• Follow the Money? Not with Hillary, Follow Pat…

    August 28, 2015 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq

    pat kennedy


    The old adage, “follow the money,” is still not a bad way to suss out wrongdoing. Originated during the Watergate era, the term says if you follow the trail of money through an organization or a caper, you’ll find the guilty people at the end.

    With the State Department and Hillary Clinton, the advice should read: “Follow Pat Kennedy.”



    Meet Pat Kennedy

    The name of long-time State Department Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, pictured, is unknown to most journalists and nearly all of the public, but he in fact is present at every significant public issue State confronts. Take a look…



    Kennedy and Manning

    Do a little Googling around, and there’s Pat helping drive nails into Chelsea Manning’s coffin, testifying at his trial about the “grave damage” done to America’s national security. Kennedy in September 2013 admitted his testimony “contained misstatements,” which he said were “inadvertent.” Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on Wikileaks’ impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online.



    Kennedy and Benghazi

    And at the Congressional Benghazi hearings, there’s Pat testifying Clinton did no wrong, that State as an institution did no wrong, and helping throw a few lesser officials under the bus in hopes of making it all go away.

    One of those officials Pat helped deep six later came out as a whistleblower, suggesting Clinton’s staff skimmed incriminating documents off the pile turned over to Congress.

    Kennedy also was the one who hand-picked the members of State’s internal Accountability Review Board that failed in December 2012 to find any senior official at fault for any wrongdoing in the run-up to Benghazi. That Review Board chose not to interview Secretary of State Clinton about her role in Benghazi.



    Kennedy and Child Prostitution Cover-Up

    It was Pat who helped former American Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman retire in order to curtail a public investigation.

    A State Department investigator asserted Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hiring prostitutes. According to an internal memo prepared by the State Department Inspector General in October 2013, Kennedy personally called off an investigation.



    Kennedy and Iraq

    Pat was also one of the primary justifiers for the $3.5 billion spent on building America’s largest embassy in the world, in Baghdad. He oversaw parts of the Blackwater investigation and contracting.

    Kennedy was also the central figure in the First Amendment struggle over my Iraq book critical of the State Department, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People



    Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

    There’s more, but you get the picture. When dirty deeds need to be done dirt cheap to protect Clinton and State, Pat’s your man.

    So it is little surprise that media reports now tell us that the Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is now in charge of running interference on Capitol Hill regarding the Clinton email controversy.

    Kennedy reportedly visited lawmakers in July and argued that the Abedin email along with another one sent in 2012 by another Clinton aide, Jake Sullivan, are not classified. The Under Secretary also argued that the information in the emails was already public.

    However, one source said that it was odd that Kennedy wanted to discuss the matter in a secure facility for classified information while simultaneously arguing that the Abedin email was not classified.

    The source also said that Kennedy cited a report from the Irish Times in 2011 as evidence, but that the details were not comparable. Kennedy also said that someone from the CIA agreed with his conclusion. However, the CIA was not the agency that sent the email.



    The Fixer

    Kennedy likely has more in the fire with the Clinton emails than his usual dollops of blind institutional loyalty.

    Given his role at State, Pat Kennedy is very likely to be the most senior official below the Secretary of State’s own staff to have either signed off on Hillary’s email server or passively fended off concerns from the rank and file about it. There are no doubt interesting emails with his name on them to be FOIAed or subpoenaed about all that. Pat no doubt hopes like hell a Democrat wins the presidential election or he is toast.

    So, mark this down: when Pat Kennedy steps into the picture, State/Clinton knows it is in real trouble and is calling in its Fixer of Last Resort. Journalists would be wise to keep on eye on Kennedy’s schedule over the coming months.



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  • What Will Rex Tillerson Inherit at the State Department?

    February 2, 2017 // 39 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Trump


    As Secretary of State, what will Rex Tillerson inherit at the State Department?

    The media has been aflame recently trying to stretch the facts — personnel changes and some unhappy employees in the midst of a major governmental transition — to fit the narrative of a State Department on the verge of collapse. But while rumors of the State Department’s demise are largely exaggerated, the organization may yet find itself shunted aside into irrelevance.

    There has been a lot of hot-blooded talk about Donald Trump and the federal workforce. The media once claimed Trump would not be able to fill his political appointee positions, and then suggested employees might resign en masse before he even was inaugerated. Another round of stories fanned panic that Trump had dumped his existing ambassadors, when in fact it was only the Obama-appointed ones who tendered resignations by tradition, as happens every four years.

    Then only last week the Washington Post published a bombastic story claiming the State Department’s entire senior management team had resigned in protest. The real story, however, was that all/most of the six were de facto fired. Several were connected to the Clinton emails or Clinton’s handling of Benghazi. One of these people, Pat Kennedy, played a significant role in both. These were not protest resignations, they were housecleaning by the new boss in town.

    As for plunging the State Department into chaos, the loss of six employees is not going to bring on Armageddon. Reports that these people represent “senior management” at State confuse terms. Because of the odd way State is organized, four of the six work in the Management Bureau, M in State talk. Kennedy was the head of the Bureau. The four play varying roles and collectively are not the senior management of the State Department. Two work in other parts of the Department directly tied to Obama-era policies likely to change under the new administration.

    In addition, all six persons come from offices with a deep bench. It is highly unlikely that any of the work of the State Department will be impeded. This is all part of the standard transition process. The same applies to embassies overseas that lost their Obama-appointed ambassadors.

    The latest Chicken Little reporting concerns “dissent” messages circulating within the State Department, aimed at Trump’s executive order on immigration; one media outlet characterized this as a “revolt” waiting for Tillerson on his Day One.

    Such bombastic language misses the mark completely. Though State’s internal process requires a response from senior leaders, they have 60 days to provide it, it is not public, and if experience serves will almost certainly be of the “we acknowledge your concerns” content-free variety.

    Others feel that while having no practical impact on policy, such dissent measures the state of employee thought, and there may be some truth to that. The average State Department Foreign Service officer has served 12 years, meaning a large number have never worked for any president other than Barack Obama and more than half have seen only the current presidential transition.

    These employees have never had their oath of service to the Constitution, not to Barack Obama or Donald Trump, tested. Government carries out the policies of the president on behalf of the United States. It’s called public service for a reason. Those concerned because the wrong candidate won are probably simply learning they are in the wrong business. Though indelicate in his phrasing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was actually only expressing a version of official policy when he said of those diplomats they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

    As a reality check, out of a workforce of thousands at the State Department there were only three resignations of conscience over the 2003 Iraq War, one other related to Afghanistan. There were no publicly known resignations related to torture, Guantanamo, drone assassination or any of the other horrors of the War on Terror stretched across two administrations. The last time more than a handful of diplomats resigned in protest was at the height of the Vietnam War.

    So it is without much evidence that Rex Tillerson will walk into a State Department weakened by dissent. But what he may preside over is an institution largely devoid of relevance, and suffering budget and personnel cuts in line with that.

    The signature issues Secretaries Clinton and Kerry supported — women’s and LGBTQ rights, social media messaging, soft power, climate change — are unlikely to get much attention under the Trump administration. In addition, given State’s role in hiding Clinton’s email server for years, and then slow-walking the release of her emails until ordered by the courts to speed up, it is doubtful there is good will and trust accumulated from the campaign. Foreign policy has increasingly gravitated under Bush and Obama deeper into the military, National Security Council, and the Oval Office anyway. None of that is likely to change.

    Kerry’s original legacy issue, peace in Syria, is literally in flames. The United States was not even invited to the Russian-Turkish brokered peace talks, and there is little stomach anywhere for deposing Assad and generating more chaos. Kerry’s second shot at legacy, the Iran nuclear accords, seem destined to at best merely linger around if it does not just collapse. Iraq and Afghan policy, such as it is, appears mostly in the hands of the Pentagon, and Trump has chosen a powerful, experienced Secretary of Defense. No side sees the U.S. as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Issues with China will fall into the lanes of trade and defense. It appears big-picture policy toward Russia, Mexico and elsewhere will be run directly out of the Oval Office.

    At the same time, Trump’s federal hiring freeze has already impacted State. Even before the freeze there were more military band members than State Department Foreign Service Officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. Yet Paul Teller, Trump’s liaison to the right wing of the House Republican Party, has already spoken of cutting back further on the number of America’s diplomats. If employees do leave on their own, or, more likely, stay at their desks in zombie state waiting out their pensions, that will only make State less useful to anyone in Washington.

    What’s really left for State to do?

    Tillerson will find himself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. He may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing his network of embassies serve as America’s concierge abroad, providing cover stories for the intelligence community, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations. State will still hold the monopoly inside government on things like Sports Diplomacy and paying for reality TV shows in Niger to influence those there with TVs.

    If that all doesn’t sound like a very attractive job, you’re right. It’s difficult to imagine Tillerson sticking around for four years. Who knows, the resignation out of the State Department that attracts the most attention of all might be his.




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  • Those ‘Resignations’: What Really Happened at the State Department

    January 26, 2017 // 99 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Trump




    Yesterday at the State Department five officials resigned or retired. Another one today.

    The media has gone near-insane, claiming State is crumbling in protest under the Trump administration. This is not true. What happened at State is very routine.

    Leaving the Department are head of the Management Bureau Pat Kennedy (above), Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, arms control official Tom Countryman, and Victoria Nuland.

    Here’s the story:

    — No one at the State Dept resigned in protest.

    — No one was formally fired.

    — Six people were transferred from or retired from political appointee positions. Technically those who did not retire can be considered to have “resigned,” but that is a routine HR/personnel term used, not some political statement. The six are career Foreign Service career personnel (FSOs) They previously left their FSO job to be appointed into political jobs and now have resigned those (or retired out of the State Department) to return to career FSO jobs. A circle. They are required to submit a letter of resignation as a matter of routine when a new president takes office.

    — As for perspective: only one Under Secretary of State (Alan Larson) stayed through the transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. It is routine for senior officials to leave or be reassigned.

    — Several of the six are connected to the Clinton emails and/or Clinton’s handling of Benghazi. One of these people, Pat Kennedy, played a significant role in both, as well as many other controversial issues during Clinton’s term. Sources tell me that although officially Kennedy “retired,” he was more or less required to do so by the Trump administration.

    — I have no information on the others, whether they were asked to retire, or just part of a reshuffling of positions and will routinely be reassigned. Most likely the latter, as such reshuffling is very common as administrations change. As everywhere in the government, the new administration fills its own political appointee slots.

    — Some of the six will hit mandatory retirement age on January 31 anyway.

    — Reports that these people represent “senior management” at State confuse terms. Because of the odd way State is organized, four of the six work in the Management Bureau, M in State talk. Kennedy was the head of the Bureau. The four play varying roles and collectively are not the senior management of the State Department. Two work in other parts of the Department (Countryman and Nuland) and are more directly tied to policies likely to change under the new administration.

    — All six persons come from offices with a deep bench. It is highly unlikely that any of the work of the State Department will be impeded by any of these changes. Every office has a second, third, fourth, etc., person in charge who will step up pending formal replacements to be nominated and confirmed. This is all part of the standard transition process.

    — As an example, I worked in the Bureau of Consular Affairs for most of my 24 years at State, including working with/for Michele Bond, one of the resignees. I personally know the people in the next rank below her, and all have equal experience and tenure as Bond. There will be no gap in experience or knowledge as some press reports have fretted. There will be no “void.” A slightly more dire, but responsible take, here.

    — There will very likely be more, similar, “resignations” and reshuffling at State. New political appointees will bring in their own staff, for example. But unless and until an employee holds a press conference to announce s/he is resigning out of protest, the media should take care to calm down, verify facts, and report accurately.

    — The Washington Post stated these changes were part of an “ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.” I am not aware of any other noteworthy departures (two lesser officials left earlier this month in circumstances not clearly connected to Trump) and as stated above, the six did not resign in protest. Regardless, eight people in any context do not constitute a mass exodus.

    — The Post article is, in my opinion, grossly alarming. It reflects a reporter apparently unfamiliar with transitions at State.




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  • Clinton Email Markings Changed to Block Documents’ Release

    September 3, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    State Department building


    We’re going to get a little deeper into the way classified material and its disclosure is handled here, but stick with the details. They show the cleverness of Clinton’s people in manipulating existing processes to mask classified material contained in her emails.



    FOIA in Theory

    In theory, all U.S. government documents, including Clinton’s emails, are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A classified document can still be, in theory, declassified and released, perhaps after enough time has passed that the information is no longer sensitive, as in the case, for example, of WWII messages about planned invasions and the like.



    FOIA Exemptions

    However, the FOIA provides for nine specific exemptions, conditions under which information can be withheld, classified or not. The full list is here, but we’ll focus on just two in the context of the Clinton emails: B1 and B5.

    B1 is simple: the document contains properly classified material and cannot be released until the material is declassified, if ever. A no-brainer example would be a list of undercover CIA agents. That is never going to see daylight.

    B5 refers to deliberative process, the details of how the government makes policy, the back-and-forth principals receive, the “how” of how decisions are made. Such information does not necessarily have to even be classified, and marking it as B5 does not in any way imply it is classified.

    The theory behind the existence of B5 is that advisors need to be able to share advice fully and frankly, throwing out at times odd ideas, playing devil’s advocate, and the policy maker free to engage in a full discussion of options, without concern that all that messy process will become public. Some in government also feel exposing the processes by which decisions are made assists America’s adversaries.

    B5 is near-constantly misused by government to block information that should be released, but we’ll stick with theory for the time being.

    Changes in Clinton Email Exemption Categories

    Reports suggest at least four Clinton emails had their exemption markings changed to a category that shields the content from the public, in what some believe is an effort to hide the true extent of classified information on the former secretary of state’s server.

    The emails in question were originally redacted under exemption B1, meaning the information in them was withheld because that information was properly classified. The impact of that on Clinton was two-fold: it confirmed that the emails held classified contrary to her claims, and it set up release of the information simply by someone with the authority to declassify it.

    Changing the exemption to B5, which was done by State Department lawyers (more below), removed the stigma of classified material in unclassified emails. Perhaps more importantly, it placed the authority of release on State itself. The Courts have long upheld the right of agencies to withhold B5 exempted information indefinitely, meaning State could deep-six the information in those emails forever.

    See what they did there?



    The Process

    The process by which the Clinton emails were remarked, if true, speaks to additional naughty acts, centered again around State’s primary political troubleshooter, Patrick Kennedy.

    According to congressional testimony, at least one of the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, where the changes were made, is Catherine Duval, who also handles the release of documents to the Benghazi Select Committee. She previously was the attorney in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s email production to Congress. And small world; Duval once worked for the same firm as Clinton’s private attorney, David Kendall.

    Anyone see any pattern here?

    Fox News was told there were internal State Department complaints that Duval’s work, and that of a second lawyer also linked to Kendall, created a conflict of interest during the email review.

    The disagreement between some State employees and Duval over the changed exemption markings grew so heated that a final decision had to be kicked upstairs.



    Pat Kennedy, Again

    Now wait for it — that decision made upstairs, in favor of Clinton, the B5 exemption, was made by Undersecretary of Management Pat Kennedy, State’s own pointman briefing Congress on State’s proper handling of the entire Clinton email affair. Kennedy is also very likely the most senior State official under the secretary to have approved her use of a private email server.

