Category Archives: Digital Diplomacy

State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …

– Domani Spero

In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.  The NYPost writes:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #United­For­Ukraine @State­Dept­Spox.
[...]
Psaki defended her photo.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.

Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats  of  further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:

UnitedforUkraine_Psaki

Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson

unitedofrukraine_stengel

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss

Selfie Missing:  Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.

unitedofrukraine_evanryan

Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan

UFU_maconphillips

Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips

Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez

Unitedofrukraine_michellekwan

Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor

UFU_embassykyiv

Embassy Selfie:  Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff

 

Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:

 

Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.

Oops, wait … what’s this?  The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…

 

Google'd Putin riding a bear

 

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Monday Inbox: US Embassy Baghdad’s Conrad Turner Recites a Russian Poem, And ….

– Domani Spero

Updated on 3/24 at 11:24 pm PST: The YouTube description now indicates that this is “One of four videos celebrating international poetry during the visit to Iraq of poets from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.”

The video below was published by U.S. Embassy Baghdad on March 4, 2014 on YouTube. The video includes the English and Arabic text translation of a Russian poem.  The speaker is the embassy’s Public Affairs Counselor in Baghdad reciting a poem by Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in Baghdad. The embassy’s AIO also recited a poem last February; can’t say whose work he is reciting here, can you?

Oh, please don’t get us wrong, we love poetry.  We love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Underwear“and Keats, and Yeats, and Billy Collins, too.  But somebody from that building sent us an email asking if this is “really clever use of PD time and money?” So we went and look.  The YouTube post is 1:40 min in length, has 256 views, and does not include any context as to why our U.S. diplomat in Baghdad is reciting a Russian poem. What’s the purpose why this video is up, anyways? Was this part of a larger event? Nothing on the embassy’s website indicate that it is.  Was he just feeling it?  We can’t say, no explainer with the vid.  This could, of course, be part of celebrating poetry month, but the National Poetry Month in the U.S. has been celebrated in April since 1996.

In related news, according to iraqbodycount.org, the March civilian casualties in Iraq is currently at 749; the year-to-date count is 2,755 deaths.

Well, what do you think –  is this “really clever use of PD time and money?” or is this Reality Detachment, a chapter in Peter Van Buren’s future novel?

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IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!

– Domani Spero

On February 14, an anonymous Foreign Service officer got on Reddit, the “front page of the Internet” and did an AMAA  (Ask Me Almost Anything). We don’t know if this is the first AMA ever by a U.S. diplomat on Reddit, but we have not seen or heard about any AMA done by the State Department. We know from the AMA exchange that the FSO is in his 40′s serving overseas with eight posts under his belt, he has a family who moves around with him, and is bidding for a western European post.  And he did not vote for President Obama.

Via imgur.com

Via imgur.com

This AMAA has 3,452 comments so far.  The anonymous FSO who calls himself “anFSO” on Reddit comes across as smart, witty, and somebody with a sense of humor.  Seems like a guy you want to hang out with.  The State Department via careers.state.gov ought to pay this guy’s overtime.

Here is his intro via Reddit:

Hi. I’m a US diplomat currently serving overseas. Here is my well-worn diplomatic passport with a personal note for you all. AMAA – I will be as open as I can.

The opinions I express here are my own, and are not representative of the views of the US government. They should not be misconstrued as official statements by any means.

Edit: A few FAQs:

• I didn’t donate anything to get my position, as I am not an appointee.

• If you are interested in becoming a Foreign Service Officer, head over to careers.state.gov. You can read about the process to join there, which starts with the FSOT. There are no formal education requirements to join, and you don’t need prior language skills.

• I’ve never had to use my diplomatic immunity, and I don’t know anyone who has had to use it. Sorry – boring, I know.

Thanks to everyone who was reasonable in their comments. To those whose constructive comments & questions I did not get to today I will do my best to get to them tomorrow. Keep them coming!

Edit2: I went through and responded to most of the questions earlier today. Those comments I didn’t respond to were either trolls (gotta love Reddit) or things I can’t discuss. This was fun and hopefully I’ll do it again sometime – I didn’t expect this big of a response. Safe travels and don’t forget to vote! ~anFso

Reddit has over 100 million unique visitors a month. It has a 5.4 billion page views a month with over 700 active communities.  You want to know what the American public wants to know about you, read the AMA.  We have culled some of the more amusing, amazing, and interesting exchange below:

Reddit user: Diplomatically, tell me to fuck off
anFSO: “Sorry, that’s not something the United States can support.”

Reddit user: Which country throws the best national day party?
anFSO: France.

Reddit user: Telegrams……are they delivered by a hundred year old dude in old-timey clothes?
anFSO: No. It’s all electronic now – basically just an e-mail with a bunch of funny headers.

Reddit user: What is one interesting fact about your work that many people may not know?
anFSO: It’s not all parties and schmoozing. Working in an embassy is actually fairly mundane.

Reddit user: Why is the Peace Corps in China? Really. Why?
anFSO: I don’t really know. The Peace Corps is in some strange places.

Reddit user: How many different nationalities of strange have you planted “Old Glory” in?
anFSO: If I told you, I’d probably be accused of being an imperialist.

Reddit user: What was your most proud to be American moment?
anFSO: Every time there’s a change of administration it’s a good feeling. I have had contacts ask me how it’s possible to change leaders so peacefully.

Reddit user: So you couldn’t use “Diplomatic Immunity” like the dude in Lethal Weapon II did?
anFSO: No. Shockingly real life is not like the movies.

