U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau on ‘Voluntary Departure’ Over Covid19 Outbreak

 

On February 11, the State Department issued a Level 2 Exercise Increase Caution for the Hong Kong and Macau. The announcement includes public notice of the voluntary evacuation order of February 10 for the consulate general’s non-emergency staff and and their family members due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (now officially called covid19).  Excerpt below:

Exercise Increased Caution due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.  Read the entire Travel Advisory.

A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel Coronavirus outbreak. On February 8, the Hong Kong government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for anyone, regardless of nationality, arriving in Hong Kong who has visited mainland China within a 14-day period. This quarantine does not apply to individuals transiting Hong Kong International Airport and certain exempted groups such as flight crews. However, health screening measures are in place at all of Hong Kong’s borders and the Hong Kong authorities will quarantine individual travelers, including passengers transiting the Hong Kong International Airport, if the Hong Kong authorities determine the traveler to be a health risk. Please refer to the Hong Kong government’s press release for further details.

On January 30, the Hong Kong government temporarily closed certain transportation links and border checkpoints connecting Hong Kong with mainland China and on February 3 suspended ferry services from Macau.

On February 10, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members due to the novel coronavirus and the impact to Mission personnel as schools and some public facilities have been closed until further notice.

The Department of State has raised the Travel Advisory for mainland China to Level 4: Do Not Travel due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Warning:  Avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Full advisory available here.

 

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@StateDept Evacuation Flights From China Heads to Military Bases in CA, CO, TX For 14-Day Quarantine

 

The State Department issued a health alert on February 4 indicating that it “may be staging additional evacuation flights with capacity for private U.S. citizens on a reimbursable basis, leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on February 6, 2020. The alert notes that evacuees from Hubei Province will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

“In accordance with the Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus, beginning at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, February 2, the United States government will implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus proactively and aggressively.  Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.” 

Military bases in California, Colorado and Texas are currently preparing to accommodate up to 1,000 people who will be quarantined upon arrival. U.S. Northern Command announced that it is expecting 350 inbound passengers in the “initial flights” destined for Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, both in California.
Also see Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

 

U.S. Mission China Now on Mandatory Evacuation For All USG Family Members Under Age 21

 

On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. (see @StateDept Prepares to Evacuate USCG Wuhan Personnel on 1/28, Limited Seats Available to Private U.S. Citizens).
On January 29, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from China.
On January 31, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members under age 21 of U.S. personnel in China.
On February 2, the State Department issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory for China:

Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of travel restrictions with little or no advance notice. Most commercial air carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.

Those currently in China should attempt to depart by commercial means. U.S. citizens remaining in China should follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Chinese health authorities’ guidance for prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment. We strongly urge U.S. citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home. In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the U.S.  Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to U.S. nationals within China may be limited.

In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air, road, and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country. On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. On January 29, 2020, the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees from China. On January 31, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members under age 21 of U.S. personnel in China.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning for all of China. The CDC has published suggestions on how to reduce your risk of contracting the Novel Coronavirus. Visit the CDC webpage for expanded information about the Novel Coronavirus, including prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment.

The Department also announced that US Embassy Beijing and its constituent posts in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan will be closed to the public from February 3-7 per host country guidance. 

@StateDept Prepares to Evacuate USCG Wuhan Personnel on 1/28, Limited Seats Available to Private U.S. Citizens

 

On January 23, the State Department issued a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” Travel Advisory for China, which includes a “Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.” The Travel Advisory also notes that “on January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.”
On January 26, the State Department announced that it is making arrangements to evacuate personnel from the US Consulate General in Wuhan to San Francisco, CA on Tuesday, January 28. There will be a single flight with limited seating capacity on a reimbursable basis for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens interested are advised to contact BeijingACS@state.gov with passport details. The announcement also states that “… if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus.”
U.S. Mission China is one of the largest operations in the world. It includes the embassy in Beijing and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan. We understand that Consulate General Wuhan was expected to open for American citizen services and nonimmigrant visa services in 2018 but its website currently says:

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan is not yet open for consular services.  Our new office is currently under construction.  Construction is scheduled for completion in 2020.

