Mystery Illness: @StateDept Raising Doubt About 14 China Cases #TheThing

 

We’ve blogged previously about the mystery illness that was reported to have afflicted USG employees in China (U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs; Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?)

Last night, CBS/60Minutes did a segment on the health attacks in China. Back in July  2018, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi whose access to the building at post was reportedly restricted after he “began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family.” Recap below: USCG Guangzhou Security Engineering Officer Mark Lenzi Disputes State Department Statement on Mystery Illness

On June 6, WaPo wrote about Mark Lenzi and his family who  started noticing noises in April 2017 at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China. “A few months later, the headaches started — pain that lasted for days at a time. Lenzi and his wife experienced the same symptoms, which soon included chronic sleeplessness as well. Lenzi says he asked his superiors for help but they dismissed his concerns. Consulate doctors prescribed painkillers and Ambien, which did nothing to address the underlying causes of the problem. And then, last month, Lenzi was shocked to learn another neighbor, a fellow Foreign Service officer, had been evacuated from their building and flown back to the United States for a thorough medical assessment, which soon determined that the person in question was suffering from “mild traumatic brain injury.”  

They gave him painkillers and Ambien but medevaced the FSO next door?

The State Department reportedly issued a statement but said it is unaware of any other cases — a point “strongly disputed by Lenzi, who insists he had repeatedly informed both the embassy in Beijing and State Department headquarters in Washington of his family’s predicament.”  Lenzi, who has reportedly called for the resignation of the US Ambassador to Beijing  told WaPo that the State Department “restricted his access to the building where he normally worked after he began to speak up more forcefully about the treatment of his family, essentially neutralizing his capacity to continue his work at the consulate”.

We understand that Mark Lenzi is a specialist who was assigned as a Security Engineering Officer (SEO) in Guangzhou until he and his family were evacuated from post. Given the reported restriction to post access for speaking out about this incident, this is a case that bears watching.

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60Minutes notes that “for reasons that are unclear, the State Department is raising doubt about the other 14 China cases. Click here for the transcript of the State Department segment.

In addition to Mark Lenzi, also on camera were U.S. Commerce Department trade officer Catherine Werner,  trade officer Robyn Garfield and wife Britta who were posted in Shanghai, and former NSA employee Mark Lenzi who believed that the weapon used is a radio frequency energy, in the microwave range.

A clue that supports that theory was revealed by the National Security Agency in 2014. This NSA statement describes such a weapon as a “high-powered microwave system weapon that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time without leaving evidence.” The statement goes on to say “…this weapon is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves.” The NSA disclosed this in a worker’s compensation case filed by former NSA employee Mike Beck.

Also:  “The State Department declined an interview, but in a statement to 60 Minutes it said, “We will continue to provide our colleagues the care they need, regardless of their diagnosis or the location of their medical evacuation.” A State Department official told us that the Cuba patients are victims of an attack. But State hasn’t made the same determination for the China patients. The department has asked the National Academies of Science to assist in the medical investigation.”

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Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou – What’s Going On?

Posted: 11:56 am PT

 

A State Department employee posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou is reported to have some “abnormal” “sensations of sound and pressure” which is similar to those reported by personnel at U.S. Mission Cuba. We did hear about this prior to MSM reporting the incident and asked the agency’s US Asia Pacific Media Hub to connect us with Guangzhou but — you guessed it — their black hole inbox also worked really, really well, and we never heard anything back. We are pleased to see the news is out, and folks are not waiting months to react. 

USCG Guangzhou is headed by Principal Officer Charles Bennett. We understand that USCG Guangzhou did a townhall for post employees/families 2-3 hours after it sent out the health alert. Another townhall was also supposed to be held on May 25 but we have not heard if that actually happened. 

