State Dept: “In the process of updating” its new rules for speaking and writing. Again.

Posted: 1:23  am EDT


In December 2012, we were informed by inside the building sources that the State Department was rewriting its 3 FAM 4170 rules on official clearance for speaking, writing, and teaching. (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair).

On July 27, 2015, two months short of Year 3 since Peter Van Buren retired, the State Department without much fanfare released its new 3 FAM 4170 rules in 19 pages. (see State Dept Releases New 3 FAM 4170 aka: The “Stop The Next Peter Van Buren” Regulation).

The new 3 FAM 4171.b says (see pdf):

 Former Department of State employees (including former interns and externs) must seek guidance from A/GIS/IPS for applicable review process information. Former USAID employees (including former interns and externs) must consult the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs for applicable review process information.

On September 3, we asked the State Department for guidance on pre-publication requirement for former/retired employees under the new 3 FAM 4170.

Last Friday, after a second inquiry, we finally got a response from a State Department spokesman as follows:

 The Department is in the process of updating the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) guidance relating to the pre-publication obligations of former employees.  Former employees’ obligations will vary based upon the non-disclosure agreements they may have signed. For example, they may have obligations under the Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement (SF-312) or the SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) Non-Disclosure Agreement (Form 4414).

If employees have signed a non-disclosure/secrecy agreement with another agency, then they may also have pre-publication review obligations with those agencies as well. This obligation is separate from any requirement for pre-publication review that an employee may have with the State Department but the Department can provide the coordination with those other agencies, if requested.

SF-312 Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement via specifically contains the following paragraphs:

3. I have been advised that the unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling of classified information by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation. I hereby agree that I will never divulge classified information to anyone unless: (a) I have officially verified that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it; or (b) I have been given prior written notice of authorization from the United States Government Department or Agency (hereinafter Department or Agency) responsible for the classification of information or last granting me a security clearance that such disclosure is permitted. I understand that if I am uncertain about the classification status of information, I am required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before I may disclose it, except to a person as provided in (a) or (b), above. I further understand that I am obligated to comply with laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

5. I hereby assign to the United States Government all royalties, remunerations, and emoluments that have resulted, will result or may result from any disclosure, publication, or revelation of classified information not consistent with the terms of this Agreement.

8. Unless and until I am released in writing by an authorized representative of the United States Government, I understand that all conditions and obligations imposed upon me by this Agreement apply during the time I am granted access to classified information, and at all times thereafter.

Sensitive Compartmented Information Non-Disclosure Agreement Form 4414 via NCSC (pdf) contains the following:

4. (U) In consideration of being granted access to SCI and of being assigned or retained in a position of special confidence and trust requiring access to SCI, I hereby agree to submit for security review by the Department or Agency that last authorized my access to such information or material, any writing or other preparation in any form, including a work of fiction, that contains or purports to contain any SCI or description of activities that produce or relate to SCI or that I have reason to believe are derived from SCI, that I contemplate disclosing to any person not authorized to have access to SCI or that I have prepared for public disclosure. I understand and agree that my obligation to submit such preparations for review applies during the course of my access to SCI and thereafter, and I agree to make any required submissions prior to discussing the preparation with, or showing it to, anyone who is not authorized to have access to SCI. I further agree that I will not disclose the contents of such preparation with, or show it to, anyone who is not authorized to have access to SCI until I have received written authorization from the Department or Agency that last authorized my access to SCI that such disclosure is permitted.

5. (U) I understand that the purpose of the review described in paragraph 4 is to give the United States a reasonable opportunity to determine whether the preparation submitted pursuant to paragraph 4 sets forth any SCI. I further understand that the Department or Agency to which I have made a submission will act upon it, coordinating within the Intelligence Community when appropriate, and make a response to me within a reasonable time, not to exceed 30 working days from date of receipt.

9. (U) Unless and until I am released in writing by an authorized representative of the Department or Agency that last provided me with access to SCI, I understand that all conditions and obligations imposed on me by this Agreement apply during the time I am granted access to SCI, and at all times thereafter.

Whoa! Is there a way out?

The State Department has  several student paid/unpaid internship programs.  The program’s eligibility requirement includes the ability to receive either a Secret or Top Secret clearance (pdf). So, does a student who receives a one-year internship at State be in the hook for life when it comes to obtaining clearance for speaking, writing, teaching and all media engagement as it is written under 3 FAM 4170? Are the interns/externs aware of their obligations under these rules before they sign up for these internships?

Where can interns/externs obtain a release in writing from a State Department representative?  We originally sent our inquiry to A/GIS/IPS cited as the contact office, but could not even get a response from there. There is no easily available email box to send the request either for a clearance or to request a release.

NOTE: For current employees, the reviewing office is the Bureau of Public Affairs (paclearances[at] It looks like State/PA also has The PA Clearances Database accessible online. You need to sign up to register for an account to allow the online submission of clearance requests to the Bureau of Public Affairs. The site says “Using this site will expedite your clearance request.”

For former and retired State Department employees, how far back is the USG going to reach back? For life?

On December 29, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13526 which prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information.  “No information may remain classified indefinitely,” the order says.  The default declassification date, is 10 years. After 25 years, declassification review is automatic, with nine narrow exceptions that allow information to continue to be classified. Classifications beyond 75 years require special permission.

Given the default declassification at 10 years, can retired and former employees get an automatic release from these obligation at 10 years after they leave their jobs at the State Department?

For employees who are no longer attached in any capacity to the State Department, and haven’t been for 20 years, and have no interest in pursuing consulting or WAE appointments at the agency, ought they not be able to obtain a release from their obligations under these nondisclosure provisions?

Perhaps it’s time for State to put together its own Publication Review Board (PRB)? The CIA has one, and this article by John Hollister Hedley, the Chairman of the PRB on former CIA employees seeking to become published authors is instructive:

The courts have held that this signed agreement is a lifetime enforceable contract.(3) The courts also have noted that the secrecy agreement is a prior restraint of First Amendment freedom. But they ruled it a legitimate restraint, provided it is limited to the deletion of classified information and so long as a review of a proposed publication is conducted and a response given to its author within 30 days.(4)
The important thing is for us to be reasonable and professional about what we protect. It does not take a genius to know what information requires a hard look: for example, in an age of terrorism and for privacy act considerations, we have to protect identities not already in the public domain. Also taboo–because they impact adversely our ability to conduct our business, most of it necessarily in secret–are cover arrangements, liaison relationships, covert facilities, and unique collection and analytic capabilities. These constitute the sources and methods that truly need protection. For the most part, they can easily be avoided without keeping an author from telling a story or restricting an author’s opinion on a variety of intelligence subjects.

In prepublication reviews, we have to show we know the difference between what truly is sensitive and what is not. We do not earn respect just by saying “no,” but neither do we earn respect just by giving away information. Our unique role is to judge whether a denial of disclosure would stand up in court, whether we could make a compelling case in a court of law that specific damage to US national security would result. We can have it both ways: we can protect that which needs to be protected, while being forthcoming about intelligence activities in a way that can help educate, inform, enlighten, and even entertain the general public. That is the cost of doing business in this free society we help to preserve; trying to have it both ways is a challenge that comes with the territory.

The article is focused on pre-publication review of manuscripts but notes that the submissions ranges “from 1,000-page book manuscripts to one-page letters to the editor. There are speeches, journal articles, theses and op-eds, book reviews, and movie scripts. There are scholarly treatises, works of fiction, and, recently, a cookbook featuring a collection of recipes acquired and served by Agency officers and spouses around the world. Perhaps the most novel review (no pun intended) involved an interactive CD-ROM video spy game co-authored by former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William Colby and KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin.”

We should note that the State Department’s pre-publication review has three purposes per 3 FAM 4170:

(1) The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).

The CIA’s PRB on the other hand says that  the sole purpose of its prepublication review is “to assist authors in avoiding inadvertent disclosure of classified information which, if disclosed, would be damaging to national security–just that and nothing more.”


Related items:

SF312-13 | Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement

FORM_4414_Rev_12_2013 | Sensitive Compartmented Information Non-Disclosure Agreement

Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse

Posted: 2:55 am EDT


We’ve previously featured Donna Scaramastra Gorman in this blog. She writes the Email From The Embassy blog and she’s out with a book! Check out Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse.


Click on image to see the book on Amazon

One reviewer on Amazon writes, “The first few paragraphs have me smirk, scoff and snort. It’s about time the Foreign Service has a guide that doesn’t bullsh*t. FS life is cool and fascinating but it’s not always pretty. Nor glamourous.”


By way of introduction, Donna writes this:

There is a saying in the State Department: “It depends.”[…] It’s terrifying, in a way, that the answer to every question you have about the Foreign Service can be summed up with those two little words.

That’s the State Department’s unofficial motto. We’ll entertain an alternative unofficial motto, but we don’t think you’ll find one.

Ambassador John Ordway (former ambassador to Armenia and Kazakhstan) gave the book five stars on Amazon and writes:  “With 40 years living the Foreign Service life under my belt, I found myself chuckling with fond recollection on nearly every page. Based on her years of experience trotting the globe for the U.S. State Department, Donna Gorman explains (and predicts) some of the lessons we’ve all learned — and maybe wish we had not learned. No matter where you’re coming from or where you’re headed, I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a new arsenal of useful tips for things to do, and not do, as you contemplate the Foreign Service life.”

We enjoyed reading this book. It feels familiar but also informal like the author is chatting with a friend who doesn’t yet know anything about the Foreign Service.  It is a fun read but also painful in some parts. We remember — boy, we’re old — back in 2007, Donna also lost her hearing on the right ear due to a viral infection when her family was posted in China.  Anyway, yup, cried over Chapter 27 of this book, probably the hardest part to read.  Will this book scare off people interested in the Foreign Service? Can’t tell, of course, but we’d say it would be best to know more and learn to manage one’s expectations, than know so little that one expects a charmed life abroad.

Here’s a brief bio:  Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, the Foreign Service Journal, the Seattle Times, Parade Magazine, the Insider’s Guide to Beijing and several other outlets.  Gorman is a Foreign Service spouse, married to a federal agent with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. They and their four children have been posted together in Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, China, Jordan and the U.S. Gorman also spent a year as a single parent while her husband completed a tour in Baghdad.  They are currently posted in Moscow.


A blog mistake hounds an FSO: Despite a good reputation for work, “there was the blog thing.”

Posted: 3:43 am EDT


There are over 500 Foreign Service blogs by State Department employees and family members. Long-time readers of this blog may remember the tigers who bite bloggers (see Foreign Service Blogging: Tigers Have Teeth, Rather Sharp … Rawr!!!).

When I wrote that Rawr piece in 2011, I wrote this:

I have not seen or heard of Tigers actually yanking anybody’s clearance due to an offending blog. I am aware of private sessions of discouragements, issues with onward assignments, and of course, threats of various colors and stripes among directed at FS bloggers.  And as far as I know, they have not technically kicked out anyone who blogs either —  unless you call the “push” to retirement a payback kick.

Well, State did yank Peter Van Buren‘s clearance afterwards, but it was for more than just a blog.  Occasionally, I get a request to cite a case where identified individuals got into real trouble due to blogging in the Foreign Service. Except for a small number of cases (PVB, ADA and MLC), I’ve refrained from writing about the blog troubles out of concern that writing about them makes it worse for the individual bloggers. In many cases, the bloggers themselves quietly remove their blogs online without official prompting. Out of the abundance of caution.

