Category Archives: FS Blogs

Quote of the Day: “Take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk … Mm…hmm

– Domani Spero

Here is Doug Frantz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs via nextgov.com:

“Social media is an interactive platform, so if you wait to come back to the State Department to get clearance on how to respond to a question over Twitter it will take days if not weeks and the conversation will be over,” Frantz said. “So you want people to be engaged. You want them to be willing and able to take responsible risks…Don’t take a big crazy risk and try to change our policy on Iran, but if you’re behaving responsibly, we can expect small mistakes.”

In many ways, the department is vulnerable to those risks whether or not officials are actively engaging on social media.

Frantz cited the case of a diplomatic security officer and his wife who were expelled from India after making derogatory comments about the country on their personal Facebook pages. “I tell people never tweet anything you don’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post,” Frantz said.

We should be impressed at this enlightened approach of employees being allowed to afford small mistakes.  Except that elements of the State Department continue to harass Foreign Service bloggers who write in their private capacity on blogs and other social media sites.  Remember my Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft?  Different folks get on and off the bus, but this is just as real today.

Harassment, as always, is conducted without a paper trail unless, it’s a PR nightmare like Peter Van Buren, in which case, there is a paper trail.  So an FSO-blogger’s difficulties in obtaining an onward assignment has nothing to do with his/her blog, or his/her tweets. Just bad luck of the draw, see?  Oh, stop doing that winky wink stuff with your eyes!

Anybody know if there is an SOP on how to intimidate diplo-bloggers into going back into writing in their diaries and hiding those under their pillows until the year 2065? Dammit! No SOP needed?

So, no witnesses, no paper trail and  no bruises, just nasty impressive stuff done under the table.  Baby, we need a hero –

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Filed under Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Leadership and Management, Media, Quotes, Realities of the FS, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work, Trends, U.S. Missions

AAFSW: A Guide to Connecting Communities at Overseas Posts via Facebook and WordPress

– Domani Spero

There was a time when embassy newsletters were distributed only in printed format. Do you remember that?  Later they were distributed as Word documents, then eventually as PDF files. We know that some posts put the newsletters up on the Intranet, not sure if all posts do this now. But even if they do put it up on the Intranet, only a third of all FS spouses are working (some outside the mission), which means more than two-thirds do not have regular access to the Intranet. We would not be surprise if at some posts, spouses still have to go into the Community Liaison Office (CLO) to use dedicated terminals to do stuff on the Intranet.

Hey! Look at the bright side, at least they’re not making spouses use the Wang for what they need to do online.

Typically the newsletters are produced by the CLO or by a contractor. We learned that at the Tri-Mission in Vienna, the official weekly PDF newsletter couldn’t serve as an easily accessible timely resource for answers to all the nitty-gritty questions that new arrivals to post always seem to have, such as finding a good dentist or figuring out the public transport system. Tri-Mission Vienna is not alone on this, of course. Most embassies have CLOs but they do not serve as call centers. At the time when smartphones  are ubiquitous, when there are 1,310,000,000 users on Facebook with 54,200,000 pages, access to timely information is still a challenge for some, particularly overseas.

Enter a couple of Foreign Service spouses who wanted a way to share information quickly and efficiently.  Kelly Bembry Midura and Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel put together a Facebook group, “Vienna Vagabonds” to provide support and advice to the Tri-Mission community.  Later they developed “TriVienna” (using free WordPress) as an unofficial resource for the American community in Austria. The site includes information for newcomers as well resources for navigating the city, schools, services and travels to neighboring areas. There are a few other posts with similar unofficial sites but they are still in the minority.

The two spouses have now put together a guide, through the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) on how to set up similar online communities at posts overseas.  The guide which is pretty straight-forward includes setting up FB pages at post, setting up a community website using WordPress, and privacy and security.  CLOs everywhere should applaud this effort. Community members working together could only enhance the cohesion of the mission and this should make information and resources easily available and shareable.

Before anyone complains about this to Diplomatic Security, please read the material, okay?

Kelly Bembry Midura is a writer and the Content Manager for AAFSW (http://www.aafsw.org). She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com. Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at http://kidswithdiplomaticimmunity.wordpress.com.

