How does the State Department practice public diplomacy in the age of social media?

Millions of people around the world are aware that the U.S. Department of State is using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Between them, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. embassies and consulates now collectively manage:

  • 125 YouTube channels with 23,940 subscribers and 12,729,885 million video views
  • 195 Twitter accounts with 1,403,322 followers;
  • 288 Facebook pages with 7,530,095 fans.

The U.S. Department of State also maintains a presence on Flickr, Tumblr, and Google+, and an official blog, DipNote. Its embassies and consulates also maintain a presence on these social media platforms and produce their own blogs.

What many U.S. citizens may not realize is that U.S. foreign service officers are also practicing public diplomacy on China’s Weibo microblogging network or Russia’s vkontakte social network. The U.S. Department of State also publishes social media content in 11 languages: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Urdu. Many embassies are also tweeting in local languages, including German, Indonesian, Korean, and Thai.

That’s a lot of talking, to be sure, but in the context of social media, a key question is whether the State Department is listening. After all, news about both human and natural crises often breaks first on Twitter, from the early rumblings of earthquakes to popular uprisings.

This morning, three representatives from the U.S. Department of State shared case studies and professional experiences gleaned directly from the virtual trenches about how does social media is changing how public diplomacy is practiced in the 21st century. In the video embedded below, you can watch an archive of the discussion from the New America Foundation on lessons learned from the pioneers who have logged on to share the State Department’s position, listen and, increasingly, engage with a real-time global dialogue.

Video streaming by UstreaPARTICIPANTS

  • Suzanne Hall (@SuzKPH), Senior Advisor, Innovation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair, U.S. Department of State
  • Nick Namba (@nicholasnamba), Acting Deputy Coordinator for Content Development and Partnerships, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Program
  • Ed Dunn (@EdAndDunn), Acting Director, U.S. Department of State’s Digital Communications Center

#AskState: U.S. State Department to take questions from Twitter at the podium

Under Secretary McHale Participates in the State Department's First Global "Twitter Q&A"
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department's first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.

As part of what it is calling “21st Century Statecraft Month,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland will be taking questions from Twitter from up at the podium during the Daily Press Briefing each Friday afternoon during the month of January. Questions can be submitted using the #AskState hashtag.

The questions will be selected from the Department’s 10 official Twitter feeds, which now include tweets in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu:

Whether this is a public relations exercise or another step towards the next generation of digital public diplomacy will depend upon whether State is willing to directly take on its fiercest critics, a constituency that will likely be active on the #askstate hashtag.

While this is an interesting experiment, it’s important to note that the State Department will still be choosing which questions to answer. In a press briefing, Nuland can choose the questioner but not the question. If Nuland would commit to taking the 3 most retweeted questions, say, that would be one thing. Here, they can be selective. For instance, if asked about the Wikileaks saga, sales of American surveillance gear to foreign governments or past State Department involvement in South America, will they take the questions?

There’s also the quiet reality that P.J. Crowley, the former state department spokesman, was (and is) quite active on Twitter as @PJCrowley during his tenure. As far as I know, Nuland doesn’t have an account, which effectively means they’re doing less of that particular brand of 21st century digital diplomacy, not more. @JaredCohen, who has moved on to Google, is similarly no longer a voice for ‘digital diplomacy’ on Twitter, leaving the mantle of being State’s primary “face” on social media on the shoulders of @AlecJRoss, although, to be fair, dozens of other staffers, embassies and officials are on Twitter now as well, from @USMariaOtero to UN @AmbassadorRice.

I’ve posed a question about the State Department’s official stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, since its passage would seem very likely to directly impact its Internet freedom policy and funding for circumvention technologies. If State takes the question, they’d post it on their YouTube channel.

Below, I’ve embedded a Storify that includes a sample of many other questions that have been asked to date:

Agenda and details of Open Government Partnership “Power of Open” event announced

The details of the launch of the Open Government Partnership on September 20th are now public. Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, Brazilian Minister of State Jorge Hage and President Benigno S. Aquino III will be making keynote speeches, followed by senior government officials, business leaders and technologists, including eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and Celtel founder Mo Ibrahim.

As I reported yesterday, 22 countries have committed to participate in the partnership now, with more to come.