A recent FSGB case decided in January 2015 shows a charge of “Poor Judgment” against an FSO based on a post in her personal blog written in October 2008.  That’s right. The blog post was online for barely a day and was taken down in 2008. To be clear, the poor judgment charge related to the blog is just half the charges filed against this employee.  But in January 2013, State proposed a five day suspension for the FSO. Excerpt from the FSGB record of proceeding available online:

The Improper Personal Conduct charges are based on grievant’s personal relationships in the summer of 2008 with two individuals to whom she had previously issued non-immigrant visas, and the Poor Judgment charge is based on a post in her personal Internet blog in October of 2008.
During a flight to the United States during the spring of 2008, grievant unexpectedly encountered another citizen of Country X (Citizen B) for whom she had issued a visa, fell into conversation with him, and exchanged contact information. Upon her return to Country X, grievant was hospitalized in June 2008. While in the hospital, she received a call from Citizen B, who said he would ask his family members to visit her. They did so. Soon after Citizen B returned to Country X, grievant invited him to lunch. Thereafter, the two conducted an intimate relationship for about three weeks.

Later, Citizen A contacted grievant requesting her assistance in issuing a visa to his new wife. Grievant told him she could not be involved in his wife’s visa application process because she knew him. Consequently, another Consular Officer adjudicated and issued the visa for Citizen A’s new wife. Shortly thereafter, grievant posted on her personal blog (using Citizen A’s initials) a comment saying, in effect, that sharing a bottle of wine with someone could be disastrous, especially when that person shows up at your workplace seeking a visa for his new bride. Within a day of this blog posting, grievant was warned by a colleague to take it down, and grievant did so.
In a letter issued on January 31, 2013, the Department of State proposed to suspend grievant for five workdays, based on three charges that arose from conduct occurring in 2008. Ultimately, the suspension was reduced to three workdays. Grievant’s appeal raised issues of timeliness as well as challenges to the substance of the charges. Grievant is a class FS- 04 Consular Officer who was serving abroad in 2008. In May 2009, a co-worker at her Embassy complained to the RSO that grievant had become too close to some visa applicants and their attorneys and was maintaining improper personal relationships with them. The Office of the RSO investigated the allegations and eventually referred the matter to the Consular Integrity Division (CID). In its report of October 2009, CID found no wrongdoing and returned the matter to post. Nonetheless, the RSO referred the complaint of the co-worker to DS for investigation, but did not do so until January 2011. DS, for no articulated reason, did not assign the case to a field agent until September 28, 2011. DS then did not complete its investigation and forward the matter to HR until late October or early November 2012.

The Board concluded that there was no fact-based excuse for the delay at the RSO level and that there was no evidence of necessity for the length of time engulfed in the DS investigation. The Board found that the grievant had been harmed by the overall delay, caused by two different bureaucracies in the Department. The Board identified the harm as the statistically diminished promotability of this particular officer, given her combination of time-in-service and time-in- class.

The FSGB explains in the footnotes that 1) “She [grievant] was unmarried and remained unmarried through at least the date of her suspension. We mention her marital status only because in other disciplinary cases, an officer’s married status has been deemed a risk for coercion if someone knowing of the sexual misconduct threatened to reveal it to the officer’s spouse. Here, however, it does not appear that the grievant’s marital status was relevant to the selection of penalty or the choice of the charges. Noting grievant’s marital status may obviate confusion, if anyone examining other grievances or appeals should consider this case for comparison purposes.” 2) “Because of sensitivity surrounding the country in which grievant served her first tour, both parties refer to it as “Country X…”

In its decision last January, the FSGB held (pdf) that “grievant had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the Department’s delay of over three years in proposing grievant’s suspension was unexcused and unreasonable and that grievant’s promotional opportunities had been harmed as a result of the delay. Grievant is entitled to reversal of the three-day suspension for charges of Improper Personal Conduct and Poor Judgment, as well as removal of the suspension letter from her OPF. Grievant is entitled to promotion to the FS-03 level, as recommended by the 2013 Selection Boards, retroactive to 2013.”

While this case was resolved on the FSO’s favor, I’m taking note of this case here for several reasons:

1) According to the redacted report published online, the misconduct was reported to the agency by one of grievant’s co-workers on May 20, 2009.  An embassy is a fishbowl.  Anyone at post familiar with one’s activities, in real life or online can file an allegation. If you write a blog specific to your post, people at post inevitably will connect you to it. A single blogpost, even if taken down, can reach back and bite. Across many years.  State’s position is that grievant’s argument that the Department had no regulations or guidelines about personal blogs in 2008 “does not make her posting any less wrong.” Interestingly, that official line doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to the former secretary of state’s use of private email.

