US Embassy Kabul on COVID Lockdown, AFSA Calls For Vaccination Requirement For All Staffers

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The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Management Notice for an Immediate COVID-19 Lockdown due to surging cases at post. The notice notes that “95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.” The notice also says “Failure to abide by the Mission’s COVID policies will result in consequences up to and including removal from Post on the next available flight.”
AFSA has issued a statement calling for the Biden Administration to “take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace.” AFSA’s vaccination requirement push includes “for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.”
Below is the AFSA statement:

Our Embassy in Afghanistan has announced that one employee has died and 114 have been infected with Covid-19. Several employees have had to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and others are being treated in an emergency Covid-19 ward at the Embassy that was created because U.S. military hospital facilities are full. The entire Embassy staff has been put on lockdown and nearly all staff members are confined to their quarters around the clock.

At a time when the U.S. military withdrawal is accelerating, attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces are intensifying and the U.S. is seeking to establish a stable and positive presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal, the damage to our national security and national interests is potentially grave.

AFSA urges the Biden Administration to take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace. The only exceptions would be for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.    

This has always been a matter of life and death, but now it literally has become exactly that for our members and colleagues serving their country abroad. Recent Federal court rulings have upheld requiring vaccination as a condition of employment in specific situations, such as health care. Service at our embassies and consulates should be treated similarly.

 

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FSGB: “Service Need Differential” Posts Get a Bad Recruitment Ad

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According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a ‘Service Need Differential’ [SND] is an allowance of 15 percent of base salary for employees serving in Historically-Difficult-to-Staff (HDS) posts with an at least 20 percent hardship differential and a standard two-year tour of duty, when the employee agrees to serve for a third year.  Some of the “at least 20 percent” hardship differential posts includes Albania, Azerbaijan, Egypt, a couple posts in China, and more. Djibouti, Ghana, Haiti, Afghanistan, CAR, Cuba, DRC, and some posts in India are in the 25 percent category. Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Chad, Iraq, Pakistan are some of the 35 percent hardship posts. The hardship considered includes physical and social isolation; political violence, terrorism and harassment; medical and hospital availability; environmental conditions and sanitation; crime; climate; housing and infrastructure to name some. See more here.
The grievance case below concerns SND payments to a DS agent who served at one of these “historically-difficult-to-staff” posts.  Instead of the State Department just acknowledging that a mistake had been made in this case, the State Department made the argument that the grievant, “as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment” should have known better to ask the right questions. Whoa!  The agency is saying, it’s his fault, hey?
Footnote indicates that “with respect to the AO’s [Assignments Officer] indication of the candidate’s SND election in the assignment panel notes, the record indicates that the assignment panel notes did in fact include a comment that grievant’s SND decision was “pending.” However, grievant denies that he made that (or any) SND-related election, or that he communicated to his AO that he had elected to defer his decision until after arrival at post.”
The FSGB decided that the grievance appeal was sustained. The Department was ordered to reimburse grievant for SND he would have received from the date of his arrival at post, consistent with the provisions of the Back Pay Act. 5 U.S. Code § 5596.
Via FSGB Case No. 2020-050

HELD – The Foreign Service Grievance Board found that grievant met his burden to show that the Department failed to implement its Standard Operating Procedure SOP B-22 in the process of assigning him to a Service Need Differential (SND) post, a procedural error that resulted in harmful denial to him of SND payments for a period of time. The grievance was sustained.

CASE SUMMARY – Grievant accepted a handshake for assignment to an SND-designated post. He argued that in the process of assigning him to post, the Department failed to implement any of the “Assignment Procedures” specified in its relevant Standard Operating Procedure, SOP B-22. These included provisions that the Assignment Officer should contact grievant by email, provide information regarding the SND Program (including a specified “standard disclosure” covering SND options and the consequences of each), request the employee to indicate which SND option he/she elects, and relay that election to the assignment panel. The SOP advises that an assignment to an SND-designated post should not be made unless the foregoing provisions are carried out. The assignment panel, on the basis of notes of unspecified origin to the effect that grievant’s SND decision was “pending,” assigned him for a two-year tour-of-duty which made him ineligible for SND unless he should later request, and be granted, an extension of his tour to three years’ duration.

The agency denied that grievant had carried his burden of proving that his Assignment Officer (AO) failed to implement SOP B-22, but that even if the AO had failed to do so, grievant as an experienced, mid-level bidder, should not be absolved of any and all responsibility to understand the SND assignment procedures as they applied to him and to seek clarification and/or assistance if he were confused or concerned about the process. Further, the Department argued that in the agency-level grievance, it had provided to grievant (albeit on different grounds, which are abandoned in the instant grievance appeal), all relief to which he is entitled.