As an aside on Intranet access for spouses — the Defense Department has long provided online access and information to spouses of service members. For instance, Military OneSource offers 24/7/365 access to information on housing, schools, confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to Service members or their families.  Its Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program also offers spouses assistance with career exploration, education and training, career readiness, and career connections.

At the State Department on the other hand, spouses and family members do not even have access to feedback about life at post from other employees, unless they have logins to the Intranet.  Out of  11,528 spouses and adult family members, over 8,700 are not working or are not working at the mission and do not have regular Intranet access.  We suspect that funding the Intranet access for FS spouses and family members would cost less than a wink of what we’re spending at the Sinkhole of Afghanistan.

But — here we are in 2014 and the 21st century statecraft is still missing at home.

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Filed under AAFSW, Defense Department, Diplomatic Life, Facebook, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Realities of the FS, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work, Trends, U.S. Missions

BlogHer Voices of the Year: Two Foreign Service Bloggers Running in the Op-Ed Category

Two Foreign Service bloggers are currently in the running for the op-ed category in BlogHer’s Voices of the Year initiative.

One is Donna S. Gorman of Email From The Embassy for her piece from September 13, 2013 simple titled, Here in Jordan.  “I wrote this post after an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi left 4 Americans dead, including our Ambassador to Libya. I wanted to give a voice to those who died that night, so that Americans back home would understand the enormity of the sacrifice our diplomats – my friends, colleagues and loved ones – make on their behalf every day.” Excerpt below:

It was a scary, scary night, followed by many sad and scary days after the incident was over. It ended with blood spilled, and cars crashed, and magazines emptied. It ended with us being evacuated from post, not sure if we’d ever be allowed back. It ended with me finally truly understanding what kind of life we were living, when everything can change without a moment’s notice, when the people you love are out there, somewhere, doing things you can only imagine, to stop the bad guys from hurting the good guys. It ended with me realizing that my husband could have died, could still, at any time, die, because of the work he does, because he chooses to run into situations from which other people run away.

Continue reading, Here in Jordan. 

If you want to vote for Donna, click here: http://www.blogher.com/here-jordan-0 .

The other blogger is Jen Dinoia of  The Dinoia Family for her piece on May 16, 2012 titled, Wanted: Stories of the ‘Real’ Foreign Service. This is that blog post about her blog not being FS enough (remember nipplegate?): “I was asked to be on an official Department of State blog roll three years ago.  Last year, I was unceremoniously bumped off and learned it was because I discussed my experience with breast cancer (reconstruction, actually) in too much detail and it was not relevant to FS life.  The blog post is my rebuttal and opinion on why I feel it is extremely relevant.”  Excerpt below:

Sunday evening, when I noticed the blog missing, I wrote to the online specialist who had contacted me way back when.  The next day I heard from a new community specialist.  I was told in no uncertain terms that my blog does not have “content relevant to the U.S. Foreign Service”.  When I replied back with a description of the content that is more than related, I received a response from yet another new person.  The response from that person?

Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees* have to share.  

Read her full post here.

If you want to vote for Jen, click here: http://www.blogher.com/wanted-stories-real-foreign-service

You must be logged in to vote for either one. You can also vote by signing in using FB, Twitter, Google, WordPress, Blogger and LiveJournal.

Good luck! ¡Buena suerte! Buona fortuna!

– DS

 

 

 

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RIP Anne Smedinghoff: Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.

I don’t know why I was bothered when Secretary Kerry refrained Saturday from naming Ms. Smedinghoff in his statement on her passing (if it did not bother you, that’s okay).  Perhaps I should blame it on OC, perhaps not. But one only die once … I was looking for an appropriate acknowledgement of the sacrificed made in Zabul on Saturday.

The attack occurred on Saturday, April 6 at around 11:00 in the morning in Afghanistan. That’s about 2:30 am in Washington, D.C.  About ten hours after the attack, around noon in WashDC, the State Department released a statement from Secretary Kerry without naming the diplomat killed in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.

How do you properly acknowledge in public the sacrifice of somebody when she is but a third person singular pronoun?

