First, a quick recap of how the internet works. People from all over the world put stuff on the web (“posts”). In many cases you the viewer do not know who posted something, when they did it, where they live or where they obtained the information they posted. It is just there on your screen. If the info is of interest, you can link to it, sending instructions via chat, email, HTML, Facebook or whatever to someone else, telling them where to find the information.
The act of linking is analogous to saying “Hey, did you see that article in the Times on page 4? Check it out.” It is kind of what the internet is about. Here’s how the government seeks to criminalize linking from one article on the web to another.
The United States v. Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011 Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to the Wikileaks site.
The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments.
To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.
(To be further clear, Brown is no choirboy. He was once addicted to heroin, is accused of threatening an FBI agent on YouTube and who knows, may be mean to strangers. And so what. What matters is his actions, not his Match.com profile.)
Browns Wins, Though Broader Issues Remain
The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) supported Brown throughout his arrest. Because the government imposed a gag order on Brown speaking publicly about his situation, friends such as the EFF were critical in keeping the case in the public eye. The significance of Brown’s case was made quite clear by the EFF:
The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas today [March 5, 2014] filed a motion to dismiss eleven charges against Barrett Brown in a criminal prosecution that would have had massive implications for journalism and the right of ordinary people to share links. EFF has written extensively about the case and had planned to file an amicus brief on Monday on behalf of several reporters groups arguing for the dismissal of the indictment.
Brown, an independent journalist, was prosecuted after he shared a link to thousands of pages of stolen documents in an attempt to crowdsource the review of those documents—a common technique for many journalists. The records came from the US government contractor, Stratfor Global Intelligence and documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments. They also included thousands of stolen credit card numbers. Brown had no involvement in the hack, but was charged nonetheless with identity theft.
Looking for a Test Case
Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while the government was clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, it did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater principle the government seeks.
Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the internet, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.
U.S. Government Orders its Employees to Not Look at Wikileaks and Others
For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at work.
Before Barrett Brown, Me
The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.
In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from this blog.
State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment.
There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders as was Brown.
There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:
– With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.
– In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.
– Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.
Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests,” John Kerry said on Meet the Press. “This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”
Following Kerry’s comment, laughter could be heard from Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, many undisclosed parts of Africa, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and across the Middle East. Faint chortles echoed out of Grenada, Bosnia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Snickers in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The Triumph of Syria
Kerry of course had previously brought the joy of laughter to the world in the midst of the last Syrian “crisis.” Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the Obama administration’s urge to launch strikes against al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.”
But like any good comedian, Kerry saved the big joke for last, when, in London enflight to the new, bestest war ever, Kerry famously and offhandedly said conflict could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach, with Vladimir Putin as an unlikely peacemaker. The U.S. did not attack Syria and the show ended with a good belly laugh for all.
Onward to the Ukraine
With Kerry once again taking the show on the road by flying to the Ukraine, all of cable TV has arisen as one demanding options, demanding cards to be played, demanding a catalog of “what the U.S. can do.” As a public service, here is that catalog of U.S. options for the Crimean Crisis:
–Seal Team 6 will infiltrate Russia, ring Putin’s doorbell late at night and run away in Operation DING&DITCH. Ashton Kutcher will lead the Team.
– A senior U.S. Embassy official in Moscow will cluck his tongue and roll his eyes disapprovingly.
– State Department social media rangers will send out Tweets calling Putin a “poopy head.” The Russian translation by State will actually come across as “A green dog’s sandwich” but sure, they’ll get we’re mad.
– The NSA will hack Putin’s web cam sessions, showing him shirtless. Putin himself will turn around and post the video online.
– The NSA will also break into Putin’s NetFlix queue and change everything to romantic comedies and Jack Black movies.
– The U.S. will recruit remaining allies Lichtenstein, Monaco, East Timor and Freedonia to enforce sanctions against Russia.
– The State Department will direct Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to say “F*ck the E.U.,” in a recorded conversation with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.
– Obama will unfriend Putin on Facebook.
Flashman at the Charge
As is obvious, there is little the U.S. can, should or will do. The more the U.S. swaggers hollowly about the Crimea, the sadder it all sounds.
John Kerry, in what he thought was a stinging remark, labeled Russia’s invasion of the Crimean “19th century behavior in the 21st century.” As usual, Kerry was close to being right without actually realizing what he said.
The 19th century player in this Great Gameis actually the U.S. itself. After following the footsteps of the British Empire into Iraq, after plunging deep into the graveyard of the British Empire in Afghanistan, after fumbling in the British swamp of Pakistan, the U.S. now returns to the land of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimea. Like the Victorian British, the U.S. imagines the world as a chessboard where it can move pieces around with predictable results, shaping world affairs to its own advantage while placing opponents in check. If that was ever true, the events of the last decade demonstrate it is not true anymore.
As with everyone else who failed to learn the lessons of history and thus will be doomed to repeat them, inevitably next, the U.S. will slip beneath the waves as did the British Empire, over-extended, bankrupt and endlessly tied to foreign policy adventures that mean nothing while the world changes around it. It’s been a good run though, right?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
While poets and psychologists talk about soldiers bringing the battlefield home with them, in fact, the U.S. is doing just that. More and more, weapons, tactics, techniques and procedures that have been used abroad in war are coming home, this time employed against American Citizens.
A front-page article in the Washington Post confirms that wartime surveillance blimps– aerostats– used in Iraq and Afghanistan will now monitor most of the Northeast United States. The aerostats will be able to track individual cars and trucks as they move about their business.
Welcome Home Aerostat
The latest (known) example of war technology coming home is the aerostat, a medium-sized blimp tethered high above its target area. Anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan will recognize the thing, as one or more flew over nearly every military base of any size or importance (You can see photos online).
What did those blimps do in war? Even drones have to land sometime, but a blimp can stay aloft 24/7/forever. Blimps are cheaper and do not require skilled pilots. Blimps can carry literally tons of equipment, significantly more than a drone. The blimps can carry any sensor or technology the U.S. has available, suspending it at altitude to soak up whatever that sensor is aimed at– cell calls, radio waves, electronic whatevers. The aerostats also carried high-powered cameras, with heat and night vision of course. While in Iraq, I had the aerostat video feed on my desktop. Soldiers being soldiers, occasional diversions were found when a camera operator spotted almost anything of vague interest, including two dogs mating, an Iraqi relieving himself outdoors or on really dull days, even a person hanging out laundry. The device obviously also had much less benign tasks assigned to it.
The war has come home again, as the Army confirmed that by summer 2014 at least two of these aerostats will be permanently over the Washington DC area. They will be run by the Army, using operators who likely learned their trade at war. The aerostats are brought to you by the Raytheon company, who also makes some of America’s favorite weapons and surveillence gear.
Armor, Drones and Armed Drones
Others have written about the rise of warrior cops. Armored military-style vehicles are now part of most big-city police forces, as are military-style weapons. The FBI has admitted to using drones over America. In a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report, the Customs and Border Protection agency suggests arming their fleet of drones to “immobilize TOIs,” or targets of interest.
Stingray Knows Where You Are
Much of the technology and methodology the NSA and others have been shown to be using against American Citizens was developed on and for the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular the advanced use of cell phones to track people’s movements.
A technique now at use here at home is employing a fake cell phone tower under a program called Stingray. Stingrays spoof a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick nearby cellphones and other wireless devices into connecting to the fake tower instead of a nearby real one. When devices connect, stingrays can harvest MAC addresses and other unique identifiers and data, as well as location information. To prevent detection, the stingray relays the call itself to a real tower so the pickup is transparent to the caller. By gathering the wireless device’s signal strength from various locations, the Feds can pinpoint where the device is being used with much more precision than they can get through data obtained from the mobile network provider’s fixed tower location.
Better yet, stingray bypasses the phone company entirely. Handy when the phone company is controlled by the enemy, handy when laws change and the phone companies no longer cooperate with the government, handy when you simply don’t want the phone company to know you’re snooping on its network.
Also refined in Iraq, Afghanistan and the greater archipelago of the war of terror was the use of metadata and data-mining, essentially amassing everything, however minor or unimportant, and then using increasingly powerful computers to pull out of that large pile actionable information, i.e., specific information to feed back to combat commanders and special forces to allow them to kill specific people. Knowing, for example, the name of a guy’s girlfriend leads to knowing what car she drives which leads to knowing when she left home which leads to listening to her make a date via cell phone which leads a credit card charge for a room which leads to a strike on a particular location at a specific time, high-tech flagrante delicto.
The FBI has followed the NSA’s wartime lead in creating its Investigative Data Warehouse, a collection of more than a billion documents on Americans including intelligence reports, social security files, drivers’ licenses, and private financial information including credit card data. All accessible to 13,000 analysts making a million queries monthly. One of them called it the “uber-Google.”
It’s All Good
No need to worry Citizens, as the aerostats will only be used for your own good. In fact, their sensors will scan for incoming cruise missiles, mine-laying ships, armed drones, or anything incoming from hundreds of miles away, because of course Washington is constantly being attacked by those sorts of things (I love the idea of protecting the city from mine-laying ships sneaking up the Potomac River).
Those DC-based aerostats will certainly not have employed the Gorgon Stare system, now in use in Afghanistan to rave reviews. Gorgon Stare, made up of nine video cameras, can transmit live images of physical movement across an entire town (four km radius), much wider in scope than any drone. Might be handy for VIP visits and presidential stuff, however, right?
And of course the temptation to mount a stingray device where it can ping thousands of cell phones would be ignored.
But I could be wrong about all the 1984-stuff, in which case the multi-million dollar aerostat program would be noteworthy only as another waste of taxpayer money. Remember when that was what made us the maddest about the government?
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Distracting people from real issues with shiny objects is called “hope and change” nowadays. Here’s the latest (and this is not satire.)
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed administration “officials close to the matter,” tells us that four suggestions for “NSA reform” will be forwarded to the president for a decision.
A Quick Recap
Prior to June of last year and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, most people had only a limited idea at best of the depth and expanse of NSA spying on Americans here in Das Homeland. It was not widely known that nearly every/every bit of electronic effluence we produce was being monitored, stored and analyzed for our safety and security. We had no idea that our very lives were just one NSA-missed email away from ending.
Now we know a little bit more, keeping firmly in mind that only a tiny portion of Snowden’s information has been published, and that Snowden is only one whistleblower from only one of the universe of U.S. and international intelligence agencies that actively spy on all of us. In addition, Snowden’s revelations are mostly about what information the NSA and others collect, and a bit about how they collect it. We know almost nothing about what is done with that information.
The NSA Reform Recommendations
Still, even this tiny peep-hole view of Big Brother set off enough noise among Americans that the president was moved to create the appearance of action and reform. Hence the four recommendations the Wall Street Journal tells us will be offered to the president so that he can make a decision. Let’s have a look at those recommendations (Reminder: this is not satire.)
Recommendation One: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.
Recommendation Two: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation some other part of the government would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.
Recommendation Three: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation some non-telecom, non-government entity would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.
