Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Security Failures of Benghazi was predictable in many ways. The members of the committee started off beckering about the conduct of the investigation. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the committee accused committee chairman Darrell Issa of excluding the Democrats from the investigation by witholding documents, non-access to key witness Colonel Wood (“We could not even get his phone number.”) and says Issa “effectively excluded Democrats from a congressional delegation to Libya this past weekend.” The Republican members lined up to hammer the State Department (and President Obama).

The predictability of bi-partisanship

Cuts to embassy security funding was also brought up. And it turns out this is one of the few bipartisan issue in the House. According to the Oversight Committee, Rep Cummings and other Democrats reportedly helped 147 Republicans slashed that embassy security funding. Oy! Is that right?

It is predictable that the Republicans grilled the witnesses and the Democrats played defense. I’m sure that if this were a Republican administration, the Democrats would have played offense and the Republicans defense. Which sucks when looking for the truth is a seriously possibility and folks have already made up their minds.

Strangely enough, I don’t think anyone during the hearing asked the question as to why we had that office in Benghazi. But U/S Kennedy went on an gave an answer to the unasked question anyway using Ambassador Steven’s words in his prepared testimony.

Not a single representative asked the State Dept reps on the impact of running gigantic diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and how these missions siphoned not only funds, but more importantly staffing resources from the rest of the Foreign Service.

How come no one wanna to listen to Dennis?

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says:

It is easy to blame someone else — like a civil servant at the State Department. We all know the game. It is harder to acknowledge that decades of American foreign policy have directly contributed to regional instability and to the rise of armed militias around the world. It is even harder to acknowledge Congress’ role in the failure to stop the war in Libya, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Pakistan, the war in Yemen, the war in Somalia and who knows where else. It is harder to recognize Congress’ role in the failure to stop the drone attacks that are still killing innocent civilians and strengthening radical elements abroad. We want to stop the attacks on embassies? Let’s stop trying to overthrow governments.

Go Dennis Go! Oops! Everyone had their ear plugs on.

Point of order — while OGA got outed?

Sometime during the four hour hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called out “Point of order! Point of order!” as DAS Charlene Lamb  described the chaotic night of the attack.  Rep. Chaffetz objected to the aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi saying, “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”

If you did not know it, Rep. Chaffetz  went to Libya over the weekend to get “an on-the-ground assessment of the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.”  This report says that “Specifically, he wanted to probe whether claims for more security were denied by the U.S. government.” He did not go to Benghazi, where the deaths actually occurred, but Tripoli is on the ground enough.  He spent a grand total of five hours in Tripoli.

Five hours in Tripoli via miljet? Don’t raise your voice. That’s exactly 300 minutes on the ground in Libya.  Five hours more than either DAS Lamb and U/S Kennedy as neither have ever been to Libya.  There were reportedly five RSOs in Benghazi at the time of the attack, none were sitting before the committee yesterday.   The five includes David Ubben who is currently recuperating at Walter Reed for his wounds; none of these RSOs were called in talk about what happened that night.  Presumably they are talking to the FBI and will talk to the ARB.

Anyway, about that point of order, here is  WaPo’s take on how the Other Government Agency or OGA got outed:

In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member “rapid response force” in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that “not necessarily all of the security people” at the Benghazi compounds “fell under my direct operational control.”
[…]
The Republican lawmakers, in their outbursts, alternated between scolding the State Department officials for hiding behind classified material and blaming them for disclosing information that should have been classified. But the lawmakers created the situation by ordering a public hearing on a matter that belonged behind closed doors.

Republicans were aiming to embarrass the Obama administration over State Department security lapses. But they inadvertently caused a different picture to emerge than the one that has been publicly known: that the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd.

Oops, too?  The NYT reported that among the over two dozens employees evacuated from Benghazi the morning of September 12 were a dozen of apparently CIA operatives and contractors.

This makes me wonder if the CIA is also the owner of the 50-minute video of the attack whose existence was confirmed by State; and which Rep. Issa said is not FBI’s. Well, whose video is it – the Department of Commerce?

Best and Worst Witnesses?

The best witness among the four witnesses hauled up before the committee is no doubt, RSO Eric Nordstrom. He was prepared, straightforward and articulate. He spoke in a commanding manner, was respectful but also forceful in his testimony.  If I were overseas, I would want him as my Regional Security Officer, too. Pardon me? You love him to pieces because he does not hold his punches? Well, he sure didn’t hold his punches yesterday.

He also talked about a “new security-reality” in his prepared statement which, frankly was lost during the hearing. No one bothered to ask him what we should be doing differently in this new reality or how Congress might best support addressing this new reality. The reps were busy listening to themselves talk. But here is what he said:

“The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault. I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country. It is critical that we balance the risk-mitigation with the needs of our diplomats to do their job, in dangerous and uncertain places. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker.”

