• Foreign Service Officer Blogs to Love

    March 27, 2012 // 22 Comments »

    As alert readers of this blog know, I am in the process of being fired from the Department of State in large part because of this blog. The firing part revolves around me “writing about matters of official concern without authorization, “identifying myself as a foreign service officer,” not using the required disclaimer, and “poor judgement and notoriously disgraceful conduct.”

    A big one was that bit about “poor judgment and notoriously disgraceful conduct,” which the State Department defines helpfully for me as “lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission.”

    The idea is that if a blog has, well, undiplomatic things on it, the writer will not be able to represent the US, be taken seriously as a professional diplomat, that sort of thing. The blog’s message in other words will get in the way of the State Department job, distract from the professionalism required to represent the United States. At least that’s what is bothering State about me and my blog.

    Fair enough I guess, at least if State applied the rules equitably. On its own “careers” web page, State lists dozens of Foreign Service blogs which quite obviously talk about matter of official concern and, given how they often post daily updates, do not appear to have gone through any authorization or clearance process. Some do, and some don’t, have the required disclaimer.

    And then of course, there is the blog of budding Foreign Service Officer Jennifer Santiago, who self-identifies online as “diplomat, photographer and world traveler.” Ms. Santiago was apparently many other things before joining the Foreign Service, and helpfully includes a number of pictures of herself online. Here are a couple more:

    I have no way to verify it and make no claims to its veracity, but Ms. Santiago’s Wikipedia entry (doesn’t everyone have one?), which says her birth name is “Jennifer Klarman,” claims she also once posed unclothed in Playboy. It is a not safe for work type of link, but the Playboy photos are here, so you can judge for yourself if care to do so. One article states “Then known as Jennifer Klarman, Santiago posed in 1998, she says, to help pay off $100,000 in law school loans. The pictures were intended for a Playboy special on lingerie. “If I had known they might end up in a book called Voluptuous Vixens, I might have declined.” Two Facebook pages link “Jennifer Klarman” with “Jennifer Santiago,” listing her as a “public figure” and using one of the photos above.

    Back to her own blog, Ms. Santiago wrote that she was sent to Brazil for a language immersion program as part of her Portuguese training, at a school conveniently located just two blocks away from the famous Ipanema Beach, in Rio.

    As Ms. Santiago says on her blog, “Momma didn’t raise no dummy– I chose a school that is just four blocks from the beach… I’m convinced tropical weather is medicine for the body and soul. So, I am beyond grateful for this two-week respite from life in bone-chilling Washington DC… This isn’t a vacation after all, this is language immersion (and Atlantic Ocean immersion). So, I’ll be sure to continue sharing my experiences in and out of the classroom. I’m looking forward to a week on the beach, learning Samba, touring the favelas and catching a futebol game.”

    She helpfully adds that she’ll be working the visa line at our Sao Paulo consulate. She posted some photos from her trip:

    The blog does not display the required State Department disclaimer anywhere I could locate. We are forced to assume that either Ms. Santiago has sought and received State Department authorization for her comments on matters of official concern such as her training and assignment, or that she, like me, is allegedly guilty of unauthorized blogging and should be punished.

    I don’t know Ms. Santiago, and we have never spoken. I found her blog online as anyone might; after all, it is online, subject to worldwide availability just like mine, via a Google search or two. Everything here came through some online searches, all subject to the whims of the web as to content and veracity. Just as State claims my blog renders me ineffective as a Foreign Service Officer, the blogs of other FSOs are hanging out there too waiting to be discovered by anyone dealing with us professionally.

    The point here is to suggest that the Department of State willfully chooses to enforce its blogging rules when it spies a blog whose content it dislikes (mine) and then ignores those same rules for a blog that it does like.

    Or, that the State Department can’t possibly locate, monitor and assess all the Foreign Service blogs out there, and thus selectively picks some (mine) for multi-month forensic investigation through its Diplomatic Security Stasi while remaining purposely ignorant of the others, a case of highly selective persecution, er, um, prosecution.

    Or, maybe it has something to do with the photos on my blog. Maybe if I hit the gym more often the State Department would let me keep my blog unfettered as they obviously are doing with others?

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State

    MG Edwards: I Am No Longer A Foreign Service Officer

    January 14, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Foreign Service Officer MG Edwards just resigned after seven years, and wrote down some cold truths about life at State that are now required reading for all, especially you young ‘uns thinking about a career as a diplomat. To lure in those Paduwans, let’s throw in some key words for Google to snag: FSOT, FSOA, Orals, Intern, Pickering Fellow, Exotic Lifestyle.

    Please do read everything MG had to say. I agree completely with his remarks, and would like to add a few more:

    — To be fair, a lot of MG’s points (hardship, separation, worldwide service, etc.) are also in State’s promotional materials. It is just that too many folks skip over them to focus on the cool photos of someone Who Looks Just Like You (look, even a piercing, kewl!) experiencing their life trip standing in front of the Taj Mahal. Like that software license you errantly clicked through, it was all there when you said “OK.” Re-read the fine print.

    — MG’s point about representing the current Administration, not the Constitution you swear the oath to, is very important. State is a Cabinet agency, with its leader appointed by the current President. You advocate for whatever he/she wants, even if it is the policy opposite of what you advocated for on a previous tour due to a change at the White House. This must make sense to you, and if not, better just stop here, now.

    — If you are 25, single and can fit everything you own into your Kia as you read this, re-read everything MG said imagining yourself at 45 with a spouse/partner/kids/dogs/piano/special needs child/allergy to dust/ill parent to care for/etc. Much of what seems tolerable or even exotically challenging at an early point in one’s career wears thin later on, when it is much harder just to resign and move on. Do some thought experiments.

    — Because much of what State does is not quantifiable (“Improve relations with Country Z” is way different than “Increase sales by 25%”), what is “right” can be determined arbitrarily by a boss that is out for him/herself and her own advancement, a little crazy, vindictive, or all of the above. You can get caught up in that and hurt by it.

    — The FS is high school. Everybody knows everybody, and what people think of you matters more than anything you actually do. Be a popular kid, or do what the popular kids say, or suffer. Kids who “don’t get along” end up dying of old age as an FS-02 assigned to the worst jobs.

    — An organization often with unclear goals and arbitrary systems to determine promotions, assignments and discipline is sweet, sweet agar for bullies to thrive in. Expect to deal with many of them in positions of authority. Also, they either usually win, or the cost of standing up to them is typically not worth the spit it requires.

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State