    Judicial Watch is now seeking a deposition of Kennedy in a case scrutinizing Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s status as a special government employee. “All these issues fall under his responsibility,” Judicial Watch said.

    Asked to respond to the allegations, a State Department official added that the lawyers do not have the final say on the codes, emphasizing it is a “multi-step review.”

    Indeed, a multi-step review, albeit one that ends with Pat Kennedy.



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  • State Department Sleaze Accumulates without Real Response

    June 16, 2013 // 56 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State


    Breaking Bad! Two new sleazy State Department actions– a sweetheart consulting deal for one of Hillary’s best buds and accusations of an affair and hookers for a senior State official. See below!

    Attempted suicide after a harsh interrogation? Hiring armed guys with criminal backgrounds? Senior officials having sex with subordinates, prostitutes and minors? Investigations into all of the above covered up or halted? That’s the news, not from Gitmo or some banana republic, but from your U.S. Department of State. Better get out the hand sanitizer, this blog post gets filthy fast.

    A Sad Pattern of Sleaze from America’s Diplomats

    Ever since the story broke on CBS News that the State Department covered up numerous allegations of wrong-doing to protect its public image, the details of said wrong-doing have been leaking out.

    The reasons to care about this are many, and all the Hillary-love and attempts to just call it (just) a Republican witch hunt are a smokescreen. The obvious reason to care is that these people represent America abroad, and we need to ask what image they are projecting. In addition, such crimes and personal traits as alleged below make them vulnerable to blackmail, either by other members of the USG (promote me, give me a better assignment, or else…) or foreign intelligence (turn over the secrets or the photos go to the press). The fact that the organization apparently cannot police itself internally raises questions about competence (and the former SecState saying she was wholly ignorant of all this sludge is not a defense that actually makes her look presidential), and about what if anything it is accomplishing on America’s behalf.

    Here’s a roundup to date:

    — As a special shout-out to We Meant Well regulars, USA Today claims it has a memo detailing how Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, allegedly interceded in an investigation by Diplomatic Security into an affair between failed-Iraq ambassador-designate Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon.

    — Cheryl Mills again: Mills, a longtime confidante of Hillary, reportedly played a key role in the State Department’s damage-control efforts on the Benghazi attack last year and was also named in accusations that department higher-ups quashed investigations into diplomats’ potential criminal activity. Cheryl Mills, who served in a dual capacity in recent years as general counsel and chief of staff to Clinton, was accused of attempting to stifle congressional access to a diplomat who held a senior post in Libya at the time of the attack.

    — U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” The ambassador “routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to documents obtained by NBC News. State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy ordered an end to the investigation. “The ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detection team [Note: A State Department team that conducts counterespionage surveillance, watching State Department officials to see if they are being watched by foreign spies] . . . were well aware of the behavior.”

    The ambassador explained that sometimes he fights with his wife, needs air and he goes for a walk in the park because he likes it. The Atlantic reported that the park Gutman trolled, Parc Royal Warandepark, was well-known as a place to pick up adult homosexual and adolescent boy prostitutes.

    A Belgian newspaper described the park: “I see young children go to adult waiting. Later, another adult waits, often to extort money from the victim after. I’ve been awakened by cries and my terrace, I saw someone being beaten. I had my legs were shaking. Time to call the police, I saw the victim painfully get up and go.”

    — A State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” with foreign nationals hired as embassy guards. State’s former regional security officer in Beirut, Chuck Lisenbee, allegedly sexually assaulted guards and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Justine Sincavage, then-director of Diplomatic Security Service, called the allegations a “witch hunt” and gave agents “only three days” to investigate, and no charges were brought, according to USA Today.

    — Members of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries,” a problem the report says was “endemic.” Three members of Clinton’s security detail admitted to hiring prostitutes while on foreign trips and were given suspensions of one day. An investigator for Diplomatic Security launched an investigation into similar allegations against four other members of Clinton’s security detail but was ordered by Kimber Davidson, chief of the special investigations division, and Rob Kelty, his deputy, to shut down the investigation.

    — The State Department has hired an “alarming number of law-enforcement agents with criminal or checkered backgrounds” because of a flawed hiring process, a stunning memo obtained by The New York Post reveals. “Too many people entering the [Diplomatic Security and Information Management] communities end up as subjects of [Special Investigation Division] investigations and HR adjudications, become Giglio-impaired and can play only limited roles thereafter,” according to the memo. “Giglio” refers to a US Supreme Court case dealing with jury notification that witnesses have made deals with the government to induce testimony. Some Diplomatic Security field offices “have major problems just waiting to be discovered,” the memo adds.

    — In one case, aggressive interrogation techniques by Diplomatic Service agents “drove an employee to attempt suicide” when accused of raping his maid in Bangkok, Thailand, a memo suggests. “After “being told he would end up in a Thai prison, his wife would lose her job and his children would be pulled out of school, [the man] attempted suicide by jumping out of the 16th-story window at a hotel in Bangkok.” The guy lived, and was flown back to Washington for in-patient psychiatric care, where the agents continued to harass him. The rape charges were ultimately dropped.

    — The same Diplomatic Security memo cites eight cases involving Diplomatic Security agents who resorted to “false, misleading or incomplete statements in reports,” “privacy-act violations” or “lack of objectivity” in investigations.

    — Diplomatic security agents learned that James Combs, a senior diplomatic security agent in Baghdad and formerly of the DS Office of Professional Standards, was having an extramarital affair with a subordinate and had numerous affairs with men over a 30-year span without the knowledge of his wife. This presented “counterintelligence concerns,” but the investigation never reached a conclusion.

    — A security contractor in Baghdad died of an overdose of methadone, which he was taking to counteract an addiction to the painkiller oxycodone. An underground drug ring may have been supplying the drugs, but State’s regional security officer did not allow a special investigations agent to pursue that possibility.

    — In Miami, agents investigating a car accident by diplomatic security agent Evelyn Kittinger learned that she had been claiming full pay for several years “but had actually only worked very few hours.” State Department supervisors told the investigator to advise her to resign to avoid facing criminal charges and a major fine.

    — Another report states that a top State Department official stymied investigators trying to get to the bottom of four killings in Honduras involving DEA agents and local police. The incident ended in the deaths of two pregnant women and two men last year, after Honduran national police opened fire from a State Department-owned helicopter on a small boat. Honduran police said drugs were involved, but locals said the boat was full of fishermen.

    –ADDED: Sen. Charles Grassley is probing longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s employment status, asking how she got a sweetheart deal to be a private six-figure consultant while still serving as a top State Department official. Abedin, one of Clinton’s most loyal aides, is of course married to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who’s in the midst of a vigorous effort to beat off his own sexting scandal and become mayor of New York. Abedin hauled in as much as $350,000 in outside income on top of her $135,000 government salary. She was redesignated a “special government employee” who was able to haul in cash as a private contractor while still on the government dole.

    –ADDED: Consulate General Naples’ Kerry Howard says she was bullied, harassed and forced to resign after she exposed Consul General Donald Moore’s alleged office trysts with subordinates and hookers. “When our diplomats disrespect the Italians by hiring and firing them because they have seen too much — or use them for ‘sex-ercise’ — we have to question why we have diplomats abroad at taxpayer expense,” said Howard. As a senior foreign-service officer, Moore makes as much as $179,700 a year. His first office romance supposedly occurred within days of his arrival in Italy, when he allegedly bedded a consulate employee, a single mom who fell in love with him. Moore was honored as “Consular Officer of the Year” (Barbara Watson Award) in 2005.

    — A Foreign Service Officer, Michael Todd Sestak, 41, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud. Dude was a senior visa official in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and supposedly pocketed some $2 million dollars for his work.

    It appears that Foggy Bottom has sprung multiple leaks as hard-working folks grow tired of their bosses being allowed to do just about anything without punishment. What is going on? I don’t recall this much garbage coming into the daylight ever before. I assume it was happening all the same forever, but not this much in the public eye. I think it is time for Kerry to say something about at least trying to control his organization.

    And of course someone should throw Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy out. He *may* be getting the message that in this internet age if you don’t give people a realistic internal avenue to fix things they’ll just go outside. That’s kinda what I did… So there is no doubt much more to come…


    State Department Responds

    The State Department spokesman said, “We hold all employees to the highest standards.” Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters repeatedly this week that the accusations are “unsubstantiated.”

    So that’s that apparently. No reporter has seen it useful to ask why for more than four and a half years, the State Department has had no appointed inspector general, the longest such vacancy of any federal agency. Or why, during his entire time in office, Obama has not nominated anyone to fill the slot. Or why during her four years as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not demand an inspector general for her organization.

    Hillary Responds

    A spokesman said Clinton was completely unaware of any of the investigations mentioned in the Office of the Inspector General’s reports and memos, including the case involving her personal security detail allegedly soliciting prostitutes. “We learned of it from the media and don’t know anything beyond what’s been reported.”

    It means nothing that a candidate who will no doubt cite her endless efforts on behalf of women everywhere remained unaware of sex crimes occurring, well, under her.

    Opposition researchers and taxpayers alike, once again, Hillary Clinton’s defense is that she was totally unaware of what was going on in the organization she lead and managed, up to and including the actions of her own lifelong advisor and chief of staff, as well senior officials who reported directly to her. She’ll make a great president!

    Oh wait– these are just “allegations.” They need to be investigated. Well, the problem of course is that one of the allegations is that powerful trolls inside State prevented or derailed any investigations, and indeed the over-arching allegation is that Diplomatic Security, charged with investigations, is riddled with political considerations that prevent full and transparent investigations. So that’s a pretty weak excuse to blow off everything said.

    That said, maybe some are false. OK, but if even a small number of these serious accusations are true (rape, murder, minors) then even that suggests an organization operating without internal controls and the best defense its leader can come up with is her own ignorance. Not a good thing.




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  • So Who From State Will Testify Against Bradley Manning? A List.

    May 17, 2013 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    The trial United States v. Pfc. Bradley Manning is being conducted in as much secrecy as the government thinks it can get away with. While the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a petition requesting the Army Court of Criminal Appeals “to order the Judge to grant the public and press access to the government’s motion papers, the court’s own orders, and transcripts of proceedings,” none of these have been made.

    Except of course for Alexa O’Brien, who has amazingly sat in the limited public access area and personally written down every word said that she was allowed to listen to, effectively creating a de facto transcript.

    It is heavy legal reading, but worth your time simply to see what lengths the government is going to hang one man. Manning’s actions took place years ago, and whatever he released has been on the internet for years. Any punishment will thus have no real effect, except to commit revenge. So it is in 2013 America.

    Who Speaks?

    Deep inside the transcript is a list of upcoming government witnesses. As a public service, we present the names below as they appear, with Alexa’s comments. State Department people in BOLD that I added.

    In the government’s 15 March 2013 classified filing Supplement to Prosecution Response to Scheduling Order of 39(a) Session from Closure and Motion to Close Courtroom for Specified Testimony, the government describes the classified information it moves to elicit in closed session for the following witnesses:

    (1) Brigadier General Retired Robert Carr, DIA

    (2) Colonel Julian Chestnut, DIA

    (3) Classified Witness Entirety

    (4) Ms. Elizabeth Dibble, Department of State, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

    (5) John Doe (Entire)

    (6) Rear Admiral Kevin Donegan, Naval Warfare Integration, Pentagon

    (7) Mr. John Feeley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State

    (8) Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management, Department of State

    [Diplomatic Security Services which partnered with the Departments of Defense and Justice in the investigation of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and Manning report to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy. Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which created the “August 2011 draft damage assessment” also reports to Kennedy. Kennedy is the Original Classification Authority for the US State Department cables. He also testified to Congress in late November, early December of 2010, and in March 2011 about WikiLeaks. He is also responsible for the WikiLeaks Mitigation Team at the Department of State.]

    (9) Mr. John Kirchhofer, DIA

    (10) Ambassador Michael Kozak, Department of State

    (11) Classified Witness Entirety

    (12) Mr. Daniel Lewis, DIA

    (13) Mr. Randall Mcgrovey [sp.?], DIA

    (14) Mr. James McCarl, Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO)

    (15) Major General Kenneth F. McKenzie, USMC Headquarters Staff

    (16) Mr. James Moore, Department of State

    (17) Major General Michael [last name like, “Ma-guy”] McGuy, Joints Staff Pentagon

    (18) SSA [Supervisory Special Agent] Alexander Pott [sp.], FBI

    (19) Ambassador David Pearce, Department of State

    (20) Mr. Adam Pearson, JIEDDO

    (21) Mr. H. Dean Pittman, Department of State

    (22) Classified Witness in Entirety

    (23) Ambassador Stephen Seche, Department of State

    (24) Mr. David Shaver, US Department of Treasury

    (25) Mr. Catherine Stobel [sp.], CIA

    (26) Ambassador Don Yamamoto, Department of State

    (27) Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Department of State; and

    (28) Mr. Joseph Yun, Department of State


    So Who Are These People?

    Of course we have no idea whether any of the unnamed “classified” witnesses are from State, though it is doubtful.

    Most/all of the State Department people listed head up various bureaus at State. These bureaus are the bureaucratic structures that handle say “East Asian Affairs” or “European Affairs.” Just guessing here, but the government is probably calling them to testify on behalf of their world region about all the horrible, terrible things that have happened since Manning released the documents. None of us will be allowed to hear what they have to say, but it would be safe to assume the court will listen to a lot of drama and smoke and LIONS and TIGERS and BEARS! horror-speak and very little substantive comment.

    The most interesting State witness is Patrick F. Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management. Kennedy keeps popping up on this blog, in the press and in front of Congress (he was the real point man on Benghazi.) He has been around State for a very long time, and basically runs the place administratively in Washington while various important people fly around the world doing their diplomacy.

    Kennedy is officially the “original classifying authority,” the person at State who is titularly responsible for every classification decision. He may just offer up some boring testimony confirming that all the documents manning leaked labeled “Secret” were indeed classified Secret.

    Or maybe not. Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on the Wikileaks impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online. Notice how every weird, bad or naughty thing that State does somehow involves Pat Kennedy?It would be worth serious coin to listen in on Kennedy’s testimony but alas, because this is America now, the trial is largely off limits.



    Bonus: Some earlier State Department personnel testimony about State’s internal processes surrounding the Wikileaks disclosures. Nothing earth shaking, but some interesting inside baseball stuff from Ops Center coordinator Rena Bitter about how the bureaucracy processed the new information. Short version: most of the effort was spent informing Department big shots of potentially embarrassing stuff the media caught. The Defense seems to be establishing that there was not much real-world impact from the disclosures.



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  • Today’s Benghazi Hearing: Quick Recap

    May 8, 2013 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Libya



    The State Department was beaten up pretty bad in today’s Benghazi hearing, with both Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Hicks (second in charge after the ambassador) and RSO (security guy) Ed Nordstrom from Libya contradicting earlier State Department remarks.

    Hicks in particular made it clear that there was absolutely nothing to justify Susan Rice’s September 2012 assertions that the attack had anything to do with an anti-Muslim video demonstration, and that all reporting from Libya, from the first phone call, claimed a terror attack was underway.