The other issue that RSO Nordstrom had in his prepared statement was the persistent matter of staff turnover, which is not a reality just in Libya but in other posts around the world, particularly in hardship posts.

“This brings me to the issue of staff turnover. At traditional posts most staff are assigned for periods of one to three years. In re-establishing our presence in Libya after the revolution, we needed to rely on a high number of staff who could serve temporarily (what we call TDY), so that we could adjust staffing quickly in the event that the security situation drastically changed. In the short term, that can and did work very well. However, what I found is that having only TDY DS agents made re-establishing and developing security procedures, policies and relationships more difficult. I understood it was also difficult for my colleagues in Washington to fill constant staffing requirements from a limited pool of available agents with high-threat tactical training. As the sole permanent RSO for the first seven months I was in Libya, I was unable to focus resources on developing traditional RSO programs as much as I would have wished, and instead spent a significant amount of time training new TDY staff, who were often set to leave eight weeks after they arrived. Nowhere was this more evident than in Benghazi, which had no permanent staff assigned to provide continuity, oversight and leadership to post’s programs.”

RSO Nordstrom, blessed his heart also has the best zingers.

“We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident.”

“How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.”

“For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

Man, oh, man. That last one is a keeper and will zinged just about everyone up his chain of command and the regionals.

To me the worst witness among the four is without a doubt, Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb who told the panel, quote, “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11.”

In fairness, we have  over 270 posts around the world. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan are the exceptions when it comes to the number of RSOs. Apprently, US Mission Baghdad has something like 88 DS agents. It is important to note that posts normally have one RSO and one ARSO or Assistant Regional Security Officer. Some consulates and smaller posts like the American Presence Posts would be lucky to have one RSO. In most cases, an FSO has collateral duty as Post Security Officer if there is no RSO at post.

And – if you were testifying before Congress next to your boss, three layers up, you probably would squirm, too. I watched her sit there with the three men and she looked nervous as a sitting duck who knew what’s coming but was unable to leave. Even her introduction was dull. This is a woman who in 1989 volunteered for duty in Beirut, where she managed a 500-person guard force at the height of the civil war in Lebanon. But you wouldn’t know that listening to her.

But — four Americans died in the attack, and to say that we have “the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11” is like disconnected wifi. I’m sorry to say this but — how socially intelligent are you to say something like that? The Cable’s top article after the hearing was Lamb to the slaughter, and it was not talking about Roald Dahl’s book.

Post-hearing and language

As if the four-hour Oversight hearing wasn’t enough, U/S Kennedy went back to Foggy Bottom and gave an On-The-Record Briefing. He mentioned the RSOs who were in Benghazi that night:

And we know that David (Ubben) was so badly injured that at this very moment he still remains in serious condition at Walter Reed Hospital. And we know that Alec and Zack and Scott and Renaldo and Dave went in and out of the burning building again and again, trying to find both Chris and Sean.
[…]
Let me say a little bit about the process and how things work as well. We have security professionals in Washington – many, many, if not all of them who have many years of experience in the field. And then we have the field professionals, our Regional Security Officers. This is not a matter of rejecting requests. This is a matter of a dialogue that goes back and forth between our professionals in the field and our professionals in Washington looking for the right solution. We make sure that they do that, and they do it all the time. And one of the ways that happens, because this is a dialogue, someone says, “I need A, B, and C.” The professionals in Washington, with all the experience they have, say, “I see your point. Functionally, isn’t this what you’re asking for? What about if we send you B, C, and D instead?” We arrive at a solution. We arrived at solutions for Benghazi.

In short, as the familiar goes in Foggy Bottom, “it depends.”

The first question the press asked was about one of RSO Nordstrom’s zingers, the clip that made it to prime time news:

QUESTION: […] I want to concentrate on something else he said towards the end, and he seemed to make a point, or was given the opportunity to make the point of saying that, “For me” – this is the quote: “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.” And as a career Foreign Service officer, I’m wondering what your reaction to that is, if you’ve talked to anyone else in the building about that comment, and what they think about it —

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No. I mean —

QUESTION: — and what it says about Mr. Nordstrom, if anything.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I’ve just gotten back, after being on the Hill. I am extremely, extraordinarily proud of the Diplomatic Security Service. These are individuals I’ve worked with for almost 40 years. They are the best of the best. They’re extraordinary professionals. And I was simply surprised to hear language like that used.

It looks like even the best of the best gets pissed.

And since language is always evolving, I’ll end with a new word my blog pal, Kolbi came up with as the hearing was unfolding:

Nordstrom, \nord-struhm\, verb;

1.)  To document your position so effectively and completely that, in the event of a very public Congressional hearing, if there are rear ends left flapping about in the breeze at the end of it, yours sure isn’t one of them.

