Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

First Monday Programs Look at Digital Attacks on Elections, Work of Radio Free Asia

Upcoming First Monday luncheon discussions will focus on Digital Attacks on Elections, the Work of Radio Free Asia, and the future of public diplomacy organizations. The luncheons are free, but registration is required.

“How the U.S. Helps Allies Defend Against Digital Attacks on Elections” will be Ambassador J. Kenneth Blackwell’s topic on Monday, July 15 (special date). Ambassador Blackwell is Board Chair of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Other panelists include Vasu Mohan, Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz, and Erica Shein.

Libby Liu, President of Radio Free Asia, will be the featured speaker on Monday, August 5. The topic is “Transmitting a Free Press to Asia.”

Monday, September 9, will focus on the Past, Present, and Future of Public Diplomacy Organizations. All members of PDAA are encouraged to attend this special forum, which will look at the organization’s path ahead. Background information is available here.

First Monday Forums are a joint project of the Public Diplomacy Association of America, the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the Pubic Diplomacy Council. The Forums are held at George Washington University’s Elliott School Lindner Family Common, 1957 E Street, NW, 6th floor, starting at 12 noon. Sandwiches and refreshments are served. Attendance is free with an RSVP.

To request attendance at a Forum, send a message to


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Richard Birn: A Few Recollections of Career Service and Friendship

by Michael Schneider

Richard Birn passed away this past spring, after a rich career in public diplomacy and 61 years of marriage.

Richard and I served in the same Junior Officer Class, sworn in October 20, 1962, the day President Kennedy announced the blockade on Cuba and nuclear confrontation with the USSR. Needless to say, tensions were high.
At first that day we were quite upset that Edward R. Murrow would not swear us in. Most of our group joined USIA in large part attracted to the Agency by Murrow – more than Kennedy.

Over the years Richard and I discovered a number of family connections and parallel experiences while growing up in the New York City area, which we always enjoyed sharing.

Richard was one of three or four “senior” officers in the class who were married and somewhat older than the rest of us. More settled, in some ways a little less rambunctious. Richard and Jacqueline were a handsome couple – he, dapper; she, vivacious and quite an accomplished cellist.

In class, he could be counted upon for perceptive and carefully considered comments – the hallmarks of his contribution to our profession, along with his geniality and care for his colleagues.

From the outset of our careers, I was impressed by how conversant Richard was in international affairs, already schooled through graduate studies at Columbia. A conversation with him almost 57 years ago – and as recently as a few months ago – would be engaging and lucid. He brought out the best in us, and I’m sure in his work abroad.

Richard’s career took him to Helsinki, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Toronto, and Valetta, and with extended service in Washington with ICS and as senior policy officer in the Voice of America. At the Voice, Richard’s expertise and depth of knowledge significantly helped the VOA policy office deal with contentious Middle East issues and U.S. policy.

In retirement, Richard became a mainstay for DACOR and continued to be an avid reader of three major papers daily.

I will miss him.

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Summer BBQ at the DACOR Bacon House

PDAA members are invited to the DACOR Bacon House for a summer barbeque on Thursday, July 25, 6:30-8:30.

The cost of the BBQ is $40 per person. For those who are already members of DACOR, you can RSVP online; for those who are not members, you can RSVP by emailing or by calling 202-682-0500, extension 20.

DACOR, Inc., is a membership organization. While it started out in 1952 as an organization of retired Foreign Service Officers, it has broadened its membership pool in recent years so that its members now also include active duty officers as well as U.S. citizen foreign affairs professionals. DACOR, Inc., provides a number of benefits and services to its members, including formal programs on foreign affairs and development topics, informal discussion groups, social events, reciprocal clubs, guest rooms, and member lunches. Its sister organization, the DACOR Bacon House Foundation, is the steward of an elegant 1825 Federalist-style residence, operates a museum illustrating aspects of diplomacy open to the general public, and annually awards $250,000 in scholarships and fellowships to students studying aspects of international relations.

In the fall, DACOR will be inaugurating its efforts on social media, through which it intends to contribute to educating the American public about U.S. foreign affairs and the value and importance of diplomacy.

