Clinton was in Algeria seeking support for “intervention” into yet another country threatened by “al Qaeda.” She is doing this because the other interventions have worked out so well in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Never Neverland. The idea is to gather up some willing African troops as ground fodder, supported by US (and French) logistics, drones, special forces and the like, wrap it in a UN bow and start killing us some more Muslims (in Mali).
Despite the attractiveness of having foreign troops marauding around its territory (and the French have a particularly horrific history in Algeria, of course), Algeria seems cool to the idea. Among other concerns, the Algerians are worried that the troops could push extremists out of Mali and back across its own borders. Algeria has maintained a modus vivendi with the bad boys on its border and sees no reason to stir things up just because the US has found another location to export the War of Terror to.
The US of course remains blind to the continuing failure of its war orgasms, and in particular their horrendous secondary effects. In fact, the new “crisis” in Mali is sort of our fault. The fall of Qaddafi in Libya prompted ethnic Tuareg rebels from Mali, who had been fighting alongside Qaddafi’s forces, to return to northern Mali with weapons from Libyan arsenals. They joined with Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militants who had moved to the lightly policed region from Algeria, and the two groups easily drove out the weakened Malian army in late March and early April. Then the Islamists turned on the Tuaregs, chasing them off and consolidating control in the region in May and June. But hey, we got another regime change notch in our belt, so it’s cool.
Mali is a wasteland, so the war is unlikely to make things too much worse, right? About half the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
The 100% percent-substance free official State Department read-out of the Algerian trip was contained in the longest run-on sentence in bureaucratic history: Virtually the entire meeting portion focused on our counterterrorism cooperation and Mali, and they agreed that we need to now work together to build on our existing strong U.S.-Algerian counterterrorism cooperation to work together against the problems that are being exported from Mali and to help Bamako and ECOWAS with the AU and the UN support as well deal with the security threats inside of Mali.
BONUS: Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne is one of the best books about the Algerian war for independence against the French. The book is also important reading in that it discusses the French decision to employ torture against the Algeria rebels, and details the extreme costs to the French in terms of loss of moral superiority that flowed from that choice. The book is also a textbook in counter-insurgency warfare, albeit once again mostly negative lessons.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
So, I, um, like, told you so. And even though I lost my job for telling you so, and even though a related Inspector General opened an investigation into me for telling you so, it’s still nice to learn that what I told you was correct.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released a final report on the State Department’s handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq by Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), two of which I lead in Iraq. Those experiences formed the fodder of my book, We Meant Well. The State Department and its USAID colleagues “managed” about $258 million in QRF funds.
So taxpayers and patriots, here’s the highlights, in the Inspector’s own words:
— From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries.
— We reported that DOS’ recordkeeping on fund-use and project-results/outcomes for micropurchases made in 2007 and 2008 was poor, and that documentation in seven project files suggested possible fraud. We recommended that DoS improve its recordkeeping and review all micropurchases initiated in 2007-2008 to determine if other examples of possible fraud, waste, and abuse exist. DoS officials stated that they located almost all documentation that SIGIR found missing from the official files, and that their review of payment vouchers did not indicate that any fraudulent transactions had occurred. However, the officials did not directly address the seven instances of possible fraudulent activities that SIGIR had found.
— Because there was no evidence that DoS had reviewed and assessed the identified cases of possible fraud, SIGIR initiated this review. Seven of the reviewed assessments re-confirmed our concerns that fraud may have occurred.
— The QRF Tracking Database shows that of the $125.1 million allocated to the DoS, $24.5 million was used to pay overhead costs for a third party to implement large QRF projects, costs of managing the QRF database, and costs for monitoring and evaluating the QRF program.
— Project results (also referred to as award results in DoS’s QRF Tracking Database) are important in that they confirm whether or not items or services intended to be purchased were indeed purchased, received, and transferred to beneficiaries. In our review, we found that 90 of the 185 micropurchases (or about 49%) lacked such information. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that individuals used the cash they received to purchase goods and services and that the intended beneficiaries of these goods and services actually received them.
— Of course, some results were conclusive in a negative way: “this project was probably way ahead of its time and probably should not have been originally funded. Not in use, never used.” (to describe $22,150 in tanks, tools, and supplies purchased for fish hatchery)
— Another read “the contractor never completed the soccer field. Dirt was added to the field but turf was never laid.” The project file did not have any other documentation that showed actions taken, if any, to address the problems found.
— Specifically, DoS may never know what it got out of those micropurchases made in the early years because of the lack of documentation showing that the goods or services were delivered. Consequently, it is highly possible that some portions of QRF funds were not used as intended.
The SIGIR included the State Department’s comments on the report:
Officials from the Office of Iraq Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs stated that they improved their processes for documenting QRF projects and agreed with SIGIR that cash transactions in conflict and post-conflict environments can be susceptible to fraud and abuse. However, they did not comment further on the possible fraud we found in seven projects we first identified in April 2011, and which served as the basis for this current review.
An important caveat: SIGIR basically only assessed whether or not the money State thought it spent on widgets actually got spent on widgets, and whether those widgets made it into the right hands. SIGIR made no assessment of the effectiveness of any of State’s spending.
One hopes that if we ever begin “nation building” here at home, someone other than the thieves, pirates and thugs State hired to eat the money abroad is put in charge.
Oh, and SIGIR released another report on Friday, that one showing how the Army Corps of Engineers spent money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent. The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion. But that’s for another book to deal with.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Imran Khan, a former cricket star, and Pakistani politician critical of U.S. drone strikes, says American authorities detained and questioned him at a Canadian airport.
He had boarded a plane in Toronto bound for New York, but was removed from the plane and interrogated on his views on drones. This month he led a contentious march to the border of Pakistan’s tribal region to protest drone strikes. A person traveling with Khan said Khan was told there was concern about possible violence at an anti-drone protest the politician was scheduled to lead in the United States. But that protest had been canceled. Khan also was asked about the fund-raising he was doing in the country. He was allowed to enter the U.S. on a later flight, albeit after a two hour interrogation.
So, whatever, freedom!
What could be the possible point of detaining and interrogating Khan? Was he a threat to the passengers and the plane? Did he have Semtex stapled to his underwear? Was he planning to take the last chicken meal and leave everyone behind him with the fish?
The only possible rationale of course was intimidation, the American government letting one of its critics know that We Are Watching, and even though we chose to let you go this time buddy boy, don’t assume it’ll always work this smoothly. Just like that– finger snap– you could be on another plane, straight to sunny Gitmo. Oh, and have a nice day.
The intimidation game is amplified given who Khan is. A once and possibly future leader of Pakistan (he is aiming at Prime Minister, and is considered one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan), the U.S. is getting its licks in early and often. Also, with Khan’s status in Pakistan and the Muslim world, the U.S. knew his detention would make world news. It was intended to do so, warning non-celebrity drone opponents of what awaits them in free America. This should all buttress America’s “soft power” efforts to make friends abroad.
