Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs

Via  NBC News:

NBC News also reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records of U.S. government workers evacuated from both Cuba and China, including those the U.S. has “medically confirmed” were attacked and those it ultimately said were not.
[…]

Most of the American diplomatic evacuees have improved enough to resume work, State Department officials said. Some have been granted accommodations, such as shortened work hours, dimmed office lights or special glasses. Meanwhile, the White House National Security Council is preparing legislation to deal with gaps that Workers’ Compensation doesn’t currently cover, such as care for affected spouses or pay-outs for permanent impairment of the brain.

In internal State Department instructions reviewed by NBC News, workers in Cuba and China were told not to discuss what they knew with the public, with reporters or on social media.
[…]

In May, Pompeo called Werner’s case “entirely consistent” with the Cuba patients. But now top U.S. diplomats say they’re not sure it’s the same thing, with one telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee it’s “apples and oranges.”

And the State Department, in explaining why it’s not setting up a review board to assess the response in Cuba, told NBC News that Pompeo didn’t believe there was enough information to prove that Werner’s injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad.”

Somebody please set us straight here. Wasn’t there an ARB for the Cuba attack? Or was there an ARB Havana but no ARB Guangzhou? How did State made a determination that there wasn’t enough information  the injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad” without convening an Accountability Review Board? Did they use their Magic 8 crystal ball?

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Snapshot: NIV Adjudications For Student and Exchange Visitor Visas, FY2012-2017

Via GAO:

NIV adjudications for student and exchange visitor visas decreased by about 2 percent from fiscal years 2012 through 2017 (1.01 million to 993,000) overall, but experienced a peak in fiscal year 2015 of 1.2 million.

State officials partly attributed the overall changes in student and exchange visitor visa adjudications to the extension of the validity period of such visas for Chinese nationals, which represented the largest single country of nationality for student and exchange visitor visas in fiscal year 2017 (19 percent). In November 2014, the United States extended the validity period of the F visa for academic students from 1 year to 5 years. State officials noted that similar to tourist and business visitor visas, there was an initial surge in Chinese F-visa applicants due to the new 5-year F-visa validity period that began in fiscal year 2015, but the number dropped subsequently because Chinese students with such 5-year visas no longer needed to apply as frequently for F visas. State data for this time period indicate that the number of visa adjudications for F visas for Chinese nationals increased from about 267,000 in fiscal year 2014 to 301,000 in fiscal year 2015, followed by a decline of 172,000 in fiscal year 2016 and 134,000 in fiscal year 2017.

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Oh, don’t forget to give this a read. WH considered ban for Chinese students? They make up 19% of all student visas issued in FY2017.

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U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?

Posted: 11:56 am PT

 

A State Department employee posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou is reported to have some “abnormal” “sensations of sound and pressure” which is similar to those reported by personnel at U.S. Mission Cuba. We did hear about this prior to MSM reporting the incident and asked the agency’s US Asia Pacific Media Hub to connect us with Guangzhou but — you guessed it — their black hole inbox also worked really, really well, and we never heard anything back. We are pleased to see the news is out, and folks are not waiting months to react. 

USCG Guangzhou is headed by Principal Officer Charles Bennett. We understand that USCG Guangzhou did a townhall for post employees/families 2-3 hours after it sent out the health alert. Another townhall was also supposed to be held on May 25 but we have not heard if that actually happened. 

Via USCG Guangzhou: “Throughout the past two centuries, dating back to the presidency of George Washington, Consulate Guangzhou (Canton), as America’s oldest diplomatic post in China and one of America’s oldest posts in the Far East, has played a pivotal role in promoting America’s relationship with China.  Today, the Consulate promotes trade and commercial ties, engages China across-the board on key American policy objectives, and promotes public diplomacy through visitor exchanges.  The Consulate General is the only U.S. mission in China to process American adoptions and immigrant visas, making it one of the U.S. Department of State’s busiest consular-related posts.”

Note that as of May 2017, the U.S. China Mission (Embassy Beijing, and Consulates General Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan) had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire American employees, 168 local-hire Americans and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.