Reddit user: I think you need to fill out a Visa form and give us a 2 x 3 x 3 photograph to enter reddit.
anFSO: I’ll make sure I don’t smile…

Reddit user: What if a child of a Diplomat is born in the current country the person is serving in?
anFSO: Then the diplomat is a proud new parent!

Reddit user: How does it feel working for the devil? Just kidding please don’t drone strike me.
anFSO: I’ve never felt that way, and don’t worry – I won’t.

Reddit user: Are prostitutes a primary source of entertainment for most international diplomats?
anFSO: No

Reddit user: any facepalm moments about your country’s behaviour you can share that made your job at the time a lot harder?
anFSO: Wikileaks made things difficult, but only because candid opinions were out in the open for the first time in such quantity. I don’t think the reporting officers had anything to be ashamed of – they reported honestly and with integrity. As a diplomat should.

Reddit user: how many people have u killed so far ?
anFSO: None that I know of.

Reddit user: Have all Embassies been upgraded since the infamous Jason Bourne incident in 2002 when he scaled the walls and escaped?
anFSO: If I told you I’d probably have to … report it :-\

Reddit user: Do you get tailor made clothes as work clothes or do you have to foot the bill yourself?anFSO: All work clothing is the employee’s responsibility.

Reddit user: Ever had to deal with a crashed UFO in whatever country you were working in?
anFSO: No – the UFO landed safely.

There was an elevated conversation concerning the use of toilet paper. Dear god, yesterday Venezuela and then TP on Reddit, our day’s complete!

Reddit user: As a toilet paper enthusiast polling American poopers, prior to wiping, do you fold your TP in a neat square or do you crumple it into a ball shape and then wipe?
anFSO: Crumple it.

Vigorous discussion on crumpling versus wiping followed, of course. There were questions whether diplomats get a special rate if they stay at the Embassy Suites and whether anyone will get a sniper bullet for taking a picture of an embassy.  After a Reddit user called him a “handsomely paid PR-guy” and he denied it, there was a discussion whether anFSO is paid well, handsome, a guy, not a guy, or a reptilian overlord. Very enlightening.

Questions about money and ambassadors were asked and answered:

Reddit user: Are you doing this while on my dime?
anFSO: No

Reddit user: What do you do that I should consider worth my tax dollars? That’s an actual benefit to most Americans?
anFSO: We keep you from having to spend a lot more tax dollars in a shooting war.

Reddit user: How much did you pay to be a diplomat? I hear you can pay $500,000 and be confirmed as an ambassador to a country. And, you don’t even have to know anything about the country you’re “ambassadoring” to.
anFSO: $0. Anyone who pays any amount of money for my job is an idiot. At least if you get an Ambassadorship you get the title for life and an embassy to lord over for a few years.

Reddit user: Are you a rich person who is friends with someone in the federal government or did you legitimately earn your assignment?
anFSO: If I was rich, I wouldn’t be working for the government.

Reddit user: I don’t know why you’re being down voted. That’s how you get these positions. It may not have been Obama, but it was someone he raised money for that got him the job.
anFSO: My position is not politically appointed. Most Foreign Service positions are not politically appointed.

Reddit user: How much did that gig cost you?
anFSO: More than 10 years and less than 25 away from family members, in places without reliable electricity or a safe water supply, countless hours on airplanes/in airports, missed birthdays, school plays, family reunions, and major events in our friends’ lives. Other than that, nothing.

Reddit user: Do you agree with the current Spoils system used to appoint US ambassadors? Should there me a more rigorous set of requirements to hold such positions?
anFSO: No. The Constitution gives the power to appoint Ambassadors to the President.

Reddit user: What do you mean by diplomat? Ambassador?
anFSO: I am not an Ambassador.

Reddit user: How much did you know about your host country before you went? Had you been there? I ask in relation to recent ambassadorial nominations and their seemingly complete lack of knowledge about their nominated posts.
anFSO: My first few tours I went in cold. As my career has progressed I find myself dealing with issues and countries I am more familiar with.

Reddit user: The Daily Show did a bit two (three?) days ago about how allegedly, ambassadors who might not be best for the job …. Have you experienced this? Where top diplomats and/or ambassadors seem completely incompetent and seem to have bought their way in? Or did Jon Stewart only find a few rare exceptions?
anFSO: “Best for the job” is highly subjective. If a nominee for an ambassadorship was a campaign donor and that gives them access to the President, is that a bad thing? It’s the President’s decision and the President is specifically empowered to appoint Ambassadors by the Constitution. I’m not really one to second-guess.

Reddit user: Jon Stewart recently talked about new US ambassadors being chosen for the job because they raised money for the election ….. What is your opinion on this?
anFSO: My opinion is that access to the President, no matter how it is obtained, is a valuable thing for any Ambassador. It really doesn’t bother me if they know nothing about the country they are in or have never worked in the Department before. Some of those turn out to be the best Ambassadors.

Reddit user: Can you give an example of someone who got their Ambassadorship in this manner and turned out to be one of the “best”, as you put it?
anFSO: Amb. Charles Rivkin.

There were a few questions about Benghazi and Argo, as if those were the only attacks that occurred at our overseas posts.  The questions show they are the only ones that stuck in the public’s memory.

Reddit user: Have you ever feared that you would be trapped in an Argo-like situation?
anFSO: Yes. There are a few seminal events that all diplomats talk about from a security standpoint – Tehran, East Africa, and now Benghazi. Each resulted in major changes to embassy security.