Via USCG Guangzhou: “Throughout the past two centuries, dating back to the presidency of George Washington, Consulate Guangzhou (Canton), as America’s oldest diplomatic post in China and one of America’s oldest posts in the Far East, has played a pivotal role in promoting America’s relationship with China.  Today, the Consulate promotes trade and commercial ties, engages China across-the board on key American policy objectives, and promotes public diplomacy through visitor exchanges.  The Consulate General is the only U.S. mission in China to process American adoptions and immigrant visas, making it one of the U.S. Department of State’s busiest consular-related posts.”

Note that as of May 2017, the U.S. China Mission (Embassy Beijing, and Consulates General Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan) had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire American employees, 168 local-hire Americans and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.

In FY2016 Consulate General Guangzhou processed more than 54,000 immigrant visas, making it the third busiest immigrant visa unit in the world. It also had approximately 210 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees, among the largest number of any U.S. overseas mission.

According to State/OIG, Mission China’s Consular Sections provide services to a community of U.S. citizens, both residents and visitors, which the embassy estimated to be as many as 800,000 on any given day. “Factors affecting American citizen services included a growing demand for notarial services and chronic difficulties in obtaining Chinese government permission to visit the approximately 100 U.S. citizens imprisoned in China.”

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Top U.S. Diplomat in China David Rank Resigns Over #ParisAgreement Withdrawal

Posted: 3:22 am ET
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Reports broke on Twitter on Monday that David Rank, the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Beijing, has left the State Department over the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris agreement to fight climate change.  Reuters later confirmed his resignation citing the spokesperson from the EAP Bureau:

“He has retired from the foreign service,” said Anna Richey-Allen, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia Bureau. “Mr Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department.”
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A senior US official confirmed the account given in the tweets but added that after Rank announced his intention to retire on Monday in Beijing, he was told by the State Department to leave his post immediately.

David H. Rank is the Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy Beijing. He assumed the position when Ambassador Max Baucus departed post.  Prior to assuming the position of Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Beijing in January 2016, he served as the Director of the State Department’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs and as a Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  From 2011-2012, Dave was the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Since joining the State Department in 1990, he has also served in Washington, DC; Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, Athens and Port Louis, Mauritius.  In Washington, he worked in the Office of Korean Affairs, served as the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and was a Dean Rusk Fellow at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

Dave has received numerous Superior Honor and Meritorious Honor Awards, as well as the American Foreign Service Association’s Sinclaire Award for the study of languages and their associated cultures (Greek, 2004).  In 2015 he received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for his role in securing the return of the only American service member held by the enemy in Afghanistan. Dave speaks Mandarin Chinese, French, Dari and Greek.  He and his wife, Mary, have three children – Mary Margaret, Robert and Ellen.

If true that his resignation is over the Paris Agreement withdrawal, this would be the first resignation by a career Foreign Service officer over a policy disagreement.  In March 2017, a Foreign Service specialist, DS Agent TJ Lunardi resigned over his belief that President Trump is “a threat to our constitutional order” (see Diplomatic Security Agent With 17-Year Service Resigns Over Trump). If there are other resignations we should know about, email us!

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Confirmations: Todd Haskell (Congo), Tulinabo Mushingi (Senegal/Guinea-Bissau), Terry Branstad (China)

Posted: 2:29 am ET
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On May 18, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominations of career diplomats Todd Haskell and Tulinabo Salama Mushingi to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Senegal/Republic of Guinea-Bissau respectively (see SFRC Hearings: Mushingi (Senegal/Guinea-Bissau), Haskell (Republic Of The Congo).

2017-05-18 PN83 Republic of the Congo
Todd Philip Haskell, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of the Congo.

2017-05-18 PN84 Republic of Senegal/Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Tulinabo Salama Mushingi, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Senegal, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

On May 22, 1017, the U.S. Senate confirmed Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next Ambassador to China (see SFRC Hearing: Terry Branstad to be Ambasador to The People’s Republic Of China (Updated)Trump to Nominate Iowa Gov Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to China.

2017-05-22 PN52 People’s Republic of China
Terry Branstad, of Iowa, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China.

