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Public Diplomacy, Iran and Jared Cohen

The New York Times identifies the State Department official who urged Twitter to reschedule a site maintenance — and risk disrupting the communications of thousands of Iranian dissidents using the #IranElection hashtag — as a 27-year old guy in the Policy Planning shop named Jared Cohen. Although he’s in the planning shop, this isn’t Cohen’s first foray into social-network-enhanced public diplomacy.

Late last year, the State Department teamed with Facebook and HowCast to sponsor a New York summit called the Alliance of Youth Movements, where young people from countries like Lebanon, Colombia, Mexico, Turkey and Saudi Arabia discussed how to use social media to enhance their organizing and activism. The summit led, naturally, to the establishment of an online hub for stored activist-tool knowledge. (In a conspicuous coincidence, there’s a video up on the homepage about how to circumvent government-established Internet censorship.) According to Jim Glassman, the former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, the summit and the hub were the result of a trip Cohen took to Colombia, where he encountered youth groups protesting the violence of the terrorist group known as the FARC. Returning to State, he pitched Glassman on contextualizing the youth activism within a broader pet idea of the then-undersecretaries, about how to foster a “countermovement to violent extremism” with minimal U.S. involvement. “We certainly never would have gotten the Alliance of Youth Movements off the ground without Jared,” Glassman says, calling Cohen “a young, extremely talented public servant” who has extensive familiarity and good contacts within the technology community.

Nor is this likely to be Cohen’s last foray into State’s strategic-communications efforts. As Laura Rozen recently reported, Cohen is doing work for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke spent a recent round of congressional hearings wondering how it could be that the Taliban is able to freely issue radio broadcasts in western Pakistan, without its communications jammed or otherwise disrupted. Maybe counterprogramming extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be Cohen’s next low-key assignment.”He’s really someone to keep an eye on,” Glassman said, in any event.

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