota U.S. embassy?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Have they reported – like, are you doing all of those things for U.S. embassy in Bogota?
MR PRICE: We are doing this everywhere an anomalous health incident is reported. But we are also doing things universally, and we are communicating with our workforce. We are instituting new training modules to ensure that outgoing State Department officers know how to detect a potential anomalous health incident, they know how to report a potential anomalous health incident, they know who – to whom to turn should they need to report it, they know the type of assistance that they can receive. Their families are apprised of these dynamics as well. And as you know, the Secretary has had an opportunity to meet with some of those who have reported AHIs.
There is no higher priority that the Secretary has to the health, the safety, the security of our workforce. I’ve said this before, but even before he was Secretary of State, one of the briefings he proactively requested as the nominee for the office he now holds during the transition was a comprehensive briefing on so-called Havana syndrome or anomalous health incidents. He wanted to make sure he entered this job understanding where we were and what we had done, and importantly, what this department could do better to support our workforce at all levels. And we have taken a number of steps, including in terms of communication, in terms of care, in terms of detection, in terms of protection for our workforce, and that is something that will continue to be a priority for the Secretary.
Francesco.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, it was this building that (inaudible) spoke about those cases in Havana and then in China. Why aren’t you confirming for the sake of transparency where there are cases reported – if they are Havana syndrome or not, it’s another thing, but where there are reported incidents, why aren’t you doing that? And then I have another question on Cuba protest.
MR PRICE: So in many cases it is a matter of privacy of individuals, wanting to respect privacy. But let me just make clear that when cases have been reported, our posts overseas have communicated that clearly to the community within the embassy. We have also engaged – Brian McKeon has engaged with posts that have reported a number of anomalous health incidents. So it is not – certainly not – the case that we are ignoring this. We are just not speaking to the press, we’re speaking to our workforce, as you might expect when it comes to a matter of their health and safety and security.
GRRRR! STOP THAT BROKEN RECORD!
Excuse me, was I loud? That’s nice that they value the privacy of individuals.
Requesting a confirmation of reported cases at one post does not require that the State Department released the names of the affected individuals. Did it happen there or not? So how does that actually compromises employees’ privacy?
And while we’re on the subject of “when cases have been reported” … how many emails do employees need to send to how many entities within State/MED –MEDMR? MEDHART? MEDFART? MEDFUCKIT– before anyone get the courtesy of a response?
We regret to say this but there’s no shortage of opportunities for Foggy Bottom to disappoint these days.
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Swastika Investigation: No update but DS has “resorted to a number of investigative techniques”

 

Related posts:
August 11/21: Non-Update on the Swastika Investigation in Foggy Bottom
July 29, 2021: @StateDept Opens Swastika Incident Investigation in Foggy Bottom
Via DPB, October 12, 2021:
QUESTION: … I just want to ask about two reports. These are non-policy things. One – or actually, I’ll just ask about one because the IG report on it was not – I want to ask about something that has dropped off the radar but I asked you about a little while ago, and that’s the swastika incident in the elevator. What’s – it’s been now almost three – more than three months, or almost three months.
MR PRICE: It has. It has.
QUESTION: What’s going on?
MR PRICE: And our Diplomatic Security remains engaged in this investigation. As you know, immediately upon discovering this horrific symbol in the building, the Secretary ordered an investigation. They have resorted to a number of investigative techniques. We are also taking into account what other practices, procedures, tools we might implement here in the building to help us in the course of any such future investigations, hoping that we don’t need to resort to that. I don’t have an update for you.
QUESTION: So there’s – okay, nothing.
MR PRICE: But it remains a priority for us.

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What’s up at OPM — why the immediate changes to login access to Employee Express?

