The Cable

Clinton dines with top tech executives

What an interesting dinner last night in the most exclusive section of the State Department, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited some of Silicon Valley's top innovators into her private space for a candid, off-the-record evening of food and conversation.

You can just imagine the scene. The tech entrepreneurs, taken out of their high tech offices to dwell in the ornate museum that constitutes the private digs of the  secretary, forced to discard their usual work attire of blue jeans and T-shirts to get all dressed up for the occasion. Clinton and her top-tier staff, relieved to have some company not of the wonky, Washington clique, excited to have some fresh faces in Foggy Bottom.

"Suffice to say, it was not the typical dinner on the 8th floor," said one attendee, who related that Clinton seemed really enthusiastic and engaged in the talk and she even joked about the uniqueness of the event.

The tech leaders at the dinner included Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Cisco EVP Susan Bostrom, Andrew Reseij, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, Microsoft's Craig Mundie, Tiffany Shlain, creator of The Webby Awards, How-to guru Jason Liebman, serial entrepreneur James Eberhard, and Social Gaming Network CEO Shervin Pishevar.

On the State side of the table, in addition to Clinton, were her deputies James Steinberg and Jack Lew, Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter, policy staffer Jared Cohen (the guy who kept Twitter alive after the disputed Iranian election), Clinton's senior advisor for innovation Alec Ross, and Katie Stanton, who just came over from the White House.

The State Department is gearing up for a huge push on innovation technologies as tools of development and diplomacy, which will be announced in a major policy speech by Clinton on Jan. 21.

But they have already been busily trying out a host of programs that seek to leverage new technologies for the sake of advancing old ideas. For example, after Clinton got back from the  the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she sent a team there to start a program whereby the location of threatening gangs could be disseminated over text message, so that would-be victims can avoid them.

Forty percent of the people in Congo have mobile phones, despite its being one of the poorest countries in the world, so why not use them, said one staffer who went on the trip.

In another example, a team from the State Department traveled to Mexico recently to talk technology with aides to President Felipe Calderon and business leaders including billionaire Carlos Slim. They pitched a project that would allow citizens in the battle-torn city of Juarez to send in anonymous crime tips by SMS without fear of retribution.

The innovation office at State is a section of the secretary's office and appears to be growing organically, with more and more projects and staff to come. For Clinton's own explanation of the concept she's calling "21st century statecraft," watch this.

U.S. Department of State

The Cable

Is the Gitmo recidivism rate really 20 percent?

As Washington works itself into a tizzy over whether to release Guantánamo prisoners following the underwear bomber incident (President Obama announced earlier this week that he wouldn't transfer any of them back to Yemen "at this time"), news of a secret Pentagon report is being bandied about as proof that "recidivism" of released GTMO prisoners is on the rise.

Oh, how easily we forget that the whole idea of measuring the recidivism of Guantánamo detainees was debunked last May. The original baseline for saying that the trend of recidivism is on the rise was founded in this front-page New York Times article by Elisabeth Bumiller, which stated that the Pentagon had found that one in seven, or 14 percent, of released GTMO prisoners had "returned to terrorism or militant activity."

There were several problems with the reporting, not the least of which was that there is no way to determine if the alleged militants "returned" to the fight because there were never proper legal procedures at Guantánamo to determine if the prisoners were guilty in the first place.

That language was removed from the story after Bumiller's piece was torn apart by the Times' public editor Clark Hoyt, who said the article was "seriously flawed and greatly overplayed."

Moreover, as Hoyt pointed out, the one in seven number failed to distinguish between those who were "suspected" of militancy and those who were "confirmed" to have done something violent. "Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in 20," Hoyt wrote.

Independent analyses put that number even smaller. Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation looked into the numbers even further and found that both confirmed and suspected military rates of released Guantánamo prisoners as of last summer was one in 25, or about 4 percent.

But none of that critical analysis made it into this Jan. 7 LA Times article by Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons, which cites a new and also secret Pentagon report to argue that now 20 percent of released Guantánamo prisoners have "resumed extremist activity."

The story says that both conservatives and liberals dispute the figures (although I haven't seen where the number is said to be an underestimation), but fails to point out that the 14 percent figure from May was disputed by the very paper that reported it.

Bloomberg's story on the report did a better job of explaining that the numbers are suspect, at best.

In an interview with The Cable, Bergen noted that beside the fact that the numbers are inflated, the Pentagon's insistence on classifying the underlying information makes the numbers wholly unverifiable.

"The 14 percent is based on a ‘trust us, we can't tell you,'" said Bergen, adding that the 20 percent figure in the LA Times story "defies credulity."

When a Guantánamo prisoner joins the fight against America, that's a huge propaganda coup for the extremists and they tend to announce it in a way that's noticeable, he added. "I'm enormously skeptical that there are these levels of releases joining the fight because I think we would know about it."

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