Recommendation Four: The entire spying program would be ended.
Those Jingling Keys
Leaving aside the obvious proof that the government still has a sense of humor proposing Recommendation Four, it is equally obvious that One, Two and Three are no reform, change or hope whatsoever. They are merely the illusion of change, the jingling keys.
Such false “reforms” are the new normal in our post-Constitutional America. Once implemented, these reforms will then be endlessly cited by the president, the press and both parties as proof that they are listening, evidence that Something Has Been Done and that it is time to move on. As a bonus, the reforms will be available to further disrespect Snowden, asserting that his stated goal– to provoke debate and reform– has been satisfied. His work done, Snowden thus should return to America immediately for imprisonment.
Thank you for reading this but do not be further distracted by its content. Please disperse and go about your daily lives, Citizens.
BONUS CONTENT: Only on February 26 did we learn that the Justice Department asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow it to hold the already-collected bulk telephone records beyond the currently-allowed five years.
Why the sudden need? Because the ACLU and others are suing Justice over the collection program, and Justice says destroying the records would be inconsistent with legal obligations to retain evidence. Naughty ACLU, see what you did! Now you made it so the government has to hold our phone records longer!
In 2011, the U.S. midwifed the creation of a new nation, South Sudan. Though at the time Obama invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King speaking about Ghana (“I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment”) in officially recognizing the country, many were more focused on the underlying U.S. motives, isolating the rest of Sudan as part of the war on terror, and securing the oil reserves in the south for the U.S. The State Department rushed to open an embassy in South Sudan, and U.S. money poured in to pay for the new government. Like his counterparts from Iraq and Afghanistan when the U.S. was still in charge of those places, the new South Sudan president was brought to the White House for photos, all blithely pushed out to the world via the Voice of America. The two leaders were said to have discussed “the importance of maintaining transparency and the rule of law.”
In 2012 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the nation as part of an extended effort at creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign, and Obama publicly applauded a deal brokered between Sudan and South Sudan on oil pipeline fees that the White House claimed would “help stem the ongoing violence in the region.”
However, like in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places that fell apart while being democratized and stabilized by the U.S. (one also thinks of Libya, itself part of the African continent), the rush to mediagenic proclamations without addressing the underlying fundamentals led only to catastrophe. A scant few years later, South Sudan is at the brink of civil war and societal collapse, the U.S. is evacuating another embassy and indeed one variety or another of “rebels” are shooting at U.S. military aircraft arriving in their country in violation of their national sovereignty. Those who believe that the U.S. efforts in South Sudan do not involve special forces on the ground and drones overhead no doubt will have a nice Christmas waiting up to catch a glimpse of Santa.
Obama, apparently unwilling to remember how he stood aside while an elected government recently fell apart in Egypt, went on to double-down on hypocrisy by stating in regards to South Sudan, “Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of long-standing support from the United States and the international community.”
The Militarization of Africa
If the U.S. efforts in South Sudan were isolated, that would be tragedy enough. However, the U.S. militarization of Africa paints such a sad, similar picture that it bears a recapping here. The always on-track Nick Turse reported:
– In recent years, the US has trained and outfitted soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, among other nations. They have also served as a proxy force for the US in Somalia, part of the African Union Mission (Amisom) protecting the U.S.-supported government in that country’s capital, Mogadishu.
– Since 2007, the State Department has given about $650-million in logistics support, equipment and training for Amisom troops. The Pentagon has given an extra $100 million since 2011.
– The U.S. also continues to fund African armies through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and its Pentagon analogue, now known as Operation Juniper Shield, with increased support flowing to Mauritania and Niger in the wake of Mali’s collapse. In 2012, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development poured approximately $52 million into the programs and the Pentagon chipped in another $46 million.
– In the Obama years, U.S. Africa Command has also built a sophisticated logistics system, officially known as the Africom Surface Distribution Network, but colloquially referred to as “the new spice route”. Its central nodes are in Manda Bay, Garissa and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema in the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; Dire Dawa in Ethiopia; and the Pentagon’s showpiece African base, Camp Lemonnier.
– In addition, the Pentagon has run a regional air campaign using drones and manned aircraft out of airports and bases around the continent including Camp Lemonnier, Arba Minch airport in Ethiopia, Niamey in Niger and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, while private contractor-operated surveillance aircraft have flown missions out of Entebbe. Recently, Foreign Policy reported on the existence of a possible drone base in Lamu, Kenya.
– Another critical location is Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, home to a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment and the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support Initiative that, according to military documents, supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force — Trans-Sahara.
The Failure of the Militarization of Africa
Libya is in flames, Benghazi the only point of attention for Americans while chaos consumes a once-stable country. Egypt, again on the continent though perhaps not of it, saw its brief bit of democracy stamped out by a military coup. The governments of Mauritania and Niger fell to their militaries. Chad experienced a coup, albeit unsuccessful. Fighting continues in Mali and the Central African Republic. In October 2011 the U.S. invaded, albeit in a small way, the Central African Republic In December 2012, the U.S. evacuated its diplomats and civilians. 2011 also saw a U.S.-backed Kenyan invasion of Somalia. U.S. troops are hunting humans in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like ghosts from the 18th century, pirates haunt the waters off East Africa. The U.S. admits to having 5,000 troops in ten African countries when once there were none.
And So, Why?
The basic rule for any investment is what do you gain in return for risk? It applies to buying stocks as well as investing a nation’s blood, resources and prestige.
In the case of Africa, the U.S. investment has been a disaster. Chaos has replaced stability in many places, and terrorists have found homes in countries they may have once never imagined. The U.S., in sad echo of 19th century colonialism, has militarized another region of the world.
Every rebel and terrorist the U.S. kills creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. The more we kill, the more there seem to be to kill. America needs fewer people saying they are victims of America. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Why?
The Passion of Ray McGovern
Ray McGovern is a hell of a guy. An Army veteran, he worked for the CIA from the Kennedy administration up through the first Bush presidency, preparing the president’s daily intel brief and other important stuff. Along the way, McGovern began to see the fraud and evil of much of the government’s work, and has since become an outspoken critic of the intelligence world and an advocate for free speech. He speaks on behalf of people like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
McGovern is also a very nice person, soft-spoken, serious, kinda looks like your uncle playing Santa Claus, full of fascinating Cold War history. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ray. He’s the kind of guy you meet and like almost immediately. I bet he was a hell of a spy.
A Wanted Man
Ray McGovern is also on the State Department’s BOLO list– Be On the Look Out– one of a series of government watch lists.
The old-timey wanted poster State’s Diplomatic Security printed up cites McGovern’s “considerable amount of political activism” and “significant notoriety in the national media” as if those points were somehow relevant to his inclusion on the watch list. Though McGovern is a thin man, age 75 with no history of violence, Diplomatic Security warns that its agents should USE CAUTION (their emphasis) when stopping McGovern and conducting the required “field interview.”
A Dangerous Man
What did McGovern do to end up on Diplomatic Security’s dangerous persons list? His offense was to turn his back on Hillary Clinton, literally.
In 2011, at George Washington University during a public event where Clinton was speaking, McGovern stood up and turned his back to the stage. He did not say a word, or otherwise disrupt anything. University cops grabbed McGovern in a headlock and by his arms and dragged him out of the auditorium by force, their actions directed by a from the side by a third man whose name was redacted from public records of the event. Photos of the then-71 year old man taken at the time of his arrest show the multiple bruises and contusions he suffered while being arrested. He was secured to a metal chair with two sets of handcuffs. McGovern was at first refused medical care for the bleeding caused by the handcuffs. It is easy to invoke the words thug, bully, goon.
The charges of disorderly conduct were dropped, McGovern was released and it was determined that he committed no crime.
And one more thing: the speech Clinton was making at the time of McGovern’s protest and arrest? She was condemning authoritarian governments who repress dissenters and internet freedom. As McGovern was being dragged out, Clinton stated that “The government does not want the world to watch,” in reference to Egypt, not her America as unfolding before her eyes. Clinton did not acknowledge the arrest, never broke character as it happened.
An Enemy of the State
In old-timey America, that might have been the end of McGovern’s troubles. However, in our post-Constitutional America, it was only the beginning.
Despite all charges having been dropped against McGovern and despite having determined that he engaged in no criminal activity, the Department of State then opened an investigation into McGovern, including his political beliefs, activities, statements and associations. The investigative report noted “McGovern does
seem to have the capacity to capture a national audience – it is possible his former career with the CIA has the potential to make him ‘attractive’ to the media.” The investigation ran nearly seven months, and resulted in the Be On The Lookout Alert.
Subjects of such alerts are considered potential threats to the Secretary of State. Their whereabouts are typically tracked to see if they will be in proximity of the Secretary. If Diplomatic Security sees one of the subjects nearby, they detain and question them. Other government agencies and local police are always notified. The alert essentially constitutes a standing directive by Diplomatic Security that the subject be stopped and seized in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that he is committing an offense. Stop him for being him. It is easy to see how these directives slash across the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unwarranted search and seizure.
Subjects are also not allowed inside any State Department facility, including embassies and consulates abroad where typical Americans are by treaty allowed to seek refuge and protection. But not for Ray McGovern.
McGovern v. John Kerry
As we’ve said, McGovern is no typical guy. On February 15 he filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department, as well as George Washington University where the arrest took place, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated by unlawful police misconduct in retaliation for his act of protest. He also is suing over violation of his Fourth Amendment rights due to excessive use of force and his wrongful arrest. McGovern seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the State Department from directing law enforcement stop and question him on sight.
We’ll keep track of the lawsuit and report on its progress.
Why I Know So Much about BOLO Alerts
Information reluctantly made available to me as the State Department sought to persecute, prosecute and /or fire me for my whistleblowing book, We Meant Well, showed that I too was and may still be subject to a Diplomatic Security alert.
After a blog post I wrote in 2011 that was deemed insulting to then-Secretary of State Clinton, and after over two decades of public service, my State Department access card was impounded, I was marched out of the building and I was given a letter stating I was prohibited from entering any State Department facility, domestic or abroad. When a bit of necessary bureaucratic business came up a week or two later, I was told that I could only enter the State Department building as far as the public lobby, where I would be met by the appropriate Human Resources person in the presence of security personnel.
State later was forced to reveal that not only was I placed on its own Diplomatic Security watch list, but also on the Secret Service’s watch list, as they share responsibility for Clinton’s security as a former First Lady. McGovern may want to check on that.
My lawyers sought to have State remove me from the lists. State refused to confirm or deny my continued presence on the lists. State did not respond to my several requests for this information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Diplomatic Security knew of course I was no threat to anyone. I’m a fat old guy, short, and had a clean track record inside the Department since the 1980′s. Same for Ray McGovern; the cops that mistreated and arrested him for standing silently knew damn well he was neither disrupting anything nor a threat. They knew exactly what the First and Fourth Amendments said.
And they didn’t care.
