The life of a blog has no certainty. In most cases, a blog has a lifespan better than that of a mayfly. A day. But most blogs do not make it longer than winter bees (six months). We have to-date survived through 26 winter bee seasons! So that’s amazing! Whatever is in the horizon, we are thankful to all of you who made these seasons possible. We are on the last few days of our eight-week annual fundraising. We are grateful to over 400 readers who pitched in since we launched a few weeks ago. If you care what we do here, and you are able to help, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27. We could use your support. ❤️❤️❤️ D!
On May 2, 2021, Secretary Tony Blinken released a statement for World Press Freedom Day. Excerpt below:
Tomorrow, the United States joins the international community in celebrating World Press Freedom Day. Information and knowledge are powerful tools, and a free and independent press is the core institution connecting publics to the information they need to advocate for themselves, make informed decisions, and hold governmental officials accountable. The United States advocates for press freedom online and offline, and for the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide.
Freedom of expression and access to factual and accurate information provided by independent media are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression includes the right of all individuals “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The United States is committed to working in partnership with members of the media, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned governments to support access to information and defend freedom of expression and the brave journalists who face intimidation, harassment, arrest, and violence in exercising their rights.
Regardless of frontier. Well, now, let me tell you a story.
On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of former Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), aka the Havana Syndrome task force reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. (See Ambassador Pamela Spratlen Designated as Senior Advisor to Department Health Incident Response Task Force).
On March 13, I sent an email to the State Department asking if I may submit emailed questions for Ambassador Spratlen to respond regarding the Havana Syndrome and the Task Force.
On Monday, March 15, I got a response from the State Department: “Sure you can send along your questions.”
On Tuesday, March 16, I got another email from the State Department: “Yes, you can forward your questions.”
Late on March 16, I forwarded sixteen questions via email for Ambassador Spratlen. See the questions here.
On Wednesday, March 17, the State Department acknowledged receipt of questions sent via email: “Thank you for sending this along.”
Then crickets. Then some more crickets.
On April 5, 2021, I sent a follow-up inquiry.
On April 8, I sent a follow-up to my follow-up.
There was just radio silence.
As often the case, we get an unofficial chirping cricket. Maybe it was the middle of the night, who knows?
No response was forthcoming. Now apparently, “traditionally State has not engaged with anonymous bloggers.”
Whoops! That was so funny I almost died laughing. This blog has been running almost uninterrupted as a pseudonymous blog since 2008. We can tell you for a fact that the State Department has traditionally engaged with this blogger.
Via the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
These long-standing rights to anonymity and the protections it affords are critically important for the Internet. As the Supreme Court has recognized the Internet offers a new and powerful democratic forum in which anyone can become a “pamphleteer” or “a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.”
The State Department at another time has respected these rights, and has traditionally responded to our inquiries through the years. We’ve covered Foggy Bottom at the tail end of Rice’s tenure, and through Clinton, Kerry, Tillerson, and Pompeo’s tenures. We’ve been around so long, we have a headful of gray follicles to show for it.
In 2017 during Tillerson’s tenure, State suddenly stopped responding to this blog’s inquiries or request for comments. What happened in 2017? Tillerson and his crew caused quite a mess in Foggy Bottom. On April 1, 2017, we wrote Inside @StateDept: Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For ‘America First’ Cost Savings Initiatives to celebrate the time honored tradition of April Fools’ Day. Back in those days, we still had some humor left.
Apparently, the State Department’s leadership at that time not only got really pissed but also lost its damn mind over a joke. This blog was sent a take down email which we published. See Aww, @StateDept Sends Official Take Down Request For April Fools’ Day Cable.
And that was the end of our exciting relationship with the nameless “Senior State Department Officials” who all held office at the Public Affairs bureau. No one from Foggy Bottom’s PA shop ever wrote back to say, we can’t engage with you anymore because my gosh! you’re an anonymous blogger! (For the record, we’re not anonymous, we have a pen name!).
One contact from another bureau eventually told us … so sorry, we’re not allowed to respond to you.
Fast forward to 2021, the new administration came to office. We got exactly one response from the PA shop before the somebodies shut it down and put our emails back in the “do not respond” lock box.