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Past, Present, & Future of Public Diplomacy Organizations Focus of Special Meeting

A special roundtable discussion among members of the Public Diplomacy Association of America, the Public Diplomacy Council, and other interested professionals has been set for Mon., Sep. 9, 2019. It will focus on the past, present, and future of organizations focused on Public Diplomacy.

The special meeting will replace the September “First Monday” discussion and will take place at noon at George Washington University’s Elliott School Lindner Family Common, 1957 E Street St. NW, 6th Floor.

In anticipation of the Sep. 9 discussion, PDAA is reprinting by permission of the Public Diplomacy Council the following overview prepared by Alan Heil, a member of PDAA and PDC.

A New Path Ahead for U.S. Public Diplomacy Advocates in a Digital Age?

by Alan Heil

What is public diplomacy?

Nicholas J. Cull at a recent First Monday luncheon sponsored by PDAA, PDC, and USC. (Photo: Bruce Guthrie)

It’s a term used more widely than ever in the 21st century, as a leading scholar of the concept, the University of Southern California’s Professor Nicholas J. Cull explains: “Public diplomacy deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of a nation’s foreign policies.”

Dr. Cull adds that PD encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy, including:

  • The formation of public opinion in other countries
  • The interaction of private groups in one country with those of another
  • The reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy
  • Communication between those whose job it is in various countries, including diplomats and foreign correspondents.

These themes reflect a wide range of intercultural communications, public and private, via cultural and educational exchanges with international visitors and US-funded global broadcasting.

What Are the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) and the Public Diplomacy Association Of America (PDAA)?

These two non-profit citizen volunteer groups headquartered in DC are exploring ways of supporting effective public diplomacy in unprecedented ways. Together, they have nearly 600 members, many of them retired foreign service officers or alumni of international communications organizations. This month, former PDC President Adam Clayton Powell III, who is also the director of the University of Southern California’s Washington office, and former PDAA President Ambassador Cynthia Efird are moving on from their non-governmental public diplomacy leadership posts. How have they strengthened a long-sought cooperative effort of both organizations? A number of US government alumni, including this writer, are members of both the PDC and PDAA.

Inspiring First Monday Forums

Cynthia Efird (PDAA) and Adam Powell (PDC/USC) at a First Monday program. (Photo: Bruce Guthrie)

For the first time in 2017, the PDAA joined forces with the PDC and USC in co-sponsoring First Monday informal lunchtime roundtables at George Washington University’s School of International Affairs. These are led by expert public diplomacy advocates — private sector and government — at the beginning of each month. According to Adam Powell, there now have been nearly a hundred First Monday sessions since 2010. Attendance has now approached capacity crowds, including a growing number of GWU students.

Recent roundtable leaders have included:

  • U.S Peace Corps director Dr. Jody Olsen, who shared success stories from her organization’s volunteers in 64 countries as diverse as Albania, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Macedonia, and even the People’s Republic of China.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce on American educational and cultural exchanges, in all their variety and richness, as they build person-to-person friendships globally.
  • Sister Cities International President Roger-Mark De Souza, who noted that “by sharing ideas with other countries’ municipal leaders, here and abroad, we help shape America’s foreign relations unofficially, one handshake at a time.”
  • VOA anchor Greta van Susteren, who produced an on-scene documentary, Displaced, reflecting the horrific conditions in a refugee displacement camp for Burma’s Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.

Monthly Seminars with Mid-Level Foreign Service Officers

Former US Ambassador to North Macedonia Jess L. Baily discusses the Role of Public Diplomacy in Resolving the Greece-Macedonia Name Dispute. Photo by Hunter B. Martin.

As part of the Public Diplomacy Council’s continuing commitment to foster the people and practice of public diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State, we work with two FSO volunteer co-chairs to sponsor informal seminars around a variety of professional themes. The seminars provide an opportunity for mid-level public diplomacy officers, many of whom on their first Washington tours and widely dispersed around the Department, to meet each other, discuss professional and policy issues, learn about different types of public diplomacy assignments, and consult with senior or retired officers in an informal setting. Themes for discussion are chosen by the 30-50 FSOs who regularly participate and expert speakers are invited to address the contributions of public diplomacy to critical U.S. State Department’s foreign policy challenges. The PDC provides lunch; the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) kindly provides a conference room at its headquarters.