Ya’ll watch your step now in this part of ‘da countryside boy!
BONUS: What were U.S. law enforcement agents doing working in Canada? Why, enforcing U.S. law on foreign soil, of course! For the “convenience” of travelers, the U.S. has worked out pre-inspection regimes with certain countries, mostly Canada, Shannon, Ireland and some Caribbean nations. These agreements allow the U.S. to station law enforcement personnel abroad and throw people out of the U.S. even before they enter the U.S. The U.S. also has TSA “advisors” in fifteen other foreign airports. And what a nice cover job those make!
From Glenn Greenwald, more on the use of border controls to intimidate and harass U.S. critics.
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Actually, if you already know about Cryptome, sorry, this blog post isn’t for you. Move along, pal, nothing new.
But if you’re interested in national security issues, and particularly if you prefer to study primary source documentation and make up your own mind about things, take a look at Cryptome. The site is w-a-y old school, just a page of links in good old HTML 101. They’ve been online since 1996 and serve as a repository of documents and information, some leaked, some obtained via FOIA. Cryptome was Wikileaks decades before Wikileaks.
For example, Cryptome currently offers aerial views of the CIA’s basic training facility (swanky), Camp Peary in Virginia, with its shooting ranges, driving track and own airstrip.
Following the incident in Benghazi? Cryptome has overhead images of the compound and surrounding neighborhood.
Readers are intended to be critical consumers, as Cryptome offers no commentary or validation. A list of allegded CIA agents and front companies, for example, seems overly broad, but you be the judge.
The web site also focuses on the NSA, cryptography and publishes interesting albeit open source U.S. government documents aplenty. For anyone with such documents to share, Cryptome is happy to receive them, and includes irs PGP key on the site.
I spent some time on al Jazeera television this week, speaking about the importance of third party presidential candidates.
Too many important issues– climate change, defense spending, drone wars– are either not discussed at all by the mainstream candidates, or are brushed off the debate table with muttered agreement. Third Party candidates serve to bring those issues into the conversation.
Unfortunately, these candidates get little-to-no mainline media coverage, and their debate was limited to C-Span and alternative outlets like al Jazeera.
Good luck, of course, finding sources like al Jazeera on your local cable provider. You can, however, watch it online for another view of the day’s events.
Everyone’s favorite State Department guy Chris Deedy still has no trial date set for his shooting and killing of a Hawaiian man last November while in the islands as part of Hillary Clinton’s guest appearance at the APEC Summit. Recap here; Deedy shot a guy, guy is dead.The whole thing was videotaped by a McDonald’s surveillance camera.)
The latest turn of events is that Deedy lost a motion to dismiss the case against him and his lawyer lost another bid to publicly file a videotape of the killing. The motion maintained that Deedy acted in his legitimate law enforcement capacity in shooting the local man, what cops love to call a “righteous shoot.” Court said NO. Deedy’s lawyer wanted the McD’s video released publicly. Court said NO.
What the court inexplicably did not say is when Deedy will go to trial. The killing took place November 5, 2011, and a grand jury indicted Deedy November 16, 2011. The best the court would say is that the trial would commence next year. At this rate none of us may live long enough to see a verdict.
Listen to the 911 Calls
Interesting listening here, the 911 calls from the killing scene. Of particular interest are two separate callers stating Deedy ran away from the scene of what he claimed, unsuccessfully, was a legitimate law enforcement action. Is that what cops do, run away? Other reports, however, say Deedy remained at the McDonalds.
If you’d care to read some macho cop talk (“Sounds like a righteous shoot to me!”) about blasting away in a crowded McDonalds at an unarmed man, there’s plenty to be had at Police Mag.
Here are some samples to give you an idea of the level of discourse:
Marshal @ 8/29/2012 7:24 AM
I think that the media and the prosecutor spokesman should be charged with false reporting and sued for slander. When are we going to take a stand on the bullsh*t that we allow the media to do to people when they know it is wrong or they just don’t care and they don’t research their information and they just want to be the first to report. Freedom of the press doesn’t give them the right to slander someone or give faulty reports.
ib_da_one @ 10/6/2012 4:29 AM
Sounds like a clean shoot to me but you have to understand this is Hawaii. Very limited gene pool amoungst potential jurors. I mean you should have seen the memorial they laid out in front o Mcdonald’s for the perp. Absolutely disgusting!
Deedy remains free on bail, living in Virginia and still fully employed and paid by the U.S. Department of State.
(no link to source, fact or why anyone would say this unless tripping on bad mushrooms)
Source material: US denied access to terror suspect tied to Libya attacks
BONUS! Spelunking down into the Susan Rice Twitter stream, one notices that a) all of her Tweets regarding how the Benghazi Consulate attack was related to that anti-Islam video have been deleted and b) Rice follows the Obama for President political campaign Tweets but not the Romney political campaign Tweets, which seems to say something about whether she thinks she represents “America” at the UN or the Obama Campaign. This also seems at variance with the Hatch Act.
Hah hah, fooled you. Susan Rice only cares about representing Susan Rice’s political future and could give a flying f*ck for American or the Obama Campaign.
Originally published September 11, 2012 on TomDispatch.com
John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, pleaded guilty October 23, 2012 to leaking the identity of one of the agency’s covert operatives to a reporter and will be sentenced to more than two years in prison. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that had been filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act. They also dropped a count of making false statements.
Under the plea, all sides agreed to a prison term of 2 1/2 years. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the term was identical to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted in a case where he was accused of leaking information that compromised the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, though Libby’s sentence was commuted by then-President George W. Bush.
Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away
A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?
At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.
It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.
Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.
John Kiriakou Alone
The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.
And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.
The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.
The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”
The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.
Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.
If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is 48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.
Welcome to the Jungle
John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.
He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.
Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.
One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”
One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”
If only it was really that easy.
For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.
Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.
Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.
America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.
What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?
The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.
The New York Times reports on an isolated incident in Afghanistan where, fed up with the Taliban closing their schools and committing other acts of oppression, men in a village about 100 miles south of Kabul took up arms late last spring and chased out the insurgents with no help from the Afghan government or U.S. military.
American officials nonetheless are quietly nurturing the trend, hoping it might become a game changer, or at least a new roadblock for the Taliban.
Yeah, right. The Times then drops what Americans still cling to, the myth of Anbar:
Some have compared the apparently spontaneous uprisings to the Iraq war’s Anbar Awakening of 2007, in which Sunni Arab tribes in the western province of Anbar turned on al-Qaida in their midst, joined forces with the Americans and dealt a blow that many credit with turning the tide of that conflict. The U.S. armed and paid the tribal fighters and sought to integrate them into Iraqi government forces.