She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.

An older version of the WaPo report, no longer online says that the State Department did not identify the deceased to give the family time to notify other family members.  But if that were so, why did State release a statement in a rush instead of waiting until the following day? Was the need to put out a statement ten hours after her death so urgent that it was deemed acceptable to reduced her to a pronoun?

State could have waited until Sunday to released a complete official statement, but it did not. The last time a civilian employee was killed in Afghanistan was on August 8, 2012.  On August 9, then Secretary Clinton released a statement on USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah.  When four Americans died in Benghazi, the official statement which identified Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith came a day after the attack, but two casualties were not identified until much later.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s parents released a statement about their daughter late Saturday.

Secretary Kerry was in Istanbul on Sunday when he publicly identified Ms. Smedinghoff for the first time:

“And I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction of a young 25-year-old woman with all of the future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy, of changing people’s lives, of making a difference, having an impact, who was taking knowledge in books to deliver them to a school. And someone somehow persuaded that taking her – his life was a wiser course and somehow constructive, drives into their vehicle and we lose five lives – two Foreign Service, three military, large number wounded, one Foreign Service officer still in critical condition in the Kandahar hospital because they’re trying to provide people with a future and with opportunity.”
[...]
It is a confrontation with modernity, with possibilities, and everything that our country stands for, everything we stand for, is embodied in what Anne Smedinghoff stood for, a 25-year-old young woman, second tour of duty, been a vice consul in Caracas, Venezuela and then off to an exciting, challenging, unbelievable undertaking in one of the toughest places on earth.

I’ll come back to that in a separate post later.

Ms. Smedinghoff was on Twitter, on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. I was tempted to use her photo for this post, but it doesn’t seem right to use the photographs  from her social media accounts now that she’s dead and couldn’t object. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded .. but what if she did mind … the dead cannot speak up … so I walked away from the photos.

Do you remember when you were 25?  When you were young and brave and full of wonder and hope about conquering the world of possibilities?

Death is never far away in the small Foreign Service community (see In the Foreign Service:  Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Even if you and I do not personally know Anne Smedinghoff, as Cormac McCarthy writes, “The closest bonds we will ever know are bonds of grief. The deepest community one of sorrow.”

Since the beginning of 2013, excluding this latest attack, 24 Americans have died in Afghanistan, the highest total among coalition forces. The average age of those killed is 28.  Since 2001, there had been 3,279 deaths in Afghanistan. Of that 2,198 were  Americans.  On the same day that Ms. Smedinghoff was killed, a DOD civilian employee also was killed. And, in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan, a battle and airstrike left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children and a U.S. advisor.

Herbert Hoover said that “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”  Sometimes you’re not even fighting, but still you die. And old men give speeches and get lost on the road to ending wars.

Then you read something like this: Leaving Corruptistan: Washington Favors Exit over Fight with Karzai. And you want to throw all your shoes at the somebodies. Is that infantile reaction? Well, probably yes, but you’ll do it anyway because not doing anything, anything at all, no matter how pointless just seem worse. And no, you’re not throwing your shoes because we’re leaving the sinkhole kingdom, er, republic …

 

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Below are some blog posts collected from around the Foreign Service on the passing of Ms. Smedinghoff.

 

sig4

 

 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Defense Department, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Quotes, Secretary of State, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions, War

Rename DipNote Effort Gets Not So Hilarious Suggestions From Chattering Crowd

We previously blogged about the State Department’s crowdsourcing effort to give its official blog, DipNote a makeover (see State Dept Crowdsourcing New Blog Name – What’s Wrong With DipNote?).

