POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet

Posted: 2:30 am ET

 

 

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@ClintonFdn, @StateDept, @HillaryClinton Get on Twitter Moments

Posted: 3:50 am ET

 

 

How many spring breakers drink too much and fall off hotel balconies? #SpringBreakingBadly

Posted: 3:22 am ET

 

We don’t have the numbers but we suspect it’s enough to merit attention from a travel insurance company. The State Department’s Consular Affairs Twitter arm, @TravelGov caused an uproar recently for something it tweeted recently under the #springbreakingbadly hashtag.  There is now a parody account @Travel_Gov, by the way, though we’re still waiting for it to get to a “10” in funnies. In any case, we have to use the following because the original tweet had been deleted:

Somebody on Twitter complained, “I really don’t even get the tweet lol.”  Another tweeple explained, “It means don’t fall for people trying to flatter you because they may actually be trying to take advantage of you.”  Okay. That random person’s explanation would have gone down better than the Bo Derek reference. The reactions to the “not a 10” tweet were quick:

We’re wondering if the handlers were told to stand in that corner and not/not do the Twitters again until further notice. But, look, the folks at the CA bureau know more than most folks what happens when spring break turns bad. They’re the people who visits American citizens in jail, deliver the bad news to family members back home, assist victims of crimes overseas, identify bodies in morgues, and assist in the repatriation of remains, among other things.   If this uproar and attention, actually reaches the spring break traveling folks (18- to 24-year-old demographic) and save one or two and their families some spring break horror stories, then it might be worth standing in a corner even just for a bit.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ @TravelGov eventually apologized for the tweet.

 

We almost wished State/CA did a Spring Break Straight Talk event with real stories similar to those from the UK-FCO (see Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right? and British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More). Or something like the Top 10 Spring Break Horror Stories from the field. Oops! The “world’s most entertaining site” did one already with 10 Terrifying Real Life Spring Break Horror Stories last year. So best read that.

Anyway, we went looking for spring break crime statistics from the State Department. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs told us that they do not maintain statistics on arrests of, or crimes perpetrated against, U.S. citizens overseas during Spring Break. However, anecdotal information from its posts overseas and calls to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington indicates the most common crimes against U.S. citizens overseas are scams, robberies, and sexual assaults.

Here are some of the scenarios they want people (not just spring breakers) to be aware of:

  • Travelers who unwittingly agree to carry packages from newfound local friends which contain drugs; (note: the average age of the couriers at about 59, with the oldest known courier 87 years old according to a congressional hearing in February this year).
  • Travelers who drink too much and fall off hotel balconies (note: Travel Direct Insurance says that “Motorcycles are bad enough – throw in drink, drugs and no helmet, and you’re almost guaranteed a trip to the hospital. The same goes for jumping from third floor balconies. We witness enough tragedies as it is, so PLEASE think about your personal safety, your experience and your limits when you travel. It doesn’t matter whether you are 19 and it’s your first trip overseas or 59 and have seen half the world, don’t do things that are plain stupid.”

The bureau also points to its page on international scams which notes that scams evolve constantly, and the list includes  examples and resources will help alert travelers to the indicators of some common scams.

The bureau also offers advice to travelers for spring break here, all reasonable like obeying local laws, not carrying weapons (not even a pocketknife), avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and drugs, and other commonsense advice.

Probably the most important thing to remember while in a foreign country is the non-portability of American rights.  A U.S. citizen traveling overseas is subject to that foreign country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.

Also worth noting that while Uncle Sam can provide assistance when Americans are arrested or detained abroad, consular officers cannot demand the immediate release of a U.S. citizen arrested abroad or otherwise cause the citizen to be released. They cannot represent a U.S. citizen at trial, or give legal advice, or pay legal fees and/or fines with U.S. Government funds.

 

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Secretary Kerry Back Home From Hospital, But Not For Long

Posted: 2:04 am EDT

 

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US Embassy Djibouti Welcomes 140 American Evacuees From Yemen, Thanks India and Djibouti For Help

Posted: 9:58 am PDT
Updated: April 14, 10:01 am PDT

 

The US Embassy in Djibouti says that the crisis in Yemen has become a top priority for the embassy and that Ambassador Tom Kelly and his staff have worked very closely with their Djiboutian counterparts to provide support and assistance to the American evacuees from Yemen .

 

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More photos available here.  There was a time not too long ago when the consular section at Embassy Djibouti consisted on one entry level FSO and three local staff. We are presuming that in anticipation of the arrival of evacuees from Yemen that the CA bureau had sent additional temporary assistance to Djibouti but we have yet to confirm that.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Yemen announced today that another Indian naval ship, the Sumitra, is currently in Hodeidah and will be departing for Djibouti either tonight or tomorrow. As was the case two days ago, the embassy has no information on who to contact to board this ship.  The State Department Yemen Crisis page is here.

