Here’s a story worth repeating in its whole, as it will be one of those articles you wish you had read a few years from now when everyone is wondering how Iraq ended up a vassal state of Iran.
Note the important parts in bold, particularly the final paragraph which reminds again that the US failure to reconstruct Iraq will continue to have far-reaching consequences for the US in the Middle East.
A pubic relations stumble between Tehran and Baghdad has intensified speculation that one of Iran’s most senior clerics is about to extend his power – and Iran’s theocratic system – into Iraq.
On his return from a visit to Tehran, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office released statements on his meetings with several senior Iranian officials – but it was silent on Mr Maliki’s encounter with 63-year-old Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.
Despite a Baghdad blackout on what is understood to have been their third meeting in recent months, Iran’s government-run news agency IRNA released a photograph of Mr Maliki and Ayatollah Shahroudi – who is Iraqi by birth – greeting each other warmly. An accompanying report on the visit barely mentions Mr Maliki, but quotes Ayatollah Shahroudi urging Baghdad to support the ”Islamic Awakening” currently under way in the Middle East.
Ayatollah Shahroudi, a powerful member of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle, is positioning himself to become the next spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, a move observers say would be impossible without Tehran’s blessing and funding. The Iraqi religious establishment, based in Najaf, south of Baghdad, opposes religious intervention in day-to-day government. But in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theory that God’s authority is vested in the supreme leader and senior religious scholars is law.
Speaking privately, a senior official in Baghdad described the meeting as ”extremely significant”, revealing at least tacit support by Mr Maliki for an Iranian plan to have Ayatollah Shahroudi replace the ailing Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites.
Reidar Visser, an Oslo-based analyst of Iraqi affairs, sees formidable obstacles to the Shahroudi bid, but warned: “By visiting Shahroudi, Maliki did nothing to kill the rumours about some kind of Iranian design on the holiest centre of Iraqi Shiism. “If Shahroudi should succeed … those arguing that Maliki is moving towards even greater co-ordination with the Iranian clergy would feel vindicated – and rightly so.”
The plan seems to be inspired, in part, by a breakdown in relations between Mr Maliki’s government and religious authorities in Najaf. Despite remaining aloof from day-to-day politics, the ayatollahs wield significant power in their real or perceived endorsement of the government and its policies.
For months now, all the senior clerics in Najaf have been abiding by an edict from Ayatollah Sistani that they not meet with politicians or government officials. Referring to the cloak-like robe worn by Arab men, a spokesman for one of the senior ayatollahs in Najaf told The Saturday Age: “We will not continue to cover their mistakes with our abaya.”
Ayatollah Sistani’s surrogates have recently become even more confrontational, openly attacking the Baghdad government during Friday prayers. One cleric widely linked to Ayatollah Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi, blamed government corruption for the failure to restore Iraq’s electrical generation system.
“When patriotism is absent, officials sell themselves to foreigners for their kickbacks,” he said while preaching at the holy city of Karbala.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
My recent discussion with John Brown about Pubic Diplomacy at the Department of State on HuffPo is, I hope, interesting reading. Like any such discussion, the point is to raise issues, take positions, generate thought on the readers’ part, that sort of thinking stuff. John Brown is one of three courageous Foreign Service Officers who resigned rather than support the Iraq War. He has over 20 years in the Foreign Service. I am whatever it is I am now, but also have over 20 years experience. Both of us are in a position to have opinions about public diplomacy. All of this should be sort of obvious, and it was to most readers.
But not to a State Department Foreign Service Officer who’ll we’ll call “Dan” (which is his name), who wrote to John Brown:
I’m personally saddened and disappointed by this. Van Buren can say what he wants, but what makes him qualified for a single-source extensive presentation on public diplomacy? I know you are an expert historian, and would have expected better from you. Speak only as a private individual, but thought you would want honesty. Sincerely, Dan
Ah, yes, the old attack ad hominen, one the limpest forms of argument: attack the person and ignore the things the person said. I wrote back to “Dan” telling him this, and offering him space on this blog for a factual rebuttal. Dan said:
If John Brown or anyone else wishes to interview you and put out that interview, that is up to you, him, and whoever else you might wish/need to deal with. If John wanted to present an interview with you as a discussion of diplomacy, or diplomacy’s use of social media, then fine. But for him to prominently present this interview in a way that suggests it is a description of American Public Diplomacy — as practiced in the past or as it is being practiced today — is, in my mind, a disservice to former and current Public Diplomacy officers. John has both the extensive knowledge and connections to ask the same questions of a variety of individuals with experience at different periods and in different parts of the world, which could have resulted in a very interesting discussion of those topics — he chose a very different, and less fruitful, approach by simply publishing the interview with you. I regret this decision, and the opportunity that was lost by it. Sincerely, Dan
Now we are into primo State Department Public Diplomacy strategy: waive the flag. Still without saying a word about my arguments and points, Dan has now declared that the whole thing is a disservice to the thousands of Pubic Diplomacists beavering away in obscurity at State. If you think you’ve seen this kind of thing before, you have. It’s called the Otter Defense:
So I tried again, writing to Dan:
Still haven’t heard a word about what I said. This has been my unfortunate experience with State in recent months, all attacks ad hominen and not a peep about what I have to say. It is a cheap way to argue, and all too typical of State’s failing to connect with the world. Such inward viral reactions are what my interview focused on, so thanks for helping demonstrate my point. State’s social media thrives in a controlled environment; I bite back.
If you can construct an argument, I’d be happy to put it on my blog as well. Unlike State, I thrive on the give and take and do not fear others’ well-argued ideas. John has the courage to present varied points of view, and the interview clearly was labeled as mine. If you prove me wrong, I learn something. Put up or shut up. If you can get something cleared, of course.
And finally, because I got bored, I let Dan wrap up the intellectual discourse he started on behalf of his colleagues in Public Diplomacy:
I can only be bemused (and amused) by your histrionics. Your individual opinions concerning the Department of State, foreign policy, or social media are of little interest to me. But social media do not equal public diplomacy, and John’s decision to present his interview with you as a serious discussion of public diplomacy results in a distortion of what American public diplomacy really is, and thus is a slap in the face to past and present practitioners of public diplomacy.
So, for those wondering why the US is losing the propaganda war in Afghanistan to a bunch of hillbillies in turbans, or why Congress wants to cut the State Department budget by $5 billion, well, it’s all about the quality of the people, no doubt, in Secretary Clinton’s own words, “our greatest asset.”
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
My thanks to Ryan, who I don’t know and have never met, for putting together this inspiring video making clear the difference between being a government drone and pretending your oath of allegiance is to some political boss, and standing up for the fact that the oath is to the Constitution.
There is a difference between obedience to authority, which is required in an autocracy above all else, and loyalty to one’s Oath, which is required of patriots.
Watch it now:
(If the video is not embedded above, see it on YouTube)
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The American Conservative nails the symbolism:
It would be too easy to say the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is a metaphor for the arrested development of our highly anticipated new “strategic partnership” with Iraq, but in many ways it is the most poignant symbol we have.
But in case you missed it:
Even neoconservative hawks saw this as a monumental mistake. “I think it’s ridiculous,” Michael Rubin, senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, told this reporter five years ago. “You should have put the [the embassy] on the edge of the city, where it does not disrupt the main business districts of the city. The symbolism is this is not an embassy, but a palace.”
But it is OK, really, if we do say say ourselves:
“We have a robust diplomatic presence,” assured Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides in a Feb. 8 briefing. “We have been fully and completely engaged on all of the political aspects” as well as training police, assisting with economic development, and working with the Iraq military through the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC). “We’re doing a better than fine job at accomplishing the goals we set out.”
As for interacting with the Iraqi government, Nides said, “there hasn’t been a reduction in direct engagements, in fact I would argue it’s the reverse—our movements have been increasing over the last couple of years.” Official diplomatic “movements” have increased from 900 per month in the last quarter of 2011 to 1,200 in January of this year, he said. To get to that number, however, the department includes diplomats shuttling to and from the ministry buildings inside the International Zone, the spokesman admitted.
