Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome

 

During the August 18 State Department Press Briefing, a reporter asked about the Unexplained Health Incidents  (UHI) also known as the Havana Syndrome that was reported at the US Mission in Germany. Below is the exchange:

QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?

MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.

He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.

And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.

***

NBC News subsequently reported that at least two U.S. diplomats will be medevaced from Vietnam due to UHI which occurred on the weekend ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit.
The State Department spox has previously mentioned on March 12, and again on July 19, that this is a top priority for Secretary Blinken and that the secretary has requested briefings regarding these incidents even during the transition.
One employee who was injured in these unexplained health incidents recently told this blog: “He has utterly failed in basic leadership 101 on this issue.”
The employee was referring to Secretary Blinken.
On August 2, a CNN headline blares “Havana Syndrome stokes fear and frustration among diplomats over response from State Department.

…frustration is rising among rank-and-file staffers and diplomats over what multiple officials say has been a tepid response by the department. Of particular concern is a lack of information from leadership, including what some say has been a hands-off approach from Secretary of State Tony Blinken who has yet to meet with any of the State Department victims despite saying he would prioritize the incidents.

On August 5, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees saying in part “What I can tell you is that this is a top priority for me, the State Department, and leaders across the U.S. government.” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand tweeted that memo the same day.
Obviously, the Blinken memo to the troops was not a coincidence but a reaction to the CNN report three days earlier.
So the top leadership in Foggy Bottom is sensitive to media splashes, who knew? But managing perception can only go so far. How many more times can Secretary Blinken claim this as a “top priority” for him without ever meeting the victims of these incidents? Or addressing his employees directly in a town hall, for that matter? August 26 was the 6-month anniversary of his assumption as secretary of state; he’s no longer in the transition phase.
Folks might ask, but does Secretary Blinken really have to meet these people though? Or does he really need to meet anxious employees shipping out overseas where they and their loves ones could potentially be subjected to similar attacks? Why can’t Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon just talk to these folks? Mr. McKeon, after all, is the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources.
Yes, Virginia. Secretary Blinken really do need to meet with his people and we’ll tell you why. Because Brian McKeon is not the Secretary of State. That’s why.
It is alleged also that the State Department is “withholding so much unclassified info” related to these attacks that often employees only hear things from the media; they aren’t hearing relevant information directly from State.
But .. but .. there’s Afghanistan, and Haiti, and Russia, and Ukraine, Eswatini, China …. on and on and on …. it never stops.
If Secretary Blinken is waiting for a break from foreign headaches and chaos before dealing with these serious concerns within the ranks, his staff could be waiting forever, y’all.
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#HavanaSyndrome: Directed-Energy Attacks Now Reported in D.C.

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

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

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The questions below were sent to the State Department on March 16, 2021 for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, the newly designated  Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force (officially called  the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) .  She was appointed with direct reporting responsibility to the Department’s senior leadership. The State Department’s media arm confirmed receipt of these questions on March 17.
To-date, the State Department has not responded to these questions despite our follow-up. It looks like the PA leadership has fed our questions to their email-chewing doggo. Poor bow wow!!! PA folks still sore about this, hey? Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives. Oh, dear!
Anyways. If you’re the unofficial kind and have some answers to these questions, please send your howlers here or via Twitter and we’ll get back to you. We’ll write as many follow-up posts as needed.

 

Task Force: 

—1. The State Department spokesperson said that there is an individual on the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF) who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. The individual was not publicly named. I understand that the 41 recognized victims apparently also have no idea who this individual is or who are the members of the task force. Shouldn’t the State Department be transparent and name all the people on the task force? How do potential victims, (including spouses and foreign nationals) contact the individual tasked with engaging with them?
—2. The ARB Cuba report clearly demonstrates the botched response to these incidents in Havana. It was also an interim report. In addition, we have received allegations that the Department’s response to the incidents in China was much worse. Are there plans to convene an ARB for China? Is there a plan to expand the time frame and places of possible incidents covered in this investigation? We are aware of at least one case that occurred much earlier than December 2016. How many reported cases of mystery illness were excluded by State? With so many varied symptoms, and many unknowns, is it fair to rule out anyone without the full constellation of symptoms? How did the State Department determine that Patient Zero, widely reported to have been injured in December 2016, is really Patient Zero and not Patient Two, or Patient 10 or Patient 20? 
—3. What is the status of the implementation of the ARB Cuba recommendations?
—4. Can you confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?
—5. There were employee/s who suffered grievous treatment in the aftermath of these incidents (e.g. alleged retaliation, uncovered medical expenses). Is Amb Spratlen willing to meet with employees suffering from  medical and bureaucratic chaos brought about by these incidents?