    Nordstrom was equally blunt that the State Department willfully understaffed security in Benghazi, and ignored evidence that the Consulate was vulnerable.

    Hicks, Nordstrom and the third witness, Mark Thompson, came off as credible, dispassionate and very serious. Meanwhile, while Republicans were accused going in of playing politics, it was the Democratic members of the committee who were shrill, crude and desperate in trying to degrade (as opposed to rebut) the witnesses.

    Most fingers pointed toward Under Secretary of Management Pat Kennedy and Hillary aid Cheryl Mills as acting as Hillary’s proxies to make the bad, tragic, decisions. Long-term fallout unclear, but a lot of angry people in Foggy Bottom right now. The State Department was portrayed as disorganized, and often far more concerned about political impressions than the safety of its people and informing the American public.

    A decent summary of what was said, from CNN.

    I live-Tweeted most of the hearing. Search Twitter for @wemeantwell or #Benghazi to review.



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  • More Benghazi: A Preview of Wednesday’s Hearing

    May 7, 2013 // 18 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Libya

    See the Hearing live at 11:30 EST online

    House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced three witnesses will appear at a full committee hearing, “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

    The witnesses are Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counterterrorism, Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya and Eric Nordstrom, Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya. Only Nordstrom has testified publically before, basically pointing out tactical security failures.

    “I applaud these individuals for answering our call to testify in front of the Committee. They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from what Administration officials – including those on the Accountability Review Board – have portrayed,” said Issa.

    Gotta Be Said

    OK, let’s get this initial stuff out of the way. Yes, yes, there are lots of important things about America Congress should address, but yes, this hearing is happening, And yes, of course it is aimed at Hillary 2016.

    But to play fair, Hillary 2016 is a big deal. If the election were held today, she’d be the next president. So maybe, albeit with some political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, how she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of coverup/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi. To paraphrase Mrs. Clinton’s own political rhetoric, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3am phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.

    A Preview

    So let’s preview what might happen in the upcoming hearing.

    1) Easy Stuff: Lots of shout-outs to fallen colleagues, grieving relatives, brave troops, yeah, yeah.

    2) The Basics: Lots of in-the-weeds failures to be detailed. Interesting to see if much of this will be blamed on the Libyans, who should have intervened, or soft-pedaled along the lines of “mistakes were made.” Also, budgets cut, requests ignored. At great cost. To fallen colleagues.

    Someone else has already neatly discredited the story that some sort of special ops mission could have saved lives in Benghazi, including the possible use of Avis rental cars from their Benghazi outlet. Expect a fair amount of inconclusive, uninformed speculation about what the military should or could have done, but it is likely to hover above disagreement over tactics and below some sort of conspiracy-level move.

    Not to be discussed: How Obama’s intervention created a power vacuum in eastern Libya, which eventually led not just to this attack but the sacking of Mali, which was prevented only by the French military with U.S. help, essentially a new war to fix the mistakes of the previous war.

    3) The Coverup: Expect Susan Rice to be re-thrown under the bus, then thrown again one more time for good measure. Rice, you’ll recall, pretty much got on national tee vee the Sunday after the Consulate attacks and told fibs, blaming it all on some dumb anti-Muslim movie and trying to avoid any mention of terrorism. She is widely held to have tried to soft-pedal the attack in the run-up to Obama’s re-election in November 2012. Obama was bleating about defeating al Qaeda and crushing bin Laden with his bare hands at the time, so no one wanted a “successful” terror attack on the news. Rice was the designated messenger, with Hillary’s excellent sense of avoiding trouble guiding her into not making substantive statements about her own Consulate and her own Ambassador being murdered.

    There will also be a string of sleazy emails, featuring then-State Spokesdrone Victoria Nuland trying to rewrite the talking points to protect Hillary and, if possible, Obama. Absent some real surprise, these are unfortunately business as usual in Washington now. Don’t expect any discussion on how every administration seeks to buffalo the public and the media to its own advantage. Also, drones like Nuland are trained to never mention their boss’ name– Hillary Clinton– per se in any communication. They just say things like “our leadership” or “higher authorities.” This is a clever trick to ensure no name-retrievable documents are ever created, and allows deniability over to whom she was actually referring. It’s inside Washington stuff they don’t teach you at Georgetown kids!

    After weeks of delays in late 2012, to include a self-inflicted concussion, as expected, Hillary Clinton’s perfunctory testimony on the deaths of four Americans in Libya a) took “responsibility” for Benghazi in words alone, shucking blame and (in)action onto others, b) wrapped herself in the flag to shout down her questioners and c) revealed nothing new. Always eyes on the 2016 prize, that one.

    The re-death of Rice has been clearly signaled by the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, in his leaked statements slathered all over CNN. The Republicans will go red meat crazy over all this, but they won’t find any smoking gun at the White House or from Hillary Land. Both are too clever, even if they were involved, and Rice was too gullible and too disposable. Poor Susan Rice, she even now on Twitter is just a shell of her old self. Whereas pre-Benghazi she’d often be calling for the blood and stones of some dictator, her Tweets now are just sad little acknowledgments of some International Women’s Day or the like. She’ll hang around the UN where she does not matter and is outside Washington, or drift into some make-work academic slot. Bye.

    Proof that Rice is finished? Biden just confirmed the President’s “confidence” in her, even though no one asked.



    4) The Big Money Shot: How high did State Department malfeasance for the Benghazi attack go?

    Here’s where the action is. State’s own internal review, the so-called After Action Review Board, pinged only some relative worker bees, sending them into administrative leave purgatory. The highest ranking person spanked just changed job titles. The Board, hand-selected by Hillary, never even bothered to interview Hillary. Will the hearing find a way to stick some blame on her? Expect no discussion about the After Action process itself, or why Obama has not appointed an Inspector General for the State Department, a job empty since 2008.

    Or maybe not. Hicks’ leaked statement aims a bit higher, but only it seems as high as Under Secretary for Management slug Pat Kennedy. Inside State, this is a big deal, as Kennedy effectively runs the bureaucratic, administrative and personnel sides of the State Department and is thus a very powerful man in there (Diplomatic Security reports to him.) However, outside of State (i.e., on Fox News) he is a nobody. Still, if Kennedy were encouraged to retire after this, an awful lot of garbage would go out the door at State with him, to the betterment of the organization.

    If Kennedy is as high as it goes, it goes nowhere really. Kennedy is well-known for throwing himself on his sword to save his Boss, and the likelihood of him implicating Hillary is precisely zero.

    Zero with extreme prejudice.

    And in the End?

    Prediction: Much smoke, nothing more, at least a default win for Hillary 2016, even more for her if Issa makes an idiot of himself.



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  • Did Eric Boswell Really Resign over Benghazi Fail? Define “Resign”

    March 18, 2013 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Libya




    In one of her final acts as Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton accepted the “resignation” of her head of Diplomatic Security, Eric J. Boswell. Boswell was portrayed in the media as the highest ranking State Department official to lose his job over the security failures in Benghazi, Libya that lead to the deaths of four Americans. Clinton sold the resignation to Congress as a sign of accountability over decisions made and mistakes committed. Case closed, right?

    But did Boswell really “resign?” Or is he still employed by the Department of State?

    Define “Resign”

    Before his December 19, 2012 “resignation,” Boswell actually held two jobs: head of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions (DS/OFM) at State. The former position held immediate responsibility for the safety of America’s diplomats abroad, while the latter job covered both the security and administrative needs of foreign diplomats in the U.S. As head of OFM, Boswell was responsible for the safety of say the French Embassy in Washington as well as the duty-free import of cars for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.

    His celebrated resignation was cleverly worded: he resigned as head of Diplomatic Security (Benghazi accountability!) only. In a December 19 statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she “has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately.” When questioned about whether Boswell really left the State Department’s employ by a cowed media, State would only reissue the carefully crafted statement put out December 19. No one was interested in even a follow-up question– is Boswell still on State’s payroll?

    Where’s Boswell?

    So who is now head of the Office of Foreign Missions at State? Is it Boswell? Turns out that is a hard question to really answer.

    Let’s start with the list of senior officials on the State Department website. That page lists the position of Director of the Office of Foreign Missions as vacant. No Boswell.

    However, on the same main State Department site, a page from the Office of the Historian puts Boswell still in the job, as he has been, since 2008. Another page says he is still in the job. Hmm.

    But, the page for the actual Office for Foreign Missions lists no personnel by name. Curiouser and curiouser.

    The main State Department telephone directory lists no position at all as “Director of the Office of Foreign Missions.” That’s kind of odd, as the office should in fact have a Director, they all do, somebody. Boswell’s name also appears nowhere in the phone book. Hmmm.


    Just Call Them

    So, I just called up the Office of Foreign Missions at the number (202-647-3417) listed in that public directory for the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Foreign Missions, the titular number two person there. I spoke with someone named *****, and said I wanted to write a letter to the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions– to whom should I address it? She helpfully said “Eric Boswell.” I asked “Eric J. Boswell?” and she said yes. I asked what salutation/title I should use and she said “Director.” She then helpfully added “But Director Boswell does not often come in to the office so you should in fact contact the Deputy Assistant Secretary.” ***** would not give me her last name.

    Then a concerned citizen still working at State told me on background that Boswell, thanks to a sweetheart deal with Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy after the Benghazi hearings, retains his salary and title but basically delegates all of his responsibilities as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions. He did “resign” from one titled position while cleverly keeping his other position, according to my source. Ka-ching!

    Accountability for What?

    About a week after Boswell “resigned” back in December 2012, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she could not independently confirm a New York Post report claiming Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, remains at the State Department.

    Ros-Lehtinen said “If these reports are correct, they’re pathetic examples of yet another ruse about the tragedy of Benghazi. State Department officials proclaimed to the world that heads would roll after the deception related to the deceitful video excuse and the non existent spontaneous protest outside the consulate. Now we see that the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”

    Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, or any journalist, why not contact the Department of State and simply ask “Who is the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions?” and/or “Is Eric Boswell still employed by the Department of State?” Depending on the answers you receive, better follow-up with this question: If indeed no one lost their jobs over the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, exactly what accountability is there?

    And do ask them how the term “resign” is actually defined at the State Department.



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  • I am Spartacus Unless I’m Not

    October 17, 2012 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Libya

    Responsibility used to work this way. When a group of us playing ball broke a neighbor’s window, the kid who took responsibility had to pay for the window. Action –> Consequence = Responsibility.

    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. Blame Responsibility 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.




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  • Libya Just Gets Uglier and Sleazier

    October 10, 2012 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    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?

    Meanwhile, attention once again focuses on State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the bully boys who seem much better at hassling diplomats for extra-marital sex than protecting them from terror.

    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.


    And Hillary?

    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.

    BONUS Editorial

    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.




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  • Billions Wasted, Again: State Likely to Give Up on Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police

    May 26, 2012 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    (This article appeared originally on the Huffington Post on May 14, 2012)

    Well, that did not take long.

    The New York Times reports that the State Department, in the face of massive costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, slashed and may soon dump entirely a multibillion-dollar police training program in Iraq that was to have been the centerpiece of post-occupation US presence in Iraq. After all of five months.

    In October I reported on my blog wemeantwell.com that the State Department was on Capitol Hill in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, begging a skeptical Congress for more money for police training in Iraq. “Training” was again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. That latest tranche of taxpayer cash sought by State was one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq. The US has been training Iraqi cops for years. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Ka-ching! Anybody’s hometown in need of $7.3 billion in Federal funds? Hah, you can’t have it if you’re American, it is only for Iraq!

    Ever-reliable State Department tool Pat Kennedy led the pack of fibbers in asking Congress for the cash: “After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic ally in a tumultuous region.” He went on (…and on) promising “robust this” and “robust that.” Best of all, Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.” The Department spends several billion a year on private security contractors to protect the fortress-like Embassy in Baghdad (which itself carries almost a billion dollar price tag, including the indoor pool and Embassy-only bar).

    Don’t Judge Us

    Of course despite the hoary promises by Kennedy of robust oversight and management of the police training program, State blocked inspectors from the US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction, SIGIR, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, from conducting an assessment of the Department’s multibillion-dollar effort. Kennedy said: We’re from the government, trust us.

    The inspectors had good reason not to trust Kennedy and State. Specifically, the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau had come under fire from SIGIR for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan. The last SIGIR audit of the State Department’s oversight of the contract concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”

    State’s track record otherwise with police training also fails severely. The State Department in 2003 was given initial responsibility for training Iraqi police. By 2004, however, State’s efforts were seen as so ineffective, even on an Iraq War scale, that police training was taken away from the suits and folded into the US military mission.

    Water Under the Bridge

    But hey, those previously wasted billions and slapdash attempts to avoid scrutiny by an outside inspector are now like water under the bridge for the State Department, as the entire program is just about ready to collapse anyway.

    The Times reports that the training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100 as costs rose and Iraqi interest fell. State’s latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year. Several colleagues of mine associated with the program report that they are not being asked to stay on, and in fact now rarely even leave their fortified compounds.

    It seems the Iraqis simply do not care for the training State insists they should want. Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training refused to attend the presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit. The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than American ones (the State Department spent $343 million building the facilities the Iraqis do not want to use, apparently without asking the Iraqis. The largest of the construction projects, at Baghdad Police College, was recently abandoned unfinished after an expenditure of more than $100 million of your tax dollars). The State Department will not allow the trainers to meet regularly at Iraqi facilities out of fear of terrorist ambush and the insane costs of moving people around Iraq safely. Private security contractors have to be hired by State to escort the private police contractors hired by State.

    Failure to Ask = Failure

    That part about asking the Iraqis what they want might have been key to the State Department’s failure in Iraq police training.

    Stalwart American Ambassador to Iraq Jeffrey, who is desperately seeking to curtail his assignment if State can find a successor whom Congress will endorse, mumbled “I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.” “Some concerns” said Ambassador Jeffrey. Actually, the acting head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry questioned the wisdom entirely of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought, the equivalent of shouting “Don’t tase me bro!”

    It’s Always Sunny at Foggy Bottom

    The US Embassy in Baghdad released a hard-hitting reply to all of these developments, saying ““The Iraqi Government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces… The Police Development Program is a vital part of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.” So that’s settled.

    Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources told the New York Times, “I don’t think anything went wrong. The Iraqis just don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.” Apparently Nides, Kennedy and no one at the State Department, none of the thousands of Americans State has in the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, thought to get the Iraqi opinion of the training program before committing billions of dollars. Next time I suggest think first, spend second, ‘kay?

    Note to Hillary Clinton: Before sending your drones to fib to Congress asking for money that should be spent here at home, and then wasting several billion dollars on a project in some foreign country, ask the foreigners if they actually want it first. If they do not want our help, how about returning the billions to the United States where we can sure put it to good use?

    Note to Congress: The next time State comes asking for money, check if their lips are moving. That means they are lying to you. Please cut them off; they’re like drunks loose in Vegas and can no longer help themselves. It’ll be a mercy killing at this point.




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  • Don’t Get Fooled Again

    January 5, 2012 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    State Department Undersecretary for Management guy Pat Kennedy said this recently on NPR, justifying the $3.5 billion a year maintaining the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad (c) costs:

    This is a democracy in the Middle East. Is it perfect? No. A lot of people think our system isn’t perfect either. But this is a major oil producer, a friend of the United States, a potential market for American goods and now, I think, a very important symbol in the Middle East of what democracy in the Middle East could be.

    Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said that an investigation into allegations against Iraq’s vice president appears to be proceeding fairly despite claims that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pursuing a political vendetta against a rival.

    This statement was made despite the fact that Hashemi is so confident in the fairness of the judicial system that he sought sanctuary in semi-autonomous Kurdistan. The charges against him are based in large part on “confessions” by his bodyguards made after their “interrogations” by security forces loyal to Maliki. Hashemi’s alleged crimes, uncovered by Maliki the very day US forces withdrew in 2011, took place in 2006. Just never got around to investigating them earlier I guess.

    Meanwhile, in our universe:

    A roadside bomb targeting Shia pilgrims killed 30 people on the outskirts of the southern city of Nasiriyah on Thursday. A total of 30 people were killed and 72 wounded in the attack, which occurred just west of Nasiriyah as pilgrims were walking to the holy shrine city of Karbala for Arbaeen commemorations.

    The attack came on the same day two Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad were targeted in bombings that left at least 23 people dead.

    At least nine civilians have been killed and 35 others injured in two successive explosions and a motorbike blast in east Baghdad’s Sadr city on Thursday morning.

    A female child has been killed and six civilians injured in five successive explosions in the city of Baaquba, the center of northeast Iraq’s Diala Province, on Wednesday morning.

    A group of unknown armed men have killed two Iraqi soldiers in southern Mosul, the center of Ninewa Province, late Tuesday night.


    We’ll assume officials like Kennedy and Jeffrey are not ignorant or uninformed. That leaves then the question as to why they would keep saying ridiculous things about Iraq, claiming it is a democracy somehow comparable to our own system, or that Maliki’s blatant power plays are following the rule of law.

    “What we’re seeing is a new era in post-Saddam politics,” said Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “Iraq’s stability is on really weak foundation. Maliki has gone too far in his campaign against political rivals, his only option is to keep going.”

    So who are people like Kennedy and Jeffreys trying to fool?

    Either themselves, or you. The Iraqis certainly know what is going on in their own country, watching 60 of their countrypeople blown up on a single all-too-typical Thursday. Maliki and Hashemi understand the game being played out. So the disingenuous statements by State Department officials are designed either to convince themselves that they are doing a robust job, or, to convince you that after all these years, all those lives and all that money, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was still somehow worth it.

    As the war drums beat over Iran, you decide, but don’t get fooled again.



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  • State Department Fixing the Facts Based on Policy

    December 7, 2011 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    State Department personnel in Iraq may be in danger as transition plans leave gaps in security and medical care

    (This article by me originally appeared in the Huffington Post)

    The State Department can often times be so inward looking that it fixes the facts based on the policy need, making reality fit the vision whether that naughty reality wants to or not. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it can be tragic.

    When I arrived at my second Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Iraq, we were told to call the area we worked in the “Sunni Triangle of Death.” The meme was “Look at us bad boys, reconstructing the nasty Sunni Triangle of Death. It proves State is not a sissy.” About six months later we were told to stop calling the place the “Sunni Triangle of Death,” because since we had been working for half a year, we needed to show some progress. “Triangle of Death” did not signify progress so the Embassy banned the term to fit the policy meme, even though nothing had really changed. No real harm done, I guess.

    Around election time, the initial plan was for PRT staffers to observe the March 2010 voting up close, mostly so the Embassy could claim the election was legitimate based on the happy-talk reports we understood we were to file. That was part of the warp, but the real kicker was that to show our faith in Iraqi security, we were told we were not to wear body armor at the polling stations. The Embassy felt that photos of us all geared up, as we believed we needed to be based on local security conditions, would not play well with their PR campaign that all was well. There was a lot of back channel grumbling, and a few threats to refuse to observe, and the Embassy quietly just changed plans and canceled most of the rural observations. Again, narrowly, no real harm done.

    Now, as the State Department rushes to replace all of the military support it needs to exist in still-dangerous Iraq without the Army, there are fears that the warping of reality may indeed endanger lives in Baghdad.

    What’s for Dinner?

    Currently every item of food for the Embassy, from sides of beef to baby carrots, is procured in “safe” Kuwait and convoyed up to Baghdad. It is an expensive system, one that occasionally even entails the loss of life protecting boxes of Raisin Bran, but it has ensured the safety and cleanliness of the food for almost nine years.

    The State Department, facing the crazy costs of this system without the nearly bottomless budget of the Defense Department, is once again swaying the facts to fit the policy. Undersecretary for Management Pat Kennedy told Congress in mid-November that seeking to cut costs in Iraq, State is looking to locally purchase some of the food its personnel will eat, breaking with the U.S. military’s practice of importing. Nothing has changed on the ground vis-a-vis food security, but to save money, State is warping that reality to fit its own needs.

    Physical Security for Contractors

    Security in general is subject to such warping, potentially at the cost of U.S. lives. In an anonymous email sent to numerous State Department official addresses this week, one contractor from State’s much-criticized police training program paints this picture (information deleted/changed for security purposes):

    There is an DOS policy that prevents contractors from using mission vehicles and personnel for leave rotations. Recently the climate in Iraq has become far more hostile to private companies, especially those not directly linked to the US State Department (such as our leave rotation crews). There is a current security threat briefed by DOS as “????? is actively seeking to capture personnel associated with the mission.”

    Meanwhile, the security taking contractors working for the State Department’s at ????? have recently stopped carrying weapons.

    My last trip took place at approximately 11pm. Armored cars traveling through the Baghdad red zone stopping at multiple checkpoints and opening doors at every checkpoint. The driver and TC were both Iraqi nationals speaking no English. Neither had any weapons. Neither wore their tactical body armor. Observing their behavior suggested they had no security experience.

    At the front of ????? outside the attached Iraqi compound, at the Iraqi checkpoint under an overpass at a four way intersection in the middle of Baghdad our convoy stopped outside a secure area. The Iraqi Police officers operating the checkpoint suggested that the absence of a dog created a situation where we could not be swept for bombs so we could not enter. Our driver and TC both exited the vehicle, leaving both doors open. Then we were ordered out of our vehicle (no weapons between all of us- in the presence of Iraqi officers known to be infiltrated with terrorists.) After a brief conversation and several tenuous minutes we were allowed to enter, however this scenario continues to repeat itself.

    Terrorists are not stupid. We have to assume they are actively surveilling us. We have to assume they are talking to Iraqi Police (who among other things have failed to catch two recent bombs passing through their security checkpoint).

    This policy preventing US contractors from having real security while traveling to and from ????? and ????? is the weakest link in the operation. It is reasonable to expect the US Government to value the lives of their citizens, especially those working in support of US Government operations.


    State of State’s Private Army

    Much has been made of State’s plan to hire over 5500 mercenaries as security guards for its Iraq-bound diplomats. However, while numbers do matter, the skills that those merc possess matter more. Currently in Iraq, with the US Army in place, a State Department convoy ambushed can call on a QRF, an Army quick reaction force. On standby 24/7, these soldiers are literally the cavalry that rides in to save the day.

    Needless to say, the State Department does not have such people on staff. So, State is hiring contractors, specifically an “Aviation Advisor” responsible for “Search and Rescue (SAR), medical evacuations, transporting Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) to respond to incidents, and providing air transportation for Chief of Mission personnel.”

    The problem is that the State Department put out this notice on November 4, closing a month later, only 26 days before the final withdrawal of US troops. Better hope HR is on the spot, especially given that the interviewing, vetting, hiring, travel to Iraq and initial setting up of a full SAR system will need to take place over Christmas to be in place by January 1. In other words, it won’t be there when needed.

    There remain other concerns harder to nail down in an unclassified environment — security at the Baghdad Airport once control leaves U.S. hands, availability of a blood supply (another contractor, who will have to create a logistics schema with the Armed Services Blood Program) and proper trauma care for the diplomats (yet another contractor), particularly should someone suffer the horrific burns now too common in IED attacks. Under the military system, even during an attack, an injured soldier would receive first aid from a trained buddy, be helicopter evacuated from the site within minutes, stabilized at a specialized trauma unit and on a med flight to a hospital in Germany within an hour or two. While the danger on the ground in Iraq will remain the same (if not more dangerous given the lack of American troop presence), State in no way will be able to replicate the vast resources the military can bring to bear.

    Reality – Policy = Insecurity

    The issues are not unnoticed. Some State Department officials have privately complained of becoming full-time contract managers, not practicing diplomats. One commenter lamented “Officials will be prisoners on the ridiculously large but poorly constructed compound and will be unable to leave the grounds without a security package so large and costly that being out of the Embassy will be the exception rather than the rule.” State’s own Inspector General laid out its concerns in a May 2011 report, concluding “Because of the complexity and considerable cost of construction, staffing, and logistics, there is a risk the Embassy will not have a fully operational medical system prior to the military’s departure.” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reminded the Hill that State will require thousands of contractors to provide security and other services that had been provided by the Pentagon. “Yes there are risks involved,” Panetta said. “Do we have any other alternatives? No.”

    State’s responses have been weak. Can’t travel safely outside the Green Zone? “The Embassy will attempt to mitigate the loss of tactical intelligence by establishing closer working relationships with the Government of Iraq.” Although Embassy medical plans do not currently include the capability for handling a mass casualty event, Embassy officials magic-wanded the problem away by stating that “even the US military’s current combat support hospital can be overwhelmed by a large enough number of casualties.” Meanwhile, State “will continue to explore possibilities for mitigating the impact of a mass casualty event.”

    In other words, again the policy seems to be warping the reality on the ground. Only this time, it’s not politics, it’s personal, or maybe, without irony, personnel, at stake.



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  • Obama to Create Thousands of Jobs: In Iraq

    October 22, 2011 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    (Originally published on the Huffington Post)

    The US is prepared to spend up to five billion dollars to create more jobs for police officers, paying $100-$150k a year. The Government can’t find enough people to take the jobs, and is looking for recruits, no experience necessary, all training provided, right in your hometown.

    One catch: the jobs are for Iraqis, in Iraq. No Americans need apply.

    The secret mantra of the Iraq war has always been “training,” specifically the always-just-out-of-reach goal of training the Iraq security forces to take over from the US. The cry has been heard for years: George W. Bush even made “we’ll stand down as they stand up” a campaign slogan in 2008.

    Now, as the war in Iraq proceeds through its eighth year, the State Department was on Capitol Hill October 12 in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations begging a skeptical Congress for more money. “Training” is again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. The latest tranche of taxpayer cash is for one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.

    A Long Train

    The US has been training Iraqi cops for years, under the auspices of Army and State contractors. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Now, with the Army shifting to teaching Iraqis how to operate the hi-tech weapons they will be buying from the US, the State Department is picking up the cop training gig full-time. A job announcement last year hired contract police instructors to go to Iraq, where, under the watchful eye of State’s own internal Stasi, Diplomatic Security, they are preparing to start teaching at thirty locations around the country.

    Given that the Army and State have been teaching police work in Iraq now for several years, the student cops must either be the world’s slowest learners, or have the world’s highest job turnover. Sadly, it looks like the latter. Iraqi cops tend to have very short life expectancies and that is why, even with the healthy salary offer of $150,000 a year (the average per capita income in Iraq is only $3800; cops in the US make concededly less than what State is willing to pay in Iraq. Starting salaries run $40-65k a year), State can’t find enough, um, bodies, to fill up the recruit classes.

    The Hard, Short Life of an Iraqi Cop

    As an example of how life is for an Iraqi law officer, this week alone attacks included two suicide car bombs minutes apart at Baghdad police stations, killing at least 25 people in the capital’s deadliest day in a month. More than 70 people were wounded. In one instance, the street in front of a police station had been closed from 2004, but was reopened about four weeks ago, sadly allowing the suicide bomber to get close to the station house. In other attacks the same day, a bomb wounded a police brigadier general in north Baghdad, while two police were shot in south Baghdad.

    These attacks took place in an Iraq still occupied by some 41,000 American soldiers. Come January 2012, the US Army posture will diminish to an as yet undetermined number, likely around 5000 troops. The State Department hopes to conduct its police training under these conditions, protected by its own mercenary army of 5000 security contractors, using hand-me-down Army gear.

    Corruption, Mismanagement and Torture Play a Part

    The killing of Iraqi cops is probably the main issue holding back recruitment. However, the lack of organized control by their parent organization, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), is another impediment to a well-run police force, regardless of how much training they receive.

    In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry was filled with corruption, infiltrated by militia and unable to control its own police. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iraq’s MOI had become a “federation of oligarchs” where various floors of the headquarters building were controlled by rival militia groups and organized criminal gangs. The report described the MOI as an eleven-story powder keg of factions where power struggles were settled by assassinations in the parking lot. In its September 2007 report, the congressionally-mandated Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq described Iraq’s MOI as a ministry in name only, dysfunctional, sectarian and suffering from ineffective leadership. To make matters worse, the police have been implicated in multiple incidents of torture.

    Who Will Guard the Guards?

    There remain significant questions on if State will be able to oversee the huge police training program.
    The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau came under fire from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police. A 2010 audit concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.” Most of $1.2 billion State was given to train Iraqi police remains unaccounted for. Though not directly related to police training, State’s own Inspector General just found that INL mismanaged another Dynacorp contract in Afghanistan to the tune of $940,000, in large part because of lack of staff to oversee the project.

    Following the negative report by SIGIR, State did the logical thing: they slammed the door on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction auditors. State’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that SIGIR has almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq, including that five billion sought for police training. State’s reluctance to submit to the audits is understandable; SIGIR stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    The Bright Side

    Undersecretary of State Pat Kennedy reminded Congress October 12 without irony that “We have a robust contracting oversight system firmly in place and being executed by our Bureau of Administration. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is overseeing its competitively awarded security task orders using the enhanced oversight and management system put in place over the last several years.”

    Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.”

    And it is not like State has just been sitting on its hands. In July 2011, out of Iraq’s 400,000 cops, the State Department invited nine of them to the US for three weeks with local police forces in Vermont, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that no doubt offer a lot of points of commonality with policing in Iraq.

    With plans like that, what could go wrong?



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  • State Fumbles $172.4 Million Intended For Afghan Police Training

    July 15, 2011 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    Some things just don’t go well together: hot dogs and ketchup, cats and dogs, and the State Department and contracting.

    Just doesn’t work.

    You’ll recall State Management Droid Pat Kennedy, back in early June, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer contracts.

    And then we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    Wonder why State was so shy about allowing inspections? Maybe this will clarify things.

    A new joint audit found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas, even though it was specifically designated for training the ANP.

    The report says that the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs used $22.47 million for “a United Nations contribution, the Federal Prosecutors Program, counternarcotics personnel salaries, travel costs, and a DynCorp equitable adjustment.” Some money went towards ANP salaries but not training as it was intended.

    More than $300,000 went to travel costs from Texas to Washington for DynCorp personnel to attend weekly meetings, even though DynCorp was supposed to have employees in DC who could have attended the meetings. On top of that, the report found that the transportation, hotel and flight costs were all not in compliance with contract regulations.