This is what post-Constitutional America is about. The government, from major issues such as extrajudicial drone killings down to the pettiness which preoccupies the bullies in places like Diplomatic Security, no longer cares whether its actions are legal, and no longer cares if everyone knows it.
From the Founders forward, government has always done illegal things, naughty things, things that it knew were likely unconstitutional. What is new is that the acts have scaled up significantly, moving from analog to digital, and that the government is so sure that neither the courts nor the People will object that they no longer even go through the motions of hiding what they do.
Remember, both the Stasi and the Nazis did what they did quite openly, and kept excellent records.
In yet another dramatic revelation flowing out of whistleblower Edward Snowden, a journalism textbook from 1983 has been sent to several large media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times and the trailer park where Fox News is thought to originate.
“To say we’re shocked is an insult to electricity,” said a spokesperson from the Post while speaking with the media, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak with the media. “We had no idea. Not a clue.”
“For example, it says here that ‘journalists’ are supposed to gather facts, analyze them, and then ‘report’ what they learned,” stated an unnamed former somebody. “This flies in the face of our current practice of transcribing what government officials tell us anonymously and then having someone read that aloud on TV. We are still trying to find out more about the ‘analyze’ function of journalism, but Wikipedia is down right now.”
Fox News went on to say that a chapter in the book about naming sources so that readers themselves could judge the value and veracity of the information “just came from Mars” as far as the organization is concerned. “I mean, if we named our sources, they’d be held accountable for what they say, you know, and I doubt we’d have much access to the big boys after that. We’d have to start hiring people just to go out and gather news, maybe outside the office even, instead of just from the web. Something like 90% of our content comes from press releases from ersatz think tanks controlled by PR firms. Our whole business model would have to change. And that thing about ‘questioning’ what the government says? How are we supposed to do that? Who do they think we are?”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, speaking on behalf of the paper from his soundproof bubble removed from reality, explained “That J-school book is potentially a game changer, if you believe it is not just another disinformation scheme. For example, how credible is this bit– it says that simply getting two quotes from two sources that 100% contradict each other isn’t what reporting is. So here, in my latest column, where I have Obama saying ‘health care is good,’ and Sarah Palin saying ‘no, it sucks dick,’ somehow is wrong? Give me a break.”
Multiple sources say, however, that the single most shocking thing to emerge from the leaked textbook is that “news” and “journalism” are supposed to inform, enlighten and educate people, an essential part of our democracy, and are not simply another form of entertainment.
The spokesperson from the Washington Post was blunt: “That’s just bullshit. Anyway, here’s another cute cat picture.”
The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII; I am a proud voting member) have voted overwhelmingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning. The award ceremony will be held February 19, 2014 at Oxford University’s Oxford Union Society. Chelsea will send a statement, and SAAII members will be hosted for dinner at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
With more than a little irony, while I was in Iraq working for the State Department, Chelsea Manning’s office was across the hall from mine. While I was winning the war by writing emails to the embassy, Manning was across the hall capturing the texts of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, famously released by Wikileaks, showing that was could never be won.
My war in Iraq ended in near-complete failure. What Manning did will have an impact far beyond that terrible struggle. In this video, I ask the question of why I didn’t do what Manning did, and challenge the audience: when faced with history, would you have the courage to do what Manning did?
BONUS: Seated to my right on the panel is Daniel Ellsberg. On my immediate left is Michael Ratner, one of Manning’s attorneys. The woman on the end is Jesselyn Radack, who currently serves on Edward Snowden’s defense team, and is a whistleblower herself.
You don’t have to know anything, or have any specific background or training, to be the president’s personal representative abroad and conduct foreign policy on behalf of the World’s Most Powerful Nation (c). You do have to donate heavily to the president to buy one of those appointments.
Back during my own 24 years working for the State Department as a diplomatic serf my mother asked what I’d have to do to make ambassador. The answer was simple: dad needed to die young, and mom should donate the entire inheritance to the winner of the next presidential election. I’d get appointed and hobnob with State’s elite!
For so many reasons, I am glad dad is still alive.
What is an Ambassador?
The U.S. ambassador is the head of the embassy in a particular country, and serves as the senior representative for the United States there. S/he interacts personally with important leaders of the host country, negotiates on behalf of the U.S. and serves as America’s public face and mascot, appearing in the media, making public appearances and hosting social events that in some parts of the world are the primary venue for serious business. Some say it’s an important job. Guys like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson did it once.
Embassies are otherwise primarily staffed by foreign service officers, folks from the State Department who are diplomatic professionals. The question here is between those two groups– political hacks or trained professionals– who should be an ambassador?
Is the U.S. Exceptional?
The U.S. is exceptional, because every other major country in the entire known universe answered the question already: being an ambassador is a job for professionals. It makes sense that a person who likely has already served in a country, who probably speaks the language and who is familiar both with U.S. foreign policy and the mechanics of diplomacy might do a better job than a TV soap opera producer who turned over $800,000 to the president’s campaign (true; see below.) Why, in almost any other setting other than U.S. politics, that would be called corruption.
A quick note to people of the internet. Every political party in power doles out ambassadorial appointments as patronage, and has, from the 19th century to the present day. Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, the Boston Tea Party and all the rest did it and do it. Obama is slightly ahead of the 30 percent historical average, though many pundits are over-weighing his second term picks because he is filling his First Class (i.e., political posts) before the generally mediocre locations allocated to career jobs. This is true bipartisan sleaze, an issue we can all get into regardless of our views on other issues.
Yet despite the clear record of patronage, the State Department insists that political campaign donations have nothing to do with diplomatic nominations. “Either giving or not giving money doesn’t affect either way. It doesn’t make you more or less qualified,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters this week. Talk about your credibility. You could almost watch it drain out of the spokeswoman as she spoke the words with a straight face.
Why It Matters
Many, many politically appointed ambassadors are frighteningly unqualified. Sure, many don’t have a clue about the country they’ll serve in and very, very few have any language skills or experience in diplomacy. Some haven’t even been abroad, except maybe a bus tour or two. The latest crop, however, are reaching new heights of stupidity:
–The nominee to China admitted he’s no expert on China;
–The nominee to Argentina never set foot there and speaks no Spanish. Same for the nominee to Iceland, who never visited and also does not speak Spanish, though that is less important in Iceland;
–The nominee to Norway insulted their government in his Senate approval hearing (he was approved by the Senate anyway!)
–Then there is Colleen Bell, the nominee for Hungary, whose qualifications include being the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” TV soap opera, and of course raising $800,000 for Obama. She stammered her way through testimony to the point where John McCain basically begged her to just shut up as a kind of mercy killing.
Political Appointees in the Wild
What happens to these kinds of boneheads abroad is not hard to imagine. Some wonderfully extreme cases include the American ambassador to Finland, who sent out official Christmas cards with him in “Magic Mike” beefcake poses and whose signature accomplishment is basically renovating his own office. A political appointee ambassador to Kenya paralyzed his embassy with personnel demands, including internet access in his executive toilet. The political appointee ambassador to Belgium was accused of soliciting sexual favors from prostitutes and minor children.
As for many other political appointees, some, like Caroline Kennedy in Japan, understand they are just living photo-ops and stay out of the way of the adults working (which may sum up Kennedy’s entire life.) A few appointees become sentient and actually turn out to be decent managers based on their business backgrounds before being sidelined by State’s incestuous culture. The best political appointees are old pols like Howard Baker, whose Washington connections and political savvy make them at least effective stooges for the president’s personal political agenda, if not always America’s.
Why It May Not Matter
The bad news is that there are equal inconsistencies on the side of State Department professionals who become ambassadors outside the political appointee spoils system.
Many, especially to smaller nations (think Africa, parts of the Middle East), have spent most of their careers in the neighborhood, and have built up significant, trusted relationships. Many of these career ambassadors got to know young leaders long ago, and have kept the relationship intact as those men and women ascended into positions of authority. Pretty cool to call your old buddy and sort out a diplomatic problem using first names and shared experiences as a base.
There are exceptions to excellence; watch one of our career ambassador’s in a Congressional hearing not know how much money his embassy is spending in Afghanistan nor the U.S. death toll for the year.
Unfortunately, even for out-of-the-way places, it is very hard to make it to ambassador without sucking up to State’s big shots, even if you have the chops to do the job well. Every careerist at State (i.e., everyone) wants that title, the big house and the limo that comes with the job. As an autocracy, just being the most qualified for anything inside State is rarely enough. That leaves plenty of suck ups, wankers and toadies of the higher ups mucking around to get into an ambassador’s chair. It’s unavoidable.
The last sticking point on why foreign service officers can make lousy ambassadors is the dual nature of the job. While in most cases the ambassador’s primary task is headline-level “policy,” s/he also is the head of the embassy. Many administrative and personnel issues rise to the ambassador’s office. Most State Department ambassadors have gotten as far as they did based nearly 100 percent on those policy things, and many thus make very poor managers. The best defer the decisions to their own management staff; the worst dive in, wielding power without responsibility and the very worst use the position to settle old scores and promote the interests of their own lickspittles.
Why It Really, Really Doesn’t Matter
Critics of political appointee ambassadors inside State are quick to point out that people don’t get appointed as generals in the military. Senior leaders in the Army are expected to have come up through the ranks. Admirals have captained ships. Marine generals have eaten snakes, that sort of thing.
The reason big campaign donors don’t get appointed as generals in the military is because what generals do can matter, matter beyond at least embarrassing the nation. Not to say all or even most generals make the right calls, but to say that generals need technical knowledge of the services they work for, and the decisions they make literally affect lives and can shape world events.
Ambassadors are increasingly becoming curios left over from a distant past, before instant worldwide telephone and internet communications, before senior White House officials could jet around the world, a past when ambassadors actually had to make big decisions in far-off places. Nowadays most ambassadors don’t change their socks without “conferring with Washington.” Their own jobs matter less and less, as does the State Department they work with.
So never mind ambassador slots, which often stay empty for months as donors wrangle for the prime positions. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that more than one fourth of all U.S. State Department Foreign Service positions are either unfilled or are filled with below-grade employees. These vacancies and stretches at State are largely unchanged from the last time the GAO checked in 2008.
In government, what matters most gets funded most. There are more military band members than State Department foreign service officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. The State Department is now a very small part of the pageant. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has 22,000. The Department of Defense has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more in the U.S.
In an age of military ascendancy, when State and diplomacy are seen as tools to buy time for later military action instead of as potential solutions themselves, it just might not matter who is ambassador anymore. Of course the man or woman in the chair might best avoid sexual solicitation of minors and inane, embarrassing acts, but really, that’s just a nice thing, not a requirement.
Old-school political patronage was about giveaways, handing over some largely ceremonial job to a hack. The medieval kings had it down, appointing dukes and grand viziers and equipping them with plumed hats and lots of gold braid while ensuring they stayed out of the way.
Political appointee or career foreign service officer as ambassador? Why does it matter?
