Category Archives: international politics

SIPA Shushing Students over CableGate: Update

I was out of town this weekend, blissfully disconnected from phone and Internet. I came back to find out that since I blogged about Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs warning students not to discuss Wikileaks online if they ever want to work for the State Department, the story has, well, exploded.

The Huffington Post got in touch with State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley, who said the SIPA alum who e-mailed the Office of Career Services was acting of his own volition:

This is not true. We have instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents using an unclassified network since these documents are still classified. We condemn what Mr. Assange is doing, but have given no advice to anyone beyond the State Department to my knowledge….

If an employee of the State Department sent such an email, it does not represent a formal policy position.

So it looks like the blame for OCS’s ridiculous “advice” falls squarely on the shoulders of SIPA, then. Excellent.

SIPA Shushing Students over CableGate. Seriously?

Yesterday a friend forwarded me a link to a blog post about Wikileaks. Not surprising, given the number of Wikileaks-related blog posts that are floating around the Internet in the wake of the organization’s release of a quarter of a million U.S. Embassy cables. But this blog post was different: this blog post referenced the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), from which I graduated six months ago.

The author reposts an e-mail sent from SIPA’s Office of Career Services to all current students. It reads:

From: “Office of Career Services”

Date: November 30, 2010 15:26:53 ESTTo:

Hi students,

We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

Office of Career Services

I’m currently happily employed at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, but while I was at SIPA I seriously considered a career in the Foreign Service. I applied for (and was offered) a summer internship at the State Department, and I coordinated a conference on Policy Making in the Digital Age, at which the State Department’s Director of the Office of eDiplomacy and a representative of the Office of Innovative Engagement spoke.

I guess I can kiss that possible alternate career path goodbye, given that I tweeted a link yesterday to an article about CableGate. Seriously, State Department? This is all over the news. What’s more, it’s become a focal point for discussions on how digital technology is changing our expectations for government transparency (for those who’ve forgotten: the State Department is big on using tech to promote transparency in other countries. Just not here in the US?).

Seriously, SIPA? As fellow SIPA alum Ben Colmery pointed out in a comment on my Facebook wall, since when does having an opinion about a site leaking documents equate to actually leaking documents oneself? You claim to provide committed students with the necessary skills and perspectives to become responsible leaders. Apparently that means curtailing their academic freedom and teaching them how to bury their heads in the sand.

Crossposted on The Morningside Post

Update, December 6: The State Department is denying that it provided “advice to anyone beyond the State Department” regarding Wikileaks and claiming the information in the OCS email “does not represent a formal policy position.”

GV Uganda: Bloggers react to bomb blasts

More than three years ago, I wrote about why I opposed sending Ugandan troops to Somalia. At the time, I noted that “insurgents have ‘vowed to kill the incoming peacekeepers’ and have been launching almost daily attacks in Mogadishu, and Eritrea has warned that the presence of Ugandan forces could prompt a full-out war.”

Yesterday, three bombs went off in Kampala, one at an Ethiopian restaurant and two at the Kyadondo Rugby Club. Both places were packed with people watching the final game of the World Cup. Uganda police are blaming Somali militant group al-Shabab for the attacks. A leader of the group, which has ties to al-Qaeda, recently announced, “We urge our brothers from Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and from anywhere around the world to attack the diplomatic missions of Uganda and Burundi.”

Al-Shabab has not yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the police and the media seem to be taking their role as a given. If the bombs are indeed traceable to them, this would be the first time al-Shabab has operated outside of Somalia.

I heard about the bombings in Kampala on Twitter last night and have been reloading Google Reader since looking for more news. As far as I can tell, the blogren and my other friends in Kampala are all safe, though obviously shaken up. Baz pointed out that the location of the attacks has meant that Twitter and Facebook have played a huge role in spreading news:

Because of the location of the attacks, for once, it’s us, The Web 2.0 generation, that is affected, so we are watching our twitter and facebook feeds with trepidation, like any second now…

Thanks to those of you who’ve blogged and tweeted and commented, letting me know you’re safe. I’ve hastily pulled together the blog posts I could find for a post on Global Voices:

Soccer fans gathered in bars and restaurants around the globe to watch the final game of the World Cup last night. In Uganda, these celebrations were interrupted when bombs exploded at two popular nightlife spots in Kampala, the country’s capital.

