Category Archives: Technology and Work

Tweet of the Day: Amb @KristieKenney Announces Departure

– Domani Spero

 

 

Ambassador Kenney was nominated on July 19, 2010 by President Barack Obama to be the US Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Thailand. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 29, 2010.  She assumed charge of the US Embassy in Bangkok in January 2011. When she depart post next month, she’ll be a couple months short of a four year tour.

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Filed under Ambassadors, Foreign Service, FSOs, Social Media, Technology and Work, U.S. Missions

Burn Bag: Ladies and Gentlemen – the New Consular Bidder Assessment Tool

Via Burn Bag:

“Well, the results of the new Consular Bidder Assessment Tool are out. Based on the median scores, every bidder is in the top 20% of all bidders according to the rankings assigned by his peers. How much did we pay a contractor to come up with something just as useless as the 360?”

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

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Filed under Consular Work, Foreign Service, Leadership and Management, Org Life, Realities of the FS, Staffing the FS, State Department, Technology and Work

US Ambassador Gets on Reddit, Not/Not Nearly as Funny as Anonymous FSO

– Domani Spero

 

In February this year, we had an anonymous Foreign Service Officer who did an AMA on Reddit (see IamA United States Diplomat: Anonymous FSO Gets on Reddit and He’s a Riot!).  Last June, USCG Toronto also did an AMA on consular issues (see U.S. Consulate General Toronto Joins ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit). Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine joined Reddit for what we think is the first “Ask Me Anything” session conducted by a chief of mission.  Unlike the anonymous FSO’s AMA, this one is official and done on your dime; no need to report her to the FBI or Diplomatic Security.

You might also remember her as the first U.S. ambassador to be sworn-in on a Kindle this past June. Below is her intro on Reddit:

Hi Reddit! I’m Suzi LeVine, the American Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I am also a former technology exec and a mom to two amazing kids. It’s an honor to serve the American people as an Ambassador and I can personally attest to the critical role Ambassadors play in U.S. foreign policy making. Right now there are 60 Ambassadorial nominees who are still awaiting confirmation by Congress – that’s 60 countries where the U.S. isn’t representing its foreign policy interests as well as it could. Fun fact: My first trip to Switzerland was when I kicked off a solo 6 week backpacking trip from Zurich. I was 18 and, after buying my first Swiss Army knife, promptly learned how sharp they are when I cut straight through an apple into my hand. Let’s just say that I learned how excellent the Swiss healthcare system is. Verification: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/15302277727/

UPDATE: Merci viel mal. What terrific questions! Let’s do this again sometime! And, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AmbSuzi.

photo via state.gov

photo via state.gov

 

Here are some of the questions Ambassador LeVine answered:

Reddit user: Do you think your background which lacks diplomatic experience prior to your appointment as ambassador is a handicap or do you see it as a positive thing to bring another perspective? Or something totally different?  Where do you see issues in the relations between the USA and Switzerland? Where do the countries work well together?
AmbSuzi:  Diplomatic experience does not just derive from work in the Foreign Service. Let me tell you about team oasys from Jordan or team onebuzz from New Zealand. These were two teams and two groups of students with whom I had the honor of working in my capacity at Microsoft to shine a spotlight on innovators using technology to change the world. That’s diplomacy.

Reddit user: It’s always been a dream of mine to work for an embassy–or in the foreign service. I’m fluent in French, 24 years old, and I love America. How do I go about making this dream a reality? EDIT: I forgot to say I am an American…and of course I love it.
AmbSuzi: First off, go for it! http://careers.state.gov (In fact, I think the deadline for summer internships is next week, and that’s a great way to get a taste of this career. Stop wasting time on Reddit and go apply. :-)

Reddit user: Do you have to deal with a lot of people revoking their US citizenship nowadays? Because it isn’t exactly easy being a dual citizen these days ever since FATCA came around.
AmbSuzi:  I have deep empathy for those who are wrestling with this decision and situation right now. My team and I are actively working to alleviate some of the concerns.

