Monday, July 30, 2007



In Sunday’s Times, “China Moves to Refurbish a Damaged Global Image” documents Beijing’s belated efforts to institute top-down quality control and, more importantly from a public-diplomacy standpoint, show the world that it is doing so:

Last week, Beijing unveiled new controls aimed at fighting counterfeit drugs and substandard exports. High-ranking officials and regulators vowed to strengthen China’s food safety system, tighten controls over chemical use by large seafood and meat producers, and create a system that holds producers more accountable for selling unsafe products.

The government also announced that it had broken up a series of criminal rings that operated huge manufacturing centers, producing goods as varied as pirated Microsoft software, fake Viagra and imitation Crest toothpaste.

Authorities here have also reached out to Ogilvy Public Relations, an international corporate consultancy on crisis management.

As the article notes, Beijing has instituted reform drives before, only to see its efforts against corruption, food adulteration, and product counterfeiting peter out after weeks or months once public attention shifted elsewhere. These programs have for years spawned jokes among China-watchers about the Four Must-Nots, the Five Better-Do-Its and the Three Deadly Appositives. Perhaps China’s new list-based slogans will be export-based, e.g. the Three Must-Not-Adulterates: Tickle Me Elmo dolls, pet foods and erectile dysfunction drugs, in rough order of overseas outrage.

Ogilvy PR certainly has Chinese government officials keeping a higher profile, the better to publicize their reform efforts:

“They have not historically been advice takers,” said Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide China, part of the WPP Group. “But they are reaching out in a genuine way to seek advice. I think they recognize everything doesn’t have to be rosy.”

Since then, officials from various regulatory agencies and ministries have held news conferences to announce new regulations or to brief the news media on successful crackdowns.

The PRC has lurched in just two decades from a corrupt overly controlled economy to a corrupt minimally controlled one. But as the Times article notes, China has 5,000 companies that produce medicine alone, and the PRC will have to backtrack toward its over-regulated past in order to arrive at a system that satisfies its trading partners of the safety and efficacy of Chinese products.

As long as those trading partners can make noise about China’s unsafe exports—China, through its inaction, is poisoning our pets and toothpaste—the PRC’s other public-diplomacy efforts will stall.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sources Open and Closed


Early this week I attended the DNI Open Source Conference, a two-day Washington affair keynoted by the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, and attended by roughly 900 people from intelligence agencies, private companies that want to do business with them, and academics.

The conference’s topic was the gathering, care and handling of open-source (OS) information, such as from news media, commercial databases and libraries—basically, anything that’s not stolen or obtained surreptitiously. OS has recently become a priority thanks to the efforts of McConnell and others who contend that OS should be the “source of first resort” for the U.S. intelligence community (IC).

I attended panel after panel in which current and former IC members described the virtues and drawbacks of open-source collection: how to vet it, recombine it, and even how to get access to it at all, since many IC computers are purposely isolated from the Internet. (Internet connections risk giving away IC intentions since an adversary could monitor intelligence-agency searches and results.)

Although some of these breakout sessions were useful, most were inordinately heavy on panelist presentations and light on Q&A time, reducing opportunities for useful give-and-take between panelists and audience members.

The plenary sessions, held in an amphitheatre, were uncomfortably repetitive. Officials with long experience in the IC each welcomed us, heralded a new dawn for the IC’s embrace of OS, asked our help, and solicited suggestions. Not one of these plenary speakers—high government officials all—provided contact information for themselves, so the idea of people in the OS community making helpful suggestions remains a bit distant.

Unfortunately this trend of one-way communication reached up to Tom Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, whose talk on Tuesday followed the release of a two-page, unclassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism. Perhaps trying to motivate his audience, Fingar briefly discussed the NIE’s findings, which boil down to: Al-Qa’ida still threatens the U.S. from its Pakistan “safe havens.”

After the director’s remarks, Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker asked Fingar why the NIE took three years to conclude what anyone reading the newspapers would already know. Fingar testily replied that a) the media don’t have as many sources as the IC, which therefore b) has a higher confidence level in its conclusions.

Considering that the conference’s purpose was to promote OS sources and thinking, Fingar's reversion to the old-school IC line—We know more than you, so please don’t question our thinking—was remarkable. Particularly on the topic of al-Qa’ida, whose plans and intentions the IC has misread more than once.

Afterwards, I shared a chuckle with Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Looming Tower, when I accused him, personally, of lacking both good sources and confidence.

Fortunately, the real story of the DNI Open Source Conference wasn’t on the agenda. Someone once told me it’s the ‘walks in the woods’ that matter at conferences, and the myriad conversations between panelists, attendees and exhibitors between sessions generated real sparks. I was hard-pressed for a moment to talk with many of the panelists since so many others also sought them out.

I have no doubt that hundreds, maybe thousands, of useful connections were made between IC, private-sector and academic intelligence professionals, whose enthusiasm for talking and debating one-on-one was obvious and contagious.