    One example is of an employee purchasing a round-trip ticket for $355, but then changing his ticket so many times that it ended up costing $1,931. Some travel costs were for five-day trips, even though meetings only happened on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    Overall, the report found that the money was misspent because “State lacked adequate procedures for obligating, monitoring, and deobligating funds for the ANP training program.”



    Meanwhile, in other fucked up contract news, State recently signed another contract, worth $8 million, with ArmorGroup to guard the Kabul Embassy.

    ArmorGroup, you’ll recall, used to hold a contract worth an estimated $189 million to protect the embassy. But that was before the Project on Government Oversight revealed in 2009 that the guard force operated a Lord of the Flies environment, complete with pictures documenting it, of guards peeing on people, eating potato chips out of ass cracks, doing vodka shots out of ass cracks, broken doors after drunken brawls, but not “jamming guys in the ass per se.”

    Onward to victory in Afghanistan!!!!!!!!!!!!



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  • Drop the Oversight, Take the Cannoli

    June 14, 2011 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Can’t have it both ways? Don’t tell the State Department, who wants several billion dollars to assume the role of occupier in Iraq while at the same time demanding little oversight into how it spends taxpayer money.

    In a previous post, we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    But better move fast Congress– SIGIR is scheduled to shut down in 18 months, so all State has to do is s-t-a-l-l.

    Last week the Commission on Wartime Contracting asked State to justify in writing any decision to overturn recommendations in favor of suspending or debarring a contractor by other State Department officials, and also for the establishment of a permanent, government-wide special Inspector General for contingency operations.

    State said no. Give us the money, stuff your oversight.

    The commissioners called State’s opposition to the first recommendation–that it would be overly burdensome–“logically dubious.” After State Department management droid Pat Kennedy could not answer how often recommendations for suspension or debarment are overturned, the commissioners asked how it could be so burdensome if State didn’t even know how frequently it occurred. We hope that gets entered into his next performance review but kinda doubt it.

    The commissioners were also skeptical of State’s opposition to a permanent, government-wide Inspector General (IG) for contingency operations. They cited historical examples of State’s history with IGs to support their skepticism of State’s position. For instance, just a few days prior to the hearing, the Washington Times published a story about attempts by State to oppose an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) based on lack of jurisdiction.

    Commissioner Charles Tiefer questioned State’s will to hold its contractors accountable, citing the example of First Kuwaiti General Contracting and Trading. Tiefer noted that a 2009 audit by the State Department IG recommended that State recover $132 million from the contractor for its exceptionally shoddy work constructing the Baghdad Embassy. It has now been almost two years since the release of that report and as Kennedy acknowledged in the hearing, State still has not asked the company to pay up. We hope that also gets entered into his next performance review but again kinda doubt it.

    A full accounting of the problems found in the Baghdad Embassy is worth reading.

    To make matters worse, despite First Kuwaiti’s sad performance in Baghdad, the company continued to get work building for State in Saudi Arabia and Gabon as a subcontractor through an American company called Aurora, LLC, which some State Department officials suspect was established to serve as a front company for First Kuwaiti.

    So why worry, eh?

    Read more about the need for aggressive IG oversight at State in POGO’s November 2010 letter to President Obama.



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  • State Department has no Plan for Mercenary Management

    June 7, 2011 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Attention Kids: When faced with a big problem, simply saying “Hey, don’t worry, everything will be fine!” only works if you are a really sympathetic Mommy or the State Department.

    I saw Pat Kennedy at the Seven Corners Home Depot on Sunday, buying garden stuff. He looked worried so I didn’t say hello. I thought maybe he had some nasty leaf mold problems, but now I know it was more serious. Sorry Pat, I hope the flowers work out, because…

    CNN reports The State Department came under sharp criticism Monday over how it hires and monitors thousands of private contractors.

    A watchdog panel, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, has questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq once the US military withdraws. “Our concerns remain very much alive,” the commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement.

    Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment. “That response approaches the borderline of government negligence,” Shays said.

    The sole witness appearing before the panel was Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the Department has increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State has hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer these contracts. Whew. 0

    In Iraq, basically the already over-worked Regional Security Officer (RSO) will oversee any whacky hijinks of the merc army. In fact, they might even do bed checks: Kennedy stated “Collocation of contractor life-support areas on Embassy, Consulate, or Embassy Branch Office compounds will enhance after-hours oversight of contractor personnel,” so it’s lights out on time guys and no doing vodka shots off each others’ butts like in Afghanistan.

    But what will cause an already busy RSO to really focus on stopping State Department-sponsored murder in Iraq? Kennedy explained “As initial steps, this summer we plan to create a Contracting Officer Representative (COR) Award to highlight contract administration achievements, and publish an article in State Magazine highlighting the importance of contract administration and the valuable role of the COR.” Magazine article, got it, feelin’ safer already.

    But what about stuff like in 2007 when State’s Blackwater mercs gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Nisour Square? Kennedy again: “Improving the image of the security footprint through enhanced cultural sensitivity: Mandatory country-specific cultural awareness training for all security contractors prior to deployment to Iraq; Revised standards of conduct, including a ban on alcohol.”

    Of course allowing the mercs to drink in Iraq (And Christ do they drink. I saw it myself. The wildest, most debauched parties, including public nudity, cross-dressing and group vomiting ever were on the security contractor compounds and I say that having gone to a football-heavy state school) from 2003 until today has worked out, so wonder why the change now Pat?

    So what about that little problem about not prosecuting mercs for murder in Iraq? Kennedy acknowledges that there really isn’t any law to cover things just right now as previous State agreements exempt mercs from Iraqi law, but “The Department of State strongly supports the legislative goal of passing a robust and comprehensive Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) that provides clear and unambiguous jurisdiction to prosecute non-Department of Defense personnel for overseas misconduct. We look forward to working with Congress on CEJA legislation.” And in the meantime boys, its lock and load time with no bag limit on ‘dem hajiis!

    “We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,” Kennedy said, probably wishing he worked at Home Depot.

    Bottom Line:
    A military forced into diplomacy in Iraq will be replaced by a militarized State Department equally unprepared for the task.

    Read Kennedy’s full statement if you think I am making this stuff up.

    Diplomats: Better think over who has your backs and give those bids lists one more look-over before hitting submit.



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  • The People v. Trump: Is There a Case for the 25th Amendment?

    January 30, 2018 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    The media is of one mind: Donald Trump is mentally incompetent and must be removed from office before he blows us all to hell. It says so on Vox, New York Review of Books, CNN, The Intercept, CNBC, The Nation, Bill Moyers, Salon, and the NYT. A new book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, concludes “Trump’s mental state presents a clear and present danger to our nation and individual well-being.”

    The solution is in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The 25A creates a mechanism aside impeachment to remove an “incapacitated” president, and Trump’s mental state, some believe, qualifies him. Is there a case?


    Dr. Bandy Lee, one of the editors of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, says yes. Her primary evidence is tweets Trump sent threatening Kim Jong Un. She really has no other ammunition: no doctor who says Trump is insane, including Lee, has examined him. No doctor that has examined him says he is insane. Third party anonymous accusations of incompetence are shot through with gossip. A book written by a Hollywood trash reporter is otherwise held up as critical evidence of the inner workings of the president’s mind.

    So is there a case without the tweets? Not really. Lee adds while Trump has not committed violent acts against himself or others, his “verbal aggressiveness, history of boasting about sexual assault, history of inciting violence at his rallies, and history of endorsing violence in his key public speeches are the best predictors of future violence” and thus concludes he will destroy the world. Lee also weakly points to Trump “being drawn to violent videos.” Oh my.

    We might instead look at the actual decisions Trump has made, and those of his predecessors. One president used nuclear weapons to decimate two cities worth of innocents, and a set of presidents squandered hundreds of thousands of American lives watering Vietnam with blood. Ronald Reagan was famously caught over an open mic saying he was going to start bombing the Soviet Union in the next few minutes. Another president lied about WMDs to launch an invasion of Iraq in part to avenge his dad. The same guy mocked North Korea’s leader as a pygmy. Obama said he “will not hesitate to use our military might” against the North, knowing that meant Armageddon. Historical psychiatrists say half of our past presidents may have suffered some sort of mental illness. If Trump is dangerous as president, he seems to have company.

    But how can we know? Trump will never voluntarily undergo a mental competency exam, though courts can order people to submit. But even Lee, who met with Congressional representatives to press the case Trump is insane, admits this is unlikely to happen. “Many lawyer groups have actually volunteered to file for a court paper to ensure that the security staff will cooperate with us,” Lee said. “But we have declined, since this will really look like a coup, and while we are trying to prevent violence, we don’t wish to incite it through, say, an insurrection.”


    There doesn’t seem much of a case. Still, people arguing Trump is insane and must be removed from office point to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution as just what the doctor ordered.

    The Constitution did not originally lay out (Article II, Section 1, Clause 6) what happens if a president dies or becomes incapacitated. It was just assumed the Vice President would serve as “Acting President.” The 25A, passed after the Kennedy assassination, created the first set of rules for this sort of situation.

    The 25A has four short subsections. If the presidency goes vacant (for example, fatal heart attack), the vice president becomes president. If the vice-presidency goes vacant, the president chooses a new VP. If the president knows he’ll be incapacitated (unable to carry out his job, for example, due to scheduled surgery), he can voluntarily and temporarily assign his duties to the vice president. If the president is truly incapacitated (unconscious after an assassination attempt) and can’t voluntarily assign away his duties, the VP and cabinet can do it for him, with a two-thirds majority confirming vote of the House and Senate.

    In the minds of the “Trump is Insane” crowd what matters most is that never-used fourth subsection, the incapacitation clause. People claim because Trump is insane he is unable to carry out his duties, and so Mike Pence, et al, must step in and transfer power away from him today. Trump would legally exist in the same status as Grandpa Simpson in the nursing home, and Pence would take over. Among other problems, this thinking imagines the 25A’s legally specific term “unable” means the same thing as the vernacular “unfit.” An unconscious man is unable to drive. A man who forgot his glasses is unfit, but still able, to drive. The 25A only refers to the first case.


    The use of the 25A to dethrone Trump is the kind of thing non-experts with too much Google time can convince themselves is true. But unlike much of the Constitution, where understanding original intent requires the Supreme Court and a close reading of the Federalist Papers, the 25A is modern legislation. We know the drafters’ intent was an administrative procedure, not a political thunderbolt. The 25A premises the president will almost always invoke succession himself, either by dying in office, or by anticipating he will be unable to discharge his duties, as in 2007 when George W. Bush went under anesthesia for his annual colonoscopy and signed things over to his vice president for a few hours.

    The reason the 25A is not intended to be used adversarially is the Constitution already specifies impeachment as the way to force an unfit president out against his will, his unfitness specifically a result of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The people who wrote the 25A did not intend it to be an alternate method of impeachment or a do-over for an election.

    It has to be so; the Constitution at its core grants ultimate power to the people to decide, deliberately, not in panic, every four years, who is president. Anything otherwise would mean the drafters of the 25A wrote a back door into the Constitution that would allow a group of government officials, many of whom in the Cabinet were elected by nobody, to overthrow an elected president who they simply think has turned out to be bad at his job.

    Accusations of mental illness are subjective, unprovable in this case, and alarmist, perfect fodder to displace the grinding technicalities of Russiagate. Denouncing one’s political opponents as crazy was a tried and true Soviet and Maoist tactic, and a movie trope where the youngsters try to get the patriarch shut away to grab his fortune. We fear the mentally ill, and psychiatric name calling against Trump invokes that fear. “The 25th Amendment would require, for mental incapacity, a major psychotic break,” said one former Harvard Law School professor. “This is hope over reality. If we don’t like someone’s politics we rail against him, we campaign against him, we don’t use the psychiatric system against him. That’s just dangerous.”


    People saying the president is mentally ill and the 25A is the cure know they have no rational basis for their position. They know the 25A is not a work-around for impeachment proceedings they are unlikely to see. They are aware they are unethically trying to medicalize bad leadership, damning it with the taint of mental illness. They know Mike Pence and Trump’s own cabinet will never sign off on a power transfer, and they don’t want Pence in the Oval Office anyway. They know this is all kabuki, liberal fan fiction, a shadow play. The talk of mental illness and the 25A is simply political sabotage ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections.

    Trump’s time in office is finite, but what happens around him will outlast his tenure. It is dangerous to mess with the very fundamentals of our democracy, where the people choose the president, replacing that with a kabal called into session by pop psychologists. This is an attack on the process at its roots; you yokels voted for the wrong guy so somebody smarter has to clean up.




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  • Movie Review: The Post, or, History as 2018 Wants It to Be

    January 19, 2018 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America, Trump



    Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, tells the story of the Washington Post’s decision in 1971 to publish parts of the Pentagon Papers, the government’s secret history of the Vietnam War. It’s a whimper of a movie, throwing bad history on the screen to make a clumsy but ever-so 2018 political point.

    So how do you make a two hour drama out of a decision? There are only so many scenes you can shoot, though Spielberg tries them all, of The Suits saying “You can’t publish!” while Meryl and Tom emote “We must!” Well, you more or less override real history in favor of a Lesson, whitewash a decision made in part to make the Post look better against its competition of the time the Washington Star, and sideline the real hero, Daniel Ellsberg.


    A bit of history. Ellsberg first leaked the Pentagon Papers exclusively to the New York Times; despite what “The Post” claims, the Washington newspapers were far too provincial to qualify as full peers. The Pentagon Papers were a 7,000 page classified history of the Vietnam War, 1945 to 1968, prepared under the order of Kennedy-Johnson Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. We know now McNamara, while publicly supporting the war, was privately consumed by doubt, and the Papers were his act of contrition. Times’ reporters spent three months reading and verifying the documents. Simultaneously, the Times set its legal team to preparing the now classic First Amendment defense it knew would be needed.

    The risks were huge — no one had ever published such classified documents before, and the senior staff at the Times feared they would go to jail under the Espionage Act (though only Ellsberg was actually charged as such.) The Nixon administration found a court to order the Times to cease publication after an initial flurry of excerpts were printed in June 1971, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge censored a newspaper. Things got so dicey the Times’ outside counsel actually quit the night before his first appearance in court, claiming the newspaper had indeed broken the law. It was only at that point the Washington Post actually obtained an excerpt from the Pentagon Papers.


    The movie brushes past the Times’ rigorous fact checking, raw courage, and masterful First Amendment legal defense to focus on the Post’s big risk: the paper was about to offer its stock publicly, and problems with the government might hurt share prices. Nixon shut down the Post’s publishing anyway after only two days, and the paper went to court. The Post’s lawyers made no First Amendment case, more afraid of being found in contempt of the injunction against the Times than the Espionage Act. The Supreme Court rolled their briefs into the Times’ case, and the landmark victory for the First Amendment was issued as New York Times Company v. United States. The Times won the Pulitzer Prize. The Post did not.


    But hell, you’re Steven Spielberg. You have the True Guardians of Liberal-Lite, Blue America’s mom and dad, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. What does history have to do with your movie anyway? It all begs the question of why Spielberg chose to tell the story of the Pentagon Papers, which is really the story of the New York Times with its spine still in place, via a secondary player, the Washington Post?