In an article headlined The U.S. Has Finally Outfoxed Hamid Karzai, the occasionally-respected Fiscal Times explains how for months Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States, causing mounting frustration within the White House and the Pentagon. Now, according to the Times, “it appears as if President Obama and his advisers have finally outfoxed Karzai, marking the end of a long and tumultuous relationship.” The Times:
The White House and DOD have decided not to make any agreement until after April’s presidential elections in which Karzai is not expected to be a candidate. They’ll only make a deal with Karzai’s successor.
“If he’s not going to be part of the solution, we have to have a way to get past him,” a senior U.S. official said of the elected leader. “It’s a pragmatic recognition that clearly Karzai may not sign the (deal) and that he doesn’t represent the voice of the Afghan people.”
By way of perspective, the U.S. has previously outfoxed Karzai by handing him fantastic amounts of unmarked cash and creating a massive, corrupt system in Afghanistan that bleeds the U.S. taxpayer while feeding even more money to Karzai and his family.
(None of the above is satire. It is true. Here’s the satire part.)
Karzai, however, is a sly old fox himself and is thus not easily outfoxed. Unbeknownst to U.S. authorities as the NSA was preoccupied with Beyonce’s selfies folder, Karzai has moved to Washington DC. While the Old Grey Fox first was just using the money he stole from the U.S. to buy up real estate (“giving back”), these days Karzai is shipping hundreds of his relatives, friends and his favorite hired gunmen into the DC suburbs.
“It’s freaking dangerous in Afghanistan, and you crazy Americans want to keep the war going forever,” Karzai exclusively told this blog, “I’ve got ‘graveyard of empires’ printed right on my wallet so its not like the Ambassador doesn’t see it every time we meet, but that dude is crazy. ‘We don’t want another Vietnam, er, Iraq,’ he says. I guess his solution is that as long as the U.S. keeps killing Afghans they can say it’s not over and they haven’t lost. So anyway, who wants to be a part of all that? I’ll just pack up in April and let the next jerk to do this job sort it out. I still can’t figure out why the Taliban want this dump anyway.”
“Despite all that, I still like the Ambassador personally. Funny guy. He once gave me a stack of Benjamins just to “like” the embassy Facebook page. Sometimes when the Ambo and I are just kicking back with a few 40′s he talks about the U.S. not wanting to lose the gains they’ve made over the last decade in this rat hole. I always end up with beer spraying out my nose when he says that. I mean, look out the window– that goat cost you Americans 75 billion dollars.”
Karzai did get reflective at the end of the interview, remembering his first cash bribe from a then-junior CIA officer. “That guy is now running their whole op here,” said the president. “Twelve years goes by. They just grow up so fast.”
“Anyway, I’m out of here. Somebody tell the U.S. Army ‘last man to die for a bad idea, turn off the light when you leave.’ That’s the expression you guys use in English, yes?” By the way, what do you think about BitCoin as an investment? I’m fat with cash right now and how many Rolexes do you really need?”
Though I believe one of the alleged cables I allegedly wrote while allegedly employed by the alleged Department of State may have alledgedly been included in the 250,000 documents Chelsea Manning most certainly revealed to Wikileaks, I’m not supposed to tell.
But now, thanks to an alert reader (DP, this one goes out to you), I have just found out that I officially made it to Wikileaks.
The “GI Files” (General Intelligence files) published by Wikileaks, feature over five million emails from the Texas headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as a publisher, but in reality provides confidential, subscription-based, intelligence services to large corporations, such as Dow, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including Homeland Security, the Marine Corps and the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Wikileaks revealed that on June 13, 2011, one of my blogs posts was blended into an article published by the English-language Jordan Times, which was picked up by the BBC. Stratfor then republished the article, including BBC’s copyright, which included my stuff, as an intelligence product to its paying clients.
Now, the implications of this are several-fold:
– Obviously if you get your news from Stratfor, the BBC or the Jordan Times, stop wasting your time and just read my blog. It’s free.
– How can the BBC copyright something I wrote?
– How can jerks like Stratfor get away with charging people serious coin for republishing things off the internet/BBC/Jordan Times?
– And lastly, I think somebody owes me a check (which I will donate to Wikileaks)
Your move Stratfor.
When a person sees things that aren’t there, hears voices that tell him to do irrational things and insists on believing things that simply are not supported by fact, most psychologists would label that person delusional and seek to help him regain his toehold on reality. When that person does all the same things regarding U.S. aid to Afghanistan, it is called statecraft.
The Obama administration unveiled Monday yet another aid package for Afghanistan. The country remains one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries despite a dozen years of massive international aid efforts.
The announcement from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of three new development initiatives worth almost $300 million is part of a U.S. effort to ensure that Afghanistan, as its ‘war economy’ ends, won’t “reverse gains made over the last twelve years.”
How Much We Have Already Spent
To fully grasp the insanity of yet another initiative that drains taxpayer money into the open sore of Afghanistan, some numbers may help. Over the past twelve years the U.S. has given the Afghans some $100 billion in aid. About half of all “aid” goes directly to the Afghan military. There have also been significant amounts of aid delivered to Afghanistan by other countries and private donors.
The Return on Investment: 80 Percent Never Gets There
The aid money works out to be over $3300 per Afghan, assuming any of the money actually reaches an Afghan. The reality is, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction auditor, that 70-80% of the money is siphoned off by contractors as overhead.
The Return on Investment: Losses to Corruption
No one knows how much of the money disappears as bribes, graft or outright theft. However, a 2009 U.S. State Department cable disclosed on Wikileaks stated “While reports vary widely, records obtained from Kabul International Airport (KIA) support suspicions large amounts of physical cash transit from Kabul to Dubai on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. According to confidential reports, more than $190 million left Kabul for Dubai through KIA during July, August, and September.” A 2012 report showed $4.6 billion fled via the Kabul airport, about one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. The year before, $2.3 billion in cash left via the airport. In a single incident, the then-Afghan Vice President flew to Dubai with $52 million in unexplained cash.
The Return on Investment: Funding the Taliban
And that’s all the good news because as Douglas Wissing points out in his excellent book Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, significant amounts of U.S. money are paying for the enemy to keep fighting. U.S. ignorance and naivete in the contracting process sends money to Taliban-affiliated subcontractors, and direct payoffs to warlords and others known to work with the Taliban are made for safe passage guarantees for military supplies.
The Return on Investment: What the U.S. Government Believes
Here’s what the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has to say for itself:
Our work continues to be a vital support to Afghanistan in its efforts to ensure economic growth led by the private sector, establish a democratic and capable state governed by the rule of law, and provide basic services for its people. The Afghan people rejoice in peace and freedom. They are dedicated to working for a better future for the generations to come. USAID assistance is crucial to achieving this goal… Only investment in Afghanistan’s human capital – that is, in its people – will ultimately lead the country to prosperity, peace and stability on a long-term, sustainable basis.
When I wrote my book on the waste and failure of the similar U.S. money hemorrhage in the Iraq War, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, there was no widespread agreement. Many people, both in and out of government, questioned my conclusions. Fair enough, though they were obviously proven wrong.
With Afghanistan, it is difficult to find anyone, outside of a few true believers and U.S. government PR people, who believe the money spent on aid to Afghanistan is not a waste. What charitably could be called at the time a difference of opinion over Iraq allowed the taxpayer money to keep flowing. With Afghanistan, there is no charitable explanation.
One service member characterized the situation as “A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached.” That service member served in the British Army that was destroyed in Afghanistan in 1843.
Delusional. That’s really the only word that applies.
State said using its letterhead for this purpose was against its rules, and after a lengthy process, punished Yamin with a one-day suspension. Yamin challenged this through State’s internal process, and State was forced to rescind the one-day suspension.
The process of defending himself cost Yamin over $71,000, and now he is suing in U.S. District Court for State to reimburse him, as, he contends, they are required to do. The process is headed into Year Two.
CONCLUSION: The people at State are all clearly insane, and taxpayer money is being wasted on disciplinary processes that make no sense and do not stand up to scrutiny.
According to court documents, Yamin was abroad and wrote four papers letters, on State Department printed letterhead stationery (remember that from grandpa’s office?), to the Department of Homeland Security regarding a work visa for his foreign maid. He wanted to bring the maid with him from overseas for his domestic assignment in Boston. That’s what happened, nothing more, nothing less. There were no accusations of fraud or any concerns on the part of State about the contents of the letters per se, only that they constituted “personal” use by Yamin of official stationery.
COMMENT: For better or worse, many Foreign Service personnel bring domestic help from overseas back to the U.S. with them. This is a common thing. When hiring a domestic overseas, the U.S. embassy almost always is officially, directly in involved in the domestic’s visa processing with the host country. In many countries, an actual diplomatic note is formally issued by the embassy. Not withstanding any rules about stationery, it is not unreasonable to believe visa processing within the U.S. might fall within the broad realm of “official” correspondence, especially when the writer did not misrepresent himself i.e., “I am writing on behalf of the Government of the United States to inform you…” or his purpose.
State nailed Yamin for his offensive use of stationery. Yamin fought back, employing a legal team, and won. State was forced to rescind the one-day suspension.
In cases where State loses such grievances, the law allows for reimbursement of “reasonable attorney fees.” Yamin presented documents showing he paid out over $71,000 in such fees. For those of you lucky enough not to live in D.C., lawyers there charge $300 bucks an hour. State said they found only about $12,000 in fees “reasonable,” based on their own finding that Yamin’s lawyers held an “unnecessary” hearing, even though Yamin had a legal right to hold such a hearing. So, faced with over $59,000 in out-of-pocket costs, even though State was found wrong in punishing him as they did, Yamin is back in court suing State for the cash.
Who Cares about the Taxpayer?
At some level, who cares that State enthusiastically punishes lower level employees for minor infractions, while senior people’s actions end up under FBI investigation while they skate away unpunished. That’s just the sad intramural horseplay of a decadent organization eating itself.
What we all should care about is the insane expenditure of taxpayer money in pursuing minor infractions, if they are in fact infractions, especially when State is clearly proven to have erred in its decision. Whatever Yamin did, compared to forced abortions, fake receipts and sex with subordinates in Naples, it was just not that big a deal. Even after Yamin’s lawyers pointed out State’s mistakes, the Department continued to fight to the bone not to admit them. When clearly found in the wrong, State doubled down to not pay legal costs and pushed the case into the courts. A government attorney will have to defend the case and, if State loses, the government will end up paying even more of our money out to Yamin’s attorneys.
What it Means
We have here an organization that has lost contact with the gravity that holds most of us to the earth. Minor things are conflated into big things, while big things are to the limits possible swept under the rug. Senior officials get away with much, lower officials get away with little. Taxpayer money is spent freely and irresponsibly to maintain such a system. Even when it realizes it is in the wrong, State doubles down to try and slam its own employees who dare challenge the great and powerful Oz. If an aggrieved employee does not hire a lawyer s/he is at the mercy of State. If a lawyer is hired, State will punish the grievant financially.
BONUS: State makes no real effort to publish its grievances, and exerts much internal pressure on all parties to not bring the cases into daylight even when public courts are involved. Many thanks to Diplopundit for his/her efforts to keep these cases in front of the taxpayers.
Oh yes boys and girls, we’ve really deep down the rabbit hole now. Following up on our previous review of the movie Lone Survivor as a porno, it’s time to look back at the Best of War Porn and its aftermath.
Kathryn Bigelow, the greatest Leni Reifenstahl-clone of our generation, made one of the most shameless war of terror movies of our generation, Zero Dark Thirty. In the course of two hours, Bigelow glamorized torture, killing and most other crimes committed by Das Homeland in the name of Freedumb. What made her orgy of horrors especially glamorous was the constant “rumors” in the media that she had had inside information from the Pentagon, juicy details of our Seal Team Crusaders and CIA torturers to fuel her blood lust cinema.
Well, well, well me droogies, it was true. Not only were there leaks to the filmmakers, an investigation revealed the leakers were none other than former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official, Michael Vickers. Neither man faced any punishment or prosecution for their leaks of Top Secret or above information to persons without any security clearance who went on to put that information into a feature film released worldwide, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other terror hot-spots. All that alone speaks of the terrible double-standard that defines our government, and would be horrid enough on its own.
Instead, we now learn that the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office is working to root out who might have disclosed the findings on Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers to a nonprofit watchdog group and to McClatchy.
The issue is controversial because the draft report’s findings on Panetta were sanitized from the version that was released to the public.
I really can’t think of much more to say about all this. I think it speaks for itself. If you don’t understand what it says, however, I’ll spell it out: Leaks that make the government look good are good. Leaks that make the government look bad are punished under the Espionage Act and you will go to jail (ex. Manning) or be forced into exile (ex. Snowden). Hollywood Uber Alles!
I don’t watch a lot of porn, or a lot of other movies, but stuck in a motel off a highway on the edge of nowhere, it’s either pay-per-view or Meet the Press, and that show crosses a line in offensiveness.
The movie I watched, Lone Survivor, was made by Leni Riefenstahl to tell the story of four Navy SEALs in Afghanistan who, in the process of mowing down about ten million Afghans (“Taliban”), end up with only one SEAL guy surviving. If that spoils the end of the movie for you a) watch Meet the Press. It too has its whole narrative in the title and b) I’m glad it spoils the movie for you because I should be the last person on earth who pays to see it.
But flipping between the porn and Lone Survivor, I realized they are pretty much the same movie.
Both lack context. In porn a woman sits in a room, a man enters and they have sex. We don’t know or care about who they are, why they are there, even what their pretend names are. In Lone, we do know from the credits it is set in Afghanistan (albeit an Afghanistan that looks like New Mexico.) Otherwise, it’s just one set of guys killing another set of guys for our vicarious pleasure. We don’t know who they are (the SEALs are all named Mac, or Murph or Biff anyway), really why they are there except to kill (have sex) and we really don’t care.
A feature of porn seems to be denying the realities of biology and physics. Every thing is bigger than in real life, even to the pneumatic point where no one is even trying to pretend it is real. It obviously is completely fake, but that doesn’t matter because that’s what porn is about.
In Lone, the main character falls off a mountain not once, but three times, bounces down off rocks, lands on his back on rough ground, slams into a tree, only to show up at the bottom with some scratches, shouting “good to go.” One Biff gets shot multiple times, including in the head, and keeps going. The lone survivor dude (and they are all dudes) does not bleed to death or go septic over giant pieces of shrapnel in his leg, and even digs them out with a dirty knife. Oh– the wounds were also rubbed in dirt and dunked in a stream. Guess he got a tetanus shot.
Depending on your point of view, typically one partner in a porn film is really just there as a kind of prop, to support the person(s) you are supposed to want to see. Same in Lone. The literally hundreds of evil dog Taliban have no purpose other than to be slaughtered, often in the super close-ups also favored by porn. Things spurt as bullets enter their bodies, and they move through the movie anonymously like, well, sorry, a gang bang crowd. In both movies, everyone is just a target.
The worst thing however about Lone Survivor is that in the end it is a terrible movie. Porn is what it is, and sort of exists simply to provide whatever stimulation one gets from watching it. Lone just devolves into an endless loop of killing that gets so boring the viewer keeps flipping back to the pizza guy surprising the lonely woman in the bath.
When the time is up for both movies, you feel about the same. Any pleasure is wiped away as you realize people were exploited, and your emotions hijacked, for a cheap thrill. You feel empty, used. You’re embarrassed by war porn that tries to convince you that killing people in Afghanistan has some purpose, same as you’re embarrassed that you believed for a selfish moment that all those oohs and ah ah ahs just might have been real. Both movies make you feel good briefly about something that isn’t good.
And you can’t tell anyone about what you did. You are the Lone Survivor.
BONUS: Despite constant bragging about how the SEALs are the most highly trained warriors on earth, not one in the movie speaks one word of Pashtu. In the odd moments were Afghans need to be told how to service the SEALs’ needs, communication is done via shouted English and threats. You’d think at some point in all that training a little local language would come in handy. But, like with porn, you’re not there for the dialogue, right?
Hagiographer to the stars “newspaper” the Washington Post continues its war on democracy, this shot fired by columnist Walter Pincus in
support praise adulteration of the National Security Agency.
Pincus starts out showing he obviously can’t handle his growing miasma of hallucinations:
Should the United States engage in secret, covert or clandestine activity if the American public cannot be convinced of the necessity and wisdom of such activities should they be leaked or disclosed?
To intelligence professionals, that’s a bizarre question. The answer is that the public’s opinion shouldn’t matter, because espionage, clandestine intercepts of intelligence and covert acts carried out by the United States and other governments are often, by their nature, dirty and mostly illegal operations where they are carried out.
OK, sure, people’s will in a democracy doesn’t matter, people should not be concerned about what is done in their name, and people should not be concerned about intelligence activities that may harm them or “their” nation. Clear enough Walt.
Pincus goes on:
The prime reason for secrecy is that you don’t want the targets to know what you are doing. But often in democracies, another reason is that you don’t want your citizens to know what their government is doing on their behalf to keep them secure, as long as it’s within their country’s law.
Winner! That is exactly right, people in democracies should definately not know what the government is doing. Just sit back with the teevee and trust our Uncle Big Brother. Well, don’t we all feel better now?
As for “their country’s law” making things nice and legal, one may note that “their country’s law” in the last few years made torture, kidnapping, indefinite detention, assassination, drone killings of wedding parties and children, as well as the establishment of the 21st century’s first offshore penal colony at Guantanamo legal. If the president does it, it’s legal, yes? Now that is a bit awkward, given that Pincus’ newspaper brought down the president who said that.
Never mind that “law” at various times in history has also made human slavery, genocide, apartheid and other such nasties perfectly legal. See, it’s a Catch-22 Walter, if it is the government that decides what is “legal” then everything the government may choose to do becomes legal.
But Pincus is not done slandering democracy yet. Speaking of the presidential commission that recommended changes to the NSA’s worldwide spying:
The panel said a collection effort should not be initiated “if a foreign government’s likely negative reaction” to it being revealed “would outweigh the value of the information likely to be obtained.”
Obviously hung over when he wrote this, Pincus should check out the phrase “risk versus gain” on Wikipedia, though likely he still peruses 40 year old smut paperbacks for his “research.” Everything in the world is a balance of risk and gain. Perhaps Pincus could elaborate on what was gained from say tapping into NATO ally Andrea Merkel’s personal cell phone versus the potential damage to U.S.-German relations. Or the impact of U.S. political capital lost in return of whatever was harvested by the NSA from intercepts from NGOs such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Medecins Sans Frontiers.
You can read the whole article if you care to spit up your breakfast, though the comments section is actually worth a look. If you do not care to read it, I’ll just hand over a short summary: Walter Pincus is given space in a major newspaper to write that the NSA should be able to do whatever it wants at whatever cost to the United States and you, Citizen, should just remain ignorant and shut up about it. Yo, this is Pincus, out!
So long Washington DC, and thanks for not much. It’s been on and off for more than twenty years now, and sure, there were a couple of good times. But you know as well as I do we’ve grown apart. It happens, right? And besides, I’ve, well, I’ve met a new one. I’m moving to New York City in a couple of days.
What I won’t miss about DC, well, it’s a long list, but to summarize: DC, you just ain’t all that.
– Look, you all look stupid with those little neck chains and lanyards and ID cards. We all know you work for the government– why the hell else are you here, for the waters? But really, do you have to wear the collar they keep on you all the time? No one is really impressed where you work, so just put it in your pocket when not swiping in and out of your cube farm.
– If you work for an important person, you are not an important person. You are an annoyance whom we sometimes have to placate and grimace through sweet talk with. Get a hold of yourself. And some first-term Congressman from nowhere waiting around for his first C-SPAN interview is not an important person.
– Young women of DC, we are not looking “at you.” We may be amused that you wear flip-flops on the subway in the summer and too far into the fall, or wonder what you have inside that giant bag, or how you are texting continuously for two hours on a subway system lacking connectivity most of the way, but really, we aren’t looking.
– Older women of DC, what do you carry in those large roller bags you take on the subway and block the escalators with? You are obviously not homeless, and are clearly on your way to work. Is there a pup tent in there? Inflatable raft? I have traveled the world and nowhere but in DC do people move around public transportation with their life’s belongings.
– Calling street after street in DC a “neighborhood” does not make it so. Giving those pseudo-neighborhoods NY-like names such as NoMa, SoNa, NoVa or OhNo does not make them NY.
– And real estate prices. Just saying that I’m trading my unimpressive condo in nowhere Virginia that requires a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t bus to get to the so-so subway for a, albeit smaller, condo on Manhattan a block from the subway. Even swap, dollar for dollar. Something ain’t right.
– If one more brew pub, artisanal barbeque store or small plate place opens with yet another rooftop patio (six lawn chairs on a deck) I will scream curses. If one more suburban loser with inked sleeves opens a new place featuring his own unique take on comfort foods like mac n’ cheese (made with artisanal mac, balsamic vinegar and out-of-date crushed Motrin) I will beat him with his own nose ring. In fact DC, just stop doing things as trends that faded last year everywhere else. And for the love of God, “ironic” uses of once-popular music do not fool anyone. High school is over, accept that.
– It takes me 90 minutes to travel three miles anywhere by car in DC. Federal workers on their “flex time” schedules jam the roads at 3pm. The subway system basically does not run in any sense of the word on weekends due to endless track repairs. It also does not run later than my elderly parents’ bedtimes, even on weekends.
– DC people, do remember that for the other 99% of planet earth, saying you are a Senior Fellow means nothing unless you are from Oxford. No one cares that you were a former Deputy Assistant Secretary’s special assistant but your mom and your escort service. And neither of them are really sincere about it.
– Every time more than seven flakes of snow fall is not a snow day. Go to work.
– Most of you government workers still use Blackberries instead of real phones. In some federal agencies being issued a Blackberry is even a status symbol. Keep your state of the art 2002 device to yourself. In the rest of the free world using a Blackberry in public is considered a form of social birth control.