Annual PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Successes

Natella Svistunova, Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Belmopan, accompanied by Jon Piechowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, receives award from PDAA President Cynthia Efird for combating gender-based violence in Belize. (Photo: Alan Kotok)

PDAA works with the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs to recognize annually outstanding public diplomacy efforts. The awards have gone to foreign service, civil service, and locally employed staff, both overseas and in the U.S. A worldwide cable solicits nominations for innovation in serving U.S. policy objectives through a range of public diplomacy tools. The winners each year receive a certificate, a cash prize, a year’s membership to PDAA, and are honored at an annual brunch.

To fund the award program, PDAA raises money throughout the year, as well as contributing some funding from membership dues. This year on May 5 at the Army-Navy Club in Washington, DC, four awards were given:

  • Niles Cole, CAO Kampala, received an award for reaching 32 schools in 15 districts with the bus “Explorer Lab,” equipped with computers and encouraging learning through problem solving. The students’ interest led to the government purchasing US air quality equipment and drafting new environment regulations.
  • Christopher Hodges, PAO in the Palestinian Affairs Unit, US Embassy Jerusalem, received his award for extraordinary leadership during a period of low public opinion of US policy. He maintained effective contacts and shaped messaging through media interviews in fluent Arabic.
  • Natella Svistunova, PAO, US Embassy Belmopan, was awarded for an innovative plan to combat gender violence. She designed a successful media campaign to create an anti-violence label for a cooking sauce. The product with the label was rolled out in an event attended by the Prime Minister’s spouse and family, engendering Belize-wide attention.
  • Debra Torbiong, Public Affairs Specialist at U.S. Embassy Koror in Palau, was cited by the Ambassador for a program that redesigned the Palau school lunch program and encouraged healthy eating and exercising. The Ambassador said she promoted health and food security through an “innovative, responsive, interactive, and effective” campaign.

Both Svistunova and Torbiong were present to receive their awards. The others were accepted by representatives from the respective geographic regional offices.

Coordination Initiatives Continue

PDC’s new President Sherry Mueller with former President Adam Powell (Photo: Bruce Guthrie)

I asked USC scholar Adam Clayton Powell how he first became interested in public diplomacy. He has headed USC’s Washington office for more than a decade. He wanted to move to DC from California in 2010 and asked the former USC president, Max Nikias, what the office assignment here entailed. President Nikias replied: “Connect the links.”

That meant, from USC’s perspective, enhancing the contacts between the separate PD-related organizations in the nation’s capital: the Public Diplomacy Council (primarily an advocacy group in U.S. media and on Capitol Hill) and PDAA (focused on perfecting public diplomacy practice in State and at missions overseas). Another key goal was to share knowledge about PD practices with newly-named FSOs and to encourage them to value 21st media vehicles (listening and viewing as well as counseling) as their careers are built.

Adam Powell offered one example in “connecting the links”: an introductory seminar for new FSOs entitled: “What do expect to happen in your first day at your first overseas post?”

The PDC and PDAA continue to increase their links.

All those interested in the activities I mentioned above can learn more on their new, shared website at There, you can learn about all the initiatives of both PDC and PDAA, which are expanding programs that are available to members of both organizations.

The PDAA’s former president Efird reports that its board last month voted to “request the PDC to form a joint exploratory group with it to look at how to move further on closer cooperation, keeping in mind the organizational legal and other issues both memberships might have. “Cooperation,” she added, “is a work in progress, but a work that could be important in securing the health of both organizations and increasing the understanding of public diplomacy among our memberships and in a wider audience, as well.”

Jan Brambilla (Alan Kotok)

Two veteran public diplomacy advocates and nominees to succeed as presidents of the PDC and PDAA, Dr. Sherry Mueller of the Council and Jan Brambilla of the Association, appear to recognize the importance of sustaining the unprecedented contributions of their two predecessors. Dr. Mueller, former President of Global Ties U.S., is a professor teaching cultural diplomacy at American University and Jan Brambilla is a longtime member of PDAA and a former distinguished personnel director at VOA.

