printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Digital Video Conference With Members of the U.S. Delegation of New Media Technology Representatives Currently Traveling in Iraq

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 22, 2009


MR. AKER: Welcome, everyone, to this press event with the new media technology delegations who have been visiting Baghdad for the last few days. I think we – do you have an opening statement, or should we just go directly to questions?


MR. COHEN: We can give – I can just give a couple sentences of background.


MR. AKER: Okay, great.


MR. COHEN: Just so you know the genesis of this, we’ve done – you know, basically, the – this technology delegation – let me start with what I would identify as its two origins. I’m Jared Cohen, by the way, from the policy planning staff.


The origins of this are two-fold. One, you know, we all know the story of challenges in Iraq. We’ve been hearing that story for a while. But increasingly, we’ve been hearing stories and reporting from our Embassy and elsewhere about opportunities, in particular with regard to technology. So we had been exploring ways that we can embrace those trends and leverage those trends to try to look for new opportunities to use technology to support our objectives in Iraq.


The second origin is just the way in which we’re thinking about new technology in a different way at the State Department. You know, historically, we’ve thought about new technology as a tool primarily for communication. But more and more, we’re looking at, how do we leverage new technology to support broader policy objectives, you know, whether it’s civic empowerment, whether it’s capacity building, whether it’s promotion of accountability and transparency, and so forth.


So logically, in looking at these two concepts, we started reaching out to Silicon Valley, or the larger technology industry. And it’s something we had done a little bit of before, but we really put the gas pedal on over the last couple months. And, you know, we wanted to explore what was a very new idea, which was, you know, what happens when we take a group of new technology senior representatives from the United States and facilitate a discussion between them and various Iraqi stakeholders. And so we decided to try something new that we’ve never done before, which was, you know, exactly that, bringing these new technology executives to Baghdad and facilitate a conversation between them, Iraqi Government officials, Iraqi educational institutions, elements of civil society, local technology companies, and just ordinary Iraqi citizens; students and so forth.


And, you know, the trip has been incredibly interesting, and I’d rather you guys hear directly from the group around me, first and foremost, and allow you to ask your questions. But I thought before we do that, if everybody could just say who they are and what company they’re from.


MR. LIEBMAN: My name is Jason Liebman. I’m the CEO and founder of Howcast.


MR. HAMZAWI: My name is Ahmed Hamzawi, and I’m the engineering head for Google in the Middle East and North Africa.


MR. NASSAR: Hi, I’m David Nassar. I’m the Vice President of strategy for Blue State Digital.


MR. ROBBINS: Hi, I’m Rich Robbins. I’m the Director of Social Innovation for AT&T.


MR. HEIFERMAN: Scott Heiferman, CEO and Founder of MeetUp.


MR. PASHUPATHY: Kannan Pashupathy, Engineering Director, Google.


MR. BAR-COHEN: Raanan Bar-Cohen, Vice President of Media Services at Automatic. We’re best known for WordPress.


MR. WALK: Hunter Walk, Director of Product Development at YouTube.


MR. DORSEY: Jack Dorsey, Founder and Chairman of Twitter.


MR. AKER: Well, great. We’re very glad you could –


MR. COHEN: The floor is yours for questions.


MR. AKER: Okay, great. We’re really glad that you took the time to join us today. Shall we start? And I guess, perhaps, questions generally aimed at the group, or an individual, please, say that at the beginning.


Yes, Nina, Fox News.


QUESTION: Can you hear me? Jared, can you tell me, is there any kind of anti-extremism element to this for young people, or is this purely, sort of, using this to improve infrastructure and that kind of thing?


MR. COHEN: The purpose of this trip, first and foremost, is, you know, again – these people around here, they’re not going to Iraq in their business hat. They’re going to Iraq in their expert hat. And it’s first and foremost a fact-finding mission. We’re just trying to get a sense of what the lay of the land is in terms of the digital environment in Iraq. So right now, it’s about identifying what the opportunities are, what the challenges are. You know, at the end of the day, what we’re looking to do is, you know, figure out, you know, what the Iraqi Government needs in terms of capacity building, in terms of support for what it’s trying to do on the ground in Iraq and see if, you know, staffing the tools and those of the expertise could help them actually achieve that.