Examples of Usage:

– “…So I made sure I Nordstromed the hell out of it…”

– “…And I told them that I would be Nordstroming that up one side and down the other, just so we were all clear on where I stood…”

That’s a free lesson right there, no need for FSI’s distance learning.

 

 

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State Dept’s Blog Roll Fail: The Nipples Have Landed and They’re Not Shy

Yesterday, we blogged about this — Breaking News: State Dept Does Not/Not Like Nipples Nor Damn ACLU Letter.

We can’t find anyone willing to talk on or off the record on what went on behind the blog roll snafu over there. So, below is how we imagined it went down during the brainstorming of some unnamed characters, obviously too smart to handle (adapted from  Behind ‘Charlie’s Angels’ 2004 TV Movie):

The issue is nipples.

Nipples?

Actually breasts and nipples.  She’s writing about nipples. Nipples come with breasts.  

We’re reading nipples. We can’t put a blog with nipple blog posts in our blog roll. Too personal.

You think? We counted seven blog posts and nineteen instances in which nipples were mentioned. Also, word association? Nipples = Protrude. Not good.

We must stop nipple talk and protrusion on FS blogs. Godsakes, our readers are future diplomats!

Yeah, who cares about nipples in a Foreign Service blog, anyway?

Just to be clear, we were not hiding behind the desk eavesdropping, this is just imagination not hard at work.  But we’re wondering if something similar transpired over there, and if we can now use this incident as an example of “groupthink.

Today, WaPo picked up the story: Foreign Service spouse finds her blog no longer has a home on State Department Web site.  Here is an excerpt:

Yesterday she received an e-mail explanation from a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency.

“Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies,” the employee wrote, “and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS [Foreign Service] life overseas.”

“Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees have to share.”
[…]
“It really shook me to the core,” she said in an interview from her home in Annandale, where her husband, Peter, is getting ready to move to Afghanistan for a year on an unaccompanied tour.

A State Department spokesman said Wednesday night he is looking into the issue but did not have enough information yet to comment.

Read the whole thing here.

Pleaasssee! Somebody please bring this up in the Daily Press Briefing!

Because they’ve done it now.  They’ve put it in black and white — only happy talk blogs are welcome!  They’re looking for the mini-versions of State Magazine’s Happy Post of the Month and mini-versions of DipNote.

Perhaps they should hire Foreign Service spouses and pay them to blog about their happy lives overseas instead of using them as “bait” for free. Then, State at least, can improve the job opportunities of diplomatic spouses, and the spouses will be too preoccupied with happy write ups, they won’t have time to think or blog about their real lives.

Yes, you may post this suggestion to the Secretary’s Sounding Board.

As I was posting this, one of our regular readers saw that Jen’s WaPo story is now in the Drudge Report. And there it is with the N-word.

Also these:

Jezebel | U.S. State Dept. Takes Issue With ‘Nipple Cozies’

The Raw Story | State Dept. boots breast cancer survivor from blogroll over ‘nipple cozies’

Folks will be on strategery meetings for the rest of the day.

In the meantime — it turns out a lot cares about nipples and much more in the Foreign Service, most especially the bloggers.

Blog pal Kolbi of  A Daring Adventure writes Too Little and Too Much (Regarding Blogging, the ACLU, and NIPPLES). She deserves special mention; she is the only FS blogger who had been clubbed twice by the Serial Blog Killer and survived to tell about it:

Being on The Official Blog List actually painted an even bigger bulls eye on my back. And not just on my back, but on the backs of other State bloggers on The List. To date, to my knowledge, at least three State bloggers (and perhaps even up to five) on The List have since been shut down. And there were probably, oh, I don’t know, only about a dozen or so blogs on that List when it began. So, you know, not the best odds of bloggy survival.

So, basically, to recap: The pro-blogging side of State puts The Official List together and encourages bloggers to write tons and tons of State-themed blog posts, and then the anti-blogging side of State goes and… shuts those blogs down because they’re writing about State-themed stuff.

And here are some more of them —

Tuk & Tam | What the Nipple?

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic | Nipples, Censorship, and Other Matters

Cyberbones | Nipples! Boobs!

Spectrummy Mummy | N is also for Nipples

We Meant Well | Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem.

Noble Glomads | Don’t tell us who is relevant to us

The Wandering Drays | “Nipped” in the Blog

Mom2Nomads | Nipplegate 2012

Four Globetrotters | Nipples, Nipples, Everywhere

We Meant Well | State Department Does Not Care for Breast Cancer Talk

Whale Ears and Other Wonderings | Not FS Enough

Sadie Abroad | Nippletastic: A Rant For FS Bloggers

Well That Was Different | It’s the Little Things

dp’s Blog | I Guess I’m Not As Important As I Once Assumed

Mom2Nomads | You’re Just Not Quite FS Enough…

Life After Jerusalem | What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

Dinoia Family | Wanted: Stories of the ‘Real’ Foreign Service

Dinoia Family | Did you know?

