@StateDept Dedicates New $225M U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad

Posted: 3:25 am ET
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On October 16, the State Department announced that “In an important symbol of our enduring partnership with the people of the Republic of Chad, U.S. Ambassador Geeta Pasi, Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Ambassador William Moser, and Chadian Government officials dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena.”  We don’t know how many local officials attended as there appears to be no official photographs released of the embassy dedication (also see Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia).

According to State/OBO the new U.S. Embassy compound in Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena is situated on a 12-acre site in the Chagoua neighborhood, several kilometers southeast of downtown. The multi-building complex includes a chancery office building, a Marine Security Guard residence, support buildings and facilities for the Embassy community.

Via state.gov/OBO

The following details via the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO):

      • The facilities meet all Department standards for security and life safety, and provide functional office space for Embassy staff.
      • The building’s scale, massing, and materials anchor the compound in this prominent, developing location within the city, and foster a sense of community and place.
      • The project was awarded in early 2014 and construction completed in spring 2017.
      • The site and building design provide shelter and relief from heat and sand storms, and seasonal rains.
      • A regionally-relevant color palette carried throughout the compound structures gives the Embassy a visual and cultural connection to the host nation.
      • An exterior space provides sufficient space to accommodate representational events.
      • The high performance interior offers an open-plan office, allowing delineation of work groups while providing continuous support for the workplace.
      • New and expanded civil infrastructure within and outside the complex includes new roads, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and storm water management.
      • A sculpted perimeter wall provides a secure perimeter and a well-lit public gathering space outside the complex, adjacent to the main entry.
      • An estimated 800 workers from the region—largely from Chad—are involved in the construction of the new Embassy

As with NEC Nouakchott, NEC N’Djamena is built for sustainability according to State/OBO:

  • The project is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification, and has met LEED® Gold certification.
  • The energy-efficient building design uses passive strategies, energy-efficient lighting, building controls, renewable energy systems, and HVAC systems projected to decrease energy use by 51%.
  • A pierced sunscreen shades the building, reducing heat gain, while water features collect and channel storm water in a way that celebrates the rainy season.
  • A multi-colored fiber-cement paneling system provides a cost-effective, thermally-efficient, and durable exterior.
  • Photovoltaic solar power arrays on-site are designed to offset 15% of the Chancery’s energy costs.
  • The compound is designed to minimize use of the local domestic water through efficient plumbing fixtures and equipment. All of the facility’s wastewater will be treated on-site and used to meet all of the site’s irrigation demand.
  • The facility is designed to provide a healthy indoor working environment through the use of low-emitting materials, air monitoring and comfort controls, as well as chemical and pollutant source controls.

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@StateDept Dedicates New $181M U.S. Embassy Mauritania in the “Place of the Winds

Posted: 2:58 am ET
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According to the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (State/OBO), the new U.S. Embassy compound in Nouakchott, Mauritania is situated on a 10.5-acre site in the Tevragh Zeina district of the capital city.  The new embassy compound includes a chancery, support buildings and facilities for the embassy community.

  • Known as the “Place of the Winds,” the capital city of Nouakchott is located on the west coast of Mauritania where the Sahara Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. With its unique location, the city is susceptible to seasonal winds from the Harmattan – battering it with harsh Sahara sand – and winds from the Atlantic Ocean – bringing in salty and humid air.
  • The design for the new Embassy draws inspiration from Islamic architecture, including Chinguetti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in central Mauritania. More than half of the entire façade of the new Chancery features a perforated latticework copper, resembling a modern interpretation of a traditional mashrabiya – an element of Arabic architecture dating back to the Middle Ages that provides screening and shading from the harsh desert sun.
  • Copper represents a natural choice as it is one of Mauritania’s leading exports and it is a proven material that can withstand Noukachott’s environmental challenges.
  • A gallery space provides a place for large gatherings, events, lounge areas, and cafeteria seating.
  • Visitors to the Embassy will be invited through a gateway plaza with integrated site lighting, artwork,and plantings. Walkway patterns and stones are based on local textile methods and materials.
  • Construction began in June 2014 and was completed in early 2017.
  • An estimated 600 workers were involved in the construction of the new Embassy.

According to OBO, the new embassy is built for sustainability, and this is well and good, but we often wonder what kind of problems does post get in locating service personnel/contractors for maintenance of these buildings, the wind-powered turbine or even a wastewater treatment plant in country?

