The terrorism threat against the United States is increasing and Americans are not as safe as they were a year or two ago, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, said.
Feinstein: “There are more terrorist groups than ever, with more sophisticated and hard-to-detect bombs. There is huge malevolence out there.”
Rogers: “The job is getting more difficult because al-Qaeda is changing, with more affiliates around the world — groups that once operated independently but have now joined with al-Qaeda.”
Now, to be clear, both Feinstein and Rogers were attempting to make the case that the U.S. needs more NSA spying to combat these threats. Rogers was blunt: “We’re fighting amongst ourselves here in this country about the role of our intelligence community… And so we’ve got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys.”
Despite the lawmakers’ intention, the truth is more obvious. 9/11 happened twelve years ago. In between that day and this today, we have seen the dismantling of our Constitution via the Patriot Act and its secret interpretations by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, the turning of companies like Google into tools of the national security state, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, rendition, secret prisons, global drone and special ops wars, indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo, military intervention in Libya, bin Laden and a endless string of al Qaeda “leaders” killed, the failure to support the Arab Spring, creation of a stasis of grinding death in Syria and the rest of the horrors and abominations committed by these United States. Add in the incalculable deaths and costs, the domestic army of disabled veterans, the gutting of our economy and the entrenchment of the military-industrial monster, the elevation of security theatre at our airports, the irradiation of the mail, militarization of our police and the thousand daily cuts of a metastasized bureaucracy, all in the name of “fighting terror.”
And none of that is enough.
In fact, as stated by Feinstein and Rogers, somehow despite all that, things are actually worse. Al Qaeda, once a regional player, now is a global franchise. The fuel of terrorism– hatred, fear and opposition to the U.S. and its policies abroad– creates more terrorists. Indeed, as the two intelligence committee chairs are clear in pointing out, we are less safe now than then.
We are a stupid, violent people. America is indeed an exceptional nation, exceptional in that it exists in a bubble, emerging only to lash out at others. Inside the bubble, rational thought and reasoned discussion have ceased, the air sucked out of them. Any attempt at such actions is met either by deflection (“oh, let’s not talk politics here at the office/party/election debates”) or polemics. Finger pointing– it’s the Republicans! No, it’s the Democrats at fault! is both a convenient way to tamp down debate and to create the appearance of debate while having none. We have simply stopped thinking.
Having stopped thinking, we fall into the comfort zone of repeating things like a mentally disabled child happy to spend hours walking in circles. Not quite for comfort, not quite for safety, just simply because it is what we were doing and so we keep doing it. We convince ourselves that the answer to failed policy is to keep repeating that policy. We ignore the empirical evidence of our failure– there it is people, the things done to make us safer have not made us safer– to twist logic into meaning we must keep doing what has already failed.
Does that make sense? If it does, forget about a career in Washington.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The rights of citizenship are among the most crucial to a democracy– from citizenship flows the full range of legal protections against unwarranted government interference, and the ability to travel freely.
Citizenship for an American is made plain by the issuance of a U.S. passport by the U.S. Department of State. That passport once could only be seized and revoked by State under clear rules, and with a form of redress made explicit. Those strictures may still apply to most Americans, everywhere. Everywhere but in Yemen.
NSC: 500 Unlawful Passport Seizures in Yemen?
According to exclusive information obtained through a U.S. government whistleblower involved directly with U.S.-Yemeni affairs, the American Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen unlawfully seized over one hundred U.S. passports from Yemeni-Americans (some place the number at 500 passports), resulting in multiple lawsuits in Federal court. The Department of State, responsible for all U.S. passport matters, lost one case, and settled three others out-of-court. Yemenis in the U.S. are bringing the issue to the attention of the National Security Council and Congress, demanding oversight and assistance. State’s response has been to stonewall the inquiries inside the U.S., and to award and promote the person at the U.S. embassy in Yemen responsible for the seizures.
The leaked information supports the contention that passport seizures are a bigger problem than was originally believed. The Yemen Post cited only twenty cases. A forum for legal advice includes accusations of the same, prompting one attorney to comment “The U.S. consular officers in Yemen believe they are God and act accordingly.”
However, in emails from the National Security Council to the State Department obtained by this blog, the Director for Yemen cites contact from “another” immigration attorney on the subject, and, more significantly, an inquiry that involves 500 seized/revoked passport cases. She asks State “Can you tell me what he is referring to?” State’s response was to promise to hold a meeting with some Yemeni-Americans to “hear their concerns.” The last email in the chain is again from the NSC, pleading for confirmation that any such meeting actually took place.
Abdulhakem Alsadah, who coordinates a Yemeni-American society in Michigan, said though he initiated calls to the State Department, he has never been contacted by them. He knows of no meetings held “to hear concerns.” The publisher of a Yemen-American news site also says he has heard of no meetings held by State. Both men would welcome the chance to speak directly to the officials responsible for what they see as a significant violation of rights at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa.
The Case of Abdo Hizam
The use of extra-judicial passport seizures by State against Yemeni-Americans extends back several years, and appears connected to the case of drone-assassinated al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.
Yemeni-American Abdo Hizam immigrated with his parents to the U.S. at age nine, growing up a typical American kid outside Detroit. He was issued a U.S. passport, and in fact renewed it twice through the State Department. As an adult, Hizam traveled to Yemen in 2009. In the course of a routine immigration matter regarding his own children, the U.S. embassy unlawfully seized Hizam’s passport, providing no explanation. After three weeks of silence, he was permitted by the embassy to return to the U.S.
Two years after returning home, around the same time as the more spectacular passport case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the State Department told Hizam that he had received his citizenship “in error” twenty two years earlier. The mistake was no fault of his or his parents. In fact, the government adjudicated the original application wrong, and admitted so. Nonetheless, State revoked his passport and stripped Mr. Hizam of his nationality, plunging him into statelessness, declaring he was, at the stroke of the pen, no longer an American. Hizam could not leave the U.S., and his wife and children in Yemen were not issued visas by State to come to the U.S., actions that kept the family apart for three years. Hizam was offered no chance to argue, no recourse by the State Department but to accept his forced expatriation.
Hizam was however one of the lucky ones. Still in the U.S. physically but no longer legally, he sued the government. While the State Department argued in part that it could retroactively apply a law passed long after Hizam became a citizen to revoke his citizenship, in Hizam v. Hillary Clinton, a court ordered State to give Hizam back his passport. The court scolded the State Department that at the time it approved Hizam’s citizenship it was “impossible for him to have received any notice whatsoever that his status could be revoked in the future.”
“It’s certainly a scary power that the State Department is asserting here,” one of Hizam’s lawyer said. “The fact that the State Department can go back and ask these questions when somebody has, from childhood, been a U.S. citizen, is very frightening.”
But instead of accepting it could not go back to the future in Hizam’s case, State doubled-down and instead tried to stay the court order until it completed a lengthy appeal of the case, claiming the Department “will suffer irreparable injury because the Order undermines its ‘sole discretion’ to withhold passports.” The court disagreed and for the time gave Hizam back his passport, his citizenship, his right to travel and the ability to reunite with his family. State continues to appeal; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit the government’s arguments two months ago, but has yet to issue a decision. A lawyer familiar with the case stated “The government recognizes that their position is causing great unfairness to this man and suggests that the only remedy is to get a special law passed specifically for him.”
After failing to establish legal precedent for its unlawful passport revocations, the State Department appears to have shifted gears, simply ignoring the law to physically seize passports from Yemeni-Americans seeking routine services at the embassy in Sanaa, or those tricked into coming in. Supporters of the affected Yemenis report regular but often vague accusations of fraud being used as excuses to simply grab a passport. Others say that elderly Yemeni-Americans coming to the embassy for routine social security questions have been subjected to interrogations and again, after being accused of fraud, losing their passports without further explanation. While regulations require a formal, deliberative process to legally seize a U.S. passport, especially abroad where such seizure can strand an American and subject him to host-country immigration penalties, in Sanaa these regulations were bypassed simply by labeling the seizures as a case in need of “additional administrative processing.”
The embassy in Sanaa gave itself top cover for its actions. In a cable obtained by Wikileaks, the embassy noted that “all immigrant visa cases are considered fraudulent until proven otherwise. Interviews are complex, due not only to fraud, but also to the illiteracy and poor education of applicants.”
Rashid A. Abdu, publisher of the Michigan-based Yemeni-American, believes 100 or more Yemeni-Americans have had their passports taken away in Sanaa under dubious circumstances. He met with Congressman John Dingell not only to seek assistance but to remind him that word spreads fast in Yemen: these American citizens who could be serving as helpful bridges between the two countries are instead passing the word that the U.S. government seems to be singling them out for punishment (Dingell’s Dearborn office acknowledged the passport issue, but referred formal comment to the Congressman’s Washington office, who in turn refused to comment on the matter.)
A Bigger Picture
The actions at the American embassy in Yemen, while at first appearing to be little more than spiteful bureaucracy, fit into a larger pattern. For example, at the same time in 2011 the U.S. was ramping up its actions against Yemeni-Americans, Australia appeared to be doing much the same thing. “Withholding passports is an important means of preventing Australians from traveling overseas to train, support or participate in terrorism,” an Australian government spokesperson said. “It may also be used to help prevent an Australian already overseas from participating in activities that are prejudicial to the security of Australia or another country.”
The Government of the United States can also take away passports from American Citizens if “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”
If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.
A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request revealed that prior to having him and his 16 year old son killed by a drone in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried later to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. embassy in Yemen so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. In a cable to the embassy in Sanaa, al-Awaki’s street address was listed. The embassy was to send him a written letter inviting him into the embassy, specifying that he was to bring along photo ID “to preserve his privacy rights.” Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son, also an American citizen.
Because the passport revocations at the Secretary of State’s pleasure can be secret, it has been difficult to track down recent examples where the U.S. government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered– or might bother– the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example found was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970′s exposed CIA officers identities. It was in Agee’s case that the Supreme Court coldly stated that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”
There is at least one other case of extra-judicial forced expatriation, this one outside of Yemen, though it follows an identical pattern of action by the State Department. Officials at the American embassy in Kuwait told an American working as a U.S. military contractor there that after they confiscated his passport that “he should no longer consider himself a U.S. citizen.”At issue is a 20 year old problem that occurred before the Moroccan-American resident of Oregon even was a U.S. citizen. “American citizenship is too important to be subject to the whims of low level bureaucrats,” a lawyer for the subject wrote. “If there are any concerns about my client’s citizenship, he has the right to have those concerns addressed through the judicial process once he returns to the United States.” The State Department referred questions about the case to its Bureau of Consular Affairs, where an official said she could not discuss the case because of privacy concerns.
State Department’s Response
Though the State Department did not respond to requests for comment on this article either, in response to a Yemeni newspaper inquiry the Department said “While we do not comment on individual cases, we take all passport fraud allegations seriously. U.S. passports are the property of the United States Government and under certain circumstances can be revoked.”
Perhaps more telling is the State Department’s actions toward the American embassy official in Yemen in charge of the passport revocations. On November 13, via a cable sent worldwide to all embassies and consulates but curiously not yet made public, the State Department named the official consular officer of the year, an award for excellence that the cable said acknowledged “outstanding individual contributions… with a particular emphasis on efficiency and quality… the committee was impressed with (her) inspired leadership.” According to that official’s Facebook page, she was also promoted, and given a dream follow-on assignment from Yemen to Australia.
State’s generous actions toward its official in Yemen are more than the usual puffery. They strongly imply sanction of the passport seizures and revocations, and thus encourage additional such actions despite the concerns at the White House and lawsuits that have followed. In the world of bureaucracy, no career action survives public chastisement without having official sanction.
The War Hits Home
Despite the devastating effect on individual lives, it is hard to see what is truly being accomplished in Yemen for the United States. Perhaps like the NSA hoovering up our Facebook posts, the point may be not that they need to do it, but that they can. A bureaucracy unchecked just continues to reach deeper into citizens’ lives.
On the other hand, open season on Yemeni-Americans appears more than simple bureaucratic zeal. Since 9/11, the U.S. has stopped considering law and regulation in favor of unilateral, and often times secret, extra-judicial actions. From the more significant steps of indefinite imprisonment without trial, to torture to daily violations of Constitutional freedoms, the tentacles of the war on terror now reach as far as the forced expatriation of individual American citizens.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Woody Guthrie is a hero of mine. He represents whatever is left inside of me that has a little peek at optimism, despite all the pain and suffering and horrible turns of government I’ve seen and experienced.
Woody lived a hard life. Essentially orphaned young from a dysfunctional family, he drifted across America singing popular tunes for nickels, an entertainer in the Populist tradition. However, after the sacrifices and hardships of his fellow Oklahomans accumulated around him like so much winter snow, Woody found his voice. Woody began to sing songs that directly embraced the economic inequality he saw among the migrant workers in California (the 99 percent of his day) and elsewhere. As his travels exposed him to new injustices, Woody’s music carried over to the needs of workers trying to organize, the anti-war sentiments preceding Pearl Harbor and more, melding into a transcendent view that America would be whole when it belonged to its people.
In answer to the pablum of “God Bless America,” Woody wrote his best-known song, “This Land is Your Land.” Despite “This Land” later devolving into a bland patriotic staple, the song’s full set of lyrics express the sum of Woody’s philosophy about the good of the common people, the need to flatten out the economy so while the rich may still get the most, the poor get more than just some. In a land of such abundance, there is no need for Americans to suffer right up to their Katrina-wet lips.
There are only two tiny film clips known showing Woody singing, though he recorded hundreds of songs. Collections are still available to carry on his message, and “Woody’s Children” like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and more recently Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, carry on the tradition. There are several good biographies of Woody as well; I recommend the warts-and-all Woody Guthrie, American Radicalfor its clear storytelling and historical context.
Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie
Still, nothing beats a great live performance to bring something alive, and I was lucky enough to see the play/musical Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie in Washington. The show is touring the country and may be playing soon near you.
In addition to showcasing dozens of Woody’s songs, the play features snippets from the man’s life woven into the tunes. The story of the whole of his life is framed around one of the better Guthrie songs, Tom Joad, with bits of the lyrics sung throughout the show to introduce new scenes and events. The four-person ensemble cast is very good, and you’ll hear the important songs: This Train is Bound for Glory, Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?, Union Maid, Sinking of the Reuben James, Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done and of course This Land is Your Land. The cast sings in a sweet harmony, incorporating a variety of traditional American stringed instruments (you can hear samples here, or video.)
Woody was an imperfect man: alcoholic, drifter, unfaithful husband, and all the rest. The show touches on these points, but very correctly separates the imperfections of the man from the near-perfection of his message. A lot of the subtlety has to do with David Lutken’s portrayal of Woody. The two men could not look less alike; Lutken is tall and Texan with neatly combed hair, Woody an imp of a man from Oklahoma who often looked like the hobo he at heart was. But after about ten minutes of warming up, Lutken becomes the real Woody, sad and happy, smiling and funny, serious and feeling, an entertainer for sure but never far from his message. The two share a spirit: it ain’t so much what is that they sing about, but what ought to be, dispelling gloom without denying it exists. Take it easy, Woody would say, but take it. We all need to move from wanting something to change, to changing it, and you can hear that throughout the show’s two hour run.
