The US Embassy in Cairo issued its Security Message to U.S. Citizens No. 48 indicating that the embassy will be closed on Sunday June 30th, set as the date for a national anti-Morsi, anti Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt. While the embassy did not actually say “be prepared to shelter in place,” it notes that the situation is “particularly unpredictable” and folks need to “possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.” Below is an excerpt from the security message:
In anticipation of demonstrations that may turn violent, the U.S. Embassy will be closed to the public on June 30th. The U.S. Embassy will continue monitor conditions and announce decisions regarding its operating status.
As potentially violent protest activity may occur before June 30th, U.S. citizens are advised to maintain a low profile and restrict movement to the immediate area of their residences and neighborhoods starting on June 28. U.S. citizens should monitor announcements from the U.S. Embassy and local media in order to stay current with the situation. As the security situation is particularly unpredictable, please ensure you possess the necessary items should it be necessary to remain at home for an extended period.
Due to a report that opposition groups plan to solicit signatures at sixteen Cairo Metro stations on the morning of June 25, the U.S. Embassy is advising its personnel to utilize other transportation means. Though violence is not expected in connection with soliciting signatures, it is possible that confrontations between individuals involved and opposing groups could become violent.
Meanwhile, @USEmbassyCairo can’t seem to catch a break after Ambassador Anne Patterson’s recent outreach events suffered an online backlash not just on Twitter but also on the embassy’s FB page. Some pretty nasty stuff there.
On the June 30 closure, one Twitter user tweets, “Everybody is officially freaking out.”
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.
On Monday, November 26, the US Embassy in Cairo announced that it was ‘open for full operations,” this despite the clashes near Simon Square and the Embassy’s North Permimeter which reportedly persisted through the night.
In its security message the same day, the embassy informed US citizens in the country that due to the likelihood of heavy traffic congestion as well as the potential for violence, that it would be operating at reduced staffing levels on Tuesday. It also announced the closure of visa and American citizen services and the early dismissal of all employees at USCG Alexandria:
Clashes are continuing today in the area of the Embassy’s North Gate, as rock and Molotov throwing youth confront police positioned just outside the North Gate. Police have also used tear gas in attempts to drive the youth back toward Tahrir Square. Because of this ongoing violence, the Embassy is discouraging visitors to the Embassy until the situation settles, and U.S. citizens with appointments for routine services in the American Citizen Services section have been rescheduled for Thursday, November 29. Those with appointments have been sent email notifications.
Today, November 29, it announced the suspension of arrivals/departures to and from the embassy until further notice due to a blockade by protestors and the cancellation of ACS services on December 2:
The Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens that as of 1030 hours local time access into and from the Embassy is currently blocked by protestors. Police and protestors are clashing in the area of the Corniche checkpoint on Lazoughly Street, including on al-Shams and Osiris Streets. The Regional Security Office has instructed that no departures or arrivals from the Embassy will be permitted until further notice. The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Garden City area at this time.
Looking ahead to the weekend, media reports indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for a “million man march” on Saturday, December 1 to culminate in Tahrir Square. While there is no indication that the Embassy is a target of these protests, the Embassy’s proximity to Tahrir Square, as we have seen this week, exposes it to any violence that develops. The Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid Garden City this weekend. All appointments for routine American Citizen Services have been cancelled for Sunday, December 2, and those with appointments scheduled for that day will be contacted by email with a rescheduled appointment on another day.
Meanwhile @USEmbassyCairo is once more making news. A tweet on democracy and Egypt ignites a debate between the embassy’s Twitter handler and Egyptian Twitter users, reported by AhramOnline here.
WaPo’s coverage of the new Twitter splash says: “The U.S. Embassy in Egypt has earned a reputation for going rogue on Twitter, and with this latest bout of political unrest, @USEmbassyCairo is at it again.”
The Cable asked Edgar Vasquez, spokesperson for the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau, whether the Cairo embassy’s tweet reflected administration policy.
“Let’s not take too much liberty with this tweet,” he said. “Our position is and has been that one of the aspirations of the Egyptian revolution was to ensure that power is not overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution. That is essentially what the tweet is saying in tweet speak.”
Over in Facebook, a user named Noor Zein has sprinkled the embassy’s FB page with a wacky accusation that Secretary Clinton is “using illegal hypnosis and MK Ultra mind control to turn Morsi into mind control slave for her and that she ordered him as his master to sign illegal papers to give away Egypt for Israel and Qatar…” whaaat?
And it comes complete with graphics of the purported mind waves, but no dancing gifs, maalasef. On the demonstrations, more are reportedly planned throughout Egypt on November 30 and December 1, 2012.
Um …anyone knows what’s an “MK Ultra” mind control and where we can buy it?