DOJ: Jury Convicts Foreign Service Officer and Former Spouse for Obtaining U.S. Citizenship by Fraud

 

Via USDOJ/September 13, 2021
Jury Convicts Foreign Service Officer and Former Spouse for Obtaining U.S. Citizenship by Fraud
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal jury convicted a California woman and Russian-born man on Friday on charges of conspiracy and obtaining U.S. citizenship by fraud.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Laura Gallagher, 32, a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, and Andrey Kalugin, 36, originally of Russia, conspired together to obtain lawful permanent residence and U.S. citizenship for Kalugin through his marriage to Gallagher. 
“The jury’s verdict holds these two defendants accountable for orchestrating a scheme to defraud the United States and obtain unlawful citizenship and passports,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Gallagher disregarded her responsibilities to the public as a federal government employee and licensed attorney when she engaged in this fraudulent scheme with Kalugin. Thanks to the dedication of the trial team and our partners at the State Department, these defendants have been brought to justice.”
Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the defendants met in law school in 2013. Kalugin was in the United States on a student visa that was due to expire in July 2015. The defendants married in June 2015 and submitted applications for Kalugin to obtain his “green card.” The defendants moved from California to Virginia in March 2016, but split up soon thereafter. However, they continued with the immigration process.
“The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate allegations of crime related to naturalization fraud and to bring those who commit these crimes to justice,” said Jessica Moore, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. “When a Department employee in a position of trust is alleged to have committed a federal felony involving naturalization fraud by exploiting their status, we vigorously investigate claims of corruption.” 
Gallagher, who is also a California-licensed attorney, then prepared for Kalugin an application for 319(b) expeditious naturalization, which is a benefit available to spouses of citizens who are regularly stationed abroad for their employment. The defendants provided materially false responses in the application, including that Kalugin was still in a good-faith marriage and intended to reside with Gallagher abroad and return with her to the United States. Kalugin appeared for an interview on Feb. 5, 2018 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Fairfax, where he repeated the false statements to the adjudicating officer. After USCIS approved the application and he received his citizenship, Kalugin fraudulently obtained U.S. Diplomatic and tourist passports. Shortly thereafter, Gallagher filed for divorce.
Gallagher and Kalugin each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on Feb. 4, 2022. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Kalugin additionally faces mandatory revocation of his U.S. citizenship. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Jessica Moore, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis, III accepted the verdict.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Raizza K. Ty and Morris R. Parker, Jr. are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:21-cr-43.

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Biliovschi Smith v. Blinken: EFM Alleges Discrimination Under Title VII #superiorqualificationsrate

 

Via Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-03065 (CJN)
For over two years, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith worked for the State Department as a Media Outreach Assistant out of the American embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. A series of disputes among Ms. Smith, a coworker, and embassy management resulted in Ms. Smith filing this lawsuit, which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. See generally Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ. J. (“Mot.”), ECF No. 28. The Court denies the motion for reasons that follow.1
1 In addition to denying the State Department’s motion for summary judgment, this Court also denies the State Department’s alternative motion to dismiss. Tyson v. Brennan, 306 F. Supp. 3d 365, 369 (D.D.C. 2017); Brooks v. Kerry, 37 F. Supp. 3d 187, 199 (D.D.C. 2014). For clarity’s sake, this memorandum opinion will refer to the State Department’s motion as a motion for summary judgment.
4 If a job candidate qualifies for higher pay based on a “superior qualifications determination,” Joint Statement ¶ 16, then the person could receive a superior qualification rate of pay, which compensates the individual because the employer based on the individual’s experience “may reasonably expect a higher level of performance beyond the requirements of the job,” id. ¶ 35.
5 This Court concludes that embassy management’s comments about Ms. Smith’s Romanian ethnicity do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination, but rather may “be probative of discrimination” under the burden-shifting framework in place for claims reliant on indirect evidence of discrimination. Isse v. Am. Univ., 540 F. Supp. 2d 9, 30 (D.D.C. 2008); Brady v. Livingood, 456 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2006) (noting that “direct evidence does not include stray remarks in the workplace”). In addition, Ms. Smith’s contention that she received lower pay based in part on her national origin satisfies the requirement that a Title VII discrimination plaintiff show that she suffered an adverse employment action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (making it unlawful to discriminate with respect to “compensation”); Russell v. Principi, 257 F.3d 815, 819 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

I. Background
An American citizen of Romanian national origin, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith accompanied her husband Derrin Ray Smith to Yaoundé, Cameroon in August 2014.2 See Joint Chronological.

