The Cable

Embassy Cairo shuts down Twitter feed after Muslim Brotherhood spat

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo shut down its Twitter feed Wednesday following a public fight with the Egyptian Presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood over the arrest of an Egyptian television star.

"Sorry, that page doesn't exist!" reads the banner atop the site where the @USEmbassyCairo Twitter feed sat until this morning. A cached version of the page shows that the last tweet was  a link to the Daily Show's Jon Stewart talking about the Egyptian government's arrest of Stewart's Egyptian doppelganger Bassem Youssef, who was detained and fined by the Egyptian police on the charge of insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsy.

"It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda," the official Twitter feed for the Egyptian presidency said on their own feed Tuesday. The Egyptian presidency tweet was directed at the Cairo Embassy, the Daily Show, and Youssef himself.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has been lashing out at Embassy Cairo repeatedly on its own Twitter feed.

"Another undiplomatic & unwise move by @USEmbassyCairo, taking sides in an ongoing investigation & disregarding Egyptian law & culture," the FJP tweeted Tuesday.

A State Department official told The Cable Wednesday that the decision to take down Embassy Cairo's Twitter page was made by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson without the consultation of the State Department in Washington. Foggy Bottom is urging Embassy Cairo to put the page back up, lest it appear that the United States is caving to the online pressure.

"This not a permanent shutdown. Embassy Cairo considers this to be temporary. They want to put new procedures in place," the official said.

This is not the first time Embassy Cairo has courted controversy via its Twitter account. On the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2012, Embassy Cairo put out a series of tweets seeking to calm the protests outside their walls. The campaign of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, seized upon those tweets to accuse President Barack Obama of apologizing for American values because the tweets referenced an anti-Islam video that contributed to the unrest.

The main Embassy Cairo tweeter at that time, Larry Schwartz, was blamed for the Sept. 11 tweets and subsequently recalled to Washington. But the combative character of the embassy's Twitter account continued.

The FJP also took issue with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's criticism of Youssef's treatment during an April 1 press briefing. Referring directly to Nuland's remarks about Youssef, the FJP said they are outraged at her "unreserved audacity" and her "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt on an issue that is still under investigation" and is being dealt with through the Egyptian legal system.

UPDATE 12:20 : The Embassy Cairo Twitter feed is back up and running, although the controversial tweet in question has been deleted.

UPDATE: 1:00 : Nuland said at Wednesday's briefing that the Embassy viewed the tweet as a mistake but she defended the State Department's criticism of the Egyptian government on the issue.

"We've had some glitches with the way the twitter feed has been managed. This is regrettably not the first time. Embassy Cairo is looking at how to manage these glitches," she said. "They came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."

The Cable

Nobody home at the State Department

Two months into Secretary of State John Kerry's tenure, a large number of senior State Department positions remain vacant, and the process to fill them seems indefinitely stalled, officials inside the department tell The Cable.

When Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came into office, she negotiated for herself 100 percent control over State Department appointments and largely kept Obama campaign officials at arms' length. Kerry has no such deal with the White House, and his office is only one voice in a White House-managed appointment process that is moving as slowly as molasses, several State Department officials and insiders say.

As Kerry prepares to travel to East Asia next week, his third major overseas adventure in his short time in Foggy Bottom, the most glaring opening at State is the post of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs (EAP), which was vacated by Kurt Campbell in February. NSS Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel has been long assumed the leading contender, but Kerry is said to prefer a non-White House staffer. Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun has been running the EAP shop.

But the EAP is only one of nearly a dozen bureaus that are working without politically appointed leaders and there are several reports of angst that the vacancies are being left unfilled for so long.

"We must report rising anxiety at senior policy levels at what players characterize as virtual indifference by Sec. St. Kerry and his inner-circle to moving on the Asst. Secretary appointments needed to properly run the Department's many bureaus," reports Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, an insider's newsletter on Asia policy.

All of the regional bureaus are now being run by acting assistant secretaries or assistant secretaries that come from the Foreign Service ranks, Nelson notes.

"In short, neither White House nor Kerry people are now running the store," he writes. "The system isn't designed to work that way. No matter what the White House may think, it and the NSC can't run everything... Unsurprisingly, some folks now speculate this means Obama and his team are determined to control it all."

