Diplomatic blogging

By Heather Havenstein
September 26, 2007 8:33 PM EDT
Diplomatic blogging. No, this is not a reference to enforcing civility in the blogosphere. Instead, it is a reference to the U.S. State Department's new blog, which it launched this week.

Dipnote as it is called ("dipnote" being how the State Department refers to a diplomatic note, the way governments formally communicate with one another) is aimed at taking readers behind the scenes at the department and to "provide you with a window into the world of the people responsible for our foreign policy," noted Sean McCormack, who heads up public affairs at the department.

The blog, which was launched at the same time much of the State Department is involved with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, includes various inaugural posts – a dispatch from the United Nations meeting with a behind the scenes look into President Bush's meetings and a note from a State Department worker who operates out of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi detailing her job. It also includes video and photos and Web 2.0 features like Flickr feeds and RSS.

But perhaps most intriguing is a peek behind the scenes of the security protection that goes on at the General Assembly. Darwin Cadogan, director of protection for diplomatic security, noted that there are 320 special agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and 55 agents from the U.S. Marshall Service and  the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco protecting 34 foreign ministers at the General Assembly.

The level of protection, he noted, is based on threat or perceived threat to the diplomat in the U.S.

"We go from high, medium to low, and then we provide services based upon that particular thing," Cadogan wrote. "And reciprocity falls into place as well as political considerations. So we have to put all of that together when we're putting together a protective package."

Those determined to be at the highest level of threat would get protection 24 hours a day while they're in the United States, he added.

Initial response to the blog was mixed. "John from Oregon" wrote, "It's great to see some extra sunlight coming into the State Department's long dark corridors with the launch of the new blog today. My hope is that this tried and tested 'disinfectant' can help restore some of the luster to the reputation of the U.S.A. here at home and among our friends throughout the world."

However, "Cynthia from California" noted that, "This new blog seems to be an effort at transparency, but given the U.S. State Department's warlike actions, I'm skeptical that this will actually encourage dialogue. I'm curious to know if this will be a two-way conversation, whether postings will reach people in positions of authority at the State Department. In other words, [will] the public's opinions and concerns be considered and [will] they will have any influence? [Will] the Bush Administration's viewpoint will be promoted here to the exclusion of independent and humane thinking and to the detriment of our country's standing in the world? [Is] this blog simply a PR tool for the Administration disguised as a dialogue? I'm not optimistic for a real exchange of ideas, but I hope I'm wrong."

The State Department did not respond to those posts on the blog, but did respond to one commenter's query asking if internal State Department employees had a blog to use for internal collaboration. The Department noted that they do not; however they still have e-mail and diplomatic cables to use to communicate amongst themselves, the department's blogger was quick to point out. So, it seems that at least for now this particular Web 2.0 endeavor is focused on external communications.