@StateDept Senior Leadership “Requests” US Embassy Seoul to Take Down BLM Banner

On June 13, we posted this: US Embassy Seoul Displays Giant #BlackLivesMatter Banner In Support of Fight Against Racial Injustice.
US Embassy Seoul’s BLM banner that went up on Saturday came down on Monday. CNN reports that senior State Department leadership asked the embassy in Seoul to take down the Black Lives Matter sign that Ambassador Harry Harris had hung from the building’s façade . A spokesman for the embassy confirmed to CNN that the large Pride flag has also come down. Via CNN:
“The request from the department’s 7th floor — where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo‘s offices are located — cited as its reason the fact that Black Lives Matter is a non-profit organization and that the US government does not encourage contributions to the group or promote any specific organization, the source said. It is not clear why the Pride flag — which was hung in late May, according to the embassy’s Facebook page — was removed and no explanation has been offered yet.”
According to Bloomberg “on Monday, after the banners were removed, the embassy said that U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris did not intend “to support or encourage donations to any specific organization. To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organizations, he directed that the banner be removed.”

US Embassy Seoul Displays Giant #BlackLivesMatter Banner In Support of Fight Against Racial Injustice

 

@USEmbassySeoul Finally Suspends Routine Visa Services

 

Related to our post of March 16, specific to South Korea:
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.”  (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).
(Read more: If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why)
It looks like the US Embassy in Seoul has now suspended its routine visa appointments effective March 19 (first outbreak of COVID19 in Seoul was reported in late January). On March 18, the State Department announced the suspension of routine visa services in Level 2-4 countries. There are some 108 countries currently on Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions Travel Advisory. There are also Level 1 countries like U.S. Embassy Tashkent in Uzbekistan where posts have suspended their routine visa services; there are COVID19 cases in country and quarantine is in effect).
Below is an excerpt from US Embassy Seoul’s announcement:
“In response to worldwide challenges related to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of State is suspending routine visa services in all countries with a level 2, 3, or 4 U.S. Department of State travel advisory.  Accordingly, the U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Korea will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 19, 2020.  This does not affect the visa waiver program.  Services to U.S. citizens will continue.”
 Link to full statement below.

 

If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

Update: March 16, 4:58 PDT US Embassy Seoul, South Korea still doing routine visa services (see below)
From a March 14 message from State/M Brian Bulatao:
“We may never have experienced a situation exactly like this before, but the Department has plenty of experience dealing with emergencies. We know that we have to make good decisions for ourselves, for our families, for our colleagues, and are actively taking into account the needs and challenges of individual team members who may be at a higher risk if they contract COVID-19.
This means, if you are sick, please stay home. If a member of your household is sick, please stay home. If you think you may have been exposed, it is best to stay home – you do not have to take annual leave if you are set up to telework. Reducing contact with other people is our best defense against the spread of the virus.”
If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, we’d like to know why.
If your post is able to do social distancing for visa applicants while continuing full services, we’d like to know how.
At the US Embassy in Israel, a COVID19-positive individual visited the Embassy Branch Office Non-Immigrant Visa Section waiting room in Tel Aviv on March 5, the Embassy announced that it directed its affected staff to quarantine on March 12.
US Embassy Seoul: We’re told that despite being a Level 3 COVID-19 country with very active community spread for the past few weeks, has continued to do routine NIV visa services and is still doing routine NIV visa services. “Those from epicenter areas are able to walk in like anyone else. No temp checks or additional screenings! Guards are not allowed to turn visibly sick people away. Visa appointments are only down because people aren’t traveling as much. However you can still get an appointment easily for (F, M, J, B) This is also a visa waiver country.”  (Note: South Korea is a CDC Level 3 country, and a State Department Level 3: Reconsider Travel country as of this writing).

Updated: 5:30 PDT, March 18, 2020

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Was it the Mustache or the $5Billion Demand For U.S. Military Forces #furloughwarning

 

Ambassador Harry Harris was originally nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Australia in February 2018. The nomination was withdrawn by May 2018 and he was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea the same month. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 28, 2018  by voice vote. He arrived in Seoul in July that year, and made his first public appearance on July 7, 2018.
As far as we could tell, he’s been sporting that mustache since he arrived in Seoul almost two years ago.  We did not hear about the mustache in 2018, so it has to be more than the mustache when the bad press started in the later part of 2019. If he was pestering the host country to pay up for the cost of U.S. troops in the country, that could do it. He’s not a career diplomat but he was a career military official. That means whatever he’s doing is blessed by his chain of command in Foggy Bottom. Or by the guy talking loudly on Twitter.
So apparently, the United States originally demanded $5 billion in payment for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Now it’s down to slightly under a billion or else. Bloomberg is reporting that the USG will send furlough notices within weeks to the base workers if no deal is made.