– Free food and booze at receptions is not a challenge.
– That joke about tourists asking where the Smithsonian is (OMG, it is a series of museums, not a place, don’t they even know?) has gotten way old.
– “Like” and “definitely” should not be like, you know, the primary words in like your, like vocabulary. Definitely. Do not use a rising inflection at the end of every sentence. They are not all questions.
– And men, especially you older guys. A trenchcoat over a business suit does not call for a baseball cap, even when it is cold or even if the cap is well-worn and vintage.
Finally DC, if you remember one thing here, remember this. You gotta have something worth being snooty about to pull off snooty. Otherwise you’re just a dick.
(About the photo: The raised finger background image is by Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei. I posed in front of his photograph at a Washington DC museum. I otherwise do not care much for his art, and while I am glad for his sake he has left China, remain angry that the U.S. makes such a fuss about other nations’ dissidents’ freedom while punishing and prosecuting our own.)
The personal Gmail account of a State Department whistleblower, Richard P. Higbie, a diplomatic security agent, was hacked, and four years worth of messages — some detailing alleged wrongdoing at the agency — were deleted. The emails allegedly included evidence about misconduct by top officials at the Department, communications with other potential whistleblowers, and correspondence with members of Congress who are investigating allegations of misconduct by State Department employees to include use of prostitutes, soliciting child sex and more. See the sleazy details here.
According to the New York Times, information hacked raises a flurry of questions about the management of the State Department under Hillary Rodham Clinton. Higbie, a senior criminal investigator and the second-highest-ranking agent with the service’s Dallas office, has an employment lawsuit against the State Department, alleging it retaliated against him.
Another coincidence is that in July 2013 Higbie’s lawyer’s office was broken into, though only three laptops were taken. Other valuables in clear sight were left untouched. The burglars entered the law offices by busting through a wall. The burglars were seen on surveillance video, and the lawyers claim they know where the laptops may be via IP tracking software, but so far no arrests have been made.
Another coincidence is that at the time of the break-in and stolen laptops, Higbie’s lawyers were also representing another State Department whistleblower, Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator for the Department’s inspector general. She revealed in June a pattern of alleged cover-ups by top department officials. The alleged cover-ups included keeping quiet separate IG investigations that found that members of then-Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s security detail had engaged hookers and that the U.S. ambassador to Belgium solicited underage prostitutes. These were among a string of investigations by the service, responsible for protecting dignitaries and investigating crimes within the Department, that were allegedly derailed by senior officials, including one instance of interference by Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills. Mills is expected to play a significant role in a Hillary administration, and was also rumored to have squashed any investigation into the sexual shenanigans of State Department employee Brett McGurk.
The lawyers for both State Department whistleblowers made an interesting comment concerning the break-in at their offices. ““We do not believe the federal government officially authorized the actions. We are very suspicious and do believe it definitely has the insinuations of a political crime. Meaning, the individuals who broke into our office were looking for information that has significant ramifications.”
Legal folks are familiar with the term cui bono, commonly used to suggest that the person or people guilty of committing a crime may be found among those who have something to gain. That said, any speculation that the email hacks and the break-ins have anything at all to do with protecting the reputation of Hillary Clinton are without evidence. For now.
I spent 24 years working for the State Department, including one year in Iraq. Following that I wrote my first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and the Department of State began proceedings against me. They sought to bully me, then failed to prosecute me, then tried to fire me. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, I instead retired from the State Department with my full benefits of service. And some residual bitterness. It was like a divorce– I had once been in love, then was shocked into seeing the ugly truth. Leaves a mark on you.
So here in the mail comes an engraved invitation to attend a ceremony “honoring my career of dedicated service to the United States.” You can see the thing below. State only holds these ceremonies every once in awhile, so the fact that I received my invite about a year and a half after retiring is nothing special. The fact that after all the nasty, childish and likely illegal things State did to me to cap off “my career of dedicated service to the United States,” that they still sent me the invite is also nothing special. Everybody who retires gets one of these. There are likely to be several hundred old people at the ceremony. In fact, if you look at the invitation, the event is being held in an auditorium.
I don’t think I’ll be there on January 28.
I suspect for the vast majority of invitees, the decision to attend or not to attend was no big deal. I am sure that almost everyone in the Washington DC area will show up, and many from out of town as well. The ones who do not attend will likely sigh when they get the invite, and mumble “Well, if only we didn’t live so far away,” or “Shoot honey, isn’t that the same week as Sissy’s wedding in Ohio?” Good for them, either way.
For me, the invite prompted a long period of reflection. I thought about going; maybe wear my Free Chelsea Manning T-shirt, the way I did on my last official day of work. About three drinks into the reflection, the idea of doing something childish in the building, some kind of protest thing, seemed kinda cool, maybe to get walked out by security from your own retirement reception, yes?
But in fact I was struck by the boilerplate line on the invitation, the one that mentioned “my career of dedicated service to the United States.” I realized that that was true, though I suspect if the State Department had three drinks alongside of me we would differ on how to define that dedicated service.
For me, the real service I provided the United States began the day I realized everything about Iraq was a lie, and that my continued employment was contingent on me enthusiastically participating in that lie. We were helping the Iraqis. The Iraqis were happy to be democratized. The grinning thugs we gave our money to were smiling because they loved America, not because they saw me and my colleagues as hopeless idiots who for some reason wanted to make them rich in return for little more than a few propaganda photos.
From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to the clarity that so much of what I did during my career was a lie. Shilling for American businesses abroad but calling it diplomacy, telling people we were “concerned,” or that their problems were a “priority,” or had the “attention of the ambassador” when I knew none of that was true. Watching good people inside State go down, while toadies and back lickers were promoted, living a life where people would go home from the office saying things like “I hope the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s staff aide reads my memo. It took me eight days to get the twenty internal clearances I needed to send it forward.” I came to understand that the State Department, as a frontman for America abroad, was little more of a confidence scam, playing at some version of whatever was done in the 19th century in return for nice housing, a cushy life and some money.
I realized that looking at that invitation that I did indeed have a “career of dedicated service to the United States.” Only to me that career truly started the day I returned from Iraq and decided to tell people about what I saw, the previous twenty-some years merely a warmup, and an education.
So, after realizing that my definition of service and State’s differed in such totality, I decided not to attend the ceremony. Besides, in the words of Groucho, who’d want to belong to a club that would have a guy like me as a member?
Well, I’m not rooting for an al-Qaeda takeover in Africa, just to get that straight, though a “private military contractor,” a mercenary to the trade, or PMC to themselves in their fantasy world, thinks I am.
Our PMC friend wrote the following (below) on a private PMC site, in response to an article I posted on Fire Dog Lake, titled “Any More U.S. “Stabilization” and Africa Will Collapse.” An acquaintance from Iraq with ties into the PMC world was kind enough to forward the comments to me.
I think the comments speak for themselves, albeit with highlighting added, so let’s tuck into them:
What is there to say about Peter Van Buren here except that he appears to be out of his depth:
He makes many statements but provides no substantiation, e.g. Libya was democratized? When was that?
He writes “many were more focused on the underlying U.S. motives, isolating the rest of Sudan as part of the war on terror, and securing the oil reserves in the south for the U.S.” but offers no proof as usual. If one looks at http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=SU they will see NO US company getting oil from South Sudan. BS from Van Buren.
He offers empty words about US Special Forces in South Sudan and Santa Claus but nary a word of proof.
He cites numerous examples given by Nick Turse of the U.S. military in Africa, e.g. training some forces in countries around Somalia and logistical support for Amisom. SO?? SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?
Is Mr. Van Buren unaware of the al Qaeda link with al Shabob in Somalia? Is Mr. Van Buren asleep at the wheel?
Then he shows even more ignorance with his “the government of Niger fell to its military”?! NO IT DIDN’T. What is Van Buren talking about?
He incorrectly compares the US’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to that of nascent South Sudan.
Quite simply apples and oranges and way too soon to make any serious observations on South Sudan. Van Buren further shows his illogic by comparing what the US did re the “coup”in Egypt to President Obama’s words of warning of any government toppling in South Sudan.
Could you show us the double-down hypocrisy in the following words?? How is that warning about South Sudan a doubling-down of hypocrisy??
“Obama, apparently unwilling to remember how he stood aside while an elected government recently fell apart in Egypt, went on to double-down on hypocrisy by stating in regards to South Sudan, ‘Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of long-standing support from the United States and the international community.’ ”
Van Buren writes, “Chaos has replaced stability in many places, and terrorists have found homes in countries they may have once never imagined.”?? More empty rhetoric from empty Van Buren. Could you cite some of those countries, Mr. Van Buren, or is that expecting too much scholarship from you?
Apparently, Mr. Van Buren is rooting for an al-Qaeda takeover in Africa as that is what the US is there to prevent. His fulminations remind me of “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Shakespeare’s Macbeth
We’re always interested in the marketplace of ideas on this blog, so any PMCs who wish to offer an alternative viewpoint are welcome to either post comments or email them to the blog directly.
Here is a guest post by attorney Lawrence Kelly. Kelly represents a client who recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of State in regards to the actions and behaviors of the Consul General of the United States, Donald Moore, at the U.S. consulate in Naples.
The arrival of U.S. Marines to the Consulate in Naples was confirmed by an Italian newspaper. While Marines are routinely assigned to American embassies around the world, outside of conflict zones it is very, very unusual for them to be deployed to a consulate. In my own 24 years at the State Department, I know of only one other time Marines were sent to a consulate under these sorts of security-compromise circumstances: the U.S. consulate in Osaka, Japan’s door into a secure area was warped by the force of an earthquake, and Marines were deployed to guard the entrance until the door could be repaired.
The use of Marines in Naples is a big step, a very public acknowledgement that security was compromised and State can not handle it alone.
Now, we understand that a post-Benghazi agreement between State and the Marine Corps provides for more guards at consulates. However, it is useful to note this is Naples, not exactly a high threat environment, and a tiny consulate to boot. It is unclear that Marines have been deployed to other U.S. consulates in Italy (they have always been at the embassy in Rome.)
The Italian newspapers have been feeding on “SEXY GATE AL CONSOLATO USA DI NAPOLI”. Although this scandal is old news in the United States, the Italian media caught up with it after the filing of the federal complaint in Howard v. Kerry in federal court.
On the day the complaint was filed this week, the State Department announced that after an FBI investigation, U.S. Marines would now be placed at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to provide a prophylactic security to the compromised Naples Consulate.
What is clear from the eyewitness accounts in the Italian media is that security at the Naples Consulate was compromised by the Consul General’s control of Regional Security. Entry was provided to women who were not searched, and were allowed access to secure areas of the consulate. What I personally experienced was the further compromise of the security apparatus by the Management at Embassy Rome when Rome looked to quash earlier reports of the scandal at the Naples Consulate. One was a chain of command problem, whereas the other was the security apparatus looking to cover for their colleagues in Naples.
