Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

Continue reading

Advertisements

Secretary of “Deep State Department” Michael R. Pompeo Performs During COVID-19 WH Briefing. Please Clap.

 

 

@StateDept Issues Do Not Travel – ‘Immediately Come Home Now’ Advisory – How? By Broomsticks

 

On March 19, the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Do Not Travel Health Advisory. Excerpt below:
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.  In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.  U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.  Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice.  Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.  If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.
On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification.  These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.
Also see our March 15 post, @StateDept Issues Global “Authorized Departure” For Certain USG Personnel and Family Members.
The State Department may not be referencing this event by any specific term, but this is effectively a “remain in country” policy in reality as travel has been severely restricted in many places.
How are people going to get home?
Or is the State Department going to mount a global evacuation for private American citizens from over 270 embassies and consulates?
For USG employees overseas, this technically becomes “shelter in place”. Employees and family members  on voluntary departure orders but caught in border closures may not have flights out. If/When they do get out, they will end up in European hubs with travel restrictions or quarantine policies in place. What happens after they arrive in Paris, or Frankfurt, or London is unknown.  Employees and family members waiting for their posts to get approved for “ordered departures” will be stuck in their host country or some in-between places even if the OD requests are approved. Borders are closed. Flights severely curtailed or suspended.
A week ago, American (AAL), the world’s largest airline and a leader in trans-Atlantic flights, said it would operate many of its European flights through at least March 18 according to a CNN report. Its March 12 announcement, AA says it will “Continue to operate flights to and from Europe for up to seven days to ensure customers and employees can return home.” Seven days later is March 19th.  The State Department’s Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory was announced today, March 19th. Suspended AA flights are not expected to resume until early May.
The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. It wasn’t until March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Also on March 11, Trump Announces Travel Ban For Travelers From Schengen Area (26 European Countries) Over COVID-19 effective March 13, 2020.
The State Department’s page on “Options During a Pandemic” was reduced to a 2-paragraph snippet in 2018, which indicates the level of priority it assigns to informing Americans what happens to them, and what they can expect from the U.S. Government during a pandemic.

 

Pompeo’s COVID-19 Response in the News, Plus March 17 Remarks in Word Cloud

 

Via Pompeo’s Remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room, March 17, 2020, where he took three questions, and did not really address COVID-19 related questions:
— If anyone in this building or in the diplomatic corps overseas has tested positive for the virus, what you’re doing for those employees.  And then at our embassies overseas, are we ramping up medical facilities?  What is the plan to treat Americans in those countries since a lot of the flights have been canceled, the borders are closed?  Are they getting sent testing kits?  How is any of that working? —
Except to say “So I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the intricacies of what the State Department’s doing.  It is a rapidly evolving situation” and “We’ve had a couple of employees – count them on one hand – who have positive tests.” and that’s pretty much it; a remark by a public official missing in details, given he’s the head of over 75,000 people across the globe.

Travels With Mike and Susan: Munich, Dakar, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Riyadh, Muscat

 

Muscat, Oman

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Luanda, Angola

Dakar, Senegal

Munich, Germany

D/SecState Biegun Alerts @StateDept Employees to Updated Guidance For Political Activities Restrictions

State Department employees on February 19 woke up to a love letter in their inbox from their new Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun. The Deputy Secretary says that he is looking forward to highlighting his priorities relating to people, policy and process but the new email was aimed at tackling “the first issue”, that is, how they can  “work together to ensure we do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process.”
He writes  that “One of the great strengths of our country is its democratic process, which we proudly showcase in our global engagements.”
(Uhm…okay).
He talks about the political debate going on and the agency’s far-reaching restrictions “designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.”

It is not lost on any of us that there is a national political debate going on around us that manifests itself daily in news feeds, questions and comments from our foreign contacts, and communications from friends via emails and social media. I have spent my career at the intersection of foreign policy and politics, so I recognize that it can be personally challenging to keep politics outside of daily engagements. This, however, is what our laws and policies require. State Department employees, like all federal employees, are subject to restrictions on engaging in partisan political activity while at work and outside of work. We often talk of Hatch Act requirements, but in truth the Department has more far-reaching restrictions designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.