2)  Even if an allegation is dismissed by the Consular Integrity Division (CID), it does not mean the end of it, as this case clearly shows.  After the case was dismissed by CID, the case was forwarded to Diplomatic Security for another investigation.  “Counting from the date on which the behavior was reported (as specific misconduct) to the agency to the date of proposal of the five-day suspension, the period of delay in dispute is three (3) years and eight months.” While I can understand what might have prompted the initial complaint, I’m curious about the second referral.  I’d be interested to see comparable cases to this. I’m wondering if this case would have been referred to a second investigation if she were a male officer? Absolutely, yes, no? But why a duplicate investigation?

3) When grievant departed Country X for a new post,  her continued blogging activity prompted other Consular (CID) investigations.  Since there are no public records of these incidents until the cases end up in the FSGB, it is impossible to tell how many FS employees have been referred to CID or DS for their blogging activities. Or for that matter, what kind of topics got them in trouble.  I am aware of cases where FS bloggers had difficulties with onward assignment, but those were never officially tied to their blogging activities; that is, there were no paper trail pointing directly at their blogs.  This is the first case where we’re seeing on paper what happens:

Grievant states in the ROP that “while in [REDACTED] she did not receive any of the initial positions she bid on. Eventually, she was told that even though she had a good reputation for her work, “there was the blog thing.” Also, she recalls that a “handshake” offer of a Consular Chief position in [REDACTED] was rescinded. She attributes this to an unnamed official’s claim that “Embassy decided they did not want me after CID told them about my history (presumably the blog, and my time in Country X).”

4) Beyond the consequences of not getting onward assignments, here’s the larger impact:  “In 2015, the first year her file would be reviewed without any discipline letter, grievant would have been in the Foreign Service for nine years and in class FS-04 for seven years. In point of fact, these lengths of time in service and time in class fall far above the average promotion times for officers moving from grade FS-04 to FS-03.[…]  We conclude, under the totality of circumstances, that the untimely suspension prejudiced her chances for promotion to FS-03 in the years 2015-2018.”

5) Beyond the blog thing — the FSO in this grievance case was an untenured officer serving her first tour at a “sensitive” country the FSGB would only refer to as Country X. When the FSO argue that she was never counseled at post regarding these relationships (other half of charges is for Improper Personal Conduct), the State Department contends that “any lack of counseling “does not erase the perception of impropriety [grievant’s] actions could create if made public, nor does it serve as an implicit concession that [grievant’s] actions were somehow appropriate.”   \

Well, okay, but ….. 3 FAM 4100 is the rules for the road when it comes to  employee responsibility and conduct. Which part of the current A100 or leadership and management classes are these FAM sections incorporated?  While I can understand the  department’s contention above, it also does not absolve the agency from its responsibility to provide appropriate counsel and training, most especially for entry level officers. Or is this a gap in the training of new employees?  When a new, inexperienced officer is first posted overseas, who can he/she ask about delicate issues like this? Is there a Dear Abby newbies can write to or call for counsel at the State Department without the question trailing the employee down every corridor?


LGBT Ambassadors: We’ve Come This Far But … Still Pale and Male

Posted: 2:04 am EDT



The following is an excerpt from Life After Jerusalem, a blog by  a lesbian American Indian Foreign Service officer:

None of the stories I have seen on the event (such as this one in the Washington Post and this one in the Washington Blade), which I am the first to admit is a wonderful thing and evidence of how far we have come, mentioned this absence. Which I take as evidence of how far we have to go.
When the Department recently appointed an LGBT envoy, which to its credit is a career FSO (as is only one of the out gay Ambassadors), it appointed another white man. I was told at the time that there just aren’t any lesbians or people of color who rank highly enough to be considered. And that seems to be true. I can find no lesbian or out person of color who has made it to the ranks of Senior Foreign Service.

