Category Archives: Social Media

State Dept Answers FAQ on Ongoing Visa and Passport Database Performance Issues

– Domani Spero

 

Yesterday, we posted about the troubled Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  During the Daily Press Briefing, yesterday, the State Department officially stated that it believed the root cause of the problem was “a combination of software optimization and hardware compatibility issues.” According to the deputy spokesperson, the servers are getting back online but that they are coming back in a queue and that fixes are not being done on a country-by-country basis. And by the way, it’s not just the peak summer travel season, there’s also the Africa Summit in D.C. next week.

“Obviously, there’s actually a huge crush right now because of the Africa Leaders Summit, so obviously that’s a huge priority for us to make sure everybody gets their visas for the Africa Leaders Summit. We do believe that a vast majority of the travelers who have applied for visas for the summit have been issued.”

CA’s FB folks have been regularly answering questions from angry complaints posted on its Facebook page and have announced that they will continue to monitor and respond to consular clients at 9:00 EDT tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Late yesterday, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also posted a new Frequently Asked Questions on Facebook and on its website (not easily accessible from the main visa page) concerning the CCD performance issues and the steps taken to address those issues. Perhaps the most surprising is that its back-up capability and redundancy built into the CCD were both affected killed by the upgrade that hobbled the system.  Something to look forward to by end of calendar year — CA is upgrading the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software and that plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems. We are republishing the FAQ in full below.

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Information Regarding Ongoing Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Performance Issues and Steps Taken| JULY 30, 2014

The Department of State continues to work to restore our visa system to full functionality.

We anticipate it will take weeks to resume full visa processing capacity.

We continue to prioritize immigrant visas, including adoption cases.  So far, we have been able to issue most cases with few delays.

Nearly all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What caused the system performance issues?  Hardware, software, or both?  Details?

On July 20, to improve overall system performance and address previous intermittent performance issues, we updated software as recommended. Our database began experiencing significant performance issues shortly after this maintenance was performed.

A root cause has not been identified at this time.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.  Once that has been accomplished, resources will be applied to determine the root cause.

Q:  What steps did we take to mitigate the performance issues?

Since July 20, our team has worked to restore operations to full capacity.  On July 23, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) was brought back online with limited capacity.

The Department of State is working with Oracle and Microsoft to implement system changes aimed at optimizing performance and addressing ongoing performance issues.

We are incrementally increasing the number of processed cases as our systems will allow.

Q:  Has the Bureau of Consular Affairs experienced these types of outages in the past?

CA has experienced minor outages in the past, but never of this magnitude.  We have a plan in place to mitigate these occurrences in the future.

Q:  Is the software to blame?  Are contractors at fault?  Why was this allowed to happen?

We have been working to improve our services through upgrades while maintaining existing operations worldwide.  However, we are limited by outdated software and hardware.

Q:  Why did those steps not work?  What’s the next step?

We have not determined why the problems occurred.  We are working with our contractor and the software vendor to address the problems.

We are bringing additional servers online to increase capacity and response time.

Q: Why wasn’t there a back-up server?

There was back-up capability and redundancy built into the system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.

Q: What steps are being taken prevent this from happening again?

CA has a plan in place to upgrade the CCD to a newer version of the Oracle commercial database software by the end of the calendar year.  We are working to ensure the existing system will remain fully functional until the new database is up and running and thoroughly tested.  The plan includes establishing two fully redundant systems.

Q:  If CA is fee funded, why can’t it build a robust database that doesn’t fail?

The database has grown dramatically, in both quantity of data and functionality, and vastly improved border security.  In addition to checking names against databases, we review fingerprints and perform facial recognition.

We are working towards modernization of our software, hardware, and infrastructure.  Demand for our services outpaced our modernization efforts.

Consular Affairs has, and has had, a redundant system.  However, the upgrade affected not only our current processing capability, but also our ability to use our redundant system.  This is one of the issues we are urgently addressing now.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a passport applicant?

Almost all passports are currently being issued within our customer service standards, despite the system problems.

We are able to issue passports for emergency travel.

Q:  What do I need to know if I’m a visa applicant?

Visa applicants they can expect delays as we process pending cases.  We remain able to quickly process emergency cases to completion.

We are working urgently to correct the problem to avoid further inconveniencing travelers.

We are posting updates to the visa page of travel.state.gov, and our embassies and consulates overseas are communicating with visa applicants.

In addition to communicating through our websites, e-mail, and letters, we are also reaching out to applicants via Facebook and other social media sites, such as Weibo, to relay the latest information.

Q:  Why hasn’t the Department been more forthcoming until now?

We have experienced CCD outages in the past, but they have never disrupted our ability to perform consular tasks at this magnitude.

