• Vigilance Where You Really Care: Blogs v. Contracts

    August 5, 2011

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    When it comes to protecting the rights of bloggers in places like Syria and China, the State Department has no end of energy. Democracy, State says, demands an open and free exchange of ideas, even when they are critical of the government. Rock the power! in those dirty places abroad.

    However, when it comes to stifling free speech among its own employees, the State Department seems also to have no end of energy. The Department asserts:

    Publicly available Internet communications on matters of official concern, including blog postings, must be reviewed by the employee’s agency. 3 FAM 4172.1-3(A)1. See also 5 FAM 792.2b and 5 FAM 792.3d. Thus, there can be no question that employees must submit blog postings for review if they address matters of official concern.

    This of course is a pretty big job, reviewing the blog postings, Tweets, Facebook updates, MySpace posts, IMs, texts, chat room lines, bulletin board contributions and listservs of thousands of employees worldwide, 24/7.

    Just as an example, one of the Department’s own websites links directly to dozens of private blogs (but not this one!) by Foreign Service Officers and others. These sites contain pages of postings, which apparently the State Department is committed to monitoring. While there are quite a variety of opinions expressed, they are no doubt all approved as required. An even longer list is online, suggesting daily blog posts in the thousands need to be vetted.

    Anything less than 100 percent vigilance would be a) selective enforcement (i.e., prejudicial enforcement aimed only at free speech the Department disagrees with and seeks to punish or restrain) and b) risk allowing some snippet of unfettered speech to slip through that could destroy the foreign policy space-time continuum as we know it. In its own words, the purpose of State Department review of all of these blog posts is to screen out statements which “could cause serious damage to US foreign policy, and in particular US diplomatic efforts and military activities.” Heavy Doc, heavy.

    One blog about the Foreign Service, Diplopundit, tracks other Statey blogs that have been forced to stop publishing by the Department. State unleashes senior Deputy Assistant Secretaries to quietly threaten the careers of bad bloggers and, if that does not work, invokes its internal discipline system as if the blogs contained the nuclear launch codes, passwords to the Wikileak servers and Hillary’s Victoria Secret orders all in one.

    Who knows how many thousands of people must work in Foggy Bottom’s Ministry of Truth just to keep up with the flood of blog postings needing to be reviewed. It is even more amazing that somehow the hundreds of blogs keep publishing articles every day, despite the mandatory review process which can take up to 30 days (State claims “30 days” means thirty business days, so it is really close to six weeks of human time.)

    A weaker mind might assume that State does indeed selectively enforce its rules, whacking hard blogs that speak out, while avoiding applying pressure to nice blogs that tow the party line. Why, one could even think that discipline was selectively used to make an example out of FSOs who say things that while true, leave senior officials more than upset.

    If only State could spare a couple of drones from the censorship department to help out over in contracting oversight, things might be better off.

    It seems that the State Department has only now gotten around to noticing an analyst who may have helped award millions in contracts to a company run by her husband and daughter. The analyst helped her husband’s company win 43 taxpayer-funded contracts in recent years, while she and her husband kept their relationship secret from the State Department.

    You are, as an organization, the product of what you do, what you choose to do with your resources. In tough, tough budget times, State chooses to aggressively and selectively police its bloggers, while casually allowing spectacular contracting fraud to pass unnoticed.

    Hopefully as Congress sits down to make its budget cuts, they will take this into consideration.

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  • Recent Comments

    • George Novinger said...



      08/5/11 3:55 PM | Comment Link

    • Dan said...


      “employees must submit blog postings for review if they address matters of official concern”

      What constitutes “matters of official concern” though?

      Many FS blogs are just personal blogs (like mine) and do not address matter of official concern. With all due respect, that would bring the total number of blogs down substantially.

      08/5/11 4:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...


      Something official. Note the vague, broad scope:

      Employees and contractors are reminded that 3 FAM 4172.1-3 requires all personnel to submit materials intended for release in a private capacity to the Bureau of Public Affairs for review if the employee is posted in the United States, or to the Chief of Mission if the employee is posted abroad. This specifically pertains to items that relate to any policy, program, or operation of the Department, current U.S. foreign policies, or anything that may be reasonably expected to affect the foreign relations of the United States, unless referencing existing publicly available information (see 5 FAM 777 (6)). This includes but is not limited to information placed on public and private blogs.


      08/5/11 6:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...


      The State Department decides what is “of official concern,” not you, and can be broad or as narrow as their needs dictate. We were told:

      “Of course, employees are expected to use sound judgment when deciding whether their proposed public comments affect matters of official concern and thus could adversely affect U.S. foreign relations or the foreign affairs mission of the United States.”

      08/5/11 5:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Saigo Takamori said...



      Having also served in Iraq and being a speaker of Arabic I’ve read your blog carefully. Sorry to say it, but your criticisms ring hollow to me. You still work for the very State Department you continue to besmirch. Do you see any contradiction there? Why not resign, if you’re so disappointed with the State Department? Additionally, your blog should NOT be listed on the State Department website. You’ve gone beyond just “having your say” and criticizing policy. You’ve insulted a sitting president, you’ve talked about “masturbating” on an effigy of a former president, you routinely use profanity . . . c’mon, how can anyone take your criticism seriously? You probably have some good points to make, but they are routinely lost in the drivel of your commentary.