  • The new Embassy design is targeting Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Emissions-free power is produced from a 185 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic array, as well as a 50 kW wind turbine – the Department’s first major wind-powered turbine for an American Embassy.
  • The new embassy is projected to reduce energy costs by 30% through light-emitting diode (LED) site lighting; dedicated heat recovery chillers; electric traction elevators; and variable frequency drives from pumps, fans, and motors.
  • Water from an on-site wastewater treatment plant will be reused to irrigate site plantings, which are carefully selected to reduce the required amount of irrigation.

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@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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@StateDept Expels 15 Cuban Officials Over Failure to Protect U.S. Diplomats

Posted: 11:40 am PT
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Dusting Off the Moscow Microwave Biostatistical Study, Have a Read

Posted: 2:40 am ET
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CBS News Radio broke the story last month on the mysterious attacks against U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba. Those evaluated reportedly were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, and with likely damage to the central nervous system. On September 18, CBS News citing “two sources who are familiar with the incidents” said that a top official in charge of security for the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, is among at least 21 Americans affected by mysterious attacks that have triggered a range of injuries. In a follow-up report on September 20, CBS News says this:

An internal Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs document obtained by CBS News shows the State Department was fully aware of the extent of the attacks on its diplomats in Havana, Cuba, long before it was forced to acknowledge them.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert only admitted the attacks were occurring after CBS News Radio first reported them August 9. The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them beginning in late 2016. A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government. The source says reports of more attacks affecting U.S. embassy workers on the island continue.
[…]
At the time, Nauert said she didn’t believe the number of Americans injured was in the tens or dozens. But a source says that by the time the State Department first publicly acknowledged the attacks, it knew the reports of Americans injured had reached double-digits.

Read in full: As number of injured diplomats soared, State Dept. kept Cuba attacks secret.

Related to these mysterious attacks, also see Microwaving U.S. Embassy Moscow: Oral History From FSOs James Schumaker and William A. Brown.

For those interested in the Moscow incidents, we’ve dug up the John Hopkins and subsequent technical reports on the Moscow microwave study (abstract and links below). We understand that there is also an AFSA report prepared on the Moscow incidents but we have not been able to locate a copy.

PB288163 | Evaluation of Health Status of Foreign Service and other Employees from Selected Eastern European Posts, Abraham M. Lilienfeld, M.D., Department of Epidemiology, School of Hygiene and Public Health The Johns Hopkins University (1978): This is a biostatistical study of 1827 Department of State employees and their dependents at the Moscow Embassy and 2561 employees and their dependents from other Eastern European Embassies. Health records, health questionnaires and death certificates were the basic information sources. The study is the impact of the Moscow environment including microwave exposure on the health status and mortality of the employees·. It was concluded that personnel working at the American Embassy in Moscow from 1953 to 1976 suffered no ill effects from the microwaves beamed at the Chancery. Excerpt:

A relatively high proportion of cancer deaths in both female employee groups was noted–8 out of 11 deaths among the Moscow and 14 out of 31 deaths among the Comparison group. However, it was not possible to find any satisfactory explanation for this, due mainly to the small numbers of deaths involved and the absence of information on many epidemiological characteristics that influence the occurrence of various types of malignant neoplasms. To summarize the mortality experience observed in the employees’ groups: there is no evidence that the Moscow group has experienced any higher total mortality or for any specific causes of death up to this time. It should be noted, however, that the population studied was relatively young and it is too early to have been able to detect long term mortality effects except for those who had served in the earliest period of the study. (p.243)
[…]
The results of this study may well be interpreted as indicating that exposure to microwave radiation at the levels experienced at the Moscow embassy has not produced any deleterious health effects thus far. It should be clear however, that with the limitations previously discussed, any generalizations should be cautiously made. All that can be said at present is that no deleterious effects have been noted in the study population, based on the data that have been collected and analyzed. Since the group with the highest exposure to microwaves, those who were present at the Moscow embassy during the period from June 1975 to February 1976, has had only a short time for any effects to appear, it would seem desirable that this particular study population should be contacted at periodic intervals of 2 to 3 years, within the next several years in order to ascertain if any health effects would appear. Furthermore, it would be important to develop a surveillance system for deaths in the entire study population to be certain that no mortality differences occur in the future and to monitor the proportion of deaths due to malignancies, especially among the women.

There is also a need for an authoritative biophysical analysis of the microwave field that has been illuminating the Moscow embassy during the past 25 years with assessments based on theoretical considerations of the likelihood of any biological effects.