Read more »

I’ll keep checking throughout the day in case there’s any more news. The Daily Nation is reporting that Uganda’s increasing, rather than decreasing, the number of troops it has in Somalia. Blogren, if you have anything to add, you know where to find me. My thoughts are with you and your families, and I’m praying that these are isolated incidents, rather than the precursor to the full-out war Eritrea predicted three years ago.

Also, in the course of writing the GV post I came across these photos by Trevor Snapp, a documentary photographer in Kampala. He understandably would prefer to be paid for his amazing work and has asked that I not replicate the photos on GV, but I highly recommend that you check them out.

UPDATE: Trevor has since decided to allow Global Voices to use one of his photos, free of charge, in the post. A million thanks to him for supporting nonprofit citizen media!

Government-sponsored Skullduggery

Cliff Stoll (who helped catch a ring of computer hackers/Soviet spies in the 1980s) and Jonathan Zittrain (principle investigator at the OpenNet Initiative) are speaking at Harvard’s Berkman Center tonight. Subject: When Countries Collide Online: Internet Spies, Cyberwar, and Government-sponsored Skullduggery.

I’ll be sequestered in the industrial-sized kitchen of my co-op, chopping vegetables to make stir fry for my 27 roommates, but if you’re free, check out the live webcast at 6pm EST to find out how governments are using the Internet, how far their online spying has gone, and what the legal implications of state sponsored network espionage might be.

Bad move, UN. Bad move.

It would be hilariously ironic if it weren’t so terrifying: United Nations security forces confiscated a poster mentioning Chinese Internet censorship at this weekend’s meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, a UN body that promotes open discussion on public policy related to Internet governance.

The OpenNet Initiative, a research group headquartered at Harvard that studies Internet censorship worldwide (full disclosure: I’ve worked for them on and off since the fall of 2007, including full time last summer), held a reception during the forum to announce their new book. On the wall was a poster mentioning China’s Great Firewall censorship and surveillance project.

UN officials asked ONI to take down the poster to avoid “creat[ing] a political crisis with a UN member state.” When ONI said no, UN security took the poster away.

According to Ron Diebert, an ONI principle investigator who was at the forum, “We were told that the banner had to be removed because of the reference to China. This was repeated on several occasions, in front of about two dozen witnesses and officials, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights, who asked that I send in a formal letter of complaint.” Deibert has since filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Commission.

A video taken at the forum shows the discussion between UN security and ONI representatives:

More info, including links to media coverage of the incident, is at the ONI blog.

Crossposted on The Morningside Post.

gays and gorillas

I finally got a chance to catch up on Google Reader today. Some things you should see:

  • Friend a Gorilla
    For one dollar a year, you can friend a gorilla through the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
    “Anyone can be a friend of a gorilla or follow specific gorillas living the forest on Facebook or Twitter for a minimum donation of $1. You will get updates on your gorilla friend(s), including photos, videos, and GPS coordinates, all of which are gathered by actual trackers that visit the gorillas daily.”
  • Ethiopia 2010: Here Comes Africa’s Festival of Electoral Fraud
    An overview of recent elections in Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, looking forward to Ethiopia.
    “The glimmer of hope shimmering in the Ghanaian experiment proves that multiparty democracy can be successfully instituted in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa, without bloodshed. Failure to do so may once again force Africans to prudently heed Victor Hugo’s admonition: ‘When dictatorship is fact, revolution becomes a right.’ If it gets to that point, it’s going to be a quagmire too difficult to get out of this time.”
  • The 10,000 Hour Initiative
    Jon Gos at Appfrica is starting a program to support young programmers, bloggers and new media enthusiasts.
    “Instead of creating institutions from scratch that require enormous resources and high overhead (rent, security, staff etc) the 10,000 Hour Initiative would identify talented individuals and create co-working and co-learning spaces (dubbed 10K Spaces) for them at existing institutions and businesses. The program would allow youth to interact with other peers as well as trained professionals who could tutor and mentor them, helping them to improve their skills, while exposing them to new technologies, ideas and fields they may not have been aware of.”
  • GV Uganda: Bloggers discuss anti-gay bill
    A new bill, currently tabled in the Uganda parliament, will increase penalties for homosexuality and add penalties for spreading information about homosexuality. Terrifying and sad. Haute Haiku covers bloggers’ reactions for Global Voices.
    “Anengiyefa sees that Uganda has just seen hypocrisy of MPs who have unified and are ready to pass a law victimizing homosexuality in the name of morality: this beats the purpose why the system is so anxious to criminalize consensual sex amongst two adults of the same gender and omitting important issues like ethnic violence, tribalism, AIDS, child rape etc.”