An Apartheid of Dollars
Woody was (in)famous for a sign on his guitar that read “This Machine Kills Fascists.” My forthcoming book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent doesn’t have a word per se about Woody Guthrie, but if I’ve done my job right every word is about what Woody Guthrie stood for. There is no doubt that Woody would be standing with Occupy and others today, and so because of that, it is good to once in awhile replenish our anger and hope with the blood of a true patriot. Woody Guthrie is a hero of mine.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
I’m quite happy to announce that my new book Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is now available on Amazon for preorder. Click on the book cover to the right, or Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent to secure your copy.
As a special thank you to blog readers, if you send me an email at info (at) ghostsoftomjoad.com saying you preordered the book, I will forward to you a bonus essay explaining the origins of the book, some background on the main characters (no spoilers!), other books on similar themes I found informative in my writing and links to additional resources on line. Think of this as a kind of bonus extra, like with Blue-Ray DVDs.
And after you’ve read the book when it is released next year, I will also be happy to schedule a complimentary Skype session with your book club, and/or with your local library or school, for a discussion. Other ideas are also welcome.
Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is a good story, but with a conscience. Thank you for preordering it.
“John Kerry has the skill, toughness, and ego to be a great secretary of state,” says Aaron David Miller on ForeignPolicy.com. So that’s that.
But don’t stop there. Miller goes on to say:
This sense of self-confidence is the hallmark of the Kerry style of diplomacy. No problem is too big that it can’t be made better. Trying and failing isn’t ideal; but it’s better than not trying at all. And if given enough time and focus — will and skill, too — there’s always a way forward. Only someone with this kind of can-do attitude would venture into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy against such extremely long odds; keep pushing for a Geneva conference to end Syria’s civil war with the faintest of hopes of success; and (not or) be bullish on a deal with Iran that has alienated key U.S. allies and much of Congress, too.
But wait, there’s more. In fact, Miller pulls out the debate trick everyone in Washington with an apparent failure to explain away uses:
I’m less interested in an interim report card on his record. It is way too soon for that. What intrigues me more are the trend lines, and specifically what will be required at the end of the day for him to be judged a truly consequential secretary of state, let alone one of America’s best. Perhaps this isn’t his goal. But watching John Kerry — the Energizer Bunny of U.S. diplomacy — I’d be stunned if it wasn’t.
First, a big “LOL” for the Energizer Bunny reference. But the real rabbit out of the hat is the idea that no matter messed up Kerry seems to be at present, we just have to wait, for what, like 20 or 40 years and then we’ll see he was right all along. I remember the Bush apologists saying the same garbage about the Iraq War, give it time, history will judge. Right.
The article goes on and on, tumbling to earth somewhere between the Plain of Lack of Insight and the Sea of Hagiography. And why not? Here’s what the author’s Wikipedia page has to tell us about his objectivity on the subject of America’s international relations, especially in the MidEast:
Miller worked within the United States Department of State for twenty four years (1978–2003). Between 1988 and 2003, Miller served six secretaries of state as an advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations, where he participated in American efforts to broker agreements between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinians. He left the Department of State in January 2003 to serve as president of Seeds of Peace, an international youth organization, founded in 1993. In January 2006, he became a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.
Now you’d think a guy who was dining out on participating in 15 years of stalemate in the Middle East might be a tad… humble, or introspective, instead of the dull cheerleading that passes for journalism over at FP.com. Hah hah.
You people all hate them Muslims and want to see them go to hell, amiright? Well, maybe some do, and American can-do companies are filling that market niche. May God, Allah, Buddha and whoever else is out there have mercy on our blackened souls.
First up, you need some Muslim-hating ammo. Sure, a regular round can kill your average Terrorist, no problem, but then he is off to those virgins awaiting him in Paradise. Can’t have that, so you need to use Jihawg Ammo, made by South Fork Industries in Idaho. This speciality ammunition is actually coated with pork in the idiotic belief that if it penetrates a Muslim body said Muslim will die and go to hell as he is impure. This is based on the only-in-Idaho interpretation of the Koran that the dead guy is now spiritually unclean and thus unworthy. Guys, really, I remember my first beer, too, but just shut up.
Here is what the company actually says about itself:
In the fall of 2010, patriots from Idaho County, Idaho sat around a campfire enjoying an adult beverage. The discussion turned to concern and disgust that a mosque was being built at ground zero. Everyone in attendance agreed that freedom of religion is paramount for all peoples of Earth but this showed poor taste and had a sense of “rubbing our noses” into 9/11 tragedy. The discussion turned toward possible solutions to stop such a great insult.
With Jihawg Ammo, you don’t just kill an Islamist terrorist, you also send him to hell. That should give would-be martyrs something to think about before they launch an attack. If it ever becomes necessary to defend yourself and those around you our ammo works on two levels.
These bullets are “Peace Through Pork” and a “peaceful and natural deterrent to radical Islam” so a Christian shooter “Put Some Ham in MoHAMed.” “The nullifying principle of our product is only effective if you are attacked by an Islamist in Jihad.”
Yes, they have a Facebook page. Good news: since the pork ammo is still ammo, you can also use it to kill your Christian girlfriend after you get drunk and start yelling at her for wearin’ those cheap outfits like some Jezebel.
Bible Verse Military Rifle Sites
Bringing the wrath of the Christian God against Muslims cannot be done solely with the eyes God gave to the shooter. No, righteous killing requires a good scope to put steel on flesh properly.
Luckily, the Trijicon company has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army, all inscribed with references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ. The sights were used by our brave crusaders in Iraq and continue to bring Jesus’ message of love thy neighbor to Afghanistan.
Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon said the inscriptions “have always been there” and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is “not Christian.” The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa, where in the past Jesus’ message of love was enshrined in the Apartheid system.
Good news: the same sights with the same Bible references are exported for use by the Israeli military to also slap down Muslims in their way toward God’s vision of heaven on earth.
But it doesn’t really matter all that much, because as one Christian commentator remarked, it is unlikely any actual Muslim cares, because to do so they’d have to:
– have access to an expensive US military rifle sight by this specific manufacturer
– can read (Afghanistan’s literacy rate is 28%, according to the CIA)
– can read English
– know enough about the English-language Bible to recognize an abbreviated reference at the end of a string of letters and numbers
– either have the reference memorized or have access to a Bible or Torah; and
– are offended by the presence of that reference.
Luckily for us, there are no Muslims in the U.S. military, no one on the bad guys’ side can use Google Translate and our literacy programs in Afghanistan have been a failure. God is truly on our side!
Hate-Based Coloring Books for Kids
But guns don’t shoot themselves. All that cool bullet and sight tech means nothing if you don’t have a righteous human Christian killer behind it, and what better way to achieve that than to indoctrinate them young.
Into the breach is coloringbook.com, a frightful pus-filled sore of a web site that sells coloring books to kids with titles such as The Tea Party Coloring Book Why America Loves You, Global Terrorism True Faces of Evil Never Forget and We Shall Never Forget 9/11, The Kids Book of Freedom.
The Tea Party book promises “many activities including how to start a tea party in your town, a tea party debate club at school and learn about freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to be who you are! The genius of America is how The Tea Party truly reflects, represents and respects its homeland.”
The 9/11 books are super-keen. They are about:
Good vs. Evil. To a terrorist, this is a way of life and they do not consider themselves to be radicals, they consider themselves as soldiers. Current examples of modern evil are the Radical Islamic Muslim Tsarnaev brothers,Tamerlan and Dzhokhar one of which became a US Citizen on 9/11/2012. Designed as a consumer friendly, family publication for use with children and adults, this excellent graphic coloring novel helps expand understanding of the factual details and meanings in the War on Terror. Included are detachable printed show case cards with “Faces of Global Terrorism” very similar to the FBI’s ads featuring photos of murderous terrorists and suspects.
Also included are “terrorist trading cards, inspired by real people, real life and reflecting the truth. Vol. II also includes a government labeled cyber terrorist named Assange and modern day weather underground founder/leader Bill Ayers, a current educator in Chicago Illinois.”
And here’s some inspiring text from the coloring book, designed of course for children:
Terrorist Trading Cards clearly identifies the evil that may sit next to you on an airplane, or it could be an avowed Atheist in the lot of your local grocer on a sunny morning.The world should look at them, make fun of them, name them – shame them, recognize who the terrorists are and rid the earth of them.
Onward Christian soldiers!
I try to stop, maybe go a few days, but then I’ll be feeling a little sorry for myself, maybe a little lonely and I say, just a quick one, just one web page, and then I’ll quit. I’ll pop over to say the US Embassy in Baghdad site, for example, you know, just for a quick look, and then before I know it the room is spinning around me, I can’t find my shirt and somehow the clock is showing 5 am and I have to explain to a seven year old why daddy never went to bed last night. Again. My wife just rolls over; she already knows.
I want to stop– really– but then this happens and I can’t. Here’s just a taste of the hell I live in through because of the Embassy press releases I binge on:
Ambassador Stephen Beecroft hosted a business roundtable with the representatives of several U.S. companies operating in Iraq. Although the local market presents certain challenges, there is an increasing number of substantial U.S. companies making strategic investment commitments in Iraq.
Then it spirals out of control for me. I frantically look for any reference, just a link maybe, to any of these “several (substantial) U.S. companies operating in Iraq.” My hands shake on my mouse as I Google madly, trying to find just one name of one company that participated in this roundtable. I find none.
My thirst grows. I return to Google, eyes now blazing, looking through the world’s media for any mention of this roundtable outside of the Embassy’s own press release. I find one: Iraq-Business News. But even as my hand steadies and the electrons start to flow into my brain, there is no relief. The article is just a word-for-word republishing of the embassy press release, with ads selling some sort of flim-flam “How To Do Business in Iraq” consulting reports.
My last hope fades as I re-read the line from the embassy press release “Although the local market presents certain challenges…” Challenges? Like open civil war, car bombs, al Qaeda, bribery, hatred of Americans, need for 24/7 armed security, kidnappings, murder for hire and an almost complete lack of infrastructure, banking and transportation? What mad mind summarizes that as “certain challenges?” What sick, sick person thinks anyone will be persuaded by such pathetic words? Are they doing this to break me? Are there gray men and women in the embassy in Baghdad writing this, knowing I’ll read it, State’s slow revenge on me?
I pound the keyboard into plastic bits, the tiny pieces mimicking what has happened in my head. I tell myself this is it, I can’t– won’t– do this to myself again. I will quit cold reading Embassy press releases, not just from Iraq, but from Afghanistan and all the others. I will start writing instead about, I don’t know, gardening, or something to do with kittens, and re-find my soul.
I dream of gin-scented tears to run down either side of my nose and allow me to conquer myself. But then I reach for the mouse. Someone on Twitter has posted a link to another press release and I close my eyes and click, click, click once again, knowing I am doomed to repeat the cycle. I no longer have the choice. I love embassy press releases.
(My sincere apologies to any reader wrestling with real substance abuse. I hope you can appreciate the attempt at humor and if not, sorry for the offense.)
Remember back in 8th grade U.S. History with Mr. O’Neil, the alcoholic football coach who had to teach at least one class to stay on the payroll? He taught you about the Monroe Doctrine (go ahead and check Wikipedia if you have to, but this is gonna be on the test people I kid you not. Bueller, are you paying attention?!?)
The Monroe Doctrine was an early spasm of empire by the U.S., declaring, just ’cause it could, that Europeans could no longer create colonies in Central and South America. Those areas, as of 1823, would be exclusively America’s turf to conquer, control, exploit. The U.S. did this conquering, controlling and exploiting with great gusto, from essentially annexing all of Central America using Marines, to overthrowing various South American governments and installing U.S. puppets who maintained control by torturing and repressing their own people. It was all a rich tapestry of murder and slime, kind of like what happened to the Native Americans but with a Doctrine.
Nobody in America but 8th grade U.S. History teachers has given a crap about the Monroe Doctrine for the last 100 years. Down south, however, they do remember how sick it was that the U.S. just announced it was conquering Central and South America. It’s in their history classes too, with a different spin.
FYI: The Europeans have not recently been doing much colonizing in Central and South America.
A Genuine Capacity for Mediocrity
None of that mattered, as “America’s Own,” Secretary of State John Kerry, strained to make headlines recently by declaring “that the Monroe Doctrine, a nearly 200-year-old policy which had governed Washington’s relations with Latin America, was finally dead.”
In a previous piece we noted that in his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. Why would he do something as pointless as pronounce a self-proclaimed imperialistic doctrine that has not been relevant for like 100 years now dead? Kerry might as well be talking about the Stamp Act, or the Whiskey Rebellion (dammit, if you need to look those up too, do it yourself. Jeez, they were on the SAT.)
To understand Kerry, you need to understand the State Department he works for.
State is a wholly insular organization. State has devolved into nothing more than America’s increasingly irrelevant concierge abroad as foreign policy moves into the NSC and/or the Pentagon. State continues to turn inward. When no one in Washington really gives a rat’s behind about what State “reports” from “the field” via its “cables,” State just doubles-down and spends its time praising itself. “Nice think-piece cable on widows in Morocco Smithers– I heard the Deputy Assistant Secretary scanned the summary. Kudos my good man!” Yes, State still uses words like kudos. Go look that up too.
Viva Senor Kerry!
So in the minds at State, it worked like this. Between the long legacy of evil actions by the U.S., the Snowden revelations that the NSA spies on everyone everywhere in Central and South America, U.S. bullying of tiny Ecuador over Julian Assange, U.S. bullying of Bolivia over Snowden, U.S. bullying of Venezuela over whatever it is that bugs the U.S. so much about Venezuela, and the fifty year hissy fit over Cuba, someone at State glanced up from perusing his morning dispatches to realize the U.S. just isn’t well-thought of down there. Since inside State bull is just another reality, why not do something swell like announce the end of the Monroe Doctrine, and then, by golly, South Americans will like the U.S. once again! Our United States– still believing empty symbolism is a replacement for action. Might as well be giving beads and blankets to the Native Americans in return for Montana.
And who knows what is next. Perhaps to calm the Germans, Kerry will repudiate the Treaty of Versailles?
That’s really how they think. That’s how it came to be that the secretary of state went out of his way to proclaim an irrelevant doctrine dead one hundred years after it no longer mattered. That’s really what America’s representatives abroad do with your tax dollars.
Viva la Doctrine de el Presidente Monroe! Viva Senor Kerry!
We all love the idea behind the Make-A-Wish Foundation, especially around the holidays. They hear from children suffering incurable diseases and move mountains to make their dreams come true. That might be as simple as a trip to Disney, or the elaborate Batkid scenario we all saw recently in San Francisco. Some 10,000 people turned out in support.
But now let’s look at some other kids in our country. Child hunger in our America looks like this:
– Congress just cut food stamps (called SNAP now– supplemental nutritional assistance program). SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. That’s a hard, hard thing to do to a kid.
– 16.2 million children live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year. About one in five kids in the U.S. need some kind of food assistance; in many poorer areas, kids get two meals a day at school for free and are glad to have them because there may not be much of a third one waiting at home.