The “Power of Open” event will be hosted by Google NYC. Given limited capacity for live attendance, a live stream of the event at the Open Gov Partnership YouTube channel will substantially increase the forum’s reach. The “Power of Open” agenda is embedded below.

Power of Open Agenda 9.6.11

Notes from the third White House Open Government Partnership consultation

In July 2011, the State Department hosted an historic gathering in Washington to announce an Open Government Partnership with Brazil and six other nations. For background on the initiative, read this digest on Open Government Partnership analysis for context.

This new new open government partnership could drive U.S. commitments, according to OMB Watch.

What those commitments will be is still unclear. Given that they’re due by September’s Open Government Summit at the United Nations in New York City, the timeline for drafting them is quite limited.

Last week, when the White House asked for ideas on the National Plan for open government, the community learned a bit more about what’s on the table: improving public services and increasing public integrity.

Clay Johnson has since offered the White House a deep set of recommendations for open government in response to the three questions it posed, including better ways to use open data, social media, improving regulations, public comment, and the developer community better. If you’re interested in open government, it’s a must-read.

Those are not the limit of potential commitments on the table, at least as evidenced by what we know about the series of three consultations with open government stakeholders in Washington that the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs held this July, on the 22nd, 25th and 29th. These consultations were not livestreamed or otherwise recorded, however, nor have OIRA’s notes been released to the public yet. That said, we have at least two accounts of what happened in July, from:

I attended the July 29th consultation and, while I did not record video or audio, can share the following written notes.

Attendees

As with the previous meetings, OIRA administrator Cass Sunstein led the discussion. White House OSTP deputy CTO for public sector innovation Chris Vein was also there, along with half a dozen OIRA staff and a representative of the National Security Archive.

Seated around the table were representatives from America Speaks, OMB Watch, the Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany, Sunshine in Government. University of Pennsylvania professor Cary Coglionese and a board member from the International Association for Public Participation, Leanne Nurse, dialed into a conference speaker phone line.

Past meetings included representatives from the Revenue Watch Institute, Code for America, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Open Plans, Civic Commons, the Sunlight Foundation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Project for Government Oversight, in addition to Open the Government and NCDD.

Open Government Consultation

Sunstein started the meeting by offering high level context for the OGP and thanks to the organizations around the table.

When the OGP was devised, he said, it was done with background experience from the Open Government Directive that came President Barack Obama and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Many of your organizations were “indispensable” during that process, Sunstein said, and even though what happened with the open government directive “wasn’t perfect,” there has been “tremendous progress.” He thought from the beginning, with regard to the OMB open government project, that it would be a work in progress, with plans scrutinized and improved over time.

Sunstein laid out the reason for the consultation: the White House has national action plan due in September, with an event at the UN as the president promised. The White House wants the national action plan to be as good as possible, “improving on what we’ve got so far as we can.” Reflecting his comments at the previous two consultations, Sunstein said that one way to think of the meeting is generating ideas through three stages, given the temporal and feasibility constraints posed by the short deadline for UN recommendations. He observed that where would be opportunities moving forward in the medium term, over a 3-5 month time period to do more.

Katherine McFate, the executive director of OMB Watch, asked a question about the parameters for the consultation, noting that if you go back and look at the open government partnership, there are five different challenges for countries. If you only have to pick one or two, she suggested, improving public services is one, and may be improving public integrity is another. Increasing accountability, likely to be three. (Given the recent White House blog post, OIRA may have taken that suggestion.)

In response, Sunstein replied that there are surely things that have budgetary repercussions, which you then have to answer for, although in open government, sometimes it’s possible to improve public services without stretching the budget.

Theresa Pardo, director of the CTG at Albany, after thanking OIRA for the opportunity to speak and to listen, focused on the some of the issues that have arisen during implementation of the open government directive, including the role of citizen engagement. One tension is how to think about citizen participation, versus accountability imperatives.

One of the things that we hear quite regularly when we talk to practitioners at federal, local, and state level, along with academics, is a lot of confusion about concepts underlying open government directive. There’s pressure towards clarity, and still a lot of ambiguity. One of the ways to push through in creating that clarity, she suggested, would be to focus a bit more on the conversation, on figuring out what the problems that citizens are seeking open government to solve. Pardo said that in their experience, in various jurisdictions in US and outside of the US, it’s a challenge to connect what’s happening in government agencies with what citizens are talking about in public. Over the long term, the opportunity for open government, she explained, is to move towards deeper engagement with citizens themselves about what problems are they experiencing.