In FY2016 Consulate General Guangzhou processed more than 54,000 immigrant visas, making it the third busiest immigrant visa unit in the world. It also had approximately 210 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees, among the largest number of any U.S. overseas mission.

According to State/OIG, Mission China’s Consular Sections provide services to a community of U.S. citizens, both residents and visitors, which the embassy estimated to be as many as 800,000 on any given day. “Factors affecting American citizen services included a growing demand for notarial services and chronic difficulties in obtaining Chinese government permission to visit the approximately 100 U.S. citizens imprisoned in China.”

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Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?

Posted: 2:37 am ET
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Secretary Tillerson knew when he took this job that he would be the face and the voice of America to the world. That includes talking to the press, and more importantly answering questions from the press corps. We get that he’s new at this but he better get it together fast; he’s now one of our most prominent public servants, and he cannot continue to evade the press and avoid answering questions without running afoul of one of his three core principles.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell  has now been escorted twice out of a State Department presser. Reporters were also previously escorted out during the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting in Germany. We betcha when Secretary Tillerson starts talking to the press, reporters would not have to shout their questions during every 30-second photo-op. And now, we’re hearing that Secretary Tillerson is making his inaugural trip to Asia next week. He will be traveling with the new Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the EAP Bureau Susan Thornton who assumed post after Danny Russel’s recent departure.  According to the State Department, Secretary Tillerson will arrive in Tokyo on March 15, continue on to Seoul on March 17, and travel to Beijing on March 18 —  apparently without his traveling press.

Here is the official word on this according to the acting @StateDept spox, Mark Toner:

[W]ith respect to the trip to Asia, we’re still working out the logistics, so I really can’t say specifically or speak definitively, I guess, as to whether we will be able to accommodate any press on the Secretary’s plane. I think we’re all aware that it is a smaller plane for this particular trip. There will, as you know, going to – there will be some U.S. media who will be traveling to the destinations, each destination, and of course, we will do our utmost to support them at those destinations and provide whatever access we can.  And I think going forward, the State Department is doing everything it can to – and will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane.

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s minders did not purposely select a smaller plane, did they?  The smaller plane excuse would only really work had Secretary Tillerson traveled with the full press during his trips to Mexico and Germany, then say, hey, can’t this time because we’re forced to use a smaller plane. But in Mexico, Secretary Tillerson reportedly only traveled with press pools, took a small plane and had one writer and one photographer. So this is starting to look like this could be the new normal.  If he can get away with not taking his traveling press this time, are we looking at our top diplomat ditching the press for good in the future?  This is, of course, worrisome coz how are we going to Make America Great Again if we can’t even provide a good size plane for our chief diplomat and his traveling press?

Folks, this doesn’t look good. You need to make this right. And hey, about the milkbox, does he have a favorite color?

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Reactions to Trump’s Reported T. Rex Pick For the State Department #dazzleandwow

Posted: 12:52 am ET
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On Sunday, the Trump Transition says that “ There will be no announcements on Secretary of State until next week at the earliest.”  Even as unnamed sources continue to tell members of the press that Tillerson is the pick, Reince Priebus who is slated to become President-elect Trump’s chief of staff cautioned that it’s a “little premature to be claiming” the secretary of state choice for the incoming Trump administration is a “done deal.”  So until the official announcement is made, which could happen tomorrow or on Friday or whenever is the season finale, it may still be open season for the secretary of state candidates.

The secretary of state nomination has to go through a confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).  That’s a 10 GOP/9 Dems split. GOP Members include Senators Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and Rand Paul. If the nomination makes it out of the SFRC, it has to go through a full vote in the Senate. The 115th Congress includes 46 Democratic Senators, 2 Independents, and 52 Republican Senators.  A simple majority vote is required to get confirmation. So the Senators. Don’t forget them, particularly the Republican Senators. Makes one wonder if the leak on Tillerson as pick is a trial balloon to see what kind of reception the nomination is going to get, and what the potential confirmation fight might look like in the Senate. Also, add this to your SOS candidate trivia.  Rex Tillerson’s salary in 2015 is reportedly $27.2 million. The secretary of state’s annual salary in 2015 is $203,700.