So I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t say it’s specific to one type of objective or another. The one thing that I will say is you have an Iraqi Government with strong capacity as a government that is going to be able to provide alternatives on the ground to at-risk young people, you know, that will, you know – that will provide them with outlets so they don’t fall down a path to extremism.


QUESTION: Can you give a sense at the moment of what kind of internet access people have, or whether people are using Twitter and Google and that kind of thing already?


MR. COHEN: You want to –


MR. PASHUPATHY: So this is Kaanan from Google, and in every meeting that we had, we actually asked people if they were Google users. And most of the hands went up. I think that people are generally aware of the popular technologies, like YouTube and –


MR. AKER: We seem to have a sound problem. Could you try that last sentence again? The last word we heard was “YouTube.”
MR. PASHUPATHY: Right. I stopped there, actually. (Laughter.) So --


MR. HIEFERMAN: I think one of the surprising things was how – you know, it was only in 2003 when no one had any satellite TVs, and certainly no one had any mobile phones. And you’ve gone from basically zero percent penetration of mobile phones in 2003 to 80-some percent now. That’s – I can’t even – someone smarter than me could probably do some research on – like, there’s never been probably faster adoption within a population of a technology that they use, you know, minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour, like that.


So, you know, we all know the phones are becoming, like, internet devices. Texting is a mini form of emailing. So they – I think others can speak to what the – what the – you know, what a PC-based internet penetration.


MR. LIEBMAN: The figure we’ve been hearing is five percent internet penetration, which seems low, but we’ve been really encouraged when we’ve been meeting with university students. I mean, everyone – we asked, who’s on Facebook? Who’s using Google? Literally everyone throws up their hand. So, while the penetration is low, people are getting access to it on – through internet cafes, maybe one person has a computer in their home and their friends are coming over and sharing it.


MR. HEIFERMAN: This is an elite, you know, part of the --


MR. COHEN: The other good, you know, piece of this, is that the people that we’re bringing over to the United States from Iraq on State Department exchanges, on international visitors programs, that are then coming back to Iraq and becoming the pioneers of these new technological platforms. And that’s very exciting for us.


You know, and the other thing to think about, as well, is, you know, it’s these young people that are going to drive the innovation of these platforms. And so it’s been an exciting opportunity for us to actually have all of these senior representatives from the technology industry, you know, actually here in Iraq, you know, looking at this environment at it’s most nascent stages. That’s not something that we have the luxury of having an opportunity to do in just about any other country in the world. But because, you know, as Scott said, it is so new here, you know, we’re able to connect the real expects, you know, with the handful of people that are using it, but also with the government that’s trying to rapidly expand it in a way that we can, you know, help them shape it such that it meets what they’re trying to do.


MR. LIEBMAN: (Inaudible.) This is Jason (inaudible). There’s been a major investment in fiber, so what we’re hearing at least in the next year or two, there should be a lot of access coming online. It certainly (inaudible) at all, you know, from the Iraqi Government and (inaudible) bringing that access online.


QUESTION: Can any of you tell –


MR. PASHUPATHY: Currently, they use something called V-sat.


QUESTION: Can any of you guys –


MR. COHEN: Go ahead.


QUESTION: -- talk about what the opportunities are that you’ve found, how your technologies, in particular, are going to be able to help post-conflict or semi – almost semi-post-conflict country?


MR. HEIFERMAN: Well, you know, we weren’t here to promote our technology, specifically. We were here to promote the – or, you know –


QUESTION: Well, maybe not your proprietary technology, but the idea that –


MR. HEIFERMAN: What – what – what I want to get at is that there are these universal needs, and hunger for information and, you know, Google’s organizing the world’s information and enriches people’s lives that way. There’s a universal need to have a voice. Twitter gives people a voice. WordPress gives people a voice. There’s a universal need to organize and assemble and associate – that’s what MeetUp does. And they need to learn. Howcast does that.


But again, you know, we rely on our, sort of, you know, listening, and trying to sort of inspire and make sure they knew that – that they – knew what the applications were so that they’d build a foundation layer. They really take – they really take the foundation layer seriously.