Professor Coglianese, speaking over the phone, agreed with Pardo and McFate. He also suggested that the White House clearly take stock of where open government is currently. We’re seeing great things, in taking stock of regulations, he said. It would make sense to something similar with taking stock of public participation now, defining a better baseline of where to assess what kinds of reform are making changes.

The point, about defining a baseline for public participation, was taken up and emphasized by many of those invited to the July 29 consultation. One of our major tools is the public participation spectrum, said Douglas Sarno of IAP2 USA. No systematic approach to what we’re trying to do or what’s been achieved has been defined by the White House, he said, and no way of qualifying bonafide public participation versus hackneyed participation defined. There are good challenges in finding metrics.

Sunstein agreed that the regulatory process requires significant public participation. This week, the Regulations.gov team acknowledged the need to do more in that regard.

In response, Pardo cited a number of studies in which communications scholars and computer scientists are using machine language processing to analyze online rulemaking to see if it results in changing in deliberation or positive social interaction. Such studies can be expensive but useful. Part of the issue in integrated such work, however, is getting real movement in processes in partnership with academics, she said.

Pardo focused further upon the role of citizen engagement, both around rulemaking and the large context of open government. Nowhere, until just recently, she said, do we teach our public managers about how to look, engage, and use citizen participation tools. “There’s a capability gap at all levels of government. How do public managers in local governments and cities, think about their jobs in different ways?”

The National Association of State CIOs and others are looking at building capability to understand how to use data and engagement tools better, said Pardo, but across the board there’s lack of ability in these core competencies. Maybe building ability as with cybersecurity skills would make sense, she suggested, including professional standards for citizen participation.

Coglianese similary focused more on baseline assessments for public participation. There are some political scientists who have tried to assess the actual impact of public comment and proposed rulemaking, he said. In terms of what to look to as baseline, what is it you want to accomplish with this national action plan? Is the goal to increase public participation? What is the level right now? We don’t have a way of saying what the volume of interaction is across the federal government, he asserted.

We do know, however, that rulemaking tends to be more something that organizations participated in more than individual citizens, Coglionese said, citing a recent article on public participation that he’d authored law journal. “We need a baseline of who’s participating and at what level,” he said. “Is the goal of participation to increase the quality of public decision making? That’s hard to assess. To enhance public virtue? That’s much harder to assess. Until it’s clear exactly what it is you would want to do, you can’t answer these questions.”

David Stern, director on online engagement at America Speaks, validated Coglionese’s words, observing that his organization had recently looked at all open government plans by agencies and came to the same conclusion. There’s a lack of consistency in metrics used to evaluate projects, said Stern, and no standards about what defines good participation. Number of people, diversity, number of instances policy influenced? Standards and best practices, in this area, would be helpful coming from White House and OMB. Every open government project contains response to the most popular proposals, he said, which means that every public engagement initiative has a public engagement component.

Rick Blum of Sunshine in Government raised another issue: FOIA exemptions, including agencies proposing them independently. The Department of Defense is overclassifying, said Blum, and it’s very hard to track what’s happening. The Department of Justice has put up a FOIA dashboard but it’s “plagued with tech glitches and bad data,” he said. This has become a public debate about secrecy or disclosure, with some half a billion dollars being spent annually fulfilling FOIA requests, said Blum. There’s also concern about the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision in Milner vs the Navy.

On my part, I offered feedback that I’d collected from the broader open government community ahead of time and over the previous year.

First, the White House has not explicitly separated open government innovation, in terms of open data about the business of government, from “good government” initiatives that transparency advocates expect and demand, in terms of accountability to the people. Misset expectations around the goals the White House has set out have created widespread dissatisfaction and harsh criticisms of an administration that promised to be “most transparent ever.” The open government initiative in the province of British Columbia offers a potential model for the White House to consider, in terms of this separation.

Second, as the federal government moves forward with its ongoing review of .gov websites, there are opportunities to work with civil society and civic developers to co-create better e-services.