The Board found factually that the provisions of SOP B-22 had not been implemented by the Department in grievant’s case. The Board found further that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is particularly directive, going as far as to advise that assignment to an SND post should not be made unless its stipulated provisions have been carried out. On the issue of harm, the Board found that the agency’s failure to implement the SOP constituted a significant procedural error which denied grievant the opportunity to receive information, counseling, and assistance stipulated in the policy before the panel assigned him to a two-year non-SND assignment which record evidence established he did not elect. The Board ordered payment of SND from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

Background:

Grievant is an FP-03 Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) who has worked for the Department since 2012. He is currently serving as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (“ARSO”) at post, his third assignment. The matters grieved in the instant action concern the manner of grievant’s assignment to, and extension at, post, as they impacted his receipt of SND payments.
[…]
On January 23, 2019, the Department issued cable , captioned “(PII) TMONE – ASSIGNMENT NOTIFICATION – PERSONNEL ASSIGNMENT ([grievant’s name and social security number redacted] FP-03, 2501, Special Agent) (“TM-1,” “the assignment cable”).3 Among other information pertaining to the position, the TM-1 noted that the assignment was for a 24-month tour with an estimated arrival date at post of August 2019. The cable contained the names of grievant’s Assignment/Training Officer [sic], Assignment Technician, and CDO as points of contact. The TM-1 did not identify the post as an SND- designated post, nor did it provide any information on the SND Program or how to participate therein.
[…]
After being informed, in a general manner, of the SND program by colleagues, grievant reached out on November 25, 2019, to post’s human resources officer (“HRO”) by email and requested “procedures to extend for one year and activate SND[.]”5
[…]
After repeated attempts by grievant to obtain a decision on his extension request and SND, on June 11, 2020, the Department finally issued a cable approving his extension for a third year at post. The extension approval cable noted that his election of a 36-month tour made him eligible for SND but did not provide further specifics such as what the effective date of SND eligibility was. Grievant subsequently was informed that the SND payments would commence as of the date of the extension approval cable, i.e., June 11, 2020.

On July 20, 2020, grievant filed an agency-level grievance, arguing that the Department’s failure to follow its pre-assignment SOP procedures for SND posts, compounded by subsequent delays in processing his extension request, improperly deprived him of a financial benefit (i.e., timely commencement of SND payments). As a remedy, he sought retroactive payment of SND (with interest) starting from the date of his arrival at post.

On September 24, 2020, the Department issued an agency-level decision, granting the grievance in part, and denying it in part. The deciding official (“DO”) stated that she was not persuaded that grievant had shown that the Department had failed to follow SOP B-22, finding further that grievant should not be “absolve[d] … of any and all responsibility regarding initiation of the SND process.” Grievance Appeal Submission (“Appeal”), Attachment 2 at 5. She therefore denied that part of the grievance. However, while noting grievant’s delay of over six months in initiating his extension request, the deciding official found that the Department had also let the request sit “idly” for three months. She consequently granted partial relief, directing that SND should be paid effective March 10, 2020, the date on which post issued its extension request cable.

State Department’s Oh, Dear/Even If Argument

The Department argues that record evidence shows that when the panel initially assigned grievant to post, the notes on which it relied stated that grievant’s SND decision was pending. This is consistent with the portion of the SOP “which outlines the employee’s right to delay his/her SND decision until after their [sic] arrival at post . . . .” Response at 5. According to the Department, grievant has failed to offer any evidence that the AO did not discuss the SND program with him or inform him about the elections. The absence of any comments in the “Remarks” section of his TM-1 assignment cable (which grievant advances as evidence that he was not properly advised of SND options before he was assigned to post) is not dispositive of a failure by the AO or CDO to implement the SOP.

The Department also argues that even if the AO and/or CDO had failed to implement the SOP (which the Department denies), “[grievant] should not be absolved of any and all responsibility regarding the initiation of his own SND process, especially if he sought to enjoy the benefit of receiving payments as soon as he arrived at post.”13

Also, if you’re going to a post no one wants to go, you should know more than your Assignments Officer?

