The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 27

tracked and assessed a host of transnational threats rang-
ing from terrorism, weapons proliferation, cyberoperations
and narco-trafficking to natural disasters, organized crime,
trafficking in women and children, infectious diseases, global
financial crises and climate change. And in today’s intercon-
nected world, the list only grows.
Since the 1980s, diplomats have seen both their workplace
and the world they cover turned upside down by the continu-
ing revolution in information technology. Yet the work of
veteran diplomats and the emergence of a new generation of
tech-savvy Foreign Service officers have made clear that diplo-
matic reporting is still, fundamentally, a people business.
Technology can increase efficiency, but it still takes brain-
power to produce succinct reports that creatively combine
breadth, depth and clear
policy relevance. A quick sur-
vey of some of my own career
experiences will reinforce
this point.
Dominican Republic,
On election day,
May 16, Antonio Guzman’s
Dominican Revolutionary
Party, which had been side-
lined by President Lyndon
Johnson’s Marines in 1965,
was perceived to be leading conservative U.S. ally Joaquin
Balaguer. The pro-Balaguer army began to seize ballot boxes.
Ambassador Robert Yost’s country team reported the story
blow by blow through the night into the early morning hours.
This gave me time to get the details into crack-of-dawn
intelligence briefings for the senior national security team,
and enabled Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to persuade
Balaguer’s government to restore the vote count that made
Guzman the next president. The run-up to this election also
exposed me to the tensions that can arise between Washing-
ton’s political biases and reality in the field. Excellent report-
ing reassured U.S. policymakers that fears of Cuban interven-
tion were not warranted (and, I concluded, may not have been
such a big deal back in 1965 when both embassy reporting and
policy perspectives set a different tone).
Jamaica, 1980.
The charismatic and Castro-friendly incum-
bent, Prime Minister Michael Manley, faced a serious electoral
challenge against the background of a declining economy.
As someone who had both studied and taught in Jamaica, I
concluded that Manley’s opponent, Edward Seaga, would win
because of the centrality of bread-and-butter issues in union-
based parties.
Embassy reporting, though less confident of the outcome,
gave me lots of material to make my case in what became a
heated debate in Washington during the election campaign. I
was fortunate to have worked closely with the team of Assis-
tant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Viron
“Pete” Vaky, which provided me with an early example of
the potentiating effect of a collaborative intelligence-policy
relationship. I had also been mentored as an analyst by Vaky’s
distinguished predecessor, John Crimmins.
In one contentious briefing on the Hill at which some
members strongly disputed my analysis, Representative Shir-
ley Chisholm, D-N.Y., the daughter of West Indian immigrants
and the wife of a Jamaican
husband, silenced the room
with her eloquent assessment
of why Seaga was likely to
win. He did, with nearly 59
percent of the vote.
Spain, early 1980s:
is another case where, in my
judgment, a solid record of
informative and insightful
embassy reporting helped
sometimes skittish Wash-
ington policymakers get on the right side of history. Spain
was still in an unsteady transition to post-Franco democracy.
Right-wing military elements staged an abortive coup in 1981.
The Socialists came to power in October 1982 on an anti-NATO
platform and with Basque terrorist assassinations of military,
security and political leaders on the rise.
Other factors were involved, but I believe that excellent dip-
lomatic reporting encouraged broad U.S. government support
for Spain’s fledgling socialist government, for its accession to
NATO and the European Union, and for its long fight against a
major domestic terrorist threat. Credit goes far and wide, but
I recall Political Counselor Bob Service’s pithy and punchy
cables as a standard setter
Emergence of the European Union, mid-1980s.
transformation of the European Economic Community of the
mid-1980s into the European Union is a story of consistently
outstanding reporting from economic, political and security
officers. As instability on the continent increased during the
1990s, security issues took on greater importance in what
became a more interdisciplinary approach to analysis of Euro-
Since the 1980s, diplomats
have seen both their
workplace and the world they
cover turned upside down by
the continuing revolution in
information technology.
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