      You seem like a disgruntled employee who knew very little about Iraq before volunteering, you went, you didn’t get promoted out of Iraq, and now you’re nearing the bitter end of your career.

      Sound about right?

      Saigo Takamori

      08/5/11 10:38 PM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...


      It is standard State Department strategy to dismiss any criticism as coming from a “disgruntled employee.” By parroting the company line, you are just another tool. I hope you are getting something out of being used, maybe an “award” to post on your wall? A pat on the head? A promise to be assigned to Paris or London?

      What if I want to change the Department? Why should I resign, so robots like yourself can move up the ladder over another corpse?

      Sorry if the profanity offends you. I bet you told the soldiers in Iraq to stop cursing as well, or did you never leave the Embassy?

      Try standing up instead of kneeling. You get a whole new perspective on life.

      08/5/11 10:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Saigo Takamori said...


      I actually served on a PRT; thanks for your erroneous assumption. (You’re not the only one who gets to claim that you did hard time in Iraq)

      It’s not the profanity that offends. It’s the disrespect. You can disagree with the policy, but your language and tone has stooped to new lows for a diplomat.

      Let me ask you this: are you concerned that your criticism is making the job of your colleagues in Iraq all the more difficult? Regardless of what you think of the policy, there are scores of FSOs who are over in Iraq trying their best to make the situation better. They are not pawns. Rather, they are dedicated professionals who care about the people of Iraq. My concern with your entire blog is that it’s not constructive. It’s DEstructive. You don’t seem to want to help the Department fix things.

      I respect the fact that you want to speak your mind and that you are bucking the conservative culture of the State Department, but you’re doing your colleagues a disservice. I’d have more respect for you if you just said, “I’m being bombastic because I’m just trying to sell my book.”


      08/6/11 1:23 AM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...


      I’s sure be interested in how my writing has made anyone’s job more difficult in Iraq. Maybe you could do a guest column for this blog? I’ll run anything you want to write, but keep it around 500-800 words for space considerations if you can.

      Readers, here you have it. I write what I write, and the State Department sends boys out wrapped in the flag to say “there are scores of FSOs who are over in Iraq trying their best to make the situation better. They are not pawns. Rather, they are dedicated professionals who care about the people of Iraq.”

      You decide what you want your tax money to pay for.

      08/6/11 3:26 PM | Comment Link

    • aha said...


      As far as I can tell reading this blog, WMW can sometimes be offensive in its language but is it obscene? does it defame anyone? does it incite riots? does it use privileged communications within the State Department or use classified materials, or subjects not already in the public domain? I think not. In which case, wouldn’t the First Amendment adopted on December 15, 1791 applies:

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      And did we not go into Iraq to spread “democracy” and protect our freedoms? But in so doing is it then all right that we should gag anyone who does not toe the partyline? Iraq is a mess, we need to recognize it for what it is. Talking about it as if it is a success is foolish. We need more officials to speak up. Unfortunately, we only hear about what they really think after they retire. Such a shame.

      08/6/11 6:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Saigo Takamori said...



      Again, you misunderstand my commentary. I’m not speaking as an FSO, and the State Department didn’t “send” me. I’m engaging you as someone who sacrificed two years out of my life to help make Iraq a better place. I have often disagreed with our policy (specifically our Iraq policy) during my years in the FS, but have always found ways to dissent constructively. And, by “dissent constructively,” I don’t mean dissent channel cables. I mean working within the system to make a difference.

      We did some amazing things at a grassroots level on my PRT, as I’m sure you did, too. Things that most folks in Washington never heard about. But, if you ask the good people of our province if we – the American civilians – made a difference, they’d say we did. Heck, there were even a few Sadrists who positively acknowledged our efforts. If your commentary was constructive, rather than destructive, some in the Department might still fault you, but I certainly wouldn’t.

      So, be very clear where I’m coming from: this is personal for me. I may find your rants professionally distasteful, but I find the disrespectful/destructive tone and tenor of your blog (not to mention the hypocrisy of it all) personally offensive.


      08/6/11 8:02 PM | Comment Link

    • Administrator said...


      …and at this point my samurai friend, you better just read my book. My argument that, despite some ground-level nice things we all did, the reconstruction of Iraq was in the bigger picture just smoke and mirrors plays out over the course of 288 pages. I don’t want to spoil the fun by rehashing it here in 100 words.

      I think it is hard for folks who obviously are serious and dedicated to also understand that they may have failed in Iraq. It took us 30 years as a nation to start to do that with Vietnam, so I don’t expect much now.

      As for the State Department, I have found that some folks kept their thinking caps on, while far too many others just adopted whatever the party line of the day was, blinding themselves intellectually, perhaps because a) State rewarded them for doing so and b) it was easier to just believe we really did mean well.

      Be advised that I let the soldiers in my book speak like soldiers, so there are some grown up words.

      08/6/11 8:19 PM | Comment Link

    • Saigo Takamori said...


      You paint with a pretty broad brush, but I’m happy to read that you acknowledge at least of few of your colleagues are thinking.

      I’ll read your book and let you know what I think.



      08/6/11 9:28 PM | Comment Link

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