We informed the public as soon as it was apparent there was not a quick fix to bring the CCD back to normal operating capacity, and are briefing Congressional staffers regularly.

Q:  What is the outlook for Non-immigrant visas?  When do we estimate the backlog will be processed?

That will depend on a number of factors.  Current efforts are focused on bringing the system back to normal operations.

We must also continue processing new requests.  We are committed to reducing the number of pending visa cases as quickly as possible, but we want applicants to know that we will continue to be operating at less than optimal efficiency until the system is restored to full functionality.

Q:  Is the Department going to reimburse applicants who missed flights/canceled weddings/missed funerals?

We sincerely regret any delays, inconvenience, or expense that applicants have may have incurred due to the CCD performance issues.

While it might be of little solace to those who have experienced hardship, we are always very careful to tell travelers NOT to make travel plans until they have a visa in hand.  Even when the CCD is operating normally, there may be delays in printing visas.

The Department does not have the authority to reimburse applicants for personal travel, nor do we include these costs when calculating our fees.  The Department cannot refund visa fees except in the specific circumstances set out in our regulations.

Q:  What impact will this have on SIVs?

We have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in supporting our military and civilian personnel.  We are committed to helping those who have helped us.  While issuances of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis have been impacted, as have visa issuances around the world, SIV processing continues and remains a high priority.

Q: How is this impacting student visas?  They are scheduled to start the fall semester soon.

We are committed to issuing visas to all qualified students and exchange visitors.  Issuance of student and exchange visitor visas has been impacted in the past few days, but visa processing continues.

We understand the importance to international students and exchange visitors, their families, and their U.S. host institutions of timely visa issuance in order to facilitate travel and to ensure all students and exchange visitors may begin their programs on time.

Q: What about situations where the student won’t arrive to school on time?

Students should contact their educational institution’s Designated School Official (F and M visas) or designated U.S. sponsor’s Responsible Officer (J visas) and discuss with them what arrangements they can provide for you to begin your program after the start date on your Form I-20 (F and M visas) or Form DS 2019 (J visas), should such a circumstance become necessary.

Q:  Will this have any impact on the Diversity Visa program in September?

While issuances of all immigrant visas, including diversity visas, have been impacted in the past few days, IV processing continues and remains a high priority.  The Department expects to have used all numbers for DV-2014 when the program year ends on September 30, 2014.

Q:  What impact do we anticipate this will have on the U.S. economy?

Tourism and students have a major impact on our economy.  Last year, it was estimated that international visitors spent $180.7 billion and supported 1.3 million American jobs.  International students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses, according to the Department of Commerce.

We recognize the significant impact that international travel and tourism has on the U.S. economy, and are taking all possible steps to ensure that the economic impact is minimal.

People traveling under the Visa Waiver Program are not affected at all; nor are those whose previously-issued visas remain valid.

We routinely advise applicants needing new visas to make appointments well in advance of their planned travel, and not to book their travel until they have their printed visas in hand.

The original post is available here.  If CA is reading this, it would be helpful if a link to the FAQ is posted on the main visa page of travel.state.gov and in the News section.  We were only able to find the FAQ from a link provided in Facebook and not from browsing around the travel.state.gov website.

 

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Armenia Has a ‘Happy Yerevan’ Video — Hey @Montel_Williams

– Domani Spero

 

Earworm ALERT!  The US Embassy in Armenia funded this video produced in collaboration with the US Alumni Association of Armenia back in April.  The video is directed by Artyom Abovyan and features US ambassador John A. Heffern as well as several Armenian celebrities who were alumni of U.S. programs in the country.  The embassy is trying to get to 300K views and here is Ambassador Heffern trying to get Montel Williams‘ attention.

 

 

You may also watch it directly via YouTube below:

 

There are several ‘Happy Yerevan’ videos on YouTube and a whole series of Happy (fill in the blank) videos based on Pharrell Williams’ hit. Last March, the musician partnered with the United Nations Foundation to celebrate International Day of Happiness. There is Happy Astana, Happy Abu Dhabi,  Happy Istanbul, Happy Egypt, Happy Beijing, Happy Singapore, Happy Dakar, and there’s even a Happy Star Wars Edition.  The website http://wearehappyfrom.com keeps track of the Happy videos. To-date, there are 1,950 videos from  153 countries.

 

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State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 7/27/14 with media reports on number of evacuees.

In the early morning of July 26, the State Department finally suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the embassy in Tripoli.  The new preferred official term for these personnel movements now appears to be “relocation,”perhaps to avoid any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” So this is a relocation but under armed escorts.

