Macon Phillips, the Director of Digital Strategy at the White House will reportedly get new digs at the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. That’s the same bureau involved with buying FB likes and almost plunking a $16.5 million contract on Kindles.
Mr. Phillips ran the new media program for the Presidential Transition Team (Change.gov) and served as the Deputy Director of the Obama campaign’s new media department (BarackObama.com). Prior to the campaign, Phillips led Blue State Digital’s strategy practice, working with clients like the Democratic National Committee and Senator Ted Kennedy. His WH bio says that he is “a proud Americorps*VISTA alum,” is a Huntsville, Alabama native and a graduate of Duke University. He is on Twitter @Macon44.
According to WaPo, the Obama administration is launching a new strategy aimed at revamping America’s “digital diplomacy” efforts. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has reportedly hired Macon Phillips, the 2008 Obama campaign’s digital guru to develop ways to expand engagement with foreign audiences:
“It’s a double-edged sword: It’s easier to get information out, but also harder to correct misinformation that’s out there,” Phillips said.
But much of the department’s A-list digital talent has moved on: Katie Jacobs Stanton directs international strategy at Twitter, Jared Cohen runs Google Ideas and Ross is writing a book.
A challenge for Phillips and his team is not simply reaching foreigners, but persuading them to change their views about the United States.
Another challenge for Phillips will be to change the culture at the tradition-bound information bureau. The inspector general’s report found that morale was low and that “leadership created an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty.”
Administration officials said they’re counting on Phillips to turn the page.
Active links added above. The Ross the report is referring to who is writing a book is Alec Rossformerly a senior advisor to former Secretary Clinton.
Mr. Phillips will presumably take the Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs position, the job vacated by Dawn McCall this past spring. He will take over a bureau that staff described to the OIG inspectors as suffering from “reorganization fatigue.” The OIG report noted that “The coordinator believes she was hired with a mandate to “fix” IIP” with the following results:
IIP’s front office leadership has focused on reorganizing the bureau’s structure without adequate engagement in and oversight of administrative matters. The front office has paid insufficient attention to mission-critical management controls, particularly in the areas of performance management, contracting, and travel. Front office decisions and management style do not reflect the PD family’s leadership tenets, which emphasize two-way communication and esprit de corps. A more inclusive approach could have helped the coordinator achieve her large scale changes more easily and successfully.
As far as we know, the IIP Coordinator position is not an assistant secretary level position. According to the 2013 OIG report, the 2004 OIG inspection report recommended that the Department designate the senior position in IIP as an assistant secretary, given the size of the bureau and the responsibilities of the coordinator. The Department cited a congressional cap on the number of assistant secretaries as the reason it did not act. However, the lack of an assistant secretary rank continues to limit the coordinator’s effectiveness and Department perceptions of the bureau.
The 2013 OIG report similarly recommended that “The Office of the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, in coordination with the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, should continue to seek legislative authority to designate the senior position in the Bureau of international Information Programs as an assistant secretary. (Action: S/ES, in coordination with R/PPR).”
We would not be surprised if this is the year when this position will be elevated to the assistant secretary level. Obama White House alumni Heather Higginbottom has recently been nominated as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources at the State Department. Former Managing Editor of Time Magazine Richard Stengel has also been nominated to the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Stay tuned.
One of our readers from a post that will remain unnamed recently wrote a note with the following heads-up, “…our Front Office has gone on an anti-social media rampage of late.”
Something about slamming worker bees for not using Facebook or Twitter responsibly? Apparently, using our universal idiotic translator, that means anyone at post using FB or Twitter was not/not using it responsibly.
These folks have been sequestered inside the mission (before sequestration was a DC rage) due to well, reasons and are not allowed to meet their contacts outside the embassy compound. But our diplomats can continue their host country engagement despite the security hindrances in country X or Y because there now are plenty of social media tools. Except that embassies are not democracies, and when the Front Office is of the opinion that staffers who use these tools are not using it responsibly – what do you get? What kind of work can our diplomats realistically do when they cannot travel outside the embassy compound? What kind of host country outreach can be expected of them when even the mere use of social media tools is considered irresponsible use by their bosses?
And so the State Department’s social media schizophrenia continues, on background in that region over there.