As part of the Department of State’s redesign, the blog may get a new name.  Department employees worldwide apparently submitted more than 370 submissions for a new name for the blog. Last week, the public was asked to select one name from the top four blog names suggested by the employees:

  • Unclassified: The State Department Blog
  • Statecraft
  • DipNote
  • Matters of State

We don’t know if everyone who posted in the comments section of DipNote all voted but we noticed that a good number of them also posted their own blogname suggestions. A few samples below from the public’s abundant imagination:

  • Lol in Virginia writes: Spin Department or Propaganda Machine
  • Scott P. in Massachusetts writes: New Blogt Name — State of Affairs @StateofAffairs
  • Christy M. in New York writes: Try: 1)”QODUS” for The Quarter of Diplomacy in United States; or 2)”DOQUS for Diplomacy Operation Quarter of United States; or 3) USDOQ for United States Diplomacy Operation Quarter; or DUSQ for Diplomacy United States Quarter; or USDOQ for United States Diplomacy Operations Quarter
  • Mike S. in Pennsylvania writes: State It” Sometimes in naming you need to start all over. None of the lowest common denominator proposed names has any life or zing. It promises that the blog might be the same. Please find a name with zip such as the above suggestion or another submission.
  • Frank D. in New York writes: How about “Lies My Government Told Me”?
  • Edwyne R. in Texas writes: Blues News
  • Tom in Colorado writes: View Abroad
  • P. Kumar in Virginia writes:  My Suggestion for the Name of the State Dept Blog: StateSide
  • Cristian in Romania writes: Blogmerica
  • Katherine in the U.S.A. writes:  Foggy Bottom would be hilarious, though Unclassified would draw more folks in…
  • A.Y.C. writes: Peter Van Buren!
  • Willie W. in the U.S.A. writes: “Gayanashagowa” (the “Great Law of Peace”) Origin: Six Nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee)
  • Erin S. in Virginia writes: Diplo-phone: like megaphone!
  • Michael in the U.S.A. writes: US DiploBlog
  • Donald M. in Virginia writes: Theres an old saying, “if it works don’t fix it” whats wrong with the current blog name? I like it and its fitting for what it does.
  • Betty D. in Idaho writes: BLOG FOG
  • W.W. writes: I would call it : UncleSam International
  • Eric in New Mexico writes: USDOSFAB” ??  

 

We thought that last one, USDOSFAB good as in USDOSFabulous.  No such luck, it turns out that simply means, “United States Deptartment Of State Foreign Affairs Blog.

Comedy Central’s Indecision, by the way,  considered it a shame that only State employees were asked to submit names for the jazzed-up site coming in 2013.  It posted that they have a many great ideas for blog names and content to feature at relaunch, such as:

  • BuzzState, featuring “15 Cats That Look Like Heads of State”
  • Diplomatic Pouches from Last Night, including this submission: “LOL I am so baked right now, XOXO – Ambassador Rudolf Bekink, Royal Netherlands Embassy”
  • Sttdprtmntr, which is American policy expressed entirely in GIFs
  • Hillary’s Livejournal, with the top entry: “Waiting for the Senate to confirm my successor. Mood: pensive.”

Even Twitchy got into the act, collecting suggestions from Twitter just for fun:

  • @BryTupper “State of Disbelief”
  • @rellis168 How about naming it Dodge Ball?
  • @theGrudgeRetort The Onion @StateDept
  • @serr8d  “Doublethink”
  • @Crapplefratz  “The Daily Stand-Down”

The names are certainly … um interesting, but they pale in comparison to the ones from 2007.  Don’t know who came up with these but way back when DipNote was just launched, the Top Ten Rejected State Department Blog Names apparently surfaced online.  Published here by FishbowlDC and  here by The Beltway Confidential. Please don’t fall off your chairs.

10. Blackwater Serenade
9. Condi Meant (First Post title: “Condi Fiddles while Nick Burns”).
8. Kinky Boots (First Post title: “The Twee Communiques”).
7. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rumsfeld! (First Post Title: “Allegro Con Dolcezza!”)
6. Bottom-up Reconciliation (whoops! That was supposed to be in the “Top Ten Rejected Larry Craig blog names”).
5. http://www.potterybarn.gov
4. The Crocker Barrel (First Post: “The Global War On Errorism”)
3. The Wolf o’ Wits
2. Laying The Morning Cable (First Post: “I’ve Got Your Long Telegram Right Here, bub!”)
1. http://www.bitemejohnboltonwe’resellingoutthecountrytokimjongil.com

What colorful names!  DipNote may not rock your world but it could have been a lot worse.

domani spero sig

 

 

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Filed under DipNote, FS Blogs, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work

Oh hello there — we’re in today’s In the Loop show, no photos please!