    “The Post” has no real interest in the Pentagon Papers except as a plot device, almost an excuse needed to make this movie. “The Post” simply takes a now universally praised, and thus middle America safe (for the same reason, “Saving Private Ryan” was set in the Good War instead of god-awful Vietnam) episode of journalism as a launching point to attack what it sees as the Trump Administration’s efforts to weaken a free press. Today’s WaPo, under the ownership of one of America’s richest liberal capitalists, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has refashioned itself as the newspaper of #Resistance, declaring in undergraduate essay level pseudo Orwellian prose its motto to be “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

    By setting the story back in ye olde timey 1971, Spielberg can appropriate Daniel Ellsberg, instead of Obama-era whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who still hover near to traitor status for many. Tom Hanks himself gave the game away, calling Ellsberg a hero in an interview while refusing to characterize Snowden at all.

    What was clearly the right thing to do to help bring down (Trump stand-in) Richard Nixon can become all morally ambiguous when Obama is in the hot seat, hence the historical setting. The Obama administration charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined, including Nixon’s. But by more or less bypassing the core issue both whistleblowers and real journalists stare down — there are higher goals than obedience to government — Spielberg ducks the real lesson in favor of an easy shot at the current administration.

    “I think our country has a love-hate relationship with whistleblowers,” attorney Jesselyn Radack, who helped represent Manning, Snowden and, full disclosure, me, told The American Conservative. “I wish I could be optimistic about ‘The Post’ shifting the needle of public opinion. However, it’s a hopelessly mismatched tug of war when the entire apparatus of the U.S. government — whether led by Obama or Trump — holds one end of the rope.”


    Using the old Washington Post as the launching point for what is essentially just a trope-ish Op-Ed (Freedom of the Press, good! Republican Presidents, bad! Journos, Indiana Jones!) also allows Spielberg to show 1971 exactly as 2018 wants to remember it. Meryl and Tom, playing Katherine and Ben, are perfect role models for how men and women should work together, respectful and considerate, with no mansplaining or inappropriate remarks to be found.

    Meanwhile, the newsroom is era-appropriate white and male, but everyone is on their best behavior for the camera; no fanny slapping, no one addressing the clerical staff as “honey” or demanding coffee. The New York Times of 1971 was too male, and even Spielberg couldn’t shoe horn a female protagonist into that picture, never mind create a hit-you-over-the-head subplot of Katherine Graham morphing from Betty Crocker into a fierce, persistent 2018 role model for all women and girls (one of the later shots in the film shows Streep leaving the Supreme Court to gently part a crowd of adoring young women, adream in halo-like glow at her proto-feminism). There is no subtlety to the message. Spielberg might as well have costumed Streep wearing a pink pussy hat in the boardroom scenes.


    Nobody expects movies to be 100% historically accurate, but “The Post” twists facts to present a battle that really wasn’t fought this way at all. The film is an effective piece of polemic, taking full advantage of the skills of some of America’s most talented practitioners, who one imagines believe they made a Movie That Matters For Our Times. Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks, all supporters of Hillary Clinton, couldn’t get her elected, so they did the next best thing. They created a little confection likely to win multiple Oscars and play forever on Amazon Prime beating up the guy she lost to.



    Full Disclosure: Dan Ellsberg is a hero of mine.

     

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  • Review: Ken Burns’ Vietnam

    October 2, 2017 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq



    Though Ken Burns’ 10-part PBS documentary The Vietnam War doesn’t try very hard, he can’t be blamed for failing as a filmmaker even if he had. It can’t be done. There are too many Vietnam War’s to accurately portray in a documentary, even one 18 hours long. So fair enough. But Burns’ real failure is not as a documentarian per se, it is one of courage.


    Burns teases us at the beginning of the series that there will be courage here, a reckoning of sorts, riffing off the final pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, showing war footage in reverse, so bombs return to their mothership’s belly, rockets are sucked out of the bush back onto helicopters, and, in case the point wasn’t clear yet, the 1st Cav walks backwards onto their Huey’s and departs the rice paddy. See, it’s an antiwar movie.

    Well, not really, or maybe not also. Burns quickly moves on to the next test, getting all the greatest hits in. There’s the iconic image of a Vietcong prisoner being shot in the head, and Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm raid, alongside that footage of bombs dropping, exploding Kodachrome orange against greener-than-green foliage. If the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black hadn’t been written during Vietnam, it would be necessary to invent time travel to place it alongside the war. And yep, there’s Dylan, a hippie chick with flowers, grunts in the jungle, Marlboro hard packs and M-16s at the ready. Check, check, check – Oh Suzy Q!

    No, wait, it’s one of those balanced documentaries. Burns treats us to the trope-ish story of Ho Chi Minh foolishly writing fan letters to American presidents over the years, starting way back with Woodrow Wilson at the end of WWI, thinking the American love of freedom, ye olde tale o’ democracy, the experience as fellow colonialists, should in fact bond the United States to his side over the imperialist French. That didn’t happen, you see, so it’s ironic. There’s also a bunch of actual Vietnamese interviewed in Burns’ movie, albeit disproportionately far too many identified as formerly of the “South Vietnamese Army.” The ties to the CIA of several of those interviewed are also left obscured.

    For the Americans in the audience, there’s also a dollop of “Vietnam as a test of manhood/the test of manhood is actually a metaphor for broken American dreams of the 20th century.” Burns had no choice with this one, as it is required as much as the shots of Saigon whores in their tight ao dai’s. America loves the manhood story; it’s the version of Vietnam that allows us to revere a crusty old war monger like John McCain (Episode Four of Burns’ film even includes a shot of George W. Bush in the Air National Guard), and leaves people who took deferments like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton forever in shame.

    Burns does the manhood theme proud, though, slipping us both the noble grunt version via gritty personal anecdotes from guys you don’t know (though rough-and-tumble Marine guy Karl Marlantes pops up), and the Oliver Stone subreddit, where manhood is proved only after it is broken down (forget Platoon, his real telling was in Born on the Fourth of July.) Stone and his subject Ron Kovic don’t appear for Burns’ camera, but a non-celebrity grunt named John Musgrave is on camera to illustrate the journey from gungho killer to “it was all a lie, man.”

    OK, fair enough, Dad shouts at the TV screen, this is Ken Burns for heck’s sake. He does jazz, he does Americana, he gets baseball in a way that sends George Will reaching for the Viagra, of course he’s gonna go folksy. That’s why we donate and get the PBS tote bag each year. At least he filmed this one in color, all 79 individual interviews.

    But where Burns lets us down is where nearly everything that has or maybe will be written about Vietnam lets us down. He is too easy on the politicians who cynically manipulated the public, he is too easy on the bulk of the media who gleefully participated in the manipulation (everything short of proclaiming WMDs in Hanoi), too easy on individual soldiers who took advantage of lax leadership to, in historian Nick Turse’s words, kill anything that moves (My Lai was one, far from the only.)

    Burns drinks too deeply from the cup of “hate the war, not the warrior.” Deaths were committed because of a policy that demanded body counts, a number of “enemy” killed, as the borderless war’s only metric of accomplishment. As Turse writes and Burns omits, “U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all.” In 2017 America, where the military is fetishized, personal responsibility is lost.

    Burns indeed lets all of us off too easy. Us, the American people, the voters, the spectators, the ones who bought the epic story that Vietnam was a struggle between two great forces for the soul of civilization, Communism versus Freedom. The American people in 1962 (or ’65, or ’68, or 1945, or 1954) were not yet cynical. They were easily convinced what was little more than a continuation of colonialism was instead a firewall of the Cold War. We had come out of WWII winners, with anything that would have made that less than the Good War hidden for another couple of generations. Vietnam was then our bad childhood, and should have left us with no such excuse for Iraq (Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya…)

    Burns lets us off too easy because he does not demand we not let it all happen again, and that is his sin, omission.

    “With knowledge comes healing,” the filmmaker told Vanity Fair about his goal, but that is not the film he made.

    We should know better but we were the ones who bought the epic story that Iraq, et al, like Vietnam, was a struggle between two greats forces for the soul of civilization, Terrorism versus Freedom (feel free to substitute in Islam and Christianity.) We had to fight them over there (the beach at Danang instead of the beach at San Diego) or we’d fight them over here, the smoking gun a mushroom cloud over Cincinnati. We let Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon lie to us about the war, then let five successive modern presidents, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner (Kissinger also won the Peace Prize for ending the war he first helped prolong) lie to us about Iraq in a spin of our illusion of invincibility and moral rightness.

    Burns tips his hand in the first minutes of his series when the narrator intones the war was “begun in good faith.” Who could have known Vietnam was a war for independence, not a civil war as sold to the American people? That Pakistan supported the Taliban with U.S. aid money? That there gosh dang it weren’t any WMDs in Iraq? Burns doesn’t tell us that Vietnam was not an exception, it was a template.

    And so we all say “thank you for your service” today with the same uninformed conviction that we said “baby killer” back then. Americans need to die for freedom, yes, that’s standard, but civilians from the other side need to die in vast, angry clouds of millions, too, for their freedom. Agent Orange in the ‘Nam to punish the next generation of slopes, depleted uranium across the Middle East for the baby ragheads. There are no names of any Vietnamese civilians on that wall in Washington DC.

    Burns tried to be all things to all people, while failing at the most important task, making history valuable to the present. He does not seem in search of lessons, only in creating a catalog of Vietnam stuff and leaving it on the table for us to poke at, historical amuse bouche. By eschewing experts from his interviews to focus on “real people” and their anecdotes, Burns by default puts himself into the expert role. He then chooses not to responsibly occupy it.

    Ken Burns had a chance to reach for a higher goal with his work on Vietnam. Instead, there is no reckoning, and it is doubtful there ever will be. You can’t close the book on Vietnam if you want to keep it open for Syria, or Iran, or wherever America again makes war on an industrial scale on nations far less advanced, and commits torture, assassinations, and mass killings all the while trying to hide its dirty hands from the American public with the media’s financially-comfortable cooperation.

    Each of these wars is not the equivalent of stepping on a Lego in a darkened bedroom. It’s the same story, the same war. It has the same ending. It serves the same purpose. It’s Vietnam. We just slog through 18 hours of Vietnam documentary because it lasts 18 hours. After the 25th similar shot of helicopters landing, you may not even be sure why you’re still watching. You want to finish Burns’ documentary with the feeling the American people will rise up and shout “we won’t be fooled again,” but instead shut off the TV knowing we have, and will.



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  • 1A Victory: SCOTUS Again Confirms ‘Hate Speech’ is Protected

    June 21, 2017 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America



    In the world we awoke to on November 8, 2016, a myth took hold among many progressive people that so-called “hate speech” — speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability — is not protected by the First Amendment. Even Howard Dean contributed to the falsehood.

    The Supreme Court just made it very, very clear that is wrong. Offensive and hateful speech is as protected as any other. It is vital to protect all speech, for the road of prohibiting speech one disagrees with is a slippery one. There is a right to offend; deal with it, snowflakes.




    A recent case, Matal v. Tam, focused on an all-Asian band called The Slants, who wanted to trademark their group’s name. “Slant” of course is one of a dictionary full of racist terms used to offend Asians, and the group wanted to push the word into the world’s face to disarm it, as gay men have done with the slur queer.

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office said no, the group could not trademark the name The Slants because of the disparagement clause, which denies federal trademark protection to messages that may offend people, living or dead, along with “institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” This same reasoning denied the Washington Redskins’ trademark renewal of their team name in 2014, seen as disparaging toward Native Americans.


    No more. The Supreme Court just ruled the government cannot use trademark law to stop people from promoting an (potentially offensive) name. That constitutes the government prohibiting free expression, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment protects offensive speech, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in this unanimous decision. “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” he said, quoting the classic 1929 dissent from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    (Trump-era snowflakes usually misapply Holmes’ famous line — not shouting fire in a crowded theatre — to justify banning offensive speech by claiming it incites violence. They’re wrong; it doesn’t work that way at all. The whole thing is laid out here.)

    “The danger of viewpoint discrimination,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in The Slants’ case, “is that the government is attempting to remove certain ideas or perspectives from a broader debate. That danger is all the greater if the ideas or perspectives are ones a particular audience might think offensive, at least at first hearing. To permit viewpoint discrimination in this context is to permit government censorship.”

    The ACLU called the decision a “major victory for the First Amendment.”



    And… mic drop.

    The marketplace of ideas needs to be broad and deep, and awful people must be free to spew terrible words, into it, so they can be exposed and bad ideas shoved aside by good ones. That’s how the Founders intended the system to work, that is how it has worked through over 200 years of controversy, and the Supreme Court made it clear this week Trump, Howard Dean, Milo Yiannopoulos or your favorite nazi have no place in trying to change things.


    BONUS: And though the Court didn’t feel the need to remind people that it has long ago sorted out questions about whether hate speech inciting violence justifies restrictions, or the obligation of campuses to provide platforms to offensive speakers, or cities to protect them and their listeners, I will. It’s all explained here, children. Stop trying to use fascism’s tools to silence free speech. Let them speak.)

    DOUBLE BONUS: Five bad arguments the Left is using to restrict speech from the Right.



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  • State Department: Is America’s Oldest Cabinet Agency Trumped?

    March 14, 2017 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Trump


    What if it’s not incompetence? What if it is by design? What if President Donald Trump has decided American doesn’t really need a Department of State and if he can’t get away with closing it down, he can disable and defund it?

    The only problem is Trump will quickly find out he’ll have to reluctantly keep a few lights on at Foggy Bottom.

    Things do not look good for State. There were no press briefings between Trump taking office on January 20 and some irregular gatherings beginning in early March. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wasn’t seen at several White House meetings where foreign leaders were present, and has taken only two very short trips abroad. Of the 13 sets of official remarks he has given, 10 have been perfunctory messages to countries on their national days, with one speech to his own employees. Sources inside State say he is nowhere to be seen around the building, either in person or bureaucratically via tasking orders and demands for briefings.

    Meanwhile, President Trump has proposed a devastating 37% cut to State’s tiny budget, already only about one percent of Federal spending.

    And as if that isn’t bad enough, the Trump administration has left a large number of the 64 special representative and other “speciality” positions empty. Tillerson already laid off a number of his own staff. Add in a Federal-wide hiring ban, and the only good news at Foggy Bottom is that it’s no longer hard to find a seat in the cafeteria.

    The original concerns around State that Trump’s transition was in chaos seem sadly mistaken; there are too many empty slots for this to be anything but purposeful. As for Tillerson himself “Either he’s weak or he’s complicit,” one State Department official said. Neither option bodes well.

    Alongside Trump himself, State is its own worst enemy. Team Trump no doubt took careful note of the Department’s slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years), and the organization’s flexibility in allowing aide Huma Abedin to simultaneously occupy jobs inside and outside of the Department, alongside alleged quid pro quo deals related to the Clinton Foundation. Senior State officials purged in late January were closely associated with Hillary Clinton. Happens when you back the wrong horse.

    The already open wound of Benghazi festered just a bit more when a post-election Freedom of Information Act release revealed State covered up the fact the assault on the Consulate was not “under cover of protest” as the Obama administration claimed but was, in fact, “a direct breaching attack.” Never mind the leaked dissent memo aimed at Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, and the leaked memo admonishing State staffers to stop leaking.