MR. BAR-COHEN: I would just add (inaudible). The demand, the kind of the user behavior, especially among the Iraqi students that we’ve met with was not very dissimilar than what you’d find in the U.S. or in Europe as far as lots of hours on Facebook, watching tons of movies and clips on YouTube. And the adaptability of the Iraqis as far as using internet access that maybe it’s not super speedy was impressive. There was one example where they wanted to watch a series of YouTube clips.


And instead of waiting for it to load, which could take a minute or longer, they opened up, I think, five or six at a time and kind of waited for each one to load sequentially and able to play it in a much more kind of, you know, enjoyable manner. So, you know, my hunch is that the applications and the consumer behaviors that we’re seeing here in the U.S. as the connectivity improves in Iraq, I feel it’ll be pretty similar. And the hope is that they’re adapting and kind of adopting these platforms and joining lots of the activities that are happening around the world.


MR. NASSAR: This is David from Blue State. I would just also add that in a country that’s in a post-conflict or nearly post-conflict scenario, as you described it, the idea of connectivity and connections with one another is tremendously important. And that’s what a lot of these tools offer, and that’s what we heard from a lot of people that they used them for, is to connect with each other, particularly in situations in the past where it may have been very difficult to do so in other ways.


And so whether it’s, you know, through Facebook, online or whether it’s through using Yahoo Messenger or some other tool on their phones, which we also heard people do a lot, they’re using these tools to connect with one another.


QUESTION: Right. I mean, is there a concern at all that this connectivity would be – could be taken advantage of by extremists as well? I mean, I know that YouTube – or maybe not YouTube itself, but the videos have been posted up there that have been then taken down. But you know, what about Twitter? If one extremist talking to another – I mean, you’re talking about these flash mobs that gather places. Isn’t there a danger of this being used in a place – by by extremists in a place that is not yet firmly grounded in a kind of – you know, in a democracy?


MR. COHEN: You know, I’ll take this question, because we get asked this a lot, you know, and especially, you know, over the past couple of years, we’ve been working a lot to, you know, support these new technological platforms.


And you know, the answer that I always give and the answer that I’ll give you all again today, which is that we have to remember that, you know, at the end of the day, the private sector is going to continue putting these technological platforms out in the public domain. That’s just the realities of innovation. And you have two choices. You know, one choice is to, you know, fear that you can’t, you know, control it and fear that people, you know, might use it for hostile purposes and ignore it. And then ten years from now, once there’s widespread access, wonder – come back to the scene and I – you know, the hostile actors have a ten-year head start. The other option is to recognize – did somebody’s phone – somebody have a Blackberry on there? Is the Blackberry on? I think we’re getting a back – buzz.


The second, you know, option is to recognize that you can’t control it, but you can influence it. And there’s no better way to influence it by, you know, the people that we’re bringing on exchanges, you know, injecting these digital platforms into, you know, universities and are embracing critical thinking. You know, people said the same exact thing about the cassette tape in 1979. There was a fear about supporting the cassette tape because it would be used to propagate a communist ideology. The reality was, you know, at the end of the day, it was used for that, but it was also used by Ayatollah Khomeini to, you know, help orchestrate the revolution. In Iran, we were late to the game because we had a fear of this new innovative platform. We don’t want to make the same mistake with the internet.


And so, you know, we choose to embrace it because we know that at the end of the day, the platforms that all of these guys here are pushing out from the tech industry are ridden with American values of critical thinking, free flow of information, freedom of choice, freedom of assembly. And we have enough confidence in the fact that there’s more elements of the digital space that are acceptable or conducive to those values than are not.


And so yes, it’s true that hostile actors, you know, will use these platforms. But you know what? Hostile actors could also convene in coffee shops, and they can also convene on a street corner. And the digital space is merely an extension of reality. And so the same things that you can see happening offline can also happen online.