WaPo’s Emily Heil gave Diplopundit a walk-on part in today’s In the Loop.

The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous 7-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.
[...]
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”

We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds like the State Department better spring for some extra red pens.

Read in full here.

Also see Life After Jerusalem: New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to “people to bureaucracy to people”

Just to be sure, this is in reference to the — okay, “still-in-the works” changes of 3 FAM 4170 and not/not 5 FAM 790 released in 2010 which set the rules for the use of social media by State Department employees.

We’ve asked if these new changes have any bearing on spouses and partners of State employees but have not heard anything back.

As mentioned in this blog before, among the listed authorities of 5 FAM 790 is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.(pdf)  The regs say “Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.”

That section of course, is like Mars, without the rover.

domani spero sig

 

 

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Filed under Blognotes, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regulations, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work

US Embassy Phnom Penh: Zombies Attack Ambassador Todd, Congressional Investigation to Follow

The US Ambassador to Cambodia Bill Todd blogged that this year the embassy folks had a great time introducing their Cambodian colleagues to the true spirit of Halloween – being scared!  These guys even had a Neighborhood Zombie Watch!

Ambassador Todd attacked by zombies at the Front Office
(Photo from ambo blog)

Fondest memories of Halloween was trick o’ treating with tots at embassy offices.  At some posts you get a contest for best decorations or scariest digs.  At other posts the local staff even gets into the act.

Looks like they all had a great time.  Read more here. This post will be updated as soon as the congressional investigation commence.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Holidays and Celebrations, U.S. Missions

Behind the Scenes as Angry Mob Attacks an Embassy and Host Country Takes Power Nap

So it’s been a month since the latest rounds of protests in the Middle East broke.  One of my favorite bloggers, 4G of Four Globetrotters who was in one of the embassies attacked finally came back online this week. Hers is a harrowing tale shared by many more public servants and family members spread across the globe. Here is an excerpt from her post, “Attack” (used with permission):

1430:  Police use tear gas to try to disperse crowds.  Protesters have now surrounded the Embassy on all sides.  Security forces were only set up on one side.  This is bad.  Over the radio we hear reports coming in. They’re on the walls.

1500 – ?:  All employees are ordered to the safe haven.  Everyone dutifully files in, deposits their cell phones since the safe haven is a phone-free zone.  Reports continue to come in.  The motor pool is on fire.  The rec center is on fire.  The employee parking lot is on fire.  Protesters are on the roof of the Chancery.  We immediately begin to do what we know to do.  Destroy classified.  I hear the sound of sledge hammers pounding away, comforted to know that my colleagues are destroying the classified material.  The sound of the hammers echo through the Embassy, making the walls vibrate.  Find out that sound isn’t coming from within.  The protesters are at our windows and are intent on getting in.  They are attempting to set fire to the Chancery, dousing the building with gasoline and setting it on fire.  My mind flashes back to the images from Benghazi, just a few days prior.  I visualize the caskets of my dead colleagues on board the C-130 in Tripoli.

A faint smell of smoke begins to waft through the safe haven, where I’m sitting with 103 of my colleagues, some of whom are panicking and crying.  I’m trying very hard to project calm and confidence.  The fire alarm goes off.  Someone decides to go get everyone’s cell phones so we can start calling our loved ones.  I sent three quick emails from my blackberry — to my ex-husband:  “In safehaven.  People are on the compound, on roof.  Tell the kids I love them so much. If the worst happens don’t let them forget me.”, one to my parents and my sisters, and one to my very special person.  I’m worried sick about my motor pool team, stuck in an outside building.

1630:  I decide to leave the safe haven and along with a friend from A-100 start up a task force in the Front Office, set up a log and let the training kick in.  Keeping busy helps.  Repeated phone calls with Washington, host government officials, the White House, the Secretary.  On the TV we see the President and the Secretary at Dover Air Force base receiving the caskets of our colleagues.  Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.  It’s evident that the host government cannot or will not protect our Embassy.