I submit that the late great journalist and head of the former U.S. Information Agency, Edward R. Murrow, once offered a perfect prescription for public diplomacy all might easily agree on: “To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”

As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More

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Robert J. Korengold: An Appreciation

Robert J. Korengold

by Miller Crouch

When I met Bud Korengold at USIS Paris in the early 1990s, he was one of the most well-known senior Foreign Service officers in the U.S. Information Agency. He was known especially for his singular success directing large press operations at some of our most important European posts. Political appointees trusted him and sought his advice, and he always gave his best in return. They and colleagues found Bud was special because he was a diplomat not out of diplomatic central casting. He was, rather, always a journalist to his fingertips, a man who had been a first rate foreign correspondent for major outlets before he joined the government. In many ways Bud departed from standard practice. In the jobs he held overseas, however, this did not matter. What did matter was that he never had to think twice about how to interact with correspondents from anywhere around the world. Intellectually and emotionally, Bud remained one of them, a working journalist, only now his editor was the Ambassador, and his outlet, the Embassy, but more importantly, USIS.

Bud’s advice to his principals always aimed at capturing the lede. He taught that having a deep understanding of policy and having a fine set of talking points were not the same as knowing the lede. Clear as day to Bud, discerning the news lede was often what really mattered. To miss it was the greatest journalistic crime. This is the simple explanation why Agency leaders and ambassadors so trusted him, why Agency leaders assigned him to the critical posts of Belgrade, Brussels, London, and Paris – the feeding grounds then of the large international press corps that reported on the end- game of the Cold War and its immediate aftermath. It is why USIS in the posts that Bud led became part of the ambassadors’ own offices. He constantly overdid. He had to be ‘out and about.’ He was curious, funny, driven to succeed. He claimed a special relationship with ‘Lady Luck.’ He actually meant his beloved Mrs. Korengold, who with their wonderful children and now grandchildren meant everything to Bud.

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A Fulbrighter’s Return to Vietnam

by Stephen Cottrell

The English novelist George Orwell best captured my first experience in Vietnam with his penetrating words, “If the war didn’t kill you it was bound to start you thinking.” Having survived the former, I became a huge fan of the latter.

Prof. Cottrell in Vietnam

It can be safely assumed that many readers of this article have experienced defining moments in their lives and the choices made at those junctures have set them on paths far different from their earlier expectations: meeting their spouse, child birth, winning the lottery. The morning I received my Fulbright letter was such a moment; a simultaneous rush of both excitement and shock as my mind processed the words “congratulations” and “Vietnam” in the same sentence. Although time has been merciful to this Marine Corps infantry veteran, it did not dull certain “bad days” there. With some trepidation I agreed to teach at Nha Trang University for a year.


Dr. Stephen Cottrell interviewing a survivor while doing research on Cambodian internal migration patterns post Khmer Rouge

Although my Fulbright topic focused on geography’s physical and cultural influences on the societal ethos and, by extension, on its higher education leadership traits, it was not to be. I quickly learned that the Vietnamese psyche is far too opaque for such a transparent approach. As in other tradition-oriented cultures, indirect approaches are far more user friendly in getting the job done. That said, I opted for the back-door model and discovered a classic goodness-of-fit when interacting both with academia and navigating through my daily life. Apart from my academic goals, my deeply personal agenda was to live in and observe a culture that had set in motion profound changes in America’s consciousness. Early into my grant the academic and personal challenges seemed a bit daunting but now I am certain that I made the right decision.

Touching down at Tan Son Nhat airport after far too many hours in an economy seat next to my wife, a daughter, two grandchildren and a Raggedy Anne doll named LeRoy, we staggered into the hot Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) night to collect our survival gear for the coming year: ten large suitcases, three backpacks and a sea bag full of diapers and baby formula. It was SHOW TIME in my parallel universe! Time to set aside Kafkaesque realpolitik thinking and shift my attention to the crucial matters at hand, i.e., not losing the grandkids, passports, or luggage while processing through immigration. With the exception of a few bureaucratic episodes not worth mentioning beyond mentioning, we stepped out of the airport and into our Vietnam experience.

As earlier noted, although the U.S. embassy and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training were in support of my academic proposal, it didn’t travel well from the capital Hanoi to my host city of Nha Trang. In short, much of what I wanted to accomplish didn’t find traction at my host university and much that I had never even considered doing became commonplace. At one of our early State Department “check your culture at the door” sessions, I mentioned that I was being underutilized at my host institution. The seven other Fulbrighters who were posted throughout Vietnam chimed in with the same concern. It seemed that our American “Can Do” attitude had begun to show. Upon reflection, we concluded that we were displaying the typical missionary zeal that seems to afflict many Americans living in foreign lands. I recall one embassy official hastily reminding us that the whole world recognizes Americans as workaholics…including the Vietnamese. My take-a-way was, “Don’t fall in love with your plan… adjust accordingly.”

