Category Archives: Public Diplomacy

U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit

– Domani Spero

Oh, the stuff you can do these days with energy and imagination.  The U.S.Consulate General in Toronto did a Reddit AMA last week, answering questions on visas and Amcit services. While the AMA response was modest, we believe this is the first time a consular post did an AMA on Reddit. USCG Toronto processes over 500 nonimmigrant visas a day. In 2008, Consulate General Toronto already had the largest NIV section in Canada.  The inspection report at that time noted that about half of all new immigrants to Canada chose the greater Toronto area for their place of residence.

USCG Toronto, Canada Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

USCG Toronto, Canada
Photo via US Mission Ottawa/FB

Below is an excerpt from the  AMA conducted by  FSOs, Nausher Ali, Visas Chief  and Kathryn Porter,American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto:

Greetings Reddit!
We are U.S. Foreign Service Officers from the Consular Section of U.S. Consulate Toronto, and we want to answer your questions about non-immigrant visas and U.S. citizen services! We’ll give as much information as we can in order to help you understand how we work. Hopefully, this conversation will help you be better prepared for a visa interview and/or allow us to help you more efficiently if you are a U.S. citizen living or traveling abroad.

Please note, we are UNABLE to talk in detail about specific cases or “pre-adjudicate” your specific case. We also cannot answer questions on immigrant visas for this particular thread. Any questions that deal more with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will either not be answered or we will link you to their relevant websites for more information. Finally, we cannot answer questions about life in the U.S. Foreign Service for this thread either. There are already a few other threads that do that quite well! That said, we’ll try to respond to as many of your questions as possible!

Our team that is answering your questions consists of the following people:

•Nausher Ali, Consul and Visas Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

•Kathryn Porter, American Citizen Services Unit Chief at U.S. Consulate Toronto

Victoria from reddit will be here with us today as well. Ask Us Anything!

https://twitter.com/usconstoronto/status/479355253007998976

Edit: Thank you everybody for your questions. We really enjoyed this today. Sadly, we have to take off. Happy travels!

 

Questions include topics such as H1Bs, asylum, discrimination, moving, immunity, moving to Canada, Spain vs Chile. Somebody wanted to know the officers’ favorite snacks!  Answer:”Poutine! Mission Canada! How could you NOT like Poutine? I like sautéed mushrooms on mine” and “timbits.” No, timbits are  not/not doughnut holes!

Here are some of the Qs asked and answered:

Q: What’s the actual intention for visa interview? I mean it hardly last for not even a minute.

Nausher: Visa interviews do usually last a few minutes because the consular officers are well-trained in quickly determining whether or not the applicant is eligible for a visa. Once they’ve determined that, there’s no reason to continue the interview. Here in Toronto we interview more than 500 people a day.

Q: Questions: How can a person aged 18-19 get an internship with an office like this? Sounds interesting for the experience and Can you explain what you guys/gals do there all day?

Nausher: we actually have an intern program for both American interns and Canadian residents. Most US Embassies and Consulates have a page that talks about their internship program, including ours. And here’s the link. The work depends on what section the internship is in. But typically a lot of interns will get to experience a lot of variety during their internship because a lot of what we do varies from day to day. For example, today we’re conducting an “Ask me Anything.”

Kathryn: And what we do all day depends. Every embassy has multiple sections, including political, economic, consular, public diplomacy, and management. Officers in each section do various activities to advance US interest and work together with the host country towards shared goals.  And for our internships, it’s all over the place. We are more likely to get people from international relations, political science.

Nausher: but we are always looking for different backgrounds. Most of our interns are local kids – we have 4 Canadian interns across 3 separate units. We are just looking for enthusiasm and interest in working at a diplomatic mission.

Q: I heard law of land does not apply inside the embassy. Is that true?

Nausher: It’s very complicated and really a question for a lawyer, but we are still on Canadian territory, but consulates and embassies are guaranteed certain immunities and protections under the relevant Vienna Conventions.

Q: If you were a character in George R R Martin’s books, what house would you choose to belong to, and why?

Kathryn: I feel like in Canada, it has to be House Stark! Winter is always coming! This is specific to Mission Canada. Here in Mission Canada we would be House Stark.

Q:  What’s your opinion on Mayor Ford?

Nausher: Mayor Ford has gotten a lot of attention here and internationally. But as foreign diplomats in Canada, it’s not our role to comment on domestic politicians.

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Hello Pop Star — USCG Karachi FSO Phillip Assis Performs on Pakistan Idol

– Domani Spero  

Via Buzzfeed

Phillip Assis, the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi performed with the other semifinalists during the Pakistan Idol semifinals last month.  See U.S. Diplomat Becoming Something Of A Celebrity In Pakistan.