– Food insecurity, the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, exists in 17.2 million households in America, 3.9 million of them with children.
– Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, among households with children headed by single parents (35.1% of female-headed households with children are food-insecure) and among Black and Hispanic households.
If you want to drop off some food items at some donation site, that’s never a bad thing. But a comprehensive problem needs a comprehensive solution, and that is in large part why we have a government, ensuring the common good and all like it says in those old papers that created the United States. Individual efforts and charity can help, but when we needed a proper interstate highway system people weren’t told to all go out and build a half mile of road each in front of their house.
I know the arguments, people should work for a living, them kids’ parents if theys even got two of ‘em is lazy, meebe takin’ the drugs like I seen on the teevee, this ain’t no socialist country, stop a’wastin’ my tax dollars givin’ things away, ain’t no bizness o’ the damn guvernment.
Right. Right? In a country that has so much, albeit so unequally distributed, we should not have to think in terms of paying for Batkid, or paying for other kids who are hungry. And if those hungry kids could contact Make-A-Wish, most of them would ask for something to eat, not for a trip to Disney or a day-long superhero fantasy.
We can afford to feed them all. We just don’t want to.
Following our story on the alleged sexual shenanigans at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (photo, left, is the consulate Halloween party), attorney Lawrence Kelly has forwarded another translated affidavit from an ex-Italian local employee of the State Department, along with the response to the broader allegations from the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
Let’s start with that:
State Department Response
Dear Mr. Kelly:
I am writing to you in response to your message to Ambassador Phillips dated September 12, 2013. The Department of State takes any complaint of this nature very seriously. The Department of State does not comment on personnel issues.
Deputy Chief of Mission
U.S. Embassy Rome
So, that’s settled.
Or maybe not, as Kelly’s client filed a formal complaint with the Department after Embassy Rome failed to do anything. That pending complaint includes material from the affidavit, below. While of course we cannot verify the authenticity of any of the statements below, the Department of State sure can if they wish to, all of which should make for an interesting time (all redactions are by this blog):
My name is _____, I was born on _____ in _____, and I live in _____. I worked for nine long years at your embassy of Naples-based in Piazza della Repubblica. And only today as we honor Martin Luther King (my personal hero) 50 years after his death, I find the courage to write some thoughts about the person of Mr. Donald Moore [Note: Moore was the head of the Naples Consulate, i.e., Consul General]
I cannot understand why Mr. Moore suspended me from work, just because I, [two names redacted by this blog; one was the State Department security officer] were aware of his private affairs, such as the relationship that Mr. Moore had with the language instructor _____, from which he was to have a child, but who he convinced to have an abortion in exchange to not fire her. These facts are certain. I can testify. I agree in every way with what Ms. Kerry [the American employee who filed the formal complaint against Moore] has said because first of all she is a good person; very respectful to the Italians, who is loved by me and my family. Mr. Moore took advantage of me work-wise… and thanks to Donald Moore my career is now over, blocked, because of my knowledge of private matters that [the language teacher] came and told me about and now she is still at the consulate and while I have no job.
Returning to the relationship between Moore and [the language teacher], I can testify that I have seen and heard everything because I was often present during the telephone conversations that happened between the two lovers, especially when I was acting as her driver in my personal car. In fact [the language teacher] told Mr. Moore that I was very helpful to her, bringing her to the consulate in the afternoons, (because she worked at a hospital in the morning) then in the afternoon she came to give Italian language lessons to Moore and other Americans.
[The language teacher] always told me that when she was teaching Mr. Moore they always ended up having sex in his office. Then, Mr. Moore would invite her for lunch in the residence, and then suddenly tell his household staff to leave the residence (his butler _____ and two housekeepers _____ and _____) saying that he had important work to do. In your opinion, Mr. Councilor, what was this important work? It was to go to bed with [the language teacher]; and I am certain in this because [the language teacher], before going to the residence passed by the fourth floor where I worked and showed me the intimate underwear she was going to wear, because we had such a close and confidential rapport. She would use the emergency stairway from the fourth floor that is connected to the residence so that no one could see her go, except me. She often told me, “Listen _____, don’t say anything to anyone because Mr. Moore doesn’t trust these Americans.” I would respond, “Not to worry! I have not seen you!” This is how she climbed the stairs unseen by indiscreet eyes and saw her lover.
[The language teacher] is very friendly with a certain _____, responsible for the security of the American Consulate. She confided in _____ who was fully aware of the relationship between Mr. Moore and [the language teacher]. He often said to her, “If you love him, what is the problem?” It was on a beautiful day that [the language teacher] come to the Consulate (in 2011), in tears and sobbing. She told me and _____ that Mr. Moore advised (forced is a more accurate term) to have an abortion, because he was already separated and had a son in France. And being career diplomat, he could not have these strong personal ties. [the language teacher], mortified and alone, was forced to turn to a gynecologist with an office on via Gramsci for an appointment that Mr. Moore had made to have an abortion. (The fetus was two months old.) But, Consul Moore had promised her that she would be able to remain working at the consulate without a problem. Meanwhile, _____, _____, _____ and I were unjustly fired from our jobs. When [the language teacher] told everything to [the security officer] she was told to stay away from Consul Moore because the Rome embassy security was investigating their private relationship and quietly ordered Mr. Moore to break off the relationship. But [the language teacher] told me that often still met Mr. Moore at her house when her daughter was not at home.
Now I ask myself, why was I the “sacrificial goat” when others, (the security officer), Mrs. _____ and _____ were fully aware of the intimate and private details of their relationship. There are CCTV tapes that can confirm everything that I say. There are also the guards that saw me often accompanying [the language teacher] in my personal car. I could write a book about the relationship between this Italian-American couple, but how would the testimony of a man my age help, even though he knows so many bad details. Today I am without work, with a wife and two children to feed and a house in the hands of the bank. Still today I cannot believe that [the language teacher] and [the security officer] are living the good life.
And so while this could all be just made-up, we’ll conclude with a couple of questions.
– The statements above are easily verifiable facts, and with plenty of suggested collaborating witnesses, that it would not require much effort at all for State to verify or dismiss the accusations quickly. Have they? If not, why not? You’d think that at a minimum they would want to be able to tell the Italian press that the accusations are baseless to preserve the image of the United States.
– The most recent inspection of the embassy in Rome’s cafeteria noted “Valid complaints have been leveled at the cool temperatures of prepared foods,” so we do know that State is on top of the important things.
– Why does the Consulate Naples still list Donald Moore as the Consul General on this page, while welcoming the new Consul General on this page (Moore was transferred to an obscure U.S. domestic position by the State Department)? The new Consul General has been there since September, following Moore’s coincidental departure around the time of the allegations.
– Why does the State Department praise (p. 42) Naples for coordinating on behalf of Iranians “very smoothly with the Italian Embassy in Tehran to assist applicants who need Italian visas to attend their visa appointments in Naples.” Doing this work on behalf of Iranian visa applicants is a U.S. national interest because… ?
– Why does a relatively minor U.S. government official like Moore in a tiny consulate have a butler, a driver and two maids paid for by the U.S. taxpayer? There are only ten Americans assigned to Naples anyway.
– For that matter, why does the U.S. have a tiny consulate in a relatively unimportant city like Naples anyway? The U.S. already has a huge embassy in Rome, three consulates in other parts of Italy, plus three consular agencies (like small branch offices), plus a whole separate embassy with its own ambassador just for the Vatican. The U.S. State Department maintains in Italy a full-time staff of well-over 500 people, at an annual cost of over $97 million, because… ?
Italy is about 116k square miles, roughly the size of California.
The New York Post reports that Ms. Kerry Howard, the community-liaison officer at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, claims she was run out of her job with the State Department after complaining about the consul general’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers.
Ms. Howard stated she had been bullied, harassed and forced to resign after she exposed US Consul General Donald Moore’s (pictured, left) alleged security-threatening shenanigans in the Naples, Italy, office. She explained that when she revealed allegations about her boss, State Department officials swept it under the rug, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint she filed with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights. This blog has covered this story briefly before, but we now have new information, exclusive to this blog.
Needless to say State declined to comment to the Post. Ms. Howard resigned. Consul General Moore took another assignment elsewhere for State. In the insular world of Foggy Bottom, problem solved.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s More about Moore
Lawrence Kelly is an attorney in New York representing Kerry Howard, the woman in the New York Post articles who raised the concerns about Naples.
Kelly’s bio has him previous serving as Senior Rule of Law Advisor for the State Department on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in southern Iraq. He also does pro bono works for 9/11 victims (Trial Lawyers Care) and with TSGLI, a lump sum disability benefit for seriously wounded service members. While we have no way to verify the following statements, the State Department sure as heck can, and we invite their comment.
Here’s attorney Lawrence Kelly, today’s guest blogger, with more on Naples:
When the United States is interested in a foreign country, it likes to have a big footprint. What happens to the locals who interact or work with Americans when the Americans lose interest? There is a precedent. In the seventy years since the end of World War II, generations of European families have worked in American embassies and consulates as locally employed staff. If the recent treatment of locally employed staff in the consulate in Naples Italy is any indication, the locals might want to keep a consigliere on retainer.
The New York Post has done two stories on the consequences to the careers of American whistleblowers in the Foreign Service confronting the abysmal activities of senior management in these European posts. Even worse, and not yet disclosed in the media, are the stark consequences for the locally employed staff of being in the wrong place and observing the misbehavior of senior State Department staff. The United States has shown itself to be ungrateful, arrogant and malicious in destroying the lives of locally employed staff to cover up for American misdeeds.
The State Department standard of care has devolved into the Clinton query “what difference does it make?” I have obtained statements from the locally employed staff separated from their Naples Consulate employment. Their observations include the following [Note: Kelly supplied these translations, along with Italian language originals]
“XXX receives in his apartments women of dubious morality, sleeping with them during working hours. …More seriously, I have seen the falsifying of the accounts for food for guests and dignitaries. XXX making them much higher. In addition, he was seeing a psychiatrist attending many sessions and her diagnosis was is mentally unstable, how can it be that a man so mentally unstable be in such a position? During one attack of anger he destroyed the courtyard of the Consulate two metal umbrella containers, taking them kicking and throwing them from the apartments above.”
“I have witnessed in my working things like; XXX received in his residence women who dressed as prostitutes…he had often the habit to cook rotten foods, for example when he was the host of the British Consul General he served meat that had expired in 2010. He also falsified receipts for the costs of his events.”
“XXX (definitely a very despicable person in my opinion”)… advised (a locally employed staff member he had impregnated) forced is a more accurate term to have an abortion…XXX had promised her that she would be able to remain working at the consulate. There are close circuit television tapes that can confirm everything that I say….a man who forces a woman to have an abortion is what kind of man?”
So, as Secretary Clinton would ask, what difference does it make? Families who served the United States for seventy years are thrown away by a feckless United States, discharged from their employment, because the State Department was unable to control or contain senior managers. During the entirety of the Clinton era at the State Department, there was no congressional designation of an Inspector General. Internal investigations were instead run by Foreign Service veterans with close personal ties to existing senior management. Locally employed staff were disposable during an era when suppression of embarrassing details were the governing rules of the road. Regional Security Officers were used to suppress dissent, and morally outraged foreign service officers who raised red flags were admonished, curtailed or forced to seek transfer out of the assignment.
As for the future, it is little consolation that individuals at the top of the pyramid in Italy during this period have now been moved to the State Department nerve center, the Seventh Floor of Main State. David Thorne, John Kerry’s former brother in law and Yale roommate, was Ambassador to Italy during this time, and the consequences to the locally employed staff of his tenure are fairly represented by the termination of six long term employees whose crime was simply knowing the truth about the Americans in charge of the Consulate.
The stark consequence to the local employees is that a message has been sent. Americans are not to be trusted. Even by their fellow Americans.
We’ll have more on this situation
in the near future Friday, November 15, so please check back!
We pause to honor America’s veterans today, and recognize their sacrifices. At the same time, we wish to let those still on active duty, living in the mud, eating MREs away from their families and of course putting their lives at risk, what some have called “America’s Other Army,” the Department of State, has been up to home and abroad.
That said, we’ve tried to keep up with the near-continuous flow of sleaze at the State Department, but it a tough job. Luckily, the New York Post has also been keeping track, and presents us with some updates.
(This blog’s catalog of sleaze is here if you need to refresh your memory)
From the Post:
– Chuck Lisenbee, a former Beirut security officer who was being probed for allegedly sexually assaulting local guards, is now a special agent in Washington for the Office of Diplomatic Vehicles, Enforcement and Outreach, according to a State Department phone directory. Agents were only given three days to investigate the allegations against him, according to a memo seen by the Post.
An alert blog reader has submitted in the comments below: “More details on Lisenbee: he first got into trouble when he tried to make out with a fellow (male) ARSO in Baghdad. His depredations against local guards in Liberia were then discovered. Lisenbee started every lunch with prayer because “Jesus Christ, my lord and savior, is the most important thing in my life” (exact quote heard by this source on at least 50 occasions). ”
– Brett McGurk — a former senior adviser to the ambassador to Iraq — was appointed the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran in August, according to the State Department Web site. He was President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq but withdrew after his extramarital affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter was exposed. Apparently, investigators never interviewed McGurk because Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, intervened. (this blog has A LOT more on McGurk’s dalliances; and you’ll see a lot more of Under Furher Cheryl Mills in the Hillary Clinton administration)
– Former Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman was allowed to retire in July. A State Department investigator believed Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to the Post. The IG’s Office is reviewing the charges and the Department’s procedures and plans to release a followup report. Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hired prostitutes.
– An alert blog reader has submitted in the comments below: “Remember old Linda Howard, profiled on this blog for holding her Ethiopian housekeeper as a slave. She lost a big lawsuit over that. The U.S. Attorney was unable to prosecute her and her husband, Russell, because Linda’s sex parties in Yemen were really popular and the “semi-pro” Ethiopian girls in attendance made a lot of money at them. As a result, they didn’t make terribly good witnesses. The Howard’s are currently hiding out in an undisclosed SouthEast Asian country (Russell used to be a diplomatic courier in the Australian Foreign Service).”
Meanwhile, a quick update also on America’s Favorite Diplomatic Security agent, Chris Deedy. Deedy shot and killed an unarmed man in Hawaii while there on official State Department business (albeit off duty when he pulled the trigger multiple times), guarding Hillary Clinton during APEC meetings. The judge declared a mistrial, released the jury and stated she was thinking about scheduling a retrial for May or June 2014. The killing took place in 2011. At last report, the victim remains dead. Much more here about this story; Deedy remains a full-time paid employee of the State Department.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser and HawaiiNewsNOW have filed a complaint in state Supreme Court to force the judge to release transcripts of the parts of the Deedy trial where she kicked everyone out of the courtroom, saying the judge violated the U.S. Constitution by holding closed-door court proceedings.
Deedy’s support group is also busy, asking readers to donate their frequent flyer miles and hotel points so Deedy can fly and stay in Hawaii for free. Jump on over to their site if you want to pony up.
And don’t miss more State sleaze later this week, with a blog post we’ll call “Sex, Lies and Rotten Meat at the American Consulate in Naples.”
In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class. Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?
In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?
