The Foreign Service Journal, September 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2021 63 AFSA NEWS 2021 KENNAN AWARD WINNER Valerie O’Brien Valerie O’Brien, a public diplomacy–coned Foreign Service officer, is this year’s winner of AFSA’s George Kennan Writing Award. AFSA President Eric Rubin presented the award at a June 7 ceremony at the National War College in Washington, D.C. AFSA offers the award each year to Foreign Service graduates of the National War College whose research projects and writing have demonstrated excellence throughout the year. O’Brien said she is honored to receive the Ken- nan Award. “We read and discussed some of Kennan’s well-known articles and speeches, and I came away with a better understand- ing of his thinking and how his views evolved during the Cold War,” she says. “In some ways, it’s still hard to grasp the impact that one person could have in shap- ing U.S. foreign policy for so many decades.” O’Brien was assigned to the National War College for the past year. Each student chooses a country or region to focus on during their yearlong practicum. By the end of the year, they write an integrated strategy paper on a U.S. national security issue related to that country or region. O’Brien’s paper is titled “A Strategy for the United States to Partner with the United Kingdom in Counter- ing Russian Disinformation.” Describing her paper, O’Brien says, “The main goals of the strategy are to bolster the trans-Atlantic alliance, strengthen social/ democratic resilience, and expand our capabilities to detect, deter and disrupt Russian information opera- tions through more robust government and civil society actions.” When researching the topic, she read about many of the tools the State Department, U.K. govern- ment, think-tanks and academics already use to expose and counter disinfor- mation. “I came away with a sense that this is an area in which we should do even more to connect our national security priorities to our domestic defenses, as the two are inextricably linked,” she says. “As a public diplo- macy officer I know this is an issue my colleagues and I will be grappling with for many years to come.” O’Brien joined the State Department in 2002. She is currently deputy director in the Office of Public Diplo- macy in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. From 2016 to 2020, she served as the U.S. embassy spokesperson in Israel. Prior to that, she served as the public affairs officer at U.S. Embassy Tirana. From 2010 to 2012, she worked as a press officer in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, preparing daily press guidance and briefing the State Depart- ment spokesperson on a wide range of regional issues. Other overseas assignments include Madrid, La Paz and Manila. Before joining the Foreign Service, she taught Spanish at Georgetown University, where she earned a Ph.D. in Spanish literature. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2021 she earned a master’s degree in national security strategy from the National War College. She is married and has two sons. n 2021 Kennan Award winner Valerie O’Brien poses with AFSA President Eric Rubin (right) and Commandant of the War College RDML Cedric E. Pringle at the National War College’s award ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 7. AFSA/THEOHORN