Reddit user: What’s your take on the Benghazi incident? How have you and your counterparts reacted as a whole?
anFSO: I think it’s shameful how the political firestorm overshadowed the memory of the 4 who gave their lives for their country.

Reddit user: What are your thoughts on the events at Benghazi? Is there concern about other attacks on US diplomatic outposts among people like yourself? What can you tell us about security measures before and after that event?
anFSO: I never went to Benghazi, but the men & women of Diplomatic Security generally do an excellent job of keeping us safe. From what I’ve heard, everyone there was willing to accept a great amount of personal risk to complete the US Mission to Libya’s goals. Tragically they paid the ultimate price. Even more tragically, the memory of those who lost their lives were overshadowed by the political firestorm that followed.

Reddit user: Are you worried about being abandoned by the current administration and left to die like the four diplomats murdered in Benghazi?
anFSO: No

Lots of questions on hiring/applications, all referred to careers.state.gov website. Some diplobrats and possibly DOS-connected Reddit users showed up during the AMA. One posted that he/she is “a Foreign Service brat for the past decade or so, Dad is currently on a leave of tour to work in Iraq, nice to see FSOs get some attention on here!”

Another user asked, “Are you insane doing an AMA? Either you will say something and get fired or you can’t answer anything.”

Yet another complained: “You’re not really a diplomat, you describe yourself as an FSO but you haven’t mentioned any specific posts or jobs you’ve held. Both my parents served a combined 50 years in the Foreign Service and never have I met a single person in the service who answers questions the way you do even if in a casual online setting.”

And because no good deed goes unpunished, another Reddit user armed with the FAM rages: “Have you read 5 FAM 777, 3 FAM 4170, or 3 FAM 4172.1-3(A)? The reason you should not be doing this without clearance isn’t because it might damage your corridor reputation but because of how your numerous downvoted comments can make the USG, FSOs, and other USG officials appear.” The discussion on this thread includes  how to report anFSO to the Feds. Two users said they reported him to the FBI, one suggested reporting him to Diplomatic Security. Somebody supplied the email for DS.

We’re not sure what they reported — one of your diplomats is on Reddit explaining what you do, get a duct tape?

We thought anFSO responded to questions appropriately and then very politely disengaged when necessary. Some Reddit were suspicious and wanted to make sure anFSO was “confirmed by the moderators.” Some were convinced he was “either a troll, or some intern who’s biggest responsibility is making coffee and zeroxing.”

And then there’s this comment:

“This Diplomat does not appear shady enough for a truly entertaining AMA.”

Four years of 21st century statecraft and for the American public, our diplomats still might as well be aliens from Mars.

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U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul Blogs Farewell (Updated)

– Domani Spero

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael A. McFaul announced on his blog that he is stepping down from his position in Moscow after the Olympic Winter Games. He will soon rejoin his family in California at the end of the month.  He writes that “after more than five years working in the Obama administration, it is time to go home.”  Ambassador McFaul’s wife and two sons moved back to California last summer.   His lengthy blog post details his accomplishments during his two-year tenure as chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Quick excerpt below:

I also am proud of some of the diplomatic innovations that our embassy has initiated during my time in Russia, especially regarding public diplomacy. Before I came to Moscow as ambassador, I had never seen a tweet. Yet, I now interact everyday with 60,000 followers on Twitter and more than 13,000 “friends” on Facebook, and our Tweetchats can reach hundreds of thousands in a matter of minutes. I also engaged with Russian audiences on many of your television and radio programs and in print media, believing that even though we will not always agree on every issue, we must at least try to understand each other’s point of view. Conducting lengthy interviews in my flawed Russian on TV Dozhd, Ekho Moskvy, or Vecherniy Urgant was not easy. Yet, I always felt it was best to show my respect for Russia by speaking in your language. Live interviews also tend to be more direct and open, features I tried to bring to my diplomacy every day.  I also enjoyed giving lectures in Russian to thousands of university students, complete with slides (that also may be a diplomatic first here!). And some of my most memorable public interactions were at standing-room-only sessions at American Corners in Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok, Volgograd, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. Thousands of Russians showed up to engage with me on everything from Syria to my broken finger. These were not gatherings of just officials or elites, but a real cross-section of Russian society. The only qualification for attending these meetings was a curiosity about America.  I truly loved the spirit of these gatherings. They made me very optimistic about the future of cooperation between our two societies.
[...]
I also am very pleased with how well our mission performed in the comprehensive assessment of our activities conducted by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) during my tenure in Russia, a review that occurs at embassies around the world every five years.  There is no greater honor than to be judged positively on your professionalism as diplomats by some of the most experienced diplomats we have in the State Department.  Every day that I walk into the embassy, I feel so lucky to be part of such an excellent team of Americans and Russians. Perhaps more than anything else, I will miss my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Read the full blog post here. For another view on his tenure, see Foreign Policy’s No More Mr. Nice Guy (FP, Feb 5, 2014).

Photo via U.S. Embassy Moscow/McFaul blog

Photo via U.S. Embassy Moscow/Ambassador McFaul’s blog

Sheila Gwaltney, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission at U.S. Embassy Moscow since 2011 will presumably take charge of the embassy pending the confirmation and arrival of the next ambassador who is yet to be announced. Mission Russia has a standard 2-year tour of duty but hopefully, this was planned ahead so the embassy’s top two officials are not leaving around the same time.  will  reportedly leave this summer. She will be replaced by SCA Deputy Assistant Secretary Lynne Tracy.  We’re now hearing that the ambassdor will depart shortly after the Olympics –so anytime in late February to mid March (if he leaves after the paralympics).

