Hillary Clinton Turns State Department Tech-Friendly

The Secretary of State rolls out a campaign to use gadgets to enhance diplomacy.

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By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

Barack Obama may have been texting, tweeting, and YouTubing circles around Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign, but now that he's her boss, the secretary of state is catching up. Meet Hillary Clinton 2.0—the tech-friendly, Web-savvy version of the former candidate and New York senator who's pushing what insiders call 21st-century statecraft: enhancing diplomacy through technology.

"She pushes us to think big and to take big chances and to try new approaches," says Alec Ross, an Obama techie Clinton tapped to be senior adviser for innovation at State. "She's sort of the godmother of all of this," he adds of Clinton, who's used her personal BlackBerry since 2006, though not inside the security-sensitive walls of State. The secretary of state especially likes using cellular phones to connect people around the globe. "Particularly in the developing world, people are increasingly getting their information through mobile phones," explains Ross. "So we at the State Department are thinking about how that can be a distribution channel for good information."

To try it out, State recently proposed that Americans use their cellphones to donate money to Pakistani refugees from the war-and-terrorism wracked Swat Valley. When Clinton heard about it, she took over, announcing the campaign at the White House. To make sure it worked, she tried it out on the ride over. On her cellphone she texted "SWAT" to 20222, and an automatic $5 donation was added to her bill. A nonprofit group handles the money for the United Nations refugee agency. "You can't do something that fast and from the podium of the White House without it being hers and without her strong support," says Ross.

What's next? State's eyeing Web video and social networking sites to extend statecraft. "It's about how can you reach large numbers of people who otherwise would be difficult to impossible to reach," says Ross.

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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