 

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, @PhillipAssis spent two years as a Rural Development Agent in Togo with the Peace Corps. Phillip has also worked at the US Energy Association and the World Bank. According to the SAIS Observer, he spent his first tour in the Foreign Service in Guyana, where he met his husband. From there, he was moved to Vatican City and is now the CAO at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan. His next tour will be back in Washington, DC.

He is trained in piano, sax, flute, and vocals, sung at Capitol Hill jazz clubs for years, and released his first album, “Since I Fell for You” on iTunes in 2006 (The album is under the name Phillip Nelson).

Assis just recorded two music videos with embassy support on property rights and peace. “Aman Ao Mina” (“Love and Peace”) is currently a popular song on the radio and music TV stations in Karachi.

 

Beautiful song and we love the beat!  Click here to view “Aman Ao Mina” or here via Vimeo/US Embassy in Islamabad if the embedded player doesn’t play.

In 2012, we featured FSO Shayna Cram in this blog singing ‘Girl’ in Pakistan (see Reaching Across the Airwaves, FSO Shayna Cram Sings in Pashto:

 

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Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! 

– Domani Spero

 

As can be expected, the Chicago Tribune report citing an army investigation into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013 made it to the Daily Press Briefing.

State Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says that “No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report.” Since State had concluded its “classified internal review,” how many military personnel did it interview for its report on that Zabul attack?

One, two, ten, the entire unit …how many?

We don’t know since the internal review is classified.

According to the Tribune, the army report says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.  

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The initial blast was cause by detonation from “a remote-controlled bomb hidden under a pallet that was leaned up against the base’s southern wall.” On PRT Zabul base’s wall. The report also slams the “failure of the State Department team to properly coordinate this trip with military leadership.”

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The report says that the State Department shared too much information with Afghan officials, and the group may have been targeted because specifics on the event’s exact time and who would attend “had leaked out.”

Um….we don’t know since the internal review is classified.

An embassy email referenced to in the report said that Qalat was picked because “we think the visuals would be nice” and it is a “the perfect place for a media tour.”

Months or years from now when the media and the public have forgotten about this — are we going to find out that the U.S. Army conducted its investigation without talking to State Department personnel, and that the State Department, as well, came up with an internal review without interviewing any of the military personnel in Zabul?

The spox brought up two items that made us — whisley-tango-foxtrot!

“Afghanistan is a war zone.”

Because we all need a reminder!

“[P]eople responsible for this tragedy were the extremists.”

Holy moly guacamole! Is that the best response we’ve got every time a sapling falls in a forest?

We have excerpted the exchange below.

QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.

So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?

MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.

And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So –

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret –

QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.

MS. PSAKI: — this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.

QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building –

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important –

QUESTION: — is it worth reconsidering?

MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.

QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.

QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless –

QUESTION: — when they had the meeting, they decided not to there –

MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.

QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.

QUESTION: Of course.

MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.

But there’s more.

On April 10, 2013, McClatchy  filed a lengthy report: Witness: Anne Smedinghoff, other Americans killed in Afghan bombing were on foot, lost.  Five days later, then State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied that Smedinghoff’s party was lost:

“Media reports suggesting that the group was lost are simply incorrect. They were going to a compound across the street from the PRT,” he said in written responses to emailed questions.
[...]

Ventrell said the purpose of what he called the “mission” that led to Smedinghoff’s death was a news conference featuring the senior U.S. official in southern Afghanistan and the Zabul governor to promote a book donation project and the “growth of literacy.”

Ventrell called “highlighting Afghanistan’s ongoing progress for both national and international media” an “integral part of our work.”

“This is what we do, and we believe in it,” he said. “Our diplomats believe in getting out beyond the wire to reach people. In this case we were engaging with the people of Afghanistan AND the local government.”

According to the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, reports suggesting that the group was lost are “simply incorrect.”

The Army report now confirmed that the party “had the wrong location for the school.” 

That official word from the State Department was never retracted.

So the Smedinghoff party was not/not lost, but they had the wrong location for the school? What kind of story is this?  Is there another meaning for the word “lost” that we have yet to learn?  We know about “get lost!” so no need to email us.  Mr. Ventrell is now the Director of Communications for the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
On April 24, 2014, McClatchy’s Mark Seibel writes:

“It’s unclear whether there’s been much soul searching at the State Department. In the Tribune story, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounds unrepentant. “The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the mission,” the Tribune quotes her as saying, then adds that “a classified internal review of the day was conducted, . . . and the department determined no State rules were broken.”

We have folks who complained to us — either that the State Department or Embassy Kabul was thrown under the bus in this army report. Well, we only have the army report to go on.