The Department further argues that grievant, as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment, should have recognized that he was bidding on an SND post, and if he had any questions about SND bidding procedures, he knew or should have known to contact his AO and/or CDO for guidance and assistance. However, we find the details of the SND program are sufficiently arcane that the Department felt the need to emphasize the special responsibilities of human resources personnel. The language of SOP B-22, which grievant could not have been expected to know as it is not a familiar Department FAM or FAH provision, is quite particular. It bears repeating that the principal provisions of the Assignment Process fall to the AO and that the language is uniformly directive, not permissive. The SOP directs the AO to contact the employee by email, and one practical consequence of this requirement is to ensure that there be an official record of the communication. The SOP states that the purpose of the email is to explain the SND program, and to ask that he/she make an election among the various SND options (including no-SND and deferral of decision). The AO is further directed to “use the following standard disclosure when contacting the employee.” Half a page of stipulated language explaining the three SND options, the implications of each, and the FAM authority follow. As noted supra, the SOP states in bold typeface that “No assignment for an SND-designated post should be made” unless the AO has advised the employee of the SND options and their implications. The totality of the Assignment Procedures language bespeaks a particular intent that it be implemented to ensure that bidders such as grievant, regardless of experience, be informed uniformly of the program and its details. Accordingly, we find that grievant should not have been expected to be aware of the requirements of the SND program but should have been able to rely on the unique expertise of his AO and the requirements assigned to the AO to provide the information needed to make a choice before his assignment began. Having considered all of the resources to which the Department has pointed, we find that absent the AO’s briefing and support mandated by the SOP, the information in the other Department sources would not necessarily be sufficient, and might even have been meaningless, without the provision of that required context.

The Grievance Board Finds “Harm”

The Department argues that grievant has failed to prove harm resulting from any violation of the SOP, as he has not presented any evidence that he wished to elect, or would have elected, a three-year SND tour. Our considered view is that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is of a particular character that bespeaks a concern that the procedures be implemented. That is understandable, inasmuch as the SND Program exists to incentivize candidates to bid on historically difficult-to-staff posts, and the SOP seems obviously formulated to ensure that candidates make informed choices among the unique options of the SND Program within a transparent process. In the instant case, the Department’s failure to implement the particularly directive provisions of the SOP denied grievant an opportunity that he would have otherwise had, and which the SOP seems clearly crafted to provide, to be contacted in writing (email), counseled on the basis of prescribed standard language regarding the SND options and implications, and to have his election solicited and transmitted to the panel as the basis for assignment; failing the foregoing, the SOP says that an assignment should not be made. The harm then to grievant was the lost opportunity.

We would like to make an observation about this finding. In finding that failure to implement the SOP deprived grievant of the opportunity to elect a three-year SND tour under the SOP Assignment Procedures, we do not seek to supply an answer to the counterfactual- hypothetical question of whether grievant would have elected a three-year tour if the AO had in fact implemented the SOP. We acknowledge that there is no contemporaneous evidence that he would have made that election prior to his arrival at post. Nonetheless, the harm we find is not that grievant was denied SND payments in accord with an inferred election to be paneled for three years, but rather that he was denied a procedural opportunity pointedly stipulated in the SOP when the AO failed to inform him about the SND Program and solicit his election after he accepted the handshake and prior to paneling him to a two-year non-SND tour. We see no alternative remedy to compensate grievant for this harm other than to order SND to be paid from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

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State/OIG Releases Report on Pompeos Personal Use of USG Resources During Foggy Bottom Tenure

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It’s a wonder they did not create an Office of the First Lady of the State Department in Foggy Bottom.

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FSGB Case: Why You Should Not/Not Take Your Hard Drive With You When Departing Post

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The FSGB Annual Report for 2021 mentions a disciplinary case where  the Board affirmed the agency’s decision in a case concerning an information security violation (FSGB Case No. 2018-030). So we went and looked up the case which includes Charge 1 for failure to follow proper security procedures:

12 FAM 625.2-2 Removal of Microcomputers, Media and Software
Personnel are prohibited from removing U.S. Government microcomputers or media from Department premises without the prior written approval of the [Information Systems Security Officer] ISSO and additionally, if abroad, the RSO or [Post Security Officer] PSO.

And Charge 2 for failure to safeguard government property:

12 FAM 622.1-7 Protection of Media and Output
… (b)(2) Abroad: Media shipped between posts must be sent at a minimum by controlled shipment.
( c) The data center manager and the system manager must label removable media either UNCLASSIFIED or SBU.

