The future is now. This new Ebook Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 is the first unclassified history of US drone warfare, written as it happened.
From the opening missile salvo in the skies over Afghanistan in 2001 to a secret strike in the Philippines early this year, or a future in which drones dogfight off the coast of Africa, Terminator Planet takes you to the front lines of combat, Washington war rooms, and beyond.
Drawing on several years of research, including official documents, open-source intelligence, and interviews with military officers, two of the foremost analysts specializing in drone war offer a sobering, factual account of robot warfare combined with critical analyses found nowhere else.
Loaded with rarely seen Pentagon photos, Terminator Planet provides a rich history of the last decade of drone warfare, a clear-eyed look at its present, and a far-reaching guide to its future.
Want more drone? Check TomDispatch for a devastating look at a weapons system that’s failing to perform as promised, but ever more disastrously embedded in our world — Nick Turse, “A Drone-Eat-Drone World, With Its ‘Roadmap’ in Tatters, the Pentagon Detours to Terminator Planet.”
People, we’ve left behind the fiction of Hollywood for a less high-tech but distinctly dystopian reality. It isn’t quite the movies and it isn’t what the Pentagon mapped out, but it indisputably provides a clear path to a grim and grimy Terminator Planet.
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 following is a letter I sent to the Director General of the Department of State, the head Human Resources person and the individual who will likely be firing me sometime soon. It refers to a State Department message (“cable”) she sent out reminding staff of the protections they have available to them as whistleblowers. That cable is reproduced in full, below.
There has been no response to my letter from the State Department, ‘natch.
Dear Director General Thomas-Greenfield:
Thank you very much for sending today’s cable, below, reminding all employees of the role of the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) in protecting Federal whistleblowers. I hope that seeing it go out under your name as Director General signifies your personal commitment to upholding the protections required by law.
As such, I wish to remind you that I filed my written response to your Proposal to Terminate me for actions that in large part fall under the terms laid out in your cable.
That my work does indeed qualify me as a whistleblower is without question; in fact, the Project for Government Oversight (POGO) called me an “important national whistleblower”. My book and blog have and continue to call attention to gross waste and mismanagement in the Iraq Reconstruction process, as well as other programs.
As for retaliatory personnel practices, as you are aware the Department terminated me, defacto, in October 2011. By that time I had had my security clearance “temporarily” suspended (despite three DS interrogations, a computer forensic analysis and a second, full field investigation, my clearance status is still “temporary” and no decision has been issued some eight months later), was thrown out of my assigned job after a year of successful work, never given an EER for that work and then involuntarily curtailed without my knowledge or participation, and was physically banned from the building for several months with HR unlawfully retaining physical possession of my ID card (no reason given). A Fax from a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in Public Diplomacy to my publisher falsely accused me of a Federal crime of publishing classified information. Along the way I was placed on US Secret Service and Diplomatic Security watch lists as a potential danger to the Secretary of State. Later, I was made to sign an unprecedented and likely illegal Compliance Letter as a requirement just to continue work and forcibly assigned to a meaningless telework slot that in no way meets the acceptable standard for a Foreign Service Officer with 24 years of experience.
After completing its investigation in December the Department took no action against me for some three months. Instead the Department waited until my retaliation complaint, filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC), moved to the discovery phase to propose termination. The Department has offered no explanation for why it waited months to propose termination. The timing suggests that this is an attempt to derail the OSC investigation and deny me that third-party review of the Department’s action over the last year. Even as this separation proceeds, the Department is dragging its feet to impede the OSC investigation.
Most ironic of all, given your cable, my representative attempted to negotiate a settlement with the Department. The negotiations failed because I would not yield to the Department’s key demand– to drop my complaint filed with the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC). That the Department made dropping the OSC complaint the cornerstone of its negotiating strategy makes clear that this proposal is all about derailing this third-party examination of the Department’s personnel practices.
I look forward to meeting with you in the near future to discuss these issues further.
Peter Van Buren
US Department of State
UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512
DE RUEHC #7512 1311656
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101652Z MAY 12
FM SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC
TO RHMCSUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
R 101652Z MAY 12
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0000
UNCLAS STATE 047512
E.O. 13526: N/A
TAGS: APER, AMGT
SUBJECT: WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS AND PROHIBITED
PERSONNEL PRACTICES IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
FOR ALL DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEES FROM THE DIRECTOR GENERAL
1. ACTION FOR MANAGEMENT SECTION CHIEFS-SEE PARA. 6.
2. I STAND COMMITTED TO ENSURING THAT ALL DEPARTMENT OF
STATE EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF, AND UNDERSTAND, THE
PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES AND WHISTLEBLOWER
PROTECTIONS. PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES (PPPS) ARE,
BY STATUTE, FORBIDDEN IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. ONE OF
THE MOST FREQUENTLY DISCUSSED PPPS IS THE PROHIBITION OF
RETALIATING AGAINST WHISTLEBLOWERS. WHISTLEBLOWING
INVOLVES THE ACT OF DISCLOSING INFORMATION THAT AN
EMPLOYEE REASONABLY BELIEVES IS EVIDENCE OF A VIOLATION
OF ANY LAW, RULE OR REGULATION; GROSS MISMANAGEMENT; A
GROSS WASTE OF FUNDS; AN ABUSE OF AUTHORITY; OR A
SUBSTANTIAL AND SPECIFIC DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
SAFETY. I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT
EMPLOYEES WHO ARE AWARE
OF THESE PROTECTIONS WILL BE MORE CONFIDENT IN COMING
FORWARD TO REPORT POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS.
3. THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL (OSC) IS AN
INDEPENDENT AGENCY THAT INVESTIGATES AND PROSECUTES
ALLEGATIONS OF PPPS. BY LAW, FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAY NOT,
FOR EXAMPLE: DISCRIMINATE; COERCE THE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
OF ANY PERSON; INFLUENCE ANY PERSON TO WITHDRAW FROM JOB
COMPETITION; ENGAGE IN NEPOTISM; TAKE, OR THREATEN TO
TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF THE EXERCISE OF A
LAWFUL APPEAL, COMPLAINT, OR GRIEVANCE RIGHT; OR TAKE,
OR THREATEN TO TAKE, A PERSONNEL ACTION BECAUSE OF
WHISTLEBLOWING. FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF PPPS, YOU ARE
ENCOURAGED TO VISIT OSC’S WEBSITE, HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV,
WHICH PROVIDES IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS
AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE, PPPS, WHISTLEBLOWING, AND
DISCLOSURE PROCEDURES. COMPLAINTS ALLEGING PROHIBITED
PERSONNEL PRACTICES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO THE OSC AT
202-254-3640, OR FILED ON-LINE AT HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV.
4. THE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT OF 1989 WAS ENACTED
TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES WHO
BELIEVE THEY HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO UNJUSTIFIED
PERSONNEL ACTIONS IN REPRISAL FOR THEIR WHISTLEBLOWING
ACTIVITIES. THE OSC PROVIDES THE SECURE CHANNEL THROUGH
WHICH CURRENT AND FORMER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES MAKE
CONFIDENTIAL DISCLOSURES, INCLUDING VIOLATIONS OF LAW,
OR REGULATION, MISMANAGEMENT, FRAUD, ABUSE OF
AUTHORITY, OR A SUBSTANTIAL DANGER TO PUBLIC HEALTH OR
SAFETY. ANY DEPARTMENT OF STATE EMPLOYEE WHO HAS REASON
TO BELIEVE THAT THERE HAS BEEN MISCONDUCT, FRAUD, WASTE,
OR ABUSE IS ENCOURAGED TO REPORT THESE MATTERS.
DISCLOSURES SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO OSC PER PARA. 3 ABOVE,
OR TO THE DEPARTMENT’S OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
5. FEDERAL EMPLOYEES HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM
PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES, INCLUDING RETALIATION
FOR WHISTLEBLOWING. I AM COMMITTED TO MAKING SURE THAT
ALL EMPLOYEES ARE AWARE OF THEIR RIGHTS AS WELL AS THE
SAFEGUARDS THAT ARE IN PLACE TO PROTECT THEM. BY
VISITING THESE WEBSITE LINKS, YOU CAN FIND DETAILED
INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.
