Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!

What does NBA phenom, Jeremy Lin have in common with the following?

  • 林书豪Jeremy Lin (2010-)
  • 出身哈佛的总统(任期)
  • 约翰·亚当斯John Adams (1797-1801)
  • 约翰·昆西·亚当斯John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
  • 海耶斯Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
  • 西奥多·罗斯福Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
  • 肯尼迪John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
  • 小布什George W. Bush (2001-2009)
  • 欧巴马Barack Obama (2009-)

Heck if I know. But the bloggers of Foggy Bottom’s blog, Wild Geese, apparently know. Except that they’re not telling us. (Laura R says they all went to Harvard).

In the aftermath of the Pop the Magic Blog Disappearance of our favorite FS blogger in China, one of our readers helpfully suggested that the best way to avoid blogging trouble is obviously, to blog in Chinese like the Wild Geese bloggers. Here is what the reader actually wrote us:

In order for a blog to survive 21st Century Statecraft (and Alec J. Ross knows about this), you have to write it in Chinese so that nobody knows what the heck you are saying. Just look at the “Wild Geese” blog written by two Chinese contractors working for the Bureau of International Information Programs at http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/. There’s no English translation so nobody at the State Department knows what they’re really saying or how they’re saying it. It’s like it’s a secret blog lurking in the shadows of America.gov, a website that was archived last year.

And here I thought I was good at keeping track of what’s going on over there. But it gets worse — even the State Department’s China Desk apparently cannot read what the blog says because — it’s in Chinese with no English translation! Is it common to have a China Desk Officer who has other languages except Chinese?

Then it gets double bad. Our blog reader continues:

US Embassy Beijing website (http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/usintro.html) mentions Wild Geese in English but no English translation of what the blogs say. China Desk is in the dark. IIP Chinese blog team acts like a renegade group of nativists (IIP is remnant of former USIA) with former PRC nationals calling the shots on what gets written for blog posts. Most of what they write is a waste of taxpayer money (good luck with OIG on that one). State’s “partnership” with the fiery anti-American Chinese “Global Times” news portal (http://blog.huanqiu.com/?316055) strains credibility. They’re too willing to submit to Chinese censorship. China blocks VOA but not IIP. Too cozy for comfort. See South China Morning Post article on jailing of Chinese writers http://topics.scmp.com/news/china-news-watch/article/Pen-is-subject-to-the-sword.

They’re calling the shots on what gets written in the blog? Good grief! Peter Van Buren calls the shots on what gets written in his private blog and State sends him a weekly report! And he writes in English!

So I used the Googles to look up the blog but I get all sorts of other wild guesses from the search engines. So the blog must have had no index bots and it does not get listed.  Almost as if only those with the secret link can read it. Now, where’s the fun in that?  Anyway, I eventually used the link sent by our reader.  The blog is hiding in plain site in US Mission China’s website (see a screen capture below) but it actually resides in the America.gov server: http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/

The America.gov website says that it is no longer being updated.  Except that the Wild Geese blog continues to post items of every sort.  Besides the recent post on Jeremy Lin, it also has the following posts:

1.  Guy with a furry hair.  Is that a Queen’s Guard?  The last I heard these soldiers are charged with guarding the official royal residences in London. There are no royal residences in the District of Columbia.

2. Who are these people and what are they doing up that tree, er pole?

3.  Something about extreme makeover? Is this relevant to US-China relation?

4. Is that Hillary and is she having coffee, again?

See, that’s what happens when you put up a blog with no English translation in a USG website nonetheless. The successor of America.gov, IIP Digital (you may stop laughing at the name right now!) actually has translations in the following languages for their products:

Now, official products for public consumption also have to go through a clearance process.  Are we to understand that the Wild Geese blog posts do not even go through that process? I can’t even begin to imagine that.  Since the blog exist over the dead body of America.gov, who do these bloggers report to?  Since it does not pop up in the search engines, what use does it have if no one can easily find it? Perhaps more importantly, who has oversight over this official blog? And does the oversight official speak/read more than a 2/2 Chinese?

Matt Armstrong who was Executive Director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy until December 2011 (when it was killed by Congress) and was supposed to be in Beijing the week the commission’s authorization expired chimed in about the Geese:

“I’ve been consistently told the Geese are republished in China, including in anti-US Chinese media (a score in my book) and content was driven by Embassy Beijing’s outreach staff, including those who speak/read Chinese (in other words, this isn’t a renegade group).  Monitoring is done by the Embassy and EAP.   It is monitored by the Chinese speakers in the EAP bureau, some on the China desk and some on the EAP Public Diplomacy desk.”

Presumably, there is someone among them with more than a 2/2 in Chinese.

噢,這真是個快樂的進展……噢,这真是个快乐的进展……
*Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan…

Matt also points out that the blog’s audience “is not the US but China,” and “not even Chinese nationals abroad, but mainland China, which it seems to effectively penetrate at apparently relatively low cost.”   We get that, of course. Still would be nice to have an English translation and wouldn’t it be interesting to see its penetration rate relative to cost?

I do have to admit that the idea of blogging in Chinese or other super hard languages has a great appeal.  According to our mathematical calculation, FS blogs in super hard languages has a 5% to 0% chance of ever getting in real trouble.  And if diplomatic spouses start blogging in super hard languages like Chinese or Arabic , the harassment would likely be down to almost zero instantly because 1) State does not have enough Chinese or Arabic speakers, 2) to actually read the blog and find it offensive enough to be pulled down requires a translator, too much paperwork to request for one; 3) all human translators are deployed elsewhere, and online translators include dirty words.

Domani Spero

Updated on 2/19 with comments from Matt Armstrong of http://mountainrunner.us/

*Oh, this is a happy development…

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Officially In: Kenneth Merten to Croatia

On February 10, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Kenneth Merten to be the next Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Kenneth Merten currently serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Haiti.  Prior to serving as Ambassador in Haiti, he was the Deputy Executive Secretary at the Department of State.  A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Merten joined the Foreign Service in 1987.  His previous overseas assignments have included Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Economic Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Economic Officer at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany, and Vice Consul in Port-au-Prince.  Ambassador Merten’s Washington assignments have included two tours in the State Department Operations Center, Executive Assistant in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, and Cuba Desk Officer.

Ambassador Merten holds a B.A. from Miami University in Ohio, an M.P.A. from American University, and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Miami University.

His bio indicates that Ambassador Merten spent about two thirds of his previous assignments overseas, in two regional bureaus: EUR (France, Brussels, Germany) and WHA (three tours in Haiti) with about a third of the time spent in Foggy Bottom (two tours in the Ops Center, plus an EA, a desk job and as Deputy Executive Secretary).  Haiti is a 5% danger post, a 25% COLA, and a 30% hardship differential post.

He most recently supervised the United States Government’s relief efforts after the catastrophic Haiti earthquake of 12 January 2010.  In May of 2010, Ambassador Merten was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Miami University.  Ambassador Merten was born in St. Louis, Missouri and considers Hudson, Ohio his hometown.  He is married to Susan Greenman Merten and has two children.

From left to right: Former President Jimmy Carter, Mrs. Merten, Mrs. Carter and Ambassador Merten, during the launching of the drug treatment campaign against Lymphatic Filariasis at the Ambassador’s residence. Photo from US Embassy Haiti/FB

If confirmed, Ambassador Merten would succeed career diplomat, James B. Foley, who was appointed to the US Embassy in Zagreb in 2009. Embassy Zagreb was opened Aug 25, 1992, with Ronald Nietzke as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. The only non-career appointee ever to serve there was Peter W. Galbraith of Vermont who was US Ambassador from June 1993-Jannuary 1998.

Domani Spero

Updated to clarify previous assignments and hardship assignment information.

 

Related item:

February 10, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts