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 http://www.onemorepagebooks.com/events.html.
It made the news cycle for a couple of days because it contains the following:
Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation [(b) (5) REDACTED]The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
That’s about all that was reported in the mainstream press. But enough to rile everyone up. Our officials being harassed by officials in Pakistan, the same country which is the recipient of one of the largest aid bucket in recent years. That’s just really offensive. Of course, the extra fine details of that official harassment had been extensively redacted in the published report. Which is understandable. With both countries trying to hold on to this extremely difficult marriage, do we really need to pour more fuel to what is already a raging fire. So we’ll even accept that the redactions were necessary.
We’re slowly catching up with our reading and noticed one other key judgement in that report, as follows:
In the management section, a highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight from the front office, has had a detrimental impact on the functioning of the mission and the timely delivery of administrative services.
Okay, that doesn’t sound good, particularly because the management section holds almost all the keys to the proper and effective functioning of any overseas mission. An effective management section can help mitigate the fall out from a dysfunctional front office. But a dysfunctional management section can undermine even the best front office; although if it’s really the best, the management section should not be dysfunctional for long.
And then there’s this:
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Um, excuse me, but why should a delegation of authority from the Front Office of the US Embassy in Islamabad (Ambassadors Munter and DCM Hoagland) to the Management Counselor require the redaction above?
And then there’s this:
The management section is led by an experienced and highly motivated management counselor, serving in her third successive hardship tour. She supervises a cadre of well-qualified and experienced unit chiefs, many recruited by her personally. This team has worked hard to improve management controls and strengthen delivery of ICASS to all mission elements, and the effect of its efforts is palpable in every aspect of management at this mission.
The DCM, as he has with other senior counselors, delegated significant responsibilities to the management counselor.
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Jeez! Even the recommendation had been redacted!
The meat in the OIG’s teaser of a “highly centralized and controlling management style, coupled with the lack of focus and effective oversight” was effectively erased for public consumption. Because, obviously, the American public cannot handle the truth about bad leadership and management.
We heard talks and separate unconfirmed rumors that the draft report actually included a rather serious recommendation. The Under Secretary for Management‘s name had been mentioned as well as something about the officer with the redacted name having “a stellar reputation in D.C.”
我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都 Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews! Don’t you just hate that? No wonder these bad managers get recycled more often than bottle caps.
US Embassy Beirut Inspection Report: Similar Redactions on DCM:
This is, of course, not the first time that we’ve seen such redactions particularly in reference to the performance of career diplomats. Early this year, the OIG released its inspection report of the US Embassy in Lebanon. The section on the embassy’s deputy chief of mission (or deputy ambassador, if you will) was also extensively redacted. According to the IG report, the US Embassy in Beirut is encumbered by US Ambassador Maura Connelly who arrived in September 2010 and DCM E. Candace Putnam who arrived in June 2011. Wait, it looks like Richard M. Mills arrived in March 2012 as the new DCM at the US Embassy in Beirut, the same month the IG report was released online.
Here is the key item:
Embassy Beirut performs its core policy and operational missions well. However, its substantive strengths are undercut by front office leadership shortcomings [REDACTED].
That’s not the only redaction. Here are a few more:
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And below is one of our favorite portions, because it shows how artfully the inspectors can understate somebody’s micromanagement skill; intense front office attention almost sounds like a talent.
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Frankly, we can’t help but feel sorry for this poor sod working as the management counselor at the US Embassy in Beirut. And unlike the embassy’s CLO (an eligible family member) who called it quits, the management officer is a career employee and must sucked it up if he/she wants to continue his/her career with the State Department.
Whereas the Embassy Luxembourg report dealt with many of the same issues, the geopolitical situation in Lebanon is quite different from that in Luxembourg, and our Freedom of Information Act analysis led to more extensive redactions.
A couple other political ambassadors have also received crazy red ratings here and here.
O-kay! So technically, you can be an ass at any of the priority and hardship posts and the OIG will cover up your performance in blackouts under the guise of something called a “geopolitical situation”?
We want to make sure we got this thing right. So last night, we sent off another email to the OIG asking about the redactions specific to the Pakistan report. We haven’t heard anything; we will update this post if we get a response.
Our main concern about this is twofold: 1) the appearance of a double standard and 2) recycling FSOs with problematic leadership and management skills is not going to make another embassy greener or healthier nor make for better FSOs. Without effective intervention, they’re just going to make another post as miserable as the last one and impairs the embassy mission and operation. Can’t fix the faulty bottle caps if you just recycle the faulty bottle caps, simple as that.
The OIG slams hard the performance of political appointees and puts it all out to hang for the pundits and their neighbors. And yet when it comes to career appointees, the OIG slams them somehow less hard? Don’t know, maybe the OIG slams career diplomats just as hard in their reports (we want to believe that) but that is hard to know since the details are effectively removed from the reading consumption of the American public with thick, black Sharpies. As if somehow, we need to be protected from such grainy details.
Oh wait, it’s not really us they are protecting … but dammit, who …?
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.
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?
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.
Hick/Hitchhiker/…Diplomat (!?) – http://4brianhall.blogspot.com/ : 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.
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 viawww.afsa.org 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 SafaiR@state.gov.
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.
[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 themtigers. 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”.
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, www.careers.state.gov, 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 withpost 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.
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.
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 caseconcluded 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.
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
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 backup talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.
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!
— Is this a demonstration of the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft at work?
— 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?
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:
From: REDACTED Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 12:47 PM To: the FSO who must not be named Cc: REDACTED 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 state.gov:
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.
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.
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.