1730?:  My motor pool team makes its way into the Chancery.  They’re covered in soot, traumatized and out of breath.  They report that the protesters attempted to set the gas pump on fire but failed because we had turned it off that morning.  The motor pool team reports that they chose to leave the safety of their building and try to save whatever vehicles they could, confronting protesters along the way.  Rather than saving their own cars they hopped into any official vehicle they could find that wasn’t on fire and drove through protesters to get the vehicles off the compound and into a safe area.  Were it not for that we would have lost our entire motor pool.

Saturday, September 15:  I get to see the damage for the first time in the light of day.  It breaks my heart, but motivates me like you wouldn’t believe.  First order of business, get the flag back up.

Via US Embassy FB

 

Isn’t this something you just loooong to read in State’s DipNote? Here is one unvarnished look about the work of the Foreign Service, and what happens beyond the picture perfect moments overseas.  But they’re busy over there on how “Sports Show We Have Power.” About —More Travel, More Tourists, More Jobs.  And something about Eating – individuals and leaders.

Read the entire post here.

I will miss 4G’s posts about her Things who have since been evacuated from post; she won’t see them again for months.  But I’m looking forward to more 4G posts.  You know, some diplomatic nightingale told me that the ABAs (also known as Angry Bearded Assholes, the  mob not the band) got really frustrated and all when the fire retardant carpets wouldn’t light. If anyone can write funny over this, that would be 4G.

The ABAs apparently also broke the flag pole in the compound so the only choice the responsible officer had at post was the gigantic flag previously used during the Fourth of July. That’s what you see in the photo above the very next day after the attack; don’t think vehicle in the picture is there by accident.

A quick screen capture of the aftermath of the attack below. Click on the image below to see more before and after photos of the embassy compound. Breaks your heart.

Click on photo to view the before/after photos of US Embassy Tunis by Lucia Piazza with Kathy Williams Chere

In a previous post, I threw a fit about those “It’s not our job to stop people from taking things” gardeners  in Benghazi. I should have noted that those are the exceptions. The motor pool employees who saved the mission’s USG vehicles here are all local employees. They saved the official vehicles rather than try and save their personal vehicles. Some 68 personal vehicles were reportedly torched. Imagine that.  (I don’t know that car insurance companies cover the total loss from a mob attack).  These local employees are the familiar ones you all know from post to post, loyal and heroic; the same ones who stay behind when our American employees are evacuated, the same ones who sometimes become targets as well.

As I write this, I’m thinking of the family left behind by Qassim M. Aklan, a local employee at the US Embassy in Sanaa who was shot dead last Thursday.  Yemeni officials said the killing bore the hallmarks of an attack by the al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

And so — under siege, our Foreign Service people called/texted their loved ones not knowing if they were ever going to see them again. Then they kept working as they’ve been trained to do.

Meanwhile, back home, our Angry Beardless Politicians continue to bicker and play the game of Who’s More Angry Than a Toddler.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Congress, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Politics, Protests, Realities of the FS, State Department, USAID

After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata Peter Van Buren

And so it has come to this.

Last year, the State Department was up in arms with the publication of Peter Van Buren’s book, We Meant Well, because well — as its Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of Public Affairs  Dana Shell Smith (of the How to Have an Insanely Demanding Job and 2 Happy Children minor fame) told the book publisher, Macmillan, the Department has “recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

I counted the words; there are some 30 words that were deemed classified information according to the letter sent to the publisher, including a place called, “Mogadishu.”  See “Classified” Information Contained in We Meant Well – It’s a Slam Dunk, Baby!

Five months after his book was published, the State Department moved to fire, Mr. Van Buren.  He was charged with eight violations including  linking in his blog to documents on WikiLeaks  (one confidential cable from 2009, and one unclas/sensitive/noforn cable also from 2009); failing to clear each blog posting with his bosses; displaying a “lack of candor” during interviews with diplomatic security officers;using “bad judgement’ by criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and one time presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann on his blog.

The eight charges did not include the allegation of leaking “classified” content from his book. Which is rather funny, in a twisted sort of way, yeah?   So, why …

Oh, dahrlings, let’s take the long cut on this, shall we?