And we hear that somebody is now trying to organize a “kick me off your official list” movement … and if successful, there won’t be anyone for show and tell on State’s “inclusive atmosphere and collaborative environment,” except maybe …. well, one of our alert readers write with a simple enough question:

…. and yet it’s okay to blog about strip clubs and how your nickname on the consular line is Visa Molester? somehow this one is still linked to the official blog roll. go figure.

Oh dear!  There are official standards employed here, but obviously it’s hard to figure out.

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/

Who Wants to Be Known as a Serial Blog Killer, Anyway?

English: Serial Killers Gallery at the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it goes.

And Kolbi’s blog is resurrected a second time. Which is almost as shocking as Newt Gingrich’s come back after his Aegean cruise.

Anyway, she disappeared on February 13, and we moved the blog to the blogmetery. We spent most of February 14 rounding up the usual suspects on paper. Why? Because that’s what we do when somebody disappears or when a 2010 victim of a Serial Blog Killer is victimized once again. Think Criminal Minds for blogs searching for a Serial Blog Killer’s “signature.”

So on our whiteboard we have listed the possible “suspects” below:

  • The blogger-spouse’s FSO’s section chief at post
  • FSO’s section chief’s boss at post, the Principal Officer
  • Principal Officer’s boss in Beijing, usually the DCM
  • DCM’s boss in Beijing, that’s the Ambassador
  • Ambassador’s boss in DC besides President Obama, the EAP bureau
  • EAP’s boss in DC, that would be “P” (way up on the 7th Floor, tsk! tsk!)

On our side column, we listed the following who may have been offended by the blog or other people of interest we should talk to:

  • the UNSUB or “unknown subject” – could be the janitor or secretary, who knows?
  • DGHR – because human resources has hands in almost all the embassy pies
  • Alec J. Ross, because he is the 21st Century Statecraft guru at State

We were just in the middle of collecting photos to go with the names of the usual suspects when we were told that Kolbi’s blog is back up talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shuuuung!

We are happy, of course, to move her out of the blogmetery (admittedly, one depressing sidebar).  But the blog was gone slightly more than 24 hours. And very few, if ever, make it back. That she escaped the certainty of a blog death a second time around is nothing short of a miracle.

Is the Serial Blog Killer now playing a different game?  Or is there a lesson here, somehow? We don’t know yet. We’re studying the victimology in the hope that it would help others survive similar attacks. We’re asking questions such as: What did she write about? Who did she piss? What interest of the United States did she jeopardize?

Wait – you think it’s because nobody wants to be known as the Serial Blog Killer?

Don’t know. But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, “If you can’t do something right, do something smart.”

Well, getting off the news before it hits the frontpage is definitely smart, boys!

Domani Spero

Dammit! Which State Dept Tiger Ate This Diplomatic Spouse Blogger for Dinner?

Folks, and paging Alec J. Ross –

— Dudes, this is getting old and making me um throw up! After a quick and sweet goodbye, she’s gone.

A Daring Adventure

— Is this a demonstration of the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft at work? 

— Wow! 

— Now I have to add this blog to the Foreign Service Blogmetery. See the lower left hand sidebar of this blog, please.  Yes, unfortunately, the blogmetery is growing. Most of them died under suspicious circumstances. There’s a serial blog killer around, and I think there is more than one.

— Say, who are you folks going to eat for lunch, tomorrow?

Domani Spero

Why diplo-spouses can’t get real love at the State Department – they are headaches, especially when they are heard and seen

Hear no evil ...Image by jinterwas via Flickr
EFMs and squeezing into ConGen training

One of our blog pals, that funny woman, Kolbi, who almost disappeared sometime back posted recently about navigating the rough Stoopid Seas of trying to get employed as an eligible family member in the State Department.Excerpts below:

(For those of you who may not know, ConGen is a class that all Consular folks have to take about Visa laws and such.  EFMs who want to have jobs in the Consular area of post have to take the class, also, but only get leftover seats.  Which there usually are between none and very few of.)

This was a most unpleasant experience, as the State contractor with whom EFMs had to interact in order to get into the class actually laughed at me when I said I wanted to take the class.  I’m assuming this had to do with lack of ConGen space, etc.  He was also rather obnoxious and insinuated that most EFMs can’t pass the basic English skills tests that an EFM has to pass in order to even QUALIFY to even be PUT ON THE WAITING LIST to take ConGen.*  Jerk.

[* FYI, I have heard, though I do not know for sure, that any EFM that does not pass the English pre-screening exam(s) has to wait two years before being allowed to attempt it/them again.  That’s a long time!]