Apparently, Mr. Pompeo recently approved “updated guidance  for political activities restrictions that apply to all Department employees.” Further, Mr. Biegun notes that “Department legal requirements and policies, which have been in place for decades, are broad and bear careful review.”
He tells employees that “obligations differ based on your employment status” and reveals that “as a Senate confirmed Department official, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and will not be attending any political events, to include the national conventions.”
His message does not say if all Senate-confirmed Department officials will also sit on the sidelines.
He writes that while he is not active on social media, he encourage employees “to think about your own practices and how the guidelines provided by the Office of the Legal Adviser might apply to your social media activity.” Further, he also shared that he intends “to be thoughtful in how I respond to emails from friends that have even the appearance of partisan political content.”
Apparently, there are three new Department memoranda which summarize political activity guidance for each of three categories of Department employees—
(1) All Presidential Appointees and All Political Appointees
(2) Career SES Employees
(3) All Department of State Employees (Other than Career SES, Presidential Appointees, and Political Appointees)
(—as well as special guidance for employees and their families abroad).
The Office of the Legal Adviser has issued three political activities memoranda but they are behind the firewall, so we do not, as yet, know what they say.  He is asking employees “to review the guidelines carefully so that together we can ensure that our Department work is above reproach.”
(Can somebody please FOIA these updated guidance?)
Mr. Biegun also cited 3 FAM 4123.3 (Employee Responsibilities Abroad/Political Activities): https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam4120.html — see 3 FAM 4123.3  for Political Activities
He ends his message with:

“I am impressed by the discipline and unfailing professionalism that I see across our Department team on a daily basis, exemplifying the Secretary’s Ethos statement. I hope you will join me in carefully adhering to these restrictions designed to support our nonpartisan foreign policy.”

Oops! We read “Secretary’s Ethos statement” and we nearly fell off our chair like a drunken master.
Ay, caramba!
Bonus report below about the deputy secretary’s boss’ recent 17-minute speech at a city of 3,100 people in Florida and then you all can have a town hall meeting about how to ensure that the Department’s work is beyond reproach.
In any case, it sounds like employees who want to learn more  may attend a special training session by the Office of the Special Counsel scheduled for March 13 in Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t sound like senior State Department officials and advisers who are active and partisan on social media are required to attend the training session. State/D’s message only notes that he is attending the OSC’s session, and it is “a regularly scheduled session available to all employees.”

Pompeo Helpfully Highlights Lisa Simpson’s Cesspool on the Potomac

OH. MY.
“The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago, and very little has changed. It stank then, and it stinks now. Only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs in the air. And who did I see taking a bribe but the “Honorable” Bob Arnold! Don’t worry, Congressman, I’m sure you can buy all the votes you need with your dirty money! And this will be one nation, under the dollar, with liberty and justice for none.” – Lisa Simpson
See the longer snippet here in Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.

 

BONUS item:

Secretary of State, Fourth in Line to the Throne, Sends “Perfect Message” and Gaslights the Whole World

 

Just before we went offline last week, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo went viral for his after-interview encounter with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (see  Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown).  And because bullying behavior is not a bug but a feature in this administration, Pompeo’s treatment of the NPR host was readily approved by the President of the United States. “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday, huh? I think you did a good job on her, actually.” Such normalized behavior that the whole room broke into laughter and Pompeo even got a standing ovation, and a pat on the back for his effort.
How come the State Department has not given this guy their professional ethos award yet? How long before the Foreign Service Institute start teaching Pompeo’s leadership principles? When are you going to hang up your selfie with somebody who is obviously a “perfect” role model for diplomatic demeanor and professional behavior in this upside down world?
Prior to Pompeo’s trip to Europe and Central Asia (London, U.K.; Kyiv, Ukraine; Minsk, Belarus; Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan January 29 to February 4), NPR reporter Michele Kelemen was notified that she was being removed from the press pool covering Pompeo’s trip. It should be noted that Michele Kelemen is NPR’s diplomatic correspondent and Mary Louise Kelly, the reporter who Pompeo reportedly berated is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR’s award-winning afternoon newsmagazine. Unlike Pompeo (who’s meltdown was triggered by questions about his “defense” of Ambassador Yovanovitch), NPR President and CEO John Lansing came out publicly to defend an NPR employee doing her job. We expect that Mr. Lansing and NPR will pay a price for making that difference in treatment starkly clear.
This is not the first time pettiness was demonstrated by State when it comes to its treatment of journalists covering the agency. In 2018, Bloomberg’s Nick Wadhams covering Pompeo’s trip to North Korea wrote about Pompey breakfast of “toast and slices of processed cheese” thereafter known as “the Pompeo cheese incident.” Somebody wasn’t happy with that coverage and Wadhams was subsequently informed by State that he would not be allowed on Pompeo’s plane for then upcoming trip to the Helsinki summit.
It seems writing about unhealthy food intake and dropped f-bombs can get reporters booted off the USG plane.
On February 2, during a stop in Kazakhstan, Pompeo was asked about the NPR incident and the kind of message it sends to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom. And below is Magic Mike’s response about the “perfect message” it sends:

QUESTION: Okay, let’s turn to the question about rights and press freedom. Last year RFE-RL journalists were physically attacked while doing their jobs, multiple times, and authorities have made no progress to try to find those responsible. Before you departed to this trip you had a confrontational interview with a National Public Radio reporter, and after that trip your department removed another NPR reporter from the press pool. Did you retaliate against NPR? What kind of message does it send to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t have a confrontational interview with an NPR reporter any more than I have confrontational interviews all the time. In America that’s the greatness of our nation: Reporters like yourself get to ask me any question and all questions. We take hundreds and hundreds of questions. We talk openly. We express our view; they ask their questions. That’s how we proceed in America. And with respect to who travels with me, I always bring a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they’ll do that, they get to participate, and if they don’t, it’s just not appropriate – frankly, it’s not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside of them.