This is where the DNI Open Source Conference’s real value to the U.S. lies; hopefully, next year’s conference will move beyond the introductory, isn’t-this-great phase and plan in more time for people to mix, mingle and create connections that will lead to better OS intelligence collection.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Absurd Denials

When the more clueless Iraqi imams accuse the U.S. of importing "Jews" who will somehow enslave Mesopotamia, the U.S. doesn't usually issue a denial because the idea is so absurd.

Unfortunately, British forces felt they should deny importing the dread honey badger to Basra.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Note from Secretary Rice

Len Baldyga forwards a cable that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently sent to all U.S. diplomatic and consular posts around the world. In it, she thanks U.S. diplomats for tolerating the State Department's redeployment of personnel from comfy, overstaffed places like Germany to more wretched, frequently isolated but vital postings.

The Secretary also explicitly puts Embassy Baghdad at the top of the heap in terms of getting first pick of staff—which is hardly necessary to emphasize to U.S. diplomats, who understand that the only route to advancement at State is through the Green Zone:


1. Around the world, the men and women of the Department are doing important work. The work may vary, from traditional partnership and alliance building to the cutting edge of transformational diplomacy. Whatever your work, it is all necessary and vital to our nation's security.

2. I am very grateful, and pleased, that so many of you have responded to the Director General's call to serve in difficult posts. The changes he has instituted are making a difference for Iraq and all of our difficult yet critical posts. Those changes, together with global repositioning, are ensuring that more of the Foreign Service and the Civil Service are on the ground in transitioning countries. It is there, on the frontlines of diplomacy, that I believe we can have the greatest immediate impact.

3. As I am sure you are aware, the number of unaccompanied and limited accompanied posts has grown in recent years. The decision to serve at these posts requires personal sacrifice. I would like to extend a personal thank you to each and everyone of you who have made this decision. I would especially like to acknowledge the difficulties such service imposes on our families. We are now preparing for 2008 openings, and I am committed first and foremost to ensuring that Embassy Baghdad has the staff it needs.

4. Why is all of this so important? I believe we are at a crossroads in history. The decisions we make and the actions we take will shape our world for years to come. I believe that we, like our predecessors, must actively commit to building a better world where terror, injustice, and extremism cannot gain a foothold. To win this struggle, we must mobilize more than our military. We must also deploy our democratic principles, our development assistance, our compassion, and the power of ideas.

5. I, therefore, encourage each of you -- and your families -- to look to the future, consider where you can best make a difference, and then pursue the assignments and training that will get you there. I encourage you to serve in transitioning countries, to learn their culture and their language -- from Arabic to Chinese to Hindi -- and to share the principles and the story of the American people. I especially encourage your continued commitment to serve at our most difficult and essential posts, such as Baghdad and Kabul.

6. In the past, those who helped shape a better future became the leaders of their time, and of this Department. I urge you to seize the opportunities before you and lead.

7. Thank you again for your commitment to public service.

Item number six is perhaps the most interesting; Secretary Rice calls on staffers to sacrifice but also publicly implies a quid pro quo: Work hard now at your hardship posting and you too can be great, and perhaps even stride in the footsteps of Cordell Hull and Dean Acheson.

It's a small bit of inspiration, but it may be vital for U.S. diplomats to hear as it places them in a larger context of diplomacy stretching all the way back to the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Much More than a Mouse


I’d been thinking that Farfour, Hamas’s Mickey Mouse lookalike, had quietly retired under a combined assault by Disney lawyers and world public opinion. Good riddance, I thought; Farfour had been used by Hamas to indoctrinate Palestinian kids on the importance of being good little martyrs, outraging Disneyphiles and trademark lawyers alike.

But I was wrong, as an un-bylined story in yesterday’s New York Times will show:

Farfour, Hamas’s TV Mouse, Dies ‘Martyr’s Death’ at Hands of Israeli

JERUSALEM, June 30—Farfour, the giant Mickey Mouse look-alike who was the host of a Palestinian children’s program on Hamas-affiliated television and drew international ire for what critics saw as incitement, died a “martyr’s death” at the hands of a fictional Israeli on Friday.


In the final episode of the program, “Tomorrow’s Pioneers,” Farfour’s grandfather, a Palestinian refugee, entrusted him the deeds and a key for property abandoned by the family when Israel became a state and Palestinians fled or were chased out. After leaving his grandfather, “Jews” went after Farfour and asked him to hand over the deeds and the key. When he refused, he was beaten to death.

I used to get riled when right-wingers would refer to some Middle Eastern dictatorships as “totalitarian.” It was a stretch that the corrupt, ramshackle state structures of an Iran or a Saudi Arabia could drive every aspect of a citizen’s life and thoughts toward a specific thought pattern, as the Soviets once tried to do.

But there is nothing ramshackle about Hamas, which is attempting a total brainwashing of its citizenry from the crib on up. The merits of Hamas’s cause can be debated but its efforts to create an anti-Israel Jesus Camp of the airwaves make me regret my earlier lighthearted treatment of Farfour and Hamas.

I now wonder when some anti-Semitic version of Thomas the Tank Engine will hit the airwaves, and figure a Two Minutes Hate for adolescents can’t be far behind.
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