Army report excepted, we know three things from the State Department: 1) they named a courtyard after Ms. Smedinghoff at Embassy Kabul; 2) there is a new checklist in place; and 3) the internal review of the Zabul incident is still classified.

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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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Introducing Mike Hammer — No, Not Mickey Spillane’s, Esto Se Habla Español

– Domani Spero

Via State/IIP

“Este vídeo ha sido producido por la Oficina de Programas de Información Internacional del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos en marzo de 2014. En él se presenta el embajador de Estados Unidos en Chile, Mike Hammer.”

Ambassador Hammer is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service and entered the diplomatic corps in 1988. He has served abroad in Bolivia, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. In the Department he is known as “Mike” and has served in the Operations Center and as special assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He has received several awards in his career, including the Department’s Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.  He is fluent in Spanish and speaks French and Icelandic.

He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in early March just in time to be at post during Vice President Biden’s official visit to Chile.

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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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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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State Dept Introduces More New Ambassadors: Gaspard, Hackett, Ayalde, Costos, Yun, Berry

– By Domani Spero

The State Department’s foreign-facing bureau, the  Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) released a few more videos for its ambassador introduction series.  They obviously come from one script — say a greeting in the foreign language, include spouse, kids (or other relevant relatives) and/or pets, visit some Washington memorials, and say you look forward to meeting everyone in your host country.  We have to say that these videos are getting better, but they also come across as somewhat artificial at times, particularly when they get the ambassador and spouse do a duet in their greetings. Some of the ambassadors in this series, not just the ones below are naturally telegenic and excellent in delivery, of course, but others are less so.

One of our readers inquired who watches these videos.  These are  IIP products so the intended audience are presumably foreign publics.  Although, there doesn’t seem to be standard on how these videos are “push” to their intended audience abroad.  Some videos are posted across the missions’ multiple social media platforms with negligible results while others are posted only on the mission’s YouTube channels with better though uneven results. These videos are created by professionals (PR, video, digital?) at the IIP bureau, but just because you can, does it mean you should?  Does it make sense to make these videos for all chiefs of mission regardless of the Internet penetration rates in their host countries?  For instance, in Burkina Faso, the Internet penetration rate is only 3% of the population and in Chad that rate is 1.9%. Radio isn’t sexy, but wouldn’t it have more reach in those cases?  I supposed the answer whether it makes sense depends on what kind of return IIP is looking for in its investment of time and effort. For the chiefs of mission, it’s a question of whether they should get on this hot train because everybody’s doing it or if they should find an alternative outreach method more appropriate to their host countries’ infrastructures.

We have two previously related posts on this:

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard

This video was posted by State/IIP on YouTube, and separately on US Embassy Pretoria’s website and Facebook page. The video was also plugged by the embassy’s Twitter account but the total eyeball count could not get above 400 views.

Ken Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See
(with Italian subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP and linked to by US Embassy to the Holy See’s website and Facebook page.  Total views of about 1023 as of this writing.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde

Published in English and Portuguese by State/IIP on YouTube in mid September, we could not locate this video on the embassy’s website, Facebook page or a mention even on Twitter. It currently has 243 views.

James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra
(Spanish subtitle)

This video was posted by State/IIP in English and with Spanish subtitle with a total views of about 3,000. We have not been able to find this video on the embassy’s website or Facebook page, however, it was reposted by the embassy’s YouTube channel where it registered approximately 6,300 eyeballs.

Joe Yun, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia
(Malay subtitle)

This video released by State/IIP in English and with Malay subtitle currently has about 320 views. It does not look like it’s posted on the embassy’s website but it was  reposted on the embassy’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel where it has about 755 views.

John Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia

Posted by State/IIP in September, it has about 1030 views. Reposted by US Embassy Canberra on the embassy’s YouTube channel, it currently has 25,791 views

👀

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White House’s Macon Phillips To Get New Digs at State Dept’s Bureau of International Information Programs

– By Domani Spero

Macon Phillips, the Director of Digital Strategy at the White House will reportedly get new digs at the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.  That’s the same bureau involved with buying FB likes and almost plunking a $16.5 million contract on Kindles.

Mr. Phillips ran the new media program for the Presidential Transition Team (Change.gov) and served as the Deputy Director of the Obama campaign’s new media department (BarackObama.com). Prior to the campaign, Phillips led Blue State Digital’s strategy practice, working with clients like the Democratic National Committee and Senator Ted Kennedy. His WH bio says that he is “a proud Americorps*VISTA alum,”  is a Huntsville, Alabama native and a graduate of Duke University. He is on Twitter @Macon44.