OIG inspection of US Mission China notes that as of May 2017, the mission had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire employees and 168 American locally hired employees and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.
We’re not sure at this time how many direct-hire U.S. employee and family members are located in Wuhan or how many emergency staffers would be left at post. USCG Wuhan website notes that there is a consul general and his wife, a public affairs officer (family?) and a Department of Commerce’s commercial service office (officer?) at post. We will update this when we know more.
The travel advisory issued last Thursday indicate that there was an “ordered departure” issued for non-emergency personnel and their family members. The Health Alert issued by Consular Affairs on Sunday says that the State Department is evacuating its personnel stationed in Wuhan; we’re not sure if that means all its personnel or just the non-emergency personnel and family members. There is no notice at this time that USCG Wuhan is suspending operation or on temporary closure.

 

Related items:

Spending Bill Includes Benefits For USG Employees & Dependents Injured While Serving in China and Cuba

 

On December 16, 2019, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced that she has secured long-term, emergency care for U.S. Government employees & dependents who were injured while serving in China & Cuba: 

Long-term Emergency Care for U.S. Government Employees & Dependents Injured while Serving in China and Cuba

Shaheen successfully secured language to provide long-term, emergency care benefits for injured U.S. Government employees—and their dependents—who served overseas. Currently, a group of over 40 employees have been designated by the U.S. Government as suffering injuries as a result of a hostile action or health incident while serving in China and Cuba. This provision would provide for their prescribed care, as well as the care of their injured dependents, if their insurance or worker’s compensation benefits fall short.

In March, CBS 60 Minutes reported on the first-hand accounts of the diplomats serving in China who have experienced these alarming health conditions and the disturbing lack of care and support from the U.S. government, despite the fact that their symptoms appear to match those of U.S. diplomats who were working in Havana, Cuba. The 60 Minutes report featured a letter from Senator Shaheen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the State Department “re-examine the cases from China … and provide all injured personnel with equal access to treatment, leave and benefits.”

Senator Shaheen’s provision would authorize the State Department to provide the following:

    • Long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees that were injured as a part of their duties in China and Cuba;
    • Allow dependents of these employees to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims; and
    • Would also allow USG employees to receive compensation if their injuries preclude them from working a full work schedule.
Per Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020
Under TITLE IX—OTHER MATTERS | SEC. 901. SPECIAL RULES FOR CERTAIN MONTHLY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PAYMENTS AND OTHER PAYMENTS FOR DEPARTMENT OF STATE PERSONNEL UNDER CHIEF OF MISSION AUTHORITY:
Under ADJUSTMENT OF COMPENSATION FOR CERTAIN 21 INJURIES.— 

The Secretary of State may pay an additional monthly monetary benefit, provided that the covered employee is receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, and may determine the amount of each monthly monetary benefit amount by taking into account— (A) the severity of the qualifying injury; (B) the circumstances by which the covered employee became injured; and (C) the seniority of the covered employee, particularly for purposes of compensating for lost career growth.

Under COSTS FOR TREATING QUALIFYING INJURIES.—

The Secretary of State may pay the costs of or reimburse for diagnosing and treating— (1) a qualifying injury of a covered employee for such costs, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code, or other provision of Federal law; or (2) a covered individual, or a covered dependent, for such costs that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.

Under QUALIFYING INJURY.—

The term ‘‘qualifying injury’’ means the following: (A) With respect to a covered dependent, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period in which the covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f); (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State …

(B) With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury incurred—  (i) during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another country designated by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (f);  (ii) in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and…

Under APPLICATION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—This section shall apply with respect to— (A) payments made to covered employees (as defined in such section) under section 8105 or 8106 of title 5, United States Code, beginning on or after January 1, 2016; and (B) diagnosis or treatment described in subsection (b) occurring on or after January 1, 23 2016.