 

The message reportedly went out from the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Global Compensation Communications Team on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:50:00 AM PDT.The subject line says: “Immediate Changes to Login Access to Employee Express.”
Last Friday, September 17, 2021, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) informed the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) that the Employee Express (EEX) and Annuitant Employee Express (AEEX) user accounts will no longer be accessible by logging in with a username and password.
OPM is the agency that manages both the EEX and AEEX systems and suspended non-Personal Identification Card (PIV) and Common Access Card (CAC) access to EEX and AEEX as of 7:00 PM EST Friday, September 17.
OPM suspended it on Friday, and folks were notified the following Wednesday?
— Users will only be able to access their accounts using their agency-issued PIV Smartcard. This modification impacts both employee and annuitant customers.
— Customers who do not currently have a PIV Smartcard and need immediate assistance to access or modify payroll or benefits information that would typically be performed by EEX, should contact the following offices:
— For assistance with modifying Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) information, contact Employee and Annuitant Services (EAS) at HRSC@state.gov or 1-866-300-7419.
— For PIV issues, please contact your bureau Information Technology department.
— For all other inquiries, please contact Payroll Customer Support by emailing Payhelp@state.gov.
OPM apparently has notified the State Department that they are working on an alternative solution for individuals who do not have a PIV Smartcard and plan to have this in place by November 1, 2021.
Oh, goody! That’s some five weeks away.
Now we want to know why the immediate urgency on these changes? Worth a question. Given it’s not too long ago when this happened — OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info.

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UHI in the News: ‘Havana Syndrome’ and the Mystery of the Microwaves

 

More clips about the unexplained health incidents (also known as Havana Syndrome) from BBC, an interview with retired CIA officer with PRI, and another case reported from the Canadian Foreign Service where “A high-ranking Canadian diplomat in Cuba was flown home for assessment this year after experiencing an attack consistent with Havana syndrome.”
Via BBC:

“This is not Havana syndrome. It’s a misnomer,” argues Mr Zaid, whose clients were affected in many locations. “What’s been going on has been known by the United States government probably, based on evidence that I have seen, since the late 1960s.”

Since 2013, Mr Zaid has represented one employee of the US National Security Agency who believed they were damaged in 1996 in a location which remains classified.

Mr Zaid questions why the US government has been so unwilling to acknowledge a longer history. One possibility, he says, is because it might open a Pandora’s Box of incidents that have been ignored over the years. Another is because the US, too, has developed and perhaps even deployed microwaves itself and wants to keep it secret.

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Related posts

 

 

US Embassy Conakry Issues Shelter in Place Alert, USG Condemns Military Seizure of Power in Guinea

 

 

On September 5, the US Embassy in Conakry issued a security alert warning U.S. citizens of “ongoing potential for disruption, demonstrations, gunfire”:

The events of September 5, 2021 continue to evolve in Guinea. U.S. citizens are reminded to continue to monitor local media, to remain at home or to shelter in place, to avoid demonstrations and large crowds, and to plan safety measures that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.

Meanwhile, Foggy Bottom condemned the military seizure of power in the country:

Violence and any extra-constitutional measures will only erode Guinea’s prospects for peace, stability, and prosperity. These actions could limit the ability of the United States and Guinea’s other international partners to support the country as it navigates a path toward national unity and a brighter future for the Guinean people.

We urge all parties to forego violence and any efforts not supported by the Constitution and stand by the rule of law. We reiterate our encouragement of a process of national dialogue to address concerns sustainably and transparently to enable a peaceful and democratic way forward for Guinea to realize its full potential.

Security Alert – U. S. Embassy Conakry, Guinea (5 September, 2021)
Senior FSO Steven Koutsis assumed office as Chargé d’Affaires a.i. at US Embassy Conakry in September 2020. Mr. Koutsis most recently served as CDA in Khartoum, Sudan from November 2016 to September 2019. Prior to that, Mr. Koutsis was Director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.
Audu Besmer, a career FSO since 1999 arrived as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry in August 2019. His prior overseas assignments include Management Officer in Togo, a detail to the Treasury Department as Deputy Financial Attaché in Japan, and postings at the U.S. Embassies in Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic.

Related posts:

Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

***

NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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State/OIG Audits CA’s Official and Diplomatic Passport Records

 

 

Via State/OIG:
(U) Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Concerns

(U) In September 2020, OIG received a referral from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). According to the referral, in 2019, during an audit of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) passport management and security controls,19 TIGTA requested from CA information associated with diplomatic and official passports issued to IRS employees and appointees for the last 20 years, as of March 31, 2019. Specifically, for each passport issued, TIGTA requested the applicant’s name, passport number, passport type, issuance date, and passport status (e.g., cancelled, lost, or stolen).