Overview via ROP:
Held – The Department of State (Department, agency) has established via preponderant evidence that grievant violated Department regulation both in removing a Sensitive But Unclassified hard drive from his computer and taking it with him to his next post, and in failing to comply with the requirement to use a controlled shipment in returning it to post. On review, the Board finds that the proposed penalty is reasonable.
Case Summary – Grievant, a removed the Sensitive But Unclassified hard drive from his computer when leaving post in and took it on to his next post without reporting his action or seeking permission from the Information Systems Security Officer or the Regional Security Officer at post. When the RSO in asked him to return the hard drive, grievant mailed it back to post via an uncontrolled shipment, but it never arrived. The Department charged him with Failing to Follow Proper Security Procedures for removing the hard drive without permission, and Failure to Safeguard Government Property, for failing to return the hard drive in conformity with regulatory requirements for a controlled shipment.
Grievant appealed to this Board on the grounds that the Department had failed to prove by preponderant evidence that his stated method of shipment of the hard drive was not, as he contended, compliant with the rules for a controlled shipment; that the Department had failed to take into account the mitigating circumstances of a toxic atmosphere and widespread wrongdoing at post; that the Department had misapplied the appropriate penalty considerations (Douglas factors) and chosen inapposite comparator cases; and that the penalty was disproportionate, as the hard drive was only SBU, in contrast with classified documents involved in the comparator cases.
The Board determined that the Department met its burden of proving the charges of Failure to Follow Proper Security Procedures and Failure to Safeguard Government Property, that the penalty imposed was not inconsistent with comparator cases, and that the Douglas factors were properly applied.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Background via ROP:

Grievant is an FO-02 REDACTED who began his Foreign Service career as an REDACTED in 2001. At the time of the initial event giving rise to this grievance, he was serving as head of the management section in REDACTED a position he held from October 2012 until his voluntary curtailment in September 2013.

During the course of his assignment to REDACTED by his own account, a number of conflicts developed between grievant and the Chargé d’Affaires (Chargé), the General Services Officer (GSO), who reported to grievant, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) and other individuals at post. Grievant became frustrated that officials in Washington were not investigating or otherwise responding adequately, in his view, to his allegations of malfeasance, mismanagement and child abuse against various individuals serving in REDACTED Grievant decided to volunteer for an assignment at REDACTED , that required immediate voluntary curtailment from REDACTED.

Just before his departure from post in September 2013, grievant became concerned that a colleague or colleagues would attempt to retaliate against him for his claimed knowledge of irregularities in post management and individual malfeasance, or that a subordinate would file a grievance based on a negative EER written by grievant. He stated that he wished, in his own defense and to expose mismanagement, to bring with him numerous documents and emails proving his allegations, but was unable to “download” or print them, as they were too big. (The documents he stated he would need for this purpose included a .pst file of all emails he had sent or received in his time at post, as well as a number of other unspecified documents.) He therefore decided, under pressure of time, to remove the SBU hard drive from his computer and take it with him.1

Grievant states that he received oral permission to take the hard drive from a local employee in the IT section, whose name he did not know or remember. He chose not to inform or request permission from the Regional Security Officer (RSO) and the Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO) in REDACTED as required by the FAM, because the ISSO was away from post and grievant thought the RSO would refuse him permission because the documents grievant wanted to preserve implicated the RSO in wrongdoing. He stated that he needed to physically take the hard drive in order to “preserve the data” to potentially present to investigating authorities in Washington, and “my thought was to take everything I could should something come up.”2 He then took the hard drive with him upon departing post. After removing the hard drive and leaving post, grievant took no further action to report to any investigating body the alleged irregularities and malfeasance in REDACTED. He explained to the Deputy Assistant Secretary reviewing the proposed penalty that “since no one seemed to care, I didn’t.”3

A local employee subsequently reported his removal of the hard drive to the RSO. At some unspecified point after grievant’s arrival in REDACTED , the Regional Security Officer in REDACTED contacted him to request return of the hard drive.4 However, despite grievant’s assertions that he attempted to return it, the hard drive never arrived back in REDACTED. At some later point, the RSO reported the incident to Diplomatic Security (DS); in a subsequent DS interview on July 15, 2016, grievant stated that he had “attempted to return the drive via packaging sent back to the [REDACTED Embassy [diplomatic] pouch office on board a post support flight [a supply flight between REDACTED and REDACTED operated by a U.S. contracting company], ….”5 He had no further information during that interview about exactly how or when he had done so, or the current whereabouts of the hard drive.