The myth of Anbar is one of the Iraq War’s nastier leftovers. Many Iraqis did push back against al Qaeda, but typically for personal gain and local control. The US carried out an awful lot of night raids against “al Qaeda” that instead eliminated local rivals of Sunnis more skilled at manipulating the desperate-for-success Americans. The limited initial successes were quickly subsumed by the need to pay “Sons of Iraq” essentially protection money to stay on our side (I watched their enthusiasm fade as the money dried up in my own year in Iraq). And of course al Qaeda still maintains an active franchise in Iraq even to this day, and Anbar is still a shithole.
As in Iraq, the U.S., ever-so-desperate for something close enough to call a “victory” before we just get the hell out of Afghanistan, so wants to believe any anti-Taliban action is somehow even remotely related to a pro-Afghan government or maybe– maybe– a pro-U.S. stance. That was the meme in Anbar.
It is not true. Just because local people do not want one group of outsiders (al Qaeda, Taliban, Mormons) messing with their lives, that does not imply acceptance of another group of outsiders (Shiite Iraqi government, Afghan kleptocrats or U.S. occupiers). The more somewhat authoritative sources like the Times keep this myth alive, the longer it will take for any chance of learning any lessons from these failed counter-insurgency farces.
It’s time to really wake up America, and bring the troops home.
William Astore, in a HuffPo column, nails it:
Both President Obama and Governor Romney prefer to praise the troops rather than to address the tragic consequences of continuing military action in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The latter, when they’re addressed at all, are reduced to sound bites and homilies about the need to “stay the course” and “support our troops.”
So what’s to talk about?
Candidates, we have been at war in Afghanistan for eleven years, three times as long as World War II. What has the U.S. gained? If we have gained anything, have the gains been worth the costs in lives and money?
Based on Afghanistan, what lessons have you derived that will inform your future decisions to invade/intervene/occupy other countries?
You talk a lot about supporting the troops. Good for you. Very specifically, what are you planning to do to help veterans find employment, reduce suicide and get out of debt? For Obama, you’ve been president for almost four years. What, very specifically, HAVE you done to do to help veterans find employment, reduce suicide and get out of debt?
John Nagl, who teaches at the Naval Academy and has been a strong proponent of U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, defines “success” in Afghanistan in part as “maintaining our own bases in the region from which to operate drones, manned aircraft and Special Operations forces.” Do you agree with this? If you do, then does Iraq qualify as a “defeat” given that we have no bases there?
If you accept/desire/support maintaining U.S. drone and special forces in Afghanistan indefinately, explain how this is anything but a prescription for endless war.
The U.S. stood by as Afghan president Karzai stole the last election and installed a government that can be defined only as a kleptocracy. How has this benefited the U.S.?
The war in Afghanistan has spread to Pakistan. The U.S. is engaged in combat there, via drones and special forces. Pakistan sheltered bin Laden for years. Define our relationship with Pakistan and your goals there, without using the word “ally.”
Or anything else, just please talk about Afghanistan and the 2000 dead Americans there in any way you like other than tired bromides about “the troops.” I dare you.
I sat with John Brown, one of three State Department Foreign Service officers who resigned rather than support the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for an interview.
We covered a lot of subjects, including a fair amount of inside-baseball State Department stuff about why I went to Iraq, and why I did not resign after Iraq.
This may have been why what I saw in Iraq so shocked me. I was very unused to the, well, disingenuous chatter that seems to me now in retrospect to characterize much of what the non-Consular parts of State do on a daily basis. I had this, perhaps naive, very practical conception of our work. Consular at its best is about real problem solving: mentally ill American Citizen in the lobby, what are you gonna do? Faced with someone shouting incoherently and undressing in your waiting area, there is no room for a carefully conceived statement of concern, cleared by 18 offices over a three week period. You actually have to do something. In this sense, I was really, really the wrong guy to send into Iraq.
Since all that happened with the book, people ask why I did not resign. My answer is that I had no reason to do so. I wrote a book documenting what I saw in Iraq. I am certain that had you followed me around for a year you would have seen and heard what I wrote down. I see what I did as documentary, not necessarily dissent per se. In that what I saw and wrote deviates from what State’s vision of Iraq is is I guess the issue. I note that no one, not a single person in the USG nor any reviewer, has contested anything in the book. No one has said, hey, that story about the chicken plant is wrong, or incomplete or made up. No one, nothing. All of the attacks, the criticism, has been ad hominem attacks against me as a person. State people say I should not air dirty laundry, or I should use the dissent channel, or I should have been more respectful in my language, less sarcastic in tone like a “diplomat” should be, I should have done this or that. But no one has challenged the content, and that is because they really can’t. It is all true.
So why should I have quit? Why should I have resigned? I just wrote a book. It is more like I failed some ideological test.
John and I also talked about broader foreign policy issues.
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 build 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 people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.
Read the full interview online.
Whoever the hell is now a “leader” among the thugs and al Qaeda wanna-be’s in Syria has stated that once his guys kill off most of the other guys and thus free Syria, he wants the west to drop a load of cash on him, a new Marshall Plan.
“In the aftermath of the destruction we are convinced Syria needs a Marshall-style plan to ensure it stands again on solid financial and economic ground,” the thug said. “Without real comprehensive development, we will open up the opportunity for the growth of all kinds of extremism.”
The US loves spending money overseas on reconstructing things. We spent $44 billion on Iraq and are over $70 billion in Afghanistan. I’m sure whomever is in the White House when the bank vault is opened to Syria will be tickled pink to reconstruct them too. Using your money, ‘natch.
By the way, the Marshall Plan cost $12.7 billion in 1947 bucks, with its 2008 inflation adjusted cost of $115.3 billion.
I think we should reconstruct America.
So please say this to every politician and political candidate you run across:
For me to give you my vote, do this: for every school, home and road we built in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria), build two here at home. For every soldier, hire the same number of people here at home to do the work, at the same pay and the same benefits. Buy all the materials as local as you can.
When the politician says we can’t pay for that, tell’em to pay for it exactly the same way they paid for it when it was happening overseas. When they say we can’t do that because it’s unfair, or unequal or socialism, tell’em to do it here for whatever the hell reason justified it over there. When they say we had to spend the money abroad to defend America, just smile at ‘em and say that building jobs in America defends America better than any killing abroad does. Make them respond to all that. Create jobs, and we’ll see from there.
I do not support either candidate for the presidency; I have a large “Nobody” sign in my yard and encourage my dog on walks to wee wee equally on all candidates’ signs. It’s the American way. If this blog appears more often critical of Obama, it is simply because he is the president and makes decisions and takes actions (or not) worthy of attention. Romney is just campaigning. I voted for Obama in 2008 and am deeply remorseful, especially over how he has failed on so many promises (close Gitmo) and expanded the drone wars to include the assassination of American Citizens without trial. I remain deeply conflicted on whether I should vote for a presidential candidate this year or not.