There were lots of roars and growls, of course … employees at State even got to work on additional areas their supervisors deemed appropriate  — such as looking under dumb rocks to see if anything would come out, monitoring Mr. Van Buren’s media appearances and blog posts, etc. etc..  The guy was practically a cottage industry sprouting “taskers” all over Foggy Bottom (except maybe the cafeteria).  Those who got Meritorious Honor Awards for the Van Buren Affair, raise your left hand.  Oh dear, that’s a bunch!  Let us not be shocked, also if Mr. Van Buren was quite useful for the spring’s Employee Evaluation Reports (EER) for multiple folks.  Everybody gets credit for work well done, or otherwise.

And because life is about changes, the Director General of the Foreign Service Nancy Powell (top HR person in the Foreign Service) was promoted to do yet another stint as US Ambassador, this time to India; leaving the “Peter Headache” to her successor as DGHR, former Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.   The top boss of all management affairs at State, Patrick Kennedy, as far as we know did not have to swap chairs and is still top boss.  Mr. Van Buren himself did not go quietly into the night.  Instead he kept on popping up for interviews on radios and teevees, and here and there and his blog posts, angry or not, did not skip a single beat.

Meanwhile, the book which the NYT called “One diplomat’s darkly humorous and ultimately scathing assault on just about everything the military and State Department have done—or tried to do—since the invasion of Iraq”  went into second printing.

And so a year after We Meant Well was published, and after numerous investigations ending in a whimper, the State Department officially retired Mr. Van Buren on September 30, 2012. No, the agency did not fire him despite all sorts of allegations.  And yes, he gets his full retirement.

Congratulations everyone, all that work for nothing! So totally, totally :roll: exhausting!

If Mr. Van Buren were a project, you would have had your Gantt chart with the work break down structure. As well, the project manager would have the time allocation, cost and scope for every detail of this project. Unfortunately for the American public, we may never know how much time, money and effort went into the 12 month Project Hounding of Mr. Van Buren.

In the end, the State Department can claim success in getting Mr. Van Buren out the door (and helping him sell those books also).  No one needs to pretend anymore that he is paid to work as a “telecommuter” when in truth they just did not want his shadow in that building. He is now officially a retired Foreign Service Officer. Like all soon to retire officers, he even got into the Foreign Service Institute’s job search program.  But of course, they have yanked away his security clearance, so that’s really helpful in the job search, too.

Do you get the feeling that this isn’t really about this book anymore but about that next book?

Back in July, former FSO Dave Seminara who writes for Gadling and is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat did an interview with Mr. Van Buren .  In one part of the interview, Mr. Van Buren said that he gets anonymous hate mail and people telling him to “shut up and do your service like everyone else did; half a million people have gone through Iraq and they didn’t have to bitch about everything like you did.” I read that and I thought, oh, dear me!

Excerpts:

Q: But surely you can understand that if lots of FSOs decided to write critical books like yours while still on active duty it would create chaos?

A: I can understand that argument. But this is part of living in a free society. As Donald Rumsfeld said, “Democracy is messy.” The State Department promotes the rights of people to speak back to their governments. The Arab Spring — we want people in Syria to shout back at their government, but we won’t let our own employees do that.

Q: It seems as though the State Department objects to some FSO blogs, but not to others — is that right?

A: It’s vindictive prosecution. The State Department links to dozens of Foreign Service blogs and those people aren’t getting clearance on everything they post — they can’t. But those blogs are about how the food in Venezuela is great or we love the secretary.

The idea — we’re going to pick on you because we don’t like what you’re writing — that scrapes up against the First Amendment. If the State Department wants to police my blog, they have to police all of them.

Q: And how do you think your peers perceive you now?
A: A lot of State Department people are under the mistaken impression that I didn’t clear the book but they’ve dropped that. People thought I went rogue, which I did not. I am not a popular person right now. Someone in an organization that is designed to help FSOs told me, “Most people in this building hate you.”