Third, opportunities exist for the White House to partner with entrepreneurs, media or nonprofits that are making government data open, useful and searchable. For instance, BrightScope has made financial advisor data from the SEC and FINRA available to the public. The work of Code for America and others on farmers market open data is another example.

Finally, there continue to be serious issues raised by developers about the quality of open government data on Data.gov. In general, public servants continue to release PDFs, as opposed to machine-readable structured data, and cite the language in the Open Government Directive for support. If government wishes developers and businesses to use its data for accountability, civic utility or economic value, then releasing data in the open formats that these communities find most useful makes logical sense.

Pardo took up the issues raised with good government versus open innovation, noting that the two aren’t necessarily against each other. The idea of high value data wasn’t well defined, she said. For instance, the calendars of public officials are nothing more than a dataset.

Sunstein asked after the data issues and the one of his deputies specifically asked about the language in the OGD. He brought up the work that the federal government has done on regulations.gov – which was a persistent focus from the OIRA administrator – and asked whether it was good enough, and over what time limit? And for whom?

The general answer there was clear enough: “we the people.”

Coglianese offered more feedback on regulations.gov: it’s not enough. There are data fields are not filled in, missing information, and things remain incomprehensible, he said. “Imagine how it is for many others coming for first time?” Coglianese endorsed the recommendations of ADA blue ribbon commission for a dedicated overseer of data quality, although such a role would require congressional authorization.

There are some really important opportunities to leverage data in regulations.gov, he emphasized. Leverage that data to extract it automatically, display the data on websites. For instance, many members of congress have a button on their websites forlegislation they’re sponsoring, which then takes visitors to data automatically etxtracted from Thomas.gov. Imagine a similar system for agencies and regulators, he suggested, or consider the EPA, which is trying to display every rule that the agency is working on., which is being developed in addition to regulations.gov.

Agencies right now are building websites around current uses, said Coglionese. That makes a lot of senses, and it’s what one would hope, but doesn’t go to the “separate question of who do they want their users to be.” He criticized the design of the new FCC.gov, although I pointed out that the process that preceded the FCC relaunch was focused on the most common purposes of the site’ visitors.

What was left unsaid in these open government partnership consultations? A great deal, due to the length of time allowed. The voices that were heard around this table were also those of advocates, policy, experts, academics, and technologists: not citizens, and by and large not those of the media, whose function in representative democracies been to hold government accountable on behalf of the public.

As the White House considers its commitments in advance of the September meeting at the United Nations, the people will have a window of opportunity to tell their elected officials what open government means to them and how they woud like their federal government to be more transparent, participatory or collaborative.

If you have feedback on any of those accounts, send it to opengov@omb.gov.

The State Department is tumbling

Have no fear – or hope, depending upon your perspective: the United States Department of State is not undergoing a revolution. They have, however, added one more tool to the digital diplomacy toolkit: they’ve started a new blog on Tumblr, a rapidly growing blogging platform.

The State Department started tumbling at StateDept.tumblr.com on Monday, a few weeks after Tumblr was added to Apps.gov. The General Services Administration started the first federal agency Tumblr last month for the new USA.gov blog.

So far, the folks over at Foggy Bottom have tumbled about relief efforts in Japan, aid for Africa, a partnership in Ukraine, shared video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking with Israeli President Shimon Peres and posted a dispatch from EWC in the Pacific.

In the process, they’ve integrated pictures from Flickr, text from state.gov and video from YouTube – a reminder of how much of a pastiche creating and publishing media in a Gov 2.0 world has become.

Tumblr looks like a good platform for the diversity of content and context that State has to share. Sharp-eyed observers will have to wait to see if they are willing to fully engage with the Tumblr community reblogging other posts as well. For instance, if any digital diplomats come across the map of a tweet that I found through Stowe Boyd, they should feel more than welcome to reblog it. (I hear the State Department finds Twitter pretty interesting these days.)