Hey, Kolbs, the screener probably  thought you were a foreign born spouse who speaks English learned from Sesame Street. Did he speak rather slowly but loud in the most complimentary way — “You …Speak…Very Good…English…but   most    spouses    fail   the    test…”

I’ve seen bureaucrats do this in more than one occasion, the English part and the con·de·scen·sion. It appears to be a stress test on the notion that how best you enunciate your vowels = brain power …. “yis, I spik viry gud inglish, so do you … may I now tik the tist?”

Some years ago, we were at a dinner hosted by one of the Rising Stars in the Consular Bureau, who by the way, is now an ambassador over there.  Anyway, one of the guests was an FSO with a spouse who was formerly an FSN with considerable experience in consular work. Now the FSO wanted to know if his English-speaking, embassy veteran wife, may be allowed to take the ConGen course. The Rising Star then also insinuated that most EFMs can’t pass the basic English skills tests and that most EFMs at ConGen quit or flunk the course. In not so many words, the answer was like … don’t bother dude, find her a hobby instead.

It was most shocking to the FSN-EFM who had worked for a consular section for some dozen years, shocking to her husband who had at that time, far less experience in consular work than the wife, and shocking to us the poor audience, who had the misfortune of observing firsthand a bureaucracy that saw numbers rather than individuals.

Would it have hurt so much to say “your wife is welcome to try …?” Would it cost more to the USG, if the screener processes 12 interested EFMs instead of say 5? Would it cost more to the USG if there are 25 students in ConGen instead of 20?  The course is run by salaried employees, is it not? It’s not like they are paid by piece like a maquilla worker in Latin America.

The better paying jobs at the embassy are in the Consular Section, of course. Unlike most sections in the mission, the consular folks actually has money they can tap to request and pay for additional employees.  And sometimes, you do get lucky when you have real leaders in the captain’s chair.  Other times, you get lemons, too, although CA hates to advertise that.  But ConGen has always been a tad “complicated.” I mean, management often wants the EFMs because they are cheaper, but they really would rather have junior officers if they have a choice.  They want  EFMs to fill in an empty slot, but they won’t pay for you to go back to DC and take the course.  Also some well-qualified EFMs can’t get consular gigs because managers worry that they’d get bored over repetitive mindless work, go on leave during the peak visa season, take off to take care of kids or school issues, demand their Highest Previous Rate (if previously held a higher pay grade than advertised) and yada, yada, yada.  And for non-ConGen required jobs, they would rather hire local employees because they are usually way, way cheaper than EFMs and blessed their patient hearts, they, the LES usually duck-taped themselves before they even think of letting out a whine.


Dear Consular Affairs leaders ~ ~~ ~ ~ can — you — hear — meeee?

So I thought I’d ask the Consular Bureau why is it so hard for EFMs to get into the ConGen course. One of our blog pals suggested that I write to cagrowsleaders@state.gov.  Apparently that’s the CA Grows Leaders mailing list for the consular affairs bureau’s top heads who are seriously growing leaders like mushrooms. So I did, see below:

Dear CA leaders,

Why is it that EFMs have a hard time getting into the ConGen course? Just saw the CA is recruiting visa adjudicators for Chinese and Portuguese posts, why is that needed when you have 2/3s of EFMs looking for jobs in the FS?

I understand that the screening to be placed in the course waiting list is now handled by a contractor. Does her/his job description also includes discouraging spouses from applying for the ConGen course?

I would appreciate your kind response.

I’m still waiting for the “Dear Mr. Spero this is an internal matter ” email.

Perhaps they are too busy growing mushrooms, er leaders, they could not take the time to write back. Or perhaps my source gave me a bad email address — who has an email address like that, anyway?

But if the group is real and there are really leaders growing leaders but cannot be relied on to answer a simple inquiry about something that is a serious issue in the service —  well, that’s simply brilliant – lead by example, do not answer silly questions!

In some parts of the organization, this issue is not really a serious one until FSOs start leaving the service. And of course, if they do start leaving, the line of those clamoring to get in is still a long one.  So… there it is….

I understand from a reliable source that the new hiring authority on visa adjudicators is a new program that the FS union agreed to because it is the least bad of a number of bad options, and it is, for now, a pilot. The least bad. Pause and breath for a moment.

The bottom line I’m told — there is a need for MANY more low-level visa adjudicators in the so -called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, China and India). Some can be filled by EFMs, but not all, even if all EFMs wanted to do so. They have to be filled by language-qualified applicants, they have to be filled full time, and filling them cannot depend on the availability of EFMs. The word out there is that EFM employment opportunities will not be reduced. Where language-qualified EFMs are available, they will be used.

But if you have the language but not ConGen, then sorry.

If you have ConGen but not the language, then sorry.