    And what has been one of State’s public actions this February? Dropping $71,000 on silverware to entertain foreign dignitaries. An organization that will be missed by the bulk of Trump supporters this is not.

    So is this it? The end of the United States Department of State, founded alongside the republic in 1789, with Thomas Jefferson himself as its first leader?

    Maybe not. Trump will quickly find that there are several State Departments, and he’ll need to hang on to a couple of them, even if he sidelines the others.

    Most of the actions described above refer to the political State Department, the traditional organ of diplomacy that once negotiated treaties and ended wars, but more and more since 9/11 (maybe earlier) has been supplemented if not left behind by modern communications that allow presidents and other Washington policymakers to deal directly with counterparts abroad. Throw in the growing role of the military, and you end up with far too many State staffers having a lot of time on their hands even before Trump came along. The Wikileaks cables, years of State Department reporting from the field, contained as much filler and gossip as they did cogent policy advice.

    Trump can make his deep cuts in that part of State’s work and few will even notice. In some ways, no one yet has; as far back as 2012, more than one fourth of all State Department Foreign Service positions were either unfilled or filled with below-grade employees. The whole of the Foreign Service diplomatic corps is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier, and has been for some time.

    There’ll be a few functions that may need to be rolled into other parts of the government if most of State fades away: whatever refugee processing Trump allows to DHS, trade promotion to Commerce, foreign aid to perhaps DOD, all have ready homes waiting if necessary. Trump’ll need to have ambassadors abroad, not the least of which is because 30-50% of those positions are routinely handed out to rich campaign donors, banana-republic style.

    So what is left at State Trump will need to hold on to?

    Those 294 embassies and consulates abroad State operates serve a function as America’s concierge that cannot be easily replaced, and will have to be funded at some level whether Trump likes it or not.

    Dozens of other U.S. government agencies rely on State’s overseas real estate for office space and administrative support to keep their own costs down. American government VIPs traveling need someone to arrange their security, get their motorcades organized, and their hotels and receptions booked. Meetings with local officials still require on-the-ground American staff to set up. Supporting CODELS (Congressional Delegations’ visits to foreign lands) is a right of passage for State Department employees, and every Foreign Service Officer has his/her war stories to tell. While stationed in the UK, I escorted so many Important Somebody’s on shopping trips that I was snarkily labeled “Ambassador to Harrod’s Department Store” by my colleagues. Others will tell tales of pre-dawn baggage handling and VIP indiscretions that needed smoothing over.

    Never mind the logistics for a full-on presidential visit to a foreign country. No, Trump will need this side of State to stay on the payroll.

    The last part of the State Department Trump will need around one way or another is the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Consular performs the traditional government functions of assisting Americans overseas when they’re arrested, caught up in a natural disaster, or just need help with social security or a new passport.

    The big swinging bat, however, is visa issuance. Visas are what fills the American economy with tourists, Silicon Valley with engineers, and universities with foreign students. Visas are the State Department’s cash cow: in 2016 close to 11 million tourist, worker, and student visas were issued at an average fee collected of $160. That’s well over $1.7 billion in revenue in addition to the budget Congress allots State. The Bureau of Consular Affairs holds a budget surplus in reserve whose dollar amount is one of the most closely held non-national security secrets inside government.

    But in a Trumpian state of mind, what looks like a strength at Foggy Bottom might turn out to be a weakness. State fought viciously after 9/11 to hold on to consular work, even as the Bush administration sought to consolidate the consular function into the then-new Department of Homeland Security.

    State won the bureaucratic fight in 2001, but if the Trump administration really wanted to effectively wipe away most of the State Department proper, it might need to do little more than kick out the strongest (and most profitable) leg holding up the whole edifice. Like a jenga tower, Trump can pick away at the top positions for media and political points, but if he really wants to see it all fall down, he’ll attack the bottom. Watch for it; it’ll tell you how serious this fight really is.

     

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  • State Department Says It Will Take 75 Years to Release All Requested Clinton Emails

    June 10, 2016 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State

    Mac Beaulieu



    The State Department this week, apparently with a straight face, defended its claim that releasing all the emails sought by the Republican National Committee (RNC) would take 75 years.

    “It’s not an outlandish estimation, believe it or not,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s an enormous amount of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests,” he added. “Very broad and very complex.”

    The RNC has sued the State Department seeking all emails to or from Clinton’s former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, senior adviser Jacob Sullivan and undersecretary for management Patrick Kennedy from 2009 to 2013. The State Department has claimed that the result would yield roughly 1.5 million pages of documents that it and other federal agencies would need to go through page by page.

    The Department claimed in a court filing last week trying to kill the RNC lawsuit that the emails are “complex” and include “classified documents and interagency communications that could have to be referred to other agencies for their review.”

    Because the State Department expected that it could process roughly 500 pages per month, processing all 450,000 pages would take 900 months, or 75 years.


    FUN POINTS:

    — If Clinton had not used her private server while in office, any FOIA requests for her documents would have been processed all along from 2009 forward, instead of being clumped into a huge pile just months before the election. If blocking FOIA was indeed her goal (it was), she did an excellent job.

    — Also, that bit about “classified documents and interagency communications that could have to be referred to other agencies for their review” is kinda noteworthy given that any emails to and from Clinton traveled via unclassified means. But whatever.

    — Lastly, it is sort of quaint that State’s estimated processing time seems based on the assumption that however many people are now working on the FOIA review will not increase despite increased demand and despite the delays being caused by Clinton’s own decision to not use official email.



    I gotta say, State is really betting the farm, the cow and the corn on this one, hoping Clinton is elected and that most of this will just fade away, or really be sucked down a 75 year long tunnel as the Republicans hold hearings until the end of time. Because a Republican administration would basically at this point gut the State Department and turn the main building into a Trump mini-mall.

    But wait, seriously, 75 years? How the hell can a spokesperson say those things without a room full of reporters throwing their pens at him?


    BONUS: But it’s just a fishing expedition, says every Hillary supporter. To which one must consider saying, f*ck you. The Freedom of Information Act requires the government to turn over records for whatever purpose. There is no part of the Act that allows anyone to judge the reason for the request, so just go away and shut up, because you’ll vote for her even if she skins a puppy alive on the Jimmy Fallon show. The rest of us still are in possession of our critical thinking skills for the time being.

    Graphic courtesy of friend of the blog Mac Beaulieu




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  • John Kerry, and the Legacy of Hiroshima

    April 13, 2016 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Military

    JOHN KERRY

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow envoys from the G7 visited Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on the margins of their summit meeting this week.

    Kerry was the highest ranking American government official to visit the Peace Park, the memorial dedicated to the victims of the world’s first nuclear attack on August 6, 1945.

    U.S. officials are considering a visit to Hiroshima by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama during his trip to Japan for the G7 in late May. Obama, in 2011, expressed some interest in being the first sitting American president to visit the city, but never purused the plans.


    Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter did visit Hiroshima in 1984, albeit as a private citizen after leaving office. Other high-level American visits have been scattered only over recent years; then-U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos attended the annual August 6 commemoration in Hiroshima in 2010, the first U.S. ambassador to ever do so. In 2011, in another first, the United States sent a (lower ranking) official representative to the annual memorial service in Nagasaki. Current ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended the Hiroshima memorial service to mark the attack’s 70th anniversary last year.

    Kerry, like his official predecessors to Hiroshima, expressed empathy for the dead without acknowledging culpability for the thing that killed them, almost as if it was an act of nature, or that someone else had done it.

    Regarding those predecessors, note the dates; the first American ambassador to visit Hiroshima wasn’t until 2010, 65 years after the atomic bombing. Kerry’s visit, 71 years after the attack, occurred only in the company of his G7 colleagues, and not on the highly-symbolic day of August 6.


    All countries get their own history wrong to some degree, and careful retrospection, absent that built into enforced penitence such as was applied to post-WWII Germany, is rare.

    Yet as the only nation to use nuclear weapons, and to have used them against near-wholly civilian targets, and having used them under circumstances of arguable necessity, one might expect, 71 years later and now full-allies with Japan, some modicum of introspection by the United States. Absent some academics and “peace advocates,” that has never happened.

    In the United States, sometime after with the public announcement in 1945 of the atomic bombings, the message was kneaded into public consciousness that the bombs were not dropped out of hatred, revenge or malice, but of military necessity. The attacks did not reflect American evil, but were merely an inescapable and ugly necessity of a war we didn’t start.

    The bombs, we were told, saved millions of lives that would have been lost in a land invasion. Both American and Japanese souls would have perished in that invasion, which seemed to characterize the atomic attacks as almost to the benefit of Japan, in that we killed fewer people that way. The bombs were just the lesser of two evils, it was war, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far from the first places civilians were targeted. An undercurrent is more disturbing — they deserved it, life is cheaper over there for Orientals. One way or another, there is a consensus woven into the American narrative that there was simply no choice.


    The deeper cause of a lack of introspection seems to lie in a national meme that no moral wrong was committed, and thus no internal soul-searching is necessary. The U.S. is obviously not alone in this way of thinking, and Japan itself is quite guilty of failing to look deep into itself over the atrocities committed in China, Korea and elsewhere during WWII.

    But “everybody does it” is obviously the kind of excuse five-year-olds use, and unworthy of the United States. And while other nations committed terrible actions in the Second World War, it is only the United States that has gone on to continue making war on a grand scale; over a million killed in Vietnam (no one knows for sure), an estimated million in Iraq (no one knows for sure), and somewhere between a quarter of a million and half a million in Syria (still accruing.)

    Never mind Korea, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Haiti, Grenada, Central America, Afghanistan and the others, plus the new twist, global drone wars. Along the way were documented American threats to use nuclear weapons to break the Berlin Blockade, to defend South Korea, to smite the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis, to “win” in Vietnam and to save Israel during the Yom Kippur war, as well as other situations use was considered. The U.S. continues to maintain a deployed nuclear arsenal well-beyond any defense needs and in grand excess of that possessed by other nuclear powers.


    Perhaps some of those atomic threats are historically arguable, and some may have been more bark than intended bite, but in toto it is hard to dismiss America’s willingness to again use nuclear weapons; indeed, talk of “tactical nukes” comes up in many discussions of what to do if Iran were to develop its own atomic capability. In each threatened use of nuclear weapons, however accurate the delivery and however intended for a military target, the vast power of the bombs ensures civilians deaths and mass, indiscriminate, destruction. Those factors have not been a deterrent to nuclear threats and plans, and have certainly not deterred conventional warfare.

    Such thinking is a product of lack of introspection, a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right. John Kerry is an intelligent man, an educated man who has been to war. Perhaps, as he mumbled platitudinous talking points on his visit to Hiroshima, an additional thought or two about the real meaning of his very late presence there crept in?




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  • Power is No Substitute for Knowledge

    October 17, 2015 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Military, Post-Constitution America

    gigo

    I welcome guest blogger William Astore today, whose own blog, The Contrary Perspective, is always worth your time. Bill?


    Francis Bacon is famous for the aphorism, “Knowledge is power.” Yet the reverse aphorism is not true. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, yet its knowledge base is notably weak in spite of all that power. Of course, many factors contribute to this weakness. Our public educational systems are underfunded and driven by meaningless standardized test results. Our politicians pander to the lowest common denominator. Our mainstream media is corporate-owned and in the business of providing info-tainment when they’re not stoking fear. Our elites are in the business of keeping the American people divided, distracted, and downtrodden, conditions that do not favor critical thinking, which is precisely the point of their efforts.

    All that is true. But even when the U.S. actively seeks knowledge, we get little in return for our investment. U.S. intelligence agencies (the CIA, NSA, DIA, and so on) aggregate an enormous amount of data, then try to convert this to knowledge, which is then used to inform action. But these agencies end up drowning in minutiae. Worse, competing agencies within a tangled bureaucracy (that truly deserves the label of “Byzantine”) end up spinning the data for their own benefit. The result is not “knowledge” but disinformation and self-serving propaganda.

    When our various intelligence agencies are not drowning in minutiae or choking on their own “spin,” they’re getting lost in the process of converting data to knowledge. Indeed, so much attention is put on process, with so many agencies being involved in that process, that the end product – accurate and actionable knowledge – gets lost. Yet, as long as the system keeps running, few involved seem to mind, even when the result is marginal — or disastrous.

    Consider the Vietnam War. Massive amounts of “intelligence” data took the place of knowledge. Data like enemy body counts, truck counts, aircraft sorties, bomb tonnages, acres defoliated, number of villages pacified, and on and on. Amassing this data took an enormous amount of time; attempting to interpret this data took more time; and reaching conclusions from the (often inaccurate and mostly irrelevant) data became an exercise in false optimism and self-delusion. Somehow, all that data suggested to US officialdom that they were winning the war, a war in which US troops were allegedly making measurable and sustained progress. But events proved such “knowledge” to be false.

    Of course, there’s an acronym for this: GIGO, or garbage (data) in, garbage (knowledge) out.

    In this case, real knowledge was represented by the wisdom of Marine Corps General (and Medal of Honor recipient) David M. Shoup, who said in 1966 that:

    I don’t think the whole of Southeast Asia, as related to the present and future safety and freedom of the people of this country, is worth the life or limb of a single American [and] I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty bloody dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own design and want, that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type…at least what they get will be their own and not the American style, which they don’t want…crammed down their throat.

    But few wanted to hear Shoup and his brand of hard-won knowledge, even if he’d been handpicked by President Kennedy to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps exactly because Shoup had a reputation for sound and independent thinking.

    Consider as well our rebuilding efforts in Iraq after 2003. As documented by Peter Van Buren in his book “We Meant Well,” those efforts were often inept and counterproductive. Yet the bureaucracy engaged in those efforts was determined to spin them as successes. They may even have come to believe their own spin. When Van Buren had the clarity and audacity to say, We’re fooling no one with our Kabuki dance in Iraq except the American people we’re sworn to serve, he was dismissed and punished by the State Department.

    Why? Because you’re not supposed to share knowledge, real knowledge, with the American people. Instead, you’re supposed to baffle them with BS. But Van Buren was having none of that. His tell-all book (you can read an excerpt here) captured the Potemkin village-like atmosphere of US rebuilding efforts in Iraq. His accurate knowledge had real power, and for sharing it with the American people he was slapped down.

    Tell the truth – share real knowledge with the American people – and you get punished. Massage the data to create false “knowledge,” in these cases narratives of success, and you get a pat on the back and a promotion. Small wonder that so many recent wars have gone so poorly for America.

    What the United States desperately needs is insight. Honesty. A level of knowledge that reflects mastery. But what we’re getting is manufactured information, or disinformation, or BS. Lies, in plainspeak, like the lie that Iraq had in 2002 a large and active program in developing WMD that could be used against the United States. (Remember how we were told we had to invade Iraq quickly before the “smoking gun” became a “mushroom cloud”?)

    If knowledge is power, what is false knowledge? False knowledge is a form of power as well, but a twisted one. For when you mistake the facade you’re constructing as the real deal, when you manufacture your own myths and then forget they’re myths as you consume them, you may find yourself hopelessly confused, even as the very myths you created consume you.