And I get a chance to weigh in:
Designed in 2003 as a symbol of America the Conqueror, the Baghdad embassy included buildings for an international school that never opened. A lawn was planted to beautify the embassy, outdoor water-misters installed to cool the air. Even the stark reality of the desert was not allowed to interfere with our plans. Instead, our failure to resolve the demons unleashed by the fall of Saddam crushed us, Van Buren added.
Read the entire story now online at The American Conservative.
And for a kind of companion piece, have a look at The irrelevance of America’s withdrawal from Iraq at Foreign Policy, which argues, well, that America’s presence in Iraq is irrelevant.
President Obama spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to express support for a unified Iraq. “President Obama expressed the United States’ firm commitment to a unified, democratic Iraq as defined by Iraq’s constitution,” said a White House readout of the phone conversation.
Meanwhile, on our planet, the Associated Press tells us:
Now that U.S. forces are gone, Iraq‘s ruling Shiites are moving quickly to keep the two Muslim sects separate — and unequal. Sunnis are locked out of key jobs at universities and in government, their leaders banned from Cabinet meetings or even marked as fugitives. Sunnis cannot get help finding the body of loved ones killed in the war, and Shiite banners are everywhere in Baghdad. “The sectarian war has moved away from violence to a soft conflict fought in the state institutions, government ministries and on the street,” political analyst Hadi Jalo says. “What was once an armed conflict has turned into territorial, institutionalized and psychological segregation.”
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, the administration’s top Sunni official, is a fugitive wanted by prosecutors on terror charges. He fled to the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq to escape what he said would certainly be a politically motivated trial, and he left this week for Qatar, which publicly has criticized what the Gulf nation’s prime minister called the marginalization of Sunnis. Hashemi is now in Saudi Arabia, probably apartment hunting. Al Jazzeera says that in a 2008 US diplomatic cable Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin was quoted as saying Saudi King Abdullah saw Maliki as “an Iranian 100 per cent,” so presumably Hashemi will enjoy a warm welcome to the Kingdom.
In other news, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni, has been banned from attending Cabinet meetings because he called Maliki a dictator.
Obama seemingly supports these autocratic moves by Malaki in appointing a new US Ambassador who is openly opposed by non-Malaki supporters, to the point where they are talking about refusing to meet with him. That refusal to even meet could possibly affect efforts at unification, what do you think?
It remains unclear why US officials say the things that they do, statements that are not clearly related to the obvious reality around them. Is it wishful thinking? Hope as a strategy? They can’t be that stupid, right?
Hello American people, your friend Nouri al Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, writing to you here from Tehran, which is the capital of Iran since many Americans I heard are ignorant of basic geography. For example, did you know that Iraq’s borders, which cause so much Sunni-Shia-Kurd trouble for you, were basically drawn up artifically by your old friends the British? Hah hah, this is true.
I am in Tehran this week, as you can see from the photo, meeting with my old friends the Iranians. I had a few minutes here and wanted to drop you in America a line to say “hi.” Your Barack invited me to the White House last December as a propaganda ploy as the US was magnanimously returning my country to me, but since I have been naughty since then I doubt I will be invited back again to greet you in person.
Ahmadinejad said that Tehran-Baghdad ties are exemplary. “Tehran, Baghdad share ‘unbreakable’ relationship’.” Like me, his English not so good, you forgive, OK.
I started thinking about you when I was reading a book about what you call the “Vietnam War.” People over there call it the Third Indochina War, as they fought the Japanese, the French and then the Americans in succession, much as we in Iraq call the most recent invasion by you the Third Gulf War, after Saddam fought the Iranians in the 1980’s (you were on Iraq’s side), then Iraq fought the US in 1991 and of course then you invaded us because of 9/11 in 2003. Your wonderful naivete about history just amuses me.
You know, in Vietnam your government convinced generations of Americans to fight and die for something bigger than themselves, to struggle for democracy they believed, to fight Communism in Vietnam before it toppled countries like dominoes (we also love this dominoes game in Iraq!) and you ended up fighting Communism in your California beaches. Everyone believed this but it was all a lie. Then in 2003 the George W. Bush (blessed be his name) told the exact same lie and everyone believed it again– he just changed the word “Communism” to “Terrorism” and again your American youth went off to die for something greater than themselves but it was a lie. How you fooled twice?
But I am rude. I need to say now “Thank You” to the parents of the 4484 Americans who died in this Iraq invasion so that I could become the new autocratic leader of Iraq. Really guys and the girls, I could not have achieved this status without you.
You see, during the Saddam years I was forced to live in exile in Iran. This is true! Your war allowed me to come back to Iraq and become Prime Minister. In March 2010 you had another American election festival for us in Iraq, and I lost by the counting of votes. However, because your State Department was desperate for some government to form here and they could not broker a deal themselves, they allowed the Iranian government to come and help me (as we are old friends you now know) and arrange a deal with the Sadrists (they were once terrorists on one of your lists). So then I won.
Within days of your troops leaving Iraq in December 2011 (a deal I also need thanks to say to your randy man Brett McGurk for he negotiated it with me, thanks ‘Randy, we party again soon, maybe in Doha where I hear you have friends, yeah!) I had my main opponent’s staff tortured and sent that bastard dog Hashimi on the run. Soon I take over the good big ministries and arrest a few, watch a mayor commit suicide in my jail and now here I am, working back toward as much power as Saddam held just a few years ago.
My Iraq is good friends with my Iran thanks to you, and I am returning some favors allowing Iranian arms to criss-cross Iraq into Syria. It is what friends are for, no? “If Tehran and Baghdad are powerful, then there will be no place for the presence of enemies of nations in this region, including the U.S. and the Zionist regime,” the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling al-Maliki, which is me.
Anyway, I gotta run. Being a autocrat is busy days you know, as being one man in control means I have to do so much. I am now working with Iran to rebuild Iraq, some of that reconstruction you claimed to have done but now we really do need to fix some stuff up, so this time it is for serious.
There’s my picture when I was at your Arlington National Cemetery with the Obama. I looked so serious but I was thinking about hot women! But yes, my thanks again for sacrificing 4484 of your young men and women for me. I can never repay this debt, not that I would even think of seeking to repay you anything you ignorant pigs.
Nouri al Maliki (follow me on Twitter!)
Iraq racks up another number one finish in a world category, this time in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2012 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and killers go free. Iraq comes out on top, with 93 unsolved journalist murders last year.
Freedom of the Press was one of the US’ goals in going to war in Iraq, bringing them democracy and all. Yep, just last month the White House said “Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous—and the United States more deeply engaged there—than at any time in recent history.”
CPJ’s annual Impunity Index, first published in 2008, identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. For this latest index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred from January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2011, and that remain unsolved. Only the 12 nations in the world with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index.
Iraq ranked worst on CPJ’s Impunity Index for the fifth consecutive year and, with more than 90 unsolved murders, its impunity rating dwarfs that of every other nation. Most of the murders occurred as Iraq was immersed in war, but even now, as authorities claim stability, they have failed to bring justice in a single case.
But Iraq faced some stiff competition this round. Garden spot Somalia, gripped by insurgency and crippled by the lack of an effective central government, ranks second worst with 11 unsolved murders. In Sri Lanka, ranked fourth worst, authorities have failed to win convictions in the murders of nine journalists—all of whom reported critically about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.
So for anyone out there a) still thinking the US accomplished something in Iraq (“it’s still better than under Saddam ya’all!”) and b) the deaths of 4484 American soldiers are somehow justified or c) Iraq is on the road to democracy, go ahead and suck on the CPJ statistics instead.
Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War is a new book by James Loney recounting his days in Iraq, a victim of kidnapping. Loney went to Iraq as part of a Christian anti-war group, stumbled along with three colleagues into the vicious sectarian nightmare created by the US invasion and was held for ransom alongside his friends for those 118 long days and nights before being freed by US and British Special Forces.
Ostensibly about the kidnapping ordeal itself, Loney’s book is actually about Faith. It is a powerful document to the power of Faith to push believers through the worst hardships, of Faith to conflict with the harder realities of war and of Faith as a way to live one’s life. Expecting a cowboys and Indians tale of survival and Special Forces machismo, I was first caught off guard and then drawn in to the more simple story.