In its decision, the FSGB concluded:

We therefore find that the Department’s choice of penalty, in a case involving both unauthorized removal of a sensitive item of media, and subsequent failure to return it, as required, via a controlled shipment, resulting in loss of the item and potential compromise of personally identifiable information pertaining to the U.S. diplomats serving abroad, is reasonable.64 The Department has a legitimate interest in ensuring the safeguarding and preservation of sensitive agency materials. As such, there is a clear nexus between the proven charges and the efficiency of the Service.

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

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

 


 

 

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?

 


 

 

 

ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?

On February 10, 2021, the GWU’s National Security Archive published the report of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Havana, Cuba dated June 2018. The ARB document was classified SECRET/NOFORN with declassification date of June 7, 2043. It was released via a Freedom of Information Act request. 
The report includes a timeline from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere compiled at the request of the Cuba Accountability Review Board.  We are working on merging that timeline with the personnel churn that occurred around the same time at the State Department. We should also note that the report includes other attachments like an unclassified 2-page Memorandum dated, April 11, 2018 from Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua L. Dorosin to ARB Chair Ambassador Peter Bodde entitled, “ARB Questions Related to the Exercise of M Authorities from January 21, 2017 to present. This memorandum was redacted under B(5). A 2-page document labeled (SBU) Department of State’s High Treat High Risk Post Review Process effective, January 2, 2018 was released with the ARB report but also redacted under B7(F)
Take aways from the ARB-Cuba Report:
—. ARB

The Cuba Accountability Review Board was convened on February 8, 2018, some thirteen months after individuals first visited Embassy Havana’s MED unit reporting of various symptoms including headache, ear pain, dizziness, and hearing problems in late December 2016. The ARB report is an interim response/findings. The ARB says, “a final review should be undertaken.” (Also see Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba)

—. WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

According to the ARB, the last Havana incidents resulting in medically confirmed injury took place at the end of August 2017. As of June 2018, the date of the report, the ARB writes “We do know that USG and Canadian diplomatic community members were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

—. CLOSE IT AND FORGET IT?

According to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s (WHA) timeline, Secretary Tillerson ordered the Departure of Non-Emergency Personnel from Havana on September 29, 2017. OD can be initiated by chief of mission or the Secretary of State. But. According to the ARB, “the decision to draw down the staff in Havana does not appear to have followed standard Department of State procedures and was neither preceded nor followed by any formal analysis of the risks and benefits of continued physical presence of U.S. government employees in Havana. After six months of ordered departure, Havana was designated an unaccompanied post in March 2018.” (Also see US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”).

(Can we revisit this for another blogpost? Reach out if you have some thoughts about our continuing presence in Havana).

The ARB adds, “Neither the Department’s High Threat High Risk Post Review (HTHR) Process nor the former Vital Presence Validation (VP2) Process were enacted.” No risk benefit analysis has been done for Cuba as of June 7, 2018. “Many Department leaders interviewed by the Board, no one could explain why this has not happened, except to suggest that [REDACTED].

—. LACK OF SENIOR LEADERSHIP AND ALL THAT

“The Department of State’s response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership, ineffective communication, and systemic disorganization. No senior official was ever designated as having overall responsibility, which resulted in many of the other issues this reports presents. The interagency response was stove-piped and largely ad hoc. In our report, the Board makes recommendations on accountability, interagency coordination, communication and information sharing, medical issues, risk benefit calculations, and security operations.”

—. SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES

“For the period after February 15, 2017, the Board found serious deficiencies in the Department’s response in areas of accountability, interagency coordination, and communication, at all levels, both at Post and in Washington. These deficiencies contributed to the confusion surrounding the events, and delayed effective, coordinated action. The Board finds the lack of a designated official at the Under Secretary level to manage the response to be the single most significant deficiency in the Department’s response.

—. NO ONE IN CHAAAARGE, WHHHHY?

The ARB report says, “To this day no senior official at the Department has been assigned responsibility for leading and coordinating efforts to assess past incidents and prevent/mitigate future events. No Department of State task force was formed. There was no interagency working group [REDACTED].” Nor was a dedicated, internal State Department group was created.

—. EMERGENCY ACTION COMMITTEE (EAC)

The WHA Timeline indicates that Embassy Havana held an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) meeting (17 HAVANA31) on April 3, 2017 to assess the threat and holds an all hands meeting for cleared Americans. First Post EAC Meeting conducted more than 4 months after individuals believed they were first impacted. Wait, and it was over 6 weeks after officials at Post and in Washington had the first (unverified) information of injury?