I also love Bruce Springsteen, not in a romantic sticky way, but if anyone could draw me into that I’d probably go with Bruce. Bruce Springsteen wrote two of his more poignant songs about working life, The Ghost of Tom Joad (Rage Against the Machine offers a good, rough, angry version) and Youngstown, based on Dale Maharidgeand Michael Williamson’s work. Springsteen is the most relentless and prolific chronicler in popular culture of the plight of the working class, picking up the job from Dust Bowl singers like Woody Guthrie, and carrying the idea forward that America’s workers are resilient. Angry but ebullient, Springsteen echoes Maharidge and Williamson in believing that a new era will follow deindustrialization and that the men and women they write about will survive into it. For me, I am not as sure about the future, and that’s what my next book (called The People on the Bus, a Story of the #99 Percent) is about.
Bruce supported Obama in 2008, and now has come out again for him. Bruce’s reasons– focusing mostly on social justice issues– are about the best-laid out “better to vote for Obama than to stay home” argument I’ve seen; well, the guy does have a way with words. I’ve also always respected Bruce for seeming to research his causes, and not just be some empty-headed celebrity who lends his name to whatever seems cool at the moment.
So this is why I want to call out Bruce a bit over something he said at an Obama rally in Ohio on October 18. “I’m thankful GM is still making cars,” Springsteen joked. “What else would I write about? I’d have no job!”
Bruce is of course referring to the $80 billion of tax payer money Obama handed to the auto industry. I want to call his attention to the fact that GM then turned around and shut down the Spring Hill Saturn plant after nineteen years of operation. The success we were told was that after GM agreed to restart the factory, many of those Spring Hill jobs were expected to go to Mexico but were able to remain in the United States only thanks to a deal that included a second-tier wage scale for new employees. About 700 older workers remained on layoff even as they hired new people at the lower wage. Pensions were cut, too. GM had a record profit of $7.6 billion last year. So tally that up: fewer jobs at lower wages, pensions cut, and GM still owes the taxpayers $25 billion while they pull in record profits. The deal is touted as a model for Ford and Chrysler.
All on our backs. I might as well just write-in “Goldman Sachs” and leave out the middle man.
I get the point Bruce: it could have been worse, in Spring Hill, at General Motors, in America. I just wish there was a candidate I could embrace in a sticky way, could support, rather than one that I could never vote for and one I am told is better than nobody. Jeez, I wish I could vote for Bruce.
More? Daniel Ellsberg makes the same case as Obama the lesser evil.
With the exception of a few left over pieces of the old British Empire (Diego Garcia the island, not your pool boy), the U.S. is pretty much the last imperial power. Certainly no other nation maintains so extensive a necklace of military bases around the world. In almost every case, those bases were “acquired” by the U.S. simply by taking land it needed after conquering some formerly sovereign nation. Hell, we took Guantanamo from the freaking Spanish when they still counted as an empire of their own. The U.S. holds bases all across Europe appropriated after WWII and, quite significantly, bases taken from occupied Japan.
The cornerstone of U.S. military presence in East Asia is ever-compliant Japan, the Koreans and Filipinos having semi-quietly pushed some U.S. troops out, the Vietnamese more forcefully. Of all the U.S. military in Japan, about half the forces are piled on to the small island of Okinawa. The tight confines and relative safety of Okinawa also means that the military and the civilian population come into frequent contact. This is not always good.
The latest not good side of the ongoing U.S. presence in Okinawa took place October 16, when two U.S. sailors were arrested over accusations that they raped a woman on the island of Okinawa. One of the assailants has supposedly admitted to the crime. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said it went “beyond madness” that the alleged attack took place only two months after a U.S. Marine was arrested over accusations he assaulted and molested a woman in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Many Okinawan residents recall too easily the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995 by three U.S. military personnel, as well as allegations that a Marine raped a 14-year-old girl in 2008. These signature incidents took place alongside a steady litany of vehicular homicide and drunk driving cases.
For the U.S. side, America’s ambassador to Japan has promised another full investigation. As with Hillary in Libya, when caught like this, the default State Department position is to promise full cooperation and an investigation and hope the press moves on (they will).
A Thought Experiment
The usual response from most Americans to news like this is something along the line of “Tragic, but it is only news because it involved the military” and “Sadly, Japanese-on-Japanese rapes happen all the time and this is blown out of proportion because of the military angle.” The same logic is often applied to American-committed atrocities in Afghanistan.
So let’s try a simple thought experiment.
Imagine that a foreign power, oh, say India, had 50,000 troops stationed in bases in Florida. Do you think anyone in America would notice if two Indian sailors raped an American woman?
Well, luckily we are free of such restraints in modern Washington. Indeed, over a month after the predictable and possibly preventable deaths of four Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton said “I take responsibility.”
What does that mean?
Hillary did not take responsibility on September 11 when the attacks took place. She instead made self-serving statements about bravery (of others) and sacrifice (of others).
Between October 3 and October 12 Hillary made no public statements at all about the Libya disaster, allowing others to bleat in her place.
Hillary did not take responsibility at recent Congressional hearings. She did not even show up. She sent others to testify. Not a one of them said Hillary was responsible, or even involved, in the deadly mistakes State made. None of them mentioned her by name.
Hillary did not take responsibility during the Vice Presidential Debates.
BlameResponsibility was assigned to the anonymous “intelligence agencies” by the Vice President and Hillary sat quiet.
If Hillary is now indeed responsible, let’s see her resignation. Better yet, she can start to act responsibly. Let’s hear her publicly and unambiguously tell us what her role in the decision-making was. Let’s see her demand the State Department’s own Accountability Review Board, now five weeks after the attack, issue a report sometime this decade (or at least before the election.) Let’s hear her exonerate the loyal troops sent to have their heads taken off by Congress last week. Let’s have Hillary state publicly that the witch hunting and scapegoating inside Foggy Bottom will cease because she alone will take the hits, ’cause inside the building the buck isn’t stopping.
Anything less just rubs our noses further into this craven, desperate electioneering crap.
BONUS: State’s other Spartacus-wanna be, Pat Kennedy, told the House last week in defense of Susan Rice that “If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said,” i.e., that the attack in Benghazi was not a pre-planned terror attack but instead merely a reaction to that anti-Islamic video.
Only Pat lied.
On September 12 in an unclassified, half-hour conference call with staff aides to House and Senate lawmakers from relevant committees, and leadership offices, Pat said that he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
What is Important
Isn’t there a single reporter who will ask Hillary why only now has she determined that she is the responsible one, and challenge her that her “claim” is nothing but party politics?
Will no one ask Obama (or Hillary) to comment on Obama’s July 2012 statement “As president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and you know, Harry Truman said the buck stops with you… one of the things you learn is, you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations.”
As for Pat Kennedy, don’t you have any shame at all? Trick question.
Also, anybody else expecting Obama to drone kill some poor random Libyan and claim justice has been done, right before the election, in a weak attempt at an October Surprise?
Anyway, I take responsibility for it all, what the hell, why not.