(U) According to TIGTA officials, TIGTA received three separate passport datasets from CA. However, TIGTA found that the data provided in each dataset were incomplete. For example, some passport records had blank issuance and expiration date fields. Furthermore, the data identified onlyfive passports that were issued in 2016 and indicated that no passports were issued to IRS employees from 2017 through 2019. However, IRS records indicated that more than 200 official or diplomatic passports were issued to employees between 2016 and 2019. Lastly, one dataset included only Department of Treasury employees and not IRS employees. According to TIGTA officials, CA officials could not explain why the database was providing incomplete data. Based on the missing records and data fields, TIGTA deemed CA’s information as unreliable for use in its audit.
[…]
(U) In response to TIGTA’s concerns about receiving incomplete data from CA, OIG reviewed the  847,880 official and diplomatic passport records provided to OIG by CA and found that none of  the passport records had blank issuance or expiration date fields. Furthermore, the records  showed that CA issued 652 official and diplomatic passports to IRS employees and their family  members from FY 2017 through FY 2019 as opposed to the data provided to TIGTA, which showed that no passports were issued to IRS employees from FY 2017 through FY 2019.

The Special Issuance Agency (SIA) did not review the data!

(U) When asked about TIGTA’s concerns, CA officials stated that CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology ran a query in TDIS using sponsor codes28 that are associated with IRS to obtain the data requested by TIGTA. CA’s Office of Legal Affairs and Law Enforcement Liaison and the  Office of Passport Integrity and Internal Controls reviewed the data before the data were  released to TIGTA. SIA did not review the data. If SIA employees had reviewed the data, they  would have recognized that it was incomplete. SIA employees would know, because of  reimbursement data, the number of passports issued to IRS employees. CA officials also stated  that, although there are processes in place for reviewing and clearing data prior to release to Federal customers, there is not a formal written policy or standard operating procedures. CA officials are formalizing procedures to address this deficiency.

(U) CA officials indicated that requests for passport information from other agencies are infrequent—there have been none since TIGTA’s request in 2019. However, it is important that CA have effective internal control activities in place to ensure that quality data are provided to other Government agencies. Internal control is a process effected by an entity’s management that provides reasonable assurance that the objectives of an entity will be achieved.29 Management should establish control activities through policies and procedures to achieve objectives.30 Because CA had not implemented effective internal control activities to ensure that the data provided to TIGTA in response to its request were properly reviewed and validated, it failed to meet its objective of delivering a high level of customer service and earning customer trust, which consequently impacted TIGTA’s ability to conduct an audit of passport management and security at the IRS. Although OIG acknowledges that CA is developing internal control activities and associated procedures to help ensure that the incident with TIGTA is not repeated, OIG is making the following recommendation and will track its implementation through the audit compliance process to confirm that the identified deficiency has been fully addressed.

(U) Prior Office of Inspector General Reports

(U) During this audit, OIG was alerted that a former Department of State employee had  allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department.  Department employees’ entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport, in most instances,  ends when they separate from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for  cancellation.

(U) OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled one of the former employee’s diplomatic  passports. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether CA  had cancelled other diplomatic or official passports once an employee had separated from the  Department of State. OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled 57 of 134 (43 percent)  passports tested.5 In addition, of these 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired as of  February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid. One reason for the deficiencies identified is  that bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could  not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation.  OIG made one recommendation that is intended to improve the accountability of official and  diplomatic passports of separating employees. As of June 2021, OIG considers the  recommendation resolved, pending further action.