Read the full report here: PB288163. (PDF)

NTIA-SP-81-12 | The Microwave Radiation at U.S. Embassy Moscow and Its Biological Implications: An Assessment
(by NTIA/ERMAC, US Dept. of Commerce; US Dept. of State; and Applied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University) 1981:  This report presents the results of an assessment of the likelihood of biological effects from the microwave environment within the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, USSR, based on a retrospective analysis of that environment. It contains a description of the microwave fields and models power density distribution within the Embassy from 1966 to 1977; estimated personnel exposures as a function of work and living locations in the Embassy; and the results of an assessment of the biological implications of the type and levels of exposure described. In summary, it was concluded that no deleterious biological effects to personnel would be anticipated from the micro- wave exposures as described. Read the full report here PB83155804 (PDF).

 

Related posted:

 

 

@StateDept “Consolidates” Regulations for Official Communication Using Social Media

Posted: 3:19 am ET
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We previously blogged about the use of social media in State Department official communication back in February (see @StateDept Issues Guidance For Official Communication Using Social Media, What’s Missing?). On August 24, the State Department updated its guidance for official communication using social media. “To engage on social media in an official capacity, personnel must use an account created specifically for official use that is separate from an account used for private, personal use.”  The guidance also notes that “all Department social media sites used for official public communications must be registered by visiting the Social Media Account Registry on Diplopedia.”  The change transmittal notes that this change “consolidates regulations concerning social media for official public diplomacy and public affairs purposes.”

Per Foreign Affairs Manual 10 FAM 180:

a. Senior officials and other employees whose positions make it appropriate for them to engage in official communications on behalf of the Department over social media (“Department social media spokespersons”) must not use personal social media accounts to do so.  They must use official social media accounts, created and owned by the Department.

(1)  Department social media spokespersons must be instructed before they begin their positions that they will not be able to use their personal social media accounts for official communications, and that content on personal social media accounts must comply with 3 FAM 4176.  Forwarding, linking to, or otherwise reposting official content on a personal social media account will not ordinarily constitute official communications if the content was first released on an official platform, provided that it is clear from the circumstances that the personal social media account is not being used to communicate on behalf of the Department.

(2)  When Department social media spokespersons begin their positions, they are provided access to official social media accounts, and they will lose access to those accounts when they leave that position.  Whenever possible, the same account is passed from one incumbent in a position to the next.  As such, account names include only the office or position (e.g., @USEmbConsularManila, @USAmbManila); they do not include personal names.

(3)  Missions, bureaus, or offices must maintain a list of their authorized official social media accounts and the credentials for those accounts.  Accounts are created in accordance with 5 FAM 793.

b. In order to put a “human face” on the Department’s social media presence, Department social media spokespersons are authorized, but not required, to post certain kinds of personal content to their official accounts (e.g., posts about family news, pictures of pets, discussions of hobbies).  This personal content may be considered official communications and must comply with, among other things, restrictions on partisan political activities, endorsements of commercial goods or services, fundraising and solicitations, official actions affecting financial interests, and the publication of information that could compromise the security of the individual or others.  See 3 FAM 4175.2, Content of Official Capacity Public Communications, for additional guidance on content of official communications.

c.  All accounts that have been used for official communications are considered Department accounts, and are either retained by the Department for use by the next incumbent or retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules, as appropriate.  The content of such accounts is also retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules.

The new guidance also include a section on impersonations on social media; the regs make a distinction with parody accounts (good news Rexxon Drillerson (@RexxonDrill), but have the 10 FAM 184 handy).

a. Impersonations, or the creation of an account that is intended to be mistaken for another account, are not permitted on most major U.S.-based social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.  International Information Programs’ (IIP’s) Digital Support and Training Division is responsible for coordinating with U.S.-based third-party social media platforms to assist Department personnel in addressing situations where sites or accounts are impersonating official U.S. Government sites or accounts, including seeking removal of imposter accounts in an expedited manner.  Impersonation accounts are not the same as parody accounts.  Parody accounts pretend to be another account but for humor, satire, or other reasons that rely upon the viewer’s ability to tell that the account is not real, and they are generally permitted under platforms’ Terms of Service.

b. If you determine that there is an impersonation account on Facebook, you must file a ticket with Facebook and then email IIP’s Digital Support and Training Division at IIPSMS@state.gov with relevant details for documentation so that the ticket may be elevated with Facebook.

c.  If you determine that there is an impersonation account on Twitter, you must report the imposter to Twitter using this form and forward the autoreply email from Twitter, including the ticket number, to IIPSMS@state.gov to expedite the removal process with Twitter.

d. If you determine there is an impersonation account on another platform, you must follow that platform’s reporting guidelines and notify IIPSMS@state.gov.

e. You must not interact with or acknowledge the impersonator to avoid encouraging further activity.

What this consolidated guidance still does not include is what happens when “senior officials and other employees”, both career and political appointees do not comply with 10 FAM 180.  What if they refuse to switch from a personal account to an official account? Who will compel them?  And if State can’t compel them, how do you archive official communication from their personal social media account?

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Microwaving U.S. Embassy Moscow: Oral History From FSOs James Schumaker and William A. Brown

Posted: 12:40 am  ET
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We recently blogged about the attacks on American diplomats in Havana (see U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage? 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons 

Via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) Oral History:

U.S. relations with Moscow through the decades have been problematic at best while the embassy itself has been the subject of spy scandals, eavesdropping and other Cold War intrigue. One of the strangest episodes was revealed in the 1970s, when the U.S. confirmed that the USSR had been beaming microwaves at the embassy for the past 15 years. One concern was that the Soviets were trying to inflict physical harm on the Americans working there.

Moscow, US Embassy and Chalyapin house

Old U.S. Embassy Moscow — By NVO (Own work by the original uploader) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Microwaving Embassy Moscow brought back a flood of memories to James Schumaker, who served most of his career in the USSR and later Russia and Ukraine. In this account, he describes how U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Walter Stoessel threatened to resign, the widespread concern many Americans posted at the embassy had regarding potential health problems, especially when two ambassadors died of cancer, and his own experience with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

James Schumaker:  The existence of the microwave problem had been kept under wraps for years, first because no one knew that there might be health consequences, and later, according to unconfirmed reports, because Henry Kissinger wanted to avoid damaging chances for détente.  When Ambassador Stoessel (seen at left) learned about the problem, he threatened to resign unless the Embassy community was told.  As a result, the microwave story was finally made public in a press conference called by the Ambassador.

In the wake of Ambassador Stoessel’s announcement, many in the Embassy community felt betrayed about being kept in the dark for so long, and still more were anxious about the effect the microwaves might be having.  Some thought that the microwaves were used by the Soviets to activate the numerous listening devices they had emplaced in the building prior to American occupancy.

Others believed that they were a jamming signal designed to foil our own electronic snooping devices (a highly classified report that came out in the 1970s leaned to this interpretation, and this is what the Soviets told us as well).  Still others thought that the Soviets, who apparently knew a lot more about microwaves than we did, were using them to affect the mental states of Embassy employees.
[…]
For the most part, I was blissfully unconcerned about the microwave controversy.  At the time, it seemed to me that it was an issue taken more seriously by Embassy spouses, who were afraid for their children, than by the Embassy leadership, which in fact was in the crosshairs of whatever the microwaves might be doing.

Periodically, I would see Soviet technicians standing side by side with American techs on the upper floors of the Chancery.  They were measuring ambient levels of microwave radiation.  Naturally, the Soviet equipment didn’t find anything, while ours did.  I thought it was funny at the time.  Screens were put up on the Chancery windows, which were said to diminish the amount of microwave emanations getting into the Embassy.  I didn’t think much about that, either.  I just continued to do my work and not think about the possible consequences.

Microwaves continued to be beamed at the Embassy throughout my tour, and, though the levels went up and down over the years, emanating first from one, and then two locations, the microwaving of the Embassy continued until at least 1988.  Over the years, thousands of Americans were exposed.

Shortly after my tour was over, I found out that my cavalier attitude toward the microwave issue was not at all justified, at least in my own personal case.  Med informed me in late 1979 that my own white cell count was much higher than normal, and advised me to continue testing.  In 1985, my white cell count got high enough for MED to recommend that I see a hematologist, so I went to a local doctor in San Clemente, Dr. Tsang P. Fong.

He did a bone marrow test (the one where they hammer a spike into the pelvic bone – very uncomfortable).  The test confirmed that I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) stage zero, but that chemotherapy was not advisable, since I had no symptoms and the cure would be worse than the disease.
[…]
I determined to fight the disease as best I could by leading a healthy lifestyle, although, paradoxically, I then volunteered for a high-risk assignment to Kabul in 1988.  Perhaps in the back of my mind I had this feeling that I could take more risks, since I didn’t have very long to live anyway — a kind of “who cares?” illogical approach that has gotten me through many crises in life.  State Medical knew about the CLL diagnosis and downgraded me to a “2” Medical clearance, but didn’t stop me from going overseas, mainly because the jobs I was volunteering for often had no takers.