Save Darfur

Why the UN Security Council should stop the ICC’s efforts to indict al-Bashir

The International Criminal Court’s recent fumbled attempt to try Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is the latest addition to a series of reasons why an ICC indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir would be unwise.

Darfur refugee Sam Ouandja
Photo courtesy of hdptcar on Flickr

Lubanga’s trial, which began last month after nearly three years of delays, was marred by incompetent handling of its first witness: a former child soldier who withdrew his testimony before the end of the first day, saying he had never served in Lubanga’s army and claiming that a humanitarian aid organization had told him what to say.

The witness had been promised that his identity would be kept a secret, but he took the stand in full view of those in the courtroom, including Lubanga. After he changed his story, it emerged that pre-trial judges had prevented the prosecution from witness proofing, a two-part process where lawyers can walk witnesses through the courtroom before the trial and explain procedure, and where witnesses can practice answering questions and can re-read their own prior testimonies to refresh their memories. Though different countries have different policies on witness proofing, the international criminal tribunals for both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone all chose to allow it, citing its ability to prevent incidents like the one in the Hague last month.

Things are even messier in Sudan, where the ICC announced last July that it is considering indicting al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – a double first for the court, which has neither indicted a sitting head of state nor charged anyone with genocide. Moreno-Ocampo would like to charge al-Bashir with more than 300,000 deaths in Darfur and the internal displacement of nearly three million Sudanese citizens. He claims that the president ordered both Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia to attack and destroy villages belonging to three separate ethnic groups in Darfur.

Burning village painting at encampment for Darfur
Photo courtesy of on Flickr

What’s happening in Darfur is despicable, and al-Bashir is undoubtedly responsible – if not for instigating the violence, at least for his failure to attempt to stop it. At the same time, the ICC’s charges, if passed (a decision is expected in November), will carry little weight. Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, the act that created the court. This means the country is not legally bound to follow any ICC directives, raising the question of who, exactly, will waltz into Khartoum and slap handcuffs on al-Bashir. When news of the potential arrest warrant broke in July of last year, the deputy foreign minister of South Africa — a country whose post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been praised for its success — admitted that al-Bashir would likely never be arrested and said a warrant would not help bring peace to Darfur.

Even if al-Bashir’s arrest were probable, it would not be immediate, giving him ample time to retaliate against Darfur, something both experts and aid workers in Darfur say is likely. The day after the ICC announced its intentions to investigate al-Bashir, anti-Western riots took place in Khartoum and Darfur. It’s not unthinkable that, were the indictment to become a reality, Sudan might shut its doors to international aid organizations whose presence is still desperately needed in Darfur.

The ICC has a history of missteps in Africa. Its 2005 indictments – the court’s first – of five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group infamous for child abduction and extreme brutality, are widely blamed for disrupting the peace process in Uganda. LRA leader Joseph Kony reportedly walked out of negotiations with the Ugandan government upon learning of the warrants, and the group, which had eased its attacks in Uganda, has since launched a renewed offensive that included the massacre of nearly 1000 Congolese civilians last December.