OUTLINES YOUR “YOUR RIGHTS AS A FEDERAL EMPLOYEE.”
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/DOCUMENTS/PUBS/OSCROLE.PDF IS A
PAMPHLET ENTITLED “THE ROLE OF THE U.S. OFFICE OF
SPECIAL COUNSEL” AND CONTAINS VALUABLE INFORMATION FOR
REPORTING PURPOSES. I ENCOURAGE EACH EMPLOYEE TO
CAREFULLY READ THIS PAMPHLET.
THIS INFORMATION IS ALSO ACCESSIBLE THROUGH THE STATE
DEPARTMENT INTRANET AT:
OFFICERS AT OVERSEAS POSTS ARE REQUESTED
TO PRINT THE DOWNLOADABLE POSTERS ABOUT PPP’S AND WPA
PROTECTIONS FROM THE WEBSITE LINKS BELOW, AND TO POST
THEM IN HIGHLY VISIBLE LOCATIONS IN ALL BUILDINGS
THROUGHOUT THE MISSION WHERE DEPARTMENT OF STATE
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/PPPPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
POSTER ON PROHIBITED PERSONNEL PRACTICES.
HTTP://WWW.OSC.GOV/WBDISCPOSTER.HTM PROVIDES A PRINTABLE
POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWING.
A PRINTABLE POSTER ON WHISTLEBLOWER
7. IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS, PLEASE
CONTACT HR/ER OR ME AT ANY TIME.
8. MINIMIZED CONSIDERED.
UNCLASSIFIED STATE 00047512
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Learning is fun! and knowing how to understand grownup language in the War of Terror is a duty for all children, just as it is important to brush your teeth each evening and report suspicious activity by your parents. Your Government wants you to do these things so it can protect you from scary terrorists.
Bad men (many are gay– ask dad to explain) and women (most have had abortions) in the “media” will try and hurt your mind with words. You have to be strong to fight back against this “word terrorism.” We’ll help!
People killed by US Drones = Militants or Terrorists (suspected terrorist is OK if liberal media, for now)
People killed by Terrorists = Innocent Victims
Innocent Victims Killed by US Drones = Accidents, Suspected Terrorist or Collateral Damage
Innocent Victims Killed by Terrorists = Innocent Victims
Bad Terrorists = Enemies, Mad Dogs
Good Terrorists = Freedom Fighters (need help determining who is who? The State Department keeps a list of terrorist organizations. Check back frequently on the status of MEK.)
Afghan Soldiers Who Kill American Soldiers = Terrorists wearing Afghan Army uniforms
Iraqi Police Who Killed American Soldiers = Terrorists wearing Iraqi Police uniforms
American Soldiers Who Sacrifice Themselves = Heroes
Terrorists Who Sacrifice Themselves = Fanatics
Powerful Belief in God = Righteous City on a Hill
Powerful Belief in Allah = Fanatic
People Who Touch Your Private Parts in the Airport = TSA Patriots
People Who Touch Your Private Parts at School = Pedophiles
Empowering Women in America = Socialism
Empowering Women in Afghanistan = Foreign Policy
Killing People in Yemen = Defending America
Killing People in US = Terrorism
Massacre in Afghanistan = Random act of deranged individual soldier
Massacre in Syria = Proof of whatever it is we think is wrong in Syria
Weapons for One Side = Dangerous Escalation
Weapons for the Other Side = Freedom
Illegal Prisons, Wiretapping, Torture = Bush
Illegal Prisons, Wiretapping, Torture = Obama
And a few bonus items kids:
Reasons Ambassadors and General Quit Early = Spend more time with family, health, give back to society
“Militant” = all military-age males we kill
America’s Most Important Foreign Policy Objective =
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan,Iran, aw, just remember “We Have Always Been at War with Eastasia.”
If you’re caught unaware of the right answer to a hard, hard question, just remember “If we do it, it is right and if they do it, it is wrong.” You’ll be right every time, just like America!
BONUS: For those who think this is satire, much of Obama’s “success limiting civilian deaths in drone strikes is, in part, due to a disputed method for counting civilian casualties embraced by Obama. According to the New York Times, the White House considers ‘all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.'” Hah, because dead men tell no tales.
We’ve come full circle now in America. The Obama policy is nearly identical to tying a suspected witch to a stone and throwing her in the river. If she drowned, then the old Salem inquisitors had their “posthumous proof” that she wasn’t a witch.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
In honor of Memorial Day, just checking in on America’s 51st state seeing how things are going there. You’ll recall that the State Department has been busy as beavers training Iraqi police (until they quit) and Baghdad still boasts America’s/World’s Largest Embassy (I thought the Chinese were going to build a bigger one in Dubai, just to show off?) Once upon a time over 4484 Americans died in Iraq, which was the most important foreign policy thingee of the US ever. Until we quit.
Anyway, over on the US Embassy Baghdad webpage, the featured item is a “How to Do Business in Iraq Guide.” Things are getting better all the time!
Business aside, it has been another week of success in Iraq, so let’s just jump to the headlines:
Explosive charge blast targets oil tank in Mosul
5/20/2012 9:51 PM
3 runaway prisoners nabbed in Basra
5/20/2012 9:28 PM
Remains of 69 Karbala residents found in Anbar
5/20/2012 8:54 PM
Six wounded in two explosions in Mosul
5/20/2012 12:23 PM
A soldier killed, another wounded north of Mosul
5/18/2012 4:19 PM
5 killed, 35 wounded in several explosions in Baghdad
5/18/2012 2:08 PM
Gunmen in police uniform attack house of Anbar media councilor
5/17/2012 6:32 PM
Shootout between Kurds, Turkomen leaves casualties in Touz Khourmato
5/17/2012 4:08 PM
Gunmen kidnap Kurd, wanted men arrested in Kirkuk
5/17/2012 2:49 PM
20 suspects detained in Wassit
5/16/2012 12:43 PM
2 sound bombs wound cop in Kirkuk
5/16/2012 11:45 AM
2 car bombs defused in Mosul
5/15/2012 10:30 PM
Mosul Qadha Council member assassinated
5/15/2012 4:03 PM
Cop killed in east Mosul
5/15/2012 4:00 PM
5 mortars land on RIF facility in Tikrit
5/14/2012 10:59 PM
Curfew lifted on Falluja
5/14/2012 7:32 PM
17 wanted arrested for terrorism west Mosul
5/14/2012 6:01 PM
3 civilians wounded as 3rd car bomb goes off
5/14/2012 3:00 PM
Anbar attacks not considered security escalation –interior ministry
5/14/2012 2:57 PM
Car bomb leaves 8 casualties in Falluja
5/14/2012 2:48 PM
There will be a lot of thanking of veterans this Memorial Day weekend, and that is not altogether out of place. We ask a lot from the people in the military, and in return many would like us to understand what they endure, so when we thank them it is not just a bumper sticker but a thank you that comes from some understanding. From understanding comes empathy, and from there it’s a hop, skip and jump to sincerity. Excerpted from my book, We Meant Well, I offer this meditation on what it means to wait this Memorial Day.
Soldiers did a lot of waiting. They waited for orders, they waited for trucks to arrive, they waited for chow, they waited for someone to explain why they were waiting. Not as bad as prisons, nursing homes, and shipwrecks, but it was an artificial way to live. Soldiers learned how to ingest time as if it were a physical thing. They became Zen masters of boredom, always waiting.
They waited, too, back home. We regularly had communications blackouts, when the Army cut off the Internet and the phones. The blackouts lasted two or three days and were usually after a soldier was killed and the Army did not want anyone calling his or her family or the media or posting online until the next of kin had received official notification. For our spouses and children, panic set in when the e-mails and Skype stopped suddenly. They knew it meant someone had died, and they held their breath and waited until they learned who. That was hard, so we usually figured out which one of us had a cell phone with international dialing that worked outside the Army system. There were a lot of ten-second calls to say the dearest words a soldier can utter to a waiting loved one, “Can’t talk, but I’m OK.”
