The Foreign Service Journal - June 2014 - page 16

JUNE 2014
Publishing in the Foreign Service
t almost goes without saying that
members of the Foreign Service have
a lot to share.
Whether through incredible stories
of adventures abroad, personal accounts
of years spent in war zones, memoirs of
a life in government service or poignant
analyses of foreign policy and history, the
men and women of the Foreign Service
are in an extraordinary position to share
valuable personal insights and contribute
to national and global debates.
Unfortunately, most Foreign Ser-
vice and State Department employees
perceive such vast bureaucratic barriers
to publishing while in the Foreign Service
that they determine it is not worth the
effort. To be sure, those obstacles are
very real and very frustrating. I person-
ally experienced practically every one of
them in publishing as a State Department
employee. It often felt like I was a first-
time athlete trying to run a marathon
with no end in sight and high jumps at
every turn.
But I made it through the process. My
102 Days of War—How Osama bin
Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived
, was released in January with only
a small amount of information redacted.
Yaniv Barzilai, a State Department Foreign Service officer serving in Baku on
his first overseas posting, is the author of
102 Days of War—How Osama bin
Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001
(Potomac Books, 2013). The
views expressed in this article are his alone and do not necessarily represent
those of the State Department or the U.S. government.
Author’s Note: This article has been reviewed by the State Department, Central Intelligence
Agency and Department of Defense in order to prevent the disclosure of classified information.
Since then, I have held public events at
the Brookings Institution and the Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced Interna-
tional Studies, spoken on National Public
Radio, and published articles in national
and international news media—all with
the approval of the State Department,
and all while serving as an FSO.
And if I can do it, so can anyone else
in the Foreign Service.
A Win-Win Proposition
Publishing is not only good personal
career development; it is important for
American society. Historical and foreign
policy scholarship is a universal good
that can inform leaders about difficult
decisions and help them avoid the mis-
takes of the past. And personal stories
about life in the Foreign Service help
educate the American people about a
type of public service that is often over-
looked and underreported.
As an American diplomat, I strongly
believe in the obligation to protect all
classified information. There are simply
things that cannot be discussed in the
public domain, which can often include
current, unresolved issues in interna-
tional relations.
In general, however, the U.S. govern-
ment has a keen interest in encouraging
its employees to engage in a dialogue
with the American people and the world
at large. Such exchanges are not only
an important element of a functioning
democracy, but an essential part of rep-
resenting the United States abroad.
The rules and regulations for publish-
ing in the Foreign Service can be found in
the Foreign Affairs Manual at
All current and former State Department
employees who want to publish or speak
publicly should review the document in
its entirety.
How the Process Works
The first determination that must
be made is whether your material is “of
official concern.” The FAM defines official
concern as any material that relates to
“any policy, program or operation of
the employee’s agency or to current U.S.
foreign policies, or reasonably may be
expected to affect the foreign relations
of the United States.” In other words, it is
entirely a judgment call. Unless it would
be utterly preposterous to mark your
material “of official concern,” you can
safely assume which verdict the State
Department will give.
Personal judgment plays a role. Tech-
nically, “Materials that do not address
matters of official concern need not be
submitted for review” (3 FAM 4172.1-1a).
You may make that determination as an
individual, but if you possess any doubt
about meeting the threshold, forgoing
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