State/OIG’s 2013 inspection report on U.S. Embassy Moscow and constituent posts in Russia is available here. Among its key judgments, “Embassy Moscow is effectively advancing a broad policy agenda important to the highest levels of the U.S. Government. The interagency team, under the leadership of the Ambassador and deputy chief of mission, is strong and cohesive.”  The OIG report also praised Ambassador McFaul as an “impressive communicator—informal but substantive, with good humor and a human touch. He has also maintained a high public profile including extensive use of social media, as access to traditional media has become more difficult and less useful.”

The report notes that across Mission Russia (includes consulates general in St. Petersburg,Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok and a consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk), employees face “intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War.”

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Related item:
-09/30/13   Inspection of Embassy Moscow and Constituent Posts, Russia (ISP-I-13-48A)  [940 Kb]  Posted on November 13, 2013

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U.S. Embassy Juba: 4 US Troops Wounded in South Sudan Evacuation

– Domani Spero

Following an outbreak of violence in South Sudan, the U.S. Embassy in Juba closed on December 16 and temporarily suspended routine American Citizen Services.  Within 24 hours, the State Department suspended normal operations at Embassy Juba and authorized the ordered departure of non-emergency staff. On December 18, the U.S. Embassy in Juba facilitated the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the world’s newest country.

On December 18,  DOD announced that at the request of the State Department, the Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate 120 personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. According to the DOD spokesman, the department also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint quick-response team formed after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

U.S. Soldiers support South Sudan evacuation Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint team, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. DoD also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the EARF. (U.S. Army Africa photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. . Micah Theurich, Released by U.S. Africa Command)

U.S. Soldiers support South Sudan evacuation
Soldiers of the East Africa Response Force, a Djibouti-based joint team, prepare to support evacuation operations in Juba, South Sudan. At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Defense Department directed two U.S. C-130 aircraft to evacuate personnel from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to Nairobi, Kenya. DoD also augmented physical security at American diplomatic facilities in Juba with members of the EARF. (U.S. Army Africa photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. . Micah Theurich, Released by U.S. Africa Command)

Later that day, the State Department confirmed the successful evacuation of three groups of U.S. citizens from South Sudan. “Two Department of Defense C-130 aircraft and a private charter flight departed Juba at 0530, 0535, and 0940 EST, respectively, carrying non-emergency Chief of Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and third country nationals.”

Ambassador Susan D. Page said that “On the ground the violence appears to be taking on a very clear ethnic dimension.” On December 20, Secretary Kerry called for the violence to stop and sent U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth to travel to the region and “support regional efforts already underway.”

The US Embassy in Juba subsequently organized the evacuation flights of U.S. citizens from Juba in the last several days. As of today, the embassy has evacuated  at least 450 American citizens and other foreign nationals from the capital city.  It said that it had hoped to start evacuation from Bor, a town located some 200km north of the capital.  However, the evac flight came under fire, preventing the evacuation attempt. Four U.S. Service members were injured during the attack.

CIA Map

CIA Map
For an alternative map of Jonglei state in the Greater Upper Nile region of northeastern South Sudan, click here.

 

AFRICOM released the following statement:

Dec 21, 2013 — At the request of the Department of State, the United States Africa Command, utilizing forces from Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), attempted to evacuate U.S. citizens from the town of Bor, South Sudan, today.  As the aircraft, three CV-22 Ospreys, were approaching the town they were fired on by small arms fire by unknown forces.  All three aircraft sustained damage during the engagement.  Four service members onboard the aircraft were wounded during the engagement.

The damaged aircraft diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the wounded were transferred onboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 and flown to Nairobi, Kenya for medical treatment.

All four service members were treated and are in stable condition.

The Sudan Tribune reported that Army defectors had taken control of Bor earlier this week but that the spokesperson for the South Sudanese army (SPLA) reportedly said today that they had regained control of the town.

Evacuation on Social Media

This is the first embassy evacuation of Amcits that has fully utilized Facebook and Twitter, both in reaching out to Americans at post, and in providing as timely an information as possible.  When @modernemeid20 Dec  complained that “The U.S. embassy has been incredibly unhelpful. My cousin’s passport expired, they’re just leaving her hanging” @USMissionJuba was quick to respond. “@modernemeid please call us at 0912157323 for assistance.” When somebody tweeted “all evacuation planes diverted” following a plane crash on the Juba airport runway, @USMissionJuba responded swiftly, “not quite true. At least two evac flights departed after the runway cleared.”  We later asked for the number of evacuees, and the number shortly became available; tweeted, of course.  In addition to answering questions about evac flights procedures, @USMissionJuba also organize a texting campaign to alert American citizen friends and family about the emergency evac flights.

Here’s a shoutout to @USMissionJuba’s Twitter and evac ninjas for being timely and responsive and for their tireless work under very difficult circumstances.  Don’t ignore the fatigue factor and stay safe, folks!

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There’s UK’s Naked Diplomat, Now Japan’s Barefoot Diplomat, Ball’s In Your Media, American Diplomats

– Domani Spero

First, there was the Naked Diplomat. Remember him?  See Are You Ready for The Naked Diplomat? FCO’s Man In Beirut Strips Down. That’s Tom Fletcher, the British Ambassador to Lebanon who writes:

“The Naked Diplomat has a smartphone to protect his modesty. But also the skills that have always been essential to the role: an open mind, political savvy, and a thick skin. He or she will learn the language of this new terrain in the way he or she has learnt Chinese or Arabic.”