Loney begins his journey to Iraq believing he and other Christians can somehow affect the chaos there as a “Christian Peace Team.” Their goal is to negotiate, mediate and at times physically separate warring parties in hopes of achieving peace. Their naiveté is palatable, almost comical to anyone even vaguely familiar with the horrors of Iraq, yet decent writing and an almost childlike belief in his faith make Loney’s motives credible. He and the others are kidnapped immediately, as expected.
The bulk of the book details the hour-by-hour struggles to stay alive and strong in captivity. While the four men were not tortured, they spent their days chained and had little food and no amenities. The spectra of death was present, and their limited ability to communicate with their captors kept the anxiety high. As one can imagine, spending 118 days chained together under such conditions makes for rough interpersonal relations, and how the men called on their faith to stay mentally whole and not turn on each other sticks with the reader. A secularist myself, faith remains something of a mystery and the window Loney provides is revealing.
That said, Loney leaves the reader wanting more. Did none of the men ever seriously question their faith while in captivity? When confronted by a US Army officer angry at having risked his life to save people he felt were so stupid they never should have been allowed into Iraq, why was Loney silent? Any reflections on an antiwar group being freed by Special Forces’ violence? After the men were released, they refused as a matter of conscience to testify against their captors, knowing their testimony would result in the death penalty. Was this decision taken lightly? Were there no crisis’s of faith to confront? More introspection and less certainty would be welcome.
Readers looking for insights into Iraq will probably not enjoy Captivity, but those seeking a deeper understanding of the role faith plays in the lives of believers will come away awed by Loney’s book. God bless him for it.
Ted Nugent and I go way back, though the relationship has been somewhat one-sided. For example, I saw the ‘Nuge in concert in 1977 when he was the headliner and I was in high school. It was one of the wicked coolest nights of my life, and I guess Ted enjoyed the show too, least as best I could tell from the back of some 20,000 screaming fans. For an encore, Ted slammed his guitar into an amp stack and sent feedback into the concert hall that must have almost blinded several people. It was cool.
Yet here we are in 2012, both of us on some US Secret Service watch list.
Ted’s Problem with the US Secret Service
Ted got into Secret Service trouble for saying things like this:
If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.
Ted also owns more guns than the 82nd Airborne and used to feature a bow hunting kill demo as part of his stage act. He wrote songs like “Wango Tango,” “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Regardless, the Secret Service met with Ted, shook hands and the matter was resolved.
My Problem with the US Secret Service
I got into trouble with the Secret Service because of this blog post.
Based on that blog post, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) notified the US Secret Service about me:
I own no guns and do not bow hunt. I have never written a song with the word “Wang” in it, to my knowledge. No one from DS or the Secret Service ever met with me to discuss the “threat” and I only learned that I was on the list several months after the fact. I was and still have not been given a chance to clear my name or even understand what threat I supposedly posed. Just a smear tactic, really, part of a series of retaliatory acts by the Department of State because of this blog and my book. A neat example of the use of security to smear an unwanted employee.
Today We are All Ted Nugent
But at the end of the day, Ted did speak for both of us when he said:
By no stretch of the imagination did I threaten anyone’s life or hint at violence or mayhem. Metaphors needn’t be explained to educated people.
And that is the point. No one seriously believes that Ted Nugent was going to kill the President, and no one seriously could believe I was going to assassinate Hillary Clinton. Yet in our current era, no one can question “security,” so when a has-been rocker speaks out of turn, the Secret Service has to step in to set an example. And when a has-been foreign service officer exercises his right to criticize a government official, State Department Diplomatic Security has to step in and set an example: no free speech on their watch.
God bless you Ted, and God Bless America. Also, rock on.
Dead Men Working, the blog of a group called “Concerned Foreign Service Officers” does not always agree with what I write here; in fact, they tend to almost always disagree with me, so it is important to note when our two blogs come to the same conclusion.
That conclusion is over the role Diplomatic Security is increasingly playing within the Department of State: internal bully boy to be used by HR to weed out troublesome employees. Dead Men stated:
That freedom from oversight (the quo) is the “plausible deniability factor” that allows the Department, when it wants to, to use every dirty trick imaginable to terminate – with extreme prejudice – anyone, for any reason, deserved or not (the quid). DS leadership gets the kind of absolute power that the corrupt enjoy absolutely, in exchange for using that power, when desired, to eliminate the problem employee of the day. It is, as they say, a win-win situation.
That is sadly not the kind of statement you’d like to hear about a part of the American government, never mind a part of the American government charged with carrying America’s message of democracy abroad.
Read the whole article at Dead Men Working.
The news is less positive for bloggers inside the State Department. Jesslyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project wrote on Salon:
(The State Department’s) actions are a transparent attempt to retaliate against Mr. Van Buren for his book—by trying to impose bureaucratic and constitutionally-questionable prior restraints on his blogs, evidenced by the facts that 1) Mr. Van Buren is being subject to disparate treatment (hundreds of State Department blogs flow out onto the Internet uncleared); 2) the State Department links to uncleared blogs it likes; 3) none of Mr. Van Buren’s writing or speaking has contained classified orpersonally identifiable information; 4) all his written works (including his book) contain the State Department disclaimer that they do not represent the views of the government; and 5) he has never misrepresented himself as an official spokesman for the State Department (instead, he speaks in the first person and uses bland designators such as “Author”).
Tại sao là Alec Ross một kẻ ngốc như vậy?
If you are one of the few people who missed the story about an “alleged” sex tape that includes an “alleged” State Department VIP having “alleged” sex on the roof of the old US Embassy building in Baghdad, well, it must be for lack of interest, because the story seems to be popping up everywhere.
Meanwhile, the State Department has yet to issue a denial, a curious thing. You can read the daily press briefing here to check.
While the story has not made it to Doha yet, it is in the UK and another in the UK, India, Poland, and Nigeria. The Week, which include the story as item number three in “Five scandals that could undo Obama’s re-election bid.”
“BJ” in this context stands for “basic justice,” not the naughty thing you were thinking of, shame. My point in raising all this fuss is to mark the way the State Department turns on charges of “poor judgment” against me for blogging (I am being fired due to my book and this blog, long before any sex tapes raised their, er, head) while turning its back on any number of instances of questionable behavior when the persons involved are not bloggers that they are looking for an excuse to fire.
Here’s one of the actual charges:
Which referred to this:
For those who don’t recall, that photo of Ms. Bachmann (of questionable judgment of its own) appeared on thousands of web sites; try this Google search to see. And yes, everyone from Colbert to Leno to the guy in your car pool (and me) made the same joke about it.
Childish? A bit. Snarky. Yes. Maybe even rude, funny, immature, naughty, bad taste, whatever. But a firing offense? Seems a stretch, especially since the photo appeared briefly on my blog in October 2011 and here we are firing me in late April 2012, some six months of festering “poor judgement” later. Now that seems a bit, well, childish. Or maybe vengeful.
Keeping State Secrets
I met recently with a group of young professionals in Washington interested in foreign affairs, several of whom expressed some interest in joining the State Department. The question of security clearances came up, and the point I made was that more and more the secrets you will be asked to keep are not matters of national security as much as matters of embarrassment.
Instead of keeping vital info from the Chinese, you are instead expected to remain silent when your boss has sex on the roof above you. Instead of keeping information secret to protect the President, you instead must learn to keep silent when his Secret Service agents bring whores back to their Government-paid hotel rooms abroad.
Those are the secrets you must keep. Anything else is poor judgment.
Here’s the weather report from Iraq today:
18 persons wounded in several attacks in Diala
4/19/2012 12:22 PM
IED injures 2 cops in southern Kirkuk
4/19/2012 12:22 PM
2 civilians killed, 4 injured in armed attack in Falluja
4/19/2012 12:13 PM
8 people wounded as car bomb exploded in central Ramadi
4/19/2012 12:09 PM
Suicide attack kills 5, wounds 9 in northern Baghdad
4/19/2012 12:02 PM
Car bomb kills soldier, wounds 2 north of Baghdad
4/19/2012 12:01 PM
2 car bombs in Kirkuk leave 28 casualties
4/19/2012 11:49 AM
5 persons killed, 6 injured west of Kirkuk
4/19/2012 11:49 AM
Meanwhile, over at the US Embassy Baghdad website, the news is all good, with these top items:
We congratulate Iraq’s Council of Representatives on its historic decision to nominate the first members of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights.