In our war, communication was omnivorous-present, and waiting was done at Internet speed. Facebook did not exist when the Iraq war started (war, March 2003; Facebook, February 2004), but it sure as hell was here now. Even in the smallest dirt hole there was a sat phone or some kind of Internet connectivity or someone with the right Jetsons iPhone that got a cell signal in a place that did not even get daylight some weeks.
It started off as a good thing. We don’t have to wait for the mail! Hey, I can call you from the war! OMG frm #iRaQ LOL. Sometimes it was cool. But a lot of times it meant two worlds that had nothing in common but the soldier collided. Why the hell was she Skyping from home about a small problem with the backyard fence when I’ve just come in from six hours in 110 degrees looking for an arms cache site? What to do about the leak in the basement? You call a plumber, burn down the house, I don’t care, we just took a mortar round and I’m going to miss my only real food of the day in five minutes.
Other times it was worse. No one picks up at 3:00 a.m. back home in a house that is supposed to contain a sleeping wife. Kids answer the phone, distracted by the Disney Channel, and have nothing to say. You worry after three deployments that the substitution of a phone call for a birthday party grows old even for weary preschoolers. The attempt to reconcile a life out here with a life over there fails again and again and again, until you quit trying. Yeah, the lines were down, or I guess you weren’t home when I called, or maybe I’ll call in a week or so or never. Sometimes after they’d hung up you watched guys unable to say it earlier whisper “I love you” to the dead phone, maybe waiting for a response.
Of course, many nights it was different and you wanted to sit with the phone to your ear and hear the voice at the other end talk about anything, nothing, forever, your world collapsing into the wire. You clung to a wife complaining about the dry cleaner because that represented somewhere better than where you were and today your head was screwed on tight enough to realize it. You had to store up the good stuff when you could get it because you couldn’t count on it coming when you needed it. Like sleep, you wished there was a way to bank it.
The availability of communication sometimes forced on me more than I wanted to accept. I was waiting to go home, waiting to hear from my child, waiting for my turn to use the phone, and had no strength left to share everyone else’s burden. I walked past a stranger on the phone in the calling center and heard him say “I want to touch you” to a girl somewhere else. I saw a man listening to a six-year-old recite lines from a play seven thousand miles and a world away, using the speakerphone so he had both hands free to cover his eyes. It was too much to be plunged this deeply into the lives of people I didn’t know, and I wished at those times that phones and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter would just go away.
Outside the calling center I saw an orange dot poking a hole in the darkness and smelled cigarette smoke. I heard another guy crying in the latrine, buttoned up into some of the only privacy available. He couldn’t wait for the moment of his breakdown— technology thrust it onto him. That’s when I knew it was bad. I stopped sleeping for a while and started just waiting for my own mornings to come.
My talk was part of The School of International Affairs’ Global Issues Colloquium, bringing leading thinkers, authors, and scholars to Penn State to discuss the latest research and trends in foreign relations, conflict resolution, food security, poverty, religion, terrorism, and nation building. Organized by Professor Dennis Jett, a retired U.S. Ambassador, all presentations are open to the public and webcast live.
The theme of the series is best expressed by Ambassador Jett. “Major international problems cannot be solved through just one academic discipline,” said Amb. Jett. “Our guests have a wide range of practical experiences and perspectives to share.”
You can read more about my presentation here.
Comments were positive; one student wrote the presentation was “informative, hilarious and heart felt. The entire class, including myself, enjoyed meeting you and hearing the truth.”
(This article appeared originally on the Huffington Post on May 14, 2012)
Well, that did not take long.
The New York Times reports that the State Department, in the face of massive costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, slashed and may soon dump entirely a multibillion-dollar police training program in Iraq that was to have been the centerpiece of post-occupation US presence in Iraq. After all of five months.
In October I reported on my blog wemeantwell.com that the State Department was on Capitol Hill in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, begging a skeptical Congress for more money for police training in Iraq. “Training” was again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. That latest tranche of taxpayer cash sought by State was one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq. The US has been training Iraqi cops for years. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Ka-ching! Anybody’s hometown in need of $7.3 billion in Federal funds? Hah, you can’t have it if you’re American, it is only for Iraq!
Ever-reliable State Department tool Pat Kennedy led the pack of fibbers in asking Congress for the cash: “After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic ally in a tumultuous region.” He went on (…and on) promising “robust this” and “robust that.” Best of all, Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.” The Department spends several billion a year on private security contractors to protect the fortress-like Embassy in Baghdad (which itself carries almost a billion dollar price tag, including the indoor pool and Embassy-only bar).
Don’t Judge Us
Of course despite the hoary promises by Kennedy of robust oversight and management of the police training program, State blocked inspectors from the US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction, SIGIR, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, from conducting an assessment of the Department’s multibillion-dollar effort. Kennedy said: We’re from the government, trust us.
The inspectors had good reason not to trust Kennedy and State. Specifically, the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau had come under fire from SIGIR for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan. The last SIGIR audit of the State Department’s oversight of the contract concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”
State’s track record otherwise with police training also fails severely. The State Department in 2003 was given initial responsibility for training Iraqi police. By 2004, however, State’s efforts were seen as so ineffective, even on an Iraq War scale, that police training was taken away from the suits and folded into the US military mission.
Water Under the Bridge
But hey, those previously wasted billions and slapdash attempts to avoid scrutiny by an outside inspector are now like water under the bridge for the State Department, as the entire program is just about ready to collapse anyway.
The Times reports that the training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100 as costs rose and Iraqi interest fell. State’s latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year. Several colleagues of mine associated with the program report that they are not being asked to stay on, and in fact now rarely even leave their fortified compounds.
It seems the Iraqis simply do not care for the training State insists they should want. Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training refused to attend the presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit. The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than American ones (the State Department spent $343 million building the facilities the Iraqis do not want to use, apparently without asking the Iraqis. The largest of the construction projects, at Baghdad Police College, was recently abandoned unfinished after an expenditure of more than $100 million of your tax dollars). The State Department will not allow the trainers to meet regularly at Iraqi facilities out of fear of terrorist ambush and the insane costs of moving people around Iraq safely. Private security contractors have to be hired by State to escort the private police contractors hired by State.
Failure to Ask = Failure
That part about asking the Iraqis what they want might have been key to the State Department’s failure in Iraq police training.
Stalwart American Ambassador to Iraq Jeffrey, who is desperately seeking to curtail his assignment if State can find a successor whom Congress will endorse, mumbled “I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.” “Some concerns” said Ambassador Jeffrey. Actually, the acting head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry questioned the wisdom entirely of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought, the equivalent of shouting “Don’t tase me bro!”
It’s Always Sunny at Foggy Bottom
The US Embassy in Baghdad released a hard-hitting reply to all of these developments, saying ““The Iraqi Government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces… The Police Development Program is a vital part of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.” So that’s settled.
Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources told the New York Times, “I don’t think anything went wrong. The Iraqis just don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.” Apparently Nides, Kennedy and no one at the State Department, none of the thousands of Americans State has in the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, thought to get the Iraqi opinion of the training program before committing billions of dollars. Next time I suggest think first, spend second, ‘kay?
Note to Hillary Clinton: Before sending your drones to fib to Congress asking for money that should be spent here at home, and then wasting several billion dollars on a project in some foreign country, ask the foreigners if they actually want it first. If they do not want our help, how about returning the billions to the United States where we can sure put it to good use?
Note to Congress: The next time State comes asking for money, check if their lips are moving. That means they are lying to you. Please cut them off; they’re like drunks loose in Vegas and can no longer help themselves. It’ll be a mercy killing at this point.
Holding one of her endless signature “Town Hall Meetings,” this time on the role of enhancing civil society, Secretary Clinton stated (apparently without irony as she is programmed to do):
Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened it doesnt strengthen government, it weakens a nation… We have to continue making the case for respect, tolerance, openness, which are at the root of sustainable democracy.