Enter Japanese diplomat Yasuhiro Murotatsu, also called The Barefoot Diplomat.  He’s seeking his first wrestling win in Sudan.  He apparently is the first foreigner, and the first diplomat to fight in Sudan’s wrestling arena.  He has had about four matches but he’s not giving up. Below is Murotatsu’s Return Match Preview. Watch, you’ll love this! (Translation maybe added later, our translator is in school).

BBC News covered one of his wrestling matches.

They call him the barefoot diplomat: Yasuhiro Murotatsu, the political officer at the Japanese embassy in Sudan, also carries out an unusual form of physical diplomacy.

He takes on the best Sudanese wrestlers in the ring.

Mr Murotatsu hopes his fights can even bring the Sudanese closer together.

“I will be very happy if all Sudanese, from different parts of Sudan, from different tribes of Sudan, come together to support Sudanese wrestlers against a foreigner, a Japanese diplomat,” he told the BBC.

Go, Muro, Go!

Mr. Murotatsu has his own YouTube channel here. The BBC News video clip is here.

Okay, folks, your turn.

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Dear State Department, Can You Please Keep Your Deputy Spokesperson In The Loop!

– By Domani Spero

We are on Day 4 of the shutdown.   Except for the employees from the Inspector General Office (and the International Water Boundary Commission) who were furloughed on the first day of the shutdown, the State Department is open and operational.  Naturally, folks are interested on two things: 1) how long can the State Department sustain its worldwide operation without new funding and 2) how many people had been furloughed.

The State Department is full of smart people. We imagine that they know exactly how long the carryover funds would last before Congress shut down the government, and they know exactly how many employees will be furloughed immediately after the lapse in appropriation.  To say that we are still crunching the numbers the day after the shutdown doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everybody knew this was coming.  And for the spokesperson not to have funding and furlough numbers four days into the shutdown is simply absurd.

We should note that the spokesperson only talks about what The Building allows him/her to talk about. Once he/she says it on the podium, it is official. So if they sound like broken records, at times, that’s because they are repeating their talking points. They do not talk beyond the chalk marks around the talking points.  Their value is in their ability to stick to their talking points without antagonizing the press even if the press runs around the room after them half a dozen times.

On Day 3 of the shutdown, it went like this:

QUESTION: Today’s Washington Post editorial was referring to the issue of the securities of the – let’s say, the embassies.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And in the same time, the policy – or at least now the policy is to keep the embassies open. How you justify this? Is it a risk to leave it open or not?

MS. HARF: No. So we’re not taking risks with our security at our embassies overseas right now. Clearly, that posture hasn’t changed. We always take security as the highest priority overseas with our embassies and our people. What I had mentioned at the beginning is it will be harder for us to continue to augment that security. So the longer we go on, the longer the shutdown goes on, we can’t get new DS agents up and trained to go overseas and continue augmenting our security, as we’ve talked about for a long time.

But our security posture remains the same, and the reason the embassies and consulates are open is because that’s really the forefront of the diplomatic work we do every day. We process visas. We get American citizens passports. We have American citizen services all over the world. We just saw a few weeks ago, when we had to shut some embassies temporarily because of a terrorist threat, all the questions and the concerns around that. Our goal is always to have them open. That’s why we’re there in a lot of places around the world.

Yes, Deb, and then I’ll go to you, Scott.

QUESTION: Shutdown?

MS. HARF: Shutdown, yeah.

QUESTION: You mentioned a few furloughs, okay. So that begs the question: How many?

MS. HARF: I know. Everyone wants specific numbers. I don’t have a specific number for you.

QUESTION: Why is it so hard to get a number?

MS. HARF: It’s just – I don’t have it. These are complicated things. We’re talking to the offices about what we can get you in terms of numbers. We just don’t have it right now.

QUESTION: You mean fewer than 10 or –

MS. HARF: It’s a small number. I just don’t have the actual number for you.

QUESTION: Fifty or less?

MS. HARF: I’ll see if I can – I will see if I can do something for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m not trying to be too cute by half here; I just don’t have a number.

Then today this happened:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

There are three possibilities we can think of here: 1) no one in Foggy Bottom knows how to count; 2) the State Department leadership does not want the numbers released for whatever reason; 3) the spokesperson is purposely kept out of the loop, so these numbers are not on her briefing book.

Seriously folks.

We don’t want to beat up @marieharf.  We do think it undermines the credibility of the agency’s public face when she is unable to answer fairly simple questions.  These are not “complicated things” unless they have been made purposely so.  To what end, we do not know.

Can you imagine Ambassador Richard Boucher the longest-serving Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and spokesman in the U.S. Department of State’s history unable to answer these simple questions?  We can’t either.

In related news, we are starting to see tweets from official State Department accounts saying: “Due to the lapse in appropriations this Twitter feed will not be updated regularly. Please visit @StateDept for updates.” And this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

Still waiting for an answer to the “why” question. It’s not coming? Okay.

Wait, here’s one answer:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.13.52 PM

What we’re seriously wondering is if the State Department’s twitteratis have been asked to “consider the perception” of “business as usual” on Twitter during a shutdown.  We’re full of serious, today — have they?

Just now we received word from a political nightingale, “We’ve also been told, even though we are working, that we are NOT to give speeches. At all.” 

Okay, that probably also means, all official receptions at posts are off including receptions for new ambassadors just getting to post – because. Optics. 

Updated at 7:07 EST with Ambassador Warlick’s response, and update on no speeches allowed. 

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$630K To Buy Facebook Fans — Is That Really Such a Sin? Only If There’s Nothin’ But Strategery

◉  By Domani Spero

 

We blogged last month about the OIG report on the State Department’s IIP Bureau (See State Dept’s $630,000 Social Media “Buying Fans” Campaign,  a Success — But Where’s the Love?). At one point, we Googled $630,000 and we got 6,260 results in 10 seconds. Few of them complimentary for blowing that much dough to buy “friends.” The Daily Beast asks, “Oh, State Department, didn’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t buy your friends?”

C’mon folks, the USG buy friends all the time. It even buy frienemies, who occasionally bites it behind and in front of cameras.

Anyway, today, The Cable’s John Hudson has  this: Unfriend: State Dept’s Social Media Shop Is DC’s “Red-Headed Stepchild” where a former congressional staffer with knowledge of the bureau calls IIP or the Bureau of International Information Programs “the the redheaded stepchild of public diplomacy.”  An unnamed source also told The Cable that its main problem was finding something it actually does well. “It has an ill-defined mandate and no flagship product that anyone outside of Foggy Bottom has ever heard of.”

Actually, it used to run america.gov, an easily recognizable product created under the previous administration. But some bright bulbs decided to reinvent it into something easily memorable; you think  IIP Digital and you think, of course,  America. (see Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!).

The Cables’s piece has a quote from Tom Nides, the State Department’s former deputy secretary for management and resources who defended IIP in the wake of the OIG report:

“We have to allow our departments to be innovators and take risks. And if you’re an innovator, some things just aren’t going to work… The bureau does some really innovative and interesting stuff.” 

Like the e-reader debacle.  When somebody run something by the seat of their pants .. well, okay we’ll agree to call it interesting but please, let’s not/not call this innovative.  See What Sunk the State Dept’s $16.5 Million Kindle Acquisition? A Complaint. Plus Missing Overall Goals

Tara Sonenshine, until recently the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs who oversees IIP also spoke to The Cable:

“OK, they spent time acquiring too many followers. They built up the traffic to their site. Is that really such a sin?” she asked in an interview with The Cable. “They moved quickly into social media at a time when Secretary of State Clinton said we should have 21st century statecraft. I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing.”

Is that really such a sin? Here is the problem that the OIG inspectors were not happy with:

“The absence of a Department-wide PD strategy tying resources to priorities directly affects IIP’s work. Fundamental questions remain unresolved. What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders? Which programs and delivery mechanisms work best with which audiences? What proportion of PD resources should support policy goals, and what proportion should go to providing the context of American society and values? How much should PD products be tailored for regions and individual countries, and how much should be directed to a global audience? What kinds of materials should IIP translate and into which languages? Absent a Department wide strategy, IIP decisions and priorities can be ad hoc, arbitrary, and lack a frame of reference to evaluate the bureau’s effectiveness. The 2004 OIG IIP inspection report recommended that the Department conduct a management review of PD. The Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs created an Office of Policy and Outreach but did not carry out the management review. A strategy that ties resources to priorities is essential to resolving questions of mission and organization for IIP in general and for the PD function in particular.”

Makes one wonder why not.

The recommended management review in 2004 did not happen under Margaret D. Tutwiler (2003-2004) not under Karen Hughes (2005-2007) not under James K. Glassman (2008-2009) or Judith McHale (2009-2011).  And it did not happen under Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-2013).

Which is how you end up with State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead.

Or how you get an odd Facebook campaigns on intellectual property theft and the importance of IP rights led by US embassies in Canada, Spain, Estonia, Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana, and Chile. (via Ars Technica). You’d think that if you do an embassy FB campaign on IP rights, you should at least target the 39 countries in USTR’s Watch List. Suriname, Guyana and Estonia did not even make that Watch List.

Or how tweets can get “bungled” and no one has the @embassyhandler’s back, not even the State Department Spokesperson.

Or how embassies create “fun” videos that cost time and money that does not fit/poorly fit an occasion or serve any real purpose (See employees around the U.S. Embassy in Manila sing and dance to the Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit song “Call Me Maybe” in December 2012, the Harlem Shake by U.S. Embassy Algiers in February 2013, or the U.S. Embassy Tashkent Navruz dance celebration in Uzbek Gangnam style in March 2013!

Look, we are not averse to seeing videos from our diplomatic posts, but they do require time and money.  Rehearsals, anyone?  We’d like to see some purpose put into them beyond just being the “in” thing to do.  (see some good ones US Embassy Bangkok’s Irrestibly Charming Happy 2013 GreetingUS Embassy Warsaw Rocks with All I Want For Christmas Is You, and US Embassy Costa Rica: La Visa Americana, Gangnam Style).
In December 2012, Ms. Soneshine gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, touting  “real success” with IIP’s FB properties:

IIP, the Bureau of International Information Programs, has had real success with its four major Facebook properties, which engage foreign audiences on issues related to innovation, democracy, conservation, and the USA.

Our metrics help us refine our understanding of the hopes and aspirations of young people in key countries, allowing us to explain our goals, policies and values in particular and responsive ways. In just 15 months, our Facebook following has expanded from 800,000 to more than 8 million, as they like, share, and retweet in their communities. And that includes young people in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Venezuela.

Ms. Soneshine did not mention how much money the USG spent to expand the number of those Facebook followers or the rate of the engagement.