U.S. Embassy Spokesman, Michael McClellan, stated, “U.S. policy on supporting the unity of Iraq, as anchored in numerous UN resolutions and U.S. policy statements, is unwavering.”
In some 24 years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid the mistakes and flaws of those anonymous functionaries.
What I saw while serving the State Department at a forward operating base in Iraq was, however, different. There, the space between what we were doing (the eye-watering waste and mismanagement), and what we were saying (the endless claims of success and progress), was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not scaredy-cat bureaucrats.
That was too much for even a well-seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore and so I wrote a book about it, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis. Originally, I imagined that my book’s subtitle would be “Lessons for Afghanistan,” since I was hoping the same mistakes would not be endlessly repeated there. Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing.
The whole story makes for an interesting read, especially the part about how the book came to be published. You can read the original article about all this on TomDispatch.com.
The piece was also reprinted at a number of other sites:
(This story originally appeared on Salon. It was written by Jesselyn Radack, filling in for Glenn Greenwald)
Today, I’m not writing about the Espionage Act being used to chill journalists and whistleblowers, but something equally as troubling: the assault on whistleblowers’ First Amendment rights, illustrated by the creepy case of Peter Van Buren.
Van Buren is a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department who wrote a book critical of U.S. reconstruction projects in Iraq, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He also maintains a personal blog at www.wemeantwell.com. A 23-year veteran of the State Department, Mr. Van Buren began to experience a series of adverse personnel actions a month before the publication of his book, which are ongoing today. These actions include suspension of his security clearance, confiscation of his Diplomatic Passport, being placed on administrative leave, being banned from the State Department building, losing access to his State Department computer, and being reassigned to a makeshift telework position better suited for a high schooler.
The State Department cleared Mr. Van Buren’s book by default because State exceeded its own 30-day deadline by nearly a year. Now the State Department is retaliating against him viciously for his book by taking adverse personnel actions — ostensibly based on not seeking pre-publication review for his blogs and live media appearances, done on his personal time — which are being used as a pretext to punish him for his book.
Even more disturbingly, the State Department admits that it is actively monitoring Mr. Van Buren’s blogs, Tweets and Facebook updates that he posts during his private time on his personal home computer.
Read that sentence again to absorb its full impact.
All government employees should be alarmed by this. Peter Van Buren’s book dovetailed with WikiLeaks’ bursting onto the world scene, and the government’s assault on whistleblowers with the full force of the entire Executive branch.
The WikiLeaks Edicts Transmogrify into Censorship
This slippery slope, which has now turned into a sheet of ice, began with the State Department announcement on November 26, 2010, that Department officials are authorized to view WikiLeaks documents for “legitimate work reasons . . . using either the Department’s unclassified computer network (OpenNet) and associated peripheral devices or home computers.” No problem there.
But less than three weeks later, State almost completely reversed itself, instructing the Directors of the Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services (CA/PPT)—whose self-described mission is to “contribute significantly to the USG goal of promoting international exchange and understanding . . . [and] to help American citizens engage the world”—that “PPT employees shall not access any classified documents, including ‘Wikileaks documents’, during business hours or on their personal time.” (Scare quotes in original.)
A year later, Mr. Van Buren received his very own, personalized Orwellian directive from the State Department: “[Y]ou must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials, including blogs, Tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity.”
As a former government employee who was subject to horrible surveillance and monitoring for blowing the whistle (described in my new book for which Glenn Greenwald wrote the Foreword, I find it outrageous that a public servant is being told that his personal blogs, Tweets, and Facebook updates done on his own time in his personal capacity must go through pre-publication review. Moreover, in Mr. Van Buren’s case, this special pre-clearance requirement is being applied only to him and to things not capable of pre-publication review, such as live radio broadcasts.
These actions are a transparent attempt to retaliate against Mr. Van Buren for his book—by trying to impose bureaucratic and constitutionally-questionable prior restraints on his blogs and media interviews (even though the latter have been live), evidenced by the facts that 1) Mr. Van Buren is being subject to disparate treatment (hundreds of State Department blogs flow out onto the Internet uncleared); 2) the State Department links to uncleared blogs it likes; 3) none of Mr. Van Buren’s writing or speaking has contained classified orpersonally identifiable information; 4) all his written works (including his book) contain the State Department disclaimer that they do not represent the views of the government; and 5) he has never misrepresented himself as an official spokesman for the State Department (instead, he speaks in the first person and uses bland designators such as “Author”). Mr. Van Buren’s style of writing and speaking is clearly identifiable as in his own “voice” and is dramatically dissimilar to the official, wooden style used by the State Department in its own messaging. Moreover, Mr. Van Buren does not use other official symbols that might potentially confuse an audience. Finalloy, the State Department never argued, until after Mr. Van Buren went to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which adjudicates whistleblower complaints, that Mr. Van Buren’s book or writings have disrupted normal State Department operations or affected the agency’s operational efficiency, the legal standard for when an employee has crossed the First Amendment line.
Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts: The Slow Immolation of a Whistleblower
On September 7, 2010, Mr. Van Buren submitted his book manuscript for pre-publication review. It disclosed numerous examples of rampant reconstruction fraud in Iraq. Mr. Van Buren submitted his manuscript to the State Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) in accordance with 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”) 4170, which governs official clearance of speaking, writing, and teaching. It specifically requires pre-clearance for any speech or writing on “matters of official concern.” The Supreme Court held that an earlier version of the State Department’s pre-publication review scheme was valid in a case called Weaver. However, the current regulation is outdated, vague and overbroad, defining “matters of official concern” as matters that “relate to any policy, program, or operation of the employee’s agency or to current U.S. foreign policies, or reasonably may be expected to affect the foreign relations of the United States.” Matters that relate to U.S. foreign policies can be just about anything. Also, Weaver was decided years prior to the advent of social media, and such a requirement on new media is more constitutionally-questionable than when applied to traditional publications.
The State Department defaulted on pre-publication review according to its own 30-day deadline. A month before the book was published, the State Department commenced a series of retaliatory actions that continue today.
A couple weeks before Mr. Van Buren’s book was published, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security (DS) interviewed Mr. Van Buren on a “voluntary basis.” DS asked Mr. Van Buren about his forthcoming book and a blog he posted on August 25, 2011. (Mr. Van Buren had been blogging without incident since April 2011 and the questions regarding his blog post were clearly a pretext to interrogate him about his book and intimidate him from promoting it.)
The week before his book’s publication, DS interrogated Mr. Van Buren on a “compelled basis” regarding his book and the August 25, 2011 blog post. As to the book, DS grilled him about the details of the publishing contract, including how much of an advance he received and to whom, if anyone, he donated the proceeds. (If you listen closely, you can hear government strains of “material support for terrorism” lurking in the background.) As to the blog, DS wanted to know who had helped him with his blog and told him that every blog, Facebook update, and Tweet by State Department employees had to be pre-cleared by the Department prior to posting. DS told Mr. Van Buren that refusal to answer their questions could lead to his firing. They also warned him against writing about the interrogation, saying he could be charged with interfering with a government investigation if he did so.
After his book had been shipped to bookstores, the Bureau of Public Affairs wrote to his publisher stating that “its circulation and publicizing have been done without authorization” and that “[t]he Department has recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.” Although the State Department tacitly admitted (with the word “recently”) that its designated period for pre-publication review had expired, this fax constituted a direct threat of discipline because unauthorized disclosure of classified information is both a regulatory infraction and a criminal felony that can carry up to 10 years in prison under . . . wait for it . . . part of the Espionage Act, the government’s new favorite tool to use against whistleblowers.
When criminal threats failed, the State Department confiscated Mr. Van Buren’s Diplomatic Passport and suspended the Top Secret security clearance he had held continually since 1988 (by suspending, rather than revoking his security clearance, the State Department made it impossible to challenge.) He was issued a workday-only limited-access badge so that he could continue his unclassified work.
It was not long, however, until Mr. Van Buren was placed on paid administrative leave, on which he remained for nearly two months with no job duties or assignment. His access card was confiscated by Human Resources (HR), and he was banned from entering any State Department facility or accessing any State Department computer. (No reason was given for banning Mr. Van Buren from State Department facilities, and no regulation was cited justifying HR in doing so.) The State Department ended the job assignment that Mr. Van Buren had served in for over a year (with the Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service) because “You have been counseled repeatedly regarding your 3 FAM 4170 obligation to submit writings and media appearances for review when they pertain to matters of official concern.” This is disparate treatment because numerous Foreign Service Officers maintain blogs and post Facebook updates about matters of official concern without pre-clearance. Moreover, it is impossible to pre-clear the content of live media appearances before they occur.
At the end of 2011, the State Department informed Mr. Van Buren that he would be “teleworking,” and forced him to sign an unprecedented “Compliance Letter” as a condition of employment, referenced above: “[Y]ou must comply fully with applicable policies and regulations regarding official clearance of public speeches, writings and teaching materials,including blogs, Tweets and other communications via social media, on matters of official concern, whether prepared in an official or private capacity.”
Long story short, Mr. Van Buren continued to exercise his First Amendment rights to blog, Tweet, speak, and use Facebook. And he continued to be jacked up over things that would be laughable if they were not so serious, like blogs that were sarcastic or pure parody.
The end is so cliché: the State Department has now proposed removing (bureaucratese for “firing”) Mr. Van Buren, a mere six months before his already-announced retirement date.
We can only hope that the government’s attempts at prior restraint and blatant censorship don’t become cliché.
What counts as poor judgement or lack of discretion these days such that Federal employment is no longer suitable? It is a good question, because the State Department is proposing to fire me in part for my “poor judgement” as shown, they say, by these two blog posts, about Hillary Clinton laughing at someone’s death and about Michelle Bachmann being, well, insane. Meanwhile, a State Department VIP apparently has had sex on an Embassy roof, captured on video, not that that matters.
We have learned that having posed for Playboy doesn’t count as poor judgement for a Foreign Service Officer. Point noted.
And we can show that as the US Ambassador to Iraq dressing as JFK’s unsuccessful Secret Service bodyguard for a Halloween party as Baghdad burned around you apparently isn’t poor judgement. Even after photos are posted on a popular photo sharing spot. Point noted.
We also know that drunken parties in Islamic war zones like Baghdad, or Afghanistan, are not considered poor judgement (and yes, two of three people dressed as women in the photo are not women). Point noted.
And we know that being photographed partying in Colombia while the news is dominated by illicit Secret Service partying isn’t bad judgement, even if the media call attention to the issue with headlines like “Swillary” and “Is Hillary Clinton becoming an embarrassment as Secretary of State?” Given that I am a source of her stress, I guess I should be more charitable when Hillary needs a drink. Seriously, though, while “humanizing” Clinton to her fan base in the US, I wonder if the foreigners it is her job to influence see it as a positive image.
So that leaves us with a final case to decide whether or not poor judgement is afoot.
What if a video existed that showed a prominent State Department VIP on the roof of the Republican Palace in Baghdad receiving, um, pleasure of an oral nature from another State Department officer not his wife, or even his journalist mistress of the time? What if that video has been passed around among Marine Security Guards at the Embassy to the point where it is considered “viral” with many copies made? What if the Deputy Chief of Mission, hand in hand with the Diplomatic Security chief (RSO) at the time, decided that the whole thing needed to be swept under the rug and made to go away, at least until some blogger got a hold of it.
Would that count as poor judgement? What if it was published during his oft-delayed Congressional hearings? Funny that State aggressively punishes some extramarital fooling around while ignoring other, er, well-documented cases.
Or would the State Department once again excuse the act itself and instead punish the person who made the act public, claiming THAT was the example of poor judgement, the crime of not hiding State’s dirty laundry at a sensitive time?
Remember Rule No. 1 of Fight Club at State: It is poor judgement to talk about Fight Club.
(And before everyone gets all wound up over the photos posted, would you please first consider the point here, that judgement as contained in the acts pictured is the issue, not harvesting them from around the Internet where they already exist and reposting them here. For those too self-righteous to get it (oh, they’re colleagues ya’all!), the other point is that the State Department excuses all sorts of behavior when it wants to for people it likes or who are connected, and then hauls out the bully-bat of “poor judgement” when it is trying to stretch to justify firing someone they don’t like because of a blog. Thank you.)
Also, Secret Service Agents abroad: always remember to pay your prostitutes to avoid undue hassle. Generous tips are encouraged; after all, they had to f*ck losers like you.
America’s superhero Ambassador in Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker (pictured left with his senior adviser) just keeps the hits coming. After manfully mocking the Taliban for pulling off coordinated attacks all over the country, including just outside his own office windows, Crocker now turns his insightful gaze toward the future of terrorism.
But first, a very brief history of our war in Afghanistan. 9/11 happened, with almost all of the terrorists being Saudi, using money from Saudi Arabia and having obtained their visas in Saudi Arabia courtesy of the US Department of State (not their fault, they did not have social media then). Following the Saudi-led horrors of that day, the US attacked a different country, Afghanistan, because the Saudi citizen behind some of 9/11 moved there (many other Saudi plotters went to Pakistan, which we did not attack). The stated purpose of invading Afghanistan was to find Osama bin Laden and deny al Qaeda a homey place to live and train. You can look that up on Wikipedia or something.
So it is, well, curious, to read this quote from Crocker:
Al-Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan. If the West decides that 10 years in Afghanistan is too long then they will be back, and the next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city. Al-Qaeda remains a potent threat despite suffering setbacks. We have killed all the slow and stupid ones. But that means the ones that are left are totally dedicated.
Yeah, like, totally.
The good news from Crocker is that he somehow knows that New York and DC will be safe next time. The bad news is that after almost eleven years of war, 100,000 troops deployed, some 2,000 dead Americans, trillions of dollars plus who knows how many dead Afghans, as well as the fact that the war has spread into Pakistan, the US has not accomplished much at all. We are in fact, Crock says, pretty much where we started and all that effort and all those American lives did nothing but lop off the slow and stupid bad guys.
Afghans (Heart) Crocker
Crocker also seems to have hit the executive minibar one too many times. When told by a reporter that “Some Afghans even argue that the US presence has done more harm than good in Afghanistan,” Crocker parried:
The greatest concern that Afghans with whom we have regular contact express about the US military presence isn’t that we’re here but that we may be leaving. So it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone. It’s quite the contrary.
Of course the mind spins, wondering if the masses of Afghans upset over the US burning Quarans, peeing on their dead and of course turning wedding parties in red mush with “unfortunate” drone attacks really would love the Americans to stay– please– just a little bit longer. Maybe Crocker could put his theory to the test with a series of homestays in the homes of typical Afghans, asking each if they would like him in the particular to stay around longer? Everyone knows that foreigners want nothing more than an American Occupying Army to sit on them.
Turks (Heart) Crocker
In that same interview, just for laffs, Crocker also fired off a threat to the Iranians, saying mirthfully that:
The Iranians would be making a terrible mistake to push Turkey too hard. Turkey definitely knows how to push back very, very effectively, and I think the Iranians are smart enough to understand that they had better stay within some pretty careful limits or they will pay a price they won’t like, shall we say.
Yes, them Turks are bad asses, shall we say. Problem is in between Turkey and Iran lies Crocker’s out vacation home in Iraq, which would need to be overflown by the Turks when they go off huntin’ Iranian butt. Yeah, it’ll be cool. Crock’s got your back.
Crocker, it is a bad idea to taunt people with weapons, especially when it is other people who will bear the burden of defending your taunts against the inevitable response.
