Category Archives: Tigers Are Real

Ghost of Tom Joad: Peter Van Buren’s Book Readings in the DC Area

– Domani Spero

Retired FSO Peter Van Buren is back in the DC area this week with a couple of book readings from his new work, the Ghost of Tom Joad, A Story of the 99 Percent.



Washington DC

Visit Busboys and Poets for an evening of reading, signing, and possibly some drinking.

The event is May 20, from 6:30pm, at the Busboys and Poets store at 5th & K Streets. The full address is 1025 5th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, Tel. 202-789-2227. Nearest Metro stations are Gallery Place/Chinatown and Mt. Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center. More event info

Arlington, Virginia

Visit One More Page Books  for reading, signing, and more drinking (they sell wine and chocolates).

The event is May 21, from 7:00 pm, at One More Page Books, 2200 N Westmoreland Street #101 Arlington, VA  22213, 703.300.9746. The nearest Metro is East Falls Church. More event info


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Filed under Book Notes, FSOs, Peter Van Buren, State Department, Tigers Are Real

Chinese Tigers Eat US Consulate Shanghai’s Blog? Noooooooooooo!

Via VOA News:

A social media account run by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet in China, prompting many to wonder if it is the work of government censors.

The Shanghai consulate’s account on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog service owned by SINA Corporation, was known for its sometimes witty commentary, often on Chinese political and social issues.

But as of Friday, the consulate’s account was still inaccessible, replaced by an error message that reads “temporarily unavailable” — a message similar to those seen when accounts are deleted by government censors.
Beijing defends its online censorship, dubbed the Great Firewall of China, by saying it is aimed at maintaining social stability, preventing the spread of false rumors, and blocking inappropriate material.

Read in full here.

This is just so sad, right?  Mysterious disappearances are quite common among Foreign Service blogs, ya know, and now an official blog has been eaten?  They’re there one day, they’re gone the next. We have not been able to catch the tail of the offending tiger despite tracking the blood spots.

The WSJ reports that “U.S. diplomatic staff in Shanghai woke up that morning to discover that the consulate’s Weibo account had disappeared, according to a spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said no reason was given and it was unclear whether a particular post had caused problems.”

Well! Imagine that. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?  What were they writing over there?

WaPo cites a post responding to a senior environmental official which criticized its popular Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing, a shushing emoticon: “Keep your voice low. People are still sleeping,”

See, harmless as toucans.  May be the State Department will have better luck finding out how and why the Chinese tigers really ate the consulate’s blog?

Domani Spero




Filed under Censorship, China, Consul Generals, FS Blogs, Social Media, Tigers Are Real

Deadly Contagion Hits Foreign Service Blogosphere

We cannot say if the contagion that killed almost two dozen Foreign Service blogs was cause by a rogue virus, or if this is the “Peter Van Buren” effect on the FS blogosphere.  But what we know for sure is there are way too many dead blogs by Foreign Service Officers in recent months. We have no idea on the exact date of demise of each blog but they are all dead now.  It’s not even that they just stopped blogging, there are no goodbyes and the archives are gone.  Some blogs were scrubbed clean. Some blogs have become online parking lots. And some have been totally deleted from the cyber-verse.  This is not an exhaustive list, and this does not include the family members’ blogs that have been shuttered.

SD Dispatches (FSO) Blog not found

Scott At State (FSO) Blog not found

At Your Service in Switzerland – Aaron Martz (FSO): : online parking lot

Destination Diplomacy : Blog not found

Diplochick : is no longer available. The authors have deleted this blog.

Diplomatic Incidents : Blog not found

Diplotette : is no longer available. The authors have deleted this blog.

DipNomad : Blog not found

Hick/Hitchhiker/…Diplomat (!?) - : posts all gone except for disclaimer that says: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent those of the Department of State of the United States of America.

Luffmans.com : The requested URL /index.php was not found on this server. That’s all we know.

My New Life : Blog not found

New L’attitudes : no posts.

Seltzer Water and Other Things (FSS)- :
Blog not found

The Last 3 Feet : 404. That’s an error. The requested URL / was not found on this server. That’s all we know.

The Navigator (FSO) : Blog has been removed

The Vegan Diplomat (female FSO) : Blog not found

Two Red Marys and a Yellow Rose (female FSO) - : Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.

You Can’t Get There From Here (FSO)- : online parking lot

It is a sad state of things.  We don’t know if they were all eaten by tigers, or if they were just being prudent. We cannot blame anyone, of course, for being prudent.

We will find time to expand our blog cemetery, we may have to build a new cemetery….

Domani Spero


Filed under Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, State Department, Tigers Are Real

AFSA Guidance on the Personal Use of Social Media

I just saw this guidance on the personal use of social media from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service. The organization has close to 16,000 dues-paying members and represents over 28,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the Department of State, Agency for International Development (AID), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Foreign Commercial Service (FCS), and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). I believe this is the first guidance issued by AFSA on this subject. Republished below in full:

We are fortunate to live in a world where innovative technology allows us to communicate in new and wondrous ways.  Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs now allow us to communicate instantaneously with potentially thousands of “fans” and “followers.”  Just as the State Department and the other foreign affairs agencies have embraced these new communication tools, many of our members are using innovative ways to connect with audiences in their private and professional capacities.