    So, a corollary to Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power, but as the United States has discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere, power is no substitute for knowledge.




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  • The Harsh Lessons of History: Faux Reports of Progress Against IS

    September 25, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria

    vietnamese_buddhist_monk


    (This article, written by me, originally appeared on Middle East Eye)

    Allegations that American military analysts may have “cooked the books” to skew intelligence assessments about the campaign against Islamic State (IS), providing a more optimistic account of progress, are a sign of bad things to come.

    Bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge that loathe to admit it even as they continue to stumble forward, ever-more blind. And if that sounds like America’s previous war in Iraq, or its earlier one in Vietnam, you are not wrong.

    A Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation into allegations of overly optimistic intelligence reporting, first reported in the New York Times, began after at least one Defence Intelligence Agency analyst claimed officials overseeing the war against Islamic State were improperly reworking the assessments prepared for senior policy makers. The focus is on whether military officials changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

    Intelligence typically involves working with incomplete data (one analyst likens the process to turning over a small subset of rocks in a large field) to assess the present situation and then to predict the future.

    Anyone who claims to be certain about the future is more likely to be a fortune teller than a professional analyst, and so it is quite reasonable and common for a group of honest, well-meaning people to assess a data set and come to different conclusions. To be of value, however, legitimate differences of opinion must be played off one another in a non-politicised, intellectually vigorous check-and-balance fashion, as enshrined in Intelligence Community Directive 203.

    There is a wide gap between that, and what it appears the inspector general is now looking into.

    We can assume, arguendo, the inspector general knows a legitimate difference of opinion when he sees one, can easily rule out a sloppy supervisor, or spot a mid-level official rewriting things to pump up his own credentials. Investigations of the level leaked to the New York Times are not needed to deal with such situations. What appears to be under the microscope is whether or not the intelligence assessments headed to senior policy makers are purposely inaccurate.

    Cooking the intel has a sordid history in the annals of American warfare.

    Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar described the process in a postmortem on the 2003 Iraq intelligence failures, noting “Intelligence analysts and their managers knew that the United States was heading for war with Iraq. It was clear that the Bush administration would frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision.”

    Those factors led directly to the flawed if not outright fraudulent 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) supporting the narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The NIE was used by the White House to press Congress into supporting war, and by Colin Powell to do the same at the United Nations. The so-called Downing Street Memo bluntly stated “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

    Analysis during the Vietnam War also pushed forward a steady but false narrative of victory. Former CIA and US Army analyst Patrick Eddington notes analysts’ conclusions that the US would be unlikely to ever defeat North Vietnamese forces were repeatedly overruled by commanders certain the United States was winning. He cites a complex inter-agency process of manipulating data to match the needs of General William Westmoreland’s narrative that enemy morale and military structure were deteriorating.

    The CIA’s Paul Pillar again, stresses the difficulties of dissent, and speaking of truth to power: “You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well.” Compare that to what any journalist, graduate student or successful businessperson should be able to tell you, that information must drive conclusions, not the inverse. The more complex the problem, the higher the quality of information needed to successfully solve it.

    The situation with Islamic State is more complex than that faced by the United States in Iraq over a decade ago, or in Vietnam before that. IS is a trans-state, loosely-organised fighting force, whose defeat requires the United States to stitch together a collection of strange bedfellows, each with their own agendas, in hopes the sum will add up to victory.

    The Iranians support Iraq’s Shiite militias against IS, but not Iraq’s Sunni forces. Turkey is prepared to wage war only in equal dollops against America’s opponents IS, and America’s allies the Kurds. The Kurds themselves fight well in their own territories but are loathe to strike elsewhere in Iraq. Creating a unified strategy out of all that demands hard, objective reporting and courageous analysis.


    There are three positions on why the military might not be providing that courageous analysis, and instead substituting a more positive spin on events.

    The first is basic bureaucratic cover – saying things are going well is a neat way of telling the boss that the military is doing the job they were sent to do, a self-administered pat on the back. Such thinking should never be easily discarded. However, higher-ups in the military chain of command will eventually look askance at such tactics, fearful of blow-back if events on the battlefield turn sour.

    The second is of more concern. Imagine a scenario where the president is rejecting advice from his generals to continue the war against IS, and wants to tamp down the level of American involvement (as some say Kennedy wished to do in Vietnam before his assassination). The president pushes back, saying nothing has worked, that ongoing failure comes at great cost. A military that wishes to stay engaged, again, as in Vietnam, might want to create the appearance that current levels of involvement are good, and thus increased involvement will be even better.

    But it is the third position, reporting only the good news senior policy makers signal they want to hear, that history suggests is the dominant reason.


    If American military intelligence insists on pushing false narratives of progress up the chain of command, that strongly suggests someone higher up, afraid of the ground truth, is happy to receive only the palliative of good news. And that is bad news. The lessons of modern history make clear that misleading policy makers who themselves seek to be misled can only yield disastrous consequences.



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  • How Clinton’s Handling Foreign Government Info Went Very Wrong

    September 10, 2015 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    hillary clinton

    There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.

    That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.

    Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.

     

    The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.

    Let the spin begin.

    “The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”

    Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.

    (Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)

    There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.

    In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.

    Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.

    Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”

    It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.

    Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”

    That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.

    The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.

    Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”

    With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.

    The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.

     

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  • Watchlists and the Fourth Amendment

    September 26, 2014 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America




    If you don’t know Ray McGovern yet, you probably should.

    You see, Ray just beat down, in court, Hillary Clinton, the State Department, and a small part of Post-Constitutional America.

    Who is this Guy?

    McGovern is a changed man. He started out in the Army, then he worked for the CIA from the Kennedy administration up through the first Bush presidency, preparing the president’s daily intel brief. He was a hell of a spy. McGovern began to see the evil of much of the government’s work, and has since become an outspoken critic of the intelligence world and an advocate for free speech. He speaks on behalf of people like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

    Ray McGovern was put on the State Department’s Diplomatic Security BOLO list– Be On the Look Out– one of a series of proliferating government watch lists. What McGovern did to end up on Diplomatic Security’s dangerous persons list and how he got off the list are a tale of our era, Post-Constitutional America.

    Offending the Queen

    Ray’s offense was to turn his back on Hillary Clinton, literally.

    In 2011, at George Washington University during a public event where Clinton was speaking, McGovern stood up and turned his back to the stage. He did not say a word, or otherwise disrupt anything. University cops grabbed McGovern in a headlock and by his arms and dragged him out of the auditorium by force, their actions directed from the side by a man whose name is redacted from public records. Photos (above) of the then-71 year old McGovern taken at the time of his arrest show the multiple bruises and contusions he suffered while being arrested. He was secured to a metal chair with two sets of handcuffs. McGovern was at first refused medical care for the bleeding caused by the handcuffs. It is easy to invoke the words thug, bully, goon.

    The charges of disorderly conduct were dropped, McGovern was released and it was determined that he committed no crime.

    But because he had spoken back to power, State’s Diplomatic Security printed up an actual wanted poster citing McGovern’s “considerable amount of political activism” and “significant notoriety in the national media.” Diplomatic Security warned agents should USE CAUTION (their emphasis) when stopping McGovern and conducting the required “field interview.” The poster itself was classified as Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU), one of the multitude of pseudo-secret categories created following 9/11.

    Violations of the First and Fourth Amendments by State

    Subjects of BOLO alerts are considered potential threats to the Secretary of State. Their whereabouts are typically tracked to see if they will be in proximity of the Secretary. If Diplomatic Security sees one of the subjects nearby, they detain and question them. Other government agencies and local police are always notified. The alert is a standing directive that the subject be stopped and seized in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause that he is committing an offense. Stop him for being him. These directives slash across the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unwarranted search and seizure, as well as the First Amendment’s right to free speech, as the stops typically occur around protests.

    You Don’t Mess with Ray

    Ray McGovern is not the kind of guy to be stopped and frisked based State Department retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights in Post-Constitution America. He sued, and won.

    The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund took up the case pro bono on Ray’s behalf, suing the State Department. They first had to file a Freedom of Information Act demand to even get ahold of the internal State Department justifications for the BOLO, learning that despite all charges having been dropped against McGovern and despite having determined that he engaged in no criminal activity, the Department of State went on to open an investigation into McGovern, including his political beliefs, activities, statements and associations.

    The investigative report noted “McGovern does seem to have the capacity to capture a national audience – it is possible his former career with the CIA has the potential to make him ‘attractive’ to the media.” It also cited McGovern’s “political activism, primarily anti-war.” The investigation ran nearly seven months, and resulted in the BOLO.

    With the documents that so clearly crossed the First Amendment now in hand, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund went to court. They sought, and won, an injunction against the State Department to stop the Be On the Look-Out alert against McGovern, and to force State to pro-actively advise other law enforcement agencies that it no longer stands.

    McGovern’s constitutional rights lawsuit against George Washington University, where his arrest during the Clinton speech took place, and the officers who assaulted and arrested him, is ongoing.

    Watch Lists in Post-Constitutional America

    McGovern’s case has many touch points to the general state of affairs of post-9/11 government watchlists, such as No-Fly.

    The first is that it is anonymous interests, within a vast array of government agencies, that put you on some list. You may not know what you did to be “nominated,” and you may not even know you are on a list until you are denied boarding or stopped and frisked at a public event. Placement on some watchlist is done without regard to– and often in overt conflict with– your Constitutional rights. Placement on a list rarely has anything to do with having committed any actual crime; it is based on the government’s supposition that you are a potential threat, that you may commit a crime despite there being no evidence that you are planning one.

    Once you are on one watchlist, your name proliferates onto other lists. Getting access to the information you need to fight back is not easy, and typically requires legal help and a Freedom of Information Act struggle just to get the information you need to go forward. The government will fight your efforts, and require you to go through a lengthy and potentially expensive court battle.

    We’ll address the irony that the government uses taxpaying citizens’ money to defend itself when it violates the Constitutional rights of taxpaying citizens another time.

    Donating to The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

    Persons wishing to donate to The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund may do so online. I have no affiliation with the organization and do not benefit in any way from donations.

    Full Discloure: I do know and respect Ray McGovern, and was once the subject of a State Department Be On the Lookout Alert myself, following these remarks I made about Hillarly Clinton. I have been unable to ascertain the status of my own BOLO alert but believe it is no longer in force. The State Department refuses to disclose any information to me about my status.




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  • Kerry Tells Snowden to “Man Up” and Come Home

    May 29, 2014 // 48 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State




    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who at this point has all the credibility of a minor Kardashian just out of rehab, somehow was allowed on national television to say this:

    If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States, we’ll have him on a flight today. [He] should stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people… A patriot would not run away… Let him come back and make his case. If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust the American system of justice.

    A near-complete failure as Secretary of State (if you are not sure, read this), Kerry is apparently relegated within the Obama administration to the role of mumbling bully-boy statements, faux-machismo rantings whose intended audience and purpose are very, very unclear. Did Kerry think he might persuade Snowden to take up the challenge and fly back to the U.S.? Maybe meet Kerry in the Octagon mano-a-mano? No, Kerry sounded much more like Grandpa Simpson than America’s Senior Diplomat.

    And Kerry should know better. He once, perhaps briefly, was also brave enough to act on conscience.

    Kerry’s Fall from Courage

    In the 1960s, Kennedy-esque, Kerry went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in what he came to see as a lost war. He became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. He threw away his medals, no doubt causing some pundit of the day to claim he had harmed America in the eyes of its enemies, perhaps disgraced his fellow service members. Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. What does he do from that peak? Make fun of Edward Snowden.

    (I’ll keep the focus on Kerry here, but is important to mention that the things said about Snowden are the same old lazy, sad tropes said about whistleblowers since Dan Ellsberg. They should face justice. They harmed America (never any specifics on that one) and so forth.)

    Make His Case to the American People?

    Having watched Manning, Snowden (and Kerry if he’d admit it) knows what he could expect from American justice.

    Trials under the Espionage Act, which the U.S. says is how Snowden will be charged, quite specifically prohibit discussion of anything except proof or rebuttal that the accused did leak classified information. A jury is not allowed to rule on, or even hear about, motive and intent.

    John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was the first to go on-the-record with the media about waterboarding, pled guilty in his Espionage Act case last year partially because a judge ruled he couldn’t tell the jury about his lack of intent to harm the United States. In the case of State Department official Stephen Kim, the judge ruled the prosecution “need not show that the information he allegedly leaked could damage U.S. national security or benefit a foreign power, even potentially.” In the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the government filed motions to make sure the words “whistleblowing” or “overclassification” would never be uttered at trial. In Chelsea Manning’s trial, Manning’s defense wanted to argue she intended to inform the public, that the military was afflicted with a deep and unnecessary addiction to overclassification, and that the government’s own internal assessments showed she caused no real damage to U.S. interests. All this information was ruled inadmissible.

    A SuperMax cell is not a very good bully pulpit.

    Kerry is either lying, or his hopelessly ignorant.

    John Kerry, here’s a deal Snowden might accept: When the Department of Justice agrees to charge James Clapper, national director of intelligence, for lying under oath to Congress about the surveillance of Americans, Snowden will know American justice is fair and equally applied, and come home for a trial. Better yet Kerry, promise that both trials will be televised live with no sealed documents or secret sessions. Deal?

    Fair Trial?

    As for any sort of a fair trial, John Kerry claimed in the past “People may die as a consequence to what this man [Snowden] did. It is possible that the United States would be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn’t know before.”

    Despite the fact that none of that has happened in the long year since Snowden’s information has been on the Internet worldwide, it does suggest officers of the United States government such as Kerry have stepped back from the now-quaint notion of innocent until proven guilty.

    Patriots Don’t Run

    As for Kerry’s remark about patriots not running, the Secretary should check with the Department of State he titularly heads up. He’d learn between 2009-2011 the U.S. granted asylum to 1,222 Russians, 9,493 Chinese, and 22 Ecuadorians, not including family members, among many others from a variety of countries. The U.S. acknowledges these people as patriots, men and women who took a dangerous and principled stand against a government they felt had gone wrong. A double-standard is no standard at all.

    Love of Country

    As for love of country, which Kerry maintains Snowden does not have until he surrenders himself to American authorities, Snowden took his love of America with him. Unlike whatever topsy-turvy version Kerry might still hold to, love of country does not necessarily mean love for its government, its military, or its intelligence services. Snowden, and Kerry took an oath that stated: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” He didn’t pledge fealty to the government or a president or party, only — as the Constitution makes clear — to the ultimate source of legitimacy in our nation, The People.

    In an interview, Snowden indicated that he held off on making his disclosures for some time, in hopes that Obama might look into the abyss and decide to become the bravest president in our history by reversing the country’s course. Only when Obama’s courage or intelligence failed was it time to become a whistleblower. Snowden risked everything, and gained almost nothing personally, not to betray his country, but to inform it.

    John Kerry, love is expressed through one’s actions, not just words. Snowden clearly believes something other, more, deeper, better than himself matters. He has to believe that one courageous act of conscience can change his country. I think once, long ago, John Kerry might have believed that, too.


    BONUS: John Kerry, who said patriots don’t run, and that people should face justice, make their case to the American people and trust in the system, is currently running away from a Congressional subpoena because he doesn’t want to talk about Benghazi.



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