Thursday, January 21, 2010

21st Century Statecraft in the State Department?

Alec Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation in Secretary Clinton’s office made some remarks last week on 21st Century Statecraft - Diplomacy in the Age of Facebook and Twitter at the Foreign Press Center in New York City. He gave a background on how the text Haiti campaign came about, talked about a “program in Mexico to restore anonymity to crime fighting using the tools of technology,” and had some back and forth on Google and China with some attendees. All very exciting stuff.  The January 14 statement (posted online yesterday) was a prep for the Secretary’s big speech on Internet Freedom today. 

I’ve excerpted a couple of snippets from the Ross’ remarks to the foreign press below that you might find interesting:   

Question: You said something about your team. How many people are working on the 21st Century Statecraft in the State Department?

Senior Advisor Ross: I work in the Office of the Secretary. So I’d simply responds by saying that when the Secretary gets behind something the entire department gets behind something. So I’ll give the examples of Mexico and the Congo.

I have a team, but I don’t have a team in Mexico and in the Congo. We’re not this just anomalous little cell. We’re working with the embassy in Mexico City, with the Ambassador, with the Regional Bureau, and so too in the Congo, for example, we’re working with the Ambassador, with the Embassy staff.

The commitment from the Secretary to bring 21st Century Statecraft to the department is to institutionalize it. It’s not to say oh, here are ten really smart young people, let’s empower them. While that might work over the short term, it’s not going to be institutionalized. So what we are doing is not saying all right, here’s an innovation team. What we’re saying is here is an innovation based department. I’d love for it to be the case that all 30-some-thousand employees of the State Department could say they’re working on 21st Century Statecraft.

Question: If you look back on the Iran, the so-called Twitter revolution there. It’s been criticized for having done as much harm as good that America is trying to impact by helping citizens there. What are your conclusions with respect to that?

Senior Advisor Ross: I think that I will point you to Hillary Clinton’s speech next Thursday. I do believe that access to the tools of the 21st Century is a net good, and again, to quote the President, the more freely information flows the stronger the society and the way in which information flows in the 21st Century is increasingly over our global communications networks and our digital networks. I’ll leave it at that.

I just checked those posts mentioned.  US Embassy Congo is on Facebook, but not on Twitter. Its Facebook page has not been updated since December 30, 2009 11:24pm. US Mission Mexico is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and has a mission blog; all in Spanish.  Our US Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual is also on Twitter; follow him here.

KateatState  on Twitter says that After Sec Clinton's speech on Internet Freedom tmrw, we'll have a panel discussion & Q&A. Submit your Q's:” 

This morning I also got a message from an FSO (wishes to remain unnamed) asking “How can State take a leadership role on Internet freedom while we continue to harass and discourage bloggers within our own ranks?”

Now, there’s a question that begs a good answer.  I sent that question to Alec Ross and told him I’d be happy to post his response.  A couple hours later, I got it! Reprinted in part below:

Alec Ross: My response: … When I joined State I saw that we had a long long long long way to go to incorporate technology into our diplomatic practices. 2009 was a spectacularly successful year doing so, but we're nowhere near the finish line and not yet everybody "gets it". If I'm given specific names of people doing the "discouraging" then I will take it up with those individuals (or their bosses or their boss' boss) directly. Listen to the Secretary's speech today.”

I'm sure you can connect with Alec Ross through the GAL.  I'd be happy, of course, to forward specific information to him if it works better for you.  Did I say his office is within the Secretary’s office? Follow him on Twitter here. Secretary Clinton’s speech will be livestreamed on at 9:30am ET.

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Brian... said...

I would love to see Mr. Ross take on the issue by creating a short handbook for FSOs on the issue of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. It could cover security concerns, some examples of good blogs and Twitter feeds the DoS believes are "done right," and tips from PD.

The DoS could cover their standards/expectations for public, anonymous, and private blogs as well as Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

I strongly believe we should not seek to call out people who have discouraged blogging or other uses of technology because I bet they were just trying to help out by pointing out the risks.

What we need is more guidance and a source to which we can refer- whether we are rookies or veterans.

Anonymous said...