If statistics were diplomacy, Kerry would already be a raging success. At the State Department, his global travels are now proudly tracked by the mile, by minutes flown, and by countries visited. State even has a near-real-time ticker page set up at its website with his ever-changing data. In only nine months in office, Kerry has racked up 222,512 miles and a staggering 482.39 hours in the air (or nearly three weeks total). The numbers will be going up as Kerry is currently taking a 10-day trip to deal with another NSA crisis, in Poland this time, as well as the usual hijinks in the Middle East. His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, set a number of diplomatic travel records. In fact, she spent literally a full year, one quarter of her four years in office, hopscotching the globe. By comparison, Cold War Secretary of State George Schultz managed less than a year of travel time in his six years in office.
Kerry’s quick start in racking up travel miles is the most impressive aspect of his tenure so far, given that it’s been accompanied by record foreign policy stumbles and bumbles. With the thought that frenetic activity is being passed off as diplomacy and accomplishment, let’s do a little continent hopping ourselves, surveying the diplomatic and foreign policy terrain the secretary’s visited. So, fasten your seatbelt, we’re on our way!
We’ll Be Landing in Just a Few Minutes… in Asia
Despite Asia’s economic importance, its myriad potential flashpoints, and the crucial question of how the Sino-American relationship will evolve, Kerry has managed to visit the region just once on a largely ceremonial basis.
Diplomatically speaking, the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot to Asia” seems to have run out of gas almost before it began and with little to show except some odd photos of the secretary of state looking like Fred Munster in Balinese dress at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. With President Obama then trapped in Washington by the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, Kerry seemed like a bystander at APEC, with China the dominant presence. He was even forced to suffer through a Happy Birthday sing-along for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, the economy of Washington’s major ally, Japan, remains sleepy, even as opposition to the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact grows and North Korea continues to expand its nuclear program seemingly unaffected by threats from Washington.
All in all, it’s not exactly an impressive picture, but rest assured that it’ll look as fetching as a bright spring day, once we hit our next stop. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, the pilot now asks that you all return to your seats, because we will soon be landing…
… in the Middle East
If any area of the world lacks a single bright spot for the U.S., it’s the Middle East. The problems, of course, extend back many years and many administrations. Kerry is a relative newcomer. Still, he’s made seven of his 15 overseas trips there, with zero signs of progress on the American agenda in the region, and much that has only worsened.
The sole pluses came from diplomatic activity initiated by powers not exactly considered Washington’s closest buddies: Russian President Putin’s moves in relation to Syria (on which more later) and new Iranian President Rouhani’s “charm offensive” in New York, which seems to have altered for the better the relationship between the two countries. In fact, both Putin’s and Rouhani’s moves are classic, well-played diplomacy, and only serve to highlight the amateurish quality of Kerry’s performance. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s major Middle East commitment — to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians — seems destined for a graveyard already piled high with past versions of the same.
Meanwhile, whatever spark remained of the Arab Spring in Egypt was snuffed out by a military coup, while the U.S. lamely took forever just to begin to cut off some symbolic military aid to the new government. American credibility in the region suffered further damage after State, in a seeming panic, closed embassies across the Middle East in response to a reputed major terror threat that failed to materialize anywhere but inside Washington’s Beltway.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia was once nicknamed “Bandar Bush” for his strong support of the U.S. during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign and the Bush dynasty. He recently told European diplomats, however, that the Kingdom will launch a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest Washington’s perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran. The Saudis were once considered, next to Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. Kerry’s response? Fly to Paris for some “urgent talks.”
Meanwhile, the secretary of state has made no effort to draw down his fortress embassy in Baghdad, despite its “world’s largest” personnel count in a country where an American invasion and nine-year occupation resulted in a pro-Iranian government. Memories in the region aren’t as short as at the State Department, however, and Iraqis are unlikely to forget that sanctions, the U.S. invasion, and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4% of their country’s population. Kerry would be quick to condemn such a figure as genocidal had the Iranians or North Koreans been involved, but he remains silent now.
State doesn’t include Turkey in Kerry’s impressive Middle Eastern trip count, though he’s traveled there three times, with (again) little to show for his efforts. That NATO ally, which refused to help the Bush administration with its invasion of Iraq, continues to fight a border war with Iraqi Kurds. (Both sides do utilize mainly American-made weapons.) The Turks are active in Syria as well, supporting the rebels, fearing the Islamic extremists, lobbing mortar shells across the border, and suffering under the weight of that devastated country’s refugees. Meanwhile — a small regional disaster from a U.S. perspective — Turkish-Israeli relations, once close, continue to slide. Recently, the Turks even outed a Mossad spy ring to the Iranians, and no one, Israelis, Turks, or otherwise, seems to be listening to Washington.
Now, please return your tray tables to their upright and locked position, as we make our final approach to…
… Everywhere Else
Following more than 12 years of war with thousands of lives lost, Kerry was recently reduced to begging Afghanistan’s corrupt president, Hamid Karzai, to allow a mini-occupation’s worth of American troops to remain in-country past a scheduled 2014 tail-tucked departure by U.S. combat troops. (Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan had to be of the unannounced variety, given the security situation there.) Pakistan, sporting only a single Kerry visit, flaunts its ties to the Taliban while collecting U.S. aid. As they say, if you don’t know who the patsy is at a poker game, it’s you.
Relations with the next generation of developing nations, especially Brazil and India, are either stagnant or increasingly hostile, thanks in part to revelations of massive NSA spying. Brazil is even hosting an international summit to brainstorm ways to combat that agency’s Internet surveillance. Even stalwart Mexico is now lashing out at Washington over NSA surveillance.
After a flurry of empty threats, a spiteful passport revocation by Kerry’s State Department, a bungled extradition attempt in Hong Kong, and a diplomatic fiasco in which Washington forced the Bolivian president’s airplane to land in Austria for a search, Public Enemy Number One Edward Snowden is settling into life in Moscow. He’s even receiving fellow American whistleblowers as guests. Public Enemy Number Two, Julian Assange, continues to run WikiLeaks out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. One could argue that either of the two men have had more direct influence on America’s status abroad than Kerry.
Now, please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and consider ordering a stiff drink. We’ve got some bumpy air up ahead as we’re…
… Entering Syrian Airspace
The final leg of this flight is Syria, which might be thought of as Kerry’s single, inadvertent diplomatic accomplishment (even if he never actually traveled there.)
Not long before the U.S. government half-shuttered itself for lack of funds, John Kerry was point man for the administration’s all-out efforts to attack Syria. It was, he insisted, “not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter.” That statement came as he was announcing the recruitment of France to join an impending U.S. assault on military facilities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Kerry also vociferously beat the drums for war at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His war diplomacy, however, quickly hit some major turbulence, as the British parliament, not eager to repeat its Iraq and Afghan misadventures, voted the once inconceivable — a straightforward, resounding no to joining yet another misguided American battle plan. France was soon backing out as well, even as Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the administration’s urge to launch strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.” (Kerry’s boss, President Obama, forcefully contradicted him the next day, insisting, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”)
Kerry had his moment of triumph, however, on a quick stop in London, where he famously and offhandedly said at a news conference that war could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. Kerry’s own State Department issued an instant rejoinder, claiming the statement had been “rhetorical.” In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach. Unable to walk his statement back, Kerry was humiliatingly forced to explain that his once-rhetorical remark was not rhetorical after all. Vladimir Putin then arose as an unlikely peacemaker and yes, Kerry took another trip, this time to “negotiate” the details with the Russians, which seems largely to have consisted of jotting down Russian terms of surrender to cable back to Washington.
His “triumph” in hand, Kerry still wasn’t done. On September 19th, on a rare stopover in Washington, he claimed a U.N. report on Syria’s chemical weapons stated that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack that had set the whole process in motion. (The report actually said that there was not enough evidence to assign guilt to any party.) Then, on October 7th, he effusively praised the Syrian president (from Bali) for his cooperation, only on October 14th to demand (from London) that a “transition government, a new governing entity” be put in place in Syria “in order to permit the possibility of peace.”
As for Kerry’s nine-month performance review, here goes: he often seems unsure and distracted, projecting a sense that he might prefer to be anywhere else than wherever he is. In addition, he’s displayed a policy-crippling lack of information, remarkably little poise, and strikingly bad word choice, while regularly voicing surprising new positions on old issues. The logical conclusion might be to call for his instant resignation before more damage is done. (God help us, some Democratic voters may actually find themselves secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush won his dismal second term in office.)
In his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. But blaming him would be like shouting at the waiter because your steak is undercooked.
Whatever his failings, John Kerry is only a symptom of Washington’s lack of a coherent foreign policy or sense of mission. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been adrift, as big and dangerous as an iceberg but something closer to the Titanic. President Bush, the father, and President Clinton, the husband, had at least some sense of when not to overdo it. They kept their foreign interventions to relatively neat packages, perhaps recognizing that they had ever less idea what the script was anymore.
Waking up on that clear morning of September 12, 2001, the administration of Bush, the son, substituted a crude lashing out and an urge for total domination of the Greater Middle East, and ultimately the planet, for foreign policy. Without hesitation, it claimed the world as its battlefield and then deployed the Army, the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, growing Special Operations forces, paramilitarized intelligence outfits, and drone technology to make it so. They proved to be good killers, but someone seemed to forget that war is politics by other means. Without a thought-out political strategy behind it, war is simply violent chaos unleashed.
Diplomacy had little role in such a black-and-white world. No time was to be wasted talking to other countries: you were either with us or against us. Even our few remaining friends and allies had a hard time keeping up, as Washington promoted torture, sent the CIA out to kidnap people off the streets of global cities, and set up its own gulag with Guantanamo as its crown jewel. And of course, none of it worked.
Then, the hope and change Americans thought they’d voted into power in 2008 only made the situation worse. The Obama administration substituted directionless-ness for idiotic decisiveness, and visionless-ness for the global planning of mad visionaries, albeit with much the same result: spasmodic violence. The United States, after all, remains the biggest kid on the block, and still gets a modicum of respect from the tiny tots and the teens who remember better days, as well as a shrinking crew of aid-bought pals.
The days of the United States being able to treat the world as its chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. Across the globe, people noted how the World’s Mightiest Army was fought to a draw (or worse) in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents with only small arms, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers.
Increasingly, the world is acknowledging America’s Kerry-style clunkiness and just bypassing the U.S. Britain said no to war in Syria. Russia took over big-box diplomacy. China assumed the pivot role in Asia in every way except militarily. (They’re working on it.) The Brazilian president simply snubbed Obama, canceling a state visit over Snowden’s NSA revelations. Tiny Ecuador continues to raise a middle finger to Washington over the Assange case. These days, one can almost imagine John Kerry as the wallflower of some near-future international conference, hoping someone – anyone — will invite him to dance.
The American Century might be said to have lasted from August 1945 until September 2001, a relatively short span of 56 years. (R.I.P.) John Kerry’s frantic bumbling did not create the present situation; it merely added mirth to the funeral preparations.
This is horrific, what appears to be a video of Afghan military beating and torturing a bound captive while persons who appear to be American soldiers stand by and watch. One of the Americans has on surgical gloves and is holding something that indicates he is there as a combat medic. When Americans conduct torture, medical personnel are typically available to ensure the torture is done to inflict maximum pain without typically killing the victim.
Rolling Stone, which obtained the video, dates the incident as post-2012.
Like the scenes of torture from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, this video is widely circulating on Afghan websites, ensuring the continued decline in American credibility.
A final warning. We’ve all seen horrible stuff on the web, but this is a new step beyond. The audio is chilling. It inhuman. If those people are Americans, they have no right to call themselves soldiers, nor men.
Over-classification in our government is real.
Designed primarily to hide the actions of the peoples’ government from the people, federal agencies now routinely slap a classified label on just about everything; the Department of Defense recently classified a memo about over-classification. Obama even signed (albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back) the Reducing Over-Classification Act, which required various parts of the federal government to (you guessed it) reduce over-classification. As part of implementing this law, federal inspectors general are supposed to “evaluate” the classification policies of the organizations.
As a public service to inspectors general, may I suggest you take a look over at the State Department?
State, which about a year ago sought to fire me, in part, for “revealing” a document that was labeled Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU), snail-mailed me an SBU document. That document was a form letter, appropriately classified because, why not? Let’s be a touch civilly disobedient and have a look at it:
Like most of you (“the internet”) I have no security clearance. I am pretty sure my mail carrier does not have a security clearance, nor does the youngster at my home who first opened the mail yet there, all pink and naked, lies an actual SBU document. Now of course it is a form letter about income taxes with a rubber stamp signature, but dammit, don’t your eyes burn? Now look away! FYI, my financial information, included in the envelope, did not carry any classification. The youngster has been appropriately punished.
Of course the whole concept of “Sensitive But Unclassified/SBU” is a bit of a joke; technically no such category of actual US Government classification actually exists. The State Department and others just sort of made up “SBU” after 9/11 in an attempt to include basically every document and email created inside Foggy Bottom in some sort of restricted category. In a report prepared by the Library of Congress, the authors wrote “Although there is growing concern in the post 9/11 world that guidelines for the protection of SBU are needed, a uniform legal definition or set of procedures applicable to all Federal government agencies does not now exist. Regulations are reported to be under development in the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security.”
State itself self-defines SBU as “information which warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure.”
So all you inspectors general out there, can you tell we people out here exactly what in the State Department’s form letter about taxes “warrants a degree of protection and administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public disclosure”? ‘Cause if you can’t find anything, then maybe State is just a little bit heavy-handed with its classification policies.
At least I hope so. Otherwise, somebody at State just sorta leaked an SBU document into the mail system. OH NO!
BONUS: It is apparently of no interest to law enforcement when someone high up in the State Department leaks an actual Secret document to the media, at least when said leak was designed to benefit the Department.
BONUS BONUS: Since State willfully sent a classified document to me, knowing I have this blog, were they hoping I’d expose it here? Is the State Department whistleblowing on itself in some odd national security act of autoeroticism?
Researching my upcoming book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent (April 2014), I learned these things:
Most Jobs are Minimum Wage Jobs
All those jobs being created we keep hearing about? All those people who say if you don’t like working for minimum wage, go get a better job?
The answer: In order, the jobs that account for the most workers in the U.S. right now are retail salespeople, cashiers and restaurant workers, and janitors. All of those pay minimum wage or nearly so.
Actually, all this talk about minimum wage is missing a big point: more Americans work for sub-minimum wage than for minimum wage. People who get tips only have to be paid $2.13 an hour. And that lousy $2.13 has not changed by law in twenty-two years due to lobbying by the restaurant business. And if a business “requires” its servers to “share” tips with the dishwashers, well, then they only need to pay the dishwashers two bucks thirteen instead of minimum wage. Owners are doing O.K., though, as you may have seen restaurant prices go up a bit in the last twenty-two years. A McDonald’s hamburger cost 15 cents twenty-two years ago.