The State Department also  released an updated Travel Warning for Libya (excerpt below):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately.  On July 26, the U.S. Embassy suspended all embassy operations in Libya and relocated staff, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 27, 2014.

Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

[...]

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

 

Read in full here. For previous warning see New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer.

Closure of an embassy indicates the termination of diplomatic relations, and that has not happened here. Here is Secretary Kerry emphasizing that this is a suspension of embassy operations not a closure.

 

American officials told NBC that 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday.  The Daily Beast reported that “158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya.” A variation of those two numbers have been widely reported in the media. The US Embassy in Tripoli had a skeleton crew prior to the evacuation, so “158 U.S. diplomats” evacuated from Tripoli is a questionable number.  Perhaps the only  one who got closest to the number evacuated is Reuters, reporting that “the eight or so U.S. diplomats who had been in Libya and a security staff numbering 200 or more drove out of the country on Saturday under a heavy escort….”

In any case, the last time the State Department suspended its operation in Libya was in February 2011. (See State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel). It was subsequently reopened in September 2011. Following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya on September 12, 2012 but did not appear to suspend operations then (if it did, we missed it). See our related Libya posts here.

The current suspension of embassy operations follows the temporary withdrawal of  the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) staff from Libya last July 14. That UN convoy reportedly left Tripoli by road headed for the Tunisian border, 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.  Yesterday, July 25, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced the suspension of its mission’s operations in Tripoli for security reasons and the evacuation of more than 500 Turkish nationals similarly via Tunisia.

The State Department’s media note this morning :

This relocation was done over land, with our personnel arriving in Tunisia this morning, and traveling onward from there. We are grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.

Something else to note about an evacuation unfolding in the age of social media.  During the evac, Libyan tweeps reported “3 convoys with total of 27 cars +1  lorry were leaving the US embassy in airport rd. Marines on foot and planes above.”  Other tweets of note:

 

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26 at the request of the Department of State.  The operation lasted five hours without incident:

At the request of the Department of State, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26. All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security. The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.

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Tweet of the Day: “Thanks for showing me your gun. I like this one.”

– Domani Spero

 

There are currently about three dozens U.S. ambassadors who are active on Twitter. One of them is our ambassador to Tripoli, Deborah K. Jones. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Jones was nominated by President Obama to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in March 2013.  She tweets under the handle @SafiraDeborah. Below is one memorable exchange:

 

Boom shakalaka!

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US Embassy Ghana’s Errant Tweet Sparks Social Media Rumpus, Demo on July 25

– Domani Spero

 

 

Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet.  One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”

SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”

Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:

“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”

According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”

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Diplomatic Security Locates 21 Year Fugitive Through Facebook

– Domani Spero

 

Via USDOJ:

SAN FRANCISCO – Francisco R. Legaspi made his initial appearance in federal court yesterday morning for failing to appear for his sentencing on Jan. 28, 1993, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez, announced.

According to court documents, Legaspi, 61, of London, Ontario, Canada, formerly of Daly City, was indicted on Aug. 19, 1992 on three counts of aiding and filing false quarterly employment tax returns for Mission Childcare Consortium in violation of 26 U.S.C.§ 7206(2). He pleaded guilty on Nov. 9, 1992 to one count of the Indictment. Legaspi was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 28, 1993, but failed to appear in court. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest for his failure to appear. On Feb. 24, 1993, an Indictment was returned against him charging him with failure to appear in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3146.

Legaspi was located in Canada in 2012, after the Bureau of Diplomatic Security researched social media websites and found Legaspi’s Facebook page. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police used the information to apprehend Legaspi. Thereafter, he was extradited from Canada to the United States with the assistance of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

On July 1, 2014, Legaspi entered a not guilty plea to the Indictment charging him with failure to appear. Legaspi’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 8, 2014, before the Honorable Richard Seeborg, United States District Court Judge in San Francisco.

The maximum penalty for aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns, in violation of Title 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2), is three years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum penalty for failure to appear, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 3146, is two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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USCG Milan: How to Talk With Your Hands Like a Real Italian – Watch!

– Domani Spero

 

The same post that brought us Statue Of Liberty celebrates 4th of July last year is back; this time teaching Americans how to talk with their hands like a real Italian. Here is US Consulate General Milan with the 16 hand gestures in rap.

Italy remains one of the top most visited countries in the world. Over 2 million Americans visited it last year. If it’s on your travel list this year, this might help you?

 

 

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Now This — A WH Petition to Remove Amb to Thailand Kristie Kenney For Twitter Selfies

– Domani Spero

On May 24, 2014, somebody named T. D. from Garden Grove, CA created a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to remove Ambassador Kristie Kenney from her post in Thailand. Below is the purported justification for the petition:

 

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Our ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but career ambassadors typically serve three years at their foreign posts. Sometimes, they’re extended for another year.  Ambassador Kenney has been in Bangkok since December 2010.  She is due for a reassignment not because of a petition but simply because that’s how the Foreign Service works.

