The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

State Department suffers massive computer SNAFU

The State Department is always touting how savvy it is with technology, but sometimes that can be a double-edged sword; a massive e-mail and Blackberry outage hit Foggy Bottom today, forcing a large part of the U.S. diplomatic apparatus to get creative with communications. “I don’t know happened, all I know is that it really ...

549848_110909_computer_error2.jpg
549848_110909_computer_error2.jpg

The State Department is always touting how savvy it is with technology, but sometimes that can be a double-edged sword; a massive e-mail and Blackberry outage hit Foggy Bottom today, forcing a large part of the U.S. diplomatic apparatus to get creative with communications.

"I don't know happened, all I know is that it really messed up my day," one State Department official told The Cable about the server error, which resulted in a loss of computer and Blackberry connectivity for a host of bureaus that lasted from Friday morning until about 4:30 p.m..

The bureaus affected include Public Affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Near Eastern Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs, and many more.

The State Department is always touting how savvy it is with technology, but sometimes that can be a double-edged sword; a massive e-mail and Blackberry outage hit Foggy Bottom today, forcing a large part of the U.S. diplomatic apparatus to get creative with communications.

“I don’t know happened, all I know is that it really messed up my day,” one State Department official told The Cable about the server error, which resulted in a loss of computer and Blackberry connectivity for a host of bureaus that lasted from Friday morning until about 4:30 p.m..

The bureaus affected include Public Affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Near Eastern Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs, and many more.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Cable that there was no apparent rhyme or reason as to why State Department employees were having technological issues.

“We had rolling network outages today, it seemed just to be a glitch in the network, not related to weather or threats or anything like that,” Nuland said. “But diplomacy goes on, we found a way — and some of us still remember how to use the carbon paper.”

One State Department employee told us that he took his Blackberry to the IT help center on the first floor of Foggy Bottom headquarters, known as the “Blackberry hospital,” but they were swamped. Eventually, notice was sent out to all employees to stop calling the IT help line.

The SNAFU also affected some, but not all, members of the team traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York. She was there to give a speech on counterterrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice

So how did the Clinton team and the rest of State’s busy diplomats manage?

“Let’s just say there was more text messaging today than at a high school prom,” one State Department official said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.