QUESTION: I have a question. What – in your discussions with the government, because then part of this is kind of helping the government, you know, get its message out – I mean, did you get any sense from the government that it was concerned about the kind of – that, yes, there’s a free flow of information, to some extent, in Iraq, but that these kind of tools – you know, that censorship could be a problem as they expand their digital space, as they expand their kind of connectivity that you may not have the kind of free, you know, unfettered access to the digital space that you do, let’s say, in a Western – in a Western country?


MR. WALK: No. This is Hunter from YouTube. We didn’t hear that. In fact, we heard quite the opposite. There was a lot of hope for more a transparent government process. In fact, they recognized that they needed to build those bridges and earn the trust of the Iraqi citizenship. We encountered one student who talked about when anything would happen in Baghdad or Iraq, should it go on a service like YouTube to try to see all the different points of view and come up with their own burden of truth. And what we heard from the Iraqi Government was the desire to participate in that conversation as opposed to quell it or pervert it.


MR. COHEN: And to give you an example, we just came from dinner with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and maybe you guys could talk about – and I think there’s no better illustration of the Government of Iraq embracing what you all are coming with here than giving some of those examples. So maybe you guys want to talk about some of what was discussed at dinner.


MR. NASSAR: Well, I mean, one of the things that the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out is that, you know, he interacts with his constituency through email. And I’ll let Jack speak to it, maybe. But you know, at the end of the evening, he was pretty committed to starting to build a Twitter page. And he is – he was definitely somebody who wants – who understands the need for engaging the internet as a tool to try to spread democracy here in Iraq and specifically asked for help to do that because he understands the importance of it.


MR. HEIFERMAN: I would add that I had no idea what to expect coming here. I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I had going on was, like, what you guys are writing and reporting on and I don’t – you know, but we’ve gotten – we saw such a broad range of people and, you know, different types of folks from different parts of government and business and civil society and the people. And you know, I did not get the sense that this – and I also don’t think I – we were – sort of a show was putting on for us – that there’s a real commitment to build – to building a great society. You know, they – Iraq has a history of being a great society, that some things got in the way along the way. But they really are committed to ideas of freedom, and I think we saw a true commitment there.


PARTICIPANT: One thing we discussed – oh, Jack, do you --


MR. DORSEY: Well, I was just going to say that our dinner with the Deputy Prime Minister tonight really focused on, you know, we’re – they’re trying to rebuild, you know, a lot in Iraq. And I think the biggest question right now is where to start. They have pretty much a clean slate, and there’s so many things to do, so many opportunities, and so much potential. And it’s a little bit – it’s a little bit hard to grasp, like, exactly where to start. And I think that’s where they need guidance. And you know, I think one specific endeavor that could be done is to open the government up a bit more in something like Twitter or something like blogs or YouTube. It could definitely help people get a sense of what’s going in this very, very quickly changing government that’s being built right now.


MR. PASHUPATHY: Just as an example of tools that is he is using regularly, he has an iPhone, he has a Gmail email ID on his business card. He says his daughter who is studying at Princeton is bugging him to start a Facebook page. He’s committed to start his Twitter page tonight. I think I lost track of all the tools that he is using. He has just started his own website. There are elections going on in Iraq. And he’s just opened a new website.


So I think that there’s a lot of awareness that’s building in the government that these tools can be used to further their message and to ensure that there’s broad dissemination of it.


MR. LIEBMAN: And the last thing they do was they used – for campaigning, he used – he bought advertising to send out global messages out to cell phone carriers as a blast.


MR. HEIFERMAN: And I think the whole world looks at how President Obama empowered people to self-organize, you know, ultimately. My favorite word, you know, he used tonight was – was he wanted to unleash, you know, unleash that potential. There’s always going to be that rogue, you know, element. But the majority wants to see the country great. They’re good people and he wants – like Obama, he, you know, wants to – he’s community organizing as a way towards establishing a strong democracy.


MR. NASSAR: But also – it also isn’t just him either. I mean, we heard a lot of powerful stories here. We met with a company yesterday, the company Zain, which, in addition to being a powerful self-owned cell phone in the country, is doing some really interesting things with cell phone technology online. You know, they’re doing mobile banking, which is something we don’t really even have very well in the U.S. They’re also starting a – they told us about something they’re starting where they’re going to enable doctors to be able to do medical assessments over a telephone, over a cell phone, so that the people who don’t have immediate access to medical care -- they can get that from a doctor remotely.