The ARB says that “The Emergency Action Committee (EAC), an Embassy Front Office responsibility, is an essential element of security policy infrastructure REDACTED.” Still, “once the EAC cable was received, the Department’s response tempo increased, although in a stove-piped and inadequately coordinated manner in the absence of an Under Secretary for Management or a designated responsible Department official.”

—. FIRST BRIEFING DELAY AND EXCLUSION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

The ARB report says, “The Board finds the delay of almost six weeks between first knowledge of injury and the first briefing of Embassy staff to be unfortunate and the exclusion of family members from this knowledge to be unjustified, given the incidents were taking place at residences. According to the WHA timeline, on April 17, 2017, Embassy Havana held its first meeting with Embassy spouses [REDACTED].

–. UGH! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, PEOPLE?

That Eligible Family Members, occasionally known as “just spouses” have no need to know anything that may turn their brains to mush?

-—. DOMESTIC MEDEVAC AUTHORITY, WHO DIS?

The ARB report says that “The lack of standing authority for the Department of State Medical Director to approve medical evacuations between domestic locations when required added additional steps and bureaucratic time requirements to the medevac process.” It also says that “To accomplish these medevacs the Medical Director was required to request special authority which was then granted specific only to the Cuba events. In the future when another event occurs which requires domestic medevacs State MED will need to repeat the same administrative process specific to that event.”

Required by whom? Request special authority from where?
—. DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY FIASCO.
In July 2017, this was posted on the blog: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom. Yep, remember that? Also Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept
Now, we’re reading about that decision in the ARB report: 

“The July 2017 decision rescinding many delegated State Department authorities by the then-Secretary of State, followed by the limited and poorly documented re-delegation of some of those authorities created widespread confusion about authorities. It resulted in understandable concern and hesitation on the part of persons in acting positions who feared exceeding their authorities.”

“Vacant senior positions and lack of clarity regarding delegated authorities delayed an effective response.”

“Individuals filling Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary Positions in an acting capacity during an extraordinarily prolonged transition were hampered by the rescinding of delegated authorities and the ensuing confusion regarding those authorities that were eventually re­-delegated.”

—. NSDD-38 PROCESS

One of ARB-Cuba’s recommendations says that “The Department should convene a high level review of the NSDD-38 process as it is currently implemented. Following the review, the Department should issue guidance to all employees and agencies regarding requirements and should hold agencies accountable.. In another recommendation, it says “The Department should ensure that the NSDD-38 processes are followed [REDACTED]”

Per 6 FAH-5 H-350, the National Security Decision Directive–38 (NSDD-38) process is the mechanism by which a COM exercises his or her authority to determine the size, composition, and mandate of U.S. Government executive branch agencies at his or her mission.

— WAITING FOR THE TICK TOCK

The ARB report says that “Given that this is an unprecedented event, it would be helpful to have an accurate record of what was done, by whom, when, and why. In order to learn the right lessons from this incident, it is essential to have an accurate written record.” 

Also that “WHA and S staff should create a timeline (tick tock) of communication, decisions, and actions taken to date (June 7, 2018) in response to the incidents. The investigation into the incidents and Department’s response should remain open until the Department determines what happened. This timeline is a critical part of the discussion and lessons-learned process.” 

—. CHIEF OF MISSION

The ARB report reveals: “In exploring the guidance given to the COM regarding his responsibility for the security of all executive branch employees, the Board learned the COM did not have a letter of instruction. Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed ambassadors all receive a letter of instruction from the President detailing their responsibilities. Typically the responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens and U.S. government employees features prominently in these letters. In other posts where a COM is not Senate confirmed, the Department sometimes issues a letter of instruction from the Secretary of State which serves a similar purpose.”

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s top notch advisers did not know enough to advise the issuance of the letter of instruction?
—. BUREAU DE-FACTO LEADERSHIP

The ARB report says, “The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs was frequently cited by those interviewed as the “de facto” lead bureau within the State Department. WHA leaders attempted to fill some of the gap created by the lengthy vacancies at the Under Secretary level, and convened a number of meetings for the purpose of sharing information. They were largely unsuccessful at actual coordination, in part because they did not have the authority to direct action on the part of other bureaus. They were almost invariably in a reactive mode and never put forward a cohesive plan of action for the future. They were also hampered by their very limited access to the senior leadership of the Department.”

—. EXCESSIVE SECRECY!

Ah, the ARB report says that “Both at Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response.”

Also that “WHA’s reliance on informal consultation with the Department’s leadership made it difficult for the Board to develop an accurate picture of decision making regarding the incident.”