 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report:

—6. I recognized that there is new leadership at State but the HIRTF has been there since 2018. Why did State sit on the NAS report of August 2020 and only released it in December 2020? It is an unclassified report, so national security concerns should not have been an issue.
—7. Has the State Department accepted that the illness is due to microwave exposure? If so, how are employees protected from the next attacks? Why hasn’t State fully implemented the recommendations in the NAS report?

Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Medical Services (MED)

—8. Why is Diplomatic Security still acting (and conducting searches in apartments) as if the cause could be toxic chemicals when NAS ruled out chemical exposure as a cause and pointed to the reported signs, symptoms and observations as consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy?
—9. Why is Diplomatic Security still conducting briefings that “only one person was found by State/MED to be affected in China” when USG has officially diagnosed 15?
—10. How many employees who complained of unexplained illness to MED or DS were told to undergo psych evaluations or told to “get their act together” by the bureaus tasked with protecting their welfare? How many mystery illness were reported globally by employees, family members and local employees before State took them seriously?

 

3 FAM 3660 Implementation

—11. 3 FAM 3660 has been in the Foreign Affairs Manual since May 2020 but we’ve heard reports that State is blocking implementation of the prescribed benefits for employees from other agencies. Can you discuss where the responsibility for adjudicating cases under the provisions of 3 FAM 3660 falls? What is the processing time for requests made under these regulations for State and non-State employees? 
—12. There are numerous employees and family members as you know who still have symptoms but because they are not in the group of 41, they do not qualify for the 3 FAM 3660 provisions and therefore are on their own.  What are the treatment options for the hundreds of employees/family members who were medevaced but were not enrolled like the 41 cases in the UPenn study and designated by Department of Labor to get workers compensation benefits?
—13. How many foreign nationals connected with USG missions/residences where the attacks occurred reported similar symptoms as USG American employees and family members? What support and treatment options were available to them? 
—14. As you know, under 3 FAM 3660, a covered employee is an employee of the Department of State who, on or after January 1, 2016, becomes injured by reason of a qualifying injury and was assigned to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country as designated by the Secretary of State. What other countries have been designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666 to-date?  
—15. Members of the 41 officially diagnosed say State has caused irreparable harm with a “see no evil” response and just wants the problem to go away. Do you recognize the harm of State’s botched past response and lack of transparency?
—16. A” being the highest and “F” being failing, how would you grade the previous State Department leadership’s response to the health incidents?

Submitted Questions:

 –17.  Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html

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@StateDept Designates Amb. Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force