Of course, rank didn’t stop the Department during Secretary Rice’s tenure from appointing several men to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) who were only FS 02s in rank (for reference, FS 02 is the Foreign Service equivalent of a Lt. Colonel. Senior Foreign Service is the equivalent of a general. The highest ranking out lesbians that I know of in the Department are FS 01s, or Colonels, higher ranking than those men who were made DASes). And those men did not return to their mid-level positions afterward. In fact, two became Ambassadors, another an Assistant Secretary.

So really, the Department could appoint a career lesbian or out person of color if it really wanted to.

Read in full at Life After Jerusalem.


State Dept Spouse Employment: “Let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised”

Posted: 12:07 EST


One of our favorite FS bloggers is Kelly from Well That Was Different. She has spent the last 25 years living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Europe with her FSO spouse.  Kelly recently wrote a blogpost on spouse employment in the Foreign Service.  We excerpted the following with her permission.  We should add that she is not/not an employee of the State Department, so hold your bite, you silly tigers. If the somebodies from the alphabet soup offices read this, we suggest full, undivided attention.

Excerpt from Who Are You Calling Eligible?

Any spouse can tell you about jobs that are advertised, but actually “reserved” for the spouse of a certain officer. Or jobs that are not advertised at all, even though they should be, because someone has already been handpicked for the job. Any spouse can tell you about jobs that were assigned to someone who might not even have arrived at post yet, who might even be on their first FS tour, who simply kicked up more of a fuss than others. Any spouse can tell you about positions that were mysteriously created out of thin air for male spouses who “have” to have a job (sorry, but it happens).

So, let’s not pretend that this system is working as advertised. If it did, then frustration probably wouldn’t be as rampant among the EFMs who choose to participate in it. Spouse employment is always named as the number one morale issue in the Foreign Service. There are valid reasons for this—and they can’t all be blamed on shrinking budgets or post 9/11 security requirements.

A good friend who was once an EFM and is now an FSO says that you have to choose. If you are serious about having a “real” career as the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, the only option is to become an FSO yourself. If you don’t do that, then forget about having a linear, highly remunerative, career. It’s not a popular point of view, but I have to say, based on over 25 years of experience, that I agree with her. Repeatedly having to compete for scraps at every post is just not a satisfying trajectory. I have noticed that it seems to make a lot of spouses pretty unhappy.

Read in full here.

Only 2,736 eligible family members (EFMs) are working within U.S. missions overseas (pdf). As of November 2014, 64% or 7,449 family members overseas — out of a total of 11,620 — are not working.

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014

Family Member Employment, State Department, Nov 2014 (click image for larger view)

I went and look at the FLO website just now.  Good heavens, the Global Employment Initiative (GEI) is still on!  That exciting program “helps family members explore employment options and opportunities, and provides career development services.” Want to know how effective is that program? Me, too!


You know who else is back? Madam le Consul! Can you see me doing cartwheels?


Madam le Consul started blogging at The Consuls’ Files — ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul’ — in May 2009.  By October that year, she was gone, chewed to death by bureaucratic tigers. She later came back for sporadic posts.

Today, she told me she’s officially back. And she just revised her 1,000-word disclaimer to 15 words! Her first blog post: Yes, You’re King of the World. She writes:

Madam would like to think that US chiefs of mission will always set the best possible example for their underlings – an example for said underlings to aspire to, be proud of, and remember with fond admiration. Sadly, the newest crop of inspection reports confirms that far too many ambassadors are instead still playing the role of the biggest kid on the block – or the biggest frog in the puddle.
It appears that, still, a knuckle slap by inspectors may or may not lead to a leash-jerk by the appropriate bureau, which may or may not lead to improved behavior, which may or may not last longer than it takes to write a reassuring email and then forgetting about it. But at the same time, all ordinary, well-behaved, well-trained, doing-the-best-they-can FSOs know that they will be the ones who will suffer if they try to follow the rules when the boss’s boss doesn’t want them to. A single sentence in an EER review statement can doom a good officer to years of undeserved 03-dom.