Go apply for the embassy escort job, which does not require language or ConGen but I hear that at least, in one place this job now  requires that you have prior USG baby-sitting experience. To escort the cleaning crew while they’re dusting the desks inside the controlled areas, you need prior experience? Oh dear, is there an app for that?  Whisky-tango-foxtrot, over! That sounds like a cake already baked in the oven.

In any case, if Congress decides not to fund additional positions in the next fiscal years, the State Department may be “forced” to offer additional visa jobs to spouses again. Not out of the goodness of its heart, but because it needs cheap labor, and can’t afford the real thing.

Do not make waves, or you can’t borrow salt, sugar, TP, etc., ever again ….

There is a tenet in FS life that folks are encouraged to follow  as soon as they join the Service — do not make waves.  And in the confines of the work space, that is easy enough to follow.  To belong is to conform to the internal culture of the organization.  But that’s not always so for the diplomatic spouses.

In the old days, the poor wives, because they were mostly wives then, had it even worse.  Their actions, reactions, behavior, tea manners and such were all  part of the performance evaluation of their diplomat-husbands.  Keeping a stiff upper lip was of prime value  just as performing unpaid volunteer hours on behalf of the US mission without complaint was considered a desired characteristic of an ideal diplomatic wife.

In the supposed enlightened age decades in the making, they were officially declared their own persons years and years ago, and are no longer required to work for free for Uncle Sam. Nor are they considered line items in their spouses’ employee evaluation reports. Reality, of course, is more complicated than that particularly for more senior spouses, but that’s for another post.

What has changed very little is the notion that one must not make waves. At times that means biting one’s tongue, being agreeable even when the other person is disagreeable, stewing in anger but wearing a mask of a smile, and being ever so careful not to upset anybody who could be in the housing board, in general services, in management, in future posts, oh, just make that the entire mission.  And don’t even think of disagreeing with your FSO-boss because “being difficult” and “not being a team player” can just as easily follow you to a corridor of reputation dedicated solely for spouses and partners.

The truth of the matter is the embassy/post or the mission as it is fondly referred to is like a very small town. It doesn’t matter if there is half a dozen people there or 500 souls. It is like a small town. Everybody knows everybody else. And getting along, taping your mouth before you say something remotely controversial, and not making waves is a precious and necessary virtue or no one will let you borrow a pinch of salt ever again from Albania to Zimbabwe.

The town council, if you will, is counting on that.

Who "disappeared" Kolbi of "A Daring Adventure" into thin air?

In October 2009, I wrote about the disappearance of Madam le Consul. Now, barely seven months later, another Foreign Service blogger and her blog have disappeared. And just as suddenly.

I wonder if Kolbi and her blog have “decided to spend more time with the family.” Yeah, right; that must be it. And I’ll buy THAT when you give me that bridge to nowhere.

Kolbi of A Daring Adventure is not available to answer questions at this time. She’s not returning emails; I doubt if she’d be available even for Oprah.

My first tip came from NDS asking if it was just him or if Kolbi’s blog had suddenly vanished. So I checked. Nada. Twitter and FB. Yok. Very interesting. I know I did not imagine her existence. I read her post just the day before. So between Thursday and Friday, the blog (and the blogger) disappeared into thin air. Not a technical glitch, unless Typepad, Twitter and FB are in cahoots now or were pulled down by evil hackers at the same time. Oh, but I can access all my accounts there except in Typepad where I no longer have one. So. Definitely. Not a technical glitch. It’s like she was never here, except that you can still find her in the cache files.

A former blogger who was similarly pushed into the deep end of the freezer only has this to say, “Tigers are known omnivores – they even eat durian –  and FS spouses.”  

Certainly not a comforting thought.  The big mystery is what happened to Kolbi and her blog? If she can blog or do FB or Twitter, don’t you think she’d have said something already? It’s not like we’re behind the great firewall. I simply do not buy it that she walked away on her own into thin air. So you can call the following speculations, all you want… It may be that you may never find out what happened to her; until the memoirs of disappeared bloggers come out in 2075. So–


#1. Did Kolbi pull down her own blog?

This is always a possibility. The Hegemonist — remember, he went packing in June last year and never came back?  If you click on “A Daring Adventure” it looks like Kolbi just went underground and you need a password. But here’s the deal with Typepad, it also behaves like that when a blog is deleted.  Kolbi sent out a call for the weekly roundup this past Wednesday. She posted that Oakwood thingy this past Thursday. If she just went underground, why would she do that without a heads up to her online friends and readers? And she’s not answering emails. If she did this voluntarily without an ax over her head or her husband’s — why would she do a weekly call up on Wednesday, then decide to shut down the blog two days later? Like MLC, Kolbi was big on doing the right thing, she would not close shop without a proper goodbye. Do you really think Kolbi just woke up on a Friday and decided it’s time to pack up online and go? And PUFF, went just like that?

#2. Was Kolbi (and her blog) abducted by Martians?