Read in full James Schumaker’s account here.

William Andreas Brown discusses the widespread concern among Americans working at the embassy at the time and their anger at the State Department for its lack of transparency on the issue. Excerpted from his Oral History interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in November 1998.

William Andreas Brown: I have to tell you what a shock it was in about 1972 or 1973 to wake up to the great, microwave scandal and to find that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his associates had kept from us the fact that for years we had been bombarded by microwave apparatuses, directed straight at the embassy in Moscow. I remember being one of a small group of officers in 1972 or 1973 when news of this development broke. We raised our voices in despair, dissent, and so forth.

We were finally ushered into a room where Larry Eagleburger, Kissinger’s Special Assistant at the time, briefed us and made some sort of presentation, assuring us that steps would be taken, and so forth. He said that medical studies were under way, and the evidence thus far was that these microwaves had not been deleterious to our health.

This was somewhat reassuring until, at the end of the meeting, Larry Eagleburger said, “Now, rip up all of your notes and give them to me. Nobody can leave with notes on this discussion.” One said to oneself: “What in the hell is going on here?”

It turned out that the Soviets had been bombarding us with microwaves, beginning in about 1964 or 1965. Why they had done this remained a mystery. How they had bombarded our embassy remained somewhat of a mystery, as well as why they had done so. Also a mystery was what was the response. We were furious. We felt betrayed by the leadership of the Department of State and by the Secretary of State himself…I’m speaking now of the microwave radiation scandal, as I would call it, of the early 1970s, which harked back to the early 1960s.

Many of us who had served in the embassy felt betrayed as people who had put so much into our efforts and who had volunteered to serve in Moscow. We probably would have volunteered anyway to serve in Moscow, even if we had known about this. However, we learned only years later that this had happened and that information on it had been kept from us. Foreign Service physical examinations routinely include a blood test.

Unbeknownst to us, the Department of State was testing our blood to see what, if anything had happened to us as a result of the microwave radiation. This was a pretty jolting realization.

Q: Before we leave that matter, was consideration ever given to our saying to the Soviets: “If you keep up this nonsense, we will close our embassy in Moscow?” 

BROWN: Or, we could say, if the Soviets kept up this nonsense, we would do exactly the same thing to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. But, oh, no, that would have been nasty, and nothing like that was done. We felt pretty strongly about this. It affected morale and assignments to positions in the embassy.

Q: What was the purpose of what has to be regarded as this campaign by Soviet authorities against the health of members of the staff of the American embassy in Moscow

BROWN: This takes you into realms that I’m really not qualified to discuss. I was aware of various theories and of measures and countermeasures that might be taken. However, the point is that microwave emissions were being beamed at us. This point came home to me particularly one day when a visiting technician from the State Department came with equipment and said, “Do you mind if I set this up in your office?”

I said, “Okay, but why here? Why in my office?” He said, “Because actually there are at least two beams being directed at the embassy. One comes in from the front of the embassy building, and one comes in from that great, white building over there, which is called the ‘White House.’  You know, where the Russian Parliament meets.”…

“One beam comes this way, and the two beams intersect right here at your desk. So I’d like to set this up.” I thought: “My God! It makes you think.” But the Soviets weren’t turning these beams off. This was a disturbing development. As I said, it affected assignments to positions in the embassy in Moscow, as well as other things.

Read in full William Andreas Brown’s interview here.

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Tillerson to Shut Down @StateDept’s Sounding Board, Erase 7 Years of Institutional Collaboration

Posted: 5:11 am ET
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On August 17, the State Department released an eDepartment Notice that the Sounding Board will be “retired” as of August 31st. A red banner reportedly went up on the Sounding Board site only on August 23 reminding users that the site will close on August 31 and that they should save any content they want to preserve in their local files before August 31st.  None of the contents in the Sounding Board will be archived.

The Sounding Board is an employee internal forum for ideas and collaboration launched in 2009 by then Secretary Clinton, and maintained throughout Secretary Kerry’s tenure.  Together with Communities and Corridor, they were all created and maintained to “enhance diplomatic initiatives by providing effective employee collaboration and information sharing capabilities.”