The report says, “Informal communication between WHA and the senior leadership of the State Department contributed to the lack of coherence in the response. Normal Department reporting channels and methods were routinely disregarded in the response to the Cuba incidents. WHA officials were instructed to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials. As a result, accountability was never clearly established and there was no coordination within the Department. The most frequent communication with the senior leadership was to the Secretary of State’s chief of staff via email. Contemporaneous documentation of these interactions is scant.”

Now, don’t we all want to know who kept this very, very quiet? Why would WHA rely on “informal consultations”?  Who gave instruction to WHA to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials? State.gov emails are government records. How is it that the ARB had no access to the most frequent communication on this matter with senior leadership at State? What about Tillerson’s chief of staff’s emails? Wait, are these state.gov emails? Why are contemporaneous documentation of these interactions scant? What happened to memcons? Were there instructions not to put anything about these interactions in writing? If so, who gave those instructions? Who were the officials who downplayed these attacks?  Curious minds would like to know. 

 


 

 

 

Pompeo: Congratulations to you, and you , and you, but NOT you President-Elect @JoeBiden

 

Final Fee Determination in Largest Title VII Sex Discrimination Class Action #USIA #DOS

 

The case is Civil Action No. 1977-2019 HARTMAN, et al v. ALBRIGHT, et al (now called CAROLEE BRADY HARTMAN, et al., v. MICHAEL R. POMPEO, et al.,name substituted under under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d)):

This case is in all respects extraordinary. Originating over forty years ago, it represents the largest Title VII sex discrimination class action settlement in United States history. Its over 1,000 class members each received an average of $460,000—the largest per-capita recovery in a case of its kind. Class members are women who sought employment or promotions with the United States Information Agency, a former agency of the United States government, the relevant components of which were incorporated into the State Department. Remarkably, the lead counsel for the class, Bruce Fredrickson, took on the case as a 26-year-old just one year out of law school and, now well into his sixties, has stayed on for its duration. Over the last four decades, Mr. Fredrickson has led a team of over 120 individuals across seven law firms. In 2018, the last of the $508 million settlement fund was distributed to class members, leaving resolution of attorneys’ fees as the sole remaining issue.

Since 1995, there have been 28 interim payments to class counsel for fees, expenses, and interest accrued during the pendency of the case, totaling $26,570,701.19. Plaintiffs now seek an additional $34,114,143.52, for a final total fee recovery of $75,000,000. 2 To justify this demand, Plaintiffs primarily argue that they are entitled to a percentage of the total settlement under a “constructive common fund” theory. Alternatively, Plaintiffs argue that an enhancement to the lodestar is proper because the lodestar calculated for the interim fee petitions does not reflect class counsel’s true market value and it does not adequately compensate them for delay in receiving payment.

For the reasons that follow, the court denies Plaintiffs’ motion without prejudice. This is a fee-shifting case—not a common-fund case—and the parties agreed to use the lodestar method— not the percentage-of-the-fund method—to calculate the final fee award. Although the court agrees with Plaintiffs that the interim lodestar is likely not an adequate measure of class counsel’s true market value, the court is not in a position to award an enhancement because the lodestar, as calculated, is itself inexact. The court is hopeful that this decision will provide a path forward for the parties to reach an agreement on what the proper lodestar should be, as well as any compensation for delay.
[…]
…. Plaintiffs need to go back to the drawing board. They bear the burden of “identifying a factor that the lodestar does not adequately take into account and proving with specificity that an enhanced fee is justified.” Purdue, 559 U.S. at 546. Although it is apparent that an adjustment to the lodestar for the eighth through twenty-eighth fee petitions (covering years 1998–2018) is necessary to “approximate[ ] the fee that the prevailing attorney would have received if he or she had been representing a paying client who was billed by the hour in a comparable case,” the court lacks the information necessary to “adjust the attorney’s hourly rate in accordance with specific proof linking the attorney’s ability to a prevailing market rate.” Id. at 551. Furthermore, although some additional compensation is appropriate to account for delay of amounts unpaid, Plaintiffs have not proposed “a method that is reasonable, objective, and capable of being reviewed on appeal” to calculate such amount. Id. Although the court denies Plaintiffs’ request for a final attorneys’ fee award at this juncture, the court hopes that its rulings will assist the parties in reaching a resolution. 

Footnote says that multiple judges have presided over this case during its 43-year lifespan. Read here.

 


 

Ex-USG Employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond, Called an “Experienced Sexual Predator,” Ordered Removed to D.C.

Warning: language in court documents may be  disturbing particularly to those who were previous assaulted.