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Update 4/14/15

 

Ambassador Mark Lippert tweets, “doing well & in great spirits …”

Posted: 11:04 EST

 

 

More details from Reuters and Voice of America below:

  • Ambassador Lippert was attacked and  slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist at about 7:40 a.m. local time Thursday (2240 GMT Wednesday) at a forum hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation in Seoul.  The attack took place in a government arts centre across the street from the heavily guarded US embassy.
  • He was treated at Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital where he underwent a two and a half hour surgery that required 80 stitches.
  • A small fruit knife  was used in the attack.
  • The attack resulted on a gash on the ambassador’s face measuring 11 centimeters (4 inches) long and 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep, located from his right cheekbone to jaw on the right side of his face and a puncture wound on his left wrist, causing nerve damage that was repaired.  There was reportedly no major damage to his facial nerves or salivary glands. Reports say he will be hospitalised for three or four days.
  • The forum organizer denied that the alleged assailant was a member. “Kim was able to gain admittance by taking advantage of a bureaucratic oversight, saying he was from an old group that no longer exists but remains on the organization’s list.  He said it was an annual event and there had been no such incident like this in past, so they did not request extra police presence.” The assailant who was caught and identified also tried to attacked the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in 2010 by throwing a piece of concrete. He was reportedly given a suspended jail term for that incident.

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Related post:

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert injured in attack by armed assailant (updated)

State Dept Suspends US Embassy Yemen Operations, Relocates Staff Until Further Notice

Posted: 00:46 EST
Updated 2/14/15 11:47 PST

 

The State Department suspended embassy operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen and American staff were relocated out of the country according to the February 11, 2015  Travel Warning released late tonight. Embassy Sanaa had previously announced the suspension of all consular services until further notice on February 8.

On February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sanaa, the Department of State suspended embassy operations and U.S. Embassy Sanaa American staff were relocated out of the country. All consular services, routine and/or emergency, have been suspended until further notice. The Department urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Yemen and those U.S. citizens currently living in Yemen to depart. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Yemen issued on September 25, 2014.

The level of instability and ongoing threats in Yemen remain extremely concerning, and there are no plans for a U.S. government-sponsored evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage U.S. citizens wishing to depart to do so via commercial transportation options. If you wish to depart Yemen, you should make plans to depart as soon as possible. Airports may experience unexpected closures with little to no warning and access to the airport also may be cut off if the security situation deteriorates. All U.S. citizens in need of emergency assistance should contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in a neighboring country. For U.S. citizen inquiries, you may send an email to YEMENEMERGENCYUSC@state.gov.

The announcement followed a whirl of rumors surrounding the suspension of operations at Embassy Sana’a in less than 24 hours.

 

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Apparently, the Houthi leader was not happy about this possible closure (technically a suspension of operations since the US has not terminated diplomatic relations with Yemen):

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It’s just a slogan, really?

 

The British ambassador to Yemen:

 

Whoa, a practice siege?

 

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And just like the suspension of operations at US Embassy Tripoli, this, too, unfolded on social media:

 

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Around dinner time EST, the AP confirmed the suspension of operations in Sanaa and the evacuation of staff due to security concerns:

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Update:

Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

— Domani Spero

 

 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Related post:

 

Noah Mamet Sworn-in as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Twice For Good Measure

— Domani Spero

 

Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was confirmed by the US Senate on December 2nd. He was sworn into office, in a private ceremony at the State Department with Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson administering the oath.

via U.S. Embassy Argentina

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, December 3, 2014, at the U.S. Department of State. (Photo: Dept. of State)

On December 10, Ambassador Mamet was sworn-in again by Vice President Joe Biden at an official ceremony held at the White House. Argentine Ambassador to the United States Cecilia Nahon attended the ceremony.

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

 

Senator John McCain was once asked by Tim Russert about running as George W. Bush’s VP. His response was, “No. No way. The vice president has two duties. One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators.” He forgot to mention VPOTUS’ duty in the ceremonial swearing-in of political ambassadors, which sounds like fun, too.

Ambassador-designate Mamet is yet to present his credentials in Buenos Aires but he is already  on Twitter. Don’t get too excited there!   It looks like he actually joined Twitter in January 2010 but has only the following three tweets as of this writing.

 

 

 

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VPOTUS Swears In Ambassador-Designate to Ireland Kevin O’Malley

— Domani Spero

 

 

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