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05 October 2007

State blogging – and not blogging

Mountainrunner has been providing excellent coverage and commentary regarding the new developments out of Department of State’s online diplomacy efforts, including DoS’s new blog. We are please to see the efforts of those at Foggy Bottom advancing into the new century. State’s efforts were often the kind one would damn with faint praise – let us hope that this new initiative does not travel the same path. They would do well to heed (and preferably, quickly hire the unique expertise of) the gentleman blogger on such matters, particularly as he explores subjects of key interest – unmanned systems, private military companies, and public diplomacy unfettered by incorrect interpretations of half a century old legislative arcania.

At the same time, however, State has silenced a different interesting voice in the intelligence and foreign policy space. Arms Control Otaku will be ending formal blogging at official request that came out of an ongoing background investigation. We have mixed feelings on the matter – not least of which because this is an area that can ill afford the loss of thinkers and bloggers in the public space. However, we are the first to recognize the inherent tensions between the effective performance of one’s official duties, and the academic pursuit of advancing the literature. That conflict was likely far more pronounced the Otaku’s case, given the essential overlap between what one would presume about the demands of a Presidential Management Fellow’s assignment and the published record of that blog.

We are fortunate in the our humble endeavor suffers less from such potential conflicts due to a very deliberate series of choices to separate the stuff of our contributors’ professional accounts from the discussions on this blog. One can, given care and attention, find an acceptable way to further the academic conversation on larger issues of professionalization in a manner which does not come into conflict with one’s working responsibilities or one’s sacred oaths of secrecy. We are also fortunate to have had a favorable review which early on encouraged this effort (but of course, not as an endorsement), given entirely sensible and appropriate restrictions. Some of those peculiar features have drawn negative comment from others in the academic world - such as the lack of comment features - but overall it is a small tradeoff in return for the benefit of participating in the ongoing discussion regarding the future of intelligence. And since this blog generates no financial or other incentives, such intangibles are critical to our contributors.

Thus, we hope to see the Otaku’s writing some other time and place. We have enjoyed the work, even as we might disagree on occasion. And we were also pleasantly surprised to learn that once upon a lifetime, one amongst our number happened to be in the same movie theatre at the same time – despite being far from the usual stomping grounds - in one of those odd coincidences that marks life passing through the Beltway.

However, we also note that there are plenty of other outlets for creative energies in more professionally accepted fashion – though few so low-friction as lightweight online publishing. Perhaps an Intelink blog would be in order for the gentleman – and offer the Otaku the additional benefit of accruing professional respect within the community under true name, albeit within the more limited audience of the classified world.

This matter also provides a fascinating case study, one that we see as the leading edge of an issue that will increasingly come to define the role of the intelligence and foreign policy professionals of the next generation. Blogs and other online contributions will increasingly be a key part of their publication record – and increasingly will occur under true name (for good or ill). For some potential recruits to the community, the choice to accept the isolation of the vault, and abandon what may be their most significant professional contributions and activities to date, is one that they may be unwilling to accept in return for a low level GS position in some minor bureaucracy. This will be particularly an acute problem as other alternatives continue to become far more attractive than life as a blue badger as the privatization of intelligence continues apace. Better solutions have to be found.

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