Bloggers Beware? Oops! I’m So Scared I Just Wet My Pants and I’m Not Wearing Depend!

Some DiploPundit readers wrote us about a letter in this month’s Foreign Service Journal from a sorta kinda mid-pyramid type official which contains issues for the Foreign Service bloggers. It’s not meant to scare you or anything but you should read the piece a hundred times just so the idea sinks in.

One of the “troubling blog entries” cited in the letter is that “Members of A-100 classes blog about their colleagues.” Oh, petty, petty!  As far as I can tell, those newbies are so tickled about being asked to join the club and are so impressed by the talents/credentials of their new colleagues that they can’t help themselves. They’re on training for godsakes!  As long as they’re not posting the names and addresses of their colleagues, and not scratching each others eyes out in each others blog (wait, how do you do that?) can we really blame them for their exuberance? Oh wait, apparently, some can.

And if I had any reservations previously that the Bureau of Consular Affairs had a hand in the demise of the dearly departed, Madam le Consul, I don’t have one now:

The sorta kinda mid-pyramid official writes:

“Others are posting information that could lead to identity theft. One blogger, “Madam le Consul,” revealed in various entries her exact date and place of birth, her assignment history, her health issues, and other personal information. Though “Madam” took her blog down following rants about a policy issue that were not in line with official views, it did not take long to figure out who this “anonymous” blogger was.”

Oops, I just fell off my chair! I read “Madam” every single day when she was alive and I don’t think she ever posted her SSN, real name or address either. Silly, “Madam” and now she’s dead, how are we supposed to steal her identity? And in the aftermath of her online death, they still speak ill of her. Perhaps remembering their knee-jerky kicky reactions on a true to goodness blogger with personality sharing the same floor with them?  And so the same writer who complains about A-100 members blogging about each other, wrote about his very own colleague in the same bureau, Madam le Consul. Excuse me, perhaps I should say, former colleague in the same bureau?

Of course, it could not have taken long for the Bureau of Consular Affairs to figure out who “Madam” was.  But was this official writing from inside knowledge? I don’t know but he is a sorta kinda higher pay grade official in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Madam’s home bureau.  I am so impressed about the concern that blogging could lead to identity thief. An official in that same bureau apparently was so concerned about
identity thief also that he/she “outed” Madam le Consul’s real identity somewhere else
in the Internets.  No, not in State’s OpenNet but in something bigger, in the wide open-lanes of Facebook! Which is like wow, that’s Brainful Dead! The official later deleted the “outing” after he was presumably overcome by his own brains. But I know who you are, dude; I can see through your concern.

I would have had more respect for this writer had he just said, “Madam blogged against regulations and we canned her.” Don’t give me that hokey-fakey concern about possible identity thief because goddammitt I’m not buying that, even in a fire sale, SIR!

Of course, you should always be wary about oversharing of personal information online since you don’t know who is reading. Readers and followers could just be friends and family members and regular readers but could also be blog stalkers, counter-intel folks harvesting information, adding 1+1 and all that, or Feds with nothing better to do than leave anonymous comments about danger! danger! in the FAM.  Be sensible about personal privacy/security SOPs. Not just in blogs but in your other social media accounts.  Have you recently reviewed the privacy settings in your FB account? Why don’t yo do that now?

Also, in line with that concern, you probably should sign up for credit report monitoring because if you did not know it, the State Department had a medical data breach relating to approximately a quarter million medical records. Your medical records.

So what you did not write in your blog, could still leak out online, courtesy of the State Department’s eMED. Life can be funny that way.

The letter writer was clear that he is not “calling for the prohibition of FS blogs.” But has the following couple of suggestions. Listen up:

“[…] if being a pundit is your calling in life, apply to The Huffington Post.”

What a great, great idea! Sorry, he did not include HuffPo’s HR number.  But should we presume then that if EFMs can get punditry gigs at The Huffington Post, that the State Department would stop harassing them and their spouses with threats of all stripes? An official response would be nice so I can help ask Arianna for a Foreign Service Lives tab in the Huffington Post.

Another suggestion — “And if you really need to write down all of your thoughts about official policy or the negative attributes of your A-100 classmates, I suggest doing it the “old-fashioned” way: in a diary kept under your pillow.”

Well, that certainly is an excellent suggestion which reminds me of that University of Michigan campaign of “Just Don’t Do It!”

But… but … the horsy has left the barn!

Instead of scaring the heck out of everyone including FS Grandma (I supposed a perfectly good intention for somebody in that paygrade), some real tips on the responsible use of blogs and other social media would have been more useful.

But that would have been too much to ask, especially since there is already an easier answer: “Just Don’t Do It!”

NOTE:  For a couple if readers who are under the misimpression that the letter writer may also be the author of a recently departed blog, let me just say that I know the blogger and he is not at all related to that letter writer, god gracious me! And even if I did not know the now silent blogger, I know he would not have such double standards especially on blogging.  I’m fond of that guy! He would also never, never single out a specific FS blogger as prime example just so you can appreciate the carcass of a dead blogger and have nightmares! Sorry, I’m told I misunderstood and spoke too soon.  No one is confused about the identity of the blogger and the letter writer. Thanks for the corrections.  I would still say this — none of my blog pals in the Foreign Service would ever single out a specific FS blogger as prime example just so you can appreciate the carcass of a dead blogger and have nightmares. Please write that down.

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Will the State Dept Declare FSO Peter Van Buren Persona Non Grata For His Book on the TragicComedy of PRT Iraq?

In April, I wrote New FS Blog: We Meant Well, Plus a Book Coming Out This Fall  

In July, I wondered out loud, Peter Van Buren: Oh, dude — WHO did you get “more than upset” at the State Department?

It’s now September. Next Tuesday, the 27th, his book,“We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle For the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People” (Metropolitan Books, 2011) will hit the stores.

And a tsunami is forecast to hit Peter Van Buren at his cubicle in Foggy Bottom.

DiploPundit will try to cover the event when it happens. Although if State is smart, as it is full of smart folks, it probably should not order a tsunami on the same day that the book comes out. People might think the tsunami is intentional wrath from god.

I had the opportunity to read the book this weekend.  I’ll post my review separately.  I can, however, tell you that the 267-page book carries the following notice:

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or any other entity of the US government. The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170.

The Department of State does not approve, endorse, or  authorize this book. With the exception of historical figures (e.g., President Bush, General Odierno), I have changed all names. The events depicted in this book are true, however, although some details have been changed and the timing of some events has been altered or obscured. Except as noted, I was present at any event reported on and at any conversation repeated.

Information from the SIGIR Web site is in the public domain and may be used without further permission, provided such use is not reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by SIGIR. SIGIR did not approve, endorse, or authorize this book.

The curious phrase, “The Department of State had the chance to review this book in manuscript form before publication, as required by 3 FAM 4170.”

Which could mean a couple of things. 1) Somebody at State had reviewed this book and found it free of classified materials. Which is well and good, no tsunami will be ordered. Somebody has read the book and the Spokesman can say something like, let’s see — “We know this books is coming out. We do not agree with Mr. Van Buren’s views but his views are his own. We have nothing further to say about this issue.” This would be bad for the folks who want Peter Van Buren’s head on a platter.

Or 2) Somebody at State forgot that the manuscript of this book was in his/her inbox and did not take action during the “reasonable period of review” indicated in the FAM “not to exceed thirty days.” In which case, there are taskers now on what the Spokesman should say about the contents of the 200-something page book. And no, you can’t read my copy.

I’d like to believe it is the former, but I would not be surprise if it is the latter. That said, 3 FAM 4172.1-7 on the Use or Publication of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity That Have Been Submitted for Review appears clear enough:

“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).”

Because clearly, it’s not like they want to gag anyone, particularly on a contentious subject like Iraq that has been sucking up the U.S. Treasury, right?

Of course, what is clear to you and me, may not always be clear to the officially-paid interpreter of regulations. Remains to be seen what happens. After all, State’s cousin, the DOD back in 2010 reportedly bought some 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s 299-page memoir “Operation Dark Heart” after its publication was green lighted by the Army Reserve Command then proceeded to burn them. Burn all the books, seriously.  So then you know, nobody could ever read that book ever again. 

Pardon me? WikiLeaks has obtained a copy of the unredacted book?  Oh, dear.  Okay, sorry, I meant to say, they have bought and burned 9,499 copies of the Colonel’s book.

Peter Van Buren book carries a special acknowledgement of “Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, who led an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoned us there.”  

A visit from the new SecState in 2009 made it into the special acknowledgement page, too:

“On our last day of PRT training, the facility was put into lockdown for a visit from the new Secretary of State (it’s cool that when she visits her own staff the Secretary’s security puts us into lock-down). She greeted and congratulated the Afghan PRT class down the hall from us Iraqis, then left. We didn’t even rate a walk- on. Our war no longer really mattered, though it would take me a long year in the desert and writing this book to fully figure that out.”

I understand from a couple of news interviews online that Peter Van Buren is now subject of internal investigations at the State Department.

So since it appears that Peter Van Buren went through the clearance process as required by the FAM, and if it turns out that the somebody in the higher pyramid pay-grade have not done the actual reading and clearance thingy, would that then be the author’s fault? Really?

I get searches in this blog for “Who hates Peter Van Buren?” Seriously.

Apparently there is also a rumor going around in the FS community that the reason Foreign Service bloggers are having a tough time these days is, you guess it — Peter Van Buren!

Well — there was a 7.3 earthquake in the Fiji region four days ago, must have been Peter Van Buren’s fault, too!

And that all made me think that the somebodies may have a tsunami order on speed-dial specifically for Van Buren’s cubicle. Which would be very bad for Peter Van Buren, indeed, but would certainly be great for book sales.

I must add here that although I have a digital copy of the book, I am buying additional copies to send to my State Department pals for the holidays, at least those still talking to me. 

I’ve never meet Peter Van Buren in person but this seems like the least I could do for a public servant whose career will most certainly be over, and who will be ostracized by most folks big and small in the Big House.  If I see him down some corridor, I will not take the nearest exit or pretend to be busy with my phone thingy.  It is not hard to imagine that not too long ago, he is like all other wide-eyed newbies in A-100 hoping to change the world. Iraq has been our mess since we broke it, Peter Van Buren did not break it. I would thank him for putting his career on the line to tell these stories that the American public needs to know. Perhaps if we learn all the details, we’d demand next time that our elected representatives think harder, ask serious questions, and have the spine to have convictions before allowing our country to blunder into another war.

Any how, I’d definitely love to be wrong on this one, the tsunami and all, including the stealthy shunning.

I would also like to formally request (that is, if the tsunami doesn’t get him), that they send Mr. Van Buren to Afghanistan so he can write about PRT-Afghanistan, too. I seem to be developing gastroesophageal reflux disease every time I consume something served by the US Embassy Kabul on Facebook and Prilosec is no damn help!