Statement of Material Facts (“Joint Statement”), ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 1–3. Mr. Smith ventured to Africa to work as a foreign service officer with the U.S. embassy. Id. ¶ 3. During their first year in Cameroon together, Mr. and Ms. Smith attended an embassy-hosted dinner where the deputy chief of the embassy, Greg Thome, allegedly told Ms. Smith at the dinner table that her “country right now is the United States of America” and that “at the State Department, we don’t work for the interests of the Romanians.” Id. ¶ 5. Thome, Ms. Smith also claims, later inquired into whether she “spoke Russian.” Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Smith perceived Thome’s comments related to her Romanian ethnicity as odd, discomforting, and concerning. Derrin Ray Smith Decl. (“Smith Decl.”), ECF No. 31-8 at 2. Yet neither Ms. Smith nor her husband apparently took action in response.

Early in 2015, Ms. Smith applied for a position with the embassy as a “Media Outreach Assistant.” See Joint Statement ¶¶ 6, 10.3 She got the job. Id. ¶ 14. The job offer stated that Ms. Smith would begin her employment with the embassy at an entry-level pay rate. Id. ¶ 15. Upon receipt of the offer, Ms. Smith requested that the State Department conduct a superior qualifications rate review to determine whether she qualified for higher pay. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. 4 The assistant in the human resources department in charge of preparing Ms. Smith’s hiring documents thought that Ms. Smith might qualify for a higher rate based on her “expansive knowledge” and experiential background. Id. ¶ 38.

Yet a higher-level manager in the human resources department, Charles Morrill, made the decision not to submit Ms. Smith’s paperwork for a superior qualifications review, id. ¶ 44, and when he informed her of that decision, he referenced her Romanian perspective and Balkanized mindset. Id. ¶ 51. When asked in his deposition to clarify these comments, Morrill stated that he knew the “mindset” of Romanians based on his experience working with “Eastern Europeans.” Charles Morrill Dep. (“Morrill’s Dep.”), ECF No. 28-9 at 4–5. He added that people from that part of the world hold a world view that “people are out to get you.” Id. at 5. The decision not to submit the paperwork generated conflict between Ms. Smith and embassy management. Ms. Smith nonetheless accepted the offer of employment.
[…]
In December 2018, Ms. Smith filed this lawsuit against her employer for discrimination and for creating a retaliatory and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to for summary judgment on all of Ms. Smith’s claims.
[…]
Because a reasonable juror could find, based on the present record, that Ms. Smith suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex and her engagement in protected activity, it would be inappropriate to grant the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. The State Department’s Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore Denied. An Order will be entered contemporaneously with this Memorandum Opinion.

The Memorandum of Opinion signed by Judge Carl J. Nichols of the District Court of the District of Columbia is available via public records here.

 

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US Mission Russia Now on “Authorized Departure” For USG Family Members

 

On August 5, 2021, the State Department announced that it has allowed the voluntary departure of U.S. government family members at US Mission Russia. Since this was an “authorized departure” order, FS family members will have the option to leave post if they want to, or remain at post.
Excerpt from the most recent Level4/Do Not Travel Advisory for the Russian Federation:

Do not travel to Russia due to terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law. Reconsider travel due to COVID-19 and related entry restrictions.

Do Not Travel to:
The North Caucasus, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to terrorism, kidnapping, and risk of civil unrest.
Crimea due to Russia’s purported occupation of the Ukrainian territory and abuses by its occupying authorities.

On August 5, 2021, the Department allowed for the voluntary departure of U.S. government family members.

Country Summary: U.S. citizens, including former and current U.S. government and military personnel and private citizens engaged in business, who are visiting or residing in Russia have been interrogated without cause, and threatened by Russian officials and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion. All U.S. government personnel should carefully consider their need to travel to Russia.
Russian security services have arrested U.S. citizens on spurious charges, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and have convicted them in secret trials and/or without presenting evidence.  Russian officials may unreasonably delay U.S. consular assistance to detained U.S. citizens.  Russian authorities arbitrarily enforce local laws against U.S. citizen religious workers and open questionable criminal investigations against U.S. citizens engaged in religious activity. Russian security services are increasingly arbitrarily enforcing local laws targeting foreign and international organizations they consider “undesirable,” and U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Russia to perform work for or volunteer with non-governmental organizations.

