Category Archives: Technology and Work

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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Filed under Africa, Ambassadors, Digital Diplomacy, Facebook, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Leaks|Controversies, Questions, Social Media, Spectacular, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

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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Filed under Americans Abroad, Facebook, Federal Agencies, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

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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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consul Generals, Consular Work, Foreign Service, FSOs, Public Diplomacy, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions, Visas

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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State Dept Responds to an FOIA Two Years After Request — Confusion and Hilarity Follows

– Domani Spero

One of our blog readers asked us about the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA). Nope, we don’t know much about it except the (b)(6) exemptions which resulted on the redactions of OIG inspectors names from publicly available reports posted online.  In  October 2013, State/OIG finally started disclosing the names of inspectors in publicly available reports, so yay for that.

But because we’re a curious cat, we wanted to know why he was asking us about the FOIA. It turned out, our reader submitted a FOIA request to the State Department in 2012.  He wanted to know about “Meetings between Jeff Gorsky and the AILA.”  Mr. Gorsky is the Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion Section of the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs and AILA is the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association of more than 13,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Our reader, Mr. Requester, shared the confirmation of his FOIA request from 2012:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

After repeated inquiries and prodding, and after almost two years of waiting, a response finally arrived in Mr. Requester’s mail box this year. Note that the subject of the FOIA request is “Jeff Gorsky and the AILA” and the official State Department response to the FOIA request came from Mr. Gorsky himself. Take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21

What the hey?

Is it normal or routine that the subject of the FOIA request is also the signatory of the letter that basically says we found 42 documents but they all contain information that is “personal in nature?”

I don’t know, is it?  Help me out here.  These are presumably from work emails, how can they all be “personal in nature?”

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Note: FOIA Exemption (b)(6) – permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Is it bizarre or is it just totally expected that the responding office (b)(6)’ed just about every name that appears on the documents released?  In handwritten notations that look messy and all?  What’s the use of filing an FOIA if all you get are these scrawny (b)(6)s?  The email above concerns a meeting request on “L1 Visas in Singapore.” So, the names of all  pertinent parties to that meeting are also “personal in nature?”

Processing … processing ….screeeccch bang kaplunga!  Ugh! I don’t get it; I must be, like… like….like, a malfunctioned magnet*.

Folks, the White House publishes online its Visitor Access Records, and heavens help them, there are lots of names listed there; some even include middle names!

On March 16, 2009, just as the new president came to office, the State Department’s Bureau of Administration released an FOIA Guidance from the Secretary of State to the department employees.  In says in part:

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama signed two memoranda on openness in government – one ushering in a new era of transparency in government, the other ordering a presumption of disclosure in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department will be at the forefront of making this commitment a reality.
[…]
As a Department, we should respond to requests in a timely manner, resolve doubts in favor of openness, and not withhold information based on speculative or abstract fears.
[…]
We need every Department employee to manage the challenge of informing the public and protecting information in a way that fulfills the President’s strong commitment to transparency.

Well, what about that, huh?

In any case, the Department of Justice FOIA Guide on Exemption 6 notes that “Personal privacy interests are protected by two provisions of the FOIA, Exemptions 6 and 7(C). … Exemption 6 permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (1)

The Guide also says that “In some instances, the disclosure of information might involve no invasion of privacy because, fundamentally, the information is of such a nature that no expectation of privacy exists. (49) For example, civilian federal employees generally have no expectation of privacy regarding their names, titles, grades, salaries, and duty stations as employees (50) or regarding the parts of their successful employment applications that show their qualifications for their positions.” (51)

Also this: “if the information at issue is particularly well known or is widely available within the public domain, there generally is no expectation of privacy. “

You should know that we have no expertise on FOIAs. But the State Department on this FOIA case managed to use the (b)(6) exemption to redact the names of the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular and that “Desk Officer for Singapore Visa matters.”

Here’s a person of the street question: Why would anyone think that disclosing Janice J. Jacobs‘ name as Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consulate Consular Affairs (she is on Wikipedia, by the way) would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy?” 

C’mon, folks, you gotta admit, this is totally hilarious!

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-20

Let’s compare this to the  emails released under FOIA on the Keystone XL meetings. Also redacted but as you can see on the emails here, the State Department did not use the (b)(6) exemption and instead used (b)(5) which protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” But look how this is marked:

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

Click on image to read the released emails.

The FOIA super ninja we consulted (thanks J!) suggested that an immediate appeal be filed.  Mr. Requester told us he already sent in an appeal.  We just hope the response to his appeal would not take two years, and would not include scrawny (b)(6)s for decorations.

Seriously. Do you realize  that if the State Department continue to slap (b)(6)s on FOIA’ed docs so thoughtlessly like this, that the agency will be at the forefront of making President Obama’s commitment to “transparency in government” and “presumption of disclosure” a laughing matter? Pardon me, it is already a laughing matter?  Well, a  competition then on who will be at the forefront.  

Folks, you need to fix this or we may be forced to start a rock band called Twisted Hilarity.    

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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.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

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

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

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

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

– Domani Spero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Domani Spero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Domani Spero

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

Via imgur.com

Via imgur.com

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

Here is his intro via Reddit:

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

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

Edit: A few FAQs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions about money and ambassadors were asked and answered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s this comment:

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

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

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