Under REGULATIONS.—

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall— (1) prescribe regulations ensuring the fair and equitable implementation of this section; and (2) submit to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives such regulations.

Under this bill, the Secretary of State may also designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

 

 

Episode Where Rudy, the Lawyer Throws @StateDept Under The Bus #whosdatunderbus

 

It looks like somebody just threw the State Department big time under the bus, two video clips on two separate days, and two separate Fox shows. In one on them, the president’s lawyer is waving his phone on teevee. “It’s all here … right here.” Should be interesting to find out who in the State Department actually sent him off on this um … mission, if it’s all there.  And if that’s true, then the Department of Swagger has a bigger problem. Folks might start writing stuff like ‘How the State Department Lost Its Swagger” or ‘Who’s That Under the Bus?’

As we’ve noted previously in May after the removal of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, the Secretary of State did not seem to see it fit to come forward to defend the United States top representative, a career diplomat, in a priority country in Europe. This is looking like a trend.  Remember when his career staffers got mistreated by political appointees, and he was MIA, leaving the apologies to be made by his deputy?  Tsk! Tsk!

In addition to Ukraine, the president’s lawyer now has other allegations related to China, Latvia, and Cyprus. Watch out! He’s going to teach us geography and capital cities! Who knows how fast we’ll get to 275 posts!

Related posts:

 

Massive Turn-Out as Pro-Democracy Protesters March to U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong

 

On Sunday, September 8, a massive crowd of pro-democracy protesters  marched to the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong seeking support from the U.S. Congress to pass H.R.3289 – Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
On June 13, 2019, the house bill was introduced by Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4]. It has 21 co-sponsors and was “referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on the Judiciary, and Financial Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.”
There is also related bill in the U.S. Senate, the S.1838  Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, introduced on June 13, 2019 by Sen. Rubio, Marco [R-FL].  The bill with nine co-sponsors has been read twice and referred to the Foreign Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC).
A bill must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then be signed by the President to become law. GovTrack gave the house bill a 20% chance of being enacted citing Skopos Labs (details); and the Senate bill a 41% chance of being enacted citing Skopos Labs (details).
As for the U.S. Consulate General, due to the unique status of the Hong Kong and Macau SARs under the “one country, two systems” frameworks, U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau reports directly to the State Department in Washington, D.C. It is not part of U.S. Mission China.
Post is currently headed by Consul General Hanscom Smith who assumed his duties as the Consul General representing the United States to Hong Kong and Macau in July, 2019. According to his bio, Mr. Smith is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, most recently acting as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China affairs. Mr. Smith previously served as Consul General in Shanghai and as Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the Department of State. His foreign languages are Mandarin Chinese, French, Danish, and Khmer.
Post’s Deputy Consul General is DCM Paul Horowitz, a career member of the U.S. Department of State Senior Foreign Service assumed his duties in June 2019. According to his bio, Mr. Horowitz has spent much of his career in East Asia, focused primarily on economic and trade issues, including assignments in Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He speaks Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and Bosnian.

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USCIS to Shrink Overseas Presence to Seven Locations

 

We almost missed a recent announcement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) dated August 9 concerning its “international footprint.” It will maintain its presence at seven locations but will close 13 field offices and 13 district offices within the next year.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today plans to maintain operations at its international field offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and New Delhi, India. Previously, Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli directed the agency to continue operating in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Mexico City, Mexico; and San Salvador, El Salvador, as part of a whole-of-government approach to address the crisis at the southern border.

While retaining these seven international offices, USCIS plans to close the remaining thirteen international field offices and three district offices between now and August 2020. The first planned closures are the field offices in Monterrey, Mexico, and Seoul, South Korea, at the end of September. These organizational changes will allow more effective allocation of USCIS resources to support, in part, backlog reduction efforts.