Russia enforces special restrictions on dual U.S.-Russian nationals and may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, including denying access to U.S. consular assistance and preventing their departure from Russia.

The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are not guaranteed in Russia, and U.S. citizens should avoid all political or social protests.

Read more here.

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State/OIG Reports to Congress: Investigations Into Mrs P’s Travels, Ambassadors, Senior Advisors, FSOs and More

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

On June 1, 2021, State/OIG published online its Semiannual Report to the Congress (October 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021).
On  accountability and independence, the OIG reports:
“OIG did not encounter any attempts to interfere with Inspector General independence—whether through budgetary constraints designed to limit its capabilities, resistance or objection to oversight activities, or restrictions on or significant delays in access to information—for the reporting period from October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021.
OIG encountered a three-month delay in scheduling an interview with Secretary Michael Pompeo as part of its review of allegations of misuse of Department resources. OIG initially requested an interview on September 11, 2020, but then-Secretary Pompeo did not agree to the interview (which was scheduled for December 23, 2020) until December 16, 2020.
During a mandated review of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ (INL) reporting related to National Drug Control Program activities, INL was not sufficiently responsive to OIG’s requests for information. At the conclusion of fieldwork, OIG determined that it could not complete its review because it did not have sufficient, appropriate evidence to be able to draw a conclusion about whether the Department’s management assertions in its Accounting and Authentication of FY 2020 Drug Control Funds and Related Performance Report were fairly stated.”
The Office of Evaluations and Special Projects (ESP):
“From October 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, ESP issued one unclassified report on Department programs and operations. Management Assistance Report: Representational Travel by the Spouse of the Secretary of State (ESP-21-01, 12/2020) In 2019, OIG received a whistleblower complaint related to travel by the spouse of the Secretary of State that the Department considered official travel. To investigate this complaint, OIG requested and reviewed documentation related to official representational family travel by Susan Pompeo from April 2018 to April 2020. Generally, Department policy permits such travel by relatives of Department officials for appropriate representational purposes. However, both Department guidance and principles of internal control require documentation of both the official purpose and the approval of the travel. The Secretary’s spouse took eight trips that were declared official from April 2018 to April 2020. Of the eight trips, OIG found documentation of an authorized purpose for all eight trips, but only found written approval for two of the trips.
OIG recommended that the Office of the Secretary seek and gain written approval for all representational travel, and that the Under Secretary for Management or other authorizing official document in writing the approval for all representational trips by any family members. The Department concurred with these recommendations.”
ESP Substantiation of Allegations of Non-Criminal Misconduct Involving Senior Government Employees, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— A case closed in January 2021 involved a U.S. Ambassador. “OIG found that the official committed several violations of Department policy, including involving a household member in official duties, using personal social media accounts for official activities, and failing to comply with 3 FAM 1214.1 “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees” and “The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. OIG referred its findings to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the Bureau of African Affairs. Shortly after OIG issued its findings, the Ambassador left office as part of the presidential transition.”
— A case closed in March 2021 involved a USAGM Senior Advisor.  “OIG found that the official violated Federal recordkeeping regulations by instructing employees to communicate with her on official matters using a mobile messaging application and then deleting the messages without properly preserving them in agency recordkeeping systems. OIG referred its findings to USAGM, which reviewed the matter and notified the National Archives and Records Administration of the improper disposal of Federal records.”
The Office of Investigations conducts worldwide investigations of criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct related to programs and operations of the Department. During the reporting period, OIG conducted a number of investigations involving senior Government employees.
Investigations Involving Senior Government Employees Where Allegations Were Substantiated, 10/1/2020–3/31/2021
— On June 12, 2015, OIG opened an investigation based on information that a senior Administrative Officer and two of her subordinates violated procurement rules and regulations related to the use of U.S. Government purchase cards. The investigation substantiated the allegation and revealed the officer instructed her employees to engage in the practice of split purchasing. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in January 2021.
— On October 28, 2019, OIG opened an investigation based on information that the senior advisor to a U.S. Ambassador serving overseas may have received supplemental compensation from a private company while serving as a U.S. Government employee. The investigation revealed the advisor transmitted Sensitive But Unclassified information to non-U.S. Government personnel and received gifts of airfare and a gift card valued over $8,000 from a private business entity. As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the officer resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
— On May 29, 2019, OIG opened an investigation regarding multiple allegations of misconduct by a U.S. Ambassador. The investigation revealed the Ambassador inappropriately used his position to try to influence the move of a professional sporting event to a different venue. He also knowingly allowed his special assistant to conduct personal matters that fell outside of her scope of official duties, and while using non-Department email accounts, he did not courtesy copy or forward to his official Department email account at least 62 official emails in the span of approximately 6 months.As there was no violation of criminal law, the case was not referred to DOJ. However, the Ambassador resigned from the Department while under investigation. The case was closed in February 2021.
Under notable resolutions, State/OIG/INV’s list includes the following:
— In March 2021,  two Foreign Service Officers agreed to pay more than $13,033 to the U.S. Government to resolve issues related to fraud allegations regarding Department travel vouchers. OIG special agents determined that the married couple engaged in a scheme to defraud the Department by filing four travel vouchers that claimed lodging expenses they were not entitled to under Federal Travel Regulations. The fraud was committed from approximately September 2014 through April 2019. OIG’s Office of General Counsel coordinated the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act action that resulted in the settlement.
–In October 2020, three individuals were indicted for using a business email compromise scheme, or BEC, to defraud the Department. OIG and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents determined the individuals tricked the Department and a nonprofit agency into wiring at least $575,000 into bank accounts they controlled for the purpose of enriching themselves and their co-conspirators.
Under employee misconduct:
— In November 2020, former Seabee Martin Huizar was sentenced to 109 months’ incarceration and ordered to pay $40,100 in fines and $10,000 in restitution, along with serving a 10-year term of supervised release, for transportation of images of child sexual abuse on his phones and tablet computer. The OIG Special Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.
 