Brian - Thanks for your thoughts on this. There already is a standard for this although not an easily accessible user friendly handbook that you might imagine. It's in the Foreign Affairs Manual, about three separate regs which I believe had been updated as recently as last year. The cite are appended to some of my posts on this subject. Matters of official concern are off limits. Since DOS deals with international affairs, that about shuts everyone up from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, unless you're blogging about travel, hobbies, food, and similar stuff.

The quick answer might be that if you want to wade into web 2.0 at work, find that job in PD or the office of innovation. But since almost everyone is rated now on how well they do public diplomacy, it seems reasonable that everyone should learn the tools of the trade.

I do agree that calling out people will not resolve this issue. One because this is an institutional aversion; State has ways to go to catch up with the 21st century although some parts of it are progressing along. Two - because calling out specific folks will eventually boomerang on the original recipient of the pressure (example the blogger). We don't want people pushing paperclips because he/she blogged about one subject or another that were not acceptable/palatable to the boss. The regs need an overhaul to better balance the need for message control and the need to connect and utilize the talents of our diplomats. But the overhaul needs to be done by forward looking individuals not the same ones who updated the same regs recently!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I should have said "matters of official concern" are off-limits even in your private capacity unless you get a clearance. The clearance process can take up to 30 days.

TSB said...

Doesn't the regulation that requires clearance for "matters of official concern" on personal blogs - 5 FAM-777 (6) - make an exception for materials that are referenced from existing publicly available information? I hope that hasn't changed.

Incidentally, I just saw that FSI is now offering two training opportunities for users of social media, so it looks like maybe there will be a simple handbook for FSOs on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., after all.

Brian... said...

I actually read that section of the FAM thanks to a link posted in one of your earlier posts.

I have tried to stay safely on the personal side, simply sharing experiences and thoughts. I also maintain that my job comes first, and if the blog gets in the way it must go.

I am excited to see what happens in the next few years. I think there is a lot of room for expanding how we accomplish our nation's goals with technology, we just need to keep pursuing it in a positive way.

Hope you stick around, your blog has a wealth of information that I would never have the time to compile.

Domani Spero said...

@Brian - thanks, we'll see what happens.

@TSB: I think that guidance is still current. Looks like the regs were reviewed as late as last year. Now -- a liberal interpretation of these two would seem to indicate that as long as an employee is referencing publicly available material, and has a disclaimer, that should be okay (my reading which means nothing). But a strict interpretation could potentially get anyone in trouble if the powers that be decide that a personal opinion appended to a publicly available material must be cleared. Nothing here mentions Twitter or Facebook specifically. I understand that a lot of folks from DoS are jumping into these two social platforms. What’s the difference between these two and blogs in terms of the restrictions under this guidance -- that I can’t figure out. Unless Twitter and Facebook also fall under the “communications in a private capacity over the Internet that are publicly available (e.g. blogs, bulletin boards)” as spelled out in 4172, in which case they would also require clearance if they fall under “matters of official concern.”

If anyone has a better interpretation or guidance from IRM or L concerning the interpretation of this FAM language, I’d like to hear it. Or perhaps like most things at State, the answer that probably best cover this is “it depends.” I wonder if AFSA has any opinion on this?

I'm also curious about FSI's training on social media since most of the "don't blog" warning also comes from A100 at FSI directed at the newbies according to my sources.

(CT:IM-107; 06-09-2009)
(Office of Origin: IRM/BPC/PRG)
Employees, acting in their private capacity, may establish personal blogs, wikis, or any other collaborative forum; however, the provisions of 3 FAM 4172.1-3 must be followed. Any posting to a wiki or blog that contains information "of official concern" to the
Department must be cleared through PA (for domestic employees) or Chief of Mission (for employees serving abroad), unless being referenced from existing publicly available information.

3 FAM 4172.1-3(A) Materials on Matters of Official Concern
(CT:PER-610; 06-09-2009)
(Office of Origin: L/EMP)
3 FAM 4172.1-3(A) refers to “Materials on Matters of Official Concern:
An employee who has prepared public speaking, writing, or teaching materials in his or her private capacity must submit them for review by the employee’s agency, if such materials are on matters of “official concern.” Employees are reminded that communications in a private capacity over the Internet that are publicly available (e.g. blogs, bulletin boards) and are on matters of official concern come within this requirement. Materials are on matters of official concern if they relate to any policy, program, or operation of the employee’s agency or to current U.S. foreign policies, or reasonably may be expected to affect the foreign relations of the United States.