So there are really positive things happening here. And just to reiterate a point that was made (inaudible) in the run-up to coming here, you know, what we read about is the bombing or the attacks that happen. But there is some positive stuff happening on the ground.


MR. HEIFERMAN: Yeah. We didn’t walk around seeing people hiding in bomb shelters. You know, they were – they’re trying to – they’re living life and trying to make a great country.


MR. ROBBINS: We also heard a great deal about (inaudible). People were saying that they feel much more secure, that the security situation has vastly improved. People who used to live on company compounds now are living in other parts of the city. The students were saying the same thing. So from what we’ve heard from the Iraqi citizens, it sounds like security is really taking hold and they feel much more safe in going about their daily lives.


MR. HEIFERMAN: And the number one issue is unemployment, not security.


MR. LIEBMAN: And the last thing is we invited – we invited him – himself into – to put together a delegation to kind of bring together students and business executives, people from government, to come to the United States to (inaudible). So he seems very enthusiastic and that’s a good (inaudible).


QUESTION: Please, can you tell us how can you help the Iraqi Government to fight the corruption?


MR. COHEN: Well, one of the things – and I’ll let others speak to this in more detail. One of the themes that actually the Iraqi Government brought up with us in just about every single meeting was we need to find a way to use technology to tackle corruption. The challenge was that, you know, getting from A to Z, and I think that was one of the values in having all of these experts here on this trip. You know, technology offers tremendous opportunity for accountability and transparency. And while, you know, we haven’t, sort of, ruled out any concrete initiatives, you know, for anticorruption, there was a lot of brainstorming on what tools can be leveraged and what platforms can be used after thinking about – you know, looking for creative ways to do this. They’re undertaking a massive e-government initiative, which is in very nascent stages. But by virtual of this being in nascent stages, this group is really able to influence a lot of their thinking on what direction to go in with that.


MR. PASHUPATHY: In fact, their e-government initiative that the minister of science and technology is chairing is specifically targeted towards rooting out corruption. And we discussed various ideas, particularly on payment systems and so on that allow, you know, revenue leakage to not happen and money reach where it’s supposed to go, as an example.


QUESTION: It sounds like the way you describe it – I mean, compared to some of the things that we hear about, other kind of reconstruction in the company – in the country, that technology is kind of one of the faster growing sectors. And it sounds in some ways that it’s surpassing a lot of the other growth in a lot of the other sectors. Is there a concern that the technology could be growing faster than, you know, the kind of infrastructure and development of other, kind of, key, critical areas that the country needs to develop? And maybe, Jared, you could talk a little.


MR. COHEN: Yeah. And I guess – I just want to say – I don’t – you know, we’ve been asked similar questions on this trip. And if you’re talking about roads and, you know, water availability and so forth, I don’t think that it – you know, advancement in one comes at the expense of the other. You know, they’re being driven by different sides of the government; they’re being driven by different elements of the private sector. And so, you know, if you’re seeing massive advancement in communications technology, that’s not the reason why, you know, there’s not enough roads. That’s not the reason why there is not enough, you know, clean water.


I mean, the reason why technology is growing so fast – you know, and I think this is actually very interesting, right after 2003 – 2003, 2004 or 2005, the reason you saw such a large explosion of cell phones was initially because of security. People wanted to be able to keep track of family members and loved ones and friends. So whether you could afford it or not, you found a way to get a cell phone. Now, as the security situation has gotten better, what we’re seeing is people not only maintaining these cell phones, but wanting to get more of them and better versions of the cell phone, because while using these for security purposes and to keep in touch with other, people came to see this utility for a variety of other purposes.


So demand among the population is what’s driving an explosion of the technology industry. It’s not an issue of, you know, there’s too much investment there at the expense of other forms of infrastructure.