Reddit user: What do you think of the common criticism that too many ambassadors are appointed because they were fundraisers for the President & the Democratic/Republican party? You can look up individual donations here and it appears that you’ve donated quite a bit to the President & the Democratic Party? Do you think that more ambassadors should be career diplomats or is there value in having individuals close to the President serve as ambassadors?
AmbSuzi:  Fair question. I believe that there is tremendous value in a blend. The answer is not “or.” It is “and.” Different skill sets are appropriate in different situations and places around the globe. For example, my professional and volunteer experience as someone who has created partnerships, organized communities, led teams, initiated start-ups, etc., is a terrific match for Switzerland where I work with the likes of Nestle, Novartis, and ABB. Alternatively, someone like my friend, Michael Hoza, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, brings decades of foreign service experience and is equipped to take on the likes of Boko Haram.

Reddit user: What is the most challenging moment of your Career thus far, and how did you overcome it
AmbSuzi:  I tend to approach challenges as opportunities. What can I learn? How can I grow? With whom can I learn from their mistakes? The hardest element of this ambassadorial job so far was frankly, waiting to get confirmed. In my overall very nonlinear career, the hardest moment was going back to work in 2009 after four and a half years home with my kids and hearing people say that I was no longer qualified.

Reddit user: Ambassador, you were the first in such a position to be sworn in with your hand on an e-reader instead of a book. That made the news on some tech sites, but the news reports lacked some kind of background. Whose idea was it, and what was the thought behind it?
AmbSuzi:  Great question! (By the way, what is the plural of octopus?) As for the e-reader, I wrote about this in my blog post here: http://go.usa.gov/wnBz. After reading, let me know if you have any additional questions.

Reddit user:  How regularly do you speak with State Department officials back in Washington DC? Who is your immediate superior? Wendy Sherman? How much of the day to day operations of an embassy come from officials in DC?
AmbSuzi:  We have regular communications, and it’s important to share what’s happening in Switzerland with D.C. My technical, immediate superior is the President. That said, we do a lot of coordination within the European and Eurasian Bureau, which is run by the awesome Toria Nuland.

Here are the some other interesting questions from Reddit users that the ambassador did not respond to:

  • Do you think that presidents should continue to appoint plush state dept posts to their highest donors? I do realize this goes both ways, and both parties are involved in this practice.
  • Do you have a Swiss bank account, and are they all they’re cracked up to be?
  • Do you get paid double?
  • Among the other ambassadors in Switzerland, who are the best to party with?
  • Can I move in with you? I’m tired of this shit country!
  • How many push ups can you do?
  • Anyway to hook me up with a trip?
  • How did you get the gig? Did you have to go to a special college, was it more about who you knew than what you knew?
  • How much did you have to “donate” to get the Ambassador position????
  • What advice would you give somebody interested in becoming an Ambassador (or at least working abroad for the State Department)?
  • Does it get boring being the ambassador to a neutral country while we are on the brink of WW3?

We were sorely disappointed there were no questions about Jason Bourne, TP, prostitutes, crashed UFOs, Argo, or Benghazi.  Maybe next time?

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Sanaa Hit By Suicide Bombers, Houthis Accused US Embassy Yemen For Attacks

– Domani Spero

 

On October 9, 2014, suicide attacks in Sanaa, Yemen killed and wounded dozens of people including women children. Ansar al Sharia, the al Baladi faction has reportedly claimed responsibility for the lethal attack.

 

 

 

 

The Houthis who took over control of the capital city in September (see Yemen Rebels With “Death to Amreeka” Logo Take Over Sanaa) are now accusing the US Embassy in Sanaa for the attacks:

 

 

The US Embassy in Sanaa has released the following statement in English and Arabic:

Statement on October 9 Tahrir Bombing
October 09, 2014

Ambassador Tueller strongly condemns the bombing that occurred in Tahrir Square on October 9.  The Yemeni people have lived with senseless violence for far too long and the recent increase in hostilities against innocent civilians only undermines the progress Yemen has made since the 2011 revolution.  Yemen’s challenges are political and therefore must be resolved through political solutions. We call upon all parties to refrain from violence, to return to peaceful expression of dissent, and work through democratic means to make their voices heard.

Additionally, we urge all sides to fully and rapidly implement Yemen’s Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), which builds on the GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanism, the National Dialogue Conference Outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.  Furthermore, we support President Hadi, as the legitimately elected leader of Yemen, in his efforts to lead the country during this fragile period. We call on all parties to support his efforts to implement all aspects of the agreement.

Ambassador Tueller strongly condemns the bombing that occurred in Tahrir Square on October 9.  The Yemeni people have lived with senseless violence for far too long and the recent increase in hostilities against innocent civilians only undermines the progress Yemen has made since the 2011 revolution. Yemen’s challenges are political and therefore must be resolved through political solutions. We call upon all parties to refrain from violence, to return to peaceful expression of dissent, and work through democratic means to make their voices heard.

Additionally, we urge all sides to fully and rapidly implement Yemen’s Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), which builds on the GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanism, the National Dialogue Conference Outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.  Furthermore, we support President Hadi, as the legitimately elected leader of Yemen, in his efforts to lead the country during this fragile period. We call on all parties to support his efforts to implement all aspects of the agreement.

Over in Embassy Sanaa’s Facebook page, the anger is real, and  everyone there appears convinced that the embassy is behind this attack.  What is worrisome is not the call for Ambassador Tueller’s expulsion from the country but the graphic suggestion of death in a red-tinted photo posted on the social media site with a red X on his photograph. We’ve seen this in Cairo, but this is Yemen where the armed rebel group has control of the capital city. Who are we supposed to call if there is a mob attack?

Qasi Qasi pic Sanaa FB pic

While most of the comments are in Arabic, and we’re told by an Arabic speaker that some are inciting violence (death to USA), here is this one that accused the US not only of the bombings today but also of running those Al-Qaidah fellows:

Listen Mr Tueller, you and your fellow in the embassy and your followers in Yemen, you are charged, you are accused in this crime. Every one in Yemen accused you as you represent America in yemen and America is the most terorrist goverment in the world. So,you must stop your fellows of Al-Qaidah of commiting such crimes because the blood of Yemeni people is very expensive.You are the responsible of Al-tahreer massacre.”

If the State Department still has those rapid response teams tasked to correct the record ASAP, now is the time to deploy them, not later.

Tomorrow is Friday, things could get really ugly after the noon prayer.

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The Global Coalition to Degrade and Defeat ISIL Gets a Couple New Websites

– Domani Spero

 

Last Friday, the State Department announced a couple new websites for the Global Coalition to Degrade and Defeat ISIL out of State and DOD.   Via Foggy Bottom’s official spox:

“This webpage has the most up-to-date public information about the coalition, including the latest stats on members and their public support for coalition efforts. Our colleagues at DOD have today also launched their website, defense.gov/counter-ISIL, which has up-to-the-minute information about the military line of this coalition effort, targeting – targeted operations against ISIL terrorists and infrastructure.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-06

The website includes a list of “over 60 coalition partners” who apparently  “have committed themselves to the goals of eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and have already contributed in various capacities to the effort to combat ISIL in Iraq, the region and beyond.”  The list is long, but short on specifics on what exactly each of this coalition partner is willing to do/or currently or in the future is doing in the fight to “degrade and defeat ISIL” (what happened to destroy?). It sounds like everybody wants to fly their planes for bombing strikes.  But we were listening with our bad ears, so who knows.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06

One notable exception. The new website mentions “a critical contribution of $500 million by Saudi Arabia to the humanitarian response in Iraq, [that] have been essential.” On October 7, media reports say that Vice President Biden apologized to a top Saudi official for his remarks suggesting that key U.S. allies destabilized Syria by sending arms and money to extremists. “The Turks … the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc.” Uh-oh!

And — since this is officially a war, even if Congress did not have the guts to debate this, we’ve got to give this a name. We had GWOT, but that term had fallen out of favor, so we really need a new name for this war against ISIL.

Below is an F/A-18C Hornet attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 87 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf to conduct strike missions against Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) targets, Sept. 23, 2014. Check out DOD’s website on Targeted Operations Against ISIL.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Burck

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Burck

 

DOD’s website looks more fleshed out than the State Department’s but makes one wonder why each needed a separate website. This is a united, interagency effort of the U.S. Government with coalition partners, is it not?  Is the FBI going to roll out its own Targeted Operations Against ISIS inside the United States separately for those wanna-be jihadists, too?  Is DHS/ICE  going to have a separate one for its Targeted Operations Against ISIL in all our border crossings and what is DHS/TSA’s plans for the jihadists returning home from their vacations abroad?

