The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 23

Yet the challenges to reporting officers in the field today
are particularly acute. Technological change strains the nexus
between form and substance, and overseas posts must com-
pete for the attention of Washington audiences focused on
their email inboxes. On top of that, the unauthorized online
publication of purported cables has greatly undermined our
interlocutors’ trust. And a work culture that emphasizes lead-
ership and managerial skills can inadvertently marginalize
written communication skills
Are Cables an Anachronism?
Remember airgrams? They were typed informative reports
from overseas missions sent by diplomatic pouch back to
Washington as a means of alleviating overtaxed telegraphic
systems. Over time, they earned a reputation for containing
more information than intended audiences had time to read.
As telegrams—or “cables,” as they are commonly called—
came to dominate State Department reporting and analysis,
airgrams were phased out as a form of official communication
in 1991, almost 50 years after they had been introduced.
Are reporting and analytical cables going the way of the
In 1946, then-Chargé d’Affaires to Moscow George Ken-
nan wrote perhaps the most famous of diplomatic cables, the
“Long Telegram.” This 8,000-word message sought to explain
the sources of Soviet (mis)behavior while recommending a
pragmatic policy of containment.
In his
(Little, Brown and Company,
In the tiny fjord village of Igaliku in southern Greenland, U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (far right), Greenland Home Rule
Deputy Premier Josef Motzfeldt (center) and Danish Foreign
Minister Per Stig Møller sign an agreement in August 2004,
paving the way for upgrading the early warning radar system
at Thule, the U.S. air base in northern Greenland. Assisting Sec.
Powell is Foreign Service political officer Dan Lawton (second
from right).
For the first time, Greenland was a party to the century-old
defense agreement between Denmark and the United States
that governs U.S. defense activity on the island. The three parties
signed two additional documents, one providing for economic
and technical cooperation between the United States and
Greenland, and another to protect the environment.
Jonathan M. Berger
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