There were widespread employee reports of the closed circuit television materials being scrubbed of the images of the female visitors entering the consulate through the employee’s entrance without being searched or identified. This notwithstanding the separate images and observations being taken and recorded by other more confidential elements of the world wide security which were preserved. Following the designation of a new Ambassador in Rome, I requested the new Ambassador to Italy look into the matter, and he requested an outside investigation. FBI agents reinterviewed Italian witnesses I had provided to the State’s Diplomatic Security from Rome. The FBI apparently put the puzzle together. If this is correct, security personnel who had been employed during the scrubbing should have been terminated. Instead, the Marines were put into the Naples security apparatus as a panacea.
Since the Ambassador to Italy at the time of these incidents leading to the present scandal was a very close confidante of the present Secretary of State, and has joined the Secretary on the seventh floor of Main State, I will not hold my breath that there will be an actual coming to terms with the scandal of poor management and misconduct in the chain of command which allowed State security to allow the problems at the consulate to fester and now become a new public scandal for America. My surmise is that is why no one in the security area has been relieved of their duties.
Nevertheless, when you have to call in the Marines to provide security for State, in Naples, Italy of all places, there are some hard questions that someone in government should be asking. Even if it means starting with the top officials in State asking those hard questions of themselves.
I can’t take credit for the title. That came from the New York Post article about everyone’s favorite representative of our exceptional nation, Donald Moore. Moore is pictured to the left.
For those who have enjoyed our coverage of the allegations of sex, false expense claims and forced resignations at the U.S. Consulate in Naples (and if you have not read the story, catch up here and here), this remains the story that keeps on giving, or getting, or that kind of thing. Yeah baby, get naughty!
Recap of the Events in Naples
Quick recap: Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedure of promising to investigate, not investigating, firing or transferring all involved and then hoping it will all go away. Benghazi scholars will please note the pattern.
In most cases, State’s strategy works and everything is pushed deep into the abundant closets kept for such purposes at Foggy Bottom. That was certainly the case in the good old days before social media. But now, many people harmed hire lawyers, and all of a sudden State’s sleaziness tumbles out of Foggy Bottom and on to first the front pages, the internet and then into the courts. Such is the case with the allegedly randy Consul General.
One of Moore’s colleagues, perhaps the only he did not actually have sex with at the office, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT). The plaintiff, Kerry Howard, tried to get someone at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to care about what was going on around her, or in the U.S. Embassy in Rome to care, or at the State Department in Washington. The result was that she got fired and nothing was done in Naples. Her lawsuit alleges that her civil rights were violated by Moore’s sexual harassment, his bullying of staff and overall slime-coated daily antics. But that much we already knew.
New Details from the Lawsuit
The lawsuit offers some new goodies:
– Howard claims that Moore retaliated against one staff member by refusing to authorize routine maintenance on his apartment.
– Howard asserts that Moore “would become verbally abusive, with spittle from Donald Moore’s mouth projected onto Kerry Howard’s face after Donald Moore double locked the door to his private office, his language indicating that Kerry Howard, as a woman, was unable to do anything, and Donald Moore, as an attorney, knew how to get away with whatever he wants.”
– That career Senior Foreign Service Officer and attorney Moore wrote in Howard’s evaluation “…One of the primary responsibilities of a CLO is to foster good morale and to report issues that will have a negative impact on moral (sic) to me. You did not notified (sic) me in our weekly meeting about the alleged facts but rather were discussed them (sic) with others within the Consulate.”
– That Moore was known to have been “forcing the language instructor to have an abortion of Moore’s child.”
– That “in his first address to the staff at Naples Consulate, Donald Moore indicated ‘If you try to bring me down, I will bring you down first.’”
– That “throughout his tenure as Consul General in the Naples Consulate, Donald Moore was running the U.S. Consulate as the largest house of prostitution in southern Italy, one which had only one customer, the Consul General.”
– That “Donald Moore, Consul General for the United States Consulate in Naples Italy, orally advised staff that he used women for ‘sexercise,’ and that ‘women are like candy, they are meant to be eaten and then thrown away.’”
The suit goes on and on like that. Howard, who tried to resolve these issues since 2012 “through channels,” now is sueing for her job back, and $300,000. If successful, the $300k will of course be paid on the Department’s behalf out of taxpayer money, meaning you will have funded the Neapolitan nookie.
There’s Moore, er, More
Il Mattino (a Naples newspaper) has a headline “Bunga-Bunga Consulato Americano.” Bunga-Bunga is apparently an Italian term for the horizontal mambo. A source close to the case reports a number of reporters have gone to Naples to follow up with the Italian employees discharged and their labor attorney. We are told that seven Italian employees who worked under Moore have retained a local attorney to file an Italian court complaint for violation of Italian labor law.
An unconfirmed source has suggested Moore may also have run into trouble in Haiti (where he was awarded “Consular Officer of the Year”) and Milan.
There will be no doubt much more to come with this one. While plaintiff Howard’s allegations are clearly part of a suit that would benefit her, that same suit lists in great detail a large number of people in Naples and Rome who played roles in what happened. This is clearly not going to be a “he said-she said” kind of trial. It should be relatively easy for the court to establish the truth or falsity of the allegations. And we all look forward to that. It is also very important to note that prior to filing the suit and asking for damages, Howard desperately tried to resolve these issues within State Department channels.
We understand the story of consulate Naples has been picked up by Indian media, following the recent controversial arrest of one of their own diplomats in New York. Several stories have of course appeared in the Italian press.
One Italian paper, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, ran with the headline “Sexygate al Consolato USA.”
The influential Times of London headlined “Prostitution ‘rampant’ at US consulate in Naples.”
It is thus possible to say that these stories are not adding to America’s image abroad, one of the core tasks for the U.S Department of State.
BONUS: We’ll have more on Moore later this week, explaining why U.S. Marines have been dispatched to the Naples Consulate!
Bottom Line Up Front: The details of Obama’s most recent speech about “changes” to the NSA’s surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip away from the public eye as “fixed.” Not word one about how absent Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures the president would not even be offering this lip service, happy to allow the tumor of spying to continue to grow in secret as he had done for the last six years of his presidency.
But let’s get specific.
Obama announced that the U.S. will no longer electronically surveil allied, friendly, heads of state. So, Americans, the only documented way to protect yourself from NSA spying is to be chosen as leader of another country. Note that Obama did not specify what he means by allied and friendly (Turkey? Iraq? Brazil?), and he clearly did not outlaw spying on a head of state’s closest advisors, cabinet members, secretaries, code clerks and the like. This is simply a gesture; it is unlikely that any of German head of state Andrea Merkel’s cell phone conversations revealed much terrorist information anyway. Worldwide reaction, the audience to which this was aimed, has been tepid and unconvinced.
The secret Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA) will need to grant the NSA permission to search the phone records metadata database. Most significant here is that the NSA will continue to compile the database itself. Use of the FISA court remains just the illusion of a check and balance, because either the government is very good at making its case, or the court has become a rubber stamp: that secret FISA court approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. Of key importance is the question of what constitutes a “search” and a “record.” FISA decisions and Department of Justice internal legal briefs dramatically broadened the definitions of those words such that a “record” may now consist of every piece of data collected by say, Verizon. It is very, very unclear that this change announced by Obama will have any real-world positive impact on protecting Americans’ privacy.
Obama also announced that the NSA will face new limits on how far from a target it can search into the metadata. Currently the NSA traces “three hops” from a target: A knows B, C, and D. But once C morphs into a target, C’s three hops mean the NSA can poke into E, F, and G, and so forth. Obama wishes to limit this to two hops, A knows B and C. This is again a false palliative; if a “target” has fifty friends, the two hops rule authorizes access to a total of 8,170 additional people. And there is nothing to stop the NSA from redesignating any of them as a new target and thus allowing the math to expand the two hops rule indefinitely.
Changes Thrown into Congress
These are for all intents and purposes just throwaways. Obama knows as well as anyone that a hyper-partisan Congress, already divided on what if anything should be done with the NSA, heading into elections, will never act on these issues. Obama can take the high road and deflect any criticism from his progressive base by pointing a finger at Congress. Democrats can blame Republicans and vice-versa, so everyone wins in the calculus of Washington.
For the record, even Obama’s Congressional changes are limp. Having private companies instead of the NSA hold data for the NSA to search? What kind of practical change would result from that? A public advocate in the FISA court? A possible, but how many, what staff and resources, what actual role would they play, under what rules of disclosure by the government would they function? The adversarial judicial process that otherwise fuels our legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys, rules to compel disclosure, cross examination and so forth would not exist as new FISA-only “advocate” rules are created in a pseudo-parallel system. And since the whole process would remain highly-classified, no one outside the government would ever know if such advocates indeed played any role in protecting our privacy.
The last change Obama threw to Congress concerned some form of privacy protections for foreigners. Again, this is just a sop to our “allies and friends” abroad. A Congress that apparently cares little about the privacy of Americans will never pass privacy protections for foreigners.
Changes Not Mentioned at All
What was not even mentioned by Obama is sadly the largest category of all. The list could fill dozens of pages, but the use of National Security Letters without judicial oversight is one of the most significant omissions. In 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. In addition, not a word was mentioned about pulling back the NSA’s breaking into the Internet backbone, accessing the key Google, Yahoo, Microsoft servers, the NSA use of malware to spy on computers, the NSA’s exploitation of software bugs, the NSA’s efforts to weaken encryption that puts our data at risk to ease the burden on the Agency of decoding things, the use of offensive cyberattacks, indiscriminate gathering of data in general contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against General Warrants and on and on and on and on, at least until the next revelations from Edward Snowden reveal even more NSA tricks being played on innocent Americans.
But the mother of all omissions from the Obama speech is this one: there is no proof that all of the spying and surveillance, at the sake of our basic Constitutional rights, has resulted in the purported aim of keeping us safe. The White House’s own review panel on NSA surveillance said they discovered no evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records thwarted any terrorist attacks.
And there Mr. President is the real change needed. A massive, frighteningly expensive program that does much harm and no good does not need tweaking. It needs to be ended.
Yet another of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA is the official seal, pictured to the left.
The logo is quite real, and the motto– Nothing is Beyond Our Reach– clearly sums up the NSA’s view of its mission.
It seems appropriate to remind readers of the official seal of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Office of Security Technology, yet another part of the U.S. government engaged in spying. This seal was sent to me by a source at State, who advises that it is not used publicly. Diplomatic Security did not respond to a request for confirmation or comment.
It may be hard to see, but try to note the righteous American Eagle snarling at the Dragon (representing evil.) Meanwhile, the dove of peace is scared shitless and just trying to get out of the way, all posed within an Illuminati-like pyramid.
These things are, on the one hand, always good for a laugh. They tend to be crudely drawn, cheap caricatures of WWII airplane nose art at best, or maybe something airbrushed on the side of a cool 1970s van. But when you think about it, the seals reveal a bit of the mindset of those in our government whose job it is to spy, on us and on them. Despite the paranoid, bullying side of their work, these people see themselves in some sort of crusader roles. They may actually have convinced themselves they are part of the League of Justice or something like it. That is sad.