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Snapshot: Diplomatic Spouses Employment by Regional Bureau (2017-2020)

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

Via state.gov/FLO

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US Mission Russia: Mass Termination of Local Staff, Severe Reduction in Consular Services Effective May 12

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

On April 30, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Mission Russia – Reduction of Consular Services (30 April, 2021)

Reduction of Consular Services – Effective May 12, U.S. Embassy Moscow will reduce consular services offered to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas. These service reductions are necessary due to the Russian government’s April 23 notification of its intention to prohibit U.S. Mission Russia from employing foreign nationals in any capacity. Non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel will cease.

Embassy Moscow will not offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future. If you are resident in Russia and require a new U.S. passport to remain legally present, or if you require an emergency U.S. passport for a demonstrable, life or death emergency (booking travel with an expired U.S. passport does not qualify) please send an email to moscowacs@state.gov and we will work to accommodate your request. Provision of emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia may also be delayed or limited due to staff’s constrained ability to travel outside of Moscow.

If you are a U.S. citizen present in Russia and your visa has expired, we strongly urge you to depart Russia before the June 15 deadline set by the Russian government. If you plan to remain in Russia past this deadline, please visit your local Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) office to start the necessary paperwork as recently suggested by MVD.  Embassy Moscow is unable to answer any specific questions about Russian residency or Russian visas, as this process is managed entirely by the Russian government.

We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular work force by 75%, and will endeavor to offer to U.S. citizens as many services as possible.

We understand that the Russian Foreign Ministry has already labeled locally employed staff working for the US Mission in Russia as “spies.” Given the LE staff currently imprisoned in Turkey, and the State Department’s inability to secure their release, this is worrisome. We hope to write a follow-up.
The last OIG inspection of US Mission Russia was conducted in 2013, a year after Putin’s return to office. At that time, State/OIG reported that across Mission Russia, employees “face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War.” The report also indicates at that time that the mission employed 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. These numbers are from 2013, so the count on U.S. direct-hire positions may have changed significantly given the diplomatic skirmishes the last several years. We’re not sure about the LE numbers either but we’re looking.
Note that the Embassy’s consular sections and general services typically have the most number of locally hired employees. With the mass termination of locally employed staff,  US Mission Russia will be on its own with no local staff support for visa services, American services, emergency services to American citizens, maintenance and repairs, procurement of goods/services, motorpool, housing, health unit, cashier, and on and on.

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#HavanaSyndrome: Directed-Energy Attacks Now Reported in D.C.