Our State Department sources report that there is increasing concern that Kerry is spending so much time out of the building (although his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry has been spotted in the Truman Headquarters on several occasions), leaving the day-to-day management to a select group of senior officials.

The handful of people who are running the show at State these days is largely limited to the very few senior staffers Kerry brought in with him: Chief of Staff David Wade, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Danvers, Policy Planning Director David McKean, and senior communications advisor Glen Johnson, along with the few holdover senior officials who have regular direct access to Kerry: Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Nuland especially is said to have risen in influence since Clinton, and her longtime communications aide Philippe Reines, departed. A power struggle inside the State Department's public affairs office between Nuland and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, along with his deputy Dana Smith, has largely been won by Nuland, several State Department sources said. 

Although Hammer is technically the head of the bureau, Nuland runs the daily meetings, often travels with Kerry, takes the lead on forming the messages and talking points, and has emerged victorious in several internal battles, including a dispute over who would be on the plane with Kerry during his first trip as secretary. Smith wanted her own people to travel but Nuland insisted on choosing the traveling personnel and got her way.

Nuland, who was recently elevated to the status of career ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service, is expected to be nominated to replace Philip Gordon as assistant secretary of state for Europe. Hammer is expected to be given an ambassadorship soon. Smith is known to want Hammer's job, but the model of having an assistant secretary who is not also the spokesperson is under review, and incoming spokesperson Jen Psaki could be tapped for both jobs. 

Psaki was a White House and Obama campaign staffer, but also has longstanding ties to Kerry. Stephen Krupin, the head speechwriter for Obama for America, has begun work as Kerry's chief speechwriter, and the rumor is that the White House is seeking to place more Obama campaign hands at State -- potentially bad news for the Kerry staffers left waiting over at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Meanwhile, a host of State Department offices and bureaus are functioning with temporary leadership. 

In the Africa bureau, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson's last day was March 29. He had been hoping to retire in January but was asked to stay longer by Kerry's staff. That bureau is now being run by Acting Assistant Secretary Don Yamamoto, a Foreign Service officer who has been an ambassador three times. NSS Senior Director Gayle Smith is rumored to be in the running for Carson's job.

The related special envoy for Sudan job is also vacant since Princeton Lyman stepped down last December.There are some names being bandied about, such as former Ambassadors Tim Carney and Cameron Hume, although Sudan advocacy groups are warning the White House against choosing Carney, whom they see as too cozy with Khartoum. 

There's also no special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, following the return of Amb. Marc Grossman to the private sector last December. Acting SRAP David Pearce is running the office but there's no word on whether Kerry intends to replace Grossman or when.

The position of assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs has been filled in an acting capacity by Foreign Service officer Beth Jones ever since Jeff Feltman departed for the U.N. last year. The rumor had been that Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson was in line for that job, but lately State Department sources report that there are no firm indications of who might get it.

Rose Gottemoeller is serving as acting undersecretary for arms control and international security while also technically still serving as the assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. She will have to be nominated again for the undersecretary slot soon, but there's no schedule for what could be a very contentious confirmation process in the Senate.

Michael Posner has left his job as assistant secretary of state for democracy, leaving long time Foreign Service officer Uzra Zeya as acting head of that bureau. There's no word about his replacement, although we hear rumors that Human Rights Watch's Washington director, Tom Malinowski, may be in contention.

The Diplomatic Security Bureau has been leaderless since its top three officials were placed on paid administrative leave following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Greg Starr is the nominal official in charge.

Melanne Verveer, the ambassador at large for global women's issues, left the department Feb. 8. Sharon Weiner, a career Foreign Service officer, is acting ambassador, but the White House has announced its intention to nominate Cathy Russell to replace Verveer.

There's no word on who will replace Deputy Secretary for Management Tom Nides, who left the department in February to return to Wall Street. There's also no assistant secretary for legislative affairs, which could be a disadvantage for State in the upcoming budget fights.

The State Department also does not have an inspector general to oversee its operations, but that is not the fault of Kerry's team. The last time the State Department had a full-time inspector general was Feb. 6, 2008.