Cheap Stuff is Expensive
Back to that Big Mac you’re enjoying. One reason that it is pretty cheap (and why Walmart is cheap, et al) is that those businesses get away with paying below a living wage because you, the taxpayer, subsidize the employees’ wages. The gap between what the majority of employed people earn through the minimum wage, and what they need to live a minimum life, is made up by federal and state benefits. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of enrollments in America’s major public benefits programs are from working families. They work in jobs that pay wages so low that their paychecks do not generate enough income to provide for life’s basic necessities.
The number of people using food stamps (now called SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) increased by 13 percent a year, every year, from 2008 to 2012.
The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry alone is nearly $7 billion per year. That money, which might rightly be paid by McDonald’s and Burger King and KFC, is instead paid by the taxpayers, money lenders to a government that is far more interested in subsidizing business than in caring for the nation as a whole.
McDonald’s workers alone account for $1.2 billion in federal assistance used per year, every year. Just for grins, know that McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson last year took home $13.7 million in salary, $5.46 billion in personal profits and $5.5 billion in stock. Supersize that sir? No thanks, already there.
So Get a Job, Loser
The rejoinder at this point is that sad as it all is, low wages mean low prices for us all. Who wants to pay more at Walmart? I mean, we work for a living.
Leaving aside the obvious, that via taxes spent on feeding low wage workers we the taxpayers are already paying virtual higher prices, the argument is garbage. If McDonald’s doubled its employees’ salaries, a semi-livable wage of $14.50 an hour, a Big Mac would cost only 68 cents more. No, no, the low wages paid are not part of keeping prices low; they are the key to keeping profits high. Last year the top seven minimum wage employers collectively earned $7.44 billion in profits, paid $52.7 million to their highest-paid executives and distributed $7.7 billion in dividends and buybacks. You want fries with that?
Maybe the solution is for minimum wage workers to, well, work harder, you know, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Problem is of course that most businesses prefer to keep their lowest paid workers below full-time to avoid the costs of paying benefits; an estimated 87 percent do not receive health care through their employer. But even full-time hours, if they exist, are not enough to compensate for low wages. The families of more than half of the fast-food workers employed forty or more hours per week still need to be enrolled in public assistance programs.
Hungry in America
Here now in America we are reaching for a zero-sum point where wealthy people have come to believe that to gain anything requires them to take it from someone else. WalMart and the fast food giants, already awash in billions in profits, still fight even tiny increases to the minimum wage, even when it hardly would matter.
We have people hungry in America. We have created a system where even working a full time job is not enough to take care of a family. We have created disposable workers, who matter to no one. Sad for sure, but think further, to what it all means to the future of our society. Without commitment and community, things won’t continue to work for long. In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.
I’m helping someone sell a house in Northern Virginia and, knowing many readers are from the area, ask that you take a look. Regular readers, back to our usual snark soon…
They sold it.
The house is within the excellent Falls Church City Schools District (See ratings; School bus stops in front of the townhouse). Offered at $539,000.
Three bedrooms, 2½ baths, solid oak hardwood floors (not laminate), all appliances (stove, fridge, dishwasher, microwave, washer+dryer, range hood), redone kitchen cabinets, new no-maintenance resin counter tops (granite may look nice, but check the regular maintenance it requires), finished basement with built-in workbench and shelves, eastern and southern direct lighting, open kitchen, sunny fenced in back patio with composted beds to grow veggies or flowers, a Japanese Red Maple and a flowering cherry tree, one assigned parking spot, plenty of street parking, monthly condo fee of only $75 includes community swimming pool with special kiddie pool (see photos below.)
Quiet street, public park with playground two minutes’ walk. Pet-friendly neighborhood. Two minute walk to shops and restaurants, a fitness club, CVS, post office, excellent public library. Harris Teeter coming, in walking distance. Close to East Falls Church Metro, Orange Line to Foggy Bottom or Ballston and West Falls Church Metro, where the Silver Line to Tysons and Dulles connects. 15 minute drive to FSI/NFATC.
When you need to rent, the property rents easily because of the location and schools; expect about $2800+ each month.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is in the US this week, meeting with officials in hopes of getting more US assistance, including lots of weapons he says he needs to fight terrorism, or Syria, or whatever (whatever=killing more Sunnis.) You can expect lots of dumb, uninformed comment about this visit.
To save readers valuable time and as a public service, I have searched the web for the dumbest article you’ll encounter about Maliki’s visit, and present it here, with some explanatory comment.
The winner is Douglas A. Ollivant, writing for the really, really important blog-thingie War on the Rocks. Ollivant is certainly a smart apple about Iraq; indeed, he is responsible in part for the disaster there.
Ollivant served as Director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the Bush and Obama administrations. He is now the Senior Vice President of Mantid, a “consulting firm” with offices in Washington, Beirut and Baghdad. He was also a member of now-disgraced idiot warrior-poet-flim flam man David Petraeus’ “brain trust” of “warrior-intellectuals.”
But enough about Google. Let’s see what this warrior intellectual has to tell us now about Iraq.
Iraq Did This to Themselves
First, it is important to note, Ollivant says, that “Iraq is, quite simply, on the receiving end of a major al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) offensive. AQI remains one of the most capable of the al Qaeda affiliates or regional franchises. As a percentage of the population, Iraq has lost more of its citizens to al Qaeda explosives in each of the past three months than the United States did on September 11, 2001.” Not that any of that has anything to do with the United States’ invasion and inept occupation of Iraq.
No, no, the al Qaeda “issue” in Iraq is actually Iraq’s own fault. We learn:
AQI has experienced a resurgence. As I have written elsewhere, this is largely due to the release of AQI-affiliated detainees, spill-over from the Syria conflict, passive support from elements of the Sunni population, and the simple fact that the Iraqi security forces fall far short of JSOC, particularly with respect to training and equipment.
To defeat this sophisticated terrorist network, the Iraqis must acquire more JSOC-like capabilities
(JSOC– Joint Special Operations Command, is a super-secret special forces entity that the US used for years in Iraq as a high-tech assassination squad, killing off a long whack-a-mole string of “senior al Qaeda leaders.” JSOC now continues its filthy work pretty much everywhere in the world following its success in Iraq.)
Of course, one cannot just order up some JSOC-like Iraqi guys on the internet or something for speedy delivery. Or can one? Ollivant has the answer:
Perhaps a more feasible answer is for the United States to facilitate the Iraqi contracting of private U.S. firms that specialize in intelligence analysis, many of them formed and/or staffed by JSOC, and other military intelligence, veterans.
That’s it, the solution to Iraq’s problem is for the nation to hire some of the US’ out-of-work mercenaries, from Blackwater or whomever, to return to Iraq and return to killing Iraqis. We all know how much Iraqis loved American mercs stampeding over their country during the Occupation, so this makes perfect sense.
After the Mercs, Weapons
Ollivant also knows that the Iraqis need weapons, lots of weapons. But why?
The frustration with the delays in fighter jets, air defense equipment, helicopters, and armored vehicles has moved beyond the staff level and become a Prime Ministerial issue. This should be of interest to the United States, as the reason Iraq needs this equipment is to stand up to—among others—its perennial rival, Iran.
C’mon man, this borders on warrior intellectual satire! Rival Iran? For the love of Allah, Maliki is an Iranian stooge. He was put into power by Iran, uses Iranian thugs to capture, imprison or kill his political rivals and visits Tehran as necessary to maintain a robust cross-border trade. Iranian planes overfly Iraq freely, on their way to Syria to deliver weapons to some version of whatever count as “rebels” nowadays (Ollivant says “Iraq lacks the Air Force and Air Defense system to stop this.”) And of course fighter jets and armored vehicles are exactly what you need for counter-insurgency work, right? I mean, that’s what the US used so fruitfully for nine years in Iraq so it must be right.
That Sunni-Shia Thing
Ollivant is also aware of that nasty Sunni-Shia thing. He does skip over Maliki’s arrest threats that drove his own Sunni Vice President into exile days after the US pulled out, and the systematic disenfranchisement of Sunni voters, and the abandonment of the Sahwa, Sunni fighters promised jobs in return for putting down their arms and all that. But Ollivant is a realist and so adds:
Maliki is no doubt expecting—with some resignation—a lecture on Sunni inclusion and reconciliation. This is a delicate issue and one that does not lend itself to easy solutions. But the reasonable Sunni issues can be reduced to de-Baathification reform, inclusion in Iraqi society, and an end to persecution by the security forces.
The de-Baathification thing is just a hoot, given that it was done by the US in 2003 and in many respects was the tipping point of the whole disaster, destroying Iraq’s civil service and thus functional government, throwing millions of Sunni’s out of work, and essentially creating the groundwork for the next nine years of insurgency. Hi-larious.
Security forces (Shia controlled) killing Sunnis? Just a typo: “Regarding the alleged persecution of Sunnis, there is no doubt that some innocent Sunni are caught in the raids that the security forces engage in to try to discover the AQI cells.”
Inclusion into Iraqi society? A statistical anomaly. “Sunni do not appreciate what they do have. While there has been no census in many decades, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are no more than 25% of the population, and the CIA Factbook estimates they could be as little as 12%. Yet most Sunnis believe they comprise at least 50% of the Iraqi population. If the 12% is correct, Sunnis may well be over-represented…”
Maliki is Actually Thomas Jefferson
At this point you’d think that Ollivant would have sobered up, realized how he had embarrassed himself, and hit the delete key, just like he might do with those Facebook photos that seemed fun when posted last night but now don’t seem like resume material. Instead, he doubles-down for a big conclusion:
Maliki is not coming to the United States with hat in hand—he has his own money, and plenty of it. He does not want Iraq to be a ward of the U.S. military, but, rather, a customer of U.S. business. Iraq doesn’t need the U.S. to give it anything other than goodwill. It just wants the U.S. to deliver on sales of goods and services.
And in this, the Prime Minister will be echoing the sentiment, if not the words, of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”
So there you have it. The democracy the US failed to implement in Iraq after nine years of Occupation, trillions of dollars and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives, is in hand. Thomas Jefferson is now Prime Minister of Iraq.
If the US gives Maliki anything on his trick-or-treat visit but a cold shoulder it has learned nothing in defeat. Huzzah!
Update: We now have a runner-up. Psychotic microcephalic James Jeffrey, former US ambassador in Baghdad, said Iraq desperately needs teams of US advisers, trainers, intelligence and counterterror experts to beat back al-Qaeda.
“They could mean all the difference between losing an Iraq that 4,500 Americans gave their lives for,” said Jeffrey.
So heads up American military reservists, for the recall order to ship back to Iraq for some more war. We’re getting the old band back together!
Obama, the president of the United States, Commander-in-Chief and self-proclaimed leader of the free world, says he did not know about his own government’s spying on multiple allied world leaders until quite recently. This means that Obama learned of this amazing thing same as we did, basically via Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing.
We’ll take a moment on behalf of the president to say:
“Thanks” Edward for bringing this to my attention. It appears that not all of our allied world leaders have been pleased to learn that my government has been (maybe still is? I gotta check Buzzfeed) spying on them, right down to the level of sitting in on Chancellor Merkel’s personal cell phone chats. Since these revelations affect the foreign standing and policy of the United States globally, I guess Edward I have to say I am grateful you let me know about this all. Hope Moscow is treating you well. Say hi to Julian for me!
Well, well, about that Mr. President who-don’t-know-nuthin’, there are two possible ways this can go:
1) Obama really did not know the NSA was spying on world leaders he called friends. This would mean that the NSA and who knows who else inside the government has gone rogue, taking actions independently that threaten the very allied relations the US depends upon to facilitate trade and commerce, build coalitions to support American aims and otherwise deal with a complex, multi-polar world. As such, the NSA has committed the essential elements of treason, aiding foreign powers and damaging the credibility and security of the United States. Obama should thus immediately fire the top several layers of NSA leadership, and appoint an independent prosecutor to look into charges against them.
Oops– instead of firing anyone, Obama spokesperson Jay “Goebbels was an Amateur” Carney cheered the American public by saying that “the president has full confidence in General Keith Alexander and the leadership at the NSA.”
2) That leaves only the conclusion that Obama lied. He lied straight into the eyes of the American people, ever gullible, even as those spied-upon world leaders rolled their own eyes in disbelief that the self-proclaimed World’s Most Powerful Man could not come up with a better excuse than total and complete ignorance.
We Must Protect America (from Spiders!)
On the subject of lies, the only justification the White House has offered on why it is necessary to conduct all this espionage is that it is necessary to protect America from terrorists. This is indeed important– a recent poll showed that among Americans’ deepest fears, Number One is Death, Number Two is Spiders and Terrorism is Third. Roll them up into terrorist spiders that can kill you and it is one scary image. So Obama is right to want to protect Americans from terrorist spiders.
The problem is that it is quite unclear how listening in on Merkel’s cell phone might in any way contribute to the fight to protect Americans against terrorists. Is Merkel a terrorist herself, a super sleeper agent spending years working her way into the seat of power of Europe’s leading economy? Does Merkel butt dial terrorists? Does she reveal inside dope on terrorists only on her cell phone calls home asking what’s for dinner?
Information is Power
No, no, of course not. Spying on someone like Merkel (or the President of Mexico, et al) has only one purpose: to gather information that can be employed by the United States to coerce, blackmail, threaten or otherwise manipulate.
Oh sure, the NSA might pick up some tidbits about a negotiating position, or whatever, but that info can be gathered elsewhere at much lower risk and with much more ease. Indeed, the CIA and others are out there as we speak offering money and other sweet goodies to code clerks, systems administrators and foreign diplomats to gather that kind of stuff.
The NSA and Obama want to know who sleeps with whom. They want to know who has a mistress, who is in an unhappy marriage, who gossips too much. who drinks too much, who likes to gamble, who visits prostitutes, who takes drugs, who has some weakness or vulnerability that can be quietly, maybe cleverly, exploited. This is a very big thing. Nothing as crude as Obama ringing up the Minister of Silly Walks in France and threatening to send over some incriminating photos like in the old KGB/Stasi days. But how about a quiet word dropped in the right place about a powerful leader with some odd connections to a guy who knows a guy who moves dope across southern Europe?
Information is power, straight as that, and Obama used and will continue to use the NSA to achieve it.
Oh, by the way, all that NSA spying on Americans, maybe corporate leaders, journalists and other politicians? Yep, same thing.
Provocative one-sentence paragraph that asks a question like “Did you know?” or “You’ll be shocked to learn!”
Paragraphs that do not offer much information about the subject but end with tease that if you click NEXT they will.
Dramatic quote from someone on one side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Dramatic quote from someone on the other side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Summary paragraph that says no one is right or wrong.
Italicized section saying the writer has a new book or whatever out now. Follow him on Twitter!
Journalism done for today.
The oft-repeated pop psychology definition of mental illness– doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results– pretty much sums up America’s limp efforts at reconstruction, nation building, hearts and minds, counterinsurgency, whatever tag you choose.
Efforts failed spectacularly and expensively in Iraq and (ongoing) in Afghanistan, and just as significantly, though more quietly, in Libya. With Obama having morphing into McCain like an old werewolf movie scene and calling for more wrath in Syria or wherever, it is obvious that the U.S. intends to stay in the nation building business.