Clinton: There is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression. There’s no “app” for that

Today in Washington, Secretary of State Clinton reiterated the State Department’s commitment to an Internet freedom policy in a speech at George Washington University. Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist, free speech activist, and expert on Chinese Internet censorship, provided some on the spot analysis immediately following Clinton’s words. MacKinnon made an interesting, and timely, point: there are limits to directly funding certain groups. “I think one of the reasons that the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were successful was that they were really home grown, grass roots. At the end of the day, the people in the countries concerned need to really want change and drive that change.”

MacKinnon parsed the considerable complexity of advocating for Internet freedom in the context of Wikileaks and electronic surveillance in other areas of the federal government. For those interested, she elaborated on the issues inherent in this nexus of government and technology in her Senate testimony last year. At some point this winter, there will be a hearing on “CALEA 2″ in the United States Congress that’s going to be worth paying close attention to for anyone tracking Internet freedom closer to home, so to speak.

Should the U.S. support Internet freedom through technology, whether it’s an “app” or other means? To date, so far the State Department has allocated only $20 million of the total funding it has received from Congress, according to a report on Internet censorship from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee obtained by the AFP. (Hat tip to Nick Kristof on that one).

Clinton defended the slow rollout of funding today in her speech (emphasis is added):

“The United States continues to help people in oppressive Internet environments get around filters, stay one step ahead of the censors, the hackers, and the thugs who beat them up or imprison them for what they say online. While the rights we seek to protect are clear, the various ways that these rights are violated are increasingly complex. Some have criticized us for not pouring funding into a single technology—but there is no silver bullet in the struggle against Internet repression. There’s no “app” for that. And accordingly, we are taking a comprehensive and innovative approach—one that matches our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines.”

The caution in spending may well also be driven by the issues that the State Department encountered with Haystack, a much celebrated technology for Internet freedom tool that turned out to be closer to a fraud than a phenomenon.

There may be no silver bullet to deliver Internet freedom to the disconnected or filtered masses, per se, but there are more options beyond the Tor Project that people in repressive regimes can leverage. Today, MIT’s Technology Review reported on an app for dissidents that encrypts phone and text communications:

Two new applications for Android devices, called RedPhone and TextSecure, were released last week by Whisper Systems, a startup created by security researchers Moxie Marlinspike and Stuart Anderson. The apps are offered free of charge to users in Egypt, where protesters opposing ex-president Hosni Mubarak have clashed with police for weeks. The apps use end-to-end encryption and a private proxy server to obfuscate who is communicating with whom, and to secure the contents of messages or phone conversations. “We literally have been working night and day for the last two weeks to get an international server infrastructure set up,” says Anderson.

No word on whether they’ve received funding from State yet. For more on today’s speech, read the full report on the State department’s Internet freedom policy at the Huffington Post, Ethan Zuckerman or the ever sharp Nancy Scola on #NetFreedom, which does, in fact, now look like a “big deal.”

Is Wikileaks open government?

Aeschylus wrote nearly 2,500 years ago that in war, “truth is the first casualty.” His words are no doubt known to another wise man, whose strategic “maneuvers within a changing information environment” would not be an utterly foreign concept to the Greeks in the Peloponnesian War. Aeschylus and Thucydides would no doubt wonder at the capacity of the Information Age to spread truth and disinformation alike. In November 2010, it’s clear that legitimate concerns about national security must be balanced with the spirit of open government expressed by the Obama administration.

The issues created between Wikileaks and open government policies are substantial. As Samantha Power made clear in her interview on open government and transparency: “There are two factors that are always brought to bear in discussions in open government, as President Obama has made clear from the day he issued his memorandum. One is privacy, one is security.”

As the State Department made clear in its open letter to Wikileaks, the position of the United States government is that the planned release of thousands of diplomatic cables by that organization today will place military operations, diplomatic relationships and the lives of many individuals at risk.

As this post went live, the Wikileaks website is undergoing a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, though the organization’s Twitter account is far from silenced. A tweet earlier on Sunday morning noted that “El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down.”

In fact, Wikileaks’ newest leak, through the early release of Der Spiegel, had long since leaked onto Twitter by midday. Adrien Chen’s assessment at Gawker? “At least from the German point of view there are no earth-shattering revelations, just a lot of candid talk about world leaders.”

The New York Times offered a similar assessment in its own report on Wikileaks, Cables Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels: “an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.”