Reactions to the potential Tillerson appointment:

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Trump to Nominate Iowa Gov Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to China

Posted: 2:19 am ET
Updated: Dec 8, 3:37 pm PT
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President-elect Trump has yet to make a decision on who will be his secretary of state. That search has expanded and the news media reports that this is now a 10-man race for the 69th Secretary of State. While the search is ongoing, Mr. Trump has apparently already offered the ambassadorship to China to Terry Branstad, and the Iowa governor has accepted.

On December 7, Governor Branstad released a statement saying, “I am honored and humbled to be nominated to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China.”  His statement also said: “The United States – Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point.  Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever. The President-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered.”

Governor Branstad has served as Iowa Governor from 1983-1999 and 2011 to the present.  His relationship with China goes back to 1983 when he signed a formal agreement establishing the sister-state relationship between Hebei province and Iowa. In 1985, Xi Jinping, then a county-level party leader from Hebei, visited Iowa for the very first time and met with Governor Branstad at the state capitol. In 2012, when Vice President Xi visited Des Moines and Muscatine, Governor Branstad sent a personal thank-you to Xi and invited him to an “old friends” reunion dinner. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also called Governor Branstad an “old friend of the Chinese people.” Senator Chuck Grassley tweeted that “Gov Branstad has longstanding relationship w Pres of China so his nomination is good 4 our national interest.”

If confirmed by the Senate after January 20, Governor Branstad will be President Trump’s personal representative to the People’s Republic of China. He will not actually report to the White House but to the still unnamed secretary of state at the State Department, through the East Asia Pacific Bureau.

Some of Governor Branstad’s predecessors at the US Embassy in Beijing include Senator Max Sieben Baucus (1941–) who was appointed by President Obama on March 20, 2014; former WA Governor Gary Locke (1950–) who served from 2011–2014; former Bush ambassador to Singapore Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (1960–) who President Obama appointed to Beijing from 2009–2011; and former President George Herbert Walker Bush (1924–) who served as Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Peking (Beijing) from 1974 to 1975.

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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Duterte Announces Break-Up With America Before Applauding Chinese Audience

Posted: 3:23 pm ET
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China recently, and the Chinese rolled out the red carpet. See the video here of the grand arrival ceremony complete with children waving the Philippine and Chinese flags. This video cites Chinese respect for the Philippines by displaying the Philippine flag above the Chinese flag.  Also below is an interesting take from a Filipino writer describing a prior presidential visit to China as he watched the Duterte visit and what he calls China’s  “dragon dance of celebration.”

While in China, Duterte was famously quoted for saying he is “separating” from the United States. Below is the video where the president of America’s longest ally in Asia is lambasting all Americans and their character during his October 20, 2016 speech in China. He calls Americans — and not just Americans he dealt with — but basically all Americans and westerners as discourteous, and loud, “their voice in their larynx not well adjusted to civility.” He said, he did not really like Americans because long ago  he had an experience with American idiotic arrogance. He proceeds to retell a story about being stopped at LAX by an African-American immigration official who he describes in detail and then says no racial slur intended. It sounds like he was taken to a secondary interview which he recalls as an interrogation.  (By the way, according to WaPo’s David Nakamura, Duterte has reportedly told aides to be sure he doesn’t go thru US airport en route to Peru for APEC next month). So at some point during this China talk, he complains about Filipinos going to the U.S. who are berated and humiliated when applying for visas while Americans are allowed to visit the Philippines without visas.  Would not be surprised if he would soon want Americans visiting the Philippines to get visas.

He offers to collect whatever debts the U.S. owe China  as long as he can keep some of it and says  “Duterte of the Philippines is very towards China because China has a character of an oriental.” He gives the reason why he decided to “shift-gears.” There is also a portion here where he talks about US aid to the Philippines and how it has not really changed the lives of the people in his country.  The speech is delivered mostly in English. We have not been able to find a transcript of this speech, but if there is one, it would read exactly like a convoluted Trump speech. He complimented China for its “sincerity” and complains that Americans and President Obama never apologized to him. At the end of this speech, he says, “In this venue, I announced my separation from the United States” to great applause.