The Return of the Jedi
One guy with some experience in the trade thinks he has a better idea of how to do this. Stuart Bowen was the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and produced a series of reports that year-by-year carefully documented America’s failure in Iraq to reconstruct much of anything. Whereas in my own book, We Meant WellI sought to document such failures on the local scale, Bowen’s assessments were Jedi-like, sweeping and Iraq-wide. Through the seemingly endless years of that war, Bowen shouted into the darkness about the waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq. His organization actively sought criminal prosecutions of those doing the wasting and the corrupting. This guy was born with both fists up, and good for him about that.
In a working document Bowen’s office shared with me, the story is this:
Who should be accountable for planning, managing, and executing stabilization and reconstruction operations (SROs)? The U.S. government’s existing approach provides no clear answer. Responsibilities for SROs are divided among several agencies, chiefly the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development. As a result, lines of responsibility and accountability are not well-defined.
The lack of an established SRO management system forced the U.S. government to respond to challenges in Iraq through a series of ad hoc agencies that oversaw stabilization and reconstruction activities with—unsurprisingly—generally unsatisfactory outcomes.
A New Hope
Bowen suggest a new solution, comprising a collection of targeted operational reforms and the creation of an integrated management office— the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO)— that would be accountable for planning and executing SROs. You can read more details about his proposed new agency.
As almost an air-tight endorsement of the idea, both State and Defense oppose it. Bowen explained that both agencies believe that the existing management structure, which diffuses duties between and among varying agencies, is preferable to implementing a new, consolidated system. State believes that SRO problems chiefly arise from insufficient resources and not management weaknesses (Note: A lack of money, and not management problems, is State’s default answer to nearly everything from failure in Iraq to failure in Benghazi).
The Empire Strikes Out
While the reality is that just about nobody in Congress will support creation of a new government entity in the current political climate, the Obama Administration remains hell-bent to do some more nation building. If nothing new is tried (that mental illness definition again!) nothing new will happen. Failure is assured. Again. Bowen’s idea is worth looking into as a possible way to break the loop.
At the same time, a new organization sitting around the table with no purpose other than to tuck into reconstruction may be more dangerous that you think. The bureaucratic rules of evolution that govern Washington say any organization, once spun up, will seek more resources and more reasons to continue to exist. Would having a new office for SRO work simply create another strong voice inside government in favor of more SRO operations?
The jury is still out on how best to proceed. The best way to win at Fight Club is not to get into it in the first place. Is it too much to dream that maybe the U.S. will just stop invading and intervening abroad, and perhaps create an office designated to reconstructing America instead?
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Convening Authorities can reduce or eliminate a convicted soldier’s sentence. They use this power when they feel the court martial failed to deliver justice. As Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan is the only other individual besides President Obama (and there ain’t no joy there unless Manning qualifies as a Syrian kid) with the power to lessen Pvt. Manning’s sentence.
This process is not new, nor unique. Though a slightly different judicial procedure, the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals only in June of this year reduced the sentence of a former Ramstein Air Base staff sergeant who advertised babysitting services to gain access to three young girls he repeatedly sexually assaulted. Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Smith’s sentence was reduced such that Smith, 30, would be eligible for parole after a decade or more. The appellate judges, in their written opinion, said that despite the heinousness of Smith’s crimes against the girls — ages 3, 4 and 7 — the sentence handed down in November 2010 by military judge Col. Dawn R. Eflein and approved by the Third Air Force commander was “unduly severe.”
If you wish to add your voice to the many now asking for Manning’s sentence to be reduced, the instructions on how to do so are straightforward.
Here is what I wrote:
Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan
Commanding General, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, DC
I write to request that as the Convening Authority in the case of U.S. v. Bradley E. Manning you move to reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served. Pvt. Manning has, in the course of several difficult years of confinement, taken responsibility for his actions and has been punished.
As the leader of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, I was embedded with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Brigade at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer at the same time Manning was deployed there (though we never met.) I worked closely with Colonel Miller and his team to implement U.S. goals, and came away with great respect for him and his officers, and the enlisted men and women of the Commandos.
At the same time, I experienced first-hand the austere conditions at FOB Hammer, and the difficult lives the soldiers led. As you are aware, one young soldier tragically took his own life early in the deployment at Hammer. Many veteran soldiers, some who served in the Balkans, also talked about the rough conditions at our FOB. I saw that at times computer security was imperfect. While none of this excuses Pvt. Manning (nor should it; he himself has plead guilty to multiple counts), it does in part help explain it. I ask that you consider these factors in your decision.
As a State Department employee, I had access to the same databases Pvt. Manning in part disclosed, and back in Washington played a small roll in State’s “damage review.” I thus know better than most outsiders what Pvt. Manning did and, significantly, did not disclose, and am in a position to assess dispassionately the impact. As the State Department and the DoD reluctantly concluded at Manning’s trial, little if any verifiable damage was indeed done to the United States. There is no denying that the disclosures were embarrassing and awkward, but that is not worth most of a man’s life.
Justice elevates us all, and reflects well on our beloved nation. The revenge inherent in a 35 year sentence against Pvt. Manning does not.
Peter Van Buren
A recent post, Forbes: State Department Number Three Dream Employer, about how popular working for the State Department is among people who have never actually worked for the State Department, merited a follow-on. Here it is.
Daniel Garrett was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Japan 2008-2010. The State Department decided he just wasn’t their kind of guy, and let him go. I have never met Dan, but his farewell to the Department of State and his advice to Japan bear quoting at length. People considering a career in the Foreign Service should also consider the price they’ll pay.
Dan, if you’re out there, look me up. I want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. You dodged a bullet, and you should be proud that State pushed you out. Here’s what Dan said:
I used to walk from the US Embassy over to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the message I was to deliver was one I didn’t agree with, I used to walk a little slower, wondering if I was selling my soul for a diplomatic passport. Once, for example, I was asked to deliver a demarche about the US position on cluster munitions (basically that the new generation of these weapons was much safer). Japan, of course, has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the US has not. These horribly indiscriminate weapons (new generation or not) are rightfully banned. For Japan’s signature though to have any real meaning, it cannot allow its major defense ally to store them in Japan: to do so is to be complicit. The US position (as it is with landmines) is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche asking that Japan not support a U.N. resolution calling for research into the health effects of depleted uranium. As the children stillborn, or born deformed in Fallujah and elsewhere testify, depleted uranium weapons pose a horrible health risk even after their initial explosive destructiveness. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once I was asked to deliver a demarche to the government of Japan asking them not to vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council to accept the Goldstone report from the U.N. fact-finding mission to the Gaza conflict. Had this report been written by a US State Department Human Rights Officer (as I was) about a country that wasn’t a US ally, it would have been widely praised by the Secretary of State. The US position was wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for pretending otherwise.
Once, as a Human Rights Officer, I was approached by a Japanese group, the Victims of the Red Purge, asking that I deliver a letter to President Obama, asking for an official apology for this US occupation-instigated action that cost so many innocent Japanese their jobs and dignity. I wrote a cable which included their letter, to be delivered to Washington with the recommendation that the US move past this mistaken cold war overreaction and issue a formal apology. The Embassy however overruled my recommendation. In fact, US intervention in the domestic affairs of Japan to insure it had a loyal anti-communist ally, driven largely by a hysteric level of anti-communist demagoguery in US domestic politics, resulted in a profound warping of Japanese democracy, a warping which has persisted for a very long time. The US position is wrong and I apologize to the people of Japan for not being successful in obtaining both an apology and a formal statement that during the Cold War, while the US posed as a champion of freedom, and in some cases may have actually been so, in far, far too many countries and locales, it was deeply and criminally complicit in the suppression of many peoples who wanted that freedom, but were so unfortunate as to be under regimes that touted their anti-communist credentials.
In my own defense, I did try to raise my concerns in various venues. I sent two Dissent Channel cables on climate change, and still recall with a smile the day in the Ambassador’s mahogany-paneled conference room sitting at his magnificently long table across from a solid line of sparkling medal-bedecked military officers when, following a presentation on anti-missile defense, I pointed out that numerous studies (including from our own Congressional Budget Office) have determined that anti-missile defenses don’t work and it seemed to me that we were doing little more than making Raytheon and other corporations and consultants, rich. Ah, the wonderful awkwardness of that moment as if one could almost palpably hear the air escaping from so many punctured pompous balloons.
And this is where I now ask the people of Japan for help. My country is no longer the country I once knew, a country moving at least in the direction of providing opportunity for all, regardless of income. The tendency to paranoia and international law-breaking was always there, at a low fever, in clandestine and semi-clandestine actions around the world, driven by visions of American exceptionalism pandered onto an all too naïve public. Though I like to believe that there was the intention at least to make the world a better place, in fact these actions were frankly not just frequently amateurish and inept, they resulted in the suffering and death of many. Nor it seems, have any of the lessons been learnt.
Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a national security policy that can most charitably be described as one of anaphylactic shock. Terrorism ranks with shark attacks in terms of real risk. We have, however, so over-reacted, and misreacted to the tragedy that we have become a danger both to ourselves and to others. We have squandered our treasure in the sands of hubris and misunderstanding, and I often wonder now if the real good that we do has become just a fig leaf to cover our obscenely over-muscled shadowhand-tattooed as it is with empty slogans- that wields death and destruction at the press of a button, but doesn’t know how to build, and doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of history. Out of the excesses of our fears, we have perverted our own Constitution, and become a surveillance state in which the government itself moreover has become, in the words of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a “government of the 1% by the 1 % and for the 1%.” With a populace mired in debt, befuddled by vapid corporate media-tainment, and worshiping mindlessly at the rat-race temple of empty consumerism, America is now essentially run by the type of military-industrial-political-banker cabal that President Eisenhower warned about.
Japan please think twice, thrice about the things America asks you to do. Please be a good friend and send as much of our military home as possible. We cannot afford it anymore. Our poor are getting poorer, our education systems are falling behind, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Say that you are happy to work with us, but only if we find a way to either harness or rein in our greed so as to conserve and restore the earth’s natural systems which are all now rapidly being destroyed. Say that you would be happy to be our friend and ally in the greatest battle ever fought, the battle to preserve humanity and the earth from the now rapidly advancing onslaught of climate change. But do not get caught in the misguided adventurism of a decaying empire that is flailing about at phantoms, while the real dangers that haunts it, -climate change, environmental degradation, and the rapidly growing level of inequality of its own people- have essentially been sacrificed on the altar of a military-industrial-political-financial machine that is its own worst enemy.
We today celebrate the reopening for business of the U.S. government, a once proud franchise now reduced to periodic closures and reliance on borrowed money to stay afloat. At the same time, the government remains America’s largest single employer. With the doors reopened today, job-seekers are no doubt lined up for their chance at the trough.
Forbes released the results of a survey of liberal arts majors, asking who their dream employer might be. Number One was Disney, and the usual suspects of Google and Apple scored high. One sort-of surprise was the U.S. Department of State, which ranked Number Three as a dream destination.
The problem of course few if any of those liberal arts majors had ever worked for or substantively interacted with State. Their dreamy images are based entirely on State’s happy-talk propaganda, its Bennetton-like ads promising diversity, its public face suggesting new-hires will be doing important things and moving history.
Well, maybe not. As a public service for those glassy eyed, here is my answer to the question of whether they should join the State Department.
Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity
After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. You will by requirement spend most of your first, second and maybe third assignments doing assembly-line like numbing visa processing, or holding VIP hands as they “Fact find” abroad. An early thrill might be watching the Secretary of State walk by (without a glance towards you) at 5am as you stand near his luggage as the day’s “Baggage Officer.”
There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.
At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. America’s post-9/11 tantrums will ensure more and more countries will become dangerous to Americans. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your spouse at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military somewhere?
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will almost certainly further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. The disparity among schools from country-to-country can mean your kids will end up repeating a grade to catch up. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador (and more than one-third of them are), can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.
It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that job offer. Maybe take another look at Disney first; Mickey is more real than the bunk you are being fed by State’s hired professional recruitment agency.
While naysayers belittle a U.S. government unable to even pay itself to not work, other dedicated federal employees are out there winning the war in Afghanistan. Now thirteen years after the conflict began, a way forward has emerged: franchises.
We all know about these things, right? McDonald’s, Burger King and others sell you the right to open one of their stores. You can buy a franchise for a UPS Store, a Jiffy Lube and just about anything else you can think of. You pay a fee and get the name, all the branded stuff, benefits of national advertising, whatever. A business in a box.
And so to Afghanistan
Your U.S. Commerce Department, after clearly having resolved all unemployment and economic issues in America, has “taken over” Afghanistan. The group held a franchise trade event for seven major international franchise brands and more than 100 Afghan businessmen. Now, the event was held in Dubai of course, because what American businessperson would dare travel into Kabul, but OK, they had those Afghans flown over and the Commerce people got some R&R time in Dubai at the same time. Despite the irony of not holding the event in the actual country it concerned, The It’s Always Sunny in Kabul U.S. Embassy press office bleated that the trade show demonstrated a “belief in the prosperous future of Afghanistan.” The embassy folks also believe that there is a “high demand for American franchise brands in Afghanistan.” Good for them, good for them. Optimism is important thirteen years into a war.
Now, who will buy all the American stuff remains in question. Afghanistan has a $20 billion economy, but a whopping 90 percent of that comes from international assistance.
Talk is cheap. Afghanistan is a place for action, and so it goes with franchising. In fact, two signature American franchises are already in Afghanistan sort of.
Ace is the Place
Ace Hardware is the first. Afghanistan’s Safi Group (see their used car sales page where you can pick up a clean Ford for only US$4000) handed over $1 million dollars for the franchise. They even now have a Facebook page for their ace investment, though the page reeks of State Department social media handlers. Unfortunately, the last posting on the page is a press conference from May, with no clear sign that the Ace Hardware store is actually open. The store as it stands is pictured above, and does look nice. Smart move, not spending too much money on photography. It’s almost as if they built a big shed, painted the Ace Hardware logo on the roof, and called it a day.
The other franchise touted, Cherry Berry yogurt, opened just a convenient few days before the Dubai trade event. It too has a Facebook page in English, with the faint smell of USG social media on it as well. From the Facebook page, the shop looks to be crammed into a small basement of a nondescript building that is so exclusive it doesn’t even feature a Cherry Berry sign out front. Actually, it is probably safer that way, given the Taliban’s predilection for bombing western targets. One happy yogurt patron on the page seemed remarkably not Afghani. A little internet spelunking revealed she works for a social media promotion company run by Americans. One does wonder if that company has any financial or other connection to the U.S. government. Maybe just a coincidence she dropped by for a frozen treat.
So of course this is all a sham, smoke and mirrors so transparent and thin that for the most part this “news” of the American franchise beachhead in Afghanistan exists only in self-serving press releases. I mean, how lame can you be so that even the sad mainstream media thinks you’re too cheesy to report on?
None of this is new, by the way. As a former State Department officer, I remember sitting in meetings during the Iraq Reconstruction hearing how there would be hundreds of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises opening all over the country, and how tourism would soon outpace oil as a source of foreign revenues in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy arranged and then paid for what was then the Bank of Iraq’s only international ATM, conveniently installed on embassy grounds deep inside the Green Zone (FYI: As an experiment I tried to withdraw money from that ATM only to have my credit card shut down as possible fraud by my U.S. bank.) This too was primped and posted as a sure sign of progress in that tortured nation.
Well, we’ve had our fun here today. The youngest U.S. soldiers were ten years old when we invaded Afghanistan right after 9/11 and most likely only have the vaguest idea what all has preceded their arrival in-country. Meanwhile, the real war in Afghanistan drags on. Americans and Afghans die every day. Enjoy your yogurt social media people.
I would have thought that it was a bit early for nostalgia for the halcyon days of Provincial Reconstruction Work (PRT) in Iraq, but things move quickly these days. At least no one is calling it “The Good War’ or us “The Most Recent Greatest Generation.”
But hey, what’s past is past, right (sorry to you Iraqis who live everyday in the hell we Americans now consider “history”)?
So for those who worked in the reconstruction program, or who did not but still want to impress the ladies on a night out, there is available now Baghdad PRT memorabilia. No, no, not the missing billions of dollars in “lost” taxpayer money or the many computers, generators and vehicles bought to grow Iraq’s democracy, but groovy t-shirts and even a logo’ed teddy bear. Snap these up folks!
It is hopefully not necessary to add, but since this is the internet, I have nothing to do with the selling of these items and make no money from either the items or mentioning them here.
Since the government is shut down and thus there is no news to report except that the government is shut down, we’ll have to reach into the memory hole for something to talk about today. Ah, here’s one…
The House Appropriations Committee approved on July 24 an $8 billion cut for 2014 in the roughly $50 billion current international affairs (State and USAID) budget. That same day, the House authorized only a $5 billion reduction in the defense budget of over $600 billion.
The Department of State did not sit ideally by.
The employee association (AFSA for you State people still paying dues to them for this garbage) commissioned a guy who had already written a happy-talk book about State (“America’s Other Army,” give us a break) to interview all of 28 Congressional staffers about their attitudes toward Mother State. The author concluded: “an overwhelming majority (82%) described their experience with the Foreign Service and Department of State as ‘mostly positive.’ Respondents view Foreign Service members as dedicated, intelligent and patriotic public servants who make significant sacrifices…” Awesome. Sounds like an ad on Match.com
The author of the survey then went on ForeignPolicy.com to write a journalist-like article about his own work. Maybe Foreign Policy will next allow authors to review their own books? Sign me up, and hey, good luck with that paywall Foreign Policy.
About that Survey
That anyone at State paid for a survey that reached only 28 staffers out of the thousands on the Hill is in itself hilarious. There are approximately 11,692 personal staff, 2,492 committee staff, 274 leadership staff, 5,034 institutional staff, and 3,500 GAO employees, 747 CRS employees, and 232 CBO employees on the Hill. So basing anything on only 28 interviews is enough to make one wonder what FP.com’s journalistic standards are. Very sad.
Oh yes– the 28 were selected by the author himself, not randomly. About the only bone he throws is that they were half Democrat and half Republican, which itself makes no sense given the variation even within parties.
Here’s a taste if you don’t have the stomach to read the whole thing: One of the survey’s findings is supposedly that Congressional staffers feel that “Content about diplomacy and the Foreign Service should be included in the middle school and high school curriculum.” Sure, sure, squeeze that in between gym and drivers ed.
The author’s broader argument, that basically Congress does not know what State does and thus undervalues, is funnier than his grasp of statistical methods.
Congress knows; they just think State does not do much of importance. Members and their staff travel regularly abroad, where they see State Department diplomats act as their tour guides and bag carriers. As a young diplomat in London, I was assigned to accompany so many Congressional spouses on shopping trips masquerading as official business that my colleagues called me “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store.” Meanwhile, a well-briefed Defense Congressional liaison sits on the gratis military-rpovided plane for every overseas Congressional visit as a respected peer, with hours in the air to score talking points. State handles the luggage on the ground as the Defense Liaison boards the limo to the hotel. Congress knows.
When Committees ask for quick answers from State, they get delays followed by verbatim content-free responses. Subpoenas had to be issued to get State people up to the Hill on Benghazi, and even the Secretary of State had a cascading series of “reasons” not to testify until her last days in office.
So Congress knows.
On the Hill
I worked as one (in 2006) of only two State Department Congressional liaisons to assist all members of both the House and Senate. State was the last Cabinet-level agency to open a liaison office on the Hill, and only then in 2001 (by contrast, the military has had people on the Hill since the early part of the 20th century.) We were the only Cabinet-level liaison office without a dedicated web site. I was not even issued a cell phone and was not given a Blackberry to respond to emails outside the office; staffers just left voice messages for me to pick up Monday morning if I was in the office.
We never gave briefings. State did not pay into a collective fund and so we could not reserve rooms ourselves for meetings. Instead, one of my official duties was to cajole interns on the Foreign Relations Committee to do it on our behalf. We were prohibited from doing any substantial interaction. Instead, 80 percent of the inquiries into my office were demands for visa and passport favors. Most of the other 20 percent were minor administrative things related to Congressional travel. In my year only one actual Member appeared in our office, to say a polite thank you for a U.S. visa facilitated for a well-to-do foreign friend. Congress knew just what we did.
Full disclosure: I was removed from the liaison job after I told staffers the truth about the 2006 Passport Crisis instead of passing on State’s wholly-false talking points. Refusing to lie to Congress is what gets you in trouble at State.
One issue the State Department just can’t get past is the need for realistic self-criticism. They just can’t do it. State instead runs a large “public diplomacy” operation at taxpayer expense in large part to promote itself, and spends tremendous energy on telling itself what a fine job it is doing.
As for reality, Congress expresses itself (yeah I know, for better or worse) in what it funds and what it does not. So the author of all this tripe may wish to take a pause from his defacto job as State Department stenographer and admit: Congress votes against State because indeed Congress knows exactly what they get for their money: America’s Concierge Abroad.
(This article originally appeared on Fire Dog Lake)
Whistleblower Edward Snowden had one of the highest levels of security clearance, and exposed the most secret of NSA work. Chelsea Manning held a Top Secret clearance, and disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified records to Wikileaks. Aaron Alexis held a security clearance and used a shotgun to murder twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Over four million other Americans today hold some form of security clearance from the Federal government. Can we trust them? How did they obtain those clearances? Are Snowden, Manning and Alexis exceptions, or was the process one that could never have been expected to work in the first place? What can be done to make the clearance process work the way it was intended?
What is a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is issued by a part of the U.S. Government (Department of Defense, CIA, the State Department) and says that as a result of some sort of background investigation, and perhaps a polygraph examination, the holder can be trusted to handle sensitive documents and duties and to do so in secret. At the low end, this may mean a contractor like Alexis can enter the Navy Yard without a body search, or at the extremes mean that a person will assume a completely new identity, live abroad, and conduct sensitive, clandestine actions on behalf of the U.S.
Government-wide there are three basic levels of classification and access: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. There are formal definitions, but the basic idea is that the higher you go up the ladder, the more harm and damage disclosure would create. Added to this three-tiered system are many subcategories, including Sensitive But Unclassified, for well, unclassified things that are still sensitive, such as an applicant’s social security number, Law Enforcement Sensitive and the self-explanatory like. Once more or less the top of hill, Top Secret, TS, is now supplemented by Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), often used to denote information obtained from intelligence sources. There also many, many flavors of Special Access Programs (SAP) that require both a very high level clearance and permission to access just that single project. A clandestine operation against Iran, or the identities of spies in Syria, might be in this category. The military also creates its own lexicon of classifications.
While the range of what “cleared” people do for the United States covers much territory, the clearance process is largely a variation on a single note: let’s look into what this person has said and done in his/her life prior to seeking a clearance, and then try to extrapolate that into what they will do once cleared. But because, like with your mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future success, the process is inherently flawed.
How To Get Cleared
Despite the wide variety of clearances available, the process of obtaining one is similar. What changes is less the process of looking into someone’s life than the depth and granularity of the look.
Most everyone seeking a clearance begins at the same place, filling out Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86. The form itself is no secret, and available on line, though many agencies have supplemental forms and requirements not public.
The SF-86 is mainly a very detailed autobiography, the raw material that fuels the rest of the process. Young people filling out their first SF-86 invariably end up on the phone to mom, gathering old addresses they lived at as kids, birthdays of disconnected relatives, foreign countries visited on family trips and more, a lot more: the SF-86 runs some 129 pages. Some interesting stuff is near the end; almost silly questions such as “Have you ever engaged in an act of terrorism?” and a follow-up requiring you to describe, in one line, “The nature and reason for the terror activity.”
However, after a hundred pages of names and dates and silly questions, the SF-86 dips into the deal breakers, the questions that weed out quickly those who are unlikely to get very far in the clearance process. Applicants are asked to self-describe financial problems, debts, drug use, gambling, drinking, mental health issues, legal troubles, job firings and more. Whether out of duty and honor, or more likely a thought process that the agency will find out anyway and lying is an automatic disqualification (it usually is; if one lies on a security check, what else is fair game to lie about?), most applicants do tell the truth and easily disqualify themselves.
First Level of Background Checks
Though the details vary from agency to agency, everyone gets some standard checks run on them. Since U.S. Citizenship is the most basic and unwaivering requirement for a clearance, every applicant’s claim is verified. In my own case (I held a Top Secret clearance for 22 years), investigators obtained a certified paper copy of my actual birth certificate from a distant city, and were nice enough to give it to me when the process was over in case I needed it for something. I’m not sure they’re as nice these days.
Every applicant then gets a run through whatever databases and electronic records can be found. This step is increasingly detailed as more and more of our lives move on line. The goal is to verify quickly as much of the self-provided data on the SF-86 and to skim off the low-hanging fruit. A serious arrest record, neck-deep financial problems and the like will be easily found. Checks are also run through the various intelligence files (a “National Agency Check”) to make sure while you’re applying for a job at the State Department you are not on some secret list of bad guys over at CIA. Before everything went on line that used to happen once in awhile, though now the biggest problem is both too much irrelevant information and the need to wonder about the accuracy of what was found; that record entry from the Pigeon Hollow local police department from 1983– accurate enough to deny someone a career over?
Absent any whoppers uncovered, most applicants are given a chance to explain abnormalities. Some say this is to be fair, some say it makes the agency’s job much easier if the applicant will either self-incriminate with even more details, or just voluntarily withdraw knowing she was caught.
For some low-level or short-term clearances, the process can stop here and a decision is made. The time period varies, but usually is in the area of a couple of months for a background-only clearance. Much of this work, due to the volume and perceived simplicity of the process, is farmed out now to private contractors. Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, had such a background-only clearance, done by a contracting firm in Northern Virginia that specializes in such work for the government. The same firm worked on a part of Edward Snowden’s clearance.
Full Background Investigation
For higher level clearances, including Top Secret, a full spectrum background investigation is required. Someone, typically a combination of someones including agency investigators and contractors, will comb through the SF-86 and whatever the electronic searches uncover and conduct field interviews. The investigator really will visit an applicant’s home town school teachers, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, basically giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do. This is old fashioned shoe leather police work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11. The investigator will ask each interviewee to keep quiet about the interview, but typically the applicant will get a hushed phone call or email from some old acquaintance saying the Feds just knocked. Many of the contract investigators at this level are retired FBI or Secret Service people and often will present their old ID to add some gravitas to the procedure. If an applicant lived abroad, the process is tasked out to various liaisons and the nearest U.S. Embassy.
The process is proactive; the investigator must find people to talk to who know the applicant. If he can’t (say wrong addresses, or no one from the USG can track down an old college roommate now in Tehran) the investigation often “pauses,” sometimes indefinitely. Not being able to find adequate information on an applicant is a big negative.
As you can imagine, this process is not quick. Most full background investigations take at least a year and complex lives, especially if the applicant has lived abroad and has many foreign contacts, can drag… on… for… years… All this on-the-street work does not come cheap. It is hard to put a number on it, as obviously the complexity of the applicant’s life will dictate costs, but a full background investigation can run $15-20,000.
For many agencies, including the CIA and NSA, another step in the clearance process is the polygraph, the lie detector. The federal government polygraphs about 70,000 people a year in connection with security clearances.
What portion of the polygraph process that isn’t shrouded in movie drama is classified, but the basics are simple; even TV’s Mythbusters show looked into it. The process is based on the belief that when one fibs one’s body involuntarily expresses stress in the form of higher blood pressure, changes in pulse, breathing and perspiration rate. Those things can be precisely monitored. Did you ever steal anything? No? That’s a lie– see here, your heart rate went up 15 percent when you answered.
The reality is much more complex. Though I have never been polygraphed, I have spoken with many government employees who have been. Here’s what they had to say.
The whole polygraph experience is set up as a mind game. Subjects can be kept waiting a long time, or left in a too-cold or too-hot room, and interviews can be scheduled and then canceled to create stress. A planted staffer in the waiting room can tell the applicant they are being watched, even make a comment such as “You shouldn’t read that kind of magazine while waiting, they judge that too.” There may be mirrors, real or imagined two-way viewing panels. This is referred to as the pre-test. It sets the stage.
Some say that the presence of the polygraph machine itself may be mostly for show, and the real nuts and bolts of the process are actually just clever manipulation and interrogation techniques as old as dirt. An awful lot of information obtained via a polygraph has nothing to do with the needles and dials per se, but the applicant’s fear of them and belief that they “work.” Polygraphers are allowed considerable freedom in style, and some get more into role-playing than others.
That said, most polygraphers will first establish baseline readings with irrelevant questions– “Is your name John?” Yes. “Is your name Micheal?” No. He will try and put the subject at ease, asking softball questions such as “Do you plan to tell the truth today?” Nobody can answer no honestly (it is believed) and this helps create a trusting atmosphere where the polygrapher assures the subject that everyone has told little lies and his job is to sort those out from the “big” ones. The polygrapher will also likely point out things on the charts or “explain” the details of his work; the goal is to plant the idea in the subject’s head that the machine is an accurate way to detect lies. This sets up the next phase.
The polygrapher will have reviewed the background investigation results and slowly move into the meat of the interview, asking both broad questions– “Do you have a drinking problem?” and specific ones– “Then why did you have this DUI in March 2003?” Many times the got ya’ question, including a why or when or who, is really a way to play off the applicant’s fear and get her to talk. Look at the sequence above. It is unlikely that someone will admit to a drinking problem, yet the next query is about an actual DUI. The applicant’s natural inclination will be to explain, to talk about the DUI, all the time knowing her answer is being run through a “lie detector.” Often the applicant will self-incriminate.
Lastly, there is the post-interview test, often the time when the most information is disclosed. The subject feels at ease, having “finished” the polygraph. One tactic is, after a lengthy review of the charts and after much hemming and hawing, maybe a sigh or two and a consultation with “another expert” outside the interviewing room, the polygrapher comes in and says “I think you’re a nice kid, and I like you. I know you want this job and I want to help you get it. The problem is, here (gestures to some squiggly line marked in red), where you said you never used drugs, the machine indicates you might not have told the truth. Now, look, I’ll turn off the machine and you just tell me what really happened and I’ll try to go to bat for you.” Self-incrimination follows, game over, thanks for playing today!