In the same speech, she touted the use of “rigorous, evidence-based” work that “demonstrate the effectiveness” of the State Department programs:

[O]ur in-house staff – Statewide – includes Ph.D. social scientists, program evaluators who have worked all over the world, pollsters who left successful careers in the private sector to work for us, and other communications experts.

Our rigorous, evidence-based, social scientific work now allows us to go beyond anecdote and demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs and work in increasing foreign public understanding of U.S. society, government, culture, our values and the democratic process.

Here is what the OIG says:

The Office of Audience Research and Evaluation is charged with assessing bureau programs and conducting audience research for PD work. It is not performing either duty adequately. The coordinator brought a former colleague from the private sector into the bureau to oversee the operation, which is attached to the front office. However, that employee had no U.S. Government experience with the issues surrounding PD research or familiarity with the programs, products, and services IIP offers. At about the same time, the Office of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs transferred to IIP the responsibility for managing a PD database for tracking embassies’ work, along with the responsibility for preparing a report assessing the global impact of PD. Since the 2011 reorganization that put these changes in place, the office has accomplished little.

Zing!

In the aftermath of the release of the IIP report, Ms. Soneshine reportedly sent out a lengthy email offering to connect recipients “directly with the bureau’s leadership so that you can learn more about IIP and its great work, in addition to hearing how the bureau is proactively implementing the report’s recommendations.”

She reportedly also touted the bureau’s accomplishments and writes that “IIP is now positioned firmly in the 21st Century and will innovate constantly to stay at the forefront of modern Public Diplomacy.”

That must be why the fishes are leaping out the barrel; fishes to refer to multiple species of fish in that specific barrel.

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Related item:

-05/31/13   Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs  [975 Kb]

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What Sunk the State Dept’s $16.5 Million Kindle Acquisition? A Complaint. Plus Missing Overall Goals

—By Domani Spero

Remember that $16.5 million multi-year Kindle acquisition that almost happened under the auspices of the IIP Bureau in August last year? (See State Dept’s Winning Hearts and Minds One Kindle at a Time Collapses …. Presently Dead). Well, it turned out that while the no-bid contract for 2,500 e-readers at a cost of $16.5 million had been cancelled, IIP had actually already deployed a first batch of 2,000 eReaders to overseas posts.  The OIG inspection report did not say how much that first batch of eReaders cost, or how much was the contract for the content. The report does include the reason why that sole source contract was cancelled, the real  reason not the spin. Below an excerpt from the OIG report on the IIP Bureau:

Mobile Learning Initiative

Senior PD leadership conceived an initiative to provide eReaders to embassies and American Spaces. IIP would purchase the devices and the content by contract, benefiting from an economy of scale, and deliver eReaders to embassies. However, the embassies had no input in planning the initiative. IIP delivered the first batch of 2,000 eReaders to embassies without advance notice or procedures in place to register the devices and download content, which took significant staff time, especially in regions with poor electronic infrastructure. IIP learned from these mistakes, and a second batch included preregistered devices. Despite these difficulties, some IROs found creative ways to use the devices in programming. Others, in countries with advanced technology, commented that their audiences were not interested in devices without the latest in touch-screen technology. The consensus among IROs was that if they had been consulted in advance, they could have contributed to more effective PD use of eReaders.

When asked about the cancellation of the Amazon sole-source contract, this is what the State Department told the Digital Reader last year:

“In order to conduct additional market research and further explore technological options for our public diplomacy programs, the Department of State opted on August 15 to end the Request for Proposals for the Amazon Kindle in favor of proceeding with a Request for Information (RFI) process. This action will open to all vendors the opportunity to respond to the Department’s requirements for a mobile learning program.”

In fact, the real reason for its cancellation according to the OIG report is a protest from an unnamed organization citing non-compliance of the selected eReader with Section 508 requirements. It did not help that the eReader initiative also did not have an overall goal besides handing the Kindles out.

Last year, somebody familiar with the dysfunctional going ons at the “R” Bureau told us that this program was “not supported by project planning,” only seat of the pants “this sounds good” thingee. Below is an excerpt from the OIG report:

As the bureau was planning the second phase of the initiative, an organization protested the Department’s sole-source solicitation for the project, asserting that the selected eReader is not compliant with Section 508 requirements pertaining to information access for persons with disabilities. The Department retracted the solicitation, and the bureau spent several months reevaluating its approach. By March 2013, the bureau had changed the initiative’s goal to focus strictly on providing digital content to eReaders. This approach gives greater flexibility to embassies in determining the appropriate eReader technology for their region. However, the new plans are still vague on the initiative’s overall goals. The bureau does not have specific objectives to define success or a timeline to shift from an initiative requiring increasing resources each year to a program with predictable demands and a regular budget. These objectives are essential to measure the success of the initiative and to provide oversight.

Recommendation 32: The Bureau of International Information Programs should implement a plan for the eReader learning initiative that includes measurable goals. (Action: IIP)

IIP has supplied 2,000 eReader devices to embassies around the world. These devices must be tracked and managed to avoid loss or theft. The bureau’s Office of Research and Evaluation asked embassies to report on the eReaders in their possession, but not all embassies responded. The office is focusing on the question of replacement rate, not of responsibility for managing Department property. Furthermore, the existing property management system for IT does not easily include eReaders in embassy inventories. Some embassies have created their own tracking solutions, but these cannot address the question of central property management.

Recommendation 33: The Bureau of International Information Programs should create a property management plan for bureau-supplied eReader devices currently in embassies. (Action: IIP)

The Clinton-Bezos global launch of the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative was supposed to happen on June 20, 2012. It was postponed for later rescheduling.  The event was never rescheduled and was very quietly forgotten.