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On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of retired Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the task force handling the agency’s response to the Havana Syndrome.
The Department has designated Ambassador Pamela Spratlen to serve as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the Department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
A career member of the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, Ambassador Spratlen was formerly Senior Advisor of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. State Department, Inspections Division. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2015-2018 and Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) from 2011-2014. She has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (2009-2011).
In addition to numerous Washington assignments and a tour as Diplomat in Residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Ambassador Spratlen also served in Russia (Moscow and Vladivostok), France (U.S. Mission to the OECD) and Latin America (Guatemala and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States).
As Secretary Blinken said, “The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”
Members of the media who are interested in interviews with Ambassador Pamela Spratlen should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at GreenbergBL2@state.gov or 202-647-1679.GreenbergBL2@state.gov
During the DPB of March 12, a reporter pointed out that the announcement did not say anything about Cuba or any particular country where these issues may arise and asked, “Is that for a reason? Is it broader than that?” Below is the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
“… To your first question, as we mentioned, we do have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens. Of course, these health incidents have been a priority for Secretary Blinken even before he was officially Secretary Blinken. He requested a comprehensive briefing on these incidents during the transition when he was secretary-designate. On his first day, full day here at the department, he received an update. He has since received comprehensive briefings.
He also wanted to ensure that the task force that has been established and working on these incidents since May of 2018 had connectivity directly to him, and directly to his senior leadership team. And so that is why we have decided, and he has decided to name Ambassador Spratlen as the senior advisor to the task force.
We didn’t specifically mention countries in that announcement because as you know, Matt, there have been now several countries where these incidents have been reported. We are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents.
There is also an individual on the task force who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. So we will continue to pay close attention to this. Secretary Blinken will continue to pay close attention to this, because he has no higher priority than the health and the safety and security than the department and dependents of department personnel.”
We’d like to know who is the unnamed “individual on the task force responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents.”  Has this person been there since 2018 or is this a new appointment?
We’ve also requested an opportunity to ask Ambassador Spratlen some questions about the Department’s response to the Havana Syndrome but we have yet to hear a response. We hope to have a separate update on this, that is,  if our email survive  Foggy Bottom’s email chewing doggo and get to Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg. 
Or if you know something and want to say something, reach out here.


 

 

 

Online Petition to POTUS: Nominate “Mad Dog Mattis” as Next Ambassador to Moscow

— Domani Spero

Francis Regan of San Francisco, CA has started a petition to nominate General James Mattis, USMC, Ret. to be the next Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  Below is part of his justification:

Ambassador McFaul resigned last month to return to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, leaving us without a dedicated official envoy to Moscow. We need an Ambassador to advocate for regional stability and economic confidence. We need an Ambassador right now to be a stone in the Putin administration’s shoe, always present and felt with every step. This is not something we should expect of either the Secretary of State or the Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, who each have other responsibilities.

Finally, we need an Ambassador with a detailed knowledge of existing US capability across every agency and department; a proven ability to deliver finely calibrated messages in volatile situations; and a keen awareness of the ability and willingness of our allies to stand beside us under any given set of circumstances.

Ambassador McFaul and General Mattis have been colleagues at the Hoover Institution for the past six weeks, where they have undoubtedly been talking through this Ukraine crisis as it has unfolded from unrest, to the shooting of protesters, to the ouster of President Yanukovych, and finally to an undeclared Russian invasion of Crimea.

As of this writing, the petition has 50 signatories. Some of the reasons given by the supporters are below:

  • Because I’m a Marine and I know Mattis takes zero shit.
  • Because General Mattis is a badass.
  • Because I’m begging you, with tears in my eyes…
  • Because Gen. Mattis has a zero-tolerance for bullshit.
  • I know General Mattis personally & professionally and he is by far the answer and the patriot to what this country is facing at this time.

One supporter of this petition which is addressed to President Obama states his reason as, “Because this guy unlike the President has a set of balls.

Obviously, that’s really going to help.

In 2013, Gen. James Mattis, known to his troops as “Mad Dog Mattis,” retired after 41 years of military service. Business Insider called him “an icon of sorts in the Marine Corps, arguably the most famous living Marine” and collected some of his unforgettable quotes. Take a look.

On a related note, WaPo’s Al Kamen reported a few days ago that White House press secretary Jay Carney, rumored to be angling for the top spot in Moscow denied that he wanted the job.  Rumint right now apparently includes national security adviser Susan Rice‘s interest in having a woman in Moscow.  In the Loop threw in some names:
  • Sheila Gwaltney , the current Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy Moscow; was deputy chief of mission during Amb. McFaul’s tenure; was consul general in St. Petersburg from 2008 to 2011. We understand that she is scheduled to rotate out this summer with Lynne M. Tracy, current DAS for South and Central Asia as the next DCM.
  • Pamela Spratlen , U.S. Ambassador to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, who is a former No. 2 at the embassy in Kazakhstan and former consul general in Vladivostok, Russia.
  • Rose Gottemoeller , undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She just got confirmed on March 6, 2014.

Who else are you hearing?

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