QUESTION: But what kind of message will it send?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It sends a message – it’s a perfect message. It’s a perfect message about press freedoms. They’re free to ask questions. There were – there’s a reporter from that very business who was at a press conference just yesterday. It’s wide open in America. I love it. I hope the rest of the world will follow our press freedoms and the great things we do in the United States.

Perfect message!
Jesusmariajosep!
Pompeo asking “for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest” is one of the most laughable parts of that interview with the 70th secretary of state. Tee-hee-hee! When he makes this kind of point, it makes us laugh and pee-pee in pain. Ugh! Get us some Depend Hiphuggers already, we won’t be able to stop laughing at this for a while!
Since the rest of the world is not stupid, folks can presumably see what kind of “perfect message” the secretary of state is actually sending to the press corps. In the aftermath of “the Pompeo cheese incident”, even if they were wronged, Wadhams and Bloomberg reportedly declined to make any comment. As far as we know, Bloomberg has not been blocked from the plane in other trips.
In the case of NPR, the public radio’s CEO came out to defend his reporter, and Mary Louise Kelly not only reported about the bullying in the post-interview incident but also wrote about it (also see “Pompeo Called Me a ‘Liar.’ That’s Not What Bothers Me)“. The State Department’s response was to bar, not Kelly but another NPR reporter from covering the trip. The message is perfectly clear: if they don’t like your questions, or your reporting, or demeanor when conducting an interview, they will not only kick you out, they will kick out every other reporter from your organization. They will put you in an ice box and they will bury that ice box under the dog house 60 feet down, and throw away the shovel.
So the next time something like this happens, will our media outlets expect their reporters to just take the abuse quietly? Or lose their chance to ask questions from this um … “exemplary” public servant (and great secretary of state in an alternate universe) who gets a standing ovation for behaving badly. We hope they’re thinking about this now because this will happen again. And again.
We’ve seen this happened in other countries, haven’t we? In countries where the government has successfully “trained” the media to “behave” a certain way in its press coverage, and where journalists then “get to participate” —  it’s always sunny, life is always great, the people are always free, and their government, of course, is always, always truthful and honest in its  island of perfection.

Amb. Bill Taylor: Yes, Secretary Pompeo, Americans Should Care About Ukraine

 

 

Oy! NPR Host’s Questions About Amb. Yavonovitch Triggers Pompeo Meltdown

 

Remember when Pompeo chided USA TODAY’s Deirdre Shesgreen during an interview with “No, not O.K., but. Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre, Deirdre. Not O.K., but.”?
Or accused PBS’s Judy Woodruff of working for the DNC during an interview (see the 12:01 mark).
Remember the same accusation he leveled against News4’s Nancy Amons on Oct. 11, 2019 in Nashville, TN (see the 6:04 mark) when he did not like the question?
Because, of course, the secretary of state should only be asked questions that he love to answer! No hard questions, questions about the weather, his dog or his next “recruitment” event are presumably okay.
Over the weekend, the 70th secretary of state got into a very public spat with the NPR host who he accused of lying twice. One, supposedly that the questions were limited to Iran. There was no such agreement; Pompeo’s aide Katie Martin was reportedly told by NPR host Mary Louise Kelly (they’ve got the emails!)  “I never agree to take anything off the table.” Two, on NPR host purportedly agreeing to have their post-interview conversation be off the record. Yep, the one where he was accused of shouting at the reporter for about the same length as the interview itself. Since the reporter says she did not agree to the off the record stipulation, it was not off the record. Had Pompeo understood the basic rules of journalism, he would not have expected that the reporter would not publicly talk about their post-interview encounter. Or he could have just behaved per the new professional ethos he unveiled for the State Department in April 2019.
The Department website explains what “off the record” means and says “Ground rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an interview with State Department officials. The discussion should proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the information can be used or attributed.”
Martin, a deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Global Public Affairs has been on the job since May 28, 2019. Her bio page still says “Deputy Assistant Secretary Martin’s biography will be posted soon.” Prior to joining Foggy Bottom, she was with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
So what caused the meltdown, this time? Not cheese. Apparently Mary Louise Kelly’s questions and follow-up questions on Ukraine but specifically on Ambassador Yovanovitch hit a sore spot:

MLK: Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

Pompeo: You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it.

MLK: I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

Pompeo: I just don’t have anything else to say about that this morning.

MLK: I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this, because as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here. [crosstalk]

Pompeo: I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this, when I talked to my team here —

Continue reading