As a sign of commitment to such openness, the State Department continues to censor Washington Post articles about my case from its internal press summary. While running other articles from the Post’s Federal page, State did not include yesterday’s or today’s story. Luckily, despite such pathetic efforts at message control, the Washington Post has a greater circulation than State’s own press summary.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s own State Department struck blows against respect, tolerance and openness, this time through the denial of visas to enter the United States for people whose words scare us.
That’s what the State Department has done ahead of the 30th Conference of the Latin American Studies Association, to be held this week in San Francisco. Of the 2000 or so conferees expected from Latin America, eleven Cubans have been singled out and denied visas to enter the United States. Of the eleven, many are well known and internationally respected academics with long-standing ties to top American scholars. One is a former ambassador to the European Union. Another once taught at Harvard. All eleven had previously traveled to the US. The State Department’s form letters to the rejected applicants said that their presence would be “detrimental” to American interests.
As if to make it abundantly clear that such actions are policy, not happenstance, the same week the Cuban scholars were deemed too dangerous to enter the US, the State Department also denied a visa to the US to Muhammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student and filmmaker. Qasim released a short film entitled The Other Side, that shows the social, psychological and economical effects of American drone attacks on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Denying visas to people whose ideas scare America has a long history, and was a favorite tactic of the Bush administration. That it is in healthy use by the Obama administration is not a surprise, but do we have to listen to Clinton’s endless empty prattle about freedom alongside of it?
Secretary of State Hillary said that “experts” at her State Department swapped al Qaeda ads on Yemeni websites bragging about killing Americans with ones showing the deadly impact of al Qaeda tactics on Yemenis themselves. “Our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al-Qaida attacks have taken on the Yemeni people,” Clinton said. “Extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet.”
Rather than hacking the sites covertly, the State Department specialists challenge the extremists in open forums. “We parody and poke holes in what they do,” a State Department official explained, in a cyber “cat and mouse game.”
According to the AP, last week, AQ launched a new series of banner attack ads focusing on them fighting the Americans, with U.S.-flag-draped coffins. The State Department team countered the attack by buying space on the same site with new ads, featuring the coffins of Yemeni civilians.
A Few Things Worth Noting
It was only last week that Clinton said “Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened it doesnt strengthen government, it weakens a nation… We have to continue making the case for respect, tolerance, openness, which are at the root of sustainable democracy.” I guess her idea of respect, tolerance and openness extends only to ideas she agrees with.
And of course the State Department coughed up this on Twitter today:
But wait a minute– we’re now trying to win the war on terror by buying banner ads? Won’t this keen strategy just stop working when the web site owners stop selling us the ads, which they will do now that Clinton has bragged about it?
If the US is paying for banner ads on pro- al Qaeda websites, aren’t we sort of materially supporting pro- al Qaeda websites? Should DOJ now arrest the State Department for material support?
Believe it or not, Clinton’s going commando about this silliness was part of her effort to show that diplomats can stand as equals alongside Special Forces operators.
Anybody think any SpecOps guys are now convinced? Anybody think any SpecOps guys wet themselves laughing?
Whose credit card did State use to buy the ads?
Pretty much everyone already knows not to believe everything they read on the Internet.
Does this count as cyber-bullying?
How many cyber exploits does it take to erase the memory of each US drone killing?
Seriously, our tax dollars are spent on crap like this and people who think this stuff up?
Does anyone anywhere really click on banner ads anymore?
Inside sources at the State Department have leaked that future cyber efforts will include unfriending al Qaeda on Facebook, releasing a fake al Qaeda sex tape and photoshopping lots of al Qaeda pictures from prom to make them look fatter. State will also bombard known al Qaeda email addresses with fake Viagra ads and offers for low cost government-backed mortgages (those are real). The State Department also plans to start a rumor during fifth period lunch that “no one likes al Qaeda anymore and no one should invite them to any more parties.”
Also, the US drone strikes killing Yemenis will continue.
Today’s Washington Post featured a story on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has continued to support my case that the Department of State has continued to violate my First Amendment rights by moving to fire me because of this blog. You can read the entire story here.
The State Department puts together an overnight, internal-use only media summary for busy diplomats to read first thing in the morning as a way of quickly knowing what happened whilst they acquired their beauty sleep. Though the summary features most every story about the Department from the Washington Post, inexplicably today’s WaPo piece about the ACLU was omitted. One day the State Department will realize that its lame efforts to control every message only end up making them look dumber and dumber all the time. That day is, however, not today.
I was very gratified to see that the nation’s premier authority on free speech, the ACLU, studied the State Department’s actions and, in five pages of legal analysis, concluded unambiguously that the Department of State acted unconstitutionally and violated my First Amendment rights.
The ACLU didn’t just say that government employees retain their free speech rights, it laid out the legal doctrine behind that statement in great detail. This helps not only me, but also every other US government employee out there who still believes his/her oath is to the Constitution, and is not some silly loyalty pledge designed to hide their agency’s dirty laundry.
The State Department may still fire me, but they now are on notice that the issues they will fire me for will not go away. Ultimately, State’s actions against the Constitution will need to be judged not by their own misguided ideas but by a court.
It is also a shame that the State Department, the part of the US government directly charged with speaking abroad about America’s democracy and freedoms, feels it necessary to deny its own employees those same freedoms. It weakens the institution, and it weakens the State Department’s own credibility overseas.
Who knows, maybe the Chinese government will step in and demand the US recognize my rights as a citizen?
Your Department of State is spending some of your last tax dollars on creating jobs for women– in Afghanistan. Those of you who can’t find work are encouraged to pack up and move to Afghanistan, where apparently the US government is interested in helping you find employment.
All about the priorities baby.
Holding one of her endless signature “Town Hall Meetings,” this time on the role of enhancing civil society, Secretary Clinton stated (apparently without irony as she is programmed to do):
Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened it doesnt strengthen government, it weakens a nation… We have to continue making the case for respect, tolerance, openness, which are at the root of sustainable democracy.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, The American Conservative said:
The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the case of Peter Van Buren, saying his [planned] firing from the State Department this year is unconstitutional, as it violates his First Amendment right to free speech “and creates the appearance of impermissible retaliation for Mr. Van Buren’s criticism of the State Department.”
So what is it about Van Buren’s writings that the U.S government fears so much? In plain language and with honesty, Van Buren was able to open a window into the Iraq War policy that very few, if any, had been able to do before.
“I’ll be gone one way or the other soon enough,” said Van Buren, “but there will be another blogger and another author and another employee unafraid to speak out coming up behind me…The government thinks they can bully us, but not when we stick together and fight back. That’s a good thing about America.”
To be continued.
In other news, Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize statue momentarily became alive, and immediately tried to commit suicide by jumping off a high shelf. After having it thrashed, Obama then ordered that it be melted down and re-manufactured in Hellfire missile parts.
Peter B. Collins Radio Show (West Coast, California and Pacific NW)
The Pulse Morning Show (Maine, New England)
Yes, another great moment in public diplomacy. We congratulate the public diplomacists at the Department of State for changing minds and winning hearts with their wicked Tweeting. Seriously dudes, who is that lame ass Tweet intended to persuade?
I mean, besides your boss.
(For those unfamiliar with the case of State Department Diplomatic Security “Special” Agent Chris Deedy, who appears to have shot and killed an unarmed man in Hawaii while there for the APEC Conference, see some previous postings.)
The latest news out of Hawaii about accused murderer Deedy is that the State Department said it was OK for him to gun down an unarmed man. Sort of.
After initially claiming he shot the guy in the chest in self-defense at 3am in a Waikiki McDonald’s, Deedy now claims he is immune from prosecution because he was a law enforcement officer on duty at the time just doin’ his job. The State Department had sent the shooter to Hawaii as part of Hillary Clinton’s entourage for the APEC conference no one cares about anymore (Obama isn’t even going this year’s ’cause it’s in bad Russia).
It is very, very unclear that being in the McDonald’s at 3am had anything to do with Deedy’s assignment in Hawaii, but I’m sure it is OK.