We do not know Ambassador Kenney personally but we have followed her tenure in this blog and this seems not only unfair but steams from misunderstanding of an ambassador’s role.  Career ambassadors in particular are not rogue operators.  They do not originate an administration’s policy, they do not act on whims, they implement and defend the policy of the administration of the day and follow the instructions from the State Department. And when they can no longer do that, they quit as Ambassador Robert Ford did.

It looks like the petitioners were especially incensed by Ambassador Kenney’s  “never-ending Twitter selfies.” Are we proposing recalling our various ambassadors for conducting selfie diplomacy?  The thing is — ambassadors have marching orders for public engagement in social media. Some are more active and have better reach than others. @KristineKenney, one of the early adopters of Twitter among chiefs of mission currently has over 50K followers.  When Bush 43’s Karen Hughes talked about “a rapid response unit, ” Twitter was at its infancy.  Today, you have a chief of mission responding to rumors as quickly as you can say boo!

 

 

We looked at the ambassador’s timeline on Twitter, just because.  The recent selfies  had to do with  cotton and bagels, which may seem petty and all except that this is cotton USA and the bagels were from a partly US-owned business during American Restaurant Week in Bangkok.  We should note that economic diplomacy is the buzzword in Foggy Bottom — this includes not only in attracting direct private investment to the United States but also in helping to expand foreign markets for U.S. businesses.  In fact, State is proud to tout that it generates $150 billion in trade and even has a map that shows how the work of the Department benefits each U.S. State, and all for about 1% of the Federal budget.

So how can we fault her for these?

Photo via Instagram

Photo via Instagram

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-02

 

In some places, commercial promotion becomes the main priority for chiefs of mission (see US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”).  And while this photo below is not a selfie but obtained via Flickr, note that we even promote U.S  beef in Africa.

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

 

The US Mission in Bangkok has about 10 social media platforms including Ambassador Kenney’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Not sure what is its total reach like, but here’s a shoutout to its American Citizens Services @ACSBKK tweeting security updates, curfew reminders, as well as IRS, voting, and other relevant  and timely information to overseas Americans. No, we do not expect ACS anywhere to live-tweet a coup, good gracious!

 

 

We’re sure that our folks overseas, like most of us would probably like some quiet time to read a book or have a private dinner with family and friends. Instead — they’re promoting U.S. businesses because that’s part of the job.  Oh yeah, how would you like to be that guy promoting beef?

Whether the signature threshold in the WH petition is reached or not, Ambassador Kenney is expected to rotate out of Bangkok in the near future. We, however, imagine that the WH may opt to keep her at post for the full fourth year, precisely because of the petition. Thailand is a country of over 66 million people. Still, we do not think the WH would like to see a perceived precedence that a petition could unseat a president’s personal representative by way of a petition. But should this petition reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it is assured an official response from the Obama Administration.

Note that thousands of people petitioned the White House to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” It got an official response but sorry, we’re not gonna build a Death Star.

 

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The #PromiseofHashtag Ignites the Net, and the State Dept Spox Gets Roasted

– Domani Spero

In late March, the State Department launched a new phase in diplomacy and roiled the Internet. (see State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …). Yesterday, it moved on to the next phase with #hashtag diplomacy and ignited the Internet once more.

It looks like this started earlier in the day, during the Daily Press Briefing.   AP’s Matt Lee asked for official reaction on Russia apparently stealing the State Department’s #UnitedforUkraine meme:

QUESTION: Very high? Okay. And then in numerous tweets today – that I think this is a new development – the Russian foreign ministry seems to have stolen your #UnitedforUkraine meme. Do you have any reaction to this? They’re putting out their stuff with UnitedforUkraine on it. They seem to have – or could be trying to hijack it. Would you suggest that they get their own, or are you okay with this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think they’re living by their hashtag.

 

Here is one of the tweets from the Russian foreign ministry:

 

Later on Thursday, Ms. Psaki returned to the hashtag and tweeted:

 

State/IIP’s Macon Phillips followed with this:

REACTIONS

What Theodore Roosevelt said!

 

THE END

You’re laughing but it’s getting eyeballs. Maybe State is willing to be mocked online as long as it gets people talking about #UnitedforUkraine?

Oh, we must confess — Friday! Dear Friday,thank god you’re here!

# # #

 

 

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

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The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

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So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Filed under Budget, Congress, Counting Beans, Follow the Money, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Govt Reports/Documents, Huh? News, Pakistan, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, USAID