(This article originally appeared on TomDispatch and Huffington Post on October 11, 2012. It seems especially useful to review in light of both candidates demanding that the moderator of tonight’s debate not be allowed to ask follow-up questions. Softballs only, please. Indeed, the entire lengthy memo of understanding between the two candidates is an insult to democracy and shows their contempt for the entire process.)
We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.
Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.
But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options. It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject. That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.
So in honor of old Mr. Garrity, here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won’t be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16th, and 22nd — with a sixth bonus question thrown in for good measure.
1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?
The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq — mostly because our Iraqi “allies” flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out — the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).
A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of “al-Qaeda Number 3” guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: “We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.”
So, candidates, the question is: What’s the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the “end” of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence? Is it now as American as apple pie?
2. Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?
A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. After all, that founding document expanded to end the slavery it had once supported, weathered trials and misuses as dumb as Prohibition and as grave as Red Scares, Palmer Raids, and McCarthyism. The First Amendment grew to cover comic books, nude art works, and a million electronic forms of expression never imagined in the eighteenth century. Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.
The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30th was the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s first acknowledged murder without due process of an American — and later his teenaged son — abroad. The U.S. has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit “by accident.”)
So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?
3. What do we want from the Middle East?
Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? What is our goal in fighting an intensifying proxy war with Iran, newly expanded into cyberspace? Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the nineteenth century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? That kind of policy thinking did not work out too well in the long run in Central and South America, and history suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.
Candidates, can you define America’s predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?
4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?
The decade — and counting — of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see. The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the “decider” on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.
So, candidates, here’s a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?
5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?
The big one. We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most “exceptional” of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them).
During the Cold War, the American ideal represented freedom to so many people, even if the reality was far more ambiguous. Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.
America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America’s failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a “policy” that only encourages ever more instability in the region. The saber rattling that goes with such a strategy (if it can be called that) feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.
So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual “shining city on a hill” metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? (Follow up: No really, cut the b.s and answer this one, gentlemen. It’s important!)
6. Bonus Question: To each of the questions above add this: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn’t you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can’t pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to “defend America,” tell us why building jobs in this country doesn’t do more to defend it than anything done abroad.
Now that might spark a real debate, one that’s long, long overdue.
The State Department has always had a cozy relationship with its home town newspaper, the Washington Post. When times are tough, State can always count on WaPo for a puff piece, a planted Op-Ed or a killed story to make the day brighter. We talked about one, on Haiti Reconstruction, here and some here.
But enough partisanship. Instead, today, we will have a blind taste test. Two articles, one from the Post and one from State’s own propaganda team. Both pieces are on “culinary diplomacy.” I’ll put up quotes, and you see if you can tell the State-written propaganda from the Washington Post written “journalism.” Blindfolds on?
Isabella is one of the first chefs to be tapped by the State Department to serve as a culinary ambassador abroad, part of an ambitious new undertaking to use food as a diplomatic tool. Initiated by the U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall and blessed by her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership aims to “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts,” according to a mission statement.
The wide-ranging effort creates an American Chef Corps, a network of culinary leaders who could be deployed to promote U.S. cooking and agricultural products abroad. “They might meet with an embassy, cook a lunch, post blogs or [write] articles, speak at events,” says Marshall, listing the many ways participants might engage.
This month, the State Department welcomed 25 chefs and foodies from all over the world to Washington, D.C., as part of an exciting new International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). From Brazil to Vietnam, every country in the world has a unique food culture, and the United States is no exception. Throughout this IVLP, participants are meeting with high profile chefs to discuss the influences of food and culture on American communities.
The international chefs and foodies met with many in the American Chef Corps throughout their U.S. visit, as they discussed using the shared experience of food to engage foreign audiences and to bring people of varied backgrounds and cultural identities together. The group also saw their work play a larger community role after volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen. Everyone enjoyed preparing food for those in need; as one participant said: “When people are full, they are happy. Then they are better to each other.”
Voila! Can you tell which is real journalism from a Pulitzer-awarded newspaper and which was written by a hack whose nose was implanted in some Under Secretary of Nothing’s oven? Hah hah, neither can we! Kudos to the Washington Post for journalism and a better informed American public!
Souffle A was made exclusively with WaPo quotes; Souffle B came from State Department propaganda. A request for comment to the Washington Post Ombudsman remains unanswered.
Dan Froomkin of the Huffington Post deserves our thanks for being one of the few journalists out there still writing about Iraq.
Remember that? America invaded Iraq in 2003 and occupied the country for some nine years, at the cost of over 5,000 American and who-the-f*ck knows how many Iraqi lives. Of all those troops the candidates are always honoring and planning to help (start anytime, guys), many served in Iraq.
Yet the Iraq War is a ghost, barely mentioned anywhere and about as popular on the campaign trail as herpes on toast.
Dan reminds us:
But the U.S still maintains a significant diplomatic presence there, in the form of the largest and most expensive ($6 billion a year ongoing operating costs) embassy ever built. Iraq is at long last becoming a geopolitical force in the region — but an increasingly authoritarian one, closely allied with Iran.
Dan quotes me as arguing:
…the war in Iraq showed the United States’ enemies its weaknesses. America’s power was demonstrated to have very clear limits. We have the world’s most powerful military, but there seems to be a back door in terms of how to bleed it, how to defeat it.
The full piece is well worth reading, especially since you won’t hear a word about Iraq from either candidate.
The most important foreign service blog out there, Diplopundit, has a nice write up, sort of an obituary really, of this past year, my struggle with the State Department.
Diplopundit focuses on the big picture. Forget about what you think of me or my book or my efforts and think about the institution, the venerable Department of State. Diplopundit posits that over the past year dozens or more staffers have been involved in my prosecution, memos written, maybe even awards and kudos handed out to workers who participated. And the sum of all that time, money and effort was?
Pretty much squat.
Despite the full resources of the Department of State, I did and still do continue to speak out. I retired maybe a bit earlier than I was originally planning, but I did retire free and normal. More importantly, what I wrote stands. The descriptions of waste and mismanagement in Iraq reconstruction I wrote have entered the zeitgeist and will pretty much always be there as a counterpoint to State’s own rapidly discredited happy talk version of events (By the way, how’s Iraq working out? That World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad still seem like a good idea?)
What does it say about an institution like State that not only did it expend all these resources against one employee, but that its expenditure accomplished nothing? What does it say about State when it reacts this violently against a critic, a whistleblower, one of its own long-serving employees who only told the story of his own experiences?
Despite the thousands of pages of crap turned out by State in its witch hunt and the hundreds or more personhours expended, not once did they claim anything I wrote was false. Not one fact was ever challenged. Not one figure or example was ever offered in rebuttal. The only things that oozed out were sad personal attacks against me.
Now, what does that say about your Department of State? Madame Secretary, a response in defense of your organization? Don’t worry if you’re too busy to respond now, we’ll be asking the same questions in 2016.