QUESTION: I’m not saying that. But what I’m saying is, is the kind of hunger for information and the amount of information that’s available – I mean, the more information they’re getting, you know, the more kind of cognizant of the fact that other areas of the – other areas of the country are not developing. I mean, the more they – the more they open up and the more they see about what’s going on in the country – I mean, you know, are you going to have a lot of severely educated people, which are growing more and more pissed off that they don’t have water or they don’t have electricity or things like that?


MR. COHEN: I would actually – it’s an excellent point. I would argue that it’s actually a good thing if they become more aware of what they need, because at the end of the day, a government of Iraq that is held accountable by its people and has platforms where the people can actually engage with it is a Government of Iraq that will respond to its people. So you know, the fact that they’re able to see more, learn more, and observe more by virtue of what technology offers them means that the people will likely have a greater and more credible voice in holding the government accountable to help meet their needs.


MR. AKER: Sylvie?


MR. HEIFERMAN: On a related topic, I would just say that there is also – I see this as news. There’s an early stage of waking up to the power that they have amongst each other and together. There is a – you know, when you’re talking about a society that was – that people were just sort of looking to the state, fearful of the state, reliant on the state, and so – you know, remember, this whole, you know, e-government and all that, it’s not just – it’s not just the government listening to people and people to government, but people taking it upon themselves to do things for each other, realize their own power, support each other, teach each other, start businesses together, build an economy together, and have a sort of do-it-ourselves spirit, which, I’ve got to be frank, you know, it’s a – that’s a new attitude for them and they’re – they’re getting comfortable with it.


But I’m telling you, you know, once they just sort of – it’s what happens when, you know, you sort of – the technology comes from the bottom up, and they’re seeing light. They – what was the line we heard? They said Iraq wants to – they want to see the world or be open to the world. This is a – it’s a really fascinating moment in history where – where they’re sort of realizing – coming to start to realizing their own power.


MR. LIEBMAN: I also think – I mean, our expertise around this certain delegation is in internet and in mobile. But technology – technology can be used to help make the oil and gas industry more efficient, to make electrical grids more efficient. So our expertise, I think, primarily is focused around the internet, but --


QUESTION: So can we say that you have been positively surprised by their level of technology there and how they know how to use it? And what was your biggest disappointment?


MR. NASSAR: I would say – I would say my biggest disappointment was that too many people are still too reliant on the government to try to fix things. You know, when you ask people how is this going to get done, the response is the government’s going to do it. Or, you know, when you ask people where the jobs are going to come from, the government’s going to do it. You know, this is a country that lived under dictatorship for many, many, many years and then has been through a war, and so there isn’t a sense yet of that sort of can-do spirit, at least not in a strong way. But you know, Iraqis have a rich history and I’m optimistic and hopeful that that will change. And we think that the power of the internet can be part of that.


MR. PASHUPATHY: I think we saw that the young people have that spirit. It’s just that the psyche is built around a very centralized way of doing things and they’re learning to function in a much more decentralized economy. And this is a transition they’re going through and they’re actually working through that. They recognize the need to go there. They don’t have all of the knowledge and the experience to know how to get there quickly on their own, and so they’re anxious to actually engage in a dialogue and a discussion and a discussion with folks like us to help them get there fast. But they know they need to go there and that’s, I think, the good news.


Then if you talk to the young people, I think that’s sort of a real positive for us, and me in particular, is that the enthusiasm and the motivation that you see from the young people, they’re a lot more idealistic than you find kids in any other, you know, developed economy who generally don’t care about their country. These kids are very, very motivated about taking their country forward and things like that. So they need to be channeled in the right way, and right now, the model is such that it’s all very centralized, and – but they’re moving there, and I think that they’re going to get there. This is one of the challenges there that they face today.


QUESTION: Have you signed any contracts with the government and the – how did you see the technology infrastructure?


MR. COHEN: Did we deliver any contacts with the government --


QUESTION: Contract --


PARTICIPANT: Is it contact or contract?


QUESTION: Contract.


QUESTION: Contracts.


QUESTION: Can you repeat the question?


MR. COHEN: Repeat the question.


QUESTION: Business contracts.


PARTICIPANT: Oh, did we sign any contracts?