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 28, NBC’s Josh Lederman reported that a group of Canadian diplomats have accessed Canada’s government of withholding information about new cases of brain injury resulting from “Havana Syndrome”.  The report also says that the diplomats are citing “unacceptable delays” on coordinating care for Canadians affected, including numerous children who were accompanying their parents in Cuba. “Who knows what the long-term impacts will be?” the diplomats wrote.
Who knows what the long-term effect will be for the employees affected and the family members who were at these posts? For the State Department, the magic number appears to remain at 41 for those officially diagnosed. We do not have the number of employees who were not officially counted but whose lives and health were upended by the Department’s botched response to these attacks. We do not even know how many Foreign Service kids were similarly affected by these attacks.  Given the Department’s poor track record of handing these incidents going back to Moscow in the 1970’s, we need to keep asking questions.  Congress needs to step up in its oversight.
Back in early April, one of the questions we asked the State Department is to confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?  The State Department refused to answer that question and all our other questions.  See the rest of the questions here: Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.  We added a submitted question: #17. Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html
CNN is now reporting that “federal agencies are investigating at least two possible incidents on US soil, including one near the White House in November of last year, that appear similar to mysterious, invisible attacks that have led to debilitating symptoms for dozens of US personnel abroad. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that while the Pentagon and other agencies probing the matter have reached no clear conclusions on what happened, the fact that such an attack might have taken place so close to the White House is particularly alarming.”
So there. Now that this has become “particularly alarming,” maybe we’ll learn some more?
Pardon me, what do you mean  …. “NO”!?
Recent related posts:

Related posts:

US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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@StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else? (Updated)

 

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

Update 4/27/21 4:11 PST:  We’ve learned that four FSNs have died at US Mission India due to COVID. One died in November, and three have died in the current second wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine shots became available. The Mission has now gone back to Phase 1 mostly conducting telework.  We understand that family members are now on authorized departure but we have not seen the official announcement yet. 
CNN is reporting that a COVID outbreak at US Mission India has resulted in the death of two locally employed staffers, and over 100 positive cases “in recent weeks.” The report did not indicate which posts the outbreak occurred.
During the Daily Press Briefing of April 26, one of the reporters asked about the outbreak, and here is the official non-answer:
QUESTION: Can you speak to reports of a outbreak among U.S. diplomatic staff in India, say how many are affected, and if perhaps, considering that, the U.S. might be looking at authorized departure?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in the position to confirm any cases within our staff. Obviously, privacy considerations limit what we can say. But as I have mentioned during the course of this briefing alone, India is enduring a deeply concerning outbreak, and the entire country has been affected. We obviously do have a large diplomatic presence within India. It is tantamount to the deep engagement and partnership we have with India. But I’m not in a position to speak to any cases within our staff or embassy community.
During the COVID outbreak in January at U.S. Forces Korea, USFK reported:
“19 new infections at Yongsan between Jan. 5 and Thursday. It provided no further information about the five late Thursday. Of the remaining 14, four are Defense Department employees, six are contractors, two are spouses, one is a dependent and one is a South Korean taxi driver.”
Unlike DOD, the State Department almost always hide behind “privacy considerations” when asked to account for the welfare of its employees overseas. We can understand if Department officials do not want to talk about a potential authorized departure order but note that the other question asked was for the number of employees affected by the COVD outbreak at US Mission India. The reporter was not asking for identifying information; the question was not an invasion of  an infected employee’s privacy. We want to know how many employees and family members have been affected by the pandemic at US Mission India and wehat is State doing about it. If as reported, medical facilities have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds, are there medevac flights?

OPM: Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)? View

The most recent publicly available information on staffing is from 2018. It indicates that the U.S. diplomatic mission in India which consists of the embassy in New Delhi and consulates general in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, employed more than 2,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. As with other diplomatic posts, several agencies are represented at the mission, including the U.S. Commercial Service, the Foreign Agriculture Service, and elements of the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.
The 2018 report also indicates that almost 40 percent of mission staff worked at the four constituent posts, and the Consuls General were in charge of staffs ranging from 183 in Kolkata to 391 in Mumbai. That means Embassy Delhi has about 60% of the total staff or around 1,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. These numbers do not include family members and members of household at Mission India.  However, we estimate that the number of family members/MOH at post could not be over 533. The Family Liaison Office’s data from Fall 2020 indicates that there are 533 family members “at post” for the South and Central Asian Affairs bureau which covers India plus 12 other countries.

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