In Gordon & Trainor’s bookabout Iraq, as well as Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s bookabout Afghanistan, a common complaint by America’s diplomats is how their Regional Security Officers were too risk averse. The FSOs whined that Diplomatic Security held them back, that efforts to protect the dips kept them from fully engaging and thus it was Security’s fault that diplomacy failed.
My own book about the State Department in Iraq did not include any such crap, because it is not true. FSOs like to toss out that macho language to journalists, knowing they will never be called to act on it. You guys got fooled again, sorry.
State does like to hold on to that myth, that its officers are really rough and ready cowboys, always biting the bit to be allowed to engage freely if only those bad boys in Security did not place so many restrictions on them.
Indeed, the State Department’s own employees association gave away its “dissent” award this year to a Foreign Service Officer who argued just that point. Dissent award winner Joshua Polacheck stated that “In an attempt at perfect security, we made a series of choices with grave policy implications. These choices send a message of distrust to the people of our host nations… the siege mentality and isolation play into the goals of many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and Hezbollah.” He went to propose a policy where “Foreign Service personnel should be allowed to take personal responsibility for their own actions.”
One wonders in the aftermath of Benghazi how that award looks now in the halls of Foggy Bottom? One hopes that young Joshua is given a chance at a Libyan assignment to try out his theories on the ground.
Assessing risk is tricky business, and typically involves access to a wider range of information (imagery, intel, electronic intercepts, etc.) than can be widely shared with each and every young gun, even if said gunners had the ability to understand, synthesize and interpret it while doing their regular jobs. Without such knowledge, one is not assuming a risk, one is just acting dumb thinking it is brave, like driving a car blindfolded, or asking a taxi driver to drop you in the most dangerous neighborhood of an unfamiliar city to see what happens.
Even when an individual may be informed enough to make an intelligent risk assessment for him/herself, that ignores the wider political ramifications. The headline will not be “Dip Killed After Careful Personal Decision” but “Another U.S. Diplomat Slain in War of Terror.” It’s not just about you baby doll. Diplomats abroad are symbols, and a death has international implications.
It is easy to talk the talk, but takes a lot more than that to really walk the walk. Check with Chris Stevens.
Next time Hillary cranks up the PR machine to talk about women’s rights and the rights of workers, somebody might clear their throat and ask her to look inside her own State Department before opening her mouth in public.
According to court documents, a U.S. Department of State diplomat (LinkedIn photo above) and her husband tricked an Ethiopian woman into accompanying them as their domestic servant to Japan, where they held her virtually as a prisoner in their home and forced her to work for them for less than $1 per hour and where the husband repeatedly raped the woman with his diplomat wife’s consent. A Virginia federal judge awarded the victim $3.3 million in damages on a default judgment against the couple. The diplomat retired from the State Department with full pension and then fled the country.
The victim, identified only as “Jane Doe,” told the court she was hired by the Howards in 2008 as a live-in housekeeper at the couple’s home in Yemen, where Linda Howard worked at the U.S. embassy. Doe says she agreed to move with the couple to Japan after Linda Howard was transferred to the embassy there and that she was promised wages of $300 per month, time off each week, health insurance and a safe place to live and work.
Once in Japan, Doe says, Russell Howard repeatedly raped her, forced her to perform oral sex and sexually assaulted her. Doe says Linda Howard was complicit in her husband’s sexual abuse, telling Doe that she should gratify her husband and make him happy. Doe, who speaks little English and no Japanese, says the Howards also used nonphysical force, such as isolation and threats of deportation, to coerce her into servitude.
After five months in Japan, Doe says, she fled the Howards’ home in the middle of the night. She says that after she reported the abuse, the State Department removed Linda Howard from her overseas post and launched an investigation into the Howards.
Once back in Washington and while the so-called investigation took place, Howard, according to her LinkedIn profile, worked among other places as a recruiter and assessor for people seeking jobs with the State Department. She tells us on LinkedIn that she received a Superior Honor Award, with cash bonus, from State in June 2011, which would have been well after any investigation commenced. Her LinkedIn profile also references Cleared Connections, an employment site for government workers, suggesting she retained her security clearance from State.
Linda Howard acted in bad faith by telling the court that she was unaware of any upcoming overseas job-related travel and then two weeks later retiring and leaving the country, the magistrate judge said. She also refused to appear for a deposition as ordered by the court and refused to communicate with Doe’s attorneys to facilitate discovery as ordered by the court, Magistrate Judge Jones said.
Now, a question: if the allegations are true– and a Virginia court says they are– Mr. and Mrs. Howard committed felonies on federal property. Mr. Howard is an Australian citizen, so maybe it is a huge guess to wonder if they are outback there. Has the FBI been called in by State, as the FBI has jurisdiction over crimes on federal property (that why they are the lead investigators in Libya now)?
Or is Julian Assange the only Australian the State Department cares about bringing to justice?
U.S. Embassy Prostitution
Unfortunately the story above is not an isolated incident. America’s diplomats are allowed by both U.S. and most foreign laws to import and employ domestic help pretty much without oversight. The workers are typically from Third World countries, and often do not speak the local language. Lacking friends, social contacts and legal protections, State’s diplomats are free to treat their household help pretty much any way their conscience allows. Most are fair and decent, but there is little safety net underneath when things go bad.
For example, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has had its share of problems. In the early part of this decade, the embassy paid-for-dormitory for domestics (so they did not have to live with their diplomatic masters) was found full of women not connected with the embassy, some of whom were prostituting themselves on and out of U.S. government property. The public restroom just outside the dorm was a known quickie spot for night time taxi drivers looking for sex. Things were handled nice and quietly by State and the story stayed out of the news and out of the taxpayers’ attention.
A bit further back, one Tokyo embassy U.S. diplomat identified here as Thurmond Borden, had domestic troubles. The story is that in 1993, 40 year-old Lucia Martel was working as a domestic in Manila. In March of that same year, Mr. Borden was visiting the Philippines on vacation with his Filipino wife, and the couple was looking for a woman. Mr. and Mrs. Borden offered Lucia a monthly wage of about Y30,000 (USD300). To comply with the Japanese immigration regulations, a written contract was signed that contained very different language. The contract stated her working conditions as six days/week, eight hours/day, a monthly salary of Y150,000 (USD1500), and an overtime pay of 125%. The contract papers were submitted both to the U.S. Embassy and to the Japanese Immigration Bureau.
Lucia started working at Borden’s residence October 16, 1993. Despite her contract, she was forced to work from six in the morning to ten in the evening, and was not allowed to rest even on Christmas and New Years according to reports.
On May 22, 1994, reports were that Lucia complained to Mrs. Borden and the latter confiscated Lucia’s original contract, return air-ticket and Alien Registration Certificate. This Certificate is very important for expatriates in Japan. It must be carried at all times and if caught without it, one may end up being taken into custody by the police. Lucia went to the Naka-ward municipal office to have a new card issued. The shocked office staff who heard her story contacted the police. A cop officer visited the Borden’s residence to take Lucia’s Registration Certificate back from Mrs. Borden. Mr. Borden, returning from his work, was said to have become enraged. He allegedly shouted, “Go back to the Philippines!” to Lucia. Lucia feared that she might be assaulted. She fled the residence taking none of her belongings except the clothes she was wearing.
Lucia eventually tried to sue the Borden’s, and organized protest marches outside the U.S. embassy. The State Department, however, claimed diplomatic immunity on Borden’s behalf and the Japanese legal system dropped the case. State Department records list Borden now as the head of the Consular Section in Jakarta where, among other tasks, he has responsibility for issuing maid visas to U.S. diplomats’ domestic help bound for the U.S.
The evidence that State knew of the security issues in Benghazi, and ignored them, continues to accumulate.
Word is that inside Foggy Bottom everyone is rushing around getting their ducks in line so that someone else takes the symbolic fall for the screw-ups. They’ve got time– the Accountability Review Board will certainly not release anything before the election. Look for a news dump maybe the Friday after Thanksgiving? 2015? The truth will be happily buried, but in reality should be something like this: heavy security cost too much, plus it would make the Clinton narrative that limited-scale intervention in Libya worked look really bad right when her boss is struggling in the campaign. Admitting failure in Libya would also limit options in Syria. So, try and blame it on some video, then on al Qaeda (damn, that always used to work, too) and then find some mid-level person at State to hang.
It Was the Other Guy
One person not allowing himself to be the sacrificial lamb is the former State security officer for Libya, Eric Nordstrom, who is running around Washington telling pretty much everyone who will listen that it was State Department official Charlene Lamb who wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi “artificially low,” according to a memo summarizing his comments to a congressional committee that was obtained by Reuters. Nordstrom has also implicated State Department management robot Pat Kennedy in the bloody decision-making. Such plain speaking will otherwise end Nordstrom’s State Department career, and so we welcome him here into liberated We Meant Well territory. Call us for recommendations for lawyers Eric.
Kudos no doubt inside State for Susan Rice being willing to take a bullet in the early days to try and save her boss. Bot now even State is doing a little pointless damage control saying there never was a video-related protest in Benghazi. So Susan, what’s being thrown under the bus feel like?
Whither Diplomatic Security?
Bureau of Diplomatic Security saw its budget expand about tenfold in the decade after the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Contributing to that growth were the U.S.-launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.
So where’d all that money go to if not into protecting places like Benghazi? Former FSO Bill answers:
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the increased budget went to increased personnel and better security. Most of the increased funding is dedicated to Special Agent pensions under Public Law 105-382, which establishes age 57 as the mandatory retirement age for Special Agents, and computes their annuity at 2.5% of high 3 average salary times number of years. This is far more generous, and far more expensive than pension benefits for other State employees. In the late 90s, both State and ICE scrambled to get their officers designated as Special Agents, a designation previously limited to fewer agencies. While it was a prestige and morale issue for both agencies, it has had a major impact on budget expenditures. Those who complain that military pensions are too generous should note that DS uses the same formula as the military, but DS average salaries are much higher than military salaries. Once they retire with a really good pension, they can come right back as contractors, who don’t have any requirement to retire at age 57. That’s where the money goes.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing “The Security Failures of Benghazi,” featuring Pat “Blood on his Hands” Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene “It Wasn’t Me” Lamb, Eric Nordstrom and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who lead the security team in Libya until August. Be sure to set your bullshit detectors to stun.
Expect Kennedy to say something like “who could have anticipated this?” Well, Pat old chum, in a country where you are paying staff 30% additional danger pay, it seems real to expect things.
But where is Hillary? Turns out her last public statement on the Libya fiasco was October 3, a week ago, another empty promise that “the men and women who serve this country as diplomats deserve no less than a full, accurate accounting.”
Despite her usual lofty rhetoric, Hillary has had nothing more to say and won’t testify before the House. As soon as the real scrutiny begins, Hillary dummies up.
Looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers, please bookmark this page.
State needs to make a decision. If State wishes to populate diplomatic establishments in active war zones, it must a) wait to create a permanent secure facility; b) pay for what is needed to create an appropriate temporary facility; or c) simply accept that diplomats will die for these political decisions.
State instead wants to fulfill the short-term political suck up goal of staffing hot spots without paying the cost of proper security. As such, it is just a matter of time and chance that more places are not overrun.
State is trying to treat Benghazi as some grand exception/accident when in fact it is just the first of many possibles. Post 9/11 very little has changed in the internal architecture of Diplomatic Security. They are still using the pre-9/11 model of relatively low-key civilian security, host country support and on-the-cheap local guard hires.
Instead, the nasty truth is that the new model is Baghdad– an armed camp inside hostile territory wholly independent of host government assistance, ’cause there ain’t gonna be none.
Of course the other idea would be to abandon the wet dream that State needs to staff active war zones. What’s the point anyway? Prior to the Iraq war porn fantasy, diplomats were withdrawn until a country stabilized.
This photo was taken at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., where Christina Aguilera, a UN World Food Program Ambassador, was being honored for her philanthropic work.
At a ceremony hosted by the former first lady, Aguilera, along with business tycoon David Novak, were awarded this year’s George McGovern Leadership Award in recognition of their help in fighting global hunger. Together, Aguilera and Novak, are said to “have raised $115 million for the WFP and others, providing 460 million meals to hungry children around the globe.”
Bosom buddies? Getting ready for breast cancer awareness week? Or is Hillary still thinking about laughing off war with Iran? We kinda expect these sorts of things from Bill, but I guess it runs in the family.
We’ll take a short break from the usual pessimism and offensive Hillary remarks to bring you a nice look at the poor bastards still stuck in Afghanistan because the U.S. can’t come up with a better idea and is afraid to declare a tie and depart.
While there are a lot of books about the most recent Iraq war, there are very few books that try and show the civilian side of the conflict. We all know the rough outline of the narrative—US invades, society breaks down, sectarian violence spins off into civil war, followed by a low hum of more targeted violence and unstableness that now characterizes life in “free” Iraq. Broad strokes; but what was history like for the average Iraq? Until now, few have told us their stories.
Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 is an imperfect book, much as could be expected from a first oral history of the civilian side of the war. Author Mark Kukis interviewed those he could reach, restrained by the continuing violence in Iraq that threatened both him and his subjects. Consequently, more than a few of the subjects are Iraqis who worked for Western media outlets or who otherwise interacted with the Americans.
However, Kukis, through friends of friends, did gain access to a number of more ordinary people, and it is in these interviews that the book shines. Tale after tale accumulates around you, like snow piling up: a son killed, a child murdered, a father kidnapped, a bombing, an assassination, a life ruined by torture. Before you realize it, you are drawn deeply into the horrific world the US created in Iraq post-2003, forced to acknowledge America’s complicity by the simple tone of the stories, the tellers too tired to embellish and too plain in their suffering to politicize what happened to them.