Truth to tell, a non-responsive State Department was not the end of the world. We are not short of unofficial sources, and typically, what we get from our unofficial sources are better information than the carefully crafted PA talking points. Still, there are times when we do need to have the official word of the State Department. There are occasions when we need to have its officials on record on specific issues, or to be accountable for the government’s actions. As Secretary Blinken message for this year’s World Press Freedom say, “Information and knowledge are powerful tools, and a free and independent press is the core institution connecting publics to the information they need to advocate for themselves, make informed decisions, and hold governmental officials accountable.”
And here we are, whether Foggy Bottom likes it or not, we’ve been connecting information with the public since 2008. To the 7th floor folks reading this blog — we may not be the newspaper of record but the Havana Syndrome questions are for this blog’s readers who needed answers to these questions just the same. Why? Because there are no answers from inside the building. Or worse, folks fear retaliation when pursuing answers to questions like these.
So just one last question. Is the State Department, our great defender of First Amendment Rights and World Press Freedom around the world using this blogger’s pseudonymity as an excuse not to answer questions about its own handling of attacks which resulted in injuries among its employees, and god knows who else? See Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.
Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he “reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Linda! Reunited! You will be as amazing in Turtle Bay as you were in Foggy Bottom. You really are the best of the Foreign Service and the best of America. https://t.co/taEubRED9t
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 23, 2020
America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I'm proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President's Climate Envoy.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 23, 2020
The messages from friends and colleagues that I’ve received over the past 15 hours have been humbling.
Honored to announce, officially, that I have been nominated to serve as Secretary of State. If confirmed, this is a mission I will take on with my full heart.
— Antony Blinken (@ABlinken) November 23, 2020
My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place. I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service – and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations.
— Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@LindaT_G) November 23, 2020
When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
— Alejandro Mayorkas (@AliMayorkas) November 23, 2020
President-elect Biden taught me what it takes to safeguard our national security at the highest levels of our government. Now, he has asked me to serve as his National Security Advisor. In service, I will do everything in my power to keep our country safe.
— Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) November 23, 2020
Get yourself a DNI who…
–is a brown belt in judo
–built a plane, married her flying instructor, flew across the Atlantic
–became a bookstore owner/community activist
–nerds out on treaties
–is the nicest human alivehttps://t.co/qaBocU6uSxhttps://t.co/TrrjdC5JC4
— Zev Karlin-Neumann (@zkarlinn) November 23, 2020
BREAKING: Joe Biden intends to name Tony Blinken to lead the State Department, people familiar said. https://t.co/ePOw4VYrY7
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) November 23, 2020
Breaking News: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken, a defender of global alliances and a close adviser, as secretary of state. https://t.co/IzeynG9AUH
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 23, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state https://t.co/WwyZ3x2HZM
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 23, 2020
Biden once told me “Tony Blinken is a superstar and that’s not hyperbole." He joked that Obama "recognized that after four years with me and stole him.” Blinken, he added, “could do any job, any job.”https://t.co/THKykup31s
— Jason Horowitz (@jasondhorowitz) November 23, 2020
Told @FinancialTimes @ABlinken «was an American in Paris & both terms are key. He was very conscious of being an American & believed in US values but also understood how US policy affects rest of world bc he witnessed how others view America »
— Robert Malley (@Rob_Malley) November 23, 2020
Nothing helps a Secretary of State succeed more than the perception that he/she is close to the president (See Baker:GHWB and Rice:GWB.) Blinken is so close to Biden that world leaders will have little doubt that he speaks for the president and they can rely on his commitments.
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) November 23, 2020
Posted: 1:44 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]
This is the third year in a row that the White House is hosting the Big Block of Cheese Day. The Obama Administration has adopted the story of Big Block of Cheese Day from the popular political drama, The West Wing. Inspired by President Andrew Jackson’s 1837 open house featuring a 1,400 pound block of cheese, see the WH’s video from last year below. As in the other BBCD, dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long ‘open house’ answering questions in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout. Check out these cheese puns to go!
See the list of those participating on January 13. Think your questions Caerphilly and use the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay hashtag. We hope you’ll have a Gouda time!