AFSA supports the use of social media.  But any form of communication – via social media, telephone, e-mail, or just old-fashioned conversations – is governed by social norms and etiquette, and requires good judgment and common sense. Anyone who has ever said something they wish they hadn’t, tried to recall an e-mail sent in haste, or deleted a comment on Facebook understands the impact that the spoken and written word can have in our personal and professional lives. Electronic media – particularly anything broadcast over the internet – presents its own unique perils and challenges.  As the saying goes, “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.”

AFSA is currently examining the evolving issue of the use of social media by Foreign Service employees.  In the meantime, we offer these words of advice to any of our members who are currently or planning to use social media, particularly blogs:

Read the Existing Regulations.  The current regulations regarding the use of social media can be found in 5 FAM 790 “Using Social Media (pdf).  Although we understand that some of these rules with their cross-references to other FAM cites are confusing, we strongly recommend that any AFSA member using social media – especially where the lines between professional, personal and private use may be blurred – read them and if you don’t understand something – ask.

Avoid Divulging Private and Confidential Information.  Here is where many people run afoul of the regulations.  Be sure not to divulge any information that includes confidential or personally identifiable information.  Examples of these include but are not limited to visa cases, information about other individuals, or classified information (for example, linking to WikiLeaks.)

Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.  Even though you may have the required disclaimer on your blog, be aware that the public still may not differentiate between your official and private views.  You should be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official, particularly when your blog uses the “hook” of your Foreign Service connections to attract readers.

Review Your Privacy Settings.  Make sure you are aware of the privacy settings of the social media platform you are using and how to adjust them.  Platforms such as Facebook often change these settings without informing users.  Periodic review of these settings is important, and we recommend having them set to the highest levels.  For blogs, you may even want to consider restricting access so that only your family, friends and colleagues have access.

Use Good Judgment.  We can’t emphasize this enough.  As we noted above, all forms of human communication require good judgment, tact, etc.  And what happens on the internet, stays on the internet.  When in doubt, leave it out.

Contact Us If You Have Problems.  If you are an AFSA member and are approached by management or Diplomatic Security regarding your use of social media, be sure to contact us so that we can assist you with any legal or other issues.

We hope the above information is useful.  We do want to hear from our members regarding this evolving issue.  If you have a concern or opinion regarding the use of social media, please let us know via or call us at 202-338-4045.  For assistance with issues related to social media, please contact our labor management office at 202-647-8160 or e-mail AFSA’s lead attorney on the issue, Raeka Safai, at

If you are a blogger in the FS community, I encourage you to take this opportunity to reach out to AFSA. Although “AFSA is currently examining the evolving issue of the use of social media by Foreign Service employees,” family members of Foreign Service employees are similarly affected.  AFSA should hear the voices of family members so they have a fuller view of this issue.  AFSA need to hear the stories and concerns of FSOs as well as family members so it can effectively craft a more comprehensive guidance in the future.

Domani Spero


Filed under AFSA, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Social Media, Tigers Are Real

Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft

And I’ll let you listen if you have nothing better to do.

Back in January, I wrote about the State Department’s Wild, Wild Web Chat on 21st Century Statecraft:

[L]et’s pretend for a moment that I am a State employee with a blog that is getting some flack from my boss in say, the CA bureau. I give Mr. Ross my boss’ name.  Mr. Ross may take up my issue with the top honcho of Consular Affairs. If that does not work, he may take it up with the boss of the CA boss, which would be, yes, the Under Secretary for Management, pretty high up the chain.  I imagine that those bosses, whether they agree or not would listen to Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation; that’s a given.  So I’ll happily blog along, problem solved. Until, of course, Mr. Ross moves on to his next adventure and exits Foggy Bottom.  I, presumably would still continue working for the bureaucracy.  My boss, and his/her boss’ boss would  still continue working for the bureaucracy.  And they would remember me as the blogger somebody who rat on them to the 7th floor using the super fast elevator.  Under this scenario, Mr. Ross’ solution to “take it up” directly with the bosses is like the career equivalent of taking rat poison.

And it got some Alec Ross attention who posted a comment in this blog:

If you have suggestions (that won’t require people to take rat poison), suggest them to me. (I’m in the GAL and will preserve you anonymity). Take me at my word – I want to institutionalize the practice of 21st century statecraft. You are correct that I would “go to the bosses” — these are the folks I know. My internal interlocutors. Also working on the FAM and through other formal mechanisms, but I’m open to additional suggestions. Thanks for your attention to these issues.

I appreciate his offer of anonymity preservation, a nice gesture although not something really necessary.  I was going to write him back with suggestions but then on February 13 one of my blog pals disappeared.  She was not the first and of course, will not be the last.  So I’ve been thinking about these State Department tigers who can safely maul bloggers or their FSOs behind closed doors and wonder what Mr. Ross can really do about them. (Oh, the blog has now reappeared!).

I really should stop calling them tigers.  Despite the sharp teeth, real tigers are still darn cute. And these State Department tigers are not.   I should start calling them by their real names. With dead blogs in their wake, they should be appropriately called Serial Blog Killers. Because that’s what they do. They kill blogs in an almost random fashion. And so far, they have been successful in evading capture and not leaving any marks, precious bodily fluids, fingerprints or paper trail.  My CSI team is like, seriously confused. The cause of death, as always, is undetermined cause.  For some reason, the blog just goes DEYD, like deceased poets, dead and quickly extinct as mastodons, lifeless as Jupiter’s moons and no more of this world.