The Honolulu Star Advertiser also noted that Deedy submitted a report from the doctor who treated him at the Queen’s Medical Center after his arrest. The report from Dr. Kyle Perry says Deedy suffered scrapes and a broken nose from an assault. Deedy’s mug shot is shown above, but I leave it to you readers to detect the scrapes and broken nose. Maybe a little shaving nick under the nose? Maybe the picture was taken from a bad angle? At the time of his arrest Honolulu police officers noted that Deedy had red, glassy eyes and slurred speech, perhaps also not noticeable in the photo? Deedy declined to blow for the cops at the scene and as a cop-to-cop courtesy apparently the HPD never pushed it.
Want more? How about the opinion of an ex-Diplomatic Security Agent on this case, whose “observations raise far more questions than they address?” Surf on over to Teri Schooley’s blog, where she is following the Deedy case very closely.
According to Teri, the Judge in Hawaii will rule on the motions to dismiss charges or to delay the trial in July. If she agrees to delay the trial, it will mean that the victim’s family will have waited almost a year and a half to get justice in this case. In the meantime, Deedy will be receiving his full salary as a State Department employee on “admin leave.” And he has had the benefits of being allowed to post bail and leave the jurisdiction after being charged with murder, and has been able to have the trial delayed for months already. The State Department, of course, refuses to discuss the case.
Maybe I should drink less (or maybe drink more, I’ll try it both ways), but the blog Diplopundit seems to say what I think more articulately than I can muster.
Writing about the recent controversy where the State Department dropped, then after protests and a critical WaPo story, quickly restored a blog from its favored list because the author discussed her own battle with breast cancer, Diplopundit draws out the obvious issue still on the table: why am I still being fired by State for my blog?
I don’t know the other blog’s author, Jen, personally, but I do read her stuff. Her topic put State into an easy position– no one can be against a breast cancer survivor’s story, and the decision to drop her was so obviously boneheaded that the easy right thing was to make amends. To its credit, the State Department did that and even threw in an apology. Instead of looking like a mean old dog, State came off looking, well, human. The nipple story will fade away, lessons learned.
No one banned Jen from the building, pulled her security clearance, chastised her for talking to the Post, put her on security watch lists, threw her out of her job or embarked on a months’ long series of personnel actions. Sadly, of course, the Department is finalizing my termination ahead of my planned retirement in September. Along the way the ACLU is involved, the Office of the Special Counsel is investigating, the Government Accountability Project is defending me and a lot of media have done stories unfavorable to the State Department’s reputation.
The harder right is me, or after I get fired, the next State Department blogger who is not evergreen. It is easy to see the correct answer in Jen’s case; in mine, well, sometimes my writing offends. Sometimes it offends because I bring up unpleasant truths like the atrocious waste and mismanagement of State’s Iraq reconstruction projects, sometimes because I call out State on it hypocritical attitudes and practices, sometimes because I use potty language and sometimes because I shock and offend to get your attention, or because something has angered me. Sometimes it just happens because people get offended easily these days.
The point is that almost everyone who reads this blog has found things to disagree with, in substance, style or commonly both. It is much harder then to step back and say “but the point is he has a right to say it.” With Jen, and meaning no disrespect, we never have to confront that tough question. She writes pleasantly about serious topics seriously. I don’t always do that. Myself, I would not burn the flag in protest, but I accept with a lump in my throat that other people must be allowed to do so. Wide boundaries to the left and the right create the middle.
Diplopundit paraphrases Chomsky in his article:
If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech even for views you don’t like.
Mr. Van Buren’s late and sudden non-adherence to a shared social code of Foreign Service life never to wash dirty laundry in public, and for crossing the boundaries of polite expression so valued in the diplomatic service makes him an FSO-non grata in most parts of the Foreign Service community. But if the members of the community are only willing to defend the views that they like, wouldn’t they, too, be guilty of censorship by consensus?
People write to me all the time saying some version of “Why don’t you quit if you don’t like the rules?” or “You should know you don’t have free speech rights if you work for the government.” The latter question was answered conclusively by the ACLU, in five dense, concise pages of legal explanation adding up to yes, government employees do indeed have free speech rights.
As for rules, what State has on the books are actually not bad as a start, if they were enforced fairly, equitably and without the behind the scenes adverse actions. The rules as they exist are good at what the rules should do– no classified info, no insider info on contracts, etc– but what State wants to do is control the message, the content, of every blog, Tweet and post, and that is neither practical nor Constitutional.
As for the former question of why don’t I just quit, we hang together, or we will hang separately. Free speech is not just for what you want to hear; you don’t need rights for that. I’ll let Diplopundit respond for me:
One could vigorously argue that if you don’t like the free speech restrictions imposed on you, then you can find a job elsewhere. I imagine that’s a similar argument given to women who complained of discrimination not too long ago and we know how that turned out.
Note to Mr. Chen: Welcome to the New World! Feel free to criticize any government you wish to here, except the US government. Even our version of free speech has limits. Watch your back around these parts, Chen.
(A version of this article appeared recently on the Huffington Post, May 10, 2012)
Final tuition bills, spring in the air — it is commencement season, and soon-to-be graduates across the United States are poised to transition into unemployment. Many will seek jobs in America’s lone growth sector, government, and specifically with the Department of State as Foreign Service Officers. Should you join?
Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, now in the termination process because of the book and blog I wrote, my last position in the U.S. Foreign Service was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers.
It was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess. I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, also since my book came out, more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.
Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity
After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.
At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador, can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.
It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.
In the universe where you’ll work, the U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.
America faced a choice and blew it. As an empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.
Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one-way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.
For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable nonetheless. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.
You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service and help Build the Wall.
Remember the Vietnam War? You know, the one from Rambo, the war that was supposed to stop Communism from rolling Asia like dominoes? Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here? Kennedy? Johnson? Nixon? Bueller? The US fought in Vietnam in one form or another from the late 1950’s until we gave up in 1975 and lost. Helicopters on the roof of the Embassy, hippies taking over the country, some history stuff went down, babies.
Vietnam was America’s first modern counter-insurgency war. There are a lot of definitions of counter-insurgency (COIN), but it boils down to a war that can’t be won and isn’t fought in the traditional Red Guys clash with Blue Guys and the winner seizes territory way, like Private Ryan and Tom Hanks did in World War II. A COIN struggle is characterized primarily by a “hearts and minds” struggle, a multi-spectrum approach to winning the loyalty of the people by protecting them, helping them, establishing a local government, that kind of thing. The failure to do this in Iraq is the subject of my book, and the ongoing failure to do this in Afghanistan will be the subject of some other person’s book to come.
If you check Wikipedia or ask the Vietnam Vet next door, you’ll find out that we did not succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. If you want to read the best book written about how COIN and Vietnam, it is Street Without Joyby Bernard Fall.
One of the crucial elements of the failure to win the real war in Vietnam was the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program, run by the same State Department that flopped in Iraq. Formed in 1967, CORDS was headed by a State civilian, Ambassador Robert W. Komer. CORDS pulled together all the various U.S. military and civilian agencies involved in the hearts and minds effort, including State, USAID, USIA and the CIA (who tagged on the remnants of the Phoenix Program, just because). CORDS civilian/military advisory teams were dispatched throughout South Vietnam.
So how’d that CORDS thing work out for ya’all? It failed in conjunction with the whole war effort. We lost the war. Nothing four Presidents said about Vietnam was true and tens of thousands of people died for no purpose. We did not win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Looking Glass, according to the State Department’s slick self-congratulatory monthly magazine (thanks taxpayers!), CORDS “was a success” and in fact somehow contributed to the defeat of the Viet Cong in the Delta by 1972, where per the State Department, the wiley Commies couldn’t even muster a squad-sized action. It is true– read it all here in the State Magazine (p. 16) you’re paying for anyway.
The article is just spiffy, using words like “swashbuckling” non-ironically to describe State’s men in Vietnam, and claiming in 1967 State’s Vietnam Training Center was “the center of things” (1967 was the freaking “Summer of Love” so State thinking their Training Center was the center of anything is beyond nerd land.) We learn that many FS men “enjoyed their tours.” In fact, US military officers “watched in awe” as the first State Department troopers deplaned, just like in that movie Platoon no doubt.