Some people worried that they’d have privileges in Baghdad taken away from them. That someone in Congress might wonder why we have a tennis court in Baghdad. I got de-friended by colleagues on Facebook. Most of them didn’t read the book. One embassy book club refused to buy the book. Lots of anonymous hate mail. [People telling me] shut up and do your service like everyone else did; half a million people have gone through Iraq and they didn’t have to bitch about everything like you did. I’ve also been harassed by Diplomatic Security people.

Q: Do you feel like diplomats have a right to publish?
A: We do have a constitution which still has the First Amendment attached to it. The rules say: No classified or personal information can be released, you can’t talk about contracting and procurement stuff that would give anyone an advantage in bidding, and the last thing you can’t do is speak on behalf of the department. That’s it. They don’t have to agree with what I’ve written. I have disclaimers in my book and on the blog explaining that my views are my own and don’t represent those of the U.S. government.

Read in full, U.S. Foreign Service Officer Blacklisted for Scathing Exposé.

The more insidious question really is — how did we end up with so much waste in Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer that folks just did their jobs and did not bitch about anything is certainly part of what ails the effort. Not that other folks have not complained, or even blogged about the reconstruction problems in the warzones, the complaints were just not as loud.  People were aware of serious issues in these reconstruction projects, talked about it, complained about it among themselves, but for one reason or another did not feel right about calling public attention to the fire slowly burning the house down.  What I have a hard time understanding is — why are people so mad at the man who shouted fire and had the balls to write about it?

This should be a great case study for the State Department’s Leadership and Management School. Because what exactly does this teach the next generation of Foreign Service Officers in terms of leadership and management? About misguided institutional loyalty? About the utility of shooting the messenger of bad news, so no news is good news?  And about courage when it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and all your friends have bailed out and locked the door, to keep you out?

See something. Say something. Or not.  But if you do, be prepared to be hounded and ostracized by the institution you once called home, by people you once called friends.

In any case, the one headed dragon that roars gotta be slayed before its other heads wake up and roar louder. Another officer was writing the Afghanistan edition of We Meant Well when the State Department went mud fishing on Mr. Van Buren. Not sure if that book is ever coming out but just one more line item on success in the State Department. The less stories told unofficially, the more successful the effort officially.

Um, pardon me?  Oh, you mean the State Department’s Dissent Channel and AFSA’s Dissent Awards? Those things are utterly amazing good stuff.  On paper.

 

 

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Filed under Disasters, Dissent, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Leadership and Management, Persona Non Grata, Peter Van Buren, State Department

The Foreign Service is like your husband’s crazy college girlfriend … Va Va Voom — oh, but …

One of our favorite Foreign Service writers, Kelly of Well, That Was Different has her blog fingers right on the button on this.   When the Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory (by John Franklin Campbell) or The Theory of Public Bureaucracy (Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department)  (by Donald Warwick) ever gets updated for the 21st century, there definitely needs to be a section for the crazy old girlfriend’s schizophrenic outbursts and not too endearing qualities. Kelly writes:

The Foreign Service is like your husband’s (‘scuse the masculine, but that’s how it is for us) crazy college girlfriend. She is sexy as hell, which is how she seduced your husband in his young and foolish student days. But, she is also bipolar and totally narcissistic.

She can be really nice when she wants to be, or more accurately, when it’s in her interest to do so. Every couple of years, she comes knocking at the door, all charming and cute, with slick promises of promotion, money, and other goodies, and chances are, your husband will be suckered once again.

She even has long periods of sanity sometimes—at least I think I remember one of those. (It lasted about 8 years.)

The manic phases are interesting. Sometimes, she even gets a wild hair and builds a huge mansion in, like, the worst neighborhood on the planet, then expects everyone to be totally excited to work and live there.

But look out when she is on a downswing. You are just cannon fodder then, and she’ll be seriously pissed if you don’t toe the line. She gets especially cranky when she’s running out of money, or someone is giving her a hard time. She doesn’t take criticism very well. In fact, her general approach is to deny that there is a problem. Being basically insane, she may actually believe this to be true.

 

Tee-he! Can’t help but appreciate the sustained simile.  Continue reading In Which I Am Shocked To Discover That I No Longer Absolutely Loathe Foreign Service Bidding.

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Notes, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Org Culture, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners