AFSA Guidance on the Personal Use of Social Media

I just saw this guidance on the personal use of social media from the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the United States Foreign Service. The organization has close to 16,000 dues-paying members and represents over 28,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the Department of State, Agency for International Development (AID), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Foreign Commercial Service (FCS), and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). I believe this is the first guidance issued by AFSA on this subject. Republished below in full:

We are fortunate to live in a world where innovative technology allows us to communicate in new and wondrous ways.  Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs now allow us to communicate instantaneously with potentially thousands of “fans” and “followers.”  Just as the State Department and the other foreign affairs agencies have embraced these new communication tools, many of our members are using innovative ways to connect with audiences in their private and professional capacities.

AFSA supports the use of social media.  But any form of communication – via social media, telephone, e-mail, or just old-fashioned conversations – is governed by social norms and etiquette, and requires good judgment and common sense. Anyone who has ever said something they wish they hadn’t, tried to recall an e-mail sent in haste, or deleted a comment on Facebook understands the impact that the spoken and written word can have in our personal and professional lives. Electronic media – particularly anything broadcast over the internet – presents its own unique perils and challenges.  As the saying goes, “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.”

AFSA is currently examining the evolving issue of the use of social media by Foreign Service employees.  In the meantime, we offer these words of advice to any of our members who are currently or planning to use social media, particularly blogs:

Read the Existing Regulations.  The current regulations regarding the use of social media can be found in 5 FAM 790 “Using Social Media (pdf).  Although we understand that some of these rules with their cross-references to other FAM cites are confusing, we strongly recommend that any AFSA member using social media – especially where the lines between professional, personal and private use may be blurred – read them and if you don’t understand something – ask.

Avoid Divulging Private and Confidential Information.  Here is where many people run afoul of the regulations.  Be sure not to divulge any information that includes confidential or personally identifiable information.  Examples of these include but are not limited to visa cases, information about other individuals, or classified information (for example, linking to WikiLeaks.)

Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.  Even though you may have the required disclaimer on your blog, be aware that the public still may not differentiate between your official and private views.  You should be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official, particularly when your blog uses the “hook” of your Foreign Service connections to attract readers.

Review Your Privacy Settings.  Make sure you are aware of the privacy settings of the social media platform you are using and how to adjust them.  Platforms such as Facebook often change these settings without informing users.  Periodic review of these settings is important, and we recommend having them set to the highest levels.  For blogs, you may even want to consider restricting access so that only your family, friends and colleagues have access.

Use Good Judgment.  We can’t emphasize this enough.  As we noted above, all forms of human communication require good judgment, tact, etc.  And what happens on the internet, stays on the internet.  When in doubt, leave it out.

Contact Us If You Have Problems.  If you are an AFSA member and are approached by management or Diplomatic Security regarding your use of social media, be sure to contact us so that we can assist you with any legal or other issues.

We hope the above information is useful.  We do want to hear from our members regarding this evolving issue.  If you have a concern or opinion regarding the use of social media, please let us know via www.afsa.org or call us at 202-338-4045.  For assistance with issues related to social media, please contact our labor management office at 202-647-8160 or e-mail AFSA’s lead attorney on the issue, Raeka Safai, at SafaiR@state.gov.

If you are a blogger in the FS community, I encourage you to take this opportunity to reach out to AFSA. Although “AFSA is currently examining the evolving issue of the use of social media by Foreign Service employees,” family members of Foreign Service employees are similarly affected.  AFSA should hear the voices of family members so they have a fuller view of this issue.  AFSA need to hear the stories and concerns of FSOs as well as family members so it can effectively craft a more comprehensive guidance in the future.

Domani Spero

US Mission Afghanistan: Braces for More Protests, Encourages Amcits to Shelter in Place

The US Embassy in Kabul issued the following Emergency Message to U.S. citizens on February 23, 2012:

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul alerts U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Afghanistan that there is a strong likelihood of continued protests around the country on February 24, 2012. Over the past two days, demonstrations have occurred across Afghanistan and have occasionally turned violent, resulting in injuries and in some cases death. The protests are in reaction to the attempt by ISAF personnel to improperly dispose of Islamic religious materials, including Korans, at Bagram Airbase on February 20, 2012. In some instances, American and ISAF installations have been attacked.

According to media reports, at least one demonstration is planned for February 24, 2012 in Kabul city, and more are possible following the end of Friday prayers. Road closures are expected and it is possible the protests will become violent.

The Embassy strongly encourages all U.S. citizens in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan to shelter in place and avoid any unnecessary movement. We wish to remind U.S. citizens that past demonstrations in Afghanistan have escalated into violent attacks on Western targets of opportunity. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations, spontaneous or planned.

U.S. citizens in Afghanistan should remain vigilant and avoid areas where Westerners congregate. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers, or in public. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and always travel with mobile phones or appropriate communication equipment. The Embassy is carefully monitoring the situation and reviewing its security posture, and may send out additional emergency messages as the situation evolves.

On February 22, U.S. Embassy Kabul ‏ @USEmbassyKabul, tweeted:

On the same day, the State Department’s Mark Toner was asked during the DPB what does the lockdown of the embassy exactly entails.  Here is what Mr. Toner says:

MR. TONER: I mean, lockdown is a bit overly dramatic, I think. My understanding is that there was an announcement or a suspension, rather, of all travel of chief-of-mission personnel. And my understanding, too, is that movement was later suspended for employees in the southern part of Afghanistan as well. And this announcement was pushed out over the embassy website as well as via Twitter, and this restriction on travel is still in place.

On February 23, ‏ @USEmbassyKabul also tweeted, “We have expanded our movement restrictions to RC-North as well. Please be safe out there.” Now that’s dramatic, too.

Also on February 23, ISAF says that “an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon  against International Security Assistance Force service members in eastern Afghanistan today, killing two service members.”

The attacked reportedly occurred at a military base in Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province, according to Mohammad Hassan, the district’s governor, cited by the AFP news agency.

The WSJ says that the Afghan soldier who killed the two service members escaped into a crowd of protesters demonstrating outside the base.

Can’t they just say an Afghan soldier killed two of our soldiers? I suppose not, they have to investigate if the individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform is really a soldier or not, who just happens to be at a military base, with a gun that we may or may not have given him.

To our friends in Kabul, keep your head down and stay safe.

Domani Spero

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Visas for Dollars Pilot Program Needs a Catchy Name, Just Don’t Call It Visa Express, Please

In mid-January, President Obama announced new efforts to increase travel and tourism to the United States. The WH announcement pointed to this as “part of a comprehensive effort to spur job creation.” Note the huge emphasis on numbers:

The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010.  Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010.  In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. […] In the 2011 fiscal year, consular officers adjudicated more than a million visa applications in China and more than 800,000 in Brazil, representing 34 % growth in China and 42% growth in Brazil. Improving visa processing capacity for China and Brazil is particularly important because of this growth.

The WH has charged the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security with the following:

  • Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012.
  • Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
  • Increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, and expanding reciprocal trusted travel programs for expedited travel (such as the Global Entry program).

A preview of this efforts actually happened back in November when the State Dept trotted out its Managing Director for Visa Services Ed Ramotowski and two Minister Counselors for Consular Affairs, Chuck Bennett from US Embassy Beijing and Don Jacobson from US Embassy Brasilia to talk about growing visa demands in China and Brazil. What about India? More on that later.

From Ed Ramotowshi | State/CA/Visas

  • [C]onsular officers issued more than 7.5 million visas around the world’ represents a 17 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2010.
  • Since 2005, visa issuances went up by 42 percent
  • Approximately 65 percent of foreign travelers who come to this country don’t need visas. They come from Canada and countries in the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Goal is to expand capacity to adjudicate more than 2.2 million visas in China and 1.8 million visas in Brazil by 2013.

From Chuck Bennett | US Embassy Beijing 

  • US Mission China  adjudicated more than one million U.S. visas for Chinese applicants during Fiscal Year 2011; represents a 34 percent increase over last year
  • Issue visas to nearly 90 percent of all Chinese applicants who apply
  • Have added temporary staff and extended work hours
  • Over the next year, will add 50 more positions in China
  • In the process of adding 22 additional visa interview windows in Guangzhou, 20 new windows in Shanghai, 8 new windows in Chengdu, and 8 new windows in Beijing.

From Don Jacobson | US Embassy Brasilia

  • US Mission Brazil adjudicated more than 820,000 visas in the fiscal year that just ended, an increase of more than 42 percent over the previous year.
  • Goal in Brazil is to have the capacity to adjudicate more than 1.8 million visas by 2013
  • Since 2005, consular officer staffing in Brazil has doubled; will double again this year
  • In October alone, adjudicated more than 90,000 visas in Brazil, 67 percent more than October of last year (2010)
  • Adding more than 50 more consular officer positions over the coming year; estimates that one officer can process about 20,000 applications a year

There are currently about 50 officers in US Mission Brazil, so this increase would be a 100% bump in staffing.  US Mission China currently has about 100 officers with 50 more expected.  So where are these visa officers going to come from?

Here is what Mr. Bennett said:

Some of these people – many of these people are just new Foreign Service officers. And in the Foreign Service, often the first two tours in an officer’s career are spent doing consular work. We also have a new program where we’re bringing on, what we are calling, limited, non-career appointees. That is, people who are already trained in Mandarin Chinese and in Portuguese for Brazil, and these folks are coming in basically on one-year contracts, which are renewable for up to five years. They are going through all the same training that a Foreign Service officer would go through and some additional training. The advantage is that they already have language skills. And then based upon their performance, their contract can be renewed up to five years.

Mr. Ramotowski added:

One of our challenges in meeting demand both in Brazil and China is just we don’t have enough Chinese and Portuguese speakers coming in at the entry level who already have those languages. So this program is going to help us get more people on the ground quickly.

Okay, so now what about India which was mentioned by the President but was not invited to the preview party? According to Hindustantimes and other local papers, James Herman, Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs had a press release following President Obama’s announcement touting a streamlined visa process plus the following US Mission India visa figures:

  • Over the last five years US Mission India increased staffing by over sixty percent; opened two new consulates in Hyderabad (in 2009) and Mumbai (in 2011).
  • Indians represent the highest volume of work visa travelers to the US; and the second highest number of foreign students in the United States
  • 2011 was a record year for H1B work visas—over 68,000 processed by Consular Team India alone
  • US Mission India processed close to 700,000 visa applications in 2011

We went looking for Mr. Herman’s official statement at the US Embassy Delhi website but it’s not available there or in the State Department’s website. We emailed the embassy inquiring where are these numbers cited by local reports but never got any response. Official statement released but not here or there or anywhere, must have been a new kind of secret presser.

Meanwhile the State Department’s Fact Sheet notes that the pilot program will streamline visa processing for certain low-risk applicants, such as individuals renewing expired visas, or some categories of younger or older first-time applicants. The expectation is that this will “benefit tens of thousands of applicants in Brazil and China; saving them time and money, and encouraging them to choose to visit the United States again.”  And spend money here, of course.  Perhaps anticipating a possible blow-back, a reminder from Visa Express post 9/11, the Fact Sheet adds this:  “…. given that national security remains this Administration’s highest priority, individuals identified as higher-risk will remain subject to interviews – in addition to the full screening and review all visa applicants receive.”

Even if all applicants are interviewed, that’s not the most important challenge. Thomas Furey, the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia from 2000-2001 was once quoted saying that the expectations for the visa interview are unrealistic because you are asking the Consular Officer to “predict the future.”  There is something to that.  The underwear bomber reportedly had a visa issued in 2004 and then again in 2008 prior to his attempted attack in 2009.  Had the attack succeeded, the supervisory Consular Officer who overturned the 2004 application and the Consular Officer who issued the visa in 2008 would have been dragged through live coals for not foreseeing the future. The shoe bomber, of course, came from a visa waiver country, and did not even need an interview.

Domani Spero

Conversation with Self About Serial Blog Killers and the 21st Century Statecraft

And I’ll let you listen if you have nothing better to do.

Back in January, I wrote about the State Department’s Wild, Wild Web Chat on 21st Century Statecraft:

[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 them tigers.  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”.

Anyhow, below is a perspective from an FSO published in the Foreign Service Journal:

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 with post 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.

For as smart cookies everywhere already know:

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.

On class action lawsuits, I’ve copied the following section to my notepad from US Diplomacy:

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 case concluded 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.

Domani Spero

http://emailfromtheembassy.blogspot.com/2011/09/busy-oh-but-im-thinking-lot-about.html

http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/we-interrupt-our-regularly-scheduled-programming/

Sesame Street Diplomacy: Elmo is not in Kabul because he is in — Pakistan!

Remember in December when Sesame Street went to Kabul, we were wondering where was Elmo?  Well, it turns out, Elmo is in Pakistan.

Senator Coburn’s office had put together a Guide to the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Spending of 2011. It’s called Wastebook 2011.  Number #13 is the Remake of “Sesame Street” for Pakistan by the U.S. Agency for International Development for $10 Million.

US Consul General Nina Maria Fite launches Sim Sim Hamara, Pakistan's USAID funded Sesame Street | Photo from US ConGen Lahore

Here is the entry:

In 2010, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, a Pakistani arts organization, was awarded $20 million over the next four years, to create ―130 episodes of an indigenously produced Sesame Street.‖ The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided the first $10 million for the project in FY 2011. The Pakistan Sesame Street would be produced in cooperation with Sesame Workshop , creators of the original Sesame Street.

According to news sources, the show will be renamed  “SimSim Humara” and set in a lively village in Pakistan with a roadside tea and snacks stall, known as a dhaba, some fancy houses with overhanging balconies along with simple dwellings, and residents hanging out on their verandas.

The only character adopted from the original Sesame Street will be the furry red monster Elmo. The rest of the puppet cast will be made up of new local characters, including a conceited welldwelling crocodile named Haseen O Jameel, a spirited adult woman, Baaji, who enjoys family time and tradition, and Baily, a hard-working donkey who longs to be a pop star.

Faizaan Peerzada, the head of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop defended the $20 million project, saying “The idea is to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning, and inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated,”

Besides the television show, the grant also includes funding for the following:

  • Radio programs based on the main puppet characters
  • A dynamic website where children can interact‘ with their favorite puppet characters
  • 600 events with live puppet performances using vehicles with trained puppeteers performing shows
  • 600 events with mobile video vans displaying pre-developed puppet-based programs to children and communities
  • 9,000 small gatherings involving thirty trained District Ambassadors playing video shows using laptop computers.

The television and radio shows will include 78 shows in Urdu and 13 shows in each of the four major regional languages.

I don’t know if Senator Coburn would have objected if USAID did a remake of Jack Bauer’s 24 in Urdu. After all, Jack is apparently one of the top 20 Coolest Heroes in American Pop Culture (although suspects do not think so).

Domani Spero

PSA Diversity Visa Scam: Meet Our YouTube Stars

The diversity visa scam email recently forwarded to this blog made me look up the scam alerts and public service announcements (PSA) on the same subject. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the following are the videos put together by our consular sections to warn the public against the diversity visa or green card lottery scams.   Our top pick is the PSA from the US Embassy in Bangkok and our second pick is from the US Embassy in Tbilisi. The first two PSAs are clear, camera sharp, short and to the point, and both carry subtitles in the local language. The consular officers have camera presence, well-modulated voice, good lighting, and lucky enough to have excellent audio-visual support.

Tips on how to avoid Diversity Visa scam
US Embassy Bangkok | Duration 1:45 min

Green Card Lottery Scam
US Embassy Tbilisi |  1:17 min

Diversity Visa Lottery Fraud Warning
US Embassy Prague |  1:26
This video with Consul General David Beam from U.S. Embassy Prague is short but not so sweet, has no subtitle in Czech and the camera image is shadowy and fuzzy.

Diversity Visa Lottery Fraud
US Embassy Islamabad | 1:06
This PSA with Brad is short and sweet, to the point, and has a subtitle. But the speaker talks too fast, too animated and twitches around so much it makes me dizzy. The video transition is also distracting.

Whatever you do, if you’re planning your own PSA, stay away from the Fox and the Bear, like the US Embassy in Romania whose consular section has put together three videos on diversity visa scams.

http://youtu.be/oymH1u6ZmTk 6:59
http://youtu.be/w0bGoRUPYao 7:51
http://youtu.be/anPBna9oRzY  8:40

Apparently, the Fox and the Bear tale was based on a Romanian folktale like this one.  Maybe the Fox Tricked the Bear tale could work as warning props but these videos are all over 5 minutes in length — that’s too long for a PSA and I’m sorry to say, quite boring.

Domani Spero

SFRC Clears Gast, Richard, Sonenshine, Whitehead, Palmer, Farrar, Powers, Powell

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the following nominees on Feb 14, 2012. All nominations will now go to the full Senate vote:

  • Earl W. Gast, of California, to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, vice Katherine Almquist, resigned
  • Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Population, Refugees, and Migration), vice Eric P. Schwartz, resigned.
  • Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale
  • Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
  • Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  • Jonathan Don Farrar, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
  • Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
  • Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.

Domani Spero

Wanted: US Contractor for Embassy Baghdad Maintenance Services

The State Department recently issued a presolicitation for a contractor to provide Operations and Maintenance (O&M) services for the Baghdad Embassy Compound (BEC) in Iraq. The services required include but are not limited to:

Ø Electrical Generation and Distribution;
Ø Heating Air Conditioning and Ventilation (HVAC);
Ø Water Supply, Purification and Distribution;
Ø Fire Alarm and Suppression System;
Ø Complete Sanitary Sewer and Waste Water Treatment Plant;
Ø Elevator Maintenance;
Ø Fuel Storage and Distribution for generators and gas/diesel station;
Ø Refuse and HAZMAT removal;
Ø Grounds maintenance;
Ø Facilities maintenance;
Ø Swimming pool maintenance;
Ø Structural inspections and repairs.

The Baghdad Embassy Compound (BEC) is located in the heart of Baghdad, IRAQ adjacent to the Tigris River, within the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone). It consists of 38 buildings, one service station and 16 guard towers on approximately 104 acres with three primary sites as follows:  1) BEC,  2) Diplomatic Security Man Camp (Camp Condor), and 3) East End.

Related to this, the department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is  also conducting a Pre-Award Site Survey at the US Embassy Compound in Baghdad, Iraq. The notice posted at FedBiz says that contractors who are considering the submission of a proposal as the Prime Contractor for the Operations and Maintenance Support Services contract are strongly encouraged to make plans to attend this three day event as space is limited and the time required to apply for and receive a visa from the Government of Iraq may be extensive.

The notice also says:

The purpose of this visit is to provide specific information to interested companies on the work and living environment, the program scope and schedule, and the specific facilities, grounds, utilities and equipment requiring operations, upkeep, maintenance and repair.

Participation in the Site Survey is not a mandatory requirement for submission of a proposal or to be considered a qualified company in the evaluation of a proposal. However, this level of information sharing by DOS cannot be replicated in any other form.

Due to the requirement that a company either possess a Top Secret Facility Clearance or be able to obtain a Top Secret Facility Clearance, a Prime Contractor can only be a company based in the United States.

In an impromptu press briefing reported by The Cable last week, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides was quoted saying, “Contrary to some of the news reports, we are not reducing our operations by 50 percent… To be honest with you, I don’t know where the 50 percent number came from.” Apparently, the more “normalized” operation is focused on “switching from contractors to local hires and sourcing embassy goods from the local marketplace.”

But the embassy’s operation and maintenance services does not look like part of what they’re calling “normalized” operations; the presolicitation above excludes non-US based companies and requires the contractor to have a Top Secret Facility clearance.

In what might be a test of mettle for prospective American contractors, the State Department provides the following logistics information to assist potential contractors in planning their trip to Iraq for this site survey:

  • Air Transportation – Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) is the airport within Baghdad, Iraq, and is serviced by numerous international airlines. Attendees are expected to make their own arrangements to arrive and depart from Baghdad.
  • Housing – Attendees should make reservations to stay at the Parks Edge Inn, within the International Zone in Baghdad.
  • Ground Transportation –. Attendees are responsible for arrangement and transportation from BIAP to lodging destination and back; and from lodging site to U.S. Embassy and back. U.S. Embassy staff will meet attendees at the main gate of US Embassy Compound each morning.
  • Meals – Attendees will be allowed to take lunch and dinner at the Dining Facility (DFAC) at the Embassy Compound on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The lunches may be working lunches. Dinner starts at 5:00 pm. Please allow time for dinner before departure pick up.
  • Status – Attendees will be visitors to the Embassy Compound and require escorting at all times.
  • Schedule – The specific schedule of events will be provided to authorized attendees directly at a later date. Once daily time and schedule are released, attendees should begin planning to secure transportation accordingly that assure timely arrival and departure.

At least, potential contractors on this site visit are allowed lunch and dinner at the dining facility at the US Embassy compound. It would be interesting to see if Tony Stark of Stark Industries will show up at the main gate.

Domani Spero

Diversity Visa Scam: Anywhere in the US for $879 Only, and “No Discount for Childrens”

English: 'USCIS To Issue Redesigned Green Card'

Image via Wikipedia

A reader from the Philippines sent us this email scam on diversity visa. Apparently it’s been going around.  For $879, the potential victim is offered accommodation, health insurance, education and a guaranteed job in the United States! Potential victims are also told they can bring everyone in the family including cousins, as long as they each pay $879.  But apparently, there is “no discount for childrens.” Potential victims have to pay via Western Union and they have to send that money all the way to London!


Your registered name  [REDACTED] is included to show this message originated from U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State notifies [REDACTED]of being selected as a winner of the Diversity Visa program.

Dear  [REDACTED] , You are one of the 50,000 winners selected by the computer random draw from the 12.1 million entries registered in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program . The Diversity Immigrant Visa program is a United States congressionally-mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card. It is also known as the Green Card Lottery.

Winner Details
Acceptance Date:    Friday 18th of November 2011 08:46:19 PM
Winner Name:         [REDACTED]
Country of Birth:    Philippines
Phone Number:      [REDACTED]

Diversity Visa Details
With the Diversity Visa (also known as Green Card) you will enjoy all the advantages and benefits of a U.S. permanent resident, including health and education benefits, and employment opportunities along with guidance in your new country, orientation sessions and programs to integrate into mainstream American society. Once received you can use it at any time you want to move in the United States or just travel. The visa must be renewed after 10 years.

U.S. Government helps you with the accommodation and offers you Health Insurance (Freedom HSA Direct Individual Health insurance for 1 year), Dwelling (Apartment in any city you prefer, 1 bedroom for 3 months ), a guaranteed job (in the field that you are are currently qualified so you can start working even from the first week you arrive in the United States and get paid as U.S citizen. ) and education (for U.S. Students or Higher Education through EducationUSA. It includes transfer to a U.S college or University so you can continue your educational study. More details can be found at http://educationusa.state.gov/ .)


Processing fees


Type of Residence Card Status Amount (per person)
United States Permanent Resident Card Granted! – Waiting for payment of processing fee $879
Processing fees Included
Total $879

Although the Diversity Visa participation was free, the law and regulations require to every diversity visa winner to pay a visa processing fee of $879. The Diversity Visa(Green Card) is guaranteed upon receiving the payment. The per person fee for each Diversity Visa is $879, payable in U.S. dollars or equivalent of your local currency. This $879 fee is the only fee a winner needs to pay throughout the entire relocation process.
Accompanying family members(wife/husband, fiancee, brothers, sisters, childrens, cousins) may be included in the program and their visas will be provided at the same time with yours so you can travel/move together in the same time. However the fees must be paid per person and each member(e.g wife, brother, parents, childrens, cousin) must pay $879. There is no discount for childrens. Please note that you are allowed to take with you as many family members you want. However for each person you must pay an additional amount of U.S $879. For example if you decide to move in the United States with your wife and a kid the total fee is US$879(your fee) + US$879(your wife) + US$879(your kid) = US$2637.


PURPOSE: The U.S. Department of State uses the fee payment primarily to process your visa related documents and verify your identity.

Visa Payment processing instructions
The fees must be paid using Western Union money transfer and will be processed by the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom.

Western Union is a leading provider of International person-to-person money transfer. With more than 150 years experience and 245,000 Agent locations in over 200 countries and territories, Western Union is recognized for sending money quickly, reliably, and safety. You can send the payment in U.S. dollars or equivalent of your local currency .


Click on the following link to find the nearest Western Union agency and send the fees payment :


Find Western Union Agency

If you are unable to find a Western Union agency near your location, you may ask a relative or friend to pay the fee on your behalf.

After you find a Western Union agency you need to go with cash money, an identity card(e.g passport or national identity card) and send the payment to the U.S. embassy agent address in United Kingdom:

Name   : Kevin Wine
Address:  73 Queens Avenue
London, N20 0JB
United Kingdom

The payment must be sent to the above U.S. embassy agent address in United Kingdom because the U.S. Department of State decided this based on the diplomatic relations with your country.
After you send the payment follow the next steps:
Fax the Western Union receipt at +44 2080434497 !

Then wait for the confirmation that the payment was received.

Within 48 hours, you will receive a confirmation via email with your Case Number/Confirmation Number and exact date and time(approx. 2 days) of the final interview. Upon successful interview you will receive your documents and travel information to move in the United States. Under no circumstances your visa status won’t be affected by the interview. After you have paid the processing fees your visa is guaranteed !

Please Note!

The payment must be sent via Western Union in maxx 5 working days after you have received and read the email from U.S. DEPARTMENT of STATE. You are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last day to pay. Heavy demand may result in system delays . The visa processing fee(US $879) is mandatory for each person and the U.S. Government doesn’t offer any discount, loan or exception. You have been selected winner of the Diversity Visa lottery so the visa is guaranteed upon receiving the payment fees on time. A hard copy of this letter will be mailed to your postal address upon receiving the payment fees.

Please be advised that even through you are a winner of Diversity Visa your Case Number/Confirmation Number will be provided only after you send the payment confirmation of the fees. Please do not contact us to ask for the Case Number/Confirmation Number.

If it would be necessary to contact the U.S. Department of state YOU MUST ALWAYS REFER TO YOUR NAME. The email is support@travel-state-program.org !

CONFIDENTIALITY STATEMENT: AUTHORITIES: The information asked for on this form is requested pursuant to Section 222 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 222(f) provides that the records of the Department of State and of diplomatic and consular offices of the United States pertaining to the issuance and refusal of visas or permits to enter the United States shall be considered confidential and shall be used only for the formulation, amendment, administration, or enforcement of the immigration, nationality, and other laws of the United States. Certified copies of such records may be made available to a court provided the court certifies that the information contained in such records is needed in a case pending before the court.

It is worth noting that http://educationusa.state.gov/ is a real website run by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  That and the exclamation marks are the only things right with this email.  The State Department on its website says:

The scammers behind these fraudulent emails and letters are posing as the U.S. government in an attempt to extract payment from DV applicants. All applicants should be familiar with information about DV scams provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Applicants are encouraged to review the rules and procedures for the DV program so that you know what to expect, when to expect it, and from whom.

http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt003.shtm

http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/types/types_1322.htm

Don’t get scammed, send no money, read up!

Domani Spero

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…