Speaking of Iraq — and we apologize in advance if you fall off your chair — here is Foggy Bottom’s clip of the day:

 

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US Embassy London Celebrates 10,750 Visitors to Winfield House With a Time-Lapse Video

– Domani Spero

 

Via US Embassy London:

 

With “Let ‘Em In,”  the second single from Paul McCartney and the Wings’ 1976 album Wings at the Speed of Sound. Post also did a timelapse video of Winfield House for the embassy’s New Orleans themed July 4th Party.

Since we now live in the age of social media, Winfield House which was given by Barbara Hutton to the U.S. Government after World War II for a token price of an American dollar — to be repaired and used as the official residence of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s — now has its own Instagram account. Check it out!

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Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation

Domani Spero

 

Today via  Sharyl Attkisson of the Daily Signal:

As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
[...]
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”

Continue reading, Benghazi Bombshell: Clinton State Department Official Reveals Details of Alleged Document Review. 

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A quick note: We’ve previously written about Raymond Maxwell in this blog; the latest was this oneThe Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?  Last year, we also posted, with his permission,  his poem “Invitation“ in this blog.  (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem

In Ms. Attkisson’s report, Mr. Maxwell criticizes the ARB for failing to interview key people at the White House, State Department and the CIA, including Secretary Clinton.  We actually see no point in the ARB interviewing Secretary Clinton, given that she tasked the ARB to do the investigation and that the report is submitted to her. The regs as it exist right now does not even require that the Secretary submits the actual report to Congress, only that the Secretary of State “report to the Congress on any program recommendations and the actions taken on them.”

12 FAM 036.3: The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation.

So we’re not hung up on the fact that she was not interviewed  But who gets the actual ARB report is probably one more thing that Congress really do need to fix in the regs.

Mr. Maxwell also named other officials who allegedly were never interviewed by the ARB: 1) Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who managed department resources in Libya; 2) Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro; and 3) White House National Security Council Director for Libya Ben Fishman.

ARB Benghazi in its public report never identified all the people it interviewed in the conduct of its investigation. ABB Kenya/Tanzania did that and the list is online.   We still cannot understand why those names in the Benghazi investigation are not public. What kind of accountability is it when we can’t even tell who the ARB investigators talked to? Redact the names of the CIA people if needed, but the names of those interviewed should be public unless there is a compelling security reason not to do so. There is an opportunity here for the State Department to declassify that part of ARB Benghazi’s report.

At the heart of this latest bombshell on Benghazi is that the weekend document session, according to Mr. Maxwell, was reportedly held “in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.”

This would be the 21st Street entrance; and the room is underneath the jogger’s entrance [insert room number for prospective Foggy Bottom visitors].  We understand that FOIA has had offices there in the past but that most of the FOIA offices moved to SA-2.  Apparently, the only office the A organization chart shows to be in the Harry S. Truman basement are B2A61 the Facilities Managment Office and B258 the Office of General Services Management.  But which office is called the Emergency Management Operations Center?  Some media sites are already calling this the “boiler room operation.”

We have generally been disappointed with the Benghazi investigations.  The fact that it has become a political football to throw back and forth with all the offense and defense attendant of the game makes us cringe; even more so, every “new” book  or revelation gave us a sad.

But we think this one is a most serious allegation and cannot be swatted away by a  State Department spokesman simply calling the implication that documents were withheld “totally without merit.”  A State Department spokesman also told Ms. Attkisson that “it would have been impossible for anybody outside the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to control the flow of information because the board cultivated so many sources.” So, hypothetically, if folks scrubbed through the documents as alleged, then an instruction went down to IT to removed those docs from the system — that could not really happen, could it?

If this is not true, if no document scrub happened in the basement of the State Department as alleged by a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, then we’d like the agency spokesman to say so clearly and call out Mr. Maxwell on this.   Security access records should also indicate if these five individuals were at the State Department that weekend, when this alleged “review” took place.

So, let’s hear it people. But. Without the word salad, please.

In any case, now that this allegation is out in the open, the individuals named or positions cited in the Attkisson report are presumably candidates for an appearance before the Benghazi Select Committee:

1)  two officials, close confidants of Secretary Clinton (Congressman Chaffetz said that he was told then-Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan were there and overseeing the operation)

2) one office director (??? from NEA bureau)

3) one intern (??? about to become the second most famous intern in Wash, D.C.)

4) State Department ombudsman (Office of the Ombudsman – Ombudsman Shireen Dodson)

One entity not included in the report but potentially a candidate for an appearance in the Select Committee is the Office of the Inspector General. In September 2013, State/OIG under the then acting OIG issued a report on the “process by which Accountability Review Boards (ARB/Board) are established, staffed, supported, and conducted as well as the measures to track implementation of ARB recommendations.”

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Listicle Diplomacy: U.S. Mission to the United Nations Now on BuzzFeed With More Gifs!

Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations skipped the State Department’s official blog, Dipnote and posted, what we think is its first listicle in BuzzFeed’s Community.  According to Poynter, BuzzFeed “considers community a vertical, like sports or animals. “You could write the same thing on your blog, but if it’s on BuzzFeed and it’s really good,” [snip] “it could be seen by millions of people.” Its editorial director told Poynter that  the community section has about 500,000 registered members and produces about 100 pieces of content per day.  So there’s that.

via USUN

 

A few of our faves:

1. What is the UN Security Council?

The UN Security Council is the world’s leading body in charge of maintaining international peace and security. It has 15 members, 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent, who serve two year terms. It is headquartered in NYC, and works on everything from applying economic pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program to sending peacekeepers to the Central African Republic.

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

4. OK, but the UNSC doesn’t always do such a great job, right? #Syria

You’re right. All 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council have to agree for the Council to live up to its responsibilities. Most notably, 4 resolutions aimed at helping to bring peace and security to Syria have been vetoed by Russia in the last few years, and there is no doubt that history will judge the Council harshly for that inaction.

OK, but the UNSC doesn’t always do such a great job, right? #Syria

5. The U.S. is the Security Council President for September!

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

6. Hold on, the Security Council has a President? Does that mean they are, like, president of the world?

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

No. Though we don’t get Thor’s hammer Mjolnir or an upgraded parking space, the U.S. will be responsible for setting the agenda for the month, organizing meetings, managing the distribution of information to Council members, issuing statements, and communicating the Council’s thoughts to the public. As UN Security Council President, we can turn the Council spotlight on the world’s most urgent threats to international peace and security, from terrorists like ISIL travelling around the world to wage war, to the violence in Sudan and South Sudan, to the crisis in Ukraine.

8. Wait, isn’t September that time of year when every hotel in NYC is booked and no one can get a cab in midtown?

So The U.S. Is President Of The UN Security Council Right Now…

Yes! This is a big year because the UN General Assembly will kick-off during the U.S. UNSC Presidency. Each year, President Obama and other world leaders gather in NYC the third week of September, negotiating, giving speeches, and – yes – clogging traffic.

9. Alright, so what can I do to follow along?

If you’re not a President or Prime Minister, don’t fear! You can still catch all the action and follow every tweet, selfie, and Snapchat the world leaders send. Remember when President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani took to Twitter to announce their historic phone call last year? That all happened during the UN General Assembly!

Follow Ambassador Samantha Power on Twitter and Facebook! And follow the U.S. Mission to the UN on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram!

Read the full listicle in the BuzzFeed Community here.

This could be just the beginning … prepare yourselves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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France Commemorates Liberation of Paris – #WeAreFreeMerci!

– Domani Spero

 

Our friends in France commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris, August 19-25, 1944.

 

Vive la France!

At the U.S. Embassy in Paris, a 45-star flag returned in 2013 is now on permanent display.  The American flag was donated by Jean-Baptiste Lapierre fulfilling a promise he made to his grandmother to return the flag to American hands. A U.S. soldier reportedly gave the flag to Lapierre’s grandmother during the liberation of Paris in 1944. According to stripes.com, the 45 stars on the flag suggest it was likely made between 1896 and 1908 when the U.S. had just 45 states.

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Tweet of the Day: Commemorating the White House Burning, Sorry!

– Domani Spero

 

First the good news!  The British diplomats in D.C. enjoy a smokin’ good barbecue.  Apparently, they had a  a ‘White House BBQ’ to mark the 200th anniversary of a ‘rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations.’   The embassy even had a huge White House cake to commemorate the burning. Then tweeted about it:

 

In related news, the embassy’s social media ninjas in D.C. shortly thereafter had to apologize for their tweet. It looks like some in the Twitterverse did not appreciate the joke even if it came 200 years later with cake.  Some complained that this was  bad form, some blamed David Cameron.  No, no one has thought of blaming the Queen yet.

We hope they’re not going to fire the intern. Anyone from Foggy Bottom attended the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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