In some instances, only a limited polygraph will be conducted, as opposed to a full-lifestyle test. In a “coordination of expectations” test, used in many military and update-only situations, very specific and limited questions will be asked. Sometimes the subject will even know the questions in advance, such as “Since your last polygraph, have you transferred classified information without authorization?”
There exists a point of view that the polygraph is indeed more useful than simply as a prop, and that you can “fool the box” physically and pass the test. There are people who purport to teach tricks and techniques designed to do so. The basic idea is to register false anxiety during true relevant questions, thus making your real anxiety on lies less clear. People are taught to clench their sphincter to induce a measurable but false stress reaction, to bite their tongue or to place a tack inside their shoe to poke themselves and send pain-induced stress indicators. Others teach a kind of meditation. As counter-countermeasures, there are rumors of polygraphers placing real or fake “stress” pads on the seats of chairs, and inspecting applicants’ shoes. For the most part, however, the Feds just poo-pooed these ideas, claiming over the years that they were a waste of money because they just did not work.
Interestingly, however, the government has very recently changed its position, and is now actively seeking to prosecute those who teach “how to beat the box.” Prosecutors have raised the specters of terrorists infiltrating the CIA, or pedophiles securing sensitive positions. The possibility that the prosecutions are only security theater is also real, an expansion of the mind game, given that despite the prosecutions strategies for passing a polygraph are still just a Google away, including on the ever-so-pedestrian WikiHow.
Up to this point the clearance process has been mostly the aggregation of information. Along the way some applicants might be picked off, people whose U.S. Citizenship wasn’t verifiable, people who made whopping self-incriminations, applicants scared off or afraid what the process might reveal. But overall, most applicants for a clearance end up in Adjudication. And in Adjudication lies the core problem in the clearance process: it relies on human judgment.
The basics of an adjudication look at vulnerabilities, and especially at past examples of trust kept or violated.
Vulnerabilities are more concrete, and thus easier, to determine. Historically, people betray their country’s trust for (in rough order) money, sex, ego or ideology. People with loads of debt or a gambling problem are more susceptible to bribes. People with records of infidelity or a pattern of poor judgment with partners might be lured into sexual encounters that could be used to blackmail them. In the bad old days when most gay and lesbian applicants were deeply closeted, this was used as a one-size-fits-all pseudo-reason to deny them employment. Ego is a tougher one to pin down, but persons who lack self-esteem or who want to play at being a “real spy” might be tempted to become “heroes” for the other side. Ideology is a growing issue as more and more hyphenated Americans seek government work and, needing qualified language employees, more and more are recruited by the government. Will a Chinese-American’s loyalty fall to her new home or to the old country? What about a born-and-bred whitebread American, but with a spouse from Egypt? Would his allegiances be blurred? Even if he bleeds red, white and blue, could the Egyptians cajole, blackmail or threaten his spouse’s parents back home to make him cooperate?
Back in the good old days, when qualification for high level positions required one to be male, pale and Yale, these things were less of concern. Fathers recruited sons, professors noted promising students and no one thought much about the messy range of people now eligible– or sought– for government work. Need fluent Pashtu speakers? You’re going to have to recruit farther afield than the country club. Agencies who used to toss back into the pond pretty much anyone without a pristine background now face unfilled critical positions. So, standards change, always have changed and will continue to change. Security clearances just work that way.
If vulnerabilities seem sometimes ambiguous to adjudicate, the next category, trust, is actually much harder. Persons who have kept trusts extended to them, not been fired, not broken laws, paid their bills, saw to their responsibilities, are in the Nice category. Those who didn’t end up over in Naughty. The adjudication part becomes important because very few people are perfect, and very few are really bad. Most everyone falls in the middle, and so agencies must make judgment calls.
For example, in modern America some casual drug and alcohol abuse is not outside the boundaries of normal, especially when it is self-admitted, and done when a person was young and maybe in an experimental phase of life such as college. So, while twenty years ago copping to smoking some weed was an automatic no for a clearance, now, hypothetically, a 26 year old grad student who says she might have smoked a joint four years ago at a party but didn’t like it so did not do it again, and who passes her current urine test, might be approved. Same for debt; it is not unusual for an American today to carry heavy credit card debt or a six figure student loan, but if he’s paying it off, maybe not so bad. Mental health issues are tricky; again, nowadays seeing a mental health professional and taking common meds like anti-depressants is a very commonplace thing with little stigma attached. The key issue under question is whether or not an applicant’s judgment is impaired by a mental health condition, and often real medical professionals get involved to sort this out.
There are rules and standards for these adjudications, some of which are even on line. The problem is not having or knowing the rules, the problem is figuring out how to apply them. In one of my own assignments at the State Department, I was part of a group that reviewed background investigative reports. I saw a lot of them, mostly new applicants, and was part of a process that was used to help determine “suitability” for employment. The easiest way to win a fight is not to get into a fight, and so instead of formally denying a security clearance and opening a potential can of worms, some agencies conduct a suitability review to basically weed out people unlikely to get a clearance, on a more amorphous, less-challengeable, vaguer not-so-legalistic basis. Different hallway to the same exit door, it is the clearance process at work nonetheless.
The adjudication process as I saw it was taken seriously. We were taught to look for patterns of life and not at isolated incidents. The goal was to try and come up with a picture of the person, and then project that picture forward into what they might be like on the job. Like any human-powered process that attempts to predict the future, it was flawed. After pushing the Eagle Scouts to one side and the convicted arsonists to the other, there was always a big pile left in the middle. And we knew that at least statistically we probably made some errors approving the Eagle Scouts and some mistakes turning down at least a couple of the arsonists. The race is not always to the swift and sure, but that’s the way you have to bet.
So How Did Snowden, Manning and Alexis Get Cleared?
Snowden is the easy case. Based on what is publicly available, Snowden was a slam dunk approval. He had held high level clearances with the government for many years without issue. He did not have any drinking, drug, debt, mental health or personal problems. He seemed like a relatively dull guy actually. Nothing in the security clearance process could have ever peeked into his head and found that he was a person of conscience who decided to blow the whistle and radically alter his life to bring the NSA’s sleazy, illegal activities into daylight. While the NSA certainly should be blamed for unbelievably lax internal controls on who could access and copy its data, the clearance process worked exactly as it was designed to work. Claims that short cuts in the process were at fault are wrong.
Chelsea Manning is at best a gray area, and likely should never have been given a clearance. She made little attempt to hide her gender confusion inside a hyper-macho world, struggled against the Army system at every turn, fought physically with her supervisors and was alienated and ostracized by her peers. Despite all that, she was deployed into an environment where counseling was unavailable, where security and supervision were lax to the point of criminality and where the stresses of combat conditions pressed heavy on everyone. It is unclear why she was cleared, though the most likely reason was that the Army was desperately short of analysts and could not afford to lose one, even one stuck in a slow-motion train wreck.
Alexis, the Navy Yard killer, should never have been granted any security clearance. His was a preventable tragedy. Because he held only a lower level clearance, it is very likely that no field investigation took place. All those friends and family members the media found who readily told of his problems with hearing voices, violence and drink were likely never interviewed by the government contractor assigned his case. One screaming red flag, Alexis’ lying about a gun-related arrest, was not considered significant. The system failed for various reasons to pick up on his string of other arrests, and no one seemed to care about his uneven service record in the Navy. Clear human error, likely as a result of turning such clearances over to the for-profit sector.
Picking up on Alexis in particular, it is important to note that the clearance process is not a real-time endeavor. Someone applies, some sort of background check is done and a clearance decision is adjudicated. Next case, please. Most clearances are only reviewed every five years and then investigators lean heavily on anything new or changed, and especially on the subject’s performance those five years. There is no 24/7 continuous reevaluation process. A felony arrest properly documented might pop up, and many agencies yearly run standard credit checks and conduct random drug tests. But overall, absent something self-reported or too obvious to ignore, a clearance rides for five years, sometimes literally with no questions asked. How could it be otherwise with over four million active cleared Americans strung across the globe?
Following Snowden, Manning and now Alexis, much noise will be generated about “doing something.” But what? Dramatically increasing the number and scope of on-the-street investigations will spiral wildly into crazy expenses and even longer waiting periods. It could bring the hiring process to its knees, and spawn more and more “temporary clearances,” a self-defeating act. This all with no assurance of better results due to both limitations on the whole concept (see Snowden) or human judgment errors (Alexis). If done properly, such changes might catch a few of the Alexis’ out there, but to be honest, there are few Alexis’ out there to begin with and most of them will be sending up obvious danger signals at work long if anyone would pay attention before a clearance review catches up.
It is certain that many in the government will call for more aggressive “monitoring” of employees, having them sign away basically all of their civil rights in return for a job. The government will turn its vast intelligence gathering tools further inward and end up pointlessly compiling CIA officers’ credit card receipts from Applebee’s, the web browsing habits of diplomats’ children and so forth. In truth, a lot of that is probably already going on now anyway (the CIA and other intel agencies have had for years robust counterintelligence operations designed specifically to spy on their own spies.) Yet as noted, even ramped up, real-time monitoring would not have caught the current Snowden and is unlikely to catch the next Snowden (albeit to the nation’s broader benefit!) You just can’t see into a person’s head, or his heart.
In addition to a huge waste of money and resources, these measures will inevitably lead to more mistrust and paranoia inside government. Lack of sharing (the CIA believes things it shares with State get leaked, the Army won’t give things away to the Navy, the FBI hoards info so as to not let another agency get credit for the bust, the NSA doesn’t trust anyone, and so forth) is already an issue among agencies, and even inside of agencies, and helped pave the way for 9/11. In addition, handing even more power to security teams will also not work well in the long run. Hyper-scrutiny will no doubt discourage more decent people from seeking government work, unwilling to throw their lives open for a job if they have prospects elsewhere. The Red Scare of the 1950s, and the less-known Lavender Scares, when labeling someone gay inside government would see him fired, show what happens when security holds too many cards. James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunting at CIA, which ruined many careers, is still a sore point at Langley. In my own case, my unblemished clearance of 22 years was suspended because of a link on my blog. The link was pedestrian but the blog offended the State Department politically, and security was the tool they tried to use to silence me. No, unleashing the bullies won’t help.
Fixing It: Less is More
As a wise man once said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you. The only answer to the clearance problem is to simply require fewer cleared people inside government.
This will require the tsunami of document classification to be dammed. In FY2009 alone, 54 million U.S. Government documents were classified. Every one of those required cleared authors and editors, system administrators and database technicians, security personnel and electronic repair persons. Even the cafeteria personnel who fed them lunch needed some sort of vetting.
With fewer people to clear, always-limited resources can be better focused. Better background checks can be done. Corners need not be cut, and unqualified people would not be issued clearances out of necessity. Processing time would be reduced. Human judgment, always the weak link, could be applied slower and more deliberately, with more checks and balances involved.
More monitoring won’t help and will very likely hurt. In a challenge as inherently flawed as the clearance process, the only way forward is less, not more.
So a person attacks the Capitol building and gets gunned down by the cops, just two weeks after the Navy Yard mass shooting. A man set himself on fire on the National Mall, just outside one of the closed Smithsonian museums. The NSA continues to lie about spying on Americans, get caught lying, then says, OK, we lied about that, but not this next thing. Over 5,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian violence in the past ten months (65 yesterday alone) but despite a recent nine year American invasion, occupation and retreat, that story isn’t really news. Afghanistan devolves daily, with the U.S. bailout there scheduled for next year. Two out of ten American children live below the poverty line. The U.S. government, meanwhile, is… closed.
Did I miss anything? I haven’t checked the news in the last hour. Some days it feels like I woke up huffing paint.
As the Vietnam War’s futility became evident, and as most-trusted man-in-America Walter Cronkite came out against it, then-president LBJ said “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” When was the last time we weren’t cynical about politics and government, when we had hope for change? Yeah, that was that 2008 thing. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE
Well America, when you’ve lost the young people, you’ve lost the future. We welcome a new friend of the blog today, who sends this message:
An open letter to the Ladies and Gentlemen of the 113th United States Congress:
Most kids tend to grow out of the “I want to be President” stage at around age 12, I however did not. That is, until today. Today is October 1, 2013, the day Congress led the federal government to a shutdown, simultaneously leaving thousands of federal employees out of work and crushing the last bits of hope and trust I had for our government and my future (Not to mention cutting off the panda cam at the national zoo. Not OK.)
I grew up less than 25 minutes from DC my entire life, and spent my childhood wandering around the monuments and the national mall, daydreaming about how one day I would be a part of that elite “inside the beltway” club. I have spent the last decade of my life telling anyone who would listen that one day I would become Speaker of the House, and then eventually, President of the United States, and each time I did, I was met with responses such as “stay away from politics – it is a dirty game” and “wouldn’t you rather have a job that helps people?’. Time and time again, I would look those people straight into their disapproving eyes and tell them that not all politicians were bad and that some truly did care and work to get things done. Usually my responses were met with condescending remarks about how cute I was and how I’d learn when I was older, but I meant every word. I spent four years in college studying Government and Politics, racking up debt that I will likely be re-paying until I am 65, to prove to those people that our government is not all bad and that I could make a difference in the field.
Little did I know, I was wrong. So wrong.
Over the past several weeks I have seen just how ridiculous and petty the people who hold some of the highest and most prestigious offices in our nation can be. I have seen my role models let their stubbornness and ignorance shut down an entire nation. Honestly, I have seen better cooperation in a first grade classroom, or better yet in the Great Ape House at the National Zoo (which is now closed). It is hard for me to comprehend how educated adults, who the people have entrusted to run our country, can be so childish as to allow THE ENTIRE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO SHUT DOWN. You are literally shutting a nation down because you can not learn to compromise and agree with one another, do you not realize that? These are skills you should have learned in elementary school. Though I guess it isn’t your fault if you didn’t since our educational system isn’t where it should be. Oh wait. That is your fault.
So basically, I just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes to what Congress and the Federal government are really all about. Thank you for crushing the hopes and dreams I have carried with me since I was twelve years old, and leaving me with a useless degree, and no trust in my government. Oh yeah, and thanks for almost completely shutting down the city I love more than any other place in the world. At least I can take comfort in the fact that you are still receiving your paychecks and that your families won’t go hungry.
If any of your friends in the private sector are hiring, kindly let me know.
Outside America’s non-working Capitol Building yesterday, cops killed an unarmed woman with a baby in her car after the car had crashed and was stationary. When the cops had her stopped the first time, she did not fire any shots or give any indication she had a weapon.
Not that anyone noticed, but cops in the DC area killed another unarmed citizen on Tuesday. No indications this one was mentally ill, just wouldn’t stop running when told to do so by the cops (Did he hear the order? Was his adrenaline rush too much? Was he scared of being hand cuffed and beaten?)
Typical rules of engagement for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan require someone to brandish a weapon before he can be blasted away. Not always followed, but cops in America do not even have the paper restriction. I’ve written elsewhere about making life-and-death decisions in ambiguous wartime situations.
We all know that cops have a dangerous job; they know that too. I know they are scared, dealing with unclear, threatening situations. The dead woman at the Capitol was likely mentally ill (Did she have access to psychological care?)
But none of that grants them the right to conduct executions on our streets.
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