@StateDept Provides Updates on Afghanistan Evacuation: 42,000 Relocated Since End of July

 

It has been over a week since the fall of Kabul. The State Department continues its evacuation from the capital city of Afghanistan. Since the end of July, approximately 42,000 people reportedly been evacuated and relocated. As of this writing, the State Department has not released the number of Americans evacuated from Afghanistan supposedly “in part because that number changes all the time.” This evacuation may be chaotic, but one thing consular folks would definitely track is the Amcit status of evacuees.
How many Americans are in Afghanistan? Estimates vary from 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan according to Reuters. The report also cited Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby who put the number between 5,000 and 10,000 for U.S. citizens  believed to be in the Kabul area. On August 24, NBC News quoted the Pentagon spox saying: “As of today, August 24, we have evacuated approximately 4,000 American passport holders plus their families. We expect that number to continue to grow in the coming days.”
The State Department’s  F-77 report would have an estimate of the number of Americans in the country prior to fall of Kabul.  The report submitted annually provides an estimation of the number of private American citizens in a country, based in part on traveler registration, and is used by State and DOD in planning for and conducting evacuations of American citizens. Of course, reporting a U.S. citizen’s presence overseas at a US Embassy is not mandatory. Dual national may not also report their presence, and could not be counted. While the F-77 data is not perfect, it will have an approximate number of how many Americans post’s believe would need support in an evacuation.
Via the State Department Press Briefing, August 23, 2021:

— …From 3:00 a.m. on August 22nd to 3:00 a.m. on August 23rd, 28 U.S. military flights evacuated approximately 10,400 people from Kabul.

—  Since August 14th, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 37,000 people.

— Since the end of last month, the end of July, we have relocated approximately 42,000 people.

— … officers from the U.S. missions in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, and India are assisting, as well as many consular staff from this building and from throughout the Washington, D.C. region.

— The United States wants to sincerely thank the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, and Spain for their help in our efforts to safely transit U.S. citizens, at-risk Afghans, and other evacuees from Afghanistan.

— The temporary transit locations we have established at U.S. or joint bases in Germany, Italy, and Spain have capacity to process at least 15,000 people on a rolling basis, significantly expanding our ability to facilitate the relocation of U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan.

Doubled Consular presence on the ground. How many?

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, also really briefly, are you guys still sending consular and other people to Kabul to work at the airport, or has that now – have you now reached the – what you need?

MR PRICE: Well, so we are always evaluating the situation on the ground to determine that we have the right staffing posture to accommodate the tasks that we need to take on. We talked about this last week, but as of late last week we had doubled the number of consular officers on the ground in Kabul. We had sent additional consular officers to some of those initial transit sites in the Gulf, including to Qatar, to Kuwait, and the UAE. But the broader point I would make is that we have been able to take advantage of consular officers throughout this building and around the world.

QUESTION: Okay. But I’m not interested in the broader point. I’m just interested in an answer to the question. Are you still sending people there?

MR PRICE: If —

QUESTION: And if you’re not – which is fine if you are or not, I just want to know if you’re still ramping up. And then on the opposite end of that is that we are approaching the 31st, and if there is no extension in this, you guys are going to have to start thinking, and I want to know have you already started thinking about drawing them back down again if, in fact, they are going to leave, or if you guys think that maybe you can go back to the embassy.

MR PRICE: Well, we are always evaluating what we have on the ground compared with our needs. If we need more people on the ground, we won’t hesitate to do it. We came to that conclusion last week. That’s why we doubled the presence of consular officers on the ground.

Has the Secretary spoken with anyone?

QUESTION: Okay, last one. Yesterday – and I didn’t see this interview; I saw the first one, I didn’t see the second one – in the CBS interview, the Secretary, according to the transcript that you guys put out, misspoke and said that he had spoken to President Karzai. And I’m less interested in his misspeaking and more interested in knowing whether or not there has been any discussion between the Secretary or anyone else, like Zal or anyone, between the U.S. and former President Karzai, or Abdullah Abdullah, or the others who are now in discussions with the Taliban leadership.

MR PRICE: Absolutely. So, as you know, Matt, there continues to be dialogue between the Afghans – that is to say, representatives of Islamic Republic – and the Taliban. For our part, we have been in touch with relevant and key stakeholders, individuals who are taking part in intra-Afghan discussions with the Taliban. We’re not in a position to read those calls out. This has been primarily on the part of our team in Doha, our team on the ground in Afghanistan, to make sure that we have a regular line in to those Afghan stakeholders.

QUESTION: So the Secretary has not been in touch with —

MR PRICE: No.