U.S. officials have indicated they’ve backed off Trump’s initial demand that President Moon Jae-in’s administration pay about $5 billion a year for U.S. forces stationed there, more than five times the $900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired on Dec. 31.[…]U.S. officials say they are required to give those workers 60 days’ advance notice that their pay might be cut off because the last of the funds under the previous deal is running out.

Watch out. This is the same Administration which shut down the Federal Government for 35 days from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019 making it the record holder of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

@StateDept Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy Seoul

 

Via USDOJ:

State Department Employee and Spouse Indicted for Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods from U.S. Embassy

A U.S. Department of State employee and his spouse were arrested today for their role in an international conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams of the District of Oregon and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service made the announcement.

Gene Leroy Thompson Jr., 53, and Guojiao “Becky” Zhang, 39, were indicted by a grand jury in Eugene, Oregon, and charged with conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.  According to the indictment and other court documents, from September 2017 through December 2019, Thompson Jr. and Zhang allegedly sold counterfeit Vera Bradley handbags from e-commerce accounts to persons throughout the United States.

Thompson Jr. is employed by the U.S. Department of State as an Information Programs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea.  Thompson Jr. used his State Department computer to create numerous accounts on a variety of e-commerce platforms, all from within a secure space within the Embassy designed to protect classified information.  Once Thompson Jr. created these accounts, Zhang took primary responsibility for operating the accounts, communicating with customers, and procuring merchandise to be stored in the District of Oregon.  Thompson Jr. and Zhang also directed a co-conspirator in the District of Oregon to ship items to purchasers across the United States.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The Diplomatic Security Service Office of Special Investigations investigated the case with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.  Senior Counsel Frank Lin of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Trial Attorney Jay Bauer of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter of the District of Oregon are prosecuting the case.

At the State Department, the Information Programs Officer (IPO) manages the Information Programs Center (IPC)  and is responsible for all IPC systems, programs, and telecommunications operations. According to the FAM, the IPC is primarily responsible for all classified Information Resource Management communications and systems.
Count 1 of the Grand Jury Charges is Conspiracy to Traffic in Counterfeit Goods) (18 U.S.C. § 2320(a))

“From at least in or about September 2017 and continuing until at least the date of this Indictment, in the District of Oregon and elsewhere, Defendants, GENE LEROY THOMPSON, JR., a.k.a. Eugene Leroy Thompson, Jr., and GUOJIAO ZHANG, a.k.a. Becky Zhang, a.k.a. Becky Thompson, knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with each other and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to intentionally traffic in goods, namely Vera Bradley handbags, while knowingly using on and in connection with such goods counterfeit marks, the use of which counterfeit marks was likely to cause confusion, mistake, and deception; Indictment . Page 1 Revised April 2018 Case 6:19-cr-00561-MC Document 1 Filed 12/11/19 Page 1 of 7 In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2320(a).”

Item #9 of the Indictment notes:

“On or about April 23, 2018, Vera Bradley sent cease-and-desist letters to the coconspirator’s home in Nyssa, Oregon. On or about April 26, 2018, that co-conspirator conveyed the information in the cease-and-desist letter to THOMPSON, JR. via e-mail, saying that Vera Bradley is “requesting that you immediately cease and desist from offering for sale any Vera Bradley counterfeit products and destroy any violating products.” THOMPSON, JR. replied, “OK, I thought this would happen. Stop all shipment.” THOMPSON, JR. then sent an e-mail to ZHANG stating, “Take all of the listing for VB down. VB has caught you.”

Also item #10 further notes:

“Subsequently, Defendants began creating e-commerce accounts in the name of aliases and used those accounts to continue selling counterfeit Vera Bradley merchandise.”

Download Thompson Indictment

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US Embassy Seoul: Protesters Breach Perimeter of Ambassador’s Residence, 2nd Incident in 13 Months

 

 

Two Days, Two Diplomatic Incidents: U.S. Embassy Brussels, U.S. Embassy Seoul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US Embassy Seoul: Amb @mwlippert Swims With Korean #Triathlon Athletes

Posted: 12:12 am ET
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