Some employees think of the Sounding Board as part of the agency’s process improvement and see it as a valuable feedback loop.  It is also a central repository of employee opinions and suggestions. In the last seven years, the Sounding Board was reportedly used by over 120,000 users, generating 4,000 ideas. It also resulted in the implementation of some 130 suggestions/requests. We understand that some of the implemented ideas include the creation of pedestrian walk signals outside the Harry S. Truman building which increased employee safety, the creation of ePerformance guides, improvements in the female bathrooms in HST and others that helped with employee engagement and morale.

The State Department did inform employees that it is planning on establishing a “new forum for employee suggestions and responses,” but apparently it did not explain what was wrong with the current Sounding Board, and why a new forum is considered necessary.  There is also no timeframe when the new forum will be operational and employees were instructed to use the Redesign Portal to provide their ideas to management in the meantime.

So after August 31, stuff will just go to some kind of “digital suggestion box” in the Portal and no one can see (presumably with the exception of those designated to watch the suggestion box) what topics are under discussion or what subjects are important to employees. Also — we have no way to verify this since we have no access to the portal —  apparently the ideas accepted in the Redesign Portal are restricted to topics related to the redesign effort only.  So how’s that going to work?  Does anyone know?

Employees were informed that they can still share their concerns with the Director General through the DGDirect email, and collaborate with others using Communities@State, an internal blogging program; and Corridor, an internal professional networking application. Those platforms, of course, are not suited for a community back and forth discussion that is unique in a forum setup.

So the State Department basically gave employees a 2-week notice that it is shutting down the Sounding Board, that the contents will not be archived or be available for viewing, and that the replacement forum will not be ready when the current forum shuts down next week.

Look, given that the State Department is already suffering from abysmal morale, this is one way of just digging a deeper hole. While we can understand why Secretary Tillerson and his circle might want to start from scratch with a new employee forum, this is not the way nor the time to do it.

Cost Savings

What savings do you get with a Sounding Board 2.0?  And seriously, what is wrong with the current Sounding Board? What is the justification for shutting it down? How much money does the State Department generate in savings in building a new forum vs. maintaining the old forum? For an agency with a 30% projected cut in funding, the questions “how much” and “why” deserve some answers.

Options

We expect that it would be objectively trivial in cost and time to preserve the Sounding Board. Some suggestions floating around:

1) Keep the Sounding Board “as-is” until the new forum is operational. Archive the Sounding Board when the new forum is activated.

2) Keep the Sounding Board “read-only” until the new forum is operational.  This would curtail the submission of new ideas but allow employees to read/view the archive as needed until the replacement forum is activated.

3) Hybrid Sounding Board/Redesign Portal, except that the “redesign” has a lifespan. If State bundles the Sounding Board with the Redesign Portal, what happens after the reorganization is completed? Bundling them together requires unbundling them later on, which we imagine could require more work than if it were a stand alone forum.

4) The Sounding Board is government record, is it not? Does the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the nation’s record keeper has anything to say about this planned destruction of government record?

Demolition

The State Department may call this the Sounding Board’s “retirement”but in fact, since its archive will not be retrievable/viewable, this is actually a demolition. And it’s not just the demolition of the employee forum itself, but a demolition of the employees’ collective ideas, contributions, and memories.  In reality, it would erased the last seven years of the institution’s collective work.

If the State Department goes through with this, it could only re-enforce employees perception that its new leadership does not walk the talk. You cannot say that the “Secretary values and wants employee feedback” and expect people to believe that if at the same time, you’re demolishing the system that affords employees the ability to provide feedback.

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PSA: If You’re Using Gmail, Consider Getting a U2F Security Key to Secure Your Account

Posted: 1:38 am ET
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The private email of a State Department official working in the Office of Analysis for Russia and Eurasia (INR/REA) was reportedly hacked. FP reported a few days ago that the throve of emails include at least two years’ worth of personal emails from the private Gmail account, as well as personal information.

Whether you’ve been using Gmail for years, or have recently moved from Hotmail to Gmail, you need to consider getting a Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) security key to secure your private email account. You can start with FIDO U2F from Yubico if you want to check it out. It is  pretty straightforward to set-up. Note that you can only use the key with Gmail when using the Chrome browser (or Opera) at this time. We’re not on FB or Dropbox but you can reportedly use this key to secure those accounts, too.

For folks who must regularly update wills and prepare “go-bags” (pdf), here is one more thing to consider:

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