“This cost-effective and high value international footprint allows USCIS to efficiently adjudicate complex immigration petitions that require in-person interviews, to enhance integrity through fraud detection and national security activities, and to liaise with U.S. and foreign government entities to improve migration management capacity,” said Cuccinelli. “In the months ahead, USCIS will close its other international offices on a staggered schedule, ensuring a smooth transition of workloads to USCIS domestic offices and State Department consular sections, while mitigating impacts on USCIS staff who will rotate back to domestic positions.”

Many functions currently performed at international offices will be handled domestically or by USCIS domestic staff on temporary assignments abroad. As part of this shift, the Department of State (DOS) will assume responsibility for certain in-person services that USCIS currently provides at international field offices. In addition to issuing visas to foreign nationals who are abroad, DOS already performs many of these service functions where USCIS does not have an office. USCIS is working closely with DOS to minimize interruptions in immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners.

As of this writing, travel.state.gov’s newsroom remains pretty sparse with news.

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Former @StateDept Employee Candace Marie Claiborne Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison

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Correction: 40 months in prison, not 40 years.
In March 2017, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents. (see @StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents).
In April 2019, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. (see Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents).
On July 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that Claiborne was sentenced to 40 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $40,000, for conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China, in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.
Below via the DOJ announcement. See the original statement here.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Acting Assistant Director in Charge John P. Selleck of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

“Chinese intelligence agents convinced Candace Marie Claiborne to trade her integrity and confidential information of the United States government for cash and other gifts for herself and her family,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Claiborne withheld information and lied repeatedly about these foreign intelligence contacts. Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths. With this sentencing, justice has been imposed for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne received gifts from foreign officials and lied to investigators repeatedly about her role in defrauding the U.S. government,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “Claiborne violated her oath as a State Department employee, and we will continue to hold accountable those abuse their positions of trust.”

“Claiborne was entrusted with privileged information as a U.S. government employee, and she abused that trust at the expense of our nation’s security,” said John P. Selleck, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “The targeting of U.S. security clearance holders by Chinese intelligence services is a constant threat we face, and today’s sentencing shows that those who betray the trust of the American people will be held accountable for their actions. I would like to thank the men and women of the FBI Washington Field Office and our partners at the Department of Justice for their work in investigating and prosecuting this case.”

“This sentence makes a strong statement to those who would attempt to commit crimes that violate the public trust and damage our national security. The Diplomatic Security Service is dedicated to working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure that those who commit these crimes are brought to justice,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.”

Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in April 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. She was sentenced by the Honorable Randolph D. Moss.

According to the plea documents, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance. Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the Department of State on topics ranging from economics to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.

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The Havana Syndrome in the News, and Some Questions For Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

The Havana Syndrome remains a mystery and a subject of interest. But the latest report via Buzzfeed suggests that “much of the early research into the mystery may have been botched or biased.”

The initial investigation was confined to two competing sets of researchers, both eager to publish studies on their own work, and whose findings have been at odds with each other. In one case, researchers were also seeking to promote their own newly approved medical device as a diagnostic tool. And until now, the effort has lacked broader oversight by an institution capable of cross-disciplinary research.

“The fundamental problem is you can’t trust anybody here,” said medical ethicist Sergio Litewka of the University of Miami, who has written about the political cloud of secrecy and distrust surrounding the diplomats’ injuries. “Not the US State Department and not the Cuban government.” (BuzzFeed has filed a lawsuit with the State Department requesting its communications related to the medical research into the injuries, after the agency denied a request for them on medical privacy and ongoing investigation grounds.)

Can somebody please ask the new “M” Brian Bulatao what’s his plan about this matter going forward?  Can an “America First” policy over everything afford to have this medical mystery just go unsolved? What happened to the Accountability Review Board reportedly convened by the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The ARB process doesn’t stop when the secretary of state is fired via tweet, does it?  What happens to those affected? What happens to those affected who were not employed by the U.S. government (spouses and children)? What happens if those affected leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily?  What arrangements are made in terms of medical care? What’s the plan if a similar incident were to happen at another part of the globe?

We missed this 4-part report from Canada:

The Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community

The Havana Syndrome, Part 4: What it could be and how experts will try to crack the case