Here’s a keen description of precisely how State won the Vietnam War (those in Afghanistan now, pay attention):
[We] would pick a house at random, politely ask if we could come in and chat, and enquire about the perspective of the resident on everything from the state of the rice crop to the price of cooking oil to the honesty of local officials.
Dammit! Why didn’t we know that before spending $44 billion and nine years trying to solve Iraq and win that war! All we had to do was “politely ask.”
OK, fun’s over. Here’s the problem. If State is still clinging to the bizarre idea that it succeeded in Vietnam, and propagandizing its own employees with the same, what hope is there that they will ever make any progress about the failures visited upon Iraq, and the failures now ongoing in Afghanistan?
Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it we’re told. But those who make up their own versions of history to fit present political needs are simply doomed in advance.
In a statement to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the censored Foreign Service blog that addressed one breast cancer survivor’s story “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”
Does this mean I’m still getting fired for my blog? My story was also in the Washington Post but I am being punished, not rewarded, for the interview I gave.
It sure seems the primary difference between the blogs you endorse and mine is simply the content; judging based on what I write is why the ACLU admonished the Department for violating my first amendment rights. The current “Nipple-gate” story just enforces that.
Can I haz my job pleaz?
It was with great pleasure that I saw my friend at the Washington Post, Lisa Rein, bring more daylight on the latest anti-free speech action by the State Department, State’s censoring of a blog because it mentioned the writer’s battle with breast cancer. Lisa Rein has written about my own efforts to reform State’s unconstitutional practices, and I was pleased to bring the latest act of the Department to her attention. I am very glad she took the story.
It is now time for the Department of State to stand up and admit it: I have a problem with blogs. I need help.
The State Department has pressured numerous employees to quit blogging at the risk of their career. When I refused to cave in, they began termination proceedings.
Yet the State Department tries to use employee blogs it agrees with as bait to attract new recruits, even listing some on its own US Government website. State turns a blind eye to the fact that not all of those blogs include the proper disclaimer, and that not all of those blog adhere to the same pre-clearance regulations I am being fired for and which the ACLU has declared unconstitutional. I doubt all of those “acceptable” bloggers have been forced to sign a Compliance Letter as a condition of continued employment. Blogger Jen did not get pre-permission from State to speak to the Post yesterday, though I am being fired for not getting pre-permission from State to speak to the Post in the past.
All this double-talk because State wants the advertising bang such first-hand accounts provide to its recruitment efforts.
In Jen’s case, State was happy to pimp her blog on its own web site as long as she was writing plucky tales of life abroad. But, as soon as she mentioned her battle with breast cancer, State deep sixed her blog, disappeared it. State will break the rules for verbiage it likes, and enforce the rules right up to termination when it does not like what someone says.
Another State Department blogger puts it this way:
Simply put, the State Department has two completely opposite opinions when it comes to social media (like blogging). One side of State wants nothing more than to shut down all State blogs. Period. Blogs by employees, blogs by spouses, it doesn’t matter – all of them should be GONE.
My husband has personally seen this side of State many, many times, via many different official people, during the course of an uncountable number of official meetings over the last few years. As many of my readers know, my blog has been shut down twice…most recently, just a couple of months ago. The only reason why my blog is up now and still exists today is because my DS Special Agent husband feels most emphatically that: I am a private U.S. citizen, and my blog represents/is protected by my right to freedom of speech.
Believe me when I say that he has endured much in defense of his position.
Being on The Official Blog List actually painted an even bigger bulls eye on my back. And not just on my back, but on the backs of other State bloggers on The List. To date, to my knowledge, at least three State bloggers (and perhaps even up to five) on The List have since been shut down. And there were probably, oh, I don’t know, only about a dozen or so blogs on that List when it began. So, you know, not the best odds of bloggy survival.
So there it is. This is not an isolated incident, a disgruntled employee or two who can be disappeared to fix the problem.
Mrs. Clinton, you now have the Washington Post– twice– pointing out the hypocrisy your Department visits upon social media. You have the American Civil Liberties Union stating your policies are unconstitutional and that you violate the First Amendment rights of your own employees. You have droids in your organization who mistreat people with breast cancer because of blogs. This story is spreading now via breast cancer awareness sites. You have a lot of employees who think it is time for a more rational policy, one that is applied equally to all.
Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem. Admit it, and seek a solution. It won’t go away by itself. You have to do something about it.
(Inside baseball extra bonus: The State Department publishes daily an internal-only summary of Washington Post articles. Curiously, the WaPo article on Jen’s blog was omitted. One can guess why such self-censorship seems to make sense to the ever-skittish State Department)
(Extra, extra bonus: In a statement to the Washington Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the blog “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.” Like everyone believes that. OMG, does he kiss his mother with that mouth?)
Don’t bury the lede: The State Department disowned a blog by a Foreign Service officer’s spouse because it discussed her own struggle with breast cancer instead of the happy traveling tales they seek.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen the ACLU statement, which basically says the State Department rules on blogs and free speech would not withstand a Constitutional challenge, and that my First Amendment rights were violated. In support of me, the ACLU did a deep dive into the books, and found State’s regulations wanting, particularly as they apply to new media/social media.
I am not the only Foreign Service blogger out here, of course. There are hundreds of us. In fact, to cozy up to “young people” who are considering a career in the Foreign Service, State even links to some illegal Foreign Service blogs on its own US Government web page. Have a look! Linking to those blogs is an attempt to show that the State Department is a “with it” place to work, a “groovy gig” for “teens” who Twitter or something.
Some are More Equal Than Others
Now the question is of course why are some blogs that violate the rules quite officially accepted by the State Department, and why are other blogs that violate the rules (mine!) fodder to get the author fired. It seems to have something to do with content; if what you write fits State’s agenda, you can break the rules all you want. You don’t even have to update– one linked blog hasn’t been touched for over a year but since it paints a happy-rosy picture of our 51st state in Iraq, it is all OK.
Since State refuses to join the current century and update its social media guidelines, and since writing down “we’ll screw you if you cross us” would not help attract job candidates, we in the blogosphere are forced to identify the boundaries by bumping into them, like walking through the house in the dark.
Cancer is Not Allowed
A new boundary at State is nipples. Can’t talk about them. Or breast cancer, don’t talk about that either. One long time Foreign Service blogger, Jen, was dumped from the official list of good blogs by the Department of State. She received an email from State explaining why:
Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees have to share.
Jen’s response was straightforward:
So you mean describing stories about life after a diagnosis of breast cancer while your FS husband is serving in Iraq on an unaccompanied tour 6,219 miles away is not an individual story? You mean detailing how you got through said issue, how you managed to pick yourself up off the floor each day despite feeling like your world had completely fallen apart (oh, wait, it had) and managed to somehow dust yourself off and keep going with your Foreign Service life is of no interest? Guess that means I am the *only* one who will ever have to deal with such a thing.
The fact that we ended up doing a second unaccompanied tour? Booooring. Or that I had what, 4 surgeries in the past 18 months (scheduled AROUND my husband’s most recent posting, so that he would be able to complete his obligations?)? Um, hello, that’s *too* personal, repugnant even!
So, as a public service, all State Department personnel should in their blogs a) not mention nipples; b) pretend everything is as happy as pooping out unicorns and gold dust and c) tell spunky stories of adventure abroad so that gullible young people will continue to join the ranks of we few, we happy few.
Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton’s State Department will continue to pretend to support breast cancer awareness when it has propaganda value, while hoping any of her employees or their family members afflicted with the disease will just shut the hell up.
And to bring it all full circle, the State Department censored Jen’s blog about her breast cancer the day after they got the ACLU letter talking about first amendment rights.
A comment on the story below of the ACLU’s support of free speech for federal employees humorously remarked
The State Department has classified the ACLU letter and issued a warning to its busy workers in the hive not to read the letter: “federal employees and contractors who believe they may have inadvertently accessed or downloaded this letter without prior authorization, should contact their information security offices for assistance.”