In 2007, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni asked the court to suspend the indictments in favor of a local justice process, hoping to encourage Kony to sign a peace agreement. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo refused, and Kony is still in hiding as his troops pillage their way through northeastern Congo.

Article 16 of the Rome Statute gives the UN Security Council the power to put the ICC’s decision on hold indefinitely for any reason. Both the African Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have pressured the Security Council to invoke the article, provided al-Bashir agrees to make a good faith effort toward peace in Darfur. Suspending the prosecution, if only temporarily, would avoid increased bloodshed and would allow the ICC to work through its trial issues with Lubanga before embarking on yet another case. If the ICC’s handling of the Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo cases are any indication of the court’s ability to carry out their mandate in the best interests of African conflicts’ victims, the Security Council should comply.

Crossposted on The Morningside Post and The Huffington Post (albeit with a disappointing typo in the title)

Twitter Diplomacy

San Francisco Demonstration in Solidarity with Gaza, from isa e

Unless your holiday season involves complete and total hibernation, you’ve probably heard about this weekend’s attacks in Gaza. More than 350 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed so far, and neither Israel nor Hamas shows any sign of backing down.

A few minutes ago I got an e-mail from Jill York announcing that the Israeli Consulate in New York will be holding a press conference this afternoon to field questions about Israel’s offensive. Slight twist: they’ll be holding it on Twitter, where they set up an account yesterday.

Anyone can submit questions to @israelconsulate, and David Saranga, Consul of Media and Public Affairs in New York, will do his best to answer, either via Twitter or by posting a link to the Consulate’s blog.

Israel isn’t alone in using Twitter to communicate with the public; the United States is getting some Web 2.0 diplomacy action as well. Last week Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy published an editorial in the Washington Post on her own usage of Twitter to connect to people in the countries she visits. She writes:

Not that long ago, communicating diplomat-to-diplomat was enough. Agreements were reached behind closed doors and announced in a manner and degree that suited the schedule and desires of the governments involved, not the general population. In fact, the public was by and large an afterthought. But the proliferation of democracies and the emergence of the round-the-clock media environment has brought an end to those days. Now, governments must communicate not only with their people but also with foreign audiences, including through public diplomacy.

In short, public diplomacy is the art of communicating a country’s policies, values and culture. If diplomats want to engage effectively with people, we first need to listen, then connect and then communicate. In the part of the world that I know and cover, Europe and Eurasia, most people are tuned in to television, and the younger generation is using text messages and the Internet. So, we need to be there, too.

Graffy’s tweets tend toward the personal (Need to get a new laptop. Have always had a PC. Friends are telling me to get a Mac. I’m scared. Have others survived the transition?), while the Israeli Consulate has focused so far on the upcoming press conference. Still, both efforts represent genuine ventures on the part of government representatives to engage one-on-one with people around the world.


GVO: African bloggers react to ICC charges against Sudanese President al-Bashir

My next piece, co-written with John Liebhardt, is up at Global Voices Online:

Bloggers from around the world are reacting to the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to charge Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with multiple counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Many of those bloggers are criticizing the indictments, claiming they are difficult to enforce and that they will bring more unrest to an already unstable nation.

Read more»

Featured in this round-up are Too Huge World, Sudanese Thinker, Sudan Watch, Emmanuel Abalo, Codrin Arsene, Nairobi Notebook, The Angry African, Victor Ngeny, Chris Blattman, Ugandabeat, Gay Uganda, Making Sense of Darfur, Daniel Sturgis and Ali Alarabi.

Bhutto, in a nutshell

From Ahmed Rashid’s column in today’s Washington Post:

In recent weeks, she had publicly taken on the Taliban extremists — something Musharraf has not dared to do, despite all his bluster and bonhomie with President Bush since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With Bhutto gone, there is no one who can play such a role.

Plain and simple, folks.

Update: But which book?
Coming Anarchy found an article from Hindustan Times that claims, “In 2002, [Bhutto] sent a book by Robert D Kaplan [to Indian Opposition Leader LK Advani] as a gift, writing a note saying she thought of him when she saw the book.”

I must know.