Mr. Ross said not too long ago that “the 21st century is a lousy time to be a control freak.” If that is really so, there are a lot of folks within the State Department who are having a pretty lousy time right now.  The fact of the matter is that in the last several years we have witnessed the State Department’s organizational schizophrenia manifest in its handling of social media use by employees and family members. These are private blogs written by employees and family members in their private capacity and on their own time.

If I have to send a tweet about the State Department’s promotion of social media and the way it handles some FS members using social media, I think I’ll borrow a phrase from a blog pal:

Dear State Department: Your actions speak so loudly I can hardly hear what you’re saying.

A side note here — when Matt Armstrong was hired as Executive Director for the now defunct Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, I had it in good authority that a condition to his hiring was to stop/stop blogging.  The condition was not set by DGHR or Public Affairs but apparently by — tada!– the office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs aka “R”.

Anyhow, below is a perspective from an FSO published in the Foreign Service Journal:

Anyone who has been called on the carpet for blogging — especially those who have been summoned more than once — can tell you that the only consistent aspect of the department’s feedback is inconsistency.  Blogging is encouraged by some elements within the department and is even discussed on the official page,, complete with a substantial set of links to popular Foreign Service-related blogs. Yet even bloggers listed there are sometimes targeted for official harassment by other elements within the department for having a blog in the first place.

With the exception of Peter Van Buren who is in a public fistfight with the State Department, we don’t really hear much from FSOs talking about blogging, and there is a good reason for that. I wonder if anyone is brave enough to write a dissent cable on this subject? A dissent cable that the public cannot read and that which management can pretend to pay attention to. Oh, I’m not against dissent cables. Frankly, I think it’s great for morale and perpetuates the notion that the organization is open to dissent. As long as it is respectful, of course, goes through the correct “channel” and is properly formatted.

Cultural Learnings of the State Department to Benefit the Internets

The State Department is an old, traditional hierarchy with power concentrated at the top. I remember Mr. Ross saying, “[W]hat social media tends to do, is it redistributes power. It redistributes power from hierarchies to citizens, from large institutions and the nation-state to individuals and networks of individuals.”

I don’t know about that. There was People Power before there was social media.  But let’s just say that what Mr. Ross said is true — redistributing power is pretty much like redistributing wealth, the people at the top usually do not like giving it away. And they’re the ones who write or clear what’s written in the FAM.  Even as the Secretary promotes 21st Century Statecraft and Internet Freedom and even as the first of the Internet generation join the ranks of Foreign Service officers, the sand people in the middle who do not want this and do not get this, remains perplexed as to why anyone would aspire to change anything at all and even put such things in the FAM. After all, isn’t diplomacy what you do behind closed doors because if everyone is looking in nothing gets done? Which is not to under estimate the power of networks and connections but I doubt that affairs of the state will ever become crowd-source.

Alec Ross.  I was thinking of Alec Ross. I don’t know how much they liked him over there.  When I told a blog pal I am writing some suggestions for Mr. Ross, she snorted and asked where was Mr. Ross when so and so’s blog was waterboarded behind closed doors on C. Street?  I have no answer, of course.  We’re not chatty or friends or anything like that and we don’t know where he was during the blogs’ waterboarding.  But I must say, that since we’ve been talking “rat poison” he has been the only one to reach out to us to solicit suggestions. There are already suggestions from an FSO here, and from spouses here and here.

Teaching the State Department cultural learnings to benefit the internets is not going to be a walk in the park. I certainly do not envy Mr. Ross’ job of institutionalizing the 21st Century Statecraft. Remember what happened to Transformational Diplomacy a term ago?  Yep, he will need more than luck. What was it Jeff Stibel said — that once the human mind has set out to do something and has gotten in the habit of doing something, changing it is very hard. Add group dynamics and it is extremely hard. Resistance will find a way.

Anyway, I’m thinking — how can you promote 21st Century Statecraft and sit back when bloggers and social media practitioners are penalized by other parts of the organization?  Is the organization so messed up that its various arms (more than two arms obviously) are more tangled than Rapunzel’s hair? Still, there was something different with this last blog disappearance.  I’d like to imagine that somebody picked up the phone and barked, “Give me Beijing!” Whoever picked up that phone deserves thanks. At least when I make a movie about all this, that’s how it will be. Which is not to say that we won’t hear stories about silenced blogs ever again. Or that the blogger’s FSO is not on somebody’s headache list somewhere.

As one blogger who had a near blog death experience tells it:

They can be anyone anywhere at State who can leverage any authority or have any influence over an employee.  They’re not just one department or one bureau or one piece of State or whatever.  Sure, they can be that employee’s boss, of course… but they can also be their boss’s boss, or boss’s boss’s boss, or anyone at post, or anyone in that section of the world, or anyone anywhere high enough to have any say over what happens to that employee, or anyone in any lateral piece or department who doesn’t like blogging in general or that blog in particular.

A few blogs have run afoul with Diplomatic Security, but it is not/not unheard of to have a run in with regional bureaus, or specific functional bureaus like Consular Affairs, or with post management overseas. The thing is with very few exceptions, no one is willing to come on the record to say why. And that in itself is not a healthy sign.  People are not being taught lessons in responsible use of social media, they are taught that crossing the line can put your career on ice and that there are no second chances.

I kind of think that this would be interesting to Congress who holds the budget purse-strings. See — if the State Department is so understaffed, how come it has enough people to monitor and go after the private blogs of its employees? Surely, they have better things to do than monitor, investigate and write reports about the goings on in private blogs?  Or perhaps the Office of Professional Responsibility in Participatory Media (PR/PM) is now real and acutely staffed?

But there are rules! Ah, the RULES!

Blogging Rules Now With More Ingredients Than Mongolian Grill

The Social Media rules for the State Department in 5 FAM 790 has more ingredients than Mongolian barbeque. Lordy, every time I read it, I get hungry.  It claims authorities from 5 FAM 712 and 27 other federal authorities.  One of the 27 authorities it cites is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.  According to 5 FAM 790, f. Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.   3 FAM 4125 says:

a. A spouse or family member of a U.S. citizen employee may accept any outside employment or undertake other outside activity as described in section 3 FAM 4123 (refers to teaching, business activities inside the embassy, authorized political activities related to US elections, involvement in private organizations) working in a foreign country unless such employment:
(1) Would violate any law of such country;
(2) Could require a waiver of diplomatic immunity deemed
unacceptably broad by the Chief of Mission; or
(3) Could otherwise damage the interests of the United States as
determined by the Chief of Mission in that country.

Really, now. Blogging for diplomatic spouses is certainly not in the category of “outside employment” but I think Management is stretching this section of the FAM to include blogging under the gigantic umbrella of “outside activity.” Nowhere is writing, blogging or social media activities even mentioned in 3 FAM 4123.  This needs to be clarified so there is no misunderstanding. Or so that this is not used as a catch-all reason by post management when its runs after spouses’ blogs.

Diplomatic spouses have been declared their own persons since the 1972 Spouse Directive.  Yet, the USG treats them on paper and in real life as if it owns them by dictating what outside activity is permissible overseas.  Perhaps the rationale behind this is hey, the USG pays for you to be overseas with your FSO, including housing, it has a say on what you can do or say while abroad.  [Note that the regs cited above only covers spouses who are abroad and make no mention or claim to spouses living in the United States]. If so, make that trade off clear.

We have not/not seen any spouse blog approaching anywhere near controversial. And yet, blogging for some have become a dangerous activity even if they are not/not writing about secrets, policy, security related issues or potential data for counter-intel scrappers.  Should diplomatic spouses suffer harassment for blogging just because the Principal Officer, or Management Counselor have nightmares about blogs?  Or because senior officers are uncomfortable with blogs containing toucans, bad furniture, baby pictures, etc? Or because the blogger may occasionally be a tad emotional online and it does not fit the Saint EFM’s sparkly halo?

The spouses’ freedom to write, speak, blog, tweet, should not be dependent on the good graces of senior officers and post management overseas. But — under the current regulation, it looks like it is.  That being the case, diplomatic spouses who are expressly told to shut down their blogs should get that takedown notice in writing including an explanation as to how the offending blog is “damaging” to the interest of the United States.  If they have to give up their right to free speech, would it be too much to ask to inform them what they are giving it up for?  Of course, if State wants to be really democratic about it, there should be a way for bloggers to appeal that takedown notice without penalizing the spouse or the FSO. Yeah, I know, too much work, and easier said than done.

Of course, it would be nice to have a list of what might be considered “damaging”  subjects to start with. As one blogger puts it, spouses are not looking to cross the lines, but that’s a hard thing to do if there are no clear lines or if the lines are constantly moving.

For as smart cookies everywhere already know:

DS [Diplomatic Security], and State in general, don’t seem to understand blogging very well,  and seem, lately, to be resorting to intimidation rather than guidance in too many cases.  We need someone who “does” social media at State.  An office that is staffed by people who actually blog, use Facebook, tweet, etc.  And we need practical, common-sense guidelines written by people who understand that the blogging train has already left the station and they’d better learn to drive it. Finally, that guidance needs to be written up in plain language for both officers and family members, and made available to both.

Practical common-sense guidelines is better than the current Mongolian Grill.

On a related note, I’ve also been thinking about Peter Van Buren.  I cannot separate these blog shut downs from Peter Van Buren’s case for one simple reason. If the State Department plays hardball with Mr. Van Buren when he has a large megaphone, what do you think it does behind close doors to the small fries’ blogs? Or to less known FSOs who blog outside the moving lines?

I think the State Department is wrong in letting the Peter Van Buren case fester this long. If there is a poster child for the consequences of 21st Century Statecraft in real life, that is Peter Van Buren.  If there is Exhibit A on a PR debacle under the 21st Century Statecraft, that is Peter Van Buren. And the Serial Blog Killer cannot even blow him a kiss.  I wish the State Department folks would stop wrapping themselves around the axle over him.  It is in their best interest to settle this case as expeditiously as possible, because I can’t imagine them winning points over this one.  Cooler and more sensible heads needed over there ASAP, yesterday.

As always, folks will wonder if this type of harassment, even nuclear option of silencing blogs are really true. Couldn’t this just be rumors?  After all, the State Department has been voted one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.  How could things be that bad?  And would it really do something so contrary to what it preaches to the rest of the world about Internet Freedom and the 21st Century Statecraft?

All I can say is that I did not imagine the dead blogs in the blogmetery. But the stories of the silenced blogs, the threats received, the career blowbacks, and the circumstances of their deaths are not really mine to tell.  So unless there is congressional action or a class action lawsuit, the public may never hear their stories.

On class action lawsuits, I’ve copied the following section to my notepad from US Diplomacy:

In 1968, Foreign Service Officer Alison Palmer filed a sex discrimination case that she won three years later.  Her victory resulted in an order from management barring all discrimination in assignments.  In 1975, when Palmer filed a class action suit on behalf of women Foreign Service Officers, WAO became a silent partner in the suit.  The lawsuit dragged on for many years but ultimately achieved success.  Though controversial within the Foreign Service, the Palmer lawsuit helped pave the way for new opportunities and improved conditions for women FSOs.  A similar sex discrimination class action suit, filed by Carolee Brady Hartman in 1977 against the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America, resulted in a settlement in 2000 that paid $532,000 to each of the nearly 1,100 women involved in the case.

What that shows is that change really does not come easy to the State Department. It had to be dragged screaming into gender equality in its hiring and personnel practices until it was beaten up black and blue and had to come to a settlement.  I think the Palmer case concluded after 20 years. The 1977 Hartman case was not settled until 2000, 23 years later.

Change, of course, does not come easy even to the best of organizations. Every change has its gainers and losers. Those with the most to gain will push for change, those with the most to loose will defend the status quo. Senior folks probably are not terribly happy with the prospect of a flatter hierarchy and less control after they’ve spent their careers climbing to the top.  I mean, would you?  But like an FS blogger said, this train has left the station, State better learn to drive it.  The risk of not doing this right is huge – like driving into a ditch. With the bystanders having a good laugh.

Conversation with self can get rather long, and boring after a while. Switch off in two minutes.

Domani Spero


Filed under Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Social Media, State Department, Tigers Are Real

Who Wants to Be Known as a Serial Blog Killer, Anyway?

English: Serial Killers Gallery at the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it goes.

And Kolbi’s blog is resurrected a second time. Which is almost as shocking as Newt Gingrich’s come back after his Aegean cruise.

Anyway, she disappeared on February 13, and we moved the blog to the blogmetery. We spent most of February 14 rounding up the usual suspects on paper. Why? Because that’s what we do when somebody disappears or when a 2010 victim of a Serial Blog Killer is victimized once again. Think Criminal Minds for blogs searching for a Serial Blog Killer’s “signature.”

So on our whiteboard we have listed the possible “suspects” below:

  • The blogger-spouse’s FSO’s section chief at post
  • FSO’s section chief’s boss at post, the Principal Officer
  • Principal Officer’s boss in Beijing, usually the DCM
  • DCM’s boss in Beijing, that’s the Ambassador
  • Ambassador’s boss in DC besides President Obama, the EAP bureau
  • EAP’s boss in DC, that would be “P” (way up on the 7th Floor, tsk! tsk!)

On our side column, we listed the following who may have been offended by the blog or other people of interest we should talk to:

  • the UNSUB or “unknown subject” – could be the janitor or secretary, who knows?
  • DGHR – because human resources has hands in almost all the embassy pies
  • Alec J. Ross, because he is the 21st Century Statecraft guru at State

We were just in the middle of collecting photos to go with the names of the usual suspects when we were told that Kolbi’s blog is back up talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.


Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shuuuung!

We are happy, of course, to move her out of the blogmetery (admittedly, one depressing sidebar).  But the blog was gone slightly more than 24 hours. And very few, if ever, make it back. That she escaped the certainty of a blog death a second time around is nothing short of a miracle.

Is the Serial Blog Killer now playing a different game?  Or is there a lesson here, somehow? We don’t know yet. We’re studying the victimology in the hope that it would help others survive similar attacks. We’re asking questions such as: What did she write about? Who did she piss? What interest of the United States did she jeopardize?

Wait – you think it’s because nobody wants to be known as the Serial Blog Killer?

Don’t know. But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, “If you can’t do something right, do something smart.”

Well, getting off the news before it hits the frontpage is definitely smart, boys!

Domani Spero


Filed under China, FS Blogs, Realities of the FS, Reputation, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, Tigers Are Real, U.S. Missions

Dammit! Which State Dept Tiger Ate This Diplomatic Spouse Blogger for Dinner?

Folks, and paging Alec J. Ross –

– Dudes, this is getting old and making me um throw up! After a quick and sweet goodbye, she’s gone.

A Daring Adventure

– Is this a demonstration of the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft at work? 

– Wow! 

– Now I have to add this blog to the Foreign Service Blogmetery. See the lower left hand sidebar of this blog, please.  Yes, unfortunately, the blogmetery is growing. Most of them died under suspicious circumstances. There’s a serial blog killer around, and I think there is more than one.

– Say, who are you folks going to eat for lunch, tomorrow?

Domani Spero


Filed under FS Blogs, Spouses/Partners, Tigers Are Real

From C. Street with Love, Slammed with a Seal

I’ve  been blogging about the goings on in Foggy Bottom for the last 4-5 years. I thought I’m no longer susceptible to shock and awe, but as it turns out, I still am.

This past week while I was occupied elsewhere, the blog We Meant Well posted a satirical memo entitled “Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq.”  Unless one is a BI, otherwise known as bureaucratic idiot, there is no way one can misconstrue that memo as coming from the Secretary of State of the United States of America.  Even with a State Department seal. The problem, of course, is that now that the State Department has suspended the writer of that blog, and has consigned the troublesome FSO to bureaucratic purgatory charitably called in this case, “telecommuting,” the organization has run out of hammers to pound a pesky nail. And tigers can growl to little or no effect. So, there’s not much left to do but write an email instruction like below:

Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 12:47 PM
To: the FSO who must not be named
Subject: Instruction to stop misuse of Department of State seal

In your statement on January 30 (“Talking Points for Explaining Chaos in Iraq”) you use the Department of State seal.  In addition to any violation of 3 FAM 4170 by this statement, use of the seal violates 2 FAM 152 (below).  As your supervisor, I instruct you to remove the seal from this statement and to refrain from using it on any unofficial public statements.

This email came from an office I’ve renamed, the Office of Policy Discoordination and Media Affairs.  Now,the interesting part is that the email cites two violations but only contains one instruction for the removal of the seal, and not/not the removal of the blog post.

The emailed instruction apparently includes a citation from the Foreign Affairs Manual:

2 FAM 152.2-2  Department of State Seals
(CT:GEN-344;   08-26-2008)
a. Department of State personnel are authorized to affix replicas and reproductions of Department Seals to appropriate documents, certifications, and other materials for all official purposes, consistent with this section.

b. Department of State seals or reproductions thereof may not be used for unofficial purposes by any person, and may not be used by any nongovernment person or entity, without the express approval of the Department.  The chief of mission or designee must immediately notify the Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigations (OIG/INV) when misuse of an official seal is determined.
e. Wrongful use of the official seals of the Department of State could subject the individual or entity to the provisions of 18 U.S.C 1017, which provides penalties for the wrongful use of an official seal, or 18 U.S.C. 506, which provides penalties for forgery or fraudulent making of a Department seal, and to other provisions of law, as applicable.

I wonder if this is official harassment by another name or if State has followed the regs and formally notified the Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigations (OIG/INV) for the misuse of the seal? Or is it that the somebodies are compiling an email load to demonstrate to the IG a preponderance of evidence of FAM-related law breaking here.

Just so I get this straight — 1) The US taxpayers are paying an FSO to stay away from work while he is suspended for writing a book that makes people looks bad.  The suspended FSO, without his security clearance is technically consigned to cleaning latrines, except that is one job you cannot actually perform by telecommuting no matter what the work requirement statement says. 2) The US taxpayers are paying another employee, a Deputy Director no less, and who knows how many more, for monitoring the suspended FSO’s website, research the infractions in the FAM and write emails such as the one complaining about the misuse of the department’s seal. 3)  The US taxpayers are paying these employees for the enviable chore of writing a weekly report of the various online infractions committed and email it to the suspended FSO, just so he knows and everyone knows that this is a job everyone at State takes seriously.  Nothing is too small or too unimportant to get into this weekly report.  By end of the year, the weekly report would make a nice thick book.

Now what I’m really wondering is this — how many employees at the State Department has blog monitoring and weekly written reports on private Foreign Service blogs included in their work requirement statements (WRS)?

Here is the official word on the Use of U.S. State Department Seal, the U.S. Great Seal, and Other Official Insignia from

U.S. State Department seals, the U.S. Great Seal, logos, and other official insignia may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Use of the Great Seal of the United States is governed by Public Law 91-651, Title 18 of the United States Code. This is a criminal statute with penal provisions, prohibiting certain uses of the Great Seal that would convey or reasonably be calculated to convey a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof.

Although the Secretary of State is custodian of the Seal, the Department of State has no authority to grant or withhold permission for use of reproductions, facsimiles, or likenesses of the Seal, or any part thereof. It depends on the circumstances in each case whether the particular use of the Seal would be improper and, as such, it is a function of the Department of Justice to determine whether any particular use violates the Statute. Consequently, the Department of State’s policy has been to discourage use of the Great Seal, except when used for governmental or educational purposes, and the Department does not provide artwork for its use other than for official State Department material.

Note that the prohibition on the use of the State Department seal does not apply to employees of the U.S. Government, foreign or domestic but to unofficial use by any person. Presumably that includes everyone, even those online. And corporations, for they, too are people.

This one has USG seals available online for sale, including State Department seals.  This one is an item on DIY State Department Cable Decoder, posted with a seal. Then there is this entry in on An Outbreak of Bureaucratic Idiocy, which includes a State Department seal.  The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has this posting, US State Department Adds Mullah Sangeen to Terrorist List; it also includes the State Department seal. It is everywhere online, even in Wikipedia, where the image is considered to be in “public domain” as a work of a USG employee.

So – you’re going to tell me that the preceding sites which all contains the U.S. State Department seal have the “express approval of the Department” to use it?  No? Does that mean, they too, must have received similar emails with instruction to “stop the misuse of the Department of State seal?” No? Well, then this is just so outrageously confusing.  We sent an email to Mr. Holder’s DOJ inquiring what happens if a person use the seal in a private blog without permission.  And where do you request a permit to use it, anyways? And if all those newspapers, magazines, web blogs all had to get permission when they put up the seal online? I have yet to receive a response from Justice. If I get a response, you’ll get an update.

And by the way, just between us — you don’t need a GS 15 Deputy Director to do this kind of work.  Seriously, you can outsource this to India. Or if you want to help the economy – you can absolutely insource this to me. I have perfect tea time manners and I’ll be diplomatic.  I swear.

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Filed under Foreign Service, FS Blogs, FSOs, Regulations, State Department, Tigers Are Real

2012 Consular Leadership Day Theme: Follow Courageously, Just Not Peter Van Buren

The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) recently announced its new leadership theme for 2012 which is “Follow Courageously.” CA, of course, is the home bureau of some of our consular officers who offended the tigers with their blogs — MLC, Peter Van Buren, to name a couple. Others will remain unnamed in this blog, no sense dragging the blog carcasses out in the open.  The consular officers are natural targets; they are some with the most interesting stories in the Foreign Service.  But it’s a love/hate relationship, see? Anyway, one of our friends inside the Big House excitedly told us this year’s theme of following courageously.
I said, hey, what does “Follow Courageously” mean?  Here is what I’m told:

The CA Leadership Tenets describe it as the ability to “take ownership of our work and hold ourselves accountable for improving performance and making our organization stronger,” and to “dissent respectfully and help the boss become more effective in the interest of the team and the mission.” 

So if you use bad, undiplomatic words in following your conscience, that’s probably not following courageously? You should be able to swear without opening your mouth. You should also be able to rock the boat without getting anyone wet.  What else?

Following courageously does not mean following blindly.  In this day of limited resources, growing workload, and changing circumstances that drive our ability to respond to new challenges, we all need to follow courageously – and that can take many different approaches. 

Following courageously includes challenging the status quo in favor of exploring new, more efficient ways to work – whether enlisting new technologies, changing business processes, or even delegating certain tasks to others.

CA/P has led the way on social media, using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to engage stakeholders and customers in new and exciting ways.  Many have proposed, either in FSI classes, via cables, or in forums such as CA Leads, the Sounding Board, ACS  , and VOxPopuli, innovative solutions to improve processes.  For Consular Leadership Day 2012, employees are invited to think about the many ways the section, office, or agency has followed courageously and pushed the status quo envelope. 

Challenge the status quo, but not/not in your blog, silly.  No mention of Blogger, WordPress — either those are not exciting tools or they are dangerous engagement tools. So what do you do if you want to “follow courageously,” and “dissent respectfully” and waaaahhhhhh, excuse me, but no one, NO ONE is listening?

“Following courageously often means speaking truth to power, especially when the message is unwelcome.  Many of us have faced instances when we had to deliver bad news to our bosses, or push back against a decision that was contrary to consular law or policy.  It isn’t easy, and some bosses simply don’t want to hear dissenting views, no matter how respectfully presented.  Failure to report problems, however, means they just get worse.  Offices that do not allow, and even encourage, respectful dissent only undermine their own effectiveness.  Successful offices create an environment where employees know they can raise issues safely and be taken seriously – and that management will work with them to remedy problems.  As an organization, do you encourage people to speak up about problems and explore solutions?  How do you follow courageously with those above your work unit?  How can you encourage them to create an environment where respectful dissent is given appropriate attention?”

Nice words but really, in which State Department sector is this real?  And when you are not working in a “successful office” what then?  What happens when you report certain problems and the tigers bite your head off?  Is there anyone in CA who would be willing to loan the courageous follower a Scottish targe or shield for protection from incoming projectiles? My CA friend, unfortunately does not have the answers.

“Following courageously can mean recognizing and nurturing someone who is a leader without rank – that person who is the “power of one” within your section, office, or agency.  You know the type – someone who is a ten-star leader, the “go to” person who gets things done, and is always thinking about what should happen, not just what does happen.  It is not always easy for more senior managers to acknowledge and promote the leadership role of these employees, but the best managers will follow courageously themselves, and put the good of the organization first.”

“Following courageously can mean thinking holistically about how we work, creating a “one-team” approach, and achieving economies of scale that maximize the use of scarce resources.  Consular Team India’s example of assigning specific country-wide responsibilities to a consulate, or the functional cross-training that occurs in so many posts, are only a few ways that posts are making better use of their resources.  

I said, hey, where are these ten-star leaders? Are they in India; I mean, why the special mention? Either they are in India or the consular bureau favorites insiders are now in India.
Thus it was made clear to us that following courageously can take many forms. But I am certain that it does not include writing a book like you know who. 

I mean, did you know that they took away his desk, and his badge, and he’s not even allowed to play with paper clips? If he ever gets back to Foggy Bottom, there is a bar of Lifeboy soap with his name on it.  Anyway, I heard that he got away with a Skillcraft pen, so he’s still writing and doing things and giving folks migraine. But that’s a blessing in disguise, the migraine, that is; there is something that beautifully treats migraine — Botox! An Indian cosmetologist promised, “A few prick jabs are like god’s gift for the chronic migraine patients.”

Folks, the migraine line starts over there. Follow courageously and stay quiet.

Pardon me?  No, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Consular Leadership Day has been renamed Peter Van Buren Day. 

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Filed under Consular Work, Dissent, Foreign Service, Leadership and Management, Peter Van Buren, Tigers Are Real

Wild, Wild Web Chat on 21st Century Statecraft – Disinfectant, Control Freaks and Please, No Shots in the Heads

You must know by now that the month of January has been designated as 21st Century Statecraft month at the State Department.  Of course, what is 21st Century Statecraft without the Secretary of State’s most Senior Advisor for Innovation?  On January 10, Alec Ross had a web chat with journalists and bloggers from around the world to discuss 21st Century Statecraft.  Below are some quips that made us take out our highlighter:

On the question, “How do you work with your diplomats who might not be social media savvy?”, this is what Mr. Ross had to say:

MR. ROSS: Yeah. So social media intimidates a lot of people that just aren’t used to it. I’m 40 years old, which makes me 12, 15 years older than digital natives, than people who grew up with the internet. I didn’t send or receive a single email when I was at university. I didn’t own my first mobile phone until I was in my late 20s. So I’ve had to learn this just like everybody else has.

What I tell our diplomats is that you don’t have to be a social media expert, but if you are working at our embassies, and certainly if you’re an Ambassador and leading one of our embassies, you don’t have to do it yourself, but you better find somebody in your embassy or on your team who does understand it. And then part of what we’re trying to do as a practical matter is train our diplomats – everybody from the 22 year-olds who are new diplomats, who, to be honest with you, don’t need the training because I’ve yet to meet a 22 year old, at least in the United States, who doesn’t understand social media – to train everybody from our most junior diplomats to our ambassadors.
So I personally train everybody who is a rising Ambassador. We have this thing at the State Department called the Foreign Service Institute. And you literally take classes to be an Ambassador. You go through what’s called an Ambassadorial seminar. And when you are in your Ambassadorial seminar, you get a class from Alec Ross about how to use social media. And what I tell them is you don’t have to use it, but if you don’t, you need to empower somebody at your embassy who does.
And it’s not about talking. This isn’t about pushing out a message. What I tell our ambassadors is remember you only have one mouth, but two ears. So even if you aren’t using these tools to communicate out to people, at a bare minimum, you need to use them to listen to people, because this is how people are talking to you in the 21st century.

Want more? Okay, more from Mr. Ross:

“I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and as our information networks become more universal and more powerful, there’s more of this sunlight to bring to light what’s happening all around the world.”

“The difference in the United States versus other places is that we do this without sacrificing universal rights. So people have freedom of expression. They have the ability to exercise peaceful, political dissent. They have the ability to communicate however they see fit”

“[W]hat social media tends to do, is it redistributes power. It redistributes power from hierarchies to citizens, from large institutions and the nation-state to individuals and networks of individuals.”

“The 21st century is a lousy time to be a control freak.”

“We can try to control the space, but I’m very skeptical about the degree to which we can or should control the internet. I think that it’s a losing proposition. The far better thing to do is to understand that everybody’s going to have a voice, that good points of view and bad points of view are going to be conveyed there, and what we need to do is be aggressive in getting out there and pushing out the truth.”
“What I will say, though, is if hundreds of people at – let’s say hundreds of people at the State Department – if hundreds of people are using social media and one person goes a little bit off message, I don’t think that person should be shot in the head. I think that they should be corrected. But part of the – part of getting people involved in using social media means that you’re giving up a little bit of control.”

“The traditional way in which the State Department got its message out was standing behind a podium and our spokesperson communicating the policy of the United States Department of State. We still do that and it’s the right thing to do. But part of what Hillary Clinton has empowered our diplomats to do is to have literally hundreds of other people out there communicating and having conversations, and I think that this is a good thing. Of course we all have to operate and communicate within the parameters of U.S. policy, but one of the things that we know is because of the hyper-transparency that comes with all of this social media, if anybody steps out of it for a minute, we hear about it.”

“I think that now that we’ve been doing this for three years, I think that what we can see is that, by and large, our diplomats get this right. By and large, they understand our policies. By and large, they represent us well on social media. So I think we should be doing more of this rather than less.”

“At the United States Department of State, we, like the rest of the world, are learning and adapting to a world that’s becoming increasingly disrupted by social media. This disruption can be good, it can be bad, but we live in a world of constant change. And what we’re seeking to do, even though we are historically a pretty conservative organization, part of what our boss, Hillary Clinton, has said is that we’ve got to keep pace, we’ve got to listen, we’ve got to learn, we’ve got to experiment. And so even things like this session today, this LiveAtState session today, I think is very important and very positive. Part of what we want to do is take diplomats like myself sitting here in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and bring them to countries around the world where you might otherwise not be able to speak with us and ask questions of us.”

Oh, Alec, this is wild, just wild!

Prior to Foggy Bottom, Mr. Ross worked on the
Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and served as Convener for
Obama for America’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications Policy
Committee.  He is not a career official.  He says that he personally trains rising ambassadors and the chiefs of mission seminar.  Which makes one wonder how far this flavor stick when the Obama Reelection Campaign comes calling.  Video here in case you need to show this to your boss who just slapped your hands with an imaginary bamboo stick for blogging, tweeting and touching those shiny but pesky 21st century statecraft tools.

When the harassment and discouragement of State Department bloggers first manifested we had a chance to point out the problems to Mr. Ross. On January 2010 he told this blog, “If I’m given specific names of people doing the “discouraging” then I will take it up with those individuals (or their bosses or their boss’ boss) directly.”

Which is good to hear at first blush but not the best response or solution to this problem. See, Mr. Ross, whatever his actual employee category is not a career employee of the State Department. He may leave when Secretary Clinton term is up, or may sign up for another term if there is an Obama II. Or he could get recycled out if there is a new tenant in the WH.

So, let’s pretend for a moment that I am a State employee with a blog that is getting some flack from my boss in say, the CA bureau. I give Mr. Ross my boss’ name.  Mr. Ross may take up my issue with the top honcho of Consular Affairs. If that does not work, he may take it up with the boss of the CA boss, which would be, yes, the Under Secretary for Management, pretty high up the chain.  I imagine that those bosses, whether they agree or not would listen to Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation; that’s a given.  So I’ll happily blog along, problem solved. Until, of course, Mr. Ross moves on to his next adventure and exits Foggy Bottom.  I, presumably would still continue working for the bureaucracy.  My boss, and his/her boss’ boss would  still continue working for the bureaucracy.  And they would remember me as the blogger somebody who rat on them to the 7th floor using the super fast elevator.  Under this scenario, Mr. Ross’ solution to “take it up” directly with the bosses is like the career equivalent of taking rat poison.

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Filed under Digital Diplomacy, FS Blogs, Political Appointees, Quotes, Realities of the FS, Social Media, State Department, Tigers Are Real