Okay, we’ve considered this, as we always do whenever an FS blog disappears and makes everyone jumpy. But — hey, Kolbi just got to WashDC from Texas.  Why would the Martians wait until she get to WDC to abduct her?  Also, I cannot imagine that she’d be scared silly or easily, not even by aliens from space. Nope, it’s not like her to just go quietly into the night with those space guys with funny ears. I could actually imagine her screaming so loud it would reach the 7th Floor of Foggy Bottom. But no screams. Why?

#3. Is Kolbi in an undisclosed location?

The last thing we all know for sure — Kolbi drove from Texas to DC, got to DC and checked into Oakwood. Yea, the place that’s not a hotel. And she blogged about it. And then sometime after that she somehow disappeared online. Yep, GONE.  Just like that.  Did Kolbi go off to Tora-Bora like we suspected with MLC when she disappeared?  I doubt very much if Kolbi did that; the internet connection is iffy there, could not do the weekly roundup from inside those caves. Besides, she was supposed to go on language training then off to China.  Again, if she has decided on her own to disappear for a while, she would have left a note. She’s a diplomat’s wife and a teacher to her kids; of course, she knows it’s impolite to leave without a word! And she would not do this for no real reason.

#4. Did Diplomatic Security catch up with Kolbi?

And told her to zip it? Well, there is always that possibility. But see, DS is busy doing the civilian surge in Afghanistan right now and also the surge in Iraq due to the military draw down there. Are you telling me that somebody in that bureau is busy spending its limited resources hunting down Kolbi’s blog and shutting it down? I can’t. Um, actually —- maybe I can.

Oh. My. God!

What if they were after her blog cell and will soon be knocking on everyone’s blog that Kolbi ever mentioned in her weekly blog round up? Did you think about that, huh? If true, I’d like the OIG, GAO and Congress to investigate if bloggers were ever mirandized before they are placed inside those deep blue freezers. I would also like the Supremes to decide if employees are culpable for their spouses/partners brains, mouths and independent opinions.

#5. Did the X Affairs Bureau shut down Kolbi?

Did the good folks at the X Affairs Bureau issue a cease-and-desist order to gag Kolbi? But how could they do that?  First, besides being an independent blogger Kolbi is a stay at home mom who homeschools her kids. The magic word is “independent.” She does not work for the State Department. Second, she’s only considered an “eligible family member” because her husband works over there. Whatever she’s eligible for, she could not visit the big house without a security escort. Third, she does not work for the Secretary of State or anyone in the lower floors. She is, in fact, one of the 10,000 diplomatic spouses/partners who follow their employee spouses on assignments overseas but are not officially employed by the US Government. Four, she does not work for the State Department. Get it?

So how can anyone just shut her down? It’s beyond comprehension, right?

Overseas — if a spouse drink too much ouzo and do not quit when told, the chief of mission can ship the employee and the spouse back to the US until she cleans up.  It’s called involuntary curtailment. You don’t have to like it, you normally don’t have a say about it. They put you on the plane and off you go. Your stuff eventually follows and find you wherever they park you.

So here, a most important question presents itself.  Obviously, spouses like Kolbi cannot be fired. So how do you control spouses like her so she walks the fine white line or make spouses stop blogging or doing whatever it is that displeases the minor gods and the heavens. Well, let’s see. You can go ahead and tell the spouse directly to stop whatever she’s doing that you do not like.  Of course, like any American, she and others like her would simply ask if you’re trying to infringe on their first amendment rights. And, of course, you’re not trying to do that, right? — so they tell you off and you back off. You’d think of firing the spouse but since she actually receives no salary from you, that would not really work out either. But, surely there must be something you can do. …. right? For instance — the big office can haul the employee-spouse and threaten his EER, the basis for climbing the ladder in the Service. I’m not saying that’s what happened with Kolbi, of course; only that they can do that. Or can they?

Um, wait – isn’t there’s something called the Spouse Directive from 1972? This one says spouses are their own persons and employees cannot be rated on the basis of their spouses’ behavior, mission contributions and place cards and tea talents. Ugh! Right! It simply means — the EER cannot say so and so should not be promoted because his wife is opinionated or because she cross swords with the Ambassador’s wife.  Holy mother of goat! I miss the good old days! It would have been so easy to say “shut your wife up or I’ll write it up in your EER.” Did I say I miss the good old days. I really do. Life is so much easier then.

Short of putting the employee-spouse before the firing squad — um, no guns, don’t worry. Oh, what am I saying? —  Only one state now allows the firing squad! I mean really what else can be done?  Um, I supposed you could opt for a silent firing squad — calmer, quieter and best of all, invisible bullets. Yep, no marks, not even bruises. Here’s what you do to somebody with a male spouse — you bring in the employee and tell her “dudette, if your husband doesn’t shut up from yakking out there, your career will be in serious jeopardy.” The employee goes home and tells her husband. Since husband loves the employee, he himself pulls off his own disappearance online, without a trace, without goodbyes, unable to explain anything, muzzled for good. No blood, no bullets, no mess.  And hey! Just as good as the good old days.

