Blinken’s #HavanaSyndrome Meeting, Also Spratlen is Out as Task Force Advisor

 

On September 3, we blogged about the Havana Syndrome again: Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome.
On September 21, NBC News reported that Secretary Blinken finally did meet with diplomats who were afflicted with the  Havana Syndrome mystery illness. It did not go very well, did it?
Via NBC News:

“It’s just incredibly sad. It’s the worst part of bureaucracy,” one of the diplomats said, describing the call as “identical to so many other phone calls” where they’re told about protocols in place to ensure proper treatment. “It’s so maddening because those protocols aren’t in place — not the way they think they are.”
[…]
A senior State Department official, responding to questions about Blinken’s call with the diplomats, acknowledged that there’s “frustration” among the group about a perceived stigma or lack of empathy by their colleagues, but said it did not extend to those at the top.

“That’s certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the official said in an interview. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.”

Which members of the senior leadership is the SDO official talking about?

Diplomats told NBC News they were dismayed that Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, tapped by the Biden administration to oversee the State Department’s response, declined to conclusively rule out the mass hysteria theory.
[…]
One diplomat on the call described that response as “invalidating and inconsiderate.” Another said that Spratlen was “very clearly saying that she has not ruled out that we’re crazy.”  “In the end, we were interrupting Spratlen to try to get people in” to speak, a third diplomat on the call said. “It was ugly.”

Folks, if they’re talking about protocols in place that aren’t in place almost seven months after Blinken took office, then one can’t help but agree that Secretary Blinken is treating this “as an afterthought” as per former Senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos.
Another reason why we agree? Ambassador Spratlen who was appointed as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force back in March is reportedly leaving after six months on the job. “The State Department says she’d reached her threshold of allowed labor hours under her status as a retiree.
Well, dammit! So Foggy Bottom did not know that she’s going to max out on her allowed labor hours? Excuse me, did they think this job is going to be done after 950 hours on the job? (Also see Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer). Note that State Department’s re-employed annuitant employees can work no more than 1,040 hours during their appointment year.
McClatchy says that Blinken “considers choosing her [Spratlen’s] replacement an important decision, a senior State Department official said.
“The secretary has been seized with this issue even before he became secretary,” the official said. “One of the meetings he proactively requested before the transition was on this issue.”
Oh holymoly guacamole, give it a rest PR people! This is an old, old tired trick, even an old dog would not pick up this stick!
Frankly, this is  getting to be so exhausting! Look. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if Secretary Blinken requested “proactively” a meeting on the Havana Syndrome issue BEFORE the transition.
In fact, the next State Department official to bring up Blinken’s request for a Havana Syndrome briefing before the transition should be promptly fired for persistently living in the past.
What matters is — what Blinken is doing about this issue NOW.

@StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications

 

On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s  still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The State Department also released a statement Inspector General Confirms No Wrongdoing in Emergency Arms Sales to Counter Iran, The Secretary’s “Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed” and “Complied with the Requirements” of Law.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:

“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
[…]
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”

But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
It’s high time for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to go in and take a look at the State Department given the circumstances of the Linick firing, the abrupt resignations of the acting State OIG, as well as the dismissal of other IGs in multiple agencies. Starting with the State Department, CIGIE can then “address the integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies.”
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers

“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.

For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”

Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency?  So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Per footnote:

Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.

4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion

OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.

So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”

Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.
The unredacted document is posted here labeled in red “FOR INTERNAL U.S. GOVERNMENT/COMMITTEE USE ONLY – NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE MAY NOT BE FURTHER DISCLOSED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.  Wow! Now you can see which part of the public report, the State Department asserted the public should not see (it has to do with the timeline of the emergency declaration and the bureau involved. And oh, money, money, money).

@StateDept Spins the Russia Sanctions, Fails to Impress Regular Folks

Posted: 12:01 am ET
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@StateDept Officials on Clinton Private Email Debacle: Yo! Had Been Caught Off Guard? Ay, Caramba!

Posted: 11:25 am EDT
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Excerpt below with annotation:

“When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again,’ ” Clinton said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And we provided all of them.”

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they *first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before **the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
She has said repeatedly that it was “permitted” by the State Department and widely known in the Obama administration.

But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.
[…]

***In the spring and summer of 2014, while it was in the process of trying to find records sought by the newly formed House Select Committee on Benghazi, the State Department’s congressional affairs office found Clinton’s personal e-mail address listed on a few records in a batch of Benghazi documents but no government e-mail account for her.

“We realized there was a problem,” said a State Department official who until that moment had not been aware of Clinton’s private e-mail setup. The official, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
[…]

The agency is releasing those e-mails in batches, in accordance with a court order stemming from a public-records lawsuit.

The issue has led to frustrations within the State Department in recent months, as some officials have grown tired of having to answer for a political controversy not of their making, according to three senior officials.

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Ay, caramba!

If the State Department had first contacted her in the summer of 2014, we have yet to see that correspondence. It was potentially sent sometime in August 2014, three months before the letters to Clinton and predecessors went out in November 12, 2014 from “M” (see below).  Three months is an early call?  C’mon! Secretary Clinton left State in February 2013.

As to the notion that officials had been “caught off guard” upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account, do spin doctors seriously expect us to buy this on a double discount?

The NYT broke the news that Secretary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state on March 2, 2015.

It took six months for three senior State Department officials to tell WaPo that they “had been caught off guard” by the secretary of state’s exclusive use of a private account?  These officials “were concerned by the practice”, so much so that they issued a three month-“early call” in the summer of 2014, 1 year and 6 months after the end of the Clinton tenure.  And we’re only hearing about this concern now, 2 years and 7 months after Secretary Clinton left office? Yeah.

Dates of note:

December 11, 2012: NARA Chief Records Officer Paul M. Wester Jr. Email to NARA’s Margaret Hawkins and Lisa Clavelli on how they “should delicately go about learning more” about the transition plans for Secretary Clinton’s departure from State. Concerns that “there are or maybe plans afoot to taking her records from State to Little Rock.” Invokes the specter of the Henry Kissinger experience vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton (view email in pdf). So there were discussions within NARA about the Clinton records as early as December 2012. It appears that NARA’s main contact (pdf) at State is Margaret P. Grafeld, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services (A/GIS).It should be interesting to see how or when the Clinton federal records were discussed between NARA and State.

* August 28, 2014: State Department U/S for Management sends memo to department principals on Senior Officials’ Records Management Responsibilities (view memo pdf). See State Department issued instructions for Preserving Email of Departing Senior Officials (view memo p.13 pdf)

** November 12, 2014Letter to Hilary Clinton’s representative, Cheryl Mills re: the Federal Records Act of 1950, November 12, 2014; to Colin Powell, to Condoleezza Rice; to Madeleine Albright;

*** August 11, 2014: The State Department sends its first group of documents to the new Select Benghazi committee, a partial response to a previous subpoena. The production contains a few — less than 10 — emails either to or from Clinton. Committee staffers notice immediately that the emails are from a previously unseen address, hdr22@clintonemail.com. Meanwhile, the committee presses State to meet its legal obligation to fully respond to the pair of subpoenas originally issued in August 2013. (Via Washington Examiner)

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Who signed off on Secretary Clinton having a private server? Over there – go fetch!

Posted: 1:19 am EDT
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Via
DPB, September 1, 2015

QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

QUESTION: I mean —

QUESTION: Did anybody?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so —

QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

QUESTION: And just —

MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.

QUESTION: But —

MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and —

MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.
[….]
QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.

 

Holy Molly Guacamole!

See here? I don’t have enough fingers to count the verbal calisthenics the public is subjected to these days from the official podium of the oldest executive agency in the union.

He’s just doing his job, like … what would you do?

Pardon me? You’re embarrassed, too? Well, I suggest wearing a brown paper bag when watching the Daily Press Briefing from now on.

Are we ever going to reach a point when the career folks at the State Department will say “Enough, I’m not doing this anymore?

Hard to say. Hard to say. Although that did happen in Season 1, Episode 15 of Madam Secretary, so there is a clear precedent.

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