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State Dept’s $630,000 Social Media “Buying Fans” Campaign, a Success — But Where’s the Love?

—By Domani Spero

 

The widely anticipated, much awaited OIG report on the State Department’s  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) is finally here.  The 50-page report, which had a snippet of it leaked to WaPo and published previously by Al Kamen in In The Loop only contains one redaction, the names of the inspection team members.

Below is an excerpt from the OIG report reviewing the use of social media:

With the Department’s use of social media comes strategic questions of the role, purpose, and limitations of the medium. A consensus is emerging that developing numbers of Facebook followers and Twitter fans may not lead automatically to target audience engagement.

After the 2011 reorganization, the coordinator initiated a push to expand the bureau’s presence on social media and other digital platforms. IIP started or expanded English-language Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs aimed directly at foreign audiences. The bureau also started or expanded online activities in six foreign languages.

The coordinator initiated two campaigns in 2011 and 2012, with the goal of building global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans on IIP’s four thematic Facebook properties, primarily through advertising as well as through some page improvements. The bureau spent about $630,000 on the two campaigns and succeeded in increasing the fans of the English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than 2 million for each page. Advertising also helped increase interest in the foreign language pages; by March 2013, they ranged from 68,000 to more than 450,000 fans.

Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as “buying fans” who may have once clicked on an ad or “liked” a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further. Defenders of advertising point to the difficulty of finding a page on Facebook with a general search and the need to use ads to increase visibility.

IIP’s four global thematic English-language Facebook pages had garnered more than 2.5 million fans each by mid-March 2013; the number actually engaging with each page was considerably smaller, with just over 2 percent “liking,” sharing, or commenting on any item within the previous week. Engagement on each posting varied, and most of that interaction was in the form of “likes.” Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred.

In September 2012, Facebook changed the way it displays items in its users’ news feeds. If a user does not interact with a site’s postings, after a time these postings will no longer appear in the user’s news feed unless the site buys sponsored story ads to ensure their appearance. This change sharply reduced the value of having large numbers of marginally interested fans and means that IIP must continually spend money on sponsored story ads or else its “reach” statistics will plummet. For example, a posting on cyber censorship in March 2013 reached 234,000 Facebook users on its first day; only about 20,000 would have received the item on their news feed without advertising. An item on “Women and the Web” reached the news feeds of 360,000 people; without advertising, 27,000 would have received it.

After the major advertising campaigns, the coordinator shifted the focus away from increasing total fan numbers and toward engagement, as measured by “likes,” shares, and comments. IIP has targeted the bulk of its sponsored story ads in a way most likely to boost engagement statistics. The bureau uses Facebook’s automated system to place the sponsored story ads into the 25 countries with the largest number of young users and the highest engagement rates, regardless of the item’s content, importance, and relevance to the countries in which the ad appears. However, engagement is a means, not an end. The bureau could reduce spending and increase strategic impact by focusing its advertising not on raising overall fan numbers or general engagement statistics but on accomplishing specific PD goals. This approach would entail tying any general page advertising to the promotion of special information content on high-priority issues as well as manually selecting key items as sponsored stories and advertising them only to relevant countries and audiences. This approach would also be in line with the November 2012 report of the Social Media Working Group, which endorsed “judicious and targeted use of paid advertising,” and telegram 13 State 06411, Social Media Guidance Cable #1: Social Media Advertising, which advocated a “selective use of social media advertising” in a “strategically planned, well-targeted” campaign with preset goals and evaluation. During the inspection, IIP paused its Facebook advertising to assess its sites and goals.

Recommendation 36: The Bureau of International Information Programs should direct its digital advertising to specific public diplomacy goals in keeping with Department of State guidance. (Action: IIP)

In recent months, IIP leadership instructed social media staff members to put more policy-oriented information on their sites. However, page managers were concerned that too much policy material, especially if it is not related closely to the primary interest of the page fans, would drive away their youthful audience and cause their fan numbers and engagement statistics to drop. They felt caught between conflicting directives. In March 2013, IIP was developing a social media policy strategy. This kind of document is essential to clarify the goals of IIP’s social media efforts, acknowledge the tradeoff between seeking high numbers of fans and engaging with foreign audiences, and find the right balance between youth and elite audience engagement.

Recommendation 37: The Bureau of International Information Programs should adopt a social media strategy that clarifies the primary goals and public diplomacy priorities of its social media sites. (Action: IIP)

Facebook analytic tools can measure engagement by counting the number of people who click on a link, “like” a posting, comment on it, or share it with their friends. However, these measures do not evaluate the usefulness of the engagement because many people post simple remarks, like “so nice pic,” or comments on unrelated topics. A sampling of IIP’s Facebook sites raises questions about how much real interaction is taking place. During the inspection, the bureau began to address the need to analyze the sites’ effectiveness with an eye to determining how much of the activity classed as engagement actually accomplishes PD goals.

Staff members working on the IIP social media sites send out their best items in a daily social media feed for U.S. embassies, a service that PD officers overseas praise as a valuable contribution to their own social media efforts. Some say the items would be more useful if they were available earlier in the day. Placing items on an embassy-accessible internal digital site as they are prepared would enable posts to use them earlier.

Informal Recommendation 3: The Bureau of International Information Programs should make its social media feed items accessible to embassies online before sending out the daily social media feeds.


(See  -05/31/13   Inspection of the Bureau of International Information Programs (ISP-I-13-28)  [912 Kb]  Posted on June 20, 2013)

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