The WH says (h/t NDS) that “bloggers find themselves imprisoned in nations around the world.” I supposed one can actually be imprisoned in jails without bars. And no one would even know about it.  Not even the White House. Cuuuz, a thing like this would be considered an internal thingy.

So — be careful out there …this is dangerous bizness.

On a related note — this is probably a good time to check around your blog. Feel free to ignore, of course.

  • Get a disclaimer.
  • Scrub identifying information.  Be vague about your exact location, city, area where you live in your host country.
  • Read the regulations at least once. Maybe twice. Know what you’re getting into.
  • Be careful with pictures.  Not just your pictures but also of your employee spouse, family members, and FS friends. Your house, your pets, your shoes, etc. that can all obviously identify you and who you work for.  In the US, you are just like everyone else, I mean more or less. Overseas, you are the American or the spouse of a diplomat and can easily be identified. Most posts only has 1-2 RSOs, one Management Officer, one HRO, etc — so if you mention where you are, or where your spouse works, anyone with enough online savvy can easily look it up. Social engineering is also alive and well. If it works for identity thieves, it can also work for all the bad guys who are after a scalp or two.

That said, I offer one last thing to think about — base on a prior related experience.

Even when we want to help, and support the missing blogger — the simple act of helping (by writing about it) and offering support (by looking, searching, emailing about it) can sometimes have negative personal repercussions.

So here is a moral dilemma, of which I have no answer. How can you help when the very act of helping makes life more difficult to those you are trying to help?

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright or What happened to FS blog, "A Daring Adventure?"

Tiger, Tiger, Burning bright....Image by law_keven via Flickr

Our blog friend, NDS inquired if Kolbi’s “A Daring Adventure” blog has suddenly disappeared? Yep, it’s gone.  Don’t know who got her but these tigers have been known to slurp bloggers for snacks with their frappucino. But this was fast, much too fast — must be one terribly hungry tiger. All in the last 24 hours, too. If you happen to know the name of the tiger or its trainer, we would like to know. The problem is there are way too many tigers in the zoo. The owners may not always know who the tigers bite. But that they bite, is clearly not a rumor.

This left me scratching my head, of course. I think the last item Kolbi wrote about had to do with “Oakwood” and “We are not a hotel” thingy.  This is going to make me stay up all night – I thought these tigers only work overtime in China, Cuba and Ayran.

Double holy mother of goat!

It’s not only that these tigers are absolutely not nice.  They also bite a spouse who is not a paid employee of the big house! Krrrreeeeeeek. That’s me cracking my neck, trying to figure this out.  Ouch! What?  She stuck her head and made sounds and it was her fault?  Oh, I see — she’s not allowed to stick her head and have an opinion of her own because her husband works for the big house? Oh, that sucks! …… But, hey…. I thought that only happens in places where they forced women to wear those lovely burqas?      


Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Don’t wander off here

Stay behind the dotted lines
There’s danger out there

Yes, tigers beyond these lines
And they―are trained hard to bite

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FS Blog: A Daring Adventure and the State Dept Weekly Blog Roundup

Kolbi of A Daring Adventure has moved her blog from iweb to typepad. Check out her new digs here:  http://adaringadventure.typepad.com/ ; much easier to navigate and has a faster load, too!
If you have not seen her State Department Weekly Blog Roundup, check out the culled weekly list here: http://adaringadventure.typepad.com/blog/blog-round-up.html. I know this is a lot of work, but I think it is appreciated by many as it facilitates better connections among the FS bloggers community. Thank you, Kolbi for all the time and attention you put into this every week!

She usually puts out a call for great blog posts during the week on Wednesdays. Reader submissions are solicited. Blog owners may also bring their recent posts to Kolbi’s attention for possible inclusion. She says, “I’m not trying to have this be a beauty or popularity contest… I honestly am trying to connect with blogs or posts I may not have seen on my own.  I need all the help I can get!”  

Which blog or blog post should you submit? Anything that tickles your fancy. Below is from her Wednesday call-up:

Has a State Department blog post from this week touched you?  Made you laugh?  Did you learn something from it?  Did you find it helpful in some way? Do you think its subject matter is important or compelling? Maybe it included some great pictures… or a great story… or maybe (like what happens in my home a lot!) you liked it enough that you showed your spouse/significant other/family/friends what it had to say.

If so, tell me, because I would love to know about it. And the blog’s author would love to hear that they were submitted! Add a comment… or, if you’d rather, feel free to email me at:jamesandkolbi(@)aol.com
Below are links to her previous blog roundups.