Maliki (Hearts) Crocker
Lastly, Crocker wows his audience with a completely wrong retelling of reality, speaking now about Iraqi autocrat Maliki:
Turkey knows better than anyone the deep divisions between Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of that awful eight-year ground war. Again, you understand that, as many in my country do not, that simply because the government is now led by a Shiite prime minister does not mean that he takes his direction from Tehran — quite the opposite. He is a very proud Arab and a proud Iraqi nationalist.
Of course Crocker wouldn’t know that Maliki spent most of the eight years of the Iraq-Iran war in exile in Iran, and that Maliki owes his Prime Minister job to the Iranian-brokered deal with the Sadrists that concluded the March 2010 sham elections nine months after the voting ended. Crocker’s version of Iraq-Iran history also ends in 1990 and omits two US invasions of Iraq that followed.
So, once again, Ryan Crocker, would you please just shut up?
(Thanks to Ryan Crocker fan blogger Random Thoughts for the story idea)
Here’s a complete news story out of Iraq:
SULAIMANIYA / Aswat al-Iraq: Sulaimaniya Mayor Zana Mohammad Saleh, arrested in a bribery case, committed suicide on Saturday inside Asayesh department jail, a security source said.
The Sulaimaniya court decided last Sunday to arrest the mayor as he was accused in a bribery case.
Around 300 persons of his relatives gathered in front of the court, forcing security forces to open fire in the air to disperse them.
Anybody want to claim this is some sort of democracy in action? Jail house suicide, eh? Damn, those guys learn fast how to bs the media with stories such as this. They must have had good teachers.
The Taliban, see, launched a wave of assaults on Kabul and three other provinces Sunday. Fighting in the Kabul district that houses allied embassies lasted into Sunday night. Bombs, suicide vests, AKs, the whole MFer.
So what does America’s bad boy Ambassador have to say to ‘dem Taliban bitches: “The Taliban are very good at issuing statements, less good at fighting.”
Da Man Crocker, is not the first time he lay smack on the Taliban. Following the all-day Taliban assault on the American Embassy in Kabul last September, Crocker said “If this is the best they can do, I find both their lack of ability and capacity and the ability of Afghan forces to respond to it actually encouraging in this whole transition process.”
Crock’s bad-ass statements sound tough and cool, like a real manly diplomat should. Freakin’ Taliban, can’t do nothing right. But wait, gee, what’s it been for our war in Afghanistan, heading into ELEVEN FREAKING YEARS Ryan? After eleven years of fighting, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and umpteen training missions for the Afghans, the Taliban can still stage a coordinated attack in central Kabul? That does not seem like a lack of ability or capability. The victories over the Taliban seem to be taking place closer and closer to home somehow. And how many more Americans have died in Afghanistan in between Crocker’s childish posturing?
How well did grunting “Bring ‘em on!” work out when George Bush said it regarding Iraq? When he said it, only 23 Americans had died in Iraq. 4479 dead Americans and nine years later, he is still eating those words.
What is lacking here is credibility. Lacking also is humility. Ryan Crocker, please just shut the freak up.
(America, please note that my previous blog posting of some seven months ago about Ryan Crocker’s macho posturing was singled out by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security agents as a further example of my “poor judgement” and included in the Report of Investigation filed against me. Boy oh boy, seven more months from now am I gonna be in trouble when the next investigation uncovers this blog posting.)
My recent posting on TomDispatch included a contest, where readers sent in questions for me. TomDispatch chose the most interesting one for me to answer. The winner also got a signed copy of my book. My thanks to everyone who sent in questions. Here is the winner:
Does your experience since whistle-blowing indicate our government’s mere aversion to criticism, heightened by increasingly useful technology? Or, is it evidence of being actively targeted for disturbing the status-quo of ongoing operations?
As a smart person once said, the crux of the State Department’s ongoing failures is that it is an island: it is a very inward looking and massively bureaucratic organization, which spends the majority of its time serving its own internal clients rather than talking to foreigners, Congress and other government partners. Clinton has not addressed this problem. Instead she has created yet more layers within State through the appointment of at least three dozen Special Advisors and Envoys to serve her political constituencies. State has some great talent but it’s being swallowed in the bureaucracy.
The Department of State is also far too sensitive to criticism. While the military and the CIA almost enjoy the odd crank or critic, State is frightened that the slightest negative remark will mean Daddy does not love them anymore. Seriously, these people are like the worst abused person still hoping to be loved by his abuser. State is always getting its budget cut by Congress, always behind the curve when important decisions are made in the White House, always hoping to be cool like its big brothers in the Pentagon or CIA. Instead, the State Department finds itself increasingly useful in government only as a kind of overseas concierge, doing the clerical work of issuing visas and passports while hand-holding Congressional fact-finding visits to London and Paris.
Under such circumstances, someone like me coming along with a book screaming that the “Emperor has no clothes!” is very unwelcome. Worse than mere criticism, my book is criticism from inside, which rings all too true to other insiders and can’t be easily dismissed by outsiders. That is why the State Department has acted so vengefully against me, turning its Keystone Cop-like Diplomatic Security goons loose to drum up some unholy hodge-podge to use to fire me. It is kind of sad really, a once-proud Cabinet agency reduced to making up lies about an unimportant employee to protect itself from, well, itself.
At the same time, we live in an extraordinary age of growing Federal government power, where, for the first time, the Federal government has set out to systematically create a climate of fear in the US to enhance its own power. Fear of external things—terrorists, Communists, Nazis and the like has long been a trick card the government has used. But we are experiencing a change where in addition to fear of externals, the Federal Government wants us to fear it. So, Americans are subjected to pointless humiliation at the airport, and now routinely spied upon under the Orwellian-named “Patriot Act.” We watch our freedoms dissipate and our fear of the Government, that it will one day use a drone or a night raid to render one of us into a secret prison for torture, grow.
In such a world, dissent in any form, maybe every form, must be stomped on. And so, for writing a book and a blog, the Department of State has turned on me like an angry dog.
Enjoy your free book, it is on the way!
Ah, the power of social media. My thanks to Michael Moore, who Tweeted the article from Salon describing my First Amendment fight against the State Department to his over 1,000,000 followers, and reposted it on his Facebook page.
A very large number of those people then went on to read the full story of the denial of my First Amendment rights by the Department, and jumped over to this blog to read about my latest ham-fisted interrogation by the goons at Diplomatic Security.
You know Alec Ross, there just might something to this social media thing you always talk about.
#SmartPower uber alles!
We are all aware of the power of social media– to bend autocratic governments to the will of the people, to inform, to entertain, to allow the Department of State to speak directly to individuals instead of governments. Powerful, 21st century stuff. Indeed, social media is so important to the Department of State that over 150 people work on just that, Tweeting and Facebooking 24/7 like high school freshman on their third Red Bull. The State Department even has a full-time person with the humble title “Innovator,” Alec Ross, to embiggen this amazing set of tools which Hillary Clinton has dubbed “Smart Power” and “eDiplomacy.”
The Australian government actually sent someone all the way over here to study the Department of State’s social media. That guy wrote “US policymakers have put great stock in the transformative power of Internet freedom. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, these tools will be used “to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics, to build global support for President Obama’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons, [and] to encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up.”
So with that all in mind, let’s have a peek at what the Department of State felt compelled to pass into the Twitter stream on April 10:
Wow. I wept. That is innovative, 21st century stuff, all on the tax payers dime. Jeez, at least when you “friend” Pepto Bismal on Facebook you get a coupon or something.
How many of those 150 people working on social media at the State Department do you think it takes to crank out a couple of Tweets like that?
(Of course not everyone has drunk the Kool Aid. Philip Seib, Huffington Post: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the existence of an ongoing ‘information war’ that the United States is losing… Clinton’s remarks were particularly welcome as a note of realism from a State Department that often is primarily interested in self-congratulation.”
Oops. No wonder Hillary looks so tired in that picture.
So we’ll just throw it into the ever-growing stinky coincidence pile that the same day another of my articles appears on TomDispatch (and Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, etc.), I get called into another interrogation session with the State Department’s Stasi, Diplomatic Security. I say Stasi just to invoke an image; these guys succeed at “security” only in the Alice in Wonderland written by George Orwell land they live in.