Dr. Cottrell and his Khmer wife of 35 years (between the two Kayan Hill Tribe women) in Chiang Mai province, Thailand.

Admittedly, although I had a well-constructed albeit overly ambitious academic goal, my host university had other plans for me. With the Embassy’s blessing, I embraced the “Go with the Flow” mantra when asked to do this or that by my Vietnamese colleagues. I had decided that they knew more about their needs than I, so my clarion call became, “Great! I’ll start today.” Consequently, it didn’t take long before Vietnamese faculty members invited me to “di di café den – go for coffee” (a euphemism for a multitude of activities done off campus…a delightful French colonial holdover). As a consequence of long hours spent in the open-air coffee houses along Nha Trang’s beautiful beaches, more was accomplished than I could have ever imagined. Since every coffee house was Wi-Fied and the university electricity shut down on what seemed to be a conveniently regular basis, the campus regularly evacuated en masse for coffee. Group work on a wide variety of research papers, grants, and graduate coursework ruled the day. Most young faculty members were enrolled in graduate programs that had to be finished before they were a certain age. If not, the options at the university were severely curtailed…similar to tenure. Consequently, I drank far too much coffee at no charge.

Dr. Stephen Cottrell presents a lecture on critical thinking at Hong He (Red River) University in Yunnan Province, China

Living in a local neighborhood with neighbors such as the Seeing Hands massage parlor operated by the blind, a granny named Ba Bai hawking hot Ban Mi Thit (a delicious spicy sandwich wrapped in a hot French baguette), and the one-armed army veteran who gave sidewalk piano lessons on his well-worn keyboard all provided insight into an ancient culture that had the tenacity and determination to dispose of a litany of foreign powers over the centuries.

As consumerism makes inroads into the Vietnamese value system, the younger generation seems to be soul-searching to discover what cultural attributes they must abandon to participate in a modern Vietnam and at what cost. Senator J. William Fulbright captured this inner struggle in his book, Arrogance of Power, “What they fear, I think rightly, is that traditional Vietnamese society cannot survive the American economic and cultural impact.” I believe that the jury is still out on that particular fear.

Sixty percent of Vietnamese are under the age of 30. Consequently, they do not carry the same baggage as their (or our) older generation about the American War. One perky student asked my age in an American culture class that I taught, and when I informed her, she quite innocently used a new word that we had studied earlier that morning. “Dr. Stephen, you walking relic!” Vietnamese are moving forward with focused youthful exuberance and their government seems to be running to catch up.

In part due to my year in Vietnam, I believe that Mississippi State University now has the potential to build a strong academic relationship with my host university and with student candidates in no less than 11 cities that I visited throughout that nation. When my Fulbright work required travel, MSU recruiting materials went along. Parents and students from Ca Mau in the south to Sa Pa along the Chinese border and nine cities in between are now aware of MSU’s offerings. We have established the seeds of working relationships with the parents of several academically gifted Vietnamese students (six enrolled now at MSU and three in the pipeline), a doctoral student candidate who specializes in pig diseases and who speaks French, Chinese, Vietnamese, and English. In addition, the Nha Trang University administration seems happy with my contribution to three successful Royal Norwegian grants. I’m told that the grant successes aided in the vice director of their biodiversity and environment institute visiting the MSU campus to discuss partnerships. These are but a sampling of the academic take-a-ways that may be the consequence of my Fulbright experience. I would like to think that the give-a-ways are of similar quality, but I can only measure that by the warm e-mails regularly received from parents of current and future MSU students and the ongoing requests from Nha Trang University and Vietnam National University-Hanoi faculty to continue editing their graduate papers and research grants.

Shakespeare wrote a few words that capture my feelings about Vietnam today: “I like this place and willingly could waste my remaining days in it.”

Dr. Cottrell taught at Mississippi State University. He has been awarded Fulbright grants to Thailand (2007), Japan (2009), Vietnam (2013-2014), and China (2019).

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