Here is a quick recap if you were not following this break-up:

On October 24, China announced that it has donated millions to the Philippines after Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima).  According to rappler.com, the Chinese embassy said it donated P50 million to the Philippine government on Monday “for the disaster relief of farmers and fishermen in the affected regions.” China also committed around P35 million to Philippine anti-disaster efforts. The Red Cross Society of China “will also provide humanitarian aid of $100,000 to the Philippines.”

Here is President Duterte with his new best friend in Manila, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua while the former calculates all that money donated by China “with no strings attached.”

Earlier, the State Department announced that EAP Assistant Secretary Russel will travel to the Philippines on October 22–25, to meet with government officials and have lunch with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) participants.  While in Manila A/S Russel said he had candidly told Philippine Foreign Minister Yasay that Manila’s friends were concerned about the high loss of life in Duterte’s campaign against drugs and reiterated the importance of due process, according to Reuters.  Russel said “a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions had created consternation in many countries,” including the United States. He said that worry extended beyond governments to corporate boardrooms and warned that it was “bad for business” in “a very competitive region.”

Here are some clips with A/S Russel, whatever he says, we expect it would not go down well in Manila. Note that A/S Russel says: “It’s a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing somehow come at the expense of the United States, that’s not the way we think about it…”  It looks like the Duterte comments spliced in the clip below were made on October 19, so before the Russel visit to Manila. But we’re posting this clip here because the Duterte comments are relevant, nonetheless.

Of course, as can be expected, President Duterte delivered another rant.  Below is President Duterte with comments mostly in Tagalog and a sprinkling of English. From what we could tell he is talking about chop-suey and “historical hurts that will not go away” when Manila was bombed in World War II.  This is undated but he is citing comments from A/S Russel and Ambassador Goldberg.  You want to know his intention in terms of military cooperation? Here  he is talking about not/not wanting “any military man of any other nation, except the Philippine soldier” in the country. And when America talks about defending the Philippines, he asks, who from — citing the bogeyman of wars.  The AFP quotes him separately as saying “I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added. (If tweeps want to help translate the Tagalog part of the video below, email us here).

As a background to Duterte’s anti-American stance, read the clips below about the Philippines, starting with James Fallows ‘A Damaged Culture’ following Corazon Aquino’s People Power Revolution in 1986. Also a useful list of grievances below via WSJ that goes back years for Mr. Duterte — from America’s  invasion of the Philippines in 1898 to the visa denial for Duterte and the cancellation of a work visa for his partner in 2002, and that’s just for starters.

We think A/S Russel’s message will not get though the noise. We also doubt that the next ambassador to Manila if confirmed, will find a friendly face at the presidential palace. Duterte’s beef is not with specific individuals, or even a specific American administration, it is with Americans as a whole. It sounds like he perceived all his encounters with Americans as bad.  We kept waiting for him to scream “Yanquis go home!” Meanwhile, the State Department continues to be deluded with what is now a one-sided love affair.

The official spox says that  they’re taking the “long view.” “The long view, in our mind, is a sustained, healthy, vibrant bilateral relationship with the people and the government of the Philippines.”  Mr. Duterte’s term doesn’t end until 2022, can we actually expect the United States to simply go around the country’s head of state? How would that work? Maybe before things totally go off the rails, the administration ought to consider deploying Ambassador Michele Sison, Foggy Bottom’s highest ranking Filipino-American diplomat to give an assist at APEC in November and even in Manila?

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OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET
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The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

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No Drama Obama Gets Lots of Drama in Asia, Plus Special G20 Surprise in South China Sea

Posted: 3:24 am ET
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President Obama’s trip to Asia this week got off on a wrong foot. See POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet. Then on Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte got foul-mouthy with his early warning threat to President Obama potentially discussing the drug killings in the Philippines (also see Philippine President Calls the US Ambassador to Manila WHAT?). According to the CRS,  the Philippines has been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance in Southeast Asia in the past decade, including both military and development aid. It also relies heavily upon the United States for its external security.  According to this 2015 piece, “the archipelago’s sailing force is made up of half-century-old antiques—and is falling apart.” And yet, here is President Duterte with his lovely manners.

 

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