Today’s session lasted two and a half hours and involved two contractor investigators, my lawyer and me. Figure a couple of hundred bucks in Government salaries alone, plus the time for the goons to type it all up. Your tax dollars at work.
Two key issues emerged right up front, serious accusations that a) I divulged US government “policies and procedures” and b) I failed to report contacts with foreigners. Both accusations where made apparently by some fellows in my telework office, so-called colleagues in Consular Affairs (State Department friends who wrote in last week all over collegiality take note).
The first accusation, divulging US government policy and procedure, was apparently based on this blog post from December 2011, some 13 weeks ago. Take a quick look.
Not sure where the divulging is in there? Neither was I until it was divined that it must have been this smoking gun paragraph:
While I don’t know the specifics behind that announcement, the usual play inside any Embassy is a) A threat is identified; b) The Political or Economic section wants to downplay it to keep good relations with the host government; c) The Consular section frets that Americans need to be warned; d) Much dithering is snapped when the security office announces the threat already circulating informally inside the Embassy community in an internal memo which e) Triggers the “no double standard rule” and forces/allows the Consular section to go public. It is not a process that takes place casually, so probably bad stuff is a’ brewin’ in the old Green Zone for it to get to this point.
Huh? So is the State Department now admitting that disagreements between the Political Section and the Consular Section at an Embassy are “policy and procedure”? Now back in my day such push and pull was part of the informal process, but I must have missed the memo where it was codified into an actual policy or procedure. I really need to check my work email more often.
The second big issue today was those foreign contacts. People with security clearances are supposed to report certain foreign contacts, say if a beautiful Soviet spy named Natasha slides up to you at a bar somewhere and offers to trade ‘licks for some secrets. Fair enough. In my case the evidence was hidden in this blog post. Again, take a peek, and then come back here.
Find it? Apparently the evidence against me was this statement from that blog post:
One question from the audience stood out.
A student asked who in the State Department had spoken to me about the contents of my book, the errors and mismanagement I wrote about. The answer of course was no one. Not a single person in the entire State Department has asked me about what I saw and chronicled. Kind of a poor showing for an organization that purports to represent free speech abroad and dissent within in its own ranks.
On the other hand, since the publication of this book, my commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Foreign Policy, Rolling Stone, TomDispatch.com and elsewhere. I have been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, as well as Democracy Now. I have spoken with with journalists from the UK, Russia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Japan, and at several major universities, the National Press Center twice and with Army units deploying for Afghanistan. I have appeared on camera in two documentaries and am now working with Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker James Spione (Incident in New Baghdad). My book is also assigned reading in a course taught at George Washington University.
Now leaving aside the freedom of the press and the freedom of association that does allow Americans to speak with journalists, exactly who said the journalists representing those foreign news sources were foreigners? Does everyone who works for a Dutch newspaper have to be Dutch? How about at CNN, or CBS, are all those employees automatically American? They did not ask me about the “American” news sources but I’ll spill the beans and tell you (shh…) that one of the reporters I talked to from an “American” newspaper was a… Canadian! She talked all American, but broke down under my own questioning and admitted being a foreigner. I knew it right away when she refused a warm Budweiser.
I am really hoping that Diplomatic Security was not asking me to name all the reporters I’ve talked to under this flimsy excuse.
The point here is that I have no idea what nationality everyone is that I speak with, swap emails with or interact with on Twitter and Facebook, or in conversation on the bus for that matter. And neither do the colleagues who thought this was the smoking gun and told Security. I do know that I spoke with lots of people about a book available to anyone, approved by the State Department in autumn 2010 and I neither had any classified info to disclose nor did I/could I have disclosed anything. To accuse me of unreported foreign contacts because of that blog post is comical, if it wasn’t seriously what your government did today.
Now It Is Personal
Then it got personal. I’ve worked for State for 24 years, been married to the same lovely woman for 25 years. Yet today the fact that that woman was born abroad (in Japan, still a US buddy that we have not bombed in some 70 years) became “Did I ever have a relationship with a foreign national?” Yes, yes I did, for 25 delightful years and counting, including all my overseas assignments where my dear wife joined me on State Department orders.
Luckily they did not know that my dog is also a foreigner. She was a rescue we saved in Hong Kong. Bitch is 100% Chicom canine.
So What’s the Big Deal?
So there went a couple of hours of my life. I’ve wasted more time in line for Space Mountain, so what’s the big deal?
The deal is this comrades: When an organization such as the State Department wants to deep six an employee for no allowable reason (i.e., rude blogging), they turn the case over to Security. Knowing that their own human resources regulations won’t work, never mind the sticky Constitution, the State Department in the specific and the Government in general are hiding behind security, where even accusations can become fatal, where facts can be hidden from Freedom of Information Act requests and even court-ordered discovery, and thus manipulated to a desired end. What is called an investigation morphs into an indictment, where the goal is to keep fishing until something, anything, comes up.
Worse than that (the Stasi, and Diplomatic Security, can at least hide behind the old “just doing my job, I don’t make the rules” sissy excuse) is how once the institution labels you a target, people inside turn on you with crazy accusations (see above). Diplomatic Security fanned out into every office I worked in since returning to the US in 2006 and asked for dirt. They did the same with my neighbors. The investigator today had my credit report in front of him. He asked me questions about what medical provider I see and was very interested in the names and dosages of any prescription medications I take.
Am I a threat to anyone’s security? I guess that’s up to the “experts,” but I don’t think so. I have not had need for and have not accessed the State Department classified network since 2005. My work has been all in the unclassified realm. In Iraq, embedded with the US military, I was entrusted with operational info that, had it been disclosed, could have quite literally killed soldiers, never mind some dumb ass memo from 2006 already on Wikileaks. The Army had no apparent concern with me having that info, so we are left wondering what State is afraid of here.
Just to remind, the charges against me by the State Department are all related to this blog, nothing more. 100% of the evidence is right here for your viewing pleasure, my crimes conducted in full view.
I get it, they are afraid. They want me destroyed, and they apparently have no limit to how much money and time can be devoted to just that. Since I lead a boring life, with no international intrigue to speak of, they have their work cut out for them. However, by playing the McCarthy card and turning any accusation into a hammering point, then serving as judge of their own dirty handiwork, State assures itself of the win. It is just a matter of time.
Nothing New at the State Department
John Paton Davies in a new autobiography called China Hand tells of his own termination from the State Department. Davies was an acknowledged expert on China, one of a generation of brilliant scholars and diplomats known collectively as the “China Hands” during WWII. Davies predicted that Mao would win the Chinese Civil War and advocated better relations with Communist China to counter Soviet influence. Davies, of course, was prescient in his advice, though being right did not save him. Instead, for his views counter to popular policy that saw all Communist countries as a caliphate, Davies faced nine Diplomatic Security investigations between 1948 and 1954, all of which failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in 1954, under political pressure from Senator Joe McCarthy, the gutless Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked Davies to resign. Davies refused, and Dulles terminated him, claiming he had “demonstrated a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability.”
Out with the Garbage
I certainly do not place myself anywhere near where men like Davies reside in history so save your emailed rage, and the whistleblowers I have come to know also occupy various niches. What we do share is being thrown away by the government we served because that government was scared of us.
A government seeking to hide from its own people acts that way, suppressing dissent first to preserve order and good discipline, and then soon down the slope to simply preserve its own power.
We’re all out of a job and out of government, that is a fact. It is up to you to judge what that means and whether your interests as the people are best served by our terminations.
According to NextGov, the State Department plans on acquiring its own fleet of (so far unarmed) aerial drones. Because sure, why not? Nothing says “diplomacy” these days better than showing some swag violating foreign air space because we freaking can. This development can only make the US more popular overseas, that is for certain.
Just as a thought experiment, how do you think the US would feel if say the Chinese or the Iranians wanted to fly drones over the US to watch over their own diplomats (the Iranians have a UN mission in New York)? Any issues there?
The State Department has issued a request for proposals for contractors to provide the aircraft, crew and support on a turnkey basis. The procurement request released last month and updated Monday marks the start of a project to provide the department with UAV assets that could be deployed anywhere in the world. State did not say how many aircraft it eventually planned to deploy.