Ah well, as Madam has often said, we don’t do our jobs for thanks. And yet, to all those good officers who do their best under pressure to not do their best from those who should be setting the highest-quality example but instead can’t be bothered, thank you.

Pardon me?  There are folks hyperventilating already in the next corridor? My web doctor says they need to go get a brown bag. Check out The Consuls’ Files and welcome Madam back to the blogosphere!


Related posts:



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

“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 —

Enhanced by Zemanta

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 ( She has for many years advocated for making information more accessible to Foreign Service family members.  She blogs at Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel worked as a research social scientist before her husband convinced her to try life in the Foreign Service. She blogs at

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.

* * *

Enhanced by Zemanta

AFSA Urges State Dept to Move Swiftly to Ensure Equality of All FS Families

The American Foreign Service Association released the following statement urging the State Department to move swiftly  to ensure equality of all FS families in light of the June 26, 2013 SCOTUS decision on DOMA:

AFSA welcomes today’s Supreme Court decision declaring the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

AFSA President Susan R. Johnson said “AFSA has long advocated for full equality for the same-sex spouses of our Foreign Service employees.  Much progress was made during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s time in office as far as access to benefits is concerned.  Given that he was one of only fourteen Senators to vote against DOMA in 1996, we know Secretary of State John Kerry is committed to full equality.  Now it’s time to finish the job on a federal level.”  She added: “We urge the Department of State, USAID and the other foreign affairs agencies to move swiftly to ensure full equality for all Foreign Service families, including health, pension, and immigration rights.”

AFSA urges a quick resolution of any outstanding bureaucratic issues that may hinder any legally-married same-sex couples from having immediate and full access to over 1,100 federal benefits.  Our LGBT Foreign Service personnel perform admirable service on behalf of this country all over the world, and their full right as Americans should now be recognized as quickly as possible.

Secretary Kerry also released a Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act with this:

“To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency. We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.”

Life After Jerusalem writes, “No more skim milk marriage for me and my wife!”

Adventures by Aaron writes, “I just want you to know that, today, I am incredibly happy.”

To our blog pal D and his beloved somewhere  in Asia, and to 4G and her house full of love, we’re sending you hugs and kisses.  To a friend and his family somewhere in the far continent, you can come home again, dude!






State Dept Holds Memorial Service for Anne Smedinghoff

There was a memorial service held at the State Department today for Anne Smedinghoff.  According to Life After Jerusalem, the ceremony was closed to the press at her family’s request.  If you are part of the State Department community, you can watch it via BNET at or later on BNET’s Video-on-Demand archive.

Secretary Kerry:

For so many, there’s been a “there but for the grace of God go I” sentiment in how everyone saw in Anne’s idealism and her courage just a little bit of who we’d all like to be, and more than a little bit of a reminder that in this dangerous world that calls on foreign service professionals, the risks are always with us.
What I hope we can do this week is celebrate Anne’s life together. So this Thursday, May 2, I ask you to help remember Anne by joining me and Anne’s family – Tom, Mary Beth, Mark, Regina, and Joan – at a memorial service that will celebrate her and honor her ideals.”

There were others at the memorial with speaking parts but only the one by Tara Sonenshine, the outgoing Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has so far been posted online:

I’d like to thank Under Secretary Kennedy and Father Moretti for their moving words. I’d also like to extend a warm embrace to Anne’s family, friends, and colleagues; and to the mother of Kelly Hunt. Also to Steve Overman, Jeff Lodinsky, and the other U.S. civilians hurt in this incident; and to the families of the three servicemen just mentioned by Under Secretary Kennedy, who also lost their lives.

We have heard, and we will hear, much about Anne as a person. I want to talk about Anne as a member of the public diplomacy family.

You may read the text of the full remarks here. No photos or video appear to be available to the public for this memorial service.

Also just to note that Jeff Lodinsky was wounded in the Kunar suicide bombing incident last year, not the Zabul incident that killed Anne Smedinghoff.  This is the first time we’ve heard about Steve Overman. We don’t know if he was wounded in Kunar or in Zabul. We think he might be with USAID but could not get confirmation on that.


— DS