You can learn a lot about a person from their medical records– what’s that STD test all about? Mental health issues? Hiding a health problem from an employer? Terminated pregnancy? Had a medical issue that might expose your sexuality when you don’t wish to do so? Work for the military or government and trying to keep a health issue off their radar by using a private medical provider?
Your Doctor Can Tell On You
I read my healthcare provider’s privacy information, those endless pages you click through signing up. After many, many paragraphs describing how they would not share my Personal Health Information (PHI) even with my spouse without my authorization, I ran straight into this (emphasis added):
We may sometimes use or disclose the PHI of armed forces personnel to the applicable military authorities when they believe it is necessary to properly carry out military missions. We may also disclose your PHI to authorized federal officials as necessary for national security and intelligence activities or for protection of the president and other government officials and dignitaries.
I checked a few other major insurance carriers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and they all have the identical language; check yours.
In other words, your doctor does not need your authorization to share your health information with the government. If the NSA asks for it, they get it. I found no provision requiring your medical provider to tell you the information was passed to the government.
HIPPA is the Reason
I asked about this in person at the Member Services office. They were polite, but referred me to their toll-free Member Services number. After a few rounds of Touch Button 1, a very nice woman at the telephone Member Services referred me to their “Congressional Representative.” On hold for a few minutes, then cut off. Called back and worked through the Press Button 4, say Your Birthdate system. Back to Member Services and another long explanation of what I was looking for. In the (ironic) interest of my privacy, I had to reconfirm my name and date of birth more than once. My call was recorded. The Congressional Representative had no idea what I was talking about, and I had to walk her through her company’s own online document. On hold while she checks with a supervisor.
After quite some time, the person said disclosure to the government without my permission or knowledge was authorized by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). I asked her if anyone else had ever asked about this and she said “Not in my personal experience.” Did she know anything more? No. Was there someone else I could speak with? No.
Protecting Your Privacy by Disclosing Your Health Information
The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) was first passed by Congress in 1996. However, the amended HIPPA, which included the Privacy Rule that permits disclosure for national security purposes, was only added in 2002, post-9/11. Why this amendment? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says:
A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being. The Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information, while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing.
A law passed to ensure the privacy of our health information has a long list of disclosures allowed without your authorization, including this:
An authorization is not required to use or disclose protected health information for certain essential government functions. Such functions include: assuring proper execution of a military mission, conducting intelligence and national security activities that are authorized by law, providing protective services to the President, making medical suitability determinations for U.S. State Department employees, protecting the health and safety of inmates or employees in a correctional institution, and determining eligibility for or conducting enrollment in certain government benefit programs.
A reference is made to another law, 45 C.F.R. § 164.512(k), see page 762 at the link, which refers back to “lawful” activities under the National Security Act.
For former State Department colleagues, please note the release of your health information without your authorization to the State Department is specifically included, for use in the security clearance process. So all you out there who think you’re hiding something from Diplomatic Security by using a private physician, sorry.
So Doc, What Should I Do?
Post-9/11, another law we were told was there to protect our privacy does just the opposite. Right-wing claims that Obamacare will let the government into your health records are way out of date. Your healthcare provider is now part of the metastasizing national security state. Be very afraid, but for God’s sake don’t discuss your fears with your doctor.
Bonus: When I requested my own medical records, I was told it takes two weeks and I have to pay a copying charge. I’m thinking it might be easier to just file a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA for their copy.
An interview with Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent author Peter Van Buren, tracing the evolution of his book from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, through Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello.
The still photos in the video were taken by the author during his research travels throughout the Midwest. One location, Mingo Junction, Ohio, is famous as the shooting location for the factory scenes in Michael Cimino’s movie, The Deer Hunter. That factory, like most in the area, is now abandoned, so unneeded and unwanted that no one even bothered to tear it down.
Jeez, they should at least make it sporting for me.
Here’s some video from a show called “Cross Talk,” with the subject the sad state of affairs in Iraq, and the sad state of affairs in Afghanistan. I guess the show’s producers felt they had to dig up someone to take the “pro” side, suggesting maybe not everything all the time the U.S. did and has done to those two countries was a tragic waste. But about the best they could find is some living corpse of a former U.S. ambassador. Because he is a former ambassador his “job” is to walk around with a title like “Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Realm” connected to a “think tank” while I live in my parents’ basement writing these blog posts in my own blood and saliva on the walls (my intern then transcribes them into this “electronic” format.)
Anyway, it ain’t much of an argument, but do entertain yourselves watching one of the people once in charge of America’s foreign policy try and justify his own actions.
And after the video is over, would you please ask my mom to send some meatloaf and a couple of beers down to the basement?
BONUS: Even as Iraq slides ever-deeper into overt civil war, the State Department gave the University of Cincinnati a grant of $300,000 of your tax money to “to build partnerships in Iraq.”
What will the university spend your tax dollars on? They say “professional development workshops for leaders in higher education and the community – workshops that emphasize civic and cultural leadership.”
Hah! Bring that spokesperson on for the next debate!
I was very pleased to be on Democracy Now! to talk about Iraq. Here’s the segment:
The current media pablum about whether Snowden is “narcissistic” or “spiteful” or the devil himself is nonsense.
This kind of thing has become a set-piece in America to dehumanize and discredit whistleblowers so as to dilute public support for the vital information they make available. In high school debate class this lame name-calling is known as ad hominem, one of the lowest forms of argument. The idea is that a claim is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the person presenting the claim. First comes an attack against the character of person making the claim. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim the person in question is making, just like stating 1+3=2.
The technique is in full use against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, particularly swirling around demands by the New York Times and The Guardian that the U.S. government grant him clemency.
The use of cheap ad hominem takes its crudest form in “opinion pieces” such as those by Washington Post typist Ruth Marcus. In the course of only a couple of hundred words, Marcus (who has never actually spoken to Snowden) calls Snowden messianic, smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought, feckless and insufferable before concluding “The whistleblower personality is rarely an attractive one. Whistleblowers tend to be the difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in. So perhaps it is not a surprise that the biggest whistleblower of all time has an unpleasant personality to match.” In an earlier piece, Marcus announced that “Snowden is no Socrates and no Martin Luther King,” as if anyone but her was even making such assertions. She concludes that “Socrates is [sic] a great philosopher and Snowden the lowest type of menial.”
Former National Security Agency and CIA head Michael Hayden said of Snowden: “I used to say he was a defector… I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language… such as traitor.”
None of this is new. After Daniel Ellsberg exposed America’s duplicitous history in Vietnam by leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon White House broke into his psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt to smear him. Chelsea Manning’s sexuality featured prominently and pruriently in media coverage of her disclosures. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake described his own experience as “the politics of personal destruction while also engaging in abject, cut throat character assassination, and complete fabrication and frame up.” When the State Department was seeking to prosecute/fire me because of my own whistleblowing (seriously minor compared to Snowden of course) they pushed out all sorts of nasty things, and several media people accused me of being bad in some way. I was typically asked to “respond” to questions that I blew the whistle as part of some self-promotion campaign, or that I was simply a disgruntled employee out for revenge.
When asked to respond to such statements, I would cut them off and stipulate “I am indeed a terrible person, mean to babies and puppies. And so what? This must be about the message, not the messenger. I don’t matter. What I said is either true or made up (of course it was true). Focus your energy on that. What I said either exposed government waste and mismanagement or it did not (it did), so focus your energy on that and not whether I return my library books on time (I do).
The technique of smearing the messenger is crudely wielded when people try to diminish Snowden’s information’s value by criticizing him for not “manning up” to face consequences in the U.S., or for “selling out” to the Russians for asylum. Snowden, having watched what happened to Manning, Drake and others, knew he would be unlikely to be handled justly. The Espionage Act of 1917 carries the death penalty, and as we learned with the Manning trial the government need not prove any actual damage was done or any foreign power was actually aided to gain a conviction. The proceedings would all be classified and Snowden would be held in devastating pretrial detention in some Supermax. He would be prohibited from discussing his case with anyone but perhaps his lawyer and denied any outside contact or information. I don’t think Snowden wanted to live in Russia but under those circumstances he did not have many options outside of basically handing himself over to the U.S. government to be disappeared. To put this in some perspective, the U.S., after all, takes in many political asylees each year, the circumstances of which ebb and flow with U.S. policy of the moment. Other countries do the same and unless one is willing to condemn all those political asylees in the same way as one does Snowden (no guts, face the music, etc.) than it isn’t right to single him out.
Snowden. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he is cool, fun to hang around with, quick with a joke and nice to babies, puppies and kittens. Maybe he is not. But outside the guilty pleasures of gossip (what new diet trick is Edward using to stay trim? Is it true about him and Lady Gaga?!?), Snowden, in a larger sense, in a good way, doesn’t matter as a person. What matters is what he has revealed to us about a national security state that has clearly gone quite insane, violating our liberty and our freedom to live without unwarranted search and seizure of our private lives.
We would know nothing about the extent of NSA intrusion without Snowden’s information. Whether the debate on the NSA leads anywhere or not is an evolving question, but, without Snowden’s leaks, it would not be happening in any form. Let’s focus on Snowden’s information to save our democracy and leave the hypocrisy outside the door, the name-calling on the schoolyard and the gossiping for the Kardashians.
BONUS: No one in government takes an “oath of secrecy.” I held a TS clearance for 23 years. You sign a paper promising to follow the rules on handling classified info. However, you do swear one oath, to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Snowden believed he was acting on that oath in revealing the extent that the NSA had spun out of control. That action is called “conscience,” and it requires significant courage. FYI.
Journalist Liz Sly reports a rejuvenated al Qaeda asserted control over the Iraqi city of Fallujah, raising its flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops fought to pacify during our nine year War and Occupation.
Sly goes on to say that the capture of Fallujah came amid an explosion of violence across the western desert province of Anbar in which local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda have been fighting one another for days in a confusingly chaotic three-way war.
Reality: About a third of all American deaths and wounds in the Iraq War and Occupation took place in Fallujah and nearby Anbar Province. In 2003, before the American Invasion, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq, and now there is.
Many who lost loved ones there, and many survivors, are now asking What Did They Fight For, What Did They Die For?
With great respect for everyone’s losses and sacrifices, the time to ask those questions is not just now, but when the U.S. government begins beating the drums ahead of the next war. Please don’t be fooled again.
So maybe it is time to admit what many Americans think happened in Iraq is a myth– the reality is playing out daily there. The near-complete destruction of civil society in 2003 was a hole that could not be climbed out of. The U.S. never addressed the fundamentals in Iraq and, when the war grew tiresome, just left. The endless backslapping over the “Anbar Awakening” and COIN now is clearly hollow. History will judge said the Iraq War apologists, and now it has.
Anyone offended by the image above can kiss my ass. That’s what war does and you should not turn away from it. It is America’s decisions to fight pointless wars that does that to our fathers, brothers and sons. If you won’t save them, at least look at them and know what your bloodlust for more war did to them.
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