In its 2011 annual report, State’s Diplomatic Security Bureau said it tested UAVs in December 2010 in cooperation with the Defense Department and planned to deploy them to Iraq in 2011.
The mission of the UAV program is to provide real-time air surveillance of fixed installations and the ground routes that diplomats travel “thereby improving security in high-threat environments,” State said.
State intends to acquire two types of aircraft in conformance with standards established by the Air Force. It wants to operate Tier I hand-launched UAVs such as the Gnat-750, manufactured by General Atomics, which can operate at altitudes of 500 to 2,000 feet and at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. These aircraft should be equipped with video and heat sensors that downlink still and streaming video and use built-in GPS navigation with a range of 250 miles.
The RFP also calls for contractors to supply Tier II and Tier II UAVs and aircraft such as the General Atomics Predator, which can fly as high as 18,000 feet and has a range of 250 miles. The original RFP sought aircraft with a range of 900 miles. Tier II UAVs must also be able to downlink still and streaming video and use GPS navigation.
The State UAV project has already attracted 62 interested bidders, including manufacturers such as General Atomics and a number of aerospace companies, as well as systems integrators such as Computer Sciences Corp., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 Communications and Lockheed Martin Corp. Bids are due April 23.
Maybe the State Department’s public diplomacy social media people can get in on this, say holding a contest on Twitter, the winner gets his/her house buzzed by a drone. Or something on Facebook where whomever gets the least “likes” has a Hellfire missile sent down their timeline?
The White House mocked North Korea’s claim that it aims to put a weather satellite in orbit, saying it should just “go to weather.com.”
Taking aim at North Korea’s unprecedented media blitz ahead of the planned launch, US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters that “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this is propaganda. North Korea is trying to advance, test and show off its ballistic missile technology. The UN bans this activity, which is why they’re using the press to pretend it’s a satellite launch.”
“North Korea doesn’t need to spend this kind of money on a weather satellite,” Vietor said in an emailed statement. “Go to weather.com.”
So there you have it, what historians of the future will no doubt refer to as the high point of the American Century, making fun of countries who do stuff we don’t like is now a tool of American Foreign Policy.
We need a new word, the definition of which will be “When satire and reality are no longer distinguishable.”
“Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century,” said SecState Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has made internet freedom and the rights of bloggers and journalists a cornerstone of her foreign policy, going as far as citing the free use of social media as a prime mover in the Arab Spring. At the Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague, Clinton said:
When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us.
In China, several dozen companies signed a pledge in October, committing to strengthen their – quote – “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline.” Now, if they were talking about fiscal responsibility, we might all agree. But they were talking about offering web-based services to the Chinese people, which is code for getting in line with the government’s tight control over the internet.
The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online.
Yet inside her own Department of State, Clinton presides over the censoring of the internet, blocking objectionable web sites that refer to Wikileaks, such as TomDispatch (above), while allowing sites that play to State’s own point of view, such as Fox.com, which also refer to Wikileaks. The use of specialized software and VPNs that State recommends to Iranians to circumvent the firewall block placed by the Tehran government are prohibited by the State Department to its own employees to get around State’s own firewall blocks.
While Clinton mocks Chinese companies, claiming terms like “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline” equate to censorship, her own Department’s social media guidance reminds employees to “be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official,” and to “Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.” Official guidance reminds employees that “All Department organizations with a social media site must monitor user-generated content,” and cites 27 laws and regulations that must be followed to be acceptable to the government. Self-censorship is the byword at State, as it is in China. Government bureaucrats know that this sort of slow-drip intimidation keeps people in line. They are meant to see what’s happening and remain silent.
One web site reported that when Matt Armstrong was hired as Executive Director for the now defunct Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a condition to his hiring was to stop blogging. The condition was set by the office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Whistleblower Ray McGovern was arrested merely for physically standing and turning his back on Clinton at a public rally where she was speaking about the importance of freedom of speech. Did Secretary of State Clinton say anything about the arrest?
She remained silent.
We do not.
It’s fun to be a blogger, so let’s try one together! You take an item from the news (if under 30, “from the media”) and write something about it. What you write can be serious, funny, sarcastic or poignant– you get to choose! So let’s get started.
Here is a cartoon (“graphic novel”) produced at taxpayer expense (“your money”) by the US Government, specifically by the Department of State. The Department of State lately is very concerned about web freedom for other countries (“smart power”) because it has convinced itself that if people in other countries had full and free access to the internet, they would be nice and we would not have to bomb them with drones (“policy”).
So let’s start by watching the cartoon (“propaganda”):
(If the video does not appear by internet freedom magic above, you can also see it here on the YouTube)
Now comes the funnest part, where you write something about that video for “your blog.” Here are some samples to help get you started.
Ironically, the best internet blocking software is made in the US (Include a link for validity, such as Blue Coat).
Countries the US likes also block or filter the web, places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The State Department itself employs web filtering and blocking, internally clamping off access to web sites that have Wikileaks content that the US government does not want people to see.
Interesting that the video is captioned in English. Is State trying to propagandize the Iranians, or is this really designed to help whip up more war fever in the US?
Why does Tehran in that cartoon look a lot like a US urban area?
If Iran suddenly threw away all of its web controls and blocking, the only change would be a 125% increase in views of videos of cats and babies doing funny things on YouTube.
If Iran allowed FourSquare and Twitter to run free, would Hillary Clinton be Mayor of Iran?
So Iran limits broadband access and throttles its web. You mean like Verizon?
Needs more Family Guy references.
So this is what the government spends my tax dollars on?
Sorry, couldn’t watch it, my employer blocks YouTube at work so we don’t spend all day watching crap and not getting any work done.
(For additional sarcastic blogging inspiration, check out the real-world Twitter feed set up to promote this cartoon at #ConnectIran. Click on some names to note how many of the participants are State Department people sucking up to their bosses by RT’ing State’s message to make it seem like it is “viral.”)
If only the State Department would afford the We Meant Well blog the same freedom it demands for Iranians.
The hipster animation moved me. I too demand the basic human right of internet access for Iran!
And now we must sadly ask ourselves: Can anyone in Iran see this video? We watch it ever so casually here on our computers, while even viewing this in Iran is to risk death.
Today, we are all Persians.
So there you have it, your very own blog posting! After you have written yours, be sure to cut it out and stick it on your refrigerator door (“social media”) for everyone to see!
A story of our times as RT.com tries to pull back the curtain on the hypocrisy of US government statements about web freedom. They were kind enough to quote me:
The State Department since 2008 has spent $76 million overseas on Internet freedom, giving tools and support to bloggers and journalists and online people around the world, particularly in countries that we have difficulties with,” he said. “At the same time, the State Department… has found Internet freedom to be inconvenient in the form of WikiLeaks, and has worked just as hard and probably spent even more money trying to shut down free speech that it opposes, while supporting free speech that it feels furthers America’s own political goals overseas. We call that hypocrisy.
While trying to stifle inconvenient leaks at home, the US perceives the Internet and social networking platforms as major tools for spreading democracy, and spends millions of dollars to help people in the Middle East and China get around Internet-blocking firewalls. At the same time, ironically enough, American companies provide Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with the technology to effectively block websites.
A lot of the tools of control that are used by the so-called repressive governments are provided by American companies, Peter van Buren explains. The difference is that corporations, for better or worse, talk about profit as their motivation. However, the American government talks about freedom and democracy as its motivation, when in fact in many ways it seems to act in the opposite direction.
Read the entire piece online, and don’t miss the video of SecState Clinton pounding the pulpit for web freedom, at least if you’re Chinese or Iranian.
A quick thanks to the organizers and fellow participants at this weekend’s Festival of the Book, held on the beautiful University of Virginia campus.
I joined Professors William F. May (Testing the National Covenant: Fears and Appetites in American Politics), and Christopher Nichols (Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age) in a lively discussion of America’s future, in front of an audience of about one hundred people.
Conclusion: Yeah, we’re all pretty worried and if you haven’t started learning Mandarin, now is a good time to begin.