Local Staff Questions

QUESTION: Ned, my colleague reported that on Saturday a cable came here – a memo was sent to Afghan staff at the embassy on Wednesday inviting them to head to the airport and that it was so difficult for them to – the physical situation was simply impossible, and that some staff reported being separated from children. They said, quote, “It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet than face the crowds again.” One staff member said they felt betrayed, that it was – it undermined their sense of dignity, their loyalty. This is embassy staff who should have been presumably prioritized, but they were left behind when the evacuation took place, basically.

MR PRICE: …. We have an obligation to these individuals, a sacrosanct obligation. They have served the United States. They have not only worked for us, they have worked with us. Our embassies around the world could not function without locally engaged staff. That is as true in Paris or London as it is in a place like Kabul. So we absolutely have a responsibility to these individuals who have worked with our colleagues on the ground in Kabul and, in some cases, over years or even longer. They are absolutely a priority in terms of our evacuation and relocation planning.

As you know, Andrea, we are now in a position to offer tailored, personalized advice to those we are relocating from Afghanistan, to those we are evacuating from Afghanistan. We’ve been doing that, of course, to American citizens. We’ve been doing that to Special Immigrant Visa applicants. We’ve been doing that to other Afghans at risk. But our locally engaged staff, they are absolutely a priority, they are absolutely part of our plans, and that commitment to them, to their safety and security, is something that is in no way diminished.

QUESTION: Well, couldn’t they – why weren’t they on the original evacuation from the embassy?

MR PRICE: So when the embassy was evacuated and our personnel started to make the way from the embassy in Kabul to the secure facility on the airport compound, many of, if not all of, our locally engaged staff were not present on the embassy compound at that time. They were working remotely given the volatile security situation. Many of them were at home, were not at work. I can tell you that we have been able to relocate members of our locally engaged staff, but they were not brought to the airport compound with the American direct hires at that time just because they weren’t at the embassy compound by and large that day.

Vetting evacuees

QUESTION: But I’m asking you a different question. Surging resources doesn’t answer the question as to why not do this at the third country – surge them there and get them out of Kabul, where they can have better facilities, sanitation, food, et cetera.

MR PRICE: Well, that vetting by and large is taking place at these third countries. When it comes to SIVs, again, all of those who have received instructions to come to the airport have already completed certain stages of the security vetting process. So that initial vet on these individuals has been completed. In many cases, they’re then taken to a third country, where they will undergo more rigorous vetting if it hasn’t yet been completed.

But that is very much the point of the network of transit countries and partner countries throughout the Middle East, throughout Europe, the rest of the world – more than 26 countries across four continents. It is in part a system that will allow us to provide safe haven to these individuals who in some cases – well, in all cases before they come to the United States, but in some cases still need to complete part of that rigorous vetting process.

Number of Americans evacuated –  no precise figure

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. A couple of questions. One, the National Security Advisor in his briefing at the White House earlier today was asked for the number of American citizens who have been evacuated. He indicated he would give that number out; he just didn’t have it at hand. Do you have that number?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a precise figure to give you, in part because that number changes all the time. Just within the past 24 hours, again, more than 10,400 people. We are evacuating thousands upon thousands of people per day, so I just don’t have that figure to provide right now.

What happens after August 31st?

QUESTION: One final quick point. When you say the Taliban has made commitments, does the Taliban understand that given the U.S.’s commitment to its citizens, to SIV applicants, and to others in that pool, that if this operation needs to go beyond August 31st the Taliban must allow that operation to continue?

MR PRICE: Look, this is a decision that only one person will be able to make. That person is not in Afghanistan. That person is not in this building. That person sits in an office without corners in the White House. President Biden will ultimately have to decide when this operation will come to a close. I can tell you that it is our goal to move as quickly as we can and as efficiently as we can to bring to safety as many people as we can. And I think you are seeing in the metrics in recent days and certainly over the past 24 hours that we are making good progress on that.

It is not our goal to be there one day, one hour, one minute longer than is absolutely necessary, but not going to get ahead of that.

 

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New Havana Syndrome Hotspots — U.S. Embassies in Germany and Austria

 

 

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