According to WaPo, the Obama administration is launching a new strategy aimed at revamping America’s “digital diplomacy” efforts. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has reportedly hired Macon Phillips, the 2008 Obama campaign’s digital guru to develop ways to expand engagement with foreign audiences:

Now, Phillips will be taking over the Bureau of International Information Programs — also known as the government’s “propaganda arm” — at a time when disseminating messages is increasingly complicated.

“It’s a double-edged sword: It’s easier to get information out, but also harder to correct misinformation that’s out there,” Phillips said.

[snip]

But much of the department’s A-list digital talent has moved on: Katie Jacobs Stanton directs international strategy at Twitter, Jared Cohen runs Google Ideas and Ross is writing a book.

A challenge for Phillips and his team is not simply reaching foreigners, but persuading them to change their views about the United States.

[snip]

Another challenge for Phillips will be to change the culture at the tradition-bound information bureau. The inspector general’s report found that morale was low and that “leadership created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty.”

Administration officials said they’re counting on Phillips to turn the page.

Active links added above. The Ross the report is referring to who is writing a book is Alec Ross formerly a senior advisor to former Secretary Clinton.

Mr. Phillips will presumably take the Coordinator of the  Bureau of International Information Programs position, the job vacated by Dawn McCall this past spring.  He will take over a bureau that staff described to the OIG inspectors as suffering from “reorganization fatigue.”  The OIG report noted that “The coordinator believes she was hired with a mandate to “fix” IIP” with the following results:

IIP’s front office leadership has focused on reorganizing the bureau’s structure without adequate engagement in and oversight of administrative matters. The front office has paid insufficient attention to mission-critical management controls, particularly in the areas of performance management, contracting, and travel. Front office decisions and management style do not reflect the PD family’s leadership tenets, which emphasize two-way communication and esprit de corps. A more inclusive approach could have helped the coordinator achieve her large scale changes more easily and successfully.

As far as we know, the IIP Coordinator position is not an assistant secretary level position.  According to the 2013 OIG report, the 2004 OIG inspection report recommended that the Department designate the senior position in IIP as an assistant secretary, given the size of the bureau and the responsibilities of the coordinator. The Department cited a congressional cap on the number of assistant secretaries as the reason it did not act. However, the lack of an assistant secretary rank continues to limit the coordinator’s effectiveness and Department perceptions of the bureau.

The 2013 OIG report similarly recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, in coordination with the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, should continue to seek legislative authority to designate the senior position in the Bureau of international Information Programs as an assistant secretary. (Action: S/ES, in coordination with R/PPR).”

We would not be surprised if this is the year when this position will be elevated to the assistant secretary level.  Obama White House alumni Heather Higginbottom has recently been nominated as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources at the State Department.  Former Managing Editor of Time Magazine Richard Stengel has also  been nominated to the  Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.   Stay tuned.

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Filed under Appointments, Assistant Secretary, Political Appointees, Public Diplomacy, Reorganization, Secretary of State, Social Media, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work

Obama Nominates Richard Stengel to the State Department’s Public Diplomacy Bureau

– By Domani Spero

 

In May this year, a group of 51 retired senior foreign affairs professionals including 37 former ambassadors wrote a letter to the Secretary of State urging that  ”a career foreign affairs professional be appointed as the next Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  See 37 Former Ambassadors Urge Appointment of a Career Diplomat to State Dept’s Public Diplomacy Bureau.  Well, that didn’t work.

Yesterday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Richard Stengel for Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Richard Stengel is the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, a position he has held since 2006.  From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Stengel was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  In 2000, Mr. Stengel served as a Senior Adviser and Chief Speechwriter for Bill Bradley’s Presidential campaign.  In 1999, Mr. Stengel was the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton.  From 1992 to 1994, Mr. Stengel worked with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.  Mr. Stengel has written for many publications and is the author of several books.  He began his career at TIME in 1981 as a writer and correspondent.  He received a B.A. from Princeton University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Christ Church at the University of Oxford.

If confirmed, Mr. Stengel would succeed Tara D. Sonenshine, and would be the 8th Under  Secretary for the “R” bureau since its creation in 1999.  No career-diplomat to-date has ever been nominated for this position.

  1. Evelyn Simonowitz Lieberman (1999-2001)
  2. Charlotte L. Beers (2001-2003)
  3. Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler (2003-2004)
  4. Karen P. Hughes (2005-2007)
  5. James K. Glassman (2008-2009)
  6. Judith A. McHale (2009-2011)
  7. Tara D. Sonenshine (2012-2013)

 

A useful read would be Mountainrunner’s: R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs).  The average tenure in this position is just 512 days with Karen Hughes serving the longest at 868 days.  Below is the Incumbency Chart for the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from a 2011 report by the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18

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Filed under Functional Bureaus, John F. Kerry, Nominations, Officially In, Political Appointees, Public Diplomacy, State Department, Uncategorized