Well, fiction became reality as the State Department has stooped to a new low, censoring comments on the ACLU from a purely internal discussion Intranet forum.
Hillary Clinton initiated something at State called the “Sounding Board,” a forum available to State Department employees only on the internal Intranet. It is not available to the public. Clinton described the initiative as
I ask you to apply the same robust diplomacy and engagement inside this building and at other posts across the world, a willingness to discuss and debate, to be open-minded, forward-thinking, to share better ideas, better methods, better ways of executing the very difficult tasks confronting us.
And inaugurated the forum with the vision statement that it
Afford employees the opportunity to provide feedback on management ideas, programs, and initiatives, Promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform, Foster discourse between employees and the Department’s senior leadership.
My Contribution to the Sounding Board
So it seemed to me that the world’s premier free speech advocate, the ACLU, declaiming that the State Department’s regulations blocking blogging and the first amendment rights of its employees were unconstitutional, might be of interest to other employees, and that the need to discuss changing those regulations is real. I posted this comment on the internal forum with links:
The ACLU, in reviewing State’s preclearance policies in relation to my case, has found them to be unconstitutional and to exercise unjustified restraint. Now, the question is, will the Department change, or again have to be forced to change?
Ok, right? No naughty words, nothing inflammatory. And so State censored it, deleted it, disappeared it so that no employee could see it, based on an anonymous accusation. Accusations at State are always made anonymously. Here’s what the moderator said
The Sounding Board wasn’t designed to handle individually-specific cases, or cases that are under formal review of any sort. Our publishing guidelines state this, but more honestly, there are issues that are much bigger than our two moderators can handle. And yours is one of them. We have to let the procedures set in place, that you’re exercising, run their course.
What it Means
The State Department now has fallen to the level of censoring its own discussion forum specifically designed to “promote open debate and discussion on innovation and reform.” They want to disappear ideas that they don’t agree with. I’ve resubmitted the comment in hopes that the Stasi at State are down at Starbucks and it’ll slip through. Jeez, grow a pair, will ya’?
State, to their credit, has now allowed a modified version of my comment online, with a note that discussion of my specific case will not be allowed.
OK, cool. I don’t really care that employees talk about me (though they are welcome). My case itself is getting plenty of media and attention beyond the internal Sounding Board. My point is to discuss the use of social media by employees, and the ACLU statement is significant. I don’t recall in my own 24 years too many other instances where some of State regulations have been labeled unconstitutional. Social media will continue to grow, and the Department needs realistic, clear rules that are applied uniformly. Without them, you have the chaos that I have participated in for the past year or so. That does no one any good.
State dragged its feet on the treatment of women and African Americans, and suffered for it. State took the lead on rights for LGBT employees and has profited from it. State should step up on the issue of social media and let itself be seen as a model of the free speech it advocates worldwide.
(This article also appeared on the Huffington Post, May 17, 2012)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a letter to the Department of State, said today that the Department’s actions against my book and this blog are unconstitutional, that State’s actions “constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.”
Straight up, no qualifiers.
The ACLU reminds the State Department that the Courts have said that “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression, it is the essence of self-government” and citing the numerous legal challenges the State Department has willfully ignored that grant government employees the same First Amendment rights all Americans enjoy.
Which is what we’ve been saying all along, here, in the New York Times, on NPR, CNN and elsewhere.
After reviewing the State Department’s policies and regulations, the ACLU states that “The State Department’s pre-publication review process, as it applies to blogs and articles raises serious Constitutional questions,” then goes on to detail those questions. The ACLU notes that State’s actions toward me are but one example of its unconstitutional actions and apply to other employees as well. They conclude that “it is highly unlikely that the State Department could sustain its burden of demonstrating that its policy is constitutional… There is no justification for such expansive prior restraint on State Department employees’ speech.”
Now them’s fightin’ words, folks.
Read the entire letter on the ACLU’s website. It is powerful stuff.
What It Means
The ACLU’s announcement that the Department of State has violated the Constitutional rights, the First Amendment rights, of one of its own employees comes to the day, 225 years later, that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia and the founders began writing an extraordinary document. The First Amendment was added later, but the spirit of free speech underlies every clause and sentence of the original document. It is embedded in the very parchment.
The Founders would retch to see what has become of the spirit of the Enlightment that drove them, simply because America got frightened after 9/11. Those beautiful words of the First Amendment, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Madison and Jefferson were strong enough to give away the power of a government they would run, and place it in the hands of the people that government would serve. There’s courage most of us can never fully understand.
Now, very sadly, our first Cabinet agency, the Department of State, the part of the US government that speaks most directly to people abroad about freedom and democracy, is run by much smaller men and women. They are afraid of their own employees and afraid of what you– The People– will know the way they go about their wretched business. Hillary Clinton, herself a candidate to take over the seat once held by giants like Jefferson, Adams and Madison, has turned her internal security against a blog, and ordered her frightened followers to get rid of one employee because of a book. Her acts now have a label that will follow her and her Department long past my departure: Unconstitutional.
Every fluffy speech she makes to Syrian bloggers, or Chinese dissenters, will carry an asterisk– but Madame Secretary, as you criticize oppressive regimes for shutting down free speech, didn’t you order your own followers to silence a critic? Didn’t your Department act unconstitutionally? Are your actions somehow different than Bejing’s?
Did not you violate, willfully, clearly and repeatedly Madame Secretary the First Amendment rights of an American Citizen? How will you answer them Madame Secretary? Will you lie? Will you defame the ACLU? Will you apply your own legal skills to the analysis of your wrongs? Mumble about a disgruntled employee? Or will you remain silent?
Of course the State Department has not responded to all this. They have not answered me, they have not answered your letters and emails, they have not answered Members of Congress and they have not answered the ACLU. Why not? There is the ACLU letter, five dense pages of legal justification that leads to the core statement:
State’s actions constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.. That is the issue. Now, finally, Madame Secretary, how will you answer?
For those joining our story already in progress, here’s the Twitter-length summary: I’ve worked for the State Department as a Foreign Service Office for some 24 years. I spent a year in Iraq, wrote a book critical of the State Department’s waste and mismanagement in Iraq, blogged about it and now am being fired from the State Department for all that.
Diplopundit, still the best blog and perhaps the best news source on the State Department, has written a long piece trying to answer the question of what all that means:
Had Mr. Van Buren, a midlevel FS-01 quit after his return from Baghdad, then wrote his book, we probably would be talking about his book for like, 15 minutes, then forget about it. But that’s not how it happens. He got his 15 minutes of fame plus more. Along the way, we learned a bit more not only about how we spent $44.6 billion in taxpayer funds on rebuilding Iraq but also on the the shallowness of our convictions– from our tolerance to dissenting views, to our much touted push for Internet Freedom and 21st Century Statecraft, as long as they’re not our guys.
The State Department spends much money and effort to recruit and train the “best and the brightest” to represent America overseas, then proceeds to hammer and shape them into, I’m sorry to say, drones, who follow directions, not cause waves and most importantly, whose stingers are without barbs… How can we cultivate leaders, risk takers, innovators and independent thinkers for the 21st century in an environment that penalizes such traits?
No matter how Peter Van Buren’s case turns out, the signal had been sent loud and clearly. A Director General of the Foreign Service once testified in the case of a DS agent dismissed for “notoriously disgraceful conduct” and said, “I think it’s important to send a message to the entire State Department that. . . you cannot do this.” That’s the same message broadcasted now in Foggy Bottom’s billboard.
I’m sure the State Department can argue that “enforcing” the rules is done to promote the proper functioning of the Service. But does the proper functioning of the Service trumps everything else? If the State Department can make sure that another Peter Van Buren will never happen again in the future, that is good for the organization.
But are we, the American public better served?
Best to read the entire article, over at Diplopundit.
From TomDispatch: A devastating account of drone wars as our number one export of the twenty-first century and just how we’ve become a Predator nation, America as a Shining Drone Upon a Hill, On Staring Death in the Face and Not Noticing.