The Lede is liveblogged reaction to Wikileaks at NYTimes.com, including the statement to Fareed Zakaria by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, that “the leak would put the lives of some people at risk.”

The Lede added some context for that statement:

Despite that dire warning, Robert Gates, the defense secretary, told Congress in October that a Pentagon review “to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure,” of the war logs by WikiLeaks.

The Guardian put today’s release into context, reporting that the embassy cable leaks sparks a global diplomatic crisis. Among other disclosures, the Guardian reported that the cables showed “Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership … a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.” The Guardian’s new interactive of diplomatic cables is one of the best places online to browse the documents.

Is the “radical transparency” that Wikileaks both advocates for – and effectively forces – by posting classified government information “open government?” The war logs from Afghanistan are likely the biggest military intelligence leak ever. At this point in 2010, it’s clear that Wikileaks represents a watershed in the difficult challenge to information control that the Internet represents for every government.

On the one hand, Open Government Directive issued by the Obama administration on December 8, 2009 explicitly rejects releasing information that would threaten national security. Open government expert Steven Aftergood was crystal clear in June on that count: Wikileaks fails the due diligence review.

On the other hand, Wikileaks is making the diplomatic and military record of the U.S. government more open to its citizens and world, albeit using a methodology on its own site that does not appear to allow for the redaction of information that could be damaging to the national security interests of the United States or its allies. “For me Wikileaks is open govt,” tweeted Dominic Campbell. “True [open government] is not determined and controlled by govts, but redistributes power to the people to decide.”

The New York Times editorial board explored some of these tensions in a note to readers on its decision to publish Wikileaks.

The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match… The Times has taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security. The Times’s redactions were shared with other news organizations and communicated to WikiLeaks, in the hope that they would similarly edit the documents they planned to post online.

…the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

It seems that the Times and Guardian decided to make redactions from the diplomatic cables before publication. It’s not clear how that will compare to what will be posted on Wikileaks.org alongside the War Logs and Afghan Diaries.

Open government, radical transparency and the Internet

More transparency from the military, Congress and the White House regarding the progress of wars is important, desirable and perhaps inevitable. Accountability to civilian leadership and the electorate is a bedrock principle in a representative democracy, not least because of the vast amounts of spending that has been outlaid since 9/11 in the shadow government that Dana Priest reported out in Top Secret America in the Washington Post.

Wikileaks and the Internet together add the concept of asymmetric journalism to the modern media lexicon. File asymmetric journalism next to the more traditional accountability journalism that Priest practices or the database journalism of the new media crew online at the Sunlight Foundation and similar organizations are pioneering.

As Tim O’Reilly tweeted, “wikileaks *challenges* [open government government 2.0] philosophy. Challenges are good if we rise to them.” No question about the former point. Governments that invest in the capacity to maneuver in new media environment might well fare better in the information warfare the 21st century battlefield includes.

Open government is a mindset, but goes beyond new media literacy or harnessing new technologies. The fundamental elements of open government, as least as proposed by the architects of that policy in Washington now, do not include releasing diplomatic cables regarding espionage or private assessments of of world leaders. Those priorities or guidelines will not always be followed by the governed, as Wikileaks amply demonstrates.

Increasingly, citizens are turning to the Internet for data, policy and services. Alongside the efforts of government webmasters at .gov websites, citizens will find the rich stew of social media, media conglomerates or mashups that use government and private data. That mix includes sites like Wikileaks, its chosen media partners, the recently launched WLCentral.org or new models for accountability like IPaidABribe.com.

That reality reinforces that fact that information literacy is a paramount concern for citizens in the digital age. As danah boyd has eloquently pointed out, transparency is not enough. The new media environment makes such literacy more essential than ever, particularly in the context of the “first stateless news organization” Jay Rosen has described. There’s a new kind of alliance behind the War Logs, as David Carr wrote in the New York Times.

There’s also a critical reality: in a time of war, some information can and will have to remain classified for years if those fighting them are to have any realistic chances of winning. Asymmetries of information between combatants are, after all, essential to winning maneuvers on the battlefields of the 21st century. Governments appear to be playing catchup given the changed media environment, supercharged by the power of the Internet, broadband and smartphones. This year, we’ve seen a tipping point in the relationship of government, media and techology.