If journalism is the first draft of history, this is version 1.5. Readers interested in a 360 degree view of events in Iraq 2003-2009 should listen to these Voices.
Dave Seminara, himself a once-Foreign Service Officer, has pulled together a list of the best foreign service blogs, along with some commentary to help you sort out what might appeal to you. Dave does caution:
There’s no doubt that [Van Buren’s We Meant Well] experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.
As for his description of We Meant Well, Dave writes
You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.
It is here I must take offense. I am aiming at near 100% offensive, and bristle at the accusation that I am lamely only “sometimes” offensive. Hmm. I shall have to speak to the staff about this.
Seriously, Dave is a friend of this blog and I am sure he meant well in his remarks. Check out the entire list to see what’s out there in the surviving foreign service blog universe. But hurry– these types of blogs tend to disappear at the whim of a Secretary of State who when she isn’t proclaiming freedom of speech abroad is crying out “Off with their heads!” at home.
We all still have nightmares remembering America’s diplomat, Hillary Clinton, laughing it up over the death of Libya’s Qaddafi last year. If not, here’s the clip:
But now, what could be funnier than war in Libya? How about war in Iran? Hillary again, yucking it up with James Baker over the U.S. setting fire to the Middle East:
Does this woman have any shame left? (Trick question: No). What manner of psychotropic drug is she taking? What level of war porn pleasures her in the dark post-Monica nights? Has she not the decency to at least pretend in public to take serious things seriously?
Hillary must be tipping the diplomatic sherry again, because she seems to be just making this stuff up as she (burp) goes along. Let’s start with her ever-so-earnest Tweets, showing her grave concern over the deaths of her foreign service colleagues in Libya:
If any of that was true, she’d turn into a pumpkin for Halloween. Instead of the blah blah concern for everyone garbage, let’s look at the facts:
–The attack was September 11. The investigatory accountability review board has not yet started to meet, almost a month later. Clinton took a leisurely nine days after the attack to even announce forming the group.
The board’s existence was just announced on October 4 in the Federal Register, along with a note that “Anyone with information relevant to the Board’s examination of the Benghazi incidents should contact the Board promptly at (202) 647-6246 or send a fax to the Board at (202) 647-6640.” So, all you terrorists and random Libyans with info, please be sure to phone in during business hours, preferably in English, or dig out an old fax machine.
P.S. The point is to ensure the report comes out after the election.
–The compound in Benghazi, which spokesdrone Nuland refers to as a crime scene, is still unsecured and sensitive documents, including names of Libyans working for and with the U.S., are scattered on the ground.
You can see these sensitive documents online, and not Wikileaks this time!
Since State’s Nuland had a kitten when CNN found the Ambassador’s diary, she must had laid a whole litter over this.
–No one has interviewed many Libyans with first-hand knowledge of what happened.
–The FBI can’t get to the crime scene apparently, but the Washington Post can.
–For all the babble about how well the Consulate was protected, it turns out that the British contract guard company (Blue Mountain) which is all SAS Who-Dares-Wins on their web site, just hired some local thugs to do the work for $28 a day.
Hell, you can even see their contract, left on the ground in Libya. (page 7)
–Even when Blue Mountain felt the security provided was “substandard and the situation was unworkable” and the Libyans tried to bring in a third party — an American contractor — to improve security, a State Department contract officer declined to get involved. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the department’s investigation “likely” would address the issue.
–White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on an assertion by the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that requests from diplomats in Libya for added security prior to the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, were denied. However, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya from September 2011 to June 2012, confirmed for the House Committee the security incidents cited in the letter, and confirmed that the mission in Libya made security requests.
Of course this isn’t the first time that Hillary has said one thing and done another, so it is really no big deal.
Sleep tight America’s diplomats around the world, mama’s got your back.
The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.
That P.R. 101 (online university) shit lasts only as long as it takes the truth to ooze out. In the case of Haiti reconstruction, about six weeks.
Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.
It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for the real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on how wonderful reconstruction is in Haiti.
On August 20, with a follow up a week later, this blog called the Post out as hacks, who were fed a puff piece and gleefully took it all down. There was never any response to my inquiries to the Post’s ombudsman.
So a BIG surprise after all that happy talk when USAID’s own Inspector General released a report which says the largest U.S. contractor working to stabilize Haiti is “not on track” to complete its assignments on schedule, has a weak monitoring system and is not adequately involving community members. It seems that Washington D.C.-based Chemonics (also a big player in the wonderful Afghan reconstruction fiasco) won a $53 million, 18-month contract from USAID in 2011 to help Haiti strengthen its economy and public institutions. USAID’s Office of Inspector General released a report Monday that found Chemonics had a series of slips, including using arbitrary ways of evaluating its work, failing to hire local workers, and going ahead with potentially damaging environmental projects before they were approved.
Here’s one secret to State’s success with contractors from that report: Chemonics is also responsible for setting up its own system of evaluation.
Again, breaking news, most of those criticisms mirrored the earlier ones State denied and the WaPo over-looked.
How do you know when USAID and State are lying to you? Their lips move. Will Congress please stop giving money to these people? It will be a mercy killing at this point.
Of the many, many ironies of the past year, my role as an author and blogger has enabled me to speak with a very large number of young people either thinking about a Foreign Service career or, having recently joined State as Entry Level Officers (ELOs, formerly Junior Officer, JOs). When I worked at State no one seemed particularly interested in my advice, but now some ask. Go figure.
So, in the interest of public service (formerly “giving back”), based on recent news pieces, here are some points for you young’uns to raise with your State Department mentors:
— Clinton’s personal spokesperson, Philippe Reines, called a major media reporter an “unmitigated asshole” and told him to “fuck off” in writing. Given the varied needs of diplomacy, under what specific circumstances are State Department personnel allowed to use such terms without punishment? For example, I was charged by State with “unprofessional conduct” for far less offensive speech on this blog. Bonus: Is there such a thing as a “mitigated asshole”? Discuss.
— It was less than a year ago that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped gleefully laughing at the brutal death of then-Libyan leader Qaddafi. “We came, we saw, he died!” giggled the Secretary of State. Under what specific circumstances are officers allowed to act gleeful in the face of the death of world leaders? Putin? Assad? Ahmadinejad? The Gangnam-Style guy?
–When the Secretary talks about them killing us it is “terrorism.” When we kill them it is legitimate self-defense. At what point in a State Department career do these things actually start to make sense? Bonus: Is there something in the water at State Department HQ? Should I be drinking more of it or less of it?
— Alec Ross, State Department social media guru, called Hillary Clinton the “most innovative Secretary of State since Ben Franklin.” Should you Tweet that your own boss is the most innovative boss since Benjamin Franklin as part of your mandatory self-promotional “managing up” strategy? If so, should you use an official State Department social media account to do so as Ross did, or a personal account? What is your play if you only have access to a MySpace account due to local conditions overseas?