It was one of the great self-congratulatory speeches of our era — Obama counter-terrorism tsar John Brennan offering a full-throated defense of the administration’s “covert” drone wars. In his latest post, focusing on what author Tom Engelhardt calls his “shining drone upon a hill” speech, he considers the nature of American exceptionalism in our time and the way it blinds us to ourselves, to how we actually look to the rest of the world.
Engelhardt writes of an American dream of this country as a “shining city”: Whatever that ‘city,’ that dream, was once imagined to be, it has undergone a largely unnoticed metamorphosis in the twenty-first century. It has become — even in our dreams — an up-armored garrison encampment, just as Washington itself has become the heavily fortified bureaucratic heartland of a war state. So when Brennan spoke, what he offered was a new version of American exceptionalism: the first ‘shining drone upon a hill’ speech.
Tom Engelhardt explores his over-the-top language of self-congratulation, his fears of how others less wise, judicious, and moral than us might use drones in the future, and in the process the way a sense of American exceptionalism blinds our leaders to a changing American reality. He concludes that “What they can’t see in the haze of exceptional self-congratulation is this: they are transforming the promise of America into a promise of death. And death, visited from the skies, isn’t precise. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t judicious. It certainly isn’t a shining vision. It’s hell. And it’s a global future for which, someday, no one will thank us.”
Be sure to read the entire piece at TomDispatch. And keep a sharp eye out overhead.
It used to take awhile for an event to morph into farce. I bet when Abraham Lincoln was shot it took weeks before Civil War-era comedians started telling inappropriate assassination jokes. Things just moved slower then.
Now of course, with the Internet, reality becomes farce much faster. The Secret Service prostitution scandal from Colombia has already hit bottom, based on an interview from a Colombian radio station with the escort (pictured, at work, above) at the heart of it all.
The Agent’s wife has stated she will stand by her now-unemployed whore mongering husband. For those of you outside the Beltway, this is a Washington-area thing, where political spouses profess loyalty to their low-life mates (Hillary and Bill!)
According to the escort, the Agent was too drunk to finish the job and that’s why he would not pay her in the morning (she later said he did the deed then passed out, so who cares). She said the other Secret Service staff took up a collection and handed her $250, begging she would not call the cops. “He did not feel he got what he was being asked to pay for,” said the Pretty Woman.
She was one of 20 professional women brought to the Secret Service party.
The escort also said that the Agent could not dance well. The escort said he liked to dance in a “disorderly” manner in which “he lifted his shirt to show off his six-pack.”
When the escort woke the Agent, he refused to pay, telling her “just go, bitch.”
And lastly, the escort said no one from the US government has been in touch with her or interviewed her. Get this– the Secret Service (unlike the media) says they can’t find her. So much for intel.
This appears at odds with Obama’s stated desire for a “rigorous investigation.”
BREAKING: Apparently both the TODAY show and the US Secret Service have now interviewed the subject. Return to your business, citizens.
I was very happy to contribute an essay, “Occupying Iraq, State Department-style” to the new book edited by Marc Guttman, Why Peace. My essay deals with the increasing narrow gap between the actions of the Department of Defense and the Department of State abroad, and the implications for America of a foreign policy devoted only to hostility.
This book is an exploration of aggression, and of the evolutionary (and revolutionary) process to peace. Through the insights of men and women, from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives, Why Peace presents stories of wars, invasions, and political repressions—down to the most basic levels of authoritarianism. These individuals share mind-opening and inspiring personal experiences with state violence: North Korean gulag prisoners, exiled journalists, soldiers at war (and some who refused to go back), Colombian campesinos displaced by drug war fumigations, people violently displaced by their government for private corporate interests in the Amazon, families run over by war, victims of cluster bombs in Southeast Asia, Guantánamo prisoners, a Cuban student denied the rights to speak and organize, and much more.
Read a review here or here to learn more.
Two new reviews of We Meant Well you may be interested in. The first is from Demokracy.com. While the book has gathered its share of praise and angst over the core theme of phantasmagorical waste and mismanagement in the State Department-run reconstruction program in Iraq, about half of what I wrote deals with our military. Demokracy.com notes this:
Van Buren certainly had this reader snickering out loud regularly, but there was one point where he elicited a gasp that was in no way mirthful – when he described an aspect of lifesaving training the soldiers had undergone back in the states.
“The guys at Falcon who had been selected for the training all started with a big 180-pound, man-sized hog,” he writes. “The trainers blew half the pig’s face away, slit open its belly, and cut the femoral artery. The idea was to get the soldiers to ignore the horrific facial wound and the slit belly and focus on the femoral. If you couldn’t stop it from pushing blood out, your pig/soldier/friend bled to death in minutes. The soldiers topped one another with ghastly descriptions of how messed up their pigs had been. The trainers were never done. As soon as you controlled one thing, they shot, cut, or tore the pig in another way. At one point they threw the bleeding pig into the back of a pickup truck and you had to continue to work to save its life as the truck bounced down a rutted back road in North Carolina. … Soldiers who had undergone the experience were careful when and how they talked about it. No one enjoyed seeing an animal suffer, and most left the sessions with questions in their heads about right and wrong. What was a pig’s life worth?”
Read the full review from Demokracy.com online.
The second new review comes from Chronicles Magazine. Entitled “The Best are Not the Brightest,” from David Halberstram’s epic book about the men who stumbled America into the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest, the review straight-forwardly places the blame for the mess in Iraq on the ever-so intelligent men and women at State, Defense and the NSC who led us into the quagmire and then abandoned the task to others to resolve.
The review is not online at the Chronicles site, but you can read it here.
The Project for Government Oversight (POGO) details the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that the Senate passed for the fourth time. It is now up to the House to take a break from worrying about dudes getting married and renaming Post Offices and step up.
The bill (S. 743) grants federal workers the protections they need to safely report waste, fraud and abuse. Which is good news because taxpayers, who rely on whistleblowers to disclose corruption within the government, are now one step closer towards saving billions of dollars. If people inside the government don’t tell you the taxpayers what is going on, how will you know? Always important to a democracy that depends on an informed citizenry, in the current age of over-classification, whistleblowers are even more important.
POGO tells us:
To put the bill in real-world terms: it could help prevent scandals like the General Services Administration (GSA) lavish spending binge, help protect important national whistleblowers—like Peter Van Buren and Mike Helms—and encourage would-be whistleblowers to step forward in the public interest.
The bill’s significance is clear. It modernizes the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 by expanding “free speech rights, specifically covering national security and intelligence community workers, federal scientists, and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen failed procedures, close loopholes, create efficiencies, and affirm lawful disclosures. For the first time, some federal whistleblowers would have a real ‘day in court,’ since the bill provides access to a jury trial in federal district court,” according to a press release by POGO and allies.
Read more on the POGO website.
Anybody who still is not sure that Hillary Clinton is pretty much done with politics soon should check out her latest photos. Now here’s a person that pretty much walks the walk and talks the talk that she is way past caring. Check it out, at left. This new spirit of casualness opens the door for me to wear my Free Bradley Manning T-shirt to work at Foggy Bottom next week.
Meanwhile, the other person I am being fired by the State Department for mocking, complete idiot Michelle Bachmann, has just demonstrated her loyalty to the US of America by becoming a citizen of another country. Sure, it’s Switzerland, a kind of OK country with no reported US drone strikes at present. Nothing says “I love my country” like becoming a citizen of another country. Of course that should not matter to Bachmann, as she is only running for another term in Congress and making laws there could not possibly conflict with her loyalty to her new country, right?
Maybe Hillary’s State Department could look into whether or not Bachmann has lost her US citizenship by naturalizing as a danged foreigner now.
HuffPo reminds that Bachmann is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Financial Services Committee. So the former now includes not merely a foreign citizen, but a citizen of a country not even allied with the U.S., and the latter includes a citizen of a country that just happens to have 1) an exemption for tax evasion in its extradition treaty with the U.S. (an exemption that some convicted American tax evaders took full advantage of) and 2) banking secrecy laws which frequently cause no small amount of frustration to various parts of U.S. government, including, of course, the House Financial Services Committee.
Perhaps Bachmann could check on patriot Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank accounts on her next visit “home”?