Comparing the Wikileaks War Logs to the Pentagon Papers is inevitable — and not exactly valid, as ProPublica reported. It would be difficult for the military to win battles, much less wars, without control over situational awareness, operational information or effective counterintelligence.

Given the importance of the ENIGMA machine or intercepts of Japanese intel in WWII, or damage caused by subsequent counterintelligence leaks from the FBI and elsewhere, working to limit intelligence leaks that damage ongoing ops will continue to be vitally important to the military for as long as we have one. Rethinking the definitions for secrecy by default will also require hard work. As the disclosures from the most recent release continue to reverberate around the globe, the only certainty is that thousands of State Department and Defense Department workers are going to have an extra headache this winter.

The NewsHour interviews Alec J. Ross on digital diplomacy and 21st Century Statecraft

What do State Department officials mean when they talk about ” 21st Century Statecraft?” The PBS Newshour’s digital correspondent, Hari Sreenivasan, sat down with Alec J. Ross, senior adviser for innovation at the State Department, to learn how technology is being leveraged to accomplish foreign policy goals. Sreenivasan subsequently published an excellent post on diplomacy and 21st Century statecraft at the Rundown, the Newshour blog, that includes the video below:

As Sreenivasan notes, the State Department has been rapidly moving forward in its use of technology, as reported in Radar on applying technology for Internet freedom. The question of whether the US should support Internet freedom through technology is a complex one, and deserves serious scrutiny as it moves forward, as evidenced by the Haystack fiasco.

What does 21st Century Statecraft mean? Sreenivasan takes a swing at reporting on Ross’s take:

In light of the seismic shifts taking place in how information and people interact and engage with one another, Ross says a broadening of the practice of statecraft is necessary. Going forward, that means using a balance of soft and hard power to enable and support relationships between non-state actors, and between representatives of governments.The prescription calls for far more than giving diplomats Twitter training, or simply using social media to push “the message” out. It is also about connecting people to resources efficiently and effectively, from NGOs to governments to people in need of aid.

In addition to spending money on new forms of digital diplomacy, the State Department has more often used its clout to convene bright minds from the private sector and the NGO world in a series of Tech@State conferences. They have included gatherings to share ideas on leveraging mobile technology, finding and empowering technology assistance in Haiti’s recovery and, more recently, rethinking Civil Society.

Sreenivasan included a host of excellent links to learn more about 21st Century statecraft, including:

  • An essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “America’s Edge” (requires one-time free registration) by Anne-Marie Slaughter. It was published around the same time that the former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton University was appointed as the new Director of Policy Planning at the State Department.
  • A essay by Eric Shmidt and Jared Cohen of Google titled The Digital Disruption, also in Foreign Affairs, which discusses the challenges facing diplomacy. As Sreenivasan notes, Cohen recently moved to Google from the State Department, where he had been working with Ross on 21st Century Statecraft. The New York Times Magazine covered their digital diplomacy efforts this this past summer.
  • Sam Dupont of NDN has gathered a list of 21st Century statecraft initiatives.

The Newshour has been extending its coverage into Gov 2.0 since Sreenivasan reported on the Gov 2.0 Expo and Summit earlier this year. For more of its past coverage, check out their conversation with Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of HHS, and excerpts from their conversation with White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and federak CIO Vivek Kundra. It’s a significant evolution to see Gov 2.0 be discussed on the Newshour, CBS or Dan Rather reports. Whether it’s enough to raise national awareness of open government challenges, success or failure is itself an open question.

Exploring Civil Society 2.0 at the State Department

The Tech@State conference on Civil Society 2.0 offered insight into the future of technology and civics around the world from digital diplomats, nonprofit leaders and technologists. Tim O’Reilly delivered one of the most thoughtful lectures I’ve seen to date, exploring the factors that led to the success of the Web, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and the platforms that undergird our digital world.

“As you think about civil society 2.0, think about open ended platforms that you can build on, not just applications,” he said.

While his comments and those of the other presenters deserve more analysis and reporting, the four excerpts from O’Reilly’s talk below offer immediate access to the insight he shared. I’ll write more at Radar soon.

For more perspective on what civil society might mean in 2010 – or 2050 – read Nancy Scola at techPresident.