This gives us an excuse to revisit the social media hubbub from last year about the change in the clearance regs, also known as the 2-day clearance for tweets scandal that gave everyone ants in their pants —
Anyway — rumor has it that when Condolezza Rice’s book was submitted for clearance at the State Department a year or so ago — the Executive Secretariat sent that around with very tight short fuze clearance taskers so that the 30 day timeline could be respected. This is the book where she reportedly congratulated herselfon forcing more State Department officials into the field.
Sometime last year year, we published in this blog a short piece on PTSD by an active FSO, and we understand that the clearance for that came through, shockingly enough within 24 hours.
So when the clearance system works, it rocks, but it does not always work as intended.
The current rules says that if the designated review period of 30 days run out without a response, that an employee may go ahead and publish the submitted material with a couple of caveats (no classified or protected info used). Which is good because it makes the clearance office accountable; officials cannot just sit on the submitted material for no reason than to stall publication. There is the risk, of course, that the Dept will go after you when you take that option. Prime example of this is retired FSO Peter Van Buren who wrote a comical and depressing account of reconstruction in Iraq in his book, We Meant Well.
That book was submitted for clearance, went beyond the 30 day timeframe and the author took the risk and published the book. The State Dept did go after him for purported use of classified information in the book, which did not wash or perhaps more appropriately, washed with bad streaks all over it. After a lengthy semi-public battle, Mr. Van Buren retired from the State Department with full benefits.
James Bruno, a retired FSO and author of political thrillers Permanent Interests, Chasm, Tribe and the latest, still waiting clearance, The Havana Queen, had to wait an average of six month for the State Department to review his books. Mr. Bruno wroteabout this in his blog:
“My book manuscripts must undergo government security review before I can even show them to a book agent or a publisher. Those I published before 2000 were cleared quickly and with little interference from the censors. The Bush-2 administration, however, tightened the process up greatly. It took almost six months to get clearance for my latest novel, “Tribe.” Upon completion of the manuscript, I phoned State to ask to whom I should send it. In return, they faxed me a letter stating, “Everything you write will be considered classified until cleared by this office.”
“This week, I shipped off to the U.S. State Department my fourth book for security review as required by nondisclosure rules binding on all active duty and retired government personnel who have held top secret security clearances. Taking an average of six months per review, my books will have sat a total of two years with the green eye-shaders in Washington. That’s two years of not being published. Two years of royalties not flowing into my bank account.”
If the 30-day timeline is to be respected for a former Secretary of State, it should be respected for all employees, active or retired, otherwise why have the rules in placed when there is selective application of the rules? Pardon me? That’s exactly why there are rules in place so exceptions can be made?
Well, dammit, that hurts our head!
Lost in noise of the 2-day clearance for tweets (which reportedly ain’t gonna happen!) is the central point that under the proposed rules, the State Dept endeavors to control much more firmly its employees speaking, writing, and media engagement, particularly on matters considered “of official concern,” that is, all matters of concern to the State Department. To put it bluntly, the gag works but did not work as well as evidenced by the Van Buren case. So an update is needed to make sure it works perfectly, silly.
Mary Jeffers, a senior State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy currently detailed outside Foggy Bottom had a piece on this in the takefiveblog. She writes:
Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that. And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.
(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).
And you can always pick up the phone to follow-up clearance requests to multiple offices, email them or if needed, walk your text to the clearance office. So what’s the real hubbub here? Ms. Jeffers with her pulse on the ground writes:
… in situations where the reason people might read your blog article or listen to your speech is that you work for State, but you want to use your own words and speak your own thoughts. And of course there’s a broad spectrum of such situations, ranging from invitational speaking that all State officers ought to do as part of their work (on one end) to whistle-blowing (at the other); and,
Close a loophole that indicated if State PA doesn’t respond to a request for clearance within a certain deadline, one is free to publish.
Those two items sit right at the heart of the matter.
The 3 FAM 4170 current rules applies to “all public speaking, writing and teaching materials of “official concern” whether done in official or private capacity. We suspect that the greatest impact on the proposed rules would be felt by employees speaking, writing, teaching and doing any sort of public engagement in their private capacity.
So all FB, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Ning, other social media platforms users who are State people, talking online about bidding, Iraq, assignments, promotions, housing, officially issued furniture, etc. etc. the proposed new rules are not going to be any better or easier despite official speechifying to the contrary. So you better stick with toucans. Look, the 30- day clearance will be shrunk to 2-5 days for social media posts. Apparently, the public thinks that’s unacceptable for official communication. Does that mean it is also unacceptable for employees communicating in their private capacity? Stay tuned.
Also as we’ve have blogged previously, the catch all language of the proposed new rules is troubling particularly on not violating “standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216” — those standards are not even spelled out in the cited regulation! Oh, hey, did we hear right that this draft regulation was done by an intern?
In any case — all that and the proposed closure of the loophole contained in 3 FAM 4172.1-7 makes us think that tighter control of employee speech, particularly those done in a private capacity, is the main goal of the proposed new rules. It does not matter that there is now a new secretary of state. The building marches at its own tune. If the FAM update is not yet out (it’s not), it’s only because too much public attention probably made it suddenly shy.
As to the complaint overheard down that corridor that we should not be commenting on a draft reg — sorry folks, we could not help it. Once the regulation is finalized, it does not get any further hearing for a couple years or so. That’s way too long. This particular piece of the FAM has potentially significant repercussions to employees speaking in their private capacity. The mere fact that it leaked means others inside the building have significant concerns about it. Had management posted it in the spirit of true collaboration on the Sounding Board for comments, we probably would not have heard about it.
A blog pal wrote, asking if we knew that we caused a stir in the Truman building. Like “State did not have their talking points or justifications in order.”
Talking points need clearance, too. Oh dear.
The piece was picked up by Charles Cooper of C|Net on December 5, and he actually got an official email response from State’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner of the Bureau of Public Affairs.
Provisions in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual are constantly under review. We are in the process of updating the regulations governing publication — both traditional and digital — to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment. The updates are still in progress and not final. They will be public, like all of our regulations, when they are final.
Not a bad response. But it probably means, it gets updated every time something hits the fan.
3 FAM 4170for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching was last updated in 2009. All except one of the sub-rules date back to 2005.
The rules for Using Social Media in the State Department are listed in 5 FAM 790 and released in June 2010. One of State’s self-identified media gurus once told us that this reg is not perfect; but so far we have not seen any effort to improved it.
Once the rules are in the books, it’ll take sometime before the regs gets another update.
A few days after the WaPo and C|Net articles, Will McCants, an analyst at CNA and a former senior adviser for countering violent extremism at the State Department as well as the author of a DoD-commissioned study of how to communicate with foreign audiences using social media, wrote Lost in Cyberspace in Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:
Although the review began before the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted controversial denunciations of the anti-Mohamed YouTube clip that sparked riots in September, friends at State tell me that Embassy Cairo’s tweets — which were not approved by Washington — gave added urgency to the effort to draft new guidelines for online behavior. State’s contemplated restrictions on its employees’ use of Twitter do not arise from a misunderstanding of a medium; some of Twitter’s most prominent members, including Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, work or have worked at State. Rather, State worries that the freewheeling, uncontrollable environment of Twitter could lead the public interpret the tweets of its employees as representing the official U.S. position on sensitive issues.
“The more State allows its employees to tweet during periods of calm, the more likely it will be that the institution can weed out problem tweeters and elevate those who have done a good job cultivating a community of interest.”
There is also something to be said for creating a little distance between the official U.S. position declared by a State spokesperson and tweets from embassy spokespeople and employees. State can take a long time formulating messages in response to crises because it has to vet them in many offices and, often, with the national security staff in the White House. By allowing embassy tweeters to message on their own, State will get early indications of what works and what doesn’t for the various audiences it is trying to reach.
Attracted lots of eyeballs. Fun twittersation follows the FP article.
Even @NickKristof waded in and then others, too.
@NickKristof If the State Dept is really thinking about 2-day vetting of tweets, that’s the dumbest idea ever.
@AlecJRoss “@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged.”
Whoops! Cushy tushy hurts! But teh-heh!
Here is a curious thing. The Public Affairs guy responded to C|Net earlier on, and then Mr. Ross took to the spin floor later on. Note that Alec J. Ross may be the senior advisor at the Office of the Secretary of State, but the clearing office for all matters in the Big House is located within the Bureau of Public Affairs, an office in the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. How involved is his team in “drafting/approving” the regs we may never know. But there are multiple offices involved in the drafting and clearance of the regs not just one.
Perhaps somebody should get in touch?
So then, Alec J. Ross whose actual title if you don’t know it yet is senior advisor for innovation at the Office of the Secretary of State, responded to Will McCants’s piece with:
Updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Dept MORE open and social media-centric, not less open. It will also make us faster.
EXISTING guidelines allow a 30-day review period for all forms of public communication, including those intended for online publications and social media, though in practice review and response is much quicker. That means that the policy we have in place NOW allows us a 30-day review period. If the DRAFT guidelines go into effect as they are (and they’re still draft), that would shrink from 30 days to two days for a small subset of content. It doesn’t mean that we would take the two days or that it would increase the number of social media posts that are reviewed. We just want to provide an outside window by which employees are promised a response. “
Somebody walked that statement to the PA clearance office, huh? And since Mr. Ross is practically a Twitter national, he also tweeted the author and got an immediate response.
@will_mccants oops, should have submitted my article 4 review RT @AlecJRoss: @will_mccants In future please get in touch before publishing on this topic.
Okay, then, Mr. Ross’s response sounds good. Looking forward to a fantastic “MORE open and social media-centric” final rule. But hey, don’t forget, 5 FAM 790on Using Social Media needs a good scrubbing, too. We’ll have a separate post on how well the 30 day clearance rule rocks outside the studio.
But on social media, the demand for almost immediate response carries an inherent risk. The question is how much are you willing to risk? And what about those who are “engaging” in the the public sphere in their personal capacity? How tolerant is your organization to perceived mistakes that will inevitably happen?
Anyway, wasn’t US Embassy Egypt’s Larry Schwartz thrown under the bus because of those ‘er “mistakes of commission?” Recalled anyone with balls from State’s 21st century statecraft shop who went online to defend our man in Cairo?
We don’t recall Mr. Ross or anyone at State with a Twitter handle defending the poor sod at the US Embassy in Cairo in the aftermath of that controversial statement and tweets following the mob attack there in September. The statement and the tweets could have only been approved by the Chief of Mission in Cairo because that’s where the clearance authority is delegated per FAM regulations.
See more here. The notion that the embassy statement was sent to Main State for clearance when there was a senior PA officer at post, or that the PAO was specifically told not to use it and he went ahead and did it anyway is just way too ludicrous. That’s not how careers are built at State.
And really dudes — if the mob is going over your walls, and the police is not coming, you want to try and diffuse the situation rather than throw petrol bombs at the crowd. So …
President Obama, who does not hold office at the State Department did offer muted support which is better than nothing: “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”
Secretary Clinton said what? Sorry, can’t hear you.
Still, in October, unnamed State Dept officials told the WSJthat Mr. Schwartz had been on temporary assignment in Cairo and has been given a new “permanent position” in Washington. They made the relocation sounds like a promotion. While a TDY assignment to Cairo is not unheard of, Egypt is not/not a Hard to Fill post. Which means assignments are formalized a year before an FSO is actually assigned there. Prior to Cairo, Mr. Schwartz was the Director for Planning, Policy, and Resources at the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. As to Mr. Schwartz being given a new permanent position, he is not listed anywhere on the State Dept’s current directory. Anyone know if he even has a real desk there?
Perhaps State is learning. Last November when @USEmbassyCairo made another splash on Twitter, at least the Near Eastern Affairs bureau spokesman showed up for some sort of “we’ve got your back” moment.
That’s a good thing. And it should help, too if you stop throwing your guys under the bus.
… to 140 characters, that is. Sorry, cannot pass up on The World Today’s title :-).
Tom Fletcher CMG, the British Ambassador in Beirut since August 2011 has an interesting piece in the Dec/Jan issue of The Today’s World. An iPad rather than letters of credence? A digital demarche? The need to interact, not just transmit? Are you ready to abandon the banquet in favor of the smart phone? Excerpt below:
via Chatham House’s The World Today, Volume 68, Number 11 (pdf):
When people ask me whether at 37 I am too young to be an ambassador, I sometimes wonder if perhaps I am too old. I worked in No 10 for the last ‘pen’ PM, Tony Blair; for the first ‘email’ PM, Gordon Brown; and for the first ‘iPad’ PM, David Cameron. Delivery of government services by social media is being transformed.
Diplomacy has always been Darwinian: we have to evolve or die, just as diplomats did when sea routes opened up or the telephone was invented. Someone once said that you could replace the Foreign Office with a fax. We saw off the fax, and – only this year – the telegram. Now we have to show that you cannot replace us with Wikipedia and Skype.
Social media are now indispensable to our core tasks: information harvesting; analysis; influence; promotion of English as the code for cyberspace; crisis management; commercial work. Imagine a reception at which all your key contacts were interacting. You would not stand in the corner silently or shouting platitudes, nor delegate the event.
In this brave new digital world, the most effective diplomats will carry an iPad rather than letters of credence; a digital demarche will be more powerful than a diplomatic one; and the setpiece international conference of the 20th century will be replaced by more fluid, open interaction with the people whose interests we represent. For the first time ever, diplomats can engage directly on a meaningful scale with the countries we live in. We no longer have to focus solely on elites to make our case.
This is exciting, challenging and subversive. Getting it wrong could start a war: imagine if a diplomat misguidedly tweeted a link to the offensive anti-Islam film which provoked riots across the Muslim world. Getting it right has the potential to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook.
The digital revolution has opened up a new frontier. Equipped with the right kit and the right courage, diplomats should – as ever – be among its pioneers. Diplomacy not just for diplomats; but not diplomacy without diplomats. Jamie Oliver pioneered the idea of ‘The Naked Chef’ – pared back, simplified, focused on the essential essence of the job. The Naked Diplomat needs a smartphone and those oldest of diplomatic attributes – thick skin and an open mind.
He also blogged about the naked diplomat here. Follow Ambassador Tom Fletcher on Twitter @hmatomfletcher.
The State Department has Alex Ross upfront on the digital frontier. There is also career diplomat, Richard Boly of eDiplomacy. And we have several American ambassadors populating Twitter. But we don’t know that we have any of the our credentialed ambassadors openly talk about their thoughts and their work on how they bridge the digital world in diplomacy. If anyone has talked about this inside the building and we missed it, zap me a note.
Inside the building sources told this blog that the State Department is preparing to rewrite its 3 FAM 4170 rules for employees on official clearance for speaking, writing, and teaching. The drafted new rules apparently will cover public speaking, teaching, writing and media engagement. While it appears the new version is yet in a draft stage, it sounds like a tighter institutional CYA version.
The drafted new rules will reportedly say that the State Department and USAID encourage the participation of their employees in “responsible activities devoted to increasing public study and understanding of the nation’s foreign relations.” And that such activities may be performed in an official or private capacity.
Here are a few details that we’ve heard about the draft 3 FAM 4170 rules:
It covers all “agency personnel” in various employment categories including local employees overseas, contractors, special employees and “any other personnel who serve in a capacity as if employed by State and USAID.” We don’t know if non-Agency employees like FCS, IRS, SSA, CDC, FBI, VA, etc. etc under Chief of Mission authority overseas are considered part of these “as if employed by State” category.
The new rules will reportedly cover real-time or live presentation of views or ideas, whether physically before an audience, over a text-only or visual online forum, in-person, online, or over the phone interviews, other real-time communication and oh, teaching. It will cover written submissions for newspaper, magazine, TV, radio, or other media organizations, including blogs and online forums.
We understand that it covers just about everything except sign language.
The good news? The draft new rules do not appear to include, at least for the moment, restrictions on tweeting with extra-terrestrials or subspace interviews originating from Mars or any unnamed planet or galaxy.
Now don’t laugh – we were once covered by the “Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law” which made it illegal to come in contact with extra-terrestrials or their vehicles (Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations). Wikipedia says NASA revoked this rule in 1977 but that it was not formally removed from the Code of Federal Regulations until 1991.
In any case, personal entries on social media sites will reportedly “be allowed” but must not “violate standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216.”
We thought — heeeey! Wait a minute – we dug up 3 FAM 1216 and here is what it says in its entirety:
“Employees at all levels are expected to exhibit at all times the highest standards of character, integrity, and conduct, and to maintain a high level of efficiency and productivity.”
We think that catch all language is a blazing red flag that is worrisome.
Materials will reportedly require a preliminary review and a final review (whew! who drafted this stuff, an intern?) which seems excessive for an organization with plenty of smart people. The new rules will also propose the following timeframe: 2 working days for clearance on social media postings; 5 working days for blog posts; 5 working days for speeches, live events notes, talking points; 10 working days for articles, papers including online publications and 30 working days for books, manuscripts and other lengthy publications.
The timeframe for social media/blog postings at 2-5 working days is equivalent to @2000-@5000 .beat in internet time; which is like an eternity in cyberverse.
Especially to the 140 characters waiting to exhale online.
We’ve also learned that the drafted new rules will propose to ditch the saving grace of 3 FAM 4170, the section that we’ve come to call the PVB clause since we believed this is the section that gave ammunition to Peter Van Buren in his public battle with State Department management.
3 FAM 4172.1-7 Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review
An employee may use, issue, or publish materials on matters of official concern that have been submitted for review, and for which the presumption of private capacity has not been overcome, upon expiration of the designated period of comment and review regardless of the final content of such materials so long as they do not contain information that is classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure as described in 3 FAM 4172.1-6(A).
Unless some reasonable higher up with powerful fingers undo the [CTRLl]+[DELETE], the section above will go away for good. You can check with your AFSA rep on this but our understanding is that this is part of those things that are apparently “non-negotiable.”
While the principal goal of the review process is reportedly to ensure that “no protected information is disclosed” (note that it’s no longer protection of classified information or personally identifiable information), the review process other goal apparently is to evaluate the potential that the employee activity could “hurt” or “damage the Department.”
We don’t know if a list of what is considered “protected information” will be made available with the new rules. The current rules are clearer – protection of classified info and PII although in practice, this can also get muddy fuzzy. The draft new rules can potentially cover even unclassified agency information if they are considered “protected.”
It’ll be interesting to see what the final new rules look like. And how many additional State Department troops will be made available just for clearing blogposts and tweets.
And this you gotta ask — are media savvy clearance-bots and automated clearance machines (ACMs) in your future?
Alec Ross over on Twitter tells us that his team is involved in drafting/approving. “Not even close to what has been blogged.”
Teh-heh! Plenty draft versions are there? But the good news is this:
One of the State Dept’s media digs recently announced that Alec Ross, the State Department’s Senior Advisor on Innovation has a presentation in Islamabad on “Developing a Culture of Innovation at Universities in Pakistan.”
Alec Ross and Pakistani innovators reportedly also got together for a “Twittersation” in Islamabad where the former answered questions about media freedom, innovation, entrepreneurship and other hot topics.
Photo from US Embassy Pakistan/FB
Wow, I’m almost speechless.
First there was Secretary Clinton’s “Townterview” in … gosh I forgot where now. And now we have a “Twittersation”?
For those not terribly active online reading this, that’s a conversation consisting entirely of 140 character-or-less “tweets”on Twitter?. What a great way to converse, but dammit :roll: “Twittersation” is messing up with my auto-correct again.
Obviously, developing a culture of innovation is exactly what is needed in the aftermath of the widespread protests in Pakistan which includes angry mobs attempting to storm our diplomatic compounds in the country.
Never mind the cultural misconnection in the world where we lived in; or explaining the idea of freedom of speech, even the freedom to insult religion, any religion as one of our fundamental rights (see Anti-Islam Protests: Monica Bauer explains the cultural misconnection in the world as it is). The last few weeks showed us that a large swath of the Muslim world lack a basic understanding on why we tolerate even our nutty expressions in speech, in art, in crappy videos/movies, etc. or why we protect even the ugliest speech. And here we are talking about innovation. Right.
Below are sample of comments generated via FB:
Amer Rai@Alec Ross……you talk of freedom of expression but USCG Lahore blocked my id without prior warning ,yes i did violation ,i talked some racist but that was not very serious
Shahbaz Haider Most of the participants playing with there cell fones, lolz
Nasim A Sehar wat is the result??will drawn attacks stop?or taliban will stop doing bomb blasts?this situation is very difficult for pakistan.
Abbas Khan not just tweeting … do some thing man.
Shazy Ahmed Khan i want to come america but i have ot much money so help me
Ali Raza we hate america.america is a big terirost of the world
Farook Janjua Help us in getting our public transport system organized.
Aftab Alam we need people to people friendships and equallity between pak and usa
There were several more comments over there. And because social media is about “engagement”, the US Embassy Pakistan’s FB moderator did just that … with one.
U.S. Embassy Pakistan Aftab Alam we agree
Go ahead and talk about innovation, nothing to do until the next mob attacks. You never know when you get to chat up on innovation again. Jeez! I’m getting a stomach-achy feeling that this 21st century statecraft/internet freedom is just full of yabadabadoooo!
No? Okay, well, then would you please whisper loudly to the somebodies upstairs to wake the foxtrot up because this looks utterly hyper-ridiculous? Thank you.
Cook E. Pusher who says in his profile that he’s from the Foggiest Bottom officially started tweeting at 2:27 AM on 19 June. That profile photo sure looks like a twin brother of PJ Crowley, the former spokesman who quit. But the main item in that photo is not the man but Ferro Rocher, that famous Italian chocolate made by chocolatier Ferrero SpA, the same folks who make Nutella.
Please tell Alec Ross that his colleague from state.gov has interesting things to say and he’s been around there in just days. Imagine if he (or could be a she) could also be a special advisor for innovation at the State Department? Oh, the places he’ll go and oh, the things he can think of to tweet.
Below is a quick sampling, from sincere tweets to an ambassador’s parachute jump.
Twitter user, @majorlyprofound asked: Dear Sir: Why was your name omitted from this august list: foreignpolicy.com/twitterat…; Cook E. Pusher had a quick response. Also tweets about more comfy embassies, what’s snappy about Rio+20, cables and Main State cafeteria :
When Ambassador Huebner at US Embassy New Zealand sent out this tweet: “Fun US marine Band concert this morning at Geodome in Hagley Park for about 400 primary school students,” Cook E. Pusher had just the right response:
The last two tweets are not terribly diplomatic, but that should not/not get Cook E. Pusher in trouble at the Mothership. After all, as Mr. Ross sums up the State Department’s innovative approach to digital diplomacy: “We’re willing to make mistakes of commission rather than omission.”
In any case, I’m sure Cook E. Pusher has a ready “Oops!” up his sleeve.
Evgeny Morozov writes in slate.com that the State Department and the online mob are both destroying “Internet freedom.” Excerpt:
The diplomats’ problems are quite well-known by now. While Hillary Clinton likes to give speeches in which she fashions herself the world’s greatest defender of “Internet freedom,” the harsh reality is that her own government is its greatest enemy. Given the never-ending flow of draconian copyright and cybersecurity laws coming from Washington, this fact is getting harder and harder to conceal from the global public, who starts to wonder why American diplomats keep criticizing Russia or China but don’t say anything about the impressive online spying operation that the National Security Agency is building in Utah. Nor does the State Department object when America’s allies push for harsh surveillance laws; Britain, with its proposed surveillance legislation, is a case in point. America’s “Internet freedom agenda” is at best toothless and at worst counterproductive. While focusing on (and overselling) the liberating promise of social media in authoritarian regimes, it conceals a number of emerging domestic threats that have nothing to do with dictators—and everything to do with aggressive surveillance, disappearing privacy, and the astonishing greed of Silicon Valley.
“The State Department’s online democratizing efforts have fallen prey to the same problems that plagued Bush’s Freedom Agenda. By aligning themselves with Internet companies and organizations, Clinton’s digital diplomats have convinced their enemies abroad that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism.”
That burns, doesn’t it? Let’s see if Alec Ross will pick up the conversation on why HRC should not join Anonymous.
Alec Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation at the Office of Secretary of State was featured last week in a piece over at The Next Web and has, of course, some innovative things to say about social media at the State Department:
“We set up the program overnight, with no meeting no clearances and no budget,” he explains. “We thought it was a good idea that might raise a few hundred thousand dollars but, after using the ‘dark arts’ of social media, we raised $35 million in just two weeks.”
[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.