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China: Ambassador Baucus Catches Chengdu’s Famous Red Panda Pokemon With a Phone

Posted: 2:57 am ET
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August 2016 photo via US Embassy Beijing’s website: Ambassador Baucus experiences local culture in Chengdu. Ambassador Baucus visited the famous Red Pandas of Chengdu 博卡斯大使观赏了成都著名的小熊猫.  

This is an enlarged version of the tiny photo posted on the embassy’s website.  Apologies if this looks pixelated.  We think that red fur is a real red panda walking away from a potential selfie.

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POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet

Posted: 2:30 am ET
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Snapshot: Consular Staffing Levels in Brazil & China — FY 2011 to 2014

Posted: 12:41 pm EDT
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Via GAO

According to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the past hiring of additional staff through various authorities and temporary assignments of consular officers during periods of high NIV demand contributed to meeting E.O. 13597’s goals of expanding NIV processing capacity and reducing worldwide wait times, particularly at U.S. posts in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.16

• Increase in consular officers: According to State officials, from fiscal year 2012 through 2014, State “surged” the number of consular officers deployed worldwide from 1,636 to 1,883 to help address increasing demand for NIVs, an increase of 15 percent over 3 years. In response to E.O. 13597, State increased the number of deployed consular officers between January 19, 2012 (the date of E.O. 13597), and January 19, 2013, from 50 to 111 in Brazil, and 103 to 150 in China, a 122 and 46 percent increase, respectively (see fig. 2 for additional information on consular staffing increases in Brazil and China). As a result, State met its goal of increasing its NIV processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597.

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• Limited noncareer appointments: In fiscal year 2012, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs launched the limited noncareer appointment (LNA) pilot program to quickly deploy language-qualified staff to posts facing an increase in NIV demand and workload. The first cohort of LNAs—who are hired on a temporary basis for up to 5 years for specific, time-bound purposes—included 19 Portuguese speakers for Brazil and 24 Mandarin speakers for China who were part of the increased number of consular officers deployed to posts noted above. In fiscal year 2013, State expanded the LNA program to include Spanish speakers. As of August 2015, State had hired 95 LNAs for Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico.

• Temporary assignment of consular officers: State utilizes the temporary redeployment of Foreign Service officers and LNAs to address staffing gaps and increases in NIV demand. Between October 2011 and July 2012, State assigned, on temporary duty, 220 consular officers to Brazil and 48 consular officers to China as part of its effort to reallocate resources to posts experiencing high NIV demand. State continues to use this method to respond to increases in NIV demand. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, India experienced a surge in NIV demand that pushed NIV interview wait times over 21 days at three posts. To alleviate the situation, consular managers in India sent officers to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, which was experiencing higher wait times, from other posts, allowing the U.S. Mission in India to reduce average wait times to approximately 10 days by the end of December 2014.

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Killer Air in China: Pollution Kills an Average of 4,000/day x 365 = 1,460,000

Posted: 4:18 am EDT
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Berkeley Earth released a study showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards. According to the study, the most harmful pollution is PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.  This penetrates deeply into lungs and triggers heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.

“Beijing is only a moderate source PM 2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.

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Perhaps it’s time to revisit this Burn Bag submission?

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?”

Embassy Beijing and the five consulates general in China house one of the largest U.S. diplomatic presences in the world (no presence in Kunming and Nanjing).  Service in China includes a hardship differential (when conditions of the environment differ substantially from environmental conditions in the continental United States) for poor air quality among other things, ranging between 10-25% of basic compensation.

According to the 2010 OIG report, more than 30 U.S. Government agencies maintain offices and personnel in China; the total staff exceeds 2,000 employees. Consulates General Guangzhou and Shanghai are as large as many mid-sized embassies, each with more than 250 employees. Consulates General Chengdu and Shenyang are smaller but serve the important western and northern parts of the country respectively. Consulate General Wuhan, opened in 2008, is staffed by one American. Mission China is a fully accompanied post; we have no numbers on how many family members, including children are present at these posts.

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Burn Bag: What’s ‘off the record’ about Assignment China?

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“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?

Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”