MR. COHEN: That’s – remember that – you know, I just want to underscore that wasn’t the purpose of this trip. Remember, you know, each member of our delegation was chosen because of their expertise. What you have here is a microcosm of the industry. You know, the industry is gigantic and, you know, we wanted to bring, you know, individuals that represent, you know, different types of platforms. But again, they came in their expert hat, not in their business hat. So the purpose of this trip was not to make deals, but to, you know, have a conceptual partnership.


So if you’re going to talk about any kind of partnership, it really is conceptual at this stage, because again, this is the first of what we hope will be an ongoing engagement and dialogue between the American technology industry and the Government of Iraq, all on the conceptual side to help them think through how to expand and leverage these platforms, so yes, eventually down the line on how they can use these platforms to achieve tangible results on the ground.


QUESTION: And what about the infrastructure?


MR. COHEN: I’ll let others comment on --


MR. HAMZAWI: So on the – this is Ahmed from Google. I think on the state of the infrastructure, I guess there’s probably two parts to that. On the wire side – so when we talk about their actual core backbone infrastructure, we were pretty pleased to see the developments they have currently on the fiber network, which is of course going to be the backhaul across the whole country. So it looks like they’re actually laying fiber rings across the country. We’ve also heard from (inaudible) that there have been cuts throughout. They’re still rebuilding some of those, but we still hear the directions behind – maybe more, building more trenches, laying out the rest of the fiber rings across the country.


On the wireless side, as you might imagine, in the country, there is, I think, a – there is some spottiness. We see some people carrying two, sometimes three different cell phones from different carriers. We’ve also seen funny covers in the sense that calls go -- caller disconnected, and there’s another company. Of course, the actual coverage itself is spotty in certain places.


QUESTION: Did you stay in Baghdad or did you go somewhere in the country?


MR. COHEN: We were just in Baghdad, but, you know, we had moves both inside of the Green Zone and outside of the Green Zone.


QUESTION: Jared, are you considering this a kind of model for how you deal with post-conflict states? I mean, as you kind of work on reconstruction of post-conflict areas, are you going to like, start kind of immediately when – with technology with this kind of – with these kind of initiatives?


MR. COHEN: I would say again, at the beginning, I mentioned that – you know, this delegation in and of itself was a pilot. We’ve never done this before. And so, you know, as this trip has gone on, you know, over the last, you know, several days, it’s become clear that this model of facilitating face-to-face conversations between experts in our technology industry and stakeholders on the ground has a very valuable conceptual piece to it, which is, of course, very relevant to, you know, post-conflict scenarios.


You could imagine, you know, similar types of engagement in places like Afghanistan, but, you know, it’s not just, you know, restricted to post-conflict environments. I think all throughout the developing world, you know, there’s a tremendous value in facilitating, you know, these types of interactions. My only regret is, you know, there’s only so many people that we can bring on so many different delegations.


You know, ideally, you know, what we want is to, you know, prove the concept enough such that it happens organically. You know, when the State Department is able to facilitate it, we will and we want to. But, you know, we would like these sorts of things to happen both through our facilitation, but also just by virtue of others seeing the utility of it and taking it upon themselves to go out to the developing world or post-conflict environments to look for ways to leverage technology. And you all know as well as we do that that, you know, is already happening. All throughout Africa, you’re seeing, you know, technology companies do very innovative things, whether it’s HIV/AIDS awareness, you know, microfinance, (inaudible), and other social good oriented activities. So I think what you’re seeing is an increased trend in the technology industry getting out of the Silicon Valley bubble and recognizing the social utility of what their platforms and technologies offer.


And actually, frankly speaking, all of you in the media are incredibly helpful on that. Every time that you report on a story in which technology is used in a remote part of the world to achieve a social good, you know, it inspires everyone that has the capacity to facilitate more activities of that nature. So we’re grateful to all of you for that.


MR. ROBBINS: I would add to that that a key element of all of the platforms represented in the delegation is that they build communities and they spread virally. So as the movement towards Government 2.0, whether it’s in Iraq or -- there’s also been a lot of excitement in the U.S. with politicians and government using new platforms as a way of connecting with citizens. So as people see the success of using platforms, whether it’s blogging or community organizing or tweeting or text messaging, as these technologies are used successfully – and of course, they were used very successfully in the previous election – other politicians notice, and politicians abroad will also notice. And the use of these will spread virally as people see the success.