A former USG employee identified as Brian Jeffrey Raymond was arrested on October 9, 2020 in San Diego, California pursuant to an arrest warrant issued in the District of Columbia on October 8, 2020. See the Detention Order published here with name listed as BRIAN JEFFERY RAYMOND (sic).
We could not find an arrest announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice, and we’ve been looking hard.  Have you seen it?
On October 27, the CA court docket includes the following notation:

Minute Entry for proceedings held before Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard: Removal/ID Hearing as to Brian Jeffrey Raymond held on 10/27/2020. Defendant admits identity and orally waives hearing.Court orders defendant removed to District of Columbia. Pursuant to the Due Process Protections Act, the United States is reminded of its obligations to produce exculpatory evidence pursuant to Brady v. Maryland and its progeny. Failing to timely do so could result in consequences such as exclusion of evidence, adverse jury instructions, dismissal of charges, and sanctions by the Court.(CD# 10/27/2020 11:25-11:33). (Plaintiff Attorney Eric Roscoe, AUSA). (Defendant Attorney John Kirby, Retained (Telephonic). (no document attached) (tkl) (Entered: 10/27/2020)

Read up on the Due Process Protection Act here.
The Affidavit in Support of Application for Complaint and Arrest Warrant is available to read here;  subject’s name is listed as Brian Jeffrey Raymond. The document notes that on May 31, 2020, “the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”), and FBI begun investigating Raymond after he was detained by foreign law enforcement outside of his apartment overseas.  At the time, Raymond was a U.S. government employee working at a U.S. Embassy in a foreign country and lived in embassy-leased housing. Raymond has since resigned from his U.S. government position.”
The Motion for Pre-Trial Detention includes the “factual background of the case” with the following details.
    • On May 31, 2020, police in Mexico City, Mexico responded to the defendant’s apartment in response to reports of a naked, hysterical woman desperately screaming for help from the defendant’s balcony. At the time, the defendant was working for a U.S. Government agency at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and had been living in his embassy-leased residence since August2018. Because the U.S. government has jurisdiction over certain crimes occurring in embassy-leased housing, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 7(9), the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service(“DSS”) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) are jointly investigating the incident.
    • Over 400 videos and photographs of 21 different women taken over the course of at least nine years were recorded by the defendant.
    • From August 2018 until June 1, 2020, the defendant worked for a U.S. Government agency at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. There, he used his embassy-leased residence to engage in criminal sexual conduct, to include an alleged sexual assault of AV-1 on May 31, 2020 and the undressing, photographing, and recording of at least nine unconscious women. 
    • During the course of his employment with the U.S. Government, the defendant has lived in approximately six to seven different countries, and he has traveled to more than 60 countries for work and personal travel. 
    • The government’s investigation has revealed 22 apparent victims thus far –  the initial sexual assault victim plus 21 additional victims found on his devices and in his iCloud.
    • He speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. He has worked in or visited over 60 different countries in all regions of the world.
The document is available to read here.
Raymond’s defense bail motion dated October 15, 2020 includes the following nugget:
“At regular intervals throughout his tenure in public service, as well as shortly after the launch of the current investigation, Mr. Raymond has taken polygraph tests. […] He’s taken over 10 polygraphs during his career.”
Pardon me, 10 polygraphs in 23 years? Who routinely gets a mandatory polygraph working at an embassy?
A few other notable things:
—  Court document describes the defendant as a USG employee of 23 years. So we can rule out that he was a contractor. We only know that he has lived in 6-7 different countries and has traveled to more than 60 countries for work and personal travel. Doing what? The document does not say which agency he worked for, which section of the embassy he worked in, or what was his job at the US Embassy in Mexico or at his other assignments.
— All career diplomats are subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.  We have not been able to find any record that this individual has ever been considered or confirmed by the Senate as a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service.
—  Defendant speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Chinese is a super hard language for the Foreign Service. In FY2017, the last year data is publicly available, there were 463 FS employees proficient in Chinese Mandarin and 3,344 employees proficient in Spanish. Now, why would the State Department send a Chinese speaker to an assignment in Mexico? That’s not a usual thing, is it? Right.
Who is this guy and what did he do for Uncle Sam? It is likely that this individual was attached to the embassy for a still unnamed agency. We expect there will be more to this story in the coming days. Or maybe not. And that should tell us something, too. There appears to be a few entries on the court docket, at least six to our last count, that says “no document attached.”
This is a vile and loathsome case but even in such cases, we still should note that a criminal complaint is an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.