MR. AKER: Okay. Anyone – any further questions?


QUESTION: Just one last one.


MR. AKER: Okay.


QUESTION: Could you just give me a couple more examples of the kinds of people – specific people that you met with aside from the deputy prime minister?


MR. COHEN: Actually, we met with the – on our first day, we met with the vice chairman of the Iraqi joint chiefs of staff, which was great – a great orientation to the country. He laid out the security situation for us and invited us to his home for a nice, traditional Iraqi meal. We met with President Talabani. We met with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. We met with the minister of science and technology. We met with the prime minister’s council of advisors. We met with various technology companies like Zain Mobile, for example. We met with a ton of students, which, you know, were some of our favorite meetings, and probably --


PARTICIPANT: University students.


MR. COHEN: Yeah, we went to universities where we met with university presidents, university professors – again, lots of students both male and female, which was a great opportunity. We met with the investment commission, which is looking at, you know, how Iraq can attract international investment. We had a fascinating, actually, trip to the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which just opened again two weeks ago for the first time, definitely since the war began in 2003. But I think it had actually been closed even before then. There’s tons of opportunity to use technology to, you know, build the museum’s capacity.


And we, of course, did internal meetings with the Embassy. Our folks here are doing a spectacular job and, you know, are real experts in what’s going on here, so that was a great orientation. And then I know a lot of the members of the delegation actually enjoyed the opportunity to, you know, talk to some of the troops. As we did different moves throughout the – throughout Baghdad, it was a great opportunity to interact with them and thank them for their service.


MR. HEIFERMAN: And that was all in three days, so if you can do the math and figure out when we slept, we’ll, you know, give you an award.


MR. AKER: Well, we understand it’s fairly late in the evening there even now.


QUESTION: Were you tweeting?


PARTICIPANT: Jack, why don’t you talk about this since you founded the thing? (Laughter.)


MR. DORSEY: Yes, I think the majority of the delegation was tweeting throughout the trip, and we traded a (inaudible) tag. So you can go to, and you search for Iraq tech, and you can see all of our updates. And there’s also a tag on Flickr that allows you to see all of our photos taken during the trip.


PARTICIPANT: The Washington Post quoted him.


QUESTION: Thanks, guys.


QUESTION: Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Great, thank you.


MR. ROBBINS: A key point –


MR. AKER: Please.


MR. ROBBINS: A key point, to build in on what Jared said, is that one story that hasn’t really come out in the American media is the dedication and selfless of the folks from the State Department, who are all here living in not ideal conditions. And they’re just really committed to rebuilding Iraq and finding ways of rebuilding society. And it’s just really interesting seeing firsthand what they’re doing and the experiences they’re having.


MR. HEIFERMAN: Yeah, I – you know, made me cry to pay my taxes last week. (Laughter.) You know, the work these guys do is really, really amazing.


MR. NASSAR: Yeah, you know, it’s always exciting and Americans are proud when they hear stories like what happened about – with the pirates last week or the week before, but the everyday work that goes on from these folks here also needs some attention as well, because, you know, they’re also heroes, too.


MR. ROBBINS: And what we’re doing and what they’re doing is just a great example of smart power, of using diplomacy.


QUESTION: Wow, my God, they have a lot of Kool-Aid over there, don’t they? (Laughter.)


QUESTION: A lot of talking points, you got the talking points down.


MR. HEIFERMAN: And by the way, Jason – and by the way, Jason’s parents don’t know he’s here. (Laughter.) So get the word out: Jason Liebman --


MR. LIEBMAN: The last note, actually Jared -- just a big thanks to Jared for actually being the innovator and really taking – reaching out to all of us to put this together. I mean, it’s not every day that you have – you get a call to come over to Baghdad. So Jared was the architect of this all.




PARTICIPANT: He did pay for that one.


STAFF: Wave good-bye.


PARTICIPANT: Okay. Bye, guys.


QUESTION: Thank you all.

PRN: 2009/366

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.